Arthur Schopenhauer.

The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Studies in Pessimism online

. (page 4 of 8)
Online LibraryArthur SchopenhauerThe Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Studies in Pessimism → online text (page 4 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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 défauts 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

1 2 4 6 7 8

Online LibraryArthur SchopenhauerThe Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Studies in Pessimism → online text (page 4 of 8)