Sigmund Freud at the Reichenbach Falls

In May 1991 a centennial plaque was placed by “The Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland” and “The Bimetallic Question of Montréal” adjacent to the funicular railway of The Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland. It reads – in English, German and French – :


At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty on 4 May 1891.

An diesem furchterregenden Ort besiegte Sherlock Holmes am 4. Mai 1891 Professor Moriarty.

A cet endroit terrifiant, Sherlock  Holmes a vaincu le professeur Moriarty le 4 mai, 1891.

(A photograph of the plaque may be viewed on…)

The narrow 656 foot waterfall – The Reichenbach Falls – was the dramatic, perfect site for the final fight to the death of Holmes and his nemesis, “the Napoleon of crime” Moriarty, the brilliant professor of mathematics who had “gone wrong”.

Except it wasn’t! Both Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes were inventions of the Edinburgh-trained doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes, it is true, was the product of the fictionalization by the young Conan Doyle of the admired Professor of Medicine, the surgeon of the Edinburgh Infirmary, Dr Joseph Bell. Bell’s aquiline nose and clean-shaven features (rare in a professional man at the time) are indeed the spitting image of Holmes as imagined by Conan Doyle’s readers. An interesting paper on this topic is Tom McQuain’s “Dr. Joseph Bell, a Model for Sherlock Holmes”. See

The centennial plaque represented the commemoration of a fiction: a fiction known by the Holmesian enthusiasts to be a fiction; but which they tried to transfer into an historic reality. Freud wrote to his longtime friend and confidant Wilhelm Fliess, the Berlin-based E.N.T. doctor, about the place [Bellevue in Himmelstrasse, Vienna – not to be confused with the current Viennese Bellevue Hotel!] and date of the first dream described and “analyzed” in Chapter 2 of Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams), the “specimen dream” (das Traummuster) now known as “The Dream of Irma’s Injection”. “Do you suppose,” Freud wrote to Fliess, “that someday one will read on a marble tablet on this house:

Here, on July 24, 1895

The secret of the dream

Revealed itself to Dr. Sigm. Freud.

So far there is little prospect of it.” [J. M. Masson (ed.), The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904, p. 417]. As Masson carefully notes: “Such a plaque was indeed placed there on May 6, 1977 (ibid., p. 418) in a ceremony in the presence of Anna Freud.

In other words, another fiction was being celebrated by aficionados. For a researched review of this hoax in Chapter 2 of The Interpretation of Dreams, a hoax which in a sense provides the whole value (literary rather than scientific) of this famous book, see Chapter 7,  “A `Specimen’ of Deception in The Interpretation of Dreams” in my Maelzel’s Chess Player: Sigmund Freud and the Rhetoric of Deceit (1994, Rowman & Littlefield). All of Freud’s publications are, in effect, fictions of some sort or another – whether we are dealing with a `theoretical’ piece or a narrative of a `case-history’ (the prime instance might be the `case’ of Little Hans which as the late great Irish psychiatrist Anthony Clare has shown in Psychiatry in Dissent. Controversial Issues in Thought and Practice was neither a “case” nor, in any meaningful sense, a “history”). Some of these Freudian fictions may be traced and demonstrated with the sense of suspicion demonstrated by Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple allied with a careful cross-checking of Freud’s correspondence (and not only with Fliess) and related documents. Some are much easier to illustrate – and this in spite of the heavy censorship of Freud’s willing daughter, Anna, when in the 1950s she produced in collaboration with Ernst Kris and Marie Bonaparte a wretchedly edited version of her father’s correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess (the French, incidentally, had to put up with this highly censored 1954 edition of the correspondence until 2006 when a brand-new edition going back to the original German and using excellent authorities and some newly added letters made the Presses Universitaires de France edition ironically the finest, most complete version available of the Freud-Fliess correspondence).

When Masson produced his English-language version of the Correspondence in 1985 thanks to Harvard University Press’s Belknap Press, he enclosed as an endnote addendum a list of the letters censored or completely removed from Anna Freud’s 1954 edition – so one can tell at a glance at this list which letters were tampered with by Anna Freud (or completely, and silently, removed – like the brief letter to Fliess precisely dated July 24, 1895 – and with no mention whatever of a discovery of the meaning of dreams, or of any other “psychological” advance! The question that rises immediately in the attentive, critical reader’s mind is: WHY was this letter removed?  On WHAT grounds? At the  time of the publication of this translation, Masson was still a Freudian “believer” to use Grünbaum’s dismissive term; he was, however, already highly skeptical of the Master’s authority. (Recent per­sonal e-mail correspondence shows that Masson, now living in New Zealand, has become totally indifferent to Freud’s adventures.)  Masson’s edition produces 133 letters eliminated from Anna Freud’s 1954 edition and offers the integral text of the many censored letters. It is interesting to note, in relation to the famous “Specimen Dream of Irma’s Injection” that the letters withdrawn from Anna Freud’s edition are precisely (1) that of July 24, 1895 – the date of the supposed discovery of the meaning of dreams, and (2) the three letters of 1897 indicating the real date of Mathilde’s diphtheria (hence later by two years than the possibility of the diphtheria appearing as a major feature of the dream of Irma’s injection and later by four years to the narration of events in the analysis of the dream — see Wilcocks, “1893–1895–1897–1899: Or How Norman N. Holland Gave Game, Set, and Match to Frederick Crews.” <>

Not only did Anna Freud know full well that her father was a professional liar – i.e. a liar in his profession of psychoanalyst – she furthered this conceit by her censored edition of his letters to Fliess. In other words, Anna Freud knowingly concocted a history of her father’s invention which she knew to be untrue and indeed based on lies to the ignorant public at large and to members of the guild who would not dare contradict her versions of the facts (the Stalinists in the then Soviet Union used these techniques in their versions of Russian history – Anna Freud’s versions of the history of her father’s invention are every much as mendacious as the Stalinist versions of recent Russian history).

But Freud’s fictions are ubiquitous. The lies go hand in hand, as it were, with the physiological incompetence of his reported “scientific” experiments on the muscular effects of cocaine. The reader of Malcolm Macmillan’s massively documented The Completed Arc: Freud Evaluated (1997, MIT Press) will have a detailed evaluation of the experimental disasters of Freud’s work.

However, the causes for the damage done to future generations of “patients” were present from the very beginning. In the first place, Freud invented illnesses  — this is NOT a colorful metaphor, alas; merely a statement of fact —  which he then thrust upon his clients, presenting their particular presentations as “symptoms” of the illness he had diagnosed – or invented – or – given his ignorant reliance on Wilhelm Fliess – which he had “borrowed” from his long-term friend.  Emma Eckstein, for instance, came to Freud  with problems of painful and disorderly periods – dysmenhorrea – this was at the time when Freud had changed his diagnostic procedures and was indulgently following Fliess’s suggestions of a “nasal reflex neurosis”. This left Freud in a predicament of uncertainty:

I am now making this diagnosis very often and agree with you that the nasal reflex is one of the most frequent disturbances. Unfortunately, I am never sure what to do then.” (Masson 1985, p. 49. Letter of May 30, 1893)

Private admissions like this have their own value because of their rarity. They reveal, in fact, far more than Freud intended, namely the implied questions: what was the diagnosis of THIS person’s ailment (if it really was an illness), and what treatment procedure should be followed, and – necessarily – why THIS particular approach than another. What, for example, was the leading diagnosis of patients BEFORE the wild acceptance of Fliess’s “nasal reflex neurosis”? What were the grounds for Freud’s sudden change of diagnosis? Had his cohort of patients suddenly changed? This is, of course, a mean rhetorical question to which we already know the answer: the “patient-population” had not changed; but the present theoretical grasp of their “doctor” had evolved.

Freud occasionally plays the odds in a daring way. The gamblers among us may appreciate this; but not those interested in the serious investigation of human behaviour. Freud was safe in the knowledge that “none will know” – rather like Holmes’s return to 221B Baker Street to the amazement of Mrs. Hudson when she recognizes beneath the veneer of the Norwegian savant, her former resident.

In the 1907 paper “The Sexual Enlightenment of Children”  (an open letter to Dr. M. Fürst), Freud writes (P.F.L.,7, p. 179):

So far as my knowledge of the literature goes, a single outstanding exception is provided by the charming letter of explanation which a certain Frau Eckstein quotes as having been written by her to her son when he was about ten years old”. This is a reference to Eckstein’s 1904 book: „Die Sexualfrage in der Erziebung des Kindes“ (Leipzig)

Freud was fairly certain of the ignorance of his readers. For those in the know, two questions immediately arise: (1) Did Emma Eckstein ever have any children? The answer is “NO”. And (2): If the son was ten-years-old in 1904  — the date of Eckstein’s book – where was Eckstein in 1894? The answer is: on Freud’s couch and within two years of the disastrous nose invasion by Dr. Fliess from Berlin.

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the early years of  psychoanalysis. A more serious offer is that of the Guardian’s critic, Jane O’Grady, who in her excellent review of George Makari’s Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis remarks sagely in her penultimate paragraph:

We get every possible permutation of theory, interminable shifts of emphasis and twiddling with minutiae. Yet during the squabbles and quibbles, Germany was suppurating. Missing the real crisis, these doctors and intellectuals (most of them Jewish) were fiddling with themselves and their silly theories while Rome was beginning to burn. – 82k – Cached Similar pages

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