Arthur Schopenhauer.

The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: the Wisdom of Life online

. (page 2 of 9)
Online LibraryArthur SchopenhauerThe Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: the Wisdom of Life → online text (page 2 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he is young or old, straight or humpbacked, poor or rich? - he is
happy. In my early days I once opened an old book and found these
words: _If you laugh a great deal, you are happy; if you cry a great
deal, you are unhappy_; - a very simple remark, no doubt; but just
because it is so simple I have never been able to forget it, even
though it is in the last degree a truism. So if cheerfulness knocks
at our door, we should throw it wide open, for it never comes
inopportunely; instead of that, we often make scruples about letting
it in. We want to be quite sure that we have every reason to be
contented; then we are afraid that cheerfulness of spirits may
interfere with serious reflections or weighty cares. Cheerfulness is a
direct and immediate gain, - the very coin, as it were, of happiness,
and not, like all else, merely a cheque upon the bank; for it alone
makes us immediately happy in the present moment, and that is the
highest blessing for beings like us, whose existence is but an
infinitesimal moment between two eternities. To secure and promote
this feeling of cheerfulness should be the supreme aim of all our
endeavors after happiness.

Now it is certain that nothing contributes so little to cheerfulness
as riches, or so much, as health. Is it not in the lower classes, the
so-called working classes, more especially those of them who live in
the country, that we see cheerful and contented faces? and is it
not amongst the rich, the upper classes, that we find faces full of
ill-humor and vexation? Consequently we should try as much as possible
to maintain a high degree of health; for cheerfulness is the very
flower of it. I need hardly say what one must do to be healthy - avoid
every kind of excess, all violent and unpleasant emotion, all mental
overstrain, take daily exercise in the open air, cold baths and such
like hygienic measures. For without a proper amount of daily exercise
no one can remain healthy; all the processes of life demand exercise
for the due performance of their functions, exercise not only of the
parts more immediately concerned, but also of the whole body. For, as
Aristotle rightly says, _Life is movement_; it is its very essence.
Ceaseless and rapid motion goes on in every part of the organism.
The heart, with its complicated double systole and diastole, beats
strongly and untiringly; with twenty-eight beats it has to drive the
whole of the blood through arteries, veins and capillaries; the lungs
pump like a steam-engine, without intermission; the intestines are
always in peristaltic action; the glands are all constantly absorbing
and secreting; even the brain has a double motion of its own, with
every beat of the pulse and every breath we draw. When people can get
no exercise at all, as is the case with the countless numbers who
are condemned to a sedentary life, there is a glaring and fatal
disproportion between outward inactivity and inner tumult. For this
ceaseless internal motion requires some external counterpart, and the
want of it produces effects like those of emotion which we are obliged
to suppress. Even trees must be shaken by the wind, if they are to
thrive. The rule which finds its application here may be most briefly
expressed in Latin: _omnis motus, quo celerior, eo magis motus_.

How much our happiness depends upon our spirits, and these again upon
our state of health, may be seen by comparing the influence which the
same external circumstances or events have upon us when we are well
and strong with the effects which they have when we are depressed and
troubled with ill-health. It is not what things are objectively and in
themselves, but what they are for us, in our way of looking at them,
that makes us happy or the reverse. As Epictetus says, _Men are not
influenced by things, but by their thoughts about things_. And, in
general, nine-tenths of our happiness depends upon health alone. With
health, everything is a source of pleasure; without it, nothing
else, whatever it may be, is enjoyable; even the other personal
blessings, - a great mind, a happy temperament - are degraded and
dwarfed for want of it. So it is really with good reason that, when
two people meet, the first thing they do is to inquire after each
other's health, and to express the hope that it is good; for good
health is by far the most important element in human happiness. It
follows from all this that the greatest of follies is to sacrifice
health for any other kind of happiness, whatever it may be, for gain,
advancement, learning or fame, let alone, then, for fleeting sensual
pleasures. Everything else should rather be postponed to it.

But however much health may contribute to that flow of good spirits
which is so essential to our happiness, good spirits do not entirely
depend upon health; for a man may be perfectly sound in his physique
and still possess a melancholy temperament and be generally given up
to sad thoughts. The ultimate cause of this is undoubtedly to be
found in innate, and therefore unalterable, physical constitution,
especially in the more or less normal relation of a man's
sensitiveness to his muscular and vital energy. Abnormal sensitiveness
produces inequality of spirits, a predominating melancholy, with
periodical fits of unrestrained liveliness. A genius is one whose
nervous power or sensitiveness is largely in excess; as Aristotle[1]
has very correctly observed, _Men distinguished in philosophy,
politics, poetry or art appear to be all of a melancholy temperament_.
This is doubtless the passage which Cicero has in his mind when
he says, as he often does, _Aristoteles ait omnes ingeniosos
melancholicos esse_.[2] Shakespeare has very neatly expressed this
radical and innate diversity of temperament in those lines in _The
Merchant of Venice_:

[Footnote 1: Probl. xxx., ep. 1]

[Footnote 2: Tusc. i., 33.]

_Nature has framed strange fellows in her time;
Some that will evermore peep through their eyes,
And laugh, like parrots at a bag-piper;
And others of such vinegar aspect,
That they'll not show their teeth in way of smile,
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable_.

This is the difference which Plato draws between [Greek: eukolos]
and [Greek: dyskolos] - the man of _easy_, and the man of _difficult_
disposition - in proof of which he refers to the varying degrees of
susceptibility which different people show to pleasurable and painful
impressions; so that one man will laugh at what makes another despair.
As a rule, the stronger the susceptibility to unpleasant impressions,
the weaker is the susceptibility to pleasant ones, and _vice versa_.
If it is equally possible for an event to turn out well or ill,
the [Greek: dyskolos] will be annoyed or grieved if the issue is
unfavorable, and will not rejoice, should it be happy. On the other
hand, the [Greek: eukolos] will neither worry nor fret over an
unfavorable issue, but rejoice if it turns out well. If the one is
successful in nine out of ten undertakings, he will not be pleased,
but rather annoyed that one has miscarried; whilst the other, if only
a single one succeeds, will manage to find consolation in the fact
and remain cheerful. But here is another instance of the truth,
that hardly any evil is entirely without its compensation; for the
misfortunes and sufferings which the [Greek: auskoloi], that is,
people of gloomy and anxious character, have to overcome, are, on the
whole, more imaginary and therefore less real than those which befall
the gay and careless; for a man who paints everything black, who
constantly fears the worst and takes measures accordingly, will not be
disappointed so often in this world, as one who always looks upon the
bright side of things. And when a morbid affection of the nerves, or a
derangement of the digestive organs, plays into the hands of an
innate tendency to gloom, this tendency may reach such a height that
permanent discomfort produces a weariness of life. So arises an
inclination to suicide, which even the most trivial unpleasantness may
actually bring about; nay, when the tendency attains its worst form,
it may be occasioned by nothing in particular, but a man may resolve
to put an end to his existence, simply because he is permanently
unhappy, and then coolly and firmly carry out his determination;
as may be seen by the way in which the sufferer, when placed under
supervision, as he usually is, eagerly waits to seize the first
unguarded moment, when, without a shudder, without a struggle or
recoil, he may use the now natural and welcome means of effecting his
release.[1] Even the healthiest, perhaps even the most cheerful
man, may resolve upon death under certain circumstances; when, for
instance, his sufferings, or his fears of some inevitable misfortune,
reach such a pitch as to outweigh the terrors of death. The only
difference lies in the degree of suffering necessary to bring about
the fatal act, a degree which will be high in the case of a cheerful,
and low in that of a gloomy man. The greater the melancholy, the lower
need the degree be; in the end, it may even sink to zero. But if a man
is cheerful, and his spirits are supported by good health, it requires
a high degree of suffering to make him lay hands upon himself. There
are countless steps in the scale between the two extremes of suicide,
the suicide which springs merely from a morbid intensification of
innate gloom, and the suicide of the healthy and cheerful man, who has
entirely objective grounds for putting an end to his existence.

[Footnote 1: For a detailed description of this condition of mind _Cf_
Esquirol, _Des maladies mentales_.]

Beauty is partly an affair of health. It may be reckoned as a personal
advantage; though it does not, properly speaking, contribute directly
to our happiness. It does so indirectly, by impressing other people;
and it is no unimportant advantage, even in man. Beauty is an open
letter of recommendation, predisposing the heart to favor the person
who presents it. As is well said in these lines of Homer, the gift of
beauty is not lightly to be thrown away, that glorious gift which none
can bestow save the gods alone -

[Greek: outoi hapoblaet erti theon erikuoea dora,
ossa ken autoi dosin, ekon douk an tis eloito].[1]

[Footnote 1: _Iliad_ 3, 65.]

The most general survey shows us that the two foes of human happiness
are pain and boredom. We may go further, and say that in the degree in
which we are fortunate enough to get away from the one, we approach
the other. Life presents, in fact, a more or less violent oscillation
between the two. The reason of this is that each of these two poles
stands in a double antagonism to the other, external or objective,
and inner or subjective. Needy surroundings and poverty produce pain;
while, if a man is more than well off, he is bored. Accordingly, while
the lower classes are engaged in a ceaseless struggle with need,
in other words, with pain, the upper carry on a constant and often
desperate battle with boredom.[1] The inner or subjective antagonism
arises from the fact that, in the individual, susceptibility to
pain varies inversely with susceptibility to boredom, because
susceptibility is directly proportionate to mental power. Let
me explain. A dull mind is, as a rule, associated with dull
sensibilities, nerves which no stimulus can affect, a temperament, in
short, which does not feel pain or anxiety very much, however great
or terrible it may be. Now, intellectual dullness is at the bottom of
that _vacuity of soul_ which is stamped on so many faces, a state of
mind which betrays itself by a constant and lively attention to all
the trivial circumstances in the external world. This is the true
source of boredom - a continual panting after excitement, in order to
have a pretext for giving the mind and spirits something to occupy
them. The kind of things people choose for this purpose shows that
they are not very particular, as witness the miserable pastimes they
have recourse to, and their ideas of social pleasure and conversation:
or again, the number of people who gossip on the doorstep or gape out
of the window. It is mainly because of this inner vacuity of soul that
people go in quest of society, diversion, amusement, luxury of every
sort, which lead many to extravagance and misery. Nothing is so good
a protection against such misery as inward wealth, the wealth of
the mind, because the greater it grows, the less room it leaves for
boredom. The inexhaustible activity of thought! Finding ever new
material to work upon in the multifarious phenomena of self and
nature, and able and ready to form new combinations of them, - there
you have something that invigorates the mind, and apart from moments
of relaxation, sets it far above the reach of boredom.

[Footnote 1: And the extremes meet; for the lowest state of
civilization, a nomad or wandering life, finds its counterpart in the
highest, where everyone is at times a tourist. The earlier stage was a
case of necessity; the latter is a remedy for boredom.]

But, on the other hand, this high degree of intelligence is rooted in
a high degree of susceptibility, greater strength of will, greater
passionateness; and from the union of these qualities comes an
increased capacity for emotion, an enhanced sensibility to all mental
and even bodily pain, greater impatience of obstacles, greater
resentment of interruption; - all of which tendencies are augmented by
the power of the imagination, the vivid character of the whole range
of thought, including what is disagreeable. This applies, in various
degrees, to every step in the long scale of mental power, from the
veriest dunce to the greatest genius that ever lived. Therefore the
nearer anyone is, either from a subjective or from an objective point
of view, to one of those sources of suffering in human life, the
farther he is from the other. And so a man's natural bent will lead
him to make his objective world conform to his subjective as much as
possible; that is to say, he will take the greatest measures against
that form of suffering to which he is most liable. The wise man will,
above all, strive after freedom from pain and annoyance, quiet and
leisure, consequently a tranquil, modest life, with as few encounters
as may be; and so, after a little experience of his so-called
fellowmen, he will elect to live in retirement, or even, if he is
a man of great intellect, in solitude. For the more a man has in
himself, the less he will want from other people, - the less, indeed,
other people can be to him. This is why a high degree of intellect
tends to make a man unsocial. True, if _quality_ of intellect could be
made up for by quantity, it might be worth while to live even in the
great world; but unfortunately, a hundred fools together will not make
one wise man.

But the individual who stands at the other end of the scale is no
sooner free from the pangs of need than he endeavors to get pastime
and society at any cost, taking up with the first person he meets, and
avoiding nothing so much as himself. For in solitude, where every one
is thrown upon his own resources, what a man has in himself comes
to light; the fool in fine raiment groans under the burden of his
miserable personality, a burden which he can never throw off, whilst
the man of talent peoples the waste places with his animating
thoughts. Seneca declares that folly is its own burden, - _omnis
stultitia laborat fastidio sui_, - a very true saying, with which may
be compared the words of Jesus, the son of Sirach, _The life of a fool
is worse than death_[1]. And, as a rule, it will be found that a man
is sociable just in the degree in which he is intellectually poor and
generally vulgar. For one's choice in this world does not go much
beyond solitude on one side and vulgarity on the other. It is said
that the most sociable of all people are the negroes; and they are at
the bottom of the scale in intellect. I remember reading once in a
French paper[2] that the blacks in North America, whether free or
enslaved, are fond of shutting themselves up in large numbers in the
smallest space, because they cannot have too much of one another's
snub-nosed company.

[Footnote 1: Ecclesiasticus, xxii. 11.]

[Footnote 2: _Le Commerce_, Oct. 19th, 1837.]

The brain may be regarded as a kind of parasite of the organism, a
pensioner, as it were, who dwells with the body: and leisure, that
is, the time one has for the free enjoyment of one's consciousness or
individuality, is the fruit or produce of the rest of existence, which
is in general only labor and effort. But what does most people's
leisure yield? - boredom and dullness; except, of course, when it is
occupied with sensual pleasure or folly. How little such leisure is
worth may be seen in the way in which it is spent: and, as Ariosto
observes, how miserable are the idle hours of ignorant men! - _ozio
lungo d'uomini ignoranti_. Ordinary people think merely how they shall
_spend_ their time; a man of any talent tries to _use_ it. The reason
why people of limited intellect are apt to be bored is that their
intellect is absolutely nothing more than the means by which the
motive power of the will is put into force: and whenever there is
nothing particular to set the will in motion, it rests, and their
intellect takes a holiday, because, equally with the will, it requires
something external to bring it into play. The result is an awful
stagnation of whatever power a man has - in a word, boredom. To
counteract this miserable feeling, men run to trivialities which
please for the moment they are taken up, hoping thus to engage the
will in order to rouse it to action, and so set the intellect in
motion; for it is the latter which has to give effect to these motives
of the will. Compared with real and natural motives, these are but as
paper money to coin; for their value is only arbitrary - card games and
the like, which have been invented for this very purpose. And if there
is nothing else to be done, a man will twirl his thumbs or beat the
devil's tattoo; or a cigar may be a welcome substitute for exercising
his brains. Hence, in all countries the chief occupation of society is
card-playing,[1] and it is the gauge of its value, and an outward sign
that it is bankrupt in thought. Because people have no thoughts to
deal in, they deal cards, and try and win one another's money. Idiots!
But I do not wish to be unjust; so let me remark that it may certainly
be said in defence of card-playing that it is a preparation for the
world and for business life, because one learns thereby how to make a
clever use of fortuitous but unalterable circumstances (cards, in this
case), and to get as much out of them as one can: and to do this a man
must learn a little dissimulation, and how to put a good face upon a
bad business. But, on the other hand, it is exactly for this reason
that card-playing is so demoralizing, since the whole object of it is
to employ every kind of trick and machination in order to win
what belongs to another. And a habit of this sort, learnt at the
card-table, strikes root and pushes its way into practical life; and
in the affairs of every day a man gradually comes to regard _meum_ and
_tuum_ in much the same light as cards, and to consider that he may
use to the utmost whatever advantages he possesses, so long as he does
not come within the arm of the law. Examples of what I mean are of
daily occurrence in mercantile life. Since, then, leisure is the
flower, or rather the fruit, of existence, as it puts a man into
possession of himself, those are happy indeed who possess something
real in themselves. But what do you get from most people's
leisure? - only a good-for-nothing fellow, who is terribly bored and a
burden to himself. Let us, therefore, rejoice, dear brethren, for _we
are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free_.

[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_. - Card-playing to this extent is now,
no doubt, a thing of the past, at any rate amongst the nations
of northern Europe. The present fashion is rather in favor of a
dilettante interest in art or literature.]

Further, as no land is so well off as that which requires few imports,
or none at all, so the happiest man is one who has enough in his own
inner wealth, and requires little or nothing from outside for his
maintenance, for imports are expensive things, reveal dependence,
entail danger, occasion trouble, and when all is said and done, are
a poor substitute for home produce. No man ought to expect much from
others, or, in general, from the external world. What one human being
can be to another is not a very great deal: in the end every one
stands alone, and the important thing is _who_ it is that stands
alone. Here, then, is another application of the general truth which
Goethe recognizes in _Dichtung und Wahrheit_ (Bk. III.), that in
everything a man has ultimately to appeal to himself; or, as Goldsmith
puts it in _The Traveller_:

_Still to ourselves in every place consign'd
Our own felicity we make or find_.

Himself is the source of the best and most a man can be or achieve.
The more this is so - the more a man finds his sources of pleasure in
himself - the happier he will be. Therefore, it is with great truth
that Aristotle[1] says, _To be happy means to be self-sufficient_. For
all other sources of happiness are in their nature most uncertain,
precarious, fleeting, the sport of chance; and so even under the most
favorable circumstances they can easily be exhausted; nay, this is
unavoidable, because they are not always within reach. And in old age
these sources of happiness must necessarily dry up: - love leaves us
then, and wit, desire to travel, delight in horses, aptitude for
social intercourse; friends and relations, too, are taken from us by
death. Then more than ever, it depends upon what a man has in himself;
for this will stick to him longest; and at any period of life it is
the only genuine and lasting source of happiness. There is not much to
be got anywhere in the world. It is filled with misery and pain; and
if a man escapes these, boredom lies in wait for him at every corner.
Nay more; it is evil which generally has the upper hand, and folly
makes the most noise. Fate is cruel, and mankind is pitiable. In such
a world as this, a man who is rich in himself is like a bright, warm,
happy room at Christmastide, while without are the frost and snow of
a December night. Therefore, without doubt, the happiest destiny on
earth is to have the rare gift of a rich individuality, and, more
especially to be possessed of a good endowment of intellect; this
is the happiest destiny, though it may not be, after all, a very
brilliant one.

[Footnote 1: Eth. Eud, vii 2]

There was a great wisdom in that remark which Queen Christina of
Sweden made, in her nineteenth year, about Descartes, who had then
lived for twenty years in the deepest solitude in Holland, and, apart
from report, was known to her only by a single essay: _M. Descartes_,
she said, _is the happiest of men, and his condition seems to me much
to be envied.[1]_ Of course, as was the case with Descartes, external
circumstances must be favorable enough to allow a man to be master of
his life and happiness; or, as we read in _Ecclesiastes_[2] - _Wisdom
is good together with an inheritance, and profitable unto them that
see the sun_. The man to whom nature and fate have granted the
blessing of wisdom, will be most anxious and careful to keep open
the fountains of happiness which he has in himself; and for this,
independence and leisure are necessary. To obtain them, he will be
willing to moderate his desires and harbor his resources, all the more
because he is not, like others, restricted to the external world for
his pleasures. So he will not be misled by expectations of office, or
money, or the favor and applause of his fellowmen, into surrendering
himself in order to conform to low desires and vulgar tastes; nay, in
such a case he will follow the advice that Horace gives in his epistle
to Maecenas.[3]

[Footnote 1: _Vie de Descartes_, par Baillet. Liv. vii., ch. 10.]

[Footnote 2: vii. 12.]

[Footnote 3: Lib. 1., ep. 7.]

_Nec somnum plebis laudo, satur altilium, nec
Otia divitiis Arabum liberrima muto_.

It is a great piece of folly to sacrifice the inner for the outer man,
to give the whole or the greater part of one's quiet, leisure and
independence for splendor, rank, pomp, titles and honor. This is what
Goethe did. My good luck drew me quite in the other direction.

The truth which I am insisting upon here, the truth, namely, that the
chief source of human happiness is internal, is confirmed by that most

2 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryArthur SchopenhauerThe Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: the Wisdom of Life → online text (page 2 of 9)