WILLIAM JAMES SIDIS
The Absolutist, #43, September 5, 1944
Mimeographed weekly newsletter published by conscientious-objector group of which Sidis may have been a member.
In Julius Eichel Papers, Swathmore College Peace Collection
Born in Brookline1, Massachusetts April 1,
Died in Brookline2, Massachusetts July 1944
This is not a biography in the sense which this term is usually employed. It covers (inadequately, considering the meager space we are devoting to it) parts of Sidis’ life that were so sadly misunderstood by his contemporaries. A biography to be of value must be honest, for that reason we will stick to the facts, shielding no one, but where actions and principles and not the individuals concerned are the important considerations, we will withhold names.
WILLIAM JAMES SIDIS AND PACIFISM William James Sidis was a libertarian pacifist, and we are not departing from our accustomed devotion to pacifism when we devote this entire issue to his biography. At a time when general disgust with CPS3 slavery is sweeping through CPS, it is well to remind our readers that Sidis was always an ardent opponent of CPS. Before that evil was started we has written a paper opposing the inauguration of CPS and sent copies to a number of friends inviting comments, among them was Sidis. Sidis, under the pen name of Parker Greene (our readers may remember his weekly column in The Absolutist) wrote a similar denunciation, but having a practical turn of mind in such matters, improved upon what we had written and suggested an alternative to CPS. In effect he said the government insists that the citizens of this country must do work of "national importance." Well and good. Let the young men and women involved get together voluntarily, and devote their energies, their abilities, and money for building self- supporting projects of a cooperative nature with the government and its bureaucrats excluded from its management. Had his suggestion been adopted or even attempted much good might have resulted from it. But the pacifist churches and their members were hell bent on trying out this noble experiment under conscription, and both papers were suppressed by all pacifist organizations out of deference to the pacifist groups who insisted they wanted CPS.
PACIFISM AND GOVERNMENT To Sidis government had only one legitimate function, and that is to protect the individual in his inalienable rights. Any government that sins against the individual forfeits its right to existence. From that standpoint all forms of organized violence can meet only with opposition and not cooperation, for such violence entails a denial of civil liberties and individual freedom. We have a clear picture how organized violence defeats the needs of even good intentions in the classical example of the recent civil war in Spain. Here was a democratic and liberal government elected with a clear mandate to rid the country of militarism and repudiate its imperialism. France was to be dismissed as a butcher and a disgrace to humanity, and Morocco was to be liberated. But the labor politicians, as politicians everywhere, found it easier to make promises than to carry them out. The trappings of militarism and imperialism were too seductive. Morocco was held in subjection, and France was exiled to that place and permitted to play the soldier—we know with what disastrous effect. The civil war got started because militarism and imperialism had not been repudiated. With organized violence both sides resorted to terror. Most people have much to loose by such violence and desired to remain neutral, but individual freedom and neutrality were not permitted by either side—that is the first law of organized violence—and the principles that were supposed to activate the loyalists were discarded for the greater glory of victory. There again it was determined that rather than freedom, individuals prefer national glory. That is the way of militarism. Sidis was never fooled by this war psychosis, and denounced any attempt to take sides in the civil war in Spain. War is the enemy of all mankind, and that is the great evil we must fight at all costs and at all times.
SIDIS GETS INTO THE NEWS We first become acquainted with the name of William James Sidis when he was admitted to Harvard at the age of eleven. At the age of twelve he was in the news again for he had created a sensation by lecturing on the fourth dimension to Harvard professors. We next heard of him through the press when he led a May Day parade in Boston on May 1, 1919. We came into personal contact with him the later part of 1922, and almost up to the day of his death we were in constant touch with each other.4
COMMON INTERESTS We were both libertarians and confirmed conscientious objectors to all forms of organized violence, and particularly national wars. Sidis had a strong love for America and its traditions of freedom, and so did the editor. In World War I, Sidis registered his objections to war, but the armistice of 1918 saved him from a prison term. The editor was not so lucky, for we spent about twenty-six months in prison for opposing conscription and war. It was natural then that we who so strenuously opposed the institution of war and so determinedly fought to uphold the best of our American traditions of liberty, could join hands in combating the common enemy—militarism and the institutions geared to maintain it.
SIDIS AND HIS PARENTS It would be well to review some of the items that made Sidis the man he was. In our Weekly Prison News Letter No. 21, August 31, 1943, under the heading, "RAILROADING IN THE PAST", Sidis gives his own story, in his own words, and describes the attitude of his parents towards him. Sidis was very sensitive, and his parents may have been well-meaning, but nevertheless in the interest of realism in this biography, we are going to tell the story of his relationship with his parents as he was accustomed to telling it. William James Sidis had intelligent parents. His father was a professor of psychology at Harvard, and was considered an authority in his day. His mother was a physician and also very intelligent. They were in a position to help develop their son’s mental powers to the fullest. Sidis was unfortunate in the fact that his parents were both strong-willed individuals and incompatible. According to Sidis they would be constantly quarrelling making life bitter for everyone on the family. Sidis would say he was the object of their frustrations, and would often get nagged and scolded, and be whipped when either of his parents were cross with each other.
SISTER HELENE Life became a bit more bearable when his sister Helene was born when he was about ten years of age. Not that the nagging and beating stopped, but he found great comfort in this new sister, for here was one member of his family that made no attempt to dominate him. This attachment to his sister lasted until a year before his death when she crossed him on some manner. There seemed to have been some reconciliation between him and Helene as he lay dying, but he never forgave his aged mother who was also present at his side. In 1923 when his father died his hatred for him was so intense that he refused to attend the funeral.
THE INFANT PRODIGY Opinions vary on the talents Sidis possessed as an infant, but all agreed that his talents were prodigious and broad. He enjoyed the exuberance that came with his ability to think clearly and clarify obtuse philosophies and scientific writings to older people in clear and concise terms. This mental faculty he maintained to the end. No one who would come into intimate contact with him could say that his mental powers were waning. On the other hand, few could meet him without coming away with the feeling that he lacked some of the ordinary niceties that is expected of everyone in society. He was interesting to those who could overlook his bitterness and his personal habits, he could talk well on almost any topic and with an interest that could hold his listeners spell-bound.6 Sidis seemed to have blossomed out intellectually at the age of two, for it was then that he was accredited with speaking four languages, and having some familiarity with most of the sciences. This faculty to master anything he was interested in never forsook him. Even after he was popularly supposed to have given up thinking, he could master a system of shorthand overnight, teach himself a new language by the cryptogram method, talk learnedly on mathematics, biology, astronomy, geology, topography, etc.
INTEREST IN RAPID TRANSIT Sidis was interested in transit before he could toddle. One Harvard graduate, a number of years his senior remembers with what astonishment he and two other classmates (today one is a Supreme Court judge and the other a well known retired professor of logic) came away after a visit to the Sidis home. Sidis hardly more than two years old was on the floor of his room looking over some maps of Greater Boston and calling to his mother, who had just brought him home from a shopping tour. He called her attention to the maps and pointed out how she could get to the shopping center of the city by a much shorter route. He never lost his interest in transit, and up to the time of his death he was constantly studying city transit problems, and solving some quite elegantly, and that without ever having set foot in some of the cities. Those of our readers who remember VUSP (Volunteer Urban Self-Supporting Projects) will remember he was offering his labors gratis if only he could be instrumental in getting a volunteer cooperative started along the lines he planned. The sting that interfered with stirring up interest for the plan was the preconceived notions of most people that similar city guides were already in existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. With painstaking thought and logic he had evolved a system whereby anybody could by looking at the part of the city he wanted to reach, see at a glance what transit facilities to use towards that end.
SIDIS AT HARVARD At the age of six he raced through grammar school in six months. At eight he finished a four-year course at the Brookline High School in six months. He passed the Harvard entrance exams at nine. He was not admitted immediately so he went to Tufts College for a year.4 It was two years before Harvard broke down its reserve to admit so young a scholar. He was eleven years old when he entered Harvard. At twelve he suffered a nervous breakdown, and he was taken from school to his father's sanitarium at Portsmouth, N. H.5 Sidis would insist that it was not his mental activities that it was not his mental activities that brought on his breakdown, but the social life he was compelled top lead. His proud parents were anxious to show off their prodigy, and insisted on directing his activities long after he had achieved an intellectual superiority over them. His mother would make appointments for him to meet people in whom he had no interest. He would complain about such appointments, and his mother would say, I promised to bring you"—and that settled it her way.
SIDIS AND THE YOUNG LADIES When he returned to Harvard to resume his studies, he was still mentally alert, but very much more reserved. One of his classmates describes him as very studious, indifferent to his personal appearance, presumably happy, and not at all bitter. The ladies began coming into his life, and being the celebrity he was, some of them would coo over him. His bragging about their attentions led some of the practical jokers among his schoolmates to write love letters to him, until he gained the impression that all the young ladies were after him as the prize catch. To his dying day he would brag about the number of proposals he received. We believe he counted them into the hundreds. Throughout his existence he continued to receive proposals from facetious maidens who knew in advance he was certain to turn them down—but he would count them in. He tried to be secretive, but he was really very communicative. Any moon-eyed girl, for that matter any man who could appear sympathetic could worm out of him the innermost secrets of his life. In many ways he was naive, ingenuous, and trusting, and while he was sophisticated enough on must worldly matters, individuals could impose on him. It was from some such inveigler that The New Yorker got the story of his life in 1937 which led to the lawsuit for invasion of privacy.
TEACHING AND FURTHER STUDY About this time young Sidis was becoming disgusted with his academic surroundings, and becoming better towards the end of his stay at Harvard, and was becoming more careless in his personal dress and habits. At the age of sixteen he graduated from Harvard. In 1915 he was invited to Rice Institute, Houston, Texas, to teach mathematics. In June 1916 he resigned. After this resignation Sidis decided to go back to Harvard and study law. Lack of funds prevented him from continuing his studies in law, and from then on he had to face the world and shift for himself.
RADICALISM AND GOVERNMENT It was after leaving law school that some of his real troubles began. One had but to know the political views of his father, Dr. Boris Sidis, to realize that the political and economic phase of his education would not be neglected. William James Sidis understood our traditions, was very familiar with our institutions, and had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the political realities in the United States. He knew that the most sacred positions of trust in the country were at the disposal of the political manipulators who would stoop to the lowest depths to gain and retain power. When one considers that a political convention called upon to nominate a President can be influenced by the low tricks of politicians rigging up loud speakers in a cellar of that convention, and delegates can be lined up for the candidate by the evil machinations of a Tammany Hall, or a low down political corrupt machine in Jersey City, or at this late date by labor politicians who are bribed by the government by some share in this evil power over their fellow men, then he can see that the government is run by gangs and not by the good men that vote. Sidis knew that, but he was too busy devoting his life to science. Now came a change. He desired to do with politics and economics what he already accomplished in science—master its intricacies and instruct people in the truth. To his dismay and disappointment he discovered whereas he was free to discuss his scientific convictions, he was not free to question political and economic practices within the United States. Certainly he was not free to instruct others on the solution to those evils. His professors discouraged any such activities and so did his parents. His father had come here from Russia to escape exile to Siberia for his revolutionary activities under the Tsar. He was not going to permit his son to make the same mistake of opposing the operations of a powerful and corrupt government. He discouraged any activities along such lines. But young Sidis became only the more interested, and continued his researches and activities. It was not long before he found that very few would join him in the search for truth. His professors, the editors, the ministers, and especially the politicians had no objection to the truth in scientific matters, but they made every effort to suppress or dodge the truth in economic and political matters. He found these groups praising institutions and individuals that should be receiving their condemnation.
POLITICS AND PARTIES Many of those acquainted with the actions of young Sidis were quite at a loss to understand why he would shift his allegiance from one party to another. Back in the early days of the war he had joined the Socialist Party, and when the left wing split off to become the Communist Party he joined that group, but soon after dropped from that group. Some said he was too radical. The fact is that he only had a scientist's interest in those parties. He was interested in economic and political freedom. The Socialists seemed to promise that and he joined up to help them. He soon came to the conclusion that Socialist politicians were hardly better than any other kind. They, too, attempted to enslave others in order to free them. He joined the Communist branch of the split because he saw the entrenched Socialist politicians stoop to low practices and slander that disqualified them as champions of freedom as far as he could judge. The Socialist Party was being disrupted by a struggle for power, and the group that he had hoped had some ideals and was devoted to the truth, chucked such ideals overboard to gain its ends. He left the Communist Party for the same reason. He did not have to wait a score of years to discover that Communism was a religion with the State as its God, and that individual freedom was the least of Communist concerns. He saw that Lenin and Trotsky were laying the foundations of a totalitarian Stalin. Sidis was interested in individual freedom, and he severed his connections with all groups that opposed such freedom.
AN AMERICAN PARTY NECESSARY It was through this experience with political parties that led Sidis to the conviction that international affiliations were a hindrance rather than an aid in gaining such freedom. In Russia the people had exchanged the despotism of the Tsar for that of the Communist Party. It was his conviction that the Russian people were chained to despotism by their traditions and knew no better. He saw, too, that the American branch of the Communist Party was more loyal to the central power in Russia than it was to the American people. As a matter of fact the party was willing to betray the American people in deference to Russia's aims. He decided, after due consideration, that only an American party with no direct international ties, with an economic program that would renounce politics completely, that would have as its program the democratic cooperative ownership by the workers in each industry of the tools of production, such enterprise to be free from all government direction and especially free from government bureaucracy, could be the only practical alternative to corrupt politics and he evils of the present economic system.
REVOLUTIONARY ACTIVITIES The father of young Sidis, Dr. Boris Sidis, was a student of psychology, and was well acquainted with the psychosis engendered by a national war, and the more he would study the phenomenon the more he was disgusted with the patriotic devotion that would impel people to mutual suicide and slaughter. Some day when we can spare the space we will review some of Dr. Boris Sidis' views on war and the masses. His views were definitely opposed to the hysteria of war. It was small wonder then that young Sidis should be a pacifist almost from the cradle. Sidis was only twenty in 1917 when the United States entered the war, and he was too young to register in the first draft. In another registration in 1918 he protested war and conscription as a conscientious objector. It was at about this time that he joined the Socialist Party. On May 1, 1919, he led a May Day demonstration and parade which was organized by the Socialist Party. He was arrested together with about a dozen others. In court, among other items, he was charged with being a conscientious objector, an atheist, and with carrying a red flag—none of which charges he denied. There is quite a story connected with that arrest with many interesting angles. For one thing the arrest proved his point that the authorities could not tolerate free speech nor criticism, and that most public officials were ignorant of American history, elements necessary for such freedom. He was bitter but exultant. In court he matched wits with the prosecution, and proved that the officers of the law were not familiar with our traditions, but had a great respect for power and arbitrary force. They had no regard for the meaning and demands of freedom. The red flag he proved had been used in the War for Independence, slightly altered to be sure, but it made the flag respectable—it was the old pine tree banner, a red background with a green pine tree.
TRUE LOVE It was in the course of this experience that he formed an attachment for a young lady which if reciprocated might have changed the course of his entire life. Among those arrested in that May Day parade was a young girl, since become famous as a writer, whom he adored. Shortly after his arrest he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to eighteen months in the reformatory. He appealed, and before he could get a hearing in court, he was whisked away to his father's Portsmouth, N. H. sanitarium, and later to California. For details of this episode we must again refer our readers to the article "RAILROADING" IN THE PAST, where Sidis describes the ordeal he was put to. Upon his return from California, he sought out this new flame and carried on a romance on Central Park benches. Sidis was very naive when he would tell this story of his love making. The first time he had her to himself in Central Park he kissed her with a great deal of ardor. "Why you kiss like an experienced lover," she said. "Where did you get that experience, pray." And he naively answered, as he later told us, "Why, cant you believe it comes as natural to me as any other man." This affair proved to be one-sided, for while the lady was amused at this love making, it struck no deeper root than that. Soon after she left the country and married someone else abroad. She returned to this country with a baby, and Sidis asked permission to visit her. He received that permission, and found he still loved her and he loved the baby, and Sidis told us all about that visit. And in spite of all rumors to the contrary, that is all that ever came from that affair. It was a case of unrequited love. Sidis admitted that her love might have achieved wonders with him, for whereas he might be stubborn with others, there is nothing he would not have done to please her. He carried her photograph with him from 1920 until the day he died, and was always anxious to be asked about it, and would flourish it in the face of any newcomer to arouse a curiosity which he was fast to satisfy on demand. That was the only lady he ever loved, and would admit it, just as readily as he would admit that she did not love him.
SIDIS DENIES HIS UNUSUAL ABILITIES The young lad that had lectured to college professors on the fourth dimension was now a man, and he had more important problems than showing off his scholastic abilities. It was not only distasteful, he wanted to forget it, but society would not permit him to shake off the reputation of his youth. It was this attempt to deny his own genius and ability that probably forced him to seek jobs where thinking was unnecessary. He would minimize his personal attainments and abilities and insist that he was merely mediocre, just to change the subject. Once, while denying his precocious childhood that led to his entrance at Harvard at the age of eleven, we asked: "But how could people say such things about you if they are not true?" His reply to that was: "Well, I was at college at a time when a number of my young classmates had distinguished themselves in one subject or another—the authorities conjured up a composite picture of the lot and named it Sidis."
NATURAL ABILITIES Be that as it may, Sidis could be counted on to solve difficult mathematical problems if anyone could get him to concentrate on them. And we have seen him compete with another able mathematician in solving such problems. He did that to his distaste he later said, but, nevertheless, he retained the ability to do so after he had gained the reputation that he had stopped thinking. In 1927 he wrote a book, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, which, considering the meager material he had to work with, proved his ingenuity, his ability to gather the material and arrange it attractively, and make a most interesting story of a rather dry subject. The book, too, illustrates his sense of humor, and that he could enjoy a joke, and also gives some indication of the habits and character of the author. He was scrupulously, and his opinion could be depended upon to be the truth. It was only when he would permit personal dislikes to color his thoughts that he could be unreasonable in his attitude. In 1929 he patented a "perpetual" calendar, which was a marvel of simplicity, depending only on the turn of a disc to give information that similar contraptions would give through a number of intricate devices that might disclose some ingenuity, but not the direct and clear thinking that characterized the works of Sidis. He never gave up thinking, but he had come to the conclusion that science and all of its achievements were secondary in a world geared to war and periodical destruction. He had a great concern for his fellow man, and he was determined to help change the economic and political structure of society so that man might be freed from his enslavers. These were the problems upon which he was anxious to concentrate, and he was proud of whatever achievements he could make in that field.
SHORTCOMINGS AND IDIOSYNCRACIES William James Sidis was born on April 1, and from the day we met him until The New Yorker put emphasis on that point, we remember him saying whenever he had occasion to give the date of his birth: "It was April fool to my parents." The New Yorker sort of soured that joke, and he never repeated it thereafter. Sidis was born in Brookline, Mass., and he died not far from his birthplace. That was no mere coincidence—he could think of no better place in the world, although he had seen much of the United States. Brookline is part of Greater Boston, and he was proud of Boston "the cradle of democracy," and he would ascribe the origin of most democratic thought to Boston. He credited Boston with a number of firsts, too numerous to mention here and many of which escape our memory at the moment. Boston had the first cafeteria in the United States, the first subway, etc., and he always insisted that the Boston transit system was the most efficient. He was a loyal son of Boston, and one of his last acts was to submit a plan to the authorities to prevent post-war unemployment in Boston embodying his underlying faith that non-profit, self-supporting projects are the only democratic solution to the misery of unemployment. Boston can still honor one of her most distinguished sons by the adoption of some plan like that. Sidis insisted that he had very little sense of beauty, did not understand or appreciate poetry or music, and was altogether bereft of any esthetic sense. That was hardly true. He could hammer out a tune on the piano. He would revert to poetry whenever he was strongly moved by sentiments connected with liberty. He had memorized almost all of the good rhymes on liberty, and he would recite them with enthusiasm and ardor like a cheer leader. He had a keen sense of smell and all the essentials that could make him an aesthete. He was very observant. Perhaps he did not think these acquirements important enough and so disowned them.
HISTORICAL INFLUENCES Sidis had a great love for the American Indians especially those who lived in and around the New England States. He could read their wampum and talk their language. He believed that a continuity existed between their institutions and our own. Federation, for instance, was an old idea from the five Indian tribes living in the northern section of New York, and Sidis was convinced that they influenced us in that direction. There were two events in American History for which he had a special fondness. They both dealt with revolts of the common people against their American oppressors. One concerned Sir Edmond Andros, governor of a large section of New England whose rule as a royal dictator was terminated in the colonies by a spontaneous uprising of New Englanders who disarmed his guard and imprisoned him on April 18, 1689. Sidis was particularly impressed with the fact that the uprising was spontaneous, very restrained, and effective. He was convinced that it could serve as a pattern for uprisings against out present-day despots. The other was Shay's Rebellion, which was another spontaneous uprising of the common people, many of whom fought in the War for Independence, only to return to civil life to find themselves the victims of excessive taxation, and subject to imprisonment for debt and facing foreclosures of their property. That uprising, too, was a model of constraint considering the great provocation, and it helped to wring many concessions from the tyrants in control of the government in those days. Debtors prisons were abolished, foreclosures were suspended, and many of the planks in our Bill of Rights can be traced to those rumblings of rebellion that spread throughout the country at that time. Sidis admired the spirit and aims of both rebellions, and he tried to found societies in commemorations of those events with the hope that similar rebellions against the tyrants of our own day could be stimulated by such examples. Sidis saw no hope for freedom in the politics of our day, and warned his friends to shun the ballot. Instead he would stress the workers cooperatives free from government participation and the bureaucrats.
PERSONALITY AND JOBS The first job Sidis was compelled to give up was that of instructor at Rice Institute in 1916. He did not give it up from choice—he was compelled to quit by the directors of the college. His work was always excellent, he taught with painstaking care. The students were pleased with his lectures. But his slovenly personal appearance, his annoying habits, and his bitterness towards his critics made him poor company. All of the jobs he managed to get were either gotten him by friends or were the result of his passing civil service examinations. Civil service examinations were easy for him; in almost every instance he would head the lists. But his main trouble was holding on to jobs. He would be asked to quit or the jobs would be voted out of existence. A belief had grown up the Sidis objected to working for a decent salary. It is true that his salary would range from $15 to $25 a week, but that was not from choice. He took what was offered. His principles would prevent him from living extravagantly, but he had plans for using surplus earnings for his pet scheme of cooperatives. After his father died in 1923 (Sidis, by the way, would not attend the funeral, he detested his father so heartily) Sidis inherited about $50,0003 as his share of the estate. He would not touch a penny of that for his own use. Instead he invested the money in Bus stocks, which to all appearances seemed sound enough, looking forward to the day when he could use that nest-egg to start the cooperatives he was always planning. Financial manipulations carried on by the parent bus company resulted in him being squeezed out of his holdings, and he suffered a complete loss of his inheritance. He had not enjoyed a penny of it. His salary was too meager for any saving, and when he would lose a job he would suffer from hunger. He could live on very little. He sought out the cheapest boarding houses for his shelter. For the last five years of his life he lived in an attic which was extremely hot in summer and very cold in winter. In the summer of 1942 his sister Helene had visited him and presented him with an electric fan which made the conditions in the attic a bit more bearable. In the winter of 1943 he contracted a cold which he did not thro off, and it continued to plague him into the summer when on July 17, 1944 the newspapers reported his death. He had estranged most of his friends, we among them. His sister, to whom he was attached, had given him some financial help the year before, and with it went some advice which he resented. He had a falling out with her for the first time in his life, and until he was dying in the hospital he had no contact with her. We had quarreled over some trivial matters of policy; he insisted on judging each pacifist by his acceptance of the principles of VUSP, which we thought was a poor measure of a pacifist's sincerity. Ordinarily such a difference would not be enough to cause a rift, but Sidis, though very calm and collected in ordinary matters, would become exceedingly bitter and lose his head in personal matters. With that understanding of the situation we stopped collaborating with him, although we wrote him we respected his ideas, and we would be willing to cooperate on most matters where there could be no personal friction.
PERSONAL APPEARANCE AND HABITS Sidis was as indifferent to his personal appearance and habits as was Samuel Johnson in an earlier age. But he suffered more than Johnson for this, for whereas Johnson was the literary leader of the groups then congregating in coffee-houses, Sidis had no such admirers, and few could overlook his careless appearance and uncouth manners. The result was that first appearances would shut out his [genius] to those who met him casually. Sidis was about five feet, eight inches tall, stocky and broad boned, and weighed about 220 pounds. In appearance and habits he could have passed for a longshoreman rather than a white-collar worker, yet he insisted that the only work he was fitted for was operating a comptometer or in an office. That incongruity made it difficult for him to get such office work, and that was at the root of his financial troubles. No one could complain about his work; it was accurate and efficient, and he would be asked to locate mistakes that others would make. If only he had paid more attention to his cleanliness and his distasteful habits. But in spite of friendly advice, he could not overcome such weaknesses. He wore a dirty old cap, musty with age. He always seemed to need a shave, although he did not cultivate a beard. His trousers were unpressed and dirty, his shoes always remained unshined when he wore shoes. In later years he wore ordinary gray sneakers, with socks in winter, and without socks in summer. His coat was ragged with the lining usually showing where the stitches or wear had loosened it from the cloth. His tie was usually cut six inches from the knot, and usually dirty. In an age when dress and appearances count for so much, his carelessness was an obvious handicap.
LACKED APPEAL William James Sidis was a difficult man to have in company for he demanded attention which few would accord him. His experience with society had made him bitter and distrustful, and this bitterness would be directed with very little discrimination against anyone who would slight him. That does not mean his bitterness would overcome his good sense when people would disagree with him. But in personal matters he could be very abusive. It was such personal shortcomings that made it difficult for him to influence people. He had no desire for power over them, but he did hope to show people how they could attain a democratic system which would strip leaders of despotic power. He did not believe that the ends could justify the means, or that any leader had the moral right to enslave his followers in order to save them. He was opposed to all forms of coercion, just as much by parents from which he had suffered, as from the government which had also added to his suffering. Industrial democracy and true representative government was his passion, and he evolved systems which he hoped could bring the solution to our political and economic evils that all lovers of freedom desired. But his secretive nature, his fear of government interference and oppression, and his peculiar personality all operated to separate him from the people he wished to influence. He would not take more than a few people into his confidence on the type of government necessary before we can have democracy, but how could he with the best system in the world get it into operation unless people know his aim? His plans had to be kept secret because he knew the government could oppress people who opposed its evil rule, but how can any opposition to the government succeed unless some sympathizers know your plans? He could hate people most heartily for merely misunderstanding, but how can ideas be thrashed out unless one can endure misunderstanding and criticism without taking it too personally? And then there was the matter of his dress and habits, and in this age when it means so much, how can anyone expect to influence people who is careless in that respect? These were the faults for which he suffered much, and which were probably more responsible for his frustrated existence than the popular notion that he had stopped thinking. Sidis could not stop thinking. He wanted work where thinking was unnecessary so that he could be free to think about problems that concerned humanity. We close this biography by a word from Sidis written long before our involvement in this war tying up his conscientious objections to war with his love for democracy.
SIDIS WAS CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TO WAR "The promotion of the individual rights of the people of America necessarily involves resistance to war in any form, as war inevitably must destroy these rights and clamp additional government rule on people. This applies to any war between nations or established governments. Anyone who supports such hostilities, or governments participating in them (whether or not the hostilities are actually called war) cannot be considered as doing anything else but fighting against democracy and the rights of the people; only those who resist war to the utmost, and with their last breath and last ounce of energy, can be considered as truly fighting to save this country for democracy."
This sheet is distributed to our President, each senator, officials, newspapers, friends, and subscribers.
Some Footnotes by Dan Mahony
Eichel gives us valuable information about Sidis's thought and habits in his last years. Especially the information about his abvility to read wampum belts and his knowledge of Native-American languages.
But Eichel's information about Sidis's life in general is not accurate, possibly because Eichel's information came from The New Yorker article and other newspaper sources. Sidis is highly unlikely to have talked to Eichel about his personal life.
Cases in point:
1. Sidis was born in New York City, not Brookline.
2. He died in Boston, not Brookline.
3. His inheritance was $4000, not $50,000 (see Financial Documents). Eichel's knowledge of Sidis's past could have been informed only by newspaper accounts.
4. The Tufts misconception is a clue that The New Yorker article was the source of at least some of Eichel's beliefs about Sidis's childhood―he certainly never heard it from Sidis.
5. Sidis's Harvard Collegetranscript shows no interruption of his studies. The Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute in Portsmouth, NH, was the Sidis family home.
6. Eichel's wrote: "That does not mean his bitterness would overcome his good sense when people would disagree with him." Huh? This would seem to contradict much of the claims that follow about Sidis's "bitterness." Sidis's long-time friends in the Boston area, Issac Rabinowitz, and "Rab's" daughter Anne Feinzig, never mentioned any bitterness to me in many hours of conversation.
Nevertheless, Eichel gives us very valuable information about Sidis's thought , habits, and lifestyle during the years after 1940.