Translated and annotated by Bertram Schwarzschild
Einstein writes in response to vicious attacks on Curie in the French right-wing press. The attacks began in the fall of 1910, when she offered herself as a candidate for the single vacant seat for a physicist in the French Academy of Sciences. The hostile press stressed her foreign birth, her liberal politics, her sex, and her romantic connection with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Curie had been a widow since her husband Pierre was run over and killed in 1906 by a horse-drawn wagon. The Curies had shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. A month before this letter, it was announced that Marie would receive a second Nobel prize, this time in chemistry.
Prague, 23 November 1911
Esteemed Mrs. Curie,
Don’t laugh at me for writing to you without having anything sensible to say. But I’m so furious at the vile [niederträchige] way in which the rabble [Pöbel] at present dares to treat you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling. I am, however, convinced that you despise this rabble, equally when it’s feigning adoration or when it’s using you to slake its thirst for the sensational! I must tell you how much I’ve come to admire your spirit [Geist], your creativity, and your honesty. I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels. Anyone other than those reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have eminent people like you, and also Langevin, among us—real people [wirkliche Menschen] with whom one feels privileged to be in contact. If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that swill. Rather leave it to the reptile for whom it’s been fabricated.
With most friendly regards to you, Langevin, and [Jean] Perrin,
Yours very truly,
P.S. I’ve determined the statistical law of [rotational] motion for a diatomic molecule in Planck’s radiation field by means of a merry joke [lustigen Witz], of course on the assumption that the structure’s motion obeys the laws of ordinary mechanics. But I have little hope that this law is valid in reality. 2