THE PSYCHOLOGICAL cornerstone of the 20th century was laid down by a 43-year-old Viennese physician trained in neurology and hypnosis. That cornerstone, Freud's Interpretation of dreams (1900), sold only 350 copies in six years, but went on to eight editions and a permanent place in the history of ideas. Psychoanalysis, his invention and his cause, changed not only psychology and medicine, but virtually all human endeavor from bedroom to battlefield.

The heyday of analysis is past. Face-to-face psychotherapy -- less intensive, less costly, perhaps no less effective -- dominates the scene. The once revolutionary analytic institutues are dividing, and being divided by, the spoils of orthodoxy. American psychiatrists are scrambling aboard the medical merrry-go-round with its high technology, hospital beds, pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Only 3 percent of medical graduates now choose psychiatric specialization compared with 7 percent in recent years.

Freud's sex theories pale by comparison with today's sex therapy, his male chauvinism is passe, the Oedipus complex has been dethroned and literati are tired of viewing everything from Hamlet to Huckleberry Finn in Freudian terms. Leading therapists insist that making conscious the unconscious is only one part of mental healing, along with identification, persuasion, empathy and will: Human relationship looms larger now than Freud's "transference" ghosts.

Why new books on Freud now? Ronald Clark, British biographer of the Huxleys, Bertrand Russell and Einstein, has uncovered much of interest since the "official" Freud biography by his countrymen, psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, 25 years ago. An impressivley thorough, objective outsider, Clark tells how Jones and Anna Freud excised or embargoed parts of her father's correspondence. Freud, the inventor of psychobiography, destroyed many of his papers to make things more difficult for the biographers he audaciously presumed -- even in his twenties -- would pursue him. Yet he wrote thousands of frank, self-disclosing letters.

Clark painstakingly weaves together old and new material. All that weaving requires a giant loom, which Clark handles securley to produce a work of substance, not much color and just a few holes. To get the yarn going he needs 150 pages, since Freud's real achievements began in midlife, and his early years are either well-obscured or just plain dull. (Ironically, Freud made himself an expert on infantile sexuality and not what we have come to call the midlife crisis.) Clark tries to bolster the narrative with a psychodynamic interpretation of young Sigmund: An infatuation with a girl and a fondness for her mother are viewed with a raised eyebrow, but not much can be made of it really.

Yet Clark, like Jones, ignores a vital clue to a teen-age "model." Sigmund and his friend Eduard studied Spanish together. From a Cervantes novella The Dialog of the Dogs they took nicknames, Cipion and Berganza, respectively. In this little masterpiece two dogs enjoy the gift of speech for one night. Cipion is the sober, skillful listener and foil for the garrulous, mayby hysteric, Berganza, who tells much of his hectic life story. Cipion never gets his promised turn to open up. As Cervantes scholar S. B. Vranich points out (Psychoanalytic review, 1976,) that would be out of character: Cipion "stunningly matched Freud's lifetime role," a more significant model for the future analyst than his much-touted military heroes, Hannibal, Napoleon and Cromwell.

Also missing from Clark's book is an elucidation of Freud's 19th-centruy context, the background in philosophy, science and medicine, done so well in last year's Freud by Frank Sulloway, a young historian of science. Clark does quote The Scarlet Letter (1850), a well-known literary precedent for "analysis" by the revelation of hidden material to a physician interested in the soul as well as the body. But Clark leaves us to wonder whether Freud ever read Hawthorne.

Until after his work with Charcot and Breuer on hysteria and the book on dreams, Freud remains a grayish figure: smart, ambitious, confident, loath to admit error. As his career took hold, as Stekel, Adler, Jung, Fliess, Lou Andreas-Salome and others enter and leave the picture, his complexion gains color. Freud was a compelling extemporaneous speaker and an effective writer. He attracted bright, imaginative, nonconformist followers. His fear of a reaction against a Jewish-dominated psychoanalytic movement led him to promote as crown prince Carl Jung, who emerges later in this book as an anti-semite if not a Nazi collaborator.

Freud smoked 20 cigars a day most of his life, refusing to quit even during the last 16 years when his jaw was destroyed by cancer: he had 30 painful operations before succumbing in 1939 at 83. Freud could be two-faced, autocratic, unsympathetic (to suicides), unscientific (he held the Lamarckian view that acquired characteristics could be inherited, and flirted with the occult) and bitter. He could also be witty, modest, generous and compassionate: He grieves poignantly at the deaths of his daughter Sophie and her young son.

Clark compares Freud with William Harvey and Albert Einstein. We sympathize with the buffeting a pioneer endures. We gasp at Freud's poor judgment of character in choosing disciples and at his withering scorn when they depart. Clark presents a fine selection of letters from a huge store, a basic summary of Freud's major writings, a solid narrative about the psychoanalytic movement and its key figures and quotations from such diverse and unexpected commentators as Virginia Woolf, William James, Walter Lippmann, Thomas Mann, Max Eastman, H. l. mYencken, Theodore Dreiser and Barbara Tuchman.

Freud did things many strict Freudians eschew. He saw family members of his patients, revealed himself informally in analytic sessions and befriended patients at the end of treatment. He opposed the medical domination of psychoanalysis that evolved in America, arguing in behalf of lay, i.e. non-meidcal analysts. He wrote psychobiography on people he never met, using data he could fit together with his powerful new theories, overlooking other, conflicting data in his approach to Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Woodrow Wilson, Moses.

The end, told in gripping detail by Clark, came after a difficult migration to London. When the Nazis -- having taken his money, burned his books, arrested Anna -- made Freud sign a declaration that he had been well treated, he added a sentence: "I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone." Four of his sisters perished later in concentration camps; Freud died after one more active year but without the British citizenship he wanted.

Investigator more than healer, quiet commander more than democratic leader, Freud was anti-religious and pessimistic. He could not be expected to champion the existence of such things as "will" and "soul." It is startling therefore to read Lucy Freeman's claim in her new book that Freud not only "discovered the origins and development" of the psyche, but "crossed the frontier" of the soul and "penetrated its heartland." If Clark's portrait is a subdued taperstry, Freeman's is a bold-printed Freud T-shirt.

In their treatment of Otto Rank, the two books differ typically. Freeman mentions him only in her chapter on "Swindlers," as one who debased the pure gold of psychoanalysis. Clark carefully describes the final schism between Rank, Freud's closest associate for two decades, and the inner circle, casting doubt on Jones' claim that Rank suffered a "a psychotic illness of which no one else was aware." Unfortunately both writers cite only primal-scream therapy as Rank's legacy, which is like saying Gutenberg's legacy is the comic book.

Lucy Freeman is an award-winning writer in the mental health field, and there is good material here mixed with miracle-mongering. She quotes Jones extensively and uncritically. Freud wasn't really sexist, it seems; and if he was, it can be understood (and so forgiven) as part of his milieu. Her chapter on femininity includes the warning that a normal woman must exchange her wish for a penis for the wish to have a baby, and Freeman exclaims, "The human race would soon be extinct if every woman decided the clitoral orgasm was enough." She has some original material, including her own interviews with Theodor Reik and Franz Alexander, precis of independents like Karen Horney and Heinz Kohut and frank exposure of the organizational feuding among analysts. She introduces some of the jargon we have to come to live with in this field. Shades of Orwell! Love, under the psychoanalytic lens, becomes an "object relation."

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Notebooks (1844) includes a prescient warning for therapists:

"The Unpardonable Sin might consist in a want of love and reverence for the Human Soul; in consequence of which, the investigator pried into its dark depths, not with a hope or purpose of making it better, but from a cold philosophical curiosity, -- content that it should be wicked in whatever kind or degree, and only desiring to study it out. Would not this, in other words, be the separation of the intellect from the heart?"

Thank goodness there are analysts like Harold Searles, quoted by Freeman, who think, "The classical analytic position, containing an element of delusion to the effect that the analyst is not at all a real person to the patient but simply mirrors the mother and father of the past to whom the patient relates as a child, simply will not do." If, as I gather, Freud was more to his patients than "classical technique" suggests, then the cornerstone he laid down and built upon should never be cold to the touch.