Freud in America Part 5: Feelings about America

About Sigmund Freud's trip to America, being awarded an honorary degree, meeting William James and his feelings on America.

Dr. Freud Visits America

By Irving Wallace

The climactic moment of Freud's visit to the U.S. occurred during the last day at Clark University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate. He was deeply moved, and his words of thanks began, "This is the 1st official recognition of our endeavors." It was, in fact, the only academic recognition Freud would receive in his lifetime.

There was one other high point. Freud was brought together with the great American philosopher, William James, who was suffering a fatal illness and would be dead within a year. The 2 giants took a stroll together, discussed in German Freud's lectures which James had followed. As they parted, James, despite his puritanical upbringing, said to Freud, "The future of psychology belongs to your work." James's fortitude remained indelible in Freud's memory, and he wrote later, "I have always wished that I might be as fearless as he was in the face of approaching death."

Freud spent 8 more days in the U.S., and most of it was downhill. He was in constant pain not only from his prostatic condition but also from intestinal disorders, which he blamed on American cooking. He felt that his hosts were not sympathetic enough toward his illness. He disliked not being understood when he spoke in German, resented the lack of Old World manners, disapproved of the inhibitions and prudery he perceived in most Americans.

Forever after, Freud rarely had a kind word for the U.S. He told Jones, "America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake, it is true, but none the less a mistake." He told Hanns Sachs, who later taught psychology in Harvard Medical School, "America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success."

Nevertheless, in 1909, despite his feelings about the U.S. and its people, despite his weariness and sickness, he decided to continue with his sight-seeing tour. He finally set eyes on Niagara Falls, which he told Jones he "found even grander and larger" than he had expected. Unfortunately, one incident marred this visit. As Freud waited to enter the Cave of the Winds, a guide pushed other tourists back and beckoned Freud, explaining to the toruists, "Let the old fellow go 1st." The 53-year-old Freud, who was age-conscious, fumed at the remark. But his good humor was briefly restored when he was allowed to set foot on Canadian soil. After that, he wound up his American visit by spending his last few days at a new American friend's cabin near Lake Placid, N.Y., where Jung enlivened the evenings by singing German songs.

On September 21, 1909, Freud sailed out of New York Harbor on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, never to return to the U.S.

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