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AFFIRMATIONS.



AFFIRMATIONS



BY



HAVELOCK ELLIS



LONDON:

WALTER SCOTT, LIMITED

PATERNOSTER SQUARE
1898



I.ltJiiAllI

LhiVE: J'TY OF CALIFORiM
SAM A BARBARA



PREFACE.

There are at least two ways of looking at
books and at the personalities books express.
In its chief but rarer aspect Hterature is the
medium of art, and as such can raise no ethical
problems. Whatever morality or immorality art
may hold is quiescent, or lifted into an atmo-
sphere of radiant immortality where questioning
is irrelevant. Of the literature that is all art we
need not even speak, unless by chance we too
approach it as artists, trying to grasp it by im-
aginative insight. In literature, as elsewhere,
art should only be approached as we would
approach Paradise, for the sake of its joy. It
would be well, indeed, if we could destroy or
forget all that has ever been written about the
world's great books, even if it were once worth
while to write those books about books. How
happy, for instance, the world might be if there
were no literature about the Bible, if Augustine
and Aquinas and Calvin and thousands of



iv Preface.

smaller men had not danced on it so loncj,
stamping every page of it into mire, that now
the vision of a single line, in its simple sense, is
almost an effort of inspiration. All my life long
I have been casting away the knowledge I have
gained from books about literature, and from
opinions about life, and coming to literature
itself or to life itself, a slow and painful
progress towards that Heaven of knowledge
where a child is king.

But there is another kind of literature, a
literature which is not all art — the literature of
life. Literature differs from design or music by
being closer to life, by being fundamentally not
an art at all, but merely the development of
ordinary speech, only rising at intervals into the
region of art. It is so close to life that largely
it comes before us much as the actual facts of
life come before us. So that while we were best
silent about the literature of art, sanctified by
time and the reverence of many men, we cannot
question too keenly the literature of life. In
this book I deal with questions of life as they
are expressed in literature, or as they are
suggested by literature. Throughout I am dis-
cussing morality as revealed or disguised by
literature. I may not care, indeed, to pervert
my subjects in order to emphasise my opinions,
but I frankly take my subjects chiefly on those
sides which suit my own pleasure, and I select



Preface. v

them solely because they do that so well, I use
them as the ancient device of the stalking-horse
was used, to creep up more closely to the game
that my soul loves best.

So far as possible I dwell most on those
aspects of my subjects which are most question-
able. It was once brought against me that I
had a predilection for such aspects. Assuredly
it is so. If a subject is not questionable it
seems to me a waste of time to discuss it. The
great facts of the world are not questionable;
they are there for us to enjoy, or to suffer, in
silence, not to talk about. Our best energies
should be spent in attacking and settling
questionable things that so we may enlarge
the sphere of the unquestionable — the sphere
of real life — and be ready to meet new questions
as they arise. It is only by dealing with the
questionable aspects of the world that criticism
of life can ever have any saving virtue for us.
It is waste of life to use literature for pawing
over the unquestionable. Even a healthy dog,
having once ascertained the essential virtue of a
bone, contentedly eats it, or buries it.

And yet, it may well be, there is a time for
affirming the simple eternal facts of life, a time,
even, when those simple eternal facts have drifted
so far from us that we count them also question-
able. The present moment has seemed to me a
fitting one to set a few such affirmations in



vi Preface.

order. The century now nearly over has per-
formed many dirty and laborious tasks ; it has
had to organise its own unwieldiness, to cleanse
its Augean stables of the filth it has itself
deposited, to pull down the buildings it has
itself erected. When we witness such work
carried out — blunderingly, it may be, but yet,
we thought, humbly — we mc-»y well point out
what splendid fellows these modest, begrimed
toilers really were, what useful and noble work
they were engaged in, how large a promise they
bear for the future. That was my own point of
view. But the case is altered when these yet
unwashed toilers rise up around us in half-
intoxicated jubilation over the triumphs of
their own little epoch, well assured that there
never was such an age or such a race since the
world began. Then we may well pause. It is
time to recall the simple eternal facts of life. It
is time to affirm the existence of those verities
which are wrought into our very structure
everywhere and always, and in the face of
which the paltry triumphs of an "era" fall back
into insignificance.

Yet every man must make his own affirma-
tions. The great questions of life are immortal,
only because no one can answer them for his
fellows. I claim no general validity for my
affirmations. It has been well said that certain
books possess a value that is in the ratio of the



Preface. vii

spiritual vigour of those who use them, acting as
a tonic to the strong, still further dissolving and
enfeebling the weakness of the weak. It would
be presumptious to claim any potent and pecu-
liar energy for this book; but the observation is
one which a reader may do well always to bear
in mind. The final value of any book is not in
the beliefs which it may give us or take away
from us, but in its power to reveal to us our
own real selves. If I can stimulate any one in
the search for his own proper affirmations, he
and I may well rest content. He is welcome
to cast aside mine as the idle conclusions of a
dreamer lying in the sunshine. Our own affirma-
tions are always the best. Let us but be sure
that they are our own, that they have grown up
slowly and quietly, fed with the strength of our
own blood and brain. Only with the help of
such affirmations can we find a staff to comfort
us through the valley of life. It is only when
they utter affirmations, one has said, that the
wands of the angels blossom.

H. E.
August 1897.



CONTENTS.



NIETZSCHE ...
CASANOVA ...

ZOLA

HUYSMANS ...

ST. FRANCIS AND OTHERS



PAGE
I

86

131

158

212



AFFIRMATIONS.



NIETZSCHE.

For some years the name of Friedrich Nietzsche
has been the war-cry of opposing factions in
Germany. It is not easy to take up a German
periodical without finding some trace of the
passionate admiration or denunciation which
this man has called forth. If we turn to
Scandinavia or to France, whither his fame
and his work are also penetrating, we find
that the same results have followed. And we
may expect a similar outburst in England now
that the translation of his works has at last
begun. At present, however, I know of no
attempt to deal with Nietzsche from the British
point of view, and that is my excuse for trying
to define his personality and influence.^ I do
not come forward as the champion of Nietz-
schianism or of Anti-Nietzschianism. It appears
to me that any human individuality that has

_ 1 This statement (made at the end of 1895) ''^s ceased to
be true, but it explains the genesis of this study, and I leave it
standing.

I



2 Affu'inations.

strongly aroused the love and hatred of men
must be far too complex for absolute con-
demnation or absolute approval. Apart from
praise or blame, which seem here alike imper-
tinent, Nietzsche is without doubt an extra-
ordinarily interesting figure. He is the modern
incarnation of that image of intellectual pride
which Marlowe created in Faustus. A man
who has certainly stood at the finest summit of
modern culture, who has thence made the most
determined effort ever made to destroy modern
morals, and who now leads a life as near to
death as any life outside the grave can be, must
needs be a tragic figure. It is a figure full
of significance, for it represents one of the
greatest spiritual forces which have appeared
since Goethe, full of interest also to the psycho-
logist, and surely not without its pathos, perhaps
its horror, for the man in the street

I.

It has only lately become possible to study
Nietzsche's life-history. For a considerable
period the Nietzsche-Archiv at Naumburg and
Weimar has been accumulating copious materials
which have now been utilised by Nietzsche's
sister, Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche, in the pro-
duction of an authoritative biography. This
sister is herself a remarkable person ; for many



NietzscJie. 3

years she lived in close association with her
brother, so that she was supposed, though
without reason, to have exerted an influence
over his thought; then she married Dr. Fdrster,
the founder of the New Germany colony in
Paraguay ; on his death she returned home to
write the history of the colony, and has since
devoted herself to the care of her brother and
his fame. Only the first two volumes of the
Leben Nietzsche^s have yet appeared, but they
enable us to trace his development to his
departure from Basel, and throw light on his
whole career.

Nietzsche belonged, according to the ancestral
tradition (though the name, I am told, is a com-
mon one in Wendish Silesia), to a noble Polish
family called Nietzky, who on account of strong
Protestant convictions abandoned their country
and their title during the eighteenth century and
settled in Germany. Notwithstanding the large
amount of German blood in his veins, he always
regarded himself as essentially a Pole. The
Poles seemed to him the best endowed and
most knightly of Sclavonic peoples, and he
once remarked that it was only by virtue of a
strong mixture of Sclavonic blood that the
Germans entered the ranks of gifted nations.
Pie termed the Polish Chopin the deliverer of
music from German heaviness and stupidity,
and when he speaks of another Pole, Copernicus,



4 Affirmation:^.

who reversed the judgment of the whole world,
one may divine a reference to what in later
years Nietzsche regarded as his own mission. In
adult life Nietzsche's keen and strongly marked
features were distinctly Polish, and when abroad
he was frequently greeted by Poles as a fellow-
countryman ; at Sorrento, where he once spent a
winter, the country people called him II Polacco.
Like Emerson (to whose writings he was
strongly attracted throughout life) and many
another strenuous philosophic revolutionary,
Nietzsche came of a long race of Christian
ministers. On both sides his ancestors were
preachers, and from first to last the preacher's
fervour was in his own blood. The eldest of
three children (of whom one died in infancy),
Friedrich Nietzsche was born in 1844 at Rocken,
near Liitzen, in Saxony. His father — who
shortly after his son's birth fell down the par-
sonage steps, injuring his head so severely that
he died within twelve months — is described as
a man of noble and poetic, nature, with a special
talent for music, inherited by his son ; though
once described by his son as " a tender, lovable,
morbid man," he belonged to a large and
very healthy family, who mostly lived to an
extreme old age, preserving their mental and
physical vigour to the last. The Nietzsches
were a proud, sincere folk, very clannish, look-
incr askance at all who were not Nietzsches.



Nietzsche. 5

Nietzsche's mother, said to be a charming
woman and possessed of much physical vigour,
was again a clergyman's daughter. The Oehler
family, to which she belonged, was also very
large, very health}^, and very long-lived ; she
was only eighteen at her son's birth, and is still
alive to care for him in his complete mental
decay. I note these facts, which are given with
much precision and detail in the biography,
because they certainly help us to understand
Nietzsche. It is evident that he is no frail
hectic flame of a degenerating race. There
seems to be no trace of insanity or nervous dis-
order at any point in the family history, as far
back as it is possible to go. On the contrary,
he belonged to extremely vigorous stocks, pos-
sessing unusual moral and physical force, people
of" character." A similar condition of things is
not seldom found in the history of genius. In
such a case the machine is, as it were, too highly
charged with inherited energy, and works at a
pressure which ultimately brings it to perdition.
All genius must work without rest, it cannot do
otherwise ; only the most happily constituted
genius works without haste.

The sister's account of the children's early
life is a very charming part of this record, and
one which in the nature of things rarely finds
place in a biography. She describes her first
memories of the boy's pretty face, his long fair



6 Affirvialions.

hair, and large, dark, serious eyes. He could not
speak until he was nearly three years old, but at
four he began to read and write. He was a
quiet, rather obstinate child, with fits of passion
which he learnt to control at a very early age ;
his self-control became so great that, as a boy,
on more than one occasion he deliberately burnt
his hand, to show that Mucius Scaevola's act was
but a trifling matter.

The widowed mother went with her children
to settle at Naumburg on the Saale with her
husband's mother, a woman of fine character
with views of her own, one of which was that
children of all classes should first be brought up
together. Little Fritz was therefore sent to the
town school, but the experiment was not alto-
gether successful. He was a serious child, fond
of solitude, and was called " the little parson " by
his comrades. " The fundamental note of his
disposition," writes a schoolfellow in after-life,
" was a certain melancholy which expressed
itself in his whole being." He avoided his
fellows and sought beautiful scenery, as he con-
tinued to do throughout life. At the same time
he was a well-developed, vigorous boy, who
loved games of various kinds, especially those
of his own invention. But although the child-
ren lived to the full the fantastic life of childhood,
the sister regretfully confesses that they re-
mained models of propriety, Fritz was " a very



NielzscJie. 7

pious child ; he thought much about rch'gious
matters, and was always concerned to put his
thoughts into practice." It is curious that, not-
withstanding his instinctive sympathy with the
Greek spirit and his philological aptitudes, he
found Greek specially difficult to learn. At the
age of ten appeared his taste for verse-making,
and also for music, and he soon began to show
that inherited gift for improvisation by which
he was always able to hold his audience spell-
bound. Even as a boy the future moralist made
a deep impression on those who knew him,
and he reminded one person of the youthful
Jesus in the Temple. " We Nietzsches hate
lies," an aunt was accustomed to say ; in Fried-
rich sincerity was a very deep-rooted trait, and he
exercised an involuntary educational influence
on those who came near him.

In 1858 a place was found for him at Pforta,
a remarkable school of almost military discipline.
Here many of the lines of his future activity
were definitely laid down. At an even earlier date,
excited by the influence of Humboldt, he had
been fascinated by the ideal of universal culture,
and at Pforta his intellectual energies began to
expand. Here also, in 1859, when a piano-
forte edition of Iristaji was first published,
Nietzsche became an enthusiastic Wagnerian,
and even to the last Tristan remained for him
" music par excellence^ Here, too, he began



'8 Affinnations.

those philological studies which led some years
later to a professorship. He turned to philology,
however, as he himself recognised, because of
the need he felt to anchor himself to some cool
logical study which would not grip his heart
like the restless and exciting artistic instincts
which had hitherto chiefly moved him. During
the latter part of his stay at this very strenu-
ous educational establishment young Nietzsche
was a less brilliant pupil than during the
earlier part His own individuality was silently
growing beneath the disciplinary pressure which
would have dwarfed a less vigorous individuality.
His philosophic aptitudes began to develop and
take form ; he wished also to devote himself to
music ; and he pined at the confinement, long-
ing for the forest and the woodman's axe. It was
the beginning of a long struggle between the
impulses of his own self-centred nature and the
duties imposed from without, by the school,
the university, and, later, his professorship ; he
always strove to broaden and deepen these
duties to the scope of his own nature, but the
struggle remained. It was the immediate result
of this double strain that, during 1862, strong
and healthy as the youth appeared, he began to
suffer from headaches and eye-troubles, cured
by temporary removal from the school. He
remained extremely short-sighted, and it was
only by an absurd error in the routine examina-



Nietasclie. 9

tion that, some years later, he was passed for
mihtary service in the artillery.

In the following year, 1863, Nietzsche met a
schoolfellow's sister, an ethereal little Berlin girl,
who for a while appealed to " the large, broad-
shouldered, shy, rather solemn and stiff youth."
To this early experience, which never went
beyond poetic Schwdrmerei, his sister is inclined
to trace the origin of Nietzsche's view of women
as very fragile, tender little buds. The experience
is also interesting because it appears to stand
alone in his life. We strike here on an or-
ganic abnormality in this congenital philosopher.
Nietzsche's attitude was not the crude misogyny
of Schopenhauer, who knew women chiefly as
women of the streets. Nietzsche knew many of
the finest women of his time, and he sometimes
speaks with insight and sympathy of the world
as it appears to women ; but there was clearly
nothing in him to answer to any appeal to passion,
and his attitude is well summed up in an
aphorism of his own Zarathustra : "It is better
to fall into the hands of a murderer than into
the dreams of an ardent woman." " All bis life
long," his sister writes, "my brother remained
completely apart from cither great passion or
vulgar pleasure. His whole passion lay in the
world of knowledge ; only very temperate emo-
tions remained over for anything else. In later
life he was grieved that he had never attained



lO Affirmations.

to amour passion, and that every inclination to
a feminine personality quickly changed to a
tender friendship, however fascinatingly pretty
the fair one might be." He would expend much
sympathy on unhappy lovers, yet he would
shake his head, saying to himself or others :
"And all that over a little girl!"

Young Nietzsche left Pforta, in 1863, with the
most various and incompatible scientific tastes
and interests (always excepting in mathematics,
for which he never possessed any aptitude), but,
as he himself remarked, none that would fit him
for any career. One point in regard to the
termination of his school-life is noteworthy: he
chose Thcognis as the subject of his valedictory
dissertation. His meditations on this moralist
and aristocrat, so contemptuous of popular rule,
may have served as the starting-point of some
of his own later views on Greek culture. In
1864 he became a student at Bonn, and the year
that followed was of special import in his inner
development; he finally threw off the beliefs
of his early youth; he discovered his keen
critical faculty; and self-contained independence
became a visible mark of his character, though
always disguised by amiable and courteous
manners. At Bonn his life seems to have been
fairly happy, though he was by no means a
typical German student. He spent much money,
but it was chiefly on his artistic tastes — music



Nietzsche, i r

and the theatre — or on Httlc tours. No one
could spend less on eating and drinking; like
Goethe and like Heine, he had no love for
tobacco or for beer, and he was repelled by
the thick, beery good-humour of the German
student. People who drink beer and smoke
pipes every evening, he always held, were in-
capable of understanding his philosophy; for
they could not possibly possess the clarity of
mind needed to grasp any delicate or complex
intellectual problem. He returned home from
Bonn " a picture of health and strength, broad-
shouldered, brown, with rather fair thick hair,
and exactly the same height as Goethe;" and
then went to continue his studies at Leipzig.

Notwithstanding the youth's efforts to subdue
his emotional and aesthetic restlessness by cool
and hard work, he was clearly tortured by the
effort to find a philosophic home for himself in
the world. This effort absorbed him all day
long, frequently nearly all the night. At this
time he chanced to take up on a bookstall a
totally unknown work, entitled Der Weii als
Wille und Vorstelbing ; in obedience to an
unusual impulse he bought the book without
consideration, and from that moment began an
acquaintance with Schopenhauer which for many
years exerted a deep influence on his life. At
that time, probably, he could have had no better
guide into paths of peace; but even as a student



1 2 AJfiruiations.

he was a keen critic of Schopenhauer's system,
valuing him chiefly as, in opposition to Kant,
" the philosopher of a re-a\vakencd classical
period, a Germanised Hellenism." Schumann's
music and long solitary walks aided in the work
of recuperation. A year or two later Nietzsche
met the other great god who shared with Scho-
penhauer his early worship. " I cannot bring my
heart to any degree of critical coolness before
this music," he wrote, in 1868, after listening to
the overture to the Meistersinger; "every fibre
and nerve in me thrills; it is a long time since
I have been so carried away." I quote these
words, for we shall, I think, find later that they
have their significance. A few weeks afterwards
he was invited to meet the master, and thus
began a relationship that for Nietzsche was
fateful.

Meanwhile his philological studies were bring-
ing him distinction. A lecture on Theognis was
pronounced by Ritschl to be the best work by a
student of Nietzsche's standing that he had ever
met with. Then followed investigations into
the sources of Suidas, a lengthy examination
De fontibus Diogenis Laertii, and palaeographic
studies in connection with Terence, Statins, and
Orosius. He was now also consciously perfect-
ing his German style, treating language, he
remarks, as a musical instrument on which one
must be able to improvise, as well as play what



Nietzsche. 1 3

is merely learnt by heart. In 1S69, when only
in his twenty-sixth year, and before he had
taken his doctor's degree, he accepted the chair
of classical philology at Basel. He was certainl)',
as he himself said, not a born philologist. He
had devoted himself to philology — I wish to
insist on this significant point — as a sedative
and tonic to his restless energy; in this he was
doubtless wise, though his sister seems to
suggest that he thereby increased his mental
strain. But he had no real vocation for
philolo;:zy, and it is curious that when the
Basel chair was offered to him he was proposing
to himself to throw aside philology for chemistry.
Philologists, he declares again and again, arc
but factory hands in the service of science. At
the best philology is a waste of acuteness, since
it merely enables us to state facts which the
study of the present ' would teach us much
more swiftly and surely. Thus it was that he
instinctively broadened and deepened every
philological question he took up, making it a
channel for philosophy and morals. With his
specifically philological work we are not further
concerned.

I have been careful to present the main facts
in Nietzsche's early development because they
seem to me to throw light on the whole of his
later development. So far he had published
nothing except in philological journals. In



14 Affiyniatioiis.

1 3/ 1, after he had settled at Basel, appeared
his first work, an essay entitled Die Geburt der
Trag'ddie aiis devi Geiste der Mnsik, dedicated to
Wagner. The conception of this essay was
academic, but in Nietzsche's hands the origin


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