The Freud Museum

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Friends and Visitors

"...Nearly all famous men are disappointing or bores, or both. Freud was neither; he had an aura, not of fame, but of greatness." Leonard Woolf, 'An Autobiography'.

Freud's own list of visitors in his dark blue note book includes over a hundred names and this is by no means a complete record of everyone who called on him during his time in London. Among the first was his nephew Samuel Freud from the Manchester branch of the family. Another frequent family visitor was Freud's youngest son Ernst who lived nearby in St. John's Wood. He had lived in England since 1933 and became a naturalized citizen in '39. The middle son, Martin, was not so lucky. He was interned for a while as an 'enemy alien' in 1940, before being released to join the Pioneer Corps for the rest of the war. The eldest son, Oliver, lived in the United States after escaping from occupied France in 1940.

One of Freud's favourite visitors was his close friend, Princess Marie Bonaparte. She called on him nine times in London, frequently bringing him gifts of antiquities. Her last visit to Freud , on August 1 1939, occurred the day he finally closed his professional practice. Hanns Sachs and Ruth Mack Brunswick also came that day, and the Princess was accompanied by her husband Prince George of Greece. They sat in the garden while Freud lay in the recliner that had been set up for him.

Among the old acquaintances who called there were both psycho-analysts such as Max Eitingon, Hermann Nunberg, Hanns Sachs, Ernest Jones, Hans Lampl and his wife Jeanne Lampl-de Groot, and also writers like Arnold Zweig, Stefan Zweig and H. G. Wells. It was Stefan Zweig who introduced Salvador Dali to his great hero on 19 July 1938.

Members of the British psychoanalytic community also paid their respects, including Edward Glover, Roger Money-Kyrle, Joan Rivière, and Melanie Klein. A visit that gave Freud particular pleasure was when officials of the Royal Society brought him the charter book to be signed, as he was too weak to go to Burlington House personally. This was a great honour since the book was normally only removed for the signature of the king. For Freud it was perhaps a greater honour to find himself in the company of the immortal Darwin.

Each visitor formed part of a different group in relation to Freud, just as each visitor to the museum today partakes of a similar relation. He had 'an aura of greatness', said Leonard Woolf. What did he mean by that? This shrivelled old man, hardly able to talk, deaf in one ear, withdrawn from the world because of his constant pain, and probably more than a little irritated by the hordes of people who descended upon him - this man had 'an aura of greatness'?

Freud was not one to allow flattery to go to his head. The word 'aura', with its hint of mystery and the mystical, was precisely the kind of thing he liked to apply his mind to. And he would start off from the fact that this mysterious notion which seems so ineffable and impossible to define is yet something which we can all immediately understand without any conceptual or emotional difficulty at all! How strange, he might say, that something which is patently absurd to the rational mind we have an almost 'instinctual' understanding of. The relationship to this 'aura' must be something within each one of us, and points us toward a universal factor of the human condition.

Freud considers some of these issues in his book Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) . He argues that the 'aura' we ascribe to another person is a phenomenon of group formation, and connected to the domination of one person over another. As opposed to this enslavement to the group leader or a 'leading idea', Freud asserts individual responsibility as a cornerstone of psychoanalysis and an ideal which he strives toward.

From his early youth Freud's personality embodied the quest for freedom and independence of thought. One of his teachers called his style 'idiotic' (meaning 'idiomatic' or idiosyncratic). In The Interpretation of Dreams he relates this trait to his contact with anti-semitism. Recounting his boyhood enthusiasm for Hannibal, Freud adds:

And when in the higher classes I began to understand for the first time what it meant to belong to an alien race, and anti-semitic feelings among the other boys warned me that I must take up a definite position, the figure of the semitic general rose still higher in my esteem.

Yet this same quest for 'freedom' and 'independence', which are now such fashionable ideas, may also carry with them some unexpected and damaging consequences.

As usual, Freud is more complicated than we can present him. In Freud there is always a dialectic, always a conflict, always a play of forces pushing first one way and then the other - always at heart the felt sense of a tragic human dilemma. Because extreme 'individuality' may reward us with only the triumph of loneliness and isolation. In our efforts to distance ourselves from infantile helplessness and dependence we can find ourselves like Milton's Satan in Freud's favourite poem, 'Paradise Lost', glorying in an illusory freedom which has lost us all real contact with others. "Here at least we shall be free!" he says, while surveying the desolation of Hell.

In the following passage from Group Psychology Freud examines the 'charisma' of the group leader by relating it to the phenomenon of hypnotism:

"The hypnotist asserts that he is in possession of a mysterious power that robs the subject of his own will; or, which is the same thing, the subject believes it of him. This mysterious power (which is even now often described popularly as ëanimal magnetismí) must be the same power that is looked upon by primitive peopleís as the source of taboo, the same that emanates from kings and chieftains and makes it dangerous to approach them (mana)...

Ferençzi has made the true discovery that when a hypnotist gives the command to sleep, which is often done at the beginning of hypnosis, he is putting himself in the place of the subjectís parents. He thinks that two sorts of hypnotism are to be distinguished: one coaxing and soothing, which he considers is modelled on the mother, and another threatening which is derived from the father...

By the measures that he takes, then, the hypnotist awakens in the subject a portion of his archaic heritage which had also made him compliant towards his parents and which had experienced an individual re-animation in his relation to his father; what is thus awakened is the idea of a paramount and dangerous personality, towards whom only a passive-masochistic attitude is possible, to whom oneís will has to be surrendered, - while to be alone with him, ëto look him in the faceí, appears a hazardous enterprise...

The uncanny and coercive characteristics of group formations, which are shown in the phenomenon of suggestion that accompany them, may therefore with some justice be traced back to the fact of their origin from the primal horde...
There remains as a definition for suggestion: a conviction which is not based upon perception and reasoning but upon an erotic tie."




Freud's youngest son, Ernst



Freud in the garden with Princess Marie Bonaparte, Prince George and Hanns Sachs



Oil portrait of Leonard Woolf, Freud's publisher in England, by Henry Lamb 1912


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