Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Shakespeare As a Moralist.—Shakespeare meditated much on the passions, and on account of his temperament had probably a close acquaintance with many of them (dramatists are in general rather wicked men). He could, however[Pg 177] not talk on the subject, like Montaigne, but put his observations thereon into the mouths of impassioned figures, which is contrary to nature, certainly, but makes his dramas so rich in thought that they cause all others to seem poor in comparison and readily arouse a general aversion to them. Schiller's reflections (which are almost always based on erroneous or trivial fancies) are just theatrical Reflections, and as such are very effective; whereas Shakespeare's reflections do honour to his model, Montaigne, and contain quite serious thoughts in polished form, but on that account are too remote and refined for the eyes of the theatrical public, and are consequently ineffective.


Securing a Good Hearing.—It is not sufficient to know how to play well; one must also know how to secure a good hearing. A violin in the hand of the greatest master gives only a little squeak when the place where it is heard is too large; the master may then be mistaken for any bungler.


The Incomplete As the Effective.—Just as figures in relief make such a strong impression on the imagination because they seem in the act of emerging from the wall and only stopped by some sudden hindrance; so the relief-like, incomplete representation of a thought, or a whole philosophy, is sometimes more effective than its exhaustive[Pg 178] amplification,—more is left for the investigation of the onlooker, he is incited to the further study of that which stands out before him in such strong light and shade; he is prompted to think out the subject, and even to overcome the hindrance which hitherto prevented it from emerging clearly.


Against the Eccentric.—When art arrays itself in the most shabby material it is most easily recognised as art.


Collective Intellect.—A good author possesses not only his own intellect, but also that of his friends.


Different Kinds of Mistakes.—The misfortune of acute and clear authors is that people consider them as shallow and therefore do not devote any effort to them; and the good fortune of obscure writers is that the reader makes an effort to understand them and places the delight in his own zeal to their credit.


Relation to Science.—None of the people have any real interest in a science, who only begin to be enthusiastic about it when they themselves lave made discoveries in it.

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The Key.—The single thought on which an eminent man sets a great value, arousing the derision and laughter of the masses, is for him a key to hidden treasures; for them, however, it is nothing more than a piece of old iron.


Untranslatable.—It is neither the best nor the worst parts of a book which are untranslatable.


Authors' Paradoxes.—The so-called paradoxes of an author to which a reader objects are often not in the author's book at all, but in the reader's head.


WIT.—The wittiest authors produce a scarcely noticeable smile.


Antithesis.—Antithesis is the narrow gate through which error is fondest of sneaking to the truth.


Thinkers As Stylists.—Most thinkers write badly, because they communicate not only their thoughts, but also the thinking of them.

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Thoughts in Poetry.—The poet conveys his thoughts ceremoniously in the vehicle of rhythm, usually because they are not able to go on foot.


The Sin Against the Reader's Intellect.—When an author renounces his talent in order merely to put himself on a level with the reader, he commits the only deadly sin which the latter will never forgive, should he notice anything of it. One may say everything that is bad about a person, but in the manner in which it is said one must know how to revive his vanity anew.


The Limits of Uprightness.—Even the most upright author lets fall a word too much when he wishes to round off a period.


The Best Author.—The best author will be he who is ashamed to become one.


Draconian Law Against Authors.—One should regard authors as criminals who only obtain acquittal or mercy in the rarest cases,—that would be a remedy for books becoming too rife.

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The Fools of Modern Culture.—The fools of medival courts correspond to our feuilleton writers; they are the same kind of men, semi-rational, witty, extravagant, foolish, sometimes there only for the purpose of lessening the pathos of the outlook with fancies and chatter, and of drowning with their clamour the far too deep and solemn chimes of great events; they were formerly in the service of princes and nobles, now they are in the service of parties (since a large portion of the old obsequiousness in the intercourse of the people with their prince still survives in party-feeling and party-discipline). Modern literary men, however, are generally very similar to the feuilleton writers, they are the "fools of modern culture," whom one judges more leniently when one does not regard them as fully responsible beings. To look upon writing as a regular profession should justly be regarded as a form of madness.


After the Example of the Greeks.—It is a great hindrance to knowledge at present that, owing to centuries of exaggeration of feeling, all words have become vague and inflated. The higher stage of culture, which is under the sway (though not under the tyranny) of knowledge, requires great sobriety of feeling and thorough concentration of words—on which points the Greeks in the time of Demosthenes set an[Pg 182] example to us. Exaggeration is a distinguishing mark of all modern writings, and even when they are simply written the expressions therein are still felt as too eccentric. Careful reflection, conciseness, coldness, plainness, even carried intentionally to the farthest limits,—in a word, suppression of feeling and taciturnity,—these are the only remedies. For the rest, this cold manner of writing and feeling is now very attractive, as a contrast; and to be sure there is a new danger therein. For intense cold is as good a stimulus as a high degree of warmth.


Good Narrators, Bad Explainers.—In good narrators there is often found an admirable psychological sureness and logicalness, as far as these qualities can be observed in the actions of their personages, in positively ludicrous contrast to their inexperienced psychological reasoning, so that their culture appears to be as extraordinarily high one moment as it seems regrettably defective the next. It happens far too frequently that they give an evidently false explanation of their own heroes and their actions,—of this there is no doubt, however improbable the thing may appear. It is quite likely that the greatest pianoforte player has thought but little about the technical conditions and the special virtues, drawbacks, usefulness, and tractability of each finger (dactylic ethics), and makes big mistakes whenever he speaks of such things.

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