Essays of Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer

Part 1 out of 4

Produced by Juliet Sutherland and PG Distributed Proofreaders







When Schopenhauer was asked where he wished to be buried, he answered,
"Anywhere; they will find me;" and the stone that marks his grave at
Frankfort bears merely the inscription "Arthur Schopenhauer," without
even the date of his birth or death. Schopenhauer, the pessimist, had a
sufficiently optimistic conviction that his message to the world would
ultimately be listened to--a conviction that never failed him during a
lifetime of disappointments, of neglect in quarters where perhaps he
would have most cherished appreciation; a conviction that only showed
some signs of being justified a few years before his death. Schopenhauer
was no opportunist; he was not even conciliatory; he never hesitated to
declare his own faith in himself, in his principles, in his philosophy;
he did not ask to be listened to as a matter of courtesy but as a
right--a right for which he would struggle, for which he fought, and
which has in the course of time, it may be admitted, been conceded to

Although everything that Schopenhauer wrote was written more or less as
evidence to support his main philosophical thesis, his unifying
philosophical principle, the essays in this volume have an interest, if
not altogether apart, at least of a sufficiently independent interest to
enable them to be considered on their own merits, without relation to
his main idea. And in dissociating them, if one may do so for a moment
(their author would have scarcely permitted it!), one feels that one
enters a field of criticism in which opinions can scarcely vary. So far
as his philosophy is concerned, this unanimity does not exist; he is one
of the best abused amongst philosophers; he has many times been
explained and condemned exhaustively, and no doubt this will be as many
times repeated. What the trend of his underlying philosophical principal
was, his metaphysical explanation of the world, is indicated in almost
all the following essays, but chiefly in the "Metaphysics of Love," to
which the reader may be referred.

These essays are a valuable criticism of life by a man who had a wide
experience of life, a man of the world, who possessed an almost inspired
faculty of observation. Schopenhauer, of all men, unmistakably observed
life at first hand. There is no academic echo in his utterances; he is
not one of a school; his voice has no formal intonation; it is deep,
full-chested, and rings out its words with all the poignancy of
individual emphasis, without bluster, but with unfailing conviction. He
was for his time, and for his country, an adept at literary form; but he
used it only as a means. Complicated as his sentences occasionally are,
he says many sharp, many brilliant, many epigrammatic things, he has the
manner of the famous essayists, he is paradoxical (how many of his
paradoxes are now truisms!); one fancies at times that one is almost
listening to a creation of Moliere, but these fireworks are not merely a
literary display, they are used to illumine what he considers to be the
truth. _Rien n'est beau que le vrai; le vrai seul est aimable_, he
quotes; he was a deliberate and diligent searcher after truth, always
striving to attain the heart of things, to arrive at a knowledge of
first principles. It is, too, not without a sort of grim humour that
this psychological vivisectionist attempts to lay bare the skeleton of
the human mind, to tear away all the charming little sentiments and
hypocrisies which in the course of time become a part and parcel of
human life. A man influenced by such motives, and possessing a frank and
caustic tongue, was not likely to attain any very large share of popular
favour or to be esteemed a companionable sort of person. The fabric of
social life is interwoven with a multitude of delicate evasions, of
small hypocrisies, of matters of tinsel sentiment; social intercourse
would be impossible, if it were not so. There is no sort of social
existence possible for a person who is ingenuous enough to say always
what he thinks, and, on the whole, one may be thankful that there is
not. One naturally enough objects to form the subject of a critical
diagnosis and exposure; one chooses for one's friends the agreeable
hypocrites of life who sustain for one the illusions in which one wishes
to live. The mere conception of a plain-speaking world is calculated to
reduce one to the last degree of despair; it is the conception of the
intolerable. Nevertheless it is good for mankind now and again to have a
plain speaker, a "mar feast," on the scene; a wizard who devises for us
a spectacle of disillusionment, and lets us for a moment see things as
he honestly conceives them to be, and not as we would have them to be.
But in estimating the value of a lesson of this sort, we must not be
carried too far, not be altogether convinced. We may first take into
account the temperament of the teacher; we may ask, is his vision
perfect? We may indulge in a trifling diagnosis on our own account. And
in an examination of this sort we find that Schopenhauer stands the test
pretty well, if not with complete success. It strikes us that he suffers
perhaps a little from a hereditary taint, for we know that there is an
unmistakable predisposition to hypochondria in his family; we know, for
instance, that his paternal grandmother became practically insane
towards the end of her life, that two of her children suffered from some
sort of mental incapacity, and that a third, Schopenhauer's father, was
a man of curious temper and that he probably ended his own life. He
himself would also have attached some importance, in a consideration of
this sort, to the fact, as he might have put it, that his mother, when
she married, acted in the interests of the individual instead of
unconsciously fulfilling the will of the species, and that the offspring
of the union suffered in consequence. Still, taking all these things
into account, and attaching to them what importance they may be worth,
one is amazed at the clearness of his vision, by his vigorous and at
moments subtle perception. If he did not see life whole, what he did see
he saw with his own eyes, and then told us all about it with
unmistakable veracity, and for the most part simply, brilliantly. Too
much importance cannot be attached to this quality of seeing things for
oneself; it is the stamp of a great and original mind; it is the
principal quality of what one calls genius.

In possessing Schopenhauer the world possesses a personality the richer;
a somewhat garrulous personality it may be; a curiously whimsical and
sensitive personality, full of quite ordinary superstitions, of
extravagant vanities, selfish, at times violent, rarely generous; a man
whom during his lifetime nobody quite knew, an isolated creature,
self-absorbed, solely concerned in his elaboration of the explanation of
the world, and possessing subtleties which for the most part escaped the
perception of his fellows; at once a hermit and a boulevardier. His was
essentially a great temperament; his whole life was a life of ideas, an
intellectual life. And his work, the fruit of his life, would seem to be
standing the test of all great work--the test of time. It is not a
little curious that one so little realised in his own day, one so little
lovable and so little loved, should now speak to us from his pages with
something of the force of personal utterance, as if he were actually
with us and as if we knew him, even as we know Charles Lamb and Izaak
Walton, personalities of such a different calibre. And this man whom we
realise does not impress us unfavourably; if he is without charm, he is
surely immensely interesting and attractive; he is so strong in his
intellectual convictions, he is so free from intellectual affectations,
he is such an ingenuous egotist, so naively human; he is so mercilessly
honest and independent, and, at times (one may be permitted to think),
so mistaken.



Arthur Schopenhauer was born at No. 117 of the Heiligengeist Strasse, at
Dantzic, on February 22, 1788. His parents on both sides traced their
descent from Dutch ancestry, the great-grandfather of his mother having
occupied some ecclesiastical position at Gorcum. Dr. Gwinner in his
_Life_ does not follow the Dutch ancestry on the father's side, but
merely states that the great-grandfather of Schopenhauer at the
beginning of the eighteenth century rented a farm, the Stuthof, in the
neighbourhood of Dantzic. This ancestor, Andreas Schopenhauer, received
here on one occasion an unexpected visit from Peter the Great and
Catherine, and it is related that there being no stove in the chamber
which the royal pair selected for the night, their host, for the purpose
of heating it, set fire to several small bottles of brandy which had
been emptied on the stone floor. His son Andreas followed in the
footsteps of his father, combining a commercial career with country
pursuits. He died in 1794 at Ohra, where he had purchased an estate, and
to which he had retired to spend his closing years. His wife (the
grandmother of Arthur) survived him for some years, although shortly
after his death she was declared insane and incapable of managing her
affairs. This couple had four sons: the eldest, Michael Andreas, was
weak-minded; the second, Karl Gottfried, was also mentally weak and had
deserted his people for evil companions; the youngest son, Heinrich
Floris, possessed, however, in a considerable degree the qualities which
his brothers lacked. He possessed intelligence, a strong character, and
had great commercial sagacity; at the same time, he took a definite
interest in intellectual pursuits, reading Voltaire, of whom he was more
or less a disciple, and other French authors, possessing a keen
admiration for English political and family life, and furnishing his
house after an English fashion. He was a man of fiery temperament and
his appearance was scarcely prepossessing; he was short and stout; he
had a broad face and turned-up nose, and a large mouth. This was the
father of our philosopher.

When he was thirty-eight, Heinrich Schopenhauer married, on May 16,
1785, Johanna Henriette Trosiener, a young lady of eighteen, and
daughter of a member of the City Council of Dantzic. She was at this
time an attractive, cultivated young person, of a placid disposition,
who seems to have married more because marriage offered her a
comfortable settlement and assured position in life, than from any
passionate affection for her wooer, which, it is just to her to say, she
did not profess. Heinrich Schopenhauer was so much influenced by English
ideas that he desired that his first child should be born in England;
and thither, some two years after their marriage, the pair, after making
a _detour_ on the Continent, arrived. But after spending some weeks in
London Mrs. Schopenhauer was seized with home-sickness, and her husband
acceded to her entreaties to return to Dantzic, where a child, the
future philosopher, was shortly afterwards born. The first five years of
the child's life were spent in the country, partly at the Stuthof which
had formerly belonged to Andreas Schopenhauer, but had recently come
into the possession of his maternal grandfather.

Five years after the birth of his son, Heinrich Schopenhauer, in
consequence of the political crisis, which he seems to have taken keenly
to heart, in the affairs of the Hanseatic town of Dantzic, transferred
his business and his home to Hamburg, where in 1795 a second child,
Adele, was born. Two years later, Heinrich, who intended to train his
son for a business life, took him, with this idea, to Havre, by way of
Paris, where they spent a little time, and left him there with M.
Gregoire, a commercial connection. Arthur remained at Havre for two
years, receiving private instruction with this man's son Anthime, with
whom he struck up a strong friendship, and when he returned to Hamburg
it was found that he remembered but few words of his mother-tongue. Here
he was placed in one of the principal private schools, where he remained
for three years. Both his parents, but especially his mother, cultivated
at this time the society of literary people, and entertained at their
house Klopstock and other notable persons. In the summer following his
return home from Havre he accompanied his parents on a continental tour,
stopping amongst other places at Weimar, where he saw Schiller. His
mother, too, had considerable literary tastes, and a distinct literary
gift which, later, she cultivated to some advantage, and which brought
her in the production of accounts of travel and fiction a not
inconsiderable reputation. It is, therefore, not surprising that
literary tendencies began to show themselves in her son, accompanied by
a growing distaste for the career of commerce which his father wished
him to follow. Heinrich Schopenhauer, although deprecating these
tendencies, considered the question of purchasing a canonry for his son,
but ultimately gave up the idea on the score of expense. He then
proposed to take him on an extended trip to France, where he might meet
his young friend Anthime, and then to England, if he would give up the
idea of a literary calling, and the proposal was accepted.

In the spring of 1803, then, he accompanied his parents to London,
where, after spending some time in sight-seeing, he was placed in the
school of Mr. Lancaster at Wimbledon. Here he remained for three months,
from July to September, laying the foundation of his knowledge of the
English language, while his parents proceeded to Scotland. English
formality, and what he conceived to be English hypocrisy, did not
contrast favourably with his earlier and gayer experiences in France,
and made an extremely unfavourable impression upon his mind; which found
expression in letters to his friends and to his mother.

On returning to Hamburg after this extended excursion abroad,
Schopenhauer was placed in the office of a Hamburg senator called
Jenisch, but he was as little inclined as ever to follow a commercial
career, and secretly shirked his work so that he might pursue his
studies. A little later a somewhat unexplainable calamity occurred. When
Dantzic ceased to be a free city, and Heinrich Schopenhauer at a
considerable cost and monetary sacrifice transferred his business to
Hamburg, the event caused him much bitterness of spirit. At Hamburg his
business seems to have undergone fluctuations. Whether these further
affected his spirit is not sufficiently established, but it is certain,
however, that he developed peculiarities of manner, and that his temper
became more violent. At any rate, one day in April 1805 it was found
that he had either fallen or thrown himself into the canal from an upper
storey of a granary; it was generally concluded that it was a case of

Schopenhauer was seventeen at the time of this catastrophe, by which he
was naturally greatly affected. Although by the death of his father the
influence which impelled him to a commercial career was removed, his
veneration for the dead man remained with him through life, and on one
occasion found expression in a curious tribute to his memory in a
dedication (which was not, however, printed) to the second edition of
_Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung._ "That I could make use of and
cultivate in a right direction the powers which nature gave me," he
concludes, "that I could follow my natural impulse and think and work
for countless others without the help of any one; for that I thank thee,
my father, thank thy activity, thy cleverness, thy thrift and care for
the future. Therefore I praise thee, my noble father. And every one who
from my work derives any pleasure, consolation, or instruction shall
hear thy name and know that if Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer had not been
the man he was, Arthur Schopenhauer would have been a hundred times

The year succeeding her husband's death, Johanna Schopenhauer removed
with her daughter to Weimar, after having attended to the settlement of
her husband's affairs, which left her in possession of a considerable
income. At Weimar she devoted herself to the pursuit of literature, and
held twice a week a sort of salon, which was attended by Goethe, the two
Schlegels, Wieland, Heinrich Meyer, Grimm, and other literary persons of
note. Her son meanwhile continued for another year at the "dead timber
of the desk," when his mother, acting under the advice of her friend
Fernow, consented, to his great joy, to his following his literary bent.

During the next few years we find Schopenhauer devoting himself
assiduously to acquiring the equipment for a learned career; at first at
the Gymnasium at Gotha, where he penned some satirical verses on one of
the masters, which brought him into some trouble. He removed in
consequence to Weimar, where he pursued his classical studies under the
direction of Franz Passow, at whose house he lodged. Unhappily, during
his sojourn at Weimar his relations with his mother became strained. One
feels that there is a sort of autobiographical interest in his essay on
women, that his view was largely influenced by his relations with his
mother, just as one feels that his particular argument in his essay on
education is largely influenced by the course of his own training.

On his coming of age Schopenhauer was entitled to a share of the
paternal estate, a share which yielded him a yearly income of about
L150. He now entered himself at the University of Goettingen (October
1809), enrolling himself as a student of medicine, and devoting himself
to the study of the natural sciences, mineralogy, anatomy, mathematics,
and history; later, he included logic, physiology, and ethnography. He
had always been passionately devoted to music and found relaxation in
learning to play the flute and guitar. His studies at this time did not
preoccupy him to the extent of isolation; he mixed freely with his
fellows, and reckoned amongst his friends or acquaintances, F.W. Kreise,
Bunsen, and Ernst Schulze. During one vacation he went on an expedition
to Cassel and to the Hartz Mountains. It was about this time, and partly
owing to the influence of Schulze, the author of _Aenesidemus_, and then
a professor at the University of Goettingen, that Schopenhauer came to
realise his vocation as that of a philosopher.

During his holiday at Weimar he called upon Wieland, then seventy-eight
years old, who, probably prompted by Mrs. Schopenhauer, tried to
dissuade him from the vocation which he had chosen. Schopenhauer in
reply said, "Life is a difficult question; I have decided to spend my
life in thinking about it." Then, after the conversation had continued
for some little time, Wieland declared warmly that he thought that he
had chosen rightly. "I understand your nature," he said; "keep to
philosophy." And, later, he told Johanna Schopenhauer that he thought
her son would be a great man some day.

Towards the close of the summer of 1811 Schopenhauer removed to Berlin
and entered the University. He here continued his study of the natural
sciences; he also attended the lectures on the History of Philosophy by
Schleiermacher, and on Greek Literature and Antiquities by F.A. Wolf,
and the lectures on "Facts of Consciousness" and "Theory of Science" by
Fichte, for the last of whom, as we know indeed from frequent references
in his books, he had no little contempt. A year or so later, when the
news of Napoleon's disaster in Russia arrived, the Germans were thrown
into a state of great excitement, and made speedy preparations for war.
Schopenhauer contributed towards equipping volunteers for the army, but
he did not enter active service; indeed, when the result of the battle
of Luetzen was known and Berlin seemed to be in danger, he fled for
safety to Dresden and thence to Weimar. A little later we find him at
Rudolstadt, whither he had proceeded in consequence of the recurrence of
differences with his mother, and remained there from June to November
1813, principally engaged in the composition of an essay, "A
Philosophical Treatise on the Fourfold Root of the Principle of
Sufficient Reason," which he offered to the University of Jena as an
exercise to qualify for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and for
which a diploma was granted. He published this essay at his own cost
towards the end of the year, but it seems to have fallen flatly from the
press, although its arguments attracted the attention and the sympathy
of Goethe, who, meeting him on his return to Weimar in November,
discussed with him his own theory of colour. A couple of years before,
Goethe, who was opposed to the Newtonian theory of light, had brought
out his _Farbenlehre_ (colour theory). In Goethe's diary Schopenhauer's
name frequently occurs, and on the 24th November 1813 he wrote to
Knebel: "Young Schopenhauer is a remarkable and interesting man.... I
find him intellectual, but I am undecided about him as far as other
things go." The result of this association with Goethe was his _Ueber
das Sehn und die Farben_ ("On Vision and Colour"), published at Leipzig
in 1816, a copy of which he forwarded to Goethe (who had already seen
the MS.) on the 4th May of that year. A few days later Goethe wrote to
the distinguished scientist, Dr. Seebeck, asking him to read the work.
In Gwinner's _Life_ we find the copy of a letter written in English to
Sir C.L. Eastlake: "In the year 1830, as I was going to publish in Latin
the same treatise which in German accompanies this letter, I went to Dr.
Seebeck of the Berlin Academy, who is universally admitted to be the
first natural philosopher (in the English sense of the word meaning
physiker) of Germany; he is the discoverer of thermo-electricity and of
several physical truths. I questioned him on his opinion on the
controversy between Goethe and Newton; he was extremely cautious and
made me promise that I should not print and publish anything of what he
might say, and at last, being hard pressed by me, he confessed that
indeed Goethe was perfectly right and Newton wrong, but that he had no
business to tell the world so. He has died since, the old coward!"

In May 1814 Schopenhauer removed from Weimar to Dresden, in consequence
of the recurrence of domestic differences with his mother. This was the
final break between the pair, and he did not see her again during the
remaining twenty-four years of her life, although they resumed
correspondence some years before her death. It were futile to attempt to
revive the dead bones of the cause of these unfortunate differences
between Johanna Schopenhauer and her son. It was a question of opposing
temperaments; both and neither were at once to blame. There is no reason
to suppose that Schopenhauer was ever a conciliatory son, or a
companionable person to live with; in fact, there is plenty to show that
he possessed trying and irritating qualities, and that he assumed an
attitude of criticism towards his mother that could not in any
circumstances be agreeable. On the other hand, Anselm Feuerbach in his
_Memoirs_ furnishes us with a scarcely prepossessing picture of Mrs.
Schopenhauer: "Madame Schopenhauer," he writes, "a rich widow. Makes
profession of erudition. Authoress. Prattles much and well,
intelligently; without heart and soul. Self-complacent, eager after
approbation, and constantly smiling to herself. God preserve us from
women whose mind has shot up into mere intellect."

Schopenhauer meanwhile was working out his philosophical system, the
idea of his principal philosophical work. "Under my hands," he wrote in
1813, "and still more in my mind grows a work, a philosophy which will
be an ethics and a metaphysics in one:--two branches which hitherto have
been separated as falsely as man has been divided into soul and body.
The work grows, slowly and gradually aggregating its parts like the
child in the womb. I became aware of one member, one vessel, one part
after another. In other words, I set each sentence down without anxiety
as to how it will fit into the whole; for I know it has all sprung from
a single foundation. It is thus that an organic whole originates, and
that alone will live.... Chance, thou ruler of this sense-world! Let me
live and find peace for yet a few years, for I love my work as the
mother her child. When it is matured and has come to birth, then exact
from me thy duties, taking interest for the postponement. But, if I sink
before the time in this iron age, then grant that these miniature
beginnings, these studies of mine, be given to the world as they are and
for what they are: some day perchance will arise a kindred spirit, who
can frame the members together and 'restore' the fragment of

By March 1817 he had completed the preparatory work of his system, and
began to put the whole thing together; a year later _Die Welt als Wille
und Vorstellung: vier Buecher, nebst einem Anhange, der die Kritik der
Kantischen Philosophie enthaelt_ ("The World as Will and Idea; four
books, with an appendix containing a criticism on the philosophy of
Kant"). Some delay occurring in the publication, Schopenhauer wrote one
of his characteristically abusive letters to Brockhaus, his publisher,
who retorted "that he must decline all further correspondence with one
whose letters, in their divine coarseness and rusticity, savoured more
of the cabman than of the philosopher," and concluded with a hope that
his fears that the work he was printing would be good for nothing but
waste paper, might not be realised.[2] The work appeared about the end
of December 1818 with 1819 on the title-page. Schopenhauer had meanwhile
proceeded in September to Italy, where he revised the final proofs. So
far as the reception of the work was concerned there was reason to
believe that the fears of Brockhaus would be realised, as, in fact, they
came practically to be. But in the face of this general want of
appreciation, Schopenhauer had some crumbs of consolation. His sister
wrote to him in March (he was then staying at Naples) that Goethe "had
received it with great joy, immediately cut the thick book, and began
_instantly_ to read it. An hour later he sent me a note to say that he
thanked you very much and thought that the whole book was good. He
pointed out the most important passages, read them to us, and was
greatly delighted.... You are the only author whom Goethe has ever read
seriously, it seems to me, and I rejoice." Nevertheless the book did not
sell. Sixteen years later Brockhaus informed Schopenhauer that a large
number of copies had been sold at waste paper price, and that he had
even then a few in stock. Still, during the years 1842-43, Schopenhauer
was contemplating the issue of a second edition and making revisions for
that purpose; when he had completed the work he took it to Brockhaus,
and agreed to leave the question of remuneration open. In the following
year the second edition was issued (500 copies of the first volume, and
750 of the second), and for this the author was to receive no
remuneration. "Not to my contemporaries," says Schopenhauer with fine
conviction in his preface to this edition, "not to my compatriots--to
mankind I commit my now completed work, in the confidence that it will
not be without value for them, even if this should be late recognised,
as is commonly the lot of what is good. For it cannot have been for the
passing generation, engrossed with the delusion of the moment, that my
mind, almost against my will, has uninterruptedly stuck to its work
through the course of a long life. And while the lapse of time has not
been able to make me doubt the worth of my work, neither has the lack of
sympathy; for I constantly saw the false and the bad, and finally the
absurd and senseless, stand in universal admiration and honour, and I
bethought myself that if it were not the case, those who are capable of
recognising the genuine and right are so rare that we may look for them
in vain for some twenty years, then those who are capable of producing
it could not be so few that their works afterwards form an exception to
the perishableness of earthly things; and thus would be lost the
reviving prospect of posterity which every one who sets before himself a
high aim requires to strengthen him."[3]

When Schopenhauer started for Italy Goethe had provided him with a
letter of introduction to Lord Byron, who was then staying at Venice,
but Schopenhauer never made use of the letter; he said that he hadn't
the courage to present himself. "Do you know," he says in a letter,
"three great pessimists were in Italy at the same time--Byron, Leopardi,
and myself! And yet not one of us has made the acquaintance of the
other." He remained in Italy until June 1819, when he proceeded to
Milan, where he received distressing news from his sister to the effect
that a Dantzic firm, in which she and her mother had invested all their
capital, and in which he himself had invested a little, had become
bankrupt. Schopenhauer immediately proposed to share his own income with
them. But later, when the defaulting firm offered to its creditors a
composition of thirty per cent, Schopenhauer would accept nothing less
than seventy per cent in the case of immediate payment, or the whole if
the payment were deferred; and he was so indignant at his mother and
sister falling in with the arrangement of the debtors, that he did not
correspond with them again for eleven years. With reference to this
affair he wrote: "I can imagine that from your point of view my
behaviour may seem hard and unfair. That is a mere illusion which
disappears as soon as you reflect that all I want is merely not to have
taken from me what is most rightly and incontestably mine, what,
moreover, my whole happiness, my freedom, my learned leisure depend
upon;--a blessing which in this world people like me enjoy so rarely
that it would be almost as unconscientious as cowardly not to defend it
to the uttermost and maintain it by every exertion. You say, perhaps,
that if all your creditors were of this way of thinking, I too should
come badly off. But if all men thought as I do, there would be much more
thinking done, and in that case probably there would be neither
bankruptcies, nor wars, nor gaming tables."[4]

In July 1819, when he was at Heidelberg, the idea occurred to him of
turning university lecturer, and took practical shape the following
summer, when he delivered a course of lectures on philosophy at the
Berlin University. But the experiment was not a success; the course was
not completed through the want of attendance, while Hegel at the same
time and place was lecturing to a crowded and enthusiastic audience.
This failure embittered him, and during the next few years there is
little of any moment in his life to record. There was one incident,
however, to which his detractors would seem to have attached more
importance than it was worth, but which must have been sufficiently
disturbing to Schopenhauer--we refer to the Marquet affair. It appears
on his returning home one day he found three women gossiping outside his
door, one of whom was a seamstress who occupied another room in the
house. Their presence irritated Schopenhauer (whose sensitiveness in
such matters may be estimated from his essay "On Noise"), who, finding
them occupying the same position on another occasion, requested them to
go away, but the seamstress replied that she was an honest person and
refused to move. Schopenhauer disappeared into his apartments and
returned with a stick. According to his own account, he offered his arm
to the woman in order to take her out; but she would not accept it, and
remained where she was. He then threatened to put her out, and carried
his threat into execution by seizing her round the waist and putting her
out. She screamed, and attempted to return. Schopenhauer now pushed her
out; the woman fell, and raised the whole house. This woman, Caroline
Luise Marquet, brought an action against him for damages, alleging that
he had kicked and beaten her. Schopenhauer defended his own case, with
the result that the action was dismissed. The woman appealed, and
Schopenhauer, who was contemplating going to Switzerland, did not alter
his plans, so that the appeal was heard during his absence, the judgment
reversed, and he was mulcted in a fine of twenty thalers. But the
unfortunate business did not end here. Schopenhauer proceeded from
Switzerland to Italy, and did not return to Berlin until May 1825.
Caroline Marquet renewed her complaints before the courts, stating that
his ill-usage had occasioned a fever through which she had lost the
power of one of her arms, that her whole system was entirely shaken, and
demanding a monthly allowance as compensation. She won her case; the
defendant had to pay three hundred thalers in costs and contribute sixty
thalers a year to her maintenance while she lived. Schopenhauer on
returning to Berlin did what he could to get the judgment reversed, but
unsuccessfully. The woman lived for twenty years; he inscribed on her
death certificate, "_Obit anus, obit onus"_

The idea of marriage seems to have more or less possessed Schopenhauer
about this time, but he could not finally determine to take the step.
There is sufficient to show in the following essays in what light he
regarded women. Marriage was a debt, he said, contracted in youth and
paid off in old age. Married people have the whole burden of life to
bear, while the unmarried have only half, was a characteristically
selfish apothegm. Had not all the true philosophers been
celibates--Descartes, Leibnitz, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Kant? The
classic writers were of course not to be considered, because with them
woman occupied a subordinate position. Had not all the great poets
married, and with disastrous consequences? Plainly, Schopenhauer was not
the person to sacrifice the individual to the will of the species.

In August 1831 he made a fortuitous expedition to
Frankfort-on-the-Main--an expedition partly prompted by the outbreak of
cholera at Berlin at the time, and partly by the portent of a dream (he
was credulous in such matters) which at the beginning of the year had
intimated his death. Here, however, he practically remained until his
death, leading a quiet, mechanically regular life and devoting his
thoughts to the development of his philosophic ideas, isolated at first,
but as time went on enjoying somewhat greedily the success which had
been denied him in his earlier days. In February 1839 he had a moment of
elation when he heard from the Scientific Society of Drontheim that he
had won the prize for the best essay on the question, "Whether free will
could be proved from the evidence of consciousness," and that he had
been elected a member of the Society; and a corresponding moment of
despondency when he was informed by the Royal Danish Academy of the
Sciences at Copenhagen, in a similar competition, that his essay on
"Whether the source and foundation of ethics was to be sought in an
intuitive moral idea, and in the analysis of other derivative moral
conceptions, or in some other principle of knowledge," had failed,
partly on the ground of the want of respect which it showed to the
opinions of the chief philosophers. He published these essays in 1841
under the title of "The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics," and ten
years later _Parerga und Paralipomena_ the composition of which had
engaged his attention for five or six years. The latter work, which
proved to be his most popular, was refused by three publishers, and when
eventually it was accepted by Hayn of Berlin, the author only received
ten free copies of his work as payment. It is from this book that all
except one of the following essays have been selected; the exception is
"The Metaphysics of Love," which appears in the supplement of the third
book of his principal work. The second edition of _Die Welt als Wille
und Vorstellung_ appeared in 1844, and was received with growing
appreciation. Hitherto he had been chiefly known in Frankfort as the son
of the celebrated Johanna Schopenhauer; now he came to have a following
which, if at first small in numbers, were sufficiently enthusiastic, and
proved, indeed, so far as his reputation was concerned, helpful. Artists
painted his portrait; a bust of him was made by Elizabeth Ney. In the
April number of the _Westminster Review_ for 1853 John Oxenford, in an
article entitled "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," heralded in England
his recognition as a writer and thinker; three years later Saint-Rene
Taillandier, in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, did a similar service for
him in France. One of his most enthusiastic admirers was Richard Wagner,
who in 1854 sent him a copy of his _Der Ring der Nibelungen_, with the
inscription "In admiration and gratitude." The Philosophical Faculty of
the University of Leipzic offered a prize for an exposition and
criticism of his philosophical system. Two Frenchmen, M. Foucher de
Careil and M. Challemel Lacour, who visited Schopenhauer during his last
days, have given an account of their impressions of the interview, the
latter in an article entitled, "Un Bouddhiste Contemporain en
Allemagne," which appeared in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ for March
15th, 1870. M. Foucher de Careil gives a charming picture of him:--

"Quand je le vis, pour la premiere fois, en 1859, a la table de
l'hotel d'Angleterre, a Francfort, c'etait deja un vieillard, a
l'oeil d'un bleu vif et limpide, a la levre mince et legerement
sarcastique, autour de laquelle errait un fin sourire, et dont le
vaste front, estompe de deux touffes de cheveux blancs sur les
cotes, relevait d'un cachet de noblesse et de distinction la
physionomie petillante d'esprit et de malice. Les habits, son jabot
de dentelle, sa cravate blanche rappelaient un vieillard de la fin
du regne de Louis XV; ses manieres etaient celles d'un homme de
bonne compagnie. Habituellement reserve et d'un naturel craintif
jusqu'a la mefiance, il ne se livrait qu'avec ses intimes ou les
etrangers de passage a Francfort. Ses mouvements etaient vifs et
devenaient d'une petulance extraordinaire dans la conversation; il
fuyait les discussions et les vains combats de paroles, mais c'etait
pour mieux jouir du charme d'une causerie intime. Il possedait et
parlait avec une egale perfection quatre langues: le francais,
l'anglais, l'allemand, l'italien et passablement l'espagnol. Quand
il causait, la verve du vieillard brodait sur le canevas un peu
lourd de l'allemand ses brilliantes arabesques latines, grecques,
francaises, anglaises, italiennes. C'etait un entrain, une precision
et des sailles, une richesse de citations, une exactitude de details
qui faisait couler les heures; et quelquefois le petit cercle de ses
intimes l'ecoutait jusqu'a minuit, sans qu'un moment de fatigue se
fut peint sur ses traits ou que le feu de son regard se fut un
instant amorti. Sa parole nette et accentuee captivait l'auditoire:
elle peignait et analysait tout ensemble; une sensibilite delicate
en augmentait le feu; elle etait exacte et precise sur toutes sortes
de sujets."

Schopenhauer died on the 20th September 1860, in his seventy-third year,
peacefully, alone as he had lived, but not without warning. One day in
April, taking his usual brisk walk after dinner, he suffered from
palpitation of the heart, he could scarcely breathe. These symptoms
developed during the next few months, and Dr. Gwinner advised him to
discontinue his cold baths and to breakfast in bed; but Schopenhauer,
notwithstanding his early medical training, was little inclined to
follow medical advice. To Dr. Gwinner, on the evening of the 18th
September, when he expressed a hope that he might be able to go to
Italy, he said that it would be a pity if he died now, as he wished to
make several important additions to his _Parerga_; he spoke about his
works and of the warm recognition with which they had been welcomed in
the most remote places. Dr. Gwinner had never before found him so eager
and gentle, and left him reluctantly, without, however, the least
premonition that he had seen him for the last time. On the second
morning after this interview Schopenhauer got up as usual, and had his
cold bath and breakfast. His servant had opened the window to let in the
morning air and had then left him. A little later Dr. Gwinner arrived
and found him reclining in a corner of the sofa; his face wore its
customary expression; there was no sign of there having been any
struggle with death. There had been no struggle with death; he had died,
as he had hoped he would die, painlessly, easily.

In preparing the above notice the writer has to acknowledge her
indebtedness to Dr. Gwinner's _Life_ and Professor Wallace's little work
on the same subject, as well as to the few other authorities that have
been available.--THE TRANSLATOR.


[1] Wallace's _Life_, pp. 95, 96.

[2] Wallace, p. 108.

[3] Haldane and Kemp's _The World as Will and Idea_.

[4] Wallace, p. 145.



There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the
subject's sake, and those who write for writing's sake. The first kind
have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating,
while the second kind need money and consequently write for money. They
think in order to write, and they may be recognised by their spinning
out their thoughts to the greatest possible length, and also by the way
they work out their thoughts, which are half-true, perverse, forced, and
vacillating; then also by their love of evasion, so that they may seem
what they are not; and this is why their writing is lacking in
definiteness and clearness.

Consequently, it is soon recognised that they write for the sake of
filling up the paper, and this is the case sometimes with the best
authors; for example, in parts of Lessing's _Dramaturgie_, and even in
many of Jean Paul's romances. As soon as this is perceived the book
should be thrown away, for time is precious. As a matter of fact, the
author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of
filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has
something to impart. Writing for money and preservation of copyright
are, at bottom, the ruin of literature. It is only the man who writes
absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth
writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch
of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books! This can
never come to pass so long as money is to be made by writing. It seems
as if money lay under a curse, for every author deteriorates directly he
writes in any way for the sake of money. The best works of great men all
come from the time when they had to write either for nothing or for very
little pay. This is confirmed by the Spanish proverb: _honra y provecho
no caben en un saco_ (Honour and money are not to be found in the same
purse). The deplorable condition of the literature of to-day, both in
Germany and other countries, is due to the fact that books are written
for the sake of earning money. Every one who is in want of money sits
down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. The
secondary effect of this is the ruin of language.

A great number of bad authors eke out their existence entirely by the
foolishness of the public, which only will read what has just been
printed. I refer to journalists, who have been appropriately so-called.
In other words, it would be "day labourer."

* * * * *

Again, it may be said that there are three kinds of authors. In the
first place, there are those who write without thinking. They write from
memory, from reminiscences, or even direct from other people's books.
This class is the most numerous. In the second, those who think whilst
they are writing. They think in order to write; and they are numerous.
In the third place, there are those who have thought before they begin
to write. They write solely because they have thought; and they are

Authors of the second class, who postpone their thinking until they
begin to write, are like a sportsman who goes out at random--he is not
likely to bring home very much. While the writing of an author of the
third, the rare class, is like a chase where the game has been captured
beforehand and cooped up in some enclosure from which it is afterwards
set free, so many at a time, into another enclosure, where it is not
possible for it to escape, and the sportsman has now nothing to do but
to aim and fire--that is to say, put his thoughts on paper. This is the
kind of sport which yields something.

But although the number of those authors who really and seriously think
before they write is small, only extremely few of them think about _the
subject itself_; the rest think only about the books written on this
subject, and what has been said by others upon it, I mean. In order to
think, they must have the more direct and powerful incentive of other
people's thoughts. These become their next theme, and therefore they
always remain under their influence and are never, strictly speaking,
original. On the contrary, the former are roused to thought through the
_subject itself_, hence their thinking is directed immediately to it. It
is only among them that we find the authors whose names become immortal.
Let it be understood that I am speaking here of writers of the higher
branches of literature, and not of writers on the method of distilling

It is only the writer who takes the material on which he writes direct
out of his own head that is worth reading. Book manufacturers,
compilers, and the ordinary history writers, and others like them, take
their material straight out of books; it passes into their fingers
without its having paid transit duty or undergone inspection when it was
in their heads, to say nothing of elaboration. (How learned many a man
would be if he knew everything that was in his own books!) Hence their
talk is often of such a vague nature that one racks one's brains in vain
to understand of _what_ they are really thinking. They are not thinking
at all. The book from which they copy is sometimes composed in the same
way: so that writing of this kind is like a plaster cast of a cast of a
cast, and so on, until finally all that is left is a scarcely
recognisable outline of the face of Antinous. Therefore, compilations
should be read as seldom as possible: it is difficult to avoid them
entirely, since compendia, which contain in a small space knowledge that
has been collected in the course of several centuries, are included in

No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been
written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on
is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change
means progress. Men who think and have correct judgment, and people who
treat their subject earnestly, are all exceptions only. Vermin is the
rule everywhere in the world: it is always at hand and busily engaged in
trying to improve in its own way upon the mature deliberations of the
thinkers. So that if a man wishes to improve himself in any subject he
must guard against immediately seizing the newest books written upon it,
in the assumption that science is always advancing and that the older
books have been made use of in the compiling of the new. They have, it
is true, been used; but how? The writer often does not thoroughly
understand the old books; he will, at the same time, not use their exact
words, so that the result is he spoils and bungles what has been said in
a much better and clearer way by the old writers; since they wrote from
their own lively knowledge of the subject. He often leaves out the best
things they have written, their most striking elucidations of the
matter, their happiest remarks, because he does not recognise their
value or feel how pregnant they are. It is only what is stupid and
shallow that appeals to him. An old and excellent book is frequently
shelved for new and bad ones; which, written for the sake of money, wear
a pretentious air and are much eulogised by the authors' friends. In
science, a man who wishes to distinguish himself brings something new to
market; this frequently consists in his denouncing some principle that
has been previously held as correct, so that he may establish a wrong
one of his own. Sometimes his attempt is successful for a short time,
when a return is made to the old and correct doctrine. These innovators
are serious about nothing else in the world than their own priceless
person, and it is this that they wish to make its mark. They bring this
quickly about by beginning a paradox; the sterility of their own heads
suggests their taking the path of negation; and truths that have long
been recognised are now denied--for instance, the vital power, the
sympathetic nervous system, _generatio equivoca_, Bichat's distinction
between the working of the passions and the working of intelligence, or
they return to crass atomism, etc., etc. Hence _the course of science is
often retrogressive_.

To this class of writers belong also those translators who, besides
translating their author, at the same time correct and alter him, a
thing that always seems to me impertinent. Write books yourself which
are worth translating and leave the books of other people as they are.
One should read, if it is possible, the real authors, the founders and
discoverers of things, or at any rate the recognised great masters in
every branch of learning, and buy second-hand _books_ rather than read
their _contents_ in new ones.

It is true that _inventis aliquid addere facile est_, therefore a man,
after having studied the principles of his subject, will have to make
himself acquainted with the more recent information written upon it. In
general, the following rule holds good here as elsewhere, namely: what
is new is seldom good; because a good thing is only new for a short

What the address is to a letter the _title_ should be to a book--that
is, its immediate aim should be to bring the book to that part of the
public that will be interested in its contents. Therefore, the title
should be effective, and since it is essentially short, it should be
concise, laconic, pregnant, and if possible express the contents in a
word. Therefore a title that is prolix, or means nothing at all, or that
is indirect or ambiguous, is bad; so is one that is false and
misleading: this last may prepare for the book the same fate as that
which awaits a wrongly addressed letter. The worst titles are those that
are stolen, such titles that is to say that other books already bear;
for in the first place they are a plagiarism, and in the second a most
convincing proof of an absolute want of originality. A man who has not
enough originality to think out a new title for his book will be much
less capable of giving it new contents. Akin to these are those titles
which have been imitated, in other words, half stolen; for instance, a
long time after I had written "On Will in Nature," Oersted wrote "On
Mind in Nature."

* * * * *

A book can never be anything more than the impression of its author's
thoughts. The value of these thoughts lies either in the _matter about
which_ he has thought, or in the _form_ in which he develops his
matter--that is to say, _what_ he has thought about it.

The matter of books is very various, as also are the merits conferred on
books on account of their matter. All matter that is the outcome of
experience, in other words everything that is founded on fact, whether
it be historical or physical, taken by itself and in its widest sense,
is included in the term matter. It is the _motif_ that gives its
peculiar character to the book, so that a book can be important whoever
the author may have been; while with form the peculiar character of a
book rests with the author of it. The subjects may be of such a nature
as to be accessible and well known to everybody; but the form in which
they are expounded, _what_ has been thought about them, gives the book
its value, and this depends upon the author. Therefore if a book, from
this point of view, is excellent and without a rival, so also is its
author. From this it follows that the merit of a writer worth reading is
all the greater the less he is dependent on matter--and the better known
and worn out this matter, the greater will be his merit. The three great
Grecian tragedians, for instance, all worked at the same subject.

So that when a book becomes famous one should carefully distinguish
whether it is so on account of its matter or its form.

Quite ordinary and shallow men are able to produce books of very great
importance because of their _matter_, which was accessible to them
alone. Take, for instance, books which give descriptions of foreign
countries, rare natural phenomena, experiments that have been made,
historical events of which they were witnesses, or have spent both time
and trouble in inquiring into and specially studying the authorities for

On the other hand, it is on _form_ that we are dependent, where the
matter is accessible to every one or very well known; and it is what has
been thought about the matter that will give any value to the
achievement; it will only be an eminent man who will be able to write
anything that is worth reading. For the others will only think what is
possible for every other man to think. They give the impress of their
own mind; but every one already possesses the original of this

However, the public is very much more interested in matter than in form,
and it is for this very reason that it is behindhand in any high degree
of culture. It is most laughable the way the public reveals its liking
for matter in poetic works; it carefully investigates the real events or
personal circumstances of the poet's life which served to give the
_motif_ of his works; nay, finally, it finds these more interesting than
the works themselves; it reads more about Goethe than what has been
written by Goethe, and industriously studies the legend of Faust in
preference to Goethe's _Faust_ itself. And when Buerger said that "people
would make learned expositions as to who Leonora really was," we see
this literally fulfilled in Goethe's case, for we now have many learned
expositions on Faust and the Faust legend. They are and will remain of a
purely material character. This preference for matter to form is the
same as a man ignoring the shape and painting of a fine Etruscan vase in
order to make a chemical examination of the clay and colours of which it
is made. The attempt to be effective by means of the matter used,
thereby ministering to this evil propensity of the public, is absolutely
to be censured in branches of writing where the merit must lie expressly
in the form; as, for instance, in poetical writing. However, there are
numerous bad dramatic authors striving to fill the theatre by means of
the matter they are treating. For instance, they place on the stage any
kind of celebrated man, however stripped of dramatic incidents his life
may have been, nay, sometimes without waiting until the persons who
appear with him are dead.

The distinction between matter and form, of which I am here speaking, is
true also in regard to conversation. It is chiefly intelligence,
judgment, wit, and vivacity that enable a man to converse; they give
form to the conversation. However, the _matter_ of the conversation must
soon come into notice--in other words, _that_ about which one can talk
to the man, namely, his knowledge. If this is very small, it will only
be his possessing the above-named formal qualities in a quite
exceptionally high degree that will make his conversation of any value,
for his matter will be restricted to things concerning humanity and
nature, which are known generally. It is just the reverse if a man is
wanting in these formal qualities, but has, on the other hand, knowledge
of such a kind that it lends value to his conversation; this value,
however, will then entirely rest on the matter of his conversation, for,
according to the Spanish proverb, _mas sabe el necio en su casa, que el
sabio en la agena_.

A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of
words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as
everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its
existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the
instant it becomes crystallised.

As soon as a thought has found words it no longer exists in us or is
serious in its deepest sense.

When it begins to exist for others it ceases to live in us; just as a
child frees itself from its mother when it comes into existence. The
poet has also said:

"Ihr muesst mich nicht durch Widerspruch verwirren!
_Sobald man spricht, beginnt man schon zu irren_."

The pen is to thought what the stick is to walking, but one walks most
easily without a stick, and thinks most perfectly when no pen is at
hand. It is only when a man begins to get old that he likes to make use
of a stick and his pen.

A hypothesis that has once gained a position in the mind, or been born
in it, leads a life resembling that of an organism, in so far as it
receives from the outer world matter only that is advantageous and
homogeneous to it; on the other hand, matter that is harmful and
heterogeneous to it is either rejected, or if it must be received, cast
off again entirely.

Abstract and indefinite terms should be employed in satire only as they
are in algebra, in place of concrete and specified quantities. Moreover,
it should be used as sparingly as the dissecting knife on the body of a
living man. At the risk of forfeiting his life it is an unsafe

For a work to become _immortal_ it must possess so many excellences that
it will not be easy to find a man who understands and values them _all_;
so that there will be in all ages men who recognise and appreciate some
of these excellences; by this means the credit of the work will be
retained throughout the long course of centuries and ever-changing
interests, for, as it is appreciated first in this sense, then in that,
the interest is never exhausted.

An author like this, in other words, an author who has a claim to live
on in posterity, can only be a man who seeks in vain his like among his
contemporaries over the wide world, his marked distinction making him a
striking contrast to every one else. Even if he existed through several
generations, like the wandering Jew, he would still occupy the same
position; in short, he would be, as Ariosto has put it, _lo fece natura,
e poi ruppe lo stampo_. If this were not so, one would not be able to
understand why his thoughts should not perish like those of other men.

In almost every age, whether it be in literature or art, we find that if
a thoroughly wrong idea, or a fashion, or a manner is in vogue, it is
admired. Those of ordinary intelligence trouble themselves inordinately
to acquire it and put it in practice. An intelligent man sees through it
and despises it, consequently he remains out of the fashion. Some years
later the public sees through it and takes the sham for what it is
worth; it now laughs at it, and the much-admired colour of all these
works of fashion falls off like the plaster from a badly-built wall: and
they are in the same dilapidated condition. We should be glad and not
sorry when a fundamentally wrong notion of which we have been secretly
conscious for a long time finally gains a footing and is proclaimed both
loudly and openly. The falseness of it will soon be felt and eventually
proclaimed equally loudly and openly. It is as if an abscess had burst.

The man who publishes and edits an article written by an anonymous
critic should be held as immediately responsible for it as if he had
written it himself; just as one holds a manager responsible for bad work
done by his workmen. In this way the fellow would be treated as he
deserves to be--namely, without any ceremony.

An anonymous writer is a literary fraud against whom one should
immediately cry out, "Wretch, if you do not wish to admit what it is you
say against other people, hold your slanderous tongue."

An anonymous criticism carries no more weight than an anonymous letter,
and should therefore be looked upon with equal mistrust. Or do we wish
to accept the assumed name of a man, who in reality represents a
_societe anonyme_, as a guarantee for the veracity of his friends?

The little honesty that exists among authors is discernible in the
unconscionable way they misquote from the writings of others. I find
whole passages in my works wrongly quoted, and it is only in my
appendix, which is absolutely lucid, that an exception is made. The
misquotation is frequently due to carelessness, the pen of such people
has been used to write down such trivial and banal phrases that it goes
on writing them out of force of habit. Sometimes the misquotation is due
to impertinence on the part of some one who wants to improve upon my
work; but a bad motive only too often prompts the misquotation--it is
then horrid baseness and roguery, and, like a man who commits forgery,
he loses the character for being an honest man for ever.

Style is the physiognomy of the mind. It is a more reliable key to
character than the physiognomy of the body. To imitate another person's
style is like wearing a mask. However fine the mask, it soon becomes
insipid and intolerable because it is without life; so that even the
ugliest living face is better. Therefore authors who write in Latin and
imitate the style of the old writers essentially wear a mask; one
certainly hears what they say, but one cannot watch their
physiognomy--that is to say their style. One observes, however, the
style in the Latin writings of men _who think for themselves_, those who
have not deigned to imitate, as, for instance, Scotus Erigena, Petrarch,
Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, etc.

Affectation in style is like making grimaces. The language in which a
man writes is the physiognomy of his nation; it establishes a great many
differences, beginning from the language of the Greeks down to that of
the Caribbean islanders.

We should seek for the faults in the style of another author's works, so
that we may avoid committing the same in our own.

In order to get a provisional estimate of the value of an author's
productions it is not exactly necessary to know the matter on which he
has thought or what it is he has thought about it,--this would compel
one to read the whole of his works,--but it will be sufficient to know
_how_ he has thought. His _style_ is an exact expression of _how_ he has
thought, of the essential state and general _quality_ of his thoughts.
It shows the _formal_ nature--which must always remain the same--of all
the thoughts of a man, whatever the subject on which he has thought or
what it is he has said about it. It is the dough out of which all his
ideas are kneaded, however various they may be. When Eulenspiegel was
asked by a man how long he would have to walk before reaching the next
place, and gave the apparently absurd answer _Walk_, his intention was
to judge from the man's walking how far he would go in a given time. And
so it is when I have read a few pages of an author, I know about how far
he can help me.

In the secret consciousness that this is the condition of things, every
mediocre writer tries to mask his own natural style. This instantly
necessitates his giving up all idea of being _naive_, a privilege which
belongs to superior minds sensible of their superiority, and therefore
sure of themselves. For instance, it is absolutely impossible for men of
ordinary intelligence to make up their minds to write as they think;
they resent the idea of their work looking too simple. It would always
be of some value, however. If they would only go honestly to work and in
a simple way express the few and ordinary ideas they have really
thought, they would be readable and even instructive in their own
sphere. But instead of that they try to appear to have thought much more
deeply than is the case. The result is, they put what they have to say
into forced and involved language, create new words and prolix periods
which go round the thought and cover it up. They hesitate between the
two attempts of communicating the thought and of concealing it. They
want to make it look grand so that it has the appearance of being
learned and profound, thereby giving one the idea that there is much
more in it than one perceives at the moment. Accordingly, they sometimes
put down their thoughts in bits, in short, equivocal, and paradoxical
sentences which appear to mean much more than they say (a splendid
example of this kind of writing is furnished by Schelling's treatises on
Natural Philosophy); sometimes they express their thoughts in a crowd of
words and the most intolerable diffuseness, as if it were necessary to
make a sensation in order to make the profound meaning of their phrases
intelligible--while it is quite a simple idea if not a trivial one
(examples without number are supplied in Fichte's popular works and in
the philosophical pamphlets of a hundred other miserable blockheads that
are not worth mentioning), or else they endeavour to use a certain style
in writing which it has pleased them to adopt--for example, a style that
is so thoroughly _Kat' e'xochae'u_ profound and scientific, where one is
tortured to death by the narcotic effect of long-spun periods that are
void of all thought (examples of this are specially supplied by those
most impertinent of all mortals, the Hegelians in their Hegel newspaper
commonly known as _Jahrbuecher der wissenschaftlichen Literatur)_; or
again, they aim at an intellectual style where it seems then as if they
wish to go crazy, and so on. All such efforts whereby they try to
postpone the _nascetur ridiculus mus_ make it frequently difficult to
understand what they really mean. Moreover, they write down words, nay,
whole periods, which mean nothing in themselves, in the hope, however,
that some one else will understand something from them. Nothing else is
at the bottom of all such endeavours but the inexhaustible attempt which
is always venturing on new paths, to sell words for thoughts, and by
means of new expressions, or expressions used in a new sense, turns of
phrases and combinations of all kinds, to produce the appearance of
intellect in order to compensate for the want of it which is so
painfully felt. It is amusing to see how, with this aim in view, first
this mannerism and then that is tried; these they intend to represent
the mask of intellect: this mask may possibly deceive the inexperienced
for a while, until it is recognised as being nothing but a dead mask,
when it is laughed at and exchanged for another.

We find a writer of this kind sometimes writing in a dithyrambic style,
as if he were intoxicated; at other times, nay, on the very next page,
he will be high-sounding, severe, and deeply learned, prolix to the last
degree of dulness, and cutting everything very small, like the late
Christian Wolf, only in a modern garment. The mask of unintelligibility
holds out the longest; this is only in Germany, however, where it was
introduced by Fichte, perfected by Schelling, and attained its highest
climax finally in Hegel, always with the happiest results. And yet
nothing is easier than to write so that no one can understand; on the
other hand, nothing is more difficult than to express learned ideas so
that every one must understand them. All the arts I have cited above are
superfluous if the writer really possesses any intellect, for it allows
a man to show himself as he is and verifies for all time what Horace
said: _Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons_.

But this class of authors is like certain workers in metal, who try a
hundred different compositions to take the place of gold, which is the
only metal that can never have a substitute. On the contrary, there is
nothing an author should guard against more than the apparent endeavour
to show more intellect than he has; because this rouses the suspicion in
the reader that he has very little, since a man always affects
something, be its nature what it may, that he does not really possess.
And this is why it is praise to an author to call him naive, for it
signifies that he may show himself as he is. In general, naivete
attracts, while anything that is unnatural everywhere repels. We also
find that every true thinker endeavours to express his thoughts as
purely, clearly, definitely, and concisely as ever possible. This is why
simplicity has always been looked upon as a token, not only of truth,
but also of genius. Style receives its beauty from the thought
expressed, while with those writers who only pretend to think it is
their thoughts that are said to be fine because of their style. Style is
merely the silhouette of thought; and to write in a vague or bad style
means a stupid or confused mind.

Hence, the first rule--nay, this in itself is almost sufficient for a
good style--is this, _that the author should have something to say_. Ah!
this implies a great deal. The neglect of this rule is a fundamental
characteristic of the philosophical, and generally speaking of all the
reflective authors in Germany, especially since the time of Fichte. It
is obvious that all these writers wish _to appear_ to have something to
say, while they have nothing to say. This mannerism was introduced by
the pseudo-philosophers of the Universities and may be discerned
everywhere, even among the first literary notabilities of the age. It is
the mother of that forced and vague style which seems to have two, nay,
many meanings, as well as of that prolix and ponderous style, _le stile
empese_; and of that no less useless bombastic style, and finally of
that mode of concealing the most awful poverty of thought under a babble
of inexhaustible chatter that resembles a clacking mill and is just as
stupefying: one may read for hours together without getting hold of a
single clearly defined and definite idea. The _Halleschen_, afterwards
called the _Deutschen Jahrbuecher_, furnishes almost throughout excellent
examples of this style of writing. The Germans, by the way, from force
of habit read page after page of all kinds of such verbiage without
getting any definite idea of what the author really means: they think it
all very proper and do not discover that he is writing merely for the
sake of writing. On the other hand, a good author who is rich in ideas
soon gains the reader's credit of having really and truly _something to
say_; and this gives the intelligent reader patience to follow him
attentively. An author of this kind will always express himself in the
simplest and most direct manner, for the very reason that he really has
something to say; because he wishes to awaken in the reader the same
idea he has in his own mind and no other. Accordingly he will be able to
say with Boileau--

"Ma pensee au grand jour partout s'offre et s'expose,
Et mon vers, bien ou mal, dit toujours quelque chose;"

while of those previously described writers it may be said, in the words
of the same poet, _et qui parlant beaucoup ne disent jamais rien_. It is
also a characteristic of such writers to avoid, if it is possible,
expressing themselves _definitely_, so that they may be always able in
case of need to get out of a difficulty; this is why they always choose
the more _abstract_ expressions: while people of intellect choose the
more _concrete_; because the latter bring the matter closer to view,
which is the source of all evidence. This preference for abstract
expressions may be confirmed by numerous examples: a specially
ridiculous example is the following. Throughout German literature of the
last ten years we find "to condition" almost everywhere used in place of
"to cause" or "to effect." Since it is more abstract and indefinite it
says less than it implies, and consequently leaves a little back door
open to please those whose secret consciousness of their own incapacity
inspires them with a continual fear of all _definite_ expressions. While
with other people it is merely the effect of that national tendency to
immediately imitate everything that is stupid in literature and wicked
in life; this is shown in either case by the quick way in which it
spreads. The Englishman depends on his own judgment both in what he
writes and what he does, but this applies less to the German than to any
other nation. In consequence of the state of things referred to, the
words "to cause" and "to effect" have almost entirely disappeared from
the literature of the last ten years, and people everywhere talk of
"to condition." The fact is worth mentioning because it is
characteristically ridiculous. Everyday authors are only half conscious
when they write, a fact which accounts for their want of intellect and
the tediousness of their writings; they do not really themselves
understand the meaning of their own words, because they take ready-made
words and learn them. Hence they combine whole phrases more than
words--_phrases banales_. This accounts for that obviously
characteristic want of clearly defined thought; in fact, they lack the
die that stamps their thoughts, they have no clear thought of their own;
in place of it we find an indefinite, obscure interweaving of words,
current phrases, worn-out terms of speech, and fashionable expressions.
The result is that their foggy kind of writing is like print that has
been done with old type. On the other hand, intelligent people _really_
speak to us in their writings, and this is why they are able to both
move and entertain us. It is only intelligent writers who place
individual words together with a full consciousness of their use and
select them with deliberation. Hence their style of writing bears the
same relation to that of those authors described above, as a picture
that is really painted does to one that has been executed with stencil.
In the first instance every word, just as every stroke of the brush, has
some special significance, while in the other everything is done
mechanically. The same distinction may be observed in music. For it is
the omnipresence of intellect that always and everywhere characterises
the works of the genius; and analogous to this is Lichtenberg's
observation, namely, that Garrick's soul was omnipresent in all the
muscles of his body. With regard to the tediousness of the writings
referred to above, it is to be observed in general that there are two
kinds of tediousness--an objective and a subjective. The _objective_
form of tediousness springs from the deficiency of which we have been
speaking--that is to say, where the author has no perfectly clear
thought or knowledge to communicate. For if a writer possesses any clear
thought or knowledge it will be his aim to communicate it, and he will
work with this end in view; consequently the ideas he furnishes are
everywhere clearly defined, so that he is neither diffuse, unmeaning,
nor confused, and consequently not tedious. Even if his fundamental idea
is wrong, yet in such a case it will be clearly thought out and well
pondered; in other words, it is at least formally correct, and the
writing is always of some value. While, for the same reason, a work that
is objectively _tedious_ is at all times without value. Again,
_subjective_ tediousness is merely relative: this is because the reader
is not interested in the subject of the work, and that what he takes an
interest in is of a very limited nature. The most excellent work may
therefore be tedious subjectively to this or that person, just as, _vice
versa_, the worst work may be subjectively diverting to this or that
person: because he is interested in either the subject or the writer of
the book.

It would be of general service to German authors if they discerned that
while a man should, if possible, think like a great mind, he should
speak the same language as every other person. Men should use common
words to say uncommon things, but they do the reverse. We find them
trying to envelop trivial ideas in grand words and to dress their very
ordinary thoughts in the most extraordinary expressions and the most
outlandish, artificial, and rarest phrases. Their sentences perpetually
stalk about on stilts. With regard to their delight in bombast, and to
their writing generally in a grand, puffed-up, unreal, hyperbolical, and
acrobatic style, their prototype is Pistol, who was once impatiently
requested by Falstaff, his friend, to "say what you have to say, _like a
man of this world_!"[5]

There is no expression in the German language exactly corresponding to
_stile empese_; but the thing itself is all the more prevalent. When
combined with unnaturalness it is in works what affected gravity,
grandness, and unnaturalness are in social intercourse; and it is just
as intolerable. Poverty of intellect is fond of wearing this dress; just
as stupid people in everyday life are fond of assuming gravity and

A man who writes in this _prezioes_ style is like a person who dresses
himself up to avoid being mistaken for or confounded with the mob; a
danger which a _gentleman_, even in his worst clothes, does not run.
Hence just as a plebeian is recognised by a certain display in his dress
and his _tire a quatre epingles_, so is an ordinary writer recognised by
his style.

If a man has something to say that is worth saying, he need not envelop
it in affected expressions, involved phrases, and enigmatical
innuendoes; but he may rest assured that by expressing himself in a
simple, clear, and naive manner he will not fail to produce the right
effect. A man who makes use of such artifices as have been alluded to
betrays his poverty of ideas, mind, and knowledge.

Nevertheless, it is a mistake to attempt to write exactly as one speaks.
Every style of writing should bear a certain trace of relationship with
the monumental style, which is, indeed, the ancestor of all styles; so
that to write as one speaks is just as faulty as to do the reverse, that
is to say, to try and speak as one writes. This makes the author
pedantic, and at the same time difficult to understand.

Obscurity and vagueness of expression are at all times and everywhere a
very bad sign. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they arise from
vagueness of thought, which, in its turn, is almost always fundamentally
discordant, inconsistent, and therefore wrong. When a right thought
springs up in the mind it strives after clearness of expression, and it
soon attains it, for clear thought easily finds its appropriate
expression. A man who is capable of thinking can express himself at all
times in clear, comprehensible, and unambiguous words. Those writers who
construct difficult, obscure, involved, and ambiguous phrases most
certainly do not rightly know what it is they wish to say: they have
only a dull consciousness of it, which is still struggling to put itself
into thought; they also often wish to conceal from themselves and other
people that in reality they have nothing to say. Like Fichte, Schelling,
and Hegel, they wish to appear to know what they do not know, to think
what they do not think, and to say what they do not say.

Will a man, then, who has something real to impart endeavour to say it
in a clear or an indistinct way? Quintilian has already said, _plerumque
accidit ut faciliora sint ad intelligendum et lucidiora multo, quae a
doctissimo quoque dicuntur.... Erit ergo etiam obscurior, quo quisque

A man's way of expressing himself should not be _enigmatical_, but he
should know whether he has something to say or whether he has not. It is
an uncertainty of expression which makes German writers so dull. The
only exceptional cases are those where a man wishes to express something
that is in some respect of an illicit nature. As anything that is
far-fetched generally produces the reverse of what the writer has aimed
at, so do words serve to make thought comprehensible; but only up to a
certain point. If words are piled up beyond this point they make the
thought that is being communicated more and more obscure. To hit that
point is the problem of style and a matter of discernment; for every
superfluous word prevents its purpose being carried out. Voltaire means
this when he says: _l'adjectif est l'ennemi du substantif_. (But, truly,
many authors try to hide their poverty of thought under a superfluity of

Accordingly, all prolixity and all binding together of unmeaning
observations that are not worth reading should be avoided. A writer must
be sparing with the reader's time, concentration, and patience; in this
way he makes him believe that what he has before him is worth his
careful reading, and will repay the trouble he has spent upon it. It is
always better to leave out something that is good than to write down
something that is not worth saying. Hesiod's [Greek: pleon haemisu
pantos][6] finds its right application. In fact, not to say everything!
_Le secret pour etre ennuyeux, c'est de tout dire_. Therefore, if
possible, the quintessence only! the chief matter only! nothing that the
reader would think for himself. The use of many words in order to
express little thought is everywhere the infallible sign of mediocrity;
while to clothe much thought in a few words is the infallible sign of
distinguished minds.

Truth that is naked is the most beautiful, and the simpler its
expression the deeper is the impression it makes; this is partly because
it gets unobstructed hold of the hearer's mind without his being
distracted by secondary thoughts, and partly because he feels that here
he is not being corrupted or deceived by the arts of rhetoric, but that
the whole effect is got from the thing itself. For instance, what
declamation on the emptiness of human existence could be more impressive
than Job's: _Homo, natus de muliere, brevi vivit tempore, repletus
multis miseriis, qui, tanquam flos, egreditur et conteritur, et fugit
velut umbra_. It is for this very reason that the naive poetry of Goethe
is so incomparably greater than the rhetorical of Schiller. This is also
why many folk-songs have so great an effect upon us. An author should
guard against using all unnecessary rhetorical adornment, all useless
amplification, and in general, just as in architecture he should guard
against an excess of decoration, all superfluity of expression--in other
words, he must aim at _chastity_ of style. Everything that is redundant
has a harmful effect. The law of simplicity and naivete applies to all
fine art, for it is compatible with what is most sublime.

True brevity of expression consists in a man only saying what is worth
saying, while avoiding all diffuse explanations of things which every
one can think out for himself; that is, it consists in his correctly
distinguishing between what is necessary and what is superfluous. On the
other hand, one should never sacrifice clearness, to say nothing of
grammar, for the sake of being brief. To impoverish the expression of a
thought, or to obscure or spoil the meaning of a period for the sake of
using fewer words shows a lamentable want of judgment. And this is
precisely what that false brevity nowadays in vogue is trying to do, for
writers not only leave out words that are to the purpose, but even
grammatical and logical essentials.[7]

_Subjectivity_, which is an error of style in German literature, is,
through the deteriorated condition of literature and neglect of old
languages, becoming more common. By _subjectivity_ I mean when a writer
thinks it sufficient for himself to know what he means and wants to say,
and it is left to the reader to discover what is meant. Without
troubling himself about his reader, he writes as if he were holding a
monologue; whereas it should be a dialogue, and, moreover, a dialogue in
which he must express himself all the more clearly as the questions of
the reader cannot be heard. And it is for this very reason that style
should not be subjective but objective, and for it to be objective the
words must be written in such a way as to directly compel the reader to
think precisely the same as the author thought. This will only be the
case when the author has borne in mind that thoughts, inasmuch as they
follow the law of gravity, pass more easily from head to paper than from
paper to head. Therefore the journey from paper to head must be helped
by every means at his command. When he does this his words have a purely
objective effect, like that of a completed oil painting; while the
subjective style is not much more certain in its effect than spots on
the wall, and it is only the man whose fantasy is accidentally aroused
by them that sees figures; other people only see blurs. The difference
referred to applies to every style of writing as a whole, and it is also
often met with in particular instances; for example, I read in a book
that has just been published: _I have not written to increase the number
of existing books_. This means exactly the opposite of what the writer
had in view, and is nonsense into the bargain.

A man who writes carelessly at once proves that he himself puts no great
value on his own thoughts. For it is only by being convinced of the
truth and importance of our thoughts that there arises in us the
inspiration necessary for the inexhaustible patience to discover the
clearest, finest, and most powerful expression for them; just as one
puts holy relics or priceless works of art in silvern or golden
receptacles. It was for this reason that the old writers--whose
thoughts, expressed in their own words, have lasted for thousands of
years and hence bear the honoured title of classics--wrote with
universal care. Plato, indeed, is said to have written the introduction
to his _Republic_ seven times with different modifications. On the other
hand, the Germans are conspicuous above all other nations for neglect of
style in writing, as they are for neglect of dress, both kinds of
slovenliness which have their source in the German national character.
Just as neglect of dress betrays contempt for the society in which a man
moves, so does a hasty, careless, and bad style show shocking disrespect
for the reader, who then rightly punishes it by not reading the book.


[5] Schopenhauer here gives an example of this bombastic style which
would be of little interest to English readers.--TRANSLATOR.

[6] _Opera et dies_, v. 40.

[7] Schopenhauer here at length points out various common errors in the
writing and speaking of German which would lose significance in a


Kant has written a treatise on _The Vital Powers_; but I should like to
write a dirge on them, since their lavish use in the form of knocking,
hammering, and tumbling things about has made the whole of my life a
daily torment. Certainly there are people, nay, very many, who will
smile at this, because they are not sensitive to noise; it is precisely
these people, however, who are not sensitive to argument, thought,
poetry or art, in short, to any kind of intellectual impression: a fact
to be assigned to the coarse quality and strong texture of their brain
tissues. On the other hand, in the biographies or in other records of
the personal utterances of almost all great writers, I find complaints
of the pain that noise has occasioned to intellectual men. For example,
in the case of Kant, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and indeed when no
mention is made of the matter it is merely because the context did not
lead up to it. I should explain the subject we are treating in this way:
If a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value
as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it
loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more
power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed,
distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it
concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave
mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy
interruption prevents this concentration. This is why the most eminent
intellects have always been strongly averse to any kind of disturbance,
interruption and distraction, and above everything to that violent
interruption which is caused by noise; other people do not take any
particular notice of this sort of thing. The most intelligent of all the
European nations has called "Never interrupt" the eleventh commandment.
But noise is the most impertinent of all interruptions, for it not only
interrupts our own thoughts but disperses them. Where, however, there is
nothing to interrupt, noise naturally will not be felt particularly.
Sometimes a trifling but incessant noise torments and disturbs me for a
time, and before I become distinctly conscious of it I feel it merely as
the effort of thinking becomes more difficult, just as I should feel a
weight on my foot; then I realise what it is.

But to pass from _genus_ to _species_, the truly infernal cracking of
whips in the narrow resounding streets of a town must be denounced as
the most unwarrantable and disgraceful of all noises. It deprives life
of all peace and sensibility. Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the
stupidity and thoughtlessness of mankind as the tolerance of the
cracking of whips. This sudden, sharp crack which paralyses the brain,
destroys all meditation, and murders thought, must cause pain to any one
who has anything like an idea in his head. Hence every crack must
disturb a hundred people applying their minds to some activity, however
trivial it may be; while it disjoints and renders painful the
meditations of the thinker; just like the executioner's axe when it
severs the head from the body. No sound cuts so sharply into the brain
as this cursed cracking of whips; one feels the prick of the whip-cord
in one's brain, which is affected in the same way as the _mimosa pudica_
is by touch, and which lasts the same length of time. With all respect
for the most holy doctrine of utility, I do not see why a fellow who is
removing a load of sand or manure should obtain the privilege of killing
in the bud the thoughts that are springing up in the heads of about ten
thousand people successively. (He is only half-an-hour on the road.)

Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the screaming of children are
abominable; but it is _only_ the cracking of a whip that is the true
murderer of thought. Its object is to destroy every favourable moment
that one now and then may have for reflection. If there were no other
means of urging on an animal than by making this most disgraceful of all
noises, one would forgive its existence. But it is quite the contrary:
this cursed cracking of whips is not only unnecessary but even useless.
The effect that it is intended to have on the horse mentally becomes
quite blunted and ineffective; since the constant abuse of it has
accustomed the horse to the crack, he does not quicken his pace for it.
This is especially noticeable in the unceasing crack of the whip which
comes from an empty vehicle as it is being driven at its slowest rate to
pick up a fare. The slightest touch with the whip would be more
effective. Allowing, however, that it were absolutely necessary to
remind the horse of the presence of the whip by continually cracking it,
a crack that made one hundredth part of the noise would be sufficient.
It is well known that animals in regard to hearing and seeing notice the
slightest indications, even indications that are scarcely perceptible to
ourselves. Trained dogs and canary birds furnish astonishing examples of
this. Accordingly, this cracking of whips must be regarded as something
purely wanton; nay, as an impudent defiance, on the part of those who
work with their hands, offered to those who work with their heads. That
such infamy is endured in a town is a piece of barbarity and injustice,
the more so as it could be easily removed by a police notice requiring
every whip cord to have a knot at the end of it. It would do no harm to
draw the proletariat's attention to the classes above him who work with
their heads; for he has unbounded fear of any kind of head work. A
fellow who rides through the narrow streets of a populous town with
unemployed post-horses or cart-horses, unceasingly cracking with all his
strength a whip several yards long, instantly deserves to dismount and
receive five really good blows with a stick. If all the philanthropists
in the world, together with all the legislators, met in order to bring
forward their reasons for the total abolition of corporal punishment, I
would not be persuaded to the contrary.

But we can see often enough something that is even still worse. I mean a
carter walking alone, and without any horses, through the streets
incessantly cracking his whip. He has become so accustomed to the crack
in consequence of its unwarrantable toleration. Since one looks after
one's body and all its needs in a most tender fashion, is the thinking
mind to be the only thing that never experiences the slightest
consideration or protection, to say nothing of respect? Carters,
sack-bearers (porters), messengers, and such-like, are the beasts of
burden of humanity; they should be treated absolutely with justice,
fairness, forbearance and care, but they ought not to be allowed to
thwart the higher exertions of the human race by wantonly making a
noise. I should like to know how many great and splendid thoughts these
whips have cracked out of the world. If I had any authority, I should
soon produce in the heads of these carters an inseparable _nexus
idearum_ between cracking a whip and receiving a whipping.

Let us hope that those nations with more intelligence and refined
feelings will make a beginning, and then by force of example induce the
Germans to do the same.[8] Meanwhile, hear what Thomas Hood says of them
(_Up the Rhine)_: "_For a musical people they are the most noisy I ever
met with_" That they are so is not due to their being more prone to
making a noise than other people, but to their insensibility, which
springs from obtuseness; they are not disturbed by it in reading or
thinking, because they do not think; they only smoke, which is their
substitute for thought. The general toleration of unnecessary noise, for
instance, of the clashing of doors, which is so extremely ill-mannered
and vulgar, is a direct proof of the dulness and poverty of thought that
one meets with everywhere. In Germany it seems as though it were planned
that no one should think for noise; take the inane drumming that goes on
as an instance. Finally, as far as the literature treated of in this
chapter is concerned, I have only one work to recommend, but it is an
excellent one: I mean a poetical epistle in _terzo rimo_ by the famous
painter Bronzino, entitled "_De' Romori: a Messer Luca Martini_" It
describes fully and amusingly the torture to which one is put by the
many kinds of noises of a small Italian town. It is written in
tragicomic style. This epistle is to be found in _Opere burlesche del
Berni, Aretino ed altri,_ vol. ii. p. 258, apparently published in
Utrecht in 1771.

The nature of our intellect is such that _ideas_ are said to spring by
abstraction from _observations_, so that the latter are in existence
before the former. If this is really what takes place, as is the case
with a man who has merely his own experience as his teacher and book, he
knows quite well which of his observations belong to and are represented
by each of his ideas; he is perfectly acquainted with both, and
accordingly he treats everything correctly that comes before his notice.
We might call this the natural mode of education.

On the other hand, an artificial education is having one's head crammed
full of ideas, derived from hearing others talk, from learning and
reading, before one has anything like an extensive knowledge of the
world as it is and as one sees it. The observations which produce all
these ideas are said to come later on with experience; but until then
these ideas are applied wrongly, and accordingly both things and men are
judged wrongly, seen wrongly, and treated wrongly. And so it is that
education perverts the mind; and this is why, after a long spell of
learning and reading, we enter the world, in our youth, with views that
are partly simple, partly perverted; consequently we comport ourselves
with an air of anxiety at one time, at another of presumption. This is
because our head is full of ideas which we are now trying to make use
of, but almost always apply wrongly. This is the result of [Greek:
hysteron proteron] (putting the cart before the horse), since we are
directly opposing the natural development of our mind by obtaining ideas
first and observations last; for teachers, instead of developing in a
boy his faculties of discernment and judgment, and of thinking for
himself, merely strive to stuff his head full of other people's
thoughts. Subsequently, all the opinions that have sprung from
misapplied ideas have to be rectified by a lengthy experience; and it is
seldom that they are completely rectified. This is why so few men of
learning have such sound common sense as is quite common among the

* * * * *

From what has been said, the principal point in education is that _one's
knowledge of the world begins at the right end;_ and the attainment of
which might be designated as the aim of all education. But, as has been
pointed out, this depends principally on the observation of each thing
preceding the idea one forms of it; further, that narrow ideas precede
broader; so that the whole of one's instruction is given in the order
that the ideas themselves during formation must have followed. But
directly this order is not strictly adhered to, imperfect and
subsequently wrong ideas spring up; and finally there arises a perverted
view of the world in keeping with the nature of the individual--a view
such as almost every one holds for a long time, and most people to the
end of their lives. If a man analyses his own character, he will find
that it was not until he reached a very ripe age, and in some cases
quite unexpectedly, that he was able to rightly and clearly understand
many matters of a quite simple nature.

Previously, there had been an obscure point in his knowledge of the
world which had arisen through his omitting something in his early
education, whether he had been either artificially educated by men or
just naturally by his own experience. Therefore one should try to find
out the strictly natural course of knowledge, so that by keeping
methodically to it children may become acquainted with the affairs of
the world, without getting false ideas into their heads, which
frequently cannot be driven out again. In carrying this out, one must
next take care that children do not use words with which they connect no
clear meaning. Even children have, as a rule, that unhappy tendency of
being satisfied with words instead of wishing to understand things, and
of learning words by heart, so that they may make use of them when they
are in a difficulty. This tendency clings to them afterwards, so that
the knowledge of many learned men becomes mere verbosity.

However, the principal thing must always be to let one's observations
precede one's ideas, and not the reverse as is usually and unfortunately
the case; which may be likened to a child coming into the world with its
feet foremost, or a rhyme begun before thinking of its reason. While the
child's mind has made a very few observations one inculcates it with
ideas and opinions, which are, strictly speaking, prejudices. His
observations and experience are developed through this ready-made
apparatus instead of his ideas being developed out of his own
observations. In viewing the world one sees many things from many sides,
consequently this is not such a short or quick way of learning as that
which makes use of abstract ideas, and quickly comes to a decision about
everything; therefore preconceived ideas will not be rectified until
late, or it may be they are never rectified. For, when a man's view
contradicts his ideas, he will reject at the outset what it renders
evident as one-sided, nay, he will deny it and shut his eyes to it, so
that his preconceived ideas may remain unaffected. And so it happens
that many men go through life full of oddities, caprices, fancies, and
prejudices, until they finally become fixed ideas. He has never
attempted to abstract fundamental ideas from his own observations and
experience, because he has got everything ready-made from other people;
and it is for this very reason that he and countless others are so
insipid and shallow. Instead of such a system, the natural system of
education should be employed in educating children. No idea should be
impregnated but what has come through the medium of observations, or at
any rate been verified by them. A child would have fewer ideas, but they
would be well-grounded and correct. It would learn to measure things
according to its own standard and not according to another's. It would
then never acquire a thousand whims and prejudices which must be
eradicated by the greater part of subsequent experience and education.
Its mind would henceforth be accustomed to thoroughness and clearness;
the child would rely on its own judgment, and be free from prejudices.
And, in general, children should not get to know life, in any aspect
whatever, from the copy before they have learnt it from the original.
Instead, therefore, of hastening to place mere books in their hands, one
should make them gradually acquainted with things and the circumstances
of human life, and above everything one should take care to guide them
to a clear grasp of reality, and to teach them to obtain their ideas
directly from the real world, and to form them in keeping with it--but
not to get them from elsewhere, as from books, fables, or what others
have said--and then later to make use of such ready-made ideas in real
life. The result will be that their heads are full of chimeras and that
some will have a wrong comprehension of things, and others will
fruitlessly endeavour to remodel the world according to those chimeras,
and so get on to wrong paths both in theory and practice. For it is
incredible how much harm is done by false notions which have been
implanted early in life, only to develop later on into prejudices; the
later education which we get from the world and real life must be
employed in eradicating these early ideas. And this is why, as is
related by Diogenes Laertius, Antisthenes gave the following answer:
[Greek: erotaetheis ti ton mathaematon anankaiotaton, ephae, "to kaka
apomathein."] (_Interrogatus quaenam esset disciplina maxime necessaria,
Mala, inquit, dediscere_.)

* * * * *

Children should be kept from all kinds of instruction that may make
errors possible until their sixteenth year, that is to say, from
philosophy, religion, and general views of every description; because it
is the errors that are acquired in early days that remain, as a rule,
ineradicable, and because the faculty of judgment is the last to arrive
at maturity. They should only be interested in such things that make
errors impossible, such as mathematics, in things which are not very
dangerous, such as languages, natural science, history, and so forth; in
general, the branches of knowledge which are to be taken up at any age
must be within reach of the intellect at that age and perfectly
comprehensible to it. Childhood and youth are the time for collecting
data and getting to know specially and thoroughly individual and
particular things. On the other hand, all judgment of a general nature
must at that time be suspended, and final explanations left alone. One
should leave the faculty of judgment alone, as it only comes with
maturity and experience, and also take care that one does not anticipate
it by inculcating prejudice, when it will be crippled for ever.

On the contrary, the memory is to be specially exercised, as it has its
greatest strength and tenacity in youth; however, what has to be
retained must be chosen with the most careful and scrupulous
consideration. For as it is what we have learnt well in our youth that
lasts, we should take the greatest possible advantage of this precious
gift. If we picture to ourselves how deeply engraven on our memory the
people are whom we knew during the first twelve years of our life, and
how indelibly imprinted are also the events of that time, and most of
the things that we then experienced, heard, or learnt, the idea of
basing education on this susceptibility and tenacity of the youthful
mind will seem natural; in that the mind receives its impressions
according to a strict method and a regular system. But because the years
of youth that are assigned to man are only few, and the capacity for
remembering, in general, is always limited (and still more so the
capacity for remembering of the individual), everything depends on the
memory being filled with what is most essential and important in any
department of knowledge, to the exclusion of everything else. This
selection should be made by the most capable minds and masters in every
branch of knowledge after the most mature consideration, and the result
of it established. Such a selection must be based on a sifting of
matters which are necessary and important for a man to know in general,
and also for him to know in a particular profession or calling.
Knowledge of the first kind would have to be divided into graduated
courses, like an encyclopaedia, corresponding to the degree of general
culture which each man has attained in his external circumstances; from
a course restricted to what is necessary for primary instruction up to
the matter contained in every branch of the philosophical faculty.
Knowledge of the second kind would, however, be reserved for him who had
really mastered the selection in all its branches. The whole would give
a canon specially devised for intellectual education, which naturally
would require revision every ten years. By such an arrangement the
youthful power of the memory would be put to the best advantage, and it
would furnish the faculty of judgment with excellent material when it
appeared later on.

* * * * *

What is meant by maturity of knowledge is that state of perfection to
which any one individual is able to bring it, when an exact
correspondence has been effected between the whole of his abstract ideas
and his own personal observations: whereby each of his ideas rests
directly or indirectly on a basis of observation, which alone gives it
any real value; and likewise he is able to place every observation that
he makes under the right idea corresponding to it.

_Maturity_ of knowledge is the work of experience alone, and
consequently of time. For the knowledge we acquire from our own
observation is, as a rule, distinct from that we get through abstract
ideas; the former is acquired in the natural way, while the latter comes
through good and bad instruction and what other people have told to us.
Consequently, in youth there is generally little harmony and connection
between our ideas, which mere expressions have fixed, and our real
knowledge, which has been acquired by observation. Later they both
gradually approach and correct each other; but maturity of knowledge
does not exist until they have become quite incorporated. This maturity
is quite independent of that other kind of perfection, the standard of
which may be high or low, I mean the perfection to which the capacities
of an individual may be brought; it is not based on a correspondence
between the abstract and intuitive knowledge, but on the degree of
intensity of each.

The most necessary thing for the practical man is the attainment of an
exact and thorough knowledge of _what is really going on in the world;_
but it is also the most irksome, for a man may continue studying until
old age without having learnt all that is to be learnt; while one can
master the most important things in the sciences in one's youth. In
getting such a knowledge of the world, it is as a novice that the boy
and youth have the first and most difficult lessons to learn; but
frequently even the matured man has still much to learn. The study is of
considerable difficulty in itself, but it is made doubly difficult by
_novels_, which depict the ways of the world and of men who do not exist
in real life. But these are accepted with the credulity of youth, and
become incorporated with the mind; so that now, in the place of purely
negative ignorance, a whole framework of wrong ideas, which are
positively wrong, crops up, subsequently confusing the schooling of
experience and representing the lesson it teaches in a false light. If
the youth was previously in the dark, he will now be led astray by a
will-o'-the-wisp: and with a girl this is still more frequently the
case. They have been deluded into an absolutely false view of life by
reading novels, and expectations have been raised that can never be
fulfilled. This generally has the most harmful effect on their whole
lives. Those men who had neither time nor opportunity to read novels in
their youth, such as those who work with their hands, have decided
advantage over them. Few of these novels are exempt from reproach--nay,
whose effect is contrary to bad. Before all others, for instance, _Gil
Blas_ and the other works of Le Sage (or rather their Spanish
originals); further, _The Vicar of Wakefield_, and to some extent the
novels of Walter Scott. _Don Quixote_ may be regarded as a satirical
presentation of the error in question.


[8] According to a notice from the Munich Society for the Protection of
Animals, the superfluous whipping and cracking were strictly forbidden
in Nuremberg in December 1858.


Ignorance is degrading only when it is found in company with riches.
Want and penury restrain the poor man; his employment takes the place of
knowledge and occupies his thoughts: while rich men who are ignorant
live for their pleasure only, and resemble a beast; as may be seen
daily. They are to be reproached also for not having used wealth and
leisure for that which lends them their greatest value.

When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental
process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following
with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher.
Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part,
done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to
reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our
head is, however, really only the arena of some one else's thoughts. And
so it happens that the person who reads a great deal--that is to say,
almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in
thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself;
just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk. Such,
however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read
themselves stupid. For to read in every spare moment, and to read
constantly, is more paralysing to the mind than constant manual work,
which, at any rate, allows one to follow one's own thoughts. Just as a
spring, through the continual pressure of a foreign body, at last loses
its elasticity, so does the mind if it has another person's thoughts
continually forced upon it. And just as one spoils the stomach by
overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and
choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment. For the more one reads
the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a
tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to
reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one
has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later,
what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.
Indeed, it is the same with mental as with bodily food: scarcely the
fifth part of what a man takes is assimilated; the remainder passes off
in evaporation, respiration, and the like.

From all this it may be concluded that thoughts put down on paper are
nothing more than footprints in the sand: one sees the road the man has
taken, but in order to know what he saw on the way, one requires his

* * * * *

No literary quality can be attained by reading writers who possess it:
be it, for example, persuasiveness, imagination, the gift of drawing
comparisons, boldness or bitterness, brevity or grace, facility of
expression or wit, unexpected contrasts, a laconic manner, naivete, and
the like. But if we are already gifted with these qualities--that is to
say, if we possess them _potentia_--we can call them forth and bring
them to consciousness; we can discern to what uses they are to be put;
we can be strengthened in our inclination, nay, may have courage, to use
them; we can judge by examples the effect of their application and so
learn the correct use of them; and it is only after we have accomplished
all this that we _actu_ possess these qualities. This is the only way in
which reading can form writing, since it teaches us the use to which we
can put our own natural gifts; and in order to do this it must be taken
for granted that these qualities are in us. Without them we learn
nothing from reading but cold, dead mannerisms, and we become mere

* * * * *

The health officer should, in the interest of one's eyes, see that the
smallness of print has a fixed minimum, which must not be exceeded. When
I was in Venice in 1818, at which time the genuine Venetian chain was
still being made, a goldsmith told me that those who made the _catena
fina_ turned blind at thirty.

* * * * *

As the strata of the earth preserve in rows the beings which lived in
former times, so do the shelves of a library preserve in a like manner
the errors of the past and expositions concerning them. Like those
creatures, they too were full of life in their time and made a great
deal of noise; but now they are stiff and fossilised, and only of
interest to the literary palaeontologist.

* * * * *

According to Herodotus, Xerxes wept at the sight of his army, which was
too extensive for him to scan, at the thought that a hundred years hence
not one of all these would be alive. Who would not weep at the thought
in looking over a big catalogue that of all these books not one will be
in existence in ten years' time?

It is the same in literature as in life. Wherever one goes one
immediately comes upon the incorrigible mob of humanity. It exists
everywhere in legions; crowding, soiling everything, like flies in
summer. Hence the numberless bad books, those rank weeds of literature
which extract nourishment from the corn and choke it.

They monopolise the time, money, and attention which really belong to
good books and their noble aims; they are written merely with a view to
making money or procuring places. They are not only useless, but they do
positive harm. Nine-tenths of the whole of our present literature aims
solely at taking a few shillings out of the public's pocket, and to
accomplish this, author, publisher, and reviewer have joined forces.

There is a more cunning and worse trick, albeit a profitable one.
_Litterateurs_, hack-writers, and productive authors have succeeded,
contrary to good taste and the true culture of the age, in bringing the
world _elegante_ into leading-strings, so that they have been taught to
read _a tempo_ and all the same thing--namely, _the newest books_ order
that they may have material for conversation in their social circles.
Bad novels and similar productions from the pen of writers who were once
famous, such as Spindler, Bulwer, Eugene Sue, and so on, serve this
purpose. But what can be more miserable than the fate of a reading
public of this kind, that feels always impelled to read the latest
writings of extremely commonplace authors who write for money only, and
therefore exist in numbers? And for the sake of this they merely know by
name the works of the rare and superior writers, of all ages and

Literary newspapers, since they print the daily smatterings of
commonplace people, are especially a cunning means for robbing from the
aesthetic public the time which should be devoted to the genuine
productions of art for the furtherance of culture.

Hence, in regard to our subject, the art of _not_ reading is highly
important. This consists in not taking a book into one's hand merely
because it is interesting the great public at the time--such as
political or religious pamphlets, novels, poetry, and the like, which
make a noise and reach perhaps several editions in their first and last
years of existence. Remember rather that the man who writes for fools
always finds a large public: and only read for a limited and definite
time exclusively the works of great minds, those who surpass other men
of all times and countries, and whom the voice of fame points to as
such. These alone really educate and instruct.

One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad
books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind.

In order to read what is good one must make it a condition never to read
what is bad; for life is short, and both time and strength limited.

* * * * *

Books are written sometimes about this, sometimes about that great
thinker of former times, and the public reads these books, but not the
works of the man himself. This is because it wants to read only what has
just been printed, and because _similis simili gaudet_, and it finds the
shallow, insipid gossip of some stupid head of to-day more homogeneous
and agreeable than the thoughts of great minds. I have to thank fate,
however, that a fine epigram of A.B. Schlegel, which has since been my
guiding star, came before my notice as a youth:

"Leset fleizig die Alten, die wahren eigentlich Alten
Was die Neuen davon sagen bedeutet nicht viel."

Oh, how like one commonplace mind is to another! How they are all
fashioned in one form! How they all think alike under similar
circumstances, and never differ! This is why their views are so personal
and petty. And a stupid public reads the worthless trash written by
these fellows for no other reason than that it has been printed to-day,
while it leaves the works of great thinkers undisturbed on the

Incredible are the folly and perversity of a public that will leave
unread writings of the noblest and rarest of minds, of all times and all
countries, for the sake of reading the writings of commonplace persons
which appear daily, and breed every year in countless numbers like
flies; merely because these writings have been printed to-day and are
still wet from the press. It would be better if they were thrown on one
side and rejected the day they appeared, as they must be after the lapse
of a few years. They will then afford material for laughter as
illustrating the follies of a former time.

It is because people will only read what is _the newest_ instead of what
is the best of all ages, that writers remain in the narrow circle of
prevailing ideas, and that the age sinks deeper and deeper in its own

* * * * *

There are at all times two literatures which, although scarcely known to
each other, progress side by side--the one real, the other merely
apparent. The former grows into literature that _lasts_. Pursued by
people who live _for_ science or poetry, it goes its way earnestly and
quietly, but extremely slowly; and it produces in Europe scarcely a
dozen works in a century, which, however, are _permanent_. The other
literature is pursued by people who live _on_ science or poetry; it goes
at a gallop amid a great noise and shouting of those taking part, and
brings yearly many thousand works into the market. But after a few years
one asks, Where are they? where is their fame, which was so great
formerly? This class of literature may be distinguished as fleeting, the
other as permanent.


Back to Full Books