Friedrich Nietzsche And His Influence By John G. Robertson 1900
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"In the literature of modern Germany Friedrich Nietzsche seems to me the most interesting writer." These are the opening words of an essay written by Dr. Georg Brandes in 1888, which marks the beginning of Nietzsche's career as a European personality. About the same time Germany herself
awakened to the consciousness that she possessed in Nietzsche an intellectual force of the first order; now, after the lapse of a decade, the genial significance of his work is recognized everywhere. To the readers of Reveu des Deux Mondes, for instance, no foreign name is at present more familiar. In French opinion Nietzsche is, to quote from M. Victor Basch's suggestive address on "Le mouvement intellectuel en Allemagne" (Rouen, 1897), "'e dernier nom allemand qui soit devenu europeen." In England, again, Mr. Havelock Ellis, in an essay ("Affirmations," London, 1897) which remains the most satisfactory account of Nietzsche we have yet had in English, has claimed him as ''one of the greatest spiritual forces which have appeared since Goethe." His influence is traceable in much of the Continental literature which professes to be "in the movement." M. de Wyzewa finds it alike in the recent fiction of Russia and in that of France. It extends from Sweden as represented by Strindberg to the Italy of D'Annunzio. In the present paper I propose to discuss briefly the extent of Nietzsche's influence upon the literature of his own country, to consider in how far his ideas and his manner of expressing those ideas are a source of inspiration for imaginative work in Germany.
First, however, to glance at the literature of which Nietzsche is himself the center. In the course of the past few years a library has grown up with almost incredible rapidity around Nietzche's personality and writings; his name is seldom absent from lists of German publications, and one rarely takes up a new volume of collected essays in which the place of honor is not occupied by a study of Friedrich Nietzsche. In fact, the books and pamphlets which have appeared in his name since 1889 afford an instructive object lesson on the fate of a man of genius in these days. Nietzsche is at the present moment in the position in which Ibsen stood ten and Wagner twenty years ago; he is the victim of his own disciples. By a veritable irony this relentless thinker, who desired only "ein paar Leser, die man bei sich selbst in Ehren halt, und sonst keine Leser," and preached only for the few who, like himself, bad laboriously fought their way fiom the valleys to the heights, has become the center of an orgy of unripe worshippers. This, at least, is the thought that forces itself upon one when passing in review the voluminous Nietzsche literature of the last few years. Here we have youths with the gymnasium hardly behind them to whom the whole past of human thought is virtually an unwritten page, hailing
Nietzsche as the one and only thinker. Another form of panegyric comes from writers who themselves have shrunk from the conflicts and renunciations of life, and find in Nietzsche a shield for egotism and self-seeking. And still another, less harmful, if more superfluous, from women who, on the strength of an occasional meeting with the. philosopher, write impertinent books about themselves. In this extensive literature we find pamphlets written to prove that Nietzsche is the stanch supporter of the Christian faith, that he is an apostle of emancipation of women, and even of social
democracy; indeed, it would be hard to mention another thinker who in his time had been so persistently misinterpreted and misrepresented. And the tragedy of it is that he must sit unconscious of everything in Weimar, powerless to raise his hand in his own defense. One could wish for nothing
better than that the shadow which rests upon Nietzsche's life might for a moment be lifted to allow him to do execution upon the "Nietzschianer."
When we sift the literature that professes to deal critically with Nietzsche's philosophy we find exceedingly little of permanent value. There is the essay by Dr. Brandes, to which I have already referred ("Essays: Fremmede Personligheder." Copenhagen, 1889); there is a suggestive little volume by Dr. Rudolf Steiner ("Friedrich Nietzsche, ein Kaempfer gegen seine Zeit." Weimar, 1895), and a reprint of two papers contributed by Professor Ludwig Stein to the Deutsche RutidscAau("Friedrich Nietzsches.Weltanschaunng und ihre Gefahren." Berlin, 1893); lastly, there is Professor Alois Riehl's "Friedrich Nietzsche, der Kuenstler und der Denker." (Second Edition, Stuttgart, Frommann, 1898), which, although hardly more than a pamphlet, is the best monograph that has yet appeared on Nietzsche. Professor Rielh's aim is obviously to judge Nietzsche in accordance with the established canons of philosophical criticism, and, although he does not altogether succeed in bringing Nietzsche into line with his predecessors, he has given us a sympathetically written study; and it is something to have a book of tbis kind from a critic who does not belong to the inner circle of hierophants.
The impression to be gathered from recent criticism of Nietzsche is thus no favorable one. There is clearly not much hope of the general reader arriving at a fair appreciation of Nietzsche's work until some other interpretation is forthcoming than that which his prophets have to offer. The devotee at Zarathustra's shrine who respects neither the "Republic" nor the "Critique of Pure Reason" is no less harmful than the Wagnerian who will not hear of Gluck or Mozart or Weber. We still await a liberal-minded critic who has not only a firm grasp of Nietzsche's thinking—and no philosophy in form is more elusive—but who has also assimilated the older philosophies and can interpret Nietzsche by the light of the development of human thought. This is what seems most conspicuously wanting in the literature that has hitherto appeared on Nietzsche; his ideas have not yet been presented to us as forming, so to speak, a link in the philosophic chain: To his sympathizers he is the great exception, to his enemies a misgrowth of decadence. Beyond the statement which is repeated in almost the same words by every writer on the subject: "Als Denker ist Nietzsche von Schopenhauer ausgegangen," there is little in these books to help us to understand Nietzsche's position. To this criticism it might, of course, be answered that Nietzsche is no rigidly consistent thinker. Had he been able to complete "Umwertung alier Werte" it might have been otherwise; but, as it is, it is hardly possible to regard him in the same light as philosophers like Hegel or Schopenhauer, whose ideas fit, more or less, into
definite philosophical systems. The only attempt, it might be pointed out, that has been made to discover a system in Nietzsche's thinking, that by Frau Andreas-Salome ("Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken." Vienna, 1894), failed; indeed, it might not be too rash to say that the philosopher with a definite system is a thing of the past. And even if Nietzsche has no system, it does not necessarily imply that he is a kind of intellectual free-lance. We might compare him, for instance, with Hamann, the "Magus of the North," who lived at the close of the last century. Hamann, too,
scattered his ideas abroad in brilliant aphorisms; he was no philosopher with a system; but there is little difficulty in giving him his niche in the temple of eighteenth century thought. To see Nietzsche's work in its historical perspective, we shall probably have to wait a few years yet; his ideas are too vitally interesting to his contemporaries, too close to us, to be judged dispassionately.
In the meantime, the most valuable contribution that has yet been made to our knowledge of Nietzsche is not critical but biographical, namely, the authoritative "Leben Friedrich Nietzsches" by the philosopher's sister, Frau Forster-Nietzsche, of which two volumes have appeared (Leipzig:
Naumann, 1894, 1897). Frau Forster has carried out her task in a manner which shows that the ability of the Nietzsche family was not all concentrated in her famous brother. Her book is written with admirable tact, and to readers who have hitherto been dependent for their knowledge of Nietzsche on the caricatures of his self-appointed interpreters, it is nothing short of a revelation. Nietsche becomes in these pages one of the most absorbingly interesting personalities of his time. In the wonderful precocity of his early boyhood, in his school life at Schulpforta, in the brilliant university career which culminated in a call to the university at Basel before he had even obtained a doctor's degree, there is a distinction about Nietzsche which fascinates us. In an age that has no lack of brilliant talents, he stands out as the unmistakable man of genius; he is, we feel it, made of the same stuff as the intellectual leaders of the past. Frau Forster's second volume covers the period during which
Nietzsche was professor in Basel, a period in which the happiest hours were those spent with the Wagner family at Tribschen on Lake Lucerne. The close intimacy which bound him to Wagner, and the inevitable struggle between the two men as they began to grow apart, each too full of his own work and ideas to yield to the other—this is for us the most important crisis in Nietzsche's life. Indeed, this antagonism between the two greatest literary geniuses which Germany possessed in the seventies has a deep significance for the intellectual history of our time. It represents in nuce the antagonism between the pessimism of Schopenhauer and the optimistic faith in a future for humanity, of which Nietzsche's philosophy is the extreme expression, and which every year finds clearer expression in German literature. When the first part of "Menschliches Allzumenschliches" appeared, in 1878, Nietzsche sent two copies of it to Bayreuth.
"Durch ein Wunder von Sinn im Zufall," he wrote ten years later, "kam gleichzeitig bei mir ein schoenes Exemplar des 'Parsifal' Textes an, mit Wagners Widmung an mich: 'Herzlichen Grass and Wunsch seinem teuren Freunde Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Oberkirchenrat.' Diese Kreuzung der zwei Buecher—mir war's, als ob ich einen ominoesen Ton dabei hoerte. Kiang es nicht, als ob sich Degen kreuzten? Jedenfalls empfanden wires Beide so; denn wir schwiegen Beide."
To find a parallel to this "crossing of swords," we have to go back, it seems to me, more than a hundred years, to the breach that opened up between the "Literary Letters" of Lessing, with their pride of eighteenth century enlightenment, and the "Fragments" of Herder, with their romantic
enthusiasm and premonitions of the coming time. If the ethical background of works like "The Sunken Bell," the lyrics of Liliencron, Avenarius, and a host of minor singers, has little in common with the pessimism of "Das goldene Vliess" and "Tristan and Isolde," if the German novels of to-day
regard life from a less passive point of view than that to be found in the fiction of the sixties and seventies, the reason is to be sought in the change that has come over the intellectual temper of northern Europe, a change that finds its most poignant expression in the conflict between Wagner and Nietzsche.
One must be cautious, however, in ascribing this optimistic individualism in contemporary German literature to the actual influence of Nietzsche; for that influence, as we shall see, is not by any means so widespread as might be expected. The chief source of this new literary spirit is to be sought, not in Germany, but in Scandinavia, a fact which lends a peculiar interest to a comparison of Nietzsche with the Danish pioneer of individualism, Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard has only within recent years received the attention which he deserves; a translation of Professor Hoffding's monograph on him, which appeared a few months ago (Stuttgart. Frommann), supplements to some extent Dr. Brandes' attractive volume, hitherto the main source of information accessible to German readers. Like Nietzsche himself, Kierkegaard is a leader in what may be considered the chief philosophical movement of the latter half of the century, the revolt against Hegelianism, but there is this important difference: while Kierkegaard was old enough to come into direct conflict with the undiluted Hegelianism of Hegel himself, or at least of his Danish prophet, Heiberg, Nietzsche found the worst of the battle already fought by Schopenhauer. Nietzsche, however, is as much in arms as Kierkegaard against the leveling effects of Hegelianism, and in consequence both men find themselves to a certain extent in touch with the older Romantic thinkers. This is a point worth emphasizing; it is this 'ewige Wiederkunft,' as Nietzsche would have called it, which has tempted more than one critic to find, for example, parallelisms betweeen Nietzsche's thought and the pre-Hegelian Romanticism of Carlyle's philosophy. Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were men of letters, poets rather than philosophers; both were masters of a wonderful literary style; both loved to express themselves with the exaggeration of
the aphorism. Kierkegaard, no less than Nietzsche, fought against the weakness, the want of stamina, in the moral life of his time; both insisted on the rights of the individual as opposed to those of the majority. But while the Danish thinker fell back on a kind of primitive Christianity as the key to the riddle of existence, Nietzsche, with a more penetrating radicalism, sought his ideals of heroic individualism in the early stages of a nation's life. In a recent volume entitled "Deutsche Charaktere," by Dr. R. M. Meyer (Berlin: E. Hofmann) there Pre two suggestive essays which throw not a little fresh light upon this most interesting question, the emancipation of the individual in modern thought.
Looking now to the influence which these two thinkers, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, have exerted upon literature, there is little difficulty in deciding which is the most important. It is to Kierkegaard, if to any thinker, that we must look for the germs from which the modern literature of Scandinavia has arisen; Ibsen, and Bjornsen, unwilling as patriotic Norwegians may be to admit it, are more strongly influenced by this Danish philosopher than any modern German writer of eminence has yet been influenced by Nietzsche. This may be partly accounted for by the narrower intellectual horizon of Scandinavia, by the conditions that prevailed when Kierkegaard became a dominating force; in Germany, with its more cosmopolitan spirit, it is hardly possible for any one man to gain that ascendency over the best minds of the nation which for a time Kierkegaard gained in Denmark. But there is, I think, another reason why Nietzsche has hitherto had so little beneficial influence upon German literature; the new wine of his thought was too strong for the old literature, and the new literature refuses as yet to assimilate it. Kierkegaard, less uncompromising and less radical than Nietzsche, was more litteratur/aehig; his ideas were better adapted to pass into literature. When we consider, further, that of all the determining influences upon modern German literature that from Scandinavia has been the most powerful, it is no paradox to see in this little-known Dane, rather than in Nietzsche, one of the chief sources of the individualistic movement of the time. The "Ubermensch" in German literature, of which we have heard so much recently—see, for example, Herr Leo Berg's volume of criticism, "Der Uebermensch in der Modernen Litteratur"—is less the "Uebermensch" of Nietzsche than the "Uebermensch" which Germany has learned to know from her Scandinavian masters, the "individual" of Kierkegaard. The tendency of German criticism at the present moment—conspicuous, for instance, in J. E. von Grotthuss' volume of essays, '"Probleme und Charakterkoepfe"—is to exaggerate the importance of Nietzsche's thought as a force in literature, to confuse the intellectual movement of the time with the actual and direct influence of Nietzsche himself.
We might take as a prominent example the case of Hermann Sudermann, to whom Baron von Grotthuss devotes one of the best of his essays. It is often stated that Herr Sudermann's work shows traces of Nietzsche's influence; yet I am doubtful if a single important thought in his writings could be proved to be directly inspired either by Nietzsche's work or by the popular conception of it. Magda, for instance, in "Heimat," is no more a product of Nietzchian influence than is Ibsen's "Nora"; and Sudermann's finest male characters, Leo von Sullethin (in "Es war") and Freiherr von Rocknitz ("in Glueck im Winkel")are equally independent of it. The hero of which these characters may be taken as types, the strong, masterly nature, impatient of obstacles, a little mysterious but fascinating and full of humor, occurs again and again in both fiction and the drama at present, and it is tempting to find in this figure some affinity with Nietzsche's "Herrenmensch." But the Renaissance heroes of Nietzsche's imagination were made of sterner, more primitive stuff than these modern characters, who are really more akin to old-fashioned bon vivant heroes such as Freytag's Konrad Bolz. Sudermann's leading male characters are merely the legitimate descendants of the normal type of German romance hero, which may be followed back without difficulty through the literature of the past thirty years, to the Oswalds and Leos of Spielhagen's first great novels. The only difference is that a manlier individualism has taken the place of the socialistic dreaming of the older books.
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Still less could we say that Herr Sudermann's "Johaunes" was inspired by the philosophy of the "Uebermensch." Its importance, however, as the chief contribution to the European drama of the year, makes it impossible for me to pass it over in silence. This new tragedy is a more convincing proof than any of its predecessors of Herr Sudermann's mastery of the art of dramatic construction. There is something un-German in the unerring judgment with which he here calculates every stroke of dramatic effect. But from another point of view, "Johannes" is German to a fault. In the midst of an
accurately realistic picture of the old Biblical world—the Pharisees and Roman soldiers live in Sudermann's pages as they never lived in Biblical drama before—we have a Baptist tormented with metaphysical problems as the rough preacher of the wilderness assuredly never was. Even the Tetrarch is raised to a plane of refined intellectuality that is essentially German, and belies the realistic detail of his surroundings. This is the weak side of the play; Sudermann tries to combine naturalism with the methods of the old masters. Goethe's Germanization of Tasso does not offend us, but had Goethe attempted to reproduce with the photographic accuracy of a writer of our day the historical milieu of the Court of Ferrara, his hero would have been impossible. This is one of the dangers to which a writer of Herr Sudermann's temperament is exposed; this, too, is why his plays of
modern German life— when they do not offend by too many concessions to the theatre—are more satisfying than this Biblical tragedy. But these flaws need not blind us to the very real beauties of the play. Not only is "Johannes" written in noble, majestic prose, but it is built up upon an idea of deep poetic significance. The tragedy of the play takes place in the soul of the Baptist, who, like an old Hebrew prophet, hopes for a Messiah "mit goldenem Panzer angethan, das Schwert gereckt ueber seinem Haupte," and finds instead a simple carpenter's Son, who preaches an incredible doctrine
—that of love. The rough preacher of the Old Covenant is broken by the new ideas he cannot grasp. Love in different forms passes before him until, in the last moments of his life the great truth dawns upon him. "Selig ist," Christ has said, "der sich nicht an mir aergert." "Ich," says John,
"Ich habe mich an ihm geaergert, denn ich erkannte ihn nicht. Undmein Aergernis erfuellte die Welt, denn ich erkannte ihn nicht... Die Schluessel des Todes—ich hielt sie nicht; die Wagschalen der Schuld—mir waren sie nicht vertrauet. Denn aus Niemandes Munde darf der Name Schuld ertoenen, nur aus dem Munde des Liebenden. Ich aber wollte euch weiden mit eisernen Ruthen! Darum ist mein Reich zu Schanden worden, und meine Stimme ist versiegelt. Ich hoere rings ein grosses Rauschen, und das selige Licht umhullet mich fast... Ein Thron ist herniedergestiegen von Himmel mit Feuerpfeilern. Darauf sitzet in weissen Kleidern der Feurst des Friedens. Und sein Schwert heisset 'Liebe' und 'Erbarmen' ist sein Schlachtruf..."
In "Johannes" there may be nothing that suggests Neitzsche's way of looking at life, but it bears evidence to the fascination for the German mind of a problem which also lies at the bottom of Nietzsche's thought, that involved in the conflict between the mildness of Christianity and the sturdy spirit of a more primitive world. Although Sudermann's books are free from the pessimism of the literature inspired by Schopeahauer, he has not altogether joined hands with the "moderns;" his tragic conflicts have more in common with those of German classical literature than is consistent with the spirit of Nietzsche's philosophy.
If we turn to the other leading writer in contemporary Germany, to Gerhart Hauptmann, our quest after philosophic optimism will hardly be more successful. Herr Hauptmann has published no new play in the course of the past year, but his life and work have been made the subject of no less than three monographs. Of these, however, only that by the new director of the Vienna Burg Theater, Dr. Paul Schlenther, has more than an ephemeral interest. Dr. Schlenther's book is full of suggestive criticism, and affords many interesting side-lights on the poet's life; the only ground for complaint is that it is a little premature; Herr Hauptmann is still a young man. In all Dr. Schlenther's volume, however, the name Nietzsche is not, so far as I remember, once mentioned, and it would, as a matter of fact, be hard to put one's finger on thoughts in Hauptmann's work which bear the unmistakable stamp of being directly inspired by Nietzsche. The shadow of "Zur Genealogie der Moral" may possibly have fallen across "The Sunken Bell," but that is all. Hauptmann owes far more to the northern influence, tempered by the dramatic ideas of Tolstoi, than to anything that has been written or thought in Germany itself.
There is another aspect of the influence of Nietzsche upon contemporary literature which, although of minor importance, cannot be overlooked, and that is the aspect which finds expression in Adolf Wilbrandt's romance, "Die Osterinsel" in J. V. Widmann's play "Jenseits von Gut und Bose," or more recently, in Otto von Leixner's story, "Also sprach Zarathustra's Sohn." In these books we have what might be called an objective treatment of Nietzsche's ideas. Hermann Adler, for instance, in Herr Wilbrandt's novel, is obviously modeled on Nietzsche himself. To realize his dreams of a higher manhood, Adler proposes to found a colony of "Uebermenschen" on Easter Island in the Pacific; but his plan fails, and his pamphlets are hailed as a gospel of Socialism. Here we have a significant comment on the vicissitudes which Nietzsche's own work has undergone. No thinker is surely farther removed from social democracy than Friedrich Nietzsche, the most radical aristocrat that ever wrote; yet, strange to say, not a few of Nietzsche's would-be prophets are found in the ranks of the socialistic party. There is still, in wider circles, very little knowledge of the real Nietzsche. Minor misconceptions could be understood, but it is not so easy to see how Nietzsche, the aristocrat and optimist, reappears in the popular imagination as a socialist and pessimist. Herr von Leixner's "Also sprach Zarathustra's Sohn" gives expression to another side of these current misconceptions; it describes the attitude of the "decadence" of the day towards Nietzsche. The hero whose conversion from Nietzscheism takes place amidst a good deal of tearful sentiment, is the author of a book entitled "Also sprach Zarathustra's Sohn," extracts from which give Herr Leixner an opportunity for some clever imitations of Nietzsche's style.
Although a classical scholar of high attainments, Nietzsche was too much of a poet to be a trustworthy aesthetic or literary critic. At times, with these piercing aphorisms of his, he may afford a deeper insight into the truth than the conscientious student who spends the best part of his life
laboriously marshalling facts. But in most cases the personal element in his judgments is too strong; he sees men and things through the colored glass of his own temperament. In Nietzsche's earlier battles with the German philological world, the genius and the brilliant ideas may have been on
his side, but the truth lay more on the side of the despised "pedants."
The literary genre on which Nietzsche has as yet left the deepest traces is the lyric. In the drama and novel—unless we take seriously the unripe productions of the extremely young and extremely free Berlin decadents who have flocked to a standard which, if not exactly Nietzsche's, is sufficiently Nietzche's to serve their purpose—in the drama and novel his influence have been restricted to a mere coloring of the individualism of the time; among the lyric writers, on the other hand, Nietzsche's ideas have made themselves felt with considerable force. And first, it is worth drawing attention to a fact which is sometimes overlooked, and that Is that Nietzsche is himself a lyric poet of no mean distinction. The firm of C. G. Naumann, in Leipzig, which has so completely identified itself with the publication of Nietzche literature, has supplemented the handsome edition of Nietzsche's works—dainty little volumes containing "Also sprach Zarathustra" and "Gedichte und Spruche." It is to these books we must turn to realize Nietzsche's eminence as a literary artist." The poems which are here collected are taken in the main from his already published works, but there are also a few which appear for the first time in this volume. It is impossible to trace the growth of Nietzsche's lyric powers from the remarkable productions of the boy of 14 and 15 to the grandiose dithyrambs of "Zarathustra," without feeling that, had Nietzsche chosen, he might have been one of the first singers of his age. The best verses in this little volume have no need to fear comparison with the finest German poetry of the time. Here, for example, are the first and last stanzas of the poem entitled 'Mein Glueck,'verses which seem to carry with them their own delicate music:
Die Tauben von San Marco seh ich wieder:
Still ist der Platz, Vormittag ruht darauf.
In sanfter Kuehle Schick, ich inuessig L,ieder
Gleich Taubenschwarmen in das Ulau hinauf—
Und locke sie zurueck,
Noch einen Reim zu haengen in's Gefieder—
Mein Glueck! Mein Glueck!
Fort, fort, Musik! Lass erst die Schatten dunkeln
Und wachsen bis zur braunen lauen Nacht!
Zum Tone ist's zu frueh am Tag, noch funkeln
Die Gold-Zieraten nicht in Roseu-Pracht,
Noch blieb viel Tag zurueck,
Viel Tag fur Dichten, Schleichen, Einsam-Munkeln—
Mein Glueck! Mein Glueck!
Or a verse or two of the little poem entitled "Im Sueden":
Das weisse Meer liegt eingeschlafen,
Und purpurn steht ein Segel drauf,
Fels, Feigenbaeume, Turin und Hafen,
Idylle rings, Gebloek von Schafen—
Unschnld des Suedens, nimm mich auf!
Nur Schritt fuer Schritt—dast keiu Leben,
Stets Bein vor Beln macht deutsch und schwer,
Ich heiss den Wind mich aufwaerts heben,
Ich lernte mit den Voegeln schweben—
Nach Sueden flog ich ueber's Meer.
If the history of German thought in the last fifty years may be described as a gradual emancipation from Hegelianism, we may, I think, in the same way regard that of the German lyric as an emancipation from the traditions of Heine. "Das Buch der Lieder" has had an unfortunate influence upon the German lyric for the best part of the century; its un-German Romanticism, its concrete, Oriental imagery, its tearful and often morbid sentimentality—all this, combined with a consummate mastery of form, has made it a veritable "Loreley" for the singers who came after. It has lured the German lyric on to false paths, and set up for German poets models that are untrue to the best national traditions; it has made it easy for them to forget the exquisite spirituality of Walther von der Vogelweide, of Goethe, of Eicbendorff, of the Volkslied. More than this, by virtue of those very cosmopolitan qualities which are so difficult to reconcile with the national German lyric, Heine has come to be regarded by foreign nations as the German singer par excellence; he is read and admired abroad, while men like Morike, Storm, Keller, who are the real torch-bearers of German song, are unknown. Even did Nietzsche's literary influence go no further, it would be something to have helped, as it is doing, to free the lyric from the sway of Heine. Among the young men who stand under Nietzsche's spell, there is, it is true, not yet one for whom more than an ephemeral fame can be prophesied; there is none to compare with Detlev von Liliencron, who, without having much in common with Nietzsche, has made the bravest stand that the modern lyric has yet made against Heine. But, apart from Liliencron, all that shows most promise in the German lyric of to-day comes
from those writers who have drunk at the spring of "Zarathustra."
If we look for a moment at the matter comparatively, it will not seem surprising that a philosophy so thoroughly individualistic as that of Nietzsche should find its first literary expression in the lyric. It was the culte de Mot, as M. Brunetiere would say, which was responsible for the lyric outburst of German Romanticism at the close of the last century, and for the brilliant spell of French lyrisme in the early decades of the present century. In the same way, it may not be too much to hope that the stimulus of Nietzsche's individualism will lead to an actual revival of the German lyric. From among the group of poets who owe more or less of their inspiration to Nietzsche, I might single out Franz Evers as an example. Herr Evers is a singer with hardly more than one string to his lyre; his stock of poetic ideas is small, too small, I fear, for the number of volumes he has published. This, at least, is the impression to be gathered from the latest of them ("Paradiese.") If we turn, however, to his
"Konigslieder" we shall find, amidst a good deal of mediocre verse, an occasional inspiration of genuine poetry. The lyrics of this volume repeat in varying keys the jubilant thought of the Zarathustrian higher manhood.
Die Jahrtausende sehn auf michnieder,
Und sie grussen mich und meinen Weg.
Denn sie haben mich emporgehoben,
Mich, deu zukunfstarken Sohn der Zeit.
Weil ich irdisch bin, bin ich von oben:
Und mein Herz schlagt voll von Ewigkeit.
There is extravagance and occasionally bombast in this poetry, but Herr Evers has a touch of the real lyric afflatus. He has, above all, a sense for verse music which is so conspicuously absent in a poet like Richard Dehmel, who is perhaps known to a wider circle of readers. But, after all, it is the promise of Dawn rather than the dawn itself, and many readers will turn with greater pleasure to the volume of old and new verse which Paul Heyse published in the course of the past year. But, from the standpoint of criticism, more weight is to be laid on the new spirit that is inspiring these younger poets than to the well-worn changes which Herr Heyse rings for us.
Lastly, something must be said of Nietzsche's own wonderful prose style. With a sense of form rare among his countrymen, Nietzsche has consistently followed out the Flaubert-like principle of "working at a page of prose as at a statue." Nothing in contemporary German literature can be placed
beside some of the wonderful periods of "Also sprach Zarathustra"— the "Nachtlied," the "Grosse Sehnsucht," or the following magnificent lines from the chapter on "Die Sieben Siegel":
Wenn ich dem Meere hold bin und Allem, was Meeres-Art ist, und am holdesten noch, wenn es mir zornig widerspricht:
Wen jene suchende Lust in mir ist, die nach Unendecktem die Segel treibt, wenn eine Seefahrer-Lust in meiner Lust ist:
Wenn je mein Frohlocken rief: "die Kueste schwand—nun fiel mir die letzte Kette ab—
Das Grenzenlose braust um mich, weit hinaus glaenzt mir Raum und Zeit, wolan! wolauf! altes Herz!"
Oh wie sollte ich nicht nach der Ewigkeit brunstig sein und nach dem hochzeitlichen Ring der Ringe—dem Ring der Wiederkunft?
Nie noch fand ich das Weib, von dem ich Kinder mochte, es sei denn dieses Weib, das ich liebe:
Denn ich liebe dich, oh Ewigkeit!
"La Tentation de Saint Antoine" alone, perhaps, in modern literature, is worthy of being placed beside Nietzsche's achievements in prose. And it would be strange if Nietzsche did not from this side also exert an influence upon the literature of his country; as a matter of fact, one comes across reminiscences of Nietzsche's style in most unexpected quarters among modern German books. But when we remember what the influence of authors with a distinctive style has been on French literature in the past, and on our own English literature in the nearer present, we might almost hope that Nietzsche's style should not become too powerful a factor in the literature of his time. In all styles of perfection there lies hidden an element that makes for decadence; and it might speak best for the health of German literature were this side of Nietzsche's influence only a passing one. This view may seem strange, especially to foreign readers, who are accustomed to regard German prose style as by nature bad and much in need of regenerating influences; only the other day Frederic Harrison, writing in the Nineteenth Century, told us that "Germans since Heine had no style at all." A statement like this seems to me to be based upon a misconception of the meaning of a national style. What is good style in one language is not necessarily good style in all; it is as unreasonable to measure German style by French standards as it would be to reverse the process. There is no reason why the writings of Goethe, of Schopenhauer, of Heyse, should not be taken as representing the norm of German prose style, and authors like Heine or Nietzsche, who introduce foreign elements, as anomalies. After all, a national style is not a thing that can be made or unmade by single writers; it is the slow work of generations. Style is more than the man; it is the nation.
The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on German literature cannot yet be regarded from any point of view as a considerable one. Nine-tenths of what is popularly supposed to come from him can, as we have seen, be traced back to Scandinavian sources. It may only be that Nietzsche's time has not yet come to be a motive power in literature; almost a generation elapsed between the publication of 'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung' and the culmination of the literature which Schopenhauer inspired; Kierkegaard was some time dead before Scandinavian literature awoke to new life upon his ideas. In the same way we may have to wait until the new century to see a real Nietzschian literature in Germany. In the meantime, the relation in which his thought stands to the popular literature of the day shows how difficult it is for a philosophy to adapt itself to the purposes of literature, without first undergoing dilution. The thoughts that fall fresh from the the brain of a great and original thinker are too new, too strange; they must undergo a certain popularization, perhaps even degeneration, before they can become the yeast of imaginative literature.
But it might also be asked: Is there not something too un-German about Nietzsche's philosophy to permit of it ever blending with the spiritual life of the German people? It might be argued that it stands in direct antagonism to the spirit which has inspired the literature of Germany in the past. The ethical moment of that literature, to make a somewhat wide generalization, has throughout its entire history—from the spiritual and moral "doubt" of Wolfram's "Parzival" to the forebodings of "Faust," to the problems of "Medea" or "The Nibelung's Ring"— centered in the conception of tragic renunciation. Rarely has the paean of triumphant optimism rung out in German literature as it once rang out in the brighter literature of Greece, of Italy, or Spain. The Titans of German poetry have always been hurled into the abyss; it is in the tragedy of unachieved desire, of broken hopes, of renunciation, that it has touched its highest point. What the future may have in store it is hard to say, but it is doubtful if the ethical spirit of at least 700 years will be so easily dethroned as many of Nietzsche's admirers believe.
Of the purely ethical aspects of Nietzsche's teaching it lies beyond my province to speak. Much has been said of the dangers of Nietzsche's ideas, and dangers they undoubtedly have for the unripe, but, as Nietzsche himself says, "Alles Grosse, znmal Neue ist gefaehrlich." The philosophy of
Zarathustra is a philosophy for the few, for the exceptions: "Ich bin ein Gesetz fuer die Meinen, ich bin kein Gesetz fuer Alle." Nietzsche wrote not for the "slaves" but for the "masters" whose "Wille zur Macht" has sprung from a deep experience of the meaning of slavery; his ethics stand in no such strong contrast to Goethe's rising on our dead selves to higher things, or even to the Hegelian "die to live," as some of his prophets would have us think.
The eternal value of men like Nietzsche is that they go through their age like ploughshares; they tear up the weeds of conventionality and expose fresh soil to the air. They force men to think the vital thoughts of life all over again. Nietzsche's last work was to have been entitled "Die Umwertung aller Werte." but no better collective title could be found for all his work, from the "Geburt der Tragodie" onwards. Here lies his most obvious importance as an intellectual force; he was an "Umwerter aller Werte."—Cosmopolis.
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