In our society, Chiromancy (also called Palmistry, that is to say, fortune-telling by palm reading) is as discredited as, in my home, the title of yacht pilot of my cousin. (It will be a month that, to celebrate the recent obtaining of his title, my cousin took us all to sail his tiny yacht and we were shipwrecked.) But in the romantic era things were very different. Especially in Weimar, where the chiromantic gifts of Mrs. Schopenhauer were famous.
Of course, I do not mean the wife of the founder of the Philosophical pessimism, who, as everybody knows, remained single throughout his life. I mean his mother, Johanna Schopenhauer, who at the beginning of the 19th century was the hostess of a salon in the style of the French institution. (You know, those groups of selected people who had a get together at some lady’s house).
There is no greater contrast of characters than those of Arthur and his vivacious and jovial mother. Imagine a strict, austere and conservative mother and his scatterbrained, cheerful and irresponsible son. Now reverse the roles and you’ll get an idea of the contrast between them.
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Schopenhauer decided that they had been bored enough and that the family needed a change of scenery. So they moved from the dull Hamburg to the fashionable Weimar, where the romantic movement was incubating. Arthur’s sister, Adele, cheered enthusiastically, but he described the decision as irresponsible and refused to follow them.
Since then, mother and son had not kept in touch again. But in 1809, the young Arthur, who was studying Commerce in Hamburg, almost had a stroke when he learned that his mother was breaking free of social conventions. Writer of success, she was the first German woman to publish books without a pseudonym. And even worse: she was building a reputation as chiromancer!
That was more than the serious and responsible Arthur could tolerate. So, to honour the memory of his father and preserve the good name of the family, he felt obliged to pay a visit to his mother in Weimar.
Knowing the arrogant, pessimistic and antisocial mood of her son, Mrs. Schopenhauer was startled when she saw him appear in her salon without warning. And right there, in the presence of the creme de la creme of the German romantic movement, the young Arthur dared to recriminate his mother her liberal habits and, especially, the practice of that obvious scientific fraud called Palmistry.
All those present tried to appease the disturbed young man and challenged him to check personally the divinatory skill of his mother. Willing to sacrifice himself for the truth, Arthur finally agreed to extend the palm of his hand so that his mother could read from it his fortune. However, he retired the hand so quickly that Mrs. Schopenhauer barely had time to predict that, in the immediate future, Arthur would not suffer any serious health mishap.
But Arthur’s will to sacrifice himself for the sake of truth had no limits. So, seeing the opportunity to discredit that false science before the distinguished audience of his mother, he could not think of anything better than to throw himself out the window.
In this way, with some broken bones and a concussion, Arthur was satisfied for having dismantled his mother’s prediction. But, on the other hand, he was annoyed by the fact that he should now remain at his mother’s home the time that his convalescence lasted.
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