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William Rounseville Alger.

The solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life online

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at the frozen core of the Antarctic. To the ordinary
mind, man is both a product and a beholder of the out-
ward world. To the idealist, he is a seeing producer of
the world. To Hegel, the mature philosopher is at once
a product and a producer of the world ; he is both the
seer and the sight ; his'consciousness, unified with primal
thought, begetting everything out of itself. In his Logic
he constructs, a priori, the autobiography of God as He
is in his eternal being ; the history of the Absolute Spirit,
from the beginning, when He was alone, without any cre-
ation or finite spirit, to the end, when "He quaffs His own
conscious infinity from the cup of the kingdom of finite
minds." It is true that this is wonderful speculation,
wonderful in its power and in the magnitude of its con-
cerns. It may justly be considered by every modest
man as unbecoming presumption. But it cannot properly
be treated as puerile chatter. Its master, as compared
with common men, is not an audacious baby alone in his
nursery with a toy, but an intellectual king alone on his
mighty altitude with the universe.



HEGEL. 355

The Hegelian metaphysics may be a baseless phantasy.
Those who do not understand it nor know its historic
development as the completion of foregone systems, may
scout it as foolishness. But it was a reality to Hegel, and
its inferences were realities to him. It is as strenuous an
effort, as stupendous a construction, as is seen anywhere
in the history of thought. And only by an incredible
irony can one who appreciates it believe, that when its
author had finished his work, and was identifyingly
elevated to "absolute knowledge," the cholera grabbed
this "infinite God" by the bowels and dragged him into
the grave. Surely such was the fate of the body of Hegel.
Surely the spirit, the force, the begriff that was Hegel, is
Hegel still, and does not moulder under the sod of the
Prussian churchyard.

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

What journeys he travels, what toils he undergoes, what
adventures he encounters, who makes mental pilgrimages
to the spiritual shrines and landscapes of all the great
thinkers of the world ! Mastering the chief efforts of
mankind to solve the problem of being, he leaves far
away the multitude who do not so much as guess that
there is any such problem to solve. He sails over the
"water" of Thales ; soars through the "air" of Anax-
imenes ; reasons to the " mind " of Anaxagoras ; sees
the "atoms" of Leucippus flying into groups; studies
the occult powers of the " numbers " of Pythagoras ;
contemplates the archetypal " ideas " of Plato ; busies
himself with the " entelechies " and " categories," the
" matter " and " form " of Aristotle ; comprehends the
" artistic fire " of Chrysippus ; plunges into the ontolog-
ical " ecstasy " of lamblichus ; and gazes with tranced
intuition into the " nirwa"na " of Gotama. With Des
Cartes, sceptically stripping himself of all opinion and
prejudice, all but the two notions of "thought" and "ex-
tension," he perceives- that the essence of these is their
reciprocal negation, the answer to What is matter ? being,
Never mind ! to What is mind ? No matter ! and proceeds



356 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

thence by successive steps to universal truth. With
Spino7i, he converts thought and extension into attributes
of one sole " substance," compared to the lair of a lion
which many footsteps enter, but none leave, individual
entities blotted into the all-subsisting God. Passing on
to Leibnitz, he conceives an infinity of "monads," each
monad an obscure mirror of the creation, a little God,
and with these builds a dynamic universe. Then come
the intelligible " phenomena," and the forever inappre-
hensible " noumena " of Kant ; the " reals," and the
standards for " remodelling the conceptions of expe-
rience," of Herbert ; the " I " and the " Not I," or the
creation as a self-limitation of the ego, of Fichte ; the
various phases of the " identity-system," or objective
transcendentalism, of Schelling ; the " absolute idealism,"
or development of self-consciousness to a height where it
logically constructs the universe, of Hegel ; the wishful
dynamism, or " world-as-conception-and-will," of Scho-
penhauer; the manifestation of "modes of force" in
" forms of matter," or summing of all that can be known
in a " law of evolution," of Spencer.

To travel in mental space to these mighty monuments
of thought and aspiration, and a score of other kindred
ones, traverse their labyrinthine apartments, and compre-
hend their contents by reproducingly entering into their
genesis and development, is an achievement that few
have the desire, the leisure, the patience, and the power
to accomplish. What prouder ambition can any man
cherish than the purpose to do this? to advance with
assimilating docility along the biographic line of human
thinking, through the schools of the Ionics, the Eleatics,
the Socraticists, the Neoplatonists, the Scholastics, the
Mystics, the Spiritualists, the Materialists, the Positivists,
and, with the healthy mastership of it all, emerge at last
under the blue empyrean of reality, where science and
faith preside together with a cheerful acquiescence in
each other's functions. It is the romance of the mind,
the interior epic of humanity. Every master of it is
thereby mentally isolated, since he lives in a world of
thought which the ignorant can hardly enter ; possesses,



HEGEL. 357

for attachment to every object he regards and every
state of consciousness he feels, a complicated mass of as-
sociations of which they never dream. He looks serenely
down on the petty brawls of the selfish and the idle mis-
givings of the credulous. If he is a good man, as ripe in
characteristic wisdom as in learned study, .he occupies, in
the words of Martineau, " an intellectual eminence above
surprise, whence the great movements of humanity can be
watched in the quiet air of piety and trust, and where the
distant voices of its prayer and strife cannot reach him."
The turmoils and uproars of the world are reflected to
him as silent pictures. He has reached to the calm which
lies at the centre of agitation, the heart of the hurricane of
the forces of time. Let it not be said that the unsophisticat-
ed peasant, who simply trusts in the name of Jesus, is bet-
ter off than this man. He too has a pious trust none the
less firm in its blessedness. Recognizing all things " in
the diamond net of one perfect law," he beholds himself
as an intelligent -emergence from the unknowable, deal-
ing for a season with phenomenal relations, and re-enter-
ing the unknowable. He thrills with adoration before
the spectacle, and rests peacefully in his own thought.
It is his fault if he is not as much superior in sentiment
and faith to the mere innocent believer as he is more
favored in vision. His ideal sweeps of disinterested sym-
pathy, of joyous and worshipping affection, as well as of
intellectual contemplation, should be comparable with the
experience of that bold aeronaut, who, while others were
toiling in their low nooks or asleep in their beds, made in
seventeen hours a balloon flight of five hundred miles,
from London to Weilburg, in Nassau, the passage over
the dark sea, and the Belgian district of furnaces, the sea
of mist below in the morning, with the rustling of forests
coining up like the sound of waves on the beach, the paling
of the stars, the gorgeous sunrise shedding its colors over
the vast heavens and the earth far underneath, yielding
him sensations inexpressibly solemn and beautiful.



358 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.



SCHOPENHAUER.

ONE of the most vigorous and piquant writers, bold
thinkers, snappish and gloomy spirits of our century was
Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, who died
at Frankfort in 1860. Among the many strong and
strange qualities of his character, loneliness was, per-
haps, the most prominent, almost from the cradle to the
grave. He was imaginatively suspicious and timid, proud
and shy, with an astounding assurance of his own great-
ness and noble destiny, and at the same time with a
furious moral irritability, and a morbid physical coward-
ice. He was a most singular being, interesting and odi-
ous, wise and absurd, endowed with a gigantic intellect
which shrank from no problem or conclusion, and vehe-
ment affections discordant among themselves and awry
towards the world. His tender need of sympathy and
fierce craving for success balked and thrust back, made
him feel deserted, a sort of outcast ; his subsequent curd-
ling hate and scorn, and wilful hardening of his heart in
haughty self-protection, made him feel doubly isolated.
His biographer says : " Although remaining in the midst
of society, never has a man felt more separated and alone
than Schopenhauer. The Indian anchorite is a social
being in comparison with him ; for the solitude of the
former is accidental, or rests on practical motives ; with
him it was essential and the result of knowledge. There-
fore this feeling in his consciousness reached an intensive
strength which admits of no comparison with mere retire-
ment."

As soon as he began to think, he seems to have found
an impassable chasm between himself and the world ;
astronomic distances divided him from those whom he
should live with and love. At first he feared the differ-
ence and opposition were his fault, and this often filled
him with sadness. But his native pride and complacency,
strengthened by a constant feeding on the ideas of kin-
dred spirits in literature, such as Machiavelfi, Rochefou-
cauld, Chamfort, caused the world to lose, his self-esteem



SCHOPENHAUER. 359

to gain, something with each conflict. Up to his fortieth
year he had felt frightfully lonesome, and had continually
sighed, " Give me a friend." In vain ! He still remained
solitary. But now, after such incessant disappointment,
he concluded that humanity was infinitely more penurious
than he had imagined, looked around on the earth as on
a desert, made up his mind firmly that he was one of the
intellectual rulers of the race, and that he must bear his
royal solitude with dignity and patience. He said men
shrunk from seclusion and sought association because
they were so poor and empty. They and their society
reminded him of Russian horn-music, wherein each horn
can sound but one note, and a whole band is neces-
sary to play a tune. The rich, many-toned wise man is
a piano-forte, a little orchestra in himself. From this time
he became systematically unsocial, and appeared deliber-
ately to nourish by all means the worst possible views of
life and men. Desiring fame with an eagerness propor-
tioned to his estimate of his rank and of the value of his
system of philosophy, he sought to cover and soothe his
bitter chagrin at its long delay, by casting contempt on
it, and expressing disgust at the mixed and unworthy
throng who most easily gain it. " Fame is an existence
in the heads of others, a wretched theatre ; and its hap-
piness is purely chimerical. What a rabble crowds into
its temple, of soldiers, ministers, quacks, gymnasts, and
millionnaires !"

It is a proof of his originally deep and high heart, that
while the men around him were so empty and repulsive
to him, he lived in delightful intimacy with the great
minds of previous times. The thoughts left behind by
those great men, who, like himself, were alone amidst
their contemporaries, were his keenest enjoyment. Their
writings came to him as letters from his home and kin-
dred to one banished and wandering among islands des-
titute of men, but where all the trees are full of apes and
parrots. That he should have used such an illustration
as the foregoing, also proves how sorely wrenched and
irritated his heart had become. In ethics a graduate and
continuator of the school of Plato and Kant, he defined



3 bO SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

the worst man as the one who makes the greatest dis-
tinction between himself and others ; the best man as
the one who makes the least distinction between himself
and others. But his practice amazingly violated his in
sight. In all his habitual modes of personal thought and
feeling, instead of minimizing he maximized the distinc-
tion of himself from other men.

During the latter half of his life he considered every
contact with men a contamination. He pretty faithfully
practised his own precepts wherein he said, " The world
is peopled with pitiful creatures, whom the wise man is
born not to fellowship with, but to instruct. They are a
foreign species, with whom the wisest has the least to do,
regarding himself and deporting himself as a Brahmin
among Sudras and Pariahs." He would not ordinarily
call his fellow-beings men, but contemptuously, with a
grim humor like that of Carlyle, whose Teufelsdrock de-
scribes the human creature as a " forked radish," charac-
terizes them as " bipeds," the " two-footed." He as-
serted that he was not a man-hater, but a man-despiser.
To despise the species as they deserve it was necessary
not to hate them. Two classes of men, however, he did
hate with especial relish and virus. First, the University
professors of philosophy ; ostensibly because they were
charlatans, dishonest smatterers ; really because they en-
joyed the place and attention he coveted for himself, re-
fused to give his works and genius the tribute he deemed
his due, and formed a conspiracy, as he fancied, to pre-
vent all public recognition of him. Second, the Opti-
mists ; because their system seemed a biting irony in
view of the facts of sin, sorrow, and death, a shallow
mockery of the inexpressible wretchedness and emptiness
of existence as presented by his theory and emphasized
by his experience. He was himself a Pessimist, one who
reverses the proposition that this is the best of all possi-
ble worlds. The ingenious argument on which he based
his reversal of the scheme of Leibnitz was this : Life is
crowded with examples of discord, baseness, and misery ;
the whole system is so exactly interdependent, that if
the least feature of it were altered, made worse, all would



bCHOPENHAUER. 361

go to destruction : therefore, this is the worst possible
world !

He esteemed himself an imperial mind, his contribu-
tion one of the richest the world had ever received. At
nineteen he said he would become the philosopher of the
nineteenth century. Forty years had passed, and his
books were lumber, his name unknown. He rebelled
with injured and wrathful arrogance against the injustice.
He imagined it was the result of a malignant coalition.
This mischievous conceit worked like vitriol in his blood,
poisoned all his peace, aggravated his worse traits, rilled
even his philosophic works with savage invectives, and
made him chuckle with ignoble delight over the flattering
notices his books at last began to win. He exclaims : " I
have dismal news to communicate to the professors.
Their Caspar Hauser, whom for forty years they had so
closely immured that no sound could betray his existence
to the world their Caspar Hauser is escaped. Some
even think he is a prince. In plain prose, that -which
they feared above all things, and took every conceivable
means to prevent, has befallen. Men begin to read me,
and henceforth will not cease."

Ardently wishing the complacent sense of being ad-
mired and renowned, he turned angrily against those who
withheld the boon. Cynically secluded in Frankfort,
neglected, deprived of all the associations and sympathies
he most desired, " a solitary thinker in a den of money-
changers, he mused, and plodded, and nourished the
grudges which disappointment had engendered in a nature
predisposed by some radical vice or defect to misan-
thropic gloom." He sought to support himself by two
artifices. First, by aggrandizing his own sense of his
own merit and of the sure reward yet awaiting it. " I
have lifted the veil of truth further than any mortal before
me. But I should like to see the man who could ever
boast of being begirt by worse contemporaries than I
have had." " The world has learned many things from
me which it will never forget." " Since the great soap-
bubble blowing of the Fichte-Schelling-Hegel philosophy
is done/ there is greater need than ever of philosophy.
16



362 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

Now people will look about for solider nourishment, and
this is to be found alone with me ; for I am the only one
who has labored purely from an inner vocation." When
asked where he would be buried, he proudly replied,
" It matters not ; they will find me out."

The second artifice to which he had recourse was the
sour-grapes principle. The prize is contemptible. The
love and praise of such unworthy creatures as men are
hateful. The world is a hideous place, existence a cursed
burden. Absolute detachment is the supreme good. In
this way the misery of his own experience infects and dis-
colors all. He pours over the whole scene of life an in-
exhaustible tempest of execrations, contempt, and gloom.
His pictures of the " Nothingness and Sorrows of Life,"
his eulogies of death and annihilation, are not surpassed
in their energetic blackness and perverse gusto by the
most disgusting portrayals of Oriental pessimism, the
Buddhist catalogues of the evils of existence.

" In this world," says Schopenhauer, "there is very much
that is very bad, but the worst thing in it is society."
" The more I go among men the less of a man I come
away." " Conversation with others leaves an unpleasant
tang ; the employment of the soul in itself leaves an
agreeable echo." " The jabber of companies of men is
as profitless as the idle yelping of packs of hounds."
Under the influence of such a doctrine of the penal char-
acter of life and the loathsomeness of man, society con-
tracted, to a unit, and solitude expanded to a boundless
desolation. It could not otherwise than dilate and inten-
sify the woe it was meant to antidote. Yet there is in
the doctrine a weird horror that allures while it affrights.
As Hedge says, "Nature shudders, but curiosity tempts.
It is the fascination of the cavern and the catacomb.
The world of this philosophy is a world of darkness which
no sunshine or starshine irradiates, but whose only illu-
mination is the phosphorescence of the animal matter
contained in it."

The poor Titan took the wrong way. Instead of aggre-
gating the topics and motives of unhappiness he should
have aggregated the stimulants and materials of peace



SCHOPENHAUER. 363

and joy, moderating, soothing, attuning his faculties by a
sober and firm discipline with reference to the standard
of personal perfection. Maurice de Guerin felt himself
a personality more apart than above, select rather than
superior. He was consumptive ; physical lassitude and
superfluous sympathy and longing made him unhappy.
Schopenhauer felt himself a supreme man. He had the
best digestion, firm strength, and sound sleep. But his
superb complacency, with the restless exactions of its
social direction, kept him in irritating relations with the
world ; and he too was an unhappy sufferer. To look to
others, either with humble supplication, as Guerin, or with
irate command, as Schopenhauer, to look to others
for the love or admiration they cannot, will not give, is
to be miserable. Then to cosset this misery, as a proof
of spiritual superiority the unhappier, the greater and
worthier is the mad sophistry of self-love. The wise
course is to try to do our duty, and perfect ourselves, and
harmonize our desires with the conditions of truth, in
comparative independence of the opinions of other peo-
ple. Had our chief of modern Pessimists lowered the
denominator of his haughty desires from society, and
raised the numerator of his humble self-surrenders to it,
he would have solved the equation of his happiness. The
disappointment of his ambition gave him a chronic moral
nausea : he needed a constant contemplation of the
idea of the race in the individual, as a mental gargle to
enable him to relish men and be content in himself.
But unfortunately he reversed this, seeing in mankind
only the multiplied images of the individuals for whom he
had a particular aversion. The accuracy of the foregoing
diagnosis is confirmed by the mollifying influence which
the surprising renown he acquired in his last years had
on his character, the great happiness and new spirit it
gave him when the first rays of the morning sun of fame
gilded the evening of his life. "Time," he smilingly
said, referring to his blanched hair, " has brought me,
too, roses, but white ones." That under the bristling jf
his bitter outside lay a soft heart of love is indicated by
his fondness foi his poodle Putz, who slept on a black



364 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

bearskin at his feet, and invariably kept him company in
his walks.

Left alone, by the momentary absence of his servant,
a sudden rupture of the lungs snatched the sick Schopen-
hauer easily out of the world. The physician, entering
the room immediately after, found him sitting in a corner
of the sofa, with calm countenance, dead. His Indian
Bible, the Oupnekhat, lay on the table. On the mantel-
piece stood a gilded statuette of Gotama Buddha, the
great leader to Nirwana. The strong, tart sage of Frank-
fort had followed the puissant thinker of the East to the
city of peace. Thenceforth, for him, the poorness and
sorrow of life, against which he had so long chafed, were
no more. No more could the meannesses, impertinences,
and vexations of the world of men rain on his weary head
or beat against his sore heart. The insatiable search
after the knowledge of reality ended, the distressful jour-
ney done, the pack and staff flung away, he had vanished
into the night of eternal mystery, where friends and foes,
victors and vanquished, equally go.

One of the small company that gathered around his
grave, before they lowered the laurel-crowned head,
stepped forth and spoke, among other sentences, these :
" The coffin of this extraordinary man, who, after living
among us so many years, remained as foreign to us as
when he came, awakens strange emotions. No one
united with him by the sweet bonds of blood stands
here. Alone, as he lived, he has died. And yet, in this
still presence, something tells us he has found satisfaction
for his solitude." Yes, some true satisfaction. For,
lonely as he was in character, thought, habit, death, we
think not of him now as lonely. If the Christian heaven
be a verity, he is there with the Saviour who revealed the
God of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Pardon cannot
be wanting for one whose ideal of man was so grand that
his scorn burned against its degraded foils and forfeits ;
one whose loyalty to truth was so supreme that in all his
life he never, in self-interest, swerved one step from his
high, lonely way. If that heaven be the dream he thought
it, why then he is where he aspired to be, with Kapila,



EUGENIE DE GUERIN. 365

Sakya Muni, and the other conquering kings of mind,
blent in the unknown destiny of the All, clasped in the
fruition of Nirwana.



EUGENIE DE GUERIN.

THE name of Eugenie de Guerin has won unexpected
celebrity through the posthumous publication of her jour-
nal and letters, which reveal a personality of singular
depth and purity, and record an experience of rare
interest, notwithstanding its monotony. Her life was
clasped in by the first half of the present century ; but
the force and simplicity of her character are such as were
more frequent in ages less complex and sophisticated than
ours. The three central chords, constantly struck, and
making the sympathetic music of her soul, are friendship,
solitude, religion. Her love for her brother Maurice is
one of the marvels in the history of affection : it deserves
to be classed with the absorbing passion of Madame de
Sevigne' for her daughter. Placed in a lot extremely
lonesome, bare, and regular, the keenness of her exuber-
ant and tenacious consciousness made her doubly sensi-
tive to the weary isolation in which she lived. Her rich
and stainless feelings, denied sufficient lateral expansion
in the social relations, forced a vertical vent, and broke
upward in religious flame. But of the three refrains,
love, loneliness, piety, the second is the one that recurs
oftenest, and sounds with the most piercing tone. Her
life is as plaintive as it is pure, as painfully stamped by
the hunger of unsatisfied affections as it is divinely im-
pressed with self-renunciation in faith and duty. To



Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerThe solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life → online text (page 30 of 35)