The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Studies in Pessimism
Arthur Schopenhauer

Part 1 out of 2







The Essays here presented form a further selection from Schopenhauer's
_Parerga_, brought together under a title which is not to be found
in the original, and does not claim to apply to every chapter in
the volume. The first essay is, in the main, a rendering of the
philosopher's remarks under the heading of _Nachtraege zur Lehre vom
Leiden der Welt_, together with certain parts of another section
entitled _Nachtraege zur Lehre von der Bejahung und Verneinung des
Willens zum Leben_. Such omissions as I have made are directed chiefly
by the desire to avoid repeating arguments already familiar to readers
of the other volumes in this series. The _Dialogue on Immortality_
sums up views expressed at length in the philosopher's chief work, and
treated again in the _Parerga_. The _Psychological Observations_ in
this and the previous volume practically exhaust the chapter of the
original which bears this title.

The essay on _Women_ must not be taken in jest. It expresses
Schopenhauer's serious convictions; and, as a penetrating observer
of the faults of humanity, he may be allowed a hearing on a question
which is just now receiving a good deal of attention among us.



Unless _suffering_ is the direct and immediate object of life, our
existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon
the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and
originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as
serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance. Each separate
misfortune, as it comes, seems, no doubt, to be something exceptional;
but misfortune in general is the rule.

I know of no greater absurdity than that propounded by most systems of
philosophy in declaring evil to be negative in its character. Evil is
just what is positive; it makes its own existence felt. Leibnitz is
particularly concerned to defend this absurdity; and he seeks to
strengthen his position by using a palpable and paltry sophism.[1]
It is the good which is negative; in other words, happiness and
satisfaction always imply some desire fulfilled, some state of pain
brought to an end.

[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_, cf. _Theod_, sec. 153.--Leibnitz
argued that evil is a negative quality--_i.e_., the absence of good; and
that its active and seemingly positive character is an incidental and
not an essential part of its nature. Cold, he said, is only the absence
of the power of heat, and the active power of expansion in freezing
water is an incidental and not an essential part of the nature of cold.
The fact is, that the power of expansion in freezing water is really an
increase of repulsion amongst its molecules; and Schopenhauer is quite
right in calling the whole argument a sophism.]

This explains the fact that we generally find pleasure to be not
nearly so pleasant as we expected, and pain very much more painful.

The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or,
at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader
wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare
the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in
eating the other.

The best consolation in misfortune or affliction of any kind will
be the thought of other people who are in a still worse plight than
yourself; and this is a form of consolation open to every one. But
what an awful fate this means for mankind as a whole!

We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of
the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey.
So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil Fate
may have presently in store for us--sickness, poverty, mutilation,
loss of sight or reason.

No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is
continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but always
coming after us, like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any moment Time
stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the misery of

But misfortune has its uses; for, as our bodily frame would burst
asunder if the pressure of the atmosphere was removed, so, if the
lives of men were relieved of all need, hardship and adversity; if
everything they took in hand were successful, they would be so swollen
with arrogance that, though they might not burst, they would present
the spectacle of unbridled folly--nay, they would go mad. And I may
say, further, that a certain amount of care or pain or trouble is
necessary for every man at all times. A ship without ballast is
unstable and will not go straight.

Certain it is that _work, worry, labor_ and _trouble_, form the lot of
almost all men their whole life long. But if all wishes were fulfilled
as soon as they arose, how would men occupy their lives? what would
they do with their time? If the world were a paradise of luxury and
ease, a land flowing with milk and honey, where every Jack obtained
his Jill at once and without any difficulty, men would either die of
boredom or hang themselves; or there would be wars, massacres, and
murders; so that in the end mankind would inflict more suffering on
itself than it has now to accept at the hands of Nature.

In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like
children in a theatre before the curtain is raised, sitting there
in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a
blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. Could we
foresee it, there are times when children might seem like innocent
prisoners, condemned, not to death, but to life, and as yet all
unconscious of what their sentence means. Nevertheless, every man
desires to reach old age; in other words, a state of life of which it
may be said: "It is bad to-day, and it will be worse to-morrow; and so
on till the worst of all."

If you try to imagine, as nearly as you can, what an amount of misery,
pain and suffering of every kind the sun shines upon in its course,
you will admit that it would be much better if, on the earth as little
as on the moon, the sun were able to call forth the phenomena of life;
and if, here as there, the surface were still in a crystalline state.

Again, you may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing
the blessed calm of non-existence. And, in any case, even though
things have gone with you tolerably well, the longer you live the more
clearly you will feel that, on the whole, life is _a disappointment,
nay, a cheat_.

If two men who were friends in their youth meet again when they are
old, after being separated for a life-time, the chief feeling
they will have at the sight of each other will be one of complete
disappointment at life as a whole; because their thoughts will be
carried back to that earlier time when life seemed so fair as it
lay spread out before them in the rosy light of dawn, promised so
much--and then performed so little. This feeling will so completely
predominate over every other that they will not even consider it
necessary to give it words; but on either side it will be silently
assumed, and form the ground-work of all they have to talk about.

He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits
some time in the conjurer's booth at a fair, and witnesses the
performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to
be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to
deceive, their effect is gone.

While no man is much to be envied for his lot, there are countless
numbers whose fate is to be deplored.

Life is a task to be done. It is a fine thing to say _defunctus est_;
it means that the man has done his task.

If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason
alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather
have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the
burden of existence? or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose
that burden upon it in cold blood.

I shall be told, I suppose, that my philosophy is comfortless--because
I speak the truth; and people prefer to be assured that everything the
Lord has made is good. Go to the priests, then, and leave philosophers
in peace! At any rate, do not ask us to accommodate our doctrines to
the lessons you have been taught. That is what those rascals of sham
philosophers will do for you. Ask them for any doctrine you please,
and you will get it. Your University professors are bound to preach
optimism; and it is an easy and agreeable task to upset their

I have reminded the reader that every state of welfare, every feeling
of satisfaction, is negative in its character; that is to say, it
consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element of
existence. It follows, therefore, that the happiness of any given life
is to be measured, not by its joys and pleasures, but by the extent to
which it has been free from suffering--from positive evil. If this
is the true standpoint, the lower animals appear to enjoy a happier
destiny than man. Let us examine the matter a little more closely.

However varied the forms that human happiness and misery may take,
leading a man to seek the one and shun the other, the material basis
of it all is bodily pleasure or bodily pain. This basis is very
restricted: it is simply health, food, protection from wet and cold,
the satisfaction of the sexual instinct; or else the absence of these
things. Consequently, as far as real physical pleasure is concerned,
the man is not better off than the brute, except in so far as the
higher possibilities of his nervous system make him more sensitive to
every kind of pleasure, but also, it must be remembered, to every kind
of pain. But then compared with the brute, how much stronger are the
passions aroused in him! what an immeasurable difference there is in
the depth and vehemence of his emotions!--and yet, in the one case,
as in the other, all to produce the same result in the end: namely,
health, food, clothing, and so on.

The chief source of all this passion is that thought for what is
absent and future, which, with man, exercises such a powerful
influence upon all he does. It is this that is the real origin of
his cares, his hopes, his fears--emotions which affect him much
more deeply than could ever be the case with those present joys
and sufferings to which the brute is confined. In his powers of
reflection, memory and foresight, man possesses, as it were, a machine
for condensing and storing up his pleasures and his sorrows. But the
brute has nothing of the kind; whenever it is in pain, it is as though
it were suffering for the first time, even though the same thing
should have previously happened to it times out of number. It has
no power of summing up its feelings. Hence its careless and placid
temper: how much it is to be envied! But in man reflection comes in,
with all the emotions to which it gives rise; and taking up the same
elements of pleasure and pain which are common to him and the brute,
it develops his susceptibility to happiness and misery to such a
degree that, at one moment the man is brought in an instant to a state
of delight that may even prove fatal, at another to the depths of
despair and suicide.

If we carry our analysis a step farther, we shall find that, in order
to increase his pleasures, man has intentionally added to the number
and pressure of his needs, which in their original state were not much
more difficult to satisfy than those of the brute. Hence luxury in all
its forms; delicate food, the use of tobacco and opium, spirituous
liquors, fine clothes, and the thousand and one things than he
considers necessary to his existence.

And above and beyond all this, there is a separate and peculiar source
of pleasure, and consequently of pain, which man has established for
himself, also as the result of using his powers of reflection; and
this occupies him out of all proportion to its value, nay, almost more
than all his other interests put together--I mean ambition and the
feeling of honor and shame; in plain words, what he thinks about the
opinion other people have of him. Taking a thousand forms, often very
strange ones, this becomes the goal of almost all the efforts he makes
that are not rooted in physical pleasure or pain. It is true that
besides the sources of pleasure which he has in common with the
brute, man has the pleasures of the mind as well. These admit of many
gradations, from the most innocent trifling or the merest talk up to
the highest intellectual achievements; but there is the accompanying
boredom to be set against them on the side of suffering. Boredom is
a form of suffering unknown to brutes, at any rate in their natural
state; it is only the very cleverest of them who show faint traces
of it when they are domesticated; whereas in the case of man it has
become a downright scourge. The crowd of miserable wretches whose one
aim in life is to fill their purses but never to put anything into
their heads, offers a singular instance of this torment of boredom.
Their wealth becomes a punishment by delivering them up to misery of
having nothing to do; for, to escape it, they will rush about in all
directions, traveling here, there and everywhere. No sooner do they
arrive in a place than they are anxious to know what amusements it
affords; just as though they were beggars asking where they could
receive a dole! Of a truth, need and boredom are the two poles
of human life. Finally, I may mention that as regards the sexual
relation, a man is committed to a peculiar arrangement which drives
him obstinately to choose one person. This feeling grows, now and
then, into a more or less passionate love,[1] which is the source of
little pleasure and much suffering.

[Footnote 1: I have treated this subject at length in a special
chapter of the second volume of my chief work.]

It is, however, a wonderful thing that the mere addition of thought
should serve to raise such a vast and lofty structure of human
happiness and misery; resting, too, on the same narrow basis of joy
and sorrow as man holds in common with the brute, and exposing him
to such violent emotions, to so many storms of passion, so much
convulsion of feeling, that what he has suffered stands written and
may be read in the lines on his face. And yet, when all is told, he
has been struggling ultimately for the very same things as the brute
has attained, and with an incomparably smaller expenditure of passion
and pain.

But all this contributes to increase the measures of suffering in
human life out of all proportion to its pleasures; and the pains of
life are made much worse for man by the fact that death is something
very real to him. The brute flies from death instinctively without
really knowing what it is, and therefore without ever contemplating it
in the way natural to a man, who has this prospect always before his
eyes. So that even if only a few brutes die a natural death, and most
of them live only just long enough to transmit their species, and
then, if not earlier, become the prey of some other animal,--whilst
man, on the other hand, manages to make so-called natural death the
rule, to which, however, there are a good many exceptions,--the
advantage is on the side of the brute, for the reason stated above.
But the fact is that man attains the natural term of years just as
seldom as the brute; because the unnatural way in which he lives, and
the strain of work and emotion, lead to a degeneration of the race;
and so his goal is not often reached.

The brute is much more content with mere existence than man; the plant
is wholly so; and man finds satisfaction in it just in proportion as
he is dull and obtuse. Accordingly, the life of the brute carries less
of sorrow with it, but also less of joy, when compared with the life
of man; and while this may be traced, on the one side, to freedom from
the torment of _care_ and _anxiety_, it is also due to the fact
that _hope_, in any real sense, is unknown to the brute. It is thus
deprived of any share in that which gives us the most and best of our
joys and pleasures, the mental anticipation of a happy future, and the
inspiriting play of phantasy, both of which we owe to our power of
imagination. If the brute is free from care, it is also, in this
sense, without hope; in either case, because its consciousness is
limited to the present moment, to what it can actually see before
it. The brute is an embodiment of present impulses, and hence what
elements of fear and hope exist in its nature--and they do not go very
far--arise only in relation to objects that lie before it and within
reach of those impulses: whereas a man's range of vision embraces the
whole of his life, and extends far into the past and future.

Following upon this, there is one respect in which brutes show real
wisdom when compared with us--I mean, their quiet, placid enjoyment of
the present moment. The tranquillity of mind which this seems to give
them often puts us to shame for the many times we allow our thoughts
and our cares to make us restless and discontented. And, in fact,
those pleasures of hope and anticipation which I have been mentioning
are not to be had for nothing. The delight which a man has in hoping
for and looking forward to some special satisfaction is a part of the
real pleasure attaching to it enjoyed in advance. This is afterwards
deducted; for the more we look forward to anything, the less
satisfaction we find in it when it comes. But the brute's enjoyment
is not anticipated, and therefore, suffers no deduction; so that the
actual pleasure of the moment comes to it whole and unimpaired. In the
same way, too, evil presses upon the brute only with its own intrinsic
weight; whereas with us the fear of its coming often makes its burden
ten times more grievous.

It is just this characteristic way in which the brute gives itself up
entirely to the present moment that contributes so much to the delight
we take in our domestic pets. They are the present moment personified,
and in some respects they make us feel the value of every hour that
is free from trouble and annoyance, which we, with our thoughts and
preoccupations, mostly disregard. But man, that selfish and heartless
creature, misuses this quality of the brute to be more content than we
are with mere existence, and often works it to such an extent that he
allows the brute absolutely nothing more than mere, bare life. The
bird which was made so that it might rove over half of the world, he
shuts up into the space of a cubic foot, there to die a slow death in
longing and crying for freedom; for in a cage it does not sing for
the pleasure of it. And when I see how man misuses the dog, his best
friend; how he ties up this intelligent animal with a chain, I feel
the deepest sympathy with the brute and burning indignation against
its master.

We shall see later that by taking a very high standpoint it is
possible to justify the sufferings of mankind. But this justification
cannot apply to animals, whose sufferings, while in a great measure
brought about by men, are often considerable even apart from their
agency.[1] And so we are forced to ask, Why and for what purpose does
all this torment and agony exist? There is nothing here to give the
will pause; it is not free to deny itself and so obtain redemption.
There is only one consideration that may serve to explain the
sufferings of animals. It is this: that the will to live, which
underlies the whole world of phenomena, must, in their case satisfy
its cravings by feeding upon itself. This it does by forming a
gradation of phenomena, every one of which exists at the expense of
another. I have shown, however, that the capacity for suffering is
less in animals than in man. Any further explanation that may be given
of their fate will be in the nature of hypothesis, if not actually
mythical in its character; and I may leave the reader to speculate
upon the matter for himself.

[Footnote 1: Cf. _Welt als Wille und Vorstellung_, vol. ii. p. 404.]

_Brahma_ is said to have produced the world by a kind of fall or
mistake; and in order to atone for his folly, he is bound to remain
in it himself until he works out his redemption. As an account of the
origin of things, that is admirable! According to the doctrines
of _Buddhism_, the world came into being as the result of some
inexplicable disturbance in the heavenly calm of Nirvana, that blessed
state obtained by expiation, which had endured so long a time--the
change taking place by a kind of fatality. This explanation must be
understood as having at bottom some moral bearing; although it is
illustrated by an exactly parallel theory in the domain of physical
science, which places the origin of the sun in a primitive streak of
mist, formed one knows not how. Subsequently, by a series of moral
errors, the world became gradually worse and worse--true of the
physical orders as well--until it assumed the dismal aspect it wears
to-day. Excellent! The _Greeks_ looked upon the world and the gods as
the work of an inscrutable necessity. A passable explanation: we may
be content with it until we can get a better. Again, _Ormuzd_ and
_Ahriman_ are rival powers, continually at war. That is not bad. But
that a God like Jehovah should have created this world of misery and
woe, out of pure caprice, and because he enjoyed doing it, and should
then have clapped his hands in praise of his own work, and declared
everything to be very good--that will not do at all! In its
explanation of the origin of the world, Judaism is inferior to any
other form of religious doctrine professed by a civilized nation;
and it is quite in keeping with this that it is the only one which
presents no trace whatever of any belief in the immortality of the

[Footnote 1: See _Parerga_, vol. i. pp. 139 _et seq_.]

Even though Leibnitz' contention, that this is the best of all
possible worlds, were correct, that would not justify God in having
created it. For he is the Creator not of the world only, but of
possibility itself; and, therefore, he ought to have so ordered
possibility as that it would admit of something better.

There are two things which make it impossible to believe that this
world is the successful work of an all-wise, all-good, and, at the
same time, all-powerful Being; firstly, the misery which abounds in
it everywhere; and secondly, the obvious imperfection of its highest
product, man, who is a burlesque of what he should be. These things
cannot be reconciled with any such belief. On the contrary, they are
just the facts which support what I have been saying; they are our
authority for viewing the world as the outcome of our own misdeeds,
and therefore, as something that had better not have been. Whilst,
under the former hypothesis, they amount to a bitter accusation
against the Creator, and supply material for sarcasm; under the latter
they form an indictment against our own nature, our own will, and
teach us a lesson of humility. They lead us to see that, like the
children of a libertine, we come into the world with the burden of sin
upon us; and that it is only through having continually to atone for
this sin that our existence is so miserable, and that its end is

There is nothing more certain than the general truth that it is the
grievous _sin of the world_ which has produced the grievous _suffering
of the world_. I am not referring here to the physical connection
between these two things lying in the realm of experience; my meaning
is metaphysical. Accordingly, the sole thing that reconciles me to the
Old Testament is the story of the Fall. In my eyes, it is the only
metaphysical truth in that book, even though it appears in the form of
an allegory. There seems to me no better explanation of our existence
than that it is the result of some false step, some sin of which
we are paying the penalty. I cannot refrain from recommending the
thoughtful reader a popular, but at the same time, profound treatise
on this subject by Claudius[1] which exhibits the essentially
pessimistic spirit of Christianity. It is entitled: _Cursed is the
ground for thy sake_.

[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_.--Matthias Claudius (1740-1815), a
popular poet, and friend of Klopstock, Herder and Leasing. He edited
the _Wandsbecker Bote_, in the fourth part of which appeared the
treatise mentioned above. He generally wrote under the pseudonym of
_Asmus_, and Schopenhauer often refers to him by this name.]

Between the ethics of the Greeks and the ethics of the Hindoos, there
is a glaring contrast. In the one case (with the exception, it must be
confessed, of Plato), the object of ethics is to enable a man to lead
a happy life; in the other, it is to free and redeem him from life
altogether--as is directly stated in the very first words of the
_Sankhya Karika_.

Allied with this is the contrast between the Greek and the Christian
idea of death. It is strikingly presented in a visible form on a fine
antique sarcophagus in the gallery of Florence, which exhibits, in
relief, the whole series of ceremonies attending a wedding in ancient
times, from the formal offer to the evening when Hymen's torch lights
the happy couple home. Compare with that the Christian coffin,
draped in mournful black and surmounted with a crucifix! How much
significance there is in these two ways of finding comfort in death.
They are opposed to each other, but each is right. The one points to
the _affirmation_ of the will to live, which remains sure of life for
all time, however rapidly its forms may change. The other, in the
symbol of suffering and death, points to the _denial_ of the will to
live, to redemption from this world, the domain of death and devil.
And in the question between the affirmation and the denial of the will
to live, Christianity is in the last resort right.

The contrast which the New Testament presents when compared with the
Old, according to the ecclesiastical view of the matter, is just that
existing between my ethical system and the moral philosophy of Europe.
The Old Testament represents man as under the dominion of Law, in
which, however, there is no redemption. The New Testament declares
Law to have failed, frees man from its dominion,[1] and in its stead
preaches the kingdom of grace, to be won by faith, love of neighbor
and entire sacrifice of self. This is the path of redemption from the
evil of the world. The spirit of the New Testament is undoubtedly
asceticism, however your protestants and rationalists may twist it to
suit their purpose. Asceticism is the denial of the will to live; and
the transition from the Old Testament to the New, from the dominion
of Law to that of Faith, from justification by works to redemption
through the Mediator, from the domain of sin and death to eternal life
in Christ, means, when taken in its real sense, the transition from
the merely moral virtues to the denial of the will to live. My
philosophy shows the metaphysical foundation of justice and the love
of mankind, and points to the goal to which these virtues necessarily
lead, if they are practised in perfection. At the same time it is
candid in confessing that a man must turn his back upon the world, and
that the denial of the will to live is the way of redemption. It is
therefore really at one with the spirit of the New Testament, whilst
all other systems are couched in the spirit of the Old; that is
to say, theoretically as well as practically, their result is
Judaism--mere despotic theism. In this sense, then, my doctrine might
be called the only true Christian philosophy--however paradoxical a
statement this may seem to people who take superficial views instead
of penetrating to the heart of the matter.

[Footnote 1: Cf. Romans vii; Galatians ii, iii.]

If you want a safe compass to guide you through life, and to banish
all doubt as to the right way of looking at it, you cannot do better
than accustom yourself to regard this world as a penitentiary, a
sort of a penal colony, or [Greek: ergastaerion] as the earliest
philosopher called it.[1] Amongst the Christian Fathers, Origen, with
praiseworthy courage, took this view,[2] which is further justified by
certain objective theories of life. I refer, not to my own philosophy
alone, but to the wisdom of all ages, as expressed in Brahmanism and
Buddhism, and in the sayings of Greek philosophers like Empedocles and
Pythagoras; as also by Cicero, in his remark that the wise men of old
used to teach that we come into this world to pay the penalty of crime
committed in another state of existence--a doctrine which formed
part of the initiation into the mysteries.[3] And Vanini--whom his
contemporaries burned, finding that an easier task than to confute
him--puts the same thing in a very forcible way. _Man_, he says, _is
so full of every kind of misery that, were it not repugnant to the
Christian religion, I should venture to affirm that if evil spirits
exist at all, they have posed into human form and are now atoning for
their crimes_.[4] And true Christianity--using the word in its right
sense--also regards our existence as the consequence of sin and error.

[Footnote 1: Cf. Clem. Alex. Strom. L. iii, c, 3, p. 399.]

[Footnote 2: Augustine _de civitate Dei_., L. xi. c. 23.]

[Footnote 3: Cf. _Fragmenta de philosophia_.]

[Footnote: 4: _De admirandis naturae arcanis_; dial L. p. 35.]

If you accustom yourself to this view of life you will regulate your
expectations accordingly, and cease to look upon all its disagreeable
incidents, great and small, its sufferings, its worries, its misery,
as anything unusual or irregular; nay, you will find that everything
is as it should be, in a world where each of us pays the penalty of
existence in his own peculiar way. Amongst the evils of a penal colony
is the society of those who form it; and if the reader is worthy of
better company, he will need no words from me to remind him of what he
has to put up with at present. If he has a soul above the common, or
if he is a man of genius, he will occasionally feel like some noble
prisoner of state, condemned to work in the galleys with common
criminals; and he will follow his example and try to isolate himself.

In general, however, it should be said that this view of life will
enable us to contemplate the so-called imperfections of the great
majority of men, their moral and intellectual deficiencies and the
resulting base type of countenance, without any surprise, to say
nothing of indignation; for we shall never cease to reflect where we
are, and that the men about us are beings conceived and born in
sin, and living to atone for it. That is what Christianity means in
speaking of the sinful nature of man.

_Pardon's the word to all_! [1] Whatever folly men commit, be
their shortcomings or their vices what they may, let us exercise
forbearance; remembering that when these faults appear in others, it
is our follies and vices that we behold. They are the shortcomings of
humanity, to which we belong; whose faults, one and all, we share;
yes, even those very faults at which we now wax so indignant, merely
because they have not yet appeared in ourselves. They are faults that
do not lie on the surface. But they exist down there in the depths of
our nature; and should anything call them forth, they will come and
show themselves, just as we now see them in others. One man, it
is true, may have faults that are absent in his fellow; and it is
undeniable that the sum total of bad qualities is in some cases very
large; for the difference of individuality between man and man passes
all measure.

[Footnote 1: "Cymbeline," Act v. Sc. 5.]

In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had
better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards
one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the
proper form of address to be, not _Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr_, but _my
fellow-sufferer, Soci malorum, compagnon de miseres_! This may perhaps
sound strange, but it is in keeping with the facts; it puts others in
a right light; and it reminds us of that which is after all the most
necessary thing in life--the tolerance, patience, regard, and love
of neighbor, of which everyone stands in need, and which, therefore,
every man owes to his fellow.


This vanity finds expression in the whole way in which things exist;
in the infinite nature of Time and Space, as opposed to the finite
nature of the individual in both; in the ever-passing present moment
as the only mode of actual existence; in the interdependence and
relativity of all things; in continual Becoming without ever Being; in
constant wishing and never being satisfied; in the long battle
which forms the history of life, where every effort is checked by
difficulties, and stopped until they are overcome. Time is that in
which all things pass away; it is merely the form under which the will
to live--the thing-in-itself and therefore imperishable--has revealed
to it that its efforts are in vain; it is that agent by which at every
moment all things in our hands become as nothing, and lose any real
value they possess.

That which _has been_ exists no more; it exists as little as that
which has _never_ been. But of everything that exists you must say, in
the next moment, that it has been. Hence something of great importance
now past is inferior to something of little importance now present, in
that the latter is a _reality_, and related to the former as something
to nothing.

A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing,
after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for
a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he
must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that
it cannot be true. The crudest intellect cannot speculate on such a
subject without having a presentiment that Time is something ideal in
its nature. This ideality of Time and Space is the key to every true
system of metaphysics; because it provides for quite another order of
things than is to be met with in the domain of nature. This is why
Kant is so great.

Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it
_is_; for ever after, that it _was_. Every evening we are poorer by a
day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span
of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our
being we are secretly conscious of our share in the exhaustible spring
of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

Consideration of the kind, touched on above, might, indeed, lead us to
embrace the belief that the greatest _wisdom_ is to make the enjoyment
of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only
reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand,
such a course might just as well be called the greatest _folly_: for
that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly,
like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.

The whole foundation on which our existence rests is the present--the
ever-fleeting present. It lies, then, in the very nature of our
existence to take the form of constant motion, and to offer no
possibility of our ever attaining the rest for which we are always
striving. We are like a man running downhill, who cannot keep on his
legs unless he runs on, and will inevitably fall if he stops; or,
again, like a pole balanced on the tip of one's finger; or like a
planet, which would fall into its sun the moment it ceased to hurry
forward on its way. Unrest is the mark of existence.

In a world where all is unstable, and nought can endure, but is swept
onwards at once in the hurrying whirlpool of change; where a man, if
he is to keep erect at all, must always be advancing and moving, like
an acrobat on a rope--in such a world, happiness in inconceivable.
How can it dwell where, as Plato says, _continual Becoming and never
Being_ is the sole form of existence? In the first place, a man never
is happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which
he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he
does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the
end, and comes into harbor with masts and rigging gone. And then, it
is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was
never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it
is over.

At the same time it is a wonderful thing that, in the world of human
beings as in that of animals in general, this manifold restless motion
is produced and kept up by the agency of two simple impulses--hunger
and the sexual instinct; aided a little, perhaps, by the influence of
boredom, but by nothing else; and that, in the theatre of life, these
suffice to form the _primum mobile_ of how complicated a machinery,
setting in motion how strange and varied a scene!

On looking a little closer, we find that inorganic matter presents
a constant conflict between chemical forces, which eventually works
dissolution; and on the other hand, that organic life is impossible
without continual change of matter, and cannot exist if it does not
receive perpetual help from without. This is the realm of _finality_;
and its opposite would be _an infinite existence_, exposed to no
attack from without, and needing nothing to support it; [Greek: haei
hosautos dn], the realm of eternal peace; [Greek: oute giguomenon oute
apollumenon], some timeless, changeless state, one and undiversified;
the negative knowledge of which forms the dominant note of the
Platonic philosophy. It is to some such state as this that the denial
of the will to live opens up the way.

The scenes of our life are like pictures done in rough mosaic. Looked
at close, they produce no effect. There is nothing beautiful to
be found in them, unless you stand some distance off. So, to gain
anything we have longed for is only to discover how vain and empty
it is; and even though we are always living in expectation of better
things, at the same time we often repent and long to have the past
back again. We look upon the present as something to be put up with
while it lasts, and serving only as the way towards our goal. Hence
most people, if they glance back when they come to the end of life,
will find that all along they have been living _ad interim_: they will
be surprised to find that the very thing they disregarded and let
slip by unenjoyed, was just the life in the expectation of which they
passed all their time. Of how many a man may it not be said that hope
made a fool of him until he danced into the arms of death!

Then again, how insatiable a creature is man! Every satisfaction he
attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to
the wishes of each individual will. And why is this? The real reason
is simply that, taken in itself, Will is the lord of all worlds:
everything belongs to it, and therefore no one single thing can ever
give it satisfaction, but only the whole, which is endless. For all
that, it must rouse our sympathy to think how very little the Will,
this lord of the world, really gets when it takes the form of an
individual; usually only just enough to keep the body together. This
is why man is so very miserable.

Life presents itself chiefly as a task--the task, I mean, of
subsisting at all, _gagner sa vie_. If this is accomplished, life is a
burden, and then there comes the second task of doing something with
that which has been won--of warding off boredom, which, like a bird
of prey, hovers over us, ready to fall wherever it sees a life secure
from need. The first task is to win something; the second, to banish
the feeling that it has been won; otherwise it is a burden.

Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be
sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of
needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are
satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing
remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that
existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the
feeling of the emptiness of life? If life--the craving for which
is the very essence of our being--were possessed of any positive
intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere
existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.
But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are
struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be
overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us--an illusion
which vanishes when we reach it; or else when we are occupied with
some purely intellectual interest--when in reality we have stepped
forth from life to look upon it from the outside, much after the
manner of spectators at a play. And even sensual pleasure itself means
nothing but a struggle and aspiration, ceasing the moment its aim is
attained. Whenever we are not occupied in one of these ways, but cast
upon existence itself, its vain and worthless nature is brought home
to us; and this is what we mean by boredom. The hankering after what
is strange and uncommon--an innate and ineradicable tendency of human
nature--shows how glad we are at any interruption of that natural
course of affairs which is so very tedious.

That this most perfect manifestation of the will to live, the human
organism, with the cunning and complex working of its machinery,
must fall to dust and yield up itself and all its strivings to
extinction--this is the naive way in which Nature, who is always so
true and sincere in what she says, proclaims the whole struggle of
this will as in its very essence barren and unprofitable. Were it of
any value in itself, anything unconditioned and absolute, it could not
thus end in mere nothing.

If we turn from contemplating the world as a whole, and, in
particular, the generations of men as they live their little hour of
mock-existence and then are swept away in rapid succession; if we turn
from this, and look at life in its small details, as presented, say,
in a comedy, how ridiculous it all seems! It is like a drop of water
seen through a microscope, a single drop teeming with _infusoria_; or
a speck of cheese full of mites invisible to the naked eye. How we
laugh as they bustle about so eagerly, and struggle with one another
in so tiny a space! And whether here, or in the little span of human
life, this terrible activity produces a comic effect.

It is only in the microscope that our life looks so big. It is an
indivisible point, drawn out and magnified by the powerful lenses of
Time and Space.


As far as I know, none but the votaries of monotheistic, that is to
say, Jewish religions, look upon suicide as a crime. This is all the
more striking, inasmuch as neither in the Old nor in the New Testament
is there to be found any prohibition or positive disapproval of it;
so that religious teachers are forced to base their condemnation of
suicide on philosophical grounds of their own invention. These are
so very bad that writers of this kind endeavor to make up for the
weakness of their arguments by the strong terms in which they express
their abhorrence of the practice; in other words, they declaim against
it. They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice; that
only a madman could be guilty of it; and other insipidities of the
same kind; or else they make the nonsensical remark that suicide is
_wrong_; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world
to which every mail has a more unassailable title than to his own life
and person.

Suicide, as I have said, is actually accounted a crime; and a crime
which, especially under the vulgar bigotry that prevails in England,
is followed by an ignominious burial and the seizure of the man's
property; and for that reason, in a case of suicide, the jury almost
always brings in a verdict of insanity. Now let the reader's own moral
feelings decide as to whether or not suicide is a criminal act. Think
of the impression that would be made upon you by the news that some
one you know had committed the crime, say, of murder or theft, or been
guilty of some act of cruelty or deception; and compare it with your
feelings when you hear that he has met a voluntary death. While in the
one case a lively sense of indignation and extreme resentment will be
aroused, and you will call loudly for punishment or revenge, in the
other you will be moved to grief and sympathy; and mingled with your
thoughts will be admiration for his courage, rather than the moral
disapproval which follows upon a wicked action. Who has not had
acquaintances, friends, relations, who of their own free will have
left this world; and are these to be thought of with horror as
criminals? Most emphatically, No! I am rather of opinion that the
clergy should be challenged to explain what right they have to go into
the pulpit, or take up their pens, and stamp as a crime an action
which many men whom we hold in affection and honor have committed;
and to refuse an honorable burial to those who relinquish this
world voluntarily. They have no Biblical authority to boast of,
as justifying their condemnation of suicide; nay, not even any
philosophical arguments that will hold water; and it must be
understood that it is arguments we want, and that we will not be put
off with mere phrases or words of abuse. If the criminal law forbids
suicide, that is not an argument valid in the Church; and besides, the
prohibition is ridiculous; for what penalty can frighten a man who is
not afraid of death itself? If the law punishes people for trying
to commit suicide, it is punishing the want of skill that makes the
attempt a failure.

The ancients, moreover, were very far from regarding the matter in
that light. Pliny says: _Life is not so desirable a thing as to be
protracted at any cost. Whoever you are, you are sure to die, even
though your life has been full of abomination and crime. The chief
of all remedies for a troubled mind is the feeling that among the
blessings which Nature gives to man, there is none greater than an
opportune death; and the best of it is that every one can avail
himself of it.[1]_ And elsewhere the same writer declares: _Not even
to God are all things possible; for he could not compass his own
death, if he willed to die, and yet in all the miseries of our earthly
life, this is the best of his gifts to man.[2]_ Nay, in Massilia
and on the isle of Ceos, the man who could give valid reasons
for relinquishing his life, was handed the cup of hemlock by the
magistrate; and that, too, in public.[3] And in ancient times, how
many heroes and wise men died a voluntary death. Aristotle,[4] it is
true, declared suicide to be an offence against the State, although
not against the person; but in Stobaeus' exposition of the Peripatetic
philosophy there is the following remark: _The good man should flee
life when his misfortunes become too great; the bad man, also, when
he is too prosperous_. And similarly: _So he will marry and beget
children and take part in the affairs of the State, and, generally,
practice virtue and continue to live; and then, again, if need be,
and at any time necessity compels him, he will depart to his place of
refuge in the tomb.[5]_ And we find that the Stoics actually praised
suicide as a noble and heroic action, as hundreds of passages show;
above all in the works of Seneca, who expresses the strongest approval
of it. As is well known, the Hindoos look upon suicide as a religious
act, especially when it takes the form of self-immolation by widows;
but also when it consists in casting oneself under the wheels of the
chariot of the god at Juggernaut, or being eaten by crocodiles in the
Ganges, or being drowned in the holy tanks in the temples, and so on.
The same thing occurs on the stage--that mirror of life. For example,
in _L'Orphelin de la Chine_[6] a celebrated Chinese play, almost
all the noble characters end by suicide; without the slightest hint
anywhere, or any impression being produced on the spectator, that
they are committing a crime. And in our own theatre it is much the
same--Palmira, for instance, in _Mahomet_, or Mortimer in _Maria
Stuart_, Othello, Countess Terzky.[7] Is Hamlet's monologue the
meditation of a criminal? He merely declares that if we had any
certainty of being annihilated by it, death would be infinitely
preferable to the world as it is. But _there lies the rub_!

[Footnote 1: Hist. Nat. Lib. xxviii., 1.]

[Footnote 2: Loc. cit. Lib. ii. c. 7.]

[Footnote 3: 3 Valerius Maximus; hist. Lib. ii., c. 6, sec. 7 et 8.
Heraclides Ponticus; fragmenta de rebus publicis, ix. Aeliani variae
historiae, iii., 37. Strabo; Lib. x., c. 5, 6.]

[Footnote 4: _Eth. Nichom_., v. 15.]

[Footnote 5: Stobaeus. _Ecl. Eth_.. ii., c. 7, pp. 286, 312]

[Footnote 6: Traduit par St. Julien, 1834.]

[Footnote 7: _Translator's Note_.--Palmira: a female slave in Goethe's
play of _Mahomet_. Mortimer: a would-be lover and rescuer of Mary in
Schiller's _Maria Stuart_. Countess Terzky: a leading character in
Schiller's _Wallenstein's Tod_.]

The reasons advanced against suicide by the clergy of monotheistic,
that is to say, Jewish religions, and by those philosophers who adapt
themselves thereto, are weak sophisms which can easily be refuted.[1]
The most thorough-going refutation of them is given by Hume in his
_Essay on Suicide_. This did not appeal until after his death, when
it was immediately suppressed, owing to the scandalous bigotry and
outrageous ecclesiastical tyranny that prevailed in England; and hence
only a very few copies of it were sold under cover of secrecy and at a
high price. This and another treatise by that great man have come to
us from Basle, and we may be thankful for the reprint.[2] It is a
great disgrace to the English nation that a purely philosophical
treatise, which, proceeding from one of the first thinkers and writers
in England, aimed at refuting the current arguments against suicide
by the light of cold reason, should be forced to sneak about in that
country, as though it were some rascally production, until at last it
found refuge on the Continent. At the same time it shows what a good
conscience the Church has in such matters.

[Footnote 1: See my treatise on the _Foundation of Morals_, sec. 5.]

[Footnote 2: _Essays on Suicide_ and the _Immortality of the Soul_, by
the late David Hume, Basle, 1799, sold by James Decker.]

In my chief work I have explained the only valid reason existing
against suicide on the score of mortality. It is this: that suicide
thwarts the attainment of the highest moral aim by the fact that, for
a real release from this world of misery, it substitutes one that is
merely apparent. But from a _mistake_ to a _crime_ is a far cry; and
it is as a crime that the clergy of Christendom wish us to regard

The inmost kernel of Christianity is the truth that suffering--_the
Cross_--is the real end and object of life. Hence Christianity
condemns suicide as thwarting this end; whilst the ancient world,
taking a lower point of view, held it in approval, nay, in honor.[1]
But if that is to be accounted a valid reason against suicide, it
involves the recognition of asceticism; that is to say, it is valid
only from a much higher ethical standpoint than has ever been adopted
by moral philosophers in Europe. If we abandon that high standpoint,
there is no tenable reason left, on the score of morality, for
condemning suicide. The extraordinary energy and zeal with which the
clergy of monotheistic religions attack suicide is not supported
either by any passages in the Bible or by any considerations of
weight; so that it looks as though they must have some secret reason
for their contention. May it not be this--that the voluntary surrender
of life is a bad compliment for him who said that _all things were
very good_? If this is so, it offers another instance of the crass
optimism of these religions,--denouncing suicide to escape being
denounced by it.

[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_.--Schopenhauer refers to _Die Welt
als Wille und Vorstellung_, vol. i., sec. 69, where the reader may find
the same argument stated at somewhat greater length. According to
Schopenhauer, moral freedom--the highest ethical aim--is to be
obtained only by a denial of the will to live. Far from being a
denial, suicide is an emphatic assertion of this will. For it is in
fleeing from the pleasures, not from the sufferings of life, that this
denial consists. When a man destroys his existence as an individual,
he is not by any means destroying his will to live. On the contrary,
he would like to live if he could do so with satisfaction to himself;
if he could assert his will against the power of circumstance; but
circumstance is too strong for him.]

It will generally be found that, as soon as the terrors of life reach
the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will
put an end to his life. But the terrors of death offer considerable
resistance; they stand like a sentinel at the gate leading out of this
world. Perhaps there is no man alive who would not have already put an
end to his life, if this end had been of a purely negative character,
a sudden stoppage of existence. There is something positive about
it; it is the destruction of the body; and a man shrinks from that,
because his body is the manifestation of the will to live.

However, the struggle with that sentinel is, as a rule, not so hard
as it may seem from a long way off, mainly in consequence of the
antagonism between the ills of the body and the ills of the mind. If
we are in great bodily pain, or the pain lasts a long time, we become
indifferent to other troubles; all we think about is to get well. In
the same way great mental suffering makes us insensible to bodily
pain; we despise it; nay, if it should outweigh the other, it
distracts our thoughts, and we welcome it as a pause in mental
suffering. It is this feeling that makes suicide easy; for the bodily
pain that accompanies it loses all significance in the eyes of one
who is tortured by an excess of mental suffering. This is especially
evident in the case of those who are driven to suicide by some purely
morbid and exaggerated ill-humor. No special effort to overcome their
feelings is necessary, nor do such people require to be worked up in
order to take the step; but as soon as the keeper into whose charge
they are given leaves them for a couple of minutes, they quickly bring
their life to an end.

When, in some dreadful and ghastly dream, we reach the moment of
greatest horror, it awakes us; thereby banishing all the hideous
shapes that were born of the night. And life is a dream: when the
moment of greatest horror compels us to break it off, the same thing

Suicide may also be regarded as an experiment--a question which man
puts to Nature, trying to force her to an answer. The question is
this: What change will death produce in a man's existence and in his
insight into the nature of things? It is a clumsy experiment to make;
for it involves the destruction of the very consciousness which puts
the question and awaits the answer.


[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_.--The word
immortality--_Unsterblichkeit_--does not occur in the original; nor
would it, in its usual application, find a place in Schopenhauer's
vocabulary. The word he uses is _Unzerstoerbarkeit--indestructibility_.
But I have preferred _immortality_, because that word is commonly
associated with the subject touched upon in this little debate. If any
critic doubts the wisdom of this preference, let me ask him to try
his hand at a short, concise, and, at the same time, popularly
intelligible rendering of the German original, which runs thus: _Zur
Lehre von der Unzerstoerbarkeit unseres wahren Wesens durch den Tod:
Meine dialogische Schlussbelustigung_.]


_Thrasymachos_. Tell me now, in one word, what shall I be after my
death? And mind you be clear and precise.

_Philalethes_. All and nothing!

_Thrasymachos_. I thought so! I gave you a problem, and you solve it
by a contradiction. That's a very stale trick.

_Philalethes_. Yes, but you raise transcendental questions, and you
expect me to answer them in language that is only made for immanent
knowledge. It's no wonder that a contradiction ensues.

_Thrasymachos_. What do you mean by transcendental questions and
immanent knowledge? I've heard these expressions before, of course;
they are not new to me. The Professor was fond of using them, but only
as predicates of the Deity, and he never talked of anything else;
which was all quite right and proper. He argued thus: if the Deity was
in the world itself, he was immanent; if he was somewhere outside it,
he was transcendent. Nothing could be clearer and more obvious! You
knew where you were. But this Kantian rigmarole won't do any more:
it's antiquated and no longer applicable to modern ideas. Why, we've
had a whole row of eminent men in the metropolis of German learning--

_Philalethes_. (Aside.) German humbug, he means.

_Thrasymachos_. The mighty Schleiermacher, for instance, and that
gigantic intellect, Hegel; and at this time of day we've abandoned
that nonsense. I should rather say we're so far beyond it that we
can't put up with it any more. What's the use of it then? What does it
all mean?

_Philalethes_. Transcendental knowledge is knowledge which passes
beyond the bounds of possible experience, and strives to determine the
nature of things as they are in themselves. Immanent knowledge, on the
other hand, is knowledge which confines itself entirely with those
bounds; so that it cannot apply to anything but actual phenomena. As
far as you are an individual, death will be the end of you. But your
individuality is not your true and inmost being: it is only the
outward manifestation of it. It is not the _thing-in-itself_, but only
the phenomenon presented in the form of time; and therefore with a
beginning and an end. But your real being knows neither time, nor
beginning, nor end, nor yet the limits of any given individual. It is
everywhere present in every individual; and no individual can
exist apart from it. So when death comes, on the one hand you are
annihilated as an individual; on the other, you are and remain
everything. That is what I meant when I said that after your death
you would be all and nothing. It is difficult to find a more precise
answer to your question and at the same time be brief. The answer is
contradictory, I admit; but it is so simply because your life is in
time, and the immortal part of you in eternity. You may put the matter
thus: Your immortal part is something that does not last in time and
yet is indestructible; but there you have another contradiction! You
see what happens by trying to bring the transcendental within the
limits of immanent knowledge. It is in some sort doing violence to the
latter by misusing it for ends it was never meant to serve.

_Thrasymachos_. Look here, I shan't give twopence for your immortality
unless I'm to remain an individual.

_Philalethes_. Well, perhaps I may be able to satisfy you on this
point. Suppose I guarantee that after death you shall remain an
individual, but only on condition that you first spend three months of
complete unconsciousness.

_Thrasymachos_. I shall have no objection to that.

_Philalethes_. But remember, if people are completely unconscious,
they take no account of time. So, when you are dead, it's all the same
to you whether three months pass in the world of consciousness, or ten
thousand years. In the one case as in the other, it is simply a matter
of believing what is told you when you awake. So far, then, you can
afford to be indifferent whether it is three months or ten thousand
years that pass before you recover your individuality.

_Thrasymachos_. Yes, if it comes to that, I suppose you're right.

_Philalethes_. And if by chance, after those ten thousand years have
gone by, no one ever thinks of awakening you, I fancy it would be
no great misfortune. You would have become quite accustomed to
non-existence after so long a spell of it--following upon such a very
few years of life. At any rate you may be sure you would be perfectly
ignorant of the whole thing. Further, if you knew that the mysterious
power which keeps you in your present state of life had never once
ceased in those ten thousand years to bring forth other phenomena like
yourself, and to endow them with life, it would fully console you.

_Thrasymachos_. Indeed! So you think you're quietly going to do me
out of my individuality with all this fine talk. But I'm up to your
tricks. I tell you I won't exist unless I can have my individuality.
I'm not going to be put off with 'mysterious powers,' and what you
call 'phenomena.' I can't do without my individuality, and I won't
give it up.

_Philalethes_. You mean, I suppose, that your individuality is such a
delightful thing, so splendid, so perfect, and beyond compare--that
you can't imagine anything better. Aren't you ready to exchange your
present state for one which, if we can judge by what is told us, may
possibly be superior and more endurable?

_Thrasymachos_. Don't you see that my individuality, be it what it
may, is my very self? To me it is the most important thing in the

_For God is God and I am I_.

_I_ want to exist, _I, I_. That's the main thing. I don't care about
an existence which has to be proved to be mine, before I can believe

_Philalethes_. Think what you're doing! When you say _I, I, I_ want
to exist, it is not you alone that says this. Everything says it,
absolutely everything that has the faintest trace of consciousness. It
follows, then, that this desire of yours is just the part of you that
is _not individual_--the part that is common to all things without
distinction. It is the cry, not of the individual, but of existence
itself; it is the intrinsic element in everything that exists, nay, it
is the cause of anything existing at all. This desire craves for, and
so is satisfied with, nothing less than existence in general--not any
definite individual existence. No! that is not its aim. It seems to be
so only because this desire--this _Will_--attains consciousness only
in the individual, and therefore looks as though it were concerned
with nothing but the individual. There lies the illusion--an illusion,
it is true, in which the individual is held fast: but, if he reflects,
he can break the fetters and set himself free. It is only indirectly,
I say, that the individual has this violent craving for existence. It
is _the Will to Live_ which is the real and direct aspirant--alike and
identical in all things. Since, then, existence is the free work, nay,
the mere reflection of the will, where existence is, there, too,
must be will; and for the moment the will finds its satisfaction in
existence itself; so far, I mean, as that which never rests, but
presses forward eternally, can ever find any satisfaction at all.
The will is careless of the individual: the individual is not its
business; although, as I have said, this seems to be the case, because
the individual has no direct consciousness of will except in himself.
The effect of this is to make the individual careful to maintain his
own existence; and if this were not so, there would be no surety
for the preservation of the species. From all this it is clear that
individuality is not a form of perfection, but rather of limitation;
and so to be freed from it is not loss but gain. Trouble yourself no
more about the matter. Once thoroughly recognize what you are, what
your existence really is, namely, the universal will to live, and the
whole question will seem to you childish, and most ridiculous!

_Thrasymachos_. You're childish yourself and most ridiculous, like
all philosophers! and if a man of my age lets himself in for a
quarter-of-an-hour's talk with such fools, it is only because it
amuses me and passes the time. I've more important business to attend
to, so Good-bye.


There is an unconscious propriety in the way in which, in all European
languages, the word _person_ is commonly used to denote a human
being. The real meaning of _persona_ is _a mask_, such as actors were
accustomed to wear on the ancient stage; and it is quite true that no
one shows himself as he is, but wears his mask and plays his part.
Indeed, the whole of our social arrangements may be likened to a
perpetual comedy; and this is why a man who is worth anything finds
society so insipid, while a blockhead is quite at home in it.

* * * * *

Reason deserves to be called a prophet; for in showing us the
consequence and effect of our actions in the present, does it not tell
us what the future will be? This is precisely why reason is such an
excellent power of restraint in moments when we are possessed by some
base passion, some fit of anger, some covetous desire, that will lead
us to do things whereof we must presently repent.

* * * * *

_Hatred_ comes from the heart; _contempt_ from the head; and neither
feeling is quite within our control. For we cannot alter our heart;
its basis is determined by motives; and our head deals with objective
facts, and applies to them rules which are immutable. Any given
individual is the union of a particular heart with a particular head.

Hatred and contempt are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.
There are even not a few cases where hatred of a person is rooted in
nothing but forced esteem for his qualities. And besides, if a man
sets out to hate all the miserable creatures he meets, he will not
have much energy left for anything else; whereas he can despise them,
one and all, with the greatest ease. True, genuine contempt is just
the reverse of true, genuine pride; it keeps quite quiet and gives no
sign of its existence. For if a man shows that he despises you, he
signifies at least this much regard for you, that he wants to let
you know how little he appreciates you; and his wish is dictated by
hatred, which cannot exist with real contempt. On the contrary, if it
is genuine, it is simply the conviction that the object of it is a man
of no value at all. Contempt is not incompatible with indulgent and
kindly treatment, and for the sake of one's own peace and safety, this
should not be omitted; it will prevent irritation; and there is no
one who cannot do harm if he is roused to it. But if this pure, cold,
sincere contempt ever shows itself, it will be met with the most
truculent hatred; for the despised person is not in a position to
fight contempt with its own weapons.

* * * * *

Melancholy is a very different thing from bad humor, and of the two,
it is not nearly so far removed from a gay and happy temperament.
Melancholy attracts, while bad humor repels.

Hypochondria is a species of torment which not only makes us
unreasonably cross with the things of the present; not only fills us
with groundless anxiety on the score of future misfortunes entirely
of our own manufacture; but also leads to unmerited self-reproach for
what we have done in the past.

Hypochondria shows itself in a perpetual hunting after things that vex
and annoy, and then brooding over them. The cause of it is an inward
morbid discontent, often co-existing with a naturally restless
temperament. In their extreme form, this discontent and this unrest
lead to suicide.

* * * * *

Any incident, however trivial, that rouses disagreeable emotion,
leaves an after-effect in our mind, which for the time it lasts,
prevents our taking a clear objective view of the things about us, and
tinges all our thoughts: just as a small object held close to the eye
limits and distorts our field of vision.

* * * * *

What makes people _hard-hearted_ is this, that each man has, or
fancies he has, as much as he can bear in his own troubles. Hence, if
a man suddenly finds himself in an unusually happy position, it will
in most cases result in his being sympathetic and kind. But if he has
never been in any other than a happy position, or this becomes his
permanent state, the effect of it is often just the contrary: it so
far removes him from suffering that he is incapable of feeling any
more sympathy with it. So it is that the poor often show themselves
more ready to help than the rich.

* * * * *

At times it seems as though we both wanted and did not want the same
thing, and felt at once glad and sorry about it. For instance, if
on some fixed date we are going to be put to a decisive test about
anything in which it would be a great advantage to us to come off
victorious, we shall be anxious for it to take place at once, and at
the same time we shall tremble at the thought of its approach. And if,
in the meantime, we hear that, for once in a way, the date has been
postponed, we shall experience a feeling both of pleasure and of
annoyance; for the news is disappointing, but nevertheless it affords
us momentary relief. It is just the same thing if we are expecting
some important letter carrying a definite decision, and it fails to

In such cases there are really two different motives at work in us;
the stronger but more distant of the two being the desire to stand
the test and to have the decision given in our favor; and the weaker,
which touches us more nearly, the wish to be left for the present in
peace and quiet, and accordingly in further enjoyment of the advantage
which at any rate attaches to a state of hopeful uncertainty, compared
with the possibility that the issue may be unfavorable.

* * * * *

In my head there is a permanent opposition-party; and whenever I take
any step or come to any decision--though I may have given the matter
mature consideration--it afterwards attacks what I have done, without,
however, being each time necessarily in the right. This is, I suppose,
only a form of rectification on the part of the spirit of scrutiny;
but it often reproaches me when I do not deserve it. The same thing,
no doubt, happens to many others as well; for where is the man who
can help thinking that, after all, it were better not to have done
something that he did with great deliberation:

_Quid tam dextro pede concipis ut te
Conatus non poeniteat votique peracti_?

* * * * *

Why is it that _common_ is an expression of contempt? and that
_uncommon, extraordinary, distinguished_, denote approbation? Why is
everything that is common contemptible?

_Common_ in its original meaning denotes that which is peculiar to all
men, _i.e_., shared equally by the whole species, and therefore an
inherent part of its nature. Accordingly, if an individual possesses
no qualities beyond those which attach to mankind in general, he is
a _common man. Ordinary_ is a much milder word, and refers rather
to intellectual character; whereas _common_ has more of a moral

What value can a creature have that is not a whit different from
millions of its kind? Millions, do I say? nay, an infiniture of
creatures which, century after century, in never-ending flow, Nature
sends bubbling up from her inexhaustible springs; as generous with
them as the smith with the useless sparks that fly around his anvil.

It is obviously quite right that a creature which has no qualities
except those of the species, should have to confine its claim to an
existence entirely within the limits of the species, and live a life
conditioned by those limits.

In various passages of my works,[1] I have argued that whilst a lower
animal possesses nothing more than the generic character of its
species, man is the only being which can lay claim to possess an
individual character. But in most men this individual character comes
to very little in reality; and they may be almost all ranged under
certain classes: _ce sont des especes_. Their thoughts and desires,
like their faces, are those of the species, or, at any rate, those
of the class to which they belong; and accordingly, they are of a
trivial, every-day, common character, and exist by the thousand. You
can usually tell beforehand what they are likely to do and say. They
have no special stamp or mark to distinguish them; they are like
manufactured goods, all of a piece.

[Footnote 1: _Grundprobleme der Ethik_, p. 48; _Welt als Wille und
Vorstellung_, vol. i. p. 338.]

If, then, their nature is merged in that of the species, how shall
their existence go beyond it? The curse of vulgarity puts men on a par
with the lower animals, by allowing them none but a generic nature, a
generic form of existence. Anything that is high or great or noble,
must then, as a mater of course, and by its very nature, stand alone
in a world where no better expression can be found to denote what is
base and contemptible than that which I have mentioned as in general
use, namely, _common_.

* * * * *

Will, as the _thing-in-itself_, is the foundation of all being; it
is part and parcel of every creature, and the permanent element in
everything. Will, then, is that which we possess in common with all
men, nay, with all animals, and even with lower forms of existence;
and in so far we are akin to everything--so far, that is, as
everything is filled to overflowing with will. On the other hand, that
which places one being over another, and sets differences between man
and man, is intellect and knowledge; therefore in every manifestation
of self we should, as far as possible, give play to the intellect
alone; for, as we have seen, the will is the _common_ part of us.
Every violent exhibition of will is common and vulgar; in other words,
it reduces us to the level of the species, and makes us a mere type
and example of it; in that it is just the character of the
species that we are showing. So every fit of anger is something
_common_--every unrestrained display of joy, or of hate, or fear--in
short, every form of emotion; in other words, every movement of the
will, if it's so strong as decidedly to outweigh the intellectual
element in consciousness, and to make the man appear as a being that
_wills_ rather than _knows_.

In giving way to emotion of this violent kind, the greatest genius
puts himself on a level with the commonest son of earth. Contrarily,
if a man desires to be absolutely uncommon, in other words, great, he
should never allow his consciousness to be taken possession of
and dominated by the movement of his will, however much he may be
solicited thereto. For example, he must be able to observe that other
people are badly disposed towards him, without feeling any hatred
towards them himself; nay, there is no surer sign of a great mind than
that it refuses to notice annoying and insulting expressions, but
straightway ascribes them, as it ascribes countless other mistakes, to
the defective knowledge of the speaker, and so merely observes without
feeling them. This is the meaning of that remark of Gracian, that
nothing is more unworthy of a man than to let it be seen that he is
one--_el mayor desdoro de un hombre es dar muestras de que es hombre_.

And even in the drama, which is the peculiar province of the passions
and emotions, it is easy for them to appear common and vulgar. And
this is specially observable in the works of the French tragic
writers, who set no other aim before themselves but the delineation
of the passions; and by indulging at one moment in a vaporous kind
of pathos which makes them ridiculous, at another in epigrammatic
witticisms, endeavor to conceal the vulgarity of their subject. I
remember seeing the celebrated Mademoiselle Rachel as Maria Stuart:
and when she burst out in fury against Elizabeth--though she did it
very well--I could not help thinking of a washerwoman. She played
the final parting in such a way as to deprive it of all true tragic
feeling, of which, indeed, the French have no notion at all. The same
part was incomparably better played by the Italian Ristori; and, in
fact, the Italian nature, though in many respects very different from
the German, shares its appreciation for what is deep, serious, and
true in Art; herein opposed to the French, which everywhere betrays
that it possesses none of this feeling whatever.

The noble, in other words, the uncommon, element in the drama--nay,
what is sublime in it--is not reached until the intellect is set to
work, as opposed to the will; until it takes a free flight over all
those passionate movements of the will, and makes them subject of its
contemplation. Shakespeare, in particular, shows that this is his
general method, more especially in Hamlet. And only when intellect
rises to the point where the vanity of all effort is manifest, and the
will proceeds to an act of self-annulment, is the drama tragic in the
true sense of the word; it is then that it reaches its highest aim in
becoming really sublime.

* * * * *

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits
of the world. This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that
error of the eye which lets us fancy that on the horizon heaven and
earth meet. This explains many things, and among them the fact that
everyone measures us with his own standard--generally about as long as
a tailor's tape, and we have to put up with it: as also that no one
will allow us to be taller than himself--a supposition which is once
for all taken for granted.

* * * * *

There is no doubt that many a man owes his good fortune in life solely
to the circumstance that he has a pleasant way of smiling, and so wins
the heart in his favor.

However, the heart would do better to be careful, and to remember what
Hamlet put down in his tablets--_that one may smile, and smile, and be
a villain_.

* * * * *

Everything that is really fundamental in a man, and therefore genuine
works, as such, unconsciously; in this respect like the power of
nature. That which has passed through the domain of consciousness is
thereby transformed into an idea or picture; and so if it comes to be
uttered, it is only an idea or picture which passes from one person to

Accordingly, any quality of mind or character that is genuine and
lasting, is originally unconscious; and it is only when unconsciously
brought into play that it makes a profound impression. If any like
quality is consciously exercised, it means that it has been worked up;
it becomes intentional, and therefore matter of affectation, in other
words, of deception.

If a man does a thing unconsciously, it costs him no trouble; but if
he tries to do it by taking trouble, he fails. This applies to the
origin of those fundamental ideas which form the pith and marrow of
all genuine work. Only that which is innate is genuine and will hold
water; and every man who wants to achieve something, whether in
practical life, in literature, or in art, must _follow the rules
without knowing them_.

* * * * *

Men of very great capacity, will as a rule, find the company of very
stupid people preferable to that of the common run; for the same
reason that the tyrant and the mob, the grandfather and the
grandchildren, are natural allies.

* * * * *

That line of Ovid's,

_Pronaque cum spectent animalia cetera terram_,

can be applied in its true physical sense to the lower animals alone;
but in a metaphorical and spiritual sense it is, alas! true of nearly
all men as well. All their plans and projects are merged in the desire
of physical enjoyment, physical well-being. They may, indeed, have
personal interests, often embracing a very varied sphere; but still
these latter receive their importance entirely from the relation in
which they stand to the former. This is not only proved by their
manner of life and the things they say, but it even shows itself in
the way they look, the expression of their physiognomy, their gait and
gesticulations. Everything about them cries out; _in terram prona_!

It is not to them, it is only to the nobler and more highly endowed
natures--men who really think and look about them in the world, and
form exceptional specimens of humanity--that the next lines are

_Os homini sublime dedit coelumque tueri
Jussit et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus_.

* * * * *

No one knows what capacities for doing and suffering he has in
himself, until something comes to rouse them to activity: just as in
a pond of still water, lying there like a mirror, there is no sign of
the roar and thunder with which it can leap from the precipice, and
yet remain what it is; or again, rise high in the air as a fountain.
When water is as cold as ice, you can have no idea of the latent
warmth contained in it.

* * * * *

Why is it that, in spite of all the mirrors in the world, no one
really knows what he looks like?

A man may call to mind the face of his friend, but not his own. Here,
then, is an initial difficulty in the way of applying the maxim, _Know

This is partly, no doubt, to be explained by the fact that it is
physically impossible for a man to see himself in the glass except
with face turned straight towards it and perfectly motionless; where
the expression of the eye, which counts for so much, and really gives
its whole character to the face, is to a great extent lost. But
co-existing with this physical impossibility, there seems to me to be
an ethical impossibility of an analogous nature, and producing the
same effect. A man cannot look upon his own reflection as though the
person presented there were _a stranger_ to him; and yet this is
necessary if he is to take _an objective view_. In the last resort,
an objective view means a deep-rooted feeling on the part of the
individual, as a moral being, that that which he is contemplating is
_not himself_[1]; and unless he can take this point of view, he will
not see things in a really true light, which is possible only if he is
alive to their actual defects, exactly as they are. Instead of that,
when a man sees himself in the glass, something out of his own
egotistic nature whispers to him to take care to remember that _it is
no stranger, but himself, that he is looking at_; and this operates as
a _noli me tang ere_, and prevents him taking an objective view. It
seems, indeed, as if, without the leaven of a grain of malice, such a
view were impossible.

[Footnote 1: Cf. _Grundprobleme der Ethik_, p. 275.]

* * * * *

According as a man's mental energy is exerted or relaxed, will life
appear to him either so short, and petty, and fleeting, that nothing
can possibly happen over which it is worth his while to spend emotion;
that nothing really matters, whether it is pleasure or riches, or even
fame, and that in whatever way a man may have failed, he cannot
have lost much--or, on the other hand, life will seem so long, so
important, so all in all, so momentous and so full of difficulty that
we have to plunge into it with our whole soul if we are to obtain a
share of its goods, make sure of its prizes, and carry out our plans.
This latter is the immanent and common view of life; it is what
Gracian means when he speaks of the serious way of looking
at things--_tomar muy de veras el vivir_. The former is the
transcendental view, which is well expressed in Ovid's _non est
tanti_--it is not worth so much trouble; still better, however, by
Plato's remark that nothing in human affairs is worth any great
anxiety--[Greek: oute ti ton anthropinon axion esti megalaes
spoudaes.] This condition of mind is due to the intellect having got
the upper hand in the domain of consciousness, where, freed from
the mere service of the will, it looks upon the phenomena of life
objectively, and so cannot fail to gain a clear insight into its
vain and futile character. But in the other condition of mind, will
predominates; and the intellect exists only to light it on its way to
the attainment of its desires.

A man is great or small according as he leans to the one or the other
of these views of life.

* * * * *

People of very brilliant ability think little of admitting their
errors and weaknesses, or of letting others see them. They look upon
them as something for which they have duly paid; and instead of
fancying that these weaknesses are a disgrace to them, they consider
they are doing them an honor. This is especially the case when
the errors are of the kind that hang together with their
qualities--_conditiones sine quibus non_--or, as George Sand said,
_les defauts de ses vertus_.

Contrarily, there are people of good character and irreproachable
intellectual capacity, who, far from admitting the few little
weaknesses they have, conceal them with care, and show themselves very
sensitive to any suggestion of their existence; and this, just because
their whole merit consists in being free from error and infirmity. If
these people are found to have done anything wrong, their reputation
immediately suffers.

* * * * *

With people of only moderate ability, modesty is mere honesty; but
with those who possess great talent, it is hypocrisy. Hence, it is
just as becoming in the latter to make no secret of the respect they
bear themselves and no disguise of the fact that they are conscious of
unusual power, as it is in the former to be modest. Valerius
Maximus gives some very neat examples of this in his chapter on
self-confidence, _de fiducia sui_.

* * * * *

Not to go to the theatre is like making one's toilet without a mirror.
But it is still worse to take a decision without consulting a friend.
For a man may have the most excellent judgment in all other matters,
and yet go wrong in those which concern himself; because here the will
comes in and deranges the intellect at once. Therefore let a man take
counsel of a friend. A doctor can cure everyone but himself; if he
falls ill, he sends for a colleague.

* * * * *

In all that we do, we wish, more or less, to come to the end; we are
impatient to finish and glad to be done. But the last scene of all,
the general end, is something that, as a rule, we wish as far off as
may be.

* * * * *

Every parting gives a foretaste of death; every coming together again
a foretaste of the resurrection. This is why even people who were
indifferent to each other, rejoice so much if they come together again
after twenty or thirty years' separation.

* * * * *

Intellects differ from one another in a very real and fundamental way:
but no comparison can well be made by merely general observations. It
is necessary to come close, and to go into details; for the difference
that exists cannot be seen from afar; and it is not easy to judge by
outward appearances, as in the several cases of education, leisure and
occupation. But even judging by these alone, it must be admitted that
many a man has _a degree of existence_ at least ten times as high as
another--in other words, exists ten times as much.

I am not speaking here of savages whose life is often only one degree
above that of the apes in their woods. Consider, for instance, a
porter in Naples or Venice (in the north of Europe solicitude for the
winter months makes people more thoughtful and therefore reflective);
look at the life he leads, from its beginning to its end:--driven by
poverty; living on his physical strength; meeting the needs of every
day, nay, of every hour, by hard work, great effort, constant tumult,
want in all its forms, no care for the morrow; his only comfort
rest after exhaustion; continuous quarreling; not a moment free for
reflection; such sensual delights as a mild climate and only just
sufficient food will permit of; and then, finally, as the metaphysical
element, the crass superstition of his church; the whole forming a
manner of life with only a low degree of consciousness, where a man
hustles, or rather is hustled, through his existence. This restless
and confused dream forms the life of how many millions!

Such men _think_ only just so much as is necessary to carry out their
will for the moment. They never reflect upon their life as a connected
whole, let alone, then, upon existence in general; to a certain extent
they may be said to exist without really knowing it. The existence of
the mobsman or the slave who lives on in this unthinking way, stands
very much nearer than ours to that of the brute, which is confined
entirely to the present moment; but, for that very reason, it has also
less of pain in it than ours. Nay, since all pleasure is in its nature
negative, that is to say, consists in freedom from some form of misery
or need, the constant and rapid interchange between setting about
something and getting it done, which is the permanent accompaniment of
the work they do, and then again the augmented form which this
takes when they go from work to rest and the satisfaction of their
needs--all this gives them a constant source of enjoyment; and the
fact that it is much commoner to see happy faces amongst the poor than
amongst the rich, is a sure proof that it is used to good advantage.

Passing from this kind of man, consider, next, the sober, sensible
merchant, who leads a life of speculation, thinks long over his plans
and carries them out with great care, founds a house, and provides for
his wife, his children and descendants; takes his share, too, in the
life of a community. It is obvious that a man like this has a much
higher degree of consciousness than the former, and so his existence
has a higher degree of reality.

Then look at the man of learning, who investigates, it may be, the
history of the past. He will have reached the point at which a man
becomes conscious of existence as a whole, sees beyond the period of
his own life, beyond his own personal interests, thinking over the
whole course of the world's history.

Then, finally, look at the poet or the philosopher, in whom reflection
has reached such a height, that, instead of being drawn on to
investigate any one particular phenomenon of existence, he stands in
amazement _before existence itself_, this great sphinx, and makes it
his problem. In him consciousness has reached the degree of clearness
at which it embraces the world itself: his intellect has completely
abandoned its function as the servant of his will, and now holds the
world before him; and the world calls upon him much more to examine
and consider it, than to play a part in it himself. If, then, the
degree of consciousness is the degree of reality, such a man will be
said to exist most of all, and there will be sense and significance in
so describing him.

Between the two extremes here sketched, and the intervening stages,
everyone will be able to find the place at which he himself stands.

* * * * *

We know that man is in general superior to all other animals, and this
is also the case in his capacity for being trained. Mohammedans are
trained to pray with their faces turned towards Mecca, five times a
day; and they never fail to do it. Christians are trained to cross
themselves on certain occasions, to bow, and so on. Indeed, it may
be said that religion is the _chef d'oeuvre_ of the art of training,
because it trains people in the way they shall think: and, as is well
known, you cannot begin the process too early. There is no absurdity
so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if
you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly
repeating it with an air of great solemnity. For as in the case of
animals, so in that of men, training is successful only when you begin
in early youth.

Noblemen and gentlemen are trained to hold nothing sacred but their
word of honor--to maintain a zealous, rigid, and unshaken belief in
the ridiculous code of chivalry; and if they are called upon to do so,
to seal their belief by dying for it, and seriously to regard a king
as a being of a higher order.

Again, our expressions of politeness, the compliments we make, in
particular, the respectful attentions we pay to ladies, are a matter
of training; as also our esteem for good birth, rank, titles, and so
on. Of the same character is the resentment we feel at any insult
directed against us; and the measure of this resentment may be exactly
determined by the nature of the insult. An Englishman, for instance,
thinks it a deadly insult to be told that he is no gentleman, or,
still worse, that he is a liar; a Frenchman has the same feeling if
you call him a coward, and a German if you say he is stupid.

There are many persons who are trained to be strictly honorable in
regard to one particular matter, while they have little honor to boast
of in anything else. Many a man, for instance, will not steal your
money; but he will lay hands on everything of yours that he can enjoy
without having to pay for it. A man of business will often deceive you
without the slightest scruple, but he will absolutely refuse to commit
a theft.

Imagination is strong in a man when that particular function of the
brain which enables him to observe is roused to activity without
any necessary excitement of the senses. Accordingly, we find that
imagination is active just in proportion as our senses are not excited
by external objects. A long period of solitude, whether in prison or
in a sick room; quiet, twilight, darkness--these are the things that
promote its activity; and under their influence it comes into play of
itself. On the other hand, when a great deal of material is presented
to our faculties of observation, as happens on a journey, or in
the hurly-burly of the world, or, again, in broad daylight, the
imagination is idle, and, even though call may be made upon it,
refuses to become active, as though it understood that that was not
its proper time.

However, if the imagination is to yield any real product, it must have
received a great deal of material from the external world. This is
the only way in which its storehouse can be filled. The phantasy is
nourished much in the same way as the body, which is least capable
of any work and enjoys doing nothing just in the very moment when it
receives its food which it has to digest. And yet it is to this very
food that it owes the power which it afterwards puts forth at the
right time.

* * * * *

Opinion is like a pendulum and obeys the same law. If it goes past
the centre of gravity on one side, it must go a like distance on the
other; and it is only after a certain time that it finds the true
point at which it can remain at rest.

* * * * *

By a process of contradiction, distance in space makes things look
small, and therefore free from defect. This is why a landscape looks
so much better in a contracting mirror or in a _camera obscura_, than
it is in reality. The same effect is produced by distance in time. The
scenes and events of long ago, and the persons who took part in them,
wear a charming aspect to the eye of memory, which sees only the
outlines and takes no note of disagreeable details. The present enjoys
no such advantage, and so it always seems defective.

And again, as regards space, small objects close to us look big, and
if they are very close, we may be able to see nothing else, but when
we go a little way off, they become minute and invisible. It is the
same again as regards time. The little incidents and accidents of
every day fill us with emotion, anxiety, annoyance, passion, as long
as they are close to us, when they appear so big, so important, so
serious; but as soon as they are borne down the restless stream of
time, they lose what significance they had; we think no more of them
and soon forget them altogether. They were big only because they were

* * * * *

_Joy_ and _sorrow_ are not ideas of the mind, but affections of the
will, and so they do not lie in the domain of memory. We cannot recall
our joys and sorrows; by which I mean that we cannot renew them. We
can recall only the _ideas_ that accompanied them; and, in particular,
the things we were led to say; and these form a gauge of our feelings
at the time. Hence our memory of joys and sorrows is always imperfect,
and they become a matter of indifference to us as soon as they are
over. This explains the vanity of the attempt, which we sometimes
make, to revive the pleasures and the pains of the past. Pleasure and
pain are essentially an affair of the will; and the will, as such, is
not possessed of memory, which is a function of the intellect; and
this in its turn gives out and takes in nothing but thoughts and
ideas, which are not here in question.

It is a curious fact that in bad days we can very vividly recall the
good time that is now no more; but that in good days, we have only a
very cold and imperfect memory of the bad.

* * * * *

We have a much better memory of actual objects or pictures than
for mere ideas. Hence a good imagination makes it easier to learn
languages; for by its aid, the new word is at once united with the
actual object to which it refers; whereas, if there is no imagination,
it is simply put on a parallel with the equivalent word in the mother

Mnemonics should not only mean the art of keeping something indirectly
in the memory by the use of some direct pun or witticism; it should,
rather, be applied to a systematic theory of memory, and explain its
several attributes by reference both to its real nature, and to the
relation in which these attributes stand to one another.

* * * * *

There are moments in life when our senses obtain a higher and rarer
degree of clearness, apart from any particular occasion for it in the
nature of our surroundings; and explicable, rather, on physiological
grounds alone, as the result of some enhanced state of susceptibility,
working from within outwards. Such moments remain indelibly impressed
upon the memory, and preserve themselves in their individuality
entire. We can assign no reason for it, nor explain why this among so
many thousand moments like it should be specially remembered. It seems
as much a matter of chance as when single specimens of a whole race of
animals now extinct are discovered in the layers of a rock; or when,
on opening a book, we light upon an insect accidentally crushed within
the leaves. Memories of this kind are always sweet and pleasant.

* * * * *

It occasionally happens that, for no particular reason, long-forgotten
scenes suddenly start up in the memory. This may in many cases be due
to the action of some hardly perceptible odor, which accompanied those
scenes and now recurs exactly same as before. For it is well known
that the sense of smell is specially effective in awakening memories,
and that in general it does not require much to rouse a train of
ideas. And I may say, in passing, that the sense of sight is connected
with the understanding,[1] the sense of hearing with the reason,[2]
and, as we see in the present case, the sense of smell with the
memory. Touch and Taste are more material and dependent upon contact.
They have no ideal side.

[Footnote 1:_Wierfache Wurzel_ sec. 21.]

[Footnote 2: _Parerga_ vol. ii, sec. 311.]

* * * * *

It must also be reckoned among the peculiar attributes of memory
that a slight state of intoxication often so greatly enhances the
recollection of past times and scenes, that all the circumstances
connected with them come back much more clearly than would be possible
in a state of sobriety; but that, on the other hand, the recollection
of what one said or did while the intoxication lasted, is more than
usually imperfect; nay, that if one has been absolutely tipsy, it is
gone altogether. We may say, then, that whilst intoxication enhances
the memory for what is past, it allows it to remember little of the

* * * * *

Men need some kind of external activity, because they are inactive
within. Contrarily, if they are active within, they do not care to be
dragged out of themselves; it disturbs and impedes their thoughts in a
way that is often most ruinous to them.

* * * * *

I am not surprised that some people are bored when they find
themselves alone; for they cannot laugh if they are quite by
themselves. The very idea of it seems folly to them.

Are we, then, to look upon laughter as merely O signal for others--a
mere sign, like a word? What makes it impossible for people to laugh
when they are alone is nothing but want of imagination, dullness of
mind generally--[Greek: anaisthaesia kai bradutaes psuchaes], as
Theophrastus has it.[1] The lower animals never laugh, either alone
or in company. Myson, the misanthropist, was once surprised by one of
these people as he was laughing to himself. _Why do you laugh_? he
asked; _there is no one with you. That is just why I am laughing_,
said Myson.

[Footnote 1: _Characters_, c. 27.]

* * * * *

Natural _gesticulation_, such as commonly accompanies any lively talk,
is a language of its own, more widespread, even, than the language of
words--so far, I mean, as it is independent of words and alike in all
nations. It is true that nations make use of it in proportion as they
are vivacious, and that in particular cases, amongst the Italians, for
instance, it is supplemented by certain peculiar gestures which are
merely conventional, and therefore possessed of nothing more than a
local value.

In the universal use made of it, gesticulation has some analogy with
logic and grammar, in that it has to do with the form, rather
than with the matter of conversation; but on the other hand it is
distinguishable from them by the fact that it has more of a moral than
of an intellectual bearing; in other words, it reflects the movements
of the will. As an accompaniment of conversation it is like the bass
of a melody; and if, as in music, it keeps true to the progress of the
treble, it serves to heighten the effect.

In a conversation, the gesture depends upon the form in which the
subject-matter is conveyed; and it is interesting to observe that,
whatever that subject-matter may be, with a recurrence of the form,
the very same gesture is repeated. So if I happen to see--from my
window, say--two persons carrying on a lively conversation, without
my being able to catch a word, I can, nevertheless, understand the
general nature of it perfectly well; I mean, the kind of thing that is
being said and the form it takes. There is no mistake about it. The
speaker is arguing about something, advancing his reasons, then
limiting their application, then driving them home and drawing the
conclusion in triumph; or he is recounting his experiences, proving,
perhaps, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how much he has been injured,
but bringing the clearest and most damning evidence to show that
his opponents were foolish and obstinate people who would not be
convinced; or else he is telling of the splendid plan he laid, and how
he carried it to a successful issue, or perhaps failed because
the luck was against him; or, it may be, he is saying that he was
completely at a loss to know what to do, or that he was quick in
seeing some traps set for him, and that by insisting on his rights or
by applying a little force, he succeeded in frustrating and punishing
his enemies; and so on in hundreds of cases of a similar kind.

Strictly speaking, however, what I get from gesticulation alone is
an abstract notion of the essential drift of what is being said, and
that, too, whether I judge from a moral or an intellectual point of
view. It is the quintessence, the true substance of the conversation,
and this remains identical, no matter what may have given rise to the
conversation, or what it may be about; the relation between the two
being that of a general idea or class-name to the individuals which it

As I have said, the most interesting and amusing part of the matter is
the complete identity and solidarity of the gestures used to denote
the same set of circumstances, even though by people of very different
temperament; so that the gestures become exactly like words of
a language, alike for every one, and subject only to such small
modifications as depend upon variety of accent and education. And yet
there can be no doubt but that these standing gestures, which every
one uses, are the result of no convention or collusion. They are
original and innate--a true language of nature; consolidated, it may
be, by imitation and the influence of custom.

It is well known that it is part of an actor's duty to make a careful
study of gesture; and the same thing is true, to a somewhat smaller
degree, of a public speaker. This study must consist chiefly in
watching others and imitating their movements, for there are no
abstract rules fairly applicable to the matter, with the exception
of some very general leading principles, such as--to take an
example--that the gesture must not follow the word, but rather
come immediately before it, by way of announcing its approach and
attracting the hearer's attention.

Englishmen entertain a peculiar contempt for gesticulation, and look
upon it as something vulgar and undignified. This seems to me a silly
prejudice on their part, and the outcome of their general prudery. For
here we have a language which nature has given to every one, and which
every one understands; and to do away with and forbid it for no better
reason than that it is opposed to that much-lauded thing, gentlemanly
feeling, is a very questionable proceeding.


The human intellect is said to be so constituted that _general ideas_
arise by abstraction from _particular observations_, and therefore
come after them in point of time. If this is what actually occurs, as
happens in the case of a man who has to depend solely upon his own
experience for what he learns--who has no teacher and no book,--such
a man knows quite well which of his particular observations belong to
and are represented by each of his general ideas. He has a perfect
acquaintance with both sides of his experience, and accordingly, he
treats everything that comes in his way from a right standpoint. This
might be called the _natural_ method of education.

Contrarily, the _artificial_ method is to hear what other people say,
to learn and to read, and so to get your head crammed full of general
ideas before you have any sort of extended acquaintance with the world
as it is, and as you may see it for yourself. You will be told that
the particular observations which go to make these general ideas will
come to you later on in the course of experience; but until that time
arrives, you apply your general ideas wrongly, you judge men and
things from a wrong standpoint, you see them in a wrong light, and
treat them in a wrong way. So it is that education perverts the mind.

This explains why it so frequently happens that, after a long course
of learning and reading, we enter upon the world in our youth, partly
with an artless ignorance of things, partly with wrong notions about
them; so that our demeanor savors at one moment of a nervous anxiety,
at another of a mistaken confidence. The reason of this is simply that
our head is full of general ideas which we are now trying to turn to
some use, but which we hardly ever apply rightly. This is the result
of acting in direct opposition to the natural development of the mind
by obtaining general ideas first, and particular observations last:
it is putting the cart before the horse. Instead of developing the
child's own faculties of discernment, and teaching it to judge and
think for itself, the teacher uses all his energies to stuff its head
full of the ready-made thoughts of other people. The mistaken views


Back to Full Books