Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/165

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153
A NEW PHASE OF GERMAN THOUGHT.

familiar with inflexible reality, there is no reason for surprise if, in the moment of reaction from the illusions of the past, certain spirits, unable to keep the golden mean, permit themselves to be led captive by exaggerations of quite another kind, and, taking the leap over realism, fall into a pessimism which shows things to them, no longer such as they are, with the impress of facts, hard and brutal enough already, upon them, but even more sad and evil than the reality. But we may well think it strange that such exaggerations, heavy discouragements as they are to humanity, should win their growth and start into theories in the very country of Leibnitz, and of systematic optimism—the country seemingly destined, by the political events of our times, to lead all others in giving brightness and cheer to all judgments of the aspect of the world.

There has arisen in Germany a philosophic school built on the belief that, in existence taken as a whole, evil prevails over good—a school that sighs for the annihilation of being as the sole relief from its miseries. It is one of Cousin's most just remarks that the path of German metaphysics, opened by Kant, must find its logical issue in nihilism. Indeed, the romantic writers, relying on Schelling's half-mystical system, did not hesitate to preach a sort of quietist indolence as the highest aim given to man to reach. Thus Schlegel, with other critics of the same school, was led to envy for man "the divine idleness and happy life of plants and flowers;" and, in his famous work "On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians" (Heidelberg, 1808), to admire the calm and passionless life of Oriental ascetics. Homer, whom romanticism had already sacrificed to Ossian, saw himself ere long dethroned by Buddha. The political events of this lower world had no power to shake souls permeated by so lazy a wisdom. Yet it was the hour of storms raging everywhere—the hour for the crash and downfall of the old Germanic edifice, when Austria and Prussia trembled for their threatened successive overthrow under the blows of Napoleon; but all this mattered little to those mystic spirits who persisted in living in an ideal world, careless of French bayonets, or the embargo, or the Confederation of the Rhine. They averted their looks, especially from those low creatures who struggle on the earth's surface to win their bread, and proclaimed that the perfection of the science of life is to do nothing. It is true these fine theories were put forth in a highly-emphatic style, which provoked Richter's raillery, and gave a flat contradiction to the quietist doctrines they upheld.

In 1819, Schopenhauer's great work appeared, "The World regarded as a Manifestation and a Will." Though this philosopher was an independent thinker, disconnected with any school, he too had yielded to the influence of Eastern studies. "I have been fortunate enough," he said, "to be initiated into the Vedas, access to which was opened to me by the Upanishad's, a great enlargement of my mental vision, for I believe this age is destined to receive from Sanscrit litera-