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Title: Anton Tchekhov - And Other Essays
Author: Shestov, Lev
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ANTON TCHEKHOV

AND OTHER ESSAIS

BY

LEON SHESTOV

TRANSLATED BY

S. KOTELIANSKY AND J. M. MURRY

MAUNSEL AND CO. LTD.

DUBLIN AND LONDON

1916



    CONTENTS

    ANTON TCHEKHOV (CREATION FROM THE VOID)
    THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
    PENULTIMATE WORDS
    THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE



INTRODUCTION


It is not to be denied that Russian thought is chiefly manifested in
the great Russian novelists. Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, and Tchekhov made
explicit in their works conceptions of the world which yield nothing in
definiteness to the philosophic schemes of the great dogmatists of old,
and perhaps may be regarded as even superior to them in that by their
nature they emphasise a relation of which the professional philosopher
is too often careless--the intimate connection between philosophy and
life. They attacked fearlessly and with a high devotion of which we
English readers are slowly becoming sensible the fundamental problem of
all philosophy worthy the name. They were preoccupied with the answer
to the question: Is life worth living? And the great assumption which
they made, at least in the beginning of the quest, was that to live
life must mean to live it wholly. To live was not to pass by life on
the other side, not suppress the deep or even the dark passions of body
or soul, not to lull by some lying and narcotic phrase the urgent
questions of the mind, not to deny life. To them life was the sum of
all human potentialities. They accepted them all, loved them all, and
strove to find a place for them all in a pattern in which none should
be distorted. They failed, but not one of them fainted by the way,
and there was not one of them but with his latest breath bravely held
to his belief that there was a way and that the way might be found.
Tolstoi went out alone to die, yet more manifestly than he had lived,
a seeker after the secret; death overtook Dostoevsky in his supreme
attempt to wrest a hope for mankind out of the abyss of the imagined
future; and Tchekhov died when his most delicate fingers had been
finally eager in lighting _The Cherry Orchard_ with the tremulous glint
of laughing tears, which may perhaps be the ultimate secret of the
process which leaves us all bewildered and full of pity and wonder.

There were great men and great philosophers. It may be that this
cruelly conscious world will henceforward recognise no man as great
unless he has greatly sought: for to seek and not to think is the
essence of philosophy. To have greatly sought, I say, should be the
measure of man's greatness in the strange world of which there will be
only a tense, sorrowful, disillusioned remnant when this grim ordeal
is over. It should be so: and we, who are, according to our strength,
faithful to humanity, must also strive according to our strength to
make it so. We are not, and we shall not be, great men: but we have
the elements of greatness. We have an impulse to honesty, to think
honestly, to see honestly, and to speak the truth to ourselves in the
lonely hours. It is only an impulse, which, in these barren, bitter,
years, so quickly withers and dies. It is almost that we dare not be
honest now. Our hearts are dead: we cannot wake the old wounds again.
And yet if anything of this generation that suffered is to remain, if
we are to hand any spark of the fire which once burned so brightly,
if we are to be human still, then we must still be honest at whatever
cost. We--and I speak of that generation which was hardly man when the
war burst upon it, which was ardent and generous and dreamed dreams
of devotion to an ideal of art or love or life--are maimed and broken
for ever. Let us not deceive ourselves. The dead voices will never be
silent in our ears to remind us of that which we once were, and that
which we have lost. We shall die as we shall live, lonely and haunted
by memories that will grow stranger, more beautiful, more terrible,
and more tormenting as the years go on, and at the last we shall not
know which was the dream--the years of plenty or the barren years that
descended like a storm in the night and swept our youth away.

Yet something remains. Not those lying things that they who cannot feel
how icy cold is sudden and senseless death to all-daring youth, din in
our ears. We shall not be inspired by the memory of heroism. We shall
be shattered by the thought of splendid and wonderful lives that were
vilely cast away. What remains is that we should be honest as we shall
be pitiful. We shall never again be drunk with hope: let us never be
blind with fear. There can be in the lap of destiny now no worse thing
which may befall us. We can afford to be honest now.

We can afford to be honest: but we need to learn how, or to increase
our knowledge. The Russian writers will help us in this; and not the
great Russians only, but the lesser also. For a century of bitter
necessity has taught that nation that the spirit is mightier than the
flesh, until those eager qualities of soul that a century of social
ease has almost killed in us are in them well-nigh an instinct. Let
us look among ourselves if we can find a Wordsworth, a Shelley, a
Coleridge, or a Byron to lift this struggle to the stars as they did
the French Revolution. There is none.--It will be said: 'But that was
a great fight for freedom. Humanity itself marched forward with the
Revolutionary armies.' But if the future of mankind is not in issue
now, if we are fighting for the victory of no precious and passionate
idea, why is no voice of true poetry uplifted in protest? There is
no third way. Either this is the greatest struggle for right, or the
greatest crime, that has ever been. The unmistakable voice of poetry
should be certain either in protest or enthusiasm: it is silent or
it is trivial. And the cause must be that the keen edge of the soul
of those century-old poets which cut through false patriotism so
surely is in us dulled and blunted. We must learn honesty again:
not the laborious and meagre honesty of those who weigh advantage
against advantage in the ledger of their minds, but the honesty that
cries aloud in instant and passionate anger against the lie and the
half-truth, and by an instinct knows the authentic thrill of contact
with the living human soul.

The Russians, and not least the lesser Russians, may teach us this
thing once more. Among these lesser, Leon Shestov holds an honourable
place. He is hardly what we should call a philosopher, hardly again
what we would understand by an essayist. The Russians, great and small
alike, are hardly ever what we understand by the terms which we victims
of tradition apply to them. In a hundred years they have accomplished
an evolution which has with us slowly unrolled in a thousand. The very
foundations of their achievement are new and laid within the memory of
man. Where we have sharply divided art from art, and from science and
philosophy, and given to each a name, the Russians have still the sense
of a living connection between all the great activities of the human
soul. From us this connection is too often concealed by the tyranny
of names. We have come to believe, or at least it costs us great
pains not to believe, that the name is a particular reality, which to
confuse with another name is a crime. Whereas in truth the energies of
the human soul are not divided from each other by any such impassable
barriers: they flow into each other indistinguishably, modify, control,
support, and decide each other. In their large unity they are real;
isolated, they seem to be poised uneasily between the real and the
unreal, and become deceptive, barren half-truths. Plato, who first
discovered the miraculous hierarchy of names, though he was sometimes
drunk with the new wine of his discovery, never forgot that the unity
of the human soul was the final outcome of its diversity; and those
who read aright his most perfect of all books--_The Republic_--know
that it is a parable which fore-shadows the complete harmony of all the
soul's activities.

Not the least of Shestov's merits is that he is alive to this truth in
its twofold working. He is aware of himself as a soul seeking an answer
to its own question; and he is aware of other souls on the same quest.
As in his own case he knows that he has in him something truer than
names and divisions and authorities, which will live in spite of them,
so towards others he remembers that all that they wrote or thought or
said is precious and permanent in so far as it is the manifestation
of the undivided soul seeking an answer to its question. To know a
man's work for this, to have divined the direct relation between his
utterance and his living soul, is criticism: to make that relation
between one's own soul and one's speech direct and true is creation.
In essence they are the same: creation is a man's lonely attempt to
fix an intimacy with his own strange and secret soul, criticism is the
satisfaction of the impulse of loneliness to find friends and secret
sharers among the souls that are or have been. As creation drives a man
to the knowledge of his own intolerable secrets, so it drives him to
find others with whom he may whisper of the things which he has found.
Other criticism than this is, in the final issue, only the criminal and
mad desire to enforce material order in a realm where all is spiritual
and vague and true. It is only the jealous protest of the small soul
against the great, of the slave against the free.

Against this smallness and jealousy Shestov has set his face. To have
done so does not make him a great writer; but it does make him a real
one. He is honest and he is not deceived. But honesty, unless a man is
big enough to bear it, and often even when he is big enough to bear it,
may make him afraid. Where angels fear to tread, fools rush in: but
though the folly of the fool is condemned, some one must enter, lest
a rich kingdom be lost to the human spirit. Perhaps Shestov will seem
at times too fearful. Then we must remember that Shestov is Russian in
another sense than that I have tried to make explicit above. He is a
citizen of a country where the human spirit has at all times been so
highly prized that the name of thinker has been a key to unlock not
merely the mind but the heart also. The Russians not only respect,
but they love a man who has thought and sought for humanity, and, I
think, their love but seldom stops 'this side idolatry.' They will
exalt a philosopher to a god; they are even able to make of materialism
a religion. Because they are so loyal to the human spirit they will
load it with chains, believing that they are garlands. And that is why
dogmatism has never come so fully into its own as in Russia.

When Shestov began to write nearly twenty years ago, Karl Marx was
enthroned and infallible. The fear of such tyrannies has never
departed from Shestov. He has fought against them so long and so
persistently--even in this book one must always remember that he
is face to face with an enemy of which we English have no real
conception--that he is at times almost unnerved by the fear that he
too may be made an authority and a rule. I do not think that this
ultimate hesitation, if understood rightly, diminishes in any way from
the interest of his writings: but it does suggest that there may be
awaiting him a certain paralysis of endeavour. There is indeed no
absolute truth of which we need take account other than the living
personality, and absolute truths are valuable only in so far as they
are seen to be necessary manifestations of this mysterious reality.
Nevertheless it is in the nature of man, if not to live by absolute
truths, at least to live by enunciating them; and to hesitate to
satisfy this imperious need is to have resigned a certain measure of
one's own creative strength. We may trust to the men of insight who
will follow us to read our dogmatisms, our momentary angers, and our
unshakable convictions, in terms of our personalities, if these shall
be found worthy of their curiosity or their love. And it seems to me
that Shestov would have gained in strength if he could have more firmly
believed that there would surely be other Shestovs who would read him
according to his own intention. But this, I also know, is a counsel of
perfection: the courage which he has not would not have been acquired
by any intellectual process, and its possession would have deprived him
of the courage which he has. As dogmatism in Russia enjoys a supremacy
of which we can hardly form an idea, so a continual challenge to its
claims demands in the challenger a courage which it is hard for us
rightly to appreciate.

I have not written this foreword in order to prejudice the issue.
Shestov will, no doubt, be judged by English readers according to
English standards, and I wish no more than to suggest that his
greatest quality is one which has become rare among us, and that his
peculiarities are due to Russian conditions which have long since
ceased to obtain in England. The Russians have much to teach us, and
the only way we shall learn, or even know, what we should accept
and what reject, is to take count as much as we can of the Russian
realities. And the first of these and the last is that in Russia the
things of the spirit are held in honour above all others. Because of
this the Russian soul is tormented by problems to which we have long
been dead, and to which we need to be alive again. J. M. M.


_Postscript._--Leon Shestov is fifty years old. He was born at Kiev,
and studied at the university there. His first book was written
in 1898. As a writer of small production, he has made his way to
recognition slowly: but now he occupies a sure position as one of the
most delicate and individual of modern Russian critics. The essays
contained in this volume are taken from the fourth and fifth works in
the following list:--

1898. _Shakespeare and his Critic, Brandes._

1900. _Good in the teaching of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: Philosophy and
Preaching._

1903. _Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy._

1905. _The Apotheosis of Groundlessness: An Essay on Dogmatism._

1908. _Beginnings and Ends._

1912. _Great Vigils._



ANTON TCHEKHOV


(CREATION FROM THE VOID)


Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.

(CHARLES BAUDELAIRE.)



I


Tchekhov is dead; therefore we may now speak freely of him. For to
speak of an artist means to disentangle and reveal the 'tendency'
hidden in his works, an operation not always permissible when the
subject is still living. Certainly he had a reason for hiding himself,
and of course the reason was serious and important. I believe many felt
it, and that it was partly on this account that we have as yet had no
proper appreciation of Tchekhov. Hitherto in analysing his works the
critics have confined themselves to common-place and _cliché_. Of course
they knew they were wrong; but anything is better than to extort the
truth from a living person. Mihailovsky alone attempted to approach
closer to the source of Tchekhov's creation, and as everybody knows,
turned away from it with aversion and even with disgust. Here, by the
way, the deceased critic might have convinced himself once again of
the extravagance of the so-called theory of 'art for art's sake.' Every
artist has his definite task, his life's work, to which he devotes
all his forces. A tendency is absurd when it endeavours to take the
place of talent, and to cover impotence and lack of content, or when
it is borrowed from the stock of ideas which happen to be in demand
at the moment. 'I defend ideals, therefore every one must give me his
sympathies.' Such pretences we often see made in literature, and the
notorious controversy concerning 'art for art's sake' was evidently
maintained upon the double meaning given to the word 'tendency' by its
opponents. Some wished to believe that a writer can be saved by the
nobility of his tendency; others feared that a tendency would bind them
to the performance of alien tasks. Much ado about nothing: ready-made
ideas will never endow mediocrity with talent; on the contrary, an
original writer will at all costs set himself his own task. And
Tchekhov had his _own_ business, though there were critics who said
that he was the servant of art for its own sake, and even compared him
to a bird, carelessly flying. To define his tendency in a word, I would
say that Tchekhov was the poet of hopelessness. Stubbornly, sadly,
monotonously, during all the years of his literary activity, nearly a
quarter of a century long, Tchekhov was doing one thing alone: by one
means or another he was killing human hopes. Herein, I hold, lies the
essence of his creation. Hitherto it has been little spoken of. The
reasons are quite intelligible. In ordinary language what Tchekhov
was doing is called crime, and is visited by condign punishment. But
how can a man of talent be punished? Even Mihailovsky, who more than
once in his lifetime gave an example of merciless severity, did not
raise his hand against Tchekhov. He warned his readers and pointed
out the 'evil fire' which he had noticed in Tchekhov's eyes. But he
went no further. Tchekhov's immense talent overcame the strict and
rigorous critic. It may be, however, that Mihailovsky's own position
in literature had more than a little to do with the comparative
mildness of his sentence. The younger generation had listened to him
uninterruptedly for thirty years, and his word had been law. But
afterwards every one was bored with eternally repeating: 'Aristides
is just, Aristides is right.' The younger generation began to desire
to live and to speak in its own way, and finally the old master was
ostracised. There is the same custom in literature as in Terra del
Fuego. The young, growing men kill and eat the old. Mihailovsky
struggled with all his might, but he no longer felt the strength of
conviction that comes from the sense of right. Inwardly, he felt that
the young were right, not because they knew the truth--what truth did
the economic materialists know?--but because they were young and had
their lives before them. The rising star shines always brighter than
the setting, and the old must of their own will yield themselves up to
be devoured by the young. Mihailovsky felt this, and perhaps it was
this which undermined his former assurance and the firmness of his
opinion of old. True, he was still like Gretchen's mother in Goethe: he
did not take rich gifts from chance without having previously consulted
his confessor. Tchekhov's talent too was taken to the priest, by whom
it was evidently rejected as suspect; but Mihailovsky no longer had the
courage to set himself against public opinion. The younger generation
prized Tchekhov for his talent, his immense talent, and it was plain
they would riot disown him. What remained for Mihailovsky He attempted,
as I say, to warn them. But no one listened to him, and Tchekhov became
one of the most beloved of Russian writers.

Yet the just Aristides was right this time too, as he was right when
he gave his warning against Dostoevsky. Now that Tchekhov is no more,
we may speak openly. Take Tchekhov's stories, each one separately, or
better still, all together; look at him at work. He is constantly,
as it were, in ambush, to watch and waylay human hopes. He will not
miss a single one of them, not one of them will escape its fate. Art,
science, love, inspiration, ideals--choose out all the words with which
humanity is wont, or has been in the past, to be consoled or to be
amused--Tchekhov has only to touch them and they instantly wither and
die. And Tchekhov himself faded, withered and died before our eyes.
Only his wonderful art did not die--his art to kill by a mere touch,
a breath, a glance, everything whereby men live and wherein they take
their pride. And in this art he was constantly perfecting himself, and
he attained to a virtuosity beyond the reach of any of his rivals in
European literature. Maupassant often had to strain every effort to
overcome his victim. The victim often escaped from Maupassant, though
crushed and broken, yet with his life. In Tchekhov's hands, nothing
escaped death.



II


I must remind my reader, though it is a matter of general knowledge,
that in his earlier work Tchekhov is most unlike the Tchekhov to whom
we became accustomed in late years. The young Tchekhov is gay and
careless, perhaps even like a flying bird. He published his work in
the comic papers. But in 1888 and 1889, when he was only twenty-seven
and twenty-eight years old, there appeared _The Tedious Story_ and the
drama _Ivanov,_ two pieces of work which laid the foundations of a
new creation. Obviously a sharp and sudden change had taken place in
him, which was completely reflected in his works. There is no detailed
biography of Tchekhov, and probably will never be, because there is no
such thing as a full biography--I, at all events, cannot name one.
Generally biographies tell us everything except what it is important
to know. Perhaps in the future it will be revealed to us with the
fullest details who was Tchekhov's tailor; but we shall never know what
happened to Tchekhov in the time which elapsed between the completion
of his story _The Steppe_ and the appearance of his first drama. If we
would know, we must rely upon his works and our own insight.

_Ivanov_ and _The Tedious Story_ seem to me the most autobiographical
of all his works. In them almost every line is a sob; and it is hard to
suppose that a man could sob so, looking only at another's grief. And
it is plain that his grief is a new one, unexpected as though it had
fallen from the sky. Here it is, it will endure for ever, and he does
not know how to fight against it.

In _Ivanov_ the hero compares himself to an overstrained labourer. I
do not believe we shall be mistaken if we apply this comparison to the
author of the drama as well. There can be practically no doubt that
Tchekhov had overstrained himself. And the overstrain came not from
hard and heavy labour; no mighty overpowering exploit broke him: he
stumbled and fell, he slipped. There comes this nonsensical, stupid,
all but invisible accident, and the old Tchekhov of gaiety and mirth
is no more. No more stories for _The Alarm Clock._ Instead, a morose
and overshadowed man, a 'criminal' whose words frighten even the
experienced and the omniscient.

If you desire it, you can easily be rid of Tchekhov and his work as
well. Our language contains two magic words: 'pathological,' and its
brother 'abnormal.' Once Tchekhov had overstrained himself, you have a
perfectly legal right, sanctified by science and every tradition, to
leave him out of all account, particularly seeing that he is already
dead, and therefore cannot be hurt by your neglect. That is if you
desire to be rid of Tchekhov. But if the desire is for some reason
absent, the words 'pathological' and 'abnormal' will have no effect
upon you. Perhaps you will go further and attempt to find in Tchekhov's
experiences a criterion of the most irrefragable truths and axioms of
this consciousness of ours. There is no third way: you must either
renounce Tchekhov, or become his accomplice.

The hero of _The Tedious Story_ is an old professor; the hero of
_Ivanov_ a young landlord. But the theme of both works is the same.
The professor had overstrained himself, and thereby cut himself off
from his past life and from the possibility of taking an active part
in human affairs. Ivanov also had overstrained himself and become a
superfluous, useless person. Had life been so arranged that death
should supervene simultaneously with the loss of health, strength and
capacity, then the old professor and young Ivanov could not have lived
for one single hour. Even a blind man could see that they are both
broken and are unfit for life. But for reasons unknown to us, wise
nature has rejected coincidence of this kind. A man very often goes on
living after he has completely lost the capacity of taking from life
that wherein we are wont to see its essence and meaning. More striking
still, a broken man is generally deprived of everything except the
ability to acknowledge and feel his position. Nay, for the most part
in such cases the intellectual abilities are refined and sharpened
and increased to colossal proportions. It frequently happens that an
average man, banal and mediocre, is changed beyond all recognition when
he falls into the exceptional situation of Ivanov or the old professor.
In him appear signs of a gift, a talent, even of genius. Nietzsche once
asked: 'Can an ass be tragical?' He left his question unanswered, but
Tolstoi answered for him in _The Death of Ivan Ilyich._ Ivan Ilyich,
it is evident from Tolstoi's description of his life, is a mediocre,
average character, one of those men who pass through life avoiding
anything that is difficult or problematical, caring exclusively for the
calm and pleasantness of earthly existence. Hardly had the cold wind of
tragedy blown upon him, than he was utterly transformed. The story of
Ivan Ilyich in his last days is as deeply interesting as the life-story
of Socrates or Pascal.

In passing I would point out a fact which I consider of great
importance. In his work Tchekhov was influenced by Tolstoi, and
particularly by Tolstoi's later writings. It is important, because thus
a part of Tchekhov's 'guilt' falls upon the great writer of the Russian
land. I think that had there been no _Death of Ivan Ilyich,_ there
would have been no _Ivanov,_ and no _Tedious Story,_ nor many others
of Tchekhov's most remarkable works. But this by no means implies that
Tchekhov borrowed a single word from his great predecessor. Tchekhov
had enough material of his own: in that respect he needed no help. But
a young writer would hardly dare to come forward at his own risk with
the thoughts that make the content of _The Tedious Story._ When Tolstoi
wrote _The Death of Ivan Ilyich,_ he had behind him _War and Peace,
Anna Karenina,_ and the firmly established reputation of an artist of
the highest rank. All things were permitted to him. But Tchekhov was
a young man, whose literary baggage amounted in all to a few dozen
tiny stories, hidden in the pages of little known and uninfluential
papers. Had Tolstoi not paved the way, had Tolstoi not shown by his
example, that in literature it was permitted to tell the truth, to
tell everything, then perhaps Tchekhov would have had to struggle long
with himself before finding the courage of a public confession, even
though it took the form of stories. And even with Tolstoi before him,
how terribly did Tchekhov have to struggle with public opinion. 'Why
does he write his horrible stories and plays?' every one asked himself.
'Why does the writer systematically choose for his heroes situations
from which there is not, and cannot possibly be, any escape?' What
can be said in answer to the endless complaints of the old professor
and Katy, his pupil? This means that there is, essentially, something
to be said. From times immemorial, literature has accumulated a large
and varied store of all kinds of general ideas and conceptions,
material and metaphysical, to which the masters have recourse the
moment the over-exacting and over-restless human voice begins to be
heard. This is exactly the point. Tchekhov himself, a writer and an
educated man, refused in advance every possible consolation, material
or metaphysical. Not even in Tolstoi, who set no great store by
philosophical systems, will you find such keenly expressed disgust for
every kind of conceptions and ideas as in Tchekhov. He is well aware
that conceptions ought to be esteemed and respected, and he reckons his
inability to bend the knee before that which educated people consider
holy as a defect against which he must struggle with all his strength.
And he does struggle with all his strength against this defect. But
not only is the struggle unavailing; the longer Tchekhov lives, the
weaker grows the power of lofty words over him, in spite of his own
reason and his conscious will. Finally, he frees himself entirely
from ideas of every kind, and loses even the notion of connection
between the happenings of life. Herein lies the most important and
original characteristic of his creation. Anticipating a little, I would
here point to his comedy, _The Sea-Gull,_ where, in defiance of all
literary principles, the basis of action appears to be not the logical
development of passions, or the inevitable connection between cause and
effect, but naked accident, ostentatiously nude. As one reads the play,
it seems at times that one has before one a copy of a newspaper with
an endless series of news paragraphs, heaped upon one another, without
order and without previous plan. Sovereign accident reigns everywhere
and in everything, this time boldly throwing the gauntlet to all
conceptions. In this, I repeat, is Tchekhov's greatest originality, and
this, strangely enough, is the source of his most bitter experiences.
He did not want to be original; he made super-human efforts to be
like everybody else: but there is no escaping one's destiny. How
many men, above all among writers, wear their fingers to the bone in
the effort to be unlike others, and yet they cannot shake themselves
free of _cliché_--yet Tchekhov was original against his will!
Evidently originality does not depend upon the readiness to proclaim
revolutionary opinions at all costs. The newest and boldest idea may
and often does appear tedious and vulgar. In order to become original,
instead of inventing an idea, one must achieve a difficult and painful
labour; and, since men avoid labour and suffering, the really new is
for the most part born in man against his will.



III


'A man cannot reconcile himself to the accomplished fact; neither can
he refuse so to reconcile himself: and there is no third course. Under
such conditions "action" is impossible. He can only fall down and weep
and beat his head against the floor.' So Tchekhov speaks of one of his
heroes; but he might say the same of them all, without exception. The
author takes care to put them in such a situation that only one thing
is left for them,--to fall down and beat their heads against the floor.
With strange, mysterious obstinacy they refuse all the accepted means
of salvation. Nicolai Stepanovich, the old professor in _The Tedious
Story,_ might have attempted to forget himself for a while or to
console himself with memories of the past. But memories only irritate
him. He was once an eminent scholar: now he cannot work. Once he was
able to hold the attention of his audience for two hours on end; now
he cannot do it even for a quarter of an hour. He used to have friends
and comrades, he used to love his pupils and assistants, his wife
and children; now he cannot concern himself with any one. If people
do arouse any feelings at all within him, then they are only feelings
of hatred, malice and envy. He has to confess it to himself with
the truthfulness which came to him--he knows not why nor whence--in
place of the old diplomatic skill, possessed by all clever and normal
men, whereby he saw and said only that which makes for decent human
relations and healthy states of mind. Now everything which he sees or
thinks only serves to poison, in himself and others, the few joys which
adorn human life. With a certainty which he never attained on the best
days and hours of his old theoretical research, he feels that he is
become a criminal, having committed no crime. All that he was engaged
in before was good, necessary, and useful. He tells you of his past,
and you can see that he was always right and ready at any moment of
the day or the night to answer the severest judge who should examine
not only his actions, but his thoughts as well. Now not only would an
outsider condemn him, he condemns himself. He confesses openly that he
is all compact of envy and hatred.

'The best and most sacred right of kings,' he says, 'is the right to
pardon. And I have always felt myself a king so long as I used this
right prodigally. I never judged, I was compassionate, I pardoned every
one right and left.... But now I am king no more. There's something
going on in me which belongs only to slaves. Day and night evil
thoughts roam about in my head, and feelings which I never knew before
have made their home in my soul. I hate and despise; I'm exasperated,
disturbed, and afraid. I've become strict beyond measure, exacting,
unkind and suspicious.... What does it all mean? If my new thoughts and
feelings come from a change of my convictions, where could the change
come from? Has the world grown worse and I better, or was I blind and
indifferent before? But if the change is due to the general decline
of my physical and mental powers--I am sick and losing weight every
day--then I am in a pitiable position. It means that my new thoughts
are abnormal and unhealthy, that I must be ashamed of them and consider
them valueless....

The question is asked by the old professor on the point of death, and
in his person by Tchekhov himself. Which is better, to be a king, or an
old, envious, malicious 'toad,' as he calls himself elsewhere? There
is no denying the originality of the question. In the words above you
feel the price which Tchekhov had to pay for his originality, and with
how great joy he would have exchanged all his original thoughts--at
the moment when his 'new' point of view had become clear to him--for
the most ordinary, banal capacity for benevolence. He has, no doubt
felt that his way of thinking is pitiable, shameful and disgusting.
His moods revolt him no less than his appearance, which he describes
in the following lines: '... I am a man of sixty-two, with a bald
head, false teeth and an incurable tic. My name is as brilliant and
prepossessing, as I myself am dull and ugly. My head and hands tremble
from weakness; my neck, like that of one of Turgeniev's heroines,
resembles the handle of a counter-bass; my chest is hollow and my
back narrow. When I speak or read my mouth twists, and when I smile
my whole face is covered with senile, deathly wrinkles.' Unpleasant
face, unpleasant moods! Let the most sweet natures and compassionate
person but give a side-glance at such a monster, and despite himself
a cruel thought would awaken in him: that he should lose no time in
killing, in utterly destroying this pitiful and disgusting vermin, or
if the laws forbid recourse to such strong measures, at least in hiding
him as far as possible from human eyes, in some prison or hospital
or asylum. These are measures of suppression sanctioned, I believe,
not only by legislation, but by eternal morality as well. But here
you encounter resistance of a particular kind. Physical strength to
struggle with the warders, executioners, attendants, moralists--the old
professor has none; a little child could knock him down. Persuasion
and prayer, he knows well, will avail him nothing. So he strikes out
in despair: he begins to cry over all the world in a terrible, wild,
heartrending voice about some rights of his: '... I have a passionate
and hysterical desire to stretch out my hands and moan aloud. I want to
cry out that fate has doomed me, a famous man, to death; that in some
six months here in the auditorium another will be master. I want to cry
out that I am poisoned; that new ideas that I did not know before have
poisoned the last days of my life, and sting my brain incessantly like
mosquitoes. At that moment my position seems so terrible to me that
I want all my students to be terrified, to jump from their seats and
rush panic-stricken to the door, shrieking in despair.' The professor's
arguments will hardly move any one. Indeed I do not know if there is
any argument in those words. But this awful, inhuman moan.... Imagine
the picture: a bald, ugly old man, with trembling hands, and twisted
mouth, and skinny neck, eyes mad with fear, wallowing like a beast on
the ground and wailing, wailing, wailing.... What does he want? He had
lived a long and interesting life; now he had only to round it off
nicely, with all possible calm, quietly and solemnly to take leave of
this earthly existence. Instead he rends himself, and flings himself
about, calls almost the whole universe to judgment, and clutches
convulsively at the few days left to him. And Tchekhov--what did
Tchekhov do? Instead of passing by on the other side, he supports the
prodigious monster, devotes pages and pages to the 'experiences of his
soul,' and gradually brings the reader to a point at which, instead of
a natural and lawful sense of indignation, unprofitable and dangerous
sympathies for the decomposing, decaying creature are awakened in
his heart. But every one knows that it is impossible to _help_ the
professor; and if it is impossible to help, then it follows we must
forget. That is as plain as _a b c._ What use or what meaning could
there be in the endless picturing--daubing, as Tolstoi would say--of
the intolerable pains of the agony which inevitably leads to death?

If the professor's 'new' thoughts and feelings shone bright with
beauty, nobility or heroism, the case would be different. The reader
could learn something from it. But Tchekhov's story shows that these
qualities belonged to his hero's old thoughts. Now that his illness has
begun, there has sprung up within him a revulsion from everything which
even remotely resembles a lofty feeling. When his pupil Katy turns to
him for advice what she should do, the famous scholar, the friend of
Pirogov, Kavelin and Nekrassov, who had taught so many generations
of young men, does not know what to answer. Absurdly he chooses from
his memory a whole series of pleasant-sounding words; but they have
lost all meaning for him. What answer shall he give? he asks himself.
'It is easy to say, Work, or divide your property among the poor, or
know yourself, and because it is easy, I do not know what to answer.'
Katy, still young, healthy and beautiful, has by Tchekhov's offices
fallen like the professor into a trap from which no human power can
deliver her. From the moment that she knew hopelessness, she had won
all the author's sympathy. While a person is settled to some work,
while he has a future of some kind before him, Tchekhov is utterly
indifferent to him. If he does describe him, then he usually does it
hastily and in a tone of scornful irony. But when he is entangled, and
so entangled that he cannot be disentangled by any means, then Tchekhov
begins to wake up. Colour, energy, creative force, inspiration make
their appearance. Therein perhaps lies the secret of his political
indifferentism. Notwithstanding all his distrust of projects for a
brighter future, Tchekhov like Dostoevsky was evidently not wholly
convinced that social reforms and social science were important.
However difficult the social question may be, still it may be solved.
Some day, perhaps people will so arrange themselves on the earth as
to live and die without suffering: further than that ideal humanity
cannot go. Perhaps the authors of stout volumes on Progress do guess
and foresee something. But just for that reason their work is alien to
Tchekhov. At first by instinct, then consciously, he was attracted to
problems which are by essence insoluble like that presented in _The
Tedious Story_: there you have helplessness, sickness, the prospect of
inevitable death, and no hope whatever to change the situation by a
hair. This infatuation, whether conscious or instinctive, clearly runs
counter to the demands of common sense and normal will. But there is
nothing else to expect from Tchekhov, an overstrained man. Every one
knows, or has heard, of hopelessness. On every side, before our very
eyes, are happening terrible and intolerable tragedies, and if every
doomed man were to raise such an awful alarm about his destruction as
Nicolai Stepanovich, life would become an inferno; Nicolai Stepanovich
must not cry his sufferings aloud over the world, but be careful to
trouble people as little as possible. And Tchekhov should have assisted
this reputable endeavour by every means in his power. As though there
were not thousands of tedious stories in the world--they cannot be
counted! And above all stories of the kind that Tchekhov tells should
be hidden with special care from human eyes. We have here to do with
the decomposition of a living organism. What should we say to a man
who would prevent corpses from being buried, and would dig decaying
bodies from the grave, even though it were on the ground, or rather on
the pretext, that they were the bodies of his intimate friends, even
famous men of reputation and genius? Such an occupation would rouse
in a normal and healthy mind nothing but disgust and terror. Once upon
a time, according to popular superstition, sorcerers, necromancers
and wizards kept company with the dead, and found a certain pleasure
or even a real satisfaction in that ghastly occupation. But they
generally hid themselves away from mankind in forests and caves, or
betook themselves to deserts where they might in isolation surrender
themselves to their unnatural inclinations; and if their deeds were
eventually brought to light, healthy men requited them with the stake,
the gallows, and the rack. The worst kind of that which is called
evil, as a rule, had for its source and origin an interest and taste
for carrion. Man forgave every crime--cruelty, violence, murder; but
he never forgave the unmotived love of death and the seeking of its
secret. In this matter modern times, being free from prejudices, have
advanced little from the Middle Ages. Perhaps the only difference is
that we, engaged in practical affairs, have lost the natural _flair_
for good and evil. Theoretically we are even convinced that in our time
there are not and cannot be wizards and necromancers. Our confidence
and carelessness in this reached such a point, that almost everybody
saw even in Dostoevsky only an artist and a publicist, and seriously
discussed with him whether the Russian peasant needed to be flogged and
whether we ought to lay hands on Constantinople.

Mihailovsky alone vaguely conjectured what it all might be when he
called the author of _The Brothers Karamazov_ a 'treasure-digger.'
I say he 'dimly conjectured, because I think that the deceased
critic made the remark partly in allegory, even in joke. But none of
Dostoevsky's other critics made, even by accident, a truer slip of the
pen. Tchekhov, too, was a 'treasure-digger,' a sorcerer, a necromancer,
an adept in the black art; and this explains his singular infatuation
for death, decay and hopelessness.

Tchekhov was not of course the only writer to make death the subject
of his works. But not the theme is important but the manner of its
treatment. Tchekhov understands that. 'In all the thoughts, feelings,
and ideas,' he says, '[which] I form about anything, there is wanting
the something universal which could bind all these together in one
whole. Each feeling and each thought lives detached in me, and in all
my opinions about science, the theatre, literature, and my pupils,
and in all the little pictures which my imagination paints, not even
the most cunning analyst will discover what is called the general
idea, or the god of the living man. And if this is not there, then
nothing is there. In poverty such as this, a serious infirmity, fear
of death, influence of circumstances and people would have been
enough to over-throw and shatter all that I formerly considered as my
conception of the world, and all wherein I saw the meaning and joy of
my life....' In these words one of the 'newest' of Tchekhov's ideas
finds expression, one by which the whole of his subsequent creation is
defined. It is expressed in a modest, apologetic form: a man confesses
that he is unable to subordinate his thoughts to a higher idea, and
in that inability he sees his weakness. This was enough to avert from
him to some extent the thunders of criticism and the judgment of
public opinion. We readily forgive the repentant sinner! But it is an
unprofitable clemency: to expiate one's guilt, it is not enough to
confess it. What was the good of Tchekhov's putting on sackcloth; and
ashes and publicly confessing his guilt, if he was inwardly unchanged?
If, while his words acknowledged the general idea as god (without a
capital, indeed), he did nothing whatever for it? In words he burns
incense to god, in deed he curses him. Before his disease a conception
of the world brought him happiness, now it had shattered into
fragments. Is it not natural to ask whether the conception actually did
ever bring him happiness? Perhaps the happiness had its own independent
origin, and the conception was invited only as a general to a wedding,
for outward show, and never played any essential part. Tchekhov tells
us circumstantially what joys the professor found in his scientific
work, his lectures to the students, his family, and in a good dinner.
In all these were present together the conception of the world and
the idea, and they did not take away from, but as it were embellished
life; so that it seemed that he was working for the ideal, as well
as creating a family and dining. But now, when for the same ideal's
sake he has to remain inactive, to suffer, to remain awake of nights,
to swallow with effort food that has become loathsome to him--the
conception of the world is shattered into fragments! And it amounts to
this, that a conception with a dinner is right, and a dinner without a
conception equally right--this needs no argument--and a conception _an
und für sich_ is of no value whatever. Here is the essence of the words
quoted from Tchekhov. He confesses with horror the presence within him
of that 'new' idea. It seems to him that he alone of all men is so weak
and insignificant, that the others ... well, they need only ideals
and conceptions. And so it is, surely, if we may believe what people
write in books. Tchekhov plagues, tortures and worries himself in every
possible way, but he can alter nothing; nay worse, conceptions and
ideas, towards which a great many people behave quite carelessly--after
all, these innocent things do not merit any other attitude--in Tchekhov
become the objects of bitter, inexorable, and merciless hatred. He
cannot free himself at one single stroke from the power of ideas:
therefore he begins a long, slow and stubborn war, I would call it
a guerilla war, against the tyrant who had enslaved him. The whole
history and the separate episodes of his struggle are of absorbing
interest, because the most conspicuous representatives of literature
have hitherto been convinced that ideas have a magical power. What
are the majority of writers doing but constructing conceptions of the
world--and believing that they are engaged in a work of extraordinary
importance and sanctity? Tchekhov offended very many literary men. If
his punishment was comparatively slight, that was because he was very
cautious, and waged war with the air of bringing tribute to the enemy,
and secondly, because to talent much is forgiven.



IV


The content of _The Tedious Story_ thus reduces to the fact that the
professor, expressing his 'new' thoughts, in essence declares that
he finds it impossible to acknowledge the power of the 'idea' over
himself, or conscientiously to fulfil that which men consider the
supreme purpose, and in the service whereof they see the mission, the
sacred mission of man. 'God be my judge, I haven't courage enough
to act according to my conscience,' such is the only answer which
Tchekhov finds in his soul to all demands for a 'conception.' This
attitude towards 'conceptions' becomes second nature with Tchekhov.
A conception makes demands; a man acknowledges the justice of these
demands and methodically satisfies none of them. Moreover, the justice
of the demands meets with less and less acknowledgment from him. In
_The Tedious Story_ the idea still judges the man and tortures him
with the mercilessness peculiar to all things inanimate. Exactly like
a splinter stuck into a living body, the idea, alien and hostile,
mercilessly performs its high mission, until at length the man firmly
resolves to draw the splinter out of his flesh, however painful that
difficult operation may be. In _Ivanov_ the rôle of the idea is
already changed. There not the idea persecutes Tchekhov, but Tchekhov
the idea, and with the subtlest division and contempt. The voice of
the living nature rises above the artificial habits of civilisation.
True, the struggle still continues, if you will, with alternating
fortunes. But the old humility is no more. More and more Tchekhov
emancipates himself from old prejudices and goes--he himself could
hardly say whither, were he asked. But he prefers to remain without
an answer, rather than to accept any of the traditional answers. 'I
know quite well I have no more than six months to live; and it would
seem that now I ought to be mainly occupied with questions of the
darkness beyond the grave, and the visions which will visit my sleep
in the earth. But somehow my soul is not curious of these questions,
though my mind grants every atom of their importance.' In contrast to
the habits of the past, reason is once more pushed out of the door
with all due respect, while its rights are handed over to the 'soul,'
to the dark, vague aspiration which Tchekhov by instinct trusts more
than the bright, clear consciousness which beforehand determines the
beyond, now that he stands before the fatal pale which divides man from
the eternal mystery. Is scientific philosophy indignant? Is Tchekhov
undermining its surest foundations? But he is an overstrained, abnormal
man. Certainly you are not bound to listen to him; but once you have
decided to do so then you must be prepared for anything. A normal
person, even though he be a metaphysician of the extremest ethereal
brand, always adjusts his theories to the requirements of the moment;
he destroys only to build up from the old material once more. This is
the reason why material never fails him. Obedient to the fundamental
law of human nature, long since noted and formulated by the wise, he
is content to confine himself to the modest part of a seeker after
forms. Out of iron, which he finds in nature ready to his hand, he
forges a sword or a plough, a lance or a sickle. The idea of creating
out of a void hardly even enters his mind. But Tchekhov's heroes,
persons abnormal _par excellence,_ are faced with this abnormal and
dreadful necessity. Before them always lies hopelessness, helplessness,
the utter impossibility of any action whatsoever. And yet they live
on, they do not die. A strange question, and one of extraordinary
moment, here suggests itself. I said that it was foreign to human
nature to create out of a void. Yet nature often deprives man of
ready material, while at the same time she demands imperatively that
he should create. Does this mean that nature contradicts herself,
or that she perverts her creatures? Is it not more correct to admit
that the conception of perversion is of purely human origin. Perhaps
nature is much more economical and wise than our wisdom, and maybe we
should discover much more if instead of dividing people into necessary
and superfluous, useful and noxious, good and bad, we suppressed
the tendency to subjective valuation in ourselves and endeavoured
with greater confidence to accept her creations? Otherwise you come
immediately--to 'the evil gleam,' 'treasure-digging,' sorcery and
black magic--and a wall is raised between men which neither logical
argument nor even a battery of artillery can break down. I hardly dare
hope that this consideration will appear convincing to those who are
used to maintaining the norm; and it is probably unnecessary that the
notion of the great opposition of good and bad which is alive among
men should die away, just as it is unnecessary that children should
be born with the experience of men, or that red cheeks and curly hair
should vanish from the earth. At any rate it is impossible. The world
has many centuries to its reckoning, many nations have lived and died
upon the earth, yet as far as we know from the books and traditions
that have survived to us, the dispute between good and evil was never
hushed. And it always so happened that good was not afraid of the light
of day, and good men lived a united, social life; while evil hid itself
in darkness, and the wicked always stood alone. Nor could it have been
otherwise.

All Tchekhov's heroes fear the light. They are lonely. They are ashamed
of their hopelessness, and they know that men cannot help them.
They go somewhere, perhaps even forward, but they call to no one to
follow. All things are taken from them: they must create everything
anew. Thence most probably is derived the unconcealed contempt with
which they behave to the most precious products of common human
creativeness. On whatever subject you begin to talk with a Tchekhov
hero he has one reply to everything: _Nobody can teach me anything._
You offer him a new conception of the world: already in your very
first words he feels that they all reduce to an attempt to lay the old
bricks and stones over again, and he turns from you with impatience,
and often with rudeness. Tchekhov is an extremely cautious writer.
He fears and takes into account public opinion. Yet how unconcealed
is the aversion he displays to accepted ideas and conceptions of the
world. In _The Tedious Story,_ he at any rate preserves the tone and
attitude of outward obedience. Later he throws aside all precautions,
and instead of reproaching himself for his inability to submit to the
general idea, openly rebels against it and jeers at it. In _Ivanov_ it
already is sufficiently expressed; there was reason for the outburst
of indignation which this play provoked in its day. Ivanov, I have
already said, is a dead man. The only thing the artist can do with
him is to bury him decently, that is, to praise his past, pity his
present, and then, in order to mitigate the cheerless impression
produced by death, to invite the general idea to the funeral. He might
recall the universal problems of humanity in any one of the many
stereotyped forms, and thus the difficult case which seemed insoluble
would be removed. Together with Ivanov's death he should portray a
bright young life, full of promise, and the impression of death and
destruction would lose all its sting and bitterness. Tchekhov does just
the opposite. Instead of endowing youth and ideals with power over
destruction and death, as all philosophical systems and many works of
art had done, he ostentatiously makes the good-for-nothing wreck Ivanov
the centre of all events. Side by side with Ivanov there are young
lives, and the idea is also given her representatives. But the young
Sasha, a wonderful and charming girl, who falls utterly in love with
the broken hero, not only does not save her lover, but herself perishes
under the burden of the impossible task. And the idea? It is enough
to recall the figure of Doctor Lvov alone, whom Tchekhov entrusted
with the responsible rôle of a representative of the all-powerful
idea, and you will at once perceive that he considers himself not as
subject and vassal, but as the bitterest enemy of the idea. The moment
Doctor Lvov opens his mouth, all the characters, as though acting on
a previous agreement, vie with each other in their haste to interrupt
him in the most insulting way, by jests, threats, and almost by smacks
in the face. But the doctor fulfils his duties as a representative
of the great power with no less skill and conscientiousness than his
predecessors--Starodoum[1] and the other reputable heroes of the old
drama. He champions the wronged, seeks to restore rights that have been
trodden underfoot, sets himself dead against injustice. Has he stepped
beyond the limits of his plenipotentiary powers? Of course not; but
where Ivanovs and hopelessness reign there is not and cannot be room
for the idea.

They cannot possibly live together. And the eyes of the reader, who
is accustomed to think that every kingdom may fall and perish, yet
the kingdom of the idea stands firm _in saecula saeculorum,_ behold
a spectacle unheard of: the idea dethroned by a helpless, broken,
good-for-nothing man! What is there that Ivanov does not say? In the
very first act he fires off a tremendous tirade, not at a chance
comer, but at the incarnate idea--Starodoum-Lvov. 'I have the right
to give you advice. Don't you marry a Jewess, or an abnormal, or a
blue-stocking. Choose something ordinary, greyish, without any bright
colours or superfluous shades. Make it a principle to build your
life of _clichés._ The more grey and monotonous the background, the
better. My dear man, don't fight thousands single-handed, don't tilt
at windmills, don't run your head against the wall. God save you from
all kinds of Back-to-the-Landers' advanced doctrines, passionate
speeches.... Shut yourself tight in your own shell, and do the tiny
little work set you by God.... It's cosier, honester, and healthier.'

Doctor Lvov, the representative of the all-powerful, sovereign idea,
feels that his sovereign's majesty is injured, that to suffer such
an offence really means to abdicate the throne. Surely Ivanov was a
vassal, and so he must remain. How dare he let his tongue advise, how
dare he raise his voice when it is his part to listen reverently, and
to obey in silent resignation? This is rank rebellion! Lvov attempts to
draw himself up to his full height and answer the arrogant rebel with
dignity. Nothing comes of it. In a weak, trembling voice he mutters the
accustomed words, which but lately had invincible power. But they do
not produce their customary effect. Their virtue is departed. Whither?
Lvov dares not own it even to himself. But it is no longer a secret
to any one. Whatever mean and ugly things Ivanov may have done--Tchekhov
is not close-fisted in this matter: in his hero's conduct-book
are written all manner of offences; almost to the deliberate murder
of a woman devoted to him--it is to him and not to Lvov that public
opinion bows. Ivanov is the spirit of destruction, rude, violent,
pitiless, sticking at nothing: yet the word 'scoundrel,' which the
doctor tears out of himself with a painful effort and hurls at him,
does not stick to him. He is somehow right, with his own peculiar
right, to others inconceivable, yet still, if we may believe Tchekhov,
incontestable. Sasha, a creature of youth and insight and talent,
passes by the honest Starodoum-Lvov unheeding, on her way to render
worship to him. The whole play is based on that. It is true, Ivanov in
the end shoots himself, and that may, if you like, give you a formal
ground for believing that the final victory remained with Lvov. And
Tchekhov did well to end the drama in this way--it could not be spun
out to infinity. It would have been no easy matter to tell the whole of
Ivanov's history. Tchekhov went on writing for fifteen years after, all
the time telling the unfinished story, yet even then he had to break it
off without reaching the end....

It would show small understanding of Tchekhov to take it into one's
head to interpret Ivanov's words to Lvov as meaning that Tchekhov,
like the Tolstoi of the _War and Peace_ period, saw his ideal in the
everyday arrangement of life. Tchekhov was only fighting against
the idea, and he said to it the most abusive thing that entered his
head. For what can be more insulting to the idea than to be forced
to listen to the praise of everyday life? But when the opportunity
came his way, Tchekhov could describe everyday life with equal venom.
The story, _The Teacher of Literature,_ may serve as an example. The
teacher lives entirely by Ivanov's prescription. He has his job, and
his wife--neither Jewess nor abnormal, nor blue-stocking--and a home
that fits like a shell...; but all this does not prevent Tchekhov
from driving the poor teacher by slow degrees into the usual trap, and
bringing him to a condition wherein it is left to him only 'to fall
down and weep, and beat his head against the floor.' Tchekhov had no
'ideal,' not even the ideal of 'everyday life' which Tolstoi glorified
with such inimitable and incomparable mastery in his early works. An
ideal presupposes submission, the voluntary denial of one's own right
to independence, freedom and power; and demands of this kind, even a
hint of such demands, roused in Tchekhov all that force of disgust and
repulsion of which he alone was capable.


[Footnote 1: A hero from Fon-Vizin's play _The Minor._ Starodoum is a
_raisonneur,_ a 'positive' type, always uttering truisms.]



V


Thus the real, the only hero of Tchekhov, is the hopeless man. He
has absolutely no _action_ left for him in life, save to beat his
head against the stones. It is not surprising that such a man should
be intolerable to his neighbours. Everywhere he brings death and
destruction with him. He himself is aware of it, but he has not the
power to go apart from men. With all his soul he endeavours to tear
himself out of his horrible condition. Above all he is attracted to
fresh, young, untouched beings; with their help he hopes to recover his
right to life which he has lost. The hope is vain. The beginning of
decay always appears, all-conquering, and at the end Tchekhov's hero
is left to himself alone. He has nothing, he must create everything
for himself. And this 'creation out of the void,' or more truly the
possibility of this creation, is the only problem which can occupy and
inspire Tchekhov. When he has stripped his hero of the last shred, when
nothing is left for him but to beat his head against the wall, Tchekhov
begins to feel something like satisfaction, a strange fire lights in
his burnt-out eyes, a fire which Mihailovsky did not call 'evil' in
vain.

Creation out of the void! Is not this task beyond the limit of human
powers, of human _rights_? Mihailovsky obviously had one straight
answer to the question.... As for Tchekhov himself, if the question
were put to him in such a deliberately definite form, he would probably
be unable to answer, although he was continually engaged in the
activity, or more properly, because he was continually so engaged.
Without fear of mistake, one may say that the people who answer the
question without hesitation in either sense have never come near to
it, or to any of the so-called ultimate questions of life. Hesitation
is a necessary and integral element in the judgment of those men
whom Fate has brought near to false problems. How Tchekhov's hand
trembled while he wrote the concluding lines of his _Tedious Story_!
The professor's pupil--the being nearest and dearest to him, but like
himself, for all her youth, overstrained and bereft of all hope--has
come to Kharkov to seek his advice. The following conversation takes
place:

"Nicolai Stepanich!" she says, growing pale and pressing her hands to
her breast. "Nicolai Stepanich! I can't go on like this any longer. For
God's sake tell me now, immediately. What shall I do? Tell me, what
shall I do?"

"What can I say? I am beaten. I can say nothing."

"But tell me, I implore you," she continues, out of breath and
trembling all over her body. "I swear to you, I can't go on like this
any longer. I haven't the strength."

She drops into a chair and begins to sob. She throws her head back,
wrings her hands, stamps with her feet; her hat falls from her head and
dangles by its string, her hair is loosened.

"Help me, help," she implores. "I can't bear it any more."

"There's nothing that I can say to you, Katy," I say.

"Help me," she sobs, seizing my hand and kissing it. "You 're my
father, my only friend. You're wise and learned, and you've lived long
I You were a teacher. Tell me what to do."

'"Upon my conscience, Katy, I do not know."

'I am bewildered and surprised, stirred by her sobbing, and I can
hardly stand upright.

'"Let's have some breakfast, Katy," I say with a constrained smile.

'Instantly I add in a sinking voice: "I shall be dead soon, Katy...."

'"Only one word, only one word," she weeps and stretches out her hands
to me. "What shall I do?..."'

But the professor has not the word to give. He turns the conversation
to the weather, Kharkov and other indifferent matters. Katy gets up and
holds out her hand to him, without looking at him. 'I want to ask her,'
he concludes his story. '"So it means you won't be at my funeral?" But
she does not look at me; her hand is cold and like a stranger's ... I
escort her to the door in silence.... She goes out of my room and walks
down the long passage, without looking back. She knows that my eyes are
following her, and probably on the landing she will look back. No, she
did not look back. The black dress showed for the last time, her steps
were stilled.... Good-bye, my treasure!...'

The only answer which the wise, educated, long-lived Nicolai
Stepanovich, a teacher all his life, can give to Katy's question is,
'I don't know.' There is not, in all his great experience of the
past, a single method, rule, or suggestion, which might apply, even in
the smallest degree, to the wild incongruity of the new conditions of
Katy's life and his own. Katy can live thus no longer; neither can he
himself continue to endure his disgusting and shameful helplessness.
They both, old and young, with their whole hearts desire to support
each other; they can between them find no way. To her question: 'What
shall I do?' he replied: 'I shall soon be dead.' To his 'I shall
soon be dead' she answers with wild sobbing, wringing her hands, and
absurdly repeating the same words over and over again. It would have
been better to have asked no question, not to have begun that frank
conversation of souls. But they do not yet understand that. In their
old life talk would bring them relief and frank confession, intimacy.
But now, after such a meeting they can suffer each other no longer.
Katy leaves the old professor, her foster-father, her true father and
friend, in the knowledge that he has become a stranger to her. She
did not even turn round towards him as she went away. Both felt that
nothing remained save to beat their heads against the wall. Therein
each acts at his own peril, and there can be no dreaming of a consoling
union of souls.



VI


Tchekhov knew what conclusions he had reached in _The Tedious Story_
and _Ivanov._ Some of his critics also knew, and told him so. I
cannot venture to say what was the cause--whether fear of public
opinion, or his horror at his own discoveries, or both together--but
evidently there came a moment to Tchekhov when he decided at all costs
to surrender his position and retreat. The fruit of this decision was
_Ward No. 6._ In this story the hero of the drama is the same familiar
Tchekhov character, the doctor. The setting, too, is quite the usual
one, though changed to a slight extent. Nothing in particular has
occurred in the doctor's life. He happened to come to an out-of-the-way
place in the provinces, and gradually, by continually avoiding
life and people, he reached a condition of utter will-lessness, which
he represented to himself as the ideal of human happiness. He is
indifferent to everything, beginning with his hospital, where he can
hardly ever be found, where under the reign of the drunken brute of an
assistant the patients are swindled and neglected.

In the mental ward reigns a porter who is a discharged soldier: he
punches his restless patients into shape. The doctor does not care,
as though he were living in some distant other world, and does not
understand what is going on before his very eyes. He happens to enter
his ward and to have a conversation with one of his patients. He
listens quietly to him; but his answer is words instead of deeds. He
tries to show his lunatic acquaintance that external influences cannot
affect us in any way at all. The lunatic does not agree, becomes
impertinent, presents objections, in which, as in the thoughts of many
lunatics, nonsensical assertions are mixed with very profound remarks.
Indeed, there is so little nonsense that from the conversation you
would hardly imagine that you have to do with a lunatic. The doctor
is delighted with his new friend, but does nothing whatsoever to
make him more comfortable. The patient is still under the porter's
thumb as he used to be, and the porter gives him a thrashing on the
least provocation. The patient, the doctor, the people round, the
whole setting of the hospital and the doctor's rooms, are described
with wonderful talent. Everything induces you to make absolutely no
resistance and to become fatalistically indifferent:--let them get
drunk, let them fight, let them thieve, let them be brutal--what does
it matter! Evidently it is so predestined by the supreme council of
nature. The philosophy of inactivity which the doctor professes is
as it were prompted and whispered by the immutable laws of human
existence. Apparently there is no force which may tear one from its
power. So far everything is more or less in the Tchekhov style. But
the end is completely different. By the intrigues of his colleague,
the doctor himself is taken as a patient into the mental ward. He
is deprived of freedom, shut up in a wing of the hospital, and even
thrashed, thrashed by the same porter whose behaviour he had taught his
lunatic acquaintance to accept, thrashed before his acquaintance's
very eyes. The doctor instantly awakens as though out of a dream. A
fierce desire to struggle and to protest manifests itself in him. True,
at this moment he dies; but the idea is triumphant, still. The critics
could consider themselves quite satisfied. Tchekhov had openly repented
and renounced the theory of non-resistance; and, I believe, _Ward No.
6_ met with a sympathetic reception at the time. In passing I would say
that the doctor dies very beautifully: in his last moments he sees a
herd of deer....

Indeed, the construction of this story leaves no doubt in the mind.
Tchekhov wished to compromise, and he compromised. He had come to feel
how intolerable was hopelessness, how impossible the creation from a
void. To beat one's head against the stones, eternally to beat one's
head against the stones, is so horrible that it were better to return
to idealism. Then the truth of the wonderful Russian saying was proved:
'Don't forswear the beggar's wallet nor the prison.' Tchekhov joined
the choir of Russian writers, and began to praise the idea. But not
for long. His very next story, _The Duel,_ has a different character.
Its conclusion is also apparently idealistic, but only in appearance.
The principal hero Layevsky is a parasite like all Tchekhov's heroes.
He does nothing, can do nothing, does not even wish to do anything,
lives chiefly at others' expense, runs up debts, seduces women.... His
condition is intolerable. He is living with another man's wife, whom he
had come to loathe as he loathes himself, yet he cannot get rid of her.
He is always in straitened circumstances and in debt everywhere: his
friends dislike and despise him. His state of mind is always such that
he is ready to run no matter where, never looking backwards, only away
from the place where he is living now. His illegal wife is in roughly
the same position, unless it be even more horrible. Without knowing
why, without love, without even being attracted, she gives herself to
the first, commonplace man she meets; and then she feels as though
she had been covered from head to foot in filth, and the filth had
stuck so close to her that not ocean itself could wash her clean. This
couple lives in the world, in a remote little place in the Caucasus,
and naturally attracts Tchekhov's attention. There is no denying the
interest of the subject: two persons befouled, who can neither tolerate
others nor themselves....

For contrast's sake Tchekhov brings Layevsky into collision with the
zoologist, Von Koren, who has come to the seaside town on important
business--every one recognises its importance--to study the embryology
of the medusa. Von Koren, as one may see from his name, is of German
origin, and therefore deliberately represented as a healthy, normal,
clean man, the grandchild of Goncharov's Stolz, the direct opposite
of Layevsky, who on his side is nearly related to our old friend
Oblomov. But in Goncharov the contrast between Stolz and Oblomov is
quite different in nature and meaning to the contrast in Tchekhov. The
novelist of the 'forties hoped that a _rapprochement_ with Western
culture would renew and resuscitate Russia. And Oblomov himself is not
represented as an utterly hopeless person. He is only lazy, inactive,
unenterprising. You have the feeling that were he to awaken he would
be a match for a dozen Stolzs. Layevsky is a different affair. He is
awake already, he was awakened years ago, but his awakening did him no
good.... 'He does not love nature; he has no God; he or his companions
had ruined every trustful girl he had known; all his life long he
had not planted one single little tree, nor grown one blade of grass
in his own garden, nor while he lived among the living, had he saved
the life of one single fly; but only ruined and destroyed, and lied,
and lied....' The good-natured sluggard Oblomov degenerated into a
disgusting, terrible animal, while the clean Stolz lived and remained
clean in his posterity! But to the new Oblomov he speaks differently.
Von Koren calls Layevsky a scoundrel and a rogue, and demands that
he should be punished with the utmost severity. To reconcile them is
impossible. The more they meet, the deeper, the more merciless, the
more implacable is their hatred for each other. It is impossible that
they should live together on the earth. It must be one or the other:
either the normal Von Koren, or the degenerate decadent Layevsky.
Of course, all the external, material force is on Von Koren's side
in the struggle. He is always in the right, always victorious,
always triumphant--in act no less than in theory. It is curious that
Tchekhov, the irreconcilable enemy of all kinds of philosophy--not
one of his heroes philosophises, or if he does, his philosophising is
unsuccessful, ridiculous, weak and unconvincing--makes an exception
for Von Koren, a typical representative of the positive, materialistic
school. His words breathe vigour and conviction. They have in them even
pathos and a maximum of logical sequence. There are many materialist
heroes in Tchekhov's stories, but in their materialism there is a
tinge of veiled idealism, according to the stereotyped prescription of
the 'sixties. Such heroes Tchekhov ridicules and derides. Idealism of
every kind, whether open or concealed, roused feelings of intolerable
bitterness in Tchekhov. He found it more pleasant to listen to the
merciless menaces of a downright materialist than to accept the
dry-as-dust consolations of humanising idealism. An invincible power
is in the world, crushing and crippling man--this is clear and even
palpable. The least indiscretion, and the mightiest and the most
insignificant alike fall victims to it. One can only deceive oneself
about it so long as one knows of it only by hearsay. But the man who
had once been in the iron claws of necessity loses for ever his taste
for idealistic self-delusion. No more does he diminish the enemy's
power, he will rather exaggerate it. And the pure logical materialism
which Von Koren professes gives the most complete expression of our
dependence upon the elemental powers of nature. Von Koren's speech
has the stroke of a hammer, and each blow strikes not Layevsky but
Tchekhov himself on his wounds. He gives more and more strength to
Von Koren's arm, he puts himself in the way of his blows. For what
reason? Decide as you may. Perhaps Tchekhov cherished a secret hope
that self-inflicted torment might be the one road to a new life? He
has not told us so. Perhaps he did not know the reason himself, and
perhaps he was afraid to offend the positive idealism which held such
undisputed sway over contemporary literature. As yet he dared not
lift up his voice against the public opinion of Europe--for we do not
ourselves invent our philosophical conceptions; they drift down on the
wind from Europe! And, to avoid quarrelling with people, he devised
a commonplace, happy ending for his terrible story. At the end of
the story Layevsky 'reforms': he marries his mistress; gives up his
dissolute life; and begins to devote himself to transcribing documents,
in order to pay his debts. Normal people can be perfectly satisfied,
since normal people read only the last lines of the fable,--the moral;
and the moral of _The Duel_ is most wholesome: Layevsky reforms and
begins transcribing documents. Of course it may seem that such an
ending is more like a gibe at morality; but normal people are not too
penetrating psychologists. They are scared of double meanings and, with
the 'sincerity' peculiar to themselves, they take every word of the
writer for good coin. Good luck to them!



VII


The only philosophy which Tchekhov took seriously, and therefore
seriously fought, was positivist materialism--just the positivist
materialism, the limited materialism which does not pretend to
theoretical completeness. With all his soul Tchekhov felt the awful
dependence of a living being upon the invisible but invincible and
ostentatiously soulless laws of nature. And materialism, above all
scientific materialism, which is reserved and does not hasten in
pursuit of the final word, and eschews logical completeness, wholly
reduces to the definition of the external conditions of our existence.
The experience of every day, every hour, every minute, convinces us
that lonely and weak man brought to face with the laws of nature,
must always adapt himself and give way, give way, give way. The old
professor could not regain his youth; the overstrained Ivanov could
not recover his strength; Layevsky could not wash away the filth
with which he was covered--interminable series of implacable, purely
materialistic _non possumus,_ against which human genius can set
nothing but submission or forgetfulness. _Résigne-toi, mon cœur,
dors ton sommeil de brute--_we shall find no other words before
the pictures which are unfolded in Tchekhov's books. The submission
is but an outward show; under it lies concealed a hard, malignant
hatred of the unknown enemy. Sleep and oblivion are only seeming.
Does a man sleep, does he forget, when he calls his sleep, _sommeil
de brute_? But how can he change? The tempestuous protests with which
_The Tedious Story_ is filled, the need to pour forth the pent-up
indignation, soon begin to appear useless, and even insulting to
human dignity. Tchekhov's last rebellious work is _Uncle Vanya._ Like
the old professor and like Ivanov, Uncle Vanya raises the alarm and
makes an incredible pother about his ruined life. He, too, in a voice
not his own, fills the stage with his cries: 'Life is over, life
is over,'--as though indeed any of these about him, any one in the
whole world, could be responsible for his misfortune. But wailing and
lamentation is not sufficient for him. He covers his own mother with
insults. Aimlessly, like a lunatic, without need or purpose, he begins
shooting at his imaginary enemy, Sonya's pitiable and unhappy father.
His voice is not enough, he turns to the revolver. He is ready to fire
all the cannon on earth, to beat every drum, to ring every bell. To
him it seems that the whole of mankind, the whole of the universe, is
sleeping, that the neighbours must be awakened. He is prepared for
any extravagance, having no rational way of escape; for to confess at
once that there is no escape is beyond the capacity of any man. Then
begins a Tchekhov history: 'He cannot reconcile himself, neither can
he refuse so to reconcile himself. He can only weep and beat his head
against the wall.' Uncle Vanya does it openly, before men's eyes; but
how painful to him is the memory of this frank unreserve! When every
one has departed after a stupid and painful scene, Uncle Vanya realises
that he should have kept silence, that it is no use to confess certain
things to any one, not even to one's nearest friend. A stranger's eye
cannot endure the sight of hopelessness. 'Your life is over--you have
yourself to thank for it: you are a human being no more, all human
things are ah en to you. Your neighbours are no more neighbours to you,
but strangers. You have no right either to help others or to expect
help from them. Your destiny is--absolute loneliness.' Little by little
Tchekhov becomes convinced of this truth: _Uncle Vanya_ is the last
trial of loud public protest, of a vigorous 'declaration of rights.'
And even in this drama Uncle Vanya is the only one to rage, although
there are among the characters Doctor Astrov and poor Sonya, who might
also avail themselves of their right to rage, and even to fire the
cannon. But they are silent. They even repeat certain comfortable and
angelic words concerning the happy future of mankind; which is to say
that their silence is doubly deep, seeing that 'comfortable words' upon
the lips of such people are the evidence of their final severance from
life: they have left the whole world, and now they admit no one to
their presence. They have fenced themselves with comfortable words, as
with the Great Wall of China, from the curiosity and attention of their
neighbours. Outwardly they resemble all men, therefore no man dares to
touch their inward life.

What is the meaning and significance of this straining inward labour
in those whose lives are over? Probably Tchekhov would answer this
question as Nicolai Stepanovich answered Katy's, with 'I do not
know.' He would add nothing. But this life alone, more like to death
than life, attracted and engaged him. Therefore his utterance grew
softer and slower with every year. Of all our writers Tchekhov has
the softest voice. All the energy of his heroes is turned inwards.
They create nothing visible; worse, they destroy all things visible
by their outward passivity and inertia. A 'positive thinker' like Von
Koren brands them with terrible words, and the more content is he with
himself and his justice, the more energy he puts into his anathemas.
'Scoundrels, villains, degenerates, degraded animals!'--what did Von
Koren not devise to fit the Layevskys? The manifestly positive thinker
wants to force Layevsky to transcribe documents. The surreptitiously
positive thinkers--idealists and metaphysicians--do not use abusive
words. Instead they bury Tchekhov's nerves alive in their idealistic
cemeteries, which are called conceptions of the world. Tchekhov himself
abstains from the 'solution of the question' with a persistency to
which most of the critics probably wished a better fate, and he
continues his long stories of men and the life of men, who have nothing
to lose, as though the only interest in life were this nightmare
suspension between life and death. What does it teach us of life or
death? Again we must answer: 'I do not know,'--those words which
arouse the greatest aversion in positive thinkers, but appear in some
mysterious way to be the permanent elements in the ideas of Tchekhov's
people. This is the reason why the philosophy of materialism, though
so hostile, is yet so near to them. It contains no answer which can
compel man to cheerful submission. It bruises and destroys him, but
it does not call itself rational; it does not demand gratitude; it
does not demand anything, since it has neither soul nor speech. A
man may acknowledge it and hate it. If he manages to get square with
it--he is right; if he fails--_vae victis._ How comfortably sounds
the voice of the unconcealed ruthlessness of inanimate, impersonal,
indifferent nature, compared with the hypocritical and cloying melodies
of idealistic, humanistic conceptions of the world! Then again--and
this is the chiefest thing of all--men can struggle with nature still!
And in the struggle with nature every weapon is lawful. In the struggle
with nature man always remains man, and, therefore, right, whatever
means he tries for his salvation, even if he were to refuse to accept
the fundamental principle of the world's being--the indestructibility
of matter and energy, the law of inertia and the rest--since who will
dispute that the most colossal dead force must be subservient to
man? But a conception of the world is an utterly different affair!
Before uttering a word it puts forward an irreducible demand: man must
serve the idea. And this demand is considered not merely as something
understood, but as of extraordinary sublimity. Is it strange then
that in the choice between idealism and materialism Tchekhov inclined
to the latter--the strong but honest adversary? With idealism a man
can struggle only by contempt, and Tchekhov's works leave nothing
to be desired in this respect.... But how shall a man struggle with
materialism? And can it be overcome? Perhaps Tchekhov's method may
seem strange to my reader, nevertheless it is clear that he came to
the conclusion that there was only one way to struggle, to which the
prophets of old turned themselves: to beat one's head against the wall.
Without thunder or cannon or alarm, in loneliness and silence, remote
from their fellows and their fellows' fellows, to gather all the forces
of despair for an absurd attempt long since condemned by science.
Have you any right to expect from Tchekhov an approval of scientific
methods? Science has robbed him of everything: he is condemned to
create from the void, to an activity of which a normal man, using
normal means, is utterly incapable. To achieve the impossible one must
first leave the road of routine. However obstinately we may pursue
our scientific quests, they will not lead us to the elixir of life.
Science began with casting away the longing for human omnipotence as in
principle unattainable: her methods are such that success along certain
of her paths preclude even seeking along others. In other words,
scientific method is defined by the character of the problems which
she puts to herself. Indeed, not one of her problems can be solved by
beating one's head against the wall. But this method, old-fashioned
though it is--I repeat, it was known to the prophets and used by
them--promised more to Tchekhov and his nerves than all inductions and
deductions (which were not invented by science, but have existed since
the beginning of the world). This prompts a man with some mysterious
instinct, and appears upon the scene whenever the need of it arises.
Science condemns it. But that is nothing strange: it condemns science.



VIII


Now perhaps the further development and direction of Tchekhov's
creation will be intelligible, and that peculiar and unique blend
in him of sober materialism and fanatical stubbornness in seeking
new paths, always round about and hazardous. Like Hamlet, he would
dig beneath his opponent a mine one yard deeper, so that he may
at one moment blow engineer and engine into the air. His patience
and fortitude in this hard, underground toil are amazing and to
many intolerable. Everywhere is darkness, not a ray, not a spark,
but Tchekhov goes forward, slowly, hardly, hardly moving.... An
inexperienced or impatient eye will perhaps observe no movement at all.
It may be Tchekhov himself does not know for certain whether he is
moving forward or marking time. To calculate beforehand is impossible.
Impossible even to hope. Man has entered that stage of his existence
wherein the cheerful and foreseeing mind refuses its service. It is
impossible for him to present to himself a clear and distinct notion of
what is going on. Everything takes on a tinge of fantastical absurdity.
One believes and disbelieves--everything. In _The Black Monk_ Tchekhov
tells of a new reality, and in a tone which suggests that he is himself
at a loss to say where the reality ends and the phantasmagoria begins.
The black monk leads the young scholar into some mysterious remoteness,
where the best dreams of mankind shall be realised. The people about
call the monk a hallucination and fight him with medicines--drugs,
better foods and milk. Kovrin himself does not know who is right. When
he is speaking to the monk, it seems to him that the monk is right;
when he sees before him his weeping wife and the serious, anxious
faces of the doctors, he confesses that he is under the influence of
fixed ideas, which lead him straight to lunacy. Finally the black
monk is victorious. Kovrin has not the power to support the banality
which surrounds him; he breaks with his wife and her relations, who
appear like inquisitors in his eyes, and goes away somewhere--but in
our sight he arrives nowhere. At the end of the story he dies in order
to give the author the right to make an end. This is always the case:
when the author does not know what to do with his hero he kills him.
Sooner or later in all probability this habit will be abandoned. In
the future, probably, writers will convince themselves and the public
that any kind of artificial completion is absolutely superfluous.
The matter is exhausted--stop the tale short, even though it be on
a half-word. Tchekhov did so sometimes, but only sometimes. In most
cases he preferred to satisfy the traditional demands and to supply his
readers with an end. This habit is not so unimportant as at first sight
it may seem. Consider even _The Black Monk._ The death of the hero is
as it were an indication that abnormality must, in Tchekhov's opinion,
necessarily lead through an absurd life to an absurd death: but this
was hardly Tchekhov's firm conviction. It is clear that he expected
something from abnormality, and therefore gave no deep attention to
men who had left the common track. True, he came to no firm or definite
conclusions, for all the tense effort of his creation. He became so
firmly convinced that there was no issue from the entangled labyrinth,
that the labyrinth with its infinite wanderings, its perpetual
hesitations and strayings, its uncaused griefs and joys uncaused--in
brief, all things which normal men so fear and shun--became the very
essence of his life. Of this and this alone must a man tell. Not of our
invention is normal life, nor abnormal. Why then should the first alone
be considered as the real reality?

_The Sea-Gull_ must be considered one of the most characteristic, and
therefore one of the most remarkable of Tchekhov's works. Therein the
artist's true attitude to life received its most complete expression.
Here all the characters are either blind, and afraid to move from
their seats in case they lose the way home, or half-mad, struggling
and tossing about to no end nor purpose. Arkadzina the famous actress
clings with her teeth to her seventy thousand roubles, her fame, and
her last lover. Tregovin the famous writer writes day in, day out;
he writes and writes, knowing neither end nor aim. People read his
works and praise them, but he is not his own master; like Marko, the
ferryman in the tale, he labours on without taking his hand from the
oar, carrying passengers from one bank to the other. The boat, the
passengers, and the river too, bore him to death. But how can he get
rid of them? He might give the oars over to the first-comer: the
solution is simple, but after it, as in the tale, he must go to heaven.
Not Tregovin alone, but all the people in Tchekhov's books who are
no longer young remind one of Marko the ferryman. It is plain that
they dislike their work, but, exactly as though they were hypnotised,
they cannot break away from the influence of the alien power. The
monotonous, even dismal, rhythm of life has lulled their consciousness
and will to sleep. Everywhere Tchekhov underlines this strange and
mysterious trait of human life. His people always speak, always think,
always do one and the same thing. One builds houses according to a plan
made once for all (_My Life_); another goes on his round of visits
from morn to night, collecting roubles (_Yonitch_); a third is always
buying up houses (_Three Years_). Even the language of his characters
is deliberately monotonous. They are all monotonous, to the point of
stupidity, and they are all afraid to break the monotony, as though it
were the source of extraordinary joys. Read Tregovin's monologue:

'... Let us talk.... Let us talk of my beautiful life.... What shall
I begin with? [Musing a little.] ... There are such things as fixed
ideas, when a person thinks day and night, for instance, of the moon,
always of the moon. I too have my moon. Day and night I am at the
mercy of one besetting idea: "I must write, I must write, I must." I
have hardly finished one story than, for some reason or other, I must
write a second, then a third, and after the third, a fourth. I write
incessantly, post-haste. I cannot do otherwise. Where then, I ask you,
is beauty and serenity? What a monstrous life it is! I am sitting with
you now, I am excited, but meanwhile every second I remember that
an unfinished story is waiting for me. I see a cloud, like a grand
piano. It smells of heliotrope. I say to myself: a sickly smell, a
half-mourning colour.... I must not forget to use these words when
describing a summer evening. I catch up myself and you on every phrase,
on every word, and hurry to lock all these words and phrases into my
literary storehouse. Perhaps they will be useful. When I finish work
I run to the theatre, or go off fishing: at last I shall rest, forget
myself. But no! a heavy ball of iron is dragging on my fetters,--a new
subject, which draws me to the desk, and I must make haste to write and
write again. And so on for ever, for ever. I have no rest from myself,
and I feel that I am eating away my own life. I feel that the honey
which I give to others has been made of the pollen of my most precious
flowers, that I have plucked the flowers themselves and trampled them
down to the roots. Surely, I am mad. Do my neighbours and friends treat
me as a sane person? "What are you writing? What have you got ready
for us?" The same thing, the same thing eternally, and it seems to me
that the attention, the praise, the enthusiasm of my friends is all
a fraud. I am being robbed like a sick man, and sometimes I am afraid
that they will creep up to me and seize me, and put me away in an
asylum.'

But why these torments? Throw up the oars and begin a new life.
_Impossible._ While no answer comes down from heaven, Tregovin will
not throw up the oars, will not begin a new life. In Tchekhov's work,
only young, very young and inexperienced people speak of a new life.
They are always dreaming of happiness, regeneration, light, joy. They
fly head-long into the flame, and are burned like silly butterflies.
In _The Sea-Gull,_ Nina Zaryechnaya and Trepliev, in other works other
heroes, men and women alike--all are seeking for something, yearning
for something, but not one of them does that which he desires. Each
one lives in isolation; each is wholly absorbed in his life, and is
indifferent to the lives of others. And the strange fate of Tchekhov's
heroes is that they strain to the last limit of their inward powers,
but there are no visible results at all. They are all pitiable.
The woman takes snuff, dresses slovenly, wears her hair loose, is
uninteresting. The man is irritable, grumbling, takes to drink, bores
every one about him. They act, they speak--always out of season.
They cannot, I would even say they do not want to, adapt the outer
world to themselves. Matter and energy unite according to their own
laws;--people live according to their own, as though matter and energy
had no existence at all. In this Tchekhov's intellectuals do not differ
from illiterate peasants and the half-educated bourgeois. Life in the
manor is the same as in the valley farm, the same as in the village.
Not one believes that by changing his outward conditions he would
change his fate as well. Everywhere reigns an unconscious but deep and
ineradicable conviction that our will must be directed towards ends
which have nothing in common with the organised life of mankind. Worse
still, the organisation appears to be the enemy of the will and of man.
One must spoil, devour, destroy, ruin. To think out things quietly, to
anticipate the future--that is impossible. One must beat one's head,
beat one's head eternally against the wall. And to what purpose? Is
there any purpose at all? Is it a beginning or an end? Is it possible
to see in it the warrant of a new and inhuman creation, a creation out
of the void? 'I do not know' was the old professor's answer to Katy.
'I do not know' was Tchekhov's answer to the sobs of those tormented
unto death. With these words, and only these, can an essay upon
Tchekhov end. _Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute._



THE GIFT OF PROPHECY


(For the twenty-fifth anniversary of F. M. Dostoevsky's death.)



I


Vladimir Soloviev used to call Dostoevsky 'the prophet,' and even
'the prophet of God.' Immediately after Soloviev, though often in
complete independence of him, very many people looked upon Dostoevsky
as the man to whom the books of human destiny were opened; and this
happened not only after his death, but even while he was yet alive.
Apparently Dostoevsky himself too, if he did not regard himself as a
prophet--he was too eagle-eyed for that--at least thought it right
that all people should see a prophet in him. To this bears witness
the tone of _The Journal of an Author,_ no less than the questions
upon which he generally touches therein. _The Journal of an Author_
began to appear in 1873, that is on Dostoevsky's return from abroad,
and therefore coincides with what his biographers call 'the highest
period of his life.' Dostoevsky was then the happy father of a family,
a man of secure position, a famous writer, the author of a whole
series of novels known to all: _The House of the Dead, The Idiot, The
Possessed._ He has everything which can be required _from_ life, or,
more truly, he has taken everything which can be taken from life. You
remember Tolstoi's deliberations in his _Confession_? 'Finally, I shall
be as famous as Pushkin, Gogol, Goethe and Shakespeare--and what shall
come after?' Indeed, it is difficult to become a more famous writer
than Shakespeare; and even if one succeeded, the inevitable question,
'And what shall come after?' would by no means be removed. Sooner or
later in the activity of a great writer a moment comes when further
perfection seems impossible. How shall a man be greater than himself
in the world of literature? If he would move, then by his own will or
in spite of it he must step on to another plane. And this is plainly
the beginning of prophecy in a writer. In the general view the prophet
is greater than the writer; and even the possession of genius is not
always a guarantee against the general view. Even men so sceptical as
Tolstoi and Dostoevsky, men always ready to doubt everything, more than
once were the victims of prejudices. Prophetic words were expected
of them, and they went out to meet men's desires, Dostoevsky even
more readily than Tolstoi. Moreover both prophesied clumsily: they
promised one thing, and something wholly different happened. So Tolstoi
promised long ago that men would awake to their error soon and would
put away from them fratricidal war, and would begin to live as true
Christians should, fulfilling the Gospel commandment of love. Tolstoi
prophesied and preached; people read him, as, it seems, they read no
other writer: but they have not changed their habits nor their tastes.
For the last ten years Tolstoi has perforce been a witness of a whole
series of horrible and most savage wars. And now there is our present
revolution[1]--armed mobs rioting, the gallows set up, men shot down,
bombs--the revolution which came to replace the bloody war in the Far
East!

And this is in Russia, where Tolstoi was born, lived, taught and
prophesied, where millions of people sincerely hold him to be the
greatest genius of all! Even in his own family Tolstoi could not
effect the change that he desired. One of his sons is an officer
in the army; the other writes in the _Novoïe Vremya,_ as though he
were Souvorin's[2] son, not Tolstoi's.... Where, then, is the gift
of prophecy? Why is it that a man so great as Tolstoi can foresee
nothing, and seems to peer his way through life? 'What will to-morrow
bring forth?' 'To-morrow I'll work miracles,' said the magician to
the Russian prince of old. For reply the prince drew his sword and
struck off the magician's head; and the excited mob, which believed in
the magician-prophet, became calm and departed home. History is ever
striking off the heads of prophetic predictions, and yet the crowd
still runs after the prophets. Of little faith, the crowd looks for
a sign, because it desires a miracle. But can the ability to predict
be accounted as evidence of the power to work miracles? It is possible
to predict an eclipse of the sun or the appearance of a comet, but
this surely means a miracle only to the ignorant. An enlightened mind
is secure in the knowledge that where prediction is possible, there
is no miracle, since the possibility of prediction and of foreseeing
presupposes a strict uniformity. Therefore not he will appear a prophet
who has great spiritual gifts, nor he who desires to dominate the world
and to command the very laws, neither the magician, nor the sorcerer,
nor the artist, but he who, having yielded himself beforehand to the
actual and its laws, has devoted himself to the mechanical labour of
record and calculation. Bismarck could foretell the greatness of Russia
and Germany; and not only Bismarck, but an ordinary German politician,
for whom everything is reduced to _Deutschland, Deutschland über
alles,_ could read the future for many years ahead; yet Dostoevsky and
Tolstoi could foresee nothing. In Dostoevsky the failure is still more
remarkable than in Tolstoi, because he more often attempted prediction:
more than half of his _Journal_ consists in unfulfilled prophecies. So
often did he commit his prophetic genius.


[Footnote 1: This essay was written during the revolution of 1905.]

[Footnote 2: The famous editor of the _Novoïe Vremya._]



II


To some it may perhaps seem out of place that in an article devoted to
the twenty-fifth anniversary of the writer's death, I call to mind his
mistakes and errors. The reproach is hardly just. A certain kind of
defect in a great man is at least as characteristic and important as
his qualities.

Dostoevsky was not a Bismarck. But is that so terrible that we must
lament it? Moreover, for writers of the type of Tolstoi and Dostoevsky,
their social and political ideas are without any value. They know well
that no one obeys them. Whatever they may say, history and political
life will go on in the same way, since it is not their books and
articles which guide events. And, probably, here is the explanation
of the amazing boldness of their opinions. If Tolstoi really imagined
that it would be enough for him to write an article demanding that
all 'soldiers, policemen, judges, ministers' and the rest, all those
guardians of the public peace, whom he detested--and, by the way, who
loves them?--should be dismissed, for all prison-doors to be flung
wide before the murderers and robbers--who can tell whether he would
have shown himself sufficiently firm and resolute in his opinions, to
take upon himself the responsibility for the effects of the measures
which he proposed? But he knows beyond all doubt that he will not be
obeyed, and therefore he calmly preaches anarchy. Dostoevsky's part as
a preacher was quite different; but it too was, so to speak, platonic.
Probably it came as a surprise even to himself, that he became the
prophet, not of 'ideal' politics, but of those most realistic tasks
which governments always set themselves in countries where a few men
direct the destinies of peoples. Listening to Dostoevsky, one may
imagine that he is discovering ideas which the government must take
for its guidance and set itself to realise. But you will soon convince
yourself that Dostoevsky did not discover one single original political
idea. Everything of the kind that he possessed he had borrowed without
examination from the Slavophiles, who in their turn appeared original
only to the extent to which they were able without outside assistance
to translate from the German and the French: _Russland, Russland
über alles._ (Even the rhythm of the verse is not affected by the
substitution of the one word.) But what is most important is, that
the Slavophiles with their Russo-German glorification of nationality,
and with them Dostoevsky who joined the chorus, have neither taught
nor educated one single man among the ruling classes. Our government
knew all that it needed to know by itself, without the Slavophiles
and without Dostoevsky. From time immemorial it had gone its way by
the road which the theorists so passionately praised: so that nothing
was left to them but to eulogise those in power and to defend the
policy of the Russian government against the public opinion which was
hostile to it. Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality--all these were held
so firmly in Russia that in the 'seventies when Dostoevsky began to
preach they needed no support whatever. And surely every one knows that
power never seriously reckons upon the help of literature. Certainly it
requires that the Muses should pay tribute to it with the others, nobly
formulating its demands in the words: _Blessed be the union of the
sword and the lyre._ It used to happen that the Muses did not refuse
the request, sometimes sincerely, sometimes because, as Heine said, it
is particularly disagreeable to wear iron chains in Russia, on account
of the heavy frosts. In any case the Muses were only allowed to sing
the praises of the sword, but by no means to wield it. There are all
kinds of unions. And here again Dostoevsky, for all his independent
nature, still appeared in the rôle of a prophet of the Russian
government: that is, he divined the secret devices of the powers
that were, and in this connection then recalled all the 'high and
beautiful' words which he had managed to hoard up in the course of his
long wanderings. For instance, the government began to cast covetous
glances towards the East (at that time the Near East still); Dostoevsky
begins to argue that we must have Constantinople, and to prophesy that
Constantinople will soon be ours. His 'argument' is, of course, of a
purely 'moral character,' and, sure enough, he is a writer. Only from
Constantinople, he says, can we make avail the purely Russian ideal
of embracing all humanity. Of course our government, though indeed
we had no Bismarcks, perfectly well understood the value of moral
argument and of prophecy based upon them, and would have preferred a
few well-equipped divisions and improved guns. To realist politicians
one single soldier, armed not with a gun but with a blunderbuss, is
of more importance than the sublimest conception of moral philosophy.
But still they do not drive away the humble prophet, if the prophet
knows his place. Dostoevsky accepted the rôle, since it gave him still
the opportunity of displaying his refractory nature in the struggle
with Liberal literature. He sang paeans, made protests, uttered
absurdities--and worse than absurdities. For instance, he counselled
all the Slav peoples to unite under the aegis of Russia, assuring
them that only thus would full independence be guaranteed them, and
the right of shaping themselves by their own culture, and so on--and
that in the face of the millions of Polish Slavs living in Russia. Or
again, the _Moscow Gazette_ gives its opinion that it would be well
for the Crimean Tartars to emigrate to Turkey, since it would then be
possible for Russians to settle in the peninsula. Dostoevsky catches up
this original idea with enthusiasm. 'Indeed,' he says, 'on political
and state and similar considerations'--I do not know how it is with
other people, but when I hear such words as 'state' and 'political'
on Dostoevsky's lips, I cannot help smiling--'it is necessary to expel
the Tartars and to settle Russians on their lands.' When the _Moscow
Gazette_ projects such a measure, it is intelligible. But Dostoevsky!
Dostoevsky who called himself a Christian, who so passionately preaches
love to one's neighbour, self-abasement, self-renunciation, who taught
that Russia must 'serve the nations'--how could he be taken with an
idea so rapacious? And indeed almost all his political ideas have the
mark of rapacity upon them: to grab and grab, and still to grab....
As the occasion demands, he now expresses the hope that we may have
Germany's friendship, and again threatens her; now he argues that we
have need of England, and again he asserts that we could do without
her,--just like a leader-writer in a _bien-pensant_ provincial paper.
One thing alone makes itself felt among all these ludicrous and
eternally contradictory assertions,--Dostoevsky understands nothing,
absolutely nothing, about politics, and moreover, he has nothing at all
to do with politics. He is forced to go in tow of others who, compared
with him, are utter nonentities, and he goes. Even his ambition--and he
had a colossal ambition, an ambition unique in its kind, as befitted
a universal man--suffers not one whit: chiefly because men expected
prophecy from him, because the next title to that of a great writer is
that of a prophet, and because a ring of conviction and a loud voice
are the signs of the prophetic gift. Dostoevsky could speak aloud: he
could also speak with the tone of one who knows secrets, and of one
with authority. One learns much in the underworld. All these things
served him. Men took the poet-laureate of the existing order for the
inspirer of thoughts and the governor of Russia's remotest destinies.
It was enough for Dostoevsky. It was even necessary for Dostoevsky. He
knew of course that he was no prophet; but he knew that there had never
been one on earth, and that those who were prophets had no better right
to the title than he.



III


I will permit myself to remind the reader of Tolstoi's letter to his
son, lately published by the latter in the newspapers. It is very
interesting. Once more, not from the standpoint of the practical man
who has to decide the questions of the day--from this standpoint
Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, and their similars are quite useless--but man does
not live by bread alone.

Even now in the terrible days through which we have to live, now, if
you will, more than ever before, one cannot read newspapers alone, nor
think only of the awful surprises which to-morrow prepares for us. To
every one is left an hour of leisure between the reading of newspapers
and party programmes, if it be not an hour in the day when the noise
of events and the pressure of immediate work distracts, then an hour
in the deep night, when everything that was possible has been already
done, and everything that was required has been said. Then come flying
in the old thoughts and questions, frightened away by business, and
for the thousandth time one returns to the mystery of human genius and
human greatness. Where and how far can genius know and accomplish more
than ordinary men?

Then Tolstoi's letter, which during the day aroused only anger and
indignation,--is it not outrageous and revolting, think some, that
in the great collision of forces which contend with one another in
Russia, Tolstoi cannot distinguish the right force from the wrong, but
stigmatises all the struggling combatants by the one name of ungodly?
During the day, I say, it is surely outrageous: in the daytime we would
like Tolstoi to be with us and for us, because we are convinced that
we and we alone are seeking the truth,--nay, that we know the truth,
while our enemies are defending evil and falsehood, whether in malice
or in ignorance. But this is during the day. In the night-time, things
are changed. One remembers that Goethe also overlooked, simply did not
notice, the great French Revolution. True, he was a German who lived
far from Paris, while Tolstoi lives close to Moscow, where men, women,
and children have been shot, cut down, and burnt alive. Moreover,
there is no doubt that Tolstoi has overlooked not merely Moscow, but
everything that went before Moscow. What is happening now does not seem
to him important or extraordinary. For him only that is important to
which he, Tolstoi, has set his hand: all that occurs outside and beside
him, for him has no existence. This is the great prerogative of great
men. And sometimes it seems to me--perhaps it is only that I would have
it seem so--as though there were in that prerogative a deep and hidden
meaning.

When we have no more strength in us to listen to the endless tales
of horrible atrocities which have already been committed, and to
anticipate in imagination all that the future holds in store for us,
then we recall Tolstoi and his indifference. It is not in our human
power to return the murdered fathers and mothers to the children nor
the children to their fathers and mothers. Nor stands it even in our
power to revenge ourselves upon the murderers, nor will vengeance
reconcile every one to his loss. And we try no longer to think with
logic, and to seek a justification of the horrors there where there is
and can be none. What if we ask ourselves whether Tolstoi and Goethe
did not sec the Revolution and did not suffer its pain, only because
they saw something else, something, it may even be, more necessary and
important? Maybe there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than
are dreamed of in our philosophy.

Now we may return to Dostoevsky and his 'ideas'; we may call them
fearlessly by the names which they deserve, for though Dostoevsky is
a writer of genius, this does not mean that we must forget our daily
needs. The night and the day have each their rights. Dostoevsky wanted
to be a prophet, he wanted people to listen to him and cry 'Hosanna!'
because, I say again, he thought that if men had ever cried 'Hosanna!'
to any one, then there was no reason why he, Dostoevsky, should be
denied the honour. That is the reason why in the 'seventies he made his
appearance in the new rôle of a preacher of Christianity, and not of
Christianity merely, but of orthodoxy.

Again, I would draw attention to the far from accidental circumstances
that his preaching coincided with the 'serenest' period of his life. He
who had in time past been a homeless wanderer, a poor man who had not
where to lay his head, had provided himself with a family and a house
of his own, even with money (for his wife was saving). The failure
had become a celebrity; the convict a full citizen. The underworld,
where-into his fate had but lately driven him, it might seem for ever,
now appeared to him a phantasmagoria which never had been real. In the
galleys and the underworld had been born within him a great hunger for
God which lived long; there he fought a great fight, the fight of life
against death; there for the first time were made the new and awful
experiments which allied Dostoevsky with everything that is rebellious
and restless on earth. What Dostoevsky wrote during the closing years
of his life (not merely _The Journal of an Author,_ but _The Brothers
Karamazov_ as well) has value only in so far as Dostoevsky's _past_
is reflected therein. He made no new step onwards. As he was, so he
remained, on the eve of a great truth. But in the old days that did
not suffice him, he hungered for something beyond; but now he does not
want to struggle, and he cannot explain to himself or to others what is
really happening within him. He pretends to be struggling still, nay,
more, he behaves as though he had won the final victory, and demands
that his triumph should be acknowledged by public opinion. He loves to
think that the night is already past and the actual day begun: and the
galleys and the underworld, reminding him that the day is not yet, are
no more. All the evidences of a complete illusion of victory seem to
be there--let him only choose the text and preach! Dostoevsky clutched
at orthodoxy. Why not Christianity? Because Christianity is not for
him who has a house, a family, money, fame, and a father-land. Christ
said: 'Let him leave all that he hath and follow me.' But Dostoevsky
was afraid of solitude, he desired to be the prophet of modern, settled
men to whom pure Christianity, unadapted to the needs of civilised
existence in a governed state, is unfitted. How should a Christian
seize Constantinople, drive out the Tartars from the Crimea, reduce
all Slavs to the condition of the Poles, and the rest--for all the
projects of Dostoevsky and the _Moscow Gazette_ defy enumeration? So,
before accepting the Gospel, he must explain it....

However strange it may appear, it must be confessed that one cannot
find in the whole of literature a single man who is prepared to accept
the Gospel as a whole, without interpretation. One man wants to seize
Constantinople according to the Gospel, another to justify the existing
order, a third to exalt himself or to thrust down his enemy; and each
considers it as his right to diminish from, or even to supplement,
the text of Holy Writ. I have, of course, only those in view who
acknowledge, at least in word, the divine origin of the New Testament;
since he who sees in the Gospel only one of the more or less remarkable
books of his library, naturally has the right to subject it to whatever
critical operations he may choose.

But here we have Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, and Vladimir Soloviev. It is
generally believed, and the belief is particularly supported and
developed by the most recent criticism, that Tolstoi alone rationalised
Christianity, while Dostoevsky and Soloviev accepted it in all the
fullness of its mysticism, denying reason the right to separate
truth from falsehood in the Gospel. I consider this belief mistaken:
for Dostoevsky and Soloviev were afraid to accept the Gospel as the
fountain of knowledge, and relied much more upon their own reason and
their experience of life than upon the words of Christ. But, if there
was a man among us who, though but in part, took the risk of accepting
the mysterious and obviously dangerous words of the Gospel precepts,
that man was Leo Tolstoi. I will explain myself.

We are told that Tolstoi made the attempt, in his works published
abroad, to explain the miracles of the Gospel in a way intelligible
to human reason. Dostoevsky and Soloviev, on the other hand, readily
accepted the inexplicable. But generally the miracles of the Gospel
attract the people who believe least, for it is impossible to repeat
the miracles, and this being so, then it follows that a merely external
faith is sufficient, a mere verbal assertion. A man says that he
believes in miracles: 'his reputation as a religious man is made, both
in his own mind and in others', and as for the rest of the Gospel,
there remains 'interpretation.' Consider, for instance, the doctrine
of non-resistance to evil. It need not be said that the doctrine of
non-resistance is the most terrible, and the most irrational, and
mysterious thing that we read in the Gospel. All our reasoning soul is
indignant at the thought that full material freedom should be given
to the murderer to accomplish his murderous acts. How can you allow a
murderer to kill an innocent child before your very eyes, and yet not
draw the sword? Who has the right to give that abominable precept?
Soloviev[3] and Dostoevsky alike repeat that question, the one in a
disguised, the other in an open attack on Tolstoi. Yet since the
Gospel plainly declares 'Resist not evil,' both of our believers in
miracles have suddenly remembered reason and turned to its testimony,
knowing that reason will naturally destroy any meaning whatever that
may be in the precept. In other words, they repeat the question of
the doubting Jews concerning Christ: 'Who is He that speaketh as one
having authority?' God commanded Abraham that he should offer up his
son. By his reason, his human reason, Abraham refused to acknowledge
any intelligible meaning in the cruel command, but yet made ready to
act according to the word of God and made no attempt to rid himself
of the hard and inhuman obligation by cunning interpretation. But
Dostoevsky and Soloviev refuse to fulfil Christ's demands so soon as
they find no justification in the human reason. Yet they say that they
believe that Lazarus was raised from the dead and that the man who
was sick of a palsy was cured, and all the other miracles which are
related by the Apostles. Why then does their belief end just at the
point where it begins to place obligations upon them? Why the sudden
recourse to reason, when we know exactly that Dostoevsky came to the
Gospels only to be rid of the power of reason? But that was in the
days of the underworld. Now the 'serene' period of his life has begun.
But Soloviev, evidently, had never even known the underworld. Only
Tolstoi boldly and resolutely tries to test the truth of the Christian
teaching, not in his thoughts alone, but in part in his life also.
From the human point of view it is mad to make no resistance to evil.
He knows that every whit as well as Dostoevsky, Soloviev and the rest
of his many opponents. But he is really seeking in the Gospels that
divine madness, since human reason does not satisfy him. Tolstoi began
to follow the Gospel in that clouded period of his life when he was
haunted by the phantoms of Ivan Ilyich and Pozdnyshiev. Here belief in
miracles, belief in the abstract, divorced from life, avails nothing.
For belief's sake one must surrender all that is dearest--even a
son--to the sacrifice. Who is He that spake as one having authority?
We cannot now verify whether He did in truth raise Lazarus from the
dead, or satisfy thousands with a few handfuls of loaves. But if we
unhesitatingly perform His precepts, then we may discover whether He
has given us the truth.... So it was with Tolstoi; and he turned to
the Gospel which is the sole and original source of Christianity.
But Dostoevsky turned to the Slavophiles and the teachings of their
state-religion. Orthodoxy infallible, not Catholicism nor Protestantism
nor even simple Christianity; and then, the original idea: _Russland,
Russland über alles._ Tolstoi could prophesy nothing in history, but
then, as if deliberately, he does not interfere with the historical
life. For him our present reality does not exist: he concentrates
himself wholly upon the riddle which God set Abraham. But Dostoevsky
desired at all costs to prophesy, prophesied constantly and was
constantly mistaken. We have not taken Constantinople, we have not
united the Slavs, and even the Tartars still live in the Crimea. He
terrified us by prophesying that Europe would be drenched in rivers
of blood because of the warfare between the classes, while in Russia,
thanks to our Russian ideal of universal humanity, not only would our
internal problems be peacefully solved, but a new unheard-of word would
still be found whereby we should save hapless Europe. A quarter of
a century has passed. So far nothing has happened in Europe. But we
are drowning ourselves, literally drowning ourselves, with blood. Not
only is our alien population oppressed, Slav and non-Slav alike, but
our own brother is tortured, the miserable starving Russian peasant
who understands nothing at all. In Moscow, in the heart of Russia,
women, children, and old men have been shot down. Where now is the
Russian universal soul of which Dostoevsky prophesied in his speech on
Pushkin? Where is love, where are the Christian precepts? We see only
'Governmentalism,' over which the Western nations also fought; but they
fought with means less cruel and less hostile to civilisation. Russia
will again have to learn from the West as she had to learn more than
once before. And Dostoevsky would have done far better had he never
attempted to prophesy.

But there is no great harm done even if he did prophesy. I am glad
with all my heart even now that he rested a little while from the
galleys at the end of his life. I am deeply convinced that even had he
remained in the underworld until the day of his death, yet he would
have found no solution of the questions which tormented him. However
much energy of soul a man puts into his work, he will still remain 'on
the eve' of truth, and will not find the solution he desires. That is
the law of human kind. And Dostoevsky's preaching has done no harm.
Those listened to him who, even without his voice, would have marched
on Constantinople, oppressed the Poles, and made ready the sufferings
which are necessary to the soul of the peasant. Though Dostoevsky gave
them his sanction, on the whole he adds nothing to them. They had no
need of literary sanction, quite correctly judging that in practical
matters not the printed page, but bayonets and artillery are of
deciding value.

All that he had to tell, Dostoevsky told us in his novels, which even
now, twenty-five years after his death, attract all those who would
wrest from life her secrets. And the title of prophet, which he sought
so diligently, considering that it was his by right, did not suit him
at all. Prophets are Bismarcks, but they are Chancellors too. The
first in the village is the first in Rome.... Is a Dostoevsky doomed
eternally to be 'on the eve'? Let us once more try to reject logic,
this time perhaps not logic alone, and say: 'So let it be.'


[Footnote 3: _War and Christianity,_ by Vladimir Soloviev.]



PENULTIMATE WORDS



I

_De omnibus dubitandum_


There are but few orthodox Hegelians left among philosophers nowadays,
yet Hegel is still supreme over the minds of our contemporaries. It
may even be that certain of his ideas have taken deeper root nowadays
than when Hegelianism was in full bloom: for instance, the conception
that history is the unfolding of the idea in reality, or, to put it
more briefly and in terms more familiar to the modern mind--the idea of
progress. Try to convince an educated person of the contrary: you are
sure to be worsted. But, _de omnibus dubitandum,_ which means in other
words, that doubt is called upon to fulfil its mission above all in
those cases where a conviction is particularly strong and unshakable.
Therefore one must admit, whether he will or no, that progress so
called--the development of mankind in time--is a fiction.

We have wireless telegraphy, radium and the rest, yet we stand no
higher than the Romans or the Greeks of old. You admit this? Then,
one step further: although we have wireless telegraphy and all the
other blessings of civilisation, still we stand no higher than red-or
black-skinned savages. You protest: but the principle compels. You
began to doubt: then what is the use of drawing back?

For myself, I must confess that the idea of the spiritual perfection
of savages entered my mind but lately, when, for the first time for
many years, I looked through the works of Tylor, Lubbock and Spencer.
They speak with such certainty of the advantages of our spiritual
organisation, and have such sincere contempt for the moral misery
of the savage, that in spite of myself stole in the thought: Is it
not exactly here, where all are so certain that no one ever examines
the question, that the source of error is to be found? High time to
recall Descartes and his rule! And as soon as I began to doubt, all my
former certainty--of course I fully shared the opinion of the English
anthropologists--disappeared in a moment.... It began to appear that
the savage indeed is higher and more important than our savants,
and not our materialists only, as Professor Paulsen thinks, but our
idealists, metaphysicians, mystics, and even our convinced missionaries
(sincere believers, not the profit-mongering sort), whom Europe sends
forth into the world to enlighten the backward brethren. It seemed to
me that the credit transactions common among savages, with a promise
to pay in the world beyond the grave, have a deep meaning. And human
sacrifices! In them Spencer sees a barbarity, as an educated European
should. I also see in them barbarity, because I also am a European
and have a scientific education. But I deeply envy their barbarity,
and curse the cultivation which has herded me together with believing
missionaries, idealist, materialist, and positivist philosophers, into
the narrow fold of the sultry and disgusting apprehensible world. We
may write books to prove the immortality of the soul, but our wives
won't follow us to the other world: they will prefer to endure the
widow's lot here on the earth. Our morality, based on religion, forbids
us to hurry into eternity. And so in everything. We are guessing, at
the best we are sicklied with dreams, but our life passes outside
our guesses and our dreams. One man still accepts the rites of the
Church, however strange they may be, and seriously imagines that he
is brought into contact with other worlds. Beyond the rites no step
is taken. Kant died when he was eighty; had it not been for cholera,
Hegel would have lived a hundred years; while the savages--the young
ones kill the old and ... I dare not complete the sentence for fear of
offending sensitive ears. Again I recall Descartes and his rule: who
is right, the savages or we? And if the savages are right, can history
be the unfolding of the idea? And is not the conception of progress
in time (that is the development from the past to the present and
to the future) the purest error? Perhaps, and most probably, there
is development, but the direction of this development is in a line
perpendicular to the line of time. The base of the perpendicular may be
any human personality. May God and the reader forgive one the obscurity
of the last words. I hope the clarity of the foregoing exposition will
to some extent atone for it.



II

_Self-renunciation and Megalomania_


We are obliged to think that nothing certain can be said either of
self-renunciation or of megalomania, though each one of us in his own
experience knows something of the former as well as of the latter. But
it is well known that the impossibility of solving a question never yet
kept people from reflecting. On the contrary: to us the most alluring
questions are those to which there is no actual, no universally valid,
answer. I hope that sooner or later, philosophy will be thus defined,
in contrast to science:--philosophy is the teaching of truths which
are binding on none. Thereby the accusation so often made against
philosophy will be removed, that philosophy properly consists of a
series of mutually exclusive opinions. This is true, but she must be
praised for it, not blamed: there is nothing bad in it, but good, a
very great deal of good. On the other hand, it is bad, extremely bad,
that science should consist of truths universally binding. For every
obligation is a constraint. Temporarily, one can submit to a restraint,
put on a corset, fetters; one can agree to anything temporarily. Rut
who will voluntarily admit the mastery over himself of an eternal law?
Even from the quiet and clear Spinoza I sometimes hear a deep sigh, and
I think that he is longing for freedom--he who wasted all his life,
all his genius in the glorification of necessity.... With such an
introduction one may say what he pleases.

It seems to me that self-renunciation and megalomania, however little
they resemble one another apparently, may be observed successively,
even simultaneously, in one and the same person. The ascetic, who
has denied life and humbles himself before everybody, and the madman
(like Nietzsche or Dostoevsky), who affirms that he is the light, the
salt of the earth, the first in the whole world or even in the whole
universe--both reach their madness--I hope there is no necessity to
demonstrate that self-renunciation as well as megalomania is a kind of
madness--under conditions for the most part identical. The world does
not satisfy the man and he begins to seek for a better. All serious
seeking brings a man to lonely paths, and lonely paths, it is well
known, end in a great wall which sets a fatal bound to man's curiosity.
Then arises the question, how shall a man pass beyond the wall, by
overcoming either the law of impenetrability or the equally invincible
law of gravity, in other words, how shall a man become infinitely small
or infinitely great? The first way is that of self-renunciation: I want
nothing, I myself am nothing, I am infinitely small, and therefore I
can pass through the infinitely small pores of the wall.

The other way is megalomania. I am infinitely strong, infinitely
great, I can do all things, I can shatter the wall, I can step over
it, though it be higher than all the mountains of the earth and though
it has hitherto dismayed the strongest and the bravest. This is
probably the origin of the two most mysterious and mighty spiritual
transformations. There is no single religion upon which are not more or
less clearly impressed the traces of these methods of man's struggle
with the poverty of his powers. In ascetic religions the tendency to
self-renunciation predominates: Buddhism glorifies the suppression
of the individual and has for its ideal Nirvana. The Greeks dreamed
of Titans and heroes. The Jews consider themselves the chosen people
and await the Messiah. As for the Gospel, it is hard to say to which
method of struggle it gives the preference. On the one hand are the
great miracles, the raising from the dead, the healing of the sick, the
power over the winds and the sea; on the other: 'Blessed are the poor
in spirit.' The Son of God who will sit on the right hand of power now
lives in the company of publicans, beggars, and harlots, and serves
them. 'Who is not for us, is against us'; the promise to thrust down
his enemies into the fiery hell; eternal torment for blasphemy against
the Holy Spirit, and equal with these the exhortation to the extreme
of humility and love to the enemy: 'Turn to him the other cheek also.'
Throughout, the Gospel is permeated with contradictions, which are
not extraneous and historical, concerned with facts, but intrinsic,
contradictions of mood, of 'ideals,' as the modern man would say.
What is in one chapter praised as the noblest task is in the next
degraded to an unworthy labour. It is in no way strange that the most
opposite teachings should find justification in this little book,
which is half composed of repetitions. The Inquisitors, the Jesuits,
and the old ascetics called themselves. Christians; so do the modern
Protestants and our Russian sectaries. To a greater or less degree
they all are right, even the Protestants. Such contradictory elements
are intertwined in the Gospel, that men, above all those who travel
the high road, who can move in one direction only, and under one
conspicuous flag, who have become accustomed to believe in the unity
of reason and the infallibility of logical laws, could never fully
grasp the teaching of the Gospel, and always aspired to give to the
words and deeds of Christ a uniform explanation which should exclude
contradictions, and more or less correspond to the common conceptions
of the work and problems of life. They read in the mysterious book,
'Have faith and thou shalt say to this mountain: be thou removed,' and
understood it to mean that always, every hour and every minute, one
must think and desire the self-same thing, prescribed beforehand and
fully denned; whereas in these words the Gospel allows and commends the
maddest and most perilous experiments. That which is, did not exist for
Christ; and only that existed, which is not.

The old Roman, Pilate, who was apparently an educated man, clever and
not bad at heart, though weak in character, could neither understand
nor elucidate the cause of the strange struggle which took place
before him. With his whole heart he pitied the pale Jew before him,
who was guilty of nothing. 'What is truth?' he asked Christ. Christ
did not answer him, nor could He answer, not through ignorance, as
the heathen desired to believe, but because that question cannot be
answered in words. It would have been necessary to take Pilate's head,
and turn it towards the other side, in order that he might see what
he had never seen before. Or, still better; to have used the method
to which the hunch-backed pony turns in the fairy tale, in order to
change sleepy Ivanushka into a wizard and a beauty: first, to plunge
him into a cauldron of boiling milk, then into another of boiling
water, then a third of ice-cold water. There is every reason to suppose
that with this preliminary preparation Pilate would have begun to
act differently, and I think the hunch-backed pony would agree that
self-renunciation and megalomania would be a fair substitute for the
cauldrons of the tale.

Great privations and great illusions so change the nature of man
that things which seemed before impossible, become possible, and the
unattainable, attainable.



III

_Eternal Truths_


In the _Memorabilia_ Xenophon tells of the meeting of Socrates with
the famous sophist Hippias. When Hippias came to Socrates, the latter
as usual held forth, and as usual asked why it is that men who wish to
learn carpentry or smith's work know to whom they should apply, but if
they desire to learn virtue, cannot possibly find a teacher. Hippias,
who had heard these opinions of Socrates many times before, remarked
ironically: 'So you're still saying the same old things, that I heard
from you years ago!' Socrates understood and accepted the challenge, as
he always accepted challenges of this kind. A dispute began, by which
it was demonstrated (as usual in Plato and Xenophon) that Socrates was
a stronger dialectician than his opponent. He succeeded in showing that
his conception of justice was based on the same firm foundation as all
his other conceptions, and that convictions once formed, if they are
true, are as little liable to the action of time as noble metals to
rust.

Socrates lived seventy years. He was once a youth, once a man, once
a greybeard. But what if he had lived a hundred and forty years,
experienced once again all the three seasons of life, and had again met
Hippias? Or, better still, if the soul, as Socrates taught, is immortal
and Socrates now lives somewhere in the moon or Sirius, or in any other
place predestined for immortal souls, does he really go on plaguing his
companions with discourses on justice, carpenters, and smiths? And does
he still emerge victorious as of old from the dispute with Hippias and
other persons who dare to affirm that everything (human convictions
included) may be, and ought to be, subject to the laws of time, and
that mankind not only loses nothing, but gains much by such subjection?



IV

_Earth and Heaven_


The word justice is on all men's lips. But do men indeed so highly
prize justice as one would think, who believed all that has been
said and is still being said concerning it? More than this, is it so
highly appreciated by its sworn advocates and panegyrists--poets,
philosophers, moralists, theologians--even by the best of them, the
most sincere and gifted? I doubt it, I doubt it deeply. Glance at the
works of any wise man, whether of the modern or the ancient world.
Justice, if we understand it as the equality of all living men before
the laws of creation--and how else can we understand it?--never
occupied any one's attention. Plato never once asked Destiny why she
created Thersites contemptible and Patroclus noble. Plato argues that
men should be just, but never once dares to arraign the gods for their
injustice. If we listen to his discourses, a suspicion will steal into
our souls that justice is a virtue for mortals, while the immortals
have virtues of their own which have nothing in common with justice.
And here is the last trial of earthly virtue. We do not know whether
the human soul is mortal or immortal. Some, we know, believe in
immortality, others laugh at the belief. If it were proved that they
were both in the wrong, and that men's destinies after death are as
unequal as they are in life: the successful, the chosen take up their
abode in heaven, the others remain to rot in the grave and perish with
their mortal clay. (It is true that such an admission is made by our
Russian prophet, the priest of love and justice, Dostoevsky, in his
_Legend of the Grand Inquisitor._) Now, if it should turn out that
Dostoevsky is really immortal, while his innumerable disciples and
admirers, the huge mass of grey humanity which is spoken of in _The
Grand Inquisitor,_ end their lives in death as they began them with
birth, would Dostoevsky himself (whom I have named deliberately as
the most passionate defender of the ideal of justice, though there
have been yet more fervent and passionate and remarkable defenders of
justice on earth whom I ought perhaps to name, were it not that I would
avoid speaking lightly of sacred things--let him who finds Dostoevsky
small, himself choose another)--would Dostoevsky reconcile himself to
such an injustice, would he rise in revolt beyond the grave against the
injustice, or would he forget his poor brethren when he occupied the
place prepared for him? It is hard to judge _a priori: a posteriori_
one would imagine that he would forget.

And between Dostoevsky and a small provincial author the gulf is
colossal; the injustice of the inequality cries out to heaven.
Nevertheless we take no heed, we live on and do not cry, or if we
do, we cry very rarely, and then, to tell the truth, it is hard to
say certainly why we cry. Is it because we would draw the attention
of the indifferent heaven, or is it because there are many amateurs
of lamentation among our neighbours, like the pilgrim woman in
Ostrovsky's _Storm,_ who passionately loved to hear a good howl? All
these considerations will seem particularly important to those who,
like myself at the present moment--I cannot speak for to-morrow--share
Dostoevsky's notion that even if there is immortality, then it is
certainly not for everybody but for the few. Moreover, I follow
Dostoevsky further and admit that they alone will rise from the dead
who on the existing hypotheses should expect the worse fate after
death. The first here will be the first still, there, while of the last
not even a memory will remain. And no one will be found to champion
those who have perished: a Dostoevsky, a Tolstoi, and all the other
'first' who succeed in entering heaven will be engaged in business
incomparably more important.

So continue, if you will, to take thought for the just arrangement of
the world, and, after the fashion of Plato, to make the teaching of
justice the foundation of philosophy.



V

_The Force of Argument_


Schopenhauer answered the question of the immortality of the soul in
the negative. In his opinion, man as Thing-in-Himself is immortal, but
as phenomenon mortal. In other words, all that is individual in us
exists only in the interval between birth and death; but since each
individual according to Schopenhauer's teaching is a manifestation of
'Will' or 'Thing-in-Itself,' the unalterable and eternal principle
which is the only reality of the world, continually made object in the
manifold of phenomena, then, in so far as this principle is displayed
in man, he is eternal. This is Schopenhauer's opinion, evidently
derived as a logical conclusion from his general philosophic doctrine,
both from that relating to the Thing-in-Itself, and from that which
relates to the individual. The first part shall go unregarded: after
all, if Schopenhauer was mistaken, and the Thing-in-Itself is mortal,
we need not weep over it, nor is there any cause to rejoice over its
immortality. But here is the individual. He is deprived of his right to
immortality, and for reason is alleged an argument which is at first
sight irrefutable. Everything which has a beginning has an end also,
says Schopenhauer. The individual has a beginning, birth; therefore an
end, death, awaits him. To Schopenhauer himself the general proposition
as well as the conclusion seemed so obvious, that he did not admit
the possibility of mistake even for a moment. But this time we have
an incontestable case of a wrong conclusion from a wrong premiss.
First, why must everything which has a beginning also have an end? The
observations of experience point to such an hypothesis; but are the
observations of experience really strong enough to support general
propositions? And are we really entitled to make use of propositions
so acquired as first principles for the solution of the most important
problems of philosophy? And even if we admit that the premiss is
correct, nevertheless the conclusion at which Schopenhauer arrived is
wrongly drawn. It may indeed be that everything which has a beginning
also has an end; it may indeed be that the individual is sooner or
later doomed to perish; but why identify the moment of the soul's
destruction with the death of the body? It may be that the body will
die, but the soul which the same fate attends at some future time will
find for itself a more or less suitable integument somewhere in a
distant planet, perhaps still unknown to us, and live on, though only
for a little while and not for all eternity, as the extreme optimists
believe. How important would it be for poor humanity to retain even
such a hope: particularly seeing that we can hardly say with certainty
what it is that men desire when they speak of the immortality of the
soul. Is it that they merely desire at all costs to live eternally, or
would they be satisfied with one or two lives more, especially if the
subsequent lives should appear to be less offensively insignificant
than this earthly existence, wherein even the lowest rank of nobility
is to many an unattainable ideal? It seems to me that it is not every
one who would consent to live eternally. And what if every possibility
should have been exhausted, and endless repetition should begin?

It does not of course follow from this that we have the right to
reckon upon an existence beyond the grave. The question remains open
as before, even when Schopenhauer's arguments have been refuted. But
it does follow that the best arguments on closer consideration often
appear worthless. _Quod erat demonstrandum--_ naturally pending the
discovery of arguments to refute my refutation of Schopenhauer's. I
make this reserve to deprive my critics of the pleasure and possibility
of a little wordplay.



VI

_Swan Songs_


It cannot be doubted that _When We Dead Awake_ is one of the most
autobiographical of Ibsen's plays. Nearly all his dramas reveal
striking traces of his personal experience; their most valuable
quality, even, is the possibility of following out in them the
history of the author's inward struggle. But there is a particular
significance in _When We Dead Awake,_ which comes from the fact that
it was conceived and written by the author in his old age. Those who
are interested in overhearing what is said and watching what is done
on the outskirts of life set an extraordinary value on the opportunity
of communing with very old men, with the dying, and generally with
men who are placed in exceptional conditions, above all when they are
not afraid to speak the truth, and have by past experience developed
in themselves the art and the courage--the former is as necessary as
the latter--to look straight into the eyes of reality. To such men
Ibsen seems even more interesting than Tolstoi. Tolstoi indeed has not
yet betrayed his gift; but he is primarily a moralist. Now, as in his
youth, power over men is the dearest thing of all to him, and more
fascinating than all the other blessings of the world. He still gives
orders, makes demands, and desires at all costs to be obeyed. One may,
and one ought, to consider this peculiarity of Tolstoi's nature with
attention and respect. Not Tolstoi alone, but many a regal hermit of
thought has to the end of his life demanded the unconditional surrender
of mankind. On the day of his death, an hour before end, Socrates
taught that there was only one truth and that the one which he had
discovered. Plato in his extreme old age journeyed to Syracuse to plant
the seeds of wisdom there. It is probable that such stubbornness in
great men has its explanation and its deep meaning.

Tolstoi, and also Socrates and Plato, and the Jewish prophets, who
in this respect and in many others were very like the teachers of
wisdom, probably had to concentrate their powers wholly upon one
gigantic inward task, the condition of its successful performance
being the illusion that the whole world, the whole universe, works
in concert and unison with them. In Tolstoi's case I have elsewhere
shown that he finds himself at present on the brink of Solipsism in
his conception of the world. Tolstoi and the whole world are to him
synonymous. Without such a temporary delusion of his whole being--it
is not an intellectual delusion, of the head, for the head knows well
that the world is by itself, and Tolstoi by himself--he would have to
give up his most important work. So it is with us, who know since
Copernicus that the earth moves round the sun, that the stars are not
clear, bright, golden rings, but huge lumps of various composition,
that there is not a firm blue vault overhead. We know these things:
nevertheless we cannot and do not want to be so blind as not to take
delight in the lie of the optical illusions of the visible world. Truth
so-called has but a limited value. Nor does the sacrifice of Galileo
by any means refute my words. _E pur si muove,_ if ever he uttered the
phrase, might not have referred to the movement of the earth, though
it was spoken of the earth. Galileo did not wish to betray the work of
his life. Who will, however, stand surety to us that not only Galileo
is capable of such sacrifice, but his pupil also, even the most devoted
and courageous, who has gained the new truth not by his own struggle
but from the lips of his master. Peter in one night thrice denied
Christ. Probably we could not find a single man in all the world who
would consent to die to demonstrate and defend the idea of Galileo.
Evidently great men are very little inclined to initiate the outsider
into the secret of their great deeds. Evidently they cannot themselves
always give a clear account of the character and meaning of the tasks
which they set themselves. Socrates himself, who all his life long so
stubbornly sought clarity and invented dialectics for the purpose, and
introduced into general use definitions designed to fix the flowing
reality; Socrates, who spent thirty days without interruption in
persuading his pupils that he was dying for the sake of truth and
justice; Socrates himself, I say, perhaps, most probably even, knew as
little why he was dying as do simple people who die a natural death, or
as babes born into the world know by what beneficent or hostile power
they have been summoned from nonentity into being. Such is our life:
wise men and fools, old men and children march at random to goals which
have not yet been revealed by any books, whether worldly or spiritual,
common or sacred. It is by no means with the desire to bring dogmatism
into contempt that I recall these considerations. I have always been
convinced, and am still certain, that dogmatists feel no shame, and
are by no means to be driven out of life; besides, I have lately come
to the conclusion that the dogmatists are perfectly justified in their
stubbornness. Belief, and the need of belief, are strong as love, as
death. In the case of every dogmatist I now consider it my sacred
duty to concede everything in advance, even to the acknowledgment
of the least, and least significant, shades of his convictions and
beliefs. There is but one limitation, one only, imperceptible and
almost invisible: the dogmatist's convictions must not be absolutely
and universally binding, that is, not binding upon the whole of
mankind without exception. The majority, the vast majority, millions,
even tens of millions of people, I will readily allow him, on the
understanding that they themselves desire it, or that he will show
himself skilful enough to entice them to his side--violence is surely
not to be admitted in matters of belief. In a word, I allow him almost
the whole of humankind, in consideration whereof he must agree that
his convictions are not intrinsically binding upon the few units or
tens that remain. I agree to an outward submission. And the dogmatist,
after such a victory--my confession is surely a complete victory for
him--must consider himself satisfied in full.

Socrates was right, Plato, Tolstoi, the prophets were right: there is
only one truth, one God; truth has the right to destroy lie, light
to destroy darkness. God, omniscient, most gracious and omnipotent,
will like Alexander of Macedon conquer nearly all the known world, and
will drive out from his possessions, amid the triumphant and delighted
shouts of his millions of loyal subjects, the devil and all those who
are disobedient to his divine word. But he will renounce his claim to
power over the souls of his few opponents, according to the agreement,
and a handful of apostates will gather together on a remote isle,
invisible to the millions, and will there continue their free, peculiar
life. And here--to return to the beginning--among these few disobedient
will be found Ibsen as he was in the last years of his life, as he is
seen in his last drama. For in _When We Dead Awake_ Ibsen approves and
glorifies that which Gogol actually did fifty years ago. He renounces
his art, and with hatred and mockery recalls to mind what was once
the business of his life. On April 15, 1866, Ibsen wrote to King Karl:
'I am not fighting for a careless existence; I am fighting for the
work of my life, in which I unflinchingly believe, and which I know
God has given me to do.' By the way, you will hardly find one of the
great workers who has not repeated this assertion of Ibsen's, whether
in the same or in another form. Evidently, without such an illusion,
temporary or permanent, one cannot compass the intense struggle and the
sacrifices which are the price of great work. Evidently, illusions of
various kinds are necessary even for success in small things. In order
that a little man should fulfil his microscopical work, he too must
strain his little forces to the extreme. And who knows whether it did
not seem to Akaky Akakievitch that God had assigned to him the task
of copying the papers in the office and having a new uniform made? Of
course he would never dare to say so, and he would never be able to,
first because of his timidity, and then because he has not the gift of
expression. The Muses do not bring their tribute to the poor and weak:
they sing only Croesus and Caesar. But there is no doubt that the first
in the village consider themselves as plainly designated by fate as the
first in Rome. Caesar felt this, and not mere ambition alone spoke in
him when he uttered the famous phrase. Men do not believe in themselves
and always yearn to occupy a position wherein the certainty, whether
justified or mistaken, may spring up within them that they stand in the
sight of God. But with years all illusions vanish, and among them the
illusion that God chooses certain men for his particular purposes and
puts on them particular charges. Gogol, who had thus long understood
his task as an author, burnt his best work before his death. Ibsen did
almost the same. In the person of Professor Rubek he renounces his
literary activity and jeers at it, though it had brought him everything
that he could have expected from it, fame, respect, riches.... And
think why! Because he had to sacrifice the man in him for the sake of
the artist, to give up Irene whom he loved, to marry a woman to whom he
was indifferent. Did Ibsen at the end of his life clearly discover that
God had appointed him the task of being a male? But all men are males,
while only individuals are artists. Had this been said, not by Ibsen,
but by a common mortal, we would call it the greatest vulgarity. On
the lips of Ibsen, an old man of seventy years, the author of _Brand,_
from which the divines of Europe draw the matter for their sermons, on
the lips of Ibsen who wrote _Emperor and Galilean_ such a confession
acquires an unexpected and mysterious meaning. Here you cannot escape
with a shake of the head and a contemptuous smile. Not anybody, but
Ibsen himself speaks--the first, not in the village, not in Rome even,
but in the world. Here surely is the human law at work: 'Forswear not
the prison nor the beggar's wallet!'

Perhaps it is opportune to recall the swan songs of Turgeniev.
Turgeniev, too, had high ideals which he probably thought he had
received direct from God. We may with assurance put into the mouth
of Brand himself the phrase with which his remarkable essay, _Hamlet
and Don Quixote,_ concludes: 'Everything passes, good deeds remain.'
In these words is the whole Turgeniev, or better, the whole conscious
Turgeniev of that period of his life to which the essay belongs. And
not only in that period, but up to the last minutes of his life, the
conscious Turgeniev would not recant those words. But in the _Prose
Poems_ an utterly different motive is heard. All that he there relates,
and all that Ibsen tells in his last drama, is permeated with one
infinite, inextinguishable anguish for a life wasted in vain, for a
life which had been spent in preaching 'good.' Yet neither youth, nor
health, nor the powers that fail are regretted. Perhaps even death has
no terrors.... What the old Turgeniev cannot away with are his memories
of 'the Russian girl.' He described and sang her as no one in Russian
literature before him, but she was to him only an ideal; he, like
Rubek, had not touched her. Ibsen had not touched Irene; he went off
to Madame Viardo. And this is an awful sin, in no wise to be atoned,
a mortal sin, the sin of which the Bible speaks. All things will be
forgiven, all things pass, all things will be forgotten: this crime
will remain for ever. That is the meaning of Turgeniev's _senilia_;
that is the meaning of Ibsen's _senilia._ I have deliberately chosen
the word _senilia,_ though I might have said swan songs, though it
would even have been more correct to speak of swan songs. 'Swans,' says
Plato, 'when they feel the approach of death, sing that day better
than ever, rejoicing that they will find God, whom they serve.' Ibsen
and Turgeniev served the same God as the swans, according to the Greek
belief, the bright God of songs, Apollo. And their last songs, their
_senilia,_ were better than all that had gone before. In them is a
bottomless depth awful to the eye, but how wonderful! There all things
are different from what they are with us on the surface. Should one
hearken to the temptation and go to the call of the great old men,
or should he tie himself to the mast of conviction, verified by the
experience of mankind, and cover his ears as once the crafty Ulysses
did to save himself from the Syrens? There is a way of escape: there
is a word which will destroy the enchantment. I have already uttered
it: _senilia._ Turgeniev wished to call his _Prose Poems_ by this
name--manifestations of sickness, of infirmity, of old age. These are
terrible; one must run away from these! Schopenhauer, the philosopher
and metaphysician, feared to revise the works of his youth in his old
age. He felt that he would spoil them by his mere touch. And all men
mistrust old age, all share Schopenhauer's apprehensions. But what if
all are mistaken? What if _senilia_ bring us nearer to the truth?
Perhaps the soothsaying birds of Apollo grieve in unearthly anguish
for another existence; perhaps their fear is not of death but of life;
perhaps in Turgeniev's poems, as well as in Ibsen's last drama, are
already heard, if not the last, then at least the penultimate words of
mankind.



VII

_What is Philosophy?_


In text-books of philosophy you will find most diverse answers to this
question. During the twenty-five hundred years of its existence it
has been able to make an immense quantity of attempts to define the
substance of its task. But up till now no agreement has been reached
between the acknowledged representatives of the lovers and favourites
of wisdom. Every one judges in his own way, and considers his opinion
as the only true one; of a _consensus sapientium_ it is impossible
even to dream. But strangely enough, exactly in this disputable matter
wherein the agreement of savants and sages is so impossible, the
_consensus profanorum_ is fully attained. All those who were never
engaged in philosophy, who have never read learned books, or even any
books at all, answer the question with rare unanimity. True, it is
apparently impossible to judge of their opinions directly, because
people of this kind cannot speak at all in the language evolved by
science; they never put the question in such a form, still less can
they answer it in the accepted words. But we have an important piece of
indirect evidence which gives us the right to form a conclusion. There
is no doubt that all those who have gone to philosophy for answers
to the questions which tormented them, have left her disenchanted,
unless they had a sufficiently eminent gift to enable them to join the
guild of professional philosophers. From this we may unhesitatingly
conclude, although the conclusion is for the time being only negative,
that philosophy is engaged in a business which may be interesting and
important to the few, but is tedious and useless to the many.

This conclusion is highly consoling as well for the sage as for the
profane. For every sage, even the most exalted, is at the same time
one of the profane--if we discard the academical use of words--a
human being, pure and simple. To him also it may happen that those
tormenting questions will arise, which ordinary people used to bring
to him, as for instance in the case of Tolstoi's Ivan Ilyich or
Tchekhov's professor in _The Tedious Story._ And then he will of course
be obliged to confess that the necessary answers are missing from
the great tomes which he has studied so well. For what can be more
terrible to a man than to be compelled in the hard moments of his life
to acknowledge any doctrine of philosophy as binding upon him? For
instance, to be compelled to hold with Plato, Spinoza, or Schopenhauer
that the chief problem of life is moral perfection, or in other words,
self-renunciation. It was easy for Plato to preach justice. It did
not in the least prevent him from being the son of his time, or from
breaking to a permissible extent the commandments which he himself
had given. By all the evidence Spinoza was much more resolute and
consequent than Plato; he indeed kept the passions in subservience, but
that was his personal and individual inclination. Consistence was not
merely a property of his mind, but of his whole being. Displaying it,
he displayed himself. As for Schopenhauer, it is known that he praised
the virtues only in his books; but in life, like many another clever,
independent man, he was guided by the most diverse considerations.

But these are all masters, who devise systems and imperatives. Whereas
the pupil, seeking in philosophy an answer to his questions, cannot
permit himself any liberties and digressions from the universal rules,
for the essence and the fundamental problem of any doctrine reduces to
the subordination not merely of men's conduct, but of the life of the
whole universe to one regulating principle. Individual philosophers
have discovered such principles, but to this day they have reached no
final agreement among themselves, and this to some extent lightens the
burden of those unhappy ones who, having lost the hope of finding help
and guidance elsewhere, have turned to philosophy. If there is not
in philosophy one universal principle binding upon and acknowledged
by all, it means that it is permitted to each man, at least for the
meantime, to feel and even to act in his own way. A man may listen
to Spinoza, or he may stop his ears. He may kneel before Plato's
eternal ideas, or he may give his allegiance to the ever-changing,
ever-flowing reality. Finally, he may accept Schopenhauer's pessimism,
but nothing on earth can compel him to celibacy on the ground that
Schopenhauer successfully laughed at love. Nor is there any necessity
at all, in order to win such freedom for one's self, to be armed
with the light dialectic of the old Greek philosopher, or with the
heavy logic of the poor Dutch Jew, or with the subtle wit of the
profound German. Neither is it necessary to dispute them. It is even
possible to agree with them all. The room of the world is infinite,
and will not only contain all those who lived once and those who are
yet to be born, but will give to each one of them all that he can
desire: to Plato, the world of ideas, to Spinoza, the one eternal and
unchangeable substance, to Schopenhauer, the Nirvana of Buddhism. Each
of these, and all the other philosophers, will find what they want in
the universe even to the belief, even to the conviction, that theirs
are the only true and universal doctrines. But, at the same time,
the profane will find suitable worlds for themselves. From the fact
that people are cooped up on the earth, and that they must put forth
efforts beyond belief to gain each cubit of earth, and even their
illusory liberties, it by no means follows that poverty, obscurantism,
and despotism must be considered eternal and original principles, and
that economical uniformity is the last refuge of man. A plurality of
worlds, a plurality of men and gods amid the vast spaces of the vast
universe--this is, if I may be forgiven the word, an ideal. It is true
it is not built according to the idealists. Yet what a conclusion does
it foreshadow! We leave the disputes and arguments of philosophers
aside, so soon as we begin to speak of gods. According to the existing
beliefs and hypotheses the gods also have always been quarrelling
and fighting among themselves. Even in monotheistic religions people
always made their God enter a fight, and devised an eminent opponent
for him--the devil. Men can by no means rid themselves of the thought
that everything in heaven goes on in exactly the same way as it does
on the earth, and they attribute all their own bad qualities as well
as their good ones to the denizens of heaven. Whereas it is by far the
most probable that a great many of the things which are, according to
our notions, perfectly inseparable from life do not exist in heaven.
Among other things, there is no struggle. And this is well. For every
struggle, sooner or later, develops inevitably into a fight. When
the supply of logical and ethical arguments is exhausted, one thing
is left for the irreconcilable opponents--to come to blows, which do
in fact usually decide the issue. The value of logical and ethical
arguments is arbitrarily assigned, but material force is measured by
foot-pounds and can be calculated in advance. So that where on the
common supposition there will be no foot-pounds, the issue of the
fight will very often remain undecided. When Lermontov's demon goes
to Tamara's cell, an angel meets him on the way. The demon says that
Tamara belongs to him; the angel demands her for himself. The demon
will not be dissuaded by words and arguments: he is not built that way.
As for the angel, he always considers himself doubly right. How can the
issue be decided? At last Lermontov, who could not or dared not devise
a new solution, admitted the interference of material force: Tamara
is dragged away from the demon exactly as the stronger robber pulls
his prey from the weaker on earth. Evidently the poet admitted that
conclusion, that he might pay his tribute to the piety of tradition.
But in my opinion the solution is not pious, but merely blasphemous.
In it the traces of barbarity and idolatry are still clearly visible.
The tastes and attributes of which earthly despots dream are attributed
to God. By all means he must be, he desires to be, the strongest, the
very first, just like Julius Caesar in his youth. He fears rivalry
above all things, and never forgives his unconquered enemies. This is
evidently a barbarous mistake. God does not want to be the strongest,
the very first, at all. Certainly--for that would be intelligible and
in accordance with common sense--he would not like to be weaker than
others, in order that he might not be exposed to violence; but there
is no foundation at all for attributing to him ambition or vainglory.
Therefore there is equally no reason to think that he does not suffer
equals, desires to be supreme, and seeks at all costs to destroy the
devil. Most probably he lives in peace and concord even with those
who least adapt themselves to his tastes and habits. Perhaps he is
even delighted that not all are as he, and he readily shares his
possessions with the devil, the more readily because by such a division
neither loses, since the infinite--I admit that God's possessions are
infinite--divided by two and even by the greatest possible finite
number still leaves infinity.

Now we can return to the original question, and it seems that we
can even give an answer to it--two answers even, one for the sage,
another for the profane. To the first, philosophy is art for art's
sake. Every philosopher tries to construct a harmonious and various
system, curiously and nicely fashioned, using for his material his own
intrinsic experience as well as his own personal observations of the
life beyond him, and the observations of others. A philosopher is an
artist of his kind, to whom his works are dearer than everything in
life, sometimes dearer than life itself. We very often see philosophers
sacrifice everything for the sake of their work--even truth. Not so
the profane. To them philosophy--more exactly, that which they would
call philosophy if they possessed a scientific terminology--is the last
refuge when material forces have been wasted, when there are no weapons
left to fight for their stolen rights. Then they run for help and
support to a place which they have always taken care to avoid before.
Think of Napoleon at St. Helena. He who had been collecting soldiers
and guns all his life, began to philosophise when he was bound hand and
foot. Certainly he behaved in this new sphere like a beginner, a very
inexperienced and, strange to say, a pusillanimous novice.

He who feared neither pestilence nor bullet, was afraid, we know, of
a dark room. Men used to philosophy, like Schopenhauer, walk boldly
and with confidence in a dark room, though they run away from gun
shots, and even less dangerous things. The great captain, the once
Emperor of nearly all Europe, Napoleon, philosophised on St. Helena,
and even went so far as to begin to ingratiate himself with morality,
evidently supposing that upon morality his ultimate fate depended. He
assured her that for her sake, and her sake alone, he had contrived
his murderous business--he who, all the while a crown was on his head
and a victorious army in his hands, hardly knew even of the existence
of morality. But this is so intelligible. If one were to come upon a
perfectly new and unknown world at the age of forty-five, then surely
everything would seem terrible, and one would take the incorporeal
morality for the arbiter of destiny. And one would plan to seduce
her, if possible, with sweet words and false promises, as a lady of
the world. But these were the first steps of a tyro. It was as hard
for Napoleon to master philosophy as it was for Charlemagne at the
end of his days to learn to write. But he knew why he had come to the
new place, and neither Plato nor Spinoza nor Kant could dissuade him
of this. Perhaps at the beginning, while he was as yet unused to the
darkness, he would pretend to agree with the acknowledged authorities,
thinking that here too, just as there where he lived before, exalted
personages do not tolerate opposition; perhaps he would lie to them
as he lied to morality, but his business he would not forget. He came
to philosophy with _demands,_ and would not rest till he had received
satisfaction. He had already seen how a Corsican lieutenant had
become a French Emperor. Why should not the beaten Emperor fight his
last fight?... And how shall he be reconciled with self-renunciation?
Philosophy will surrender: it is only necessary not to surrender in
one's self. So does a Napoleon come to philosophy, and so does he
understand her. And until the contrary is proven, nothing can prevent
us from thinking that the Napoleons are right, and therefore that
academical philosophy is not the last nor even the penultimate word.
For, perhaps, the last word is hidden in the hearts of the tongue-tied,
but bold, persistent, implacable men.



VIII

_Heinrich Heine_


More than a hundred years have passed since the birth, and fifty
years since the death, of this remarkable man, but the history of
literature has not yet finally settled accounts with him. Even the
Germans, perhaps the Germans above all, find it impossible to agree
upon the valuation of his gift. Some consider him a genius, others a
man devoid of talent and insipid. Moreover, his enemies still bring as
much passion to their attacks upon him as they did before, as though
they were waging war upon a live opponent in place of a dead one. They
hate him for the same things which made his contemporaries hate him.
We know that it was principally for his insincerity that they did not
forgive him. No one could tell when he was speaking seriously and when
in jest, what he loved and what he hated, and finally it was quite
impossible to determine whether or not he believed in God. It must be
confessed that the Germans were right in many of their accusations. I
value Heine extremely highly; in my opinion he is one of the greatest
German poets; and yet I cannot undertake to say with certainty what
he loved, what he believed, and often I cannot tell how serious he is
in uttering one or another of his opinions. Nevertheless I find it
impossible to detect any insincerity in his works. On the contrary,
those peculiarities of his, which so irritated the Germans, are in my
eyes so many proofs of his wonderful and unique sincerity. I think that
if the Germans were mistaken and misunderstood Heine, hypertrophied
self-love and the power of prejudice is the cause. Heine's usual method
is to begin to speak with perfect seriousness, and to end with biting
raillery and sarcasm. Critics and readers, who generally do not guess
at the outset what awaits them in the event, have taken the unexpected
laughter to their own account, and have been deeply offended. Wounded
self-love never forgives; and the Germans could not forgive Heine
for his jests. And yet Heine but rarely attacked others: most of his
mockery is directed against himself, and above all in the work of his
last creative period, of the years when he lived in the _Matrazengrab._

With us in Russia many were offended with Gogol, believing that he
was jeering at them. Later, he confessed that he had been describing
himself. Nor does the inconstancy of Heine's opinions in any way
prove him insincere. His intention was by no means always to fling at
the Philistines. Indeed, he did not know what to believe; he changed
his tastes and attachments, and did not even always know for certain
what he preferred at the moment. Of course, had he wished, he might
have pretended to be consequent and consistent. Or, had he been less
eagle-eyed, he might with the vast majority of men have adopted a
ceremonial dress once for all, he might have professed and invariably
preached ideas which had no relation to his real emotions and moods.
Many people think that one ought to act thus, that (particularly in
literature) one must speak only officially and exhibit lofty ideas
that have been proclaimed by wise men since time immemorial, without
their having made the least inquiry whether they correspond to their
own natures or not. Often cruel, vindictive, spiteful, selfish, mean
people sincerely praise goodness, forgiveness, love to one's enemy,
generosity and magnanimity in their books, while of their tastes
and passions they speak not a single word. They are confident that
passions exist only to be suppressed, and that convictions only are to
be exhibited or displayed. A man rarely succeeds in suppressing his
passions, but it is extremely easy to hide them, especially in books.
And such dissimulation is not only not condemned, but recognised and
even encouraged. The common and familiar programme is accepted: in life
'passions' judge 'convictions,' in books 'convictions,' or 'ideals,'
as they are called, pass sentence upon 'passions.' I would emphasise
the fact that most writers are convinced that their business is not to
tell of themselves, but to praise ideals. Heine's sincerity was really
of a different order. He told everything, or nearly everything, of
himself. And this was thought so shocking that the sworn custodians of
convention and good morals considered themselves wounded in their best
and loftiest feelings. It seemed to them that it would be disastrous if
Heine were to succeed in acquiring a great literary influence, and in
getting a hold upon the minds of his contemporaries. Then would crumble
the foundations, constructed through centuries of arduous labour by the
united efforts of the most distinguished representatives of the nation.
This is perhaps true: the lofty magnificence of life can be preserved
only upon the indispensable condition of hypocrisy. In order that it
should be beautiful, much must be hidden and thrust away as far and
deep as possible. The sick and the mad must be herded into hospitals;
poverty into cellars; disobedient passions into the depths of the
soul. Truth and freedom are only allowed to obtrude upon the attention
as far as is compatible with the interests of a life well arranged
within and without. The Protestant Church understood this as well as
the Catholic, perhaps better. Strict puritanism elevated spiritual
discipline to the highest moral law, which ruled life with unrelenting
and inexorable despotism. Marriage and the family, not love, must be
the aim of man; and poor Gretchen, who gave herself to Faust without
observing the established ceremonial, was forced to consider herself
eternally damned. The inward discipline still more than the outward
guarded the foundations and gave strength and force to the State as
well as to the people. Men and women were not spared; they were not
even taken into account. Hundreds and thousands of Gretchens, men and
women, were sacrificed, and are being sacrificed still, without pity to
'the highest spiritual interests.'

Acknowledgment and respect for the prescribed order had become so
deeply rooted in the German soul--I speak of Germany, because no
other nation upon earth is so highly disciplined--that even the most
independent characters yielded to it. The most dreadful sin is not the
breaking of the law--a violation which like Gretchen's can be explained
by weakness and weakness alone, though it was not forgiven, was less
severely condemned--but rebellion against the law, the open and daring
refusal to obey, even though it be expressed in the most insignificant
act. Therefore every one tends to show his loyalty from that side
first of all. In a greater or less degree all have transgressed the
law, but the more one has violated it in act, the more imperative he
considers its glorification in words. And this order of things aroused
neither suspicion nor discontent. Therein could be seen acknowledged
the superiority of spirit over body, of mind over passion. Nobody ever
asked the question: 'Is it really true that the spirit must have the
mastery over the body, and the mind over the passions?' And when Heine
allowed himself to put the question and to answer it in his own way,
the whole force of German indignation burst upon him. First of all
they suspected his sincerity and truthfulness. 'It is impossible,'
said the pious, 'that he really should not acknowledge the law. He is
only pretending.' Such a supposition was the more natural because the
ring of conviction was not always to be heard in Heine's tone: one of
his poems ends with the following words: 'I seek the body, the body,
the young and tender body. The soul you may bury deep in the ground--I
myself have soul enough.' The poem is daring and provocative in the
extreme, but in it, as in all Heine's daring and provocative poems, may
be heard a sharp and nervous laugh, which must be understood as the
expression of the divided soul, as a mockery of himself. It is he who
tells of his meeting with two women, mother and daughter. Both please
him: the mother by her much knowledge, the daughter by her innocence.
And the poet stands between them, in his own words, like Buridan's
ass between two bundles of hay. Again, daring, again, the laugh; and
again the well-balanced German is irritated. He would prefer that no
one should ever speak of such emotions, and if they are to be spoken
of, then it must be at least in a penitent tone, with self-accusation.
But Heine's misplaced laughter is indecent and quite uselessly
disconcerting. I repeat that Heine himself was not always sure that
his 'sincerity' was lawful. While he was still a youth he told how
there suddenly ran through his soul, as through the whole earth, a
rent which split asunder the unity of his former emotions. King David
when he praised God and good did not remember his dark deeds--of
which there were not a few--or, if he did remember them, it was only
to repent. His soul was also divided, but he was able to preserve a
sequence. When he wept, he could not and did not want to rejoice;
when he repented, he was already far from sin; when he prayed, he did
not scoff; when he believed, he did not doubt. The Germans, brought
up on the great king's psalms, had come to think that these things
were impossible and ought never to be possible. They admitted the
succession of different, and even contradictory spiritual conditions,
but their simultaneous existence appeared to them unintelligible and
disgusting, in contradiction with divine commandments and the laws of
logic. It seemed to them that everything which formerly existed as
separate, had become confused, that the place of stringent harmony had
been usurped by absurdity and chaos. They thought that such a state of
things threatened innumerable miseries. They did not admit the idea
that Heine himself might not understand it; in his creation they saw
the manifestation of a false and evil will, and they invoked divine and
human judgment upon it. The Philistine irritation reached the extreme
when it became clear that Heine had not humbled himself even before the
face of death. Stricken by paralysis, he lay in his _Matrazengrab,_
unable to stir a limb; he suffered the most intense bodily pains,
with no hope of cure, or even of relief, yet he still continued to
blaspheme as before. Worse still, his sarcasms every day became more
ruthless, more poisonous, more refined. It might have been thought that
it was left to him, crushed and destroyed, only to acknowledge his
defeat and to commit himself utterly to the magnanimity of the victor.
But in the weak flesh a strong spirit lived. All his thoughts were
turned to God, the power of whose right hand, like every dying man,
he could not but feel upon him. But his thoughts of God, his attitude
to God, were so original that the serious people of the outer world
could only shrug their shoulders. No one ever spoke thus to God, either
aloud or to himself. The thought of death usually inspires mortals
with fear or admiration; therefore they either kneel before him and
implore forgiveness or sing his praises. Heine has neither prayer nor
praise. His poems are permeated with a charming and gracious cynicism,
peculiar and proper to himself alone. He does not want to confess his
sins, and even now on the threshold of another life he remains as he
was in youth. He desires neither paradise, nor bliss, nor heaven; he
asks God to give him back his health, and to put his money affairs in
order. 'I know there is much evil and many vices on earth. But I have
grown used to all that now, and besides I seldom leave my room. O God,
leave me here, but heal my infirmities, and spare me from want,' he
writes in one of his last poems. He derides the legends of the blissful
life of sinless souls in paradise. 'Sitting on the clouds and singing
psalms is a pastime quite unsuited to me.' He remembers the beautiful
Venus of the Louvre and praises her as in the days of youth. His poem,
_Das Hohelied,_ is a mixture of extreme cynicism, nobility, despair,
and incredible sarcasm. I do not know whether dying men have had such
thoughts as those which are expressed in this poem, but I am confident
that no one has expressed anything like them in literature. In Goethe's
_Prometheus_ there is nothing of the provocative, unshakable, calm
pride and the consciousness of his rights which inspired the author
of _Das Hohelied._ God, who created heaven and earth and man upon the
earth, is free to torment my body and soul to his fill, but I myself
know what I need and desire, I myself decide what is good and what is
bad. That is the meaning of this poem, and of all that Heine wrote in
the last years of his life. He knew as well as any one that according
to the doctrines of philosophy, ethics, and religion, repentance and
humility are the condition of the soul's salvation, the readiness even
with the last breath of life to renounce sinful desires. Nevertheless,
with his last breath he does not want to own the power over himself
of the age-old authorities of the world. He laughs at morality, at
philosophy, and at existing religions. The wise men think so, the wise
men want to live in their own way; let them think, let them live. But
who gave them the right to demand obedience from me? Can they have
the power to compel me to obedience? Listening to the words of the
dying man, shall we not repeat his question? Shall we not take one step
further? Heine is crushed, and if we may believe, as we have every
reason to believe what he tells us in his 'Song of Songs,' his painful
and terrible illness was the direct effect and consequence of his
manner of life. Does it mean that in the future, too (if future there
is), new persecutions await him, until the day when of his own accord
he will subscribe to the proclaimed and established morality? Have we
the right to suppose that there are powers somewhere in the universe
preoccupied with the business of cutting out all men, even down to
the last, after the same pattern? Perhaps Heine's contumacy points to
quite a different intention of the arbiters of destiny. Perhaps the
illness and torture prepared for those who fight against collars and
blinkers--experience demonstrates with sufficient certainty that any
declination from the high road and the norm inevitably brings suffering
and ruin in its train--are only the trial of the human spirit. Who
will endure them, who will stand up for himself, afraid neither of
God nor of the devil and his ministers, he will enter victoriously
into another world. Sometimes I even think, in opposition to existing
opinion, that _there_ the stubborn and inflexible are valued above
all others, and that the secret is hidden from mortals lest the
weak and compliant should take it into their heads to pretend to be
stubborn, in order to deserve the favour of the gods. But he who
will not endure, but will deny himself, may expect the fate of which
philosophers and metaphysicians generally dream. He will be united
with the _primum mobile,_ he will be dissolved in the essence of being
together with the mass of individuals like himself. I am tempted to
think that the metaphysical theories which preach self-renunciation
for the sake of love, and love for the sake of self-renunciation,
are by no means empty and idle, as the positivists affirm. In them
lies a deep, mysterious, and mystical meaning: in them is hidden a
great truth. Their only mistake is that they pretend to be absolute.
For some reason or other men have decided that empirical truths are
many, but that metaphysical truth is one. Metaphysical truths are
also many, but that does not in the least prevent them from living in
harmony one with another. Empirical truths like all earthly beings are
continually quarrelling, and cannot get on without superior authority.
But metaphysical truths are differently arranged and know nothing
whatsoever of our rivalry. There is no doubt that people who feel the
burden of their individuality and thirst for self-renunciation are
absolutely right. Every probability points to their at last attaining
their purpose and being united to that to which they should be united,
whether neighbour or remote, or perhaps, as the pantheists desire, even
to inanimate nature. But it is just as probable that those who value
their individuality and do not consent to renounce it either for the
sake of their neighbours or of a lofty idea, will preserve themselves
and will remain themselves, if not for ever and ever, at least for a
sufficiently long while, until they are weary. Therefore the Germans
must not be cross with Heine, at least those Germans who have judged
him not from the utilitarian point of view--from this point of view I
too utterly condemn him, and find for him no justification at all--but
from the lofty, religious or metaphysical point of view, as it is
called nowadays. He cannot possibly disturb them in any way. They will
be united, down to the last they probably will be united in the Idea,
the thing in itself, in Substance, or any other alluring unity; and not
Heine with his sarcasms will keep them from their lofty aspirations.
While if he and those like him continue to live in their own way in a
place apart and even laugh at ideas--can that really be the occasion of
serious annoyance?



IX

_What is Truth?_


The sceptics assert that truth does not and cannot exist, and the
assertion has eaten so deep into the modern mind, that the only
philosophy which has spread in our day is that of Kant, which takes
scepticism for its point of departure. But read the preface to the
first edition of _The Critique of Pure Reason_ attentively, and you
will be convinced that he had absolutely no concern with the question:
'What is truth?' He only set himself to solve the problem, what should
a man do who had been convinced of the impossibility of finding the
objective truth. The old metaphysic with its arbitrary and unproven
assertions, which could not bear criticism, irritated Kant, and he
decided to get rid, even though by accepting the relative legitimacy of
scepticism, of the unscientific discipline which he, as a teacher of
philosophy, had to represent. But the confidence of the sceptics and
Kant's deference are not in the least binding upon us. And after all
Kant himself did not fulfil the obligations which he undertook. For if
we do not know what is truth, what value have the postulates of the
existence of God and the immortality of the soul? How can we justify
or explain any one of the existing religions, Christianity included?
Although the Gospel does not at all agree with our scientific notions
of the laws of nature, yet it does not in itself contain anything
contrary to reason. We do not disbelieve in miracles because they are
impossible. On the contrary, it is as clear as day to the most ordinary
common sense that life itself, the foundation of the world, is the
miracle of miracles. And if the task of philosophy had reduced to the
mere demonstration of the possibility of a miracle, her business would
have been splendidly accomplished long ago. The whole trouble is that
visible miracles are not enough for people, and that it is impossible
to deduce from the fact that many miracles have already taken place
that other miracles, without which mere existence is often impossible,
will also happen in due course. Men are being born--without doubt
a great miracle; there exists a beautiful world--also a miracle of
miracles. But does it follow that men will rise from the grave, and
that paradise is made ready for them? The raising of Lazarus is not
much believed nowadays even by those who revere the Gospel, not because
they will not admit the possibility of miracles in general, but because
they cannot decide _a priori_ which miracles are possible and which
are not, and therefore they are obliged to judge _a posteriori._ They
readily accept a miracle that has happened, but they doubt the miracle
that has not happened, and _the more they doubt,_ the more passionately
do they desire it. It costs nothing to believe in the final triumph
of good upon the earth (though it would be an absolute miracle), in
progress or the infallibility of the Pope (these too are miracles and
by no means inconsiderable), for after all men are quite sufficiently
indifferent to good, to progress, and to the virtues of the Pope. It
is much harder, nay quite impossible, standing before the dead body of
one who is near and dear, to believe that an angel will fly down from
heaven and bring the dead to life again, although the world is full of
happenings no less miraculous than the raising of the dead.

Therefore the sceptics are wrong when they assert that there is no
truth. Truth exists, but we do not know it in all its volume, nor can
we formulate that which we do know: we cannot imagine why it happened
thus and not otherwise, or whether that which happened had to happen
thus, or whether something else quite different might have happened.
Once it was held that reality obeys the laws of necessity, but Hume
explained that the notion of necessity is subjective, and therefore
must be discarded as illusory. His idea was caught up (without the
deduction) by Kant. All those of our judgments which have the character
of universality and necessity, acquire it only by virtue of our
psychological organisation. In those cases where we are particularly
convinced of the objective value of our judgment, we have merely
to do with a purely subjective certainty, though it is immutable
and secure in the visible world. It is well known that Kant did not
accept Hume's deduction: not only did he make no attempt to banish the
false premisses from our intellectual economy, as Hume did with the
conception of necessity, but, on the contrary, he declared that such
an attempt was quite impracticable. The practical reason suggested to
Kant that though the foundations of our judgments are vitiated by their
source, yet their invariability may be of great assistance in the world
of phenomena, that is in the space between the birth and death of man.
If a man has lived before birth (as Plato held), and will live after
death, then his 'truths' were not, and will not be necessary there,
in the other world. What truths are _there,_ and whether there are
any truths at all, Kant only guesses, and he succeeds in his guesses
only because of his readiness to ignore logic in his conclusions. He
suddenly gives faith an immense right to judge of the real world, a
right of which faith would never dream had it not been taken under his
special patronage by the philosopher himself. But why can faith do that
which reason cannot? And a yet more insidious question: Are not all
postulates invented by the same mind which was deprived of its rights
in the first Critique, but which subsequently obtained a verdict of
_restitutio in integrum,_ by changing the name of the firm? The last
hypothesis is the most probable. And if so, then does it not follow
that in the real world so carefully divided by Kant from the world of
phenomena we will find much that is new, but not a little that is old.

In general it is clear that the assumption that our world is a world
of an instant, a brief dream, utterly unlike real life, is mistaken.
This assumption, first enunciated by Plato, and afterwards elaborated
and maintained by many representatives of religious and philosophical
thought, is based upon no data at all. There's no denying, it is very
pleasant. But as often happens, as soon as the wish was invested
with language, by the mere fact it received too sharp and angular an
expression, so that it lost all resemblance to itself. The essence
of the true, primordial life beyond the grave appears to Plato as
absolute good refined from all alloy, as the essence of virtue.
But after all Plato himself cannot suffer the absolute emptiness
of the ideal existence, and constantly flavours it with elements
which are by no means ideal, but which give interest and intensity
to his dialogues. If you have never had the occasion to read Plato
himself, acquaint yourself with his philosophy through the teaching
of any of his admirers and appreciators, and you will be struck by
its emptiness. Read the thick volume of Natorp's well-known work,
and you will see what value there is in Plato's 'purified' doctrine.
And in passing I would recommend as a general rule, this method of
examining the ideas of famous philosophers, by acquainting oneself with
them not only in the original works, but in the expositions of their
disciples, particularly of faithful and conscientious disciples. When
the fascination of the personality and the genius disappears and the
naked, unadorned 'truth' remains--disciples always believe that the
master had the truth, and they reveal it without any embellishment or
fig leaf--only then does it become quite clear of how little value
are the fundamental thoughts of even the most exalted philosophers.
Still more obvious does it become when the faithful disciple begins
to draw conclusions from his master's proportions. The book of the
aforesaid Natorp, a great Plato expert, is a _reductio ad absurdum_
of all his master's ideas. Plato is revealed as a logical Neo-Kantian,
a narrow-minded savant, who had been put thoroughly through the mill
at Freiburg or Heidelberg. It is also revealed that Plato's ideas, in
the pure state, do not in the least express his real attitude to life
and to the world. One must take the whole Plato with his contradictions
and inconsequence, with his vices and virtues, and value his defects at
least as much as his qualities, or even add one or two defects, and be
blind to one or two virtues. For it is probable that he, as a man to
whom nothing human was alien, tried to assume a few virtues which he
did not possess, and to conceal a few failings. This course should be
followed with other masters of wisdom and their doctrines. Then 'the
other world' will not appear to be separated by such an abyss from our
earthly vale. And perhaps, in spite of Kant, some empirical truths
will be found common to both worlds. Then Pilate's question will lose
much of its all-conquering certainty. He wished to wash his hands of
the business, and he asked, 'What is truth?' After him and before him,
many who had no desire to struggle have devised ingenious questions and
taken their stand upon scepticism. But every one knows that truth does
exist, and sometimes can even formulate its own conception with the
clarity and precision demanded by Descartes. Is the miraculous bounded
by the miracles that have already been seen on earth, or are its
limits set much wider? And if wider, then how much?



X

_More of Truth_


Perhaps truth is by nature such that its communication between
men is impossible, at least the usual communication by means of
language. Every one may know it in himself, but in order to enter into
communication with his neighbour he must renounce the truth and accept
some conventional lie. Nevertheless the value and importance of truth
is by no means lessened by the fact that it cannot be given a market
valuation. If you were asked what is truth, you could not answer the
question even though you had given your whole life to the study of
philosophical theories. In yourself, if you have no one to answer,
you know well what the truth is. Therefore truth does not by nature
resemble empirical truth in the least, and before entering the world
of philosophy, you must bid farewell to scientific methods of search,
and to the accustomed methods of estimating knowledge. In a word, you
must be ready to accept something absolutely new, quite unlike what is
traditional and old. That is why the tendency to discredit scientific
knowledge is by no means so useless as may at first sight appear to the
inexperienced eye.

That is why irony and sarcasm prove to be a necessary weapon of the
investigator. The most dangerous enemy of new knowledge always has
been, and always will be, inculcated habit. From the practical point
of view it is much more important to a man to know the things which
may help him to adapt himself to the temporary conditions of his
existence, than those which have a timeless value. The instinct of
self-preservation always proves stronger than the sincerest desire for
knowledge. Moreover, one must remember that the instinct has at its
disposal innumerable and most subtle weapons of defence, that all human
faculties without exception are under its command, from unconscious
reflexes up to the enthroned mind and august consciousness. Much
and often has been said in this regard, and for once the _consensus
sapientium_ is on my side. True, this is treated as an undeniable
perversion of human nature--and here I make my protest. I think that
there is in this nothing undesirable. Our mind and consciousness must
consider it an honour that they can find themselves in the service of
instinct, even if it be the instinct of self-preservation. They should
not be conceited, and to tell the truth they are not conceited, but
readily fulfil their official mission. They pretend to priority only
in books, and tremble at the thought of pre-eminence in life. If by
some accident they were allowed freedom of action they would go mad
with terror, like children lost in a forest at night. Every time that
the mind and consciousness begin to judge independently, they reach
destructive conclusions. And then they see with surprise that this
time too they were not acting freely, but under the dictation of the
self-same instinct, which had assumed a different character. The human
soul desired the work of destruction, and she loosed the slaves from
their chains, and they in wild enthusiasm began to celebrate their
freedom by making great havoc, not in the least suspecting that they
remained just as they were before, slaves who work for others.

Long ago Dostoevsky pointed out that the instinct of destruction
is as natural to the human soul as that of creation. Beside these
two instincts all our faculties appear to be minor psychological
properties, required only under given, and accidental, conditions.
Of truth--as not only the crass materialists now confess, but the
idealists also have found in their metaphysic--nothing remains but
the idea of the norm.--To speak in more expressive and intelligible
language, truth exists only in order that men who are separated in time
and space might establish between themselves some kind of communication
at least. That is, a man must choose between absolute loneliness
with truth, on the one side, and communion with his neighbours and
falsehood, on the other. Which is the better, it will be asked. The
question is idle, I reply. There is a third way still: to accept
both, though it may at first appear utterly absurd, especially to
people who have once for all decided that logic, like mathematics,
is infallible. Whereas it is possible, and not merely possible--we
would not be content with a possibility: only a German idealist can be
satisfied with a good which was never realised in any place at all--it
is continually observed that the most contradictory spiritual states
do coexist. All men lie when they begin to speak: our language is so
imperfectly arranged that the principle of its arrangement presupposes
a readiness to speak untruth. The more abstract the subject is, the
more does the disposition to lie increase, until, when we touch upon
the most complicated questions, we have to lie incessantly, and the
lie is the more intolerable and coarse the more sincere we are. For a
sincere man is convinced that veracity is assured by the absence of
contradictions, and in order to avoid all appearance of lie, he tries
to make a logical agreement between his opinions: that is to raise his
lie to Herculean heights. In his turn, when he receives the opinions
of others, he applies the same criterion, and the moment he notices
the smallest contradiction, he begins naively to cry out against the
violation of the fundamental decencies. What is particularly curious
is that all the learned students of philosophy--and it is strictly to
them that I address myself here, as the reader has probably observed
long ago--certainly are well aware that no single one of the mightiest
philosophers has hitherto succeeded in eliminating all contradictions
from his system. How well armed was Spinoza! He spared no effort,
and stuck at nothing, and yet his remarkable system will not bear
logical criticism. That is a matter of common knowledge. So it appears
that we ought to ask what the devil is the use of consistency, and
whether contradictions are not the condition of truthfulness in one's
conception of the world. And after Kant, his disciples and successors
might have answered quietly that the devil alone knows the use of
consistency, and that truth lives by contradictions. As a matter of
fact, Hegel and Schopenhauer, each in his own way, partly attempted to
make an admission of this kind, but they derived small profit from it.

Let us try to draw some conclusions from the foregoing. Certainly,
while logic can be useful, it would be unjustifiable recklessness
to refuse its services. Nor are the conclusions devoid of interest,
as we shall see. First of all, when you speak, never trouble to be
consistent with what you said before: that will put an unnecessary
check upon your freedom, which, without that additional fetter, is
already chained in words and grammatical forms. When you are listening
to a friend or reading a book, do not assign great value to individual
words or even to phrases. Forget separate thoughts, and give no great
consideration even to logically arranged ideas. Remember that though
your friend desires it, he cannot express himself save by ready-made
forms of speech. Look well to the expression of his face, listen to
the intonation of his voice--this will help you to penetrate through
his words to his soul. Not only in conversation, but even in a written
book, can one over-hear the sound, even the timbre of the author's
voice, and notice the finest shades of expression in his eyes and
face. Do not fasten upon contradictions, do not dispute, do not demand
argument: only listen with attention. In return for which, when you
begin to speak, you also will have to face no dispute, nor to produce
arguments, which you know well you neither have nor could have. So you
will not be annoyed by having pointed out to you your contradictions
which you know well were always there, and will always be there, and
with which it is painful, nay quite impossible, for you to part. Then,
then--and this is most important of all--you will at last be convinced
that truth does not depend on logic, that there are no logical truths
at all, that you therefore have the right to search for what you like,
how you like, without argument, and that if something results from your
search, it will not be a formula, not a law, not a principle, not even
an idea! Only think: while the object of search is 'truth,' as it is
understood nowadays, one must be prepared for anything. For instance,
the materialists will be right, and matter and energy are the basis
of the world. It does not matter that we can immediately confound
the materialists with their conclusions. The history of thought can
show many cases of the complete rehabilitation of opinions that have
been cast off and reviled. Yesterday's error may be to-morrow's truth,
even a self-evident truth. And apart from its content, wherein is
materialism bad? It is a harmonious, consistent, and well-sustained
system. I have already pointed out that the materialistic
conception of the world is just as capable of enchanting men as any
other--pantheistic or idealistic. And since we have come so far, I
confess that in my opinion no ideas at all are bad in themselves: so
far I have been able to follow with pleasure the development of the
idea of progress to the accompaniment of factories, railways, and
aeroplanes. Still, it seems to me childish to hope that all these
trivialities--I mean the ideas--will become the object of man's serious
seeking. If that desperate struggle of man with God and the world
were possible, of which legend and history tell--think of Prometheus
alone--then it was not for truth and not for the idea. Man desires to
be strong and rich and free, the wretched, insignificant creature of
dust, whom the first chance shock crushes like a worm before one's
eyes,--and if he speaks of ideas it is only because he despairs of
success in his proper search. He feels that he is a worm, he fears that
he must again return to the dust which he is, and he lies, pretending
that his misery is not terrible to him, if only he knew the truth.
Forgive him his lie, for he speaks it only with his lips. Let him say
what he will, how he will; so long as we hear in his words the familiar
note of the call to battle, and the fire of desperate inexorable
resolution burns in his eyes, we will understand him. We are used to
decipher hieroglyphs. But if he, like the Germans of to-day, accepts
truth and the norm as the final goal of human aspiration, we shall also
know with whom we have to deal, were he by destiny endowed with the
eloquence of Cicero. Better utter loneliness than communion with such a
man. Yet such communion does not exclude utter loneliness; perhaps it
even assists the hard achievement.



XI

_I and Thou_


The familiar expression, 'to look into another's soul,' which by
force of habit at first sight seems extremely intelligible, on closer
observation appears so unintelligible that one is forced to ask whether
it has any meaning at all. Try to bend, mentally, over another's soul:
you will see nothing but a vast, empty, black abyss, and you will only
be seized with giddiness for your pains. Thus, properly speaking, the
expression 'to look into another's soul' is only an abortive metaphor.
All that we can do is to argue from the outward data to the inward
feelings. From tears we deduce pain, from pallor, fear, from a smile,
joy. But is this to look into another's soul? It is only to give room
to a series of purely logical processes in one's head. The other's soul
remains as invisible as before; we only guess at it, perhaps rightly,
perhaps mistakenly. Naturally this conclusion irritates us. What a
miserable world it is where it is quite impossible to see the very
thing that we desire above all to see. But irritation is almost the
normal spiritual state of a man who thinks and seeks. Whenever it is
particularly important to him to be sure of something, after a number
of desperate attempts he is convinced that his curiosity cannot be
satisfied. And now the mocking mind adds a new question to the old:
Why look for another's soul when you have not seen your own? And is
there a soul? Many have believed and still do believe that there is no
soul at all, but only a science of it, called psychology. It is known
that psychology says nothing of the soul, considering that its task is
confined to the study of spiritual states--states, by the way, which
have as yet hardly been studied at all.... What is the way out? One can
answer irony with irony, or even with abuse. One can deny psychology
the right to be called a science and call the materialists a pack of
fools, as is often done. Incontestably, anger has its rights. But this
has sense and meaning only while you are among people and are listened
to. Nobody wants to be indignant alone with oneself, when one is
not even reckoning upon making use of one's indignation for literary
purposes: for even a writer is not always writing, and is more often
preoccupied with transitory thoughts than with his forthcoming works.
One prefers to approach the enchanted cave, though for the thousandth
time, with every possible precaution. Perhaps it is only upon the
approach of an outside soul that another's soul becomes invisible,
and if she be caught unawares she will not have time to disappear.
So that ponderous psychology, which like any other science always
proclaims its plans and methods aloud before undertaking anything, is
utterly unsuited to the capture of a thing so light and mobile as the
human soul. But let us leave psychology with the honourable name of
science; let us even respect the materialists, while we endeavour to
track down the soul by other means. Perhaps in the depth of the dark
abyss of which we spoke, something might be found, were it not for
the giddiness. Therefore it is not so necessary to invent new methods
as to learn to look fearlessly into the depths, which always appear
unfathomable to the unaccustomed eye.

After all, unfathomability is not so entirely useless to man. It was
driven into our heads as children that the human mind could compass
only those things which are limited. But this only proves that we have
yet another prejudice to get rid of. If it comes to giving up the right
of abusing the materialists and of being taught by psychology, and
something else into the bargain--well, we are used to that. But in
return we may at last be granted a glimpse of the mysterious 'thou,'
and perhaps the 'I' will cease to be problematical as well. Patience
is a sickening thing; but remember the fakirs and the other worthies
of the same kind. They succeed by patience alone. And apparently
they arrive at something; but not at universal truths, I am ready to
vouch for that. The world has long been weary of universal truths.
Even 'truth' pure and simple makes no whisper in my ear. We must find
a way of escape from the power of every kind of truth. This victory
the fakirs tried to win. They can produce no arguments to prove their
right, for the visible victory was never on their side. One conquers
by bayonets, big guns, microscopes and logical arguments. Microscopes
and logic give the palm to limitation. And yet, though limitation often
strengthens, it also happens that it kills.



THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE



_The Theory of Knowledge as Apologetics_


The modern theory of knowledge, though it always consciously takes
its rise from Kant, has in one respect quite disregarded the master's
commandment. It is very strange that the theorists of knowledge,
who usually cannot agree among themselves upon anything, have as it
were agreed to understand the problem of knowledge quite otherwise
than Kant. Kant undertook to investigate our cognitive faculties in
order to establish foundations, in virtue of which certain existing
sciences could be accepted, and others rejected. One may say that the
second purpose was chief. Hume's scepticism made him uneasy only in
theory. He knew beforehand that whatever theory of knowledge he might
invent, mathematics and the natural sciences would remain sciences and
metaphysics be rejected. In other words, his aim was not to justify
science but to explain the possibility of its existence; and he started
from the point of view that no one can seriously doubt the truths of
mathematics and natural science. But now the position is different. The
theorists of knowledge direct all their efforts towards _justifying_
scientific knowledge. Why? Does scientific knowledge really need
justification? Of course there are cranks, sometimes even cranks of
genius, like our own Tolstoi, who attack science; but their attacks
offend no one, nor do they cause alarm.

Scientists continue their researches as before; the universities
flourish; discovery follows discovery. And the theorists of knowledge
themselves do not spend sleepless nights in the endeavour to find
new justifications for science. Yet, I repeat, though they can come
to an understanding about practically nothing else, they amaze us
by their unanimity upon this point--they are all convinced that it
is their duty to justify science and exalt her. So that the modern
theory of knowledge is no longer a science, but an apology. And
its demonstrations are like those of apology. Once science must
be defended, it is necessary to begin by praising her, that is by
selecting evidence and data to show that science fulfils some mission
or other, but indubitably a very high and important one, or, on the
other hand, by painting a picture of the fate that would overtake
mankind, if it was deprived of science. Thus the apologetic element
has begun to play almost as large a part in the theory of knowledge
as it has done hitherto in theology. Perhaps the time is at hand when
scientific apologetics will be officially recognised as a philosophic
discipline.

But, _qui s'excuse s'accuse._ It is plain that all is not well with
science, since she has begun to justify herself. Besides, apologetics
are only apologetics, and sooner or later the theory of knowledge
will be tired of psalms of praise, and will demand a more complex and
responsible task, and a real labour. At present the theorists start
with the assumption that scientific knowledge is perfect knowledge,
and therefore the premisses upon which it is builded are not subject
to criticism. The law of causation is not justified because it appears
to be the expression of a real relation of things, nor even because we
have data at our disposal which could convince us that it does not and
will never admit exceptions, that uncaused effects are impossible. All
these things are lacking; but, we are told, they are not needed.

The chief thing is that the causal law makes science possible, while
to reject it means to reject science and knowledge generally, all
anticipation, and even, as some few hold, reason itself. Clearly, if
one has to choose between a slightly dubious admission on the one side
and the prospect of chaos and insanity on the other, there will be no
long hesitation. Apologetics, we see, has chosen the most powerful of
arguments, _ad hominem._ But all such arguments partake of one common
defect; they are not constant, and they are double-edged.

To-day they defend scientific knowledge; to-morrow they will attack it.
Indeed, it so happens that the very belief in the causal law begets a
great disquiet and turmoil in the soul, which finally produces all the
horrors of chaos and madness. The certainty that the existing order
is immutable is for certain minds synonymous with the certainty that
life is nonsensical and absurd. Probably the disciples of Christ had
that feeling when the last words of their crucified Master reached them
from the cross: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' And the
modern theorists may explain triumphantly that when the law became the
instrument of chaos and madness, it was _ipso facto_ abolished. 'Christ
has risen,' say the disciples of Christ.

I have said that the theorists may triumph; but I must confess that I
have not found in any of them an open glorification of such an obvious
proof of the truth of their teaching. Of the resurrection of Christ
they say not a word--on the contrary, they make every effort to avoid
it and pass it by in silence. And this circumstance compels us to pause
and think. A dilemma arises: if you grant that the law of causation
suffers no exception, then your soul will be eternally haunted by the
last words of the crucified Christ; if you do not, then you will have
no science. Some assert that it is impossible to live without science,
without knowledge, that such a life is horror and madness; others
cannot be reconciled to the thought that the most perfect of men died
the death of a murderer. What shall we do? Without which thing is it
impossible for man to live? Without scientific knowledge, or without
the conviction that truth and spiritual perfection are in the last
resort the victors of this world? And how will the theory of knowledge
stand with regard to questions such as these?

Will it still continue its exercises in apologetics or will it at last
understand that this is not its real problem, and that if it would
preserve the right to be called philosophy, it will have not to justify
and exalt the existing science, but to examine and direct some science
of its own. It means above all to put the question: Is scientific
knowledge really perfect, or is it perhaps imperfect, and should it
therefore yield its present honourable place to another science?
Evidently this is the most important question for the theory of
knowledge, yet this question it never puts. It wants to exalt existing
science. It has been, is now, and probably will long continue to be,
apologetics.



_Truth and Utility_


Mill, seeking to prove that all our sciences, even the mathematical,
have an empiric origin, brings forward the following consideration.
If on every occasion that we had to take twice two things, some deity
slipped one extra thing into our hands, we should be convinced that
twice two is not four but five. And perhaps Mill is right: perhaps we
should not divine what was the matter. We are much more concerned to
discover what is practically necessary and directly useful to us than
to search for truth. If a deity with each four things slipped a fifth
into our hands, we should accept the additional thing and consider
it natural, intelligible, necessary, impossible to be otherwise. The
very uniformity in the sequence of phenomena observed by the empirical
philosophers was also slipped into our hands. By whom? When? Who dares
to ask? Once the law is established no one is interested in anything
any more. Now we can foretell the future, now we can use the thing
slipped into our hands, and the rest--cometh of the evil one.



_Philosophers and Teachers_


Every one knows that Schopenhauer was for many years not only not
recognised, but not even read. His books were used for waste-paper.
It was only towards the end of his life that he had readers and
admirers--and, of course, critics. For every admirer is at bottom a
most merciless and importunate critic. He must understand everything,
make everything agree, and of course the master must supply the
necessary explanations. Schopenhauer, who did not have the experience
of being a master till his old age, at first behaved very benevolently
to his disciples' questions and patiently gave the explanations
required. But the further one goes into the forest, the thicker are
the trees. The most loyal perplexities of his pupils became more and
more importunate, until at last the old man lost patience. 'I didn't
undertake to explain all the secrets of the universe to every one who
wanted to know them,' he once exclaimed, when a certain pupil persisted
in emphasising the contradictions he had noticed in Schopenhauer. And
really--is a master obliged to explain everything? In Schopenhauer's
words we are given an answer, not ambiguous. A philosopher not only
cannot be a teacher, he does not want to be one. There are teachers
in schools, in universities: they teach arithmetic, grammar, logic,
metaphysics. The philosopher has quite a different task, one which does
not in the least resemble teaching.



_Truth as a Social Substance_


There are many ways, real and imaginary, of objectively verifying
philosophic opinions. But they all reduce, we know, to trial by
the law of contradiction. True, every one is aware that no single
philosophic doctrine is able to support such a trial, so that, pending
a better future, people consider it possible to display a certain
tenderness in the examination. They are usually satisfied if they
come to the conclusion that the philosopher made a genuine attempt
to avoid contradictions. For instance, they forgive Spinoza his
inconsistency because of his _amor intellectualis Dei_; Kant, for his
love of morality and his praise of disinterestedness; Plato, for the
originality and purity of his idealistic impulses; and Aristotle, for
the vastyness and universality of his knowledge. So that, strictly
speaking, we must confess that we have no real objective method of
verifying a philosophical truth, and when we criticise other people's
systems, we judge arbitrarily after all. If a philosopher suits us
for some reason, we do not trouble him with the law of contradiction;
if he does not, we summon him before the court to be judged with the
utmost rigour of the law, confident beforehand that he will be found
guilty on every count. But sometimes there arises the desire to verify
one's own philosophic convictions. To play the farce of objective
verification with them, to look for contradictions in oneself--I do not
suppose that even Germans are capable of that. And yet one desires to
know whether he does indeed possess the truth or whether he has only a
universal error in his hands. What is to be done? I think there is a
way. He should think to himself that it is absolutely impossible for
his truth to be binding upon anybody. If in spite of this he still
refuses to renounce her, if the truth can suffer such an ordeal and
yet remain the same to him as she was before, then it may be supposed
that she is worth something. For often we appreciate conviction, not
because it has an intrinsic value, but because it commands a high price
in the market. Robinson Crusoe probably had a totally different way
of thinking to that of a modern writer or professor, whose books are
exposed to the appreciation of his numerous confrères, who can create
for him the renown of a wise man and a scholar, or utterly ruin his
reputation. Even with the Greeks, whom we are accustomed to regard as
model thinkers, opinions had--to use the language of economics--not so
much a demand, as an exchange value.

The Greeks had no knowledge of the printing-press, and no literary
reviews. They usually took their wisdom out into the market-place,
and applied all their efforts to persuade people to acknowledge its
value. And it is hard to maintain that wisdom, which is constantly
being offered to people, should not adapt itself to people's tastes.
It is truer to say that wisdom became accustomed to value itself to
the exact degree to which it could count on people's appreciation. In
other words, it appears that the value of wisdom, like that of all
other commodities, not only with us, but with the Greeks before us, is
a social affair. The most modern philosophy has given up concealing the
fact. The teleology of the rationalists, who follow Fichte, as well as
of the pragmatists who consider themselves the successors of Mill is
openly based upon the social point of view, and speaks of collective
creations. Truth which is not good for all, and always, in the home
market and the foreign--is not truth. Perhaps its value is even defined
by the quantity of labour spent upon it. Marx might triumph: under
different flags his theory has found admission into every sphere of
contemporary thought. There would hardly be found one philosopher who
would apply the method of verifying truth which I have proposed; and
hardly a single modern idea which would stand the test.



_Doctrines and Deductions_


If you want to ruin a new idea--try to give it the widest possible
publicity. Men will begin to reflect upon it, to try it by their daily
needs, to interpret it, to make deductions from it, in a word to
squeeze it into their own prepared logical apparatus; or, more likely,
they will cover it up with the _débris_ of their own habitual and
intelligible ideas, and it will become as dead as everything that is
begotten by logic. Perhaps this explains the tendency of philosophers
to so clothe their thoughts that their form may hinder the approach of
the general public to them. The majority of philosophic systems are
chaotically and obscurely expounded, so that not every educated person
can understand them. It is a pity to kill one's own child, and every
one does his best to save it from premature death. The most dangerous
enemies of an idea are 'deductions' from it, as though they followed of
themselves. The idea does not presuppose them; they are usually pressed
upon it. Indeed, people very often say: 'The idea is quite right, but
it leads to conclusions which are not at all acceptable.' Again, how
often has a philosopher to attend the sad spectacle of his pupil's
deserting all his ideas, and feeding only upon the conclusions from
them. Every thinker who has had the misfortune to attract attention
while he was yet alive, knows by bitter experience what 'deductions'
are. And yet you will rarely find a philosopher to offer open and
courageous resistance to his continuators; and still more rarely a
philosopher to say outright that his work needs no continuation, that
it will not bear continuation, that it exists only in and for itself,
that it is self-sufficient. If some one said this, how would he be
answered? People could not dispute with him--try to dispute with a man
who wants neither to dispute nor to demonstrate.

The only answer is an appeal to the popular verdict, to lynch law.
People are so weak and naïve that they will at all costs see a teacher
(in the usual sense of the word) in every philosopher. In other words,
they really want to throw upon him the responsibility for their
actions, their present, their future, and their whole fate. Socrates
was not executed for teaching, but because the Athenians thought he
was dangerous to Athens. And in all ages men have approached truth
with this criterion, as though they knew beforehand that truth must
be of use and able to protect them. One of the greatest teachings,
Christianity, was also persecuted because it seemed dangerous to the
self-appointed guardians, or, if you will, because it was really very
dangerous to Roman ideals. Of course, neither Socrates' death nor the
deaths of thousands of the early Christians saved the ancient culture
and polity from decay: but no one has learned anything from the lesson.
People think that these were all accidental mistakes, against which no
one was secure in ancient times, but which will never again recur; and
therefore they continue to make 'deductions' as they used from every
truth, and to judge the truth by the deductions they have made. And
they have their reward. Although there have been on earth many wise men
who knew much that is infinitely more valuable than all the treasures
for which men are ready even to sacrifice their lives, still wisdom is
to us a book with seven seals, a hidden hoard upon which we cannot lay
our hands. Many--the vast majority--are even seriously convinced that
philosophy is a most tedious and painful occupation to which are doomed
some miserable wretches who enjoy the odious privilege of being called
philosophers. I believe that even professors of philosophy, the more
clever of them, not seldom share this opinion and suppose that therein
lies the ultimate secret of their science, revealed to the initiate
alone. Fortunately, the position is otherwise. It may be that mankind
is destined never to change in this respect, and a thousand years hence
men will care much more about 'deductions,' theoretical and practical,
from the truth than about truth itself; but real philosophers, men who
know what they want and at what they aim, will hardly be embarrassed
by this. They will utter their truths as before, without in the least
considering what conclusions will be drawn from them by the lovers of
logic.



_Truths, Proven and Unproven_


Whence did we get the habit of requiring proofs of each idea that
is expressed? If we put aside the consideration, as having no real
meaning in the present case, that men do often purposely deceive their
neighbours for gain or other interests, then strictly speaking the
necessity for proof is entirely removed. It is true that we can still
deceive ourselves and fall into involuntary error. Sometimes we take
a vision for a reality, and we wish to guard against that offensive
mistake. But as soon as the possibility of _bona fide_ error is
removed, then we may relate simply without arguments, judgments, or
references. If you please, believe; if you don't, don't. And there is
one province, the very province which has always attracted to itself
the most remarkable representatives of the human race, where proofs
in the general acceptation are even quite impossible. We have been
hitherto taught that that which cannot be proved, should not be spoken
about. Still worse, we have so arranged our language that, strictly
speaking, everything we say is expressed in the form of a judgment,
that is, in a form which presupposes not merely the possibility but
the necessity of proofs. Perhaps this is the reason why metaphysics
has been the object of incessant attack. Metaphysics evidently was not
only unable to find a form of expression for her truths which would
free her from the obligation of proof; she did not even want to. She
considered herself the science _par excellence,_ and therefore supposed
that she had more largely and more strictly to prove the judgments
which she took under her wing. She thought that if she were to neglect
the duty of demonstration she would lose all her rights. And that, I
imagine, was her fatal mistake. The correspondence of rights and duties
is perhaps a cardinal truth (or a cardinal fiction) of the doctrine
of law, but it has been introduced into the sphere of philosophy by a
misunderstanding. Here, rather, the contrary principle is enthroned:
rights are in inverse proportion to duties. And only there where
all duties have ceased is the greatest and most sovereign right
acquired--the right of communion with ultimate truths. Here we must not
for one moment forget that ultimate truths have nothing in common with
middle truths, the logical construction of which we have so diligently
studied for the last two thousand years. The fundamental difference is
that the ultimate truths are absolutely unintelligible. Unintelligible,
I repeat, but not inaccessible. It is true that middle truths also are,
strictly speaking, unintelligible. Who will assert that he understands
light, heat, pain, pride, joy, degradation?

Nevertheless, our mind, in alliance with omnipotent habit, has,
with the assistance of some strained interpretation, given to the
combination of phenomena in the segment of universal life that is
accessible to us, a certain kind of harmony and unity, and this from
time immemorial has gained repute under the name of an intelligible
explanation of the created world. But the known, which is the familiar,
world is sufficiently unintelligible to make good faith require of us
that we should accept unintelligibility as the fundamental predicate
of being. It is impossible to hold, as some do, that the only reason
why we do not understand the world is that something is hidden from
us or that our mind is weak, so that if the Supreme Being wished to
unveil the secret of creation to us, or if the human brain should so
much develop in the next ten million years that he will excel us as
far as we excel our official ancestor, the ape, then the world will be
intelligible. No, no, no! By their very essence the operations which we
perform upon reality to understand it are useful and necessary only so
long as they do not pass a certain limit. It is possible to understand
the arrangement of a locomotive. It is also legitimate to seek an
explanation of an eclipse of the sun, or of an earthquake. But a moment
comes--only we cannot define it exactly--when explanations lose all
meaning and are good for nothing any more. It is as though we were led
by a rope--the law of sufficient reason--to a certain place and left
there: 'Now go wherever you like.' And since we have grown so used to
the rope in our lives, we begin to believe that it is part of the very
essence of the world. One of the most remarkable thinkers, Spinoza,
thought that God himself was bound by necessity.

Let any one probe himself carefully, and he will find that he is not
merely unable to think but almost unable to live without the hypothesis
of Spinoza. The work of Hume, who so brilliantly disputed the axiom
of causal necessity, was only half done. He clearly showed that it
is impossible to prove the existence of necessary connection. But it
is also impossible to prove the contrary. In the result, everything
remained as before: Kant, and all mankind after him, has returned to
Spinoza's position. Freedom has been driven into an intellectual world,
an unknown land,

                     'from whose bourne
    No traveller returns,'

and everything is in its former place. Philosophy wants to be a science
at all costs. It is absolutely impossible for her to succeed in this;
but the price she has paid for the right to be called a science, is
not returned to her. She has waived the right of seeking that which
she needed wherever she would, and she is deprived of the right for
ever. But did she really need it? If you glance at contemporary German
philosophy you will say without hesitation that it was not needed at
all. Neither by mistake, nor even in pursuit of a new title, did she
renounce her great vocation: it has become an intolerable burden to
her. However hard it may be to confess, it is nevertheless indubitable
that the great secrets of the universe cannot be manifested with the
clarity and distinctness with which the visible and tangible world is
opened to us. Not only others--you will not even convince yourself of
your truth with the obviousness with which you can convince all men
without exception of scientific truths.

Revelations, if they do occur, are always revelations for an instant.
Mahomet--Dostoevsky explains--could only stay in paradise a very short
time, from half a second to five seconds, even if he succeeded in
falling into it. And Dostoevsky himself entered paradise only for an
instant. And here on earth, both of them lived for years, for tens of
years, and there seemed to be no end to the hell of earthly existence.
The hell was obvious, demonstrable; it could be fixed, exhibited,
_ad oculos._ But how could paradise be proven? How could one fix,
how express, those half-seconds of paradisic beatitude, which were
from the outside manifested in ugly and horrible epileptic fits with
convulsions, paroxysms, a foaming mouth, and sometimes an ill-omened
sudden fall, with the spilling of blood? Again, believe, if you will:
if you won't, don't. Surely a man who lives now in paradise, now in
hell sees life utterly differently from others. And he wants to think
that he is right, that his experience is of great value, that life is
not at all as it is described by men of different experience and more
limited emotions. How desperately did Dostoevsky desire to persuade all
men of his rightness, how stubbornly he used to demonstrate, and how
angry he was made by the consciousness that lived in the depths of his
soul that he was impotent to prove anything. But a fact remains a fact.
Perhaps epileptics and madmen know things of which normal men have
not even the remotest presentiment, but it is not vouchsafed to them
to communicate their knowledge to others, or to prove it. And there
is a universal knowledge which is the very object of philosophical
seeking, with which one may commune, but which by its very essence
cannot be communicated to all, that is, cannot be turned into verified
and demonstrable universal truths. To renounce this knowledge in order
that philosophy should have the right to be called a science! At times
men acted thus. There were sober epochs when the pursuit of positive
knowledge absorbed every one capable of intellectual labour. Or perhaps
there were epochs in which men who sought something other than positive
science were condemned to universal contempt, and passed unregarded: in
such an epoch Plato would have found no sympathy, but would have died
in obscurity. One thing at least is clear. He whose chief interest
and motive in life is in undemonstrable truths is doomed to complete
or relative sterility in the sense in which the word is generally
understood. If he is clever and gifted, men may perhaps be interested
in his mind and talent, but they will pass his work with indifference,
contempt, and even horror; and they will begin to warn the world
against him.

    'Look at him, my children,
      He is stern and pale and lean.
    He is poor and naked,
      And all men count him mean.'

Has not the work of the prophets who sought for ultimate truths been
barren and useless? Did life hold them in any account? Life went its
own way, and the voices of the prophets have been, are, and ever
will be, voices in the wilderness. For that which they see and know,
cannot be proved and is not capable of proof. Prophets have always
been isolated, dissevered, separate, helpless men, locked up in their
pride. Prophets are kings without an army. For all their love to their
subjects, they can do nothing for them, for subjects respect only those
kings who possess a formidable military power. And--long may it be so!



_The Limits of Reality_


After all, not even the most consistent and convinced realist
represents life to himself as it really is. He overlooks a great deal;
and on the other hand he often sees something which has no existence in
reality. I do not think there is any need to show this by example. For
all our desire to be objective we are, after all, extremely subjective,
and those things which Kant calls synthetic judgments _a priori,_ by
which our mind forms nature and dictates laws to her, do play a great
and serious part in our lives. We create something like the veil of
Maia: we are awake in sleep, and sleep in wakefulness, exactly as
though some magic power had charmed us. And just as in sleep we feel
for instants that what is happening to us is like a half-dream, an
intermediate half-life. Schopenhauer and the Buddhists were right in
asserting that it is equally wrong to say of the veil of Maia, the
world accessible to us, either that it exists or does not exist. It is
true that logic does not admit such judgments and persecutes them most
implacably, for they violate its most fundamental laws. But it cannot
be helped: when one has to choose between philosophy which is alluring
and promising, and empty logic, one will always sacrifice the latter
for the former. And philosophy without contradictory judgments would
be either doomed to eternal silence, or would be churned into a mud of
commonplace and reduced to nothing. Philosophers know that. The same
is true of our own case: we must confess that we are at the same time
awake and dreaming dreams, and at times we must own that though we
are alive, yet we have long since been dead. As living beings we still
hold to the accepted synthetic judgments _a priori,_ and as dead, we
try to do without them, or to replace them by other judgments which
have nothing in common with the former but are even opposite to them.
Philosophy is occupied in this work with extreme diligence, and _in
this and this alone_ is the meaning of the idealistic movement which
has never, since the time of Plato, disappeared from history. The
problem is not for us to find another, primordial, better, and eternal
world to replace the visible world accessible to all, as idealistic
philosophy is usually interpreted by her official and, unfortunately,
her most influential representatives. Interpretation of that kind
too obviously bears the mark of its empiric utilitarian origin: they
bring us as near to super-empiric reality as do the notions wherewith
we define what is valuable in life. We might as well consider the
super-empiric world as one of gold, diamond, or pearls simply because
gold, diamonds, and pearls are very costly. But so it usually happens.
God himself is usually represented as glimmering with gold and precious
stones, as omniscient and omnipotent. He is called the King of Kings
since on earth the lot of a crowned head is considered most enviable.
The meaning and value of idealistic philosophy thus appears to be that
she for ever ratifies all that we have found valuable on earth during
our brief existence. Herein, I believe, is a fatal error. Idealistic
philosophy, it is true, gave an excuse for falsely interpreting her,
since she loved to be arrayed in sumptuous apparel. The religion of
almost all nations has always sought for forms outwardly beautiful
without stopping even before such an obvious paradox--not to put it
more strongly--as a golden cross studded with diamonds. And for the
sake of sumptuous words and golden crosses men overlooked great truths,
and perhaps great possibilities. The philosophy of the schools also
loved to array herself, so that she should not be behind the masters in
this respect, and for the sake of dress she often forgot her necessary
work. Plato taught that our life was only a shadow of another reality.
If this is true, and he discovered the truth, then surely our first
task is to begin to live a different life, to turn our back to the wall
above which the shadows are walking and to turn our face to the source
of light which created the shadows or to those things of which the
visible outlines give only a remote resemblance. We must be awakened,
if only in part; to this end what is usually done to a person sound
asleep must be done to us. He is pulled, pinched, beaten, tickled,
and if all these things fail, still stronger and more heroic measures
must be applied. At all events, it is out of the question to advise
contemplation, which may well make one still sleepier, or quietude,
which leads to the same result. Philosophy should live by sarcasm,
irony, alarm, struggles, despairs, and allow herself contemplation
and quietude only from time to time, as a relaxation. Then perhaps she
will succeed in creating, by the side of realistic dreams, dreams of
a quite different order, and visibly demonstrate that the universally
accepted dreams are not the only ones. 'What is the use?' I do not
think this question need be answered. He who asks it, shows by the fact
that he needs neither an answer nor philosophy, while he who needs them
will not ask but will patiently await events: a temperature of 120°,
an epileptic fit, or something of this kind, which facilitates the
difficult task of seeking....



_The Given and the Possible_


The law of causation as a principle of inquiry is an excellent thing:
the existing sciences afford us convincing evidence of that. But as an
idea in the Platonic sense it is of little value, at times at least.
The strict harmony and order of the world have fascinated many people:
such giants of thought as Spinoza and Goethe paused with reverent
wonder in contemplation of the great and unchangeable order of nature.
Therefore they exalted necessity even to the rank of a primordial,
eternal, original principle. And we must confess that Goethe's and
Spinoza's conception of the world lives so much in each one of us that
in most cases we can love and respect the world only when our souls
feel in it a symmetrical harmony. Harmony seems to us at once-the
highest value and the ultimate truth. It gives to the soul great peace,
a stable firmness, a trust in the Creator--the highest boons accessible
to mortal men, as the philosophers teach. Nevertheless, there are
other yearnings. Man's heart is suddenly possessed by a longing for
the fantastic, the unforeseen, for that which cannot be foreseen. The
beautiful world loves its beauty, peace of soul seems disgraceful,
stability is felt as an intolerable burden. Just as a youth grown
to manhood suddenly feels irritated by the bountiful tutelage of
his parents, from which he has received so much, though he does not
know what to do with his freedom, so is a man of insight ashamed of
the happiness which is given to him, which some one has created. The
law of causation, like the whole harmony of the world, seems to him
a pleasant gift, facilitating life, but yet a degrading one. He has
sold his birthright for peace, for undisturbed happiness--his great
birthright of free creation. He does not understand how a giant like
Goethe could have been seduced by the temptation of a pleasant life,
he suspects the sincerity of Spinoza. There is something rotten in the
state of Denmark. The apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil,
has become to him the sole purpose of life, even though the path to it
should lie through extreme suffering.

And, strangely, nature herself seems to be preoccupied in urging man to
that fatal path. There comes a time in our life when some imperative
and secret voice forbids us to rejoice at the beauty and grandeur of
the world. The world allures us as before, but it no longer gives pure
happiness. Remember Tchekhov. How he loved nature! What immeasurable
yearning is audible in his wonderful descriptions of nature! Just as
though each time that he glanced at the blue sky, the troubled sea or
the green woods, a voice of authority whispered to him: 'All this is
yours no longer. You may look at it, but you have no right to rejoice.
Prepare yourself for another life, where nothing will be given,
complete, prepared, where nothing will be created, where there will
be illimitable creation alone. And everything which is in this world
shall be given to destruction, to destruction and destruction, even
this nature which you so passionately love, and which it is so hard and
painful for you to renounce.' Everything drives us to the mysterious
realm of the eternally fantastic, eternally chaotic, and--who
knows?--it may be, the eternally beautiful....



_Experiment and Proof_


When _cogito ergo sum_ came into Descartes' head, he marked the
day--November 10, 1619--as a remarkable day: 'The light of a wonderful
discovery,' he wrote in his diary, 'flashed into my mind.' Schelling
relates the same thing of himself: in the year 1801 he 'saw the light.'
And to Nietzsche when he roamed the mountains and the valleys of
the Engadine there came a mighty change: he grasped the doctrine of
eternal recurrence. One might name many philosophers, poets, artists,
preachers, who like these three suddenly saw the light, and considered
their vision the beginning of a new life. It is even probable that all
men who have been destined to display to the world something perfectly
new and original have without exception experienced that miracle of
sudden metamorphosis. Nevertheless, though much is spoken of these
miracles and often, in nearly all biographies of great men, we cannot
strictly make any use of them. Descartes, Schelling, Nietzsche tell
the story of their conversion; and with us, Tolstoi and Dostoevsky
tell of theirs; in the less remote past, there are Mahomet and Paul
the Apostle; in far antiquity the legend of Moses. But if I had
chosen tenfold the number, if thousands even had been collected, it
would still be impossible for the mind to make any deduction from
them. In other words, all these cases have no value as scientific
material, whereas one fossil skeleton or a unique case of an unknown
rare disease is a precious windfall to the scientist. What is still
more interesting, Descartes was so struck with his _cogito ergo sum,_
Nietzsche with his eternal recurrence, Mahomet with his paradise, Paul
the Apostle with his vision, while we remain more or less indifferent
to anything they may relate of their experiences. Only the most
sensitive among us have an ear for stories of that kind, and even they
are obliged to hide their impressions within them, for what can be done
with them?

It is even impossible to fix them as indubitable facts, for facts
also require a verification and must be proved. There are no proofs.
Philosophic and religious teachings offered by men who have had
extraordinary inward experiences, not only do not generally confirm,
but rather refute their own stories of revelation. For philosophic and
religious teaching have always hitherto assigned themselves the task
of attracting all and sundry to themselves, and in order to attain
this end they had to have recourse to such methods as have effect with
the ordinary man, who knows of nothing extraordinary--to proof, to the
authority of visible and tangible phenomena, which can be measured,
weighed and counted. In their pursuit of proofs, of persuasiveness
and popularity, they had to sacrifice the important and essential,
and expose for show that which is agreeable to reason--things already
more or less known, and therefore of little interest and importance.
In course of time, as experimental science, so-called, gained more
and more power, the habit of hiding in oneself all that cannot be
demonstrated _ad oculos,_ has become more and more firmly rooted,
until it is almost man's second nature. Nowadays we 'naturally'
share but a small part of an experience with our friends, so that
if Mahomet and Paul lived in our time, it would not enter their
heads to tell their extraordinary stories. And for all his bravery,
Nietzsche nevertheless passes quickly over eternal recurrence, and
is much more occupied with preaching the morality of the Superman,
which, though it at first astounded people, was after all accepted
with more or less modification, because it was demonstrable. Evidently
we are confronted with a great dilemma. If we continue to cultivate
modern methodology, we run the risk of becoming so accustomed to it
that we will lose not only the faculty of sharing all undemonstrable
and exceptional experiences with others, but even of retaining them
firmly in the memory. They will begin to be forgotten as dreams, they
will even seem to be waking dreams. Thus we will cut ourselves off
for ever from a vast realm of reality, whose meaning and value have
by no means been divined or appreciated. In olden times men could add
dreams and madmen's visions to reality; but we shall curtail the real
indubitable reality, transferring it to the realm of hallucinations and
dreams. I suppose even a modern man will feel some hesitation in coming
over to the side of this methodology, even though he is incapable of
thinking, with the ancients, that dreams are by no means worthless
things. And if this is so, then the rights of experiences must not be
defined by the degree of their demonstrability. However capricious
our experiences may be, however little they agree with the rooted and
predominant conceptions of the necessary character of events in the
inward and outward life--once they have taken place in the soul of man,
they acquire, _ipso facto,_ the lawful right of figuring side by side
with facts which are most demonstrable and susceptible of control and
verification, and even with a deliberate experiment.

It may be said that we would not then be protected against deliberate
frauds. People who have never been in paradise will give themselves out
for Mahomets. That is true; they will talk and they will he. There will
be no method of objective verification. But they will surely tell the
truth also. For the sake of that truth we may make up our minds to swim
through a whole ocean of lies. Yes, it is not in the least impossible
to distinguish truth from lie in this realm, though, certainly, not by
the signs which have been evolved by logic; and not even by signs, but
by no signs at all. The signs of the beautiful have not yet been even
approximately, defined, and, please God--be it said without offence to
the Germans--they never will be defined, but yet we distinguish between
Apollo and Venus. So it is with truth: she too may be recognised. But
what if a man cannot distinguish without signs, and, moreover, does
not want to?... What is to be done with him? Really, I do not know;
besides, I do not imagine that all men down to the last should act
in unison. When did all men act in agreement? Men have mostly acted
separately, meeting in certain places, and parting in others. Long may
it be so! Some will recognise and seek after truth by signs, others
without signs, as they please, and yet others, in both ways.



_The Seventh Day of Creation_


Socrates said that he often used to hear from poets thoughts remarkable
for their profundity and seriousness, but when he began to inquire of
them more particularly, he became convinced that they themselves did
not understand what they were saying. What did he really mean? Did
Socrates wish to compare the poets to parrots or trained blackbirds
who can learn by heart, with the assistance of a man to teach them,
any ideas whatever, perfectly foreign to them. That can hardly be.
Socrates hardly thought that what the poets say had been overheard by
them from some one, and mechanically fixed in their mind, though it
remained quite foreign to their soul. Most probably he used the word
'understand' in the sense that they could not demonstrate or explain
the soundness and stability of their ideas,--they could not deduce
them and relate them to a definite conception of the world. As every
one knows, Socrates thought that not merely poets, but all men, from
eminent statesmen down to ignorant artisans, had ideas, even a great
many ideas, but they never could explain where they had got them, or
make them agree among themselves.

In this respect poets were the same as the rest of people. From some
mysterious source they had acquired truths, often great and profound,
but they were unable to explain them. This seemed to Socrates a great
misery, a real misfortune. I do not know how it happened--not a single
historian of philosophy has explained it, and indeed very little
interest has been taken in it--but Socrates for some reason decided
that an unproven and unexplained truth had less value than a proven and
explained one. In our times, when a whole theory, even a conception
of the world, has been made of Socrates's idea, this notion seems
so natural and self-evident that no one doubts it. But in antiquity
the case was different. Strictly, Socrates thought that the poets
had acquired their truths, which they were unable to prove, from a
very respectable source, which deserved all possible confidence: he
himself compared the poets with oracles, and consequently admitted
that they had communion with the gods. There was, therefore, a most
excellent guarantee that the poets were possessed of real, undiluted
truth--the pledge of its purity being the divine authority. Socrates
said that he himself had frequently been guided in his actions, not by
considerations of reason, but by the voice of his mysterious 'demon.'
That is, at times, he abstained from certain actions--his demon gave
him never positive, but only negative advice--without being able to
produce reasons, simply because the secret voice, more authoritative
than any human mind, demanded abstinence from them.

Is it not strange that under such circumstances, at an epoch when the
gods vouchsafed truths to men, there should have suddenly appeared in
a man the unexplained desire to acquire truths without the help of the
gods, and in independence of them, by the dialectic method so beloved
of the Greeks? It is doubtful which is more important for us, to
acquire the truth or to acquire for one's self with one's own effort,
it may be a false, but one's _own_ judgment. The example of Socrates,
who has been a pattern for all subsequent generations of thinking
men, leaves not the slightest doubt. Men do not need a truth ready
made; they turn away from the gods to devote themselves to independent
creations. Practically the same story is told in the Bible. What indeed
was lacking to Adam? He lived in paradise, in direct proximity to God,
from whom he could learn anything he wanted. And yet it did not suit
him. It was enough that the Serpent should make his perfidious proposal
for the man to forget the wrath of God, and all the dangers which
threatened him, and to pluck the apple from the forbidden tree. Then
the truth, which until the creation of the world and man had been one,
split and broke with a great, perhaps an infinitely great, number of
most diverse truths, eternally being born, and eternally dying. This
was the seventh day of creation, unrecorded in history. Man became
God's collaborator. He himself became a creator. Socrates renounced the
divine truth and even spoke contemptuously of it, merely because it
was not proven, that is, because it does not bear the marks of man's
handiwork. Socrates really did not prove anything, but he was proving,
creating, and in this he saw the meaning of his own life and of all
human lives. Thus, surely, the pronouncement of the Delphic oracle
seems true even now: Socrates was the wisest of men. And he who would
be wise must, imitating Socrates, not be like him in anything. Thus did
all great men, and all great philosophers.



_What does the History of Philosophy teach us?_


Neo-Kantianism is the prevalent school of modern philosophy. The
literature about Kant has grown to unheard-of proportions. But if
you attempt to analyse the colossal mass that has been written upon
Kant, and put the question to yourself, what has really been left to
us of Kant's teaching, then to your great amazement you will have to
reply: Nothing at all. There is an extraordinary, incredibly famous
name--Kant, and there is positively not a single Kantian thesis which
in an uninterpreted form would have survived till our day. I say in
an uninterpreted form, for interpretations resolve at bottom into
arbitrary recastings, which often have not even an outward resemblance
to the original. These interpretations began while Kant was still
alive. Fichte gave the first example. It is well known that Kant
reacted, demanding that his teaching should be understood not in the
spirit but in the letter. And Kant was, naturally, quite right. Of
two things one: either you take his teaching as it is, or you invent
your own. But the fate of all thinkers who have been destined to
give their names to an epoch is similar: they have been interpreted,
recast, till they are unrecognisable. For after a short time had
elapsed, it became clear that their ideas were so overburdened with
contradictions, that in the form in which they emerged from the hands
of their creators, they are absolutely unacceptable. Indeed, all the
critics who had not made up their minds beforehand to be orthodox
Kantians, came to the conclusion that Kant had not proved a single
one of his fundamental propositions. Something stronger may be said.
By virtue of the fact that Kant, owing to the central position which
he occupied, attracted much attention to himself and was forced to
submit to very careful criticism, there gradually emerged a truth which
might have been known beforehand: that Kant's teaching is a mass of
contradictions. The sum-total of more than a century's study of Kant
may be resumed in a few words. Although he was not afraid of the most
crying contradictions, he did not have the smallest degree of success
in proving the correctness of his teaching. With an extraordinary
power and depth of mind, with all the originality, boldness, and
talent of his constructions, he really provided nothing that might be
indisputably called a positive acquisition of philosophy. I repeat that
I am not expressing my own opinion. I am only reckoning the sum-total
of the opinions of the German critics of Kant, of those same critics
who built him a monument _aere perennius._

The same may be said of all the great representatives of philosophic
thought beginning with Plato and Aristotle, and ending with Hegel,
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Their works astonish by their power, depth,
boldness, beauty and originality of thought. While you read them it
seems that truth herself speaks with their lips. And what strong
measures of precaution did they take to prevent themselves from being
mistaken! They believed in nothing that men had grown accustomed to
believe. They methodically doubted everything, reexamined everything,
tens, hundreds of times. They gave their life to the truth not in
words, but in deed. And still the sum-total is the same in their case
as in Kant's: not one of them succeeded in inventing a system free from
internal contradictions.

Aristotle was already criticising Plato, and the sceptics criticised
both of them, and so on until in our day each new thinker struggles
with his predecessors, refutes their contradictions and errors,
although he knows that he is doomed to the same fate. The historians
of philosophy are at infinite pains to conceal the most glaring and
noticeable trait of philosophic creation, which is, at bottom, no
secret to any one. The uninitiated, and people generally who do not
like thinking, and therefore wish to be contemptuous of philosophy,
point to the lack of unity among philosophers as evidence that it is
not worth while to study philosophy. But they are both wrong. The
history of philosophy not only does not inspire us with the thought
of the continual evolution of an idea, but palpably convinces us of
the contrary, that among philosophers there is not, has not been, and
will never be, any aspiration towards unity. Neither will they find
in future a truth free from contradiction, for they do not seek the
truth in the sense in which the word is understood by the people and
by science; and, after all, contradictions do not frighten them, but
rather attract. Schopenhauer begins his criticism of Kant's philosophy
with the words of Voltaire: 'It is the privilege of genius to make
great mistakes with impunity.' I believe that the secret of the
philosophic genius lies here. He makes great, the greatest, mistakes,
and with impunity. Moreover his mistakes are put to his credit, for
the important matter is not his truths, or his judgments, but himself.
When you hear from Plato that the life we see is only a shadow, when
Spinoza, intoxicated by God, exalts the idea of necessity, when Kant
declares that reason dictates laws to Nature,--listening to them you
do not examine whether their assertions are true or not, you agree with
each of them, whatever he says, and only this question arises in your
soul: 'Who is he that speaketh as one having authority?'

Later on, you will reject all their truths, with horror, perhaps with
indignation and disgust, even with utter indifference. You will not
consent to accept that our life is only a shadow of actual reality,
you will revolt against Spinoza's God, who cannot love, yet demands
love for himself, Kant's categorical imperative will seem to you a cold
monster,--but you will never forget Plato, or Spinoza, or Kant, and
will for ever keep your gratitude to them, who made you believe that
authority is given to mortals. Then you will understand that there are
no errors and no truths in philosophy; that errors and truths are only
for him above whom is set a superior authority, a law, a standard. But
philosophers themselves create laws and standards. This is what we are
taught by the history of philosophy; this is what is most difficult for
man to master and understand. I have already said that the historians
of philosophy draw quite a different moral from the study of the great
human creations.



_Science and Metaphysics_


In his autobiography Spencer confesses that he had really never
read Kant. He had had _The Critique of Pure Reason_ in his hands,
and had even read the beginning, the Transcendental Aesthetic, but
the beginning convinced him it was no use for him to read further.
Once a man had made the unconvincing admission which Kant had made,
by accepting the subjectivity of one form of perception, of space
and time, he could not be seriously taken into account. If he is
consistent, all his philosophy will be a system of absurdity and
nonsense; if he is inconsistent,--the less attention does he deserve.

Spencer confidently asserts that, once he could not accept Kant's
fundamental proposition, he not only could not be a Kantian any more,
but he found it useless even to become further acquainted with Kant's
philosophy. That he did not become a Kantian is nothing to grieve over
--there are Kantians enough without him--but that he did not acquaint
himself with Kant's principal works, and above all with the whole
school that rose out of Kant, may be sincerely regretted. Perhaps, as
a new man, remote from Continental traditions, he would have made a
curious discovery, and would have convinced himself that it was not at
all necessary to accept the proposition of the subjectivity of space
and time in order to become a Kantian. And perhaps with the frankness
and simplicity peculiar to him, which is not afraid to be taken for
naïveté, he would have told us that not a single Kantian (Schopenhauer
excepted), not even Kant himself, has ever seriously accepted the
fundamental propositions of the Transcendental Aesthetic, and therefore
has never made from them any conclusions or deductions whatever. On
the contrary, the Transcendental Aesthetic was itself a deduction from
another proposition, that we have synthetic judgments _a priori._ The
original rôle of this, the most original of all theories ever invented,
was to be a support and an explanation of the mathematical sciences.
It had never had an independent, material content, susceptible of
analysis and investigation. Space and time are the eternal forms of our
perception of the world: to this, according to the strict meaning of
Kant's teaching, nothing can be added, and nothing abated. Spencer, not
having read the book to the end, imagined that Kant would begin to make
deductions and became nervous. But if he had read the book to the end,
he would have been convinced that Kant had not made any deductions, and
that the whole meaning of _The Critique of Pure Reason_ indeed is that
from the propositions of the Transcendental Aesthetic no deductions can
be made. It is now about a hundred and fifty years since _The Critique
of Pure Reason_ appeared. No philosophic work has been so much studied
and criticised. And yet where are the Kantians who attempt to make
deductions from the proposition as to the subjectivity of space and
time? Schopenhauer is the only exception. He indeed took the Kantian
idea seriously, but it may be said without exaggeration that of all
Kantians the least like Kant was Schopenhauer.

The world is a veil of Maia. Would Kant really have agreed to such
an interpretation of his Transcendental Aesthetic? Or what would
Kant have said, if he had heard that Schopenhauer, referring to the
same Aesthetic in which he saw the greatest philosophic revelation,
had admitted the possibility of clairvoyance and magic? Probably
Spencer thought that Kant would himself make all these deductions, and
therefore threw away the book which bound him to conclusions so absurd.
It is a pity that Spencer was in such a hurry. Had he acquainted
himself with Kant, he would have been convinced that the most absurd
idea might serve a very useful purpose; and that there is not the least
necessity to make from an idea all the deductions to which it may lead.
A man is a free agent and he can deduce if he has a mind to; if he has
not, he will not; and there is no necessity to judge the character
of a philosophic theory by its general postulates. Even Schopenhauer
did not exploit Kant's theory to the full, which, if it had really
divined the truths hitherto hidden from men, would have not only put
an end to metaphysical researches, but also have given an impulse and
a justification to perfectly new experiments which from the previous
standpoint were quite mad and unimaginable. For if space and time are
forms of our human perception, then they do indeed hide the ultimate
truth from us. While men knew nothing of this, and, simple minded,
accepted the visible reality for the actual real, they could not of
course dream of true knowledge. But from the moment when the truth was
revealed to them through Kant's penetration, it is clear that their
true task was to use every possible means to free themselves from
the harness and to break away from it, while consolidating all those
judgments which Kant calls synthetic judgments _a priori_ for all
eternity.

And the new, the critical metaphysics, which should take account of
the stupid situation in which these had hitherto found themselves who
saw in apodeictic judgments eternal truths, had a great task to set
herself: to get rid at all costs of apodeictic judgments, knowing them
for false. In other words, Kant's task should not have been to minimise
the destructive effect of Hume's scepticism, but to find a still more
deadly explosive to destroy even those limits which Hume was obliged
to preserve. It is surely evident that truth lies beyond synthetic
judgments _a priori,_ and that it cannot at all resemble an _a priori_
judgment, and in fact cannot be like a judgment of any kind.

And it must be sought by methods quite different from those by which
it has been sought hitherto. To some extent Kant attempted to describe
how he represented to himself the meaning hidden beneath the words:
'Space and time are subjective forms of perception.' He even gave an
object-lesson, saying that perhaps there are beings who perceive the
world otherwise than under the forms of space and time: which means
that for such beings there is no change. All that we perceive by a
succession of changes, they perceive at once. To them Julius Caesar
is still alive, though he is dead; to them the twenty-fifth century
A.D., which none of us will live to see, and the twenty-fifth century
B.C., which we reconstruct with such difficulty from the fragmentary
traces of the past which have accidentally been preserved to us, the
remote North Pole, and even the stars which we cannot see through the
telescope--all are as accessible to them as to us the events which
are taking place before our eyes. Nevertheless Kant, in spite of all
temptation to acquire the knowledge to which such beings have access,
notwithstanding his profound conviction of the truth of his discovery,
did nothing to dispel the charm of forms of perception and categories
of the reason, or to tear the blinkers from his eyes and see all the
depth of the mysterious reality hitherto hidden from us. He does not
even give a little circumstantial explanation why he considered such a
task impracticable, and he confines himself to the dogmatic assertion
that man cannot conceive a reality beyond space and time. Why? It is
a question of immense importance. Compared with it all the problems
of _The Critique of Pure Reason_ are secondary. How is mathematics
possible, how are natural sciences possible?--these are not even
questions at all compared to the question whether it is possible to
free ourselves from conventional human knowledge in order to attain the
ultimate, all-embracing truth.

Herein the Kantians display an even greater indifference than Kant
himself: they are even proud of their indifference, they plume
themselves upon it as a high virtue. They assert that truth is not
_beyond_ synthetic judgments _a priori,_ but indeed _in_ them; and
that it is not the Creator who put blinkers upon us, but we ourselves
devised them, and that any attempt to remove them and look open-eyed
upon the world is evidence of perversity. If the old Serpent appeared
nowadays to seduce the modern Adam, he would retire discomfited.
Even Eve herself would be no use to him. The twentieth-century Eve
studies in a university and has quite sufficiently blunted her natural
curiosity. She can talk excellently well of the teleological point of
view and is quite as proof as man against temptation. I do not share
Kant's confidence that space and time are forms of our perception,
nor do I see a revelation in it. But if I had once accepted this
apocalyptic assertion, and could think that there was some truth in it,
I would not depart from it to positive science.

It is a pity that Spencer did not read _The Critique of Pure Reason_ to
the end. He would have convinced himself of an important truth: that a
philosopher has no need to take into consideration all the deductions
from his premisses. He need only have goodwill, and he can draw from
the most paradoxical and suspicious premisses conclusions which are
fully conformable to common-sense and the rules of decency. And since
Kant's will was as good as Spencer's, they would have agreed perfectly
in their deductions, though they were so far apart from each other in
their premisses.



_A Tacit Assumption_


Schopenhauer was the first philosopher to ask the value of life. And he
gave a definite answer: in life there is much more suffering than joy,
therefore life must be renounced. I must add that strictly speaking
he asked not only the value of life, but also the value of joy and
suffering. And to this question he gave an equally definite answer.
According to his teaching joy is always negative, suffering always
positive. Therefore by its essence joy cannot compensate for suffering.

In all this philosophical construction, both in formulating and
answering the questions, there is one tacit, particularly curious,
and interesting and unexpressed postulate. Schopenhauer starts from
the assumption that his valuation of life, joy and suffering, in
order to have the right to be called truth, must contain something
universal, by virtue of which it will in the last resort coincide with
the valuation of all other people. Whence did he derive this idea?
Psychologically the train of Schopenhauer's thought is intelligible
and easily explained. He was used to the scientific formulation and
solution of problems, and he transferred to the question which engaged
him methods of investigation which by general consent usually conduct
us to the truth. He did not verify his premiss _ad hoc,_ and usually
it is impossible to verify a premiss every time that a need arises
for it. It is not even becoming to exhibit it, to speak of it. It is
understood. If the fundamental sign of any truth is its being universal
and obligatory, then in the given case the true answer to the question
of the value of life can only be something which will be absolutely
admissible by all men to all creatures with a mind. So Schopenhauer
would probably have answered, if any one had questioned his right to
formulate in such a general way the question of the value of life.

Still Schopenhauer would hardly be right. This, by the way, is being
made clear by the objections which are put forward by his opponents.
He is accused because his very statement of the question presupposes a
subjective point of view--eudaemonism.

The question of the value of life, people object, is not at all
decided by whether in the sum life gives more joy than pain or _vice
versa._ Life may be deeply painful and devoid of joy, life may in
itself be one compact horror, and still be valuable. Schopenhauer's
philosophy was not discussed in his lifetime, so that he could not
answer his opponents. But, if he were still alive, would he accept
these objections and renounce his pessimism? I am convinced that he
would not. At the same time I am convinced that his opponents would
be no less firm and would go on repeating: 'The question is not one
of happiness or suffering. We value life by a quite different and
independent standard.' And in the discussion it would perhaps become
clear to the disputants that the premiss mentioned above, which both
accepted as requiring no proof and understood without explanation, does
indeed require proofs and explanations, but is provided with neither.
To one man the eudaemonistic point of view is ultimate and decisive,
to another contemptible and degrading, and he seeks the meaning of
life in a higher, ethical or aesthetic purpose. There are also people
who love sorrow and pain, and see in them the justification and the
source of the depth and importance of life. Nor do I mention the fact
that when the sum-totals of life are reckoned different accountants
reach different and directly contradictory results, or that insoluble
questions arise concerning these, or other details. Schopenhauer for
instance finds, as we have seen, that sufferings are positive, joys
negative. And hence he concludes that it is not worth while to submit
to the least unpleasantness for the sake of the greatest joy. What
answer can be made? How can he be convinced of the contrary?

Nevertheless the fact is obvious: many people regard the matter in
quite a different light. For the sake of a single happiness they
are ready to endure a great many serious hardships. In a word,
Schopenhauer's premiss is quite unjustified, and not only cannot
be accepted as an indubitable truth, but must be qualified as an
indubitable error. It is impossible to be certain beforehand that to
the question of the value of life a single, universally valid answer
can be given. So here we meet with an extraordinarily curious case
from the point of view of the theory of knowledge. It appears that
by the very essence of the matter no uniform answer can be given
to one of the most important questions, perhaps the most important
question of philosophy. If you are asked what is life, good or evil,
you are obliged to say that life is both good and evil; or something
independent of good and evil; or a mixture of good and evil in which
there is more good than evil, or more evil than good.

And, I repeat, each of these answers, although they logically quite
exclude each other, has the right to claim the title of _truth_; for
if it has not power enough to make the other answers bow down before
it, at all events it has the necessary strength to repel its opponents'
attacks and to defend its sovereign rights. Instead of a sole and
omnipotent truth before which the weak and helpless errors tremble,
you have before you a whole line of perfectly independent truths
excellently armed and defended. Instead of absolutism, you have a
feudal system. And the vassals are so firmly ensconced in their castles
that an experienced eye can see at once that they are impregnable.

I took for my instance Schopenhauer's doctrine of the value of life.
But many philosophic doctrines, although they issue from the premiss
of one sovereign truth, display examples of the plurality of truths.
It is usually believed that one should study the history of philosophy
in order to be palpably convinced that mankind has gradually mastered
its delusions and is now on the high road to ultimate truth. My opinion
is that the history of philosophy must bring every impartial person,
who is not infected by modern prejudices, to a directly opposite
conclusion. There can be no doubt that a whole series of questions
exists, like that of the value of life, which by their very essence
do not admit of a uniform solution. To this testimony is often borne
by men whose very last concern is to curtail the royal prerogative of
sovereign truth: Natorp confidently asserts that Aristotle not only did
not understand but could not understand Plato. 'Der tiefere Grund ist
die ewige Unfähigkeit des Dogmatismus sich in der Gesichtspunkt der
kritischen Philosophie überhaupt zu versetzen.' 'Eternal incapability'
--what words! And used not of any common-place person, but of the
greatest human genius known to us, of Aristotle. Had Natorp been a
little more inquisitive, 'eternal incapability' of that kind should
have worried him at least as much as Plato's philosophy, on which he
wrote a large book. For here is evidently a great riddle. Different
people, according to the different constitution of their souls,
are while yet in their mother's womb destined to have different
philosophies. It reminds me of the famous Calvinistic view of
predetermination. Just as from before birth God has destined some to
damnation, others to salvation; so to some it is given and from others
withheld, to know the truth.

And not Natorp alone argues thus. It would be true to say all modern
philosophers, who are always contending with each other and suspecting
each other of 'eternal incapability.' Philosophers have not the same
means of compelling conviction as the representatives of other positive
sciences: they cannot force every one to undeniable conclusions. Their
_ultima ratio,_ their personal opinion, their private conviction,
their last refuge, is the 'eternal incapability' of their opponents to
understand them. Here the tragic dilemma is clear to all. Of two things
one: either renounce philosophy entirely, or allow that that which
Natorp calls the 'eternal incapability' is not a vice or a weakness,
but a great virtue and power hitherto unappreciated and misunderstood.
Aristotle, indeed, was organically incapable of understanding Plato,
just as Plato could not have understood Aristotle, just as neither of
them could understand the sceptics or the sophists, just as Leibnitz
could not understand Spinoza, as Schopenhauer could not understand
Hegel, and so on till our riotous modern days when no philosopher
can understand any one except himself. Besides, philosophers do not
aspire to mutual understanding and unity, but usually it is with the
utmost reluctance that they observe in themselves similarity to their
predecessors. When the similarity of Schopenhauer's teaching to that
of Spinoza was pointed out to him, he said _Pereant qui ante nos
nostra dixerint._ But representatives of the other positive sciences
understand each other, rarely dispute, and never argue by referring to
the 'eternal incapability' of their confrères. Perhaps in philosophy
this chaotic state of affairs and this unique argument are part of the
craft. Perhaps in this realm it is necessary that Aristotle should
not understand Plato and should not accept him, that the materialists
should always be at war with the idealists, the sceptics with the
dogmatists. In other words, the premiss with which Schopenhauer began
the investigation into the value of life, and which as we have shown he
took without verification from the representatives of positive science,
though perfectly applicable in its proper sphere, is quite out of place
in philosophy. And indeed, though they never speak of it, philosophers
value their own personal convictions much more highly than universally
valid truth. The impossibility of discovering one sole philosophic
truth may alarm any one but the philosophers themselves, who, so soon
as they have worked out their own convictions, take not the smallest
trouble to secure general recognition for them. They are only busy with
getting rid of their vassal dependence and acquiring sovereign rights
for themselves. The question whether there will be other sovereigns by
their side hardly concerns them at all.

The history of philosophy should be so expounded that this tendency
should be clearly manifest. This would spare us from many prejudices,
and would clear the way for new and important inquiries. Kant, who
shared the opinion that truth is the same for all, was convinced that
metaphysics must be a science _a priori,_ and since it cannot be a
science _a priori,_ must therefore cease to exist. If the history
of philosophy had been expounded and understood differently in his
day, it would never have entered his mind thus to impugn the rights
of metaphysics. And probably he would not have been vexed by the
contradictoriness or the lack of proof in the teachings of various
schools of metaphysics. It cannot be otherwise, neither should it
be. The interest of mankind is not to put an end to the variety of
philosophic doctrines but to allow the perfectly natural phenomenon
wide and deep development. Philosophers have always had an instinctive
longing for this: that is why they are so troublesome to the historian
of philosophy.



_The First and the Last_


In the first volume of _Human, All too Human,_ which Nietzsche wrote
at the very beginning of his disease, when he was still far from
final victory and chiefly told of his defeats, there is the following
remarkable, though half-involuntary confession: 'The complete
irresponsibility of Man for his actions and his being is the bitterest
drop for the man of knowledge to drink, since he has been accustomed to
see in responsibility and duty the very patent of his title to manhood.'

Much bitterness has the inquiring spirit to swallow, but the bitterest
of all is in the knowledge that his moral qualities, his readiness to
fulfil his duty ungrudgingly, gives him no preference over other men.
He thought he was a man of noble rank, even a prince of the blood,
crowned with a crown, and the other men boorish peasantry--but he is
just the same, a peasant, the same as all the rest. His patent of
nobility was that for which he fulfilled his most arduous duty and made
sacrifices; in it he saw the meaning of life. And when it is suddenly
revealed that there is no provision made for titles or patents, it
is a horrible catastrophe, a cataclysm--and life loses all meaning.
Evidently the conviction expressed with such moving frankness in these
words, was with Nietzsche a second nature, which he could not master
all his life long. What is the Superman but a title, a patent, giving
the right to be called a noble among the _canaille?_ What is the pathos
of distance and all Nietzsche's teaching of ranks? The formula, beyond
good and evil, was by no means so all-destructive as at first sight it
seemed. On the contrary, by erasing certain laws graven on the tables
of mankind of old, that formula as it were revealed other commandments,
obliterated by time, and therefore invisible to many.

All morality, all good in and for itself is rejected, but the patent of
nobility grows more precious until it becomes, if not the only value,
at least the chief. Life loses its meaning once titles and ranks are
destroyed, once he is deprived of the right to hold his head high, to
throw out his chest, his belly even, and to look with contempt upon
those about him.

In order to show to what extent the doctrine of rank has become
attached to the human soul, I would recall the words of the Gospel
about the first and last. Christ, who seemed to speak in a language
utterly new, who taught men to despise earthly blessings--riches, fame,
honours, who so easily yielded Caesar his due, because he thought
that only Caesar would find it useful--Christ himself, when he spoke
to men, did not think it possible to take away from them their hope
of distinction. 'The first shall be last.' What will there be first
and second there, too? Yes, so it stands in the Gospel. Is it because
there is indeed in the division of men into ranks something original
and warrantable, or is it because Christ who spoke to humankind could
not but use human words? It may be that, but for that promise, and
generally the series of promises of rewards, accessible to the human
understanding, the Gospel would not have fulfilled its great historic
mission, it would have passed unnoticed on the earth, and no one
would have detected or recognised in it the Evangel. Christ knew that
men could renounce all things, save the right to superiority alone,
to superiority over one's neighbours, to that which Nietzsche calls
'the patent of nobility.' Without that superiority men of a certain
kind cannot live. They become what the Germans so appropriately call
_Vogelfrei,_ deprived of the protection of the laws, since the laws
are the only source of _their_ right. Rude, nonsensical, disgusting
reality--against which, I repeat, their _only_ defence is the patent
of nobility, the unwritten charter--approaches them closer and closer,
with more and more menace and importunacy, and claims its right. 'If
you are the same as all other men,' it says, 'take your experience
of life from me, fulfil your trivial obligations, worse than that,
accept from me the fines and reprimands to which the rank and file
are subject, even to corporal punishment.' How could he accept these
degrading conditions who had been used to think he had the right to
carry his head high, to be proud and independent? Nietzsche tries
with dull submissiveness to swallow the horrible bitterness of
his confession, but courage and endurance, even _his_ courage and
endurance, are not enough for this his greatest and most terrible task.
He cannot bear the horror of a life deprived of rights and defences: he
seeks again for power and authority which would protect him and give
him his lost rights again. He will not rest until he receives under
another name a _restitutio in integrum_ of all the rights which had
previously been his.

And surely not Nietzsche alone acted thus. The whole history of ethics,
the whole history of philosophy is to no small degree the incessant
search for prerogative and privilege, patents and charters. The
Christians--Tolstoi and Dostoevsky--do not in the least differ from
the enemy of Christianity, Nietzsche. The humble Jew, Spinoza, and the
meek pagan, Socrates, the idealist Plato, and the idealist Aristotle,
the founders of the newest, noblest and loftiest systems, Kant, Fichte,
Hegel, even Schopenhauer, the pessimist, all as one man seek a charter,
a charter, a charter. Evidently life on earth without a charter
becomes for the 'best' men a horrible nightmare and an intolerable
torment. Even the founder of Christianity, who so easily renounced all
privileges, considered it possible to preserve _this_ privilege for
his disciples, and perhaps--who knows?--for himself too.

Whereas if Nietzsche and those other philosophers had been able
resolutely to renounce titles, ranks, and honours, which are
distributed not only by morality, but by all the other Sanhedrim,
real and imaginary, which are set over man; if they could have drunk
this cup to the dregs, then they might have known, seen, and heard
much that was suspected by none of them before. Long since men have
known that the road to knowledge lies by way of a great renunciation.
Neither righteousness nor genius gives a man privilege above others.
He is deprived, for ever deprived, of the protection of earthly laws.
There are no laws. To-day he is a king, to-morrow a slave; to-day God,
to-morrow a worm; to-day first, to-morrow last. And the worm crushed
by him to-day will be God, his god to-morrow. All the measures and
balances by which men are distinguished one from another are defaced
for ever, and there is no certainty that the place a man once occupied
will still be his. And all philosophers have known this; Nietzsche,
too, knew it, and by experience. He was the friend, the ally, and
the collaborator of the great Wagner, the herald of a new era upon
earth; and later, he grovelled in the dust, broken and crushed.
And a second time this thing happened to him. When he had finished
_Zarathustra,_ he became insane, more exactly, he became half-idiot.
It is true he carried the secret of the second fall with him to the
grave. Yet something has reached us, for all his sister's efforts to
conceal from carnal eyes the change that had befallen him. And now
we ask: Is the essence of life really in the rank, the charter, the
patent of nobility? And can the words of Christ be understood in their
literal sense? Are not all the Sanhedrim set over man, and as it were
giving meaning to his life, mere fictions, useful and even necessary
in certain moments of life, but pernicious and dangerous, to say no
more, when the circumstances are changed? Does not life, the real and
desirable life, which men have sought for thousands of years, begin
there where there is neither first nor last, righteous or sinner,
genius or incapable? Is not the pursuit of recognition, of superiority,
of patents and charters, of rank, that which prevents man from seeing
life with its hidden miracles? And must man really seek protection
in the College of Heralds, or has he another power that time cannot
destroy? One may be a good, able, learned, gifted man, even a man of
genius, but to demand in return any privileges whatsoever, is to betray
goodness and ability, and talent and genius, and the greatest hopes of
mankind. The last on earth will nowhere be first....





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