Typos p. 47: epistomology [= epistemology]; p. 47: epistomological [= epistemological]
Nietzsche once again
Anthony M. Ludovici
The New English Weekly 33, 1948, pp. 4546
- p. 45 -
Indeed, so dark is the picture it presents of the most iconoclastic of German thinkers, that Mr. Harold Nicolson, who appears to have relied on it exclusively for his opinion of the man and his works, was able to conclude his review of Professor Reyburn's book in "The Daily Telegraph" of March 19th as follows: "He was a detestable man. . . . Professor Reyburn is fully aware of the streak of genius which illuminated Nietzsche's satanic mind; he has done well in his quiet persistent manner to expose the true horror of this evil man."
It is difficult to understand this outburst, especially as it seems to postulate a human norm, beside which Nietzsche has been measured. Somewhere, then, presumably in these islands or in some other Anglo-Saxon community there exists a man well-known to all, who is neither evil nor detestable and who, when placed alongside of Nietzsche, makes him appear satanic. Where is this man to be seen? In the ranks of the English so-called "Upper Middle Classes"? Or is there anyone at all like him among the great artists, thinkers, politicians or statesmen of Anglo-Saxon blood Whistler, Herbert Spencer, Macaulay, Dickens, Gladstone, Lloyd George or Baldwin? Lucky the man of the world to-day who happens to know of the existence of some one who is not detestable; for according to Alexander von Humboldt, who despised all mankind in all classes, he hardly exists.
But, if Professor Reyburn's book has evoked this outburst from Mr. Nicolson, why is it so valuable?
I submit that it is valuable because the point of view was badly in need of careful and convincing statement. We should welcome the biography that does not hesitate to disclose the partie honteuse of a great man. The tendency is all the other way. We badly need biographies of Shelley, Dickens, Rodin, Whistler, Spencer, Turner and hundreds more, which will show us what detestable men they were. We often learn more about the blooms of beauty and wisdom that our great human plants have produced, when we are told the exact nature of the mulching about their roots. Was it rotten? Did it smell? What matters?
Except in middle-class drawing-rooms, most people now know that clean, artificial manures are neither the best nor the most productive. But Ruskin, in his dealings with Turner's remains and, in fact, almost all well-known epigones in dealing with the great, especially with the native great, act and write with a caution and a kindness which, in the end, gives a wholly distorted picture of the hero. They build a statue of sugar, as for a cake, instead of one of granite, on which sweet-tooths bite only to their hurt.
So that works like Professor Reyburn's are both needed and welcome. Nevertheless, in spite of the bitter pills that this new treatise has prepared for the blind disciple of Nietzsche, whether here or abroad, both the book itself
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Indeed, we who knew all that Professor Reyburn reveals and a good deal more, feel inclined to exclaim, "Is that all?" Like Cyrano, after his nose had been jeered at, we feel like taking Professor Reyburn and Mr. Nicolson to task, as he took the Vicomte de Valvert, and beginning, "C'est tout? Ah non! C'est un peu court. . . . On pouvait dire. . . . Oh Dieu! bien des choses en somme."
For, strange to say, Professor Reyburn has not said everything. He has neither emptied the mud-cart nor started to unload the flower-baskets. Unfortunately for the beginner, who starts off with this otherwise excellent book, there are omissions on both sides of the account, even on the debit side.
Let me, as an old Nietzschean, starting with the latter, give Professor Reyburn a few hints.
He might have spoken of the many passages in which Nietzsche browbeats or blackmails the reader into accepting him. Throughout the works these passages teem and increase virtually to bribery in the private letters.
Everywhere the reader is told that, if he is to understand the works, he must have nobility, psychological insight, good taste, acumen, greatness of soul, intelligence, honesty, courage and, above all, brains. Even Goethe and Shakespeare it is declared, would have been unable to breathe in the atmosphere of passion and the heights which envelopes Zarathustra. So that the reader, especially the young ingenuous one, feels that he owes it to himself to be a Nietzschean, otherwise he forfeits his right not only to all the qualities listed above but also to rank above Goethe and Shakespeare.
In no other author that I know is this constant intimidation of the reader as marked as it is in Nietzsche.
Again, in the matter of ideas, Nietzsche filched from everybody, especially from Schopenhauer and Heine. But he very seldom acknowledges his main sources. He is, moreover, often shallow in his judgments and pretends to know what he has not read. Darwin is a conspicuous example. Everywhere Darwin is scoffed at and reviled, but not once does Nietzsche betray anything but a profound misunderstanding of Darwin's chief works. He also exploits the sequaciousness of youth by making displays of erudition he does not possess and gratuitously introducing foreign words belonging to languages he never knew. His attacks are often transparently biased. I believe he was more wounded by his sister Elizabeth's marriage and desertion of him than has been generally recognized. But in his wild and indiscriminate denigration of everything his hated brother-in-law stood for, he reveals the root of many of his more fanatical views and the measure of their worth. The list could be extended. But there is little if any reference to all these matters in Professor Reyburn's book, and I cheerfully make him and Mr. Nicolson a present of them.
Do Professor Reyburn and Mr. Nicolson, however, imagine that, even with the gaps in the former's indictment fully filled, everything essential has been said about Nietzsche? Do they really believe that men as cultivated and yet as different from one another as Brandes and Taine, Spengler and Bergson, Hans Vaihinger and the psychoanalysts, would have troubled about Nietzsche and seriously applied their minds to his works if, as Mr. Nicolson suggests (still under the influence of Professor Reyburn's book) that the "man was demonstrably insane" from the start?
This brings me to the omissions on the credit side in Professor Reyburn's book and, if it has been Mr. Nicolson's only approach to Nietzsche, their number and importance rather excuse his outburst.
For Professor Reyburn never dwells on any valuable contribution Nietzsche may have made to European culture. He does not even seem to be aware of the fact that men as thoughtful as Dr. W. M. Salter was of the opinion that "at no very distant date . . . we shall he speaking of a pre-Nietzschean and a post-Nietzschean period in philosophical . . . ethical and social analysis and speculation."
Thus we close the book without having come across one reminder of the fact, acknowledged by Dr. Wolf, that Nietzsche anticipated "a good many doctrines that have since his time become more or less familiar in connection with Pragmatism, Humanism, and the philosophy of Creative Evolution." Also, without one reminder of the fact that he deeply impressed and inspired a whole school of modern artists and writers, from Klinger and Strauss in Germany, Strindberg and Ellen Key in Scandinavia, and Rémy de Gourmont, Daniel Lesueur and even André Gide in France, to d'Annunzio in Italy. Neither does Professor Reyburn ever call our attention to the powerful influence that what Nietzsche called Perspektivismus in epistomology has had on modern epistomological speculation, or to the enormous light this same perspectivism shed on the problem of morality. In Nietzsche's own works this clue to the origin of our moral ideas is worked out with exceptional care and thoroughness. It is at once one of the most illuminating and most systematically treated of all his doctrines. Where, moreover, do we find in Dr. Reyburn's work any adequate, not to mention fair tribute to the valuable and quite original psychological light thrown on the problems of egoism, pride and compassion in Nietzsche's writings? We certainly find the worst possible complexion put upon the more easily misunderstood passages relating to these matters; but nowhere any clear and judicial estimate of them. This list of omissions could be very much extended.
To call attention to all these matters, however, was perhaps not Professor Reyburn's purpose. He may have known that there are treatises by the score which attempt to do justice to Nietzsche's contributions to modern thought. As indeed, there are. The only trouble is that, admirable and quite indispensable as his book is, in supplying the darker and less savoury aspects of Nietzsche's life and works, it may, if it happens to be to certain readers their only or their first source of information about Nietzsche, prevent them altogether from profiting by a deeper and wider study of him. In this respect Professor Reyburn may, for many of the rising generation, have laid a formidable barrier across the path leading to the Eldorado of ideas, inspirations and fruitful stimuli which Nietzsche's works have proved for many distinguished thinkers of the recent past; but this is the only respect in which the world will not be the richer for the industry and scholarship of himself and his friends.