The Joyful Wisdom

Page 40 of 59


No Picture of a Martyr.—I will take my cue from Raphael, and not paint any more[Pg 245] martyr-pictures. There are enough of sublime things without its being necessary to seek sublimity where it is linked with cruelty; moreover my ambition would not be gratified in the least if I aspired to be a sublime executioner.


New Domestic Animals.—I want to have my lion and my eagle about me, that I may always have hints and premonitions concerning the amount of my strength or weakness. Must I look down on them to-day, and be afraid of them? And will the hour come once more when they will look up to me, and tremble?—


The Last Hour.—Storms are my danger. Shall I have my storm in which I perish, as Oliver Cromwell perished in his storm? Or shall I go out as a light does, not first blown out by the wind, but grown tired and weary of itself—a burnt-out light? Or finally, shall I blow myself out, so as not to burn out?


Prophetic Men.—Ye cannot divine how sorely prophetic men suffer: ye think only that a fine "gift" has been given to them, and would fain have it yourselves,—but I will express my meaning by a simile. How much may not the animals suffer from the electricity of the atmosphere and the clouds! Some of them, as we see, have a prophetic faculty with regard to the weather, for example, apes[Pg 246] (as one can observe very well even in Europe,—and not only in menageries, but at Gibraltar). But it never occurs to us that it is their sufferings—that are their prophets! When strong positive electricity, under the influence of an approaching cloud not at all visible, is suddenly converted into negative electricity, and an alteration of the weather is imminent, these animals then behave as if an enemy were approaching them, and prepare for defence, or flight: they generally hide themselves,—they do not think of the bad weather as weather, but as an enemy whose hand they already feel!


Retrospect.—We seldom become conscious of the real pathos of any period of life as such, as long as we continue in it, but always think it is the only possible and reasonable thing for us henceforth, and that it is altogether ethos and not pathos[1]—to speak and distinguish like the Greeks. A few notes of music to-day recalled a winter and a house, and a life of utter solitude to my mind, and at the same time the sentiments in which I then lived: I thought I should be able to live in such a state always. But now I understand that it was entirely pathos and passion, something comparable to this painfully bold and truly comforting music,—it is not one's lot to have these[Pg 247] sensations for years, still less for eternities: otherwise one would become too "ethereal" for this planet.

[1] The distinction between ethos and pathos in Aristotle is, broadly, that between internal character and external circumstance.—P. V. C.


Wisdom in Pain.—In pain there is as much wisdom as in pleasure: like the latter it is one of the best self-preservatives of a species. Were it not so, pain would long ago have been done away with; that it is hurtful is no argument against it, for to be hurtful is its very essence. In pain I hear the commanding call of the ship's captain: "Take in sail!" "Man," the bold seafarer, must have learned to set his sails in a thousand different ways, otherwise he could not have sailed long, for the ocean would soon have swallowed him up. We must also know how to live with reduced energy: as soon as pain gives its precautionary signal, it is time to reduce the speed—some great danger, some storm, is approaching, and we do well to "catch" as little wind as possible—It is true that there are men who, on the approach of severe pain, hear the very opposite call of command, and never appear more proud, more martial, or more happy than when the storm is brewing; indeed, pain itself provides them with their supreme moments! These are the heroic men, the great pain-bringers of mankind: those few and rare ones who need just the same apology as pain generally,—and verily, it should not be denied them! They are forces of the greatest importance for preserving and advancing the species, be it only because they are opposed to smug ease, and do not conceal their disgust at this kind of happiness.

[Pg 248]


As Interpreters of our Experiences.—One form of honesty has always been lacking among founders of religions and their kin:—they have never made their experiences a matter of the intellectual conscience. "What did I really experience? What then took place in me and around me? Was my understanding clear enough? Was my will directly opposed to all deception of the senses, and courageous in its defence against fantastic notions?"—None of them ever asked these questions, nor to this day do any of the good religious people ask them. They have rather a thirst for things which are contrary to reason, and they don't want to have too much difficulty in satisfying this thirst,—so they experience "miracles" and "regenerations," and hear the voices of angels! But we who are different, who are thirsty for reason, want to look as carefully into our experiences as in the case of a scientific experiment, hour by hour, day by day! We ourselves want to be our own experiments, and our own subjects of experiment.


On Meeting Again.—A: Do I quite understand you? You are in search of something? Where, in the midst of the present, actual world, is your niche and star? Where can you lay yourself in the sun, so that you also may have a surplus of well-being, that your existence may justify itself? Let everyone do that for himself—you seem to say,[Pg 249] —and let him put talk about generalities, concern for others and society, out of his mind!—B: I want more; I am no seeker. I want to create my own sun for myself.


A New Precaution.—Let us no longer think so much about punishing, blaming, and improving! We shall seldom be able to alter an individual, and if we should succeed in doing so, something else may also succeed, perhaps unawares: we may have been altered by him! Let us rather see to it that our own influence on all that is to come outweighs and overweighs his influence! Let us not struggle in direct conflict!—all blaming, punishing, and desire to improve comes under this category. But let us elevate ourselves all the higher! Let us ever give to our pattern more shining colours! Let us obscure, the other by our light! No! We do not mean to become darker ourselves on his account, like those who punish and are discontented! Let us rather go aside! Let us look away!


A Simile.—Those thinkers in whom all the stars move in cyclic orbits, are not the most profound. He who looks into himself, as into an immense universe, and carries Milky Ways in himself, knows also how irregular all Milky Ways are; they lead into the very chaos and labyrinth of existence.


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