Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview
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11
The Prague Papers

11a. From Zürich to Prague

'I will most probably receive a call from a large university to be full professor with a salary significantly better than I have now. I am not yet permitted to say where it is' [E1]. So Einstein wrote to his mother on April 4, 1910, less than half a year after he had begun his associate professorship in Zürich. The call he expected was supposed to come from the Karl-Ferdinand University, the German university in Prague. He had to be discreet since the search committee convened in January had not even made a proposal to the faculty yet. The experimentalist Anton Lampa, committee chairman and Einstein's strong advocate, had sounded him out beforehand. The committee report dated April 21, 1910, proposed three candidates and stated that all of them were willing to accept a formal offer. Einstein was the first choice. This report quotes a glowing recommendation by Planck: '[ Einstein's work on relativity] probably exceeds in audacity everything that has been achieved so far in speculative science and even in epistemology; non-Euclidean geometry is child's play by comparison.'Planck went on to compare Einstein to Copernicus [Hl].

The news spread. In July 1910 the Erziehungsrat (board of education) petitioned the government of the Canton Zürich. It was noted that, according to experts, Einstein was one of the few authorities in theoretical physics; that students from the ETH were coming to the University of Zürich to attend his lectures; that he was teaching six to eight hours per week instead of the customary four to six; and that efforts should be made to keep him in Zürich. An annual raise of 1000 SF was proposed. The petition was granted [P1].

It would appear that Einstein was eager to go to Prague, however. In the summer of 1910 he wrote to Laub, 'I did not receive the call from Prague. I was only proposed by the faculty; the ministry has not accepted my proposal because of my Semitic descent' [E2]. (I have seen no documents to this effect.) In October he wrote to Laub that the appointment seemed pretty certain [E3], but in December he wrote that there had been no word from Prague yet [E4]. However, on January 6, 1911, His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph formally approved the appointment, effective April 1. Einstein was notified by letter, dated January 13 [H1]. Prior to the beginning of his appointment, he had to record his religious affiliation. The answer none was unacceptable. He wrote 'Mosaisch'

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