All Things are Possible  —  Apotheosis of Groundlessness

Part II

Nur für Schwindelfreie

(From Alpine Recollections)


Light reveals to us beauty but also ugliness. Throw vitriol in the face of a beautiful woman, and the beauty is gone, no power on earth will enable us to look upon her with the same rapture as before. Could even the sincerest, deepest love endure the change? True, the idealists will hasten to say that love overcomes all things. But idealism needs be prompt, for if she leaves us one single moment in which to see, we shall see such things as are not easily explained away. That is why idealists stick so tight to logic. In the twinkling of an eye logic will convey us to the remotest conclusions and forecasts. Reality could never overtake her. Love is eternal, and consequently a disfigured face will seem as lovely to us as a fresh one. This is, of course, a lie, but it helps to preserve old tastes and obscures danger. Real danger, however, was never dispelled by words. In spite of Schiller and eternal love, in the long run vitriol triumphs, and the agreeable young man is forced to abandon his beloved and acknowledge himself a fraud. Light, the source of his life and hope, has now destroyed hope and life for him. He will not return to idealism, and he will hate logic: light, that seemed to him so beautiful, will have become hideous. He will turn to darkness, where logic and its binding conclusions have no power, but where the fancy is free for all her vagaries.

Without light we should never have known that vitriol ruins beauty. No science, nor any art can give us what darkness gives. It is true, in our young days when all was new, light brought us great happiness and joy. Let us, therefore, remember it with gratitude, as a benefactor we no longer need. Do after all let us dispense with gratitude, for it belongs to the calculating, bourgeois virtues. Do ut des. Let us forget light, and gratitude, and the qualms of self-important idealism, let us go bravely to meet the coming night. She promises us great power over reality. Is it worth while to give up our old tastes and lofty convictions? Love and light have not availed against vitriol. What a horror would have seized us at the thought, once upon a time! That short phrase can annul all Schiller. We have shut our eyes and stopped our ears, we have built huge philosophic systems to shield us from this tiny thought. And now - now it seems we have no more feeling for Schiller and the great systems, we have no pity on our past beliefs. We now are seeking for words with which to sing the praises of our former enemy. Night, the dark, deaf, impenetrable night, peopled with horrors does she not now loom before us, infinitely beautiful? Does she not draw us with her still, mysterious, fathomless beauty, far more powerfully than noisy, narrow day? It seems as if, in a short while, man will feel that the same incomprehensible, cherishing power which threw us out into the universe and set us, like plants, to reach to the light, is now gradually transferring us to a new direction, where a new life awaits us with all its stores. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. And perhaps the time is near when the impassioned poet, casting a last look to his past, will boldly and gladly cry:
Hide thyself, sun! O darkness, be welcome!


Psychology at last leads us to conclude that the most generous human impulses spring from a root of egoism. Tolstoy's "love to one's neighbour," for example, proves to be a branch of the old self-love. The same may be said of Kant's idealism, and even of Plato's. Though they glorify the service of the idea, in practice they succeed in getting out of the vicious circle of egoism no better than the ordinary mortal, who is neither a genius nor a flower of culture. In my eyes this is "almost" an absolute truth. (It is never wrong to add the retractive "almost"; truth is too much inclined to exaggerate its own importance, and one must guard oneself against its despotic authority.) Thus - all men are egoists. Hence follows a great deal. I even think this proposition might provide better grounds for metaphysical conclusions than the doubtful capacity for compassion and love for one's neighbour which has been so tempting to dogma. For some reason men have imagined that love for oneself is more natural and comprehensible than love for another. Why? Love for others is only a little rarer, less widely diffused than love to oneself. But then hippopotami and rhinoceros, even in their own tropical regions, are less frequent than horses and mules. Does it follow that they are less natural and transcendental?

Positivism is not incumbent upon blood-thirsty savages. Nay, as we know, many of them are less positive-minded than our learned men. For instance, a future life is to them such an infallible reality that they even enter into contracts, part of which is to be fulfilled in the next world. A German metaphysician won't go as far as that. Hence it follows that the way to know the other world is not by any means through love, sympathy, and self-denial, as Schopenhauer taught. On the contrary, it appears as if love for others were only an impediment to metaphysical flights. Love and sympathy chain the eye to the misery of this earth, where such a wide field for active charity opens out. The materialists were mostly very good men—a fact which bothered the historians of philosophy. They preached Matter, believed in nothing, and were ready to perform all kinds of sacrifices for their neighbours. How is this? It is a case of clearest logical consequence: man loves his neighbour, he sees that heaven is indifferent to misery, therefore he takes upon himself the role of Providence. Were he indifferent to the sufferings of others, he would easily become an idealist and leave his neighbours to their fate. Love and compassion kill belief, and make a man a positivist and a materialist in his philosophical outlook. If he feels the misery of others, he leaves off meditating and wants to act.

Man only thinks properly when he realises he has nothing to do, his hands are tied. That is why any profound thought must arise from despair. Optimism, on the other hand, the readiness to jump hastily from one conclusion to another, may be regarded as an inevitable sign of narrow self-sufficiency, which dreads doubt and is consequently always superficial. If a man offers you a solution of eternal questions, it shows he has not even begun to think about them. He has only "acted." Perhaps it is not necessary to think—who can say how we ought or ought not to live? And how could we be brought to live "as we ought," when our own nature is and always will be an incalculable mystery. There is no mistake about it, nobody wants to think. I do not speak here of logical thinking. That, like any other natural function, gives man great pleasure. For this reason philosophical systems, however complicated, arouse real and permanent interest in the public provided they only require from man the logical exercise of the mind, and nothing else. But to think - really to think - surely this means a relinquishing of logic. It means living a new life, it means a permanent sacrifice of the dearest habits, tastes, attachments, without even the assurance that the sacrifice will bring any compensation. Artists and philosophers like to imagine the thinker with a stern face, a profound look which penetrates into the unseen, and a noble bearing—an eagle preparing for flight. Not at all. A thinking man is one who has lost his balance, in the vulgar, not in the tragic sense. Hands raking the air, feet flying, face scared and bewildered, he is a caricature of helplessness and pitiable perplexity.

Look at the aged Turgenev, his Poems in Prose and his letter to Tolstoy. Maupassant thus tells of his meeting with Turgenev: "There entered a giant with a silvery head." Quite so! The majestic patriarch and master, of course! The myth of giants with silver locks is firmly established in the heart of man. Then suddenly enters Turgenev in his Prose Poems - pale, pitiful, fluttering like a bird that has been "winged." Turgenev, who has taught us everything - how can he be so fluttered and bewildered? How could he write his letter to Tolstoy? Did he not know that Tolstoy was finished, the source of his creative activity dried up, that he must seek other activities. Of course he knew and still he wrote that letter. But it was not for Tolstoy, nor even for Russian literature, which, of course, is not kept going by the death-bed letters and covenants of its giants. In the dreadful moments of the end, Turgenev, in spite of his noble size and silver locks, did not know what to say or where to look for support and consolation. So he turned to literature, to which he had given his life... He yearned that she, whom he had served so long and loyally, should just once help him, save him from the horrible and thrice senseless nightmare. He stretched out his withered, numbing hands to the printed sheets which still preserve the traces of the soul of a living, suffering man. He addressed his late enemy Tolstoy with the most flattering name: "Great writer of the Russian land"; recollected that he was his contemporary, that he himself was a great writer of the Russian land. But this he did not express aloud. He only said, "I can no longer——".

He praised a strict school of literary and general education. To the last he tried to preserve his bearing of a giant with silvery locks. And we were gratified. The same persons who are indignant at Gogol's correspondence, quote Turgenev’s letter with reverence. The attitude is everything. Turgenev knew how to pose passably well, and this is ascribed to him as his greatest merit. Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur. But Gogol and Turgenev felt substantially the same. Had Turgenev burnt his own manuscripts and talked of himself instead of Tolstoy, before death, he would have been accounted mad. Moralists would have reproached him for his display of extreme egoism... And Philosophy? Philosophy seems to be getting rid of certain prejudices. At the moment when men are least likely to play the hypocrite and lie to themselves Turgenev and Gogol placed their personal fate higher than the destinies of Russian literature. Does not this betray a "secret" to us? Ought we not to see in absolute egoism an inalienable and great, yes, very great quality of human nature? Psychology, ignoring the threats of morality, has led us to a new knowledge. Yet still, in spite of the instances we have given, the mass of people will, as usual, see nothing but malice in every attempt to reveal the human impulses that underlie "lofty" motives. To be merely men seems humiliating to men. So now malice will also be detected in my interpretation of Turgenev’s letter, no matter what assurance I offer to the contrary.


On Method.—A certain naturalist made the following experiment: A glass jar was divided into two halves by a perfectly transparent glass partition. On the one side of the partition he placed a pike, on the other a number of small fishes such as form the prey of the pike. The pike did not notice the partition, and hurled itself on its prey, with, of course, the result only of a bruised nose. The same happened many times, and always the same result. At last, seeing all its efforts ended so painfully, the pike abandoned the hunt, so that in a few days, when the partition had been removed it continued to swim about among the small fry without daring to attack them... Does not the same happen with us? Perhaps the limits between "this world" and "the other world" are also essentially of an experimental origin, neither rooted in the nature of things, as was thought before Kant, or in the nature of our reason, as was thought after Kant. Perhaps indeed a partition does exist, and make vain all attempts to cross over.

But perhaps there comes a moment when the partition is removed. In our minds, however, the conviction is firmly rooted that it is impossible to pass certain limits, and painful to try: a conviction founded on experience. But in this case we should recall the old skepticism of Hume, which idealist philosophy has regarded as mere subtle mindplay, valueless after Kant's critique. The most lasting and varied experience cannot lead to any binding and universal conclusion. Nay, all our a priori, which are so useful for a certain time, become sooner or later extremely harmful. A philosopher should not be afraid of skepticism, but should go on bruising his jaw. Perhaps the failure of metaphysics lies in the caution and timidity of metaphysicians, who seem ostensibly so brave. They have sought for rest - which they describe as the highest boon. Whereas they should have valued more than anything restlessness, aimlessness, even purposelessness. How can you tell when the partition will be removed? Perhaps at the very moment when man ceased his painful pursuit, settled all his questions and rested on his laurels, inert, he could with one strong push have swept through the pernicious fence which separated him from the unknowable.

There is no need for man to move according to a carefully considered plan. This is a purely aesthetic demand which need not bind us. Let man senselessly and deliriously knock his head against the wall - if the wall go down at last, will he value his triumph any the less? Unfortunately for us the illusion has been established in us that plan and purpose are the best guarantee of success. What a delusion it is! The opposite is true. The best of all that genius has revealed to us has been revealed as the result of fantastic, erratic, apparently ridiculous and useless, but relentlessly stubborn seeking. Columbus, tired of sitting on the same spot, sailed west to look for India. And genius, in spite of vulgar conception, is a condition of chaos and unutterable restlessness. Not for nothing has genius been counted kin to madness. Genius flings itself hither and thither because it has not the Sitzfleisch [buttock fat - A.K.] necessary for industrious success in mediocrity. We may be sure that earth has seen much more genius than history has recorded; since genius is acknowledged only when it has been serviceable. When the tossing-about has led to no useful issue—which is the case in the majority of instances—it arouses only a feeling of disgust and abomination in all witnesses. "He can't rest and he can't let others rest." If Lermontov and Dostoevsky had lived in times when there was no demand for books, nobody would have noticed them. Lermontov’s early death would have passed unregretted. Perhaps some settled and virtuous citizen would have remarked, weary of the young man's eternal and dangerous freaks: "For a dog a dog's death." The same of Gogol, Tolstoy, Pushkin. Now they are praised because they left interesting books... And so we need pay no attention to the cry about the futility and worthlessness of skepticism, even skepticism pure and unadulterated, skepticism which has no ulterior motive of clearing the way for a new creed. To knock one's head against the wall out of hatred for the wall: to beat against established and obstructive ideas, because one detests them: is it not an attractive proposition? And then, to see ahead uncertainty and limitless possibilities, instead of up-to-date "ideals," is not this too fascinating? The highest good is rest! I shall not argue: de gustibus aut nihil aut bene... By the way, isn't it a superb principle? And this superb principle has been arrived at perfectly by chance, unfortunately not by me, but by one of the comical characters in Chekhov's Seagull. He mixed up two Latin proverbs, and the result was a splendid maxim which, in order to become an a priori, awaits only universal acceptance.

[de mortuis aut nihil aut bene + de gustibus non disputandum - A.K.]


Metaphysicians praise the transcendental, and carefully avoid it. Nietzsche hated metaphysics, he praised the earth - bleib nur der Erde treu, O meine Brüder - and always lived in the realm of the transcendental. Of course the metaphysicians behave better: this is indisputable. He who would be a teacher must proclaim the metaphysical point of view, and he may become a hero without ever smelling powder. In these anxious days, when positivism seems to fall short, one cannot do better than turn to metaphysics. Then the young man need not any more envy Alexander the Macedonian. With the assistance of a few books not only earthly states are conquered, but the whole mysterious universe. Metaphysics is the great art of swerving round dangerous experience. So metaphysicians should be called the positivists par excellence. They do not despise all experience, as they assert, but only the dangerous experiences. They adapt the safest of all methods of self-defence, what the English call protective mimicry. Let us repeat to all students - professors know it already: he who would be a sincere metaphysician must avoid risky experience. Schiller once asked: How can tragedy give delight? The answer - to put it in our own words - was: if we are to obtain delight from tragedy, it must be seen only upon the stage.—In order to love the transcendental it also should be known only from the stage, or from books of the philosophers. This is called idealism, the nicest word ever invented by philosophising men.


Poetae nascuntur. - Wonderful is man. Knowing nothing about it, he asserts the existence of an objective impossibility. Even a little while ago, before the invention of the telephone and telegraph, men would have declared it impossible for Europe to converse with America. Now it is possible. We cannot produce poets, therefore we say they are born. Certainly we cannot make a child a poet by forcing him to study literary models, from the most ancient to the most modern. Neither will anybody hear us in America no matter how loud we shout here. To make a poet of a man, he must not be developed along ordinary lines. Perhaps books should be kept from him. Perhaps it is necessary to perform some apparently dangerous operation on him: fracture his skull or throw him out of a fourth-storey window. I will refrain from recommending these methods as a substitute for pedagogy. But that is not the point. Look at the great men, and the poets. Except John Stuart Mill and a couple of other positivist thinkers, who had learned fathers and virtuous mothers, none of the great men can boast of, or better, complain of, a proper upbringing. In their lives nearly always the decisive part was played by accident, accident which reason would dub meaninglessness, if reason ever dared raise its voice against obvious success. Something like a broken skull or a fall from the fourth floor—not metaphorically, but often absolutely literally has proved the commencement, usually concealed but occasionally avowed, of the activity of genius. But we repeat automatically: poetae nascuntur, and are deeply convinced that this extraordinary truth is so lofty it needs no verification.


"Until Apollo calls him to the sacrifice, ignobly the poet is plunged in the cares of this shoddy world; silent is his lyre, cold sleeps his soul, of all the petty children of earth most petty it seems is he." Pisarev, the critic, was exasperated by these verses. Presumably, if they had not belonged to Pushkin, all the critics along with Pisarev would have condemned them and their author to oblivion. Suspicious verse! Before Apollo calls to him - the poet is the most insignificant of mortals! In his free hours, the ordinary man finds some more or less distinguished distraction for himself: he hunts, attends exhibitions of pictures, or the theatre, and finally rests in the bosom of his family. But the poet is incapable of normal existence. Immediately he has finished with Apollo, forgetting all about altars and sacrifices, he proceeds to occupy himself with unworthy objects. Or he abandons himself to the dolce far niente, the customary pastime of all favourites of the Muses. Let us here remark that not only all poets, but all writers and artists in general are inclined to lead bad lives. Think what Tolstoy tells us, in Confession and elsewhere, of the best representatives of literature in the fifties. On the whole it is just as Pushkin says in his verses. Whilst he is engaged in composition, an author is a creature of some consequence: apart from this, he is nothing. Why are Apollo and the Muses so remiss? Why do they draw to themselves wayward or vicious votaries, instead of rewarding virtue? We dare not suspect the gods, even the dethroned, of bad intentions. Apollo loved virtuous persons—and yet virtuous persons are evidently mediocre and unfit for the sacred offices. If any man is overcome with a great desire to serve the god of song, let him get rid of his virtues at once.

Curious that this truth is so completely unknown to men. They think that through virtue they can truly deserve the favour and choice of Apollo. And since industry is the first virtue, they peg away, morning, noon, and night. Of course, the more they work the less they do. Which really puzzles and annoys them. They even fling aside the sacred arts, and all the labours of a devotee; they give themselves up to idleness and other bad habits. And sometimes it so happens, that just as a man decides that it is all no good, the Muses suddenly visit him. So it was with Dostoevsky and others. Schiller alone managed to get round Apollo. But perhaps it was only his biographers he got round. Germans are so trustful, so easy to deceive. The biographers saw nothing unusual in Schiller's habit of keeping his feet in cold water whilst he worked. No doubt they felt that if the divine poet had lived in the Sahara, where water is precious as gold, and the inspired cannot take a footbath every day, then the speeches of the Marquis of Pola would have lacked half their nobleness, at least. And apparently Schiller was not so wonderfully chaste, if he needed such artificial resources in the composition of his fine speeches. In a word, we must believe Pushkin. A poet is, on the one hand, among the elect; on the other hand, he is one of the most insignificant of mortals. Hence we can draw a very consoling conclusion: the most insignificant of men are not altogether so worthless as we imagine. They may not be fit to occupy government positions or professorial chairs, but they are often extremely at home on Parnassus and such high places. Apollo rewards vice, and virtue, as everybody knows, is so satisfied with herself she needs no reward. Then why do the pessimists lament? Leibnitz was quite right: we live in the best possible of worlds. I would even suggest that we leave out the modification "possible."


It is Das Ewig Weibliche, with Russian writers. Pushkin and Lermontov loved women and were not afraid of them. Pushkin, who trusted his own nature, was often in love, and always sang his love of the moment. When infatuated with a bacchante, he glorified bacchantes. When he married, he warbled of a modest, nunlike beauty, his wife. A synthesising mind would probably not know what to do with all Pushkin's sorts of love. Nor is Lermontov any better. He abused women, but, as Belinsky observed after meeting him, he loved women more than anything in the world. And again, not women of one mould only - any and all attractive females: the wild Bella, the lovely Mary, Thamar; one and all, no matter of what race or condition. Every time Lermontov is in love, he assures us his love is so deep and ardent and even moral, that we cannot judge him without compunction. Vladimir Soloviov alone was not afraid to condemn him. He brought Pushkin as well as Lermontov to account for their moral irregularities, and he even went so far as to say that it was not he himself who judged them, but Fate, in whose service he acted as public denouncer.

Lermontov and Pushkin, both dying young, had deserved death for their frivolities. But there was nobody else besides Vladimir Soloviov to darken the memories of the two poets. It is true Tolstoy cannot forgive Pushkin's dissolute life, but he does not apply to Fate for a verdict. According to Tolstoy morality can cope even with a Titan-like Pushkin. In Tolstoy's view morality grows stronger the harder the job it has to tackle. It pardons the weak offenders without waste of words, but it never forgives pride and self-confidence. If Tolstoy's edicts had been executed, all memorials to Pushkin would have disappeared; chiefly because of the poet's addiction to the eternal female. In such a case Tolstoy is implacable. He admits the kind of love whose object is the establishing of a family, but no more. Don Juan is a hateful transgressor. Think of Levin, and his attitude to prostitutes. He is exasperated, indignant, even forgets the need for compassion, and calls them "beasts." In the eternal female Tolstoy sees temptation, seduction, sin, great danger. Therefore it is necessary to keep quite away from the danger. But surely danger is the dragon which guards every treasure on earth. And again, no matter what his precautions, a man will meet his fate sooner or later, and come into conflict with the dragon.

Surely this is an axiom. Pushkin and Lermontov loved danger, and therefore sought women. They paid a heavy price, but while they lived they lived freely and lightly. If they had cared to peep in the book of destinies, they might have averted or avoided their sad end. But they preferred to trust their star—lucky or unlucky. Tolstoy was the first among us—we cannot speak of Gogol—who began to fear life. He was the first to start open moralising. In so far as public opinion and personal dignity demand it, he did go to meet his dangers: but not a step further. So he avoided women, art, and philosophy. Love per se, that is, love which does not lead to a family, like wisdom per se, which is wisdom that has no utilitarian motive, and like art for art's sake, seemed to him the worst of temptations, leading to the destruction of the soul. When he plunged too deep in thinking, he was seized with panic. "It seemed to me I was going mad, so I went away to the Bashkirs for koumiss." Such confessions are common in his works. And surely there is no other way with temptations, than to cut short, at once, before it is too late. Tolstoy preserved himself on account of his inborn instinct for departing betimes from a dangerous situation. Save for this cautious prompting he would probably have ended like Lermontov or Pushkin. True, he might have gone deeper into nature, and revealed us rare secrets, instead of preaching at us abstinence, humility, simplicity and so on.

But such luck fell to the fate of Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky had very muddled relations with morality. He was too racked by disease and circumstance to get much profit out of the rules of morality. The hygiene of the soul, like that of the body, is beneficial only to healthy men. To the sick it is simply harmful. The more Dostoevsky engaged himself with high morality, the more inextricably entangled he became. He wanted to respect the personality in a woman, and only the personality, and so he came to the point where he could not look on any woman, however ugly, with indifference. The elder Karamazov and his affair with Elizaveta Smerdyaschaya (Stinking Lizzie) - in what other imagination could such a union have been contemplated? Dostoevsky, of course, reprimands Karamazov, and thanks to the standards of modern criticism, such a reprimand is accounted sufficient to exonerate our author. But there are other standards. If a writer sets out to tell you that no drab could be so loathsome that her ugliness would make you forget she was woman; and if for illustration of this novel idea we are told the history of Fyodor Karamazov with the deformed, repulsive idiot, Stinking Lizzie; then, in face of such "imaginative art" it is surely out of place to preserve the usual confidence in that writer. We do not speak of the interest and appreciation of Dostoevsky's tastes and ideas. Not for one moment will I assert that those who with Pushkin and Lermontov can see the Eternal Female only in young and charming women, have any advantage over Dostoevsky.

Of course, we are not forbidden to live according to our tastes, and we may, like Tolstoy, call certain women "beasts." But who has given us the right to assert that we are higher or better than Dostoevsky? Judging "objectively," all the points go to show that Dostoevsky is better at any rate he saw further, deeper. He could find an original interest, he could discover das ewig Weibliche where we should see nothing of attraction at all, where Goethe would avert his face. Stinking Lizzie is not a beast, as Levin would say, but a woman who is able, if even for a moment, to arouse a feeling of love in a man. And we thought she was worse than nothing, since she roused in us only disgust. Dostoevsky made a discovery, we with our refined feelings missed it. His distorted, abnormal sense showed a greater sensitiveness, in which our high morality was deficient... And the road to the great truth this time, as ever, is through deformity. Idealists will not agree. They are quite justly afraid that one may not reach the truth, but may get stuck in the mud. Idealists are careful men, and not nearly so stupid as their ideals would lead us to suppose.


New ideas, even our own, do not quickly conquer our sympathies. We must first get accustomed to them.


A point of view. —Every writer, thinker - even every educated person thinks it necessary to have a permanent point of view. He climbs up some elevation and never climbs down again all his days. Whatever he sees from this point of view, he believes to be reality, truth, justice, good and what he does not see he excludes from existence. Man is not much to blame for this. Surely there is no very great joy in moving from point of view to point of view, shifting one's camp from peak to peak. We have no wings, and "a winged thought" is only a nice metaphor - unless, of course, it refers to logical thinking. There to be sure great volatility is usual, a lightness which comes from perfect naïveté, if not ignorance. He who really wishes to know something, and not merely to have a philosophy, does not rely on logic and is not allured by reason. He must clamber from summit to summit, and, if necessary, hibernate in the dales. For a wide horizon leads to illusions, and in order to familiarise oneself with any object, it is essential to go close up to it, touch it, feel it, examine it from top to bottom and on every side. One must be ready, should this be impossible otherwise, to sacrifice the customary position of the body: to wriggle, to lie flat, to stand on one's head, in a word, to assume the most unnatural of attitudes. Can there be any question of a permanent point of view? The more mobility and elasticity a man has, the less he values the ordinary equilibrium of his body: the oftener he changes his outlook, the more he will take in. If, on the other hand, he imagines that from this or the other pinnacle he has the most comfortable survey of the world and life, leave him alone: he will never know anything. Nay, he does not want to know, he cares more about his personal convenience than about the quality of his work. No doubt he will attain to fame and success, and thus brilliantly justify his "point of view."


Fame. - "A thread from everyone, and the naked will have a shirt." There is no beggar but has his thread of cotton, and he will not grudge it to a naked man - no, nor even to a fully dressed one; but will bestow it on the first comer. The poor, who want to forget their poverty, are very ready with their threads. Moreover, they prefer to give them to the rich, rather than to a fellow-tramp. To load the rich with benefits, must not one be very rich indeed? That is why fame is so easily got. An ambitious person asks admiration and respect from the crowd, and is rarely denied. The mob feel that their throats are their own, and their arms are strong. Why not vociferate and clap, seeing that you can turn the head not only of a beggar like yourself, but of a future hero, God knows how almighty a person. The humiliated citizen who has hitherto been hauled off to the police station if he shouted, suddenly feels that his throat has acquired a new value. Never before has anyone given a rap for his worthless opinion, and now seven cities are ready to quarrel for it, as for the right to claim Homer. The citizen is delighted, he shouts at the top of his voice, and is ready to throw all his possessions after his shouts. So the hero is satisfied. The greater the shout, the deeper his belief in himself and his mission. What will a hero not believe! For he forgets so soon the elements of which his fame and riches are made. Heroes usually are convinced that they set out on their noble career, not to beg shouts from beggars, but to heap blessings on mankind. If they could only call to mind with what beating hearts they awaited their first applause, their first alms, how timidly they curried favour with ragged beggars, perhaps they would speak less assuredly of their own merits. But our memory is fully acquainted with Herbert Spencer and his law of adaptability, and thus many a worthy man goes gaily on in full belief in his own stupendous virtue.


In defence of righteousness. - Inexperienced and ingenuous people see in righteousness merely a burden which lofty people have assumed out of respect for law or for some other high and inexplicable reason. But a righteous man has not only duties but rights. True, sometimes, when the law is against him, he has to compromise. Yet how rarely does the law desert him! No cruelty matters in him, so long as he does not infringe the statutes. Nay, he will ascribe his cruelty as a merit to himself, since he acts out of no personal considerations, but in the name of sacred justice. No matter what he may do, once he is sanctioned he sees in his actions only merit, merit, merit. Modesty forbids him to say too much—but if he were to let go, what a luxurious panegyric he might deliver to himself! Remembering his works, he praises himself at all times; not aloud, but inwardly. The nature of virtue demands it: man must rejoice in his morality and ever keep it in mind. And after that, people declare that it is hard to be righteous. Whatever the other virtues may be, certainly righteousness has its selfish side. As a rule it is decidedly worth while to make considerable sacrifices in order later on to enjoy in calm confidence all that surety and those rights bestowed on a man by morality and public approval. Look at a German who has paid his contribution to a society for the assistance of the indigent. Not one stray farthing will he give, not to a poor wretch who is starving before his eyes. And in this he feels right. This is righteousness out and out: pay your tax and enjoy the privileges of a high-principled man. So righteousness is much in vogue with cultured, commercial nations. Russians have not quite got there. They are afraid of the exactions of righteousness, not guessing the enormous advantages derived. A Russian has a permanent relationship with his conscience, which costs him far more than the most moral German, or even Englishman, has to pay for his righteousness.


The best way of getting rid of tedious, played-out truths is to stop paying them the tribute of respect and to treat them with a touch of easy familiarity and derision. To put into brackets, as Dostoevsky did, such words as good, self-sacrifice, progress, and so on, will alone achieve you much more than many brilliant arguments would do. Whilst you still contest a certain truth, you still believe in it, and this even the least penetrating individual will perceive. But if you favour it with no serious attention, and only throw out a scornful remark now and then, the result is different. It is evident you have ceased to be afraid of the old truth, you no longer respect it. And this sets people thinking.


Four walls. —Arm-chair philosophy is being condemned—rightly. An arm-chair thinker is busy deciding on everything that is taking place in the world: the state of the world market, the existence of a worldsoul, wireless telegraphy and the life after death, the cave dweller and the perfectibility of man, and so on and so on. His chief business is so to select his statements that there shall be no internal contradiction; and this will give an appearance of truth. Such work, which is quite amusing and even interesting, leads at last to very poor results. Surely verisimilitudes of truth are not truth: nor have necessarily anything in common with truth. Again, a man who undertakes to talk of everything probably knows nothing. Thus a swan can fly, and walk, and swim. But it flies indifferently, walks badly, and swims poorly. An arm-chair philosopher, enclosed by four walls, sees nothing but those four walls, and yet of these precisely he does not choose to speak. If by accident he suddenly realised them and spoke of them his philosophy might acquire an enormous value. This may happen when a study is converted into a prison: the same four walls, but impossible not to think of them! Whatever the prisoner turns his mind to - Homer, the Greek-Persian wars, the future world-peace, the bygone geological cataclysms - still the four walls enclose it all. The calm of the study supplanted by the pathos of imprisonment. The prisoner has no more contact with the world, and no less. But now he no longer slumbers and has grayish dreams called world-conceptions. He is wide awake and strenuously living. His philosophy is worth hearing. But man is not distinguished for his powers of discrimination. He sees solitude and four walls, and says: a study. He dreams of the market-place, where there is noise and jostling, physical bustle, and decides that there alone life is to be met. He is wrong as usual. In the marketplace, among the crowd, do not men sleep their deadest sleep? And is not the keenest spiritual activity taking place in seclusion?

Orphus system

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