Thursday, December 22, 2011

"With my heartfelt hope that spring will bring quiet joy to you..."

On the eve of the accession of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth to the Belgian throne, I was delighted to come across this beautiful letter from Einstein to Elisabeth, then mourning the loss of her husband and daughter-in-law. I was also pleased that Einstein mentions another good friend of the Queen, the Russian sculptress Catherine Barjansky, whose memoirs of the Belgian royal family I have often featured here. 
Dear Queen, 
Today, for the first time this year, the spring sunshine has made its appearance, and it aroused me from the dreamlike trance into which people like myself fall when immersed in scientific work. Thoughts rise up from an earlier and more colorful life, and with them comes remembrance of beautiful hours in Brussels.
Mrs. Barjansky wrote to me how gravely living in itself causes you suffering and how numbed you are by the indescribably painful blows that have befallen you.
And yet we should not grieve for those who have gone from us in the primes of their lives after happy and fruitful years of activity, and who have been privileged to accomplish in full measure their task in life.
Something there is that can refresh and revivify older people: joy in the activities of the younger generation—a joy, to be sure, that is clouded by dark forebodings in these unsettled times. And yet, as always, the springtime sun brings forth new life, and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding; and Mozart remains as beautiful and tender as he always was and always will be. There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond reach of the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope. For us, there remains the privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest form.
Have you ever read the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld? They seem quite acerbic and gloomy, but by their objectivization of human and all-too-human nature they bring a strange feeling of liberation. In La Rochefoucauld we see a man who succeeded in liberating himself even though it had not been easy for him to be rid of the heavy burden of the passions that Nature had dealt him for his passage through life. It would be nicest to read him with people whose little boat had gone through many storms: for example, the good Barjanskys. I would gladly join in were it not forbidden by “the big water.”
I am privileged by fate to live here in Princeton as if on an island that in many respects resembles the charming palace garden in Laeken. Into this small university town, too, the chaotic voices of human strife barely penetrate. I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer. But after all, it is still the best to concern oneself with eternals, for from them alone flows that spirit that can restore peace and serenity to the world of humans.
With my heartfelt hope that spring will bring quiet joy to you also, and will stimulate you to activity, I send you my best wishes.
[March 30, 1936]

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