Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Confusion of Cause and Effect.—Unconsciously we seek the principles and opinions which are suited to our temperament, so that at last it seems as if these principles and opinions had formed our character and given it support and stability, whereas exactly the contrary has taken place. Our thoughts and judgments are, apparently, to be taken subsequently as the causes of our nature, but as a matter of fact our nature is the cause of our so thinking and judging. And what induces us to play this almost unconscious comedy? Inertness and convenience, and to a large extent also the vain desire to be regarded as thoroughly consistent and[Pg 385] homogeneous in nature and thought; for this wins respect and gives confidence and power.


Age in Relation to Truth.—Young people love what is interesting and exceptional, indifferent whether it is truth or falsehood. Riper minds love what is interesting and extraordinary when it is truth. Matured minds, finally, love truth even in those in whom it appears plain and simple and is found tiresome by ordinary people, because they have observed that truth is in the habit of giving utterance to its highest intellectual verities with all the appearance of simplicity.


Men As Bad Poets.—Just as bad poets seek a thought to fit the rhyme in the second half of the verse, so men in the second half of life, having become more scrupulous, are in the habit of seeking pursuits, positions, and conditions which suit those of their earlier life, so that outwardly all sounds well, but their life is no longer ruled and continuously determined anew by a powerful thought: in place thereof there is merely the intention of finding a rhyme.


Ennui and Play.—Necessity compels us to work, with the product of which the necessity is appeased; the ever new awakening of necessity,[Pg 386] however, accustoms us to work. But in the intervals in which necessity is appeased and asleep, as it were, we are attacked by ennui. What is this? In a word it is the habituation to work, which now makes itself felt as a new and additional necessity; it will be all the stronger the more a person has been accustomed to work, perhaps, even, the more a person has suffered from necessities. In order to escape ennui, a man either works beyond the extent of his former necessities, or he invents play, that is to say, work that is only intended to appease the general necessity for work. He who has become satiated with play, and has no new necessities impelling him to work, is sometimes attacked by the longing for a third state, which is related to play as gliding is to dancing, as dancing is to walking, a blessed, tranquil movement; it is the artists' and philosophers' vision of happiness.


Lessons from Pictures.—If we look at a series of pictures of ourselves, from the time of later childhood to the time of mature manhood, we discover with pleased surprise that the man bears more resemblance to the child than to the youth: that probably, therefore, in accordance with this fact, there has been in the interval a temporary alienation of the fundamental character, over which the collected, concentrated force of the man has again become master. With this observation this other is also in accordance, namely, that[Pg 387] all strong influences of passions, teachers, and political events, which in our youthful years draw us hither and thither, seem later on to be referred back again to a fixed standard; of course they still continue to exist and operate within us, but our fundamental sentiments and opinions have now the upper hand, and use their influence perhaps as a source of strength, but are no longer merely regulative, as was perhaps the case in our twenties. Thus even the thoughts and sentiments of the man appear more in accordance with those of his childish years,—and this objective fact expresses itself in the above-mentioned subjective fact.


The Tone of Voice of Different Ages.—The tone in which youths speak, praise, blame, and versify, displeases an older person because it is too loud, and yet at the same time dull and confused like a sound in a vault, which acquires such a loud ring owing to the emptiness; for most of the thought of youths does not gush forth out of the fulness of their own nature, but is the accord and the echo of what has been thought, said, praised or blamed around them. As their sentiments, however (their inclinations and aversions), resound much more forcibly than the reasons thereof, there is heard, whenever they divulge these sentiments, the dull, clanging tone which is a sign of the absence or scarcity of reasons. The tone of riper age is rigorous, abruptly concise, moderately loud, but, like[Pg 388] everything distinctly articulated, is heard very far off. Old age, finally, often brings a certain mildness and consideration into the tone of the voice, and as it were, sweetens it; in many cases, to be sure it also sours it.


The Atavist and the Forerunner.—The man of unpleasant character, full of distrust, envious of the success of fellow-competitors and neighbours, violent and enraged at divergent opinions, shows that he belongs to an earlier grade of culture, and is, therefore, an atavism; for the way in which he behaves to people was right and suitable only for an age of club-law; he is an atavist. The man of a different character, rich in sympathy, winning friends everywhere, finding all that is growing and becoming amiable, rejoicing at the honours and successes of others and claiming no privilege of solely knowing the truth, but full of a modest distrust,—he is a forerunner who presses upward towards a higher human culture. The man of unpleasant character dates from the times when the rude basis of human intercourse had yet to be laid, the other lives on the upper floor of the edifice of culture, removed as far as possible from the howling and raging wild beast imprisoned in the cellars.


Consolation For Hypochondriacs.—When a great thinker is temporarily subjected to hypochondriacal self-torture he can say to himself, by[Pg 389] way of consolation: "It is thine own great strength on which this parasite feeds and grows; if thy strength were smaller thou wouldst have less to suffer." The statesman may say just the same thing when jealousy and vengeful feeling, or, in a word, the tone of the bellum omnium contra omnes, for which, as the representative of a nation, he must necessarily have a great capacity, occasionally intrudes into his personal relations and makes his life hard.


Estranged from the Present.—There are great advantages in estranging one's self for once to a large extent from one's age, and being as it were driven back from its shores into the ocean of past views of things. Looking thence towards the coast one commands a view, perhaps for the first time, of its aggregate formation, and when one again approaches the land one has the advantage of understanding it better, on the whole, than those who have never left it.


Sowing and Reaping on the Field of Personal Defects.—Men like Rousseau understand how to use their weaknesses, defects, and vices as manure for their talent. When Rousseau bewails the corruption and degeneration of society as the evil results of culture, there is a personal experience at the bottom of it, the bitterness which gives sharpness to his general condemnation and poisons[Pg 390] the arrows with which he shoots; he unburdens himself first as an individual, and thinks of getting a remedy which, while benefiting society directly, will also benefit himself indirectly by means of society.

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