What Nietzsche Taught

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During these eight years of solitary labour and futile seeking for health, Nietzsche had written "Thus Spake Zarathustra," "The Joyful Wisdom," "Beyond Good and Evil," "The Genealogy of Morals," "The Case of Wagner," "The Twilight of the Idols," "The Antichrist," "Ecce Homo" "Nietzsche contra Wagner," and an enormous number of notes which were to constitute his final and great philosophical work, "The Will to Power." The cold reception with which his books met tended to discourage him and to retard his physical recovery. His "Zarathustra" was as greatly misunderstood by the critics as had been his earlier volumes. With the exception of Burckhardt and Taine, the critics were unfavourable to "Beyond Good and Evil." "The Genealogy of Morals" met with scarcely more friendly a reception, and "The Case of Wagner," while arousing the ire of the Wagnerians, caused no comment of any kind in any other quarter. "The Twilight of the Idols" appeared about the time of his breakdown, and "The Antichrist" and "Ecce Homo" were not published until long after his death. The notes on "The Will to[Pg 41] Power" have only recently been put together and issued.

The events during this period of Nietzsche's career were few. Perhaps the most important was his meeting with Miss Lou Salom. But even this episode had small bearing on his life, and has been unduly emphasised by biographers because of its isolation in an existence outwardly drab and uneventful. It was while Nietzsche was at Tautenburg that Paul Re and another friend, Malvida von Mysenburg, hearing that he was in need of a secretary, sent to him Miss Salom, a young Russian Jewess. That it would have been difficult to find a person less suited to the philosopher's needs was borne out by subsequent events. According to some accounts Nietzsche fell mildly in love with her, and was upset and irritated by her aloofness. But such a hypothesis is substantiated only by the flimsiest of evidence, and, when we take into consideration the temperamental gulf between these two people, it is highly incredible that Nietzsche had any desire to form an alliance with his amanuensis. The truth of the matter probably is that the philosopher was sadly disappointed in his secretary—if not indeed disgusted with her—and, in showing his regret, piqued her to retaliation. In fact, we have a letter from Nietzsche to the young lady which bears out this contention. In any event, we know that their companionship lasted but a short time and that Miss Salom wrote a most inept and unreliable book on Nietzsche, "Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken" published in Vienna in 1894. The affair had other painful results. Re defended his protege, and he and Nietzsche became bitter enemies. Nietzsche's sister also was dragged into the episode, and quarrelled with both Re and Miss Salom.

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Shortly after this unpleasant event, Nietzsche, urged by his sister, made a half-hearted attempt to secure a professorship at the University of Leipzig, but negotiations for the post fell through, due largely to Nietzsche's own indifference in the matter. Soon after this the philosopher became estranged from his sister because of her intention to marry Dr. Frster. Nietzsche's opposition to the marriage—an opposition which was supported by his mother—was due to several reasons. First, it would necessitate his sister leaving him and accompanying her husband to Paraguay. Secondly, it had been rumoured that Dr. Frster had severely criticised his books. And thirdly, Nietzsche had small respect for Dr. Frster himself, who was an impractical idealist and an anti-Semite. However, despite all the family protestations, the marriage took place. Nietzsche was disappointed and brooded over the event, but a year later he became reconciled with his sister, and she remained, to the end of his life, his closest friend and companion.

In January, 1889, an apoplectic fit, which rendered Nietzsche unconscious for two days, marked the beginning of the end. His manner suddenly became alarming. He exhibited numerous eccentricities, so grave as to mean but one thing: his mind was seriously affected. There has long been a theory extant that his insanity was of gradual growth. Nordau holds that he was unbalanced from birth. But there is no evidence to substantiate these two theories. For seven years Nietzsche's physical condition had been improving, and his mind up to the end of 1888 was perfectly clear and gave no indication of what his end would be. During this period his books were thought out in his most clarified manner; in all his intercourse with his friends he was restrained and[Pg 43] normal; and his voluminous correspondence showed no change either in sentiment or in tone. The theory advanced in some quarters that his books, and especially his later ones, were the work of a madman, is entirely without foundation. His insanity was sudden; it came without warning; and it is puerile to point to his state of mind during the last years of his life as a criticism of his work. His books must stand or fall on internal evidence—and on nothing else. Judged from that standpoint they are scrupulously sane.

The direct cause of Nietzsche's mental breakdown is not known. As a matter of fact, there was probably no direct cause. It was due to a number of influences—his excessive use of chloral which he took for insomnia, the tremendous strain to which he put his intellect, his constant disappointments and deprivations, his mental solitude, his prolonged physical suffering. We know little of his last days before he went insane. He was living alone in Turin and working desperately. Then suddenly to Professor Burckhardt at Bale he wrote a letter which was obviously the work of a madman. "I am Ferdinand de Lesseps," he wrote. "I am Prado. I am Schambige.[1] I have been buried twice this autumn." This was the first indication of his insanity. Immediately after he wrote a similar letter to his old friend, Professor Overbeck. Other of Nietzsche's friends received disquieting and indecipherable notes. To Georg Brandes he sent a letter signed "The Crucified." To Peter Gast he wrote, "Sing me a new song. The world is clear and all the skies rejoice." To Cosima Wagner: "Ariadne, I love you."

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There was now no doubt of his condition. Overbeck went immediately to Turin. He found the philosopher playing wildly on the piano, and crying blasphemies to the empty room. Nietzsche was taken back to Ble, and then placed in a private psychiatric institution at Jena. Here he stayed until the following spring when he was permitted to be taken to the home of his mother at Naumburg. It was three years later that his sister returned from Paraguay, where her husband had died, and Nietzsche was sufficiently recovered to meet her when she arrived. But though he lived for another seven years, his mind was irretrievably ruined. When his mother died in 1897, his sister removed him to a villa at Weimar. There on a great veranda, overlooking the hills and the river valley, he remained until the end, receiving a few of his friends and taking his old delight in music. His sister watched over him tenderly, and though he was never strong enough to resume work, he would often talk of his books. When shown a portrait of Wagner, he said, "Him I loved dearly." He was all tenderness toward the end. The mighty yea-sayer had become as a little child. "Elizabeth," he would say, "do not cry. Are we not happy?"

Nietzsche died on the 25th of August, 1900, and was buried at Rcken, his native village.

[1] Schambige and Prado were two assassins whose exploits were then occupying the French journals.

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