Wherever one goes one immediately comes upon this incorrigible mob of humanity. It exists everywhere in legions; crowding, soiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence the numberless bad books, those rank weeds of literature which extract nourishment from the corn and choke it. They monopolize the time, money and attention which really belong to good books and their noble aims; they are written merely with a view to making money or procuring places. They are not only useless, but they do positive harm. Nine-tenths of the whole of our present literature aims solely at taking a few shillings out of the public’s pocket, and to accomplish this, author, publisher and reviewer have joined forces.
The philosophy we evolve is determined by what we are; just as a nation passes laws legalizing the things it wishes to do. “Where the artist is, there you will find art,” said Whistler. We will not get the Ideal Commonwealth until we get Ideal People; and we will not get an ideal philosophy until we get an ideal philosopher. Place the mentally and morally slipshod in ideal surroundings and they will quickly evolve a slum, just as did John Shakespeare, when at Stratford he was fined two pounds ten for maintaining a sequinarium. All we can say for John is that he was the author of a fine boy, who resembled his mother much more than he did his father. This seems to prove Schopenhauer’s remark concerning a divine sonship: “Paternity is a cheap office, anyway, accomplished without cost, care or risk, and of it no one should boast. A divine motherhood is the only thing that is really sacred.”
It isn’t his philosophy that makes a man–man makes his philosophy, and he makes it in his own image. Living in a world of strife, where the most savage beast that roams the earth is man, the Philosophy of Pessimism has its place.
Schopenhauer proved himself a true philosopher when he said: “All we see in the world is a projection from our own minds. I may see one thing, you another; and according to the test of a third party we are both wrong, for he sees something else. So we are all wrong, yet all are right.”
He was quite willing to admit that he had a well-defined moral squint and a touch of mental strabismus; but he revealed his humanity by blaming his limitations on his parents, and charging up his faults and foibles to other people.
It is possible that Carlyle’s famous remark about the people who daily cross London Bridge was inspired by Schopenhauer, who, when asked what kind of people the Berliners were, replied, “Mostly fools!”
“I believe,” ventured the interrogator–“I believe, Herr Schopenhauer, that you yourself live at Berlin?”
“I do,” was the response, “and I feel very much at home there.”
* * * * *
Heinrich Schopenhauer, the father of Arthur Schopenhauer, was a banker and shipping merchant of the city of Danzig, Germany. He was a successful man, and, like all successful men, he was an egotist. Before the world will believe in you, you must believe in yourself. And another necessary element in success is that you must exaggerate your own importance, and the importance of your work. Self-esteem will not alone make you successful, but without a goodly jigger of self-esteem, success will forever dally and dance just beyond your reach. The humble men who have succeeded in impressing themselves upon the world have all taken much pride in their humility.
Heinrich Schopenhauer was a proud man–as proud as the Merchant of Venice–and in his veins there ran a strain of the blue blood of the Castilian Jew. Too much success is most unfortunate. Heinrich Schopenhauer was proud, unbending, harsh, arbitrary, wore a full beard and a withering smile, and looked upon musicians, painters, sculptors and writers as court clowns, to be trusted only as far as you could fling Taurus by the tail. All good bookkeepers have, even yet, this pitying contempt for those whose chief assets are ideas–the legal tender of the spirit. The Alameda smile is the smile of scorn worn by the bookkeepers who prepare the balance-sheets for the great merchants of San Francisco. Alameda is young, but the Alameda smile is classic.