Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Philosophically Minded.—We usually endeavour to acquire one attitude of mind, one set of opinions for all situations and events of life—it is mostly called being philosophically minded. But for the acquisition of knowledge it may be of greater importance not to make ourselves thus uniform, but to hearken to the low voice of the different situations in life; these bring their own opinions with them. We thus take an intelligent interest in the life and nature of many persons by not treating ourselves as rigid, persistent single individuals.


In the Fire of Contempt.—It is a fresh step towards independence when one first dares to give utterance to opinions which it is considered as disgraceful for a person to entertain; even friends and acquaintances are then accustomed to grow anxious. The gifted nature must also pass through this fire; it afterwards belongs far more to itself.


Self-sacrifice.—In the event of choice, a great sacrifice is preferred to a small one, because we compensate ourselves for the great sacrifice by[Pg 391] self-admiration, which is not possible in the case of a small one.


Love As an Artifice.—Whoever really wishes to become acquainted with something new (whether it be a person, an event, or a book), does well to take up the matter with all possible love, and to avert his eye quickly from all that seems hostile, objectionable, and false therein,—in fact to forget such things; so that, for instance, he gives the author of a book the best start possible, and straightway, just as in a race, longs with beating heart that he may reach the goal. In this manner one penetrates to the heart of the new thing, to its moving point, and this is called becoming acquainted with it. This stage having been arrived at, the understanding afterwards makes its restrictions; the over-estimation and the temporary suspension of the critical pendulum were only artifices to lure forth the soul of the matter.


Thinking Too Well and Too Ill of the World.—Whether we think too well or too ill of things, we always have the advantage of deriving therefrom a greater pleasure, for with a too good preconception we usually put more sweetness into things (experiences) than they actually contain. A too bad preconception causes a pleasant disappointment, the pleasantness that lay in the things themselves is increased by the pleasantness of the[Pg 392] surprise. A gloomy temperament, however, will have the reverse experience in both cases.


Profound People.—Those whose strength lies in the deepening of impressions—they are usually called profound people—are relatively self-possessed and decided in all sudden emergencies, for in the first moment the impression is still shallow, it only then becomes deep. Long foreseen, long expected events or persons, however, excite such natures most, and make them almost incapable of eventually having presence of mind on the arrival thereof.


Intercourse With the Higher Self.—Every one has his good day, when he finds his higher self; and true humanity demands that a person shall be estimated according to this state and not according to his work-days of constraint and bondage. A painter, for instance, should be appraised and honoured according to the most exalted vision he could see and represent. But men themselves commune very differently with this their higher self, and are frequently their own playactors, in so far as they repeatedly imitate what they are in those moments. Some stand in awe and humility before their ideal, and would fain deny it; they are afraid of their higher self because, when it speaks, it speaks pretentiously. Besides, it has a ghost-like freedom of coming and staying away just as it pleases; on that account it[Pg 393] is often called a gift of the gods, while in fact everything else is a gift of the gods (of chance); this, however, is the man himself.


Lonely People.—Some people are so much accustomed to being alone in self-communion that they do not at all compare themselves with others, but spin out their soliloquising life in a quiet, happy mood, conversing pleasantly, and even hilariously, with themselves. If, however, they are brought to the point of comparing themselves with others, they are inclined to a brooding under-estimation of their own worth, so that they have first to be compelled by others to form once more a good and just opinion of themselves, and even from this acquired opinion they will always want to subtract and abate something. We must not, therefore, grudge certain persons their loneliness or foolishly commiserate them on that account, as is so often done.


Without Melody.—There are persons to whom a constant repose in themselves and the harmonious ordering of all their capacities is so natural that every definite activity is repugnant to them. They resemble music which consists of nothing but prolonged, harmonious accords, without even the tendency to an organised and animated melody showing itself. All external movement serves only to restore to the boat its equilibrium[Pg 394] on the sea of harmonious euphony. Modern men usually become excessively impatient when they meet such natures, who will never be anything in the world, only it is not allowable to say of them that they are nothing. But in certain moods the sight of them raises the unusual question: "Why should there be melody at all? Why should it not suffice us when life mirrors itself peacefully in a deep lake?" The Middle Ages were richer in such natures than our times. How seldom one now meets with any one who can live on so peacefully and happily with himself even in the midst of the crowd, saying to himself, like Goethe, "The best thing of all is the deep calm in which I live and grow in opposition to the world, and gain what it cannot take away from me with fire and sword."


To Live and Experience.—If we observe how some people can deal with their experiences—their unimportant, everyday experiences—so that these become soil which yields fruit thrice a year; whilst others—and how many!—are driven through the surf of the most exciting adventures, the most diversified movements of times and peoples, and yet always remain light, always remain on the surface, like cork; we are finally tempted to divide mankind into a minority (minimality) of those who know how to make much out of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little out of much; indeed, we even meet with the counter-sorcerers who, instead[Pg 395] of making the world out of nothing, make a nothing out of the world.


Seriousness in Play.—-In Genoa one evening, in the twilight, I heard from a tower a long chiming of bells; it was never like to end, and sounded as if insatiable above the noise of the streets, out into the evening sky and sea-air, so thrilling, and at the same time so childish and so sad. I then remembered the words of Plato, and suddenly felt the force of them in my heart: "Human matters, one and all, are not worthy of great seriousness; nevertheless ..."

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