EINSTEIN, Albert. Autograph manuscript signed ("A. Einstein"), comprising a draft of his celebrated aphorism on nature ("Die Natur verbirgt ihr Geheimnis durch die Erhabenheit ihres Wesens aber nicht durch List" (Nature hides her secret through the loftiness of her character, not through slyness), written, with revisions, on verso of a FULL SHEET OF EQUATIONS (these in pencil), n.d. [Berlin?, ca.1930?]. 1 page, 8vo (6¾ X 5 in.)
A FINAL RESTATEMENT OF EINSTEIN'S FAMOUS DICTUM: "SUBTLE IS THE LORD, MALICIOUS HE IS NOT"
Einstein held a profound belief in the underlying rationality of the universe; that rationality in turn permitted man to aspire to the understanding of its underlying structure and to establish, through scientific inquiry, its fundamental laws and principles. Throughout his long career, Einstein demonstrated a remarkable aphoristic gift, the ability to express ideas of great complexity in a clear, focussed statement. This is no where better shown than by his famous credo: "Subtle is the Lord, malicious he is not." In that statement, and elsewhere, Einstein chose to personalize what might be termed universal nature, or a supreme Being. As early as 1917 he had written to his friend and collaborator, Michele Besso, in a discussion of casuality that "I feel that the real joke that the eternal inventor of enigmas has presented us with has absolutely not been understood as yet" (Pais, Subtle is the Lord..., pp.413-414).
Einstein "was also a highly gifted stylist of the German language, and a student of philosophy" (Ibid, p.vii). The present revised draft of what is probably Einstein's best-known aphorism, one with deep philosophical implications, perfectly illustrates these two traits. On two occasions, Einstein attempted to encapsulate his fundamental ideas of the nature of the universe. In May 1921, on his first visit to the United States, Einstein gave four lectures on relativity theory at Princeton. During his stay, word reached Einstein that a scientist at the Mount Wilson Observatory, Dayton Miller, had conducted experiments which appeared to confirm the existence of "aether drift," contradicting the Michelson-Morley experiments on the velocity of light which were central to Einstein's own theory of relativity. When he was informed of the experiment (later discredited) Einstein expressed his deep skepticism with the famous comment "Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht" (subtle is the Lord, malicious He is not.)
Oswald Veblen, professor of mathematics at Princeton, was present, and overheard Einstein's remark. Later, in 1930, he wrote to Einstein and asked his permission to have this striking credo chisled in the stone above the fireplace in the frame of the fireplace of the old Common Room of Princeton's Fine Hall, the new mathematics building. In his 30 April reply to Veblen--later his colleague at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton--Einstein thoughtfully restated his original statement, made in conversation: "Die Natur verbirgt ihr Geheimnis durch die Erhabendheit ihres Wesens aber nicht durch List" (Nature hides her secret through the loftiness of her character, not through slyness).
The present manuscript, shows Einstein at work to refine and perfect the version he ultimately sent to Veblen. Its first form, the manuscript shows, was the considerably more cumbersome "Die Nature verbirgt sich dem forschenden Menschen durch die Erhabenheit ihres Wesens..." (Nature hides herself from the scientist through the loftiness of her character). In his revised version, he omits any reference to the scientist himself, giving the credo more general reference to mankind. Evidently, when he received Veblen's request, Einstein chose a page of discarded equations, turned it over, and began work to restate his fundamental principle in a new, elegant and striking fashion.