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words and learn them. Hence they combine whole phrases more than
words - _phrases banales_. This accounts for that obviously
characteristic want of clearly defined thought; in fact, they lack the
die that stamps their thoughts, they have no clear thought of their own;
in place of it we find an indefinite, obscure interweaving of words,
current phrases, worn-out terms of speech, and fashionable expressions.
The result is that their foggy kind of writing is like print that has
been done with old type. On the other hand, intelligent people _really_
speak to us in their writings, and this is why they are able to both
move and entertain us. It is only intelligent writers who place
individual words together with a full consciousness of their use and
select them with deliberation. Hence their style of writing bears the
same relation to that of those authors described above, as a picture
that is really painted does to one that has been executed with stencil.
In the first instance every word, just as every stroke of the brush, has
some special significance, while in the other everything is done
mechanically. The same distinction may be observed in music. For it is
the omnipresence of intellect that always and everywhere characterises
the works of the genius; and analogous to this is Lichtenberg's
observation, namely, that Garrick's soul was omnipresent in all the
muscles of his body. With regard to the tediousness of the writings
referred to above, it is to be observed in general that there are two
kinds of tediousness - an objective and a subjective. The _objective_
form of tediousness springs from the deficiency of which we have been
speaking - that is to say, where the author has no perfectly clear
thought or knowledge to communicate. For if a writer possesses any clear
thought or knowledge it will be his aim to communicate it, and he will
work with this end in view; consequently the ideas he furnishes are
everywhere clearly defined, so that he is neither diffuse, unmeaning,
nor confused, and consequently not tedious. Even if his fundamental idea
is wrong, yet in such a case it will be clearly thought out and well
pondered; in other words, it is at least formally correct, and the
writing is always of some value. While, for the same reason, a work that
is objectively _tedious_ is at all times without value. Again,
_subjective_ tediousness is merely relative: this is because the reader
is not interested in the subject of the work, and that what he takes an
interest in is of a very limited nature. The most excellent work may
therefore be tedious subjectively to this or that person, just as, _vice
vers�_, the worst work may be subjectively diverting to this or that
person: because he is interested in either the subject or the writer of
the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[6] _Opera et dies_, v. 40.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

From what has been said, the principal point in education is that _one's
knowledge of the world begins at the right end;_ and the attainment of
which might be designated as the aim of all education. But, as has been
pointed out, this depends principally on the observation of each thing

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