The Gospel of Nietzsche - John Neville Figgis - ebook
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IT is related of Archbishop Benson that when he first made acquaintance with London society he asked in his bewilderment: "What do these people believe?" If he were alive to-day he would suffer a like astonishment, but his question would rather take the form: "What don't these people believe?" So strange is the welter of creeds and sects, of religions and irreligious, moralists and immoralists, mystics, rationalists, and realists, and even Christians, that it is hard to guess what nostrum may be dominant with your nextdoor neighbour. It may be a dietetic evangel, it may be an atheistic apocalypse. One phenomenon, not the least notable of our day, is the rejection by large numbers of all the values, which even in the broadest sense could be called Christian. It is not of Christianity as a creed, but Christianity as a way that I speak. Christianity involves many other elements, but it is, as we observe it, a way of life. It selects and sets its value on certain kinds of character. It is the most developed, though by no means the only form of the philosophy of Love. We now know that it gathered up into itself many tendencies at work in systems previously existing. The words Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto were written by a Pagan playwright a century and a half before the foundation of Christianity. Yet they found their full significance therein, and were, like many presuppositions of the great Roman jurists, ultimately destructive of the slave-basis of the ancient world. Many of these Christian values, at least the stress laid on common fellowship and unselfishness, are preserved, with what degree of legitimacy we need not inquire, by many who reject the Christian faith. The Religion of Humanity as set forth by Auguste Comte is agnostic in its attitude to the other world, but its conception of duty as between man and man is not very different from the Christian. Adam Smith wrote a book, less famous than the Wealth of Nations, designed to show the origin of all morality in sympathy. Modern altruism in its varied forms may be traced not obscurely to Christian influence, although even ethically it is not identical therewith...

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THE GOSPEL OF NIETZSCHE

John Neville Figgis

PERENNIAL PRESS

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This book is a work of nonfiction and is intended to be factually accurate.

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Copyright © 2016 by John Neville Figgis

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: THE MAN

THE GOSPEL OF NIETZSCHE

NIETZSCHE AND CHRISTIANITY

NIETZSCHE’S ORIGINALITY

THE CHARM OF NIETZSCHE

THE DANGER AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NIETZSCHE

2016

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: THE MAN

IT IS RELATED OF Archbishop Benson that when he first made acquaintance with London society he asked in his bewilderment: “What do these people believe?” If he were alive to-day he would suffer a like astonishment, but his question would rather take the form: “What don’t these people believe?” So strange is the welter of creeds and sects, of religions and irreligious, moralists and immoralists, mystics, rationalists, and realists, and even Christians, that it is hard to guess what nostrum may be dominant with your nextdoor neighbour. It may be a dietetic evangel, it may be an atheistic apocalypse. One phenomenon, not the least notable of our day, is the rejection by large numbers of all the values, which even in the broadest sense could be called Christian. It is not of Christianity as a creed, but Christianity as a way that I speak. Christianity involves many other elements, but it is, as we observe it, a way of life. It selects and sets its value on certain kinds of character. It is the most developed, though by no means the only form of the philosophy of Love. We now know that it gathered up into itself many tendencies at work in systems previously existing. The words Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto were written by a Pagan playwright a century and a half before the foundation of Christianity. Yet they found their full significance therein, and were, like many presuppositions of the great Roman jurists, ultimately destructive of the slave-basis of the ancient world. Many of these Christian values, at least the stress laid on common fellowship and unselfishness, are preserved, with what degree of legitimacy we need not inquire, by many who reject the Christian faith. The Religion of Humanity as set forth by Auguste Comte is agnostic in its attitude to the other world, but its conception of duty as between man and man is not very different from the Christian. Adam Smith wrote a book, less famous than the Wealth of Nations, designed to show the origin of all morality in sympathy. Modern altruism in its varied forms may be traced not obscurely to Christian influence, although even ethically it is not identical therewith.

A short while back it was assumed that, apart from all questions of the supernatural, the Christian ideal was the highest known to man. John Stuart Mill declared in his Essays on Religion that we have no better criterion of conduct than that of living so that Christ should approve our lives. So long as that represented anything like a general sentiment it was possible to maintain that the wide-spread attack on Christian dogma need have no effect on morals. If such a charge was made by Christians it was hotly resented. Men like Huxley or Matthew Arnold would have scorned as narrow-minded any one who had said that by knocking the bottom out of faith in the supernatural they were undermining morality. When Tennyson did say it, in “The Promise of May,” the late Lord Queensberry protested at the first night and made a scene at the Globe Theatre.

Nous avons, changé tout cela. On all hands we hear preached a revival of Paganism. Christianity as an ethical ideal is contemned. Formerly Christians were charged with hypocrisy because they fell short of the ideal. The charge was false, although the fact was true. We do fail, fail miserably, to come up to our ideal, and always shall, so long as it remains an ideal. Nowadays the Christian is attacked not because he fails, but in so far as he succeeds. Our Lord himself is scorned, not because he is not the revealer of Love, but because he is. Hardly a single specifically Christian value is left as it was. These attacks come from many angles. In these lectures on the foundation of Governor Bross I am to invite your attention to one such assailant. Recently the name of Friedrich Nietzsche has become widely known. For some years a cult of him, almost like a religion, has been proceeding. It is nearly twenty years ago since his danger and his charm became clear to me. For long, indeed, he was ignored by official representatives either of apology or philosophy. Now, however, his name is so commonly familiar, that your complaint is like to be of the other order. So I must crave your pardon if the topic seems trite. At least it is germane to the scheme of the Governor Bross Lectures, as propounded.

This poet-prophet, so strange and beautiful, has laid a spell on many in our time. It may not be aimless toil to try to give some notion of what he wanted; and in the light of that blazing criticism to see how it stands with Christianity, as a house of life for men. The task is not easy. Nietzsche made a virtue of inconsistency, and never continued in one stay. Any presentment of him may be pronounced unfair by an admirer. Moreover, the critic may even find chapter and verse for his complaint; since Nietzsche expressed most opinions during the course of his life. Even of his later Zarathustra period it is not easy to make a harmony. Probably no two people to the end of time will be in precise agreement as to the significance of the Übermensch..

For Christians yet another difficulty arises. One is tempted to give up all effort to understand a writer, of whom a passage like the following is typical:

“The Christian Church is to me the greatest of all imaginable corruptions; it has had the will to the ultimate corruption that is possible. The Christian Church has left nothing untouched with its depravity, it has made a worthlessness out of every value, a lie out of every truth, a baseness of soul out of every straightforwardness.”

Nietzsche put Voltaire’s name at the head of one book — Human, All Too Human — and concludes his Ecce Homo with the words Ecrasez l’infâme. Yet we cannot withstand Nietzsche unless we take the trouble to understand him. Besides he is worth it. True, madness overcame him before he was forty-five. On this account some would dismiss him without more ado and say that his books are all ravings. But this would not be wise. Even if we do not like him, we cannot deny him an influence — in some ways an increasing influence. I think, indeed, that they are wrong who deny all traces of insanity in his writings. Doubtless, too, had Nietzsche fought on the Christian side, this insanity would be deemed good ground for neglecting his apologetic — even by those same superior persons who are all for treating it as irrelevant now. Still, there must be something of importance in a writer who is having so profound an influence on the cultivated world. We must take account of him, whether we like it or not. Nietzsche knew this. He said in one of his letters that the world might attack or despise, but could not ignore him.

Besides, he had a way with him. Bitter though he be, violent, one-sided, blasphemous, perverse, vain, he never commits the unpardonable sin — he is never dull. The thousand and one facets in which flashes the jewel of his mind throw light and colour on many dark paths. The passion of his flaming soul, his sincerity, his sense of beauty, his eloquence, the courage of his struggles with ill health, the pathos of that lonely soul craving for sympathy, his deep psychological insight and sense of prophetic mission — all these give him a spell which is hard to resist. His teaching in some respects, not all, we may deplore. His picture of our holy religion is a caricature with hardly an element of likeness. His system, so far as he has a system, may seem childish. Yet Nietzsche remains. We shall always return to him; and the Alpine clearness of the atmosphere he breathes braces, like his own Engadin. His opinions may be what you will, but Friedrich Nietzsche, the man, we love and shall go on loving, even when he hits us hardest. He said himself that in controversy we should be severe towards opinions, but tender towards the individual. That may well form our maxim in dealing with Friedrich Nietzsche.

Friedrich Nietzsche, indeed, we must get at. No thinker was ever more personal than Nietzsche — not even Saint Paul. He said somewhere that he felt every experience more deeply than other men; and that all the theories set forth in Zarathustra were expressive of something in his life. Moreover, “Nietzsche is ‘la sincérité même,’ “ says a hostile French critic (M. Pallarès, p. 345). These words are the more noteworthy that M. Pallarès leans unduly to the severe in dealing with Nietzsche. Let us then to-day concern ourselves with some attempt to picture Nietzsche the man.

Friedrich Nietzsche was born at Röcken in 1844. He lost his reason early in 1889 and died in 1900. Thus, he was but a child at the great age of the revolutions. As a young man at college he saw the dawn of Prussian predominance in 1866. During the war that made the new German Empire he was a youthful professor at Basle and no longer a German subject. The present Kaiser had begun his reign just before the catastrophe which engulfed Nietzsche. He had Polish blood in him. This was a source of pride. He deemed himself the descendant of the Polish Counts Nietzki. Two strains of purely German blood, that of his mother and one grandmother, prevented him being as much of a Pole as he would have liked. Yet he was often pleased when on his frequent travels people took him for a Pole and no German. He described himself as coming of a long line of Lutheran pastors. That gave him his exhaustless interest in Christianity. He hated it too much ever to leave it alone. We find him apologising to his friend, Peter Gast, for the result of his Christian ancestry.

Nietzsche’s father was a distinguished Lutheran pastor, who died when the children were very young. Friedrich lamented this all his life. Frau Pastorin Nietzsche took the boy and girl, Friedrich and Eliza beth, to Naumburg. Nietzsche was only five years old at this time. He was brought up by his pious and Puritan mother amid a circle of relatives. The training of his mother was Spartan and the mitigations were the work of their grandmother, Frau Oehler. The circle was pious, eminently respectable, and of local importance. Nietzsche had a reverence for his mother which he never lost. When his stroke came in 1889 the old lady hurried to Turin, and insisted that she would tend him. There was, however, little intimacy of thought, and in this Friedrich missed his father’s friendship. Brother and sister were all in all to each other. Pleasant is the picture of their child life given in the earlier pages of her book by Frau Förster-Nietzsche. That biography is one of our chief means of understanding Nietzsche. Yet it must be read with caution. It is a very clever piece of apologetic writing. It needs to be checked by Nietzsche’s own letters and other writings like that of Doctor Paul Deussen, his schoolfellow. Naumburg was a small provincial town, and the circle in which the Nietzsche family moved was eminently pious. What all this meant in the fifties and sixties we can imagine. The boy disliked all vulgarity. At the local gymnasium he made few friends. But he was passionate in his attachments. He was an ardent scholar, and by this means won a place at the great institution of Pforta. Pforta was a place of renown organised apparently somewhat like an English public school, with the elder boys in authority over the younger. It prided itself on moulding life as a whole, and not being a mere teaching place. Many of the most distinguished men in Germany had been educated there. Nietzsche’s letters and the recollections of Doctor Deussen give the impression of a strenuous and interesting life — with the friendships and quarrels of boyhood. Nietzsche had always a certain distinction of manner. Yet here and throughout his early life he was intensely human. It is an error to think of him as a recluse misanthrope. He was praised for all things, except mathematics. Towards the close of his time he got into one serious scrape, drunkenness, and his letters to his mother on the subject are touching and natural. Like other youths of literary tastes, he started a small essay club — the membership began with three — not all at the same school. The rules were elaborate and heroic. All were to send in essays or some other composition — music was included. One member elected each year was to act as critic. The ideal, as in most such cases, was too high for mortal schoolboys. It soon broke down. One story tells his courage. Round the fire the boys were talking of the story of Scævola. One of them said he could not understand how any one could do such a thing, knowing what he was about. Immediately Nietzsche put his hand in the fire, and kept it there until he was pulled off by the monitor. Pforta left its mark on him. He had much esprit de corps. We can hardly be wrong in tracing to a memory of this school that passage about the need of a severe school at the close of The Will to Power. Even in his last illness he frequently spoke of the school.

From Pforta he proceeded to the University of Bonn. There he was not very happy. True, he found one professor whom ever after he honoured, Ritschl; and made at least one intimate friend. He joined the students’ union, the Franconia, and fought the inevitable duel. But he did not enjoy undergraduate camaraderie and complained that many of his fellow-students were common. Partly because he had spent too much, he transferred himself to Leipzig, whither had gone his revered Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. This great classical philologist was one chief intellectual influence. But the star of Schopenhauer had now risen for Nietzsche. We hear much of his enthusiasm for the master, and of the value of redemptive pessimism. In Leipzig a greater intimacy began. A sister of Wagner was living there. Nietzsche, a passionate lover of music and already of Wagner, was invited to meet the great man, who was at Leipzigincognito for a brief visit. Wagner took to Nietzsche at once. Thus began that friendship which was the most important personal influence in his life.

After Leipzig, Nietzsche went for a year’s service in the cavalry. Much as he loved reading, Nietzsche was never a mere bookworm. The early Nietzsche and his friend Erwin Rohde had seemed to the others like young Greek gods when they came in flushed from a ride. Nietzsche entered with zest into his military life, and gives in his letters vivid pictures of it. Soon he became noted as the best rider in the regiment. Here he had a serious accident. The muscles of his heart were injured. After a time of severe illness he was discharged. His year of service came to an abrupt ending. His health never entirely recovered. This event may be taken as the beginning of that long agony which ended with his madness. Eyesight, ill-cared for at school, would appear to have had much to do with his continual headaches and his subsequent insanity. So much is clear from what his sister says, but it is probably not correct to follow Doctor Gould in his book, Biographic Clinics. The whole trouble is there put down to the eyes. Every other cause is either denied or minimised.

In the year 1866 we find Nietzsche warmly patriotic and German in his sympathies, high in the praise of Bismarck and the government. This time at least he was pro-Prussian.

Not long after, when Nietzsche was back at Leipzig studying for his doctorate, his old preceptor, who had early discerned his merit, secured him a post at Basle as Professor Extraordinary of Philology. Nietzsche was only twenty-five, and although he said he would have preferred to wait, signs of this are not obvious in the hilarious, mystifying letters he wrote to his sister, just before the announcement.

Nietzsche was well aware of what he owed to Ritschl, and the correspondence between the two is a model for an intimacy between the pupil and the tutor, when the former grows up and breaks away, as he must. It is an error to think of Nietzsche as a disagreeable rebel without reverence. His life was spent in enthusiasms, which he afterwards outgrew. No man ever lived who felt more the need of worship. That is part of the tragedy of his career. Having given up God, he spent the rest of his existence in making idols and then breaking them — Schopenhauer, Wagner, and the rest — till he settled down at last to the Übermensch and the Eternal return. Always naïf — he was the antithesis of Henri Beyle (Stendhal), his great admiration — he was earnest and almost boyish in his enthusiasms. Later he found the feet of clay in his idol, and turned in fury to smash it, crying out against himself and his former god, and the universe, because he had allowed himself to be deceived. But he was not irreverent by nature. That is a superficial interpretation, due to Nietzsche’s command of picturesque blasphemy.

The Basle appointment forced him to give up his nationality and become Swiss. Hence when the Franco-Prussian War came in 1870 Nietzsche could offer no more than the care of the wounded. Full of sympathy, he did all that he could, until he fell ill. This period is noteworthy, for Nietzsche received then the first impressions of the principle which governs his later teaching, the Will to Power. Busied with the sick, driven nearly wild with sympathy, he caught sight of 1a troop of Prussian horse coming thundering down a hill into the village. Their splendour of aspect, strong, courageous, and efficient, at once impressed him. He saw that suffering and sympathy with it were not, as he had thought à la Schopenhauer, the profoundest things in life. It was this power greater than pain which made pain irrelevant — that was the reality. Life began to present itself as a struggle for power. This is his first move away from Schopenhauer and pessimism.

Nietzsche recovered, though not fully. He went back to Basle and tried to go through his duties before he was well. From this extra strain he never really recovered. Yet he had much to help him. Basle had welcomed him with open arms. Quickly was he made an ordinary professor, with a heightened salary. As a teacher he had and must have had enthusiastic pupils — they never had a better teacher, it was said. Friends were not lacking. True, Nietzsche was greatly bored by general society, and found himself, as an eligible bachelor, more pushed against than pushing. Gradually he withdrew, and frequented only his chosen circle — Fischer and Overbeck, the historical theologian, who was later on to hurry to Basle on surmise of his illness; and Burckhardt, the great historian of the Renaissance. No man could complain who lived with such men and was loved by them. Wagner was a yet more potent star. Nietzsche occupied much of his spare time with visits to Triebschen, where Wagner and Frau Cosima lived. The latter is probably the only woman who greatly influenced Nietzsche. Even in later years he acknowledged his debt to her. To them is owing his début as a writer. Nietzsche came before the world with the Birth of Tragedy. The book is really a Wagnerite tract: it starts with that distinction of which he afterwards made so much, the distinction between Apollinian and Dionysian art, the former serene, contemplative, intellectual; the latter ecstatic, emotional, compelling. The distinction is not unlike that between classical and romantic art, if we use the terms for two modes of art, not for definitely historical movements. The conclusion of the book points to Wagner, though it does not name him, as the man who is to recover the true tragic altitude. This was to Nietzsche the valuable thing in Hellenism, not the philosophic or Socratic development which already he treats as decadence. The real Nietzsche begins to shew himself in other efforts. David Strauss, the author of the famous Leben Jesu, had just then “taken the town” with his book on The Old Faith and the New. In this work Strauss gives up every vestige of supernatural faith, accepts evolution in a materialist form, and tries to shew that somehow or other all things are for the best in the best of all possible worlds, if the ideals of the present cultivated classes remain intact, and the movement to secure the rights of labour be checked. Strauss’s attitude in some respects is not unlike that of Nietzsche, who never could endure any attempt at improving the status of the labourer. Nietzsche was in this case (as also in that of Hartmann, who comes in for a share of the trouncing) at least as greatly irritated by the signs of likeness as he was by those of difference. In the first of the Essays Out of Season he fell with fury on this book, written, he says, solely for that contemptible product of the modern world, the culture-Philistine, of which Strauss and von Hartmann were the two capital examples. Nietzsche’s strictures are largely justified by the smug and banal optimism with which the book closes. Probably what excited Nietzsche’s ire most would be a passage such as the following:

“Ever remember that thou art human, not merely a natural production; ever remember that all others are human also, and with all individual differences the same as thou, having the same needs and claims as thyself; this is the sum and substance of morality.

“Ever remember that thou and everything thou beholdest within and around thee, all that befalls thee and others is no disjointed fragment, no wild chaos of atoms or casualties, but that it all springs according to eternal laws, from the one primal source of all life, all reason, and all good; this is the essence of religion.”

Doctor Richard Meyer is hardly wrong in speaking of the danger of a cheap ideal of culture — comfort raised to a dogma. This danger was not and is not confined to Germany. The importance of this book and The Birth of Tragedy is high. Nietzsche had now declared war on the academic scholarship of the day; he had asserted the superiority of art and philosophy to science, the essentially secondary position of science, needful or we could not bake our bread or heat our houses — but a slave in the house of life, as compared with its Divine Mistresses, art and philosophy and religion, so far as that is possible. Thus he had already begun his anti-intellectualist propaganda. Secondly, Nietzsche had shewn the hollowness of the Prussian triumph in 1870-1. Already he has flung his cap for French culture, as opposed to German. Even during the war he had expressed himself as fearful of its results to Culture. Culture in the highest sense is the one thing Nietzsche cared for and strove all his life to forward. Now more than ever he begins to feel that Prussia is the supreme danger to Culture. He mocks at the Germans for their enslavement to French culture, and for their inability to produce anything of their own. His great hope in Wagner, afterwards dashed, was just this — that he would be the herald of a new German and European culture-epoch.

This essay created a sensation. It is significant of Nietzsche’s tenderness of heart that a year later, when Strauss died, he expressed a fear lest he had caused him any pain. Thirdly, the attitude indicated by the title Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Essays Out of Season) is significant. Nietzsche now took up that pose which he never relinquished, of being the prophet, denouncing the evils of his day, antagonistic to all its dominating currents. This was true only in part. Much of Nietzsche is, as has been pointed out, merely a translation into his own idiom of the ideals of Bismarckian success. A great deal else is merely the last movement of the Romantic symphony, for greatly as Nietzsche despised the Romantics of the nineteenth century, he was himself of that company.

High-water mark of early achievement is reached in his next essay — on the use and abuse of history. Rarely has he written better. Every student of history ought to be made to read it, lest he suffer from a “proud stomach.” The same is true of all whose notion of culture is largely mingled with “the passion of the past.” Nietzsche himself did not heed his own warnings sufficiently, or he would have been a less ardent neo-Pagan. Anyhow, his words are wise. He points out the danger of a culture mainly historical. It produces a race of epigoni, “pensioners on the past,” always looking back. As he says elsewhere, the historian begins by looking backward, he ends by thinking backward. Nietzsche in this essay is prophetic. More and more must culture look to the future, if it is to have any appeal. Less and less can it be made up of mere historical sentiment. This is true of every branch of culture, including religion. True, the wise man will not discard history, nor suppose with the vulgar that anything beautiful and noble in life can be reproduced afresh for every age. We get to be more not less able to enjoy the atmosphere of a great epoch, whether Elizabethan England or the France of Louis Quatorze. But we must beware — and especially so if we are sensible of their attractions — of becoming enslaved to the past, or choked in inherited tradition, so that we cannot move forward. Mere memory, even when lit by imagination and taste, is no safe guide for life — or rather it is too safe, and leads only down ancient lanes, when we ought to be seeking new stars. Christians, and more especially ourselves, need to take these warnings deeply to heart. Some of the worst failures are due to this excess of sentiment for one particular age.

Nietzsche projected a dozen essays in this series. Two more were all that he wrote. One is entitled “Schopenhauer as Educator,” although it is mainly occupied with Nietzsche. The other is on Richard Wagner at Bayreuth. He had already outgrown the theories of these two men of genius. These essays were his last tribute to them and were personal.