What Nietzsche Taught

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As a result of the Philistinism which broke out all over Germany at the end of the war, Nietzsche delivered a course of lectures at Bonn, which he entitled "On the Future of Our Educational Institutions." Germany had insisted that her victory was due not only to physical bravery but also in a large measure to the superiority of Germanic culture and Teutonic ideals. Nietzsche beheld in this snobbish attitude a very grave danger for his country, and endeavoured in a small way to rectify this attitude by a series of lectures. He severely criticised the German educational institutions of the day and went so far as to deny them the great culture which they so ardently claimed. While these lectures in no wise stemmed, even locally, the tide of Philistinism at which they were aimed, the criticisms contained in them are of the greatest importance in reviewing the development of the philosopher himself. The lectures contained, perhaps unconsciously but none the less clearly, many of the elements of that philosophy which later was to have so tremendous an influence not only on Germany but on the whole civilised world.

In the same year, 1872, Nietzsche's first important book appeared. This work, dedicated to Richard Wagner, had been begun in 1869, and was first called "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music." When the third edition appeared in 1886 the title was changed to "The Birth of Tragedy, or Hellenism and Pessimism," and a preface called "An Attempt at Self-Criticism" was added. In a large measure this book was a tribute to[Pg 36] Wagner, and was written by Nietzsche in an effort to be of immediate benefit to the musician who at that time was passing through a period of despondency. Wagner was then living at Tribschen, not far from Ble, and Nietzsche's visits to him were frequent. It was during these years that the great friendship between the two men developed. "The Birth of Tragedy," however, was not well received by the public. Musicians were pleased with it, but philologists in particular deplored its utterances. They looked upon its author as a traitor to their science for having dared to venture beyond the narrow bounds of academic formalism. One well-known philologist, Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, attacked Nietzsche in an ill-humoured pamphlet; and although Erwin Rohde answered it adequately with another pamphlet, the attack proved detrimental to Nietzsche's standing at Bale. During the following winter term the young philologist was entirely without pupils.

His mind, however, was now undergoing decided and important changes. He was becoming bolder and surer of himself. New ideals were taking the place of old ones, and in 1873 he began a series of famous pamphlets which later were put into book form under the title of "Thoughts Out of Season." His first attack was upon David Strauss; the second was directed towards the German historians of the day; the third was aimed at Schopenhauer; and the fourth was the famous panegyric, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth." These essays, together with his work at Ble, occupied him until 1876. Nietzsche was now suffering severely from the malady he carried to his grave, catarrh of the stomach. This was accompanied by severe headaches, and during his holidays he alternated between Switzerland and Italy in an[Pg 37] endeavour to recover his health. In the former place he was with Wagner. In Italy, at Sorrento, he met Dr. Paul Re, who, if we are to believe Max Nordau, was the father of all Nietzsche's ideas. Credence, however, cannot be given to this accusation, for the nucleus of all of his later ideas was undeniably contained in his writings previous to his meeting with Re. That Re influenced him to some small extent no one will deny, for it was he who turned the young philosopher's attention to the latter day scientists of both England and France; and it was shortly after this meeting that Nietzsche began his first independent philosophical work, "Human, All-Too-Human."

It was in the year 1876 that his famous friendship with Wagner began to cool. Nietzsche had gone to Bayreuth to witness the performance of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" Already he had begun to question his own high opinion of the composer, and Bayreuth solidified his doubts. It had been two years since he had seen Wagner, and after a brief conversation, Nietzsche became bitter and disgusted. When he finally went away his revulsion was complete, and one of the greatest of historic friendships was at an end. Whatever were the individual merits in the quarrel between these two great contemporaneous men, Nietzsche's attitude was at least consistent with his innermost ideals. He had admired in Wagner certain definite, revolutionary qualities, and when he was convinced, as he had every reason to be, that Wagner was compromising his art for the purpose of popularity, the ideal was broken. He could no longer remain true to himself and also to his friendship for the great composer. "Parsifal" was undoubtedly a decadent work, viewed from the standpoint of Wagner's previous performances.[Pg 38] Decadence is simply the inability to create new tissue; and when Wagner forswore modern ideas and reverted to the past, it attested to an entire change of mental attitude: and no purely sthetic doctrine can controvert the fact. Had Czanne in later life essayed the painting of conventionally posed saints—no matter what his technical means might have been—his art would have contained the elements of decadence, for an artist's mental attitude cannot be dissevered from his product. This, I believe, was Nietzsche's theory in regard to Wagner. That the breaking off of this friendship was a great blow to the philosopher we know from his diary and from his letters. In fact, his affection for Wagner, the man, was so great that it was not until ten years had passed that he could bring himself to write the essay which he had long had in mind, "The Fall of Wagner."

The year after the appearance of "Human, All-Too-Human," Nietzsche's ill-health compelled him to resign his professorship at Ble. He had a small income which, together with the three thousand francs retiring allowance granted him by the University, permitted him now to travel moderately and to devote his entire time to his literary labours. He first went to Berne, where he stayed a few weeks. Later he visited Zrich and then St. Moritz. It was a brief holiday, but the change of locale, coupled with the relaxation from work, improved him both in physical health and in spirits. The winter of 1879-80 he spent with his mother at Naumburg, his old home; but the climate and the uncongenial surroundings dragged down his health once more, and it was not until toward the following spring, when he went to Venice, that he regained even a semblance of his normal condition. Here he was in company with Paul Re and his[Pg 39] life-long friend and disciple, Heinrich Kselitz, commonly known as Peter Gast. Nietzsche stayed at Venice until October, when he went to Genoa. The following year appeared "The Dawn of Day," his first book of constructive thinking.

The remainder of Nietzsche's life up to the time of his final breakdown in January, 1889, was spent in a fruitless endeavour to regain his undermined health. For eight years, during all of which time he was busily engaged in writing, he sought a climate that would revive him. His summers were spent for the most part in the quiet solitude of Sils-Maria, a little Swiss village to which the tourist rarely ventured. In 1882 he visited Genoa and, with Paul Re as companion, made a trip to Monaco. This journey ended disastrously for his health, and by his physician's order he made a trip to Messina. Soon after he settled at Grunewald, near Berlin; but the place depressed him, and we find him later in Tautenburg. Again Genoa claimed him for several months, and then, addicted to chloral, and despondent, he sought relief at Rome. But he could not stand the hot weather, and again he visited Sils-Maria, where, it seems, he was for the time greatly improved. In 1884, we find him again at Naumburg, and a little later at Nice and Venice. In the autumn of the same year, he spent several weeks travelling with his sister in Germany, but at the approach of winter, he proceeded to Mentone. In 1885 he again sought the company of Peter Gast at Venice, and spent the larger part of that year and the next at Venice and Nice. The lonely philosopher then paid a short visit to Leipzig to be once again with his old friend Rohde. But the years had estranged them; their views were now at opposites. Another of his few friends thus lost to him,[Pg 40] he immediately returned to Nice. The year 1886 found him at the Riviera, and in 1887 he was again at Sils-Maria. Here he laboured incessantly, travelling to both Venice and Nice in the meantime. In the spring of 1888 he changed his plans and went to Turin. Then after his usual summer visit to Sils-Maria, he returned to Turin, where he remained until the fatal winter of 1888-89. Nietzsche was rarely happy during his travels. He was constantly ill and for the most part alone, and this perturbed and restless period of his life resolved itself into a continuous struggle against melancholy and physical suffering.

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