Freud Family's Secret Letters

Martha Freud's Uncle Jacob and His Friend

Paul Heyse: He excited the passions of the Orthodox and erudite Jacob Bernays — Martha Freud’s uncle.
Images via Wikimedia, Flickr
Paul Heyse: He excited the passions of the Orthodox and erudite Jacob Bernays — Martha Freud’s uncle.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published January 23, 2012, issue of January 27, 2012.
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Generally, Bernays maintains a lofty artistic tone for his emotions, such as in 1851, when he calls Heyse “My bringer of joy” (mein Freudenbringer), a description that poet Friedrich Schiller employed in his “The Gods of Greece” for Bacchus (or Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, ritual madness and ecstasy). Despite such high-flown allusions, disappointment seems inevitable, even after a November 1851 letter calling Heyse “my Tsar of Russia” (mein russischer Kaiser) and referring to himself as “your ever-abiding slave” (dein alles ertragender Sklave.) Bernays was a love slave who could not easily abide Heyse’s 1854 marriage to Margarete Kugler. Bernays reminded the bridegroom of Sir Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Marriage and Single Life”: “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

Resignedly, Bernays adds, “I kiss you,” and then a further quote from a Shakespeare sonnet urging a young man to procreate in order to perpetuate his own beauty: “From fairest creatures we desire increase / That thereby beauty’s rose might never die.”

The same year, Bernays expresses the wish to buy a portrait of Heyse by Adolph von Menzel in which the sitter sits languidly in a romantic haze. Later that year, Bernays comments to Heyse when a newspaper refers to the painting by the anonymous title, “Portrait of a Handsome Young Man” by launching into a rhapsodic passage about his “beloved Paul, handsome young man, my soul….”

Heyse, whose replies do not survive, was known in his youth as an adept of “free love,” as Calder and Günther observe, explaining that in later novellas, Heyse would further investigate passionate devotion between male friends with a subtheme of shifting gender identity, as in “Know Thyself” of 1851 and “David and Jonathan” of 1882. Heyse, however, never wrote explicitly about his relationship with Bernays, who died unmarried in 1881, at age 56. The year after Bernays’s death, Freud met his niece Martha Bernays for the first time, and the rest is Bernays-Freud family history.

Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.

Watch a brief excerpt from Edward Bernays’s 1984 appearance on “The David Letterman Show.”

Watch a short silent film of Freud and his daughter Anna.


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