Boris Archives Menu Table of Contents
[Chapters II through VI deal extensively with Boris (Table of Contents). Here are some excerpts from Chapter III.]
We had wonderful Sunday afternoons in those years, and I still remember that company and that talk in our attic so long gone.
Students and professors used to come, for conversation and for experiment. It was on those afternoons that Boris conducted much of the psychological research that enabled him to formulate the principles he outlined in his first book, "The Psychology of Suggestion."
James came. James gave to Borisís life its definitive slant. First James taught him psychology, and then they taught each other by studying together. They both felt for the rest of their lives that delight in each other's personality and intellect that is friendship at its finest.
James said to me, "If they call me genius, what superlative have they saved for this husband of yours?"
But what he liked most was that we were so happy together on our stale bread and black coffee.
"Pray tell me," he once asked in the phrases and the gentle manner so characteristic of him, "how two people who are so poor can be so happy?"
Our happiness came from that delicacy, balance, courage and brilliance in Boris that also made him a great psychologist. Besides my devotion to him, I contributed to our marriage my ability and energy in the practical things of the world, so that they never worried him. He liked it that way.
To the end of his days, be liked to whisper to our friends, "My wifeís a wonder! You don't know the half of what she can do!" Those words warm me today.
In that luminescent period of Harvard college around the 1890ís, when James was doing his brilliant experimental work in psychology, Boris became one of the giants. A great breath of inspiration swept through the infant science at that time. Charcot, Janet, and Binet in France; Adler, Jung and Freud in Germany and Austria; James, Sidis, Prince, Watson and Dewey in America began to study men's minds and their behavior on the basis of fact and experiment.
The American psychologists did not start any special school of psychological thought, with new words and rigid and detailed formulae, as did the French and Austrians. It was not in Jamesí temperament to encourage a camp of followers or to set up an intricate formalised theory to which he demanded absolute adherence.
Sound and original contributions to the great body of scientific psychological knowledge were the gifts he gave the world and the gifts he admired in the men whom he taught and with whom he worked.
These men sharpened their wits and learned and laughed in our two attic rooms on many a Sunday afternoon. James came, and rested on the top stair at the first flight before he started the second, for he had heart trouble. Morton Prince, who was then teaching psychiatry at Tufts came. Scores of other students and teachers came.
They experimented on each other with cards and numbers and squares and patterns to find out just how men react to suggestion. They hypnotized each other. When Boris came to practice psychiatryhe never used hypnosis, for he along with those others quickly discovered its dangers. But at that time the Harvard psychologists as well as their European colleagues, were using the tool of hypnosis to explore the subwaking mind.
One gay afternoon I remember vividly. James and Boris had hypnotized one of the students, and James gave the command to the hypnotized subject, "Behave as Mr. Sidis does."
Before he could say another word, the student jumped up and went to the little closet that was my kitchen, where I kept the kerosene stove. He carefully lit the stove, and put the kettle on.
"You will have tea, wonít you? Everybody wants tea, don't they?" he said.
Everyone roared, for he was Boris to perfection. Boris usually made the tea, weak Russian tea that we drank in glasses. We had no cream or lemon, because we couldn't afford it, but we did have sugar and we told them the story of the Russian peasant tells on himself about sugar in his tea.
"The Czar," says the peasant, "has a lump of sugar as big as a loaf of bread for his tea. But the peasant buys a lump of sugar, hangs it on a string, and looks at it while he drinks his tea."
Not only with hypnosis, but also with cards, and colors and numbers did they experiment with the power of suggestion on the waking and the subwaking mind during these attic sessions. The subwaking mind was what Boris called that ocean of animal consciousness through which the waking mind flows as the Gulf Stream flows through the Atlantic.
With his friends he found, as other psychologists of many schools have found, that this subwaking mind was the reservoir of emotions that pull and prod the waking mind into its activities. It was in these first years of our marriage, at our Sunday sessions, that he found experimentally that the subwaking mind is not nearly so amenable to reason as it is to suggestion and that certain laws can be framed that will indicate how it responds to suggestion.
Most thoughtful people today have come to realize that all effective psychologists must be as much artist as scientist. They must have a perception so delicate and acute that they can follow instantly along the twisting paths of the subwaking mind. They must be able to enter other peopleís personalities.
Boris had the delicacy, the perception and the artistry that that takes. It made him not only a great scientist, but a great teacher and a great man, and it made him a marvelous husband.
Now that I think back it seems strange even to me that a girl who had been completely ignorant of all the world's learning at 14 years old should find herself five years later thrown [in] with men as brilliant as any there were in America, and enjoy it.
It is probably because they were so great. They enjoyed above all else the bright, quick play of the mind on lifeís important problems, they wanted above all else to clarify what was cloudy. None of them was trying to impress each other, to be pompous or patronizing, or to use the big hard words of the educated ignoramus.