The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; The Art of Controversy
by Arthur Schopenhauer
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

It is not only that ordinary men have little to say, but what intellect they have puts them in the way of concealing and distorting it; and it is the necessity of practising this concealment that gives them such a pitiable character; so that what they exhibit is not even the little that they have, but a mask and disguise. The lower animals, which have no reason, can conceal nothing; they are altogether naive, and therefore very entertaining, if we have only an eye for the kind of communications which they make. They speak not with words, but with shape and structure, and manner of life, and the things they set about; they express themselves, to an intelligent observer, in a very pleasing and entertaining fashion. It is a varied life that is presented to him, and one that in its manifestation is very different from his own; and yet essentially it is the same. He sees it in its simple form, when reflection is excluded; for with the lower animals life is lived wholly in and for the present moment: it is the present that the animal grasps; it has no care, or at least no conscious care, for the morrow, and no fear of death; and so it is wholly taken up with life and living.

* * * * *

The conversation among ordinary people, when it does not relate to any special matter of fact, but takes a more general character, mostly consists in hackneyed commonplaces, which they alternately repeat to each other with the utmost complacency.[1]

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.—This observation is in Schopenhauer's own English.]

* * * * *

Some men can despise any blessing as soon as they cease to possess it; others only when they have obtained it. The latter are the more unhappy, and the nobler, of the two.

* * * * *

When the aching heart grieves no more over any particular object, but is oppressed by life as a whole, it withdraws, as it were, into itself. There is here a retreat and gradual extinction of the will, whereby the body, which is the manifestation of the will, is slowly but surely undermined; and the individual experiences a steady dissolution of his bonds,—a quiet presentiment of death. Hence the heart which aches has a secret joy of its own; and it is this, I fancy, which the English call "the joy of grief."

The pain that extends to life as a whole, and loosens our hold on it, is the only pain that is really tragic. That which attaches to particular objects is a will that is broken, but not resigned; it exhibits the struggle and inner contradiction of the will and of life itself; and it is comic, be it never so violent. It is like the pain of the miser at the loss of his hoard. Even though pain of the tragic kind proceeds from a single definite object, it does not remain there; it takes the separate affliction only as a symbol of life as a whole, and transfers it thither.

* * * * *

Vexation is the attitude of the individual as intelligence towards the check imposed upon a strong manifestation of the individual as will. There are two ways of avoiding it: either by repressing the violence of the will—in other words, by virtue; or by keeping the intelligence from dwelling upon the check—in other words, by Stoicism.

* * * * *

To win the favour of a very beautiful woman by one's personality alone is perhaps a greater satisfaction to one's vanity than to anything else; for it is an assurance that one's personality is an equivalent for the person that is treasured and desired and defied above all others. Hence it is that despised love is so great a pang, especially when it is associated with well-founded jealousy.

With this joy and this pain, it is probable that vanity is more largely concerned than the senses, because it is only the things of the mind, and not mere sensuality, that produce such violent convulsions. The lower animals are familiar with lust, but not with the passionate pleasures and pains of love.

* * * * *

To be suddenly placed in a strange town or country where the manner of life, possibly even the language, is very different from our own, is, at the first moment, like stepping into cold water. We are brought into sudden contact with a new temperature, and we feel a powerful and superior influence from without which affects us uncomfortably. We find ourselves in a strange element, where we cannot move with ease; and, over and above that, we have the feeling that while everything strikes us as strange, we ourselves strike others in the same way. But as soon as we are a little composed and reconciled to our surroundings, as soon as we have appropriated some of its temperature, we feel an extraordinary sense of satisfaction, as in bathing in cool water; we assimilate ourselves to the new element, and cease to have any necessary pre-occupation with our person. We devote our attention undisturbed to our environment, to which we now feel ourselves superior by being able to view it in an objective and disinterested fashion, instead of being oppressed by it, as before.

* * * * *

When we are on a journey, and all kinds of remarkable objects press themselves on our attention, the intellectual food which we receive is often so large in amount that we have no time for digestion; and we regret that the impressions which succeed one another so quickly leave no permanent trace. But at bottom it is the same with travelling as with reading. How often do we complain that we cannot remember one thousandth part of what we read! In both cases, however, we may console ourselves with the reflection that the things we see and read make an impression on the mind before they are forgotten, and so contribute to its formation and nurture; while that which we only remember does no more than stuff it and puff it out, filling up its hollows with matter that will always be strange to it, and leaving it in itself a blank.

* * * * *

It is the very many and varied forms in which human life is presented to us on our travels that make them entertaining. But we never see more than its outside, such as is everywhere open to public view and accessible to strangers. On the other hand, human life on its inside, the heart and centre, where it lives and moves and shows its character, and in particular that part of the inner side which could be seen at home amongst our relatives, is not seen; we have exchanged it for the outer side. This is why on our travels we see the world like a painted landscape, with a very wide horizon, but no foreground; and why, in time, we get tired of it.

* * * * *

One man is more concerned with the impression which he makes upon the rest of mankind; another, with the impression which the rest of mankind makes upon him. The disposition of the one is subjective; of the other, objective; the one is, in the whole of his existence, more in the nature of an idea which is merely presented; the other, more of the being who presents it.

* * * * *

A woman (with certain exceptions which need not be mentioned) will not take the first step with a man; for in spite of all the beauty she may have, she risks a refusal. A man may be ill in mind or body, or busy, or gloomy, and so not care for advances; and a refusal would be a blow to her vanity. But as soon as he takes the first step, and helps her over this danger, he stands on a footing of equality with her, and will generally find her quite tractable.

* * * * *

The praise with which many men speak of their wives is really given to their own judgment in selecting them. This arises, perhaps, from a feeling of the truth of the saying, that a man shows what he is by the way in which he dies, and by the choice of his wife.

* * * * *

If education or warning were of any avail, how could Seneca's pupil be a Nero?

* * * * *

The Pythagorean[1] principle that like is known only by like is in many respects a true one. It explains how it is that every man understands his fellow only in so far as he resembles him, or, at least, is of a similar character. What one man is quite sure of perceiving in another is that which is common to all, namely, the vulgar, petty or mean elements of our nature; here every man has a perfect understanding of his fellows; but the advantage which one man has over another does not exist for the other, who, be the talents in question as extraordinary as they may, will never see anything beyond what he possesses himself, for the very good reason that this is all he wants to see. If there is anything on which he is in doubt, it will give him a vague sense of fear, mixed with pique; because it passes his comprehension, and therefore is uncongenial to him.

[Footnote 1: See Porphyry, de Vita Pythagorae.]

This is why it is mind alone that understands mind; why works of genius are wholly understood and valued only by a man of genius, and why it must necessarily be a long time before they indirectly attract attention at the hands of the crowd, for whom they will never, in any true sense, exist. This, too, is why one man will look another in the face, with the impudent assurance that he will never see anything but a miserable resemblance of himself; and this is just what he will see, as he cannot grasp anything beyond it. Hence the bold way in which one man will contradict another. Finally, it is for the same reason that great superiority of mind isolates a man, and that those of high gifts keep themselves aloof from the vulgar (and that means every one); for if they mingle with the crowd, they can communicate only such parts of them as they share with the crowd, and so make themselves common. Nay, even though they possess some well-founded and authoritative reputation amongst the crowd, they are not long in losing it, together with any personal weight it may give them, since all are blind to the qualities on which it is based, but have their eyes open to anything that is vulgar and common to themselves. They soon discover the truth of the Arabian proverb: Joke with a slave, and he'll show you his heels.

It also follows that a man of high gifts, in his intercourse with others, must always reflect that the best part of him is out of sight in the clouds; so that if he desires to know accurately how much he can be to any one else, he has only to consider how much the man in question is to him. This, as a rule, is precious little; and therefore he is as uncongenial to the other, as the other to him.

* * * * *

Goethe says somewhere that man is not without a vein of veneration. To satisfy this impulse to venerate, even in those who have no sense for what is really worthy, substitutes are provided in the shape of princes and princely families, nobles, titles, orders, and money-bags.

* * * * *

Vague longing and boredom are close akin.

* * * * *

When a man is dead, we envy him no more; and we only half envy him when he is old.

* * * * *

Misanthropy and love of solitude are convertible ideas.

* * * * *

In chess, the object of the game, namely, to checkmate one's opponent, is of arbitrary adoption; of the possible means of attaining it, there is a great number; and according as we make a prudent use of them, we arrive at our goal. We enter on the game of our own choice.

Nor is it otherwise with human life, only that here the entrance is not of our choosing, but is forced on us; and the object, which is to live and exist, seems, indeed, at times as though it were of arbitrary adoption, and that we could, if necessary, relinquish it. Nevertheless it is, in the strict sense of the word, a natural object; that is to say, we cannot relinquish it without giving up existence itself. If we regard our existence as the work of some arbitrary power outside us, we must, indeed, admire the cunning by which that creative mind has succeeded in making us place so much value on an object which is only momentary and must of necessity be laid aside very soon, and which we see, moreover, on reflection, to be altogether vanity—in making, I say, this object so dear to us that we eagerly exert all our strength in working at it; although we knew that as soon as the game is over, the object will exist for us no longer, and that, on the whole, we cannot say what it is that makes it so attractive. Nay, it seems to be an object as arbitrarily adopted as that of checkmating our opponent's king; and, nevertheless, we are always intent on the means of attaining it, and think and brood over nothing else. It is clear that the reason of it is that our intellect is only capable of looking outside, and has no power at all of looking within; and, since this is so, we have come to the conclusion that we must make the best of it.


The simple Philistine believes that life is something infinite and unconditioned, and tries to look upon it and live it as though it left nothing to be desired. By method and principle the learned Philistine does the same: he believes that his methods and his principles are unconditionally perfect and objectively valid; so that as soon as he has found them, he has nothing to do but apply them to circumstances, and then approve or condemn. But happiness and truth are not to be seized in this fashion. It is phantoms of them alone that are sent to us here, to stir us to action; the average man pursues the shadow of happiness with unwearied labour; and the thinker, the shadow of truth; and both, though phantoms are all they have, possess in them as much as they can grasp. Life is a language in which certain truths are conveyed to us; could we learn them in some other way, we should not live. Thus it is that wise sayings and prudential maxims will never make up for the lack of experience, or be a substitute for life itself. Still they are not to be despised; for they, too, are a part of life; nay, they should be highly esteemed and regarded as the loose pages which others have copied from the book of truth as it is imparted by the spirit of the world. But they are pages which must needs be imperfect, and can never replace the real living voice. Still less can this be so when we reflect that life, or the book of truth, speaks differently to us all; like the apostles who preached at Pentecost, and instructed the multitude, appearing to each man to speak in his own tongue.

* * * * *

Recognise the truth in yourself, recognise yourself in the truth; and in the same moment you will find, to your astonishment, that the home which you have long been looking for in vain, which has filled your most ardent dreams, is there in its entirety, with every detail of it true, in the very place where you stand. It is there that your heaven touches your earth.

* * * * *

What makes us almost inevitably ridiculous is our serious way of treating the passing moment, as though it necessarily had all the importance which it seems to have. It is only a few great minds that are above this weakness, and, instead of being laughed at, have come to laugh themselves.

* * * * *

The bright and good moments of our life ought to teach us how to act aright when we are melancholy and dull and stupid, by preserving the memory of their results; and the melancholy, dull, and stupid moments should teach us to be modest when we are bright. For we generally value ourselves according to our best and brightest moments; and those in which we are weak and dull and miserable, we regard as no proper part of us. To remember them will teach us to be modest, humble, and tolerant.

Mark my words once for all, my dear friend, and be clever. Men are entirely self-centred, and incapable of looking at things objectively. If you had a dog and wanted to make him fond of you, and fancied that of your hundred rare and excellent characteristics the mongrel would be sure to perceive one, and that that would be sufficient to make him devoted to you body and soul—if, I say, you fancied that, you would be a fool. Pat him, give him something to eat; and for the rest, be what you please: he will not in the least care, but will be your faithful and devoted dog. Now, believe me, it is just the same with men—exactly the same. As Goethe says, man or dog, it is a miserable wretch:

Denn ein erbaermlicher Schuft, so wie der Mensch, ist der hund.

If you ask why these contemptible fellows are so lucky, it is just because, in themselves and for themselves and to themselves, they are nothing at all. The value which they possess is merely comparative; they exist only for others; they are never more than means; they are never an end and object in themselves; they are mere bait, set to catch others.[1] I do not admit that this rule is susceptible of any exception, that is to say, complete exceptions. There are, it is true, men—though they are sufficiently rare—who enjoy some subjective moments; nay, there are perhaps some who for every hundred subjective moments enjoy a few that are objective; but a higher state of perfection scarcely ever occurs. But do not take yourself for an exception: examine your love, your friendship, and consider if your objective judgments are not mostly subjective judgments in disguise; consider if you duly recognise the good qualities of a man who is not fond of you. Then be tolerant: confound it! it's your duty. As you are all so self-centred, recognise your own weakness. You know that you cannot like a man who does not show himself friendly to you; you know that he cannot do so for any length of time unless he likes you, and that he cannot like you unless you show that you are friendly to him; then do it: your false friendliness will gradually become a true one. Your own weakness and subjectivity must have some illusion.

[Footnote 1: All this is very euphemistically expressed in the Sophoclean verse:

(Greek: charis charin gar estin ha tiktous aei)]

This is really an a priori justification of politeness; but I could give a still deeper reason for it.

* * * * *

Consider that chance, which, with error, its brother, and folly, its aunt, and malice, its grandmother, rules in this world; which every year and every day, by blows great and small, embitters the life of every son of earth, and yours too; consider, I say, that it is to this wicked power that you owe your prosperity and independence; for it gave you what it refused to many thousands, just to be able to give it to individuals like you. Remembering all this, you will not behave as though you had a right to the possession of its gifts; but you will perceive what a capricious mistress it is that gives you her favours; and therefore when she takes it into her head to deprive you of some or all of them, you will not make a great fuss about her injustice; but you will recognise that what chance gave, chance has taken away; if needs be, you will observe that this power is not quite so favourable to you as she seemed to be hitherto. Why, she might have disposed not only of what she gave you, but also of your honest and hard-earned gains.

But if chance still remains so favourable to you as to give you more than almost all others whose path in life you may care to examine, oh! be happy; do not struggle for the possession of her presents; employ them properly; look upon them as property held from a capricious lord; use them wisely and well.

* * * * *

The Aristotelian principle of keeping the mean in all things is ill suited to the moral law for which it was intended; but it may easily be the best general rule of worldly wisdom, the best precept for a happy life. For life is so full of uncertainty; there are on all sides so many discomforts, burdens, sufferings, dangers, that a safe and happy voyage can be accomplished only by steering carefully through the rocks. As a rule, the fear of the ills we know drive us into the contrary ills; the pain of solitude, for example, drives us into society, and the first society that comes; the discomforts of society drive us into solitude; we exchange a forbidding demeanour for incautious confidence and so on. It is ever the mark of folly to avoid one vice by rushing into its contrary:

Stulti dum vitant vitia in contraria currunt.

Or else we think that we shall find satisfaction in something, and spend all our efforts on it; and thereby we omit to provide for the satisfaction of a hundred other wishes which make themselves felt at their own time. One loss and omission follows another, and there is no end to the misery.

[Greek: Maeden agan] and nil admirari are, therefore, excellent rules of worldly wisdom.

* * * * *

We often find that people of great experience are the most frank and cordial in their intercourse with complete strangers, in whom they have no interest whatever. The reason of this is that men of experience know that it is almost impossible for people who stand in any sort of mutual relation to be sincere and open with one another; but that there is always more or less of a strain between them, due to the fact that they are looking after their own interests, whether immediate or remote. They regret the fact, but they know that it is so; hence they leave their own people, rush into the arms of a complete stranger, and in happy confidence open their hearts to him. Thus it is that monks and the like, who have given up the world and are strangers to it, are such good people to turn to for advice.

* * * * *

It is only by practising mutual restraint and self-denial that we can act and talk with other people; and, therefore, if we have to converse at all, it can only be with a feeling of resignation. For if we seek society, it is because we want fresh impressions: these come from without, and are therefore foreign to ourselves. If a man fails to perceive this, and, when he seeks the society of others, is unwilling to practise resignation, and absolutely refuses to deny himself, nay, demands that others, who are altogether different from himself, shall nevertheless be just what he wants them to be for the moment, according to the degree of education which he has reached, or according to his intellectual powers or his mood—the man, I say, who does this, is in contradiction with himself. For while he wants some one who shall be different from himself, and wants him just because he is different, for the sake of society and fresh influence, he nevertheless demands that this other individual shall precisely resemble the imaginary creature who accords with his mood, and have no thoughts but those which he has himself.

Women are very liable to subjectivity of this kind; but men are not free from it either.

I observed once to Goethe, in complaining of the illusion and vanity of life, that when a friend is with us we do not think the same of him as when he is away. He replied: "Yes! because the absent friend is yourself, and he exists only in your head; whereas the friend who is present has an individuality of his own, and moves according to laws of his own, which cannot always be in accordance with those which you form for yourself."

* * * * *

A good supply of resignation is of the first importance in providing for the journey of life. It is a supply which we shall have to extract from disappointed hopes; and the sooner we do it, the better for the rest of the journey.

* * * * *

How should a man be content so long as he fails to obtain complete unity in his inmost being? For as long as two voices alternately speak in him, what is right for one must be wrong for the other. Thus he is always complaining. But has any man ever been completely at one with himself? Nay, is not the very thought a contradiction?

That a man shall attain this inner unity is the impossible and inconsistent pretension put forward by almost all philosophers.[1] For as a man it is natural to him to be at war with himself as long as he lives. While he can be only one thing thoroughly, he has the disposition to be everything else, and the inalienable possibility of being it. If he has made his choice of one thing, all the other possibilities are always open to him, and are constantly claiming to be realised; and he has therefore to be continuously keeping them back, and to be overpowering and killing them as long as he wants to be that one thing. For example, if he wants to think only, and not act and do business, the disposition to the latter is not thereby destroyed all at once; but as long as the thinker lives, he has every hour to keep on killing the acting and pushing man that is within him; always battling with himself, as though he were a monster whose head is no sooner struck off than it grows again. In the same way, if he is resolved to be a saint, he must kill himself so far as he is a being that enjoys and is given over to pleasure; for such he remains as long as he lives. It is not once for all that he must kill himself: he must keep on doing it all his life. If he has resolved upon pleasure, whatever be the way in which it is to be obtained, his lifelong struggle is with a being that desires to be pure and free and holy; for the disposition remains, and he has to kill it every hour. And so on in everything, with infinite modifications; it is now one side of him, and now the other, that conquers; he himself is the battlefield. If one side of him is continually conquering, the other is continually struggling; for its life is bound up with his own, and, as a man, he is the possibility of many contradictions.

[Footnote 1: Audacter licet profitearis, summum bonum esse animi concordian.—Seneca.]

How is inner unity even possible under such circumstances? It exists neither in the saint nor in the sinner; or rather, the truth is that no man is wholly one or the other. For it is men they have to be; that is, luckless beings, fighters and gladiators in the arena of life.

To be sure, the best thing he can do is to recognise which part of him smarts the most under defeat, and let it always gain the victory. This he will always be able to do by the use of his reason, which is an ever-present fund of ideas. Let him resolve of his own free will to undergo the pain which the defeat of the other part involves. This is character. For the battle of life cannot be waged free from all pain; it cannot come to an end without bloodshed; and in any case a man must suffer pain, for he is the conquered as well as the conqueror. Haec est vivendi conditio.

* * * * *

The clever man, when he converses, will think less of what he is saying that of the person with whom he is speaking; for then he is sure to say nothing which he will afterwards regret; he is sure not to lay himself open, nor to commit an indiscretion. But his conversation will never be particularly interesting.

An intellectual man readily does the opposite, and with him the person with whom he converses is often no more than the mere occasion of a monologue; and it often happens that the other then makes up for his subordinate role by lying in wait for the man of intellect, and drawing his secrets out of him.

* * * * *

Nothing betrays less knowledge of humanity than to suppose that, if a man has a great many friends, it is a proof of merit and intrinsic value: as though men gave their friendship according to value and merit! as though they were not, rather, just like dogs, which love the person that pats them and gives them bits of meat, and never trouble themselves about anything else! The man who understands how to pat his fellows best, though they be the nastiest brutes,—that's the man who has many friends.

It is the converse that is true. Men of great intellectual worth, or, still more, men of genius, can have only very few friends; for their clear eye soon discovers all defects, and their sense of rectitude is always being outraged afresh by the extent and the horror of them. It is only extreme necessity that can compel such men not to betray their feelings, or even to stroke the defects as if they were beautiful additions. Personal love (for we are not speaking of the reverence which is gained by authority) cannot be won by a man of genius, unless the gods have endowed him with an indestructible cheerfulness of temper, a glance that makes the world look beautiful, or unless he has succeeded by degrees in taking men exactly as they are; that is to say, in making a fool of the fools, as is right and proper. On the heights we must expect to be solitary.

* * * * *

Our constant discontent is for the most part rooted in the impulse of self-preservation. This passes into a kind of selfishness, and makes a duty out of the maxim that we should always fix our minds upon what we lack, so that we may endeavour to procure it. Thus it is that we are always intent on finding out what we want, and on thinking of it; but that maxim allows us to overlook undisturbed the things which we already possess; and so, as soon as we have obtained anything, we give it much less attention than before. We seldom think of what we have, but always of what we lack.

This maxim of egoism, which has, indeed, its advantages in procuring the means to the end in view, itself concurrently destroys the ultimate end, namely, contentment; like the bear in the fable that throws a stone at the hermit to kill the fly on his nose. We ought to wait until need and privation announce themselves, instead of looking for them. Minds that are naturally content do this, while hypochondrists do the reverse.

* * * * *

A man's nature is in harmony with itself when he desires to be nothing but what he is; that is to say, when he has attained by experience a knowledge of his strength and of his weakness, and makes use of the one and conceals the other, instead of playing with false coin, and trying to show a strength which he does not possess. It is a harmony which produces an agreeable and rational character; and for the simple reason that everything which makes the man and gives him his mental and physical qualities is nothing but the manifestation of his will; is, in fact, what he wills. Therefore it is the greatest of all inconsistencies to wish to be other than we are.

* * * * *

People of a strange and curious temperament can be happy only under strange circumstances, such as suit their nature, in the same way as ordinary circumstances suit the ordinary man; and such circumstances can arise only if, in some extraordinary way, they happen to meet with strange people of a character different indeed, but still exactly suited to their own. That is why men of rare or strange qualities are seldom happy.

* * * * *

All this pleasure is derived from the use and consciousness of power; and the greatest of pains that a man can feel is to perceive that his powers fail just when he wants to use them. Therefore it will be advantageous for every man to discover what powers he possesses, and what powers he lacks. Let him, then, develop the powers in which he is pre-eminent, and make a strong use of them; let him pursue the path where they will avail him; and even though he has to conquer his inclinations, let him avoid the path where such powers are requisite as he possesses only in a low degree. In this way he will often have a pleasant consciousness of strength, and seldom a painful consciousness of weakness; and it will go well with him. But if he lets himself be drawn into efforts demanding a kind of strength quite different from that in which he is pre-eminent, he will experience humiliation; and this is perhaps the most painful feeling with which a man can be afflicted.

Yet there are two sides to everything. The man who has insufficient self-confidence in a sphere where he has little power, and is never ready to make a venture, will on the one hand not even learn how to use the little power that he has; and on the other, in a sphere in which he would at least be able to achieve something, there will be a complete absence of effort, and consequently of pleasure. This is always hard to bear; for a man can never draw a complete blank in any department of human welfare without feeling some pain.

* * * * *

As a child, one has no conception of the inexorable character of the laws of nature, and of the stubborn way in which everything persists in remaining what it is. The child believes that even lifeless things are disposed to yield to it; perhaps because it feels itself one with nature, or, from mere unacquaintance with the world, believes that nature is disposed to be friendly. Thus it was that when I was a child, and had thrown my shoe into a large vessel full of milk, I was discovered entreating the shoe to jump out. Nor is a child on its guard against animals until it learns that they are ill-natured and spiteful. But not before we have gained mature experience do we recognise that human character is unalterable; that no entreaty, or representation, or example, or benefit, will bring a man to give up his ways; but that, on the contrary, every man is compelled to follow his own mode of acting and thinking, with the necessity of a law of nature; and that, however we take him, he always remains the same. It is only after we have obtained a clear and profound knowledge of this fact that we give up trying to persuade people, or to alter them and bring them round to our way of thinking. We try to accommodate ourselves to theirs instead, so far as they are indispensable to us, and to keep away from them so far as we cannot possibly agree.

Ultimately we come to perceive that even in matters of mere intellect—although its laws are the same for all, and the subject as opposed to the object of thought does not really enter into individuality—there is, nevertheless, no certainty that the whole truth of any matter can be communicated to any one, or that any one can be persuaded or compelled to assent to it; because, as Bacon says, intellectus humanus luminis sicci non est: the light of the human intellect is coloured by interest and passion.

* * * * *

It is just because all happiness is of a negative character that, when we succeed in being perfectly at our ease, we are not properly conscious of it. Everything seems to pass us softly and gently, and hardly to touch us until the moment is over; and then it is the positive feeling of something lacking that tells us of the happiness which has vanished; it is then that we observe that we have failed to hold it fast, and we suffer the pangs of self-reproach as well as of privation.

* * * * *

Every happiness that a man enjoys, and almost every friendship that he cherishes, rest upon illusion; for, as a rule, with increase of knowledge they are bound to vanish. Nevertheless, here as elsewhere, a man should courageously pursue truth, and never weary of striving to settle accounts with himself and the world. No matter what happens to the right or to the left of him,—be it a chimaera or fancy that makes him happy, let him take heart and go on, with no fear of the desert which widens to his view. Of one thing only must he be quite certain: that under no circumstances will he discover any lack of worth in himself when the veil is raised; the sight of it would be the Gorgon that would kill him. Therefore, if he wants to remain undeceived, let him in his inmost being feel his own worth. For to feel the lack of it is not merely the greatest, but also the only true affliction; all other sufferings of the mind may not only be healed, but may be immediately relieved, by the secure consciousness of worth. The man who is assured of it can sit down quietly under sufferings that would otherwise bring him to despair; and though he has no pleasures, no joys and no friends, he can rest in and on himself; so powerful is the comfort to be derived from a vivid consciousness of this advantage; a comfort to be preferred to every other earthly blessing. Contrarily, nothing in the world can relieve a man who knows his own worthlessness; all that he can do is to conceal it by deceiving people or deafening them with his noise; but neither expedient will serve him very long.

* * * * *

We must always try to preserve large views. If we are arrested by details we shall get confused, and see things awry. The success or the failure of the moment, and the impression that they make, should count for nothing.[1]

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.—Schopenhauer, for some reason that is not apparent, wrote this remark in French.]

* * * * *

How difficult it is to learn to understand oneself, and clearly to recognise what it is that one wants before anything else; what it is, therefore, that is most immediately necessary to our happiness; then what comes next; and what takes the third and the fourth place, and so on.

Yet, without this knowledge, our life is planless, like a captain without a compass.

* * * * *

The sublime melancholy which leads us to cherish a lively conviction of the worthlessness of everything of all pleasures and of all mankind, and therefore to long for nothing, but to feel that life is merely a burden which must be borne to an end that cannot be very distant, is a much happier state of mind than any condition of desire, which, be it never so cheerful, would have us place a value on the illusions of the world, and strive to attain them.

This is a fact which we learn from experience; and it is clear, a priori, that one of these is a condition of illusion, and the other of knowledge.

Whether it is better to marry or not to marry is a question which in very many cases amounts to this: Are the cares of love more endurable than the anxieties of a livelihood?

* * * * *

Marriage is a trap which nature sets for us. [1]

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.—Also in French.]

* * * * *

Poets and philosophers who are married men incur by that very fact the suspicion that they are looking to their own welfare, and not to the interests of science and art.

* * * * *

Habit is everything. Hence to be calm and unruffled is merely to anticipate a habit; and it is a great advantage not to need to form it.

* * * * *

"Personality is the element of the greatest happiness." Since pain and boredom are the two chief enemies of human happiness, nature has provided our personality with a protection against both. We can ward off pain, which is more often of the mind than of the body, by cheerfulness; and boredom by intelligence. But neither of these is akin to the other; nay, in any high degree they are perhaps incompatible. As Aristotle remarks, genius is allied to melancholy; and people of very cheerful disposition are only intelligent on the surface. The better, therefore, anyone is by nature armed against one of these evils, the worse, as a rule, is he armed against the other.

There is no human life that is free from pain and boredom; and it is a special favour on the part of fate if a man is chiefly exposed to the evil against which nature has armed him the better; if fate, that is, sends a great deal of pain where there is a very cheerful temper in which to bear it, and much leisure where there is much intelligence, but not vice versa. For if a man is intelligent, he feels pain doubly or trebly; and a cheerful but unintellectual temper finds solitude and unoccupied leisure altogether unendurable.

* * * * *

In the sphere of thought, absurdity and perversity remain the masters of this world, and their dominion is suspended only for brief periods. Nor is it otherwise in art; for there genuine work, seldom found and still more seldom appreciated, is again and again driven out by dullness, insipidity, and affectation.

It is just the same in the sphere of action. Most men, says Bias, are bad. Virtue is a stranger in this world; and boundless egoism, cunning and malice, are always the order of the day. It is wrong to deceive the young on this point, for it will only make them feel later on that their teachers were the first to deceive them. If the object is to render the pupil a better man by telling him that others are excellent, it fails; and it would be more to the purpose to say: Most men are bad, it is for you to be better. In this way he would, at least, be sent out into the world armed with a shrewd foresight, instead of having to be convinced by bitter experience that his teachers were wrong.

All ignorance is dangerous, and most errors must be dearly paid. And good luck must he have that carries unchastised an error in his head unto his death.[1]

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.—This, again, is Schopenhauer's own English.]

* * * * *

Every piece of success has a doubly beneficial effect upon us when, apart from the special and material advantage which it brings it is accompanied by the enlivening assurance that the world, fate, or the daemon within, does not mean so badly with us, nor is so opposed to our prosperity as we had fancied; when, in fine, it restores our courage to live.

Similarly, every misfortune or defeat has, in the contrary sense, an effect that is doubly depressing.

* * * * *

If we were not all of us exaggeratedly interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that no one could endure it.

* * * * *

Everywhere in the world, and under all circumstances, it is only by force that anything can be done; but power is mostly in bad hands, because baseness is everywhere in a fearful majority.

* * * * *

Why should it be folly to be always intent on getting the greatest possible enjoyment out of the moment, which is our only sure possession? Our whole life is no more than a magnified present, and in itself as fleeting.

* * * * *

As a consequence of his individuality and the position in which he is placed, everyone without exception lives in a certain state of limitation, both as regards his ideas and the opinions which he forms. Another man is also limited, though not in the same way; but should he succeed in comprehending the other's limitation he can confuse and abash him, and put him to shame, by making him feel what his limitation is, even though the other be far and away his superior. Shrewd people often employ this circumstance to obtain a false and momentary advantage.

* * * * *

The only genuine superiority is that of the mind and character; all other kinds are fictitious, affected, false; and it is good to make them feel that it is so when they try to show off before the superiority that is true.[1]

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.—In the original this also is in French.]

* * * * *

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.

Exactly! Independently of what a man really is in himself, he has a part to play, which fate has imposed upon him from without, by determining his rank, education, and circumstances. The most immediate application of this truth appears to me to be that in life, as on the stage, we must distinguish between the actor and his part; distinguish, that is, the man in himself from his position and reputation—- from the part which rank and circumstances have imposed upon him. How often it is that the worst actor plays the king, and the best the beggar! This may happen in life, too; and a man must be very crude to confuse the actor with his part.

* * * * *

Our life is so poor that none of the treasures of the world can make it rich; for the sources of enjoyment are soon found to be all very scanty, and it is in vain that we look for one that will always flow. Therefore, as regards our own welfare, there are only two ways in which we can use wealth. We can either spend it in ostentatious pomp, and feed on the cheap respect which our imaginary glory will bring us from the infatuated crowd; or, by avoiding all expenditure that will do us no good, we can let our wealth grow, so that we may have a bulwark against misfortune and want that shall be stronger and better every day; in view of the fact that life, though it has few delights, is rich in evils.

* * * * *

It is just because our real and inmost being is will that it is only by its exercise that we can attain a vivid consciousness of existence, although this is almost always attended by pain. Hence it is that existence is essentially painful, and that many persons for whose wants full provision is made arrange their day in accordance with extremely regular, monotonous, and definite habits. By this means they avoid all the pain which the movement of the will produces; but, on the other hand, their whole existence becomes a series of scenes and pictures that mean nothing. They are hardly aware that they exist. Nevertheless, it is the best way of settling accounts with life, so long as there is sufficient change to prevent an excessive feeling of boredom. It is much better still if the Muses give a man some worthy occupation, so that the pictures which fill his consciousness have some meaning, and yet not a meaning that can be brought into any relation with his will.

* * * * *

A man is wise only on condition of living in a world full of fools.


When I think, it is the spirit of the world which is striving to express its thought; it is nature which is trying to know and fathom itself. It is not the thoughts of some other mind, which I am endeavouring to trace; but it is I who transform that which exists into something which is known and thought, and would otherwise neither come into being nor continue in it.

In the realm of physics it was held for thousands of years to be a fact beyond question that water was a simple and consequently an original element. In the same way in the realm of metaphysics it was held for a still longer period that the ego was a simple and consequently an indestructible entity. I have shown, however, that it is composed of two heterogeneous parts, namely, the Will, which is metaphysical in its character, a thing in itself, and the knowing subject, which is physical and a mere phenomenon.

Let me illustrate what I mean. Take any large, massive, heavy building: this hard, ponderous body that fills so much space exists, I tell you, only in the soft pulp of the brain. There alone, in the human brain, has it any being. Unless you understand this, you can go no further.

Truly it is the world itself that is a miracle; the world of material bodies. I looked at two of them. Both were heavy, symmetrical, and beautiful. One was a jasper vase with golden rim and golden handles; the other was an organism, an animal, a man. When I had sufficiently admired their exterior, I asked my attendant genius to allow me to examine the inside of them; and I did so. In the vase I found nothing but the force of gravity and a certain obscure desire, which took the form of chemical affinity. But when I entered into the other—how shall I express my astonishment at what I saw? It is more incredible than all the fairy tales and fables that were ever conceived. Nevertheless, I shall try to describe it, even at the risk of finding no credence for my tale.

In this second thing, or rather in the upper end of it, called the head, which on its exterior side looks like anything else—a body in space, heavy, and so on—I found no less an object than the whole world itself, together with the whole of the space in which all of it exists, and the whole of the time in which all of it moves, and finally everything that fills both time and space in all its variegated and infinite character; nay, strangest sight of all, I found myself walking about in it! It was no picture that I saw; it was no peep-show, but reality itself. This it is that is really and truly to be found in a thing which is no bigger than a cabbage, and which, on occasion, an executioner might strike off at a blow, and suddenly smother that world in darkness and night. The world, I say, would vanish, did not heads grow like mushrooms, and were there not always plenty of them ready to snatch it up as it is sinking down into nothing, and keep it going like a ball. This world is an idea which they all have in common, and they express the community of their thought by the word "objectivity."

In the face of this vision I felt as if I were Ardschuna when Krishna appeared to him in his true majesty, with his hundred thousand arms and eyes and mouths.

When I see a wide landscape, and realise that it arises by the operation of the functions of my brain, that is to say, of time, space, and casuality, on certain spots which have gathered on my retina, I feel that I carry it within me. I have an extraordinarily clear consciousness of the identity of my own being with that of the external world.

Nothing provides so vivid an illustration of this identity as a dream. For in a dream other people appear to be totally distinct from us, and to possess the most perfect objectivity, and a nature which is quite different from ours, and which often puzzles, surprises, astonishes, or terrifies us; and yet it is all our own self. It is even so with the will, which sustains the whole of the external world and gives it life; it is the same will that is in ourselves, and it is there alone that we are immediately conscious of it. But it is the intellect, in ourselves and in others, which makes all these miracles possible; for it is the intellect which everywhere divides actual being into subject and object; it is a hall of phantasmagorical mystery, inexpressibly marvellous, incomparably magical.

The difference in degree of mental power which sets so wide a gulf between the genius and the ordinary mortal rests, it is true, upon nothing else than a more or less perfect development of the cerebral system. But it is this very difference which is so important, because the whole of the real world in which we live and move possesses an existence only in relation to this cerebral system. Accordingly, the difference between a genius and an ordinary man is a total diversity of world and existence. The difference between man and the lower animals may be similarly explained.

When Momus was said to ask for a window in the breast, it was an allegorical joke, and we cannot even imagine such a contrivance to be a possibility; but it would be quite possible to imagine that the skull and its integuments were transparent, and then, good heavens! what differences should we see in the size, the form, the quality, the movement of the brain! what degrees of value! A great mind would inspire as much respect at first sight as three stars on a man's breast, and what a miserable figure would be cut by many a one who wore them!

Men of genius and intellect, and all those whose mental and theoretical qualities are far more developed than their moral and practical qualities—men, in a word, who have more mind than character—are often not only awkward and ridiculous in matters of daily life, as has been observed by Plato in the seventh book of the Republic, and portrayed by Goethe in his Tasso; but they are often, from a moral point of view, weak and contemptible creatures as well; nay, they might almost be called bad men. Of this Rousseau has given us genuine examples. Nevertheless, that better consciousness which is the source of all virtue is often stronger in them than in many of those whose actions are nobler than their thoughts; nay, it may be said that those who think nobly have a better acquaintance with virtue, while the others make a better practice of it. Full of zeal for the good and for the beautiful, they would fain fly up to heaven in a straight line; but the grosser elements of this earth oppose their flight, and they sink back again. They are like born artists, who have no knowledge of technique, or find that the marble is too hard for their fingers. Many a man who has much less enthusiasm for the good, and a far shallower acquaintance with its depths, makes a better thing of it in practice; he looks down upon the noble thinkers with contempt, and he has a right to do it; nevertheless, he does not understand them, and they despise him in their turn, and not unjustly. They are to blame; for every living man has, by the fact of his living, signed the conditions of life; but they are still more to be pitied. They achieve their redemption, not on the way of virtue, but on a path of their own; and they are saved, not by works, but by faith.

Men of no genius whatever cannot bear solitude: they take no pleasure in the contemplation of nature and the world. This arises from the fact that they never lose sight of their own will, and therefore they see nothing of the objects of the world but the bearing of such objects upon their will and person. With objects which have no such bearing there sounds within them a constant note: It is nothing to me, which is the fundamental base in all their music. Thus all things seem to them to wear a bleak, gloomy, strange, hostile aspect. It is only for their will that they seem to have any perceptive faculties at all; and it is, in fact, only a moral and not a theoretical tendency, only a moral and not an intellectual value, that their life possesses. The lower animals bend their heads to the ground, because all that they want to see is what touches their welfare, and they can never come to contemplate things from a really objective point of view. It is very seldom that unintellectual men make a true use of their erect position, and then it is only when they are moved by some intellectual influence outside them.

The man of intellect or genius, on the other hand, has more of the character of the eternal subject that knows, than of the finite subject that wills; his knowledge is not quite engrossed and captivated by his will, but passes beyond it; he is the son, not of the bondwoman, but of the free. It is not only a moral but also a theoretical tendency that is evinced in his life; nay, it might perhaps be said that to a certain extent he is beyond morality. Of great villainy he is totally incapable; and his conscience is less oppressed by ordinary sin than the conscience of the ordinary man, because life, as it were, is a game, and he sees through it.

The relation between genius and virtue is determined by the following considerations. Vice is an impulse of the will so violent in its demands that it affirms its own life by denying the life of others. The only kind of knowledge that is useful to the will is the knowledge that a given effect is produced by a certain cause. Genius itself is a kind of knowledge, namely, of ideas; and it is a knowledge which is unconcerned with any principle of causation. The man who is devoted to knowledge of this character is not employed in the business of the will. Nay, every man who is devoted to the purely objective contemplation of the world (and it is this that is meant by the knowledge of ideas) completely loses sight of his will and its objects, and pays no further regard to the interests of his own person, but becomes a pure intelligence free of any admixture of will.

Where, then, devotion to the intellect predominates over concern for the will and its objects, it shows that the man's will is not the principal element in his being, but that in proportion to his intelligence it is weak. Violent desire, which is the root of all vice, never allows a man to arrive at the pure and disinterested contemplation of the world, free from any relation to the will, such as constitutes the quality of genius; but here the intelligence remains the constant slave of the will.

Since genius consists in the perception of ideas, and men of genius contemplate their object, it may be said that it is only the eye which is any real evidence of genius. For the contemplative gaze has something steady and vivid about it; and with the eye of genius it is often the case, as with Goethe, that the white membrane over the pupil is visible. With violent, passionate men the same thing may also happen, but it arises from a different cause, and may be easily distinguished by the fact that the eyes roll. Men of no genius at all have no interest in the idea expressed by an object, but only in the relations in which that object stands to others, and finally to their own person. Thus it is that they never indulge in contemplation, or are soon done with it, and rarely fix their eyes long upon any object; and so their eyes do not wear the mark of genius which I have described. Nay, the regular Philistine does the direct opposite of contemplating—he spies. If he looks at anything it is to pry into it; as may be specially observed when he screws up his eyes, which he frequently does, in order to see the clearer. Certainly, no real man of genius ever does this, at least habitually, even though he is short-sighted.

What I have said will sufficiently illustrate the conflict between genius and vice. It may be, however, nay, it is often the case, that genius is attended by a strong will; and as little as men of genius were ever consummate rascals, were they ever perhaps perfect saints either.

Let me explain. Virtue is not exactly a positive weakness of the will; it is, rather, an intentional restraint imposed upon its violence through a knowledge of it in its inmost being as manifested in the world. This knowledge of the world, the inmost being of which is communicable only in ideas, is common both to the genius and to the saint. The distinction between the two is that the genius reveals his knowledge by rendering it in some form of his own choice, and the product is Art. For this the saint, as such, possesses no direct faculty; he makes an immediate application of his knowledge to his own will, which is thus led into a denial of the world. With the saint knowledge is only a means to an end, whereas the genius remains at the stage of knowledge, and has his pleasure in it, and reveals it by rendering what he knows in his art.

In the hierarchy of physical organisation, strength of will is attended by a corresponding growth in the intelligent faculties. A high degree of knowledge, such as exists in the genius, presupposes a powerful will, though, at the same time, a will that is subordinate to the intellect. In other words, both the intellect and the will are strong, but the intellect is the stronger of the two. Unless, as happens in the case of the saint, the intellect is at once applied to the will, or, as in the case of the artist, it finds its pleasures in a reproduction of itself, the will remains untamed. Any strength that it may lose is due to the predominance of pure objective intelligence which is concerned with the contemplation of ideas, and is not, as in the case of the common or the bad man, wholly occupied with the objects of the will. In the interval, when the genius is no longer engaged in the contemplation of ideas, and his intelligence is again applied to the will and its objects, the will is re-awakened in all its strength. Thus it is that men of genius often have very violent desires, and are addicted to sensual pleasure and to anger. Great crimes, however, they do not commit; because, when the opportunity of them offers, they recognise their idea, and see it very vividly and clearly. Their intelligence is thus directed to the idea, and so gains the predominance over the will, and turns its course, as with the saint; and the crime is uncommitted.

The genius, then, always participates to some degree in the characteristics of the saint, as he is a man of the same qualification; and, contrarily, the saint always participates to some degree in the characteristics of the genius.

The good-natured character, which is common, is to be distinguished from the saintly by the fact that it consists in a weakness of will, with a somewhat less marked weakness of intellect. A lower degree of the knowledge of the world as revealed in ideas here suffices to check and control a will that is weak in itself. Genius and sanctity are far removed from good-nature, which is essentially weak in all its manifestations.

Apart from all that I have said, so much at least is clear. What appears under the forms of time, space, and casuality, and vanishes again, and in reality is nothing, and reveals its nothingness by death—this vicious and fatal appearance is the will. But what does not appear, and is no phenomenon, but rather the noumenon; what makes appearance possible; what is not subject to the principle of causation, and therefore has no vain or vanishing existence, but abides for ever unchanged in the midst of a world full of suffering, like a ray of light in a storm,—free, therefore, from all pain and fatality,—this, I say, is the intelligence. The man who is more intelligence than will, is thereby delivered, in respect of the greatest part of him, from nothingness and death; and such a man is in his nature a genius.

By the very fact that he lives and works, the man who is endowed with genius makes an entire sacrifice of himself in the interests of everyone. Accordingly, he is free from the obligation to make a particular sacrifice for individuals; and thus he can refuse many demands which others are rightly required to meet. He suffers and achieves more than all the others.

The spring which moves the genius to elaborate his works is not fame, for that is too uncertain a quality, and when it is seen at close quarters, of little worth. No amount of fame will make up for the labour of attaining it:

Nulla est fama tuum par oequiparare laborem.

Nor is it the delight that a man has in his work; for that too is outweighed by the effort which he has to make. It is, rather, an instinct sui generis; in virtue of which the genius is driven to express what he sees and feels in some permanent shape, without being conscious of any further motive.

It is manifest that in so far as it leads an individual to sacrifice himself for his species, and to live more in the species than in himself, this impulse is possessed of a certain resemblance with such modifications of the sexual impulse as are peculiar to man. The modifications to which I refer are those that confine this impulse to certain individuals of the other sex, whereby the interests of the species are attained. The individuals who are actively affected by this impulse may be said to sacrifice themselves for the species, by their passion for each other, and the disadvantageous conditions thereby imposed upon them,—in a word, by the institution of marriage. They may be said to be serving the interests of the species rather than the interests of the individual.

The instinct of the genius does, in a higher fashion, for the idea, what passionate love does for the will. In both cases there are peculiar pleasures and peculiar pains reserved for the individuals who in this way serve the interests of the species; and they live in a state of enhanced power.

The genius who decides once for all to live for the interests of the species in the way which he chooses is neither fitted nor called upon to do it in the other. It is a curious fact that the perpetuation of a man's name is effected in both ways.

In music the finest compositions are the most difficult to understand. They are only for the trained intelligence. They consist of long movements, where it is only after a labyrinthine maze that the fundamental note is recovered. It is just so with genius; it is only after a course of struggle, and doubt, and error, and much reflection and vacillation, that great minds attain their equilibrium. It is the longest pendulum that makes the greatest swing. Little minds soon come to terms with themselves and the world, and then fossilise; but the others flourish, and are always alive and in motion.

The essence of genius is a measure of intellectual power far beyond that which is required to serve the individual's will. But it is a measure of a merely relative character, and it may be reached by lowering the degree of the will, as well as by raising that of the intellect. There are men whose intellect predominates over their will, and are yet not possessed of genius in any proper sense. Their intellectual powers do, indeed, exceed the ordinary, though not to any great extent, but their will is weak. They have no violent desires; and therefore they are more concerned with mere knowledge than with the satisfaction of any aims. Such men possess talent; they are intelligent, and at the same time very contented and cheerful.

A clear, cheerful and reasonable mind, such as brings a man happiness, is dependent on the relation established between his intellect and his will—a relation in which the intellect is predominant. But genius and a great mind depend on the relation between a man's intellect and that of other people—a relation in which his intellect must exceed theirs, and at the same time his will may also be proportionately stronger. That is the reason why genius and happiness need not necessarily exist together.

When the individual is distraught by cares or pleasantry, or tortured by the violence of his wishes and desires, the genius in him is enchained and cannot move. It is only when care and desire are silent that the air is free enough for genius to live in it. It is then that the bonds of matter are cast aside, and the pure spirit—the pure, knowing subject—remains. Hence, if a man has any genius, let him guard himself from pain, keep care at a distance, and limit his desires; but those of them which he cannot suppress let him satisfy to the full. This is the only way in which he will make the best use of his rare existence, to his own pleasure and the world's profit.

To fight with need and care or desires, the satisfaction of which is refused and forbidden, is good enough work for those who, were they free of would have to fight with boredom, and so take to bad practices; but not for the man whose time, if well used, will bear fruit for centuries to come. As Diderot says, he is not merely a moral being.

Mechanical laws do not apply in the sphere of chemistry, nor do chemical laws in the sphere in which organic life is kindled. In the same way, the rules which avail for ordinary men will not do for the exceptions, nor will their pleasures either.

It is a persistent, uninterrupted activity that constitutes the superior mind. The object to which this activity is directed is a matter of subordinate importance; it has no essential bearing on the superiority in question, but only on the individual who possesses it. All that education can do is to determine the direction which this activity shall take; and that is the reason why a man's nature is so much more important than his education. For education is to natural faculty what a wax nose is to a real one; or what the moon and the planets are to the sun. In virtue of his education a man says, not what he thinks himself, but what others have thought and he has learned as a matter of training; and what he does is not what he wants, but what he has been accustomed to do.

The lower animals perform many intelligent functions much better than man; for instance, the finding of their way back to the place from which they came, the recognition of individuals, and so on. In the same way, there are many occasions in real life to which the genius is incomparably less equal and fitted than the ordinary man. Nay more: just as animals never commit a folly in the strict sense of the word, so the average man is not exposed to folly in the same degree as the genius.

The average man is wholly relegated to the sphere of being; the genius, on the other hand, lives and moves chiefly in the sphere of knowledge. This gives rise to a twofold distinction. In the first place, a man can be one thing only, but he may know countless things, and thereby, to some extent, identify himself with them, by participating in what Spinoza calls their esse objectivum. In the second place, the world, as I have elsewhere observed, is fine enough in appearance, but in reality dreadful; for torment is the condition of all life.

It follows from the first of these distinctions that the life of the average man is essentially one of the greatest boredom; and thus we see the rich warring against boredom with as much effort and as little respite as fall to the poor in their struggle with need and adversity. And from the second of them it follows that the life of the average man is overspread with a dull, turbid, uniform gravity; whilst the brow of genius glows with mirth of a unique character, which, although he has sorrows of his own more poignant than those of the average man, nevertheless breaks out afresh, like the sun through clouds. It is when the genius is overtaken by an affliction which affects others as well as himself, that this quality in him is most in evidence; for then he is seen to be like man, who alone can laugh, in comparison with the beast of the field, which lives out its life grave and dull.

It is the curse of the genius that in the same measure in which others think him great and worthy of admiration, he thinks them small and miserable creatures. His whole life long he has to suppress this opinion; and, as a rule, they suppress theirs as well. Meanwhile, he is condemned to live in a bleak world, where he meets no equal, as it were an island where there are no inhabitants but monkeys and parrots. Moreover, he is always troubled by the illusion that from a distance a monkey looks like a man.

Vulgar people take a huge delight in the faults and follies of great men; and great men are equally annoyed at being thus reminded of their kinship with them.

The real dignity of a man of genius or great intellect, the trait which raises him over others and makes him worthy of respect, is at bottom the fact, that the only unsullied and innocent part of human nature, namely, the intellect, has the upper hand in him? and prevails; whereas, in the other there is nothing but sinful will, and just as much intellect as is requisite for guiding his steps,—- rarely any more, very often somewhat less,—and of what use is it?

It seems to me that genius might have its root in a certain perfection and vividness of the memory as it stretches back over the events of past life. For it is only by dint of memory, which makes our life in the strict sense a complete whole, that we attain a more profound and comprehensive understanding of it.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse