Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 45 of 70


Modern Unrest.—Modern restlessness increases towards the west, so that Americans look upon the inhabitants of Europe as altogether peace-loving and enjoying beings, whilst in reality they swarm about like wasps and bees. This restlessness is so great that the higher culture cannot mature its fruits, it is as if the seasons followed each other too quickly. For lack of rest our civilisation is turning into a new barbarism. At no period have the active, that is, the restless, been of more importance. One of the necessary corrections, therefore, which must be undertaken in the character of humanity is to strengthen the contemplative element on a large scale. But every individual who is quiet and steady in heart and head already has the right to believe that he possesses not only a good temperament, but also a generally useful virtue, and even fulfils a higher mission by the preservation of this virtue.


To What Extent the Active Man Is Lazy.—I believe that every one must have his[Pg 261] own opinion about everything concerning which opinions are possible, because he himself is a peculiar, unique thing, which assumes towards all other things a new and never hitherto existing attitude. But idleness, which lies at the bottom of the active man's soul, prevents him from drawing water out of his own well. Freedom of opinion is like health; both are individual, and no good general conception can be set up of either of them. That which is necessary for the health of one individual is the cause of disease in another, and many means and ways to the freedom of the spirit are for more highly developed natures the ways and means to confinement.


Censor Vit—Alternations of love and hatred for a long period distinguish the inward condition of a man who desires to be free in his judgment of life; he does not forget, and bears everything a grudge, for good and evil. At last, when the whole tablet of his soul is written full of experiences, he will not hate and despise existence, neither will he love it, but will regard it sometimes with a joyful, sometimes with a sorrowful eye, and, like nature, will be now in a summer and now in an autumn mood.


The Secondary Result.—Whoever earnestly desires to be free will therewith and without any compulsion lose all inclination for faults and vices; he will also be more rarely overcome by anger and[Pg 262] vexation. His will desires nothing more urgently than to discern, and the means to do this,—that is, the permanent condition in which he is best able to discern.


The Value of Disease.—The man who is bed-ridden often perceives that he is usually ill of his position, business, or society, and through them has lost all self-possession. He gains this piece of knowledge from the idleness to which his illness condemns him.


Sensitiveness in the Country.—If there are no firm, quiet lines on the horizon of his life, a species of mountain and forest line, man's inmost will itself becomes restless, inattentive, and covetous, as is the nature of a dweller in towns; he has no happiness and confers no happiness.


Prudence of the Free Spirits.—Free-thinkers, those who live by knowledge alone, will soon attain the supreme aim of their life and their ultimate position towards society and State, and will gladly content themselves, for instance, with a small post or an income that is just sufficient to enable them to live; for they will arrange to live in such a manner that a great change of outward prosperity, even an overthrow of the political order, would not cause an overthrow of their life. To all these things they devote as little energy as[Pg 263] possible in order that with their whole accumulated strength, and with a long breath, they may dive into the element of knowledge. Thus they can hope to dive deep and be able to see the bottom. Such a spirit seizes only the point of an event, he does not care for things in the whole breadth and prolixity of their folds, for he does not wish to entangle himself in them. He, too, knows the weekdays of restraint, of dependence and servitude. But from time to time there must dawn for him a Sunday of liberty, otherwise he could not endure life. It is probable that even his love for humanity will be prudent and somewhat short-winded, for he desires to meddle with the world of inclinations and of blindness only as far as is necessary for the purpose of knowledge. He must trust that the genius of justice will say something for its disciple and protege if accusing voices were to call him poor in love. In his mode of life and thought there is a refined heroism, which scorns to offer itself to the great mob-reverence, as its coarser brother does, and passes quietly through and out of the world. Whatever labyrinths it traverses, beneath whatever rocks its stream has occasionally worked its way—when it reaches the light it goes clearly, easily, and almost noiselessly on its way, and lets the sunshine strike down to its very bottom.


Forward.—And thus forward upon the path of wisdom, with a firm step and good confidence! However you may be situated, serve yourself as a[Pg 264] source of experience! Throw off the displeasure at your nature, forgive yourself your own individuality, for in any case you have in yourself a ladder with a hundred steps upon which you can mount to knowledge. The age into which with grief you feel yourself thrown thinks you happy because of this good fortune; it calls out to you that you shall still have experiences which men of later ages will perhaps be obliged to forego. Do not despise the fact of having been religious; consider fully how you have had a genuine access to art. Can you not, with the help of these experiences, follow immense stretches of former humanity with a clearer understanding? Is not that ground which sometimes displeases you so greatly, that ground of clouded thought, precisely the one upon which have grown many of the most glorious fruits of older civilisations? You must have loved religion and art as you loved mother and nurse,—otherwise you cannot be wise. But you must be able to see beyond them, to outgrow them; if you, remain under their ban you do not understand them. You must also be familiar with history and that cautious play with the balances: "On the one hand—on the other hand." Go back, treading in the footsteps made by mankind in its great and painful journey through the desert of the past, and you will learn most surely whither it is that all later humanity never can or may go again. And inasmuch as you wish with all your strength to see in advance how the knots of the future are tied, your own life acquires the value of an instrument and means of knowledge. It is within your[Pg 265] power to see that all you have experienced, trials, errors, faults, deceptions, passions, your love and your hope, shall be merged wholly in your aim. This aim is to become a necessary chain of culture-links yourself, and from this necessity to draw a conclusion as to the necessity in the progress of general culture. When your sight has become strong enough to see to the bottom of the dark well of your nature and your knowledge, it is possible that in its mirror you may also behold the far-away visions of future civilisations. Do you think that such a life with such an aim is too wearisome, too empty of all that is agreeable? Then you have still to learn that no honey is sweeter than that of knowledge, and that the overhanging clouds of trouble must be to you as an udder from which you shall draw milk for your refreshment. And only when old age approaches will you rightly perceive how you listened to the voice of nature, that nature which rules the whole world through pleasure; the same life which has its zenith in age has also its zenith in wisdom, in that mild sunshine of a constant mental joyfulness; you meet them both, old age and wisdom, upon one ridge of life,—it was thus intended by Nature. Then it is time, and no cause for anger, that the mists of death approach. Towards the light is your last movement; a joyful cry of knowledge is your last sound.

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