The Good and the Good Conscience. – You hold that all good things have at all times had a good conscience? Science, which is certainly a very good thing, has come into the world without such a conscience and quite free from all pathos, rather clandestinely, by roundabout ways, walking with shrouded or masked face like a sinner, and always with the feeling at least of being a smuggler. Good conscience has bad conscience for its stepping-stone, not for its opposite. For all that is good has at one time been new and consequently strange, against morals, immoral, and has gnawed like a worm at the heart of the fortunate discoverer.
Success Sanctifies the Intentions. – We should not shrink from treading the road to a virtue, even when we see clearly that nothing but egotism, and accordingly utility, personal comfort, fear, considerations of health, reputation, or glory, are the impelling motives. These motives are styled ignoble and selfish. Very well, but if they stimulate us to some virtue – for example, self-denial, dutifulness, order, thrift, measure, and moderation – let us listen to them, whatever their epithets may be! For if we reach the goal to which they summon us, then the virtue we have attained, by means of the pure air it makes us breathe and the spiritual well-being it communicates, ennobles the remoter impulses of our action, and afterwards we no longer perform those actions from the same coarse motives that inspired us before. – Education should therefore force the virtues on the pupil, as far as possible, according to his disposition. Then virtue, the sunshine and summer atmosphere of the soul, can contribute her own share of work and add mellowness and sweetness.
Dabblers in Christianity, not Christians. – So that is your Christianity! – To annoy humanity you praise “God and His Saints,” and again when you want to praise humanity you go so far that God and His Saints must be annoyed. – I wish you would at least learn Christian manners, as you are so deficient in the civility of the Christian heart.
The Religious and Irreligious Impression of Nature. – A true believer must be to us an object of veneration, but the same holds good of a true, sincere, convinced unbeliever. With men of the latter stamp we are near to the high mountains where mighty rivers have their source, and with believers we are under vigorous, shady, restful trees.
Judicial Murder. – The two greatest judicial murders8 in the world's history are, to speak without exaggeration, concealed and well-concealed suicide. In both cases a man willed to die, and in both cases he let his breast be pierced by the sword in the hand of human injustice.
“Love.” – The finest artistic conception wherein Christianity had the advantage over other religious systems lay in one word – Love. Hence it became the lyric religion (whereas in its two other creations Semitism bestowed heroico-epical religions upon the world). In the word “love” there is so much meaning, so much that stimulates and appeals to memory and hope, that even the meanest intelligence and the coldest heart feel some glimmering of its sense. The cleverest woman and the lowest man think of the comparatively unselfish moments of their whole life, even if with them Eros never soared high: and the vast number of beings who miss love from their parents or children or sweethearts, especially those whose sexual instincts have been refined away, have found their heart's desire in Christianity.
The Fulfilment of Christianity. – In Christianity there is also an Epicurean trend of thought, starting from the idea that God can only demand of man, his creation and his image, what it is possible for man to fulfil, and accordingly that Christian virtue and perfection are attainable and often attained. Now, for instance, the belief in loving one's enemies – even if it is only a belief or fancy, and by no means a psychological reality (a real love) – gives unalloyed happiness, so long as it is genuinely believed. (As to the reason of this, psychologist and Christian might well differ.) Hence earthly life, through the belief, I mean the fancy, that it satisfies not only the injunction to love our enemies, but all the other injunctions of Christianity, and that it has really assimilated and embodied in itself the Divine perfection according to the command, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” might actually become a holy life. Thus error can make Christ's promise come true.
Of the Future of Christianity. – We may be allowed to form a conjecture as to the disappearance of Christianity and as to the places where it will be the slowest to retreat, if we consider where and for what reasons Protestantism spread with such startling rapidity. As is well known, Protestantism promised to do far more cheaply all that the old Church did, without costly masses, pilgrimages, and priestly pomp and circumstance. It spread particularly among the Northern nations, which were not so deeply rooted as those of the South in the old Church's symbolism and love of ritual. In the South the more powerful pagan religion survived in Christianity, whereas in the North Christianity meant an opposition to and a break with the old-time creed, and hence was from the first more thoughtful and less sensual, but for that very reason, in times of peril, more fanatical and more obstinate. If from the standpoint of thought we succeed in uprooting Christianity, we can at once know the point where it will begin to disappear – the very point at which it will be most stubborn in defence. In other places it will bend but not break, lose its leaves but burst into leaf afresh, because the senses, and not thought, have gone over to its side. But it is the senses that maintain the belief that with all its expensive outlay the Church is more cheaply and conveniently managed than under the stern conditions of work and wages. Yet what does one hold leisure (or semi-idleness) to be worth, when once one has become accustomed to it? The senses plead against a dechristianised world, saying that there would be too much work to do in it and an insufficient supply of leisure. They take the part of magic – that is, they let God work himself (oremus nos, Deus laboret).
Theatricality and Honesty of Unbelievers. – There is no book that contains in such abundance or expresses so faithfully all that man occasionally finds salutary – ecstatic inward happiness, ready for sacrifice or death in the belief in and contemplation of his truth – as the book that tells of Christ. From that book a clever man may learn all the means whereby a book can be made into a world-book, a vade-mecum for all, and especially that master-means of representing everything as discovered, nothing as future and uncertain. All influential books try to leave the same impression, as if the widest intellectual horizon were circumscribed here and as if about the sun that shines here every constellation visible at present or in the future must revolve. – Must not then all purely scientific books be poor in influence on the same grounds as such books are rich in influence? Is not the book fated to live humble and among humble folk, in order to be crucified in the end and never resurrected? In relation to what the religious inform us of their “knowledge” and their “holy spirit,” are not all upright men of science “poor in spirit”? Can any religion demand more self-denial and draw the selfish out of themselves more inexorably than science? – This and similar things we may say, in any case with a certain theatricality, when we have to defend ourselves against believers, for it is impossible to conduct a defence without a certain amount of theatricality. But between ourselves our language must be more honest, and we employ a freedom that those believers are not even allowed, in their own interests, to understand. Away, then, with the monastic cowl of self-denial, with the appearance of humility! Much more and much better – so rings our truth! If science were not linked with the pleasure of knowledge, the utility of the thing known, what should we care for science? If a little faith, love, and hope did not lead our souls to knowledge, what would attract us to science? And if in science the ego means nothing, still the inventive, happy ego, every upright and industrious ego, means a great deal in the republic of the men of science. The homage of those who pay homage, the joy of those whom we wish well or honour, in some cases glory and a fair share of immortality, is the personal reward for every suppression of personality: to say nothing here of meaner views and rewards, although it is just on this account that the majority have sworn and always continue to swear fidelity to the laws of the republic and of science. If we had not remained in some degree unscientific, what would science matter to us? Taking everything together and speaking in plain language: “To a purely knowing being knowledge would be indifferent.” – Not the quality but the quantity of faith and devoutness distinguishes us from the pious, the believers. We are content with less. But should one of them cry out to us: “Be content and show yourselves contented!” we could easily answer: “As a matter of fact, we do not belong to the most discontented class. But you, if your faith makes you happy, show yourselves to be happy. Your faces have always done more harm to your faith than our reasons! If that glad message of your Bible were written in your faces, you would not need to demand belief in the authority of that book in such stiff-necked fashion. Your words, your actions should continually make the Bible superfluous – in fact, through you a new Bible should continually come into being. As it is, your apologia for Christianity is rooted in your unchristianity, and with your defence you write your own condemnation. If you, however, should wish to emerge from your dissatisfaction with Christianity, you should ponder over the experience of two thousand years, which, clothed in the modest form of a question, may be voiced as follows: ‘If Christ really intended to redeem the world, may he not be said to have failed?’ ”
The Poet as Guide to the Future. – All the surplus poetical force that still exists in modern humanity, but is not used under our conditions of life, should (without any deduction) be devoted to a definite goal – not to depicting the present nor to reviving and summarising the past, but to pointing the way to the future. Nor should this be so done as if the poet, like an imaginative political economist, had to anticipate a more favourable national and social state of things and picture their realisation. Rather will he, just as the earlier poets portrayed the images of the Gods, portray the fair images of men. He will divine those cases where, in the midst of our modern world and reality (which will not be shirked or repudiated in the usual poetic fashion), a great, noble soul is still possible, where it may be embodied in harmonious, equable conditions, where it may become permanent, visible, and representative of a type, and so, by the stimulus to imitation and envy, help to create the future. The poems of such a poet would be distinguished by appearing secluded and protected from the heated atmosphere of the passions. The irremediable failure, the shattering of all the strings of the human instrument, the scornful laughter and gnashing of teeth, and all tragedy and comedy in the usual old sense, would appear by the side of this new art as mere archaic lumber, a blurring of the outlines of the world-picture. Strength, kindness, gentleness, purity, and an unsought, innate moderation in the personalities and their action: a levelled soil, giving rest and pleasure to the foot: a shining heaven mirrored in faces and events: science and art welded into a new unity: the mind living together with her sister, the soul, without arrogance or jealousy, and enticing from contrasts the grace of seriousness, not the impatience of discord – all this would be the general environment, the background on which the delicate differences of the embodied ideals would make the real picture, that of ever-growing human majesty. Many roads to this poetry of the future start from Goethe, but the quest needs good pathfinders and above all a far greater strength than is possessed by modern poets, who unscrupulously represent the half-animal and the immaturity and intemperance that are mistaken by them for power and naturalness.
The Muse as Penthesilea.9– “Better to rot than to be a woman without charm.” When once the Muse thinks thus, the end of her art is again at hand. But it can be a tragic and also a comic finale.
The Circuitous Path to the Beautiful. – If the beautiful is to be identified with that which gives pleasure – and thus sang the Muses once – the useful is often the necessary circuitous path to the beautiful, and has a perfect right to spurn the short-sighted censure of men who live for the moment, who will not wait, and who think that they can reach all good things without ever taking a circuitous path.
An Excuse for many a Transgression. – The ceaseless desire to create, the eternal looking outward of the artist, hinders him from becoming better and more beautiful as a personality: unless his craving for glory be great enough to compel him to exhibit in his relations with other men a growth corresponding to the growing beauty and greatness of his works. In any case he has but a limited measure of strength, and how could the proportion of strength that he spends on himself be of any benefit to his work – or vice versa?
Satisfying the Best People. – If we have satisfied the best people of our time with our art, it is a sign that we shall not satisfy the best people of the succeeding period. We have indeed “lived for all time,” and the applause of the best people ensures our fame.10
Of One Substance. – If we are of one substance with a book or a work of art, we think in our heart of hearts that it must be excellent, and are offended if others find it ugly, over-spiced, or pretentious.
Speech and Emotion. – That speech is not given to us to communicate our emotions may be seen from the fact that all simple men are ashamed to seek for words to express their deeper feelings. These feelings are expressed only in actions, and even here such men blush if others seem to divine their motives. After all, among poets, to whom God generally denies this shame, the more noble are more monosyllabic in the language of emotion, and evince a certain constraint: whereas the real poets of emotion are for the most part shameless in practical life.
A Mistake about a Privation. – He that has not for a long time been completely weaned from an art, and is still always at home in it, has no idea how small a privation it is to live without that art.
Three-quarter Strength. – A work that is meant to give an impression of health should be produced with three-quarters, at the most, of the strength of its creator. If he has gone to his farthest limit, the work excites the observer and disconcerts him by its tension. All good things have something lazy about them and lie like cows in the meadow.
Refusing to have Hunger as a Guest. – As refined fare serves a hungry man as well as and no better than coarser food, the more pretentious artist will not dream of inviting the hungry man to his meal.
Living without Art and Wine. – It is with works of art as with wine – it is better if one can do without both and keep to water, and if from the inner fire and inner sweetness of the soul the water spontaneously changes again into wine.
The Pirate-Genius. – The pirate-genius in art, who even knows how to deceive subtle minds, arises when some one unscrupulously and from youth upwards regards all good things, that are not protected by law, as the property of a particular person, as his legitimate spoil. Now all the good things of past ages and masters lie free around us, hedged about and protected by the reverential awe of the few who know them. To these few our robber-genius, by the force of his impudence, bids defiance and accumulates for himself a wealth that once more calls forth homage and awe.
To the Poets of Great Towns. – In the gardens of modern poetry it will clearly be observed that the sewers of great towns are too near. With the fragrance of flowers is mingled something that betrays abomination and putrescence. With pain I ask: “Must you poets always request wit and dirt to stand godfather, when an innocent and beautiful sensation has to be christened by you? Are you obliged to dress your noble goddess in a hood of devilry and caricature? But whence this necessity, this obligation?” The reason is – because you live too near the sewers.
Of the Salt of Speech. – No one has ever explained why the Greek writers, having at command such an unparalleled wealth and power of language, made so sparing a use of their resources that every post-classical Greek book appears by comparison crude, over-coloured, and extravagant. It is said that towards the North Polar ice and in the hottest countries salt is becoming less and less used, whereas on the other hand the dwellers on the plains and by the coast in the more temperate zones use salt in great abundance. Is it possible that the Greeks from a twofold reason – because their intellect was colder and clearer but their fundamental passionate nature far more tropical than ours – did not need salt and spice to the same extent that we do?
The Freest Writer. – In a book for free spirits one cannot avoid mention of Laurence Sterne, the man whom Goethe honoured as the freest spirit of his century. May he be satisfied with the honour of being called the freest writer of all times, in comparison with whom all others appear stiff, square-toed, intolerant, and downright boorish! In his case we should not speak of the clear and rounded but of “the endless melody” – if by this phrase we arrive at a name for an artistic style in which the definite form is continually broken, thrust aside and transferred to the realm of the indefinite, so that it signifies one and the other at the same time. Sterne is the great master of double entendre, this phrase being naturally used in a far wider sense than is commonly done when one applies it to sexual relations. We may give up for lost the reader who always wants to know exactly what Sterne thinks about a matter, and whether he be making a serious or a smiling face (for he can do both with one wrinkling of his features; he can be and even wishes to be right and wrong at the same moment, to interweave profundity and farce). His digressions are at once continuations and further developments of the story, his maxims contain a satire on all that is sententious, his dislike of seriousness is bound up with a disposition to take no matter merely externally and on the surface. So in the proper reader he arouses a feeling of uncertainty whether he be walking, lying, or standing, a feeling most closely akin to that of floating in the air. He, the most versatile of writers, communicates something of this versatility to his reader. Yes, Sterne unexpectedly changes the parts, and is often as much reader as author, his book being like a play within a play, a theatre audience before another theatre audience. We must surrender at discretion to the mood of Sterne, although we can always expect it to be gracious. It is strangely instructive to see how so great a writer as Diderot has affected this double entendre of Sterne's – to be equally ambiguous throughout is just the Sternian super-humour. Did Diderot imitate, admire, ridicule, or parody Sterne in his Jacques le Fataliste? One cannot be exactly certain, and this uncertainty was perhaps intended by the author. This very doubt makes the French unjust to the work of one of their first masters, one who need not be ashamed of comparison with any of the ancients or moderns. For humour (and especially for this humorous attitude towards humour itself) the French are too serious. Is it necessary to add that of all great authors Sterne is the worst model, in fact the inimitable author, and that even Diderot had to pay for his daring? What the worthy Frenchmen and before them some Greeks and Romans aimed at and attained in prose is the very opposite of what Sterne aims at and attains. He raises himself as a masterly exception above all that artists in writing demand of themselves – propriety, reserve, character, steadfastness of purpose, comprehensiveness, perspicuity, good deportment in gait and feature. Unfortunately Sterne the man seems to have been only too closely related to Sterne the writer. His squirrel-soul sprang with insatiable unrest from branch to branch; he knew what lies between sublimity and rascality; he had sat on every seat, always with unabashed watery eyes and mobile play of feature. He was – if language does not revolt from such a combination – of a hard-hearted kindness, and in the midst of the joys of a grotesque and even corrupt imagination he showed the bashful grace of innocence. Such a carnal and spiritual hermaphroditism, such untrammelled wit penetrating into every vein and muscle, was perhaps never possessed by any other man.
A Choice Reality. – Just as the good prose writer only takes words that belong to the language of daily intercourse, though not by a long way all its words – whence arises a choice style – so the good poet of the future will only represent the real and turn his eyes away from all fantastic, superstitious, half-voiced, forgotten stories, to which earlier poets devoted their powers. Only reality, though by a long way not every reality – but a choice reality.
Degenerate Species of Art. – Side by side with the genuine species of art, those of great repose and great movement, there are degenerate species – weary, blasé art and excited art. Both would have their weakness taken for strength and wish to be confounded with the genuine species.
A Hero Impossible from Lack of Colour. – The typical poets and artists of our age like to compose their pictures upon a background of shimmering red, green, grey, and gold, on the background of nervous sensuality – a condition well understood by the children of this century. The drawback comes when we do not look at these pictures with the eyes of our century. Then we see that the great figures painted by these artists have something flickering, tremulous, and dizzy about them, and accordingly we do not ascribe to them heroic deeds, but at best mock-heroic, swaggering misdeeds.
Overladen Style. – The overladen style is a consequence of the impoverishment of the organising force together with a lavish stock of expedients and intentions. At the beginnings of art the very reverse conditions sometimes appear.
Pulchrum est paucorum hominum.– History and experience tell us that the significant grotesqueness that mysteriously excites the imagination and carries one beyond everyday reality, is older and grows more luxuriantly than the beautiful and reverence for the beautiful in art: and that it begins to flourish exceedingly when the sense for beauty is on the wane. For the vast majority of mankind this grotesque seems to be a higher need than the beautiful, presumably because it contains a coarser narcotic.
Origins of Taste in Works of Art. – If we consider the primary germs of the artistic sense, and ask ourselves what are the various kinds of joy produced by the firstlings of art – as, for example, among savage tribes – we find first of all the joy of understanding what another means. Art in this case is a sort of conundrum, which causes its solver pleasure in his own quick and keen perceptions. – Then the roughest works of art remind us of the pleasant things we have actually experienced, and so give joy – as, for example, when the artist alludes to a chase, a victory, a wedding. – Again, the representation may cause us to feel excited, touched, inflamed, as for instance in the glorification of revenge and danger. Here the enjoyment lies in the excitement itself, in the victory over tedium. – The memory, too, of unpleasant things, so far as they have been overcome or make us appear interesting to the listener as subjects for art (as when the singer describes the mishaps of a daring seaman), can inspire great joy, the credit for which is given to art. – A more subtle variety is the joy that arises at the sight of all that is regular and symmetrical in lines, points, and rhythms. For by a certain analogy is awakened the feeling for all that is orderly and regular in life, which one has to thank alone for all well-being. So in the cult of symmetry we unconsciously do homage to rule and proportion as the source of our previous happiness, and the joy in this case is a kind of hymn of thanksgiving. Only when a certain satiety of the last-mentioned joy arises does a more subtle feeling step in, that enjoyment might even lie in a violation of the symmetrical and regular. This feeling, for example, impels us to seek reason in apparent unreason, and the sort of æsthetic riddle-guessing that results is in a way the higher species of the first-named artistic joy. – He who pursues this speculation still further will know what kind of hypotheses for the explanation of æsthetic phenomena are hereby fundamentally rejected.
Not too Near. – It is a disadvantage for good thoughts when they follow too closely on one another, for they hide the view from each other. That is why great artists and writers have made an abundant use of the mediocre.
Roughness and Weakness. – Artists of all periods have made the discovery that in roughness lies a certain strength, and that not every one can be rough who wants to be: also that many varieties of weakness have a powerful effect on the emotions. From this source are derived many artistic substitutes, which not even the greatest and most conscientious artists can abstain from using.
Good Memory. – Many a man fails to become a thinker for the sole reason that his memory is too good.
Arousing instead of Appeasing Hunger. – Great artists fancy that they have taken full possession of a soul. In reality, and often to their painful disappointment, that soul has only been made more capacious and insatiable, so that a dozen greater artists could plunge into its depths without filling it up.
Artists' Anxiety. – The anxiety lest people may not believe that their figures are alive can mislead many artists of declining taste to portray these figures so that they appear as if mad. From the same anxiety, on the other hand, Greek artists of the earliest ages gave even dead and sorely wounded men that smile which they knew as the most vivid sign of life – careless of the actual forms bestowed by nature on life at its last gasp.
The Circle must be Completed. – He who follows a philosophy or a genre of art to the end of its career and beyond, understands from inner experience why the masters and disciples who come after have so often turned, with a depreciatory gesture, into a new groove. The circle must be described – but the individual, even the greatest, sits firm on his point of the circumference, with an inexorable look of obstinacy, as if the circle ought never to be completed.
The Older Art and the Soul of the Present. – Since every art becomes more and more adapted to the expression of spiritual states, of the more lively, delicate, energetic, and passionate states, the later masters, spoilt by these means of expression, do not feel at their ease in the presence of the old-time works of art. They feel as if the ancients had merely been lacking in the means of making their souls speak clearly, also perhaps in some necessary technical preliminaries. They think that they must render some assistance in this quarter, for they believe in the similarity or even unity of all souls. In truth, however, measure, symmetry, a contempt for graciousness and charm, an unconscious severity and morning chilliness, an evasion of passion, as if passion meant the death of art – such are the constituents of sentiment and morality in all old masters, who selected and arranged their means of expression not at random but in a necessary connection with their morality. Knowing this, are we to deny those that come after the right to animate the older works with their soul? No, for these works can only survive through our giving them our soul, and our blood alone enables them to speak to us. The real “historic” discourse would talk ghostly speech to ghosts. We honour the great artists less by that barren timidity that allows every word, every note to remain intact than by energetic endeavours to aid them continually to a new life. – True, if Beethoven were suddenly to come to life and hear one of his works performed with that modern animation and nervous refinement that bring glory to our masters of execution, he would probably be silent for a long while, uncertain whether he should raise his hand to curse or to bless, but perhaps say at last: “Well, well! That is neither I nor not-I, but a third thing – it seems to me, too, something right, if not just the right thing. But you must know yourselves what to do, as in any case it is you who have to listen. As our Schiller says, ‘the living man is right.’ So have it your own way, and let me go down again.”
Against the Disparagers of Brevity. – A brief dictum may be the fruit and harvest of long reflection. The reader, however, who is a novice in this field and has never considered the case in point, sees something embryonic in all brief dicta, not without a reproachful hint to the author, requesting him not to serve up such raw and ill-prepared food.
Against the Short-Sighted. – Do you think it is piece-work because it is (and must be) offered you in pieces?
Readers of Aphorisms. – The worst readers of aphorisms are the friends of the author, if they make a point of referring the general to the particular instance to which the aphorism owes its origin. This namby-pamby attitude brings all the author's trouble to naught, and instead of a philosophic lesson and a philosophic frame of mind, they deservedly gain nothing but the satisfaction of a vulgar curiosity.