Menu Close



Page with ornament
The Database of Ornament


    FOR some years the name of Friedrich Nietzsche has been the
war-cry of opposing factions in Germany.  It is not easy to
take up a German periodical without finding some trace of
the passionate admiration or denunciation which this man
has called forth.  If we turn to Scandinavia or to France,
whither his fame and his work are now also penetrating, we
find that the same results have followed.  And we may expect a similar out-
burst in England now that a complete translation of his works has begun to
appear.  At present, however, I know of no attempt to deal with Nietzsche
from the British point of view, and that is my excuse for trying to define
his personality and influence.  I do not come forward as the champion
either of Nietzschianism or Anti-Nietzschianism.  It appears to me that any
human individuality that has strongly aroused the love and hatred of men
must be far too complex for absolute condemnation, or absolute approval.
Apart from praise or blame, which seem here alike impertinent, Nietzsche is
without doubt an extraordinarily interesting figure.  He is the modern incar-
nation of that image of intellectual pride which Marlowe created in Faustus.
A man who has certainly stood at the finest summit of modern culture, who
has thence made the most determined effort ever made to destroy modern
morals, and who now leads a life as near to death as any life outside the grave
can be, must needs be a tragic figure.  It is a figure full of significance, for it
represents, perhaps, the greatest spiritual force which has appeared since
Goethe, full of interest also to the psychologist, and surely not without its
pathos, perhaps its horror, for the man in the street.

    It is only within the last year that it has become possible to study
Nietzsche’s life-history.  For a considerable period his early home at
Naumberg has been the receptacle of Nietzsche archives of all kinds, and now
his sister, Elizabeth Förster- Nietzsche, has utilized this copious material in the
production of an authoritative biography.  This sister is herself a remarkable

80                                  THE SAVOY

person ; for many years she lived in close association with her brother so that
she was supposed, though without reason, to have exerted an influence over
his thought ; then she married Dr. Förster, the founder of the New Germany
colony in Paraguay ; on his death she returned home to write the history of
the colony, and has since devoted herself to the care of her brother and
his fame.  Only the first volume of the Leben Nietzsche’s has yet appeared,
but it enables us to trace his development to adult life and throws light on his
whole career.

    Nietzsche belonged to a noble Polish family called Nietzky, who on
account of strong Protestant convictions abandoned their country and their
title during the eighteenth century and settled in Germany.  Notwithstanding
the large amount of German blood in his veins, he always regarded himself as
essentially a Pole.  The Poles seemed to him the best endowed and most
knightly of Slavonic peoples, and he once remarked that it was only by virtue
of a strong mixture of Slavonic blood that the Germans entered the ranks of
gifted nations.  He termed the Polish Chopin the deliverer of music from
German heaviness and stupidity, and when he speaks of another Pole,
Copernicus, who reversed the judgment of the whole world, one may divine a
reference to what in later years Nietzsche regarded as his own mission.  In
adult life Nietzsche’s keen and strongly marked features were distinctly
Polish, and when abroad he was frequently greeted by Poles as a fellow-
countryman ; at Sorrento, where he once spent a winter, the country people
called him II Polacco.

    Like Emerson (to whose writings he was strongly attracted throughout
life) and many another strenuous philosophic revolutionary, Nietzsche came
of a long race of Christian ministers.  On both sides his ancestors were
preachers, and from first to last the preacher’s fervour was in his own
blood.  The eldest of three children (of whom one died in infancy), Friedrich
Nietzsche was born in 1844 at Röcken, near Lützen, in Saxony.  His father
—who shortly after his son’s birth fell down the parsonage steps, injuring
his head so severely that he died within twelve months—is described as a
man of noble and poetic nature, with a special talent for music, inherited
by his son ; he belonged to a large and very healthy family who mostly
lived to extreme old age, preserving their mental and physical vigour to
the last The Nietzsches were a proud, sincere folk, very clannish, looking
askance at all who were not Nietzsches.  Nietzsche’s mother, said to be a
charming woman and possessed of much physical vigour, was again a clergy-
man’s daughter.  The Oehler family, to which she belonged, was also very

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    81

large, very healthy, and very long-lived ; she was only eighteen at her son’s
birth, and is still alive to care for him in his complete mental decay.  I note
these facts, which are given with much precision and detail in the biography,
because they certainly help us to understand Nietzsche.  It is evident that he
is no frail hectic flame of a degenerating race.  There seems to be no trace of
insanity or nervous disorder at any point in the family history, as far back as
it is possible to go.  On the contrary, he belonged to extremely vigorous stocks,
possessing unusual moral and physical force, people of “character.”  A similar
condition of things is not seldom found in the history of genius.  In such a case
the machine is, as it were, too highly charged with inherited energy, and works
at a pressure which ultimately brings it to perdition.  All genius must work
without rest, it cannot do otherwise ; only the most happily constituted
genius works without haste.

    The sister’s account of the children’s early life is a very charming part of
this record, and one which in the nature of things rarely finds place in a
biography. She describes her first memories of the boy’s pretty face, his long
fair hair, and large, dark, serious eyes.  He could not speak until he was nearly
three years old, but at four he began to read and write.  He was a quiet, rather
obstinate child, with fits of passion which he learnt to control at a very early
age ; his self-control became so great that, as a boy, on more than one occasion
he deliberately burnt his hand, to show that Mucius Scævola’s act was but a
trifling matter.

    The widowed mother went with her children to settle at Naumberg on
the Saale with her husband’s mother, a woman of fine character with views of
her own, one of which was that children of all classes should first be brought
up together.  Little Fritz was therefore sent to the town school, but the
experiment was not altogether successful. He was a serious child, fond of
solitude, and was called “the little parson” by his comrades.  “The funda-
mental note of his disposition,” writes a schoolfellow in after life, “was a certain
melancholy which expressed itself in his whole being.”  He avoided his fellows
and sought beautiful scenery, as he continued to do throughout life.  At the
same time he was a well-developed, vigorous boy, who loved games of various
kinds, especially those of his own invention.  But although the children lived
to the full the fantastic life of childhood, the sister regretfully confesses that
they remained models of propriety.  Fritz was “a very pious child ; he thought
much about religious matters and was always concerned to put his thoughts
into practice.”  It is curious that, notwithstanding his instinctive sympathy
with the Greek spirit and his philological aptitudes, he found Greek specially

82                                  THE SAVOY

difficult to learn.  At the age of ten appeared his taste for verse-making, and
also for music, and he soon began to show that inherited gift for improvisation
by which he was always able to hold his audience spell-bound, Even as a
boy the future moralist made a deep impression on those who knew him, and
he even reminded one person of the youthful Jesus in the Temple.  “We
Nietzsches hate lies,” an aunt was accustomed to say ; in Friedrich sincerity
was a very deep-rooted trait, and he exercised an involuntary educational
influence on those who came near him.

    In 1858 a place was found for him at Pforta, a remarkable school of almost
military discipline.  Here many of the lines of his future activity were definitely
laid down.  At an even earlier date, excited by the influence of Humboldt, he
had been fascinated by the ideal of universal culture, and at Pforta his intel-
lectual energies began to expand.  Here also, in 1859, when a pianoforte
edition of “Tristan” was first published, Nietzsche became an enthusiastic
Wagnerian, and “Tristan” always remained for him music par excellence ; he
was also attracted to Berlioz.  Here, too, he began those philological studies
which led some years later to a professorship.  He turned to philology, how-
ever, as he himself recognized, because of the need he felt to anchor himself to
some cool logical study which would not grip his heart like the restless and
exciting artistic instincts which had hitherto chiefly moved him.  During the
latter part of his stay at this very strenuous educational establishment young
Nietzsche was a less brilliant pupil than during the earlier part.  His own
individuality was silently growing beneath the disciplinary pressure which
would have dwarfed a less vigorous individuality.  His philosophic aptitudes
began to develop and take form ; he wished also to devote himself to music ;
and he pined at the confinement, longing for the forest and the woodman’s
axe.  It was the beginning of a long struggle between the impulses of his own
self-centred nature and the duties imposed from without, by the school, the
university, and, later, his professorship ; he always strove to broaden and
deepen these duties to the scope of his own nature, but the struggle remained.
It was the immediate result of this double strain that, during 1862, strong and
healthy as the youth appeared, he began to suffer from headaches and eye-
troubles, cured by temporary removal from the school.  He remained extremely
short-sighted, and it was only by an absurd error in the routine examination
that in later years he was passed for military service in the artillery.

    In the following year, 1863, Nietzsche met, and was for a while attracted
by, a schoolfellow’s sister, an ethereal little Berlin girl, who appealed to “the
large, broad-shouldered, shy, rather solemn and stiff youth.”  To this early

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    83

experience, which never went beyond poetic schwärmerei, his sister is inclined
to trace the origin of Nietzsche’s view of women as very fragile, tender little
buds.  The experience is also interesting because it appears to stand alone in
his life.  We strike here on an organic abnormality in this congenital
philosopher.  Nietzsche’s attitude was not the crude misogyny of Schopenhauer,
who knew women chiefly as women of the streets.  Nietzsche knew many of
the finest women of his time, and he sometimes speaks with insight and
sympathy of the world as it appears to women ; but there was clearly nothing
in him to answer to any appeal to passion, and his attitude is well summed up
in an aphorism of his own “Zarathustra” : “It is better to fall into the hands
of a murderer than into the dreams of an ardent woman.” “All his life long,”
his sister writes, “my brother remained completely apart from either great
passion or vulgar love. His whole passion lay in the world of knowledge ;
only very temperate emotions remained over for anything else. In later life
he was grieved that he had never attained to amour passion, and that every
inclination to a feminine personality quickly changed to a tender friendship,
however fascinatingly pretty the fair one might be.” He would expend much
sympathy on unhappy lovers, yet he would shake his head, saying to himself
or others : “And all that over a little girl !”

    Young Nietzsche left Pforta, in 1863, with the most various and incompatible
scientific tastes and interests (always excepting in mathematics, for which he
never possessed any aptitude), but, as he himself remarked, none that would
fit him for any career.  One point in regard to the termination of his school-
life is noteworthy : he chose Theognis as the subject of his valedictory
dissertation.  His meditations on this moralist and aristocrat, so contemptuous
of popular rule, may have served as the foundation of some of his own later
views on Greek culture.  In 1864 he became a student at Bonn, and the year
that followed was of special import in his inner development ; he finally threw
off the beliefs of his early youth ; he discovered his keen critical faculty ; and
his self-contained independence became a visible mark of his character, though
always disguised by his amiable and courteous manners.  At Bonn his life
seems to have been fairly happy, though he was by no means a typical
German student.  He spent much money, but it was chiefly on his artistic
tastes—music and the theatre—or on little tours.  No one could spend less
on eating and drinking ; like Goethe and like Heine, he had no love of
smoking and drinking, and he was repelled by the thick, beery good-humour
of the German student.  People who drink beer and smoke pipes every
evening, he always held, were incapable of understanding his philosophy ; for

84                                  THE SAVOY

they could not possibly possess the clarity of mind needed to grasp any
delicate or complex intellectual problem. He returned home from Bonn “a
picture of health and strength, broad-shouldered, brown, with rather fair thick
hair, and exactly the same height as Goethe ;” and then went to continue his
studies at Leipzig.

    Notwithstanding the youth’s efforts to subdue his emotional and æsthetic
restlessness by cool and hard work, he was clearly tortured by the effort to
find a philosophic home for himself in the world.  This effort absorbed him
all day long, frequently nearly all the night.  At this time he chanced to take
up on a bookstall a totally unknown work, entitled “Der Welt als Wille und
Vorstellung ;” in obedience to an unusual impulse he bought the book without
consideration, and from that moment began an acquaintance with Schopen-
hauer which for many years exerted a deep influence on his life.  At that time,
probably, he could have had no better guide into paths of peace ; but even as
a student he was a keen critic of Schopenhauer’s system, valuing him chiefly
as, in opposition to Kant, “the philosopher of a re-awakened classical period,
a Germanized Hellenism.” Schumann’s music and long solitary walks aided in
the work of recuperation.  A year or two later Nietzsche met the other great
god who shared with Schopenhauer his early worship. “I cannot bring my
heart to any degree of critical coolness before this music,” he wrote, in 1868,
after listening to the overture to the “Meistersingers” ; “every fibre and nerve
in me thrills ; it is a long time since I have been so carried away.” I quote
these words, for we shall, I think, find later that they have their significance.
A few weeks afterwards he was invited to meet the master, and thus began a
relationship that for Nietzsche was fateful.

    Meanwhile his philological studies were bringing him distinction.  A
lecture on Theognis was pronounced by Ritschl to be the best work by a
student of Nietzsche’s standing that he had ever met with.  Then followed
investigations into the sources of Suidas, a lengthy examination De fontibus
Diogenis Laertii, and palæographic studies in connection with Terence, Statius,
and Orosius.  He was now also consciously perfecting his German style,
treating language, he remarks, as a musical instrument on which one must be
able to improvise, as well as play what is merely learnt by heart.  In 1869,
when only in his twenty-sixth year, and before he had taken his doctor’s
degree, he accepted the chair of classical philology at Basel.  He was certainly,
as he himself said, not a born philologist.  He had devoted himself to
philology—I wish to insist on this significant point—as a sedative and
tonic to his restless energy ; in this he was doubtless wise, though his sister

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    85

seems to suggest that he thereby increased his mental strain. But he had no
real vocation for philology, and it is curious that when the Basel chair was
offered to him he was proposing to himself to throw aside philology for
chemistry.  Philologists, he declares again and again, are but factory hands in
the service of science.  At the best philology is a waste of acuteness, since it
merely enables us to state facts which the study of the present would teach us
much more swiftly and surely.  Thus it was that he instinctively broadened
and deepened every philological question he took up, making it a channel for
philosophy and morals.  With his specifically philological work we are not
further concerned.

    I have been careful to present the main facts in Nietzsche’s early develop-
ment because they seem to me to throw light on the whole of his later
development.  So far he had published nothing except in philological journals.
In 1872, after he had settled at Basel,¹ appeared his first work, an essay
entitled “Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik,” dedicated to
Wagner.  The conception of this essay was academic, but in Nietzsche’s hands
the origin of tragedy became merely the text for an exposition of his own
philosophy of art at this period.  He traces two art impulses in ancient
Greece : one, starting in the phenomena of dreaming, which he associates with
Apollo ; the other, starting in the phenomena of intoxication, associated with
Dionysos, and through singing, music and dithyramb leading up to the lyric.
The union of these, which both imply a pessimistic view of life, produced folk-
song and finally tragedy, which is thus the outcome of Dionysiac music
fertilized by Apollonian imagery.  Socrates the optimist, with his views
concerning virtue as knowledge, vice as ignorance, and his identification of
virtue with happiness, led to the decay of tragedy and the triumph of
Alexandrian culture, in the net of which the whole modern world is still held.
Now, however, German music is producing a new birth of tragedy through
Wagner, who has again united music and myth, and inaugurated an era of
German art culture.  This remarkable essay produced considerable con-
troversy.  It is characteristic of Nietzsche’s first period, as we may call all he
wrote before 1876, in its insistence on the all-importance of æsthetic as
opposed to intellectual culture ; and it is characteristic of his whole work in its
grip of the connection between the problems and solutions of Hellenic times
and the problems and solutions of the modern world.  For Nietzsche the

¹ With the migration to Basel the “Leben Nietzsche’s” at present ends; and I am,
therefore, forced to rely on more fragmentary data in outlining the following years of
Nietzsche’s life.

86                                  THE SAVOY

Greek world was not the model of beautiful mediocrity imagined by Winckel-
mann and Goethe, nor did it date from the era of rhetorical idealism in-
augurated by Plato.  The real Hellenic world came earlier, and the true
Hellenes were sturdy realists enamoured of life, reverencing all its manifesta-
tions and returns, and holding in highest honour that sexual symbol of
life which Christianity, with its denial of life, despises.  Plato Nietzsche
hated ; he had wandered from all the fundamental instincts of the Hellene.
His childish dialectics can only appeal, Nietzsche said, to those who are ignor-
ant of the French masters like Fontenelle.  The best cure for Plato, he held,
is Thucydides,the last of the old Hellenes who were brave in the face of reality ;
Plato fled from reality into the ideal and was a Christian before his time.

    Between 1873 and 1876 Nietzsche wrote four essays—on David Strauss,
the Use and Abuse of History in relation to Life, Schopenhauer as an
Educator, and Richard Wagner—which were collectively published as
“Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen.”  If in his first essay Nietzsche may seem to
appear as the champion of the modern Teuton, it was for the first and last
time.  He made ample amends in the essay on Strauss.  That essay was
written soon after the great war, amid the resulting outburst of flamboyant
patriotism and the widely-expressed conviction that the war was a victory
of “German culture.” Fresh from the world of Greece, Nietzsche pours
contempt on that assumption.  Culture, he says, is, above all, unity of artistic
style in every expression of a people’s life.  The exuberance of knowledge
in which a German glories is neither a necessary means of culture nor a sign
of it, being, indeed, more allied to the opposite of culture—to barbarism.  It
is in this barbarism that the modern German lives, that is to say, in a chaotic
mixture of all styles.  Look at his clothing, Nietzsche continues, his houses,
his streets, all his manners and customs.  They are a turmoil of all styles in
which he peacefully lives and moves.  Such culture is really a phlegmatic
absence of all sense of culture.  Largely, also, it is merely a bad imitation
of the real and productive culture of France which it is supposed to have
conquered in 1870.  Let there be no chatter, he concludes, about the triumph
of German culture, for at present no real German culture exists.  The heroic
figures of the German past were not “classics,” as some imagine ; they were
seekers after a genuine German culture, and so regarded themselves.  The
would-be children of culture in Germany to-day are Philistines without
knowing it, and the only unity they have achieved is a methodical barbarism.
Nietzsche attacks Strauss by no means as a theologian, but as a typical
culture-Philistine.  He was moved to this by the recent publication of “Der

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    87

Alte und der Neue Glaube.” I can well understand the emotions with which
that book filled him, for I, too, read it soon after its publication, and can well
recall the painful impression made on me by its homely pedestrianism, the
dull lack of imagination of the man who could only compare the world to a
piece of machinery, an engine that creaks in the working, a sort of vast
Lancashire mill in which we must spend every moment in feverish labour,
and for our trouble perhaps be caught between the wheels and cogs.  But I
was young, and my youthful idealism, eager for some vital and passionate
picture of the world, inevitably revolted against so tawdry and mechanical a
conception.  Nietzsche, then and ever, failed to perceive that there is room,
after all, for the modest sturdy bourgeois labourer who, at the end of a hard
life in the service of truth, sits down to enjoy his brown beer and Haydn’s
quartettes, and to repeat his homely confession of faith in the world as he
sees it.  Nietzsche failed to realize that Straus’s limitations were essential to
the work he had to do, and that he remained a not unworthy follower of
those German heroes who were not “classics,” but honest seekers after the
highest they knew.  In this hypertrophied repulsion for the everyday bourgeois
work of the intellectual world we touch on a defect in Nietzsche’s temperament
which we must regard as congenital, and which wrought in him at last to
wildest issues.

    In another of these essays, “Schopenhauer als Erzieher,” Nietzsche sets
forth his opinions concerning his early master in philosophy.  It is a
significant indication of the qualities that attracted him to Schopenhauer that
he compares him to Montaigne, thus at once revealing his own fundamental
optimism, and the admiration which he then and always felt for the great
French masters of wisdom.  He regards Schopenhauer as the leader from
Kant’s caves of critical scepticism to the open sky with its consoling stars.
Schopenhauer saw the world as a whole, and was not befooled by the analysis
of the colours and canvas wherewith the picture is painted.  Kant, in spite of
the impulse of his genius, never became a philosopher.  “If anyone thinks I
am thus doing Kant an injustice, he cannot know what a philosopher is, i.e.,
not merely a great thinker but also a real man ;” and he goes on to explain
that the mere scholar who is accustomed to let opinions, ideas, and things in
books always intervene between him and facts, will never see facts, and will
never be a fact to himself ; whereas the philosopher must regard himself as
the symbol and abbreviation of all the facts of the world.  It remained
always an axiom with Nietzsche that the philosopher must first of all be a
“real man.”

88                                  THE SAVOY

    In this essay also Nietzsche first expressed his conception of the value of
individuality.  Shakespeare had asked :

                                                             “Which can say more
                        Than this rich praise, that you alone are you?”

But Shakespeare was only addressing a single beloved friend.  Nietzsche
addresses the same thought to the common “you.” “At bottom every man
well knows that he can only live one single life in the world, and that never
again will so strange a chance shake together into unity such singularly varied
elements as he holds : he knows that, but he hides it like a bad conscience.”
This was a sane and democratic individualism ; in later years, as we shall see,
it assumed stranger shapes.

    The essay on Wagner starts from the standpoint reached in the previous
essays.  There is a deep analogy for those to whom distance is no obscuring
cloud, he remarks, between Kant and the Eleatics, Schopenhauer and
Empedocles, Æschylus and Wagner. “The world has been orientalised long
enough, and men now seek to be hellenised.” The Gordian knot has been
cut and its strands are fluttering to the ends of the world ; we need a series of
Anti-Alexanders mighty enough to bring together the scattered threads of
life.  Wagner is such an Anti-Alexander, a great astringent force in the world.
For “it is not possible to present the highest and purest operations of
dramatic art, and not therewith to renew morals and the state, education and
affairs.” Bayreuth is the sacred consecration on the morning of battle.
“The battles which art brings before us are a simplification of the actual battles
of life ; its problems are an abbreviation of the endlessly involved reckoning
of human action and aspiration.  But herein lies the greatness and value of
art, that it calls forth the appearance of a simpler world, a shorter solution of
the problems of life.  No one who suffers in life can dispense with that
appearance, just as no one can dispense with sleep.” Wagner has simplified
the world ; he has related music to life, the drama to music ; he has
intensified the visible things of the world, and made the audible visible.  Just
as Goethe found in poetry an expression for the painter’s vocation he had
missed, so Wagner utilized in music his dramatic instinct.  And Nietzsche
further notes the democratic nature of Wagner’s art, so strenuously warm and
bright as to reach even the lowliest in spirit.  Wagner takes off the stigma
that clings to the word “common,” and brings to all the means of attaining
spiritual freedom. “For,” says Nietzsche, “whosoever will be free, must make
himself free ; freedom is no fairy’s gift to fall into any man’s lap.” Such are

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    89

the leading thoughts in an essay which remains an interesting philosophic
appreciation of the place of Wagner’s art in the modern world.

    “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth” brings to an end Nietzsche’s first period,
and may itself be said to lead up to the crash which inaugurated his later
period.  Hitherto Nietzsche’s work was unquestionably sane both in substance
and form.  No doubt it had aroused much criticism ; work so vigorous,
sincere, and independent could not fail to arouse hostility.  But as we look
back to-day, these fine essays represent, with much youthful enthusiasm, the
best that was known and thought in Germany a quarter of a century ago.
Nietzsche’s opinions on Wagner and Schopenhauer, on individualism and
democracy, the significance of early Hellenism for moderns, the danger of an
excessive historical sense, the conception of culture less as a striving after
intellectual knowledge than as that which arouses within us the philosopher,
the artist, and the saint—all these ideas, wild as some of them seemed to
Nietzsche’s German contemporaries, are the ideas which have now largely
permeated European culture.  The same cannot be said of his later

    It was at the first Bayreuth festival in 1876 that this chapter in Nietzsche’s
life was finally closed.  Many strange theories have been put forward to account
for the change that then came over him. They may be thrust aside.  No
mere disappointment with the festival, or with “Parsifal,” or with Wagner’s
growing conservatism, no mere offence to Nietzsche’s own amour-propre,
suffice to explain so radical an upheaval.  The change was more fundamental.
The excitement of the festival merely precipitated an organic catastrophe
towards which he had long been tending.  I have already noted passages
which indicate that he was himself aware of a consuming flame within, and
that from time to time he made efforts to check its ravages.  That it was this
internal flame which really produced the breakdown is shown by the narrative
of Nietzsche’s friend, Dr. Kretzer, who was with him at Bayreuth. It was
evident he was seriously ill, Kretzer tells us, utterly changed and broken
down. His eye-troubles were associated, if not with actual brain disease, at
all events with a high degree of neurasthenia, and the physical effect of the
performance was so overwhelming that he was only able to be present at a few
scenes of the “Nibelungen.” At Bayreuth, Nietzsche was forced to realize
the peril of his position as he had never realized it before.  He could no
longer disguise from himself that he must break with all the passionate
interests of his past.  It was an essential measure of hygiene, almost a surgical
operation.  This is indeed how he has himself put the matter.  In the preface

90                                  THE SAVOY

to “Der Fall Wagner,” he said that it had been to him a necessary self-
discipline to take part against all that was morbid within himself, against
Wagner, against Schopenhauer, against all the impassioning interests of
modern life, and to view the world, so far as possible, with the philosopher’s
eyes, from an immense height.  And again he speaks of Wagner’s art as a
beaker of ecstasy so subtle and profound that it acts like poison and leaves no
remedy at last but flight from the syren’s cave.  Nietzsche was henceforth in
the position of a gouty subject who is forced to abandon port wine and
straightway becomes an apostle of total abstinence.  The remedy seems to
have been fairly successful.  But the disease was in his bones.  Impassioning
interests that were far more subtly poisonous slowly developed within him, and
twelve years later flight had become impossible, even if he was still able to
realize the need for flight.

    Nietzsche broke very thoroughly with his past, yet the break has been
exaggerated, and he himself often helped to exaggerate it.  He was in the
position of a beleaguered city which has been forced to abandon its outer
walls and concentrate itself in the citadel ; and however it may have been in
ancient warfare, in spiritual affairs such a state of things involves an offensive
attitude towards the former line of defence.  The positions we have abandoned
constitute a danger to the positions we have taken up.  Many of the world’s
fiercest persecutors have but persecuted their old selves, and there seems to be
psychological necessity for such an attitude.  Yet a careful study of Nietzsche’s
earlier activity reveals many germs of later developments.  The critical atti-
tude towards conventional morality, the individualism, the optimism, the ideal
of heroism, which dominate his later thought, exist as germs in his earlier
work.  Even the flagrant contrast between “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth”
and “Der Fall Wagner” was the outcome of a gradual development. In
the earlier essay Nietzsche had justly pointed out that Wagner’s instincts
were fundamentally dramatic.  As years went on he brooded over this
idea ; the nimble and lambent wit of his later days played around it until
Wagner became a mere actor in his work and in his life, a rhetorician, an in-
carnate falsehood, the personification of latter-day decadence, the Victor Hugo
of music, the Bernini of music, the modern Cagliostro. At the same time he
admits that Wagner represents the modern spirit, and that it is reasonable for
a musician to say that though he hates Wagner he can tolerate no other music.
The fact is that Nietzsche was not Teuton enough to abide for ever with
Wagner.  He compares him contemptuously with Hegel, cloud-compellers
both, masters of German mists and German mysticism, worshippers of Wotan,

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    91

the god of bad weather, the god of the Germans.  “How could they miss
what we, we Halcyonians, miss in Wagner—la gaya scienza, the light feet, wit,
fire, grace, strong logic, the dance of the stars, arrogant intellectuality, the
quivering light of the south, the smooth sea—perfection ?” It is evident that
Nietzsche had not gained complete mastery of his own personality in his
earlier work.  It is brilliant, full of fine perceptions and critical insight, but as
a personal utterance incomplete.  It renders the best ideas of the time, not the
best ideas that Nietzsche could contribute to the time.  The shock of 1876
may have been a step towards the disintegration of his intellect, but it was
also a rally, a step towards self-realization.  Nietzsche had no genuine affinity
with Schopenhauer or with Wagner, though they were helpful to his develop-
ment ; he was no pessimist, he was no democrat.  As he himself said, ” I
understood the philosophic pessimism of the nineteenth century as the
symptom of a finer strength of thought, a more victorious fullness of life.
In the same way Wagner’s music signified to me the expression of a
Dionysiac mightiness of soul in which I seemed to hear, as in an earth-
quake, the upheaval of the primitive powers of life, after age-long repres-
sion.”  Now he only needed relief, “golden, tender, oily melodies” to soothe
the leaden weight of life, and these he found in ”Carmen.”

    Any discussion of the merits of the question as between Wagner and
Bizet, the earlier and the later Nietzsche, seems to me out of place, though
much has been made of it by those who delight to see a giant turn and rend
himself.  Nietzsche himself said he was writing for psychologists, and it is not
unfair to add that it is less “Wagner’s case” that he presents to us than
“Nietzsche’s case.” For my own part—speaking as one who finds Wagner the
greatest among modern musicians, and “Carmen” the most delightful modern
opera outside Wagner—I can address both the early and the late Nietzsche in
the words habitually used by the landlord of the “Rainbow :” “You’re both
wrong and you’re both right, as I alius says.” Most of the mighty quarrels
that have sent men to battle and the stake might have been appeased had both
sides recognized that both were right in their affirmations, both wrong in their

    Nietzsche occupied his chair at Basel for some years longer ; in 1880 his
health forced him to resign and he was liberally pensioned.  As a professor he
treated the most difficult questions of Greek study, and devoted his chief
attention to his best pupils, who in their turn adored him.  Basel is an admir-
able residence for a cosmopolitan thinker ; it was easy for Nietzsche to keep in
touch with all that went on from Paris to St. Petersburg.  He was also on

92                                  THE SAVOY

terms of more or less intimate friendship with the finest spirits in Switzerland,
with Keller the novelist, Bocklin the painter, Burckhardt the historian.  We
are told that he was a man of great personal charm in social intercourse.  But
his associates at Basel never suspected that in this courteous and amiable
professor was stored up an explosive energy which would one day be felt in
every civilized land.  With pen in hand his criticism of life was unflinching, his
sincerity arrogant ; when the pen was dropped he became modest, reserved,
almost timorous.

    The work he produced between 1877 and 1882 seems to me to represent
the maturity of his genius.  It includes “Menschliches, Allzumenschliches,”
“Morgenröthe,” and “Die Frohliche Wissenschaft (la gay a scienza).” In form
all these volumes belong pensée literature. They deal with art, with religion,
with morals and philosophy, with the relation of all these to life.  Nietzsche
shows himself in these pensées above all a freethinker, emancipated from every
law save that of sincerity, wide-ranging, serious, penetrative, often impassioned,
as yet always able to follow his own ideal of self-restraint.

    After leaving Basel he spent the following nine years chiefly at health
resorts and in travelling.  We find him at Sorrento, Venice, Genoa, Turin, Sils
Maria, as well as at Leipzig.  Doubtless his fresh and poignant pensées are
largely the outcome of strenuous solitary walks in the Engadine or among the
Italian lakes.  We may assume that during most of these years he was fight-
ing, on the whole successfully fighting, for mental health.  Yet passages that
occur throughout his books seem to suggest that his thoughts may have some-
times turned to the goal towards which he was tending.  It is a mistake, he
points out, to suppose that insanity is always the symptom of a degenerating
culture, although to nod towards the asylum is a convenient modern way of
slaying spiritual tyrants ; it is in primitive and developing stages of culture
that insanity has played its chief part ; it was only by virtue of what seemed
to be the “Divine” turbulence of insanity and epilepsy that any new moral
law could make progress among early cultures.  Just as for us there seems a
little madness in all genius, so for them there seemed a little genius in all mad-
ness, so that sorcerers and saints agonized in solitude and abstinence for some
gleam of madness which would bring them faith in themselves and openly
justify their mission.

    What may, perhaps, be called Nietzsche’s third period began in 1883 with
“Also sprach Zarathustra,” the most extraordinary of all his works, mystical
in form, and recalling the oracular aphoristic manner of the Hebrews, but not
mystical in substance.  It was followed by “Jenseits von Gut und Böse,”

                              FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                    93

“Zur Genealogic der Moral,” “Der Fall Wagner,” and “Götzendämmerung.”
It is during this period that we trace the growth of the magnification of his
own personal mission, which finally became a sort of megalomania.  In form
the books of this period are somewhat less fragmentary than those of the
second period ; in substance they are marked by their emphatic, often
extravagant, almost reckless insistence on certain views of morality.  If in the
first period he was an apostle of culture, in the second a freethinker, pro-
nouncing judgment on all things in heaven and earth, he was now exclusively
a moralist, or, as he would prefer to say, an immoralist.  It was during this
period that he worked out his “master morality”—the duty to be strong—in
opposition to the “slave morality” of Christianity, with its glorification of
weakness and pity, and that he consistently sought to analyze and destroy the
traditional conceptions of good and evil on which our current morality rests.
The last work which he planned, but never completed, was a re-valuation of
all values, “Umwerthung aller Werthe,” which would have been his final
indictment of the modern world, and the full statement of his own immoralism
and Dionysiac philosophy.

    It is sometimes said that Nietzsche’s mastery of his thought and style
was increasing up to the last.  This I can scarcely admit, even as regards
style.  No doubt there is a light and swift vigour of movement in these
last writings which before he had never attained.  He pours out a shim-
mering stream of golden phrases with which he has intoxicated himself, and
tries to intoxicate us.  We may lend ourselves to the charm, but it has no
enduring hold.  This master of gay or bitter invective no longer possesses
the keenly reasoned and piercing insight of the earlier Nietzsche.  We feel
that he has become the victim of obsessions which drive him like a leaf before
the wind, and all his exuberant wit is unsubstantial and pathetic as that of
Falstaff.  The devouring flame has at length eaten the core out of the man
and his style, leaving only this coruscating shell.  And at a touch even this
thin shell collapsed into smouldering embers.

    From a child Nietzsche was subject to strangely prophetic dreams.  In a
dream which, when a boy, he put into literary form, he tells how he seemed to
be travelling forward amid a glorious landscape, while carolling larks ascended
to the clouds, and his whole life seemed to stretch before him in a vista of
happy years ; “and suddenly a shrill cry reached our ears ; it came from the
neighbouring lunatic asylum.” Even in 1876 it became visible to his friends
that Nietzsche attached extraordinary importance to his own work.  After he
wrote “Zarathustra,” this self-exaltation increased, and began to find expres-

94                                  THE SAVOY

sion in his work.  Latterly, it is said, he came to regard himself as the
incarnation of the genius of humanity.  It has always been found a terrible
matter to war with the moral system of one’s age ; it will have its revenge,
one way or another, from within or from without, whatever happens after.
Nietzsche strove for nothing less than to remodel the moral world after his
own heart’s desire, and his brain was perishing of exhaustion in the immense
effort.  In 1889—at the moment when his work at last began to attract
attention—he became hopelessly insane.  A period of severe hallucinatory
delirium led on to complete dementia, and he passes beyond our sight.

                                                                                                Havelock Ellis.

MLA citation:

Ellis, Havelock. “Friedrich Nietzsche I.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 79-94. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.