Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Marvellous Vanity.—Whoever has courageously prophesied the weather three times and has been successful in his hits, acquires a certain amount of inward confidence in his prophetic gift. We give credence to the marvellous and irrational when it flatters our self-esteem.


A Profession.—A profession is the backbone of life.


The Danger of Personal Influence.—Whoever feels that he exercises a great inward influence over another person must give him a perfectly free rein, must, in fact, welcome and even induce occasional opposition, otherwise he will inevitably make an enemy.


Recognition of the Heir.—Whoever has founded something great in an unselfish spirit is careful to rear heirs for his work. It is the sign of a tyrannical and ignoble nature to see opponents in all possible heirs, and to live in a state of self-defence against them.

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Partial Knowledge.—Partial knowledge is more triumphant than complete knowledge; it takes things to be simpler than they are, and so makes its theory more popular and convincing.


Unsuitable For a Party-man.—Whoever thinks much is unsuitable for a party-man; his thinking leads him too quickly beyond the party.


A Bad Memory.—The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.


Self-affliction.—Want of consideration is often the sign of a discordant inner nature, which craves for stupefaction.


Martyrs.—The disciples of a martyr suffer more than the martyr.


Arrears of Vanity.—The vanity of many people who have no occasion to be vain is the inveterate habit, still surviving from the time when people had no right to the belief in[Pg 375] themselves and only begged it in small sums from others.


Punctum Saliens of Passion.—A person falling into a rage or into a violent passion of love reaches a point when the soul is full like a hogshead, but nevertheless a drop of water has still to be added, the good will for the passion (which is also generally called the evil will). This item only is necessary, and then the hogshead overflows.


A Gloomy Thought.—It is with men as with the charcoal fires in the forest. It is only when young men have cooled down and have got charred, like these piles, that they become useful. As long as they fume and smoke they are perhaps more interesting, but they are useless and too often uncomfortable. Humanity ruthlessly uses every individual as material for the heating of its great machines; but what then is the purpose of the machines, when all individuals (that is, the human race) are useful only to maintain them? Machines that are ends in themselves: is that the umana commedia?


The Hour-hand of Life.—Life consists of rare single moments of the greatest importance, and of countless intervals during which, at best, the phantoms of those moments hover around us. Love, the Spring, every fine melody, the mountains,[Pg 376] the moon, the sea—all speak but once fully to the heart, if, indeed, they ever do quite attain to speech. For many people have not those moments at all, and are themselves intervals and pauses in the symphony of actual life.


Attack Or Compromise.—We often make the mistake of showing violent enmity towards a tendency, party, or period, because we happen only to get a sight of its most exposed side, its stuntedness, or the inevitable "faults of its virtues,"—perhaps because we ourselves have taken a prominent part in them. We then turn our backs on them and seek a diametrically opposite course; but the better way would be to seek out their strong good sides, or to develop them in ourselves. To be sure, a keener glance and a better will are needed to improve the becoming and the imperfect than are required to see through it in its imperfection and to deny it.


Modesty.—There is true modesty (that is the knowledge that we are not the works we create); and it is especially becoming in a great mind, because such a mind can well grasp the thought of absolute irresponsibility (even for the good it creates). People do not hate a great man's presumptuousness in so far as he feels his strength, but because he wishes to prove it by injuring[Pg 377] others, by dominating them, and seeing how long they will stand it. This, as a rule, is even a proof of the absence of a secure sense of power, and makes people doubt his greatness. We must therefore beware of presumption from the stand-point of wisdom.


The Day's First Thought.—The best way to begin a day well is to think, on awakening, whether we cannot give pleasure during the day to at least one person. If this could become a substitute for the religious habit of prayer our fellow-men would benefit by the change.


Presumption As the Last Consolation.—When we so interpret a misfortune, an intellectual defect, or a disease that we see therein our predestined fate, our trial, or the mysterious punishment of our former misdeeds, we thereby make our nature interesting and exalt ourselves in imagination above our fellows. The proud sinner is a well-known figure in all religious sects.


The Vegetation of Happiness.—Close beside the world's woe, and often upon its volcanic soil, man has laid out his little garden of happiness. Whether one regard life with the eyes of him who only seeks knowledge therefrom, or of him who submits and is resigned, or of him who[Pg 378] rejoices over surmounted difficulties—everywhere one will find some happiness springing up beside the evil—and in fact always the more happiness the more volcanic the soil has been,—only it would be absurd to say that suffering itself is justified by this happiness.


The Path of Our Ancestors.—It is sensible when a person develops still further in himself the talent upon which his father or grandfather spent much trouble, and does not shift to something entirely new; otherwise he deprives himself of the possibility of attaining perfection in any one craft. That is why the proverb says, "Which road shouldst thou ride?—That of thine ancestors."


Vanity and Ambition As Educators.—As long as a person has not become an instrument of general utility, ambition may torment him; if, however, that point has been reached, if he necessarily works like a machine for the good of all, then vanity may result; it will humanise him in small matters and make him more sociable, endurable, and considerate, when ambition has completed the coarser work of making him useful.

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