EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('A. Einstein') to Michele Besso's son, Vero, and sister, Bice Rusconi ('Lieber Vero und liebe Frau Bice'), Princeton, 21 March 1955.
In German, one page, 279 x 216mm. Envelope. Provenance: by descent from the recipients.
Einstein's great letter of condolence to the family of his closest friend, written only a few weeks before his own death.
Einstein thanks Besso's son and sister for sending him such a detailed account of his friend's death: 'His end was in harmony with his whole life ... This gift of a harmonious life is seldom paired with such a sharp intelligence ... But what I most admired in him as a man was the circumstance that he managed to live for many years not only in peace but in lasting consonance with a wife – an undertaking at which I twice rather shamefully failed'. Einstein remembers the beginning of the friendship in their student years in Zurich, when they met at musical evenings, where Besso, 'the elder and a scientist', provided such stimulation: 'The circle of his interests seemed simply boundless'. Subsequently, their work in the federal patent office brought them back together: 'Our conversations on our way home were of an incomparable charm – it was as if the contingencies of daily life simply didn't exist'. Their later epistolary contact could not reach the same levels, in part because Besso's pen could not keep pace with his 'versatile spirit'. The letter concludes with a famous paragraph, an adieu to his old friend and also perhaps, for Einstein, to life itself:
'Now he has again preceded me a little in parting from this strange world. This has no importance. For people like us who believe in physics, the separation between past, present and future has only the importance of an admittedly tenacious illusion'.
In the foundation paper of the special theory of relativity, 'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies', 30 June 1905, Einstein had paid tribute to Besso -- the only credit given to any collaborator in any of the four papers of the annus mirabilis: 'In conclusion I wish to say that in working at the problem here dealt with I have had the loyal assistance of my friend and colleague M. Besso, and that I am indebted to him for several valuable suggestions'. Einstein died four weeks after the present letter, on 18 April 1955, at the age of 76.
Published (in French and German) in Pierre Speziali (ed. and tr.). Albert Einstein. Michele Besso. Correspondance 1903-1955. Paris: Hermann, 1972. No. 211.