Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Generalizing from Three Cases!

According to a current joke, Freud is supposed to have said: "Don't generalize from one case. . . . Generalize from two." Well, I have three cases: three cases of accomplished men who yearned for fame in their youth, rejected their early plans to establish a career in the law, and set out on their own unique path.

Freud was a very intelligent and hard working student, but when he left school, he was not sure of what he wanted to do. At first, he decided to become a lawyer.  In fact, Freud's younger brother, Alexander, became a lawyer.  Then, he decided to study medicine and to become a doctor, for this reason, he enrolled in the medical school of the University of Vienna (1873) and he often came top of the class. To the eyes of Freud, working hard and wanting to find out about things were the two most important qualities in life.

When Freud was a student at the University of Vienna, dreaming of recognition and fame, he liked to stroll around the university courtyard and contemplate the busts and statues erected to honor famous professors. He imagined that one day he would see his own likeness among them. It would bear a line from Sophocles' play Oedipus Tyrannus: "Who divined the famed riddle and was a man most mighty."

Then there is the case of Robert Schumann, the nineteenth-century German composer.  "At school he was an average student," recalled a school chum of Schumann's, "rather dreamy and inattentive. But what soon struck me about him was the absolute certainty in his own mind that one day he would become famous. In what he would be famous -- that had yet to be determined -- but famous whatever the circumstances." The "dreamy and inattentive" side of Schumann's personality -- the romantic and impractical visionary -- has been broadly affirmed by those who knew him. His ambition has been all but forgotten.

In 1828 Schumann left school, and after a tour during which he met Heinrich Heine in Munich, he went to Leipzig to study law. In 1829 his law studies continued in Heidelberg, where he became a lifelong member of Corps Saxo-Borussia Heidelberg.

During Eastertide in 1830 he heard the Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer Niccolò Paganini play in Frankfurt. In July he wrote to his mother, "My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law."  By Christmas he was back in Leipzig, at age 20 taking piano lessons from his old master Frederich Wieck, who assured him that he would be a successful concert pianist after a few years' study with him.  So much for a career in the law!


The French writer Honore de Balzac sought fame and when it appeared on the horizon, the critics rose and thundered. Balzac defied all rules, walked over the grammar, defiled the well of classic French. He invented phrases, paraphrased greatness, coined words. He worked the slide, glide, the ellipse—any way to express the thought. He forged a strange and wondrous style—a language made up of all the slang of the street, combined with the terminologies of the laboratory, law, medicine and science.

An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life, and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was apprenticed as a legal clerk, but he turned his back on law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

During a trip to the north of France Balzac asked a friend:

Does it get cold here in winter? The friend replied: "You're going to freeze your Balzac, Balzac!"