The Intimate Life of A. Einstein

Letters written during a tumultuous year and unsealed this week offer a rare glimpse inside the heart and mind of the 20th century's greatest genius

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BETTMANN / CORBIS

SECOND WIFE: Einstein with his cousin and wife Elsa (pet name: Else), in 1921

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Dear Papa, Today we told each other our dreams. Tete suddenly said: "I dreamed that Papa was here!" Then I thought: "It really would be much nicer if you were with us." I can tinkle away on the piano much better now already; not long ago I played a Haydn and a Mozart sonata and some sonatinas. In short, I could also play with you. The examination is approaching now; but at the same time, so is Easter. Last Easter we were alone; do we have to spend this Easter alone as well? If you were to write us that you are coming, that would be the finest Easter bunny for us. We can live here quite well, you know, but if Mama gets ill one day, I don't know what to do. Then we would have no one but the maid. Also for this reason it would be better if you were with us. Yours, Adu The war made it impossible for Einstein to visit them, but he responded to the postcards by promising Hans Albert that he would come in July for a hiking vacation in the Swiss Alps. "In the summer I will take a trip with just you alone," he wrote. "This will happen every year, and Tete may also come along when he is old enough for it." He expressed delight that his son had taken a liking to geometry. It had been his "favorite pastime" when he was about the same age, he said, "but I had no one to demonstrate anything to me, so I had to learn it from books."

Einstein wanted to be with his son to teach him math, but that would not always be possible, he lamented. Perhaps they could do it by mail? "If you write me each time what you already know, I'll give you a nice little problem to solve." He sent a toy for each of his sons, along with an admonition to brush their teeth well. "I do the same and am very happy now to have kept enough healthy teeth."

But the tension in the family worsened. Einstein and Mileva exchanged letters arguing about both money and vacation timing, and at the end of June a curt postcard came from Hans Albert in response to his father's request that he be available on a particular date to go on their proposed summer vacation: Dear Papa, You should contact Mama about such things, because I'm not the only one to decide here. But if you're so unfriendly to her, I don't want to go with you either. We have plans for a nice stay that I'd only give up very reluctantly. We are going at the beginning of July and are staying the whole vacation. Yours, A. Einstein The coldness of the letter was evident by the signature. Hans Albert was no longer signing off with the affectionate nickname Adu, but with the same initial and last name that his father used on formal letters.

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