The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Max Pauli: The Story of a Man's Life
by Heinrich Hofmann.
Is it pretty? the child ask of a new book; and they answer their own question by turning over the leaves to see if the pages are nicely broken up with talk. Reader, this chapter will not be "pretty," so you may skip it if you like. We must take stock. Forgive a figure of the shop, but our hero is a shopkeeper in esse.
Those were times--a hundred years ago--in which to be a young man, every string of your nature quivering with the passion and stir of men's thoughts; and Max responded with such music as was in him to every idea "in the air" as it blew his way.
He was, we have seen, before all things a philosopher, calling as did his uncle before him, Emmanuel Kant his master. The woof of a man's opinions and principles is threaded in year by year, and the piece takes colour and pattern from the times, but the warp is ever laid in the mind of the child. So deeply imbued was young Pauli with the conceptions of the Transcendental Philosophy that he had no other basis of thought. "I rejoice that you remain so firm to your principles," wrote his uncle Friedrich. But there was no credit due to him. He thought this way because "'twas his nature to"--the second nature that comes of the early set of ideas. Many thoughtful young persons are engaged in a half-baffled search for the intellectual leaders of their age. Max, on the contrary, found himself in the swim. The "new thought" was the thought on which he had been brought up. Moser troubled himself little with any philosophy of life; he went to church every Sunday, called himself a Christian, and was an honest man. But Moser's business brought many of the principal booksellers of Germany to his shop at the biennial fairs. Two or three of the more thoughtful found out the young assistant; like discerns like; he could say the shibboleths of the set, and an engrossing talk, begun at the bookshop, would be continued far into the night at the inn where the visitor put up.
Let us follow, as, the shop shut for the day, Romeike of Frankfort carries the young man off.
"Religion, say you? I give you my religion and my altar in a word--Humanity--there you have it."
"'Let humanity, whether in yourself or in others, be the end and object of all your actions.'"
"Ah, so you know the Master's great principle; no doubt you know his primary rule of conduct too--'Act upon such maxims only as you would desire should become universal laws.' But where did you learn philosophy?"
"I am as ignorant of that as of everything else; but the uncle who brought me up drew his inspiration from Konigsberg."
"I see, I see; what's bred in the bone--The new teaching will have no chance to mend the world till we get a generation suckled on it. But do you see how these two maxims cover the whole of life? Our relations to the Supreme, for example, defined without a word. Work the idea out, and you have--The object of His solicitude is Humanity, the welfare of Humanity secured through its continuous advance of virtue. We are called to be like Him; therefore His care must be our care also. We must live for humanity; that is acceptable service, ay, and worship and sacrifice to boot. What would the Highest have more than that His own aim should be that of His creatures?"
"But what can you do for humanity if you are a bookseller's apprentice, for instance?"
"Keep the end in view; means will appear as you are ready to use them. Then there is always yourself; that is the beauty of the Master's teaching; you are never without an object. Self-control, self-culture, gives you scope enough for the longest life, and you know that every advance you make in your own person is the advance of the race; you are furthering humanity in advancing yourself."
"That takes away the feeling that it is selfish to be toiling always to better yourself. But are you sure one can? I fail so often. Sometimes I feel that I make no progress at all."
The young man said this with an ingenuous blush, as confessing what must lower him in the eyes of his companion.
"'Can?' The Master says, choose such and such maxims, and follow them--in other words, elect your rule of life and set your will to obey it. Individuality shows itself just in this--that a man is able to do the bidding of his own will!"
"I can do things if my heart is stirred; but as for my will, you can have no idea how weak it is."
"The virtue of the heart is mere emotion, nerves; it is in the calm steady set of a vigorous will that a man is able to climb the heights of virtue. But do not think to attain in a day, young man. Why should you reach at a bound the point others have labored towards for a lifetime?"
Max fixed his eyes with a modest gaze, a tribute of respect, upon the face of the elder man, conscious virtue shone out of whose eyes, sat on his brow, gave dignity to his port. The neophyte saw and believed, and braced himself anew to the ascent. Years after, he learnt that this same Romeike was not a man of spotless life. A hypocrite? That depends on how you use the word. He was sincere in all he said to Max: the ardour of the young man gladdened him. The ideal he proclaimed was his own ideal. As for his life, the failures came before him, each with its palliations. He believed himself a man of virtue, and if he deceived others it was because he was self-deceived. Possibly we should do well to adjust our thoughts on this matter, and define a hypocrite as, the man who believes himself to be other than he is.
But away with such complexities from Max's simple creed. To doubt the profession of virtue was impossible to him, not simply because he was young and "credulous," but because ignorance and vice, knowledge and virtue, were interchangeable terms for him. Ignorance is the parent, the immediate, sole cause of vice. Would you raise men? teach them. Would you have them good? teach them virtue. A man's goodness must needs be in proportion to his conception of the higher life. And he went home afire with zeal for virtue, kindled at the hearth of that good man Romeike's virtuous breast.
"You dolt! You dunderhead! You infernal idiot you Didn't I tell you to take that treatise to Jacob's a week ago?"
Max listens to this sally with the least elevation of eyebrow, curl of lip.
". . . you grinning fool, take that for your pains!"
"That" was a heavy quarto, well meant and well sent, but Max ducked in time. Then, a lively chase, the master taking the counter nimbly as the man. But we need not describe the fracas, at which three grinning boys, come for books, look on. The story will be over Harzig in half an hour, so thinks Max.
"A pretty town's talk!"
Here was a frivolous incident to cause a philosopher to rage and swell, to make him lose that just equipoise of being arising from a heart at peace with itself, so necessary to the due exercise of the will! No wonder our hero wrote in his journal (of course he kept a journal; was not all the world writing its "Memoirs"?), "Does my reason mock me? Is Perfection, after all, a will-o'-the-wisp, dancing before your eyes and never to be laid hold of? I give it up. What's the good of this continual struggle if all you get by it is shame and disappointment? Happy they who try for nothing, care for nothing, and live easy lives. I've a mind to throw in my lot with the rest, go in for beer, more beer, and what is beastlier. I make no progress in virtue. Did I not behave worse yesterday than any schoolboy under a ridiculous, contemptible provocation, a flea-bite to a man of virtue?" (He felt himself redden, though, from brow to heel as he wrote and recalled the scene of his humiliation.) "Everyone is better than I, even open sinners. I know, and the man is inexcusable who knows and fails to do. Am I self-deceived? Is it certain, after all, that man is born good? Hence, coward thought! To lose that faith would be to lose hope and courage."
Complacency coquets with, but does not desert us in our youth. A week later our Max writes:--"I thank God that I am good. To write this cannot be wrong, because how can you write it, how can you feel it unless you know it to be true? In maintaining my own virtue am I not doing my part of the great service to humanity?"
To write questions and to answer them in a journal, to get a word here and there, some twice a year, with men of thought--what was it to this young man, hungry for sympathy, teeming with ideas he was fain to communicate? The desire for a friend consumed him. Did he chance to meet in the street a man with a good face, he longed to clasp him to his heart and say, "Be my brother." He had Bruhm, it is true; but Bruhm stood for Hedwig, and Hedwig stood for--a smothered fire, not to be lightly stirred. Those two, Hedwig and Bruhm, hardly counted in the way of comprehension and interchange of thought.
These times want other aids.-- Dryden, Virg. Aen. ii.
Do not reproach us, reader, for confounding small things with great. If so great an event as the French Revolution went to the evolution of our Max, can we help it? Moreover, Max being what he is, is it conceivable that such an event should not go to the making of him? If you say, "Away with your little Max!--the canvas is too big for a figure of his size;" we reply, Max is too big, too; not in himself, but as representing in his humble way philosophising Germany, France, Britain--the philosophising world which brought forth the Revolution and could not dandle the giant-infant it had borne."
Here was a great nation rising to proclaim the service of humanity, the reverence for humanity, the equal freedom and equal rights of all men, the "be a person and respect all others as persons," which was the very pith and substance of the philosophy on which our hero and his generation nourished themselves. The impetus was enormous. It was as if a man swimming in a heavy sea were lifted by a billow to the shore he was making for--this great national upheaving towards ideal virtue in lieu of the weariness and painfulness of individual progression. Whatever other aspects the French Revolution bears, this is not the be lost sight of--it was the Apotheosis of Philosophy.
Max belonged to a people who make haste slowly, and are careful to investigate the causes of events even while the events are in progress. Reading Germany was occupied with the works of the philosophers--French, English, German--who had brought the Revolution to pass, and Max read with the rest. There was much to be accounted for. A bloody insurrection was no doubt imminent, the natural and necessary sequence of long misrule; but it was by no means inevitable that France should say to the philosophers, "Here is a people all ready to be saved by those methods of salvation which you prescribe. We utterly cast off the old; we embrace the new. Do for us, as a people, what in you lies."
We of the present generation occupy ourselves with the political aspects of the French Revolution, with its heroic and its pathetic incidents; but it is as the outcome of an idea, sedulously introduced to all men's minds, that the Revolution concerns us to-day. For, separate the movement into its accidental, insurrectionary, and its essential, revolutionary, elements, and you are startled by the parallelism between the ideas of that day and the ideas of this. The advanced thought of to-day would seem to have arrived no further, to aim at no other goal, than the advanced thought of a hundred years ago. Now, as then, is it revolutionary; and, in your England, are you not to-day in the very heart and centre and white heat of a Revolution?
Lack of friends, although it grieved him sore, was not wholly a misfortune to our hero. He had the more time to read, and in the matter of books who so fortunate as he? Here he was in the literary centre of a great nation, a centre for Europe, practically, and all the books that men were reading passed under his hands; with uncut leaves--but what of that if you are devoured with intelligent curiosity?
All the literary thought of this period pointed one way, whether directly or by inference, like the ears in a cornfield under a strong south wind. We who regard the event from a hundred years off are in a position to be calmly critical. We examine judicially whether France has emerged greater than the other nations from the fiery baptism of her Revolution. We do not appreciate the exaltation of thought and feeling with which earnest men everywhere watched the crisis; with sympathy here, abhorrence there; everywhere enthusiasm and intensest interest. For France posed for the human race. All nations suffered. She would make trial of remedies; she would give the philosophers leave to try their skill.
The Genius of Philosophy is walking abroad, and with the touch of Ithuriel's spear is trying the establishments of the earth….Man, as man, becomes an object of respect; tenets are transformed from theory to practice. The glowing sentiment and the lofty speculation no longer serve but to adorn the pages of a book; they are brought home to men's business and bosoms; and what it was daring but to think and dangerous to express is now realised and carried into effect.
Thus, in the March of 1790, writes Mrs. Barbauld, a luminary of her age, if not much of her light has travelled to us. Burke, sympathetic at first, "the spirit" (of the Revolution) "it is impossible not to admire," was alienated by "those horrid deeds," and in the November of 1790 brought out his eloquent protest. But so grave an authority as Sir James Mackintosh ventured to declare in his published reply, "That the discussion of great truths has prepared a body of laws for the National Assembly; the diffusion of political knowledge has almost prepared a people to receive them; and good men are at length permitted to indulge the hope that the miseries of the human race are about to be alleviated . . . Whatever be the ultimate fate of the French Revolutionists, the friends of freedom must ever consider them as the authors of the greatest attempt that has hitherto been made in the cause of man."
"If so sober a politician yielded the helm to hope, what of our young idealist? He lived royally, like a poet, in a fine frenzy of enthusiasm for the cause of man. The file of the Mercure which Romeike had left for his reading afforded him acquaintance at first hand with the heroes of the Revolution. How he gloried in La Fayette and his friends--Mounier, Lally Tollendal, and the others--as they laboured to produce a declaration of the Rights of Man which should be worth of their France, and that, when in their depression and sunken fortunes, they hoped no better than to leave it as a legacy to the nation. Then the triumph, when this declaration came to be promulgated as a national manifesto. It was like a patent of nobility to this young man to be of the audience when a nation rose up to say, "All men are born and remain free and equal." That memorable debate of the "4th of August" again: here were first principles reduced to sternest practice: tithes, feudal rights, a Second Chamber--truly, yes, there is much to be said in their defence; but the rights of the sovereign people are inviolable. Then, that fete of the Federation: to think of a whole nation, as it were, meeting to embrace in the joy of their new-born liberty! For days after Max read of it, his life beat to the tune of " ça ira," though, alas! three months after the date, for his news was old news.
But he understood not all that he read. He must study those books to which frequent allusion was made, must trace the great movement to its insignificant beginnings. And what a course of reading was that Max Pauli set himself!
"Locke, Cumberland, Smith, Hume, Rousseau, and many others, have developed the great principles of laws," said M. de Landine in the Assembly; and Max made note of English authors to be mastered. As for Rousseau, was he not the Moses of the Revolution? The speaker who could support his case with a passage from the "Letters from the Mountains" used a final argument; unless, indeed, as when it was proposed that the new constitution should be framed on the pattern of that of England. Then, both sides were ready with citations. "The veto of the king of England is, when all is said, so checked, and hampered, and controlled, as nowise to endanger the liberties of the people"--was proclaimed in the Assembly with much effect as the ultimatum of the highest authority. But, alas, for authority! Rousseau is cited by the other side, too, to prove that, "The people of England think themselves free, but they are very much mistaken; they are only so while the members of Parliament are being elected; once these are elected, the people are slaves," &c. Who shall decide when the utterances of the elected moral teacher, sage, and legislator of the nation do not agree together? Not our Max. But the name of Rousseau is fascinating. He will read the "Letters from the Mountains," and all besides. But there is much else to read.
The Revolution was not born in a day. The appearance of the Télémaque of Fénélon, fully a century before, showed that the French had begun, even then, to be dissatisfied with their government. Montesquieu carried forward the teaching of the Télémaque. Within half a century of the Revolution appeared his great work, "L'Esprit des Loix," estimating nations and their governments with grave seriousness which threw a white light on the follies of Versailles. During the better part of the century (his "Aedipus" came out in 1716), Voltaire addressed himself with furious zeal to the abolition of Christianity. Diderot, even more furious, more bitter than Voltaire, leveling his attacks at all faith in the Supreme Being, did, perhaps, the wider mischief. He was the centre of the literary society of Paris, and he it was who projected the Encyclopédie, avowedly intended to undermine the faith, not only of France, but of Europe. Add to these, Helvetius and the rank and file of atheists, materialists, and free-thinkers, and you have some idea of the nature of the leaven that was leavening the lump of the thought and purpose of the French nation.
These laboured towards the great event in a more or less incidental manner, but Jean Jacques Rousseau, with his fervid eloquence, the extraordinary fascination of his style, his beguiling personality--Rousseau was the very prophet and inspirer of the Revolution. He was the philosopher of the young. Why not? Did he not proclaim utter bouleversement of things that are--ever the first condition of reform to the youthful mind; then, his remedies--how vice and virtue, civilisation and savagery shift about in his kaleidoscope to the delightful bewilderment of the sanest mind, and out of the medley come perfection of state and of being, happiness and goodness. "The New Eloise," "The Emile," the "Letters from the Mountains," "The Social Contract"--these were the Sacred Books of the young; from these they drew boundless hope of perfect living at little cost of individual effort.
Such was the thought-material which Max Pauli was devouring with avidity and assimilating according to his powers and his needs. Though it is the one least considered at the time, perhaps no aspect of a revolutionary epoch is so important as that of the thought-aliment it affords the young people who have the making of the future in their hands. There is little to be done; ardent young minds will think their thoughts, and will be in the van of their times; but the turn a young man takes depends more than we realise on the ideas he has assimilated from childhood.
Any who had watched and reported upon the unconscious sifting that went on in the mind of young Pauli would have been in a position to give valuable hints concerning the education of mankind. The conclusion would have been, perhaps, that a man receives, from the influences about him, according to what he already has, and to what he already is.
For example, the teachings of the Materialists, reducing mind itself to a series of sensations, demonstrating that, in the words of a French thinker of the day, "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile," passed over the head of Max. He knew better. For him, the noumena of real existence was behind the shows of sense, not to be understood and not to be perceived, but definitely there, one of those three ideas of the pure reason which underlie all thinking, and are the ground and reason of all moral effort. He harked back to Kant. At the same time, he laboured in vain to confute at any one point this doctrine of "sensations" which preconceived ideas made him incapable of receiving. It was a new and perplexing experience to our young philosopher that that which can be proved by irrefragable arguments needs not be true. Hitherto, he had watched with complacency the operations of his own mind. He perceived that, given a certain subject of though, and his mind set to work upon it of its own accord, as it were, and came to such and such conclusion inevitably, involuntarily. What so natural as to suppose that such inevitable conclusions must needs be right, and that he had within himself, in his own reason, a court of final appeal upon all questions of the understanding. but here is the bold Sadduceeism proved by incontrovertible arguments, and Max begins to perceive, for the first time, that when is logically right may be essentially wrong. It was like a Rule of Three sum: If five slugs eat ten cabbages in a night, how many cabbages will fifteen slugs eat in the same time? Thirty undoubtedly, if: all depends on the initial "if." His study of the Materialists of his day did Max a service. We shall not find him prepared, by-and-by, to go with the rest in accepting the Goddess of Reason as the appropriate tutelary deity for emancipated humanity. Not that he felt the richer for his gain in this matter, or that he "realised" all at once. The happy confidence of our young philosopher was disturbed by two uneasy suggestions. Still, he halted betwixt two opinions on the crucial question, Is man born good? Now, some failure within now, some horror without, filled him with dismay. Discredit this, the first article of his creed, and you open the door to fearful possibilities of loss and degradation for the individual and the race. This question was importunate; and one reason for the enthusiasm with which he threw himself into the cause of liberty was, that in the general fervour he escaped from the harassing question, Am I advancing in virtue, or, am I not?
And now the solid foundations are shaken once more; a second doubt awakes, importunate as the first. Are men, am I, infallible? Not that he put the question in those words. We laugh at the infallibility of the young, but they are only sure and certain; and which of us is not so? How can I doubt my own reason? we say, with an anxious sense that the gulf of insanity is opening before us. Philosopher as young Max was, it was long before he perceived that the possibility of human error lies, not in the reasoning processes, which justify all our confidence, but in the selection of the initial ideas, the assumption of the if we elect to go upon. If five slugs, &c.
The Sadducean doctrine of the grosser Materialists influenced Max in a manner hardly to have been calculated upon. What of the scoffs of Voltaire, the assaults of Diderot? The Christianity Voltaire attacked was nothing to him; he would hardly have concerned himself to accept or reject the name of Christian, and a religion of ceremonial observances was peculiarly abhorrent to his thought. Neither did the fulminations of Diderot against the Supreme Being affect him greatly. Diderot raged against the folly of believing in a God who concerned Himself with the ways of men, interfered in His providence, approached in His Person, ruled by His judgments. But what had this to do with the supernal calm of that Divine Being who sends his creature, man, into the world endowed with every capacity for goodness, appointing to hi the simple task of bringing himself into harmony with his environment; which task accomplished, behold, goodness and happiness and an approving God? Max considered that he occupied higher ground than that attacked by the atheistical school, and the essays of the encyclopédists found nothing in him. A God removed, as his, from the concerns of daily life, was not a cause of offence to be got rid of at any cost; and Max passed unscathed through this ordeal also.
But what of the alluring gospel of free living and free love proclaimed by Rousseau with a poet's fervour and insight? This was enticing, was but a development of ideas he had grown up with. Man was, in truth, good. Then how should that which is natural be vicious? Did not the very idea of vice take its rise in unnatural restrictions? It was but to reverse the familiar conception; how much easier, pleasanter, more hopeful, for man to bring his environment into harmony with his nature than to torture his nature into harmony with his environment? Be purely natural and you are good, and so shall you be happy, was intoxicating doctrine, a draught hardly to be refused by an ardent young spirit not forearmed. Max drank and gave the reins to imagination.
Meantime, his apprenticeship to Johann Moser drew to a close. He had already made an engagement with a leading Hamburg bookseller, a man whose family was of considerable standing in his own class. Here was the key to a brilliant future; and his past--well, was it not without reproach? Present liberty and a great future (great is a comparative term)--no wonder our young man was elated. He thought as much as ever of Hedwig, but with a difference. Your young man with the world at his feet is not identical with the same young man crestfallen and smarting under a hopeless love.
The farewell dinner was a great success. Persons of consideration who thought highly of Max were invited, and many flattering kindly things were said.
"Our young friend will live to be an honour to the booktrade," pronounced the head of the leading house in Harzig. The ladies petted him and made room for him beside their daughters,
Nor his the form nor his the eye
and the corks popped merrily.
Hedwig was lovelier than ever; a slight touch of depression and tenderness added the charm of a new softness to her countenance, and her interest in Max was so evident as to give occasion for various nudges, winks, and innuendoes. After dinner, though she was engaged with others, she contrived to be near him, and once she had occasion to reach across him for a book. He felt the beating of her heart through her pretty new puce silk gown . . . What next, he never knew, save that at daybreak he found himself tearing like a madman through the snowy fields miles out of Harzig. That day was his own--the next he must set out for Hamburg--and he spent it in solitary misery, the wintry desolation of the fields and roads he tramped through suiting well enough with his mood. "The sanctuary of my thoughts has been invaded," he wrote, locked for the last time in his attic. He foreswore Rousseau and he foreswore champagne, both of which pledges he kept. He vowed he would never again meet the eyes of the maiden; he did though, next morning, and the gaze he met was cold and stony as of one that was dead.
"Good heavens, did she know all?"
(To be continued.)
Typed by Blossom Barden, Feb 2013