Isreal Smith Clare.

Library of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) online

. (page 33 of 60)
Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 33 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


power, without which it cannot exist The doctrine of Aristotle's, that a
man's happiness consists in the free exercise of his highest faculties, is
also enunciated by Stobaeus in his exposition of the Peripatetic philoso-
phy 2 : Happiness, he says, means vigorous and successful activity in all your
undertakings ; and he explains that by vigor (a pern) he means mastery
in any thing, whatever it be. Now, the original purpose of those forces
with which nature has endowed man is to enable him to struggle against
the difficulties which beset him on all sides. But if this struggle comes
to an end, his unemployed forces become a burden to him ; and he has
to set to work and play with them, use them, I mean, for no purpose at
all, beyond avoiding the other source of human suffering, boredom, to
which he is at once exposed. It is the upper classes, people of wealth,
who are the greatest victims of boredom. Lucretius long ago described
their miserable state, and the truth of his description may be still recog-
nized to-day, in the life of every great capital where the rich man is sel-
dom in his own halls, because it bores him to be there, and still he
returns thither, because he is no better off outside ; or else he is away in
post-haste to his house in the country, as if it were on fire ; and he is no
sooner arrived there, than he is bored again, and seeks to forget every-
thing in sleep, or else hurries back to town once more.

Exit saepeforas magnis ex eedibus ille,
ssf domi quern pertaesum est, subitoque reventeu /
Quippe foris nihilo melius qui sentiat esse.
Currit, agent mannos, ad villam precipitanter,
Auxilium teclis quasi ferre ardentibus instant :
Oscitat extemplo, tetigit quum limina villae ;
Aut abit in somnum gravis, atque oblivia quaerit '
Aut etiam proper ans urbetn petit atque revisit.*

In their youth, such people must have had a superfluity of muscular and
vital energy, powers which, unlike those of the mind, cannot maintain
their full degree of vigor very long ; and in later years they either have no
mental powers at all, or cannot develop any for want of employment
which would bring them into play ; so that they are in a wretched plight.
Will, however, they still possess, for this is the only power that is inex-
haustible ; and they try to stimulate their will by passionate excitement,
such as games of chance for high stakes undoubtedly a most degrading
form of vice. And one may say generally that if a man finds himself

I i. 7 and vii. 13, 14. Eel. eth. ii., ch, 7. HI. 1073.

19



2 8o BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

with nothing to do, he is sure to choose some amusement suited to the
kind of power in which he excels, bowls, it may be, or chess ; hunting
or painting ; horse-racing or music; cards, or poetry, heraldry, philoso-
phy, or some other dilettante interest We might classify these interests
methodically, by reducing them to expressions of the three fundamental
powers, the factors, that is to say, which go to make up the physiological
constitution of man ; and further, by considering these powers by them-
selves, and apart from any of the definite aims which they may subserve,
and simply as affording three sources of possible pleasure, out of which
every man will choose what suits him, according as he excels in one
direction or another.

First of all come the pleasures of vital energy, of food, drink, diges-
tion, rest and sleep ; and there are parts of the world where it can be
said that these are characteristic and national pleasures. Secondly, there
are the pleasures of muscular energy, such as walking, running, wrestling,
dancing, fencing, riding, and similar athletic pursuits, which sometimes
take the form of sport, and sometimes of a military life and real warfare.
Thirdly, there are the pleasures of sensibility, such as observation, thought,
feeling, or a taste for poetry or culture, music, learning, reading, medita-
tion, invention, philosophy and the like. As regards the value, relative
worth and duration of each of these kinds of pleasure, a great deal might
be said, which, however, I leave the reader to supply. But every one
will see that the nobler the power which is brought into play, the greater
will be the pleasure which it gives ; for pleasure always involves the use
of one's own powers, and happiness consists in a frequent repetition of
pleasure. No one will deny that in this respect the pleasures of sensibil-
ity occupy a higher place than either of the other two fundamental kinds ;
which exist in an equal, nay, in a greater degree in brutes ; it is his pre-
ponderating amount of sensibility which distinguishes man from other
animals. Now, our mental powers are forms of sensibility, and therefore
a preponderating amount of it makes us capable of that kind of pleasure
which has to do with mind, so-called intellectual pleasure ; and the more
sensibility predominates, the greater the pleasure will be. '

.Nature exhibits a continual progress, starting f rom the mechanical and chemical

-Horn tht7T 1C , ' PI iT eeding t0 the VC?etable ' With itsdu " **>* of
self, from that to the ammal world, where intelligence and consciousness begin, at first

r ma T h ,1 ^ ? T any , intCrmediate Sta ? es **** its last great development



h ,1 ,

' ' * Cr Wning P int ' thC e al f a11 her ***< the most



, f . ,.. ,. - , " l & F "" "ic goai or ail her efforts, the most

JfctarTa S^ "*Z ^ "^ WUhin thC nWRe f the huma " inte " ect '

lect rea h 't h' h re nces of degree, and it is very seldom that Intel-

*k. sense rf .he'Lrt, h K^.W^Z^.'^ .^ fc'SjT^'.S!

ESl!ft2S!r - *. ^ i*M5.Uzr* J5

Cat UCt/ OT i*Otlc/*i/Micc'c' IM iirhiirtVi fV\A . 1 J

ie world mirrors itself more plainly and completely
endowed with this form of intelligence is in possession of
I accordingly, he has a source of pleasure in com-



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 281

The normal, ordinary man takes a vivid interest in anything only in so
far as it excites his will, that is to say, is a matter of personal interest to
him. But constant excitement of the will is never an unmixed good, to
say the least ; in other words, it involves pain. Card playing, that uni-
versal occupation of "good society" everywhere, is a device for'providing
this kind of excitement, and that, too, by means of interests so small as
to produce slight and momentary, instead of real and permanent, pain.
Card playing is, in fact, a mere tickling of the will, i

On the other hand, a man of powerful intellect is capable of taking a
vivid interest in things in the way of mere knowledge, with no admixture
of will ; nay, such an interest is a necessity to him. It places him in a
sphere where pain is an alien, a diviner air where the gods live serene :

Osoi psla Zooorref.*

Look on these two pictures the life of the masses, one long, dull
record of struggle and effort entirely devoted to the petty interests of per-
sonal welfare, to misery in all its forms, a life beset by intolerable bore-
dom as soon as ever those aims are satisfied and the man is thrown back
upon himself, whence he can be roused again to some sort of movement
only by the wild fire of passion. On the other side you have a man

parison with which all others are small. From his surroundings he asks nothing but lei-
sure for the free enjoyment of what he has got, time, as it were, to polish his diamond.
All other pleasures that are not of the intellect are of a lower kind ; for they are, one
and all, movements of will desires, hopes, fears and ambitions, no matter to what
directed : they are always satisfied at the cost of pain, and in the case of ambition, gen-
erally with more or less of illusion. With intellectual pleasure, on the other hand, truth
becomes clearer and clearer. In the realm of intelligence pain has no power. Knowl-
edge is all in all. Further, intellectual pleasures are accessible entirely and only through
the medium of the intelligence, and are limited by its capacity. For all the wit there it
in the -world is useless to him who has none. Still this advantage is accompanied by a
substantial disadvantage ; for the whole of Nature shows that with the growth of intelli-
gence comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelli-
gence that suffering reaches its supreme point.

> Vulgarity is, at bottom, the kind of consciousness in which the will completely pre-
dominates over the intellect, where the latter does nothing more than perform the service
of its master, the will. Therefore, when the will makes no demands, supplies no motives,
strong or weak, the intellect entirely loses its power, and the result is complete vacancy
of mind. Now, will without intellect is the most vulgar and common thing in the world,
possessed by every blockhead, who, in the gratification of his passions, shows the stuff of
which he is made. This is the condition of mind called vulgarity, in which the only
active elements are the organs of sense, and that small amount of intellect which is neces-
sary for apprehending the d ata of sense. Accordingly, the vulgar man is constantly open
to all sorts of impressions, and immediately perceives all the little trifling things that go
on in his environment : the lightest whisper, the most trivial circumstance, is sufficient
to rouse his attention ; he is just like an animal. Such a man's mental condition reveals
itself in his face, in his whole exterior ; and hence that vulgar, repulsive appearance,
which is all the more offensive, if, as is usually the case, his will the only factor in his
consciousness is a base, selfish and altogether a bad one.

Odyssey IV., 805.
21



2 8a BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

endowed with a high degree of mental power, leading an existence rich in
thought and full of life and meaning, occupied by worthy and interesting
objects as soon as ever he is free to give himself to them, bearing in him-
self a source of the noblest pleasure. What external promptings he wants
come from the works of nature, and from the contemplation of human affairs
and the achievements of the great of all ages and countries, which are
thoroughly appreciated by a man of this type alone, as being the only
one who can quite understand and feel with them. And so it is for him
alone that those great ones have really lived ; it is to him that they make
their appeal : the rest are but casual hearers who only half understand
either them or their followers. Of course, this characteristic of the intel-
lectual man implies that he has one more need than the others, the need
of reading, observing, studying, meditating, practising, the need, in
short, of undisturbed leisure. For, as Voltaire has very rightly said, there
are no real pleasures without real needs ; and the need of them is why to
such a man pleasures are accessible which are denied to others. the
varied beauties of nature and art and literature. To heap these round
people who do not want them and cannot appreciate them, is like expect-
ing grey hairs to fall in love. A man who is privileged in this respect
leads two lives, a personal and an intellectual, life ; and the latter
gradually comes to be looked upon as the true one, and the former as
merely a means to it. Other people make this shallow, empty and
troubled existence an end in itself. To the life of the intellect such a
man will give the preference over all his other occupations : by the con-
stant growth of insight and knowledge, this intellectual life, like a slowly-
forming work of art, will acquire a consistency, a permanent intensity,
a unity which becomes ever more and more complete ; compared with
which, a life devoted to the attainment of personal comfort, a life that
may broaden indeed, but can never be deepened, makes but a poor
show ; and yet, as I have said, people make this baser sort of existence
an end in itself.

The ordinary life of every day, so far as it is not moved by passion,
is tedious and insipid ; and if it is so moved, it soon becomes pain-
ful. Those alone are happy whom nature has favored with some super-
fluity of intellect, something beyond what is just necessary to carry out
the behests of their will ; for it enables them to lead an intellectual life
as well, a life unattended by pain and full of vivid interests. Mere lei-
sure, that is to say, intellect unoccupied in the service of the will, is not
of itself sufficient ; there must be a real superfluity of power, set free
from the service of the will and devoted to that of the intellect ; for, as
Seneca says, otium sine litteris mors est et vivi hominis sepultura illiterate
leisure is a form of death, a living tomb. Varying with the amount of
the superfluity, there will be countless developments in this second life,
the life of the mind ; it may be the mere collection and labeling of
insects, birds, minerals, coins, or the highest achievements of poetry and

tt



THE WISDOM OP LITE, ,83

philosophy. The life of the mind is not only a protection against bore-
dom, it also wards off the pernicious effects of boredom ; it keeps us
from bad company, from the many dangers, misfortunes, losses and
extravagances which the man who places his happiness entirely in the
objective world is sure to encounter. My philosophy, for instance, has
never brought me in a sixpence ; but it has spared me many an expense.

The ordinary man places his life's happiness in things external to him,
in property, rank, wife and children, friends, society, and the like, so
that when he loses them or finds them disappointing, the foundation of
his happiness is destroyed. In other words, his centre of gravity is not
in himself ; it is constantly changing its place, with every wish and whim.
If he is a man of means, one day it will be his house in the country,
another buying horses, or entertaining friends, or traveling, a life, in
short, of general luxury, the reason being that he seeks his pleasure in
things outside him. Lake one whose health and strength are gone, he
tries to regain by the use of jellies and drugs, instead of by developing
his own vital power, the true source of what he has lost Before pro-
ceeding to the opposite, let us compare with this common type the man
who comes midway between the two, endowed, it may be, not exactly
with distinguished powers of mind, but with somewhat more than the
ordinary amount of intellect. He will take a dilettante interest in art, or
devote his attention to some branch of science botany, for example, or
physics, astronomy, history, and find a great deal of pleasure in such
studies, and amuse himself with them when external sources of happi-
ness are exhausted or fail to satisfy him any more. Of a man like this
it may be said that his centre of gravity is partly in himself. But a
dilettante interest in art is a very different thing from creative activity ; and
an amateur pursuit of science is apt to be superficial and not to penetrate
to the heart of the matter. A man cannot entirely identify himself with
such pursuits, or have his whole existence so completely filled and per-
meated with them that he loses all interest in everything else. It is only
the highest intellectual power, what we call genius, that attains to this
degree of intensity, making all time and existence its theme, and striving
to express its peculiar conception of the world, whether it contemplates
life as the subject of poetry or of philosophy. Hence, undisturbed occu-
pation with himself, his own thoughts and works, is a matter of urgent
necessity to such a man ; solitude is welcome, leisure is the highest good,
and everything else is unnecessary, nay, even burdensome.

This is the only type of man of whom it can be said that his centre of
gravity is entirely in himself ; which explains why it is that people of
this sort and they are very rare no matter how excellent their character
may be, do not show that warm and unlimited interest in friends, family,
and the community in general, of which others are so often capable ; for
if they have only themselves they are not inconsolable for the loss of
everything else. This gives an isolation to their character, which is all

M



284 BEACON LIGHTS OP SCIENCE.

the more effective since other people never really quite satisfy them, as
being, on the whole, of a different nature : nay more, since this differ-
ence is constantly forcing itself upon their notice, they get accustomed to
move about amongst mankind as alien beings, and in thinking of human-
ity in general, to say they instead of we.

So the conclusion we come to is that the man whom nature has
endowed with intellectual wealth is the happiest ; so true it is that the
subjective concerns us more than the objective ; for whatever the latter
may be, it can work only indirectly, secondarily, and through the medium
of the former a truth finely expressed by Lucian :



idriv
TaA/la 5 ; ^i arrjv itheiova rwv



the wealth of the soul is the only true wealth, for with all other riches
comes a bane even greater than they. The man of inner wealth wants
nothing from outside but the negative gift of undisturbed leisure, to
develop and mature his intellectual faculties, that is, to enjoy his wealth ;
in short, he wants permission to be himself, his whole life long, every
day and every hour. If he is destined to impress the character of his
mind upon a whole race, he has only one measure of happiness or
unhappiness to succeed or fail in perfecting his powers and completing
his work. All else is of small consequence. Accordingly, the great-
est minds of all ages have set the highest value upon undisturbed
leisure, as worth exactly as much as the man himself. Happiness appears
to consist in leisure, says Aristotle; 2 and Diogenes Laertius reports that
Socrates praised leisure, as the fairest of all possessions. So, in the Nicho-
machean Ethics, Aristotle concludes that a life devoted to philosophy is
the happiest ; or, as he says in the Politics, 3 the free exercise of any power,
whatever it may be, is happiness. This, again, tallies with what Goethe says
in Wilhelm Meister. The man who is born with a talent which he is meant
to use, finds his greatest happiness in using it.

But to be in possession of undisturbed leisure, is far from being the
common lot ; nay, it is something alien to human nature, for the ordinary
man's destiny is to spend life in procuring what is necessary for the sub-
sistence of himself and his family ; he is a son of struggle and need, not
a free intelligence. So people as a rule soon get tired of undisturbed
leisure, and it becomes burdensome if there are no fictitious and forced
aims to occupy it, play, pastime and hobbies of every kind. For this
very reason it is full of possible danger, and difficilis in otio quies is a
true saying it is difficult to keep quiet if you have nothing to do.
On the other hand, a measure of intellect far surpassing the ordinary,
is as unnatural as it is abnormal. But if it exists, and the man endowed
with it is to be happy, he will want precisely that undisturbed leisure which
th* others find burdensome or pernicious ; for without it he is a Pegasus
i Epigraramata, 13, * Eth. Nichom, jc, 7, jy II,



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 285

in harness, and consequently unhappy. If these two unnatural circum-
stances, external and internal, undisturbed leisure and great intellect,
happen to coincide in the same person, ; t is a great piece of fortune ;
and if fate is so far favorable, a man can lead the higher life, the life pro-
tected from the two opposite sources of human suffering, pain and bore-
dom, from the painful struggle for existence, and the incapacity for
enduring leisure (which is free existence itself) evils which may be
escaped only by being mutually neutralized.

But there is something to be said in opposition to this view. Great
intellectual gifts mean an activity pre-eminently nervous in its character,
and consequently a very high degree of susceptibility to pain in every
form. Further, such gifts imply an intense temperament, larger and
more vivid ideas, which, as the inseparable accompaniment of great
intellectual power, entail on its possessor a corresponding intensity of
the emotions, making them incomparably more violent than those to
which the ordinary man is a prey. Now, there are more things in the
world productive of pain than of pleasure. Again, a large endowment
of intellect tends to estrange the man who has it from other people and
their doings ; for the more a man has in himself, the less he will be able
to find in them ; and the hundred things in which they take delight, he
will think shallow and insipid. Here, then, perhaps, is another instance
of that law of compensation which makes itself felt everywhere. How
often one hears it said, and said, too, with some plausibility, that the
narrow-minded man is at bottom the happiest, even though his fortune
is unenviable. I shall make no attempt to forestall the reader's own
judgment on this point ; more especially as Sophocles himself has given
utterance to two diametrically opposite opinions:
JTZbAA-a? TO eppoveir EvSai/uoviaS

ItpOOTOV VltdpXEl- I

he says in one place wisdom is the greatest part of happiness ; and
again, in another passage, he declares that the life of the thoughtless is
the most pleasant of all

'Ev TO. tppov&v yap firjSkv ijSiGToS /?zoS.

The philosophers of the Old Testament find themselves in a like contra-
diction.

The life of a fool is worse than death *

and

In muck wisdom is much gnef;

and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. *

I may remark, however, that a man who has no mental needs, because
his intellect is of the narrow and normal amount, is, in the strict sense of
the word, what is called *. philistinem expression at first peculiar to the
i Antigone, 1347-8. * Ajax, 554. * Ecclesiastics, xxii. n. Ecclesiastes, i. 18.



25



2 86 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

German language, a kind of slang term at the Universities, afterwards
used, by analogy, in a higher sense, though still in its original meaning,
as denoting one who is not a Son of the Muses. A philistine is and
remains cinovtol avrjp. I should prefer to take a higher point of view,
and apply the term philistine to people who are always seriously occupied
with realities which are no realities ; but as such a definition would be
a transcendental one, and therefore not generally intelligible, it would
hardly be in place in the present treatise, which aims at being popular.
The other definition can be more easily elucidated, indicating, as it does,
satisfactorily enough, the essential nature of all those qualities which dis-
tinguish the philistine. He is defined to be a man without mental needs.
From this it follows, firstly, in relation to himself, that he has no intellectual
pleasures; for, as was remarked before, there are no real pleasures without
real needs. The philistine's life is animated by no desire to gain knowl-
edge and insight for their own sake, or to experience that true aesthetic
pleasure which is so nearly akin to them. If pleasures of this kind are
fashionable, and the philistine finds himself compelled to pay attention to
them, he will force himself to do so, but he will take as little interest in
them as possible. His only real pleasures are of a sensual kind, and he
thinks that these indemnify him for the loss of the others. To him
oysters and champagne are the height of existence ; the aim of his life is
to procure what will contribute to his bodily welfare, and he is indeed in
a happy way if this causes him some trouble. If the luxuries of life are
heaped upon him, he will inevitably be bored, and against boredom he
has a great many fancied remedies, balls, theatres, parties, cards, gam-
bling, horses, women, drinking, traveling and so on ; all of which can not
protect a man from being bored, for where there are no intellectual
needs, no intellectual pleasures are possible. The peculiar characteristic
of the philistine is a dull, dry kind of gravity, akin to that of animals.
Nothing really pleases, or excites, or interests him, for sensual pleasure
is quickly exhausted, and the society of philistines soon becomes burden-
some, and one may even get tired of playing cards. True, the pleasures
of vanity are left, pleasures which he enjoys in his own way, either by
feeling himself superior in point of wealth, or rank, or influence and
power to other people, who thereupon pay him honor ; or, at any rate,
by going about with those who have a superfluity of these blessings,
sunning himself in the reflection of their splendor what the English
call a snob.

From the essential nature of the philistine it follows, secondly, in



Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 33 of 60)