The Joyful Wisdom

Page 22 of 59


Learning to do Homage.—One must learn the art of homage, as well as the art of contempt. Whoever goes in new paths and has led many persons therein, discovers with astonishment how[Pg 138] awkward and incompetent all of them are in the expression of their gratitude, and indeed how rarely gratitude is able even to express itself. It is always as if something comes into people's throats when their gratitude wants to speak so that it only hems and haws, and becomes silent again. The way in which a thinker succeeds in tracing the effect of his thoughts, and their transforming and convulsing power, is almost a comedy: it sometimes seems as if those who have been operated upon felt profoundly injured thereby, and could only assert their independence, which they suspect to be threatened, by all kinds of improprieties. It needs whole generations in order merely to devise a courteous convention of gratefulness; it is only very late that the period arrives when something of spirit and genius enters into gratitude Then there is usually some one who is the great receiver of thanks, not only for the good he himself has done, but mostly for that which has been gradually accumulated by his predecessors, as a treasure of what is highest and best.


Voltaire—Wherever there has been a court, it has furnished the standard of good-speaking and with this also the standard of style for writers The court language, however, is the language of the courtier who has no profession, and who even in conversations on scientific subjects avoids all convenient, technical expressions, because they smack of the profession; on that account the technical expression, and everything that betrays the specialist,[Pg 139] is a blemish of style in countries which have a court culture. At present, when all courts have become caricatures of past and present times, one is astonished to find even Voltaire unspeakably reserved and scrupulous on this point (for example, in his judgments concerning such stylists as Fontenelle and Montesquieu),—we are now, all of us, emancipated from court taste, while Voltaire was its perfecter!


A Word for Philologists.—It is thought that there are books so valuable and royal that whole generations of scholars are well employed when through their efforts these books are kept genuine and intelligible,—to confirm this belief again and again is the purpose of philology. It presupposes that the rare men are not lacking (though they may not be visible), who actually know how to use such valuable books:—those men perhaps who write such books themselves, or could write them. I mean to say that philology presupposes a noble belief,—that for the benefit of some few who are always "to come," and are not there, a very great amount of painful, and even dirty labour has to be done beforehand: it is all labour in usum Delphinorum.


German Music.—German music, more than any other, has now become European music; because the changes which Europe experienced through the Revolution have therein alone found expression: it is only German music that knows how to[Pg 140] express the agitation of popular masses, the tremendous artificial uproar, which does not even need to be very noisy,—while Italian opera, for example, knows only the choruses of domestics or soldiers, but not "the people." There is the additional fact that in all German music a profound bourgeois jealousy of the noblesse can be traced, especially a jealousy of esprit and lgance, as the expressions of a courtly, chivalrous, ancient, and self-confident society. It is not music like that of Goethe's musician at the gate, which was pleasing also "in the hall," and to the king as well; it is not here said: "The knights looked on with martial air; with bashful eyes the ladies." Even the Graces are not allowed in German music without a touch of remorse; it is only with Pleasantness, the country sister of the Graces that the German begins to feel morally at ease—and from this point up to his enthusiastic, learned, and often gruff "sublimity" (the Beethoven-like sublimity), he feels more and more so. If we want to imagine the man of this music,—well, let us just imagine Beethoven as he appeared beside Goethe, say, at their meeting at Teplitz: as semi-barbarism beside culture, as the masses beside the nobility, as the good-natured man beside the good and more than "good" man, as the visionary beside the artist, as the man needing comfort beside the comforted, as the man given to exaggeration and distrust beside the man of reason, as the crank and self-tormenter, as the foolishly enraptured, blessedly unfortunate, sincerely immoderate man! as the pretentious and awkward man,—and altogether[Pg 141] as the "untamed man": it was thus that Goethe conceived and characterised him, Goethe, the exceptional German, for whom a music of equal rank has not yet been found!—Finally, let us consider whether the present continually extending contempt of melody and the stunting of the sense for melody among Germans should not be understood as a democratic impropriety and an after-effect of the Revolution? For melody has such an obvious delight in conformity to law, and such an aversion to everything evolving, unformed and arbitrary, that it sounds like a note out of the ancient European regime, and as a seduction and guidance back to it.


The Tone of the German Language.—We know whence the German originated which for several centuries has been the universal literary language of Germany. The Germans, with their reverence for everything that came from the court, intentionally took the chancery style as their pattern in all that they had to write, especially in their letters, records, wills, &c. To write in the chancery style, that was to write in court and government style,—that was regarded as something select, compared with the language of the city in which a person lived. People gradually drew this inference, and spoke also as they wrote,—they thus became still more select in the forms of their words, in the choice of their terms and modes of expression, and finally also in their tones: they affected a court tone when they spoke, and the affectation at last became[Pg 142] natural. Perhaps nothing quite similar has ever happened elsewhere:—the predominance of the literary style over the talk, and the formality and affectation of an entire people becoming the basis of a common and no longer dialectical language. I believe that the sound of the German language in the Middle Ages, and especially after the Middle Ages, was extremely rustic and vulgar; it has ennobled itself somewhat during the last centuries, principally because it was found necessary to imitate so many French, Italian, and Spanish sounds, and particularly on the part of the German (and Austrian) nobility, who could not at all content themselves with their mother-tongue. But notwithstanding this practice, German must have sounded intolerably vulgar to Montaigne, and even to Racine: even at present, in the mouths of travellers among the Italian populace, it still sounds very coarse, sylvan, and hoarse, as if it had originated in smoky rooms and outlandish districts.—Now I notice that at present a similar striving after selectness of tone is spreading among the former admirers of the chancery style, and that the Germans are beginning to accommodate themselves to a peculiar "witchery of sound," which might in the long run become an actual danger to the German language,—for one may seek in vain for more execrable sounds in Europe. Something mocking, cold, indifferent and careless in the voice: that is what at present sounds "noble" to the Germans—and I hear the approval of this nobleness in the voices of young officials, teachers, women, and trades-people; indeed, even[Pg 143] the little girls already imitate this German of the officers. For the officer, and in fact the Prussian officer is the inventor of these tones: this same officer, who as soldier and professional man possesses that admirable tact for modesty which the Germans as a whole might well imitate (German professors and musicians included!). But as soon as he speaks and moves he is the most inmodest and inelegant figure in old Europe—no doubt unconsciously to himself! And unconsciously also to the good Germans, who gaze at him as the man of the foremost and most select society, and willingly let him "give them his tone." And indeed he gives it to them!—in the first place it is the sergeant-majors and non-commissioned officers that imitate his tone and coarsen it. One should note the roars of command, with which the German cities are absolutely surrounded at present, when there is drilling at all the gates: what presumption, furious imperiousness, and mocking coldness speaks in this uproar! Could the Germans actually be a musical people?—It is certain that the Germans martialise themselves at present in the tone of their language: it is probable that, being exercised to speak martially, they will finally write martially also. For habituation to definite tones extends deeply into the character:—people soon have the words and modes of expression, and finally also the thoughts which just suit these tones! Perhaps they already write in the officers' style; perhaps I only read too little of what is at present written in Germany to know this. But one thing I know all the surer: the German public decorations[Pg 144] which also reach places abroad, are not inspired by German music, but just by that new tone of tasteless arrogance. Almost in every speech of the foremost German statesman, and even when he makes himself heard through his imperial mouth-piece, there is an accent which the ear of a foreigner repudiates with aversion: but the Germans endure it,—they endure themselves.

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