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Superficial Knowledge
by [?]


[1] The latter part of what is here said coincides, in a way which is rather remarkable, with a passage in an interesting work of Schiller’s which I have since read, (on the Aesthetic Education of Men, in a series of letters: vid. letter the 6th.) ‘With us in order to obtain the representative word (as it were) of the total species, we must spell it out by the help of a series of individuals. So that on a survey of society as it actually exists, one might suppose that the faculties of the mind do really in actual experience show themselves in as separate a form, and in as much insulation, as psychology is forced to exhibit them in its analysis. And thus we see not only individuals, but whole classes of men, unfolding only one part of the germs which are laid in them by the hand of nature. In saying this I am fully aware of the advantages which the human species of modern ages has, when considered as a unity, over the best of antiquity: but the comparison should begin with the individuals: and then let me ask where is the modern individual that would have the presumption to step forward against the Athenian individual–man to man, and to contend for the prize of human excellence? The polypus nature of the Grecian republics, in which every individual enjoyed a separate life, and if it were necessary could become a whole, has now given place to an artificial watch-work, where many lifeless parts combine to form a mechanic whole. The state and the church, laws and manners, are now torn asunder: labor is divided from enjoyment, the means from the end, the exertion from the reward. Chained for ever to a little individual fraction of the whole, man himself is moulded into a fraction; and, with the monotonous whirling of the wheel which he turns everlastingly in his ear, he never develops the harmony of his being; and, instead of imaging the totality of human nature, becomes a bare abstract of his business or the science which he cultivates. The dead letter takes the place of the living understanding; and a practised memory becomes a surer guide than genius and sensibility. Doubtless the power of genius, as we all know, will not fetter itself within the limits of its occupation; but talents of mediocrity are all exhausted in the monotony of the employment allotted to them; and that man must have no common head who brings with him the geniality of his powers unstripped of their freshness by the ungenial labors of life to the cultivation of the genial.’ After insisting at some length on this wise, Schiller passes to the other side of the contemplation, and proceeds thus:–‘It suited my immediate purpose to point out the injuries of this condition of the species, without displaying the compensations by which nature has balanced them. But I will now readily acknowledge–that, little as this practical condition may suit the interests of the individual, yet the species could in no other way have been progressive. Partial exercise of the faculties (literally “one-sidedness in the exercise of the faculties”) leads the individual undoubtedly into error, but the species into truth. In no other way than by concentrating the whole energy of our spirit, and by converging our whole being, so to speak, into a single faculty, can we put wings as it were to the individual faculty and carry it by this artificial flight far beyond the limits within which nature has else doomed it to walk. Just as certain as it is that all human beings could never, by clubbing their visual powers together, have arrived at the power of seeing what the telescope discovers to the astronomer; just so certain it is that the human intellect would never have arrived at an analysis of the infinite or a Critical Analysis of the Pure Reason (the principal work of Kant), unless individuals had dismembered (as it were) and insulated this or that specific faculty, and had thus armed their intellectual sight by the keenest abstraction and by the submersion of the other powers of their nature. Extraordinary men are formed then by energetic and over-excited spasms as it were in the individual faculties; though it is true that the equable exercise of all the faculties in harmony with each other can alone make happy and perfect men.’ After this statement, from which it should seem that in the progress of society nature has made it necessary for man to sacrifice his own happiness to the attainment of her ends in the development of his species, Schiller goes on to inquire whether this evil result cannot be remedied; and whether ‘the totality of our nature, which art has destroyed, might not be re-established by a higher art,’–but this, as leading to a discussion beyond the limits of my own, I omit.