In the original owner of Bell’s Books’ glass cabinet were some very special book treasures: among them a complete set of Shakespeare from 1752, an early 17th Century legal/historical text in Latin from Spain, a complete doubly-illustrated set signed by Joseph Conrad, and a book entitled Memoirs of the Queens of Prussia by Emma Willsher Atkinson from 1858. At first it was a mystery as to why this book was with the others, until we opened to the front free endpaper and discovered a German text in ink and in the cryptic hand of none other than Nikola Tesla(!). The German text is a particularly relevant passage to Tesla, as the following story relates:
One day in 1882, as he was walking with his friend Anital Szigety in a Budapest city park watching the sun set, Tesla quoted a passage from Goethe’s Faust from memory. It triggered an epiphany, and, as Tesla recounts: “…the idea came like a flash of lightning, and in an instant the truth was revealed.” Tesla immediately drew a diagram (with a stick on the ground) of what would become the AC motor, forever changing the future of electricity.
The text quoted from memory was lines 1072-1075 of Goethe’s Faust, which are the same lines of text inked in the front of the Memoirs of the Queens of Prussia. This is an extremely unusual instance of poetry Tesla admired in his own hand, and this particular example represents the most significant in his life’s work.
Here is the page:
“The sun moves on, the day has had its round;
He hastens on, new life greets his salute.
Oh, that no wings lift me above the ground
To strive and strive in his pursuit!”
– Walter Kaufman translation