14 June 2013

A Fine Simian

David Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), footnote on p. 88:
Heinrich Floris [Schopenhauer] must have suffered hardness of hearing for many years. A well-known anecdote concerns the announcement to his employees of Arthur's birth. One of them is alleged to have said to the gathering "If he will come to resemble his father, he will become a fine baboon." He did not respond.
This seemed strange when I first read it, but I think I've caught on now that I've come across the quote in Wilhelm Gwinner's biography. The German word for baboon is Pavian, and the word for man is Mann. Presumably, said quickly enough, the ends of the two sound enough alike that Schopenhauer's deaf father wouldn't have caught the slight. In my translation I have rendered it as:
Like his son, [Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer] had a wide face and had been hard of hearing since he was young, only to an even greater extent than Arthur. He had prominent and lively eyes, a short and upturned nose, and a large mouth. The latter was not much of a credit to him; on the afternoon of February 22nd he entered his office in a fever and stammered out the words "It's a boy!" to the assembled employees. The witty bookkeeper, counting on in his employer's poor hearing, rose and congratulated him heartily, saying: "If he is like his father, he will grow up to be a fine simian!"
I'm now going to use this line whenever someone shows me a male child.