It’s always exciting for me to hear a famous person’s voice for the first time, especially when that person was rarely recorded. I remember when I first found out that there were lots of Dylan Thomas recordings (he’s one of my favorite poets); but I was disappointed when I heard him read his poems in a monotone. (His ensemble recording of “Under Milkwood,” however, is wonderful: go here, here, and here to hear the whole thing).
And below, from Open Culture, is the only extant recording of Sigmund Freud’s voice. No matter what you think of him (and I think he was pretty much of a quack pseudoscientist), it’s still thrilling to hear him. His voice is a bit higher than I would have expected.
The details from Open Culture:
On December 7, 1938, a BBC radio crew visited Sigmund Freud at his new home at Hampstead, North London. Freud had moved to England only a few months earlier to escape the Nazi annexation of Austria. He was 81 years old and suffering from incurable jaw cancer. Every word was an agony to speak. Less then a year later, when the pain became unbearable, Freud asked his doctor to administer a lethal dose of morphine. The BBC recording is the only known audio recording of Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and one of the towering intellectual figures of the 20th century. (Find works by Freud in our collection of 300 Free eBooks.) In heavily accented English, he says:
I started my professional activity as a neurologist trying to bring relief to my neurotic patients. Under the influence of an older friend and by my own efforts, I discovered some important new facts about the unconscious in psychic life, the role of instinctual urges, and so on. Out of these findings grew a new science, psychoanalysis, a part of psychology, and a new method of treatment of the neuroses. I had to pay heavily for this bit of good luck. People did not believe in my facts and thought my theories unsavory. Resistance was strong and unrelenting. In the end I succeeded in acquiring pupils and building up an International Psychoanalytic Association. But the struggle is not yet over. –Sigmund Freud.
A bit about his demise: Freud smoked 20 cigars a day, and paid the price in heart trouble and 33 operations for cancer over the last 16 years of his life. At the end, he had no jaw left: just a prosthesis. He knew that cigars were the cause of his ills, but even the great analyst was powerless to stop. He was also addicted to cocaine. And he’s one of the most famous cases of assisted suicide in history. He was too weak to stop smoking, but strong enough to ask the doctor to end his life.
From The Freud Page:
. . . two days after [Ernest] Jones‘s visit, on September 21, as Schur [Freud’s doctor] was sitting by Freud’s bedside, Freud took his hand and said to him, “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense.” Schur indicated that he had not forgotten. Freud gave a sigh of relief, kept his hand for a moment, and said, “I thank you.” Then, after a slight hesitation, he added, “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it.” As she had been for years, so at this juncture, Freud’s Antigone was first in his thoughts. Anna Freud wanted to postpone the fatal moment, but Schur insisted that to keep Freud going was pointless, and she submitted to the inevitable, as had her father. The time had come; he knew and acted. This was Freud’s interpretation of his saying that he had come to England to die in freedom.
Schur was on the point of tears as he witnessed Freud facing death with dignity and without self-pity. He had never seen anyone die like that. On September 21 , Schur injected Freud with three centigrams of morphine – the normal dose for sedation was two centigrams – and Freud sank into a peaceful sleep. Schur repeated the injection, when he became restless, and administered a final one the next day, September 22. Freud lapsed into a coma from which he did not awake. He died at three in the morning, September 23, 1939. Nearly four decades earlier, Freud had written to Oskar Pfister wondering what one would do some day, “when thoughts fail or words will not come? “He could not suppress a “tremor before this possibility. That is why, with all the resignation before destiny that suits an honest man, I have one wholly secret entreaty: only no invalidism, no paralysis of one’s powers through bodily misery. Let us die in harness, as King Macbeth says.” He had seen to it that his secret entreaty would be fulfilled. The old stoic had kept control of his life to the end.”
For those interested in things medical, here’s an X-ray of Freud’s ravaged jaw, taken in 1939 (the year he died) from Exploring 20th Century London
and, for comparison, an X-ray of a normal skull: