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inhuman and abominable superstition, to which so many sacrifices have
already been made. For all offences, except the worst, a beating is the
obvious, and therefore the natural penalty ; and a man who will not listen
to reason will yield to blows. It seems to me right and proper to

administer corporal punishment to the man who possesses nothing and

59



320



BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.



therefore cannot be fined, or cannot be put in prison because his master's
interests would suffer by the loss of his services. There are really no
arguments against it ; only mere talk about the dignify of man talk
which proceeds, not from any clear notions on the subject, but from the
pernicious superstition I have been describing. That it is a superstition
which lies at the bottom of the whole business is proved by an almost
laughable example. Not long ago, in the military discipline of many
countries, the cat was replaced by the stick. In either case the object
was to produce physical pain ; but the latter method involved no disgrace,
and was not derogatory to honor.

By promoting this superstition, the State is playing into the hands of
the principle of knightly honor, and therefore of the duel ; while at the
same time it is trying, or at any rate it pretends that it is trying, to
abolish the duel by legislative enactment. As a natural consequence we
find that this fragment of the theory that might is right, which has come
down to us from the most savage days of the Middle Age, has still in this
nineteenth century a good deal of life left in it more shame to us ! It
is high time for the principle to be driven out bag and baggage. Nowa-
days, no one is allowed to set dogs or cocks to fight each other, at any
rate, in England it is a penal offence, but men are plunged into deadly
strife, against their will, by the operation of this ridiculous, superstitious
and absurd principle, which imposes upon us the obligation, as its
narrow-minded supporters and advocates declare, of fighting with one
another like gladiators, for any little trifle. Let me recommend our
purists to adopt the expression baiting, 1 instead of duel, which probaly
comes to us, not from the Latin duellum, but from the Spanish duelo,
meaning suffering, nuisance, annoyance.

In any case, we may well laugh at the pedantic excess to which this
foolish system has been carried. It is really revolting that this principle,
with its absurd code, can form a power within the State imperium in im-
perio a power too easily put in motion, which, recognizing no right but
might, tyrannizes over the classes which come within its range, by keeping
up a sort of inquisition, before which any one may be haled on the most
flimsy pretext, and there and then be tried on an issue of life and death
between himself and his opponent. This is the lurking place from which
every rascal, if he only belongs to the classes in question, may menace
and even exterminate the noblest and best of men, who, as such, must of
course be an object of hatred to him. Our system of justice and police-
protection has made it impossible in these days for any scoundrel in the
street to attack us with Your money or your life I and common sense
ought now to be able to prevent rogues disturbing the peaceable inter-
course of society by coming at us with Your honor or your life I An end
should be put to the burden which weighs upon the higher classes the
burden, I mean, of having to be ready every moment to expose life and

i Ritterhetze.
60



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 321

limb to the mercy of anyone who takes it into his rascally head to be
coarse, rude, foolish or malicious. It is perfectly atrocious that a pair
of silly, passionate boys should be wounded, maimed or even killed,
simply because they have had a few words.

The strength of this tyrannical power within the State, and the force
of the superstition, may be measured by the fact that people who are pre-
vented from restoring their knightly honor by the superior or inferior rank
of their aggressor, or anything else that puts the persons on a different
level, often come to a tragic-comic end by committing suicide in sheer
despair. You may generally know a thing to be false and ridiculous by
finding that, if it is carried to its logical conclusion, it results in a contra-
diction ; and here, too, we have a very glaring absurdity. For an officer
is forbidden to take part in a duel ; but if he is challenged and declines
to come out, he is punished by being dismissed the service.

As I am on the matter, let me be more frank still. The important
distinction, which is often insisted upon, between killing your enemy in a
fair fight with equal weapons, and lying in ambush for him, is entirely a
corollary of the fact that the power within the State, of which I have
spoken, recognizes no other right than might, that is, the right of the
stronger, and appeals to a Judgment of God as the basis of the whole
code. For to kill a man in a fair fight, is to prove that you are superior
to him in strength or skill ; and to justify the deed, you must assume that
the right of the stronger is really a right.

But the truth is that, if my opponent is unable to defend himself, it
gives me the possibility, but not by any means the right, of killing him.
The right, the moral justification, must depend entirely upon the motives
which I have for taking his life. Even supposing that I have sufficient
motive for taking a man's life, there is no reason why I should make his
death depend upon whether I can shoot or fence better than he. In such
a case, it is immaterial in what way I kill him, whether I attack him
from the front or the rear. From a moral point of view, the right of the
stronger is no more convincing than the right of the more skilful ; and it
is skill which is employed if you murder a man treacherously. Might
and skill are in this case equally right: in a duel, for instance, both the
one and the other come into play : for a feint is only another name for
treachery. If I consider myself morally justified in. taking a man's life,
it is stupid of me to try first of all whether he can shoot or fence better
than I ; as, if he can, he will not only have wronged me, but have taken
my life into the bargain.

It is Rousseau's opinion that the proper way to avenge an insult is,
not to fight a duel with your aggressor, but to assassinate him, an
opinion, however, which he is cautious enough only to barely indicate in
a mysterious note to one of the books of his Emile. This shows the
philosopher so completely under the influence of the mediaeval supersti-
tion of knightly honor that he considers it justifiable to murder a man

61



32 a BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

who accuses you of lying : whilst he must have known that every man,
and himself especially, has deserved to have the lie given him times
without number.

The prejudice which justifies the killing of your adversary, so long as
it is done in an open contest and with equal weapons, obviously looks
upon might as really right, and a duel as the interference of God. The
Italian who, in a fit of rage, falls upon his aggressor wherever he finds
him, and despatches him without any ceremony, acts, at any rate, con-
sistently and naturally : he may be cleverer, but he is not worse, than the
duelest If you say I am justified in killing my adversary in a duel,
because he is at the moment doing his best to kill me ; I can reply that
it is your challenge which has placed him under the necessity of defend-
ing himself ; and that by mutually putting it on the ground of self-
defence, the combatants are seeking a plausible pretext for committing
murder. I should rather justify the deed by the legal maxim Volenti non
fit injuria ; because the parties mutually agree to set their life upon the
issue. This argument may, however, be rebutted by showing that the in-
jured party is not injured volens ; because it is this tyrannical principle
of knightly honor, with its absurd code, which forcibly drags one at
least of the combatants before a bloody inquisition.

I have been rather prolix on the subject of knightly honor, but I had
good reasons for being so, because the Augean stable of moral and
intellectual enormity in this world can be cleaned out only with the besom
of philosophy. There are two things which more than all else serve to
make the social arrangements of modern life compare unfavorably with
those of antiquity, by giving our age a gloomy, dark and sinister aspect,
from which antiquity, fresh, natural and, as it were, in the morning of
life, is completely free ; I mean modern honor and modern disease, par
nobile fratrum I which have combined to poison all the relations of life,
whether public or private. The second of this noble pair extends its
influence much farther than at first appears to be the case, as being not
merely a physical, but also a moral disease. From the time that poisoned
arrows have been found in Cupid's quiver, an estranging, hostile, nay,
devilish element has entered into the relations of men and women, like a
sinister thread of fear and mistrust in the warp and woof of their inter-
course ; indirectly shaking the foundations of human fellowship, and o
more or less affecting the whole tenor of existence. But it would be
beside my present purpose to pursue the subject further.

An influence analogous to this, though working on other lines, is
exerted by the principle of knightly honor, that solemn farce, unknown
to the ancient world, which makes modern society stiff, gloomy and
timid, forcing us to keep the strictest watch on every word that falls.
Nor is this all. The principle is a universal Minotaur ; and the goodly

company of the sons of noble houses which it demands in yearly tribute,

62



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 323

comes, not from one country alone, as of old, but from every land in
Europe. It is high time to make a regular attack upon this foolish
system ; and this is what I am trying to do now. Would that these two
monsters of the modern world might disappear before the end of the
century 1

Let us hope that medicine may be able to find some means of prevent-
ing the one, and that, by clearing our ideas, philosophy may put an end
to the other ; for it is only by clearing our ideas that the evil can be
eradicated. Governments have tried to do so by legislation, and failed.

Still, if they are really concerned to suppress the dueling system; and
if the small success that has attended their efforts is really due only to
their inability to cope with the evil, I do not mind proposing a law the
success of which I am prepared to guarantee. It will involve no
sanguinary measures, and can be put into operation without recourse
either to the scaffold or the gallows, or to imprisonment for life. It is a
small homcepathic pilule, with no serious after effects. If any man send
or accept a challenge, let the corporal take him before the guard house,
and there give him, in broad daylight, twelve strokes with a stick & la
Chinoise; a non-commissioned officer or a private to receive six. If a
duel has actually taken place, the usual criminal proceedings should be
instituted.

A person with knightly notions might, perhaps, object that, if such a
punishment were carried out, a man of honor would possibly shoot
himself ; to which I should answer that it is better for a fool like that to
shoot himself rather than other people. However, I know very well that
governments are not really in earnest about putting down dueling.
Civil officials, and much more so, officers in the army (except those in
the highest positions), are paid most inadequately for the services they
perform; and the deficiency is made up by honor, which is represented
by titles and orders, and, in general, by the system of rank and dis-
tinction. The duel is, so to speak, a very serviceable extra-horse for
people of rank : so they are trained in the knowledge of it at the univer-
sities. The accidents which happen to those who use it make up in
blood for the deficiency of the pay.

Just to complete the discussion, let me here mention the subject of
national honor. It is the honor of a nation as a unit in the aggregate of
nations. And as there is no court to appeal to but the court of force ;
and as every nation must be prepared to defend its own interests, the
honor of a nation consists in establishing the opinion, not only that it
may be trusted (its credit), but also that it is to be feared. An attack
upon its rights must never be allowed to pass unheeded. It is a com-
bination of civic and of knightly honor.



324 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

Section 5. Fame.

Under the heading of place in the estimation of the world we have
put Fame ; and this we must now proceed to consider.

Fame and honor are twins ; and twins, too, like Castor and Pollux, of
whom the one was mortal and the other was not. Fame is the undying
brother of ephemeral honor. I speak, of course, of the highest kind of
fame, that is, of fame in the true and genuine sense of the word ; for, to
be sure, there are many sorts of fame, some of which last but a day.
Honor is concerned merely with such qualities as everyone may be
expected to show under similar circumstances ; fame only of those which
cannot be required of any man. Honor is of qualities which everyone
has a right to attribute to himself; fame only of those which should be
left to others to attribute. Whilst our honor extends as far as people
have knowledge of us ; fame runs in advance, and makes us known
wherever it finds its way. Every one can make a claim to honor ; very
few to fame, as being attainable only in virtue of extraordinary achieve-
ments.

These achievements may be of two kinds, either actions or works ; and
so to fame there are two paths open. On the path of actions, a great
heart is the chief recommendation ; on that of works, a great head.
Each of the two paths has its own peculiar advantages and detriments ;
and the chief difference between them is that actions are fleeting, while
works remain. The influence of an action, be it never so noble, can last
but a short time ; but a work of genius is a living influence, beneficial
and ennobling throughout the ages. All that can remain of actions is a
memory, and that becomes weak and disfigured by time a matter of
indifference to us, until at last it is extinguished altogether : unless,
indeed, history takes it up, and presents it, fossilized, to posterity.
Works are immortal in themselves, and once committed to writing, may
live forever. Of Alexander the Great we have but the name and the
record : but Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Horace are alive, and as
directly at work to-day as they were in their own life-time. The Vedas,
and their Upanishads, are still with us : but of all contemporaneous
actions not a trace has come down to us. 1

1 Accordingly it is a poor compliment, though sometimes a fashionable one, to try to
pay honor to a work by calling it an action. For a work is something essentially higher
in its nature. An action is always something based on motive, and, therefore, fragmen-
tary and fleeting a part, in fact, of that Will which is the universal and original ele-
ment in the constitution of the world. But a great and beautiful work has a permanent
character, as being of universal significance, and sprung from the Intellect, which rises,
like a perfume, above the faults and follies of the world of Will.

The fame of a great action has this advantage, that it generally starts with a loud
explosion ; so loud, indeed, as to be heard all over Europe : whereas the fame of a great
work is slow and gradual in its beginnings; the noise it makes is at first slight, but k
goes on growing greater, until at last, after a hundred years perhaps, it attains its full

64



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 325

Another disadvantage under which actions labor is that they depend
upon chance for the possibility of coming into existence ; and hence, the
fame they win dots not flow entirely from their intrinsic value, but also
from the circumstances which happened to lend them importance and
lustre. Again, the fame of actions, if, as in war, they are purely personal,
depends upon the testimony of fewer witnesses; and these are not always
present, and even if present, are not always just or unbiassed observers.
This advantage, however, is counterbalanced by the fact that actions have
the advantage of being of a practical character, and, therefore, within the
range of general human intelligence ; so that once the facts have been
correctly reported, justice is immediately done ; unless, indeed, the motive
underlying the action is not at first properly understood or appreciated.
No action can be really understood apart from the motive which
prompted it.

It is just the contrary with works. Their inception does not depend
upon chance, but wholly and entirely upon their author ; and whatever
they are in and for themselves, that they remain as long as they live.
Further, there is a difficulty in properly judging them, which becomes all
the harder, the higher their character ; often there are no persons competent
to understand the work, and often no unbiassed or honest critics. Their
fame, however, does not depend upon one judge only ; they can enter an
appeal to another. In the case of actions, as I have said, it is only their
memory which comes down to posterity, and then only in the traditional
form ; but works are handed down themselves, and except when parts of
them have been lost, in the form in which they first appeared. In this
case there is no room for any disfigurement of the facts ; and any
circumstances which may have prejudiced them in their origin, fall away
with the lapse of time. Nay, it is often only after the lapse of time that
the persons really competent to judge them appear exceptional critics
sitting in judgment on exceptional works, and giving their weighty
verdicts in succession. These collectively form a perfectly just apprecia-
tion ; and though there are cases where it has taken some hundreds of
years to form it, no further lapse of time is able to reverse the verdict ;
so secure and inevitable is the fame of a great work.

Whether authors ever live to see the dawn of their fame depends upon
the chance of circumstance, and the higher and more important their
works are, the less likelihood there is of their doing so. That was an
incomparably fine saying of Seneca's, that fame follows merit as surely as
the body casts a shadow ; sometimes falling in front, and sometimes
behind. And he goes on to remark ti&l though the envy of contemporaries
be shown by universal silence, there will come those who will judge without

force; but then it remains, because the works remain, for thousands of years. But in the
other case, when the first explosion is over, the noise it makes grows less and less, and is
heard by fewer and fewer persons ; until it ends by the action having only a shadowy
existence in the pages of history.



326 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

enmity or favor. From this remark it is manifest that even in Seneca's age
there were rascals who understood the art of suppressing merit by
maliciously ignoring its existence, and of concealing good work from the
public in order to favor the bad: it is an art well understood in our day,
too, manifesting itself, both then and now, in an envious conspiracy
of silence.

As a general rule, the longer a man's fame is likely to last, the later it
will be in coming ; for all excellent products require time for their
development The fame which lasts to posterity is like an oak, of very
slow growth; and that which endures but a little while, like plants which
spring up in a year and then die ; whilst false fame is like a fungus, shoot-
ing up in a night and perishing as soon.

And why ? For this reason ; the more a man belongs to posterity, in
other words, to humanity in general, the more of an alien he is to his
contemporaries ; since his work is not meant for them as such, but only
for them in so far as they form part of mankind at large ; there is none of
that familiar local color about his productions which would appeal to
them ; and so what he does, fails of recognition because it is strange.
People are more likely to appreciate the man who serves the circumstances
of his own brief hour, or the temper of the moment, belonging to it, and
living and dying with it.

The general history of art and literature shows that the highest achieve-
ments of the human mind are, as a rule, not favorably received at first ;
but remain in obscurity until they win notice from intelligence of a higher
order, by 'whose influence they are brought into a position which they then
maintain, in virtue of the authority thus given them.

If the reason of this should be asked, it will be found that ultimately,
a man can really understand and appreciate those things only which are
of like nature with himself. The dull person will like what is dull, and
the common person what is common ; a man whose ideas are mixed will
be attracted by confusion of thought ; and folly will appeal to him who
has no brains at all ; but best of all, a man will like his own works, as
being of a character thoroughly at one with himself. This is a truth as
old as Epicharmus of fabulous memory

avna<Srdv ovSev t6ri /ue ravff OVTOO Xkyttv
Kal dvSdvetr avroidir avrov?, Hal doxeir
Kahdos TtEcpvHsvai' Hal yap 6 HVOOV xwi
Kd\.Xt<5Tov sine* (pdivsrai, Kal fiovt ftof
S } or 03 ndMtdror [etirtv], t> <5' vt*



The sense of this passage for it should not be lost is that we snould
not be surprised if people are pleased with themselves, and fancy that
they are in good case ; for to a dog the best thing in the world is a dog ;
to an ox, an ox ; to an ass, an ass ; and to a sow, a sow.

The strongest arm is unavailing to give impetus to a feather-weight ;

66



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 327

for, instead of speeding on its way and hitting its mark with effect, it
will soon fall to the ground, having expended what little energy was
given to it, and possessing no mass of its own to be the vehicle of
momentum. So it is with great and noble thoughts, nay, with the very
masterpieces of genius, when there are none but little, weak, and perverse
minds to appreciate them, a fact which has been deplored by a chorus
of the wise in all ages. Jesus, the son of Sirach, for instance, declares
that He that telleth a tale to a fool speaketh to one in slumber : when he hath
told his tale, he witt say, What is the matter / T And Hamlet says, A knav-
ish speech steeps in a fools ear. * And Goethe is of the same opinion, that
a dull ear mocks at the wisest word,

Das gt&cklichste Wort es wird verhOknt,
Wettn der HOrer tin Schie/ohr ist :

and again, that we should not be discouraged if people are stupid, for
you can make no rings if you throw your stone into a marsh.

Du wirkest nicht, Alles bldbt so stumpf :

Sei guter Dinge I
Der Stein in Sumpf

Macht keine Ringe.

Lichtenberg asks : When a head and a book come into collision, and one
sounds hollow, is it always the book f> And in another place : Works like
this are as a mirror ; if an ass looks in, you cannot expect an apostle to look
out. We should do well to remember old Gellert's fine and touching
lament, that the best gifts of all nnd the fewest admirers, and that most
men mistake the bad for the good, a daily evil that nothing can prevent,
like a plague which no remedy can cure. There is but one thing to be
done, though how difficult ! the foolish must become wise, and that
they can never be. The value of life they never know ; they see with the
outer eye but never with the mind, and praise the trivial because the good
is strange to them :

Nie kennen sie den Werth der Dinge,

Ihr Auge schliesst, nicht ihr Ver stand y
Sie loben ewig das Geringe

Weil sie das Gute nie gekannt,

To the intellectual incapacity which, as Goethe says, fails to recog-
nize and appreciate the good which exists, must be added something
which comes into play everywhere, the moral baseness of mankind, here
taking the form of envy. The new fame that a man wins raises him
afresh over the heads of his fellows, who are thus degraded in proportion.
Vll conspicuous merit is obtained at the cost of those who possess none ;

1 Ecclesiasticus, xxii., 8. 3 Act iv., sc. 2.

67



328 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

or, as Goethe has it in the West ostlicher Divan, another's praise is one'i
own depreciation

Wenn wir Andern Ehre geben
Mussen wir uns selbst entadeln.

We see, then, how it is that, whatever be the form which excellence



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