Existential Comics Schopenhauer Essays

1. Schopenhauer

The nineteenth century produced three philosophers who combined depth of thought with elegance of style: Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. These three philosophers have a certain family resemblance. All three were solitary and unmarried, all three had a certain disdain for the masses. The later two (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche) read the eldest of them (Schopenhauer) with keen interest, though none of them ever met. Though they questioned the importance of reason, all three belong to the classical-Western tradition, not the mystical-Hermetic tradition.

Just after the last of them died, two great intellectual revolutions occurred: depth psychology and Eastern philosophy. These two revolutions are having a profound effect on philosophy in our time, and are diminishing the importance of these three philosophers. This wouldn’t come as a surprise to the three philosophers, since they knew that philosophy evolves, and a philosopher’s influence gradually wanes. But though their influence is waning, their work will be read as long as literature is respected, as long as man seeks to understand the human condition. Let’s discuss these three philosophers chronologically, beginning with the first, Schopenhauer.

I recommend Schopenhauer’s essays and aphorisms. If you think that philosophy is dry or obscure, this book will change your mind. Schopenhauer’s style is always lucid, and he often gives one a deeper understanding of daily life. Schopenhauer’s essays and aphorisms contain the sort of wisdom that never grows old, and never becomes obsolete. For example, Schopenhauer speaks of, “that optical illusion of the mind from which everyone suffers, making life, at its beginning, seem of long duration; and at its end, when one looks back over the course of it, how short a time it seems!”1 Schopenhauer’s essays and aphorisms total about 800 pages; since some of them are of little interest, they should be read in an abridged version, such as the Penguin Classics version.

Schopenhauer displayed a certain disdain for his essays; he gave them the title Parerga and Paralipomena, which is Greek for Scraps and Leftovers. He treated his essays and aphorisms as minor works, less important than his two-volume work, The World As Will and Idea. The World As Will and Idea is as clear and readable as his essays are, but it deals with metaphysical abstractions rather than everyday reality. Though one need not read both volumes, it’s still a harder book to read than Schopenhauer’s essays.

In The World As Will and Idea, Schopenhauer expresses his view that the world is hell, and that one should renounce life, not seek happiness. His pessimism is apparent in this aphorism: “No rose without a thorn. But many a thorn without a rose.”2 His pessimism is also apparent in his famous porcupine parable: Some porcupines come together on a cold winter day, in order to share each other’s warmth. But when they’re pricked by each other’s quills, they move apart. And so, like mankind, they move back and forth, satisfied neither with the cold of solitude, nor with society’s quills.

Schopenhauer is best known for his pessimism and his misogyny. These qualities have blinded many modern readers to the merits of his work. Those who are serious about philosophy will find The World As Willand Idea to be a work of the highest quality.

Schopenhauer wrote The World as Will and Idea when he was in his twenties; it was published in 1818, when Schopenhauer was thirty. It aroused no response from the public. For the next 35 years, Schopenhauer lived in obscurity in Frankfurt-am-Main, a bachelor, supporting himself with inherited money, confident of future fame. Schopenhauer’s favorite philosopher was Kant, who lived according to a fixed routine; Kant’s neighbors could set their clocks by his afternoon walk. Following Kant’s example, Schopenhauer lived according to a fixed routine: he rose every morning at seven, skipped breakfast, and wrote until noon. Then he quit work for the day, and practiced the flute for half-an-hour. He lunched at The English House, and always laid a gold coin on his table, promising to give it away if the English officers at nearby tables talked about anything except horses and women. After lunch, he read until four, then took a two-hour walk, regardless of the weather. At six, he went to the library and read newspapers. Then he went to a play or a concert, had dinner, and went to bed.

In 1851, he published his essays, and said, “I am right glad to witness the birth of my last child, which completes my mission in this world. I really feel as if a load that I have borne since my twenty-fourth year had been lifted from my shoulders. No one can imagine what that means.”3 This book of essays brought him the fame that he had long sought; an English literary critic was impressed with Schopenhauer’s essays, and wrote a laudatory review of them, thereby starting a chain reaction that soon made Schopenhauer famous the world over.

Schopenhauer died in 1860, secure in the knowledge that his works would never die. In the 1890s, Schopenhauer’s fame was eclipsed by Nietzsche. Though he is still in Nietzsche’s shadow today, Schopenhauer will long be viewed by discerning readers as one of the deepest thinkers, and one of the best stylists, ever to put pen to paper.

Where does Schopenhauer fit in the history of philosophy? Schopenhauer was the enemy of Hegel, the student of Kant, and the teacher of Nietzsche. He despised Hegel; having seen Hegel in person, he said that he could tell by the shape of his head and the look in his eye that he wasn’t a genius. Meanwhile, Schopenhauer regarded Kant as a great thinker; Schopenhauer’s metaphysics picks up where Kant left off. Schopenhauer’s influence on Nietzsche was considerable. But Nietzsche disagreed with many of Schopenhauer’s views. Much of Nietzsche’s work was an attempt to justify life, and affirm life; Nietzsche was steadfastly opposed to Schopenhauer’s pessimism.

Biographies of Schopenhauer have been written by (among others) Helen Zimmern, Bryan Magee, and R�diger Safranski. Zimmern’s biography is one of the earliest (Zimmern was an acquaintance of Nietzsche), and is still one of the best. Bryan Magee became well known in Britain for his TV shows on philosophy. His book Confessions of a Philosopher is an introduction to philosophy in autobiographical form; it contains an attack on analytic philosophy that runs for several chapters. More recently, Magee wrote an award-winning autobiography called Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood. Magee’s Philosophy of Schopenhauer is one of his best-known works. R�diger Safranski has written biographies of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc. Safranski hosts a philosophy show on German TV.

2. Kierkegaard

Like Schopenhauer, Soren Kierkegaard developed under the shadow of Hegel. But while Schopenhauer despised Hegel and ignored him, Kierkegaard took Hegel seriously, adopted much of Hegel’s terminology, and devoted much time to answering Hegel’s arguments. Hegel concentrated on metaphysics, logic and history; he paid little attention to the individual, little attention to ethics. Kierkegaard insisted that the individual was of primary importance — the individual’s ethical choices and religious decisions. Kierkegaard’s work is addressed to the solitary individual. While Schopenhauer was an atheist, Kierkegaard was a passionate Christian. Kierkegaard combines religiosity with a sense of humor. Kierkegaard is the most humorous of all philosophers; his sense of humor is on a par with Kafka’s. If you want a taste of the humorous and poetic side of Kierkegaard, read the first few pages of Either/Or.

Walter Lowrie wrote two biographies of Kierkegaard, one short and one long. The long one is one of the best biographies ever written; indeed, it’s one of the best books ever written. It contains so many quotes from Kierkegaard’s works that one could say Kierkegaard wrote most of it. Anyone interested in Kierkegaard should start with this book. Some of Kierkegaard’s own books are slightly dry, abstract and Hegelian. Another starting-point for the study of Kierkegaard is The Essential Kierkegaard, an anthology edited by Howard and Edna Hong.

Among Kierkegaard’s books, my favorites are his Journals (in an abridged version), The Point of View, The Present Age, and Attack on Christendom. Kierkegaard was capable of the deepest seriousness; this is evident from his Attack on Christendom, which is a work of extraordinary rhetorical power. Here’s a sample of the Attack: “It is a crime, a great crime, to take part in the public worship of God as it now is; for this is at the greatest possible remove from being divine worship.”4 The Attack is clear and readable; its only weakness is that it’s too long, it needs to be abridged.

3. Nietzsche

Nietzsche was born in 1844. He was born into an upper-class family, and as a youngster, he attended Schulpforta, Germany’s most prestigious school. The first decisive event in his life occurred when he was four: the death of his father. This event must have had a profound impact on the young Nietzsche, and must have been an important factor in creating the instability that later developed into madness. Nietzsche exemplifies the idea that genius is akin to madness; as Plato said, genius is “divine madness.”

Nietzsche was an outstanding student, and when he was only 25, he became a professor of philology (ancient language and literature). At about the same time, he discovered the works of Schopenhauer, which made a deep impression on him. Nietzsche regarded himself not only as one of Schopenhauer’s readers, but as one of his “pupils and sons”5; Schopenhauer was a father figure for Nietzsche. To follow in Schopenhauer’s footsteps, to become a philosopher, became the goal of Nietzsche’s life.

When he was 24, Nietzsche met Richard Wagner, the creator of operas. At their first meeting, they discussed Schopenhauer, whom they both admired. Wagner was 31 years older than Nietzsche, and Wagner was an established figure, so it was natural for Wagner to become a father figure for Nietzsche. Nietzsche was so fond of Wagner’s operas that he wanted to devote himself to explaining them to the world. Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, glorified Wagner’s operas by comparing them to Greek tragedy. Though Nietzsche eventually broke with Wagner, it was a peaceful break; Nietzsche looked back on his friendship with Wagner as the best experience of his life.

When Nietzsche was in his early thirties, he became seriously ill — so ill that he resigned his professorship, and seemed close to death. He withdrew into himself, and took stock of himself. It was time for Nietzsche to become Nietzsche. Now he must cease to be Wagner’s son or Schopenhauer’s son, now he must become his own man, now he must become a father figure in his own right. He parted ways with Wagner and Schopenhauer, and lit out on his own. His next two books — Human, All-Too-Human and Dawn — are declarations of independence from Wagner and Schopenhauer.

Like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche became happier, and more at peace with himself, as he grew older. In his next book, The Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote, “What is the seal of liberation? No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.”6 Nietzsche had finally liberated himself from inner obstacles. He accepted himself, he accepted his life, including sickness and death, and he accepted the world. Indeed, he went beyond acceptance to ecstatic affirmation. In his next book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche reached heights of inspiration rarely, if ever, reached in the history of literature.

One of the main themes of Nietzsche’s work is the critique of morality. Nietzsche argued that morality, as practiced by saints and preached by philosophers, is not as pure and holy as we think, and it’s not as healthy, not as beneficial to mankind as we think. According to Nietzsche, the saint, the “good man,” is driven by a variety of motives, including perhaps a lust for power, a hostility to other people, and a hostility to life itself; in short, the saint is driven by motives that are “human, all-too-human.”

Nietzsche’s view of morality is at odds with Schopenhauer’s. Schopenhauer rejected traditional religion and espoused atheism, but he was sympathetic to traditional morality. Nietzsche went further than Schopenhauer insofar as Nietzsche rejected traditional morality as well as traditional religion. While most moralists, including Schopenhauer, preached renunciation of life, Nietzsche affirmed life and espoused earthly values. Nietzsche deplored the old emphasis on the “other world”: “The concept of the ‘beyond’, the ‘true world’ invented in order to devaluate the only world there is — in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!”7

Nietzsche’s work is free from the Kantian verbiage that one finds in Schopenhauer, and free from the Hegelian verbiage that one finds in Kierkegaard. Nietzsche rejected the German philosophical tradition, the tradition of Kant and Hegel. Nietzsche emulated French philosophers like Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruy�re, etc. But while Nietzsche’s words are plain, his sentences are slightly precious and his thoughts are often strained. Thus, Nietzsche’s work, especially his early work, is difficult to read. His later work is strident, but more readable than his early work.

The most readable, concise and powerful book that Nietzsche wrote is his autobiographical work, Ecce Homo. I also recommend two of his late works, Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, and Part I of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Those interested in Nietzsche’s personality should read Conversations With Nietzsche (edited by Sander Gilman).

Nietzsche wrote a lot; though he preached brevity, he didn’t practice it. If his books were skillfully abridged, they would be incomparable. Nietzsche is unsurpassed in profundity and also in pathos.

If anyone doubts Nietzsche’s genius, they should consider three things:

  1. his gift for psychology; Freud said that Nietzsche’s “guesses and intuitions often agree in the most astonishing way with the laborious findings of psychoanalysis”8
  2. his style, his ability to express himself in German; Thomas Mann said that Nietzsche and Heine were the supreme masters of German prose
  3. his gift for prophecy; though he died in 1900, he foresaw many of the major events of the 20th century, such as the world wars, the rise of psychology (Freud), etc.

4. Emerson

One of Nietzsche’s favorite writers was Emerson. Nietzsche admired the cheerful, positive, affirmative tone of Emerson’s work. Emerson’s cheerfulness is the opposite of Schopenhauer’s pessimism. Emerson’s favorite writer was Montaigne, the most cheerful of philosophers. Emerson tried to write essays similar to Montaigne’s essays. Emerson’s goal was not to extend the boundaries of knowledge, but rather to help people to live, to inspire people. “The characteristic of heroism,” Emerson wrote, “is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits, and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world.”9 Influenced by Romantics like Coleridge, Emerson championed intuition rather than logic, spontaneity rather than reason.

Emerson’s best book is his Journals; I recommend Bliss Perry’s abridgment, which is about 300 pages long. This is the best American book — better than Emerson’s Essays, better than Thoreau’s Walden. In its variety and profundity, it reminds one of Eckermann’s Conversations With Goethe. Like Kierkegaard’s Journals, Emerson’s Journals are actually a book of aphorisms. As for Emerson’s essays, my favorites are “The American Scholar,” “Self-Reliance,” and “Thoreau.” Emerson’s prose is excellent, but his essays are occasionally windy. If you want to read a biography of Emerson, consider Emerson: The Mind on Fire, by Robert Richardson.

5. Thoreau

Emerson’s friend and neighbor, Thoreau, is best known as the author of Walden. The first three chapters of Walden are among the finest of all philosophical writings. Thoreau’s style is earthy, lively and eloquent. His cheerfulness reminds one of Emerson. Thoreau argues in favor of a simple, frugal life, and criticizes the complex, hurried life that most men lead. “Men’s minds run so much on work and money,” writes Thoreau, “an Irishman who saw me in the fields making a [note] in my notebook took it for granted that I was casting up my wages and actually inquired what they came to, as if he had never dreamed of any other use for writing.”10

Thoreau’s love of nature has made him very popular with readers in our time — more popular than Emerson. “In Wildness is the preservation of the world,” said Thoreau; “I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.... Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.”11 Thoreau could make friends with all sorts of wild animals, including birds, frogs and woodchucks; he would call his animal friends by whistling, and they would eat out of his hand.

He spent his days wandering in the woods and fields around Concord, Massachusetts, collecting arrowheads, plants, birds’ nests, etc. and bringing them back to his private museum in his parents’ attic. Occasionally he ventured farther afield, taking trips to Cape Cod, Mt. Katahdin, the White Mountains, etc. He wrote several travel books, the best of which may be his book on Cape Cod. Like Emerson, Thoreau often gave lectures and readings at the Concord Lyceum. Thoreau’s works are filled with puns and witticisms. When Thoreau lectured on Cape Cod, Emerson said that the audience “laughed until they cried.”12

Emerson allowed Thoreau to build a cabin on his land at Walden Pond; thus began Thoreau’s famous experiment in simple living. In a lecture at the Concord Lyceum, Thoreau described his lifestyle at the Pond; Emerson said that the audience was “charmed with the witty wisdom which ran through it all,”13 and Thoreau was asked to repeat it the following week for the benefit of those who had missed it. This enthusiastic response prompted Thoreau to expand the lecture into a book — his most famous book, Walden. I recommend the Norton Critical Edition of Walden — or better yet, Jeffrey Cramer’s Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition.

While he was living at Walden Pond, Thoreau was arrested and jailed for non-payment of taxes. Thoreau was fervently anti-slavery, and he didn’t want his tax money to support government policies that he viewed as pro-slavery. When a relative paid Thoreau’s tax, and Thoreau’s jailer told him that he had to leave, Thoreau was “mad as the devil,”14 and refused to leave, since he wanted to call attention to his political views. Out of this incident grew Thoreau’s famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” in which he argued that the individual should obey conscience rather than law, and that passive resistance by numerous people could change government policy. “Civil Disobedience” influenced Gandhi’s struggle against British rule in India, and also influenced Martin Luther King’s struggle on behalf of American blacks.

Thoreau devoted most of his afternoons to walking in the woods and fields around Concord.

He set out each afternoon well prepared for his hikes. Under his arm he carried an old music book in which to press flowers. In his hand was a cane... its edge marked off in feet and inches for quick measuring. On his head was his size seven hat with a special shelf built inside on which to place interesting botanical specimens.... His clothes were chosen to provide a natural camouflage in the woods and fields.... He rejoiced that he could easily walk ten, fifteen, or twenty miles from his own door without going by any house.15

Thoreau foresaw that, in a few decades, it would no longer be possible to take such walks; he realized that open space was diminishing. “Let us improve our opportunities, then,” he wrote, “before the evil days come.”16

Sometimes, instead of walking on dry land, he walked through streams for long stretches, and sometimes, instead of walking by the light of the sun, he walked in the middle of the night, by the light of a full moon. “Will not my townsmen consider me a benefactor,” Thoreau wrote in his journal, “if I conquer some realms from the night, if I can show them that there is some beauty awake while they are asleep?”

Many abridgements of Thoreau’s Journals have been published; I recommend The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals. I also recommend two essays by Thoreau, “Walking” and “Life Without Principle.” Walter Harding has written an extraordinary biography of Thoreau, The Days of Henry Thoreau; fans of Thoreau will find this book difficult to put down. Richardson’s biography — Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind — is also top-notch.

In January, 1862, Thoreau was 45, and he was dying of tuberculosis. Two of his friends, who skated down the river to visit him, reported later that

he seemed glad to see us; said we had not come much too soon.... There was a beautiful snowstorm going on the while which I fancy inspired him, and his talk was up to the best I ever heard from him — the same depth of earnestness and the same infinite depth of fun going on at the same time.

When he was asked if he put his faith in Christ, he said that a snowstorm meant more to him than Christ. One of his friends said to him, “you seem near the brink of the dark river. What do you think of the next world?” Thoreau responded, “one world at a time.” In March, 1862, a neighbor visited Thoreau and later told Emerson that he “never spent an hour with more satisfaction. Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace.” In his final days, Thoreau worked on his book about Maine, and his last sentence contained only two distinct words: “Moose” and “Indian.”17

6. Carlyle

Carlyle was born in 1795, 8 years before Emerson and 22 years before Thoreau. Though he was one of the leading intellectuals of his time, Carlyle is largely forgotten today. He wrote essays and several long historical works. Carlyle is known for his hero-worship; he emphasized the importance of great individuals in history. The best government, in Carlyle’s view, is one in which a great individual has unlimited power.

Carlyle is also known for introducing German writers and German thought to the English-speaking world. He learned German at a time when few English intellectuals knew German. He wrote a biography of Schiller, the German poet and dramatist, and a multi-volume work on Frederick the Great, the German military hero.

Carlyle’s conversational talent was legendary; Darwin said that Carlyle was “the best worth listening to of any man I know.”18 Emerson traveled to England partly in order to converse with Carlyle; Emerson called Carlyle, “an immense talker... as extraordinary in that as in his writing; I think even more so. You will never discover his real vigor and range, or how much more he might do than he has ever done, without seeing him.”19 Carlyle was a keen observer of people, and he left memorable sketches of many of his contemporaries, including Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Queen Victoria. Emerson said that Carlyle’s forte was not abstract thinking, but rather grasping the essence of a man or an epoch.20 Carlyle used this ability to create a highly poetic type of historical writing. Mill said that Carlyle’s French Revolution “is not so much a history as an epic poem [and yet] the truest of histories.”21

Carlyle was a right-wing thinker who rejected the liberalism and Utilitarianism that was popular in his time, and criticized the democratic, business-oriented society that was developing around him. He was especially critical of the U.S., the nation in which democracy and capitalism were most fully developed:

My friend, brag not yet of our American cousins! Their quantity of cotton, dollars, industry and resources, I believe to be almost unspeakable; but I can by no means worship the like of these. What great human soul, what great thought, what great noble thing that one could worship, or loyally admire, has yet been produced there?22

Among Carlyle’s works, my favorite is Sartor Resartus, an autobiographical novel. Though Carlyle lacks wit and grace, he’s one of the most profound thinkers that the English-speaking nations have produced. If you’d like to read a biography of Carlyle, consider Fred Kaplan’s biography.

7. Wilde

Oscar Wilde possessed the wit and grace that Carlyle lacked. Though Wilde is known as a dramatist, he wrote superb philosophical dialogues. Wilde reached the peak of his fame in the late 1800’s, shortly after Carlyle had died. Like Carlyle, Wilde was critical of modern society. Wilde was especially critical of modern journalism: “In America,” Wilde said, “the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever.... In America journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme.”23 In fact, all of the philosophers we’ve discussed so far loathed modern journalism.

Wilde was a witty talker, and his writings are filled with clever epigrams. “To be Greek,” said Wilde, “one should have no clothes: to be medieval one should have no body: to be modern one should have no soul.”24 When Wilde visited the U.S., he passed through customs with the remark, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”25 Wilde’s best works are his dialogues — The Critic As Artist and The Decay of Lying — his essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” and his fairy tales. Wilde’s dialogues are as good as the best of Plato’s dialogues. Wilde’s dialogues deal mainly with aesthetics, but they also discuss modern life and modern society. Wilde’s fairy tales are suitable for readers of all ages; “The Happy Prince” is especially good. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is morbid, but it’s also well-written and interesting. His plays are graceful and readable, but they lack imaginative power. Wilde was too good an essayist and critic to be a great artist.

Like Kierkegaard, Wilde had a short, eventful, tragic life. Like Kierkegaard, Wilde was cruelly satirized by the press. After achieving fame at a young age, Wilde seemed to feel a self-destructive urge. His homosexual affairs led to a highly-publicized trial and to imprisonment. He died at age forty-six. Ellman’s biography of Wilde would be good if it weren’t so long; like most modern biographies, it needs to lose a lot of weight.

8. Mill

In the late 1700s, at the time of the French Revolution, the remnants of feudalism were being swept away, Utopian ideas were in the air, and it seemed that reason, democracy, and education could create a new, better world. Among the English proponents of these radical ideas, two of the leading figures were Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. Bentham and Mill advocated the philosophy of Utilitarianism, that is, they believed that the goal of government was the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. They believed that their writings could improve the world, and they wanted someone to carry on their work after their deaths. Since Bentham had no sons, they chose as their successor John Stuart Mill, eldest son of James Mill.

John Stuart Mill was born in 1806, and by the time he was 2, Bentham and James Mill were drawing up plans for his education. When John was 3, he began learning Greek, and a few years later, he took up Latin. The education of John Stuart Mill was one of the most rigorous and systematic in history. It exemplifies the view of the English Radicals that reason and education can reshape human nature, and reshape society.

When John Stuart Mill was 20, he began to question his goals. Hitherto he had striven to educate himself and to reform society, but now he realized that if all the reforms he was aiming at were achieved, he would not be happy. He fell into a deep depression, which lasted for many months. When he finally climbed out of this depression, he was a different person: he was receptive to poetry, art, music, and nature, he respected feeling as much as reason, and he insisted that any Utopian scheme should leave room for individual inclinations and eccentricities.

Though Mill had emerged from his depression, he had also lost the companionship of his fellow reformers, and he felt isolated. Then he met Harriet Taylor, with whom he had a long, Platonic relationship. His high opinion of Harriet Taylor’s mental powers was doubtless a factor in making Mill an advocate of women’s rights.

Mill wrote ambitious works on logic and economics, but his most popular book today is a short book called On Liberty. In this book, Mill criticizes his contemporaries in the tone of a prophet:

The greatness of England is now all collective: individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit of combining; and with this our moral and religious philanthropists are perfectly contented. But it was men of another stamp than this that made England what it has been; and men of another stamp will be needed to prevent its decline.26

Mill’s criticism of collective action and of associations reminds one of Kierkegaard. In his book The Present Age, Kierkegaard lamented that the individual was now lost in the Public; Mill makes the same argument in On Liberty. The embodiment of the Public is the newspaper, and both Kierkegaard and Mill discuss the enormous power of newspapers in the modern world.

Mill regarded Harriet Taylor as his muse, even his co-author. When Harriet’s health began to fail, Mill was eager to preserve the thoughts that they had shared, before Harriet died. He urged Harriet to assist him in writing works that would serve as “mental pemmican” for future thinkers, works that would preserve their thoughts in concentrated form, works that could later be diluted for a popular audience. On Liberty was one of the results of this project, and it did indeed serve as pemmican for future thinkers. On Liberty contains the seeds of two of the most famous theories of the 20th century: Ortega’s theory of the “revolt of the masses,” and Riesman’s theory of “inner-directed” and “other-directed” character types.

Mill warned against the dangers of communism, against the dangers of utopian schemes that would result in the death of liberty. His interest in economics did not prevent him from appreciating the importance of non-economic factors. “Among the works of man,” wrote Mill, “which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself.”27 Mill’s humanism made him an opponent of communism.

Mill believed that a good man can give reasons for his conduct. He opposed those who argued that a good man follows his instincts, or his innate moral sense. Likewise, in the field of epistemology, Mill argued that one should be able to defend one’s beliefs with reasons, not by appealing to intuition or feeling. Thus, Mill’s views on ethics and epistemology were consistent; in both fields, Mill was a champion of reason.28

Emerson said that great minds are distinguished by “range and extent.”29 Like most philosophers, Mill wrote on a wide range of subjects: politics, aesthetics, economics, epistemology, ethics, even botany. While many philosophers lived solitary lives, Mill was involved in reform movements, reading groups and debating societies, worked for the East India Company for twenty years, and was even elected to Parliament, despite his refusal to campaign.

As a stylist, Mill has few equals in English literature. Mill’s most popular book today (besides On Liberty) is his Autobiography, in which he describes his education, his depression, his relationship with Harriet Taylor, his political activity, etc.

Mill had no children, but he was regarded as a father figure by his disciples. One of his disciples, John Morley, described Mill as “the best and wisest man that I can ever know... one whose memory will always be as precious to me as to a son.”30

9. Leopardi

Leopardi is the most interesting Italian philosopher. Like Schopenhauer, Leopardi was born in the late 1700’s; like Schopenhauer, Leopardi was a pessimist and an atheist. Leopardi is best known for his poetry; his philosophical output is small, consisting chiefly of his Pensieri (Thoughts) and a few dialogues. Leopardi’s aphorisms are first rate. He notes that it’s difficult to appreciate a great literary work; in order to appreciate such a work, one must almost be capable of producing such a work: “There is little or no difference between appreciation and accomplishment.”31

While we’re on the subject of Italian philosophy, we should mention the famous Italian political theorist, Machiavelli. Machiavelli is best known for his short work, The Prince, which takes a cold, amoral view of politics. Machiavelli also wrote Discourses on Livy, in which he reflects on the history of Rome, as narrated by the Roman historian, Livy. The Discourses are neither as concise nor as readable as The Prince. Machiavelli’s History of Florence is his longest and least interesting work; “I have tried to read Machiavelli’s histories,” wrote Emerson, “but find it not easy. The Florentine factions are as tiresome as the history of the Philadelphia fire-companies.”32

10. Ortega

The best twentieth-century philosopher is the Spaniard, Jos� Ortega y Gasset. Ortega’s Revolt of the Masses is an extraordinary work — one can’t praise it too highly. In this work, Ortega discusses modern society and the dangers that threaten it. No one understands modern society better than Ortega.“There is one fact,” Ortega writes, “which [is] of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. As the masses, by definition, neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest crisis that can afflict peoples, nations, and civilization.”33

Ortega’s father ran a newspaper, and Ortega was active in journalism and politics; he was also a philosophy professor. During the Spanish Civil War, he went into exile, returning to Spain at the end of his life; he died in 1955.

Ortega attended German universities, and his work was influenced by the German metaphysical tradition. Some of his books are dry. Aside from TheRevolt of the Masses, his best works are Notes on the Novel, The Dehumanization of Art, Man and Crisis, The Modern Theme and On Love.

11. Hoffer

Another interesting twentieth-century philosopher is the American, Eric Hoffer. Hoffer never attended any schools. During the Depression, Hoffer was jobless, became depressed, and decided to commit suicide. He bought some poison, walked out on the highway, and started to drink the poison. Then he had a vision of life on the road, spat out the poison, and spent the next twenty years living his vision, living as a tramp, walking up and down California, following the harvests, picking crops, doing odd jobs, and consorting with prostitutes. During World War II, Hoffer got a steady job as a longshoreman in San Francisco, and lived there until his death in 1983.

Like Emerson, Hoffer loved Montaigne. Like Emerson, Hoffer wasn’t a systematic philosopher, but rather a wise and gifted observer of mankind. Hoffer’s books are short, and they consist of either essays or aphorisms. Of the philosophers we’ve discussed so far, Hoffer is the most readable. Hoffer’s chief interest is society and politics, but he addresses a wide range of subjects, including psychic phenomena:

The capacity for transcending the senses — for telepathic transmission and for sensing the unseen — is an animal characteristic.... A misunderstanding takes place not when people fail to understand each other, but when they sense what is going on in each other’s mind and do not like it.34

Hoffer’s best works are Before the Sabbath and his autobiography, Truth Imagined.

12. Ancient Philosophers

If you want to read about ancient philosophy, consider

  • Alfred Edward Taylor, who wrote studies of Socrates and Plato
  • Pierre Hadot, author of What is Ancient Philosophy?, Philosophy as a Way of Life, etc.
  • Gregory Vlastos, author of (among other works) Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher
  • I. F. Stone, an American journalist who studied Greek in his retirement years, and wrote an unscholarly but interesting book called The Trial of Socrates
  • Diogenes Laertius, who wrote short biographies of ancient philosophers; it’s thought that he lived around 230 A.D.
  • Xenophon, who knew Socrates, and wrote about him in works such as Memorabilia and Symposium
  • Gilbert Murray, prominent writer on ancient literature, who wrote a book called Five Stages of Greek Religion, which is a good introduction to ancient philosophy; Murray’s style is graceful, his knowledge deep, his ideas profound
  • Walter Pater, the renowned English writer, who wrote Plato and Platonism
  • Kierkegaard wrote The Concept of Irony, with constant reference to Socrates

My favorite ancient philosopher is Plato. No one combines the poetic and the profound better than Plato. But in several of his dialogues, Plato becomes entangled in metaphysics, hence many readers (including Montaigne and Nietzsche) have found Plato boring. Plato’s best dialogues are Apology, Symposium and Republic; also of interest are Gorgias, Laws, Crito and Phaedo. Apology is short, interesting and readable — a good introduction to philosophy. Symposium is delightful on the whole, though slow at times. Republic is Plato’s greatest achievement, a profound discussion not only of politics, but also of religion, morality and art. I recommend reading Plato in an annotated edition, such as the two volumes published by John Burnet; these volumes contain a total of four dialogues.

Gorgias may be the source of one of Nietzsche’s best-known theories: Gorgias contrasts the morality of the strong with the morality of the weak. Plato reminds one of Dostoyevsky insofar as Plato is friendly to religion and morality, but has a deep understanding of the arguments against religion and morality. Plato’s comments on democracy are still fresh and relevant; in a democracy, Plato says, there are “subjects who are like rulers, and rulers who are like subjects.”35 Plato was convinced that every form of government was flawed.

In addition to being a profound philosopher, Plato is a shrewd psychologist; “In all of us,” Plato writes, “even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature, which peers out in sleep.”36

Aristotle lacks the poetry of Plato; if Plato is sometimes dry, Aristotle is frequently dry. Poetics is Aristotle’s most interesting and readable work; it’s very short, about forty pages. Though Poetics concentrates on drama, it also discusses epic poetry. Like all of Aristotle’s works, Poetics is weighed down with distinctions and definitions; here’s an example: “A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not necessarily come after something else, although something else exists or comes about after it....” Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics are occasionally interesting.

The dominant philosophies of later antiquity were Epicureanism and Stoicism. Epicureanism has come down to us chiefly in Lucretius’s long poem, On the Nature of Things. Though this work contains flashes of brilliance, I don’t recommend it highly. Stoicism has come down to us chiefly in the works of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. The Meditations of the emperor Marcus Aurelius is a clear and concise expression of the Stoic philosophy; it has sincerity, but it lacks vitality and profundity. The Manual of the slave Epictetus is generally considered to be better than Marcus’s Meditations. Seneca is more interesting than Marcus or Epictetus; Seneca was a favorite of Montaigne.

Before we leave antiquity, we should say a few words about Cicero and Plutarch. Cicero’s treatises have little originality or profundity; the best that can be said of them is that they lucidly summarize ancient philosophy. Cicero is best known for his orations and for his Letters to Atticus.

Plutarch is best known for his short biographies of famous Greeks and Romans. Plutarch’s biographies contain many clever epigrams and interesting anecdotes; those interested in ancient history shouldn’t ignore Plutarch’s biographies. Plutarch’s philosophical essays had a great influence over Montaigne, just as Montaigne’s essays had a great influence over Emerson. Though Montaigne is sometimes credited with being the father of the essay form, he actually borrowed that form from Plutarch. Originality often consists in reviving what is old and forgotten.

13. Montaigne

Montaigne is one of the finest fruits of the Renaissance, and one of the best-loved of all philosophers. Montaigne was a student of the history, poetry and philosophy of antiquity; he was cool toward Christianity. Montaigne sprinkles his essays with quotations from ancient writers. But Montaigne isn’t pedantic; his books carry us beyond books and they bring us into contact with life itself. Montaigne often expresses disdain for books; he says that he only resorts to books when he lacks friendship, conversation and love. Montaigne argues that the purpose of philosophy is to live better, to overcome anxieties. According to Montaigne, philosophy

preaches nothing but jollity and merry-making. A sad and dejected air shows that here philosophy is not at home.... The most manifest sign of wisdom is a constant happiness; its state is like that of things above the moon: always serene.37

Many of Montaigne’s essays are dull, hence they need to be edited and abridged. Among Montaigne’s essays, my favorites are “On Friendship,” “On Vehicles,” “On Physiognomy,” “On Democritus and Heraclitus,” “To Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die,” and “We Taste Nothing Pure.” A book called The Autobiography of Michel De Montaigne arranges excerpts from Montaigne’s essays to form an autobiography.

14. Descartes and Pascal

Descartes, who was born about fifty years after Montaigne, is generally considered to be an important French philosopher. Descartes was a pioneer in science and math. Though Descartes’s works are historically significant, they’re of little interest to modern readers. Descartes lacks the humanity and pathos of Montaigne. Descartes’s Discourse on Method is concise and readable, but dry.

Pascal has the humanity and pathos that Descartes lacks. Born in 1623, about twenty-five years after Descartes, Pascal was a child prodigy with a gift for math. Like Kierkegaard, Pascal was a fervent and impassioned Christian. Pascal opposed Descartes’s belief that reason alone could lead one to truth; “the heart,” wrote Pascal, “has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” Pascal’s Pens�es, written in aphoristic form, is a powerful and interesting work. Though its chief aim is to defend Christianity, it also discusses the human condition generally.

Pascal argues that one of man’s basic desires is a desire for diversion, for something to fill up the time. Pascal argues that man would rather have something to do, even if it’s unpleasant, than have nothing to do; Pascal says, “When a soldier complains of his hard life (or a labourer, etc.) try giving him nothing to do.”38 Man is incapable (says Pascal) of sitting quietly in his room.

In the field of math, one of Pascal’s achievements was the theory of probability. As a young man, his doctor told him that he was working too hard, he should relax. So he went to the clubs and casinos of Paris, and applied his knowledge of probability to games of chance. Pascal’s Pens�es contains his famous wager theory. This theory states that God may or may not exist, just as a coin may be heads or tails. Everyone must wager, that is, everyone must choose whether to live as if God exists, or live as if God doesn’t exist. If we choose to live as if God exists, we may win eternal happiness. If we choose to live as if God doesn’t exist, we may win some trivial worldly goods. Since eternal happiness is so valuable, so much more valuable than worldly goods, we should bet on God, we should live as if God exists.

Pascal is considered one of the supreme masters of French prose. Tocqueville said that the age of Pascal was the golden age of French literature, since style was then only the vehicle of thought; the writers of that time aimed only to communicate their thoughts clearly and concisely, and didn’t aim at an elegant style.39

15. Other French Philosophers

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of Frenchmen — including La Rochefoucauld, La Bruy�re, Vauvenargues and Chamfort — wrote philosophical works in aphoristic form. La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims are famous for their penetrating analysis of mankind. “We are equally unhappy,” wrote La Rochefoucauld, “when we are deeply in love, and when we have no lover at all.” La Bruy�re’s Characters is also interesting; the first chapter, “On Books,” is the best. An excellent book could be compiled from the best of La Rochefoucauld, La Bruy�re, Vauvenargues and Chamfort.

During the eighteenth century, the dominant figures in French thought were Voltaire and Rousseau. Both were extremely influential in their day, though neither looms large in the history of philosophy. Voltaire and Rousseau were famous for their imaginative works as well as their theoretical works. They were neither true artists nor true philosophers, but they had genius and they had a mastery of the French language.

Voltaire was a popular dramatist, and even wrote an epic poem, the Henriade, which deals with Henry IV. Voltaire also wrote tales and stories, of which the most famous is Candide. Like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Candide is a vehicle for the author’s ideas rather than a purely imaginative work. But Candide is more concise and readable than Gulliver’s Travels; Voltaire is unsurpassed in wit and taste. Voltaire’s wit is at its best in his Philosophical Dictionary, in which he pokes fun at the religious and political establishment. Voltaire’s General History is an entertaining survey of Western history; his History of Louis XIV is also a readable work. I highly recommend Andr� Maurois’s biography of Voltaire.

Almost everything Rousseau wrote created a sensation. Rousseau broke onto the literary scene with his Two Discourses, in which he glorified the simple, uncivilized life of primitive man. While Voltaire had generally worked within the classical tradition, Rousseau introduced a new, sentimental, romantic style; Rousseau is often called the father of Romanticism. His long novel, The New H�lo�se, concerned itself with the emotions of young lovers. In his novel �mile, Rousseau expounded his innovative theories on education. Rousseau’s political theories were also innovative; he anticipated the French Revolution, and helped to incite it with his book, The Social Contract, which begins with the famous words, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” Rousseau’s Confessions is of greater interest to modern readers than his other works; it is one of the best autobiographies ever written — intimate and poetic, long but rarely dull.

16. Bacon

Francis Bacon was one of the leading intellectuals of the Renaissance era. Bacon is best known for his ideas on scientific method and for his interest in the natural world. Like Pliny the Elder, Bacon died from a scientific experiment; Pliny died while gathering data on a volcanic eruption, Bacon died from a cold that he contracted while trying to freeze meat in snow. Bacon’s most popular book is his Essays, which was inspired by Montaigne’s Essays. Bacon’s Essays aren’t as intimate and sincere as Montaigne’s Essays; Montaigne put his whole soul into his Essays, while Bacon wrote with his mind. Nonetheless, Bacon’s Essays are interesting and his style is lively. Bacon’s archaic language has a certain charm: “Those that want friends [i.e., lack friends] to open themselves unto,” writes Bacon, “are cannibals of their own hearts.... This communicating of a man’s self to his friend works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves.”40

Besides his intellectual work, Bacon was actively involved in English politics, and held high government positions. I recommend Macaulay’s essay on Bacon, which is profound and well-written. I also recommend Catherine Bowen’s biography of Bacon; it’s one of those rare books that one wishes were longer. “In the House of Commons,” Bowen tells us, “Bacon was at his best. When he rose to speak, the crowded benches were quiet. We have Ben Jonson’s testimony: ‘The fear of every man that heard him was, lest he should make an end.’”41 Lisa Jardine has written several books about Bacon, and edited some of Bacon’s own books; Jardine has also written about Erasmus, Robert Hooke, and Christopher Wren.

17. Other British Philosophers

Hobbes is best known for his book, Leviathan, which argues in favor of absolute monarchy; Leviathan is occasionally interesting. Locke was important in his time for his political writings, which advocated limited monarchy, popular representation and religious toleration. Locke was also important for his epistemological writings, which criticized the concept of innate ideas, and argued that the mind was a blank paper, a tabula rasa, that acquired ideas through experience. I don’t recommend any of Locke’s books. Berkeley is famous for his radical idealism, for saying that matter doesn’t exist, only ideas exist. Berkeley, like Hume, expressed his views in the form of dialogues as well as treatises.

Hume is more interesting than Locke or Berkeley. Hume’s best work is his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which discusses God and the origin of evil:

Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?42

Of all the philosophers before Schopenhauer, Hume is the most irreligious. Hume’s History of England is eloquent but somewhat dull; it was overshadowed by Macaulay’s History of England. Hume’s essays are of little interest.

18. Lichtenberg, Kant and Hegel

While Kant is the most famous eighteenth-century German philosopher, Lichtenberg is the most interesting. Schopenhauer called Lichtenberg one of the few genuine philosophers. Lichtenberg’s best work is written in aphoristic form. His aphorisms are lively and witty, as well as profound. “When a book and a head collide,” Lichtenberg asks, “and there is a hollow sound, is it always in the book?”43 Lichtenberg’s thought covers a broad range of subjects. He jots down whatever thoughts and experiences he finds interesting; anticipating Freud, he says, “a philosophical dream book could be written.... I know from undeniable experience that dreams lead to self-knowledge.”44 Various collections of Lichtenberg’s writings have been made; I recommend The Lichtenberg Reader.

Kant’s works are dry and obscure; perhaps Kant’s most readable book is his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic. I recommend a book called The Last Days of Kant, written by Wasianski, and translated into English by Thomas De Quincey; it’s an intimate sketch of Kant in his old age.

If Kant is obscure, Hegel is even more so; those of Hegel’s books that deal with metaphysics and logic are especially obscure. But two of Hegel’s books are somewhat readable: The Philosophy of History and The Philosophy of Right. The Philosophy of History summarizes world history. Though Hegel’s observations on history are sometimes profound, he often insists on interpreting history in terms of his religious and philosophical preconceptions. The Philosophy of Right takes a right-wing view of politics; Hegel argues that the state doesn’t exist for the individual, but rather the individual exists for the state. Hegel rejects the common view that war is purely destructive: “Just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a prolonged calm, so also corruption in nations would be the product of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace.”45 Both Kant and Hegel were first rate thinkers in terms of depth of thought, but second rate in terms of elegance of style.

19. Weininger, Spengler, etc.

Weininger and Spengler both wrote in the early 1900’s. Weininger is the author of a book called Sex and Character. Weininger is known for his misogyny and for his anti-Semitism; he was anti-Semitic despite being Jewish himself. Weininger was one of the most precocious philosophers in history; Weininger wrote Sex and Character when he was in his early twenties, showed it to Freud and others, and then committed suicide. Sex and Character contains some interesting comments on genius, but it’s too long-winded, especially on the subject of women.

Spengler’s Decline of the West created a sensation when it was first published in 1918. But few have ever accepted its thesis, and today The Decline of the West is largely ignored. Spengler suffocates his thesis under a mountain of evidence. But like Weininger’s work, Spengler’s work contains some profound remarks; Toynbee said that Spengler’s work was “teeming with firefly flashes of historical insight.”46 Like Weininger’s Sex and Character, Spengler’s Decline of the West might be worth reading if it were abridged.

One final word about histories of philosophy: beware! Most histories of philosophy are preoccupied with metaphysics and epistemology. They over-emphasize philosophers who deal with those subjects, such as Aristotle and Kant, and they under-emphasize philosophers who deal with life itself, such as Montaigne and Thoreau. They over-emphasize systematic philosophers, and under-emphasize aphoristic philosophers. Those who approach philosophy by reading a history of philosophy may well decide that philosophy is abstract, cold and impersonal. If, however, one is already acquainted with philosophy, one can learn much from a history of philosophy. I recommend a history of philosophy by Juli�n Mar�as, a Spanish writer, though I don’t share Mar�as’ approach to philosophy.

I also recommend Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Sophie’s World is a very popular book, an international bestseller. It’s ideally suited for young people, and for people who are new to philosophy. It introduces the reader to Western philosophy, and to Western civilization as a whole. Though Sophie’s World is ideally suited for young people, it’s deep enough to stimulate experienced readers. Like Mar�as, the author of Sophie’s World (Jostein Gaarder) ignores philosophers like Montaigne and Thoreau. An admirer of reason, Gaarder scorns psychic phenomena, passes over Zen in silence, and has no interest in Jung. In short, Sophie’s World has the shortcomings and biases of most histories of philosophy, but it’s more readable than most histories of philosophy.

Another popular history of philosophy is Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy (Durant also wrote The Mansions of Philosophy, which is sometimes called The Pleasures of Philosophy). Durant is best known for his 11-volume Story of Civilization. Durant wrote good prose, and his work is useful as a summary/introduction.

If you’re looking for a history of religion, try Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions. Aldous Huxley compiled a book called The Perennial Philosophy, which blends the spiritual traditions of East and West.

Huxley was one of the outstanding intellectuals of his day. Born into a family of distinguished intellectuals, Huxley became a leading novelist, a biographer, and an explorer of the mystical, the Eastern, and the occult. Huxley’s biography of Richelieu, Grey Eminence, was praised by no less a critic than E. M. Forster. Huxley’s brother Julian was as renowned in biology as Aldous was in the humanities.

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1. Counsels and Maxims, 1 back
2. Essays and Aphorisms, “Aphorisms: On Various Subjects.” back
3. Schopenhauer: His Life and Philosophy, by Helen Zimmern, ch. 10 back
4. Attack on Christendom, “What Christ’s Judgment Is About Official Christianity” back
5. Nietzsche, Untimely Essays, “Schopenhauer as Educator” back
6. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, #275 back
7. Ecce Homo, “Why I Am A Destiny” back
8. Freud, An Autobiographical Study, 5 back
9. “Heroism” back
10. The Selected Journals of Henry David Thoreau, edited by Carl Bode, 4/3/59 back
11. “Walking,” an essay by Thoreau back
12. The Days of Henry Thoreau, ch. 14 back
13. ibid, ch. 10 back
14. ibid, ch. 11 back
15. The Days of Henry Thoreau, XIV, 8 back
16. “Walking” back
17. On Thoreau’s final months, see The Days of Henry Thoreau, ch. 20 back
18. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 4th edition, volume 2, introduction to the section on Carlyle back
19. The Heart Of Emerson’s Journals, edited by Bliss Perry, October, 1847 back
20. See Frank T. Thompson, “Emerson and Carlyle,” Studies in Philology, XXIV, 1927 back
21. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 4th edition, volume 2, footnote in the excerpt from Carlyle’s French Revolution. back
22. Latter-Day Pamphlets, “The Present Time” back
23. The Soul of Man Under Socialismback
24. Oscar Wilde, by R. Ellman, ch. 3 back
25. ibid, ch. 6 back
26. On Liberty, ch. 3 back
27. ibid back
28. see “John Stuart Mill As Moralist,” by H. S. Jones (Journal of the History of Ideas, April-June, 1992, vol. 53, #2) back
29. see Emerson’s essay, “Shakespeare; Or, The Poet” back
30. “John Stuart Mill As Moralist,” by H. S. Jones (Journal of the History of Ideas, April-June, 1992, vol. 53, #2) back
31. Parini's Discourse on Glory, �2 back
32. The Heart of Emerson's Journals , edited by Bliss Perry, journal entry of 1/10/47 back
33. Revolt of the Masses, 1 back
34. Reflections on the Human Condition, �21 back
35. Republic, 8. This remark contains the seed of Ortega’s theory of “the revolt of the masses.” back
36. Republic, 9 back
37. "That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die" back
38. Pens�es, �415 back
39. Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville With N. W. Senior, 8/26/50 back
40. “Of Friendship” back
41. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man, by C. D. Bowen, ch. 5 back
42. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, �10 back
43. The Lichtenberg Reader, Boston, Beacon Press, 1959, Introduction back
44. ibid, Aphorisms, 1775-1779 back
45. The Philosophy of Right, �324 back
46. Civilization On Trial , “My View of History” back

Arthur Schopenhauer was born at No. 117 of the Heiligengeist Strasse, at Dantzic, on February 22, 1788. His parents on both sides traced their descent from Dutch ancestry, the great-grandfather of his mother having occupied some ecclesiastical position at Gorcum. Dr. Gwinner in his Life does not follow the Dutch ancestry on the father’s side, but merely states that the great-grandfather of Schopenhauer at the beginning of the eighteenth century rented a farm, the Stuthof, in the neighbourhood of Dantzic. This ancestor, Andreas Schopenhauer, received here on one occasion an unexpected visit from Peter the Great and Catherine, and it is related that there being no stove in the chamber which the royal pair selected for the night, their host, for the purpose of heating it, set fire to several small bottles of brandy which had been emptied on the stone floor. His son Andreas followed in the footsteps of his father, combining a commercial career with country pursuits. He died in 1794 at Ohra, where he had purchased an estate, and to which he had retired to spend his closing years. His wife (the grandmother of Arthur) survived him for some years, although shortly after his death she was declared insane and incapable of managing her affairs. This couple had four sons: the eldest, Michael Andreas, was weak-minded; the second, Karl Gottfried, was also mentally weak and had deserted his people for evil companions; the youngest son, Heinrich Floris, possessed, however, in a considerable degree the qualities which his brothers lacked. He possessed intelligence, a strong character, and had great commercial sagacity; at the same time, he took a definite interest in intellectual pursuits, reading Voltaire, of whom he was more or less a disciple, and other French authors, possessing a keen admiration for English political and family life, and furnishing his house after an English fashion. He was a man of fiery temperament and his appearance was scarcely prepossessing; he was short and stout; he had a broad face and turned-up nose, and a large mouth. This was the father of our philosopher.

When he was thirty-eight, Heinrich Schopenhauer married, on May 16, 1785, Johanna Henriette Trosiener, a young lady of eighteen, and daughter of a member of the City Council of Dantzic. She was at this time an attractive, cultivated young person, of a placid disposition, who seems to have married more because marriage offered her a comfortable settlement and assured position in life, than from any passionate affection for her wooer, which, it is just to her to say, she did not profess. Heinrich Schopenhauer was so much influenced by English ideas that he desired that his first child should be born in England; and thither, some two years after their marriage, the pair, after making a détour on the Continent, arrived. But after spending some weeks in London Mrs. Schopenhauer was seized with home-sickness, and her husband acceded to her entreaties to return to Dantzic, where a child, the future philosopher, was shortly afterwards born. The first five years of the child’s life were spent in the country, partly at the Stuthof which had formerly belonged to Andreas Schopenhauer, but had recently come into the possession of his maternal grandfather.

Five years after the birth of his son, Heinrich Schopenhauer, in consequence of the political crisis, which he seems to have taken keenly to heart, in the affairs of the Hanseatic town of Dantzic, transferred his business and his home to Hamburg, where in 1795 a second child, Adele, was born. Two years later, Heinrich, who intended to train his son for a business life, took him, with this idea, to Havre, by way of Paris, where they spent a little time, and left him there with M. Grégoire, a commercial connection. Arthur remained at Havre for two years, receiving private instruction with this man’s son Anthime, with whom he struck up a strong friendship, and when he returned to Hamburg it was found that he remembered but few words of his mother-tongue. Here he was placed in one of the principal private schools, where he remained for three years. Both his parents, but especially his mother, cultivated at this time the society of literary people, and entertained at their house Klopstock and other notable persons. In the summer following his return home from Havre he accompanied his parents on a continental tour, stopping amongst other places at Weimar, where he saw Schiller. His mother, too, had considerable literary tastes, and a distinct literary gift which, later, she cultivated to some advantage, and which brought her in the production of accounts of travel and fiction a not inconsiderable reputation. It is, therefore, not surprising that literary tendencies began to show themselves in her son, accompanied by a growing distaste for the career of commerce which his father wished him to follow. Heinrich Schopenhauer, although deprecating these tendencies, considered the question of purchasing a canonry for his son, but ultimately gave up the idea on the score of expense. He then proposed to take him on an extended trip to France, where he might meet his young friend Anthime, and then to England, if he would give up the idea of a literary calling, and the proposal was accepted.

In the spring of 1803, then, he accompanied his parents to London, where, after spending some time in sight-seeing, he was placed in the school of Mr. Lancaster at Wimbledon. Here he remained for three months, from July to September, laying the foundation of his knowledge of the English language, while his parents proceeded to Scotland. English formality, and what he conceived to be English hypocrisy, did not contrast favourably with his earlier and gayer experiences in France, and made an extremely unfavourable impression upon his mind; which found expression in letters to his friends and to his mother.

On returning to Hamburg after this extended excursion abroad, Schopenhauer was placed in the office of a Hamburg senator called Jenisch, but he was as little inclined as ever to follow a commercial career, and secretly shirked his work so that he might pursue his studies. A little later a somewhat unexplainable calamity occurred. When Dantzic ceased to be a free city, and Heinrich Schopenhauer at a considerable cost and monetary sacrifice transferred his business to Hamburg, the event caused him much bitterness of spirit. At Hamburg his business seems to have undergone fluctuations. Whether these further affected his spirit is not sufficiently established, but it is certain, however, that he developed peculiarities of manner, and that his temper became more violent. At any rate, one day in April 1805 it was found that he had either fallen or thrown himself into the canal from an upper storey of a granary; it was generally concluded that it was a case of suicide.

Schopenhauer was seventeen at the time of this catastrophe, by which he was naturally greatly affected. Although by the death of his father the influence which impelled him to a commercial career was removed, his veneration for the dead man remained with him through life, and on one occasion found expression in a curious tribute to his memory in a dedication (which was not, however, printed) to the second edition of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. “That I could make use of and cultivate in a right direction the powers which nature gave me,” he concludes, “that I could follow my natural impulse and think and work for countless others without the help of any one; for that I thank thee, my father, thank thy activity, thy cleverness, thy thrift and care for the future. Therefore I praise thee, my noble father. And every one who from my work derives any pleasure, consolation, or instruction shall hear thy name and know that if Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer had not been the man he was, Arthur Schopenhauer would have been a hundred times ruined.”

The year succeeding her husband’s death, Johanna Schopenhauer removed with her daughter to Weimar, after having attended to the settlement of her husband’s affairs, which left her in possession of a considerable income. At Weimar she devoted herself to the pursuit of literature, and held twice a week a sort of salon, which was attended by Goethe, the two Schlegels, Wieland, Heinrich Meyer, Grimm, and other literary persons of note. Her son meanwhile continued for another year at the “dead timber of the desk,” when his mother, acting under the advice of her friend Fernow, consented, to his great joy, to his following his literary bent.

During the next few years we find Schopenhauer devoting himself assiduously to acquiring the equipment for a learned career; at first at the Gymnasium at Gotha, where he penned some satirical verses on one of the masters, which brought him into some trouble. He removed in consequence to Weimar, where he pursued his classical studies under the direction of Franz Passow, at whose house he lodged. Unhappily, during his sojourn at Weimar his relations with his mother became strained. One feels that there is a sort of autobiographical interest in his essay on women, that his view was largely influenced by his relations with his mother, just as one feels that his particular argument in his essay on education is largely influenced by the course of his own training.

On his coming of age Schopenhauer was entitled to a share of the paternal estate, a share which yielded him a yearly income of about £150. He now entered himself at the University of Göttingen (October 1809), enrolling himself as a student of medicine, and devoting himself to the study of the natural sciences, mineralogy, anatomy, mathematics, and history; later, he included logic, physiology, and ethnography. He had always been passionately devoted to music and found relaxation in learning to play the flute and guitar. His studies at this time did not preoccupy him to the extent of isolation; he mixed freely with his fellows, and reckoned amongst his friends or acquaintances, F.W. Kreise, Bunsen, and Ernst Schulze. During one vacation he went on an expedition to Cassel and to the Hartz Mountains. It was about this time, and partly owing to the influence of Schulze, the author of Aenesidemus, and then a professor at the University of Göttingen, that Schopenhauer came to realise his vocation as that of a philosopher.

During his holiday at Weimar he called upon Wieland, then seventy-eight years old, who, probably prompted by Mrs. Schopenhauer, tried to dissuade him from the vocation which he had chosen. Schopenhauer in reply said, “Life is a difficult question; I have decided to spend my life in thinking about it.” Then, after the conversation had continued for some little time, Wieland declared warmly that he thought that he had chosen rightly. “I understand your nature,” he said; “keep to philosophy.” And, later, he told Johanna Schopenhauer that he thought her son would be a great man some day.

Towards the close of the summer of 1811 Schopenhauer removed to Berlin and entered the University. He here continued his study of the natural sciences; he also attended the lectures on the History of Philosophy by Schleiermacher, and on Greek Literature and Antiquities by F.A. Wolf, and the lectures on “Facts of Consciousness” and “Theory of Science” by Fichte, for the last of whom, as we know indeed from frequent references in his books, he had no little contempt. A year or so later, when the news of Napoleon’s disaster in Russia arrived, the Germans were thrown into a state of great excitement, and made speedy preparations for war. Schopenhauer contributed towards equipping volunteers for the army, but he did not enter active service; indeed, when the result of the battle of Lützen was known and Berlin seemed to be in danger, he fled for safety to Dresden and thence to Weimar. A little later we find him at Rudolstadt, whither he had proceeded in consequence of the recurrence of differences with his mother, and remained there from June to November 1813, principally engaged in the composition of an essay, “A Philosophical Treatise on the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason,” which he offered to the University of Jena as an exercise to qualify for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and for which a diploma was granted. He published this essay at his own cost towards the end of the year, but it seems to have fallen flatly from the press, although its arguments attracted the attention and the sympathy of Goethe, who, meeting him on his return to Weimar in November, discussed with him his own theory of colour. A couple of years before, Goethe, who was opposed to the Newtonian theory of light, had brought out his Farbenlehre (colour theory). In Goethe’s diary Schopenhauer’s name frequently occurs, and on the 24th November 1813 he wrote to Knebel: “Young Schopenhauer is a remarkable and interesting man. . . . I find him intellectual, but I am undecided about him as far as other things go.” The result of this association with Goethe was his Ueber das Sehn und die Farben (“On Vision and Colour”), published at Leipzig in 1816, a copy of which he forwarded to Goethe (who had already seen the MS.) on the 4th May of that year. A few days later Goethe wrote to the distinguished scientist, Dr. Seebeck, asking him to read the work. In Gwinner’s Life we find the copy of a letter written in English to Sir C.L. Eastlake: “In the year 1830, as I was going to publish in Latin the same treatise which in German accompanies this letter, I went to Dr. Seebeck of the Berlin Academy, who is universally admitted to be the first natural philosopher (in the English sense of the word meaning physiker) of Germany; he is the discoverer of thermo-electricity and of several physical truths. I questioned him on his opinion on the controversy between Goethe and Newton; he was extremely cautious and made me promise that I should not print and publish anything of what he might say, and at last, being hard pressed by me, he confessed that indeed Goethe was perfectly right and Newton wrong, but that he had no business to tell the world so. He has died since, the old coward!”

In May 1814 Schopenhauer removed from Weimar to Dresden, in consequence of the recurrence of domestic differences with his mother. This was the final break between the pair, and he did not see her again during the remaining twenty-four years of her life, although they resumed correspondence some years before her death. It were futile to attempt to revive the dead bones of the cause of these unfortunate differences between Johanna Schopenhauer and her son. It was a question of opposing temperaments; both and neither were at once to blame. There is no reason to suppose that Schopenhauer was ever a conciliatory son, or a companionable person to live with; in fact, there is plenty to show that he possessed trying and irritating qualities, and that he assumed an attitude of criticism towards his mother that could not in any circumstances be agreeable. On the other hand, Anselm Feuerbach in his Memoirs furnishes us with a scarcely prepossessing picture of Mrs. Schopenhauer: “Madame Schopenhauer,” he writes, “a rich widow. Makes profession of erudition. Authoress. Prattles much and well, intelligently; without heart and soul. Self-complacent, eager after approbation, and constantly smiling to herself. God preserve us from women whose mind has shot up into mere intellect.”

Schopenhauer meanwhile was working out his philosophical system, the idea of his principal philosophical work. “Under my hands,” he wrote in 1813, “and still more in my mind grows a work, a philosophy which will be an ethics and a metaphysics in one:— two branches which hitherto have been separated as falsely as man has been divided into soul and body. The work grows, slowly and gradually aggregating its parts like the child in the womb. I became aware of one member, one vessel, one part after another. In other words, I set each sentence down without anxiety as to how it will fit into the whole; for I know it has all sprung from a single foundation. It is thus that an organic whole originates, and that alone will live. . . . Chance, thou ruler of this sense-world! Let me live and find peace for yet a few years, for I love my work as the mother her child. When it is matured and has come to birth, then exact from me thy duties, taking interest for the postponement. But, if I sink before the time in this iron age, then grant that these miniature beginnings, these studies of mine, be given to the world as they are and for what they are: some day perchance will arise a kindred spirit, who can frame the members together and ‘restore’ the fragment of antiquity.”1

By March 1817 he had completed the preparatory work of his system, and began to put the whole thing together; a year later Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung: vier Bücher, nebst einem Anhange, der die Kritik der Kantischen Philosophie enthält (“The World as Will and Idea; four books, with an appendix containing a criticism on the philosophy of Kant”). Some delay occurring in the publication, Schopenhauer wrote one of his characteristically abusive letters to Brockhaus, his publisher, who retorted “that he must decline all further correspondence with one whose letters, in their divine coarseness and rusticity, savoured more of the cabman than of the philosopher,” and concluded with a hope that his fears that the work he was printing would be good for nothing but waste paper, might not be realised.2 The work appeared about the end of December 1818 with 1819 on the title-page. Schopenhauer had meanwhile proceeded in September to Italy, where he revised the final proofs. So far as the reception of the work was concerned there was reason to believe that the fears of Brockhaus would be realised, as, in fact, they came practically to be. But in the face of this general want of appreciation, Schopenhauer had some crumbs of consolation. His sister wrote to him in March (he was then staying at Naples) that Goethe “had received it with great joy, immediately cut the thick book, and began instantly to read it. An hour later he sent me a note to say that he thanked you very much and thought that the whole book was good. He pointed out the most important passages, read them to us, and was greatly delighted. . . . You are the only author whom Goethe has ever read seriously, it seems to me, and I rejoice.” Nevertheless the book did not sell. Sixteen years later Brockhaus informed Schopenhauer that a large number of copies had been sold at waste paper price, and that he had even then a few in stock. Still, during the years 1842-43, Schopenhauer was contemplating the issue of a second edition and making revisions for that purpose; when he had completed the work he took it to Brockhaus, and agreed to leave the question of remuneration open. In the following year the second edition was issued (500 copies of the first volume, and 750 of the second), and for this the author was to receive no remuneration. “Not to my contemporaries,” says Schopenhauer with fine conviction in his preface to this edition, “not to my compatriots — to mankind I commit my now completed work, in the confidence that it will not be without value for them, even if this should be late recognised, as is commonly the lot of what is good. For it cannot have been for the passing generation, engrossed with the delusion of the moment, that my mind, almost against my will, has uninterruptedly stuck to its work through the course of a long life. And while the lapse of time has not been able to make me doubt the worth of my work, neither has the lack of sympathy; for I constantly saw the false and the bad, and finally the absurd and senseless, stand in universal admiration and honour, and I bethought myself that if it were not the case, those who are capable of recognising the genuine and right are so rare that we may look for them in vain for some twenty years, then those who are capable of producing it could not be so few that their works afterwards form an exception to the perishableness of earthly things; and thus would be lost the reviving prospect of posterity which every one who sets before himself a high aim requires to strengthen him.”3

When Schopenhauer started for Italy Goethe had provided him with a letter of introduction to Lord Byron, who was then staying at Venice, but Schopenhauer never made use of the letter; he said that he hadn’t the courage to present himself. “Do you know,” he says in a letter, “three great pessimists were in Italy at the same time — Byron, Leopardi, and myself! And yet not one of us has made the acquaintance of the other.” He remained in Italy until June 1819, when he proceeded to Milan, where he received distressing news from his sister to the effect that a Dantzic firm, in which she and her mother had invested all their capital, and in which he himself had invested a little, had become bankrupt. Schopenhauer immediately proposed to share his own income with them. But later, when the defaulting firm offered to its creditors a composition of thirty per cent, Schopenhauer would accept nothing less than seventy per cent in the case of immediate payment, or the whole if the payment were deferred; and he was so indignant at his mother and sister falling in with the arrangement of the debtors, that he did not correspond with them again for eleven years. With reference to this affair he wrote: “I can imagine that from your point of view my behaviour may seem hard and unfair. That is a mere illusion which disappears as soon as you reflect that all I want is merely not to have taken from me what is most rightly and incontestably mine, what, moreover, my whole happiness, my freedom, my learned leisure depend upon; — a blessing which in this world people like me enjoy so rarely that it would be almost as unconscientious as cowardly not to defend it to the uttermost and maintain it by every exertion. You say, perhaps, that if all your creditors were of this way of thinking, I too should come badly off. But if all men thought as I do, there would be much more thinking done, and in that case probably there would be neither bankruptcies, nor wars, nor gaming tables.”4

In July 1819, when he was at Heidelberg, the idea occurred to him of turning university lecturer, and took practical shape the following summer, when he delivered a course of lectures on philosophy at the Berlin University. But the experiment was not a success; the course was not completed through the want of attendance, while Hegel at the same time and place was lecturing to a crowded and enthusiastic audience. This failure embittered him, and during the next few years there is little of any moment in his life to record. There was one incident, however, to which his detractors would seem to have attached more importance than it was worth, but which must have been sufficiently disturbing to Schopenhauer — we refer to the Marquet affair. It appears on his returning home one day he found three women gossiping outside his door, one of whom was a seamstress who occupied another room in the house. Their presence irritated Schopenhauer (whose sensitiveness in such matters may be estimated from his essay “On Noise”), who, finding them occupying the same position on another occasion, requested them to go away, but the seamstress replied that she was an honest person and refused to move. Schopenhauer disappeared into his apartments and returned with a stick. According to his own account, he offered his arm to the woman in order to take her out; but she would not accept it, and remained where she was. He then threatened to put her out, and carried his threat into execution by seizing her round the waist and putting her out. She screamed, and attempted to return. Schopenhauer now pushed her out; the woman fell, and raised the whole house. This woman, Caroline Luise Marquet, brought an action against him for damages, alleging that he had kicked and beaten her. Schopenhauer defended his own case, with the result that the action was dismissed. The woman appealed, and Schopenhauer, who was contemplating going to Switzerland, did not alter his plans, so that the appeal was heard during his absence, the judgment reversed, and he was mulcted in a fine of twenty thalers. But the unfortunate business did not end here. Schopenhauer proceeded from Switzerland to Italy, and did not return to Berlin until May 1825. Caroline Marquet renewed her complaints before the courts, stating that his ill-usage had occasioned a fever through which she had lost the power of one of her arms, that her whole system was entirely shaken, and demanding a monthly allowance as compensation. She won her case; the defendant had to pay three hundred thalers in costs and contribute sixty thalers a year to her maintenance while she lived. Schopenhauer on returning to Berlin did what he could to get the judgment reversed, but unsuccessfully. The woman lived for twenty years; he inscribed on her death certificate, “Obit anus, obit onus”

The idea of marriage seems to have more or less possessed Schopenhauer about this time, but he could not finally determine to take the step. There is sufficient to show in the following essays in what light he regarded women. Marriage was a debt, he said, contracted in youth and paid off in old age. Married people have the whole burden of life to bear, while the unmarried have only half, was a characteristically selfish apothegm. Had not all the true philosophers been celibates — Descartes, Leibnitz, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Kant? The classic writers were of course not to be considered, because with them woman occupied a subordinate position. Had not all the great poets married, and with disastrous consequences? Plainly, Schopenhauer was not the person to sacrifice the individual to the will of the species.

In August 1831 he made a fortuitous expedition to Frankfort-on-the-Main — an expedition partly prompted by the outbreak of cholera at Berlin at the time, and partly by the portent of a dream (he was credulous in such matters) which at the beginning of the year had intimated his death. Here, however, he practically remained until his death, leading a quiet, mechanically regular life and devoting his thoughts to the development of his philosophic ideas, isolated at first, but as time went on enjoying somewhat greedily the success which had been denied him in his earlier days. In February 1839 he had a moment of elation when he heard from the Scientific Society of Drontheim that he had won the prize for the best essay on the question, “Whether free will could be proved from the evidence of consciousness,” and that he had been elected a member of the Society; and a corresponding moment of despondency when he was informed by the Royal Danish Academy of the Sciences at Copenhagen, in a similar competition, that his essay on “Whether the source and foundation of ethics was to be sought in an intuitive moral idea, and in the analysis of other derivative moral conceptions, or in some other principle of knowledge,” had failed, partly on the ground of the want of respect which it showed to the opinions of the chief philosophers. He published these essays in 1841 under the title of “The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics,” and ten years later Parerga und Paralipomena the composition of which had engaged his attention for five or six years. The latter work, which proved to be his most popular, was refused by three publishers, and when eventually it was accepted by Hayn of Berlin, the author only received ten free copies of his work as payment. It is from this book that all except one of the following essays have been selected; the exception is “The Metaphysics of Love,” which appears in the supplement of the third book of his principal work. The second edition of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung appeared in 1844, and was received with growing appreciation. Hitherto he had been chiefly known in Frankfort as the son of the celebrated Johanna Schopenhauer; now he came to have a following which, if at first small in numbers, were sufficiently enthusiastic, and proved, indeed, so far as his reputation was concerned, helpful. Artists painted his portrait; a bust of him was made by Elizabeth Ney. In the April number of the Westminster Review for 1853 John Oxenford, in an article entitled “Iconoclasm in German Philosophy,” heralded in England his recognition as a writer and thinker; three years later Saint-René Taillandier, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, did a similar service for him in France. One of his most enthusiastic admirers was Richard Wagner, who in 1854 sent him a copy of his Der Ring der Nibelungen, with the inscription “In admiration and gratitude.” The Philosophical Faculty of the University of Leipzic offered a prize for an exposition and criticism of his philosophical system. Two Frenchmen, M. Foucher de Careil and M. Challemel Lacour, who visited Schopenhauer during his last days, have given an account of their impressions of the interview, the latter in an article entitled, “Un Bouddhiste Contemporain en Allemagne,” which appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes for March 15th, 1870. M. Foucher de Careil gives a charming picture of him:—

“Quand je le vis, pour la première fois, en 1859, à la table de l’hôtel d’Angleterre, à Francfort, c’était déjà un vieillard, à l’oeil d’un bleu vif et limpide, à la lèvre mince et légèrement sarcastique, autour de laquelle errait un fin sourire, et dont le vaste front, estompé de deux touffes de cheveux blancs sur les côtés, relevait d’un cachet de noblesse et de distinction la physionomie petillante d’esprit et de malice. Les habits, son jabot de dentelle, sa cravate blanche rappelaient un vieillard de la fin du règne de Louis XV; ses manières étaient celles d’un homme de bonne compagnie. Habituellement réservé et d’un naturel craintif jusqu’à la méfiance, il ne se livrait qu’avec ses intimes ou les étrangers de passage à Francfort. Ses mouvements étaient vifs et devenaient d’une pétulance extraordinaire dans la conversation; il fuyait les discussions et les vains combats de paroles, mais c’était pour mieux jouir du charme d’une causerie intime. Il possédait et parlait avec une égale perfection quatre langues: le français, l’anglais, l’allemand, l’italien et passablement l’espagnol. Quand il causait, la verve du vieillard brodait sur le canevas un peu lourd de l’allemand ses brilliantes arabesques latines, grecques, françaises, anglaises, italiennes. C’était un entrain, une précision et des sailles, une richesse de citations, une exactitude de détails qui faisait couler les heures; et quelquefois le petit cercle de ses intimes l’écoutait jusqu’à minuit, sans qu’un moment de fatigue se fût peint sur ses traits ou que le feu de son regard se fût un instant amorti. Sa parole nette et accentuée captivait l’auditoire: elle peignait et analysait tout ensemble; une sensibilité délicate en augmentait le feu; elle était exacte et précise sur toutes sortes de sujets.”

Schopenhauer died on the 20th September 1860, in his seventy-third year, peacefully, alone as he had lived, but not without warning. One day in April, taking his usual brisk walk after dinner, he suffered from palpitation of the heart, he could scarcely breathe. These symptoms developed during the next few months, and Dr. Gwinner advised him to discontinue his cold baths and to breakfast in bed; but Schopenhauer, notwithstanding his early medical training, was little inclined to follow medical advice. To Dr. Gwinner, on the evening of the 18th September, when he expressed a hope that he might be able to go to Italy, he said that it would be a pity if he died now, as he wished to make several important additions to his Parerga; he spoke about his works and of the warm recognition with which they had been welcomed in the most remote places. Dr. Gwinner had never before found him so eager and gentle, and left him reluctantly, without, however, the least premonition that he had seen him for the last time. On the second morning after this interview Schopenhauer got up as usual, and had his cold bath and breakfast. His servant had opened the window to let in the morning air and had then left him. A little later Dr. Gwinner arrived and found him reclining in a corner of the sofa; his face wore its customary expression; there was no sign of there having been any struggle with death. There had been no struggle with death; he had died, as he had hoped he would die, painlessly, easily.

In preparing the above notice the writer has to acknowledge her indebtedness to Dr. Gwinner’s Life and Professor Wallace’s little work on the same subject, as well as to the few other authorities that have been available. — THE TRANSLATOR.


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