«In the realm of fiction we find the plurality of lives we need».
The recent publication of letters written between 1871 and 1881 by Sigmund Freud to his bosom friend Eduard Silberstein throws light on a relatively undocumented period of Freud's adolescence and young manhood. These letters have been known about for some time. A few samples were published by the Rumanian scholar Heinz Stanescu1. The originals now repose in the Library of Congress. Only recently, however, have they been made fully accessible in several languages. The German edition, edited by Walter Boehlich, was published in 1989. It was quickly followed by editions in French (1990), English (1990), Italian —4→ (1991), and Spanish (19922). The chief interest of the correspondence is biographical of course. It contains a good deal of information about the young Freud's activities, opinions, and aspirations, his scientific, philosophical, and literary interests, and his emotional life at the time. There are also examples of creative writing of different kinds, and even some drawings. By a curious quirk the letters are of some incidental interest to the Hispanist and to the student of Cervantes too.
The two boys taught themselves Spanish in out-of-school hours and subsequently kept up a ten-year correspondence, partly in that language. They invented a sort of secret society which they called their «Academia Española» (or «Castellana»). And they called themselves by the names of the two talking dogs in Cervantes's Coloquio de los perros. Freud told his fiancée Martha Bernays the basic facts in a letter dated 7 February 1884:
We learned Spanish together, had our own mythology and secret names, which we took from some dialogue of the great Cervantes. Once in our Spanish primer we found a humorous-philosophical conversation between two dogs which lie peacefully at the door of a hospital, and appropriated their names; in writing as well as in conversation he was known as Berganza, I as Cipion. How often have I written: Querido Berganza! and signed myself Tu fidel Cipio, pero en el Hospital de Sevilla [sic]. Together we founded a strange scholarly society, the «Academia Castellana» (AC), compiled a great mass of humorous work which must still exist somewhere among my old papers3.
He was pleased to inform the Spanish translator of his works many
«Siendo yo un joven estudiante, el
deseo de leer el immortal D. Quixote e[n] el original cervantino, me llevo a
apprender, sin maestros, la bella castellana»
Appearances notwithstanding, Freud's command of the language improved with
practice in the early years, but it was always far from perfect. All the same,
given the absence of formal instruction, and the apparently complete dependence
upon the «Spanish primer» (which so far remains unidentified),
plus, at least at a later stage, the use of a dictionary, Freud's youthful
linguistic achievement was considerable.
Their Spanish primer presumably contained an extract or selections from the Coloquio de los perros, which furnished them with the names Cipión and Berganza. It apparently also included some writing by Fernán Caballero and maybe Mesonero Romanos. It seems unlikely that the complete Coloquio was represented, and less likely still that the companion piece El casamiento engañoso was there too. Surely there could not have been room for all that. But even if he never read more than a part or parts of it, Freud read enough of the Coloquio to be moved to identify with one of the two dogs, while Silberstein took the name of the other. In the light of all that is known about Freud and the little that is known about Silberstein, the choice of roles was obvious. Freud/Cipión was the dominant one and the more didactic of the two, the driving force in their game and their epistolary exchange.
The most intriguing fact, of course, is that the future founder of psychoanalysis should have been even partially familiar with this particular work -and not merely familiar with it, but stimulated to appropriate the name, and thus identify in at least some degree with the role, of Cipión. For this exceptional novella is cast in the form of a dialogue which centres around the lifestory told by Berganza, with Cipión listening and commenting. This situation has an immediately obvious resemblance to that of psychoanalyst and analysand -a teller and a listener who actively intervenes in the telling. Could a shadowy notion of modern psychoanalysis conceivably have been awakened in —6→ Freud by a story of Cervantes? It is a fascinating notion. Not surprisingly, it has provoked some speculation5.
But there is no hard evidence for it, only conjecture. Accordingly, in an article published in the Modern Language Review, 88 (January 1993), I tried instead to describe what the Coloquio de los perros and psychoanalysis have in common in terms of narrative theory6. This seemed to me, and still seems, a more profitable line of inquiry. However, it was only at a late stage after the article had gone to press that the recently published letters of Freud to Silberstein came into my hands. Nothing I have read in them makes me want to alter the substance of that article in any way. But it is now possible to make a better guess at how well Freud knew Cervantes's dialogue-novella. The main purpose of this article is to take a closer look at the Cervantes connection as it appears in the letters. This should help to derail any possible misconceptions, prompted by my previous article, about the impact of the Coloquio on Freud. I am not concerned to give an account of the Hispanic content of the letters except incidentally. The reader is recommended to sample them, preferably in the Spanish edition, for him/herself; and for informed comment on their biographical and general interest to read the introductory and other material furnished by Walter Boehlich and Angela Ackermann Pilári7.
Seventy-five communications, dating from December 1871 to January 1881, all from Freud to Silberstein, have been retrieved and published. More than this were certainly written. Those we have range from a two-line postcard to a letter of eight and a half pages (in the Spanish edition), complete with drawings. There are sixteen postcards. Twenty-seven missives, mostly short, are wholly in Spanish. In seventeen more there is a portion in Spanish, in some cases sizable, in others a few lines or words only, excluding the opening and closing phrases. Silberstein is —7→ addressed as Berganza thirty-six times; Freud signs himself Cipión fifty-five times. The first communication wholly in Spanish is no. 3, a two-line postcard dated 12 December 1871 (p. 39):
Le ruego á Vm, que vine mañana debajo a la setima clase, porqué no habrá tiempo de venir á el.
Quedo su atento servidor
In postcard no. 5 (19 January 1872, p. 40) he signs himself
«Su Braganza», presumably a
slip for «Berganza». Probably they had not yet settled into their
respective roles. The first time he addresses Eduard as Berganza is in the
postcard of 27 July 1872 (no. 8, p. 43). This is consolidated on 9 August (no.
10, p. 48), when he records that
«escribí en la mesa dos renglones castellanos y hice
memoria de vuestro nombre D. Berganza». Three years
later he reprimands his friend with mock-solemnity for calling himself
(no. 45, 13 June 1875, p. 173)
Nothing came of this suggestion. No. 51, written from Manchester
on 3 August 1875 (p. 178), begins:
«Si tu no
fueras el celebrado Don Berganza y yo no fuera D. Cipion, ambos los unicos
miembros de la A. E...». Appellative descriptions such as «miembro
vitalicio de la famosa A. E.». («Academia
Española) appear8. The initials «m.d.l.A.E». («miembro de la Academia Española») are
used frequently. So are «p.e.e.h.d.S». («perro en el hospital de Sevilla»). The
occasional addition like «e.d.l.s.n.y.p». is less easily decoded.
As the Spanish editor suggests, the letters could stand for «en dos lenguas sin nación y
Freud persistently assigns the dogs to the hospital of Seville, not Valladolid. At no point does he correct this mistake, and presumably Silberstein never pointed it out to him either. This argues either forgetfulness from a very early stage or an incomplete reading. It suggests that Freud may only have read that part of the Coloquio where the locale of the events narrated is Seville, as Boehlich notes10. This would cover the early part of Berganza's story: his puppyhood in the abbatoir of Seville, the events at the house of the rich merchant, and his service with the constable11. This is a substantial fragment, but of course we do now know how much of it was contained in the Spanish primer. The title of the Coloquio refers to the hospital as being in -or just outside- Valladolid, to which the action of Berganza's story reverts near the end, when he joins Cipión and old Mahudes12. The dogs' conversation takes place there throughout, but there is no mention of the hospital being there, except, indirectly, in the opening and closing sections referred to. Seville is named much more frequently than Valladolid in the novella. It is possible that the author of the primer, introducing the extract, got it wrong. Freud made another, slighter error when he described the dogs' conversation as taking place at the door of the hospital, as he does in the letter to Martha. This was probably a detail supplied by his imagination. In any event, it looks very much as though Freud did not read the Coloquio in any other text.
At his suggestion, the game with names was extended. The lengthy letter of 7 March 1875 (no. 39), written partly in German, partly in Spanish, concludes with a «Parte Oficial. Cosas de la Academia Española o Castellana», in the course of which he proposes:
la introduccion de siguientes terminos en el estilo oficial de la A. E., cuales términos no son nuevos, pero viejos y bien conocidos y merecen ser sacados en limpio para el uso de los miembros de la A. E. Llamanse los miemb. d.l.A.E. «perros», que es su mayor titulo, que tienen ni tendrán, llamese «Sevilla» el mundo, en que estan y el hospital de Sevilla el pais en que viven, es decir la Alemania. Llamese en fin el paradero, en que estan, la «cerra» (o si otra palabra es, que quiere decir—9→
«Dicke» y que el famoso Cervantes en el lugar, que V. conoce, ha usado, sea esa otra palabra)13. Asi los m.d.l.A.E. jamas digan de alguien «ha muerto», sino ha salido de Sevilla, jamas digan, ha dejado la Alemania sino ha quitado el hospital de Sevilla y jamas digan, ha viajado en Alemania, de Viena á Berlin, sino digan ha mudado de cerra. Viena llamese con otro nombre y así tambien Berlin, pero los nombres no quiero proponer, sino dejo á Vm de proponerlos, que viva mil y doscientos años
y sea dos mil años mantenido como
desea su D. Cipion.
Accordingly, a week later (13 March, no. 40) Freud, writing in German, expresses surprise that his friend has preferred to stay in Cádiz (i. e., probably Leipzig) rather than visit Madrid (Berlin)14. Letter no. 61 is headed «Sevilla, el 13 de Ag. 1876». And so this pleasant fiction is kept up, off and on, until the last letter (no. 75, p. 241), written in Spanish, headed «Sevilla 24 Januar 1881», and subscribed «Saludote y quedo tu fiel Cipion p.e.e.h.d.S. m.d.l.A.E. etc». Freud was twenty-four years old.
If we look for references to Cervantes in the correspondence, there is not much to be found. He is mentioned as author of the Tratos de Argel (probably), as noted above (see note 13). He is mentioned in company with Fernán Caballero and Mesonero Romanos (no. 21, 20 August 1873, p. 84). Freud recalls the meal-spoiling Dr. Pedro Recio of Tirteafuera (Don Quixote II, 47) (no. 36, 30 January 1875, p. 138). And he gives his own treasured copy of Don Quixote to Eduard as a birthday present (no. 34, 31 December 1874, p. 130, and no. 36, 30 January 1875, p. 138). But there is no allusion directly to the Coloquio de los perros. It may be that the Academia's frequently mentioned «archive» of miscellaneous literary efforts and other papers and writings contained —10→ some imitation or something closely reminiscent of the Coloquio, but little of the archive appears to have survived15.
So we just do not know how much of the Coloquio de los perros Freud read. The repeated references to Seville suggest that he did not know it very well. In default of new evidence it would be foolish to credit him with more than a very limited acquaintance. Had any part of it besides the names and the idea of the dogs in conversation made a special impression on him, one would have expected this to show up in his letters to Silberstein, if anywhere, but it does not. However, he would probably have retained an impression of the tone of the work, the half-jocular, half-serious manner which predominates in the dogs' conversation. His own style in the letters -as may be seen in the passages I quote- sometimes resembles it. No doubt it came to him naturally, but the resemblance is there.
Be all that as it may, the Coloquio de los perros moved the young Sigmund Freud to identify with one of the two talking dogs. And it was no mere passing fancy, because he and Silberstein kept up the game for at least ten years -perhaps more, if it began before the correspondence did. They evidently sensed a parallel in the two relationships -or at least Freud did. So it might make most sense to look for signs of the Coloquio in the relationship of the two young men as it appears in the letters. The difficulty here is that it is very hard to know what to ascribe to the conscious or unconscious inspiration of the Coloquio and what to the nature and circumstances of the pre-existing relationship. We seem to be driven back to the fact that what the Coloquio and the letters have most fundamentally in common is their dialogic character. This is also what the Coloquio most particularly shares with psychoanalysis. So I will indicate a few features and passages of the correspondence-dialogue which point back to the Coloquio and forward to the as yet undiscovered method of psychoanalysis.—11→
But first we must remind ourselves that, unlike the other two dialogues, the Freud-Silberstein correspondence is seriously defective. It is totally one-sided, only half a dialogue, inasmuch as there are no letters from Silberstein to Freud. It is like listening to someone speaking to someone else on the telephone. Or like reading only what Cipión says and leaving out everything uttered by Berganza. Still, it would be much more unsatisfactory and more tantalizing if the letters which had disappeared were Freud's.
We cannot cast Freud fully in the role of Cipión-listener-analyst. He had plenty to say about his own life. However, he was clearly the more authoritarian of the two. It looks as though he took the lead in the elaboration of their Academic game at various times, in rather the same way as Cipión arranges the storytelling schedule in the Coloquio16. He also judges, advises, and admonishes his friend. No doubt the similarity with Cipión here was a temperamental coincidence; Freud would surely not have written differently if he had never heard of Cipión. He was much the same with members of his family when he was a boy17. But there is a functional coincidence too between the dog of the dialogue and the youth who signed himself Cipión in correspondence with his friend. Recurrent topics on which Freud likes to give Silberstein useful advice are, for instance, travel and living abroad (nos. 25, 27), studying (nos. 27, 30, 66), and notably matters of gallantry, love, and young women (nos. 19, 20, 21, 38, 39, 40). On occasion he adopts a tone of high moral severity with his more flirtatious friend:
|(no. 38, 27 February 1875 [p. 92])|
And so on. He argues, moralises, philosophises, analyses, and prescribes indefatigably, lucidly, picturesquely, pedantically, and humorously, mostly in German, but occasionally in Spanish (cf. letter no. 21, 20 August 1873, pp. 82-5, for example).
However, his judicial manner in no way obscures the ardour of his desire to establish the most intimate correspondence possible. With affection and sometimes almost passionate intensity of feeling he seeks through their letters a two-way channel of communication, wherein each shall record his daily life and secret thoughts for the other with utmost candour. For this it was necessary to keep a diary:
Para informar á Vm. de mi vida, preparo un librito de viaje, en qué se hallarán borradas [forradas] todas las partidas [=outings] que jamas emprenderé -Pienso á Vm todos los dias...
|(no. 10, 9 August 1872, p. 48)|
|(no. 11, 17 August 1872 [p.11])|
|(no. 12, 4 September 1872 [pp. 15-16])|
The diary, unfortunately, has not survived. Their candour requires confidentiality:
Espero que no muestras mis cartillas a nadie si alguien se las pide de ti, porqué quiero escribir con toda ingenuidad y sobre todas las cosas, que me empeñan.
|(no. 15, 16 July 1873, p. 64)|
Freud seems to want a sort of mutual secular confessional. And, what is still more significant, he wants to systematise the correspondence. He presents proposals for this which are worth quoting at some length:
He seems to be striving after the high goal of the novelist, but the realm of inquiry is not an imagined world. It is the real life, outer and inner, of each of the writers. And the medium of communication must be regularized into a recognized ongoing serial form:
|(no. 26, 4 September 1874 [pp. 57-9])|
In the next letter he is awaiting a full statement of his friend's reactions with great impatience and a firm disinclination to tolerate any tepidity of interest:
There follows a short lecture on the selfishness of failing in one's duty to correspond properly with a friend. The letter concludes:—15→
|(no. 27, 18 September 1874 [pp. 61-2])|
Expressing feelings in a letter can be easier than doing so in conversation, for which reason two friends should always be separated from time to time. Writing makes it easier, although, he concedes, correspondence cannot replace conversation as a form of communication (no. 32, 11 December 1874, pp. 125-6). A few weeks later he attempts to redress somewhat the balance of confessional correspondence:
His secrets turn out to be his predilection for late-night study and his «strange habit of living in accordance with the phases of the moon, and [preferring] to start a new book, a new subject, or a new method at the beginning of the week, and if possible of the month». There follows a short and pedestrian account of his course of study and current leisure reading (which includes Don Quixote18) (no. 36, 30 January 1875 [pp. 86-7]). Freud is noticeably uncommunicative of really personal details about himself.—16→
He certainly demanded more of Silberstein than Silberstein apparently got out of him. Nevertheless, even discounting a degree of possible jocular over-emphasis, the strength of the attachment on Freud's part and of his desire to exchange complete and candid information about the daily life of himself and his friend are striking features of the correspondence. Both are apparent in this final excerpt:
|(no. 52, 9 September 1875 [p. 126])|
This brotherhood was not to last. But while it did, the latterday Cipión felt as close to being blood brother to his Berganza as their original namesakes may have been.
To summarise and conclude. The «Academia Española» was a private fiction or game devised by Sigmund Freud and Eduard Silberstein when they were boys at school in their mid-teens. Unlike most such juvenile creations, it was modelled on an institution of learning. This was because it served as a kind of umbrella for their practising of the Spanish language and associated activities. It added a note of fun to an essentially serious enterprise. The borrowing of roles, via their Spanish primer, from Cervantes's Coloquio de los perros was part of the fun. It is unlikely that the primer contained the complete work, and there is no evidence that Freud read it anywhere else, or that he read the companion piece, the Casamiento engañoso. He shows no sign of knowing the Coloquio, or any part of it, particularly well. Neither is there any way of being sure that the work had a marked effect on him at some less conscious level, such as to exert a perceptible —17→ influence on his creation of the clinical method of psychoanalysis in the 1890s.
On the other hand, the fact remains that Freud and Silberstein privately adopted the names Cipión and Berganza and continued to use them in correspondence with each other for ten years -too long for a merely passing whim. The role of Cipión suited Freud. Like Cipión, he was the more authoritarian of the two, the one more inclined to innovate and legislate in the course of their game. And like his canine model, he was apt to advise and moralise about conduct. No doubt there were other temperamental and accidental resemblances between them.
His role differs from Cipión's, however: it is more active. He is more than recipient and commentator; he talks at length about himself and his own life too. Indeed, the Coloquio and the letters are different kinds of dialogue. And psychoanalysis is yet another, of course. But more fundamental than the difference between them is the fact that all three are dialogue, a conversation between two people (counting dogs as people on this occasion). The correspondence with Silberstein is a link -however accidental- between Freud's reading of the Coloquio and his discovery, invention, or creation of psychoanalysis.
For most of his life Freud was an indefatigable letter-writer, conspicuously good at establishing a close rapport with his correspondents. It is a talent which one is not surprised to find in a psychoanalyst. So just because it would be extravagant to label the letters to Silberstein in the 1870s «proto-psychoanalysis», we are not therefore obliged to close our eyes to the early manifestation of aptitudes and interests consonant with his development of psychoanalytic method at a later date19. It seems as natural to notice in the youthful Freud some inclination relevant to psychoanalysis as to register a penchant for mathematics in the boy Einstein or a talent for drawing in the young Picasso.—18→
Especially relevant in the letters to Silberstein is his fervent expression of the desire that, under the aegis of the Academia Española, they should recount to each other as fully and candidly as possible their day-to-day lives. Although they apparently never came very close to a full realization of Freud's intention, his insistence on the subject leaves no doubt as to the strength of his aspiration. More than sentimental effusions of adolescent friendship were intended, though affection was obviously there, and it was not just a solipsistic exercise. Freud wanted effective intimate communication. What mattered was the communication of friend with friend -the in-depth dialogue. The establishment of a comparable rapport would be the axis of psychoanalysis20.
Freud further proposes that they regularize their letters, turning them into a weekly bulletin or periodical of the Academia Española. This is an attempt to systematize the dialogue in a manner which may be described as quasi-scientific21. The methodology points -though still from a distance- toward psychoanalysis. At the same time, Freud does not lose sight of the literary-creative angle when he speaks of transmutation «into the pure gold of poetry» and the «spirit of romanticism». There is nothing incongruous in this. He was always to acknowledge the affinity of his psychoanalytic method with literary fiction («the case histories I write read like novellas... they, so to speak, lack the serious stamp of scientific method»22). The case history is a new kind of biography23. Freud's proposals for his correspondence with Silberstein have a biographical intention. The Coloquio de los perros, though fictional, is another member of the same family.