Freud’s Creative Illness

The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud To Wilhelm Fliess: 1887–1904

translated and edited by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Harvard University Press, 505 pp., $25.00

Sigmund Freud, Aus den Anfängen der Psychoanalyse

edited by Marie Bonaparte, edited by Anna Freud, edited by Ernst Kris
Imago (London, 1950)

Extracts from the Fliess papers in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 1

translated and edited by James Strachey
Hogarth (London, 1966)

The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Volume 1

by Ernest Jones
Basic Books

The Origins of Psycho-Analysis

by Sigmund Freud, edited by Marie Bonaparte and Anna Freud and Ernst Kris
Basic Books

"Some Additional 'Day Residues' of the 'Specimen Dream of Psychoanalysis"' in Psychoanalysis
A General Psychology

edited by R.M. Loewenstein, edited by L.M. Newman, edited by M. Schur, edited by A.J. Solnit
International Universities Press

The Assault on Truth

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Freud: The Man and the Cause

by Ronald W. Clark
Random House

In December 1936 Reinhold Stahl, a Berlin bookseller, sold to Princess Marie Bonaparte, Princess George of Greece and Denmark, friend and pupil of Sigmund Freud, a set of documents he had acquired from the widow of Wilhelm Fliess (1858–1928), who in his day had been a successful ear, nose, and throat specialist in Berlin and a well-known writer of speculative works about the relationship between the nose and the sexual organs and the part played in man’s destiny by what are now called biorhythms.

These documents consisted of 270 letters from Freud to Fliess, fourteen enclosures (now known as Drafts A–N) in which Freud had reported on his attempts to formulate a general psychological theory of the neuroses, and two note-books which contained the 40,000-word manuscript of an untitled work (now known as Project for a Scientific Psychology), in which Freud had attempted “to furnish a psychology that shall be a natural science,” that is, one in which “psychical processes” were envisaged as “quantitatively determinate states of specifiable material particles,” viz., neurones (nerve cells).

Not surprisingly, Marie Bonaparte immediately informed Freud of her purchase. In his reply Freud told her that he did not have Fliess’s letters to himself—“I do not know to this day whether I destroyed them, or only hid them ingeniously”—offered to contribute to the expense she had incurred, and stated roundly: “I do not want any of them to become known to so-called posterity.”

In March 1937 Marie Bonaparte took the documents to Vienna and showed them to Freud, who must, I think, have reread them, since he is on record as knowing which letters were missing and as remarking of one that it was “very important.” He gave Marie Bonaparte permission to read them herself but tried to persuade her to destroy them. She refused and instead deposited them in the Rothschild Bank in Vienna, from which, after the Anschluss in March 1938, she removed them, using her trebly royal status to get around the Gestapo. From Vienna the documents went to Paris where, in February 1941, Marie Bonaparte deposited them with the Danish legation. They remained there until after the end of the war and were then shipped to London, where Sigmund Freud had died and Anna Freud was now living, “wrapped in waterproof and buoyant material to give them a chance of survival” if the ship struck a mine.

At some date in the late 1940s Marie Bonaparte gave the letters to Anna Freud, who allowed Ernest Jones access to them while he was writing his life of her father; and in 1964 she gave transcripts of them to Max Schur, who had been Freud’s personal physician. His use of them to write a paper demonstrating that Freud’s Irma dream, the “specimen dream of psychoanalysis,” had obvious connections with a dramatic and unedifying event in Freud’s practice, to which he had not referred in his own analysis of it, gave rise to the idea that the complete Fliess letters might contain sensational…

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