We appraoch the end. The anxious feature now was that in the last two years suspicious areas no longer proved to be precancerous leucoplakias, but definitely malignant recurrences of the cancer itself. At Christmas time Schur removed a sequestrum of bone, the one about whose existence Freud had become doubtful, and this gave considerable relief. But at the same time a swelling appeared and gradually took on an increasingly ominous look. Early in February Schur was certain it meant a recurrence, although he could not persuade Exner of the diagnosis. It was decided to call in Wilfred Trotter, the greatest authority of his time on cancer. I brought him along to introduce him to Freud, who had last met him at the Salzburg Congress forty-one years before. He made an examination on February 10 and again on Feburary 21 and 24, but was also doubtful of the diagnosis and recommended further observation. Schur and Anna were desperate. Daily observation over years had made them equally expert in a way no stranger could be. Schur wrote urgently to Pichler who answered on February 15 with the advice to apply electrocoagulation followed by radium treatment. Professor Lacassagne, the Director of the Curie Institute in Paris, was fetched and made an examination on February 26. He could not advoce radium treatment, however. A biopsy had disclosed an unmistakable malignant recurrence, but the surgeons decided it was inaccessible and that no further operation was feasible. So the case bore now the fatal title “inoperable, incurable cancer.” The end was in sight. Only palliative treatment remained, and for this purpose recourse was had to daily administration of Roentgen rays. Lacassagne came again from Paris on March 12 to superintend the special arrangements for this. The journeys for the treatment in Dr. Neville Samuel Finzi’s house in Harley Street proved extremely exhausting, but the treatment had some success in keeping the trouble at bay.
Freud notified Eitingon of his situation, and that the treatment would give him a few more weeks of life during which he could continue his analytic sessions. His last letter to him was on April 20, a few lines only.
On March 19 Heinz Hartmann, one of Freud’s favourite pupils, paid him a visit, a final one. Marie Bonaparte was also in London from February 5 to February 18, from February 25 to March 1, and from March 13 to March 19. Freud wrote to her after these visits: “I want to say again how sorry I am not to have been able to give you more of myself when you stayed with us. Perhaps things will be easier next time you come – if there is no War – for my pain has been better of late. Dr. Harmer, who has just been, finds that the treatment has had an unmistakable influence on the appearnce of the sore place.”
She was again in London from March 31 to April 1, and this visit was followed by a much less cheerful letter.
“April 28, 1939
“Meine liebe Marie:
“I have not written to you for a long time, and no doubt you know why; you can tell by my handwriting. I am not getting on well; my complaint and the effects of the treatment share the responsibility in a proportion I cannot determine. The people around have tried to wrap me in an atmosphere of optimism: the cancer is shrinking; the reactions to the treatment are temporary. I don’t believe any of it, and don’t like being deceived.
“You know that Anna will not be coming to the Paris Congress because she cannot leave me. [The Congress of French-speaking analysis.] I get more and more dependent on her and less on myself. Some intercurrent illness that would cut short the cruel proceeding would be very welcome. So should I look forward to seeing you in May? …
“With that I greet you warmly; my thoughts are much with you.
She came for his last birthday and stayed three days, which seem to have been more enjoyable. Freud wrote after it: “We all specially enjoyed your visit, and the prospect of seeing you again soon is splendid, even if you don’t bring anything from S. [Segredakei used to sell Greek antiquities in Paris]
“Just think, Finzi is so satisfied that he has given me a whole week’s holiday from the treatment. All the same I have not noticed the great improvement and I daresay the growth will increase again in the interval, as it did in a previous one.”
Marie Bonaparte came again to London on June 2 for a couple of days, and after that got the last letter she was ever to receive from Freud: “The day before yesterday I was about to write you a long letter condoling with you about the death of our old Tatoun [A favourite chow.] and to tell you that on your next visit I should eagerly listen to what you may have to relate about your new writings, and add a word wherever I feel I can. The two next nights have again cruelly destroyed my expectations. The radium has once more begun to eat in, with pain and toxic effects, and my World is again what it was before – a little island of pain floating on a sea of indifference.
“Finzi continues to assure me of his satisfaction. My last complaint he answered with the words: ‘At the end you will be satisfied too.’ So he lures me, half against my will, to go on hoping and in the meantime to go on suffering.”
Marie Bonaparte came to see Freud twice more, on June 29 for a couple of days, and for the last time, from July 31 to August 6.
Freud was very eager to see his Moses book appear in English in his lifetime, so my wife, who was translating it, worked hard and the book was published in March, to Freud’s gratification. He wrote to Hanns Sachs: “The Moses is not an unworthy leavetaking.” He of course received a number of letters about it. Here is one from H.G. Wells.
“My dear Freud:
“Your book was waiting in the hall when I came home from the Royal Society Conversazione at half past eleven and I found it so fascinating that I did not get to bed until one. I am rather exercised about one point, about Aaron. The Bible makes it clear that Moses could not talk to the Israelites. He needed a spokesman. Now if Moses was not simply tongue-tied but ignorant of Hebrew and without any desire to learn Hebrew Aaron becomes his interpreter, which seems to me to strengthen your case enormously. But for some reason you do not stress this. All the rest of your suggestions I find immensely probable.
“My warmest salutations
And here is a translation of one from Einstein.
“Sehr geehrter Herr Freud:
“I thank you warmly for sending me your new Work, which has naturally interested me greatly. I had already read your two essays in Imago, which Dr. Klopstock, a physician friend, had brought me. Your idea that Moses was a distinguished Egyptian and a member of the priestly caste has much to be said for it, also what you say about the ritual of circumcision.
“I quite specially admire your achievement, as I do with all your writings, from a literary point of view. I do not know any contemporary who has presented his subject in the German language in such a masterly fashion. I have always regretted that for a non-expert, who has no experience with patients, it is hardly possible to form a judgement about the finality of the conclusions in your writings. But after all this is so with all scientific achievements. One must be glad when one is able to grasp the structure of the thoughts expressed.
“With sincere admiration and with cordial wishes
The British Psycho-Analytical Society celebrated the twenty-fifth years of their existence by holding a banquet in March, and it was the occasion of my receiving the last letter I ever did from Freud.
“March 7, 1939
“I still find it curious with what little presentiment we humans look to the future. When shortly before the War you told me about founding a psychoanalytical society in London I could not foresee that a quarter of a century later I should be living so near to it and to you, and still less could I have imagined it possible that in spite of being so near I should not be taking part in your gathering.
“But in our helplessness we have to accept what fate brings. So I must content myself with sending your celebrating Society a cordial greeting and the warmest wishes from afar and yet so near. The events of the past years have brought it about that London has become the main site and centre of the psychoanalytical movement. May the Society which discharges this function fulfill it in the most brilliant fashion.
The reason why he here added his first name to his signature was because he had learned that in England only peers of the realm signed with a single word; it was one of the peculiarities of England that much amused him.
He had written on February 20 to Arnold Zweig, giving him an account of the uncertain progress of his condition, and on March 5 he wrote his last letter to him. In it he advised him to emigrate to America rather than England. “England is in most respects better, but it is very hard to adap oneself to it, and you would not have my presence near you for long. America seems to me an Anti-Paradise, but it has so much room and so many possibilities, and in the end one does come to belong to it. Einstein told a friend recently that at first America looked to him like a caricature of a country, but now he feels himself quite at home there …. There is no longer any doubt that I have a new recurrence of my dear old cancer with which I have been sharing my existence for sixteen years. Which of us would prove to be the stronger we could not at that time predict.”
In April a blow fell that Freud found hard to bear. He was very dependent on the day to day ministrations of his personal doctor, Schur, in whose judgement he had supreme confidence and to whom he was devoted. Yet Schur himself was not faced with a painful dilemma. His quota number for the United States had been called up, and if he did not accept it he would imperil his and his children’s future. He decided to take it, and to pay a visit to America where he would take out his first naturalisation papers. He left on April 21 and got back on July 8. Dr. Samet took his place temporarily, and then Dr. Harmer, with Exner in charge. During his absence he received regular reports which showed no serious worsening until the end of the time.
On his return he found a great change in Freud’s condition. He looked much worse in general, had lost weight and was showing some signs of apathy. There was a cancerous ulceration attacking the cheek and the basse of the orbit. Even his best friend, his sound sleep which had sustained him so long, was now deserting him. Anna had to continue her practice of applying orthoform locally several times in the night.
One of the very last visitors was one of Freud’s earliest analytical friends, Hanns Sachs, who came in July to take what he knew would be his last leave of the man he called his “master and friend.” Sachs was particularly struck by two observations. One was that with all the distress of his painful condition Freud showed no sign of complaint or irritability – nothing but full acceptance of his fate and resignation to it. The other was that even then he could take interest in the situation in America and showed himself fully informed about the personalities and recent events in analytical circles there. As Freud would have wished, their final parting was made in a friendly but unemotional fashion.
Freud, like all good doctors, was averse to taking drugs. As he put it once to Stefan Zweig, “I prefer to think in torment than not to be able to think clearly.” Now hoever, he consented to take an occasional dose of aspirin, the only drug he accepted before the very end. And he managed somehow to continue with his analytic work until the end of July. On September 1, his granddaughter Eva, Oliver’s child, paid him a last visit; he was specially fond of that charming girl, who was to die in France five years later.
In August eerything went downhill rapidly. A distressing symptom was an unpleasant odor from the wound, so that when his favourite chow was brought to visit him she shrank into a far corner of the room, a heart-rending experience which revealed to the sick man the pass he had reached. He was getting very weak and spent his time in a sick bay in his study from which he could gaze at his beloved flowers in the garden. He read the newspapers and followed world events to the end. As the Second World War approached he was confident it would mean the end of Hitler. The day it broke out there was an air raid warning – a false alarm, as it turned out – when Freud was lying on his couch in the garden; he was quite unperturbed. He watched with considerable interest the steps taken to safeguard his manuscripts and collection of antiquities. But when a broadcast announced that this was to be the last War, and Schur asked him if he believed that, he could only reply: “Anyhow it is my last War.” He found it hardly possible to eat anything. The last book he was able to read was Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin, on which he commented wryly: “That is just the book for me. It deals with starvation.” He meant rather the gradual shrinking, the becoming less and less, described so poignantly in the book.
But with all this agony there was never the slightest sign of impatience of irritability. The philosophy of resignation and the acceptance of the unalterable Reality triumphed throughout.
The cancer ate its way through the cheek to the outside and the septic condition was heightened. The exhaustion was extreme and the misery indescribable. On September 19 I was sent for to say good-by to him and called him by name as he dozed. He opened his eyes, recognised me and waved his hand, then dropped it with a highly expressive gesture that conveyed a wealth of meaning: greetings, farewell, resignation. It said as plainly as possible “The rest is silence.” There was no need to exchange a word. In a second he fell asleep again. On September 21 Freud said to his doctor: “My dear Schur, you remember our first talk. You promised me then you would help me when I could no longer carry on. It is only Torture now and it has no longer any sense.” Schur pressed his hand and promised he would give him adequate sedation; Freud thanked him, adding after a moment of hesitation: “Tell Anna about our talk.” There was no emotionalism or self-pity, only Reality – an impressive and unforgettable scene.
The next morning Schur gave Freud a third of a grain of morphia. For someone at such a point of exhaustion as Freud then was, and so complete a stranger to opiates, that small dose sufficed. He sighed with relief and sank into a peaceful sleep; he was evidently close to the end of his reserves. He died just before midnight the next day, 23 September 1939. His long and arduous life was at an end and his sufferings over. Freud died as he had lived – a realist.
Freud’s body was cremated at Golder’s Green on the morning of 26 September in the presence of a large number of mourners, including Marie Bonaparte and the Lampls from abroad, and his ashes repose there in one of his favourite Gracian urns. The family asked me to deliver the funeral oration. Stefan Zweig then made a long speech in German which was doubtless more eloquent than mine but which could not have been more deeply felt.