Romance Stories: how a philosopher won himself a wife...

Moses Mendelssohn

Fromet Gugenheim

Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) was the most prominent Jewish thinker of his day who was recognized, in the phrase “from Moses unto Moses there was none like Moses,” as the legitimate successor to the medieval Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). At the same time, Mendelssohn was one of the best-known figures of the German Enlightenment, earning the title “the Socrates of Berlin.” His book Phaedon, or the Immortality of the Soul(1767) became the most widely read book of its time.

In 1762, the 33-year old philosopher visited Hamburg. There he met a 24-year old blonde, blue-eyed girl named Fromet Gugenheim, the daughter of a merchant. According to the story handed down in the family, he was much taken with her; and she, of course, knew of his reputation— her father, who was eager for the match, had seen to that. However, when she laid eyes for the first time on his stunted, misshapen figure, she burst into tears. Afterward, Mendelssohn sat down with her alone. “Is it my hump?” he asked. She nodded. “Let me tell you a story, then,” Mendelssohn said. “When a Jewish child is born, proclamation is made in heaven of the name of the person that he or she is to marry. When I was born, my future wife was also named, but at the same time it was said that she herself would be humpbacked. ‘O God,’ I said, ‘a deformed girl will become embittered and unhappy. Dear Lord, let me have the hump, and make her fair and beautiful.’” Fromet was touched by the story, and in June 1762, they were married. They had six children and a happy home life with frequent visitors calling upon the renowned philosopher. Their daughters Dorothea and Henrietta led the Women's Lib movement of their day by establishing salons noted for their intellectual— and sometimes amatory— freedom. Their son Abraham was a successful banker and father of Felix Mendelssohn, the composer of the Midsummer Night's Dream, Scotch and Italian Symphonies, Fingal's Cave Overture and the Violin Concerto in E Minor— beautiful romantic music that delights us to this day. Kupferberg began his book with: “The Mendelssohns were the Rothschilds of culture.”

Source: Herbert Kupferberg, The Mendelssohns:
Three Generations of Genius
(1972), Scribner's, N.Y.

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