University Archives


Albert Einstein the Poet? His 75th Birthday ANS to an Admiring Poet Denouncing Recent McCarthyist Critique of the Physicist

A handsome display relating to the 75th birthday of renowned German physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), including Einstein's thank you note to a birthday well-wisher as well as the original celebratory birthday message in the form of a poem. The three pieces are laid down on mounts. The old cardboard frame backing is currently detached but included. The William Reed poem is sagging a little on its hinges. Displayed on a cream mat measuring 14" x 11" x .25." Accompanied by English translations.

Albert Einstein celebrated his 75th birthday on March 14, 1954. In this poem from a birthday well-wisher named William Reed, Reed wished Einstein many happy returns, and also celebrated the scientist's recent championing of free speech in America. This is a rather impressive achievement when one considers that Reed was conveying these very abstract concepts in the form of a poem composed in a foreign language! Reed's poetry becomes a little lost in translation, but one can indeed see by studying the original composition in German that Reed wrote Einstein's birthday wishes in the form of a 7-stanza poem with AABB and ABAB rhyming patterns.

Einstein had adopted a very public stand in recent years, celebrating freedom of speech, and defending the importance of intellectuals in a thriving, Democratic society. In May 1953, Einstein had repudiated "reactionary politicians" like Senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy for threatening the sovereignty of education and educators. And in March 1954, Einstein predicted the end of democracy if censorship prevailed in American schools, universities, and in the media.

The larger context of Reed's poem can be found in McCarthyism, that brand of paranoid and pernicious politics cultivated by Senator McCarthy after 1950. In the spring of 1954, McCarthy had stated, whether his "name is Einstein or John Jones," an individual who criticized McCarthyism was an “enemy of America,” “a disloyal American,” and “not a good American.” This is almost certainly what Reed was referring to in the fourth line of his letter when he wrote "now that you [Einstein] are told that you are declared an enemy of the U.S." Reed assured Einstein that though McCarthy was "currently celebrating his victories in the press and radio" that the mayfly's days of influence were numbered. Indeed, McCarthy would be soundly condemned by his peers and disgraced in December 1954. Einstein's influence, in contrast, was immutable: it "will shine forever…"

The lot is comprised of:

1. Typed poem signed by William Reed.

A typed poem from New Yorker William Reed, with an autograph note signed by him at the bottom as "William Reed." Written in German on "William Reed / 900 Riverside Drive / New York 32, N.Y. / Tel. Wadsworth 7-9708" letterhead. Overall light toning and slight edge darkening, else very good to near fine. 6.5" x 9.5."

Reed's birthday poem to Albert Einstein has been translated in full:

"[Typed] On the 75th birthday of Professor

You have experienced a lot over there similar to what is going on here with astonishment now that you are told that you are declared an enemy of the U.S. -

When in the service of a clique a man toils People of rank sprayed with dirt Discredited officers of the army [already in English] - This is not the American Way.

In a few years' time - one will be ashamed to even mention the warning of the man who is currently celebrating his victories in the press and radio - - he will remain a mayfly. - -

However, what you proved with ingenuity in a sleepless night - and put on paper with your pencil in your hand remains indisputable.

For your name will be present to the generations that follow us and will shine forever among the great ones of all nations. - -

As 75 years in world events go by quickly - like a breath, branches of science will later blossom that benefit from your teachings. -

May a benevolent fate always rule over you and keep you in the world for a long time.

[Inscribed] With the best Birthday wishes
                  Yours truly
                  William Reed."

2. Card with Albert Einstein autograph note signed.

Albert Einstein sent William Reed a printed thank you card in English with an autograph note signed in German at the bottom. Einstein's personalized message is signed as "A. Einstein." Translated in full: "Thank you very much. If I had time I wanted, as it should have been, to reply with a little poem, but best regards must be enough. Your A. Einstein. 54." Near fine. 5" x 3.25." We can only speculate what type of poetry Einstein might have created to reciprocate Reed's literary efforts!

3. Original transmittal envelope.

The envelope originally containing Einstein's card, postmarked from Princeton, New Jersey on April 1, 1954. Bearing a 3-cent purple Thomas Jefferson stamp. Partly letter-opened at top right and trimmed.

Albert Einstein was associated with the Institute for Advanced Study, a postdoctoral independent research consortium in Princeton, New Jersey between 1933 and his death in 1955.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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