Friedrich Nietzsche, from the height of his would-be Schopenhauerian pessimism, mocked at the fallen hero
|November 22, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter seven||
In the year 1870 it was granted to him to become the spokesman of the German people; through a publication on Voltaire which had appeared not long before he had become acquainted with Renan. In a letter to Strauss, written after the first battles, Renan made a passing allusion to these great events. Strauss seized the opportunity to explain to him, in a vigorous “open letter” of the 12th of August, Germany’s reason and justification for going to war. Receiving an answer from Renan, he then, in a second letter, of the 29th of September, took occasion to defend Germany’s right to demand the cession of Alsace, not on the ground of its having formerly been German territory, but for the defence of her natural frontiers. The resounding echo evoked by these words, inspired, as they were, by the enthusiasm of the moment, compensated him for much of the obloquy which he had had to bear.
His last work, “The Old Faith and the New,” appeared in 1872. Once more, as in the work on theology published in 1840-1841, he puts to himself the question. What is there of permanence in this artificial compound of theology and philosophy, faith and thought? But he puts the question with a certain bitterness, and shows himself too much under the influence of Darwinism, by which his mind was at that time dominated. The Hegelian system of thought, which served as a firm basis for the work of 1840, has fallen in ruins. Strauss is alone with his own thoughts, endeavouring to raise himself above the new scientific worldview. His powers of thought, never, for all his critical acumen, strong on the creative side, and now impaired by age, were unequal to the task. There is no force and no greatness in the book.
To the question, “Are we still Christians?” he answers, “No.” But to his second question, “Have we still a religion?” he is prepared to give an affirmative answer, if the assumption is granted that the feeling of dependence, of self-surrender, of inner freedom, which has sprung from the pantheistic world-view, can be called religion. But instead of developing the idea of this deep inner freedom, and presenting religion in the form in which he had experienced it, he believes himself obliged to offer some new construction based upon Darwinism, and sets himself to answer the two questions, “How are we to understand the world?” and “How are we to regulate our lives?”—the form of the latter is somewhat lacking in distinction—in a quite impersonal way. It is only the schoolmaster and pedant in him—who was always at the elbow of the thinker even in his greatest works—that finds expression here.
It was a dead book, in spite of the many editions which it went through, and the battle which raged over it was, like the fiercest of the Homeric battles, a combat over the dead.
The theologians declared Strauss bankrupt, and felt themselves rich because they had made sure of not being ruined by a similar unimaginative honesty. Friedrich Nietzsche, from the height of his would-be Schopenhauerian pessimism, mocked at the fallen hero.
Before the year was out Strauss began to suffer from an internal ulcer. For many months he bore his sufferings with quiet resignation and inner serenity, until on the 8th of February 1874, in his native town of Ludwigsburg, death set him free.
A few weeks earlier, on the 29th of December 1873, his sufferings and his thoughts received illuminating expression in the following poignant verses:—
Wem ich dieses klage,
Weiss, ich klage nicht;
Der ich dieses sage,
Fühit, ich zage nicht.
Heute heisst’s verglimmen,
Wie ein Licht verglimmt,
In die Luft verschwimmen,
Wie ein Ton verschwimmt.
Moge schwach wie immer,
Aber hell und rein,
Dieser letzte Schimmer
Dieser Ton nur sein.
He was buried on a stormy February day.
He to whom my plaint is
Knows I shed no tear;
She to whom I say this
Feels I have no fear.
Time has come for fading,
Like a glimmering ray,
Or a sense-evading
Strain that floats away.
May, though fainter, dimmer,
Only, clear and pure,
To the last the glimmer
And the strain endure.
The persons alluded to in the first verse are his son, who, as a physician, attended him in his illness, and to whom he was deeply attached, and a very old friend to whom the verses were addressed.—TRANSLATOR.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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