Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 32 of 70

[Pg 183]


The Writings of Acquaintances and Their Readers.—We read the writings of our acquaintances (friends and enemies) in a double sense, inasmuch as our perception constantly whispers, "That is something of himself, a remembrance of his inward being, his experiences, his talents," and at the same time another kind of perception endeavours to estimate the profit of the work in itself, what valuation it merits apart from its author, how far it will enrich knowledge. These two manners of reading and estimating interfere with each other, as may naturally be supposed. And a conversation with a friend will only bear good fruit of knowledge when both think only of the matter under consideration and forget that they are friends.


Rhythmical Sacrifice.—Good writers alter the rhythm of many a period merely because they do not credit the general reader with the ability to comprehend the measure followed by the period in its first version; thus they make it easier for the reader, by giving the preference to the better known rhythms.. This regard for the rhythmical incapacity of the modern reader has already called forth many a sigh, for much has been sacrificed to it. Does not the same thing happen to good musicians?

[Pg 184]


The Incomplete As an Artistic Stimulus.—The incomplete is often more effective than perfection, and this is the case with eulogies. To effect their purpose a stimulating incompleteness is necessary, as an irrational element, which calls up a sea before the hearer's imagination, and, like a mist, conceals the opposite coast, i.e. the limits of the object of praise. If the well-known merits of a person are referred to and described at length and in detail, it always gives rise to the suspicion that these are his only merits. The perfect eulogist takes his stand above the person praised, he appears to overlook him. Therefore complete praise has a weakening effect.


Precautions in Writing and Teaching.—Whoever has once written and has been seized with the passion for writing learns from almost all that he does and experiences that which is literally communicable. He thinks no longer of himself, but of the author and his public; he desires insight into things; but not for his own use. He who teaches is mostly incapable of doing anything for his own good: he is always thinking of the good of his scholars, and all knowledge delights him only in so far as he is able to teach it. He comes at last to regard himself as a medium of knowledge, and above all as a means thereto, so that he has lost all serious consideration for himself.

[Pg 185]


The Necessity For Bad Authors.—There will always be a need of bad authors; for they meet the taste of readers of an undeveloped, immature age—these have their requirements as well as mature readers. If human life were of greater length, the number of mature individuals would be greater than that of the immature, or at least equally great; but, as it is, by far the greater number die too young: i.e. there are always many more undeveloped intellects with bad taste. These demand, with the greater impetuosity of youth, the satisfaction of their needs, and they insist on having bad authors.


Too Near and Too Far.—The reader and the author very often do not understand each other, because the author knows his theme too well and finds it almost slow, so that he omits the examples, of which he knows hundreds; the reader, however, is interested in the subject, and is liable to consider it as badly proved if examples are lacking.


A Vanished Preparation For Art.—Of everything that was practised in public schools, the thing of greatest value was the exercise in Latin style,—this was an exercise in art, whilst all[Pg 186] other occupations aimed only at the acquirement of knowledge. It is a barbarism to put German composition before it, for there is no typical German style developed by public oratory; but if there is a desire to advance practice in thought by means of German composition, then it is certainly better for the time being to pay no attention to style, to separate the practice in thought, therefore, from the practice in reproduction. The latter should confine itself to the various modes of presenting a given subject, and should not concern itself with the independent finding of a subject. The mere presentment of given subject was the task of the Latin style, for which the old teachers possessed a long vanished delicacy of ear. Formerly, whoever learned to write well in a modern language had to thank this practice for the acquirement (now we are obliged to go to school to the older French writers). But yet more: he obtained an idea of the loftiness and difficulty of form, and was prepared for art in the only right way: by practice.


Darkness and Over-brightness Side by Side.—Authors who, in general, do not understand how to express their thoughts clearly are fond of choosing, in detail, the strongest, most exaggerated distinctions and superlatives,—thereby is produced an effect of light, which is like torchlight in intricate forest paths.

[Pg 187]


Literary Painting.—An important object will be best described if the colours for the painting are taken out of the object itself, as a chemist does, and then employed like an artist, so that the drawing develops from the outlines and transitions of the colours. Thus the painting acquires something of the entrancing natural element which gives such importance to the object itself.


Books Which Teach How to Dance.—There are authors who, by representing the impossible as possible, and by talking of morality and cleverness as if both were merely moods and humours assumed at will, produce a feeling of exuberant freedom, as if man stood on tiptoe and were compelled to dance from sheer, inward delight.


Unfinished Thoughts.—Just as not only manhood, but also youth and childhood have a value per se, and are not to be looked upon merely as passages and bridges, so also unfinished thoughts have their value. For this reason we must not torment a poet with subtle explanations, but must take pleasure in the uncertainty of his horizon, as if the way to further thoughts were still open. We stand on the threshold; we wait as for the digging up of a treasure, it is as if a well of profundity were about to be discovered. The[Pg 188] poet anticipates something of the thinker's pleasure in the discovery of a leading thought, an makes us covetous, so that we give chase to it; but it flutters past our head and exhibits the loveliest butterfly-wings,—and yet it escapes us.


The Book Grown Almost Into a Human Being.—Every author is surprised anew at the way in which his book, as soon as he has sent it out, continues to live a life of its own; it seems to him as if one part of an insect had been cut off and now went on its own way. Perhaps he forgets it almost entirely, perhaps he rises above the view expressed therein, perhaps even he understands it no longer, and has lost that impulse upon which he soared at the time he conceived the book; meanwhile it seeks its readers, inflames life, pleases, horrifies, inspires new works, becomes the soul of designs and actions,—in short, it lives like a creature endowed with mind and soul, and yet is no human being. The happiest fate is that of the author who, as an old man, is able to say that all there was in him of life-inspiring, strengthening, exalting, enlightening thoughts and feelings still lives on in his writings, and that he himself now only represents the gray ashes, whilst the fire has been kept alive and spread out. And if we consider that every human action, not only a book, is in some way or other the cause of other actions, decisions, and thoughts; that everything that happens is inseparably connected with everything[Pg 189] that is going to happen, we recognise the real immortality, that of movement,—that which has once moved is enclosed and immortalised in the general union of all existence, like an insect within a piece of amber.

Free Learning Resources