Young Man Freud

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

The best-known photograph of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is forbidding: cigar in hand, he appears grim-faced and imperious. The image bespeaks his complete confidence in the truth of his psychoanalytic theories, indeed in the whole venture of psychoanalysis, a field he created and, at least in the American sphere, a field that held sway in psychiatric treatment through the first half of the 20th century.

Freud circa 1921. In Ernst L. Freud, Lucie Freud, and Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, eds., Sigmund Freud : his life in pictures and words, 1978, reprint 1998.

Freud circa 1921. In Ernst L. Freud, Lucie Freud, and Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, eds., Sigmund Freud: His life in pictures and words, 1978, reprint 1998.

But that success was in the last half of his life. In honor of Freud’s 160th birthday, May 6, we wanted to present pictures of young Freud before his breakthrough works of the late 1890s, pictures of a man on the make in the intellectual culture of Vienna.

First, pictures of Freud with father Jakob and mother Amelie, when he was age 8 and 16, respectively, in Vienna. Born in Freiberg, Moravia, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Freud moved with his family to Vienna within a year. That city would remain his home until he moved to London in 1938, after Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany.

Freud with his father Jakob in 1864. In The Freud centenary exhibit of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1956.

Freud with his father Jakob in 1864. In The Freud centenary exhibit of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1956.

Freud with his mother Amalie, circa 1872. In The Freud centenary exhibit of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1956.

Freud with his mother Amalie, circa 1872. In The Freud centenary exhibit of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1956.

After excelling in high school, the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, Freud entered the University of Vienna at 17 and graduated with his medical degree eight years later, in 1881. Interested in neurology, he hoped for a career in academic medicine.

Here, Freud in a wedding photograph with Martha Bernays in 1886, age 27. At this point, he had been out of medical school for five years, had begun his career at Vienna General Hospital (Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien), and had spent five months in Paris studying with the great French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, whose work on hypnosis would prove revelatory.

And finally, a portrait of Freud in 1891, five years after starting his private practice, where using hypnosis and free association he began to develop the new discipline of psychoanalysis. His works, Studies in Hysteria (1895) and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), made his reputation. The second half of his life was spent elaborating and defending his ideas within the medical profession and in broader intellectual life.

Sigmund Freud on War and Death

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

4.Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), photograph by Max Halberstadt, n.d., from NLM’s Images from the History of Medicine, Image Order Number B012346.

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), photograph by Max Halberstadt, n.d., from NLM’s Images from the History of Medicine, Image Order Number B012346.

Sigmund Freud was born this day in 1856. Just one hundred years ago, a scant six months or so into the Great War, he set down Reflections on War and Death, his thoughts on the meaning of the war that had already spun out so violently—and that had more than three years yet to go.

Freud was at the top of his career in 1915. He started carving out the distinct field of psychoanalysis in 1895, with Studies in Hysteria, followed by The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), and numerous other books and articles. From 1902 he had gathered a group of physicians that became the nucleus of the psychoanalytic movement. In 1909, Freud undertook a triumphal tour of the United States. He founded The International Psychoanalytical Association in 1910; the American and New York groups came about the following year. And in 1912, Freud founded Imago: zeitschrift für anwendung der psychoanalyse auf die geisteswissenchaften, a journal that applied psychoanalysis to history, philosophy, and the social sciences. It was in Imago that the essay, “Reflections on War and Death” appeared, as “Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod.”1

In his essay, Freud wished to present a worldly estimation of the carnage gripping Europe. He wrote, “The civilized world-citizen . . . may find himself helpless in a world that has grown strange to him when he sees his great fatherland disintegrated, the possessions common to mankind destroyed, and his fellow citizens debased.”2 While regretting the violence that the war had unleashed, he also professed not to be particularly surprised. European civilization was not nearly as moral as people had believed, he wrote. He contrasted two forms of moral development. One was hard won by deep psychic change: the transformation of evil and selfish impulses to beneficent social ends under the influence of “the love needs of man interpreted in the widest sense.”3

Sigmund Freud, “Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod,” Imago: zeitschrift für anwendung der psychoanalyse auf die geisteswissenchaften 4(1) (1915): 1-21.

Sigmund Freud, “Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod,” Imago: zeitschrift für anwendung der psychoanalyse auf die geisteswissenchaften 4(1) (1915): 1-21.

The second form, indistinguishable from the first in peacetime, was enforced by a system of rewards and punishments that elicited moral behavior: good conduct is rewarded, and bad punished. However, in the chaos of wartime, the system showed itself for the sham that it was: no shame attached to the horrendous acts perpetrated between warring states. Freud explained this with the scant consolation: “our mortification and painful disappointment on account of the uncivilized behavior of our fellow world citizens in this war were not justified. . . . In reality they have not sunk as deeply as we feared because they never rose as high as we believed.”4

Cover of Freud's Reflections on War and Death, translated by A. A. Brill and Alfred B. Kuttner (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1918).

Cover of Freud’s Reflections on War and Death, translated by A. A. Brill and Alfred B. Kuttner, 1918.

In 1918, the year after America joined the war, Abraham Arden Brill (1874–1948), one of the founders of the psychoanalytic movement here, and Alfred B. Kuttner (b. 1886), a literary figure and film critic, translated and published Freud’s work, with this introductory note:

This book is offered to the American public at the present time in the hope that it may contribute something to the cause of international understanding and good will which has become the hope of the world.

This hope was based in a clear-eyed look at the basest human instincts, and the insight that change meant resolution at a deep psychic level, not to be gained by simple moralizing or hand-wringing. The last 100 years have produced a dispiriting number of examples of the failures to which Freud pointed. And the book remains in print to this day.

References

1. Imago 4(1) (1915): 1-21.

2. Sigmund Freud, Reflections on War and Death, translated by A. A. Brill and Alfred B. Kuttner (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1918), p. 16.

3. Freud, Reflections on War and Death, 21.

4. Freud, Reflections on War and Death, 29.