By Friedrich Nietzsche
To the reader who knows Nietzsche, who has studied his Zarathustra and understood it, and who, in addition, has digested the works entitled Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, The Twilight of the Idols, and The Antichrist,— to such a reader everything in this volume will be perfectly clear and comprehensible. In the attack on Strauss he will immediately detect the germ of the whole of Nietzsche's subsequent attitude towards too hasty contentment and the foolish beatitude of the "easily pleased"; in the paper on Wagner he will recognise Nietzsche the indefatigable borer, miner and underminer, seeking to define his ideals, striving after self-knowledge above all, and availing himself of any contemporary approximation to his ideal man, in order to press it forward as the incarnation of his thoughts. Wagner the reformer of mankind! Wagner the dithyrambic dramatist!—The reader who knows Nietzsche will not be misled by these expressions.
To the uninitiated reader, however, some words of explanation are due, not only in regard to the two papers before us, but in regard to Nietzsche himself. So much in our time is learnt from hearsay concerning prominent figures in science, art, religion, or philosophy, that it is hardly possible for anybody to-day, however badly informed he may be, to begin the study of any great writer or scientist with a perfectly open mind. It were well, therefore, to begin the study of Nietzsche with some definite idea as to his unaltered purpose, if he ever possessed such a thing; as to his lifelong ideal, if he ever kept one so long; and as to the one direction in which he always travelled, despite apparent deviations and windings. Had he such a purpose, such an ideal, such a direction? We have no wish to open a controversy here, neither do we think that in replying to this question in the affirmative we shall give rise to one; for every careful student of Nietzsche, we know, will uphold us in our view. Nietzsche had one very definite and unaltered purpose, ideal and direction, and this was "the elevation of the type man." He tells us in The Will to Power: "All is truth to me that tends to elevate man!" To this principle he was already pledged as a student at Leipzig; we owe every line that he ever wrote to his devotion to it, and it is the key to all his complexities, blasphemies, prolixities, and terrible earnestness. All was good to Nietzsche that tended to elevate man; all was bad that kept man stationary or sent him backwards. Hence he wrote David Strauss, the Confessor and Writer (1873).
The Franco-German War had only just come to an end, and the keynote of this polemical pamphlet is, "Beware of the intoxication of success." When the whole of Germany was delirious with joy over her victory, at a time when the unquestioned triumph of her arms tended rather to reflect unearned glory upon every department of her social organisation, it required both courage and discernment to raise the warning voice and to apply the wet blanket. But Nietzsche did both, and with spirit, because his worst fears were aroused. Smug content (erbärmliches Behagen) was threatening to thwart his one purpose—the elevation of man; smug content personified in the German scholar was giving itself airs of omniscience, omnipotence, and ubiquity, and all the while it was a mere cover for hidden rottenness and jejune pedantry.
Nietzsche's attack on Hegelian optimism alone (pp. 46, 53–54), in the first paper, fully reveals the fundamental idea underlying this essay; and if the personal attack on Strauss seems sometimes to throw the main theme into the background, we must remember the author's own attitude towards this aspect of the case. Nietzsche, as a matter of fact, had neither the spite nor the meanness requisite for the purely personal attack. In his Ecce Homo, he tells us most emphatically: "I have no desire to attack particular persons—I do but use a personality as a magnifying glass; I place it over the subject to which I wish to call attention, merely that the appeal may be stronger." David Strauss, in a letter to a friend, soon after the publication of the first Thought out of Season, expresses his utter astonishment that a total stranger should have made such a dead set at him. The same problem may possibly face the reader on every page of this fssay: if, however, we realise Nietzsche's purpose, if we understand his struggle to be one against "Culture-Philistinism" in general, as a stemming, stultifying and therefore degenerate factor, and regard David Strauss—as the author himself did, that is to say, simply as a glass, focusing the whole light of our understanding upon the main theme— then the Strauss paper is seen to be one of such enormous power, and its aim appears to us so lofty, that, whatever our views may be concerning the nature of the person assailed, we are forced to conclude that, to Nietzsche at least, he was but the incarnation and concrete example of the evil and danger then threatening to overtake his country, which it was the object of this essay to expose.
When we read that at the time of Strauss's death (February 7th, 1874) Nietzsche was greatly tormented by the fear that the old scholar might have been hastened to his end by the use that had been made of his personality in the first Unzeitgemässe Betrachtung; when we remember that in the midst of this torment he ejaculated, "I was indeed not made to hate and have enemies!"—we are then in a better position to judge of the motives which, throughout his life, led him to engage such formidable opponents and to undertake such relentless attacks. It was merely his ruling principle that, all is true and good that tends to elevate man; everything is bad and false that keeps man stationary or sends him backwards.
Those who may think that his attacks were often unwarrantable and ill-judged will do well, therefore, to bear this in mind, that whatever his value or merits may have been as an iconoclast, at least the aim he had was sufficiently lofty and honourable, and that he never shirked the duties which he rightly or wrongly imagined would help him to
Wagner paper (1875–1876) we are faced by a somewhat different problem. Most readers who will have heard of Nietzsche's subsequent denunciation of Wagner's music will probably stand aghast before this panegyric of him; those who, like Professor Saintsbury, will fail to discover the internal evidence in this essay which points so infallibly to Nietzsche's real but still subconscious opinion of his hero, may even be content to regard his later attitude as the result of a complete volte-face, and at any rate a flat contradiction of the one revealed in this paper. Let us, however, examine the internal evidence we speak of, and let us also discuss the purpose and spirit of the essay.
We have said that Nietzsche was a man with a very fixed and powerful ideal, and we have heard what this ideal was. Can we picture him, then,—a young and enthusiastic scholar with a cultured love of music, and particularly of Wagner's music, eagerly scanning all his circle, the whole city and country in which he lived—yea, even the whole continent on which he lived—for something or some one that would set his doubts at rest concerning the feasibility of his ideal? Can we now picture this young man coming face to face with probably one of the greatest geniuses of his age—with a man whose very presence must have been electric, whose every word or movement must have imparted some power to his surroundings—with Richard Wagner?
If we can conceive of what the mere attention, even, of a man like Wagner must have meant to Nietzsche in his twenties, if we can form any idea of the intoxicating effect produced upon him when this attention developed into friendship, we almost refuse to believe that Nietzsche could have been critical at all at first. In Wagner, as was but natural, he soon began to see the ideal, or at least the means to the ideal, which was his one obsession. All his hope for the future of Germany and Europe cleaved, as it were, to this highest manifestation of their people's life, and gradually he began to invest his already great friend with all the extra greatness which he himself drew from the depths of his own soul.
The friendship which grew between them was of that rare order in which neither can tell who influences the other more. Wagner would often declare that the beautiful music in the third act of Siegfried was to be ascribed to Nietzsche's influence over him; he also adopted the young man's terminology in art matters, and the concepts implied by the words "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" were borrowed by him from his friend's discourses. How much Nietzsche owed to Wagner may perhaps never be definitely known; to those who are sufficiently interested to undertake the investigation of this matter, we would recommend Hans Belart's book, Nietzsche's Ethik; in it references will be found which give some clue as to the probable sources from which the necessary information may be derived. In any case, however, the reciprocal effects of their conversations will never be exactly known; and although it would be ridiculous to assume that Nietzsche was essentially the same when he left as when he met him, what the real nature of the change was it is now difficult to say.
For some years their friendship continued firm, and grew ever more and more intimate. The Birth Of Tragedy was one of the first public declarations of it, and after its publication many were led to consider that Wagner's art was a sort of resurrection of the Dionysian Grecian art. Enemies of Nietzsche began to whisper that he was merely Wagner's "literary lackey"; many friends frowned upon the promising young philologist, and questioned the exaggerated importance he was beginning to ascribe to the art of music and to art in general, in their influence upon the world; and all the while Nietzsche's one thought and one aim was to help the cause and further the prospects of the man who he earnestly believed was destined to be the salvation of European culture.
Every great ideal coined in his own brain he imagined to be the ideal of his hero; all his sublimest hopes for society were presented gratis, in his writings, to Wagner, as though products of the latter's own mind; and just as the prophet of old never possessed the requisite assurance to suppose that his noblest ideas were his own, but attributed them to some higher and supernatural power, whom he thereby learnt to worship for its fancied nobility of sentiment, so Nietzsche, still doubting his own powers, created a fetich out of nis most distinguished friend, and was ultimately wounded and well-nigh wrecked with disappointment when he found that the Wagner of the Gotterdammerung and Parsifal was not the Wagner of his own mind.
While writing Ecce Homo, he was so well aware of the extent to which he had gone in idealising his friend, that he even felt able to say: "Wagner in Bayreuth is a vision of my own future… Now that I can look back upon this work, I would not like to deny that, at bottom, it speaks only of myself" (p. 74). And on another page of the same book we read: "… What I heard, as a young man, in Wagnerian music, had absolutely nothing to do with Wagner: when I described Dionysian music, I only described what I had heard, and I thus translated and transfigured all that I bore in my own soul into the spirit of the new art. The strongest proof of this is my essay, Wagner in Bayreuth: in all decidedly psychological passages of this book the reader may simply read my name, or the name 'Zarathustra,' wherever the text contains the name 'Wagner'" (p. 68).
As we have already hinted, there are evidences of his having subconsciously discerned the real Wagner, even in the heyday of their friendship, behind the ideal he had formed of him; for his eyes were too intelligent to be deceived, even though his understanding refused at first to heed the messages they sent it: both the Birth of Tragedy and Wagner in Bayreuth are with us to prove this, and not merely when we read these works between the lines, but when we take such passages as those found on pp. 115, 149, 150, 151, 156, 158, 159 of this book quite literally.
Nietzsche's infatuation we have explained; the consequent idealisation of the object of his infatuation he himself has confessed; we have also pointed certain passages which we believe show beyond a doubt that almost everything to be found in The Case of Wagner and Nietzsche contra Wagner was already subconscious in our author, long before he had begun to feel even a coolness towards his hero: let those who think our interpretation of the said passages is either strained or unjustified turn to the literature to which we have referred and judge for themselves. It seems to us that those distinguished critics who complain of Nietzsche's complete volte-face and his uncontrollable recantations and revulsions of feeling have completely overlooked this aspect of the question.
It were well for us to bear in mind that we are not altogether free to dispose of Nietzsche's attitude to Wagner, at any given period in their relationship, with a single sentence of praise or of blame. After all, we are faced by a problem which no objectivity or dispassionate detachment on our parts can solve. Nietzsche endowed both Schopenhauer and Wagner with qualities and aspirations so utterly foreign to them both, that neither of them would have recognised himself in the images he painted of them. His love for them was unusual; perhaps it can only be fully understood emotionally by us: like all men who are capable of very great love, Nietzsche lent the objects of his affection anything they might happen to lack in the way of greatness, and when at last his eyes were opened, genuine pain, not malice, was the motive of even the most bitter of his diatribes.
Finally, we should just like to give one more passage from Ecce Homo bearing upon the subject under discussion. It is particularly interesting from an autobiographical standpoint, and will perhaps afford the best possible conclusion to this preface.
Nietzsche is writing about Wagner's music, and he says: "The world must indeed be empty for him who has never been unhealthy enough for this 'infernal voluptuousness'; it is allowable and yet almost forbidden to use a mystical expression in this behalf. I suppose I know better than any one the prodigies Wagner was capable of, the fifty worlds of strange raptures to which no one save him could soar; and as I stand to-day—strong enough to convert even the most suspicious and dangerous phenomenon to my own use and be the stronger for it—I declare Wagner to be the great benefactor of my life. Something will always keep our names associated in the minds of men, and that is, that we are two who have suffered more excruciatingly—even at each other's hands—than most men are able to suffer nowadays. And just as Wagner is merely a misunderstanding among Germans, so am I and ever will be. You lack two centuries of psychological and artistic discipline, my dear countrymen!… But it will be impossible for you ever to recover the time now lost" (p. 43).
Anthony M. Ludovici.
Thoughts out of Season (Part I) by Friedrich Nietzsche. Translated by Anthony M. Ludovici