Classical Texts in Psychology

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Introduction to

"The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis."
Sigmund Freud (1910)

Raymond E. Fancher, York University

© 1998 Raymond E. Fancher
All rights reserved.


In December of 1908, the Viennese physician Sigmund Freud (1856­1939) received an intriguing invitation from the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall (1844­1924), inviting him to visit Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and deliver a series of lectures describing his novel views about abnormal psychology. The invitation was intriguing partly because it came from one of the senior and most influential figures in American psychology. A prolific author and researcher, Hall had pioneered the field of developmental psychology and brought both the term and the concept of "adolescence" to wide public notice. He had also been America's leading institution builder for the emerging discipline of psychology, establishing The American Journal of Psychology as his country's first professional psychology journal in 1887, and serving as the founding president of the American Psychological Association in 1892. Since 1889 he had been president of Clark University, which despite its small size had become the leading American producer of Ph.D. students in psychology. Indeed, Hall was just now planning a conference to celebrate the University's 20th anniversary, which he assured Freud would attract "the best American professors and students of psychology and psychiatry," and which was the occasion for the present invitation.[1]

Freud was flattered to receive an invitation from such an eminent representative of the psychological establishment, for he himself was anything but an establishment figure. For more than twenty of his fifty-two years he had been developing an innovative psychological theory and treatment method that he called "psychoanalysis," but even though he had published extensively in respectable German language journals his work had not "taken off" in the way the ambitious Freud had hoped it would. As Freud later put it, he had spent the decade of the 1890s working in "splendid isolation" and only after the 1900 publication of his book Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams) had he begun to attract a small following in Europe. A few young Viennese intellectuals started meeting regularly at his home to discuss his work, occasionally joined by outside visitors such as Karl Abraham (1877-1925) from Berlin, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933) from Budapest, and Carl Jung (1875-1961) from Zurich. By April of 1908 this group had become large and enthusiastic enough to organize a "First International Congress of Psychoanalysis" in the Austrian city of Salzburg, which attracted some forty participants from five countries. But this was still relatively small stuff. Almost all of the writing about psychoanalysis was still in German and its reputation was primarily confined to continental Europe; even there, it was distinctly a fringe movement. In America and the rest of the English speaking world, some rumors had begun to spread about Freud as the promoter of a strange and sensational new theory that emphasized sexuality and the unconscious, but few had any direct knowledge of him or his work. Hall, who had emphasized sexuality in his own theorizing about child development and adolescence, was among the first Americans to read Freud in the original and to be positively impressed. Hence the invitation.

Following negotiations during which the date of the conference was changed to a more convenient time, the speaker's honorarium increased from $400 to $750, and Freud was offered an honorary degree if he came, he accepted. Despite some uneasiness about the receptivity of American culture to his work, Freud recognized the invitation as offering a wonderful platform from which to present his theory directly to a new and prestigious group of psychologists, under the official sponsorship of a highly respected American institution. He arranged to bring his Hungarian disciple Ferenczi along for moral support, and convinced Hall to issue Jung a last minute invitation to address the conference as well. Freud and his party sailed to New York aboard the ocean liner George Washington in late August, and arrived in Worcester for the early September conference.

Freud delivered five lectures on five consecutive days from Tuesday, September 7 through Saturday the 11th. Given in German and following no written text, each was extemporaneously planned on a walk with Ferenczi earlier in the day. Despite these apparent limitations, the talks were a great success. His audience was more multilingual than would be the case for a comparable gathering today, and Freud fully revealed his skill as a cogent and captivating lecturer, sprinkling his talks with small jokes and personal references that everyone enjoyed. His lectures told the story, in roughly chronological order, of how he had arrived at the main points of his theory and technique. Although more than twenty speakers participated in the conference, Hall clearly promoted Freud as the star attraction, and his lectures received wide press coverage. Although not everyone was convinced by everything Freud had to say, his goals for the visit were more than realized. He provided a lucid summary of his complicated theories, in terms easily understood and remembered by intelligent laypeople.

Hall liked the lectures very much, and wanted to preserve them in a more permanent and definitive form than just newspaper accounts. Accordingly, he wrote to Freud shortly after his return to Vienna: "Your lectures were such masterpieces of simplification, directness, and comprehensiveness that we all think that for us to print them here would greatly extend your views at a psychological moment here and would do very much toward developing in future years a strong American school."[2] If Freud would agree to recreate the lectures in writing by the next January, Hall would have them translated into English and published in the American Journal of Psychology. Freud readily agreed, and after working "head over heels to meet the imminent deadline you have set for me"[3], produced the five written lectures on time. Although slightly amended to accommodate the written medium, they faithfully recaptured the substance and spirit of his original talks. As they arrived one by one, Hall immediately sent them for translation to his student Harry W. Chase, who was concurrently completing a doctoral dissertation on the new Freudian psychology. After some frantic transatlantic exchanges for Freud to approve the translations, they duly appeared in the April issue of the journal under the title, "The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis," in the exact form in which they appear below. Later in 1910 Freud published his German version of the lectures, in a small book that he gratefully dedicated to Hall.

In the following years Freud's enthusiasm for Hall dimmed somewhat, as the American began to endorse some of the views of Alfred Adler, Freud's early follower who had broken with psychoanalysis and established a competing school of "Individual Psychology." Freud complained that Hall too much enjoyed playing the role of "king­maker," and was fickle in his devotion to those he had previously anointed. Nonetheless he was correct to be grateful to Hall, for the lectures and their attendant honors and publicity marked a genuine turning point. Now accessible for the first time to a wide audience, Freud and psychoanalysis were fairly on their way to becoming household terms, in America as well as Europe.

Freud's German version of the lectures has subsequently been re-translated into English, mainly to make all of their terminology consistent with the more recent "Standard Edition" of Freud's work. But the essence of all versions remains the same, and the original translation presented here has the historical virtue of enabling the reader to encounter Freud in exactly the same way his American audience first did in 1910. There is still no better short introduction to the man and his work.  

Recommended Reading

For a full and fascinating account of Freud's trip to America, accompanied by his complete correspondence with Hall and one of the new translations of the lectures, see Saul Rosenzweig's The Historic Expedition to America (1909): Freud, Jung and Hall the King-maker (St. Louis: Rana House, 1994).  


1. G. Stanley Hall to Sigmund Freud, letter of 15 December 1908, reprinted in S. Rosenzweig, The Historic Expedition to America (1909): Freud, Jung and Hall the King-maker (St. Louis: Rana House, 1994), p. 339.

2. Hall to Freud, letter of 7 October 1909, reprinted in Rosenzweig, 1994, pp. 358-359.

3. Freud to Hall, letter of 21 November 1909, reprinted in Rosenzweig, 1994, p. 363.