More than a hundred years have passed since the birth, and fifty years since the death, of this remarkable man, but the history of literature has not yet finally settled accounts with him. Even the Germans, perhaps the Germans above all, find it impossible to agree upon the valuation of his gift. Some consider him a genius, others a man devoid of talent and insipid. Moreover, his enemies still bring as much passion to their attacks upon him as they did before, as though they were waging war upon a live opponent in place of a dead one. They hate him for the same things which made his contemporaries hate him. We know that it was principally for his insincerity that they did not forgive him. No one could tell when he was speaking seriously and when in jest, what he loved and what he hated, and finally it was quite impossible to determine whether or not he believed in God. It must be confessed that the Germans were right in many of their accusations. I value Heine extremely highly; in my opinion he is one of the greatest German poets; and yet I cannot undertake to say with certainty what he loved, what he believed, and often I cannot tell how serious he is in uttering one or another of his opinions.
Nevertheless I find it impossible to detect any insincerity in his works. On the contrary, those peculiarities of his, which so irritated the Germans, are in my eyes so many proofs of his wonderful and unique sincerity. I think that if the Germans were mistaken and misunderstood Heine, hypertrophied self-love and the power of prejudice is the cause. Heine’s usual method is to begin to speak with perfect seriousness, and to end with biting raillery and sarcasm. Critics and readers, who generally do not guess at the outset what awaits them in the event, have taken the unexpected laughter to their own account, and have been deeply offended. Wounded self-love never forgives; and the Germans could not forgive Heine for his jests. And yet Heine but rarely attacked others: most of his mockery is directed against himself, and above all in the work of his last creative period, of the years when he lived in the Matrazengrab.
With us in Russia many were offended with Gogol, believing that he was jeering at them. Later, he confessed that he had been describing himself. Nor does the inconstancy of Heine’s opinions in any way prove him insincere. His intention was by no means always to fling at the Philistines. Indeed, he did not know what to believe; he changed his tastes and attachments, and did not even always know for certain what he preferred at the moment. Of course, had he wished, he might have pretended to be consequent and consistent. Or, had he been less eagle-eyed, he might with the vast majority of men have adopted a ceremonial dress once for all, he might have professed and invariably preached ideas which had no relation to his real emotions and moods. Many people think that one ought to act thus, that (particularly in literature) one must speak only officially and exhibit lofty ideas that have been proclaimed by wise men since time immemorial, without their having made the least inquiry whether they correspond to their own natures or not.
Often cruel, vindictive, spiteful, selfish, mean people sincerely praise goodness, forgiveness, love to one's enemy, generosity and magnanimity in their books, while of their tastes and passions they speak not a single word. They are confident that passions exist only to be suppressed, and that convictions only are to be exhibited or displayed. A man rarely succeeds in suppressing his passions, but it is extremely easy to hide them, especially in books. And such dissimulation is not only not condemned, but recognised and even encouraged. The common and familiar programme is accepted: in life ‘passions’ judge ‘convictions,’ in books ‘convictions,’ or ‘ideals,’ as they are called, pass sentence upon ‘passions.’ I would emphasise the fact that most writers are convinced that their business is not to tell of themselves, but to praise ideals. Heine’s sincerity was really of a different order. He told everything, or nearly everything, of himself. And this was thought so shocking that the sworn custodians of convention and good morals considered themselves wounded in their best and loftiest feelings. It seemed to them that it would be disastrous if Heine were to succeed in acquiring a great literary influence, and in getting a hold upon the minds of his contemporaries. Then would crumble the foundations, constructed through centuries of arduous labour by the united efforts of the most distinguished representatives of the nation.
This is perhaps true: the lofty magnificence of life can be preserved only upon the indispensable condition of hypocrisy. In order that it should be beautiful, much must be hidden and thrust away as far and deep as possible. The sick and the mad must be herded into hospitals; poverty into cellars; disobedient passions into the depths of the soul. Truth and freedom are only allowed to obtrude upon the attention as far as is compatible with the interests of a life well arranged within and without. The Protestant Church understood this as well as the Catholic, perhaps better. Strict puritanism elevated spiritual discipline to the highest moral law, which ruled life with unrelenting and inexorable despotism. Marriage and the family, not love, must be the aim of man; and poor Gretchen, who gave herself to Faust without observing the established ceremonial, was forced to consider herself eternally damned. The inward discipline still more than the outward guarded the foundations and gave strength and force to the State as well as to the people. Men and women were not spared; they were not even taken into account. Hundreds and thousands of Gretchens, men and women, were sacrificed, and are being sacrificed still, without pity to ‘the highest spiritual interests.’
Acknowledgment and respect for the prescribed order had become so deeply rooted in the German soul—I speak of Germany, because no other nation upon earth is so highly disciplined—that even the most independent characters yielded to it. The most dreadful sin is not the breaking of the law—a violation which like Gretchen's can be explained by weakness and weakness alone, though it was not forgiven, was less severely condemned—but rebellion against the law, the open and daring refusal to obey, even though it be expressed in the most insignificant act. Therefore every one tends to show his loyalty from that side first of all. In a greater or less degree all have transgressed the law, but the more one has violated it in act, the more imperative he considers its glorification in words. And this order of things aroused neither suspicion nor discontent. Therein could be seen acknowledged the superiority of spirit over body, of mind over passion. Nobody ever asked the question: ‘Is it really true that the spirit must have the mastery over the body, and the mind over the passions?’ And when Heine allowed himself to put the question and to answer it in his own way, the whole force of German indignation burst upon him.
First of all they suspected his sincerity and truthfulness. ‘It is impossible,’ said the pious, ‘that he really should not acknowledge the law. He is only pretending.’ Such a supposition was the more natural because the ring of conviction was not always to be heard in Heine’s tone: one of his poems ends with the following words: ‘I seek the body, the body, the young and tender body. The soul you may bury deep in the ground—I myself have soul enough.’ The poem is daring and provocative in the extreme, but in it, as in all Heine’s daring and provocative poems, may be heard a sharp and nervous laugh, which must be understood as the expression of the divided soul, as a mockery of himself. It is he who tells of his meeting with two women, mother and daughter. Both please him: the mother by her much knowledge, the daughter by her innocence. And the poet stands between them, in his own words, like Buridan’s ass between two bundles of hay. Again, daring, again, the laugh; and again the well-balanced German is irritated. He would prefer that no one should ever speak of such emotions, and if they are to be spoken of, then it must be at least in a penitent tone, with self-accusation.
But Heine’s misplaced laughter is indecent and quite uselessly disconcerting. I repeat that Heine himself was not always sure that his ‘sincerity’ was lawful. While he was still a youth he told how there suddenly ran through his soul, as through the whole earth, a rent which split asunder the unity of his former emotions. King David when he praised God and good did not remember his dark deeds—of which there were not a few—or, if he did remember them, it was only to repent. His soul was also divided, but he was able to preserve a sequence. When he wept, he could not and did not want to rejoice; when ‘he repented, he was already far from sin; when he prayed, he did not scoff; when he believed, he did not doubt. The Germans, brought up on the great king's psalms, had come to think that these things were impossible and ought never to be possible. They admitted the succession of different, and even contradictory spiritual conditions, but their simultaneous existence appeared to them unintelligible and disgusting, in contradiction with divine commandments and the laws of logic. It seemed to them that everything which formerly existed as separate, had become con fused, that the place of stringent harmony had been usurped by absurdity and chaos. They thought that such a state of things threatened innumerable miseries. They did not admit the idea that Heine himself might not understand it; in his creation they saw the manifestation of a false and evil will, and they invoked divine and human judgment upon it.
The Philistine irritation reached the extreme when it became clear that Heine had not humbled himself even before the face of death. Stricken by paralysis, he lay in his Matrazengrab, unable to stir a limb; he suffered the most intense bodily pains, with no hope of cure, or even of relief, yet he still continued to blaspheme as before. Worse still, his sarcasms every day became more ruthless, more poisonous, more refined. It might have been thought that it was left to him, crushed and destroyed, only to acknowledge his defeat and to commit himself utterly to the magnanimity of the victor. But in the weak flesh a strong spirit lived. All his thoughts were turned to God, the power of whose right hand, like every dying man, he could not but feel upon him. But his thoughts of God, his attitude to God, were so original that the serious people of the outer world could only shrug their shoulders. No one ever spoke thus to God, either aloud or to himself. The thought of death usually inspires mortals with fear or admiration; therefore they either kneel before him and implore forgiveness or sing his praises.
Heine has neither prayer nor praise. His poems are permeated with a charming and gracious cynicism, peculiar and proper to himself alone. He does not want to confess his sins, and even now on the threshold of another life he remains as he was in youth. He desires neither paradise, nor bliss, nor heaven; he asks God to give him back his health, and to put his money affairs in order. ‘I know there is much evil and many vices on earth. But I have grown used to all that now, and besides I seldom leave my room. O God, leave me here, but heal my infirmities, and spare me from want,’ he writes in one of his last poems. He derides the legends of the blissful life of sinless souls in paradise. ‘Sitting on the clouds and singing psalms is a pastime quite unsuited to me.’ He remembers the beautiful Venus of the Louvre and praises her as in the days of youth. His poem, Das Hohelied, is a mixture of extreme cynicism, nobility, despair, and incredible sarcasm. I do not know whether dying men have had such thoughts as those which are expressed in this poem, but I am confident that no one has expressed anything like them in literature.
In Goethe's Prometheus there is nothing of the provocative, unshakable, calm pride and the consciousness of his rights which inspired the author of Das Hohelied. God, who created heaven and earth and man upon the earth, is free to torment my body and soul to his fill, but I myself know what I need and desire, I myself decide what is good and what is bad. That is the meaning of this poem, and of all that Heine wrote in the last years of his life. He knew as well as any one that according to the doctrines of philosophy, ethics, and religion, repentance and humility are the condition of the soul's salvation, the readiness even with the last breath of life to renounce sinful desires. Nevertheless, with his last breath he does not want to own the power over himself of the age-old authorities of the world. He laughs at morality, at philosophy, and at existing religions. The wise men think so, the wise men want to live in their own way; let them think, let them live.
But who gave them the right to demand obedience from me? Can they have the power to compel me to obedience? Listening to the words of the dying man, shall we not repeat his question? Shall we not take one step further? Heine is crushed, and if we may believe, as we have every reason to- believe what he tells us in his ‘Song of Songs,’ his painful and terrible illness was the direct effect and consequence of his manner of life. Does it mean that in the future, too (if future there is), new persecutions await him, until the day when of his own accord he will subscribe to the proclaimed and established morality? Have we the right to suppose that there are powers somewhere in the universe preoccupied with the business of cutting out all men, even down to the last, after the same pattern? Perhaps Heine’s contumacy points to quite a different intention of the arbiters of destiny.
Perhaps the illness and torture prepared for those who fight against collars and blinkers—experience demonstrates with sufficient certainty that any declination from the high road and the norm inevitably brings suffering and ruin in its train—are only the trial of the human spirit. Who will endure them, who will stand up for himself, afraid neither of God nor of the devil and his ministers, he will enter victoriously into another world. Sometimes I even think, in opposition to existing opinion, that there the stubborn and inflexible are valued above all others, and that the secret is hidden from mortals lest the weak and compliant should take it into their heads to pretend to be stubborn, in order to deserve the favour of the gods. But he who will not endure, but will deny himself, may expect the fate of which philosophers and metaphysicians generally dream. He will be united with the primum mobile, he will be dissolved in the essence of being together with the mass of individuals like himself.
I am tempted to think that the metaphysical theories which preach self-renunciation for the sake of love, and love for the sake of self-renunciation, are by no means empty and idle, as the positivists affirm. In them lies a deep, mysterious, and mystical meaning: in them is hidden a great truth. Their only mistake is that they pretend to be absolute. For some reason or other men have decided that empirical truths are many, but that metaphysical truth is one. Metaphysical truths are also many, but that does not in the least prevent them from living in harmony one with another. Empirical truths like all earthly beings are continually quarrelling, and cannot get on without superior authority. But metaphysical truths are differently arranged and know nothing whatsoever of our rivalry. There is no doubt that people who feel the burden of their individuality and thirst for self-renunciation are absolutely right. Every probability points to their at last attaining their purpose and being united to that to which they should be united, whether neighbour or remote, or perhaps, as the pantheists desire, even to inanimate nature.
But it is just as probable that those who value their individuality and do not consent to renounce it either for the sake of their neighbours or of a lofty idea, will preserve themselves and will remain themselves, if not for ever and ever, at least for a sufficiently long while, until they are weary. Therefore the Germans must not be cross with Heine, at least those Germans who have judged him not from the utilitarian point of view—from this point of view I too utterly condemn him, and find for him no justification at all—but from the lofty, religious or metaphysical point of view, as it is called nowadays. He cannot possibly disturb them in any way. They will be united, down the last they probably will be united in the Idea, the thing in itself, in Substance, or any other alluring unity; and not Heine with his sarcasms will keep them from their lofty aspirations. While if he and those like him continue to live in their own way in a place apart and even laugh at ideas—can that really be the occasion of serious annoyance?
What is Truth?
The skeptics assert that truth does not and cannot exist, and the assertion has eaten so deep into the modern mind, that the only philosophy which has spread in our day is that of Kant, which takes skepticism for its point of departure. But read the preface to the first edition of The Critique of Pure Reason attentively, and you will be convinced that he had absolutely no concern with the question: ‘What is truth?’ He only set himself to solve the problem, what should a man do who had been convinced of the impossibility of finding the objective truth. The old metaphysics with its arbitrary and unproven assertions, which could not bear criticism, irritated Kant, and he decided to get rid, even though by accepting the relative legitimacy of skepticism, of the unscientific discipline which he, as a teacher of philosophy, had to represent. But the confidence of the skeptics and Kant's deference are not in the least binding upon us. And after all Kant himself did not fulfill the obligations which he undertook. For if we do not know what is truth, what value have the postulates of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul? How can we justify or explain any one of the existing religions, Christianity included?
Although the Gospel does not at all agree with our scientific notions of the laws of nature, yet it does not in itself contain anything contrary to reason. We do not disbelieve in miracles because they are impossible. On the contrary, it is as clear as day to the most ordinary common sense that life itself, the foundation of the world, is the miracle of miracles. And if the task of philosophy had reduced to the mere demonstration of the possibility of a miracle, her business would have been splendidly accomplished long ago. The whole trouble is that visible miracles are not enough for people, and that it is impossible to deduce from the fact that many miracles have already taken place that other miracles, without which mere existence is often impossible, will also happen in due course. Men are being born—without doubt a great miracle; there exists a beautiful world—also a miracle of miracles. But does it follow that men will rise from the grave, and that paradise is made ready for them? The raising of Lazarus is not much believed nowadays even by those who revere the Gospel, not because they will not admit the possibility of miracles in general, but because they cannot decide a priori which miracles are possible and which are not, and therefore they are obliged to judge a posteriori. They readily accept a miracle that has happened, but they doubt the miracle that has not happened, and the more they doubt, the more passionately do they desire it. It costs nothing to believe in the final triumph of good upon the earth (though it would be an absolute miracle), in progress or the infallibility of the Pope (these too are miracles and by no means inconsiderable), for after all men are quite sufficiently indifferent to good, to progress, and to the virtues of the Pope. It is much harder, nay quite impossible, standing before the dead body of one who is near and dear, to believe that an angel will fly down from heaven and bring the dead to life again, although the world is full of happenings no less miraculous than the raising of the dead.
Therefore the skeptics are wrong when they assert that there is no truth. Truth exists, but we do not know it in all its volume, nor can we formulate that which we do know: we cannot imagine why it happened thus and not otherwise, or whether that which happened had to happen thus, or whether something else quite different might have happened. Once it was held that reality obeys the laws of necessity, but Hume explained that the notion of necessity is subjective, and therefore must be discarded as illusory. His idea was caught up (without the deduction) by Kant. All those of our judgments which have the character of universality and necessity, acquire it only by virtue of our psychological organisation. In those cases where we are particularly convinced of the objective value of our judgment, we have merely to do with a purely subjective certainty, though it is immutable and secure in the visible world. It is well known that Kant did not accept Hume's deduction: not only did he make no attempt to banish the false premisses from our intellectual economy, as Hume did with the conception of necessity, but, on the contrary, he declared that such an attempt was quite impracticable.
The practical reason suggested to Kant that though the foundations of our judgments are vitiated by their source, yet their invariability may be of great assistance in the world of phenomena, that is in the space between the birth and death of man. If a man has lived before birth (as Plato held), and will live after death, then his ‘truths’ were not, and will not be necessary there, in the other world. What truths are there, and whether there are any truths at all, Kant only guesses, and he succeeds in his guesses only because of his readiness to ignore logic in his conclusions. He suddenly gives faith an immense right to judge of the real world, a right of which faith would never dream had it not been taken under his special patronage by the philosopher himself. But why can faith do that which reason cannot? And a yet more insidious question: Are not all postulates invented by the same mind which was deprived of its rights in the first Critique, but which subsequently obtained a verdict of restitutio in integrum, by changing the name of the firm? The last hypothesis is the most probable. And if so, then does it not follow that in the real world so carefully divided by Kant from the world of phenomena we will find much that is new, but not a little that is old.
In general it is clear that the assumption that our world is a world of an instant, a brief dream, utterly unlike real life,’ is mistaken. This assumption, first enunciated by Plato, and afterwards elaborated and maintained by many representatives of religious and philosophical thought, is based upon no data at all. There's no denying, it is very pleasant. But as often happens, as soon as the wish was invested with language, by the mere fact it received too sharp and angular an expression. so that it lost all resemblance to itself. The essence of the true, primordial life beyond the grave appears to Plato as absolute good refined from all alloy, as the essence of virtue. But after all Plato himself cannot suffer the absolute emptiness of the ideal existence, and constantly flavours it with elements which are by no means ideal, but which give interest and intensity to his dialogues. If you have never had the occasion to read Plato himself, acquaint yourself with his philosophy through the teaching of any of his admirers and appreciators, and you will be struck by its emptiness.
Read the thick volume of Natorp’s well-known work, and you will see what value there is in Plato's ‘purified’ doctrine. And in passing I would recommend as a general rule, this method of examining the ideas of famous philosophers, by acquainting oneself with them not only in the original works, but in the expositions of their disciples, particularly of faithful and conscientious disciples. When the fascination of the personality and the genius disappears and the naked, unadorned ‘truth’ remains—disciples always believe that the master had the truth, and they reveal it without any embellishment or fig leaf—only then does it become quite clear of how little value are the fundamental thoughts of even the most exalted philosophers. Still more obvious does it become when the faithful disciple begins to draw conclusions from his master's proportions.
The book of the aforesaid Natorp, a great Plato expert, is a reductio ad absurdum of all his master's ideas. Plato is revealed as a logical Neo-Kantian, a narrow-minded savant, who had been put thoroughly through the mill at Freiburg or Heidelberg. It is also revealed that Plato's ideas, in the pure state, do not in the least express his real attitude to life and to the world. One must take the whole Plato with his contradictions and inconsequence, with his vices and virtues, and value his defects at least as much as his qualities, or even add one or two defects, and be blind to one or two virtues. For it is probable that he, as a man to whom nothing human was alien, tried to assume a few virtues which he did not possess, and to conceal a few failings. This course should be followed with other masters of wisdom and their doctrines. Then ‘the other world’ will not appear to be separated by such an abyss from our earthly vale. And perhaps, in spite of Kant, some empirical truths will be found common to both worlds. Then Pilate's question will lose much of its all-conquering certainty. He wished to wash his hands of the business, and he asked, ‘What is truth’?’ After him and before him, many who had no desire to struggle have devised ingenious questions and taken their stand upon skepticism. But every one knows that truth does exist, and sometimes can even formulate its own conception with the clarity and precision demanded by Descartes. Is the miraculous bounded by the miracles that have already been seen on earth, or are its limits set much wider? And if wider, then how much?
More of Truth
Perhaps truth is by nature such that its communication between men is impossible, at least the usual communication by means of language. Every one may know it in himself, but in order to enter into communication with his neighbour he must renounce the truth and accept some conventional lie. Nevertheless the value and importance of truth is by no means lessened by the fact that it cannot be given a market valuation. If you were asked what is truth, you could not answer the question even though you had given your whole life to the study of philosophical theories. In yourself, if you have no one to answer, you know well what the truth is. Therefore truth does not by nature resemble empirical truth in the least, and before entering the world of philosophy, you must bid farewell to scientific methods of search, and to the accustomed methods of estimating knowledge. In a word, you must be ready to accept something absolutely new, quite unlike what is traditional and old. That is why the tendency to discredit scientific knowledge is by no means so useless as may at first sight appear to the inexperienced eye.
That is why irony and sarcasm prove to be a necessary weapon of the investigator. The most dangerous enemy of new knowledge always has been, and always will be, inculcated habit. From the practical point of view it is much more important to a man to know the things which may help him to adapt himself to the temporary conditions of his existence, than those which have a timeless value. The instinct of self-preservation always proves stronger than the sincerest desire for knowledge. Moreover, one must remember that the instinct has at its disposal innumerable and most subtle weapons of defence, that all human faculties without exception are under its command, from unconscious reflexes up to the enthroned mind and august consciousness.
Much and often has been said in this regard, and for once the consensus sapientium is on my side. True, this is treated as an undeniable perversion of human nature—and here I make my protest. I think that there is in this nothing undesirable. Our mind and consciousness must consider it an honour that they can find themselves in the service of instinct, even if it be the instinct of self-preservation. They should not be conceited, and to tell the truth they are not conceited, but readily fulfill their official mission. They pretend to priority only in books, and tremble at the thought of pre-eminence in life. if by some accident they were allowed freedom of action they would go mad with terror, like children lost in a forest at night. Every time that the mind and consciousness begin to judge independently, they reach destructive conclusions. And then they see with surprise that this time too they were not acting freely, but under the dictation of the self-same instinct, which had assumed a different character. The human soul desired the work of destruction, and she loosed the slaves from their chains, and they in wild enthusiasm began to celebrate their freedom by making great havoc, not in the least suspecting that they remained just as they were before, slaves who work for others.
Long ago Dostoevsky pointed out that the instinct of destruction is as natural to the human soul as that of creation. Beside these two instincts all our faculties appear to be minor psychological properties, required only under given, and accidental, conditions. Of truth—as not only the crass materialists now confess, but the idealists also have found in their metaphysics—nothing remains but the idea of the norm. To speak in more expressive and intelligible language, truth exists only in order that men who are separated in time and space might establish between themselves some kind of communication at least. That is, a man must choose between absolute loneliness with truth, on the one side, and communion with his neighbours and falsehood, on the other. Which is the better, it will be asked. The question is idle, I reply. There is a third way still: to accept both, though it may at first appear utterly absurd, especially to people who have once for all decided that logic, like mathematics, is infallible. Whereas it is possible, and not merely possible—we would not be content with a possibility: only a German idealist can be satisfied with a good which was never realised in any place at all—it is continually observed that the most contradictory spiritual states do coexist.
All men lie when they begin to speak: our language is so imperfectly arranged that the principle of its arrangement presupposes a readiness to speak untruth. The more abstract the subject is, the more does the disposition to lie increase, until, when we touch upon the most complicated questions, we have to lie incessantly, and the lie is the more intolerable and coarse the more sincere we are. For a sincere man is convinced that veracity is assured by the absence of contradictions, and in order to avoid all appearance of lie, he tries to make a logical agreement between his opinions: that is to raise his lie to Herculean heights. In his turn, when he receives the opinions of others, he applies the same criterion, and the moment he notices the smallest contradiction, he begins naďvely to cry out against the violation of the fundamental decencies.
What is particularly curious is that all the learned students of philosophy—and it is strictly to them that I address myself here, as the reader has probably observed long ago—certainly are well aware that no single one of the mightiest philosophers has hitherto succeeded in eliminating all contradictions from his system. How well armed was Spinoza! He spared no effort, and stuck at nothing, and yet his remarkable system will not bear logical criticism. That is a matter of common knowledge. So it appears that we ought to ask what the devil is the use of consistency, and whether contradictions are not the condition of truthfulness in one's conception of the world. And after Kant, his disciples and successors might have answered quietly that the devil alone knows the use of consistency, and that truth lives by contradictions. As a matter of fact, Hegel and Schopenhauer, each in his own way, partly attempted to make an admission of this kind, but they derived small profit from it.
Let us try to draw some conclusions from the foregoing. Certainly, while logic can be useful, it would be unjustifiable recklessness to refuse its services. Nor are the conclusions devoid of interest, as we shall see. First of all, when you speak, never trouble to be consistent with what you said before: that will put an unnecessary check upon your freedom, which, without that additional fetter, is already chained in words and grammatical forms. When you are listening to a friend or reading a book, do not assign great value to individual words or even to phrases. Forget separate thoughts, and give no great consideration even to logically arranged ideas. Remember that though your friend desires it, he cannot express himself save by ready-made forms of speech. Look well to the expression of his face, listen to the intonation of his voice—this will help you to penetrate through his words to his soul. Not only in conversation, but even in a written book, can one overhear the sound,, even the timbre of the author's voice, and notice the finest shades of expression in his eyes and face. Do not fasten upon contradictions, do not dispute, do not demand argument: only listen with attention. In return for which, when you begin to speak, you also will have to face no dispute, nor to produce arguments, which you know well you neither have nor could have. So you will not be annoyed by having pointed out to you your contradictions which you know well were always there, and will always be there, and with which it is painful, nay quite impossible, for you to part.
Then, then—and this is most important of all—you will at last be convinced that truth does not depend on logic, that there are no logical truths at all, that you therefore have the right to search for what you like, how you like, without argument, and that if something results from your search, it will not be a formula, not a law, not a principle, not even an idea! Only think: while the object of search is ‘truth,’ as it is understood nowadays, one must be prepared for anything. For instance, the materialists will be right, and matter and energy are the basis of the world. It does not matter that we can immediately confound the materialists with their conclusions. The history of thought can show many cases of the complete rehabilitation of opinions that have been cast off and reviled. Yesterday's error may be to-morrow's truth, even a self-evident truth. And apart from its content, wherein is materialism bad? it is a harmonious, consistent, and well-sustained system.
I have already pointed out that the materialistic conception of the world is just as capable of enchanting men as any other—pantheistic or idealistic. And since we have come so far, I confess that in my opinion no ideas at all are bad in themselves: so far I have been able to follow with pleasure the development of the idea of progress to the accompaniment of factories, railways, and aeroplanes. Still, it seems to me childish to hope that all these trivialities—I mean the ideas—will become the object of man's serious seeking. If that desperate struggle of man with God and the world were possible, of which legend and history tell think of Prometheus alone—then it was not for truth and not for the idea.
Man desires to be strong and rich and free, the wretched, insignificant creature of dust, ‘whom the first chance shock crushes like a worm before one's eyes,—and if he speaks of ideas it is only because he despairs of success in his proper search. He feels that he is a worm, he fears that he must again return to the dust which he is, and he lies, pretending that his misery is not terrible to him, if only he knew the truth. Forgive him his lie, for he speaks it only with his lips. Let him say what he will, how he will; so long as we hear in his words the familiar note of the call to battle, and the fire of desperate inexorable resolution burns in his eyes, we will understand him. We are used to decipher hieroglyphs. But if he, like the Germans of today, accepts truth and the norm as the final goal of human aspiration, we shall also know with whom we have to deal, were he by destiny endowed with the eloquence of Cicero. Better utter loneliness than communion with such a man. Yet such communion does not exclude utter loneliness; perhaps it even assists the hard achievement.
I and Thou
The familiar expression, ‘to look into another's soul,’ which by force of habit at first sight seems extremely intelligible, on closer observation appears so unintelligible that one is forced to ask whether it has any meaning at all. Try to bend, mentally, over another's soul: you will see nothing but a vast, empty, black abyss, and you will only be seized with giddiness for your pains. Thus, properly speaking, the expression ‘to look into another's soul’ is only an abortive metaphor. All that we can do is to argue from the outward data to the inward feelings. From tears we deduce pain, from pallor, fear, from a smile, joy. But is this to look into another's soul? It is only to give room to a series of purely logical processes in one's head. The other's soul remains as invisible as before; we only guess at it, perhaps rightly, perhaps mistakenly. Naturally this conclusion irritates us. What a miserable world it is where it is quite impossible to see the very thing that we desire above all to see. But irritation is almost the normal spiritual state of a man who thinks and seeks. Whenever it is particularly important to him to be sure of something, after a number of desperate attempts he is convinced that his curiosity cannot be satisfied. And now the mocking mind adds a new question to the old: Why look for another's soul when you have not seen your own? And is there a soul? Many have believed and still do believe that there is no soul at all, but only a science of it, called psychology.
It is known that psychology says nothing of the soul, considering that its task is confined to the study of spiritual states—states, by the way, which have as yet hardly been studied at all... What is the way out? One can answer irony with irony, or even with abuse. One can deny psychology the right to be called a science and call the materialists a pack of fools, as is often done. Incontestably, anger has its rights. But this has sense and meaning only while you are among people and are listened to. Nobody wants to be indignant alone with oneself, when one is not even reckoning upon making use of one's indignation for literary purposes: for even a writer is not always writing, and is more often preoccupied with transitory thoughts than with his forthcoming works. One prefers to approach the enchanted cave, though for the thousandth time, with every possible precaution. Perhaps it is only upon the approach of an outside soul that another's soul becomes invisible, and if she be caught unawares she will not have time to disappear. So that ponderous psychology, which like any other science always proclaims its plans and methods aloud before undertaking anything, is utterly unsuited to the capture of a thing so light and mobile as the human soul. But let us leave psychology with the honourable name of science; let us even respect the materialists, while we endeavour to track down the soul by other means. Perhaps in the depth of the dark abyss of which we spoke, something might be found, were it not for the giddiness. Therefore it is not so necessary to invent new methods as to learn to look fearlessly into the depths, which always appear unfathomable to the unaccustomed eye.
After all, unfathomability is not so entirely useless to man. It was driven into our heads as children that the human mind could compass only those things which are limited. But this only proves that we have yet another prejudice to get rid of. If it comes to giving up the right of abusing the materialists and of being taught by psychology, and something else into the bargain—well, we are used to that. But in return we may at last be granted a glimpse of the mysterious ‘thou,’ and perhaps the ‘I’ will cease to be problematical as well. Patience is a sickening thing; but remember the fakirs and the other worthies of the same kind. They succeed by patience alone. And apparently they arrive at something; but not at universal truths, I am ready to vouch for that. The world has long been weary of universal truths. Even ‘truth’ pure and simple makes no whisper in my ear. We must find a way of escape from the power of every kind of truth. This victory the fakirs tried to win. They can produce no arguments to prove ‘their right, for the visible victory was never on their side. One conquers by bayonets, big guns, microscopes and logical arguments. Microscopes and logic give the palm to limitation. And yet, though limitation often strengthens, it also happens that it kills.