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Title: All Things are Possible
Author: Shestov, Lev
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "All Things are Possible" ***







Leo Shestov is one of the living Russians. He is about fifty years old.
He was born at Kiev, and studied at the university there. His first
book appeared in 1898, since which year he has gradually gained an
assured position as one of the best critics and essayists in Russia. A
list of his works is as follows:--

1898. Shakespeare and his Critic, Brandes.

1900. Good in the Teaching of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: Philosophy and

1903. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy.

1905. The Apotheosis of Groundlessness (here translated under the title
"All Things are Possible").

1908. Beginnings and Ends.

1912. Great Vigils.


_In his paragraph on The Russian Spirit, Shestov gives us the real clue
to Russian literature. European culture is a rootless thing in the
Russians. With us, it is our very blood and bones, the very nerve and
root of our psyche. We think in a certain fashion, we feel in a certain
fashion, because our whole substance is of this fashion. Our speech and
feeling are organically inevitable to us_.

_With the Russians it is different. They have only been inoculated with
the virus of European culture and ethic. The virus works in them like a
disease. And the inflammation and irritation comes forth as literature.
The bubbling and fizzing is almost chemical, not organic. It is an
organism seething as it accepts and masters the strange virus. What
the Russian is struggling with, crying out against, is not life itself:
it is only European culture which has been introduced, into his psyche,
and which hurts him. The tragedy is not so much a real soul tragedy,
as a surgical one. Russian art, Russian literature after all does not
stand on the same footing as European or Greek or Egyptian art. It is
not spontaneous utterance. It is not the flowering of a race. It is a
surgical outcry, horrifying, or marvellous, lacerating at first; but
when we get used to it, not really so profound, not really ultimate, a
little extraneous_.

_What is valuable, is the evidence against European culture, implied
in the novelists, here at last expressed. Since Peter the Great Russia
has been accepting Europe, and seething Europe down in a curious
process of katabolism. Russia has been expressing nothing inherently
Russian. Russia's modern Christianity even was not Russian. Her
genuine Christianity, Byzantine and Asiatic, is incomprehensible to
us. So with her true philosophy. What she has actually uttered is her
own unwilling, fantastic reproduction of European truths. What she
has really to utter the coming centuries will hear. For Russia will
certainly inherit the future. What I we already call the greatness of
Russia is only her pre-natal struggling_.

_It seems as if she had at last absorbed and overcome the virus of
old Europe. Soon her new, healthy body will begin to act in its own
reality, imitative no more, protesting no more, crying no more, but
full and sound and lusty in itself. Real Russia is born. She will
laugh at us before long. Meanwhile she goes through the last stages of
reaction against us, kicking away from the old womb of Europe_.

_In Shestov one of the last kicks is given. True, he seems to be only
reactionary and destructive. But he can find a little amusement at last
in tweaking the European nose, so he is fairly free. European idealism
is anathema. But more than this, it is a little comical. We feel the
new independence in his new, half-amused indifference_.

_He is only tweaking the nose of European idealism. He is preaching
nothing: so he protests time and again. He absolutely refutes any
imputation of a central idea He is so afraid lest it should turn out to
be another hateful hedge-stake of an ideal_.

"_Everything is possible"--this is his really central cry. It is not
nihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds.
The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, really
believes in itself, and in nothing else_.

_Dress this up in a little comely language, and we have a real new
ideal, that will last us for a new, long epoch. The human soul itself
is the source and well-head of creative activity. In the unconscious
human soul the creative prompting issues first into the universe.
Open the consciousness to this prompting, away with all your old
sluice-gates, locks, dams, channels. No ideal on earth is anything
more than an obstruction, in the end, to the creative issue of the
spontaneous soul. Away with all ideals. Let each individual act
spontaneously from, the forever-incalculable prompting of the creative
well-head within him. There is no universal law. Each being is, at his
purest, a law unto himself, single, unique, a Godhead, a fountain from
the unknown_.

_This is the ideal which Shestov refuses positively to state, because
he is afraid it may prove in the end a trap to catch his own free
spirit. So it may. But it is none the less a real, living ideal for the
moment, the very salvation. When it becomes ancient, and like the old
lion who lay in his cave and whined, devours all its servants, then it
can be despatched. Meanwhile it is a really liberating word_.

_Shestov's style is puzzling at first. Having found the "ands" and
"buts" and "becauses" and "therefores" hampered him, he clips them all
off deliberately and even spitefully, so that his thought is like a man
with no buttons on his clothes, ludicrously hitching along all undone.
One must be amused, not irritated. Where the armholes were a bit tight,
Shestov cuts a slit. It is baffling, but really rather piquant.
The real conjunction, the real unification lies in the reader's own
amusement, not in the author's unbroken logic_.



_Zu fragmentarish ist Welt und Leben_.



The obscure streets of life do not offer the conveniences of the
central thoroughfares: no electric light, no gas, not even a kerosene
lamp-bracket. There are no pavements: the traveller has to fumble his
way in the dark. If he needs a light, he must wait for a thunderbolt,
or else, primitive-wise, knock a spark out of a stone. In a glimpse
will appear unfamiliar outlines; and then, what he has taken in he
must try to remember, no matter whether the impression was right or
false. For he will not easily get another light, except he run his head
against a wall, and see sparks that way. What can a wretched pedestrian
gather under such circumstances? How can we expect a clear account from
him whose curiosity (let us suppose his curiosity so strong) led him to
grope his way among the outskirts of life? Why should we try to compare
his records with those of the travellers through brilliant streets?


The law of sequence in natural phenomena seems so plausible, so
obvious, that one is tempted to look for its origin, not in the
realities of actual life, but in the promptings of the human mind. This
law of sequence is the most mysterious of all the natural laws. Why so
much order? Why not chaos and disorderliness? Really, if the hypothesis
of sequence had not offered such blatant advantages to the human
intelligence, man would never have thought of raising it to the rank of
eternal and irrefutable truth. But he saw his opportunity. Thanks to
the grand hypothesis, man is forewarned and forearmed. Thanks to this
master-key, the future is at his mercy. He knows, in order that he may
foreknow: _savoir pour prévoir_. Here, is man, by virtue of one supreme
assumption, dictator henceforward of all nature. The philosophers
have ever bowed the knee to success. So down they went before the
newly-invented law of natural sequence, they hailed it with the title
of eternal truth. But even this seemed insufficient. _L'appétit vient
en mangeant_. Like the old woman in the fairy-tale about the golden
fish, they had it in their minds that the fish should do their
errands. But some few people at last could not stand this impudence.
Some very few began to object....


The comfortable settled man says to himself: "How could, one live
without being sure of the morrow; how could one sleep without a roof
over one's head?" But misfortune turns him out of house and home.
He must perforce sleep under a hedge. He cannot rest, he is full of
terrors. There may be wild beasts, fellow-tramps. But in the long run
he gets used to it. He will trust himself to chance, live like a tramp,
and sleep his sleep in a ditch.


A writer, particularly a young and inexperienced writer, feels himself
under an obligation to give his reader the fullest answers to all
possible questions. Conscience will not let him shut his eyes to
tormenting problems, and so he begins to speak of "first and ultimate
things." As he cannot say anything profitable on such subjects--for it
is not the business of the young to be profoundly philosophical--he
grows excited, he shouts himself to hoarseness. In the end he is
silent from exhaustion. And then, if his words have had any success
with the public, he is astonished to find that he has become a prophet.
Whereupon, if he be an average sort of person, he is filled with an
insatiable desire to preserve his influence till the end of his days.
But if he be more sensitive or gifted than usual, he begins to despise
the crowd for its vulgar credulity, and himself for having posed in the
stupid and disgraceful character of a clown of lofty ideas.


How painful it is to read Plato's account of the last conversations of
Socrates! The days, even the hours of the old man are numbered, and
yet he talks, talks, talks.... Crito comes to him in the early morning
and tells him that the sacred ships will shortly return to Athens. And
at once Socrates is ready to talk, to argue.... It is possible, of
course, that Plato is not altogether to be trusted. It is said that
Socrates observed, of the dialogues already written down by Plato.
"How much that youth has belied me!" But then from all sources we have
it, that Socrates spent the month following his verdict in incessant
conversations with his pupils and friends. That is what it is to be a
beloved master, and to have disciples. You can't even die quietly....
The best death is really the one which is considered the worst: to die
alone, in a foreign land, in a poor-house, or, as they say, like a dog
under a hedge. Then at least one may spend one's last moments honestly,
without dissembling or ostentation, preparing oneself for the dreadful,
or wonderful, event. Pascal, as his sister tells us, also talked a
great deal before his death, and de Musset cried like a baby. Perhaps
Socrates and Pascal talked so much, for fear they should start crying.
It is a false shame!


The fact that some ideas, or some series of ideas, are materially
unprofitable to mankind cannot serve as a justification for their
rejection. Once an idea is there, the gates must be opened to it. For
if you close the gates, the thought will force a way in, or, like the
fly in the fable, will sneak through unawares. Ideas have no regard for
our laws of honour or morality. Take for example realism in literature.
At its appearance it aroused universal indignation. Why need we know
the dirt of life? And honestly, there _is_ no need. Realism could give
no straightforward justification for itself. But, as it had to come
through, it was ready with a lie; it compared itself to pathology,
called itself useful, beneficial, and so obtained a place. We can all
see now that realism is _not_ beneficial, but harmful, very harmful,
and that it has nothing in common with pathology. Nevertheless, it is
no longer easy to drive it from its place. The prohibition evaded,
there is now the _justus titulus possessions_.


Count Tolstoy preached inaction. It seems he had no need. We "inact"
remarkably. Idleness, just that idleness Tolstoy dreamed of, a free,
conscious idling that despises labour, this is one of the chief
characteristics of our time. Of course I speak of the higher, cultured
classes, the aristocracy of spirit--"We write books, paint pictures,
compose symphonies"--But is that labour? It is only the amusement of
idleness. SO that Tolstoy is much more to the point when, forgetting
his preaching of inaction, he bids us trudge eight hours a day at the
tail of the plough. In this there is some sense. Idleness spoils
us. We were returning to the most primitive of all the states of our
forefathers. Like paradisal Adam and Eve, having no need to sweat for
our bread, we were trying to pilfer the fruit from the forbidden tree.
Truly we received a similar punishment. Divine laws are inscrutable.
In Paradise everything is permitted, except curiosity. Even labour
is allowed, though it is not obligatory, as it is outside. Tolstoy
realised the dangers of the paradisal state. He stooped to talk of
inaction for a moment--and then he began to work. Since in regular,
smooth, constant, rhythmical labour, whether it is efficient or whether
it merely appears efficient, like Tolstoy's farming, there is peace
of mind. Look at the industrious Germans, who begin and who end their
day with a prayer. In Paradise, where there is no labour, and no need
for long rest and heavy sleep, all temptations become dangerous. It
is a peril to live there.... Perhaps present-day people eschew the
paradisal state. They prefer work, for where there is no work there
is no smoothness, no regularity, no peacefulness, no satisfaction. In
Eden, even the well-informed individuals Cannot tell what will come
next, _savoir pour prévoir_ does not answer, and everlasting laws are
exposed to ridicule. Amongst ourselves also a few of the work-abjurors,
the idlers, are beginning to question our established knowledge. But
the majority of men, and particularly Germans, still defend _a priori_
judgments, on the ground that without these, perfect knowledge would
be impossible, there could be no regulation of the course of natural
phenomena, and no looking ahead.


To escape from the grasp of contemporary ruling ideas, one should study
history. The lives of other men in other lands in other ages teach
us to realise that our "eternal laws" and infallible ideas are just
abortions. Take a step further, imagine mankind living elsewhere than
on this earth, and all our terrestial eternalities lose their charm.


We know nothing of the ultimate realities of our existence, nor shall
we ever know anything. Let that be agreed. But it does not follow that
therefore we must accept some or other dogmatic theory as a _modus
vivendi_, no, not even positivism, which has such a sceptical face
on it. It only follows that man is free to change his conception of
the universe as often as he changes his boots or his gloves, and that
constancy of principle belongs only to one's relationships with other
people, in order that they may know where and to what extent they may
depend on us. Therefore, on principle man should respect order in the
external world and complete chaos in the inner. And for those who find
it difficult to bear such a duality, some internal order might also
be provided. Only, they should not pride themselves on it, but always
remember that it is a sign of their weakness, pettiness, dullness.


The Pythagoreans assumed that the sun is motionless and that the earth
turns round. What a long time the truth had to wait for recognition!


In spite of Epicurus and his exasperation we are forced to admit that
anything whatsoever may result from anything whatsoever. Which does
not mean, however, that a stone ever turned into bread, or that our
visible universe was ever "naturally" formed from nebulous puffs. But
from our own minds and our own experience we can deduce nothing that
would serve us as a ground for setting even the smallest limit to
nature's own arbitrary behaviour. If whatever happens now had chanced
to happen quite differently, it would not, therefore, have seemed any
the less _natural_ to us. In other words, although there may be an
element of inevitability in our human judgments concerning the natural
phenomena, we have never been able and probably never shall be able
to separate the grain of inevitable from the chaff of accidental and
casual truth. Moreover, we do not even know which is more essential
and important, the inevitable or the casual. Hence we are forced to
the conclusion that philosophy must give up her attempt at finding the
_veritates aeternae_. The business of philosophy is to teach man to
live in uncertainty--man who is supremely afraid of uncertainty, and
who is forever hiding himself behind this or the other dogma. More
briefly, the business of philosophy is not to reassure people, but to
upset them.


When man finds in himself a certain defect, of which he can by no means
rid himself, there remains but to accept the so-called failing as a
natural quality. The more grave and important the defect, the more
urgent is the need to ennoble it. From sublime to ridiculous is only
one step, and an ineradicable vice in strong men is always rechristened
a virtue.


On the whole, there is little to choose between metaphysics and
positivism. In each there is the same horizon, but the composition and
colouring are different. Positivism chooses grey, colourless paint
and ordinary composition; metaphysics prefers brilliant colouring
and complicated design, and always carries the vision away into the
infinite; in which trick it often succeeds, owing to its skill in
perspective. But the canvas is impervious, there is no melting through
it into "the other world." Nevertheless, skilful perspectives are very
alluring, so that metaphysicians will still have something to quarrel
about with the positivists.


The task of a writer: to go forward and share his impressions with his
reader. In spite of everything to the contrary, he is not obliged to
_prove_ anything. But, because every step of his progress is dogged by
those police agents, morality, science, logic, and so forth, he needs
always to have ready some sort of argument with which to frustrate
them. There is no necessity to trouble too deeply about the quality
of the argumentation. Why fret about being "inwardly right." It is
quite enough if the reasoning which comes handiest will succeed in
occupying those guardians of the verbal highways whose intention it is
to obstruct his passage.


The Secret of Poushkin's "inner harmony."--To Poushkin nothing was
hopeless. Nay, he saw hopeful signs in everything. It is agreeable to
sin, and it is just as delightful to repent. It is good to doubt, but
it is still better to believe. It is jolly "with feet shod in steel"
to skate the ice, it is pleasant to wander about with gypsies, to pray
in church, to quarrel with a friend, to make peace with an enemy, to
swoon on waves of harmony, to weep over a passing fancy, to recall the
past, to peep into the future. Poushkin could cry hot tears, and he who
can weep can hope. "I want to live, so that I may think and suffer," he
says; and it seems as if the word "to suffer," which is so beautiful
in the poem, just fell in accidentally, because there was no better
rhyme in Russian for "to die." The later verses, which are intended to
amplify _to think and to suffer,_ prove this. Poushkin might repeat the
words of the ancient hero: "danger is dangerous to others, but not to
me." Therein lies the secret of his harmonious moods.


The well-trodden field of contemporary thought should be dug up.
Therefore, on every possible occasion, in season and out, the
generally-accepted truths must be ridiculed to death, and paradoxes
uttered in their place. Then we shall see....


What is a Weltanschauung, a world-conception, a philosophy? As we all
know, Turgenev was a realist, and from the first he tried to portray
life truthfully. Although we had had no precise exponents of realism,
yet after Poushkin it was impossible for a Russian writer to depart too
far from actuality. Even those who did not know what to do with "real
life" had to cope with it as best they could. Hence, in order that
the picture of life should not prove too depressing, the writer must
provide himself in due season with a philosophy. This philosophy still
plays the part of the magic wand in literature, enabling the author to
turn anything he likes into anything else.

Most of Turgenev's works are curious in respect of philosophy. But most
curious is his _Diary of a Superfluous Man_. Turgenev was the first to
introduce the term "a superfluous man" into Russian literature. Since
then an endless amount has been written about superfluous people,
although up till now nothing important has been added to what was
already said fifty years ago. There are superfluous people, plenty of
them. But what is to be done with them? No one knows. There remains
only to invent philosophies on their behalf. In 1850 Turgenev, then
a young man, thus solved the problem. He ends the _Diary_--with a
humorous postscript, supposed to have been scribbled by an impertinent
reader on the last fly-leaf of the MS.

_This MS. was ready and contents thereof disapproved_,

_by Peter Zudotyeshin. M.M.M.M_.

_Dear Sir, Peter Zudotyeshin, My dear Sir_.

It is obvious Turgenev felt that after a tragedy must follow a farce,
and therein lies the substance of his philosophy. It is also obvious
that in this feeling he has the whole of European civilisation behind
him. Turgenev was the most educated, the most cultured of all Russian
writers. He spent nearly all his life abroad, and absorbed into himself
all that European learning could offer. He knew this, although he never
directly admitted it, owing to an exaggerated modesty which sometimes
irritates us by its obviousness. He believed profoundly that only
learning, only European science could open men's eyes to life, and
explain all that needed explanation. According to this belief he judges
even Tolstoy. "The saddest instance of the lack of real freedom," the
sixty-year-old Turgenev writes _of War and Peace_, in his literary
memoirs: "the saddest instance of the lack of real freedom, arising
from the lack of real knowledge, is revealed to us in Leo Tolstoy's
latest work, a work which at the same time, by virtue of its creative,
poetic force, ranks almost first among all that has appeared in
Russian literature since 1840. No! without culture, without freedom in
the widest sense, freedom within oneself, freedom from preconceived
ideas, freedom with regard to one's own nation and history, without
this, the real artist is unthinkable; without this free air he cannot
breathe." Listening to Turgenev one might imagine that he had learned
some great secret in the West, a secret which gave him the right to
bear himself cheerfully and modestly when other people despaired and
lost their heads.... A year after the writing of the literary memoirs
above quoted, Turgenev happened to be present at the execution of the
notorious murderer, Tropman. His impressions are superbly rendered in a
long article called "Tropman's Execution." The description produces a
soul-shaking effect upon the reader; for I think I shall not exaggerate
if I say that the essay is one of the best, at least one of the most
vigorous of Turgenev's writings. It is true that Tolstoy describes
scenes of slaughter with no less vigour, and therefore the reader need
not yield too much to the artist's power. Yet when Turgenev relates
that, at the decisive moment, when the executioners like spiders on
a fly threw themselves on Tropman and bore him to the ground--"the
earth quietly swam away from under my feet"--we are forced to believe
him. Men respond only faintly to the horrors that take place around
them, except at moments, when the savage, crying incongruity and
ghastliness of our condition suddenly reveals itself vivid before our
eyes, and we are forced to know what we are. Then the ground slides
away from under our feet. But not for long. The horror of the sensation
of groundlessness quickly brings man to himself. He must forget
everything, he must only get his feet on earth again. In this sense
Turgenev proved himself in as risky a state at sixty as he was when, as
a young man, he wrote his _Diary of a Superfluous Man._ The description
of Tropman's execution ends with these words: "Who can fail to feel
that the question of capital punishment is one of the urgent, immediate
problems which modern humanity must settle? I shall be satisfied ...
if my story will provide even a few arguments for those who advocate
the abolition, or at least the suppression of the publicity of capital
punishments." Again the mountain has brought forth a mouse. After
a tragedy, a farce. Philosophy enters into her power, and the earth
returns under one's feet.

I emphasise and repeat: Turgenev is not alone responsible for his
attitude. With his lips speaks the whole of European civilisation. On
principle all insoluble problems are rejected. During her thousand
years of experience, the old civilisation has acquired the skill which
allows her children to derive satisfaction and benefit out of anything,
even the blood of their neighbour. Even the greatest horrors, even
crimes are beneficial, properly construed. Turgenev was, as we know,
a soft, "humane" man, an undoubted idealist. In his youth he had been
through the Hegelian school. And from Hegel he learned what an enormous
value education has, and how supremely important it is for an educated
man to have a complete and finished--most certainly a "finished"


To praise oneself is considered improper, immodest; to praise one's
own sect, one's own philosophy, is considered the highest duty. Even
the best writers have taken at least as much trouble to glorify their
philosophy as to found it, and have always had more success in the
former case than in the latter. Their ideas, whether proven or not, are
the dearest possession in life to them, in sorrow a consolation, in
difficulty a source of counsel. Even death is not terrible to ideas;
they will follow man beyond the grave, they are the only imperishable
riches. All this the philosophers repeat, very eloquently repeat and
reiterate concerning their ideas, not less skilfully than advocates
plead their cases on behalf of thieves and swindlers. But nobody has
ever yet called a philosopher "a hired conscience," though everybody
gives the lawyer this nickname. Why this partiality?


Certain savage tribes believe that their kings need no food, neither
to eat nor to drink. As a matter of fact, kings eat and drink, and
even relish a good mouthful more than ordinary mortals. So, having
no desire, even for the sake of form, to abstain too long, they not
infrequently interrupt the long-drawn-out religious ceremonies of
their tribes, in order to command refreshment for their frail bodies.
But none must witness, or even be aware of this refreshing, and so
while he eats the king is hidden within a purple pall. Metaphysicians
remind one of these savage kings. They want everyone to believe that
empiricism, which means all reality and substantial existence, is
nothing to them, they need only pure ideas for their existence. In
order to keep up this fiction, they appear before the world invested
in a purple veil of fine words. The crowd knows perfectly well that
it is all a take-in, but since it likes shows and bright colours, and
since also it has no ambition to appear too knowing, it rarely betrays
that it has caught the trick of the comedy. On the contrary, it loves
to pretend to be fooled, knowing by instinct that actors always do
their best when the audience believes implicitly in what happens. Only
inexperienced youths and children, unaware of the great importance of
the conventional attitude, now and then cry out in indignation and
give the lie to the performance: like the child in Andersen's story,
who so unexpectedly and inopportunely broke the general, deliberate
illusion by calling out--"But the king is naked." Of course everybody
knows without telling that the king is naked: that the metaphysicians
not only are unable to explain anything, but that hitherto they
have not been able to present even a single hypothesis free from
contradiction. It is necessary to pretend to believe that kings eat
nothing, that philosophers have divined the secrets of the universe,
that arbitrary theories are more precious than empirical harvests, and
so on. There remains only one difficulty: grownups may be won over to
the conventional lie, but what about the children? With them the only
remedy is the Pythagorean system of upbringing, so glorified by Hegel.
Children must keep silent and not raise their voice until they realise
that _some_ things may not be talked about. This is our method. With
us pupils remain silent, not only for five years, as the Pythagoreans
recommended, but for ten or more--until they have learned to speak like
their masters. And then they are granted a freedom which is no longer
any good to them. Perhaps they had wings, or might have had them, but
they have crawled all their life long in imitation of their masters,
so how can they now dream of flight? To a well-informed man, who has
studied much, the very thought of the possibility of tearing himself
away from the earth, even for a moment, is horrifying: as if he knew
beforehand what the result would be.


The best, the most effective way of convincing a reader is to begin
one's argument with inoffensive, commonplace assertions. When suspicion
has been sufficiently lulled, and a certainty has been begot that what
follows will be a confirmation of the readers own accepted views--then
has the moment arrived to speak one's mind openly, but still in the
same easy tone, as if there were no break in the flow of truisms. The
logical connection is unimportant. Consequence of manner and intonation
is much more impressive than consequence of ideas. The thing to do is
to go on, in the same suave tone, from uttering a series of banalities
to expressing a new and dangerous thought, without any break. If you
succeed in this, the business is done. The reader will not forget--the
new words will plague and torment him until he has accepted them.


The habit of logical thinking kills imagination. Man is convinced that
the only way to truth is through logic, and that any departure from
this way leads to error and absurdity. The nearer we approach the
ultimate questions of existence, in our departure from logicality,
the more deadly becomes the state of error we fall into. The Ariadne
ball has become all unwound long ago, and man is at the end of the
tether. But he does not know, he holds the end of the thread firmly,
and marks time with energy on the same spot, imagining his progress,
and little realising the ridiculous situation into which he has
fallen. How should he realise, considering the innumerable precautions
he has taken to prevent himself from losing the logical way? He had
better have stayed at home. Once he set out, once he decided to be
a Theseus and kill the Minotaur, he should have given himself up,
forfeited the old attachment, and been ready _never to escape from the
labyrinth_. True, he would have risked losing Ariadne: and this is
why long journeys should be undertaken only after family connections
have become a burden. Such being the case, a man deliberately cuts
the thread which binds him to hearth and home, so that he may have a
legitimate excuse to his conscience for not going back. Philosophy must
have nothing in common with logic; philosophy is an art which aims at
breaking the logical continuity of argument and bringing man out on
the shoreless sea of imagination, the fantastic tides where everything
is equally possible and impossible. Certainly it is difficult, given
sedentary habits of life, to be a good philosopher. The fact that the
fate of philosophy has ever lain in the hands of professors can only be
explained by the reluctance of the envious gods to give omniscience to
mortals. Whilst stay-at-home persons are searching for truth, the apple
will stay on the tree. The business must be undertaken by homeless
adventurers, born nomads, to whom _ubi bene ibi patria_. It seems to me
that but for his family and his domesticity, Count Tolstoy, who lives
to such a ripe old age, might have told us a great many important and
interesting things. Or, perhaps, had he not married, like Nietzsche
he would have gone mad. "If you turn to the right, you will marry, if
to the left, you will be killed." A true philosopher never chooses
the middle course; he needs no riches, he does not know what to do
with money. But whether he turns to the right or to the left, nothing
pleasant awaits him.


Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar. Culture is an age-long
development, and sudden grafting of it upon a race rarely succeeds.
To us in Russia, civilisation came suddenly, whilst we were still
savages. At once she took upon herself the responsibilities of a tamer
of wild animals, first working with decoys and baits, and later, when
she felt her power, with threats. We quickly submitted. In a short
time we were swallowing in enormous doses those poisons which Europe
had been gradually accustoming herself to, gradually assimilating
through centuries. Thanks to which, the transplanting of civilisation
into Russia turns out to be no mild affair. A Russian had only to
catch a whiff of European atmosphere, and his head began to swim. He
interpreted in his own way, savage-like, whatever he heard of western
success. Hearing about railways, agricultural machines, schools,
municipalities, his imagination painted miracles: universal happiness,
boundless freedom, paradise, wings, etc. And the more impossible his
dreams, the more eager he was to believe them real. How disillusioned
with Europe the westerner _Herzen_ became, after living for years on
end abroad! Yet, with all his acuteness, it did not occur to him that
Europe was not in the least to blame for his disillusionment. Europe
had dropped miracles ages ago; she contented herself with ideals. It
is we in Russia who will go on confusing miracles with ideals, as if
the two were identical, whereas they have nothing to do with each
other. As a matter of fact, just because Europe had ceased to believe
in miracles, and realised that all human problems resolve down to mere
arrangements here on earth, ideas and ideals had been invented. But
the Russian bear crept out of his hole and strolled to Europe for the
elixir of life, the flying carpet, the seven-leagued shoes, and so on,
thinking in all his naïveté that railways and electricity were signs
which clearly proved that the old nurse never told a lie in her fairy
tales.... All this happened just at the moment when Europe had finally
made away with alchemy and astrology, and started on the positive
researches resulting in chemistry and astronomy.


The first assumption of all metaphysics is, that by dialectic
development of any concept a whole system can be evolved. Of course the
initial concept, the _a priori_, is generally unsound, so there is no
need to mention the deductions. But since it is very difficult in the
realm of abstract thought to distinguish a lie from truth, metaphysical
systems often have a very convincing appearance. The chief defect only
appears incidentally, when the taste for dialectic play becomes blunted
in man, as it did in Turgenev towards the end of his life, so that he
realises the uselessness of philosophical systems. It is related that
a famous mathematician, after hearing a musical symphony to the end,
inquired, "What does it prove?" Of course, it proves nothing, except
that the mathematician had no taste for music. And to him who has no
taste for dialectics, metaphysics can prove nothing, either. Therefore,
those who are interested in the success of metaphysics must always
encourage the opinion that a taste for dialectics is a high distinction
in a man, proving the loftiness of his soul.


Man is used to having convictions, so there we are. We can none of us
do without our hangers-on, though we despise them at the bottom of our


Socrates and Plato tried to determine under the shifting change of
appearance the immutable, unchanging reality. In the Platonic "ideas"
the attempt was incarnated. The visible reality, never true to itself,
assuming numberless varying forms, this is not the genuine reality.
That which is real must be constant. Hence the ideas of objects are
real, and the objects themselves are fictitious. Thus the root of
the Platonic philosophy appears to be a fundamental defect in human
reasoning--a defect regarded as the highest merit. It is difficult
for the philosopher to get a good grasp of this agitated, capricious
life, and so he decides that it is not life at all, but a figment.
Dialectics is supreme only over general concepts--and the general
concepts are promoted to an ideal. Since Plato and Socrates, only
such philosophers have succeeded largely who have taught that the
unchangeable is preferable to the changeable, the eternal to the
temporal. The ordinary individual, who lives unconsciously, never
reckoning his spiritual credit against his spiritual debit, naturally
regards the philosopher as his legitimate book-keeper, keeper of
the soul's accounts. Already in Greece the Athenian youth watched
with passionate interest the dexterity which Socrates displayed in
his endeavour to restore by means of dialectics the lost "ultimate
foundations" of human conduct. Now in book-keeping, as we are aware,
not a single farthing must disappear untraceably. Socrates was trying
to come up to expectations. The balance between man's spiritual assets
and liabilities was with him ideally established. Perhaps in this
lies the secret of that strange attraction he exerted even over such
volatile and unsteady natures as that of Alcibiades, drawing the young
men to him so that they were attached to him with all their soul.
Alcibiades had long since lost all count of his spiritual estate, and
therefore from time to time he had need to recourse to Socrates, who
by speeches and dissertations could bring order into chaos and harmony
into the spiritual confusion of his young friend. Alcibiades turned to
Socrates to be relieved. Of course, he sought relief in order that
he might begin again his riotous living: rest is so sweet to a tired
man. But to conclude that because Alcibiades exhausted himself, and
because rest is sweet, therefore all men must rest, this is absurd. Yet
Socrates dictated this conclusion, in all his ideas. He wished that
all men should rest, rest through eternity, that they should see their
highest fulfilment in this resting. It is easier to judge of Socrates
since we have Count Tolstoy with us. Probably the physiognomist Topir
would say of Tolstoy as he said of Socrates, that there are many evil
propensities lurking in him. Topir is not here to speak, but Tolstoy
has told us himself how wicked he found his own nature, how he had to
struggle with it. Tolstoy is not naturally over-courageous; by long
effort he has trained himself to be bold. How afraid of death he was
in his youth And how cleverly he could conceal that fear. Later on,
in mature age, it was still the fear of death which inspired him to
write his confession. He was conquering that fear, and with it all
other fears. For he felt that, since fear is very difficult to master
in oneself, man must be a much higher being when he has learned not
to be afraid any more. Meanwhile, who knows? Perhaps "cowardice,"
that miserable, despicable, much-abused weakness of the underworld,
is not such a vice after all. Perhaps it is even a virtue. Think of
Dostoevsky and his heroes, think of Hamlet. If the underworld man in us
were afraid of nothing, if Hamlet was naturally a gladiator, then we
should have neither tragic poetry nor philosophy. It is a platitude,
that fear of death has been the inspiration of philosophers. Numberless
quotations could be drawn from ancient and modern writers, if they
were necessary. Maybe the poetic daimon of Socrates, which made him
wise, was only fear personified. Or perhaps it was his dark dreams.
That which troubled him by day did not quit him by night. Even after
the sentence of death Socrates dreamed that he ought to engage in the
arts, so in order not to provoke the gods he began to compose verses,
at the age of seventy. Tolstoy also at the age of fifty began to
perform good deeds, to which performance he had previously given not
the slightest attention. If it were our custom nowadays to express
ourselves mythologically, we should no doubt hear Tolstoy telling us
about his daimon or his dreams. Instead he squares his accounts with
science and morality, in place of gods or demons. Many a present-day
Alcibiades, who laves all the week in the muddy waters of life, comes
on Sundays to cleanse himself in the pure stream of Tolstoyian ideas.
Book-keeping is satisfied with this modest success, and assumes that
if it commands universal attention one day in the week, then obviously
it is the sum and essence of life, beyond which man needs nothing. On
the same grounds the keepers of public baths could argue that, since
so many people come to them on Saturdays, therefore cleanliness is the
highest ambition of man, and during the week no one should stir at all,
lest he sweat or soil himself.


In an old French writer, a contemporary of Pascal, I came across
the following remarkable words: "L'homme est si miserable que
_l'inconstance avec laquelle il abandonne ses desseins est, en quelque
sorte, sa plus grande vertu_; parce qu'il temoigne par là qu'il y a
encore en lui quelque reste de grandeur qui le porte à se dégouter de
choses qui ne méritent pas son amour et son estime." What a long way
modern thought has travelled from even the possibility of such an
assumption. To consider inconstancy the finest human virtue! Surely in
order to get somewhere in life it is necessary to give the whole self,
one's whole energy to the service of some one particular purpose. In
order to be a _virtuoso_, a master of one's art and one's instrument,
it is necessary with a truly angelic or asinine patience to try over
and over again, dozens, hundreds, thousands of times, different ways
of expressing one's ideas or moods, sparing neither labour, nor time,
nor health. Everything else must take a second place. The first must
be occupied by "the Art." Goncharov, in his novel _Obryv_, cleverly
relates how a 'cellist struggled all day, like a fish against the ice,
sawing and sawing away, so that later on, in the evening, he might play
super-excellently well. And that is the general idea. Objectionable,
tedious, irritating labour,--this is the condition of genius, which no
doubt explains the reason why men so rarely achieve anything. Genius
must submit to cultivate an ass within itself--the condition being so
humiliating that man will seldom take up the job. The majority prefer
talent, that medium which lies between genius and mediocrity. And many
a time, towards the end of life, does the genius repent of his choice.
"It would be better not to startle the world, but to live at one with
it," says Ibsen in his last drama. Genius is a wretched, blind maniac,
whose eccentricities are condoned because of what is got from him. And
still we all bow to persevering talent, to the only god in whom we
moderns believe, and the eulogy of inconstancy will awake very little
sympathy in our hearts. Probably we shall not even regard it seriously.


We very often express in a categorical form a judgment of which we do
not feel assured, we even lay stress on its absolute validity. We want
to see what opposition it will arouse, and this can be achieved only by
stating our assumption not as a tentative suggestion, which no one will
consider, but as an irrefutable, all-important truth. The greater the
value an assumption has for us, the more carefully do we conceal any
suggestion of its improbability.


Literature deals with the most difficult and important problems of
existence, and, therefore, littérateurs consider themselves the most
important of people. A bank clerk, who is always handing money out,
might just as well consider himself a millionaire. The high estimate
placed upon unexplained, unsolved questions ought really to discredit
writers in our eyes. And yet these literary men are so clever, so
cunning at stating their own case and revealing the high importance of
their mission, that in the long run they convince everybody, themselves
most of all. This last event is surely owing to their own limited
intelligence. The Romans augurs had subtler, more versatile minds. In
order to deceive others, they had no need to deceive themselves. In
their own set they were not afraid to talk about their secrets, even
to make fun of them, being fully confident that they could easily
vindicate themselves before outsiders, in case of necessity, and pull
a solemn face befitting the occasion. But our writers of to-day,
before they can lay their improbable assertions before the public,
must inevitably try to be convinced in their own minds. Otherwise they
cannot begin.


"The writer is writing away, the reader is reading away"--the writer
doesn't care what the reader is after, the reader doesn't care what the
writer is about. Such a state of things hurt Schedrin very much. He
would have liked it different; no sooner has the writer said a word,
than the reader at once scales the wall. This was his ideal. But the
reader is by no means so naive as all that. He prefers to rest easy,
and insists that the writer shall climb the wall for him. So those
authors succeed with the public who write "with their heart's blood."
Conventional tournaments, even the most brilliant, do not attract the
masses any more than the connoisseurs. People rush to see a fight of
gladiators, where awaits them a scent of real, hot, smoking blood,
where they are going to see real, not pretended victims.

Thus many writers, like gladiators, shed their blood to gratify that
modern Caesar, the mob. "_Salve, Caesar, morituri te salutant_!"


Anton Tchekhov tells the truth neither out of love or respect for the
truth, nor yet because, in the Kantian manner, a high duty bids him
never to tell a lie, even to escape death. Neither has he the impulse
which so often pushes young and fiery souls into rashness; that desire
to stand erect, to keep the head high. On the contrary, Tchekhov always
walks with a stoop, his head bent down, never fixing his eyes on the
heavens, since he will read no signs there. If he tells the truth, it
is because the most reeking lie no longer intoxicates him, even though
he swallow it not in the modest doses that idealism offers, but in
immoderate quantities, thousand-gallon-barrel gulps. He would taste the
bitterness, but it would not make his head turn, as it does Schiller's,
or Dostoevsky's, or even Socrates', whose head, as we know, could stand
any quantity of wine, but went spinning with the most commonplace lie.


_Noblesse Oblige_.--The moment of obligation, compulsion, duty, that
moment described by Kant as the essential, almost the only predicate
of moral concepts, serves chiefly to indicate that Kant was modest in
himself and in his attitude towards all whom he addressed, perceiving
in all men beings subject to the ennobling effect of morality.
_Noblesse oblige_ is a motto not for the aristocracy, which recognises
in its privileges its own instant duties, but for the self-made,
wealthy _parvenues_ who pant for an illustrious title. They have
been accustomed to telling lies, to playing poltroon, swindling, and
meanness, and the necessity for speaking the truth impartially, for
bravely facing danger, for freely giving of their fortunes scares
them beyond measure. Therefore it is necessary that they should
repeat it to themselves and to their children, in whose veins the
lying, sneaking blood still runs, hourly, lest they forget: "You must
not tell lies, you must be open, magnanimous." It is silly, it is
incomprehensible--but "_noblesse oblige_."


_Homo homini lupus_ is one of the most steadfast maxims of eternal
morality. In each of our neighbours we fear a wolf. "This fellow is
evil-minded, if he is not restrained by law he will ruin us," so we
think every time a man gets out of the rut of sanctified tradition.

The fear is just. We are so poor, so weak, so easily ruined and
destroyed! How can we help being afraid! And yet, behind danger and
menace there is usually hidden something significant, which merits
our close and sympathetic attention. But fear's eyes are big. We see
danger, danger only, we build up a fabric of morality inside which
as in a fortress we sit out of danger all our lives. Only poets have
undertaken to praise dangerous people--Don Juans, Fausts, Tannhaüsers.
But nobody takes the poets seriously. Common-sense values a
commercial-traveller or a don much more highly than a Byron, a Goethe,
or a Molière.


The possibilities which open out before mankind are sufficiently
limited. It is impossible to see everything, impossible to know
everything, impossible to rise too high above the earth, impossible
to penetrate too deeply down. What has been is hidden away, what will
be we cannot anticipate, and we know for certain that we shall never
grow wings. Regularity, immutably regular succession of phenomena puts
a term to our efforts, drives us into a regular, narrow, hard-beaten
road of everyday life. But even on this road we may not wander from
side to side. We must watch our feet, consider each step, since the
moment we are off our guard disaster is upon us. Another life is
conceivable, however: life in which the word disaster does not exist,
where responsibility for one's actions, even if it be not completely
abolished, at least has not such a deadly and accidental weight,
and where, on the other hand, there is no "regularity," but rather
an infinite number of possibilities. In such a life the sense of
fear--most disgraceful to us--disappears. There the virtues are not
the same as ours. Fearlessness in face of danger, liberality, even
lavishness are considered virtues with us, but they are respected
without any grounds. Socrates was quite right when he argued that not
all courage, but only the courage which measures beforehand the risks
and the chances of victory, is fully justifiable. To the same extent
those economical, careful people who condemn lavishness are in the
right. Fearlessness and lavishness do not suit mortal men, rather it
becomes them to tremble and to count every penny, seeing what a state
of poverty and impotence they exist in. That is why these two virtues
are so rarely met with, and when they are met, why they arouse such
superstitious reverence in the crowd. "This man fears nothing and
spares nothing: he is probably not a man, but a demi-god, perhaps even
a god." Socrates did not believe in gods, so he wanted to justify
virtue by reason. Kant also did not believe in God, and therefore he
derived his morals from "Law." But if there is God, and all men are the
children of God, then we should be afraid of nothing and spare nothing.
And then the man who madly dissipates his own life and fortunes, and
the lives and fortunes of others, is more right than the calculating
philosophers who vainly seek to regulate mankind on earth.


Moral people are the most revengeful of mankind, they employ their
morality as the best and most subtle weapon of vengeance. They are
not satisfied with simply despising and condemning their neighbour
_themselves_, they want the condemnation to be universal and supreme:
that is, that all men should rise as one against the condemned, _and
that even the offender's own conscience shall be against him_. Then
only are they fully satisfied and reassured. Nothing on earth but
morality could lead to such wonderful results.


_Inveterate wickedness_.--Heretics were often most bitterly persecuted
for their least digression from accepted belief. It was just their
obstinacy in trifles that irritated the righteous to madness. "Why
can they not yield on so trifling a matter? They cannot possibly have
serious cause for opposition. They only want to grieve us, to spite
us." So the hatred mounted up, piles of faggots and torture machines
appeared against obdurate wickedness.


I do not know where I came across the remark, whether in Tolstoy or
Turgenev, that those who have been subjected to trial in the courts
of justice always acquire a particularly noble expression of face.
Although logic does so earnestly recommend caution in the forming
of contradictory conclusions, come what may I shall for once risk a
deduction: a noble expression of face is a sign that a man has been
under trial--but certainly not a trial for political crime--for theft
or bribe-taking.


The most important and significant revelations come into the world
naked, without a wordy garment. To find words for them is a delicate,
difficult business, a whole art. Stupidities and banalities, on the
contrary, appear at once in ready-made apparel, gaudy even if shabby.
So that they are ready straight away to be presented to the public.


A strange impatience has taken possession of Russian writers lately.
They are all running a race after the "ultimate words." They have no
doubt that the ultimate words will be attained. The question is, who
will lay hold of them first.


The appearance of Socrates on the philosophic horizon is hailed by
historians as the greatest event. Morals were beginning to work
loose, Athens was threatened with ruin. Socrates' mission was to put
an end to the violent oscillation in moral judgments which extreme
individualism on the one hand and the relativism of the sophists on
the other had set up. The great teacher did all he could. He gave
up his usual occupations and his family life, he took no thought for
the morrow, he taught, taught, taught--simple people or eminent, wise
or foolish, ignorant or learned. Notwithstanding, he did not save
the country. Under Pericles, Athens flourished without wisdom, or at
least independently of Socratic wisdom. After Pericles, in spite of
the fact that the Socratic teaching found such a genius as Plato to
continue it, Athens steadily declined, and Aristotle is already master
to the son of Philip of Macedon. Whence it is obvious that the wisdom
of Socrates had not saved the country, and as this had been its chief
object, it had failed in its object, and therefore was not worthy of
the exaggerated respect it received. It is necessary to find some
justification for philosophy other than country-saving. This would
be the easiest thing in the world. But altogether we must give up
the favourite device of the philosophers, of looking to find in the
well-being of society the _raison d'être_ of philosophy. At the best,
the trick was a risky one. As a rule, wisdom goes one way, society the
other. They are artificially connected. It is public orators who have
trained both the philosophers and the masses to regard as worthy of
attention only those considerations which have absolutely everything on
their side: social utility, morality, even metaphysical wisdom.... Why
so much? Is it not sufficient if some new project will prove useful?
Why try to get the sanction of morality and metaphysics? Nay, once the
laws of morality are autonomous, and once ideas are allowed to stand
above the empirical needs of mankind, it is impossible to balance ideas
and morality with social requirements, or even with the salvation of
the Country from ruin. _Pereat mundus, fiat philosophia_. If Athens
was ruined because of philosophy, philosophy is not impugned. So the
autonomous thinker should hold. But _de facto_ a thinker does not like
quarrelling with his country.


When a writer has to express an idea whose foundation he has not
been able to establish, and which yet is dear to his heart, so that
he earnestly wishes to secure its general acceptance, as a rule he
interrupts his exposition, as if to take breath, and makes a small, or
at times a serious digression, during which he proves the invalidity
of this or that proposition, often without any reference to his
real theme. Having triumphantly exposed one or more absurdities, and
thus acquired the aplomb of a solid expert, he returns to his proper
task, calculating that now he will inspire his reader with greater
confidence. His calculation is perfectly justified. The reader is
afraid to attack such a skilled dialectician, and prefers to agree
rather than to risk himself in argument. Not even the greatest
intellects, particularly in philosophy, disdain such stratagems. The
idealists, for example, before expounding their theories, turn and rend
materialism. The materialists, we remember, at one time did the same
with the idealists, and achieved a vast success.


Theories of sequence and consequence are binding only upon the
disciples, not upon the masters. Fathers of great ideas tend to be
very, careless about their progeny, giving very little heed to their
future career. The offspring of one and the same philosopher frequently
bear such small resemblance to one another, that it is impossible to
discern the family connection. Conscientious disciples, wasting away
under the arduous effort to discover that which does not exist, are
brought to despair of their task. Having got an inkling of the truth
concerning their difficulty, they give up the job for ever, they cease
their attempt at reconciling glaring contradictions. But then they only
insist the harder upon the necessity for studying the philosophers,
studying them minutely, circumstantially, historically, philologically
even. So the history of philosophy is born, which now is taking the
place of philosophy. Certainly the history of philosophy may be an
exact science, since by means of historical research it is often
possible to decide what exactly a certain philosopher did mean, and in
what sense he employed his peculiar terms. And seeing that there have
been a fair number of philosophers, the business of clearing them all
up is a respectable undertaking, and deserves the name of a science.
For a good translation or a commentary on the chief works of Kant a
man may be given the degree of doctor of philosophy, and henceforth
recognised as one who is initiated in the profundities of the secrets
of the universe. Then why ever should anybody think out new systems--or
even write them?

The raptures of creative activity!--empty words, invented by men who
never had an opportunity of judging from their own experience, but who
derive their conclusion syllogistically: "if a creation gives us such
delight, what must the creator himself experience!" Usually the creator
feels only vexations. Every creation is created out of the Void. At the
best, the maker finds himself confronted with a formless, meaningless,
usually obstinate and stiff matter, which yields reluctantly to
form. And he does not know how to begin. Every time a new thought is
gendered, so often must that new thought, which for the moment seems
so brilliant and fascinating, be thrown aside as worthless. Creative
activity is a continual progression from failure to failure, and the
condition of the creator is usually one of uncertainty, mistrust, and
shattered nerves. The more serious and original the task which a man
sets himself, the more tormenting is the self-misgiving. For this
reason even men of genius cannot keep up the creative activity to the
last. As soon as they have acquired their technique, they begin to
repeat themselves, well aware that the public willingly endures the
monotony of a favourite, even finds virtue in it. Every connoisseur of
art is satisfied if he recognises in a new work the accepted "manner"
of the artist. Few realise that the acquiring of a manner is the
beginning of the end. Artists realise well enough, and would be glad
to be rid of their manner, which seems to them a hackneyed affair. But
this requires too great a strain on their powers, new torments, doubts,
new groping. He who has once been through the creative raptures is not
easily tempted to try again. He prefers to turn out work according
to the pattern he has evolved, calmly and securely, assured of his
results. Fortunately no one except himself knows that he is not any
longer a creator. What a lot of secrets there are in the world, and how
easy it is to keep one's secret safe from indiscreet glances!


A writer works himself up to a pitch of ecstasy, otherwise he does
not take up his pen. But ecstasy is not so easily distinguished from
other kinds of excitement. And as a writer is always in haste to write,
he has rarely the patience to wait, but at the first promptings of
animation begins to pour himself forth. So in the name of ecstasy we
are offered such quantities of banal, by no means ecstatic effusions.
Particularly easy it is to confound with ecstasy that very common
sort of spring-time liveliness which in our language is well-named
calf-rapture. And calf-rapture is much more acceptable to the public
than true inspiration or genuine transport. It is easier, more familiar.


A school axiom: logical scepticism refutes itself, since the denial
of the possibility of positive knowledge is already an affirmation.
But, in the first place, scepticism is not bound to be logical, for
it has no desire whatever to gratify that dogma which raises logic to
the position of law. Secondly, where is the philosophic theory which,
if carried to its extreme, would not destroy itself? Therefore, why is
more demanded from scepticism than from other systems? especially from
scepticism, which honestly avows that it cannot give that which all
other theories claim to give.


The Aristotelian logic, which forms the chief component in modern
logic, arose, as we know, as a result of the permanent controversies
which were such sport to the Greeks. In order to argue, it is indeed
necessary to have a common ground; in other words, to agree about the
rules of the game. But in our day dialectic tournaments, like all
other bouts of contention, no longer attract people. Thus logic may be
relegated to the background.


In Gogol's _Portrait_, the artist despairs at the thought that he has
sacrificed art for the sake of "life." In Ibsen's drama, _When We Dead
Awaken_, there is also an artist, who has become world-famous, and who
repents that he has sacrificed his life--to art. Now, choose--which of
the two ways of repentance do you prefer?


Man is often quite indifferent to success whilst he has it. But once he
loses his power over people, he begins to fret. And--vice versa.


Turgenev's Insarov strikes the imagination of Elena because he is a
man preparing for battle. She prefers him to Shubin the painter, or to
Berseniev the savant. Since ancient days women have looked with favour
on warriors rather than on peaceful men. Had Turgenev invested that
idea with less glamour, he would probably not have become the ideal of
the young. Who does not get a thrill from Elena and her elect? Who has
not felt the fascination of Turgenev's women! And yet all of them give
themselves to the _strong_ male. With such "superior people," as with
beasts, the males fight with each other, the woman looks on, and when
it is over, she submits herself the slave of the conqueror.


A caterpillar is transformed into a chrysalis, and for a long
time lives in a warm, quiet little world. Perhaps if it had human
consciousness it would declare that _that_ world was the best, perhaps
the only one possible to live in. But there comes a time when some
unknown influence causes the little creature to begin the work of
destruction. If other caterpillars could see it how horrified they
would be, revolted to the bottom of their soul by the awful work in
which the insurgent is engaged. They would call it immoral, godless,
they would begin to talk about pessimism, scepticism, and so on. To
destroy what has cost such labour to construct! Why, what is wrong
with this complete, cosy, comfortable little world? To keep it intact
they call to their aid sacred morality and the idealistic theory of
knowledge. Nobody cares that the caterpillar has grown wings, that when
it has nibbled its old nest away it will fly out into space--nobody
gives a thought to this.

Wings--that is mysticism; self-nibbling--this is actuality. Those who
are engaged in such actuality deserve torture and execution. And there
are plenty of prisons and voluntary hangmen on the bright earth. The
majority of books are prisons, and great authors are not bad hangmen.


Nietzsche and Dostoevsky seem to be typical "inverted simulators," if
one may use the expression. They imitated spiritual sanity, although
they were spiritually insane. They knew their morbidity well enough,
but they exhibited their disease only to that extent where freakishness
passes for originality. With the sensitiveness peculiar to all who are
in constant danger, they never went beyond the limits. The axe of the
guillotine of public opinion hung over them: one awkward move, and
the execution automatically takes place. But they knew how to avoid
unwarrantable moves.


The so-called ultimate questions troubled mankind in the world's dawn
as badly as they trouble us now. Adam and Eve wanted "to know," and
they plucked the fruit at their risk. Cain, whose sacrifice did not
please God, raised his hand against his brother: and it seemed to him
he committed murder in the name of justice, in vindication of his
own injured rights. Nobody has ever been able to understand why God
preferred Abel's sacrifice to that of Cain. In our own day Sallieri
repeats Cain's vengeance and poisons his friend and benefactor Mozzart,
according to the poem of Poushkin. "All say, there is no justice on
earth; but there is no justice up above: this is as clear to me as a
simple scale of music." No man on earth can fail to recognise in these
words his own tormenting doubts. The outcome is creative tragedy,
which for some mysterious reason has been considered up till now as
the highest form of human creation. Everything is being unriddled and
explained. If we compare our knowledge with that of the ancients,
we appear very wise. But we are no nearer to solving the riddle
of eternal justice than Cain was. Progress, civilisation, all the
conquests of the human mind have brought us nothing new here. Like our
ancestors, we stand still with fright and perplexity before ugliness,
disease, misery, senility, death. All that the wise men have been able
to do so far is to turn the earthly horrors into problems. We are told
that perhaps all that is horrible only _appears_ horrible, that perhaps
at the end of the long journey something new awaits us. Perhaps! But
the modern educated man, with the wisdom of all the centuries of
mankind at his command, knows no more about it than the old singer
who solved universal problems at his own risk. We, the children of a
moribund civilisation, we, old men from our birth, in this respect are
as young as the first man.


They say it is impossible to set a bound between the "I" and society.
_Naïveté_! Crusoes are to be found not only on desert islands. They
are there, in populous cities. It is true they are not clad in skins,
they have no dark Fridays in attendance, and so nobody recognises them.
But surely Friday and a fur jacket do not make a Crusoe. Loneliness,
desertion, a boundless, shoreless sea, on which no sail has risen for
tens of years,--do not many of our contemporaries live in such a
circumstance? And are they not Crusoes, to whom the rest of people have
become a vague reminiscence, barely distinguishable from a dream?


To be irremediably unhappy--this is shameful. An irremediably unhappy
person is outside the laws of the earth. Any connection between him
and society is severed finally. And since, sooner or later, every
individual is doomed to irremediable unhappiness, _the last word, of
philosophy is loneliness_.


"It is better to be an unhappy man, than a happy pig." The utilitarians
hoped by this golden bridge to get over the chasm which separates them
from the promised land of the ideal. But psychology stepped in and
rudely interrupted: _There are no unhappy people, the unhappy ones are
all pigs_. Dostoevsky's philosopher of the underworld, Raskolnikov,
also Hamlet, and such-like, are not simply unhappy men whose fate
might be esteemed, or even preferred before some happy fates; they
are simply unhappy swine. And they themselves are principally aware of
it.... He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.


If you want people to envy you your sorrow or your shame, look as if
you were proud of it. If you have only enough of the actor in you, rest
assured, you will become the hero of the day. Since the parable of the
Pharisee and the publican was uttered, what a lot of people who could
not fulfil their sacred duties pretended to be publicans and sinners,
and so aroused sympathy, even envy.


Philosophers dearly love to call their utterances "truths," since
in that guise they become binding upon us all. But each philosopher
invents his own truths. Which means that he asks his pupils to deceive
themselves in the way he shows, but that he reserves for himself the
option of deceiving himself in his own way. Why? Why not allow everyone
to deceive himself just as he likes?


When Xanthippe poured slops over Socrates, as he returned from his
philosophical occupations, tradition says that he observed: "After a
storm there is always rain." Would it not be more worthy (not of the
philosopher, but of philosophy) to say: After one's philosophical
exercise, one feels as if one had had Slops emptied over one's head.
And therefore Xanthippe did but give outward expression to what had
taken place in Socrates' soul. Symbols are not always beautiful.


From the notes of an underworld man--"I read little, I write little,
and, it seems to me, I think little. He who is ill-disposed towards
me will say that this shows a great defect in my character, perhaps
he will call me lazy, an Oblomov, and will repeat the copy-book maxim
that idleness is the mother of all the vices. A friend, on the other
hand, will say it is only a temporary state, that perhaps I am not
quite well--in short, he will find random excuses for me, more with the
idea of consoling me than of speaking the truth. But for my part, I say
let us wait. If it turns out at the end of my life that I have 'done'
not less than others--why, then--it will mean that idleness may be a


Börne, a contemporary of Heine, was very much offended when his enemies
insisted on explaining his misanthropic outpourings as the result of a
stomach and liver disease. It seemed to him much nobler and loftier to
be indignant and angry because of the triumph of evil on earth, than
because of the disorders of his own physical organs. Sentimentality
apart--was he right, and is it really nobler?


A real writer _disdains_ to repeat from hearsay events which he has
not witnessed. It seems to him tedious and humiliating to tell "in
his own words," like a schoolboy, things which he has fished out of
another man's books. But there--how can we expect him to stoop to such


Whilst conscience stands between the educated and the lower classes,
as the only possible mediator, there can be no hope for mutual
understanding. Conscience demands sacrifices, nothing but sacrifices.
It says to the educated man: "You are happy, well-off, learned--the
people are poor, unhappy, ignorant; renounce therefore your well-being,
or else soothe your conscience with suave speeches." Only he who has
nothing to sacrifice, nothing to lose, having lost everything, can hope
to approach the people as an equal.

This is why Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were not afraid to speak in their
own name, and did not feel compelled either to stretch up or to stoop
down in order to be on a level with men.


Not to know what you want is considered a shameful weakness. To confess
it is to lose for ever not only the reputation of a writer, but even
of a man. None the less, "conscience" demands such a confession. True,
in this case as in most others the demands of conscience are satisfied
only when they incur no very dire consequences. Leaving aside the fact
that people are no longer terrified of the once-so-terrible public
opinion (the public has been tamed, it listens with reverence to what
is told to it, and never dares judge)--the admission "I do not know
myself what I want" seems to offer a guarantee of something important.
Those who know what they want generally want trifles, and attain to
inglorious ends: riches, fame, or at the best, progress or a philosophy
of their own. Even now it is sometimes not a sin to laugh at such
wonders, and may-be the time is coming when a rehabilitated Hamlet will
announce, not with shame but with pride: "I don't in the least know
what I want." And the crowd will applaud him, for the crowd always
applauds heroes and proud men.


Fear of death is explained conclusively by the desire for
self-preservation. But at that rate the fear should disappear in old
and sick people, who ought by nature to look with indifference on
death. Whereas the horror of death is present in all living things.
Does not this suggest that there is still some other reason for the
dread, and that even where the pangs of horror cannot save a man
from his end, still it is a necessary and purposeful anguish? The
natural-scientific explanation here, as usual, stops halfway, and
fails to lead the human mind to the promised goal.


Moral indignation is only a refined form of ancient vengeance. Once
anger spoke with daggers, now words will do. And happy is the man who,
loving and thirsting to chastise his offender, yet is appeased when the
offence is punished. On account of the gratification it offers to the
passions, morality, which has replaced bloody chastisement, will not
easily' lose its charm. But there are offences, deep, unforgettable
offences, inflicted not by people, but by "laws of nature." How are we
to settle these? Here neither dagger nor indignant word will serve.
Therefore, for him who has once run foul of the laws of nature morality
sinks, for ever or for a time, into subsidiary importance.


Fatalism frightens people particularly in that form which holds it just
to say, of anything that happens, or has happened, or will happen: be
it so! How can one acquiesce in the actuality of life, when it contains
so many horrors? But _amor fati_ does not imply eternal acquiescence
in actuality. It is only a truce, for a more or less lasting period.
Time is needed in which to estimate the forces and intentions of the
enemy. Under the mask of friendship the old enmity persists, and an
awful revenge is in preparation.


In the "ultimate questions of life" we are not a bit nearer the truth
than our ancestors were. Everybody knows it, and yet so many go on
talking about infinity, without any hope of ever saying anything. It
is evident that a result--in the usual acceptance of the word--is
not necessary. In the very last resort we trust to instinct, even in
the field of philosophy, where reason is supposed to reign supreme,
uttering its eternal "Why?" "Why?" laughs at all possible "becauses."
Instinct, however, does not mock. It simply ignores the whys, and
leads us by impossible ways to ends that our divine reason would hold
absurd, if it could only see them in time. But reason is a laggard,
without much foresight, and, therefore, when we have run up to an
unexpected conclusion, nothing remains but for reason to accept: or
even to justify, to exalt the new event. And therefore,--"reality is
reasonable," say the philosophers: reasonable, not only when they
draw their philosophic Salaries, as the socialists, and with them our
philosopher Vladimir Soloviov, explain; but still reasonable even
when philosophers have their maintenance taken away from them. Nay,
in the latter case, particularly in the latter case, in spite of the
socialists and VI. Soloviov, reality shows herself most reasonable. A
philosopher persecuted, downtrodden, hungry, cold, receiving no salary,
is nearly always an extreme fatalist--although this, of course, by no
means hinders him from abusing the existing order. Theories of sequence
and consequence, as we already know, are binding only upon disciples,
whose single virtue lies in their scrupulous, logical developing of the
master's idea. But masters themselves _invent_ ideas, and, therefore,
have the right to substitute one for another. The sovereign power which
proclaims a law has the same power to abolish it. But the duty of the
subordinate consists in the praise, in the consequential interpretation
and the strict observance of the dictates of the higher will.


The Pharisee in the parable fulfilled all that religion demanded of
him: kept his fasts, paid his tithes, etc. Had he a right to be pleased
with his own piety, and to despise the erring publican? Everybody
thought so, including the Pharisee himself. _The judgment of Christ
came as the greatest surprise to him_. He had a clear conscience.
He did not merely pretend before others to be righteous, he himself
believed in his own righteousness. And suddenly he turns out guilty,
awfully guilty. But if the conscience of a righteous man does not help
him to distinguish between good and evil, how is he to avoid sin? What
does Kant's moral law mean, that law which was as consoling as the
starry sky? Kant lived his life in profound peace of soul, he met his
death quietly, in the consciousness of his own purity. But if Christ
came again, he might condemn the serene philosopher for his very
serenity. For the Pharisee, we repeat, was righteous, if purity of
intentions, together with a firm readiness to fulfil everything which
appears, to him in the light of duty, be righteousness in a man.


We jeer and laugh at a man not because he is ridiculous, but because
_we_ want to have a laugh out of him. In the same way we are indignant,
not because this or the other act is revolting to us, but because we
want to let off our steam. But it does not follow from this that we
ought always to be calm and smooth. Woe to him who would try to realise
the ideal of justice on earth.


We think with peculiar intensity during the hard moments of our
life--we write when we have nothing else to do. So that a writer can
only communicate something of importance in reproducing the past. When
we are driven to think, we have unfortunately no mind to write, which
accounts for the fact that books are never more than a feeble echo of
what a man has gone through.


Tchekhov has a story called _Misfortune_ which well illustrates the
difficulty a man finds in adapting himself to a new truth, if this
truth threaten the security of his condition. The Merchant Avdeyer
does not believe that he is condemned, that he has been brought to
trial, and tried, and found guilty, for his irregularities in a public
bank. He still thinks the verdict is yet to come--he still waits. In
the world of learning something like this is happening. The educated
have become so accustomed to think themselves not guilty, perfectly
in the right, that they do not admit for a moment even now that they
are brought to court. When threatening voices reach them, calling
them to give an account of themselves, they only suspiciously shrug
their shoulders. "All this will pass away"--they think. Well, when at
last they are convinced that misfortune has befallen them, they will
probably begin to justify themselves, like Avdeyer, declaring that they
cannot even read printed matter sufficiently well. As yet, they pass
for respectable, wise, experienced, omniscient men.


If a man had come to Dostoevsky and said to him, "I am hopelessly
unhappy," the great artist in human misery would probably, at the
bottom of his soul, have laughed at the naïveté of the poor creature.
May one confess such things of oneself? May one go to such lengths of
complaint, and still expect consolation from his neighbour?

Hopelessness is the most solemn and supreme moment in life. Till that
point we have been assisted--now we are left to ourselves. Previously
we had to do with men and human laws--now with eternity, and with the
complete absence of laws. Is it not obvious?


Byelinsky, in his famous letter, accuses Gogol, among other things,
that in his _Correspondence with Friends_, he, Gogol, succumbs to the
fear of death, of devils, and of hell. I find the accusation just:
Gogol definitely feared death, demons, and hell. The point is, whether
it is not right to fear these things, and whether fearlessness would
be a proof of the high development of a man's soul. Schopenhauer
asserts that death inspired philosophy. All the best poetry, all the
wonderful mythology of the ancients and of modern peoples have for
their source the fear of death. Only modern science forbids men to
fear, and insists on a tranquil attitude towards death. So we arrive
at utilitarianism and the positivist philosophy. If you wish to be rid
of both these creeds you must be allowed to think again of death, and
without shame to fear hell and its devils. It may be there is really
a certain justification for concealing fears of such kind: in the
ability to conceal one's agitation at moments of great danger there
is a true beauty. But to deaden human sensitiveness and to keep the
human intelligence within the bounds of perception, such a task can
have charms only for a petty creature. Happily, mankind has no means by
which to perform on itself such monstrous castration. Persecuted Eros,
it is true, has hidden himself from the eyes of his enemies, but he
has never abjured himself; and even the strictest medieval monks could
not completely tear out their hearts from their breasts. Similarly
with the aspiration towards the infinite: science persecuted it and
put a veto on it. But laboratory workers themselves, sooner or later,
recover their senses, and thirstily long to get out of the enclosure of
positive knowledge, with that same thirsty longing that tortured the
monks who wanted to get out of the enclosure of monastery walls.


If fate--and they say there is such a law--punishes criminals, it has
its penalty also for the lovers of good. The former it throttles, the
latter it spits upon. The former end in bitter torment, the latter--in


Philosophy has always loved to occupy the position of a servant. In
the Middle Ages she was the _ancilla theologiæ_, nowadays she waits on
science. At the same time she calls herself the science of sciences.


I wonder which more effectually makes a man rush forwards without
looking back: the knowledge that behind him hovers the head of Medusa,
with horrible snakes, ready to turn him into stone; or the certainty
that in the rear lies the unchangeable order laid down by the law of
causality and by modern science. Judging from what we see, judging
from the degree of tension which human thought has reached to-day,
it would seem that the head of Medusa is less terrible than the law
of causality. In order to escape the latter, man will face anything.
Rather than return to the bosom of scientific cause and effect, he
embraces madness: not that fine frenzy of madness which spends itself
in fiery speeches, but technical madness, for which one is stowed away
in a lunatic asylum.


"To experience a feeling of joy or sorrow, of triumph or despair,
_ennui_ or happiness, and so on, without having sufficient cause for
such feeling, is an unfailing sign of mental disease...." One of the
modern truths which is seeing its last days.


Count Tolstoy's German biographer regrets the constant misunderstanding
and quarrels which took place between Tolstoy and Turgenev. He reminds
us of Goethe and Schiller, and thinks that Russian literature would
have gained a great deal if the two remarkable Russian writers had
been more pacific, had remained on constantly friendly terms with one
another, and bequeathed to posterity a couple of volumes of letters
dealing with literary and philosophic subjects. It might have been very
nice--but I refuse to imagine Tolstoy and Turgenev keeping up a long,
peaceful correspondence, particularly on high subjects. Nearly every
one of Turgenev's opinions drove Tolstoy to madness, or was capable of
so driving him. Dostoevsky's dislike of Turgenev was even stronger than
Tolstoy's; he wrote of him very spitefully and offensively, libelling
him rather than drawing a caricature. Evidently Dostoevsky, like
Tolstoy, detested the "European" in their _confrere._ But here he was
mistaken, in spite of his psychological acuteness. To Dostoevsky, it
was enough that Turgenev wore European clothes and tried to appear like
a westerner. He himself did the opposite: he tried to get rid of every
trace of Europeanism from himself, apparently without great success,
since he failed to make clear to himself wherein lay the strength of
Europe, and where her sting. Nevertheless, the late Mikhailovsky is not
wrong in calling Dostoevsky a seeker of buried treasure. Surely, in the
second half of his literary activity Dostoevsky no longer sought for
the real fruits of life. There awoke in him the Russian, the elemental
man, with a thirst for the miraculous. Compared with what he wanted,
the fruits of European civilisation seemed to him trivial, flat,
insipid. The age-long civilisation of his neighbours told him that
there never had been a miracle, and never would be. But all his being,
not yet broken-in by civilisation, craved for the stupendous unknown.
Therefore, the apparently-satisfied progressivist enraged him. Tolstoy
once said of Turgenev: "I hate his democratic backside." Dostoevsky
might have repeated these words.... And now, for the gratification
of the German critic, please reconcile the Russian writers and make
them talk serenely on high-flown matters! Dostoevsky was within a
hair's-breath of a quarrel with Tolstoy, with whom, not long before
death interrupted him, he began a long controversy concerning "Anna
Karenina." Even Tolstoy seemed to him too compliant, too accommodating.


We rarely make a display of that which is dear to us, near and dear
and necessary. On the other hand, we readily exhibit that which is
of no importance to us--there is nothing else to be done with it. A
man takes his mistress to the theatre and sticks her in full view of
everybody; he prefers to remain at home with the woman he loves, or to
go about with her quietly, unnoticed. So with our "Virtues." Every time
we notice in ourselves some quality we do not prize we haste to make a
show of it, thinking perhaps that someone would be glad of it. If it
wins us approval, we are pleased--so there is some gain. To an actor,
a writer, or an orator, his own antics, without which he can have no
success with the public, are often disgusting. And yet his knack of
making-such antics he considers a talent, a divine gift, and he would
rather die than that it should be lost to the public. Talent, on the
whole, is accounted a divine gift, only because it is always on show,
because it serves the public in some way or other. All our judgments
are permeated through and through with utilitarianism, and were we to
attempt to purify them from this adulteration what would remain of
modern philosophy? That is why youngish, inexperienced writers usually
believe in _harmonia praestabilitata_, even though they have never
heard of Leibnitz. They persuade themselves that there is no breach
between egoistic and idealistic aspirations; that, for instance, thirst
for fame and desire to serve mankind are one and the same thing. Such
a persuasion is usually very tenacious of life, and lasts long in men
of vigorous and courageous mind. It seems to me that Poushkin would not
have lost it, even had he lived to a prolonged old age. It was also
part of Turgenev's belief--if a man of his spiritual fibre could have
any belief. Tolstoy now believed, and now disbelieved, according to the
work he had in hand. When he had other people's ideas to destroy he
doubted the identity of egoistic and idealist aspirations; when he had
his own to defend, he believed in it. Which is a line of conduct worthy
of attention, and supremely worthy of imitation; for human truths are
proper exclusively for ancillary purposes....


Man is such a conservative creature that any change, even a change for
the better, scares him, he prefers the bad old way to the new good
one. A man who has been all his life a confirmed materialist would
not consent to believe that the soul was immortal, not if it were
proved to him _more geometrico,_ and not if he were a constitutional
coward, fearing death like Shakespeare's Falstaff. Then we must take
human conceit into account. Men do not like to admit themselves
wrong. It is absurd, but it is so. Men, trivial, wretched creatures,
proved by history and by every common event to be bunglers, yet must
needs consider themselves infallible, omniscient. What for? Why not
admit their ignorance flatly and frankly? True, it is easier said
than done. But why should slavish intellect, in spite of our desire
to be straightforward, deck us out with would-be truths, of which we
cannot divest ourselves even when we know their flimsiness. Socrates
wanted to think that he knew nothing--but he could not bring it off.
He most absorbedly believed in his own knowledge; nothing could be
"truth," except his teaching; he accepted the decree of the oracle,
and sincerely esteemed himself the wisest of men. And so it will be,
as long as philosophers feel it their duty to teach and to save their
neighbours. If a man wants to help people, he is bound to become a
liar. We should undertake doubt seriously, not in order to return at
length to established beliefs, for that would be a vicious circle.
Experience shows us that such a process, certainly in the development
of ultimate questions, only leads from error to error; we should doubt
_so that doubt becomes a continuous creative force, inspiring the
very essence of our life_. For established knowledge argues in us a
condition of imperfect receptivity. The weak, flabby spirit cannot
bear quick, ceaseless change. It must look round, it must have time
to gather its wits, and so it must undergo the same experience time
after time. It needs the support and the security of habit, But the
well-grown soul despises your crutches. He is tired of crawling on his
own cabbage patch, he tears himself away from his own "native" soil,
and takes himself off into the far distances, braving the infinitude
of space. Surely everybody knows we are not to live in the world for
ever. But cowardice prevents one straightforward admitting of it, we
keep it close till there is an occasion to air it as a truism. Only
when misfortune, disease, old age come upon us, then the dread fear of
departure walks with us like our own skeleton. We cannot dismiss him.
At length, involuntarily, we begin to examine our gruesome companion
with curiosity. And then, strangely enough, we observe that he not only
tortures us, but, keeping pace with us, he has begun to gnaw through
all the threads that bind us to the old existence. At moments it seems
as if, a few more threads gone, nothing, nothing will remain to hold
us back, the eternal dream of crawling man will be fulfilled, we shall
be released from the bonds, we shall betake ourselves in liberty to
regions far from this damned vale of earth....


Moralists are abused because they offer us "moral consolations."
This is not quite fair. Moralists would joyfully substitute palpable
blessings for their abstract gifts, _if they could_. When he was young,
Tolstoy wanted to make men happy; when he was old, and knew he could
not make them happy, he began to preach renunciation, resignation, and
so forth. And how angry he got when people wouldn't have his teaching!
But if, instead of foisting his doctrines off on us as the solution
of the ultimate problems, and as optimism, he had only spoken of the
impossibility of finding satisfactory answers, and have offered himself
as a pessimist, he would probably have obtained a much more willing
hearing. Now he is annoying, because, finding himself unable to relieve
his neighbours, he turns to them and insists that they shall consider
themselves relieved by him, nay, even made happy by him. To which many
will not agree: for why should they voluntarily renounce their rights?
Since although, God knows, the right of quarrelling with one's fate,
and cursing it, is not a very grand right, still, it _is_ a right ...


Ivanov, in Tchekhov's drama of that name, compares himself to an
overstrained labourer. The labourer dies, so that all that remains to
Ivanov is to die. But logic, as you know, recommends great caution in
coming to conclusions by analogy. Behold Tchekhov himself, who, as far
as we can judge, had endured in his own soul all the tragedy, just as
Ivanov had, did not die or think of dying, or even turn out a wasted
man. He is doing something, he struggles, he seeks, his work seems
important and considerable to us, just like other human works. Ivanov
shot himself because the drama _must_ end, while Tchekhov had not yet
finished his own struggle. Our aesthetics demand that the drama must
have a climax and a finale: though we have abandoned the Aristotelian
unities. Given a little more time, however, dramatic writers will have
got rid of this restriction also. They will frankly confess that they
do not know how, or with what event to end their dramas. Stories have
already learnt to dispense with an ending.


More of the same.--Ivanov says: "Now, where is my salvation? In what?
If an intelligent, educated, healthy man for no discoverable reason
sets up a Lazarus lament and starts to roll down an inclined plane,
then he is rolling without resisting, and there is no salvation for
him." One way out would be to accept the inclined plane and the
gathering impetus as normal. Even further, one might find in the
rolling descent a proof of one's spiritual superiority to other men.
Of course in such a case one should go apart from the rest, not court
young girls or fraternise with those who are living the ordinary life,
but be alone. "Love is nonsense, caresses maudlin, work is meaningless,
and song and fiery speeches are banal, played-out," continued
Ivanov. To young Sasha these words are horrible,--but Ivanov will be
responsible for them. He is already responsible for them. That he is
tottering is nothing: it is still full early for him to shoot himself.
He will live whilst his creator, Tchekhov, lives. And we shall listen
to the shaky, vacillating philosophy. We are so sick of symmetry and
harmony and finality, sick as we are of bourgeois self-complacency.


It will be seen from the above that already in _Ivanov_, one of his
early works, Tchekhov has assumed the rôle of _advocatus diaboli_.
Wherever Ivanov appears he brings ruin and destruction. It is true,
Tchekhov hesitates to take his side openly, and evidently does not know
what to do with his hero, so that in the end he shakes him off, so
to speak, he washes his hands of him in the accepted fashion: Ivanov
shoots himself in the sight of everybody, has not even time to go
discreetly into a corner. The only justification of _Ivanov_ is that
caricature of honesty, Doctor Lvov. Lvov is not a living figure--that
is obvious. But this is why he is remarkable. It is remarkable that
Tchekhov should deem it necessary to resurrect the forgotten Starodoum,
that utterer of truisms in Fon-Visin's comedy; and to resurrect him
no longer that people may bow their heads before the incarnation of
virtue, but so that they shall jeer at him. Look at Doctor Lvov! Is he
not Starodoum alive again? He is honesty personified. From force of
old habit, honesty sticks his chest out, and speaks in a loud voice,
with imperious tone, and yet not one of this old loyal subjects gives
a brass farthing for him. They don't even trouble to gibe at him,
but spit on him and shove him through the door, as a disgusting and
impudent toady. Poor honesty! What has he sunk to! Evidently virtues,
like everything else, should not live too long on earth.

Tchekhov's "Uncle Vanya" is waiting to throw himself on the neck of
his friend and rival, the doctor, throw himself on his neck and sob
there like a little child, But he finds that the doctor himself has
an unquenchable thirst for consolation and encouragement, whilst poor
Sonia can bear her maiden sorrows no longer. They all go wandering
round with big, lost eyes, looking for someone to relieve them from
_part_ of their woes, at least. And lo, everybody is in the same street
as themselves. All are over-heavy-laden, not one can carry his own
burden, let alone give a lift to another's. The last consolation is
taken away. It is no use complaining: there is no sympathetic response.
On all faces the same expression of hopelessness and despair. Each must
bear his cross in silence. None may weep nor utter pitiful cries--it
would be uncalled-for and indecent. When Uncle Vanya, who has not
realised at once the extremity of his situation, begins to cry out:
"My life's a waste!" nobody wants to listen to him. "Waste, waste!
Everybody knows it's a waste! Shut your mouth, howling won't help you:
neither will pistol-shots solve anything. Everyone of us might start
your cry--but we don't, neither do we shout:

    _--You think I'll weep_;
    _No, I'll not weep: I have full cause of weeping,_
    _But this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws_,
    _Or ere I'll weep; O Fool, I shall go mad_."

Gradually there settles down a dreadful, eternal silence of the
cemetery. All go mad, without words, they realise what is happening
within them, and make up their minds for the last shift: to hide
their grief for ever from men, and to speak in commonplace, trivial
words which will be accepted as sensible, serious, and even lofty
expressions. No longer will anyone cry: "Life is a waste," and intrude
his feelings on his neighbours. Everybody knows that it is shameful for
one's life to be a waste, and that this shame should be hidden from
every eye. The last law on earth is--loneliness.

_Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute_!


_Groundless assumptions_.--"Based on nothing," because they seem to
derive from common assumption of the reasonableness of human existence,
which assumption surely is the child of our desires, and probably a
bastard at that..... In his _Miserly Knight_ Poushkin represented a
miser as a romantic figure. Gogol, with his Plyushkin, creates on the
contrary a repulsive figure of a miser. Gogol was nearer to reality. A
miser is ugly, whatever view you take of him--inward or outward. Yet
Gogol ought not to teach people to preserve in their age the ideals of
their youth. Once old age is upon us--it must not be improved upon,
much less apologised for. It must be accepted, and its essence brought
to light. Plyushkin, the vulgar, dirty maniac is disgusting--but who
knows? perhaps he is fulfilling the serious mission of his own being.
He is possessed by one desire--to everything else, to all happenings in
the outer world he is indifferent. It is the same to him whether he is
hungry or full, warm or cold, clean or dirty. Practically no event can
distract his attention from his single purpose. He is disinterestedly
mean, if one may say so. He has no need for his riches. He lets them
rot in a disgusting heap, and does not dream, like Poushkin's knight,
of palaces and power, or of sportive nymphs. Upon what end is he
concentrated? No one has the time to think it out. At the sight of
Plyushkin everyone recalls the damage the miser has done. Everyone
of course is right: Plyushkins, who heap up fortunes to let them rot,
are very harmful. The social judgment is nearly always to the point.
But not quite always. It won't hurt morals and social considerations
if at times they have to hold their tongue--and at such times we might
succeed in guessing the riddle of meanness, sordidness, old age.


We have sufficient grounds for taking life mistrustfully: it has
defrauded us so often of our cherished expectations. But we have still
stronger grounds for mistrusting reason: since if life deceived us, it
was only because futile reason let herself be deceived. Perhaps reason
herself invented the deception, and then to serve her own ambitious
ends, threw the blame on life, so that life shall appear sick-headed.
But if we have to choose between life and reason, we choose life, and
then we no longer need try to foresee and to explain, we can wait, and
accept all that is unalterable as part of the game. And thus Nietzsche,
having realised that all his hopes had gradually crumbled, and that
he could never get back to his former strength, but must grow worse
and worse every day, wrote in a private letter of May 28, 1883: "_Ich
will es so schwer haben, wie nur irgend ein Mensch es hat; erst writer
diesem Drucke gewinne ich das gute Gewissen dafür, etwas zu besitzen,
das wenige Menschen haben und gehabt haben: Flügel, um im Gleichnisse
zu reden_." In these few simple words lies the key to the philosophy of


"So long as Apollo calls him not to the sacred offering, of all the
trifling children of men the most trifling perhaps is the poet." Put
Poushkin's expression into plain language, and you will get a page
on neuropathology. All neurasthenic individuals sink from a state of
extreme excitation to one of complete prostration. Poets too: and they
are proud of it.


Shy people usually receive their impressions post-dated. During those
moments when an event is taking place before their eyes, they can see
nothing, only later on, having evoked from their memory a fragment of
what happened, they make for themselves an impression of the whole
scene. And then, retrospectively arise in their soul feelings of pity,
offence, surprise, so vivid, as if they were the flames of the instant
moment, not rekindlings from the past. Thus shy people always think a
great deal, and are always too late for their work. It is never too
late for thought. Timid before others, they reach great heights of
daring when alone. They are bad speakers--but often excellent writers.
Their life is insignificant and tedious, they are not noticed,--until
they become famous. And by the time fame comes, they do not need
popular attention any more.


If Tchekhov's Layevsky, in _The Duel_, had been a writer with a
literary talent, people would have said of him that he was original,
and that he was engaged in the study of the "mysticism of sex," like
Gabriele D'Annunzio for example; whereas, as he stands, he is only
banal. His idleness is a reproach to him: people would prefer that at
least he should copy out extracts from documents.


_From observations on children_.--Egoism in a man strikes us
unpleasantly because it betrays our poverty. "I cannot dole out my
abundance to my neighbour, for if I do I myself shall be left with
little." We should like to be able to scatter riches with a royal hand;
and, therefore, when we see someone else clutching his rags with the
phrase, "property is sacred," we are hurt. What is sacred comes from
the gods, and the gods have plenty of everything, they do not count and
skimp, like mortals.


We see a man repent for his actions, and conclude that such actions
should be avoided: an instance of false, but apparently irreproachable
reasoning. Time passes, and we see the same man repenting again of the
self-same acts. If we love logic, this will confirm us in our first
conclusion. But if we do not care for logic, we shall say: man is
under an equal necessity to commit these acts, and to repent of them.
Sometimes, however, the first conclusion is corrected differently.
Having decided that repentance proves that a certain course of action
should be avoided, man avoids it all his life; only to realise in the
end, suddenly, with extraordinary clarity, how bitter is his regret
that he has not trodden the forbidden course. But by this time a new
conclusion is already useless. Life is over, and the newly-enlightened
mind no longer knows how to rid itself of the Superfluous light.


A version of one of the scenes of Tolstoy's _Power of Darkness_ reminds
us exactly of a one-act piece of Maeterlinck. There can be no question
of imitation. When the _Power of Darkness_ was written nobody had
heard of Maeterlinck. Tolstoy evidently wanted to try a new method
of creating, and to get rid of his own manner, which he had evolved
through tens of years of dogged labour. But the risk was too great. He
preferred to cure himself of his doubts by the common expedient, manual
toil and an outdoor life. So he took up the plough.


Every woodcock praises its own fen; Lermontov saw the sign of spiritual
pre-eminence in dazzling white linen, and therefore his heroes always
dressed with taste. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, despised show:
Dmitri Karamazov wears dirty linen--and this is assigned to him as a
merit, or almost a merit.


While he was yet young, when he wrote his story, _Enough_, Turgenev
saw that something terrible hung over his life. He saw, but did not
get frightened, although he understood that in time he ought to become
frightened, because life without a continual inner disturbance would
have no meaning for him.


Napoleon is reputed to have had a profound insight into the human soul;
Shakespeare also. And their vision has nothing in common.


What we call imagination, which we value so highly in great poets--is,
essentially, unbridled, loose, or if you will, even perverted
mentality. In ordinary mortals we call it vice; but to the poets
everything is forgiven on account of the benefit and pleasure we derive
from their works. In spite of our high-flown theories we have always
been extremely practical, great utilitarians. Two-and-a-half-thousand
years went by before Tolstoy got up, and, in his turn, offered the
poets their choice: either to be virtuous, or to stop creating and
forfeit the fame of teachers. If Tolstoy did not make a laughing-stock
of himself, he has to thank his grey hairs and the respect which was
felt for his past. Anyhow, nobody took him seriously. Far from it;
for never yet did poets feel so free from the shackles of morality
as they do now. If Schiller were writing his dramas and philosophic
essays to-day, he would scarcely find a reader. In Tolstoy himself it
is not so much his virtues as his vices which we find interesting.
We begin to understand his works, not so much in the light of his
striving after ideals, but from the standpoint of that incongruity
which existed between the ideas he artificially imposed upon himself,
and the demands of his own non-virtu ous soul, which struggled ever
for liberty. Nicolenka Irtenyev, in _Childhood, and Youth_, would sit
for hours on the terrace, turning over in his mind his elder brother
Volodya's love-making with the chambermaids. But, although he desired
it "_more than anything on earth_" he could never bring himself to
be like Volodya. The maid said to the elder brother, "Why doesn't
Nicolai Fetrovitch ever come here and have a lark?" She did not know
that Nicolai Petrovitch was sitting at that moment under the stairs,
ready to give _anything on earth_ to take the place of the scamp
Volodya. "_Everything on earth_" is twice repeated. Tolstoy gives a
psychological explanation of his little hero's conduct. "I was timid
by nature," Nicolenka tells us, "but my shyness was increased by the
conviction of my ugliness." Ugliness, the consciousness of one's
ugliness, leads to shyness! What good can there be in virtue which
has such a suspicious origin? And how can the morality of Tolstoy's
heroes be trusted i Consciousness of one's ugliness begets shyness,
shyness drives the passions inwards and allows them no natural outlet.
Little by little there develops a monstrous discrepancy between the
imagination and its desires, on the one hand, and the power to satisfy
these desires, on the other. Permanent hunger, and a contracted
alimentary canal, which does not pass the food through. Hence the
hatred of the imagination, with its unrealised and unrealisable
cravings.... In our day no one has scourged love so cruelly as Tolstoy
in _Power of Darkness_. But the feats of the village Don Juan need not
necessarily end in tragedy. "More than anything on earth," however,
Tolstoy hates the Don Juans, the handsome, brave, successful, the
self-confident, who spontaneously act upon suggestion, the conquerors
of women, who stretch out their hands to living statues cold as stone.
As far as ever he can he has his revenge on them in his writing.


In the drama of the future the whole presentation will be different.
First of all, the difficulties of the dénouement will be set aside.
The new hero has a past-reminiscent--but no present; neither wife,
nor sweetheart, nor friends, nor occupation. He is alone, he communes
only with himself or with imaginary listeners. He lives a life apart.
So that the stage will represent either a desert island or a room in
a large densely-populated city, where among millions of inhabitants
one can live alone as on a desert island. The hero must not return
to people and to social ideals. He must go forward to loneliness, to
absolute loneliness. Even now nobody, looking at Gogol's Plyushkin,
will feel any more the slightest response to the pathetic appeal for
men to preserve the ideals of youth on into old age. Modern youths go
to see Plyushkin, not for the sake of laughing at him or of benefiting
from the warning which his terrible miserly figure offers them, but in
order to see if there may not be some few little pearls there where
they could be least expected, in the midst of his heap of dirt.

... Lycurgus succeeded in fixing the Spartans like cement for some
centuries--but after that came the thaw, and all their hardness
melted. The last remains of the petrified Doric art are now removed to
museums.... Is something happening----?


If I sow not in the spring, in autumn I shall eat no bread. Every
day brings troubles and worries enough for poor, weak man. He had
to forget his work for a moment, and now he is lost: he will die of
hunger or cold. In order merely to preserve our existence we have to
strain mind and body to the utmost: nay more, we have to think of the
surrounding world exclusively with a view to gaining a livelihood from
it. There is no time to think about truth! This is why positivism was
invented, with its theory of natural development. Really, everything
we see is mysterious and incomprehensible. A tiny midge and a huge
elephant, a caressing breeze and a blizzard, a young tree and a
rocky mountain--what are all these? What are they, why are they? we
incessantly ask ourselves, but we may not speak out. For philosophy is
ever pushed aside to make room for the daily needs. Only those think
who are unable to trouble about self-preservation, or who will not
trouble, or who are too careless: that is, sick, desperate, or lazy
people. These return to the riddle which workaday men, confirmed in the
certainty that they are right, have construed into "naturalness."


Kant, and after him Schopenhauer, was exceedingly fond of the epithet
"disinterested," and used it on every occasion when the supply of
laudatory terms he had at his disposal was exhausted. "Disinterested
thinking," which does not pursue any practical aim, is, according to
Schopenhauer, the highest ideal towards which man can strive. This
truth he considered universal, an _a priori_. But had he chanced to
be brought amongst Russian peasants he would have had to change his
opinion. With them thoughts about destiny and the why and wherefore of
the universe and infinity and so on, would by no means be considered
disinterested, particularly if the man who devoted himself to such
thoughts were at the same time to announce, as becomes a philosopher,
that he claimed complete freedom from physical labour. There the
philosopher, were he even Plato, would be stigmatised with the
disgraceful nickname, "Idle-jack." There the highest activity is
interested activity, directed towards strictly practical purposes; and
if the peasants could speak learnedly, they would certainly call the
principle upon which their judgment is founded an _a priori_. Tolstoy,
who draws his wisdom from the folk-sources, attacks the learned for
the very fact that they do not want to work, but are disinterestedly
occupied in the search for truth.


It is clear to any impartial observer that practically every man
changes his opinion ten times a day. Much has been said on this
subject, it has served for innumerable satires and humorous sketches.
Nobody has ever doubted that it was a vice to be unstable is one's
opinions. Three-fourths of our education goes to teaching us most
carefully to conceal within ourselves the changeableness of our moods
and judgments. A man who cannot keep his word is the last of men:
never to be trusted. Likewise, a man with no firm convictions: it is
impossible to work together with him. Morality, here as always making
towards utilitarian ends, issues the "eternal" principle: thou shalt
remain true to thy convictions. In cultured circles this commandment
is considered so unimpeachable that men are terrified even to appear
inconstant in their own eyes. They become petrified in their beliefs,
and no greater shame can happen to them than that they should be
forced to admit that they have altered in their convictions. When a
straightforward man like Montaigne plainly speaks of the inconstancy of
his mind and his views, he is regarded as a libeller of himself. One
need neither see, nor hear, nor understand what is taking place around
one: once your mind is made up, you have lost your right to grow, you
must remain a stock, a statue, the qualities and defects of which are
known to everybody.


Every philosophic world-conception starts from some or other solution
of the general problem of human existence, and proceeds from this to
direct the course of human life in some particular direction or other.
We have neither the power nor the data for the solution of general
problems, and consequently all our moral deductions are arbitrary,
they only witness to our prejudices if we are naturally timid, or to
our propensities and tastes if we are self-confident. But to keep up
prejudices is a miserable, unworthy business: nobody will dispute that.
Therefore let us cease to grieve about our differences in opinion,
let us wish that in the future there should be many more differences,
and much less unanimity. There is no arbitrary truth: it remains to
suppose that truth lies in changeable human tastes and desires. In so
far as our common social existence demands it--let us try to come to
an understanding, to agree: but not one jot more. Any agreement which
does not arise out of common necessity will be a crime against the Holy


Tchekhov was very good at expounding a system of philosophy--even
several systems. We have examples in more than one of his stories,
particularly in _The Duel,_ where Fon-Koren speaks _ex cathedra_.
But Tchekhov had no use for such systems, save for purely literary
purposes. When you write a story, and your hero must speak clearly
and consistently, a system has its value. But when you are left to
yourself, can you seriously trouble your soul about philosophy? Even
a German cannot, it seems, go so far in his "idealism." Vladimir
Semionovitch, the young author in Tchekhov's _Nice People_, sincerely
and deeply believes in his own ideas, but even of him, notwithstanding
his blatantly comical limitations, we cannot say more than that
his ideas were constant little views or pictures to him, which had
gradually become a second natural setting to everything he saw.
Certainly he did not live by ideas. Tchekhov is right when he says that
the singing of _Gaudeamus igitur_ and the writing of a humanitarian
appeal were equally important to Vladimir Semionovitch. As soon as
Vladimir's sister begins to think for herself, her brother's highest
ideas, which she has formerly revered, become banal and objectionable
to her. Her brother cannot understand her, neither her hostility
to progress and humanitarianism, nor to the university spree and
_Gaudeamus igitur._ But Tchekhov _does_ understand. Only, let us
admit, the word "understand" does not carry its ordinary meaning
here. So long as the child was fed on its mother's milk, everything
seemed to it smooth and easy. But when it had to give up milk and take
to vodka,--and this is the inevitable law of human development--the
childish suckling dreams receded into the realm of the irretrievable


The summit of human existence, say the philosophers, is spiritual
serenity, _aequanimitas_: But in that case the animals should be our
ideal, for in the matter of imperturbability they leave nothing to be
desired. Look at a grazing sheep, or a cow. They do not look before
and after, and sigh for what is not. Given a good pasture, the present
suffices them perfectly.


A hungry man was given a piece of bread, and a kind word. The kindness
seemed more to him than the bread. But had he been given only the kind
word and no bread, he would perhaps have hated nice phrases. Therefore,
caution is always to be recommended in the drawing of conclusions:
and in none more than in the conclusion that truth is more urgently
required than a consoling lie. The connections of isolated phenomena
can very rarely be discerned. As a rule, several causes at once produce
one effect. Owing to our propensity for idealising, we always make
prominent that cause which seems to us loftiest.


A strange anomaly! we see thousands of human beings perish around us,
yet we walk warily lest we crush a worm. The sense of compassion is
strong in us, but it is adapted to the conditions of our existence. It
can relieve an odd case here and there--and it raises a terrific outcry
over a trifling injustice. Yet Schopenhauer wanted to make compassion
the metaphysical basis of morality.


To discard logic as an instrument, a means or aid for acquiring
knowledge, would be extravagant. Why should we? For the sake of
consequentialism? _i.e._ for logic's very self? But logic, as an aim
in itself, or even as the _only_ means to knowledge, is a different
matter. Against this one must fight even if he has against him all the
authorities of thought--beginning with Aristotle.


"When the yellowing corn-fields sway and are moved, and the fresh
forest utters sound to the breeze ... then I see happiness on earth,
and God in heaven." It may be so, to the poet; but it may be quite
different. Sometimes the corn-field waves, the woods make noise in
the wind, the stream whispers its best tales: and still man cannot
perceive happiness, nor forget the lesson taught in childhood, that
the blue heavens are only an optical illusion. But if the sky and the
boundless fields do not convince, is it possible that the arguments of
Kant and the commentations of his dozens of talentless followers can do


_The greatest temptation_.--In Dostoevsky's _Grand Inquisitor_
lurks a dreadful idea. Who can be sure, he says--metaphorically, of
course--that when the crucified Christ uttered His cry: "Lord, why hast
thou forsaken me?" He did not call to mind the temptation of Satan, who
for one word had offered Him dominion over the world? And, if Jesus
recollected this offer, how can we be sure that He did not repent not
having taken it?... One had better not be told about such temptations.


From the "_Future Opinions concerning contemporary Europe_."--"Europe
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries presented a strange
picture. After Luther, Christianity degenerated into morality, and
all the threads connecting man with God were cut. Together with
the rationalisation of religion, all life took on a fiat, rational
character. Knights were replaced by a standing army, recruited on the
principle of compulsory military service for all, and existing chiefly
for the purpose of parades and official needs. Alchemy, which had been
trying to find the philosopher's stone, was replaced by chemistry,
which tried to discover the best means for cheap preparation of cheap
commodities. Astrology, which had sought in the stars the destinies
of men, was replaced by astronomy, which foretold the eclipses of the
sun and the appearing of comets. Even the dress of the people became
strangely colourless; not only men, but women also wore uniform,
monochromatic clothes. Most remarkable of all, that epoch did not
notice its own insignificance, but was even proud of itself. It seemed
to the man of that day that never before had the common treasury of
spiritual riches been so well replenished. We, of course, may smile at
their naïveté, but if one of their own number had allowed himself to
express an opinion disdainful of the bases of the contemporary culture
he would have been declared immoral, or put away in a mad-house: a
terrible punishment, very common in that coarse period, though now
it is very difficult even to imagine what such a proceeding implied.
But in those days, to be known as immoral, or to find oneself in a
mad-house, was worse than to die. One of the famous poets of the
nineteenth century, Alexander Poushkin, said: 'God forbid that I should
go mad. Rather let me be a starving beggar.' In those times people,
on the whole, were compelled to tell lies and play the hypocrite, so
that not infrequently the brightest minds, who saw through the shams of
their epoch, yet pretended to believe in science and morality, only in
order to escape the persecution of public opinion."


_Writers of tragedies on Shakespeare's model._--To obtain a spark,
one must strike with all one's might with an iron upon a stone.
Whereupon there is a loud noise, which many are inclined to believe
more important than the little spark. Similarly, writers having shouted
very loudly, are deeply assured that they have fulfilled their sacred
mission, and are amazed that all do not share their raptures, that some
even stop their ears and run away.


_Metamorphoses_.--Sense and folly are not at all native qualities
in a man. In a crisis, a stupid man becomes clever. We need not go
far for an example. What a gaping simpleton Dostoevsky looks in his
_Injured and Insulted_, not to mention _Poor Folk_. But in _Letters
from the Underworld_ and the rest of his books he is the shrewdest and
cleverest of writers. The same may be said of Nietzsche, Tolstoy, or
Shakespeare. In his _Birth of Tragedy_ Nietzsche seems just like the
ordinary honest, rather simple, blue-eyed provincial German student,
and in _Zarathustra_ he reminds one of Machiavelli. Poor Shakespeare
got himself into a row for his Brutus--but no man could deny the great
mind in _Hamlet._ The best instance of all, however, is Tolstoy. Right
up to to-day, whenever he likes he can be cleverer than the cleverest.
Yet at times he is a schoolboy. This is the most interesting and
enviable trait in him.


In _Troilus and Cressida_ Thersites says: "Shall the elephant Ajax
carry it thus? He beats me, and I rail at him: O worthy satisfaction!
would it were otherwise; that I could beat him, whilst he railed at
me." Dostoevsky might have said the same of his opponents. He pursued
them with stings, sarcasm, abuse, and they drove him to a white heat
by their quiet assurance and composure.... The present-day admirers of
Dostoevsky _quietly believe_ in the teachings of their master. Does it
not mean that _de facto_ they have betrayed him and gone over to the
side of his enemies.


The opinion has gained ground that Turgenev's ideal women--Natalie,
Elena, Marianna--are created in the image and likeness of Poushkin's
Tatyana. The critics have been misled by external appearances. To
Poushkin his Tatyana appears as a vestal guarding the sacred flame
of high morality--because such a job is not fitting for a male. The
Pretender in _Boris Godunov_ says to the old monk Pimen, who preaches
meekness and submission: "But you fought under the walls of Kazan,
etc." That is a man's work. But in the hours of peace and leisure the
fighter needs his own hearth-side, he must feel assured that at home
his rights are safely guarded. This is the point of Tatyana's last
words: "I belong to another, and shall remain forever true to him." But
in Turgenev woman appears as the judge and the reward, sometimes even
the inspirer of victorious man. There is a great difference.


From a German _Introduction to Philosophy_.--"We shall maintain the
opinion that metaphysics, as the crown of the particular sciences, is
possible and desirable, and that to it falls the task intermediate
between theory and practice, experiment and anticipation, mind and
feeling, the task of weighing probabilities, balancing arguments,
and reconciling difficulties." Thus metaphysics is a weighing of
probabilities. _Ergo_--further than probable conclusions it cannot
go. Thus why do metaphysicians pretend to universal and obligatory,
established and eternal judgments? They go beyond themselves. In the
domain of metaphysics there cannot and must not be any established
beliefs. The word established loses all its sense in the connection. It
is reasonable to speak of eternal hesitation and temporality of thought.


From another _Introduction to Philosophy,_ also German. "Compared
with the delusion of the materialists ... the wretchedest worshipper
of idols seems to us a being capable of apprehending to a certain
degree the great meaning and essence of things," Perhaps this thought
strayed in accidentally among the huge herd of the other thoughts of
the professor, so little does it resemble the rest. But even so, it
loses none of its interest. If the materialists here spoken of, those
of the nineteenth century, Buchner, Vogt, Moleschot, all of them men
who stood on the pinnacle of natural science, were capable of proving
in the realm of philosophy more uninformed than the nakedest savage,
then it follows, not only that science has nothing in common with
philosophy, but that the two are even hostile. Therefore we ought to
go to the savages, not to civilise them, but even to learn philosophy
from them. A Papuan or a Tierra del Fuegan delivering a lecture in
philosophy to the professors of the Berlin University--Friedrich
Paulsen, for example--is a curious sight. I say to Friedrich Paulsen,
and not to Buchner or Moleschot, because Paulsen is also an educated
person, and therefore his _philosophic_ sensibility may have suffered
from contact with science, even if not so badly as that of the
materialists. He needs the assistance of a red-skinned master. Why
have German professors so little daring or enterprise? Why should not
Paulsen, on his own initiative, go to Patagonia to perfect himself in
philosophy?--or at least send his pupils there, and preach broadcast
the new pilgrimage. And now lo and behold he has hatched an original
and fertile idea, so he will stick in a corner with it, so that even if
you wanted you could not get a good look at it. The idea is important
and weighty: our philosophers would lose nothing by sitting at the feet
of the savages.


From a _History of Ethics_.--"Doubts concerning the existence or
the possibility of discovering a moral norm have, _of course_ (I
underline it), proved a stimulus to a new speculative establishing
of ethics, just as the denial of the possibility of knowledge led to
the discovery of the condition of knowledge." With this proposition
the author does not play hide-and-seek, as Paulsen with his. He places
it in a conspicuous position, in a conspicuous section of his book,
and accompanies it with the trumpeting herald "of course." But only
one thing is clear: namely, that the majority share the opinion of
Professor Yodl, to whom the quoted words belong. So that the first
assumption of ethics has as its foundation the _consensus sapientium_.
It is enough.


"The normative theory," which has taken such hold in Germany and
Russia, bears the stamp of that free and easy self-assurance which
characterises the state of contentment, and which does not desire, even
for the sake of theoretical perfection, to take into consideration the
divided state of soul which usually accompanies discontent. Windelband
(_Praeludien_, p. 313) is evidence of this. He exposes himself with
the naive frankness almost of an irrational creature, and is not only
unashamed, but even proud of his part. "Philosophic research," he says,
"is possible only to those who are convinced that the norm of the
universal imperative is supreme above individual activities, and that
such a norm is discoverable." Not every witness will give evidence so
honestly. It amounts to this: that philosophic research is not a search
after truth, but a conspiracy amongst people who _dethrone truth_ and
exalt instead the all-binding norm. The task is truly ethical: morality
always was and always will be utilitarian and bullying. Its active
principle is: He who is not with us, is against us.


"If, besides the reality which is evident to us, we were susceptible to
another form of reality, chaotic, lawless, then this latter could not
be the subject of thought." (Riehl--_Philosophie der Gegenwart_.) This
is one of the _a priori_ of critical philosophy--one of the unproved
first assumptions, evidently. It is only an expression in other
words of Windelband's assertion quoted above, concerning the ethical
basis of the law of causation. Thus, the _a priori_ of contemporary
thought convince us more and more that Nietzsche's instinct was not
at fault. The root of all our philosophies lies, not in our objective
observations, but in the demands of our own heart, in the subjective,
moral _will_, and therefore science cannot be uprooted except we first
destroy morality.


One of the lofty truisms--"The philosopher conquers passion by
perceiving it, the artist by bodying it forth." In German it sounds
still more lofty: but does not for that reason approach any nearer
to the truth. "_Der Philosoph überwindet die Leidenschaft, indem er
sie begreift--der Künstler, indem er sie darstellt_." (Windelband,
_Praeludien_, p. 198.)


The Germans always try to get at _Allgemeingültigkeit_. Well, if the
problem of knowledge is to fathom all the depths of actual life, then
experience, in so far as it repeats itself, is uninteresting, or at
least has a limit of interest. It is necessary, however, to know what
nobody yet knows, and therefore we must walk, not on the common road
of _Allgemeingültigkeit_, but on new tracks, which have never yet seen
human feet. Thus morality, which lays down definite rules and thereby
guards life for a time from any surprise, exists only by convention,
and in the end collapses before the non-moral surging-up of individual
human aspirations. Laws--all of them--have only a regulating value, and
are necessary only to those who want rest and security. But the first
and essential condition of life is lawlessness. Laws are a refreshing
sleep--lawlessness is creative activity.


A = A.--They say that logic does not need this postulate, and could
easily develop it by deduction. I think not. On the contrary, in my
opinion, logic could not exist without this premiss. Meanwhile it has
a purely empirical origin. In the realm of fact, A is always more or
less equal to A. But it might be otherwise. The universe might be so
constituted as to admit of the most fantastic metamorphoses. That which
now equals A would successively equal B and then C, and so on. At
present a stone remains long enough a stone, a plant a plant, an animal
an animal. But it might be that a stone changed into a plant before our
eyes, and the plant into an animal. That _there is nothing unthinkable_
in such a supposition is proved by the theory of evolution. This
theory only puts centuries in place of seconds. So that, in spite of
the risk to which I expose myself from the admirers of the famous
Epicurean system, I am compelled to repeat once more that anything
you please may come from anything you please, that A may not equal A,
and that consequently logic is dependent, for its soundness, on the
empirically-derived law of the unchangeableness of the external world.
Admit the possibility of supernatural interference--and logic will lose
that certitude and inevitability of its conclusions which at present is
so attractive to us.


The effort to _understand_ people, life, the universe prevents us from
getting to know them at all. Since "to know" and "to understand" are
two concepts which are not only non-identical, but just the opposite
of one another in meaning; in spite of their being in constant use
as synonyms. We think we have understood a phenomenon if we have
included it in a list of others, previously known to us. And, since all
our mental aspiration reduces itself to understanding the universe,
we refuse to know a great deal which will not adapt itself to the
plane surface of the contemporary world-conceptions. For instance
the Leibnitz question, put by Kant into the basis of the critique of
reason: "How can we know a thing outside us, if it does not enter into
us?" It is non-understandable; that is, it does not agree with our
notion of understanding. Hence it follows that it must be squeezed out
of the field of view--which is exactly what Kant attempted to do. To
us it seems, on the contrary, that in the interests of _knowing_ we
should sacrifice, and gladly, understanding, since understanding in any
case is a secondary affair.-_Zu fragmentarish ist Welt und Leben_!...


_Nur für Schwindelfreie_.

(From _Alpine Recollections_.)


Light reveals to us beauty--but also ugliness. Throw vitriol in the
face of a beautiful woman, and the beauty is gone, no power on earth
will enable us to look upon her with the same rapture as before. Could
even the sincerest, deepest love endure the change? True, the idealists
will hasten to say that love overcomes all things. But idealism needs
be prompt, for if she leaves us one single moment in which to _see_,
we shall see such things as are not easily explained away. That is why
idealists stick so tight so logic. In the twinkling of an eye logic
will convey us to the remotest conclusions and forecasts. Reality could
never overtake her. Love is eternal, and consequently a disfigured face
will seem as lovely to us as a fresh one. This is, of course, a lie,
but it helps to preserve old tastes and obscures danger. Real danger,
however, was never dispelled by words. In spite of Schiller and eternal
love, in the long run vitriol triumphs, and the agreeable young man is
forced to abandon his beloved and acknowledge himself a fraud. Light,
the source of his life and hope, has now destroyed hope and life for
him. He will not return to idealism, and he will hate logic: light,
that seemed to him so beautiful, will have become hideous. He will turn
to darkness, where logic and its binding conclusions have no power, but
where the fancy is free for all her vagaries. Without light we should
never have known that vitriol ruins beauty. No science, nor any art can
give us what darkness gives. It is true, in our young days when all
was new, light brought us great happiness and joy. Let us, therefore,
remember it with gratitude, as a benefactor we no longer need. Do after
all let us dispense with gratitude, for it belongs to the calculating,
bourgeois virtues. _Do ut des_. Let us forget light, and gratitude, and
the qualms of self-important idealism, let us go bravely to meet the
coming night. She promises us great power over reality. Is it worth
while to give up our old tastes and lofty convictions? Love and light
have not availed against vitriol. What a horror would have seized us
at the thought, once upon a time! That short phrase can annul all
Schiller. We have shut our eyes and stopped our ears, we have built
huge philosophic systems to shield us from this tiny thought. And
now--now it seems we have no more feeling for Schiller and the great
systems, we have no pity on our past beliefs. We now are seeking for
words with which to sing the praises of our former enemy. Night, the
dark, deaf, impenetrable night, peopled with horrors--does she not
now loom before us, infinitely beautiful? Does she not draw us with
her still, mysterious, fathomless beauty, far more powerfully than
noisy, narrow day? It seems as if, in a short while, man will feel that
the same incomprehensible, cherishing power which threw us out into
the universe and set us, like plants, to reach to the light, is now
gradually transferring us to a new direction, where a new life awaits
us with all its stores. _Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt._ And
perhaps the time is near when the impassioned poet, casting a last look
to his past, will boldly and gladly cry:

_Hide thyself, sun! O darkness, be welcome_!


Psychology at last leads us to conclude that the most generous
human impulses spring from a root of egoism. Tolstoy's "love to
one's neighbour," for example, proves to be a branch of the old
self-love. The same may be said of Kant's idealism, and even of
Plato's. Though they glorify the service of the idea, in practice
they succeed in getting out of the vicious circle of egoism no better
than the ordinary mortal, who is neither a genius nor a flower of
culture. In my eyes this is "almost" an absolute truth. (It is never
wrong to add the retractive "almost"; truth is too much inclined to
exaggerate its own importance, and one must guard oneself against
its despotic authority.) Thus--all men are egoists. Hence follows
a great deal. I even think this proposition might provide better
grounds for metaphysical conclusions than the doubtful capacity for
compassion and love for one's neighbour which has been so tempting
to dogma. For some reason men have imagined that love for oneself
is more natural and comprehensible than love for another. Why? Love
for others is only a little-rarer, less widely diffused than love
to oneself. But then hippopotami and rhinoceros, even in their own
tropical regions, are less frequent than horses and mules. Does it
follow that they are less natural and transcendental? Positivism is
not incumbent upon blood-thirsty savages. Nay, as we know, many of
them are less positive-minded than our learned men. For instance, a
future life is to them such an infallible reality that they even enter
into contracts, part of which is to be fulfilled in the next world. A
German metaphysician won't go as far as that. Hence it follows that
the way to know the other world is not by any means through love,
sympathy, and self-denial, as Schopenhauer taught. On the contrary, it
appears as if love for others were only an impediment to metaphysical
flights. Love and sympathy chain the eye to the misery of this earth,
where such a wide field for active charity opens out. The materialists
were mostly very good men--a fact which bothered the historians of
philosophy. They preached Matter, believed in nothing, and were
ready to perform all kinds of sacrifices for their neighbours. How
is this? It is a case of clearest logical consequence: man loves his
neighbour, he sees that heaven is indifferent to misery, therefore
he takes upon himself the rôle of Providence. Were he indifferent
to the sufferings of others, he would easily become an idealist and
leave his neighbours to their fate. Love and compassion kill belief,
and make a man a positivist and a materialist in his philosophical
outlook. If he feels the misery of others, he leaves off meditating
and wants to act. Man only thinks properly when he realises he has
nothing to do, his hands are tied. That is why any profound thought
must arise from despair. Optimism, on the other hand, the readiness
to jump hastily from one conclusion to another, may be regarded as an
inevitable sign of narrow self-sufficiency, which dreads doubt and
is consequently always superficial. If a man offers you a solution
of eternal questions, it shows he has not even begun to think about
them. He has only "acted." Perhaps it is not necessary to think--who
can say how we ought or ought not to live? And how could we be brought
to live "as we ought," when our own nature is and always will be an
incalculable mystery. There is no mistake about it, nobody _wants_
to think, I do not speak here of logical thinking. That, like any
other natural function, gives man great pleasure. For this reason
philosophical systems, however complicated, arouse real and permanent
interest in the public provided they only require from man the logical
exercise of the mind, and nothing else. But to think---really to
think--surely this means a relinquishing of logic. It means living a
new life. It means a permanent sacrifice of the dearest habits, tastes,
attachments, without even the assurance that the sacrifice will bring
any compensation. Artists and philosophers like to imagine the thinker
with a stern face, a profound look which penetrates into the unseen,
and a noble bearing--an eagle preparing for flight. Not at all. A
thinking man is one who has lost his balance, in the vulgar, not in
the tragic sense. Hands raking the air, feet flying, face scared and
bewildered, he is a caricature of helplessness and pitiable perplexity.
Look at the aged Turgenev, his Poems in Prose and his letter to
Tolstoy. Maupassant thus tells of his meeting with Turgenev: " There
entered a giant with a silvery head." Quite so! The majestic patriarch
and master, of course! The myth of giants with silver locks is firmly
established in the heart of man. Then suddenly enters Turgenev in his
Prose Poems--pale, pitiful, fluttering like a bird that has been
"winged." Turgenev, who has taught us everything--how can he be so
fluttered and bewildered? How could he write his letter to Tolstoy?
Did he not know that Tolstoy was finished, the source of his creative
activity dried up, that he must seek other activities. Of course he
knew--and still he wrote that letter. But it was not for Tolstoy, nor
even for Russian literature, which, of course, is not kept going by the
death-bed letters and covenants of its giants. In the dreadful moments
of the end, Turgenev, in spite of his noble size and silver locks, did
not know what to say or where to look for support and consolation. So
he turned to literature, to which he had given his life.... He yearned
that she, whom he had served so long and loyally, should just once
help him, save him from the horrible and thrice senseless nightmare.
He stretched out his withered, numbing hands to the printed sheets
which still preserve the traces of the Soul of a living, suffering
man. He addressed his late enemy Tolstoy with the most flattering
name: "Great writer of the Russian land"; recollected that he was his
contemporary, that he himself was a great writer of the Russian land.
But this he did not express aloud. He only said, "I can no longer----"
He praised a strict school of literary and general education. To the
last he tried to preserve his bearing of a giant with silvery locks.
And we were gratified. The same persons who are indignant at Gogol's
correspondence, quote Turgenev's letter with reverence. The attitude
is everything. Turgenev knew how to pose passably well, and this is
ascribed to him as his greatest merit. _Mundus vult decipi, ergo
decipiatur_. But Gogol and Turgenev felt substantially the same. Had
Turgenev burnt his own manuscripts and talked of himself instead of
Tolstoy, before death, he would have been accounted mad. Moralists
would have reproached him for his display of extreme egoism.... And
Philosophy? Philosophy seems to be getting rid of certain prejudices.
At the moment when men are least likely to play the hypocrite and lie
to themselves Turgenev and Gogol placed their personal fate higher
than the destinies of Russian literature. Does not this betray a
"secret" to us? Ought we not to see in absolute egoism an inalienable
and great, yes, very great quality of human nature? Psychology,
ignoring the threats of morality, has led us to a new knowledge. Yet
still, in spite of the instances we have given, the mass of people
will, as usual, see nothing but malice in every attempt to reveal
the human impulses that underlie "lofty" motives. To be merely men
seems humiliating to men. So now malice will also be detected in my
interpretation of Turgenev's letter, no matter what assurance I offer
to the contrary.


_On Method_.--A certain naturalist made the following experiment:
A glass jar was divided into two halves by a perfectly transparent
glass partition. On the one side of the partition he placed a pike,
on the other a number of small fishes such as form the prey of the
pike. The pike did not notice the partition, and hurled itself on its
prey, with, of course, the result only of a bruised nose. The same
happened many times, and always the same result. At last, seeing all
its efforts ended so painfully, the pike abandoned the hunt, so that
in a few days, when the partition had been removed it continued to
swim about among the small fry without daring to attack them.... Does
not the same happen with us? Perhaps the limits between "this world"
and "the other world" are also essentially of an experimental origin,
neither rooted in the nature of things, as was thought before Kant, or
in the nature of our reason, as was thought after Kant. Perhaps indeed
a partition does exist, and make vain all attempts to cross over.. But
perhaps there comes a moment when the partition is removed. In our
minds, however, the conviction is firmly rooted that it is impossible
to pass certain limits, and painful to try: a conviction founded on
experience. But in this case we should recall the old scepticism of
Hume, which idealist philosophy has regarded as mere subtle mind-play,
valueless after Kant's critique. The most lasting and varied experience
cannot lead to any binding and universal conclusion. Nay, all our
_a priori_, which are so useful for a certain time, become sooner
or later extremely harmful. A philosopher should not be afraid of
scepticism, but should go on bruising his jaw. Perhaps the failure
of metaphysics lies in the caution and timidity of metaphysicians,
who seem ostensibly so brave. They have sought for rest--which they
describe as the highest boon. Whereas they should have valued more than
anything restlessness, aimlessness, even purposelessness. How can you
tell when the partition will be removed? Perhaps at the very moment
when man ceased his painful pursuit, settled all his questions and
rested on his laurels, inert, he could with one strong push have swept
through the pernicious fence which separated him from the unknowable.
There is no need for man to move according to a carefully-considered
plan. This is a purely aesthetic demand which need not bind us. Let
man senselessly and deliriously knock his head against the wall--if
the wall go down at last, will he value his triumph any the less?
Unfortunately for us the illusion has been established in us that plan
and purpose are the best guarantee of success. What a delusion it is!
The opposite is true. The best of all that genius has revealed to us
has been revealed as the result of fantastic, erratic, apparently
ridiculous and useless, but relentlessly stubborn seeking. Columbus,
tired of sitting on the same spot, sailed west to look for India. And
genius, in spite of vulgar conception, is a condition of chaos and
unutterable restlessness. Not for nothing has genius been counted kin
to madness. Genius flings itself hither and thither because it has not
the _Sitzfleisch_ necessary for industrious success in mediocrity.
We may be sure that earth has seen much more genius than history
has recorded; since genius is acknowledged only when it has been
serviceable. When the tossing-about has led to no useful issue--which
is the case in the majority of instances--it arouses only a feeling
of disgust and abomination in all witnesses. "He can't rest and he
can't let others rest." If Lermontov and Dostoevsky had lived in times
when there was no demand for books, nobody would have noticed them.
Lermontov's early death would have passed unregretted. Perhaps some
settled and virtuous citizen would have remarked, weary of the young
man's eternal and dangerous freaks: "For a dog a dog's death." The same
of Gogol, Tolstoy, Poushkin. Now they are praised because they left
interesting books.... And so we need pay no attention to the cry about
the futility and worthlessness of scepticism, even scepticism pure and
unadulterated, scepticism which has no ulterior motive of clearing
the way for a new creed. To knock one's head against the wall out of
hatred for the wall: to beat against established and obstructive ideas,
because one detests them: is it not an attractive proposition? And
then, to see ahead uncertainly and limitless possibilities, instead of
up-to-date "ideals," is not this too fascinating? The highest good is
rest! I shall not argue: _de gustibus aut nihil aut bene_.... By the
way, isn't it a superb principle? And this superb principle has been
arrived at perfectly by chance, unfortunately not by me, but by one of
the comical characters in Tchekhov's _Seagull_. He mixed up two Latin
proverbs, and the result was a splendid maxim which, in order to become
an _a priori_, awaits only universal acceptance.


Metaphysicians praise the transcendental, and carefully avoid it.
Nietzsche hated metaphysics, he praised the earth--_bleib nur der
Erde treu, O meine Bruder_--and always lived in the realm of the
transcendental. Of course the metaphysicians behave better: this is
indisputable. He who would be a teacher must proclaim the metaphysical
point of view, and he may become a hero without ever smelling powder.
In these anxious days, when positivism seems to fall short, one cannot
do better than turn to metaphysics. Then the young man need not any
more envy Alexander the Macedonian. With the assistance of a few
books not only earthly states are conquered, but the whole mysterious
universe. Metaphysics is the great art of swerving round dangerous
experience. So metaphysicians should be called the positivists _par
excellence_. They do not despise all experience, as they assert, but
_only the dangerous experiences_. They adapt the safest of all methods
of selfdefence, what the English call protective mimicry. Let us repeat
to all students--professors know it already: he who would be a sincere
metaphysician must avoid risky experience. Schiller once asked: How can
tragedy give delight? The answer--to put it in our own words--was: If
we are to obtain delight from tragedy, it must be seen only upon the
stage.--In order to love the transcendental it also should be known
only from the stage, or from books of the philosophers. This is called
idealism, the nicest word ever invented by philosophising men.


_Poetae nascuntur_.--Wonderful is man. Knowing nothing about it, he
asserts the existence of an objective impossibility. Even a little
while ago, before the invention of the telephone and telegraph, men
would have declared it impossible for Europe to converse with America.
Now it is possible. We cannot produce poets, therefore we say they are
born. Certainly we cannot make a child a poet by forcing him to study
literary models, from the most ancient to the most modern. Neither will
anybody hear us in America no matter how loud we shout here. To make a
poet of a man, he must not be developed along ordinary lines. Perhaps
books should be kept from him. Perhaps it is necessary to perform some
apparently dangerous operation on him: fracture his skull or throw
him out of a fourth-storey window. I will refrain from recommending
these methods as a substitute for paedagogy. But that is not the
point. Look at the great men, and the poets. Except John Stuart Mill
and a couple of other positivist thinkers, who had learned fathers
and virtuous mothers, none of the great men can boast of, or better,
complain of, a proper upbringing. In their lives nearly always the
decisive part was played by accident, accident which reason would dub
meaninglessness, if reason ever dared raise its voice against obvious
success. Something like a broken skull or a fall from the fourth
floor--not metaphorically, but often absolutely literally--has proved
the commencement, usually concealed but occasionally avowed, of the
activity of genius. But we repeat automatically: _poetae nascuntur_,
and are deeply convinced that this extraordinary truth is so lofty it
needs no verification.


"Until Apollo calls him to the sacrifice, ignobly the poet is plunged
in the cares of this shoddy world; silent is his lyre, cold sleeps his
soul, of all the petty children of earth most petty it seems is he."
Pisaryev, the critic, was exasperated by these verses. Presumably, if
they had not belonged to Poushkin, all the critics along with Pisaryev
would have condemned them and their author to oblivion. Suspicious
verse! Before Apollo calls to him--the poet is the most insignificant
of mortals! In his free hours, the ordinary man finds some more or less
distinguished distraction fox himself: he hunts, attends exhibitions
of pictures, or the theatre, and finally rests in the bosom of his
family. But the poet is incapable of normal existence. Immediately he
has finished with Apollo, forgetting all about altars and sacrifices,
he proceeds to occupy himself with unworthy objects. Or he abandons
himself to the _dolce far niente_, the customary pastime of all
favourites of the Muses. Let us here remark that not only all poets,
but all writers and artists in general are inclined to lead bad lives.
Think what Tolstoy tells us, in _Confession_ and elsewhere, of the best
representatives of literature in the fifties. On the whole it is just
as Poushkin says in his verses. Whilst he is engaged in composition,
an author is a creature of some consequence: apart from this, he is
nothing. Why are Apollo and the Muses so remiss? Why do they draw to
themselves wayward or vicious votaries, instead of rewarding virtue?
We dare not suspect the gods, even the dethroned, of bad intentions.
Apollo loved virtuous persons--and yet virtuous persons are evidently
mediocre and unfit for the sacred offices. If any man is overcome with
a great desire to serve the god of song, let him get rid of his virtues
at once. Curious that this truth is so completely unknown to men. They
think that through virtue they can truly deserve the favour and choice
of Apollo. And since industry is the first virtue, they peg away,
morning, noon, and night. Of course, the more they work the less they
do. Which really puzzles and annoys them. They even fling aside the
sacred arts, and all the labours of a devotee; they give themselves up
to idleness and other bad habits. And sometimes it so happens, that
just as a man decides that it is all no good, the Muses suddenly visit
him. So it was with Dostoevsky and others; Schiller alone managed
to get round Apollo. But perhaps it was only his biographers he got
round. Germans are so trustful, so easy to deceive. The biographers
saw nothing unusual in Schiller's habit of keeping his feet in cold
water whilst he worked. No doubt they felt that if the divine poet had
lived in the Sahara, where water is precious as gold, and the inspired
cannot take a footbath every day, then the speeches of the Marquis of
Pola would have lacked half their nobleness, at least. And apparently
Schiller was not so wonderfully chaste, if he needed such artificial
resources in the composition of his fine speeches. In a word, we must
believe Poushkin. A poet is, on the one hand, among the elect; on the
other hand, he is one of the most insignificant of mortals. Hence we
can draw a very consoling conclusion: the most insignificant of men
are not altogether so worthless as we imagine. They may not be fit to
occupy government positions or professorial chairs, but they are often
extremely at home on Parnassus and such high places. Apollo rewards
vice, and virtue, as everybody knows, is so satisfied with herself she
needs no reward. Then why do the pessimists lament? Leibnitz was quite
right: we live in the best possible of worlds. I would even suggest
that we leave out the modification "possible."


It is _Das Ewig Weibliche_, with Russian writers. Poushkin and
Lermontov loved women and were not afraid of them; Poushkin, who
trusted his own nature, was often in love, and always sang his love of
the moment. When infatuated with a bacchante, he glorified bacchantes.
When he married, he warbled of a modest, nun-like beauty, his wife.
A synthesising mind would probably not know what to do with all
Poushkin's sorts of love. Nor is Lermontov any better. He abused women,
but, as Byelinsky observed after meeting him, he loved women more than
anything in the world. And again, not women of one mould only: any and
all attractive females: the wild Bella, the lovely Mary, Thamar; one
and all, no matter of what race or condition. Every time Lermontov is
in love, he assures us his love is so deep and ardent and even moral,
that we cannot judge him without conpunction. Vladimir Soloviov alone
was not afraid to condemn him. He brought Poushkin as well as Lermontov
to account for their moral irregularities, and he even went so far as
to say that it was not he himself who judged them, but Fate, in whose
service he acted as public denouncer. Lermontov and Poushkin, both
dying young, had deserved death for their frivolities. But there was
nobody else besides Vladimir Soloviov to darken the memories of the two
poets. It is true Tolstoy cannot forgive Poushkin's dissolute life, but
he does not apply to Fate for a verdict. According to Tolstoy morality
can cope even with a Titan like Poushkin. In Tolstoy's view morality
grows stronger the harder the job it has to tackle. It pardons the
weak offenders without waste of words, but it never forgives pride and
self-confidence. If Tolstoy's edicts had been executed, all memorials
to Poushkin would have disappeared; chiefly because of the poet's
addiction to the eternal female. In such a case Tolstoy is implacable.
He admits the the kind of love whose object is the establishing of
a family, but no more. Don Juan is a hateful transgressor. Think of
Levin, and his attitude to prostitutes. He is exasperated, indignant,
even forgets the need for compassion, and calls them "beasts." In the
eternal female Tolstoy sees temptation, seduction, sin, _great danger_.
Therefore it is necessary to keep quite away from the danger. But
surely danger is the dragon which guards every treasure on earth. And
again, no matter what his precautions, a man will meet his fate sooner
or later, and come into conflict with the dragon. Surely this is an
axiom. Poushkin and Lermontov loved danger, and therefore sought women.
They paid a heavy price, but while they lived they lived freely and
lightly. If they had cared to peep in the book of destinies, they might
have averted or avoided their sad end. But they preferred to trust
their star--lucky or unlucky. Tolstoy was the first among us--we cannot
speak of Gogol--who began to fear life. He was the first to start open
moralising. In so far as public opinion and personal dignity demand
it, he did go to meet his dangers: but not a step further. So he
avoided women, art, and philosophy. Love _per se_, that is, love which
does not lead to a family, like wisdom _per se_, which is wisdom that
has no utilitarian motive, and like art for art's sake, seemed to him
the worst of temptations, leading to the destruction of the soul. When
he plunged too deep in thinking, he was seized with panic. "It seemed
to me I was going mad, so I went away to the Bashkirs for koumiss."
Such confessions are common in his works. And surely there is no other
way with temptations, than to cut short, at once, before it is too
late. Tolstoy preserved himself on account of his inborn instinct for
departing betimes from a dangerous situation. Save for this cautious
prompting he would probably have ended like Lermontov or Poushkin.
True, he might have gone deeper into nature, and revealed us rare
secrets, instead of preaching at us abstinence, humility, simplicity
and so on. But such luck fell to the fate of Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky
had very muddled relations with morality. He was too racked by disease
and circumstance to get much profit out of the rules of morality. The
hygiene of the soul, like that of the body, is beneficial only to
healthy men. To the sick it is simply harmful. The more Dostoevsky
engaged himself with high morality, the more inextricably entangled
he became. He wanted to respect the personality in a woman, and only
the personality, and so he came to the point where he could not look
on any woman, however ugly, with indifference. The elder Karamazov and
his affair with Elizabeth Smerdyascha (Stinking Lizzie)--in what other
imagination could such a union have been contemplated? Dostoevsky, of
course, reprimands Karamazov, and thanks to the standards of modern
criticism, such a reprimand is accounted sufficient to exonerate our
author. But there are other standards. If a writer sets out to tell you
that no drab could be so loathsome that her ugliness would make you
forget she was woman; and if for illustration of this novel idea we
are told the history of Fiodov Karamazov with the deformed, repulsive
idiot, Stinking Lizzie; then, in face of such "imaginative art" it is
surely out of place to preserve the usual confidence in that writer.
We do not speak of the interest and _appreciation_ of Dostoevsky's
tastes and ideas. Not for one moment will I assert that those who
with Poushkin and Lermontov can see the Eternal Female only in young
and charming women, have any advantage over Dostoevsky. Of course,
we are not forbidden to live according to our tastes, and we may,
like Tolstoy, call certain women "beasts." But who has given us the
right to assert that we are higher or better than Dostoevsky? Judging
"objectively," all the points go to show that Dostoevsky is better--at
any rate he saw further, deeper. He could find an original interest,
he could discover _das ewig Weibliche_ where we should see nothing of
attraction at all, where Goethe would avert his face. Stinking Lizzie
is not a beast, as Levin would say, but a woman who is able, if even
for a moment, to arouse a feeling of love in a man. And we thought she
was worse than nothing, since she roused in us only disgust. Dostoevsky
made a discovery, we with our refined feelings missed it. His
distorted, abnormal sense showed a greater sensitiveness, in which our
high morality was deficient.... And the road to the great truth this
time, as ever, is through deformity. Idealists will not agree. They are
quite justly afraid that one may not reach the truth, but may get stuck
in the mud. Idealists are careful men, and not nearly so stupid as
their ideals would lead us to suppose.


New ideas, even our own, do not quickly conquer our sympathies. We must
first get accustomed to them.


_A point of view_.--Every writer, thinker--even every educated person
thinks it necessary to have a permanent point of view. He climbs up
some elevation and never climbs down again all his days. Whatever
he sees from this point of view, he believes to be reality, truth,
justice, good--and what he does not see he excludes from existence.
Man is not much to blame for this. Surely there is no very great joy
in moving from point of view to point of view, shifting one's camp
from peak to peak. We have no wings, and "a winged thought" is only
a nice metaphor--unless, of course, it refers to logical thinking.
There to be sure great volatility is usual, a lightness which comes
from perfect naïveté, if not ignorance. He who really wishes to know
something, and not merely to have a philosophy, does not rely on logic
and is not allured by reason. He must clamber from summit to summit,
and, if necessary, hibernate in the dales. For a wide horizon leads
to illusions, and in order to familiarise oneself with any object,
it is essential to go close up to it, touch it, feel it, examine it
from top to bottom and on every side. One must be ready, should this
be impossible otherwise, to sacrifice the customary position of the
body: to wriggle, to lie flat, to stand on one's head, in a word, to
assume the most unnatural of attitudes. Can there be any question of a
permanent point of view? The more mobility and elasticity a man has,
the less he values the ordinary equilibrium of his body; the oftener
he changes his outlook, the more he will take in. If, on the other
hand, he imagines that from this or the other pinnacle he has the most
comfortable survey of the world and life, leave him alone; he will
never know anything. Nay, he does not want to know, he cares more about
his personal convenience than about the quality of his work. No doubt
he will attain to fame and success, and thus brilliantly justify his
"point of view."


_Fame_.--"A thread from everyone, and the naked will have a shirt."
There is no beggar but has his thread of cotton, and he will not
grudge it to a naked man--no, nor even to a fully dressed one; but
will bestow it on the first comer. The poor, who want to forget their
poverty, are very ready with their threads. Moreover, they prefer to
give them to the rich, rather than to a fellow-tramp. To load the rich
with benefits, must not one be very rich indeed? That is why fame is
so easily got. An ambitious person asks admiration and respect from
the crowd, and is rarely denied. The mob feel that their throats are
their own, and their arms are strong. Why not vociferate and clap,
seeing that you can turn the head not only of a beggar like yourself,
but of a future hero, God knows how almighty a person. The humiliated
citizen who has hitherto been hauled off to the police station if he
shouted, suddenly feels that his throat has acquired a new value. Never
before has anyone given a rap for his worthless opinion, and now seven
cities are ready to quarrel for it, as for the right to claim Homer.
The citizen is delighted, he shouts at the top of his voice, and is
ready to throw all his possessions after his shouts. So the hero is
satisfied. The greater the shout, the deeper his belief in himself
and his mission. What will a hero not believe! For he forgets so soon
the elements of which his fame and riches are made. Heroes usually
are convinced that they set out on their noble career, not to beg
shouts from beggars, but to heap blessings on mankind. If they could
only call to mind with what beating hearts they awaited their first
applause, their first alms, how timidly they curried favour with ragged
beggars, perhaps they would speak less assuredly of their own merits.
But our memory is fully acquainted with Herbert Spencer and his law of
adaptability, and thus many a worthy man goes gaily on in full belief
in his own stupendous virtue.


_In defence of righteousness_.--Inexperienced and ingenuous people see
in righteousness merely a burden which lofty people have assumed out
of respect for law or for some other high and inexplicable reason. But
a righteous man has not only duties but rights. True, sometimes, when
the law is against him, he has to compromise. Yet how rarely does the
law desert him! No cruelty matters in him, so long as he does not
infringe the statutes. Nay, he will ascribe his cruelty as a merit to
himself, since he acts out of no personal considerations, but in the
name of sacred justice. No matter what he may do, once he is sanctioned
he sees in his actions only merit, merit, merit. Modesty forbids him to
say too much--but if he were to let go, what a luxurious panegyric he
might deliver to himself! Remembering his works, he praises himself at
all times; not aloud, but inwardly. The nature of virtue demands it:
man must rejoice in his morality and ever keep it in mind. And after
that, people declare that it is hard to be righteous. Whatever the
other virtues may be, certainly righteousness has its selfish side. As
a rule it is decidedly worth while to make considerable sacrifices in
order later on to enjoy in calm confidence all that surety and those
rights bestowed on a man by morality and public approval. Look at a
German who has paid his contribution to a society for the assistance of
the indigent. Not one stray farthing will he give, not to a poor wretch
who is starving before his eyes. And in this he feels right. This is
righteousness out and out: pay your tax and enjoy the privileges of a
high-principled man. So righteousness is much in vogue with cultured,
commercial nations. Russians have not quite got there. They are
afraid of the exactions of righteousness, not guessing the enormous
advantages derived. A Russian has a permanent relationship with his
conscience, which costs him far more than the most moral German, or
even Englishman, has to pay for his righteousness.


The best way of getting rid of tedious, played-out truths is to stop
paying them the tribute of respect and to treat them with a touch of
easy familiarity and derision. To put into brackets, as Dostoevsky did,
such words as good, self-sacrifice, progress, and so on, will alone
achieve you much more than many brilliant arguments would do. Whilst
you still contest a certain truth, you still believe in it, and this
even the least penetrating individual will perceive. But if you favour
it with no serious attention, and only throw out a scornful remark now
and then, the result is different. It is evident you have ceased to be
afraid of the old truth, you no longer respect it. And this sets people


_Four walls_.--Arm-chair philosophy is being condemned--rightly.
An arm-chair thinker is busy deciding on everything that is taking
place in the world: the state of the world market, the existence of
a world-soul, wireless telegraphy and the life after death, the cave
dweller and the perfectibility of man, and so on and so on. His chief
business is so to select his statements that there shall be no internal
contradiction; and this will give an appearance of truth. Such work,
which is quite amusing and even interesting, leads at last to very
poor results. Surely verisimilitudes of truth are not truth: nor have
necessarily anything in common with truth. Again, a man who undertakes
to talk of everything probably knows nothing. Thus a swan can fly, and
walk, and swim. But it flies indifferently, walks badly, and swims
poorly. An arm-chair philosopher, enclosed by four walls, sees nothing
but those four walls, and yet of these precisely he does not choose
to speak. If by accident he suddenly realised them and spoke of them
his philosophy might acquire an enormous value. This may happen when a
study is converted into a prison: the same four walls, but impossible
not to think of them! Whatever the prisoner turns his mind to--Homer,
the Greek-Persian wars, the future world-peace, the bygone geological
cataclysms--still the four walls enclose it all. The calm of the study
supplanted by the pathos of imprisonment. The prisoner has no more
contact with the world, and no less. But now he no longer slumbers
and has grayish dreams called world-conceptions. He is wide awake and
strenuously living. His philosophy is worth hearing. But man is not
distinguished for his powers of discrimination. He sees solitude and
four walls, and says: a study. He dreams of the market-place, where
there is noise and jostling, physical bustle, and decides that there
alone life is to be met. He is wrong as usual. In the market-place,
among the crowd, do not men sleep their deadest sleep? And is not the
keenest spiritual activity taking place in seclusion?


The Spartans made their helots drunk as an example and warning to their
noble youths. A good method, no doubt, but what are we of the twentieth
century to do? Whom shall we make drunk? We have no slaves, so we have
instituted a higher literature. Novels and stories describe drunken,
dissolute men, and paint them in such horrid colours that every reader
feels all his desire for vice depart from him. Unfortunately only our
Russians are either too conscientious or not sufficiently rectilinear
in their minds. Instead of showing the drunken helot as an object of
repugnance, as the Spartans did, they try to describe vice truthfully.
Realism has taken hold. Indeed, why make a fuss? What does it matter if
the writer's description is a little more or less ugly than the event?
Was justice invented that everything, _even evil,_ should be kept
intact? Surely evil must be simply rooted out, banned, placed outside
the pale. The Spartans did not stand on ceremony with living men, and
yet our novelists are afraid of being unjust to imaginary drunken
helots. And, so to speak, out of humane feeling too.... How naive one
must be to accept such a justification! Yet everybody accepts it.
Tolstoy alone, towards the end, guessed that humanitarianism is only
a pretext in this case, and that we Russians have described vice not
only for the purpose of scaring our readers. In modern masters the word
vice arouses not disgust, but insatiable curiosity. Perhaps the wicked
thing has been persecuted in vain, like so many other good things.
Perhaps it should have been studied, perhaps it held mysteries.... On
the strength of this "perhaps" morality was gradually abandoned, and
Tolstoy remained almost alone in his indignation. Realism reigns, and
a drunken helot arouses envy in timid readers who do not know where to
put their trust, whether in the traditional rules or in the appeal of
the master. A drunken helot an ideal! What have we come to? Were it not
better to have stuck to Lycurgus? Have we not paid too dearly for our

Many people think we have paid too dearly--not to mention Tolstoy,
who is now no longer taken quite seriously, though still accounted
a great man. Any mediocre journalist enjoys greater influence than
this master-writer of the Russian land. It is inevitable. Tolstoy
insists on thinking about things which are nobody's concern. He has
long since abandoned this world--and does he continue to exist in
any other? Difficult question! "Tolstoy writes books and letters,
therefore he exists." This inference, once so convincing, now has
hardly any effect on us: particularly if we take into account what it
is that Tolstoy writes. In several of his last letters he expresses
opinions which surely have no meaning for an ordinary man. They can
be summed up in a few words. Tolstoy professes an extreme egoism,
sollipsism, solus-ipse-ism. That is, in his old age, after infinite
attempts to love his neighbour, he comes to the conclusion that not
only is it impossible to love one's neighbour, but that there _is_ no
neighbour, that in all the world Tolstoy alone exists, that there is
even no world, but only Tolstoy: a view so obviously absurd, that it
is not worth refuting. By the way, there is also no possibility of
refuting it, unless you admit that logical inferences are non-binding.
Sollipsism dogged Tolstoy already in early youth, but at that time
he did not know what to do with the impertinent, oppressive idea,
so he ignored it. Finally, he came to it. The older a man becomes,
the more he learns how to make use of impertinent ideas. Fairly
recently Tolstoy could pronounce such a dictum: "Christ taught men
not to do stupid things." Who but Tolstoy could have ventured on such
an interpretation of the gospels? Why have we all held--all of us
but Tolstoy--that these words contained the greatest blasphemy on
Christ and His teaching? But it was Tolstoy's last desperate attempt
to save himself from sollipsism, without at the same time flying in
the face of logic: even Christ appeared among men only to teach them
common sense. Whence follows that "mad" thoughts may be rejected
with an easy conscience, and the advantage, as usual, remains with
the wholesome, reasonable, sensible thoughts. There is room for good
and for reason. Good is self-understood; it need not be explained.
If only good existed in the world, there would exist no questions,
neither simple nor ultimate. This is why youth never questions. What
indeed should it question: the song of the nightingale, the morning
of May, happy laughter, all the predicates of youth? Do these need
interpretation? On the contrary, any explanation is reduced to these
The proper questions arise only on contact with evil. A hawk struck
a nightingale, flowers withered, Boreas froze laughing youth--and in
terror our questions arose. "That is evil. The ancients were right.
Not in vain is our earth called a vale of tears and sorrow." And
once questions are started, it is impossible and unseemly to hurry
the answers, still less anticipate the questions. The nightingale
is dead and will sing no longer, the listener is frozen to death and
can hear no more songs. The situation is so palpably absurd that only
with the intention of getting rid of the question at any cost will
one strive for a sensible answer. The answer must be absurd--if you
don't want it, don't question. But if you must question, then be ready
beforehand to reconcile yourself with something like sollipsism or
modern realism. Thought is in a dilemma, and dare not take the leap to
get out. We laugh at philosophy, and, as long as possible, avoid evil.
But nearly all men feel the intolerable cramp of such a situation, and
each at his risk ventures to swim to shore on some more or less witty
theory. A few courageous ones speak the truth--but they are neither
understood nor respected. When a man's words show the depth of the
pain through which he has passed, he is not, indeed, condemned, but
the world begins to talk of his tragic state of soul, and to take
on a mournful look fitting to the occasion. Others more scrupulous
feel that phrases and mournful looks are unfitting, yet they cannot
dwell at length on the tragedies of outsiders, so they take on an
exaggeratedly stern bearing, as if to say, "We feel deeply, but we do
not wish to show our feeling." They really feel nothing, only want
to make others believe how sensitive and modest they are. At times
this leads to curious results, even in writers of the first order
of renown. Thus Anatole France, the inventor of that most charming
smile which is intended to convince men that he feels everything and
understands everything, but does not cry out, because that would not
be fitting, in one of his novels takes upon himself the noble rôle of
advocate of the victims of a crime, against the criminal. "Our time,"
he says, "out of _pity_ to the criminal forgets the sufferings of his
victim." This, I repeat, is one of the most curious misrepresentations
of modern endeavour. It is true we in Russia talk a good deal about
compassion, particularly to criminals, and Anatole France is by no
means the only man who thinks that our distinguishing characteristic is
extreme sensitiveness and tender-heartedness. But as a matter of fact
the modern man who thinks for himself is not drawn to the criminal by
a sense of compassion, which would incontestably be better applied to
the victim, but by curiosity, or if you like, inquisitiveness. For
thousands of years man has sought to solve the great mystery of life
through a God-conception--with theodicy and metaphysical theories as
a result, both of which deny the possibility of a mystery. Theodicy
has long ago wearied us. The mechanistic theories, which contend that
there is nothing special in life, that its appearance and disappearance
depend on the same laws as those of the conservation of energy and
the indestructibility of matter, these look more plausible at first
sight, but people do not take to them. And no theory can survive men's
reluctance to believe in it. In a word, good has not justified the
expectations placed on it. Reason has done no better. So overwrought
mankind has turned from its old idols and enthroned madness and evil.
The smiling Anatole argues, and proves--proves excellently. But who
does not know what his proofs amount to?--and who wants them? It may be
our children will take fright at the task we have undertaken, will call
us "squandering parents," and will set themselves again to heaping up
treasures, spiritual and material. Again they will believe in ideals,
progress, and such like. For my own part, I have hardly any doubt of
it. Sollipsism and the cult of groundlessness are not lasting, and,
most of all, they are not to be handed down. The final triumph, in life
as in old comedies, rests with goodness and common sense. History has
known many epochs like ours, and gone through with them. Degeneration
follows on the heels of immoderate curiosity, and sweeps away all
refined and exaggerately well-informed individuals. Men of genius have
no posterity--or their children are idiots. Not for nothing is nature
so majestically serene: she has hidden her secrets well enough. Which
is not surprising, considering how unscrupulous she is. No despot, not
the greatest villain on earth, has ever wielded power with the cruelty
and heartlessness of nature. The least violation of her laws--and
the severest punishment follows. Disease, deformity, madness, death
--what has not our common mother contrived to keep us in subjection?
True, certain optimists think that nature does not punish us, but
educates us. So Tolstoy sees it. "Death and sufferings, like animated
scarecrows, boo at man and drive him into the one way of life open to
him: for life is subject to its own law of reason." Not a bad method
of upbringing. Exactly like using wolves and bears. Unfortunate man,
bolting from one booing monster, is not always able in time to dodge
into the one correct way, and dashes straight into the maw of another
beast of prey. Then what? And this often happens. Without disparagement
of the optimists, we may say that sooner or later it happens to every
man. After which no more running. You won't tear yourself out of the
claws of madness or disease. Only one thing is left: in spite of
traditions, theodicy, wiseacres, and most of all in spite of oneself,
to go on praising mother nature and her great goodness. Let future
generations reject us, let history stigmatise our names, as the names
of traitors to the human cause--still we will compose hymns to
deformity, destruction, madness, chaos, darkness. And after that--let
the grass grow.


Astrology and alchemy lived their day and died a natural death.
But they left a posterity--chemistry inventing dyes, and astronomy
accumulating formulae. So it is. Geniuses beget idiots: especially when
the mothers are very virtuous, as in this case, when their virtue
is extraordinary. For the mothers are public utility and morality.
The alchemists wasted their time seeking the philosopher's stone; the
astrologers, swindled people telling fortunes by the stars. Wedded to
utility these two fathers have begotten the chemists and astronomers.
... Nobody will dispute the genealogy. Perhaps even none will dispute
that, from idiotic children one may, with a measure of probability,
infer genius in the parents. There are certain indications that this is
so--though of course one may not go beyond supposition. But supposition
is enough. There are more arguments in store. For instance--our day is
so convinced of the absolute nonsense and uselessness of alchemy and
astrology that no one dreams of verifying the conviction. We know there
were many charlatans and liars amongst alchemists and astrologers. But
what does this prove? In every department there are the same mediocre
creatures who speculate on human credulity. However positive our
science of medicine is, there are many fraudulent doctors who rob their
patients. The alchemists and astrologers were, in all probability,
the most remarkable men of their time. I will go further: in spite
of dye-stuffs and formulae, even in our nineteenth century, which
was so famous for its inventions and discoveries, the most eminent,
talented men still sought the philosopher's stone and forecast the
destinies of man. And those among them who were possessed of a poetic
gift won universal attention. In the old days, _consensu sapientium_,
a poet was allowed all kinds of liberties: he might speak of fate,
miracles, spirits, the life beyond--indeed of anything, provided he was
interesting. That was enough. The nineteenth century paid its tribute
to restlessness. Never were there so many disturbing, throbbing writers
as during the epoch of telephones and telegraphs. It was held indecent
to speak in plain language of the vexed and troubled aspirations of
the human spirit. Those guilty of the indecency were even dosed with
bromides and treated with shower-baths and concentrated foods. But all
this is external, it belongs to a history of "fashions" and cannot
interest us here. The point is that alchemy and astrology did not die,
they only shammed death and left the stage for a time. Now, apparently,
they are tired of seclusion and are coming forward again, having pushed
their unsuccessful children into the background. Well, so be it. _A la
bonne heure_!...


Man comes to the pass where all experience seems exhausted. Wherever he
go, whatever he see, all is old and wearyingly familiar. Most people
explain this by saying that they really know everything, and that from
what they have experienced they can infer all experience. This phase
of the exhaustion of life usually comes to a man between thirty-five
and forty--the best period, according to Karamzin. Not seeing anything
new, the individual assumes he is completely matured and has the right
to judge of everything. Knowing what has been he can forecast what will
be. But Karamzin was mistaken about the best period, and the "mature"
people are mistaken about the "nothing new can happen." The fact of
spiritual stagnation should not be made the ground for judging all
life's possibilities from known possibilities. On the contrary, such
stagnation should prove that however rich and multifarious the past may
have been, it has not exhausted a tittle of the whole possibilities.
From that which has been it is impossible to infer what will be.
Moreover, it is unnecessary--except, perhaps, to give us a sense of
our full maturity and let us enjoy all the charms of the best period
of life, so eloquently described by Karamzin. The temptation is not
overwhelming. So that, if man is under the necessity of enduring a
period of arrest and stagnation, and until such time as life re-starts
is doomed to meditation, would it not be better to use this meditating
_interregnum_ for a directly opposite purpose from the one indicated:
that is to say, for the purpose of finding in our past signs which tell
us that the future has every right to be anything whatsoever, like or
utterly unlike the past. Such signs, given a good will to find them,
may be seen in plenty. At times one comes to the conclusion that the
natural connection of phenomena, as hitherto observed, is not at all
inevitable for the future, and that miracles which so far have seemed
impossible, may come to seem possible, even natural, far more natural
than that loathsome law of sequence, the law of the regularity of
phenomena. We are bored stiff with regularity and sequence--confess
it, you also, you men of science. At the mere thought that, however we
may think, we can get no further than the acknowledgment of the old
regularity, an invincible disgust to any kind of mental work overcomes
us. To discover another law--still another--when already we have far
more than we can do with! Surely if there is any will-to-think left
in us, it is established in the supposition that the mind cannot and
must not have any bounds, any limits; and that the theory of knowledge,
which is based on the _history_ of knowledge and on a few very doubtful
assumptions, is only a piece of property belonging to a certain caste,
and has nothing to do with us others_--und die Natur zuletzt sich doch
ergründe._ What a mad impatience seizes us at times when we realise
that we shall never fathom the great mystery! Every individual in
the world must have felt at one time the mad desire to unriddle the
universe. Even the stodgy philosophers who invented the theory of
knowledge have at times made surreptitious sorties, hoping to open a
path to the unknown, in spite of their own fat, senseless books that
demonstrate the advantages of scientific knowledge. Man either lives in
continuous experience, or he frees himself from conclusions imposed by
limited experience. All the rest is the devil. From the devil come the
blandishments with which Karamzin charmed himself and his readers....
Or is it the contrary? Who will answer! Once again, as usual, at the
end of a pathetic speech one is left with a conjecture. Let every man
please himself. But what about those who would like to live according
to Karamzin, but cannot? I cannot speak for them. Schiller recommended
hope. Will it do? To be frank, hardly. He who has once lost his peace
of mind will never find it again.


Ever since Kant succeeded in convincing
the learned that the world of phenomena is quite other than the world
of true reality, and that even our own existence is not our real
existence, but only the visible manifestation of a mysterious, unknown
substance (substantia)--philosophy has been stuck in a new rut, and
cannot move a single millimetre out of the track laid out by the
great Königsbergian. Backward or forward it can go, but necessarily
in the Kantian rut. For how can you get out of the counterposing
of the phenomenon against the thing-in-itself? This proposition,
this counterposing seems inalterable, so there is nothing left but
to stick your head in the heavy draught-collar of the theory of
knowledge. Which most philosophers do, even with a glad smile, which
inevitably rouses a suspicion that they have got what they wanted,
and their "metaphysical need" was nothing more than a need for a
harness. Otherwise they would have kicked at the sight of the collar.
Surely the contraposition between the world of phenomena and the
thing-in-itself is an invention of the reasoning mind, as is the
theory of knowledge deduced from this contraposing. Therefore the
freedom-loving spirit could reject it in the very beginning--and
_basta!_ With the devil one must be very cautious. We know quite well
that if he only gets hold of the tip of your ear he will carry off
your whole body. So it is with Reason. Grant it one single assumption,
admit but one proposition--and _finita la commedia_. You are in the
toils. Metaphysics cannot exist side-by-side with reason. Everything
metaphysical is absurd, everything reasonable is--positive. So we come
upon a dilemma. The fundamental predicate of metaphysics is absurdity:
and yet surely many positive assertions can lay legitimate claim to
that self-same, highly-respectable predicate. What then? Is there means
of distinguishing a metaphysical absurdity from a perfectly ordinary
one? May one have recourse to criteria? Will not the very criterion
prove a pitfall wherein cunning reason will catch the poor man who was
rushing out to freedom? There can be no two answers to this question.
All services rendered by reason must be paid for sooner or later at
the exorbitant price of self-renunciation. Whether you accept the
assistance in the noble form of the theory of knowledge, or merely as
a humble criterion, at last you will be driven forth into the streets
of positivism. This happens all the time to young, inexperienced minds.
They break the bridle and dash forward into space, to find themselves
rushing into the same old Rome, whither, as we know, all roads lead:
or, to use more lofty language, rushing into the stable whither also
all roads lead. The only way to guard against positivism--granting,
of course, that positivism no longer attracts your sympathies--is to
cease to fear any absurdities, whether rational or metaphysical, and
systematically to reject all the services of reason. Such behaviour has
been known in philosophy; and I make bold to recommend it. _Credo, quia
absurdum_ comes from the Middle Ages. Modern instances are Nietzsche
and Schopenhauer. Both present noble examples of indifference to logic
and common-sense: particularly Schopenhauer, who, a Kantian, even in
the name of Kant made such daring sallies against reason, driving her
into confusion and shame. That astounding Kantian even went so far, in
the master's name still, as to attempt the overthrow of the space and
time notions. He admitted clairvoyance--and to this day the learned are
bothered whether to class that admission among the metaphysical or the
ordinary absurdities. Really, I can't advise them. A very clever man
insists on an enormous absurdity, so I am satisfied. Schopenhauer's
whole campaign against intellect is very comforting. It is evident
that, though he set out from the Kantian stable, he soon got sick
of hauling along down the cart-ruts, and having broken the shafts,
he trotted jauntily into a jungle of irreconcilable contradictions,
without reflecting in the least where he was making for. The primate
of will over reason; and music as the expression of our deepest
essence; are not these assertions sufficient to show us how dexterously
he wriggled out from the harness of synthetic judgments _a priori_
which Kant had placed upon every thinker. There is indeed much more
music than logic in the philosophy of Schopenhauer; Not for nothing
is he excluded from the universities. But of course one may speak of
him in the open; not of his ideas, naturally, but of his music. The
European market is glutted with ideas. How neat and nicely-finished and
logically well-turned-out those ideas are. Schopenhauer had no such
goods. But what lively and splendid contradictions he boldly spreads
on his stall, often even without suspicion that he ought to hide them
from the police. Schopenhauer cries and laughs and gets furious or
glad, without ever realising that this is forbidden to a philosopher.
"Do not speak, but sing," said Zarathustra, and Schopenhauer ready
fulfilled the command in great measure. Philosophy may be music--though
it doesn't follow that music may be called philosophy. When a man
has done his work, and gives himself up to looking and listening and
pleasantly accepting everything, hiding nothing from himself, then he
begins to "philosophise." What good are abstract formulae to him? Why
should he ask himself, before he begins to think: "What can I think
about, what are the limits of thought?" He will think, and those who
like can do the summing up and the building of theories of knowledge.
What is the earthly use of talking about beauty? Beautiful things must
be created. Not one single aesthetic theory has so far been able to
guess what direction the artists' mind will next take, or what are the
limits to his creative activity. The same with the theory of knowledge.
It may arrest the work of a man of learning, if he be himself afraid
that he is going too far, but it is powerless to pre-determine human
thought. Even Kant's counterposing of things-in-themselves to the world
of phenomena cannot finally clip the wings of human curiosity. There
will come a time when this unshakeable foundation of positivism will
be shaken. All gnosiological disputes as to what thought can or cannot
achieve will seem to our posterity just as amusing as the disputes
of the schoolmen seem to us. "Why did they argue about the nature of
truth, when they might have gone out and looked for truth itself?" the
future historians will ask. Let us have an answer ready for them. Our
contemporaries do not want to go out and seek, so they make a great
deal of talk about a theory of knowledge.

"Trust not thyself, young dreamer."--However sincerely you may long
for truth, whatever sufferings and horrors you may have surpassed, do
not believe your own self, young dreamer. What you are looking for,
you won't find. At the utmost, if you have a gift for writing you will
bring out a nice original book. Even--do not be offended--you may
be satisfied with such a result. In Nietzsche's letters relating to
the year 1888, the year when Brandes discovered him, you will find a
sad confirmation of the above. Had not Nietzsche struggled, sought,
suffered?--and behold, towards the end of his life, when it would
have seemed that all mundane rewards had become trivial to him, he
threw himself with rapture on the tidings of first fame, and rushed
to share his joy with all his friends, far and near. He does not tire
of telling in dozens of letters and in varying forms the story of how
Brandes first began his lectures on him, Nietzsche, how the audience
consisted of three hundred people, and he even quotes Brandes' placard
announcement in the original Danish. Fame just threw him a smile,
and forgotten are all the horrible experiences of former days. The
loneliness, the desertedness, the cave in the mountain, the man into
whose mouth the serpent climbed--all forgotten, every thought turned to
the ordinary, easily-comprehensible good. Such is man.

    _Mit gier'ger Hand nach Schätzen gräbt_
    _Und froh ist wenn er Regenwürmer findet_.


When a man is young he writes because it seems to him he has discovered
a new almighty truth which he must make haste to impart to forlorn
mankind. Later, becoming more modest, he begins to doubt his truths:
and then he writes to convince himself. A few more years go by, and
he knows he was mistaken all round, so there is no need to convince
himself. Nevertheless he continues to write, because he is not fit for
any other work, and to be accounted a "superfluous" man is so horrible.


A very original man is often a banal writer, and vice versa. We tend
so often to write not about what is going on in us, but of our _pia
desideria_. Thus restless, sleepless men sing the glory of sleep
and rest, which have long been sung to death. And those who sleep
ten hours on end and are always up to the mark must perforce dream
about adventures and storms and dangers, and even extol everything


When one reads the books of long-dead men, a strange sensation comes
over one. These men who lived two hundred, three hundred, three
thousand years ago are so far off now from this writing which they have
left on earth. Yet we look for eternal truths in their works.


The truth which I have the right to announce so solemnly to-day, even
to the first among men, will probably be a stale old lie on my lips
to-morrow. So I will deprive myself of the right of calling such a
truth my own. Probably I shall deprive no one but myself: others will
go on loving and praising the self-same truth, living with it.


A writer who cannot lie with inspiration--and that is a great art,
which few may accomplish--loves to make an exhibition of honesty and
frankness. Nothing else is left him to do.


_The source of originality_.--A man who has lost all hope of rooting
out of himself a certain radical defect of character, or even of hiding
the flaw from others, turns round and tries to find in his defect a
pertain merit. If he succeeds in convincing his acquaintances, he
achieves a double gain: first, he quiets his conscience, and then he
acquires a reputation for being original.


Men begin to strive towards great ends when they feel they cannot cope
with the little tasks of life. They often have their measure of success.


A belch interrupts the loftiest meditation. You may draw a conclusion
if you like: if you don't like, you needn't.


_A woman of conviction_.--We forgive a man his "convictions," however
unwillingly. It goes without saying that we balk at any individual who
believes in his own infallibility, but one must reconcile oneself
with necessity. It is ugly and preposterous to have corns on one's
hands, but still, they can't be avoided in this unparadisal earth of
sweat and labour. But why see an ideal in callosities? In practical
life, particularly in the social political life to which we are
doomed, convictions are a necessity. Unity is strength, and unity is
possible only among people who think alike. Again, a deep conviction
is in itself a strong force, far more powerful than the most logical
argumentation. Sometimes one has only to pronounce in a full, round,
vibrating chest voice, such as is peculiar to people of conviction,
some trifling sentence, and an audience hitherto unconvinced is carried
away. Truth is often dumb, particularly a new truth, which is most
shy of people, and which has a feeble, hoarse voice. But in certain
situations that which will influence the crowd is more important than
that which is genuine truth. Convictions are necessary to a public
man; but he who is too clever to believe in himself entirely, and is
not enough of an actor to look as if he believed, he had best give up
public work altogether. At the same time he will realise that lack
of convictions is not profitable, and will look with more indulgence
on such as are bound to keep themselves well supplied. Yet all the
more will he dislike those men who without any necessity disfigure
themselves with the coarse tattoo marks. And particularly he will
object to such women. What can be more intolerable than a woman of
conviction. She lives in a family, without having to grind for her
daily bread--why disfigure herself? Why wilfully rub her hands into
corns, when she might keep them clean and pretty! Women, moreover,
usually pick up their convictions ready-made from the man who interests
them most at the moment. And never do they do this so vigorously as
when the man himself seems incapable of paving the way to his ideas!
They are full of feeling for him; they rush to the last extremities
of resource. Will not their feeble little fists help him? It may be
touching, but in the end it is intolerable. So it is much pleasanter
to meet a woman who believes in her husband and does not consider it
necessary to help him. She can then dispense with convictions.


_Emancipation of women_.--The one and only way of mastering an enemy
is to learn the use of his weapons. Starting from this, modern woman,
weary of being the slave of man, tries to learn all his tricks. Hard
is slavery, wonderful is freedom! Slavery at last is so unendurable
that a human being will sacrifice, everything for freedom. Of what use
are his virtues to a prisoner languishing in prison? He has one aim,
one object--to get out of prison, and he values only such qualities
in himself as will assist his escape. If it is necessary to break
an iron grating by physical force, then strong muscles will seem to
the prisoner the most desirable of all things. If cunning will help
him, cunning is the finest thing on earth. Something the same happens
with woman. She became convinced that man owed his priority chiefly
to education and a trained mind, so she threw herself on books and
universities. Learning that promises freedom is light, everything else
darkness. Of course, it is a delusion, but you could never convince her
of it, for that would mean the collapse of her best hopes of freedom.
So that in the end woman will be as well-informed as man, she will
furnish herself with broad views and unshakeable convictions, with a
philosophy also--and in the end she may even learn to think logically.
Then, probably, the many misunderstandings between the sexes will
cease. But heavens, how tedious it will be! Men will argue, women will
argue, children will probably be born fully instructed, understanding
everything. With what pain will the men of the future view our women,
capricious, frivolous, uninformed creatures, understanding nothing and
desiring to understand nothing. A whole half of the human race neither
would nor could have any understanding! But the hope lies there. Maybe
we can do without understanding. Perhaps a logical mind is not an
attribute, but a curse. In the struggle for existence, however, and the
survival of the fittest, not a few of the best human qualities have
perished. Obviously woman's illogicality is also destined to disappear.
It is a thousand pities.


All kinds of literature are good, except the tedious, said Voltaire.
We may enlarge the idea. All men and all activities are good, except
the tedious. Whatever your failings and your vices, if you are only
amusing or interesting all is forgiven you. Accordingly, frankness and
naturalness are quite rightly considered doubtful virtues. If people
say that frankness and naturalness are virtues, always take it _cum
grano salis_. Sometimes it is permissible and even opportune to fire
off truth of all sorts. Sometimes one may stretch oneself like a log
across the road. But God forbid that such sincere practices should be
raised into a principle. To out with the truth at all times, always to
reveal oneself entirely, besides being impossible to accomplish, never
having been accomplished even in the confessions of the greatest men,
is moreover a far more risky business than it seems. I can confidently
assert that if any man tried to tell the whole truth about himself, not
metaphorically, for every metaphor is a covering ornament, but in plain
bare words, that man would ruin himself for ever, for he would lose
all interest in the eyes of his neighbours, and even in his own eyes.
Each of us bears in his soul a heavy wound, and knows it, yet carries
himself, _must_ carry himself as if he were aware of nothing, while all
around keep up the pretence. Remember Lermontov:

    _Look! around you, playfully_
    _The crowd moves on the usual road_.
    _Scarce a mark of trouble on the festive faces_,
    _Not one indecent tear_!
    _And yet is barely one amongst them_
    _But is crushed by heavy torture_,
    _Or has gathered the wrinkles of young age_
    _Save from crime or loss_.

These words are horribly true--and the really horrible should be
concealed, it frightens one off. I admit, Byron and Lermontov could
make it alluring. But all that is alluring depends on vagueness,
remoteness. Any monster may be beautiful in the distance. And no
man can be interesting unless he keep a certain distance between
himself and people. Women do not understand this. If they like a
man, they try to come utterly near to him, and are surprised that he
does not meet their frankness with frankness, and admit them to his
holy of holies. But in the innermost sanctuary the only beauty is
inaccessibility. As a rule it is not a sanctuary but a lair where the
wounded beast in man has run to lick his wounds. And shall this be
done in public? People generally, and women particularly, ought to be
given something positive. In books one may still sing the praise of
wounds, hopelessness, and despair--whatever you like, for books are
still literature, a conventionality. But to strip one's anguish in the
open market, to confess an incurable disease to others, this is to
kill one's soul, not to relieve it. All, even the best men, have some
aversion for you. Perhaps in the interest of order and decorum they
will grant you a not-too-important place in their philosophy of life.
For in a philosophy of life, as in a cemetery, a place is prepared for
each and all, and everyone is welcome. There also are enclosures where
rubbish is dumped to rot. But for those who have as yet no desire to
be fitted into a world-philosophy, I would advise them to keep their
tongue between their teeth, or like Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, take to
literature. To a writer, in books and only in books, all is permitted
provided he has talent. But in actual living even a writer must not
let loose too much, lest people should guess that in his books he is
telling the truth.


Poushkin asserts that the poet himself can and must be the judge of
his own work. "Are you content, exacting artist? Content, then let
the mob revile." It is needless to argue against this, for how could
you prove that the supreme verdict belongs not to the poet himself,
but to public opinion? Nor, for that matter, can we prove Poushkin
right. We must agree or disagree, as we like. But we cannot reject the
evidence. Whether you like it or not, Poushkin was evidently satisfied
with his own work, and did not need his reader's sanction. Happy man!
And it seems to me he owed his happiness exclusively to his inability
to pass beyond certain limits. I doubt-if all poets would agree to
repeat Poushkin's verse quoted above. I decidedly refuse to believe
that Shakespeare, for instance, after finishing _Hamlet_ or _King
Lear_ could have said to himself: "I, who judge my work more strictly
than any other can judge, am satisfied." I do not think he can even
have thought for a moment of the merits of his works, _Hamlet_ or
_King Lear_. To Shakespeare, after Hamlet, the word "satisfied" must
have lost all its meaning, and if he used it, it was only by force of
habit, as we sometimes call to a dead person. His own works must have
seemed to him imperfect, mean, pitiful, like the sob of a child or the
moaning of a sick man. He gave them to the theatre, and most probably
was surprised that they had any success. Perhaps he was glad that his
tears were of some use, if only for amusing and instructing people. And
probably in this sense the verdict of the crowd was dearer to him than
his own verdict. He could not help accusing his own offspring--thank
heaven, other people acquitted it. True, they acquitted it because
they did not understand, or understood imperfectly, but this did not
matter. "Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape a
whipping?" asked Hamlet. Shakespeare knew that a strict tribunal would
reject his works: for they contain so many terrible questions, and not
one perfect answer. Could anyone be "satisfied" at that rate? Perhaps
with _Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night_, or even _Richard III_.--but
after _Hamlet_ a man may find rest only in his grave. To speak the
whole truth, I doubt if Poushkin himself maintained the view we have
quoted till the end of his days, or even if he spoke all he felt when
he wrote the poem in 1830. Possibly he felt how little a poet can be
satisfied with his work, but pride prevented his admitting it, and he
tried to console himself with his superiority over the crowd. Which
is undeniably a right thing to do. Insults--and Poushkin had to endure
many--are answered with contempt; and woe to the poor wretch who feels
impelled to justify his contempt by his own merits, according to the
stern voice of conscience. Such niceness is dangerous and unnecessary.
If a man would preserve his strength and his confidence he must give
up magnanimity, he must learn to despise people, and even if he cannot
despise them he must have the air of one who would not give a pin's
head for anybody. He must appear always content. ... Poushkin was a
clever man and a deep nature.


_Metaphysics against their will_.--It often occurs to us that evil is
not altogether so, unnecessary, after all. Diseases, humiliations,
miseries, deformity, failure, and all the rest of those plants which
flourish with such truly tropical luxuriance on our planet, are
probably essential to man. Poets sing plentifully of sorrow.

"_Nous sommes les apprentis, la douleur est notre maître_," said
de Musset. On this subject everybody can bring forth a quotation,
not only from the philosophers, who are a cold, heartless tribe,
but from tender, gentle, or sentimental poets. Doubtless one knows
many instances where suffering has profited a man. True also, one
knows many cases of the direct opposite. And these are all cases of
profound, earnest, outrageous, incredibly outrageous suffering. Look
at Tchekhov's men and women--plainly drawn from life, or at any rate,
exceedingly life-' like. Uncle Vanya, an old man of fifty, cries beside
himself all over the stage, "My life is done for, my life is done for,"
and senselessly shoots at a harmless professor. The hero in _A Tedious
Story_ was a quiet, happy man engaged in work of real importance, when
suddenly a horrible disease stole upon him, not killing him, but taking
him between its loathsome jaws. But what for? Then Tchekhov's girls and
women! They are mostly young, innocent, fascinating. And always there
lies in wait for them round every corner a meaningless, rude, ugly
misery which murders even the most modest hopes. They sob bitterly, but
fate takes no notice. How explain such horrors? Tchekhov is silent.
He does not weep himself--he left off long ago, and besides it is a
humiliating thing for a grown-up person to do. Setting one's teeth, it
is necessary either to keep silent or--to explain. Well, metaphysics
under takes the explanation. Where common sense stops, metaphysics must
take another stride. "We have seen," it says, "many instances where
at first glance suffering seemed absurd and needless, but where later
on a profound significance was revealed. Thus it may be that what we
cannot explain may find its explanation in time. 'Life is lost,' cries
Uncle Vanya, 'Life is done for,' repeat the voices of girls innocently
perishing--yet nothing is lost. The very horror which a drowning man
experiences goes to show that the drowning is nothing final. It is
only the beginning of greater events. The less a man has fulfilled in
experience, the more in him remains of unsatisfied passion and desire,
the greater are the grounds for thinking that his essence cannot be
destroyed, but must manifest itself somehow or other in the universe.
Voluntary asceticism and self-denial, such common human phenomena,
help to solve the riddle. Nobody compels a man, he imposes suffering
and abstinence on himself. It is an incomprehensible instinct, but
still an instinct which, rooted in the depths of our nature, prompts
us to a decision repugnant to reason: renounce life, save yourself. The
majority of men do not hear or do not heed the prompting. And then
nature, which cannot rely on our sensibility, has recourse to violence.
She shows glimpses of Paradise to us in our youth, awakens hopes and
impossible desires, and at the moment of our supreme expectation she
shows us the hollowness of our hope. Nearly every life can be summed
up in a few words: man was shown heaven--and thrown into the mud. We
are all ascetics--voluntary or involuntary. Here on earth dreams and
hopes are only awakened, not fulfilled. And he who has endured most
suffering, most privation, will awaken in the afterwards most keenly
alive." Such long speeches metaphysics whispers to us. And we repeat
them, often leaving out the "it may be." Sometimes we believe them,
and forge our philosophies from them. Even we go so far as to assert
that had we the power we would change nothing, absolutely nothing in
the world. And yet, if by some miracle such power came into our hands,
how triumphantly we would send to the devil all philosophies and lofty
world-conceptions, all ideals and metaphysics, and plainly and simply,
without reflection, abolish sufferings, deformities, failures, all
those things to which we attach such a high educational value, abolish
them from the face of the earth. We are fed up, oh, how fed up we are
with carrying on our studies. But it can't be helped. _Faute de mieux,_
let us keep on inventing systems, thinking them out. But let us agree
not to be cross with those who don't want to have anything to do with
our systems. Really, they have a perfect right.


Old age must be respected--so all say, even the old. And the young
willingly meet the demand. But in such spontaneous, even often emphatic
respect, is there not something insulting to old age. Every young man,
by his voluntary deference, seems to say: "And still the rising star
shines brighter than the setting." And the old, accepting the respect,
are well aware that they can count on nothing more. The young are
attentive and respectful to the old only upon the express condition
that the latter shall behave like old people, and stand aside from
life. Let a real man try to follow Faust's example, and what a shindy
there will be! The old, being as a rule helpless, are compelled to
bow to public opinion and behave as if their only interests were
the interests of righteousness, good name, and such-like Platonic
attributes. Only a few go against the convention, and these are
monsters and degenerates. We do not wish old men to have desires, so
that life is arranged as if old men desired nothing. This, of course,
is no great matter: even the young are compelled to be satisfied
with less than nothing, in our system. We are not out to meddle with
human rights. Our point is that science and philosophy take enforced
appearances for reality. Grey hair is supposed to be a sure sign of
victory over the passions. Hence, seeing that we must all come to
grey hairs, therefore the ultimate business of man is to overcome the
passions.... On this granite foundation whole systems of philosophy are
built. It is not worth while quarrelling with a custom--let us continue
to pay respect to old age. But let us look in other directions for
philosophic bases. It is time to open a free road to the passions even
in the province of metaphysics.


_Dostoevsky_--_advocatus diaboli_.--Dostoevsky, like Nietzsche,
disliked Protestantism, and tried every means of degrading it in
the eyes of the world. As normally he was not over scrupulous, it is
probable he never took the trouble to acquaint himself with Luther's
teaching. His flair did not deceive him: the Protestant religion and
morality was most unsuitable to him and his kind. But does this mean
that it was to be calumniated, and judged, as Dostoevsky judged it,
merely by the etymological meaning of a word? Protestant--a protester,
one who only protests and has no positive content. A child's text-book
of history will show the absurdity of the definition. Protestantism
is, on the whole, the most positive, _assertive_ creed of all the
Christian religions. It certainly protested against Catholicism, but
against the destructive tendencies in the latter, and in the name of
positive ideals. Catholicism relied too much on its power and its
spell, and most of all on the infallibility of its dogmas to which it
offered millions of victims. To maim and mutilate a man _ad majorem
gloriam Dei_ was considered a perfectly proper thing in the Middle
Ages, the period of bloom for Catholicism. At the risk of appearing
paradoxical, I venture to assert that ideas have been invented only for
the purpose of giving the right to mutilate people. The Middle Ages
nourished a mysterious, incomprehensible hatred for everything normal,
self-satisfied, complete. A young, healthy, handsome man, at peace
with himself, aroused suspicion and hostility in a believing Catholic.
His very appearance offended religion and confuted dogma. It was not
necessary to examine him. Even though he went to church, and gave no
sign of doubt, either in deed or word, yet he must be a heretic, to
be converted at all cost. And we know the Catholic cost: privation,
asceticism, mortification of the flesh. The most normal person, kept
on a monastic regime, will lose his spiritual balance, and all those
virtues which belong to a healthy spirit and a healthy body. This was
all Catholicism needed. It tried to obtain from people the _extreme
endeavour_ of their whole being. Ordinary, natural love, which found
its satisfaction--this was sinful. Monks and priests were condemned
to celibacy--hence monstrous and abnormal passions developed. Poverty
was preached, and the most unheard-of greed appeared in the world,
the more secret the stronger it became. Humility was essential--and
out of bare-footed monks sprang despots who had no limits to their
ambitions. Luther was the last man to understand the meaning and
value of the tasks which Catholicism had set itself. What he saw in
Rome was not the accidental outcome of this or the other historical
circumstance, but a result of the age-long effort of generations that
had striven to attribute to life as alarming and dangerous a nature as
possible. The sincere, direct, rustic German monk was too simple-minded
to make out what was going on in Rome. He thought there existed one
truth, and that the essence of Catholicism lay in what seemed to him
an exemplary, virtuous life. He went direct to his aim? What meaning
can monasticism have? Why deprive a priest of family happiness? How
accept the licentiousness of the pope's capital? The common sense of
the normal German revolted against the absurdity of such a state of
things--and Luther neither could nor _would_ see any good where common
sense was utterly forgotten. The violent oscillation of life resulting
from the continuous quick passage from asceticism and blind faith to
unbelief and freedom of the passions aroused a mystic horror in the
honest monk and released the enormous powers in him necessary to start
the great struggle. How could he help protesting? And who was the
denier, Luther, or the Rome which passed on from the keeping of the
Divine Word to the arbitrary ordaining of all the mysteries of life?
Luther might have forgiven the monks had they confined themselves
to sophistries. But mediaeval monks had nothing in common with our
philosophers. They did not look for world-conceptions in books, and
logical tournaments amused them only moderately. They threw themselves
into the deeps of life, they experimented on themselves and their
neighbours. They passed from mortification to licentious bacchanalia.
They feared nothing, spared nothing. In a word, the Rome against which
Luther arose had undertaken to build Babylon again, not with stones,
but with human souls. Luther, horrified, withdrew, and with him half
Europe was withdrawn. That is his positive merit. And Dostoevsky
attacked Lutheranism, and pitied the old Catholicism and the breathless
heights to which its "spiritual" children had risen. Wholesome
morality and its support is not enough for Dostoevsky. All this is not
"positive," it is only "protest." Whether I am believed or not, I will
repeat that Vladimir Soloviov, who held that Dostoevsky was a prophet,
is wrong, and that N. K. Mikhailovsky, who calls him a cruel talent
and a grubber after buried treasure, is right. Dostoevsky grubs after
buried treasure--no doubt about that. And, therefore, it would be more
becoming in the younger generation that still marches under the flag
of pious idealism if, instead of choosing him as a spiritual leader,
they avoided the old sorcerer, in whom only those gifted with great
shortsightedness or lack of experience in life could fail to see the
dangerous man.


It is boring and difficult to convince people, and after all, not
necessary. It would be much better if every individual kept his own
opinions. Unfortunately, it cannot be. Whether you like it or not, you
have to admit the law of gravitation. Some people find it necessary
to admit the origin of man from the monkey. In the empirical realm,
however humiliating it may be, there are certain real, binding,
universal truths against which no rebellion will avail. With what
pleasure would we declare to a representative of science that fire does
not burn, that rattlesnakes are not poisonous, that a fall from a high
tower is perfectly agreeable, etc., etc., supposing he were obliged
to prove to us the contrary. Unluckily the scientific person is free
from the burden of proof: nature proves, and thoroughly. If nature,
like metaphysics, set out to compel us through syllogisms or sermons
to believe in her, how little she would get out of us. She is much
more sagacious. Morality and logic she has left to Hegel and Spinoza,
for herself she has taken a cudgel. Now then, try to argue against
_this_! You will give in against your will. The cleverest of all the
metaphysicians, Catholic inquisitors, imitated nature. They rarely
tried the word, and trusted to the fire of faggots rather than of the
heart. Had they only had more power, it would not be possible to find
two people in the whole world disbelieving in the infallibility of the
Pope. Metaphysical ideas, dreamily expecting to conquer the world by
reasoned exposition, will never attain dominion. If they are bent on
success, let them try more effective methods of convincing.


_Evolution_.--In recent years we see more and more change in the
philosophies of writers and even of non-literary people. The old men
are beside themselves--such shiftiness seems indecent. After all,
convictions are not gloves. But the young carelessly pass on from
one idea to another. Irresolute men are somewhat timid, and although
they abandon their former convictions they do not declare the change
openly. Others, however, plainly announce, as if it were nothing, how
far they now are from the beliefs they held six months ago. One even
publishes whole volumes relating how he passed on from one philosophy
to another, and then to a third. People see nothing alarming in that
kind of "evolution." They believe it is in the ordering of things.
But not so at all! The readiness to leave off one set of convictions
in order to assume another set shows complete indifference to
convictions altogether. Not for nothing do the old sound the alarm.
But to us who have fought so long against all kinds of constancy, the
levity of the young is a pleasant sight. They will don materialism,
positivism, Kantianism, spiritualism, and so on, one after the other,
till they realise that all theories, ideas and ideals are as of little
consequence as the hoop-skirts and crinolines of our grandmothers. Then
they will begin to live without ideals and pre-arranged purposes,
without foresight, relying on chance and their own ready wit. This way,
too, must be tried. Perhaps we shall do better by it.... Anyhow, it
will be more fun.


_Strength of will_.--Weakness and paralysis of the will, a very
dangerous disease in our times, and in most other times, consists
not in the absolute loss of desire, such as takes place in the very
old, but in the loss of the capacity to translate desire into deed. A
diseased will is often met in violently passionate men, so that the
proverb--"Say I will not, not I cannot"--does not always hold good. Man
often would, but cannot. And then the force of desire instead of moving
to outward creation, works inwardly. This is justly considered the
most dangerous effect of the weakening of the will. For inward working
is destructive working. Man does not only, to put it scientifically,
fail to adapt nature to his needs, but he loses his own power of
adaptability to outward circumstances. The most ordinary doctor, or
even anybody, decides that he has before him a pathological case which
must be treated with care. The patient is of the same opinion, whilst
he still hopes. But when the treatment has had no results, the doctor
draws back and speaks of the inadequacy of his science. Then what is
the patient to retire upon? It is disgusting to speak of an incurable
disease. So he begins to think, think, think--all the time about things
of which nobody thinks. He is gradually forgotten, and gradually he
forgets everything--but first of all, that widespread truth which
asserts that no judgments are valid save those that are accepted
and universal. Not that he disputes the truth: he _forgets it_, and
there is none to remind him. To him all his judgments seem valid and
important. Of course he cannot advance the principle: let all men turn
from the external world into themselves. But why advance a principle
at all? One can simply say: I am indifferent to the destinies of the
external world. I do not want to move mountains or turn rivers aside or
rearrange the map of Europe. I don't even want to go to the tobacconist
to buy cigarettes. I don't want _to do_ anything. I want to think that
my inaction is the most important thing on earth, that any "disease" is
better than health, and so on and so on without end. To what thought's
will not a man abandoned by medicine and doctors sink down! His
judgments are not binding on us, that is as clear as day. But are they
uninteresting? And is that paralysis, that weakness of will, a disease


_Death and metaphysics_.--A superficial observer knows that the best
things in life are hard to attain. Some psychologists even consider
that the chief beauty of the highest things consists in their
unattainability. This is surely not true--yet there is a grain in it.
The roads to good things are dangerous to travel. Is it because nature
is so much poorer than we imagine, so she must lock up her blessings,
or is there some greater meaning in it, that we have not guessed? For
the fact is, the more alluring an end we have in view, the more risks
and horrors we must undertake to get there. May we not also make a
contrary suggestion: that behind every danger something good is hidden,
and that therefore danger serves as an indication, a mark to guide us
onwards, not as a warning, as we are taught to believe. To decide this
would be to decide that behind death, the greatest of dangers, must
lie the most promising things. It is as well not to speculate further.
We had best stop lest we quarrel even with metaphysics. Traditional
metaphysics has always been able to illumine our temporal existence
with the reflected beams of eternity. Let us follow the example. Let
us make no attempt to know the absolute. If you have discovered a
comforting hypothesis, even in the upper transcendental air, drag it
quickly to earth where labouring men forever await even an imaginary
relief from their lot. We must make use of everything, even of death,
to serve the ends of this life of ours.


_The future_.--A clever, reasonable boy, accustomed to trust his
common sense, read in a book for children a description of a shipwreck
which occurred just as the passengers were eating their sweets at
dessert. He was astonished to learn that everyone, women and children
as well, who could give no assistance-whatever in saving the ship,
left their dessert and rushed on deck with wailing and tears. Why
wail, why rush about, why be stupidly agitated? The crew knew their
business and would do all that could be done. If you are going to
perish, perish you will, no matter how you scream. It seemed to
the boy that if he had been on the ship he would just have gone on
eating his sweets to the last moment. Justice should be done to this
judicious and irreproachable opinion. There remained only a few minutes
to live--would it not have been better to enjoy them? The logic is
perfect, worthy of Aristotle. And it was found impossible to prove to
the boy that he would have left his sweets, even his favourite sweets,
under the same circumstances, and rushed, and screamed with the rest.
Hence a moral--do not decide about the future. To-day common sense is
uppermost, and sweets are your highest law. But to-morrow you will
get rid of normality and sense, you will link on with nonsense and
absurdity, and probably you will even get a taste for bitters. What do
you think?


A priori _synthetic judgments_.--Kant, as we know, found in mathematics
and the natural sciences _a priori_ synthetic judgments. Was he right
or wrong? Are the judgments he indicated _a priori_ or _a posteriori_?
Anyhow, one thing is certain: they are not accepted as absolutely,
but only as relatively indisputable. In metaphysics, where the only
curious and important truths are hidden, the case is different. Kant
was compelled to admit that just where metaphysics begin the capacity
of our human reason to judge _a priori_ ends. But since we cannot
dispense with metaphysical judgments, he proposed to substitute
for them postulates. At the same time he admitted the optimistic
presupposition that in the domain of the transcendental we shall find
all that we miss in the world of phenomena. So that, because he could
not invent a truly scientific metaphysics, he contrived to present us
with a non-scientific sort. Which is to say, after many round-about
journeys he brings his readers along the opposite way right back to the
very spot from which he led them off. Surely non-scientific metaphysics
existed before Kant: the mediaeval philosophers had plenty of
phantasies and speculations, all supported by "moral" proofs. If Kant
wanted to reform metaphysics, he should have got rid of its favourite
method of obtaining truths through inferential "conclusions." Men are
greedy, they want to learn much, and get their knowledge cheap. So
they think that every truth they have paid for with experience and loss
of energy entitles them to a few more truths gratis: or, in philosophic
language, _a priori_, by deduction. They are not ashamed to speculate
with a gift that has been given them. Instead of looking, listening,
touching, _seeking_, they want to infer and conclude. Certainly if they
could wring any secret out of nature, no matter by what means, cunning,
impudence, fraud, we would forgive them--conquerors are not judged.
But nothing comes of their "conclusions" save metaphysical systems and
empty prattle. It is surely time to give up conclusions, and get truth
_a posteriori_, as did Shakspeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky; that is, every
time you want to know anything, go and look and find out. And if one is
lazy, or horrified at a new experiment, let him train himself to look
on ultimate questions with indifference, as the positivists do. But
moral, ontological and such like arguments!--really, it is disgusting
to talk about them. Every new experiment is interesting; but our
conclusions, _i.e._, synthetic judgments _a priori,_ are mostly pompous
lies, not worth the scrap of paper on which they are recorded.


_General rules_.--People go to philosophers for general principles.
And since philosophers are human, they are kept busy supplying the
market with general principles. But what sense is there in them? None
at all. Nature demands individual creative activity from us. Men won't
understand this, so they wait forever for the ultimate truths from
philosophy, which they will never get. Why should not every grown-up
person be a creator, live in his own way at his own risk and have his
own experience? Children and raw youths must go in leading strings. But
adult people who want to feel the reins should be despised. They are
cowards, and slothful: afraid to try, they eternally go to the wise for
advice. And the wise do not hesitate to take the responsibility for the
lives of others. They invent general rules, as if they had access to
the sources of knowledge. What foolery! The wise are no wiser than the
stupid--they have only more conceit and effrontery. Every intelligent
man laughs in his soul at "bookish" views. And are not books the work
of the wise? They are often extremely interesting--but only in so far
as they do not contain general rules. Woe to him, who would build
up his life according to Hegel, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, Schiller, or
Dostoevsky. He must read them, but he must have sense, a mind of his
own to live with. Those who have tried to live according to theories
from books have found this out. At the best, their efforts produced
banality. There is no alternative. Whether man likes or not he will
at last have to realise that cliches are worthless, and that he must
live from himself. There are no all-binding, universal judgments--let
us manage with non-binding, non-universal ones. Only professors will
suffer for it....


_Metaphysical consolations_.--Metaphysics mercilessly persecutes all
eudaemonistic doctrines, seeing in them a sort of _laesio majestatis_
of human dignity. Our dignity forbids us to place human happiness in
the highest goal. Suppose it is so? But why then invent consolations,
even metaphysical ones? Why give to such a "pure" ideal concept as
metaphysics such a coarse "sensual" partner as consolation?--sensual
in the Kantian meaning of the word. Metaphysics had much better
associate herself with proud disconsolation. Consolation brings
calm and ease, even quiet gratification to the soul. But surely, if
metaphysics condescend to accept any assistance whatever, she must
scorn all earthly gratifications, leave them to wingless positivism
and materialism. What are joys and pains to metaphysics?--she is one
thing, they another. Yet all of a sudden metaphysicians begin to shout
about consolations. Evidently there is a misunderstanding here, and a
big one. The more you pierce to the ultimate ends of the "infinite"
metaphysical problems, the more finite they reveal themselves.
Metaphysicians only look out for some new boon--I nearly said pleasure.
Voltaire said that if there was no God, then He should be invented. We
explain these words by the great Frenchman's extreme positivism. But
the form only is positive, the content is purely metaphysical. All that
a metaphysician wants to do is to convince himself that God exists. No
matter whether he is mistaken or not, he has found a consolation. It
is impossible for him to see that his belief in a certain fact does
not make that fact veritable. The whole question is whether there
does exist a supreme, conscious First Cause, or whether we are slaves
to the laws of dead necessity. But what does the metaphysician care
about this real question! Having declared himself the avowed enemy
of eudaemonism, he next seeks consolation, nothing but consolation.
To doubt his right to be consoled drives him to fury and madness. He
is prepared to support his convictions by every means--ranging from
righteous indignation to fists. It is obviously futile to try to
enlighten such a creature. Once a man cares nothing for God, and seeks
only to make the best of his life, you will not tear away his attention
from the immediate moment. But perhaps there is a God, and neither
Voltaire nor the metaphysicians have any need to invent Him. The
metaphysicians never saw that an avowed disbelief in God does not prove
the non-existence of God, but just the opposite; it is a surer sign of
faith than ever belief is. Unfortunate metaphysicians! They might have
found their greatest consolation here, and fists and moral indignation
and other forms of chastisement to which they have been driven might
have been spared us.


_Practical advice_.--People who read much must always keep it in mind
that life is one thing, literature another. Not that authors invariably
lie. I declare that there are writers who rarely and most reluctantly
lie. But one must know how to read, and that isn't easy. Out of a
hundred book-readers ninety-nine have no idea what they are reading
about. It is a common belief, for example, that any writer who sings of
suffering must be ready at all times to open his arms to the weary and
heavy-laden. This is what his readers feel when they read his books.
Then when they approach him with their woes, and find that he runs away
without looking back at them, they are filled with indignation and talk
of the discrepancy between word and deed. Whereas the fact is, the
singer has more than enough woes of his own, and he sings them because
he can't get rid of them. _L'uccello canto, nella gabbia, non di gioia
ma di rabbia_, says the Italian proverb: "The bird sings in the cage,
not from joy but from rage." It is impossible to love sufferers,
particularly hopeless sufferers, and whoever says otherwise is a
deliberate liar. "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest." But you remember what the Jews said about
Him: "He speaks as one having authority!" And if Jesus had been unable,
or _had not possessed the right_, to answer this sceptical taunt, He
would have had to renounce His words. We common mortals have neither
divine powers nor divine rights, we can only love our neighbours whilst
they still have hope, and any pretence of going beyond this is empty
swagger. Ask him who sings of suffering for nothing but his songs.
Rather think of alleviating his burden than of requiring alleviation
from him. Surely not for ever should we ask any poet to sob and look
upon tears. I will end with another Italian saying: _Non e un si triste
cane che non meni la coda_. ... "No dog so wretched but he wags his
tail sometimes."


If a patient fulfils all the orders of a sensible doctor, we say
he behaves wisely. If he wantonly neglects his treatment, we say
he acts stupidly. If a healthy person wished to inoculate himself
with some dangerous disease--say phthisis--we should say he was mad,
and forcibly restrain him. To such an extent are we convinced that
disease is evil, health good. Well--on what is our conviction based?
At a glance the question seems absurd. But then at a glance people
would absolutely refuse to doubt the fixity of the earth, at a glance
an ordinary person would giggle if he was shown the problem of the
relation between the real world and the ideal. Who knows what would
seem amenable to discussion to the ordinary person? The philosopher
has no right to appeal to the ordinary person. The philosopher must
doubt and doubt and doubt, and question when nobody questions, and
risk making a laughing-stock of himself. If common sense were enough
to settle all problems, we should have known everything long age. So
that--why do we value health more than sickness? Or even further--which
is better, health or sickness. If we will drop the utilitarian point
of view--and all are agreed that this has no place in philosophy--then
we shall see at once that we have no grounds whatever for preferring
health and sickness. We have invented neither the one nor the other.
We found them both in the world along with us. Why then do we, who
know so little about it, take upon ourselves to judge which are
nature's successes, which her failures? Health is agreeable--sickness
disagreeable. But this consideration is unworthy of a philosopher:
otherwise why be a philosopher, why distinguish oneself from the herd?
The philosopher invented morality, which has at its disposal various
pure ideas that have no relation to empirical life. Then let us go
further. Reason should have a supply of pure ideas also. Let Reason
judge in her own independent way, without conforming to conventional
ideas. When she has no other resort, let her proceed by the method of
negation: everything that common sense asserts, I, Reason, declare
to be false. So--common sense Says sickness is bad, reason therefore
asserts that sickness is the highest boon. Such Reason we should call
autonomous, law-unto-itself. Like a real monarch, it is guided only by
its own will. Let all considerations point in favour of health, Reason
must remain inexorable and keep her stand till we are all brought to
obedience. She must praise suffering, deformity, failure, hopelessness.
At every step she must fight common-sense and utilitarianism, until
mankind is brought under. Is she afraid of rebellion? Must she in the
last issue, like morality, adapt herself to the inclinations of the


_Experience and Science_.--As we are well aware, science does not,
nay cannot, admit experience in all its extent. She throws overboard
an enormous quantity of individual facts, regarding them as the
ballast of our human vessel. She takes note only of such phenomena as
alternate constantly and with a certain regularity. Best of all she
likes those phenomena which can be artificially provoked, when, so
to speak, experiment is possible. She explains the rotation of the
earth and succession of the seasons since a regular recurrence is
observable, and she demonstrates thunder and lightning with a spark
from an electric machine. In a word, in so far as a regular alternation
of phenomena is observable, so far extends the realm of science. But
what about those individual phenomena which do not recur, and which
cannot be artificially provoked? If all men were blind, and one for a
moment recovered his sight and opened his eyes on God's world, science
would reject his evidence. Yet the evidence of one seeing man is worth
that of a million blind. Sudden enlightenments are possible in our
life--even if they endure only for a few seconds. Must they be passed
over in silence because they are not normal and cannot be provoked?--or
treated poetically, as beautiful fictions? Science insists on it. She
declares that no judgments are true except such as can be verified by
all and everyone. She exceeds her bounds. Experience is wider than
scientific experiment, and individual phenomena mean much more to us
than the constantly recurrent.

Science is useful--but she need not pretend to truth. She cannot know
what truth is, she can only accumulate universal laws. Whereas there
are, and always have been, non-scientific ways of searching for truth,
ways which lead, if not to the innermost secrets, yet to the threshold.
These roads, however, we have let fall into ruin whilst we followed
our modern methodologies, so now we dare not even think of them. What
gives us the right to assert that astrologers, alchemists, diviners,
and sorcerers who passed the long nights alone with their thoughts,
wasted their time in vain? As for the philosopher's stone, that was
merely a plausible excuse invented to satisfy the uninitiated. Could
an alchemist dare to confess openly that all his efforts were towards
no useful or utilitarian end? He had to guard against importunate
curiosity and impertinent authority in outsiders. So he lied, now
frightening, now alluring the mob through its cupidity. But certainly
he had his own important work to do: and it had only one fault, that
it was purely personal to him. And about personal matters it is
considered correct to keep silent.... Astonishing fact! As a rule a
man hesitates over trifles. But it does sometimes occur that a moment
arrives when he is filled with unheard-of courage and resolution in his
judgments. He is ready to stand up for his opinions against all the
world, dead or living. Whence such sudden surety, what does it mean?
Rationally we can discover no foundation for it. If a lover has got
into his head that his beloved is the fairest woman on earth, worth
the whole of life to him; if one who has been insulted feels that
his offender is the basest wretch, deserving torture and death; if a
would-be Columbus persuades himself that America is the only goal for
his ambition--who will convince such men that their opinions, shared
by none but themselves, are false or unjustifiable? And for whose
sake will they renounce their tenets? For the sake of objective truth?
that is, for the pleasure of the assurance that all men after them
will repeat their judgment for truth? They don't care. Let Don Quixote
run broadcast with drawn sword, proving the beauty of Dulcinea or the
impending horror of windmills. As a matter of fact, he and the German
philosophers with him have a vague idea, a kind of presentiment, that
their giants are but mill-sails, and that their ideal on the whole is
but a common girl driving swine to pasture. To defy such deadly doubt
they take to the sword or to argument, and do not rest until they have
succeeded in stopping the mouth of everybody. When from all lips they
hear the praise of Dulcinea they say: yes, she is beautiful, and she
never drove pigs. When the world beholds their windmilling exploits
with amazement they are filled with triumph; sheep are not sheep, mills
are not mills, as you might imagine; they are knights and cyclops. This
is called a proven, all-binding, universal truth. The support of the
mob is a necessary condition of the existence of modern philosophy and
its knights of the woful countenance. Scientific philosophy wearies
for a new Cervantes who will put a stop to its paving the way to truth
by dint of argument. All opinions have a right to exist, and if we
speak of privilege, then preference should be given to such as are most
run down to-day; namely, to such opinions as cannot be verified and
which are, for that self-same reason, universal. Once, long ago "man
invented speech in order to express his real relation to the universe."
So he may be heard, even though the relation he wishes to express be
unique, not to verified by any other individual. To attempt to verify
it by observations and experiments is strictly forbidden. If the habit
of "objective verification" has destroyed your native receptivity to
such an extent that your eyes and ears are gone, and you must rely only
on the evidence of instruments or objects not subject to your will,
then, of course, nothing is left you but to stick to the belief that
science is perfect knowledge. But if your eyes live and your ear is
sensitive--throw away instruments and apparatuses, forget methodology
and scientific Don-Quixotism, and try to trust yourself. What harm is
there in not having universal judgments or truths? How will it hurt
you to see sheep as sheep? It is a step forward. You will learn not
to see with everybody's eyes, but to see as none other sees. You will
learn not to meditate, but to conjure up and call forth with words
alien to all but yourself an unknown beauty and an unheard-of power.
Not for nothing, I repeat, did astrologers and alchemists scorn the
experimental method--which, by the way, far from being anything new or
particularly modern, is as old as the hills. Animals experiment, though
they do not compose treatises on inductive logic or pride themselves
on their reasoning powers. A cow who has burnt her mouth in her
trough will come up cautiously next time to feed. Every experimenter
is the same--only he systematises. But animals can often trust to
instinct when experience is lacking. And have we humans got sufficient
experience? Can experience give us what we want most? If so, let
science and craftsmanship serve our everyday need, let even philosophy,
also eager to serve, go on finding universal truths. But beyond craft,
science, and philosophy there is another region of knowledge. Through
all the ages men, each one at his own risk, have sought to penetrate
into this region. Shall we, men of the twentieth century, voluntarily
renounce our supreme powers and rights, and because public opinion
demands it, occupy ourselves exclusively with discovering useful
information? Or, in order not to appear mean or poverty-stricken in
our own eyes, shall we accept in place of the philosopher's stone our
modern metaphysics, which muffles her dread of actuality in postulates,
absolutes, and such-like apparently transcendental paraphernalia?


_The Russian Spirit_.--It will easily be admitted that the
distinguishing qualities of Russian literature, and of Russian art in
general, are simplicity, truthfulness, and complete lack of rhetorical
ornament. Whether it be to our credit or to our discredit is not for
me to judge, but one thing seems certain: that our simplicity and
truthfulness are due to our relatively scanty culture. Whilst European
thinkers have for centuries been beating their brains over insoluble
problems, we have only just begun to try our powers. We have no
failures behind us. The fathers of the profoundest Russian writers were
either landowners, dividing their time between extravagant amusement
and State service, or peasants whose drudgery left them no time for
idle curiosity. Such being the case, how can we know whether human
knowledge has any limits? And if we don't know, it seems to us it is
only because we haven't tried to find out. Other people's experience
is not ours. We are not bound by their conclusions. Indeed, what do we
know of the experience of others, save what we gather, very vaguely
and fragmentarily and unreliably, from books? It is natural for us to
believe the best, till the contrary is proved to us. Any attempt to
deprive us of our belief meets with the most energetic resistance.

The most sceptical Russian hides a hope at the bottom of his soul.
Hence our fearlessness of the truth, realistic truth which so stunned
European critics. Realism was invented in the West, established
there as a theory. But in the West, to counteract it, were invented
numberless other palliating theories whose business it was to soften
down the disconsolate conclusions of Realism. There in Europe they
have the _l'être suprême_, the _deus sive natura_, Hegel's absolute,
Kant's postulates, English utilitarianism, progress, humanitarianism,
hundreds of philosophic and sociological theories in which even extreme
realists can so cleverly dish up what they call life, that life, or
realism, ceases to be life or reality altogether.

The Westerner is self-reliant. He knows that if he doesn't help himself
nobody will help him. So he directs all his thoughts to making the
best of his opportunities. A limited time is granted him. If he can't
get to the end of his song within the time-limit, the song must remain
unsung. Fate will not give him one minute's grace for the unbeaten
bars. Therefore as an experienced musician he adapts himself superbly.
Not a second is wasted. The _tempo_ must not drag for an instant,
or he is lost. The _tempo_ is everything, and it exacts facility
and quickness of movement. During a few short beats the artist must
produce many notes, and produce them so as to leave the impression
that he was not hurried, that he had all the time in the world at his
disposal. Moreover, each note must be complete, accomplished, have its
fulness and its value. Native talent alone will not suffice for this.
Experience is necessary, tradition, training, and inherited instinct.
_Carpe diem_--the European has been living up to the motto for two
thousand years. But if we Russians are convinced of anything, it is
that we have time enough and to spare. To count days, much less hours
and minutes--find me the Russian who could demean himself to such a
bourgeois occupation. We look round, we stretch ourselves, we rub our
eyes, we want first of all to decide what we shall do, and how we
shall do it, before we can begin to live in earnest. We don't choose
to decide anyhow, nor at second-hand, from fragments of other people's
information. It must be from our own experience, with our own brains,
that we judge. We admit no traditions. In no literature has there been
such a-determined struggle with tradition as in ours. We have wanted
to re-examine everything, re-state everything. I won't deny that our
courage is drawn from our quite uncultured confidence in our own
powers. Byelinsky, a half-baked undergraduate, deriving his knowledge
of European philosophy at third hand, began a quarrel with the universe
over the long-forgotten victims of Philip II. and the Inquisition.
In that quarrel is the sense and essence of all creative Russian
literature. Dostoevsky, towards his end, raised the same storm and the
same question over the little tear of an unfortunate child.

A Russian believes he can do anything, hence he is afraid of nothing.
He paints life in the gloomiest colours--and were you to ask him: How
can you accept such a life? how can you reconcile yourself with such
horrors of reality as have been described by all your writers, from
Poushkin to Tchekhov? he would answer in the words of Dmitri Karamazov:
_I do not accept life._ This answer seems at first sight absurd. Since
life is here, impossible not to accept it. But there is a sub-meaning
in the reply, a lingering belief in the possibility of a final triumph
over "evil." In the strength of this belief the Russian goes forth to
meet his enemy--he does not hide from him. Our sectarians immolate
themselves. Tolstoyans and votaries of the various sects that crop up
so plentifully in Russia go in among the people, they go, God knows
to what lengths, destroying their own lives and the lives of others.
Writers do not lag behind sectarians. They, too, refuse to be prudent,
to count the cost or the hours. Minutes, seconds, time-beats, all this
is so insignificant as to be invisible to the naked eye. We wish to
draw with a generous hand from fathomless eternity, and all that is
limited we leave to European bourgeoisie. With few exceptions Russian
writers really despise the pettiness of the West. Even those who have
admired Europe most have done so because they failed most completely
to understand her. They did not want to understand her. That is why we
have always taken over European ideas in such fantastic forms. Take
the sixties for example. With its loud ideas of sobriety and modest
outlook, it was a most drunken period. Those who awaited the New
Messiah and the Second Advent read Darwin and dissected frogs. It is
the same to-day. We allow ourselves the greatest luxury that man can
dream of--sincerity, truthfulness--as if we were spiritual Croesuses,
as if we had plenty of everything, could afford to let everything be
seen, ashamed of nothing. But even Croesuses, the greatest sovereigns
of the world, did not consider they had the right to tell the truth at
all times. Even kings have to pretend--think of diplomacy. Whereas,
we think we may speak the truth, and the truth only, that any lie
which obscures our true substance is a crime; since our true substance
is the world's finest treasure, its finest reality.... Tell this
to a European, and it will seem a joke to him, even if he can grasp
it at all. A European uses all his powers of intellect and talent,
all his knowledge and his art for the purpose of concealing his
real self and all that really affects him:--for that the natural is
ugly and repulsive, no one in Europe will dispute for a moment. Not
only the fine arts, but science and philosophy in Europe tell lies
instinctively, by lying they justify their existence. First and last,
a European student presents you with a finished theory. Well, and what
does all the "finish" and the completeness signify? It merely means
that none of our western neighbours will end his speech before the
last reassuring word is said; he will never let nature have the last
word; so he rounds off his synthesis. With him, ornament and rhetoric
is a _sine qua non_ of creative utterance, the only remedy against all
ills. In philosophy reigns theodicy, in science, the law of sequence.
Even Kant could not avoid declamation, even with him the last word is
"moral necessity." Thus there lies before us the choice between the
artistic and accomplished lie of old, cultured Europe, a lie which is
the outcome of a thousand years of hard and bitter effort, and the
artless, sincere simplicity of young, uncultured Russia.

They are nearer the end, we are nearer the beginning. And which is
nearer the truth? And can there be a question of voluntary, free
choice? Probably neither the old age of Europe nor the youth of Russia
can give us the truth we seek. But does such a thing as ultimate truth
exist? Is not the very conception of truth, the very assumption of the
possibility of truth, merely an outcome of our limited experience,
a fruit of limitation? We decide _a priori_ that one thing must be
possible, another impossible, and from our arbitrary assumptions we
proceed to deduce the body of truth. Each one judges in his own way,
according to his powers and the conditions of his existence. The timid,
scared man worries after _order,_ that will give him a day of peace
and quiet, youth dreams of beauty and brilliance, old age doesn't want
to think of anything, having lost the faculty for hope. And so it goes
on, _ad infinitum_. And this is called truth, truths! Every man thinks
that his own experience covers the whole range of life. And, therefore,
the only men who turn out to be at all in the right are empiricists and
positivists. There can be no question of truth once we tear ourselves
away from the actual conditions of life.

Our confident truthfulness, like European rhetoric, turns out to be
"beyond truth and falsehood." The young East and the old West alike
suffer from the restrictions imposed by truth--but the former ignores
the restrictions, whilst the latter adapts itself to them. After all,
it comes to pretty much the same in the end. Is not clever rhetoric
as delightful as truthfulness? Each is equally _life_. Only we find
unendurable a rhetoric which poses as truth, and a truthfulness
which would appear cultured. Such a masquerade would try to make us
believe that truth, which is only _limitedness_, has a real objective
existence. Which is offensive. Until the contrary is proved, we need to
think that only one assertion has or can have any objective reality:
_that nothing on earth is impossible_. Every time somebody wants to
force us to admit that there are other, more limited and limiting
truths, we must resist with every means we can lay hands on. We do not
hesitate even to make use of morality and logic, both of which we have
abused so often. But why not use them!

When a man is at his last resources, he does not care what weapons he
picks up.


_Nur für Schwindelfreie_.--To be proper, I ought to finish with a
moral. I ought to say to the reader that in spite of all I have said,
or perhaps _because of_ all I have said--for in conclusions, as you
are aware, "in spite of" is always interchangeable with "because of,"
particularly if the conclusion be drawn from many scattered data--well
then, because of all I have said, hope is not lost. Every destruction
leads to construction, sweet rest follows labour, dawn follows the
darkest hour, and so on and so on and so on--all the banalities with
which a writer reconciles his reader. But it is never too late for
reconciliation, and it is often too early. So why not postpone the
moral for a few years--even a few dozen years, God granting us the
length of life? Why make the inevitable "conclusion" at the end of
every book? I am almost certain that sooner or later I can promise the
reader all his heart desires. But not yet. He may, of course, dispense
with my consolations. What do promises matter, anyhow? especially when
neither reader nor writer can fulfil them. But if there is no escape,
if a writer is finally obliged to admit in everybody's hearing that the
secret desires of poor mankind may yet be realised, let "us at least
give the wretched writer a respite, let him postpone his confession
till old age_--usque ad infinitum_,... Meanwhile our motto "_Nur für
Schwindelfreie._" There are in the Alps narrow, precipitous paths where
only mountaineers may go, who feel no giddiness. Giddy-free! "Only
for the giddy-free," it says on the notice-board. He who is subject
to giddiness takes a broad, safe road, or sits away below and admires
the snowy summits. Is it inevitably necessary to mount up? Beyond the
snow-line are no fat pastures nor goldfields. They say that up there
is to be found the clue to the eternal mystery--but they say so many
things. We can't believe everything. He who is tired of the valleys,
loves climbing, and is not afraid to look down a precipice, and, most
of all, has nothing left in life but the "metaphysical craving," he
will certainly climb to the summits without asking what awaits him
there. He does not fear, he longs for giddiness. But he will hardly
call people after him: he doesn't want just anybody for a companion.
In such a case companions are not wanted at all, much less those
tender-footed ones who are used to every convenience, roads, street
lamps, guide-posts, careful maps which mark every change in the road
ahead. They will not help, only hinder. They will prove superfluous,
heavy ballast, which may not be thrown overboard. Fuss over them,
console them, promise them! Who would be bothered? Is it not better to
go one's way alone, and not only to refrain from enticing others to
follow, but frighten them off as much as possible, exaggerate every
danger and difficulty? In order that conscience may not prick too
hard--we who love high altitudes love a quiet conscience--let us find
a justification for their inactivity. Let us tell them they are the
best, the worthiest of people, really the salt of the earth. Let us
pay them every possible mark of respect. But since they are subject to
giddiness, they had better stay down. The upper Alpine ways, as any
guide will tell you, are _nur für Schwindelfreie_.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "All Things are Possible" ***

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