Charlie Chaplin? Albert Einstein? János Plesch? Hans Albert Einstein? Eduard Einstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The entertainer Charlie Chaplin and the scientist Albert Einstein were two of the most famous individuals of the last century. I have heard the following anecdote about a meeting between them in the 1930s. While traveling together they were recognized and a crowd of people started to vigorously applaud the luminaries. They waved to the throng and reportedly exchanged the following words:
Einstein: What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!
Chaplin: True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.
Is there any truth to this tale?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an article written by Charlie Chaplin for “Woman’s Home Companion” in October 1933 . The well-known comedian wrote a series of pieces for the magazine about his world travels, and his latest journey included a stay in Germany.
Previously, when Einstein had traveled to the United States he had visited with Chaplin. Thus, Chaplin decided to reciprocate, and he went to the “modest flat” of Einstein where he was introduced to the scientist’s wife, daughter (a sculptress), and son.
After dinner, Chaplin had arranged for a group of Japanese children to perform a dance routine for entertainment. One of the young dancers asked for autographs from both Chaplin and Einstein. Chaplin included a comic sketch of his large shoes while Einstein included one of his equations. Einstein then scrutinized the signatures, and the two luminaries exchanged remarks that prefigured the quotation under examination: 1
“But yours is more interesting,” he said humorously, comparing the two sketches.
“More comprehensible to the little girl perhaps,” I laughed, “and to me and many others.”
Interestingly, Chaplin credited the crucially insightful statement about fame to Einstein’s son. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
“We sat down to delicious home-baked tarts made by Mrs. Einstein. During the course of conversation, his son remarked on the psychology of the popularity of Einstein and myself.
“You are popular,” he said, “because you are understood by the masses. On the other hand, the professor’s popularity with the masses is because he is not understood.'”
Einstein had two sons: Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard Einstein. QI does not know which son Chaplin meant to credit.
A different tale about the origin of the quotation was later published by one of Einstein’s friends. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1933 October, Woman’s Home Companion, Volume 60, Number 10, A Comedian Sees the World – Part II by Charles Chaplin, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, The Crowell Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Verified; thanks to the staff of the Downtown Public Library of Spokane, Washington) ↩