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Renan.—Theology, or the corruption of reason by original sin (Christianity). Proof of this,—Renan who, even in those rare cases where he ventures to say either Yes or No on a general question, invariably misses the point with painful regularity. For in stance, he would fain associate science and nobility: but surely it must be obvious that science is democratic. He seems to be actuated by a strong desire to represent an aristocracy of intellect: but, at the[Pg 61] same time he grovels on his knees, and not only on his knees, before the opposite doctrine, the gospel of the humble. What is the good of all free-spiritedness, modernity, mockery and acrobatic suppleness, if in one's belly one is still a Christian, a Catholic, and even a priest! Renan's forte, precisely like that of a Jesuit and Father Confessor, lies in his seductiveness. His intellectuality is not devoid of that unctuous complacency of a parson,—like all priests, he becomes dangerous only when he loves. He is second to none in the art of skilfully worshipping a dangerous thing. This intellect of Renan's, which in its action is enervating, is one calamity the more, for poor, sick France with her will-power all going to pieces.
Sainte-Beuve.—There is naught of man in him; he is full of petty spite towards all virile spirits. He wanders erratically; he is subtle, inquisitive, a little bored, for ever with his ear to key-holes,—at bottom a woman, with all woman's revengefulness and sensuality. As a psychologist he is a genius of slander; inexhaustively rich in means to this end; no one understands better than he how to introduce a little poison into praise. In his fundamental instincts he is plebeian and next of kin to Rousseau's resentful spirit: consequently he is a Romanticist—for beneath all romanticism Rousseau's instinct for revenge grunts and frets. He is a revolutionary, but kept within bounds by "funk." He is embarrassed in the face of everything that is strong (public opinion, the Academy, the court, even Port Royal). He is embittered against everything great in men[Pg 62] and things, against everything that believes in itself. Enough of a poet and of a female to be able to feel greatness as power; he is always turning and twisting, because, like the proverbial worm, he constantly feels that he is being trodden upon. As a critic he has no standard of judgment, no guiding principle, no backbone. Although he possesses the tongue of the Cosmopolitan libertine which can chatter about a thousand things, he has not the courage even to acknowledge his libertinage. As a historian he has no philosophy, and lacks the power of philosophical vision,—hence his refusal to act the part of a judge, and his adoption of the mask of "objectivity" in all important matters. His attitude is better in regard to all those things in which subtle and effete taste is the highest tribunal: in these things he really does have the courage of his own personality—he really does enjoy his own nature—he actually is a master,—In some respects he is a prototype of Baudelaire.
"The Imitation of Christ" is one of those books which I cannot even take hold of without physical loathing: it exhales a perfume of the eternally feminine, which to appreciate fully one must be a Frenchman or a Wagnerite. This saint has a way of speaking about love which makes even Parisiennes feel a little curious.—I am told that that most intelligent of Jesuits, Auguste Comte, who wished to lead his compatriots back to Rome by the circuitous route of science, drew his inspiration from this book. And I believe it: "The religion of the heart"[Pg 63] G. Eliot.—They are rid of the Christian God and therefore think it all the more incumbent upon them to hold tight to Christian morality: this is an English way of reasoning; but let us not take it ill in moral females la Eliot. In England, every man who indulges in any trifling emancipation from theology, must retrieve his honour in the most terrifying manner by becoming a moral fanatic. That is how they do penance in that country.—As for us, we act differently. When we renounce the Christian faith, we abandon all right to Christian morality. This is not by any means self-evident and in defiance of English shallow-pates the point must be made ever more and more plain. Christianity is a system, a complete outlook upon the world, conceived as a whole. If its leading concept, the belief in God, is wrenched from it, the whole is destroyed; nothing vital remains in our grasp. Christianity presupposes that man does not and cannot know what is good or bad for him: the Christian believes in God who, alone, can know these things. Christian morality is a command, its origin is transcendental. It is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it is true only on condition that God is truth,—it stands or falls with the belief in God. If the English really believe that they know intuitively, and of their own accord, what is good and evil; if, therefore, they assert that they no longer need Christianity as a guarantee of morality, this in itself is simply the outcome of the dominion of Christian valuations, and a proof of the strength and profundity of this dominion. It only shows that the origin of[Pg 64] English morality has been forgotten, and that its exceedingly relative right to exist is no longer felt. For Englishmen morality is not yet a problem.
George Sand.—I have been reading the first "Lettres d'un Voyageur:" like everything that springs from Rousseau's influence it is false, made-up, blown out, and exaggerated! I cannot endure this bright wall-paper style, any more than I can bear the vulgar striving after generous feelings. The worst feature about it is certainly the coquettish adoption of male attributes by this female, after the manner of ill-bred schoolboys. And how cold she must have been inwardly all the while, this insufferable artist! She wound herself up like a clock—and wrote. As cold as Hugo and Balzac, as cold as all Romanticists are as soon as they begin to write! And how self-complacently she must have lain there, this prolific ink-yielding cow. For she had something German in her (German in the bad sense), just as Rousseau, her master, had;—something which could only have been possible when French taste was declining!—and Renan adores her!...
A Moral for Psychologists. Do not go in for any note-book psychology! Never observe for the sake of observing! Such things lead to a false point of view, to a squint, to something forced and exaggerated. To experience things on purpose—this is not a bit of good. In the midst of an experience a man should not turn his eyes upon himself; in such cases[Pg 65] any eye becomes the "evil eye." A born psychologist instinctively avoids seeing for the sake of seeing. And the same holds good of the born painter. Such a man never works "from nature,"—he leaves it to his instinct, to his camera obscura to sift and to define the "fact," "nature," the "experience." The general idea, the conclusion, the result, is the only thing that reaches his consciousness. He knows nothing of that wilful process of deducing from particular cases. What is the result when a man sets about this matter differently?—when, for instance, after the manner of Parisian novelists, he goes in for note-book psychology on a large and small scale? Such a man is constantly spying on reality, and every evening he bears home a handful of fresh curios.... But look at the result!—a mass of daubs, at best a piece of mosaic, in any case something heaped together, restless and garish. The Goncourts are the greatest sinners in this respect: they cannot put three sentences together which are not absolutely painful to the eye—the eye of the psychologist. From an artistic standpoint, nature is no model. It exaggerates, distorts, and leaves gaps. Nature is the accident. To study "from nature" seems to me a bad sign: it betrays submission, weakness, fatalism—this lying in the dust before trivial facts is unworthy of a thorough artist. To see what is—is the function of another order of intellects, the anti-artistic, the matter-of-fact One must know who one is.