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cabin. It is then that they whisper in his ear. For though no mortal eye may look upon a pixie, they can speak o' nights to humans. And sometimes the good people give a sign. What! does the Saxon not believe it? Then look at the wraith on the candle! See the old man bending over the piece of curled up tallow.
"'Tis the winding sheet," he whispered. And placing it gently in the palm of his hand, he uncovered his head out of respect for the unseen. Then he listened.
Hark! what sound was that? Was it the soughing of the wind? or the wail of a banshee down the alley ?
It was getting dark in the hovel. And as I watched him in the half light, I wondered if the "wraith” was potent to foretell misfortune, or merely to chronicle disaster ? Whether the old man saw in the sign his own approaching end, or whether in his eyes the winding sheet enveloped the dead wife he had recently buried ?
“In the shroud is death,” he repeated softly.
And while the twilight shadows were filling the Court, the old man stood in the hovel lost in reverie. For the winding sheet lay in his wrinkled hand, and his thoughts were with the dead.
PESSIMISM IN ITS RELATION TO ASCETICISM.
BY M. D. PETRE.
THE title of this article was one of the main themes
of a great philosopher, who has largely influenced modern thought, even though he may not be, at least by English and American writers, directly
read and known in proportion to this influence. The philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer has so filtered into the general mind, from a thousand different sources, that there are many who talk Schopenhauer and who think Schopenhauer, though they may hardly know his name. For the benefit, however, of those who have no immediate acquaintance with his works, we will preface our theme by a brief account of the leading ideas of his system, in particular of those which directly bear upon the subject of the following pages.
Under all the varying phenomena of the universe, from inert material existence up to the highest forms of organized life, Schopenhauer believed that there lay one great reality, one “ Ding an sich—Thing in itself,” of which all these changing forms were but the objectification or manifestation. This great reality was Will; not will as most of us have been taught to understand it, a higher spiritual faculty inseparably connected with intelligence; but a blind irresponsible force, a “will to live” without any regard to the consequences of living. The world with all its phenomena is subject to the law of causality, to the conditions of space and time; the “Will in itself” lies behind and beyond all such laws and conditions. It works its way blindly and ruthlessly throughout the universe; reckless of all individual joy or suffering; caring only for the species, nothing for the specimen. In the world of the inanimate, and likewise in vegetable and brute nature, it follows its purpose without any possibility of opposition. The individual brute lives, begets brutes of its own kind, devours brutes of another kind, and passes away to make room for what is to follow; all without any intelligence of the end it is serving. According to its limited knowledge it labors for itself, but
the real end of all its efforts is the life, not of itself, but of the type to which it belongs, and, through that type, of the blind Will of which it is the plaything. Only in man does intelligence at last come on the scene, and reveal, though dimly and imperfectly, the reality and purpose of the whole dreary comedy. But man too, like the rest of the universe, is governed by this blind will to live, at any cost; and he, too, rushes on to his own misery and destruction in obedience to its behest. But, in a greater or lesser degree, man can come to know the fate to which he is subjected, and, by knowing, can conquer it. - How, from blind, unintelligent will, can come forth knowledge and intelligence, is one of the many inconsistencies of Schopenhauer's philosophy, which his friends acknowledge as well as his enemies. The whole of his beautiful and most illuminative theory as to ideas and knowledge, art and contemplation, is, in a sense, an excrescence, when we regard the tree from which it grows. We cannot here attempt any exposition of this side of Schopenhauer's philosophy, which does not directly concern the matter of this article. But this only we may say, that we owe perhaps a good deal to what may be called the inconsistencies of our philosopher, to the fact that he presented a truth as he saw it, without endeavoring to reconcile it with another truth, and that thus he has given us light on many points, even to the detriment of his own system. To return, however, to man, as he depicts him, with the sad privilege of understanding his own deplorable condition. He is driven, on the one side, by the same blind force which manifests itself in the lower creatures; a force which seeks to live, to increase and multiply, and which seeks nothing more. On the other side, the Will in him has attained to a certain consciousness of itself, and through this consciousness deliverance is to arise. What is this deliverance P Here again we are met by evident contradictions; the haven of rest seems, at one moment, to be pure nothingness, at another an existence of light and knowledge, which is at last freed from the restless strivings of the unenlightened will. In all this part of his teaching, Schopenhauer is largely influenced by Oriental philosophy. But, on the whole, it is the more positive aspect which pre
vails, and his hints of immortality represent him more truly than that notion of pure extinction, which would be the legitimate outcome of the sum of his teaching.
But the means of deliverance he has stated with all the plainness and force of which he is capable, it is deliberate, enlightened “denial of the will to live" as opposed to the blind assertion of that same will. Man, through intelligence, comes to recognize the endless trouble and misery and wretchedness of his life and condition; he sees how he passes, successively and repeatedly, through the two conditions of want and weariness, or ennui-as want is satisfied, tedium supervenesand at last he takes his destiny in his own hands, and denies the blind will by which he has been governed. And thus he opposes to the “will to live" the “will not to live," and reaches the state of the blessed. Not many attain to such a height, he who does so is the “saint," a man of perfect detachment from all selfish desire.
Needless to say we might indefinitely prolong our account of this philosophy. But we want only to indicate so much as is necessary for the understanding of the theme which we have chosen, and this theme is, mainly, just that of the “dę. nial of the will to live" as opposed to the “will to live," and opposed also, we may add, to the “will to die,” which latter wins no praise from the pen of Schopenhauer. The “will not to live" is the achievement of the saint, the “will to die," expressing itself in suicide, is but a dressed up presentation of the brute “ will to live,” in its inverse form.
Not that Schopenhauer would have condemned suicide for the standard reasons of the Christian creed; such arguments would have lacked foundation in his philosophy. But suicide would be foolish and cowardly, because futile and inadequate. Impregnated as he was with the Buddhist philosophy, he saw that creatures too weak to control their own destiny, could hardly be endowed with the power of ending it; that the force which brought them into one life could bring them into another; and that their condition might be equally helpless and more miserable if death proved, not the end, but only the passing away of one set of circumstances and the beginning of another.
Hence, for Schopenhauer, as for the Eastern sages, victory lay in the spiritual mastery of our destiny, and not in the destruction of our physical being; the “ denial of the will to live” resulted in asceticism and not in suicide.
All bodily and outward self-denial is only of value in so far as it is the consequence or cause of a more real and spiritual self-denial; a self.denial which consists in the checking and controlling of the most intimate sources of life. Hence this self-denial was finally directed, in the system of our philosopher, to a consummation even more solemn than the end of earthly existence. For Schopenhauer's last aim was the extinction of personality itself, an extinction which was to be obtained not by the cutting of life, but by the quenching of desire. To destroy the life of the body is to destroy what is merely accidental, but to eradicate the very desire for life is to dry up individual existence at its source. A continued individual post-mortem existence is, in his eyes, a conception both absurd and monstrous. It would be the prolonging of just that which it is most desirable to end. The characteristics of personal life are alternations of want and tedium, and if we do not realize the full wretchedness of our condition, it is only because “most men are pursued by want all through life, without ever being allowed to come to their senses," and "in middle-class life ennui is represented by the Sunday, and want by the six week days." *
Hence that you and I should desire a continued personal existence is just a part of that universal illusion which it is the object of the philosopher to dissipate.
"For blessedness it were by no means enough to transpose man to a 'better world,' but it were also needful that a fundamental change should take place in himself, so that he should no longer be what he is, but should become what he is not.”+
When Schopenhauer's saint, the man of lofty mind and strong soul, comes to realize all that human life signifies, when he sees that he is being forced on by unreasoning desire, to his own continued misery and the unhappiness of others also, whom he strikes and wounds in the heat and violence of competition, then, at last, he makes the supreme effort, and frees himself from his thraldom, by a deed more deadly and supreme than any corporal suicide.
As we have already said, it is difficult to get a clear con*Vol. I. The World as Will and Idea, pp. 424, 426. Ibid., Vol. 11., p. 578.