Page 2 of 17

Even in his attack on English psychologists, naturalists, and philosophers, in The Genealogy of Morals, what are his charges against them? He says they debase man, voluntarily or involuntarily, by seeking the really operative, really imperative and decisive factor in history precisely where the intellectual pride of man would least wish to find it, i.e. in vis inerti, in some blind and accidental mechanism of ideas, in automatic and purely passive adaptation and modification, in the compulsory action of adjustment to environment.

Again, in his attack on the evolutionists' so-called "struggle for existence," of which I shall speak more exhaustively later, it is the suggestion that life—mere existence in itself—is worthy of being an aim at all, that he deprecates so profoundly. And, once more, it is with the view of elevating man and his aspirations that he levels the attack.

Whatever we may think of his methods, therefore, at least his aim was sufficiently lofty and honourable, and we must bear in mind that he never shirked the duties which, rightly or wrongly, he imagined would help him to achieve it.

What was Nietzsche? If we accept his own definition of the philosopher's task on earth, we must place him in the front rank of philosophers. For, according to him, the creation of new values, new principles, new standards, is the philosopher's sole raison d'tre; and this he certainly accomplished. If, on the other hand, with all the "school" philosophers, we ask him to show us his system, we shall most surely be disappointed. In this respect, therefore, we may perhaps need to modify our opinion of him.

Be that as it may, it is safe to maintain that he was a poet of no mean order; not a mere versifier or rhapsodist, but a poet in the old Greek sense of the word, i.e. a maker, in our time such men are so rare that we are apt to question whether they exist at all, for poetasters have destroyed our faith in them. Goethe was perhaps the last example of the type in modern Europe, and although we may recall the scientific achievements of men like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, we are not sufficiently ready to associate their divining and intuitive power in the department of science with their purely artistic and poetic achievements, despite the fact that the two are really inseparable.

Knowing the high authority with which poets of this order are wont to sneak, it might be supposed that we should approach Nietzsche's innovations in the realm of science with some respect, not in spite of, but precisely owing to, his great poetic genius. Unfortunately to-day this no longer follows. Too thoroughly have we divorced science from emotion and feeling (very wrongly, as even Herbert Spencer and Buckle both declared), and now, wherever we see emotion or a suggestion of passion, we are too apt to purse our lips and stand on our guard.

When we consider that Nietzsche was ultimately to prove the bitterest enemy of Christianity, and the severest critic of the ecclesiastic, his antecedents seem, to say the least, remarkable. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche, born in 1813, was a clergyman of the German Protestant Church; his grandfather had also taken orders; whilst his grandmother on his father's side was descended from a long line of parsons. Nor do things change very much when we turn to his mother's family; for his maternal grandfather, Oehler, was also a clergyman, and, according to Nietzsche's sister, he appears to have been a very sound, though broad, theologian.

Yet, perhaps, it is we who are wrong in seeing anything strange in the fact that a man with such orthodox antecedents should have developed into a prophet and reformer of Nietzsche's stamp; for we should remember that only a long tradition of discipline and strict conventionality, lasting over a number of generations, is able to rear that will-power and determination which, as the lives of most great men have shown, are the first conditions of all epoch-making movements started by single individuals.

Friedrich Nietzsche was born at Rcken near Ltzen, in the Prussian province of Saxony, on the 15th of October 1844. From his earliest childhood onwards the boy seems to have been robust and active and does not appear to have suffered from any of the ordinary ailments of infancy. In the biography written by his sister much stress is laid upon this fact, while the sometimes exceptional health enjoyed by his parents and ancestors is duly emphasised by the anxious biographer. Elisabeth Nietzsche (born in July 1846), the biographer in question, is perfectly justified in establishing these facts with care; for we know that our poet philosopher died insane, and many have sought to show that his insanity was hereditary and could be traced throughout his works.

Nietzsche's father died in 1849, and in the following year the family removed to Naumburg. There the boy received his early schooling, first at a preparatory school and subsequently at the Gymnasium—the Grammar School—of the town. As a lad, it is said that he was fond of military games, and of sitting alone, and it appears that he would recline for hours at his grandmother Nietzsche's feet, listening to her reminiscences of the great Napoleon. Towards the end of 1858 Mrs. Nietzsche was offered a scholarship for her son, for a term of six years, in the Landes-Schule, Pforta, so famous for the scholars it produced. At Pforta, where the discipline was very severe, the boy followed the regular school course and worked with great industry. His sister tells us that during this period he distinguished himself most in his private studies and artistic efforts, though even in the ordinary work of the school he was decidedly above the average. It was here, too, that he first became acquainted with Wagner's compositions, and a word ought now perhaps to be said in regard to his musical studies.

Music, we know, played anything but a minor rle in his later life, as his three important essays, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, The Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche contra Wagner, are with us to prove. I fear, however, that it will be impossible to go very deeply into this question here, save at the cost of other still more important matters which have a prior claim to our attention. Let it then suffice to say that, as a boy, Nietzsche's talent had already become so noticeable that for some time the question which agitated the elders in his circle of relatives and friends, among whom were some competent judges, was whether he should not give up all else in order to develop his great gift. In the end, however, it was decided that he should become a scholar, and although he never entirely gave up composing and playing the piano, music never attained to anything beyond the dignity of a serious hobby in his life. In saying this I naturally exclude his critical writings on the subject, which are at once valuable and important.

Nietzsche's six years at Pforta were responsible for a large number of his subsequent ideas. When we hear him laying particular stress upon the value of rigorous training free from all sentimentality; when we read his views concerning austerity and the importance of law, order and discipline, we must bear in mind that he is speaking with an actual knowledge of these things, and with profound experience of their worth. The excellence of his philological work may also be ascribed to the very sound training he received at Pforta, and the Latin essay which he wrote on an original subject (Theognis, the great aristocratic poet of Megara) for the leaving examination, laid the foundation of all his subsequent opinions on morality.

Nietzsche left Pforta in September 1864 and entered the University of Bonn, where he studied philology and theology. The latter he abandoned six months later, however, and in the autumn of 1865 he left Bonn for Leipzig, whither his famous teacher Ritschl had preceded him. Between 1865 and 1867 his work at Leipzig proved of the utmost importance to his career. Hellenism, Schopenhauer and Wagner now entered into his life and became paramount influences with him, and each in its way determined what his ultimate mission was to be. Hellenism drew him ever more strongly to philology and to the problem of culture in general; Schopenhauer directed him to philosophy, and Wagner taught him his first steps in a subject which was to be the actual Leit-motif of his teaching—I refer to the question of Art.

Free Learning Resources