Wednesday, 3 June 2015


That remarkable man, Friedreich W. Nietzsche, who died recently at Weimar at the comparatively early age of fifty-five, was a mad revolutionist, a destroyer of ideals, a breaker of idols. The son of a clergyman, his natural bent was towards religion, but the disease of his mind distorted his devotional instinct, and made him one of the fiercest and most scornful opponents of Christianity. He was predestined by heredity to be a great moral teacher,, but fate cruelly set in his active brain the seeds of insanity, and made him a wanderer on the face of the earth, bringing him to a state of mental oblivion and blindness in the very prime of life. Nietzsche the Rebel, one of the strangest figures of modern times, was the symbol of latter-day unrest. He was all for destruction, without the capacity for raising a more solid, new edifice on the ruins he endeavoured to make of accepted   things. 

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Nietzsche sought to teach, but he could only destroy. His philosophy was altogether impractical. His was a violent view of life, expressed with violence and incoherence. His teaching was chaotic and conflicting. He kicked wildly over the traces of all accepted ethics and economics and religion, yet failed to formulate any new scheme of life and conduct, scornfully leaving the wreck he thought he had made of the Temple of Faith, sprinkling over the supposed debris a quantity of witty epigrams and shallow aphorisms, like momentary sparks from a quick-dying furnace. His creed has been described as the ruthless substitution of physiology, in the aspects conferred on it by Darwin and other thinkers, for religion and morality." Through the operation of merciless natural law, unrestrained by sympathy or pity, Nietzsche looked for the development of the " Uebermenschen," the beyond-men, the drastic improvement of the race. To this all was to be sacrificed.

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"Physiology, as the criterion of value of what ever is human, whether called art, culture, or religion; physiology as the sole arbiter on what is great and what is small, what is good and what is bad." So is Nietzsche's teaching epitomised, and that teaching was given to the world by a system of audacious epigrams, which he called "Apothegms and Darts," of which the following are a few choice specimens : —

" When, one has one's wherefore of life, one gets along with almost every how.
The perfect woman perpetrates literature as she perpetrates a little sin; by way of test, in passing, turning round to look if anybody notices it, and in order that somebody may notice it.

We think woman deep. Why ? Because we never find any bottom in her. Woman is not even shallow.

Contentedness is a prophylactic even against catching cold. Has a woman who knew she was well dressed ever caught cold?—and that even when she was hardly dressed at all.

Formula of my happiness: A Yea, a Nay, a straight line, a goal."

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Nietzsche was a shallow thinker, the crazy high-priest of the "Uebermenschen," the "beyond men," who looked out into the void, where chaos dwells, and sought to create substance out of intangible ideals. He tried to make bricks without straw, and their very crumbling set him raging against the solid temples of faith, which still stood, unconscious of his puny attacks. The death of this strange man closes a chapter of pitiable human tragedy and gives to immortality a vexed soul who must have found many torturing philosophical puzzles unsolved beyond the grave. Nietzsche was troubled over many things; his temperament was in continuous conflict with his mind. His mind was ever searching for the ideal, but his nature was so intensely human as to make the cold, calm, analytical attitude of the philosopher impossible.

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In his early years, as a child, and as a youth Nietzsche was deeply religious, and, underlying all his vehement anti-Christian writing, still lay to the end of his life the slumbering but irradicable idea of a religious sentiment. It was as though he had found upon his idol some marks of the beast, and, in the savagery of his natural temperament, turned upon it to rend it. He could destroy his religious ideal, but, like most of the so-called modern philosophers, he could set up nothing on the vacant pedestal, employing himself merely in cursing the fallen idol of his undisciplined dreams.

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Nietzsche was by temperament, one of the ever-increasing army of revolters, of those whose scorn is for established things, merely because they were generally accepted. He would destroy. His nature prompted him to insane destruction, and he sought, with perverted justice, to excuse himself, which he did with an elaborateness which was merely obscured. He had a tendency to poetic imagination, but the poetic and the philosophical bent of mind are antagonistic in most minds. Only the greatest, as Plato, may be poets and philosophers at once. In Nietzsche the war of temperaments made only for noise and disorder.

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That he had a genuine poetic sympathy is proved by many passages of great beauty, which may be found in his writings. His famous Clock Prayer from "Thus Spake Zarathustra." is so beautiful as to be worth quotation in this connection, even though it were the only quotation from Nietzsche for which space could be found. It pictures, with a sympathy in strange contrast to his usual attitude of strenuous activity, the yearning for eternal peace which the troubled spirit seeks first in sleep and then in death : —


One!—O man! Lose not sight

Two !—What saith the deep midnight?

Three!—I lay in sleep, in sleep ;

Four!—From deep dream I woke to light.

Five!—The world is deep,

Six !— And deeper than ever day thought it might,

Seven!—Deep is its woe

Eight!—And deeper still than woe—delight.

Nine!—Saith woe: Pass, go!

Ten!—Eternity's sought by all delight.

Eleven!—Eternity deep—by all delight!


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Nietzsche sought to draw us back to the Pagan code of morals, to glorify the primitive humanity of the early Jews as set forth in tho Old Testament, and yet at the same time to find religion in the instincts of the individual. Consequently his teaching—if he may be said to have taught—is chaotic rather than suggestive.  He gives the student plenty of food for thought, yet fails to build up in his mind anything approaching a tangible reality of faith or belief Ruskin was a philosopher and a subtle one, yet his teaching is quite coherent, though mainly suggestive, for it is not a Law as Nietzsche tried to formulate but failed so direly. A study of Ruskin leaves in the mind a general scheme of conduct and thought, based on sympathy and beauty, which may almost be accepted as a religion.

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The true philosopher, however, unlike Ruskin, unlike Schopenhauer, unlike Nietzsche is entirely impersonal. Plato, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Kant, have no individuality in their writings ; we are more concerned with their books than with their biographies. But Nietzsche protrudes not only his individual intellect, but his moral nature, his physical as well as his mental qualities, into his writings, and his egotism is all pervading. Were we to credit his own estimate of his powers, then Nietzsche is the truest of all philosophers, and his works are the greatest ever written. The true philosopher is impersonal; Nietzsche is the most personal of writers, as personal as Walt Whitman, and his philosophy is autobiographical, which is as much as to say that it is not practical philosophy at all.

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A recent writer has said : "The simplest way of stating Nietzsche's teaching is to say that the struggle for existence, by tooth and claw, which has evolved man, is accepted by him as the sole principle of human progress. The victory of the strong is the supreme necessity; for the weak there shall he no mercy. It follows that Christianity, the religion of the protection or the weak, was in Nietzsche's eyes the supreme evil—'the collective insurrection against race of all the down-trodden, the wretched, the ill constituted, the misfortunate.' With an extraordinary and melancholy force he bewails the undoing by its agency of 'the whole labour of the Roman world,' which was working out the destinies of the race on the principle of breeding strong men and eliminating the feeble."

Nietzsche's revolt against Christianity was not a revolt against morality; it was a revolt against the practise of Christianity to-day. What is the meaning of 'the world'?" he asked. "Why, that man is a soldier, a judge, a patriot ; that he protects himself; that he stands on his honour; that he wishes his own advantage ; that he is proud—every practice, every movement, every instinct is to-day anti-Christian : what an abortion of fraud must the modern man be, that, in spite of all this, he is not ashamed to call himself a Christian."

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Nietzsche is not the only writer, nor the only thinker, nor the only preacher, nor was he the first, any more than he will be the last, to find in modern conduct a denial of the true tenets of religion. From every pulpit of every faith in the world have issued, and must ever issue, appeals for the reform of worldly action, of the ideals of human life. As the tide of selfishness rolls on, there are found everywhere courageous men who seek to sweep it back, but to the hundreds of thousands of preachers and practisers of the Christian Gospel ideal to-day there is one Nietzsche the Mystic piping out amid the clamour of appealing voices his hollow aphorisms, not even convincing himself.  E.A.V.

Table Talk 25 October 1900

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