We know Arthur Schopenhauer as the 19th century philosopher who postulated that the world is driven by a perpetually dissatisfied will — among other ideas that had a big influence on people such as Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Albert Einstein.
But his mother, Johanna, knew him as a really bratty kid.
Their correspondence — Johanna and Arthur rarely got along well enough to live in the same place — provides fascinating insight into the personal side of the genius.
Here’s part of one of her letters to him:
I know perfectly well how you are … You irritate me no end and you are extremely difficult to deal with. Your extreme intelli-gence casts a dark cloud over your good characteristics — so nobody can benefit from them … you criticise everything and everyone, except yourself … so it is not surprising that you become alienated from the people close to you. Nobody enjoys being corrected or exposed – and most certainly not by such an insignificant little man as you. Who on earth do you think you are? There is no person on earth who can tolerate being criticised by someone with as many personal weaknesses as you have. I think in particular about the disparaging manner in which you use mystical terms to proclaim that something is like this or like that – without considering for one moment that you may be wrong.
If you were not such an annoying little man, you would have been nothing but laughable. But now it is impossible to live with you…
We came across this excerpt in “Gifted Workers: Hitting The Target” by Noks Nauta and Sieuwke Ronner (taken from “The Schopenhaur Cure“). It gets to the point that gifted people can be really annoying on a personal level, especially true when they haven’t found the proper outlet for their talents.
Nauta and Ronner write:
A powerful personality who causes problems and does not have a clear profile and direction, conjures up the image of an unguided missile in his or her environment — someone who cannot be guided, who cannot cooperate with others, cannot be communicated with, a ‘know it all’, unsociable towards colleagues and supervisors (and also towards partners and friends).
Arthur Schopenhaur fits this pattern, having failed to gain wide recognition for his philosophical insights until the 1850s, after the death of his mother in 1838.
The philosopher wrote in 1859: “If I also have at last arrived, and have the satisfaction at the end of my life of seeing the beginning of my influence, it is with the hope that, according to an old rule, it will last longer in proportion to the lateness of its beginning.”
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