At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was such a concert of groaning that pessimism became odious. Poets, who were not, as a matter of fact, much to be pitied, professed to be victims of fate, of human wickedness, and still more of the stupidity of a world which had not been able to distract them; they eagerly assumed the attitudes of a Prometheus called upon to dethrone jealous gods, and with a pride equal to that of the fierce Nimrod of Victor Hugo (whose arrows, hurled at the sky, fell back stained with blood), they imagined that their verses inflicted deadly wounds on the established powers who dared to refuse to bow down before them. The prophets of the Jews never dreamed of so much destruction to avenge their Jehovah as these literary people dreamed of to satisfy their vanity. When this fashion for imprecations had passed, sensible men began to ask themselves if all this display of pretended pessimism had not been the result of a certain want of mental balance.
The immense successes obtained by industrial civilisation has created the belief that, in the near future, happiness will be produced automatically for everybody. "The present century," writes Hartmann, "has for the last forty years only entered the third period of illusion. In the enthusiasm and enchantment of its hopes, it rushes towards the realisation of the promise of a new age of gold. Providence takes care that the anticipations of the isolated thinker do not disarrange the course of history by prematurely gaining too many adherents" He thinks that for this reason his readers will have some difficulty in accepting his criticism of the illusion of future happiness. The leaders of the contemporary world are pushed towards optimism by economic forces.
So little are we prepared to understand pessimism, that we generally employ the word quite incorrectly:
- Hartmann, loc. cit. vol. iii. p. 102.