November 26, 1996 in Nation/World

All’s Fair In Love And Relativity Einstein’s Letters Both Kind, Callous

Verena Dobnik Associated Press
 

A collection of letters from Albert Einstein that show him as both a tender and cruel husband sold at auction Monday for nearly $900,000, twice as much as a manuscript on relativity, one of the fundamental theories of the universe.

“You will expect no affection from me,” he wrote to his first wife, Mileva Maric, in 1914. “You must leave my bedroom or study at once without protesting when I ask you to.”

That note, sold with two others for $20,700, was one of more than 400 Einstein letters to family members that, with the scientific manuscript, were auctioned by Christie’s.

Only 28 of the 116 lots offered Monday were sold, for a total of $1.28 million, including commissions of 10 percent to 15 percent. Presale estimates valued each lot anywhere from one to 53 letters at $1,500 to $35,000, for a total of $2 million.

The highest price, $442,500 from an anonymous bidder, was paid for the 53 love letters Einstein wrote to Maric after they met as students in turn-of-the-century Switzerland. Scholars believe Maric, herself a scientist, was a sounding board for the theory of relativity that established Einstein’s genius.

In a short poem from 1900, the 21-year-old physicist wrote, “While thinking of his Dollie / His pillow catches fire.”

But in the 1914 letter, written when his wife and children were about to join him in Berlin, he stipulated: “A. You will see to it (1) that my clothes and linen are kept in order, (2) that I am served three regular meals a day in my room. B. You will renounce all personal relations with me, except when these are required to keep up social appearances.”

Einstein divorced Maric in 1919 and married his cousin and mistress, Elsa Einstein Lowenthal, after choosing her over her 21-year-old daughter, Einstein expert Robert Schulmann said.

“He loved women, but he loved physics more,” Schulmann said. “We viewed him as an icon. And these letters give us a clay-footed Einstein.”

Einstein’s most important working manuscript from 1913 and 1914, expected to fetch $250,000 to $350,000, went to an anonymous American collector for $398,500 - the third highest price at any auction for an Einstein manuscript.

The paper is filled with calculations and notes about the orbit of Mercury around the sun, as Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, his fundamental law of the universe that was published in 1915.

In the manuscript, Einstein applies early versions of the theory to explain anomalies in Mercury’s orbit.

The collection, owned by the Einstein Correspondence Trust, was discovered in 1986 in a bank vault in Berkeley, Calif. It was sold to try to settle a legal feud among his heirs.


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