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Maxims on Life and Character



There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must only try to think it again.


How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth.


But what is your duty? The claims of the day.


The world of reason is to be regarded as a great and immortal being, who ceaselessly works out what is necessary, and so makes himself lord also over what is accidental.


The longer I live, the more it grieves me to see man, who occupies his supreme place for the very purpose of imposing his will upon nature, and freeing himself and his from an outrageous necessity,—to see him taken up with some false notion, and doing just the opposite of what he wants to do; and then, because the whole bent of his mind is spoilt, bungling miserably over everything.


Be genuine and strenuous; earn for yourself, and look for, grace from those in high places; from the powerful, favour; from the active and the good, advancement; from the many, affection; from the individual, love.


Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are. If I know what your business is, I know what can be made of you.


Every man must think after his own fashion; for on his own path he finds a truth, or a kind of truth, which helps him through life. But he must not give himself the rein; he must control himself; mere naked instinct does not become him.


Unqualified activity, of whatever kind, leads at last to bankruptcy.


In the works of mankind, as in those of nature, it is really the motive which is chiefly worth attention.


Men get out of countenance with themselves and others because they treat the means as the end, and so, from sheer doing, do nothing, or, perhaps, just what they would have avoided.


Our plans and designs should be so perfect in truth and beauty, that in touching them the world could only mar. We should thus have the advantage of setting right what is wrong, and restoring what is destroyed.


It is a very hard and troublesome thing to dispose of whole, half-, and quarter-mistakes; to sift them and assign the portion of truth to its proper place.


It is not always needful for truth to take a definite shape; it is enough if it hovers about us like a spirit and produces harmony; if it is wafted through the air like the sound of a bell, grave and kindly.


General ideas and great conceit are always in a fair way to bring about terrible misfortune.


You cannot play the flute by blowing alone: you must use your fingers.


In Botany there is a species of plants called Incompletæ; and just in the same way it can be said that there are men who are incomplete and imperfect. They are those whose desires and struggles are out of proportion to their actions and achievements.


The most insignificant man can be complete if he works within the limits of his capacities, innate or acquired; but even fine talents can be obscured, neutralised, and destroyed by lack of this indispensable requirement of symmetry. This is a mischief which will often occur in modern times; for who will be able to come up to the claims of an age so full and intense as this, and one too that moves so rapidly?


It is only men of practical ability, knowing their powers and using them with moderation and prudence, who will be successful in worldly affairs.


It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less than one is worth.


From time to time I meet with a youth in whom I can wish for no alteration or improvement, only I am sorry to see how often his nature makes him quite ready to swim with the stream of the time; and it is on this that I would always insist, that man in his fragile boat has the rudder placed in his hand, just that he may not be at the mercy of the waves, but follow the direction of his own insight.


But how is a young man to come of himself to see blame in things which every one is busy with, which every one approves and promotes? Why should he not follow his natural bent and go in the same direction as they?


I must hold it for the greatest calamity of our time, which lets nothing come to maturity, that one moment is consumed by the next, and the day spent in the day; so that a man is always living from hand to mouth, without having anything to show for it. Have we not already newspapers for every hour of the day! A good head could assuredly intercalate one or other of them. They publish abroad everything that every one does, or is busy with or meditating; nay, his very designs are thereby dragged into publicity. No one can rejoice or be sorry, but as a pastime for others; and so it goes on from house to house, from city to city, from kingdom to kingdom, and at last from one hemisphere to the other,—all in post haste.


As little as you can stifle a steam-engine, so little can you do this in the moral sphere either. The activity of commerce, the rush and rustle of paper-money, the swelling-up of debts to pay debts—all these are the monstrous elements to which in these days a young man is exposed. Well is it for him if he is gifted by nature with a sober, quiet temperament; neither to make claims on the world out of all proportion to his position, nor yet let the world determine it.


But on all sides he is threatened by the spirit of the day, and nothing is more needful than to make him see early enough the direction in which his will has to steer.


The significance of the most harmless words and actions grows with the years, and if I see any one about me for any length of time, I always try to show him the difference there is between sincerity, confidence, and indiscretion; nay, that in truth there is no difference at all, but a gentle transition from what is most innocent to what is most hurtful; a transition which must be perceived or rather felt.


Herein we must exercise our tact; otherwise in the very way in which we have won the favour of mankind, we run the risk of trifling it away again unawares. This is a lesson which a man learns quite well for himself in the course of life, but only after having paid a dear price for it; nor can he, unhappily, spare his posterity a like expenditure.


Love of truth shows itself in this, that a man knows how to find and value the good in everything.


Character calls forth character.


If I am to listen to another man's opinion, it must be expressed positively. Of things problematical I have enough in myself.


Superstition is a part of the very being of humanity; and when we fancy that we are banishing it altogether, it takes refuge in the strangest nooks and corners, and then suddenly comes forth again, as soon as it believes itself at all safe.


I keep silence about many things, for I do not want to put people out of countenance; and I am well content if they are pleased with things that annoy me.


Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.


A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.


Piety is not an end, but a means: a means of attaining the highest culture by the purest tranquillity of soul.


Hence it may be observed that those who set up piety as an end and object are mostly hypocrites.


When a man is old he must do more than when he was young.


To fulfil a duty is still always to feel it as a debt, for it is never quite satisfying to oneself.


Defects are perceived only by one who has no love; therefore, to see them, a man must become uncharitable, but not more so than is necessary for the purpose.


The greatest piece of good fortune is that which corrects our deficiencies and redeems our mistakes.


Reading ought to mean understanding; writing ought to mean knowing something; believing ought to mean comprehending; when you desire a thing, you will have to take it; when you demand it, you will not get it; and when you are experienced, you ought to be useful to others.


The stream is friendly to the miller whom it serves; it likes to pour over the mill wheels; what is the good of it stealing through the valley in apathy?


Whoso is content with pure experience and acts upon it has enough of truth. The growing child is wise in this sense.


Theory is in itself of no use, except in so far as it makes us believe in the connection of phenomena.


When a man asks too much and delights in complication, he is exposed to perplexity.


Thinking by means of analogies is not to be condemned. Analogy has this advantage, that it comes to no conclusion, and does not, in truth, aim at finality at all. Induction, on the contrary, is fatal, for it sets up an object and keeps it in view, and, working on towards it, drags false and true with it in its train.


The absent works upon us by tradition. The usual form of it may be called historical; a higher form, akin to the imaginative faculty, is the mythical. If some third form of it is to be sought behind this last, and it has any meaning, it is transformed into the mystical. It also easily becomes sentimental, so that we appropriate to our use only what suits us.


In contemplation as in action, we must distinguish between what may be attained and what is unattainable. Without this, little can be achieved, either in life or in knowledge.


'Le sense commun est le génie de l'humanité.'

Common-sense, which is here put forward as the genius of humanity, must be examined first of all in the way it shows itself. If we inquire the purpose to which humanity puts it, we find as follows: Humanity is conditioned by needs. If they are not satisfied, men become impatient; and if they are, it seems not to affect them. The normal man moves between these two states, and he applies his understanding—his so-called common-sense—to the satisfaction of his needs. When his needs are satisfied, his task is to fill up the waste spaces of indifference. Here, too, he is successful, if his needs are confined to what is nearest and most necessary. But if they rise and pass beyond the sphere of ordinary wants, common-sense is no longer sufficient; it is a genius no more, and humanity enters on the region of error.


There is no piece of foolishness but it can be corrected by intelligence or accident; no piece of wisdom but it can miscarry by lack of intelligence or by accident.


Every great idea is a tyrant when it first appears; hence the advantages which it produces change all too quickly into disadvantages. It is possible, then, to defend and praise any institution that exists, if its beginnings are brought to remembrance, and it is shown that everything which was true of it at the beginning is true of it still.


Lessing, who chafed under the sense of various limitations, makes one of his characters say: No one must do anything. A clever pious man said: If a man wills something, he must do it. A third, who was, it is true, an educated man, added: Will follows upon insight. The whole circle of knowledge, will, and necessity was thus believed to have been completed. But, as a rule, a man's knowledge, of whatever kind it may be, determines what he shall do and what he shall leave undone, and so it is that there is no more terrible sight than ignorance in action.


There are two powers that make for peace: what is right, and what is fitting.


Justice insists on obligation, law on decorum. Justice weighs and decides, law superintends and orders. Justice refers to the individual, law to society.


The history of knowledge is a great fugue in which the voices of the nations one after the other emerge.



If a man is to achieve all that is asked of him, he must take himself for more than he is, and as long as he does not carry it to an absurd length, we willingly put up with it.


Work makes companionship.


People whip curds to see if they cannot make cream of them.


It is much easier to put yourself in the position of a mind taken up with the most absolute error, than of one which mirrors to itself half-truths.


Wisdom lies only in truth.


When I err, every one can see it; but not when I lie.


Is not the world full enough of riddles already, without our making riddles too out of the simplest phenomena?


'The finest hair throws a shadow.' Erasmus.


What I have tried to do in my life through false tendencies, I have at last learned to understand.


Generosity wins favour for every one, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.


Before the storm breaks, the dust rises violently for the last time—the dust that is soon to be laid forever.


Men do not come to know one another easily, even with the best will and the best purpose. And then ill-will comes in and distorts everything.


We should know one another better if one man were not so anxious to put himself on an equality with another.


Eminent men are therefore in a worse plight than others; for, as we cannot compare ourselves with them, we are on the watch for them.


In the world the point is, not to know men, but at any given moment to be cleverer than the man who stands before you. You can prove this at every fair and from every charlatan.


Not everywhere where there is water, are there frogs; but where you have frogs, there you will find water.


Error is quite right as long as we are young, but we must not carry it on with us into our old age.

Whims and eccentricities that grow stale are all useless, rank nonsense.


In the formation of species Nature gets, as it were, into a cul-de-sac; she cannot make her way through, and is disinclined to turn back. Hence the stubbornness of national character.


Every one has something in his nature which, if he were to express it openly, would of necessity give offence.


If a man thinks about his physical or moral condition, he generally finds that he is ill.


Nature asks that a man should sometimes be stupefied without going to sleep; hence the pleasure in the smoking of tobacco, the drinking of brandy, the use of opiates.


The man who is up and doing should see to it that what he does is right. Whether or not right is done, is a matter which should not trouble him.


Many a man knocks about on the wall with his hammer, and believes that he hits the right nail on the head every time.


Painting and tattooing of the body is a return to animalism.


History-writing is a way of getting rid of the past.


What a man does not understand, he does not possess.


Not every one who has a pregnant thought delivered to him becomes productive; it probably makes him think of something with which he is quite familiar.


Favour, as a symbol of sovereignty, is exercised by weak men.


Every man has enough power left to carry out that of which he is convinced.


Memory may vanish so long as at the moment judgment does not fail you.


No nation gains the power of judgment except it can pass judgment on itself. But to attain this great privilege takes a very long time.


Instead of contradicting my words people ought to act in my spirit.


Those who oppose intellectual truths do but stir up the fire, and the cinders fly about and burn what they had else not touched.


Man would not be the finest creature in the world if he were not too fine for it.


What a long time people were vainly disputing about the Antipodes!


Certain minds must be allowed their peculiarities.


Snow is false purity.


Whoso shrinks from ideas ends by having nothing but sensations.


Those from whom we are always learning are rightly called our masters; but not every one who teaches us deserves this title.


It is with you as with the sea: the most varied names are given to what is in the end only salt water.


It is said that vain self-praise stinks in the nostrils. That may be so; but for the kind of smell which comes from unjust blame by others the public has no nose at all.


There are problematical natures which are equal to no position in which they find themselves, and which no position satisfies. This it is that causes that hideous conflict which wastes life and deprives it of all pleasure.


If we do any real good, it is mostly clam, vi, et precario.


Dirt glitters as long as the sun shines.


It is difficult to be just to the passing moment. We are bored by it if it is neither good nor bad; but the good moment lays a task upon us, and the bad moment a burden.


He is the happiest man who can set the end of his life in connection with the beginning.


So obstinately contradictory is man that you cannot compel him to his advantage, yet he yields before everything that forces him to his hurt.


Forethought is simple, afterthought manifold.


A state of things in which every day brings some new trouble is not the right one.


When people suffer by failing to look before them, nothing is commoner than trying to look out for some possible remedy.


The Hindoos of the Desert make a solemn vow to eat no fish.


To venture an opinion is like moving a piece at chess: it may be taken, but it forms the beginning of a game that is won.


It is as certain as it is strange that truth and error come from one and the same source. Thus it is that we are often not at liberty to do violence to error, because at the same time we do violence to truth.


Truth belongs to the man, error to his age. This is why it has been said that, while the misfortune of the age caused his error, the force of his soul made him emerge from the error with glory.


Every one has his peculiarities and cannot get rid of them; and yet many a one is destroyed by his peculiarities, and those too of the most innocent kind.


If a man does think too much of himself, he is more than he believes himself to be.


In art and knowledge, as also in deed and action, everything depends on a pure apprehension of the object and a treatment of it according to its nature.


When intelligent and sensible people despise knowledge in their old age, it is only because they have asked too much of it and of themselves.


I pity those who make much ado about the transitory nature of all things and are lost in the contemplation of earthly vanity: are we not here to make the transitory permanent? This we can do only if we know how to value both.


A rainbow which lasts a quarter of an hour is looked at no more.


It used to happen, and still happens, to me to take no pleasure in a work of art at the first sight of it, because it is too much for me; but if I suspect any merit in it, I try to get at it; and then I never fail to make the most gratifying discoveries,—to find new qualities in the work itself and new faculties in myself.


Faith is private capital, kept in one's own house. There are public savings-banks and loan-offices, which supply individuals in their day of need; but here the creditor quietly takes his interest for himself.


Real obscurantism is not to hinder the spread of what is true, clear, and useful, but to bring into vogue what is false.


During a prolonged study of the lives of various men both great and small, I came upon this thought: In the web of the world the one may well be regarded as the warp, the other as the woof. It is the little men, after all, who give breadth to the web, and the great men firmness and solidity; perhaps, also, the addition of some sort of pattern. But the scissors of the Fates determine its length, and to that all the rest must join in submitting itself.


Truth is a torch, but a huge one, and so it is only with blinking eyes that we all of us try to get past it, in actual terror of being burnt.


'The wise have much in common with one another.' Æschylus.


The really foolish thing in men who are otherwise intelligent is that they fail to understand what another person says, when he does not exactly hit upon the right way of saying it.


Because a man speaks, he thinks he is able to speak about language.


One need only grow old to become gentler in one's judgments. I see no fault committed which I could not have committed myself.


The man who acts never has any conscience; no one has any conscience but the man who thinks.


Why should those who are happy expect one who is miserable to die before them in a graceful attitude, like the gladiator before the Roman mob?


Some one asked Timon about the education of his children. 'Let them,' he said, 'be instructed in that which they will never understand.'


There are people whom I wish well, and would that I could wish better.


By force of habit we look at a clock that has run down as if it were still going, and we gaze at the face of a beauty as though she still loved.


Hatred is active displeasure, envy passive. We need not wonder that envy turns so soon to hatred.


There is something magical in rhythm; it even makes us believe that we possess the sublime.


Dilettantism treated seriously, and knowledge pursued mechanically, end by becoming pedantry.


No one but the master can promote the cause of Art. Patrons help the master,—that is right and proper; but that does not always mean that Art is helped.


The most foolish of all errors is for clever young men to believe that they forfeit their originality in recognising a truth which has already been recognised by others.


Scholars are generally malignant when they are refuting others; and if they think a man is making a mistake, they straightway look upon him as their mortal enemy.


Beauty can never really understand itself.



It is much easier to recognise error than to find truth; for error lies on the surface and may be overcome; but truth lies in the depths, and to search for it is not given to every one.


We all live on the past, and through the past are destroyed.


We are no sooner about to learn some great lesson than we take refuge in our own innate poverty of soul, and yet for all that the lesson has not been quite in vain.


The world of empirical morality consists for the most part of nothing but ill-will and envy.


Life seems so vulgar, so easily content with the commonplace things of every day, and yet it always nurses and cherishes certain higher claims in secret, and looks about for the means of satisfying them.


Confidences are strange things. If you listen only to one man, it is possible that he is deceived or mistaken; if you listen to many, they are in a like case; and, generally, you cannot get at the truth at all.


No one should desire to live in irregular circumstances; but if by chance a man falls into them, they test his character and show of how much determination he is capable.


An honourable man with limited ideas often sees through the rascality of the most cunning jobber.


If a man feels no love, he must learn how to flatter; otherwise he will not succeed.


Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then criticism will gradually yield to him.


The masses cannot dispense with men of ability, and such men are always a burden to them.


If a man spreads my failings abroad, he is my master, even though he were my servant.


Whether memoirs are written by masters of servants, or by servants of masters, the processes always meet.


If you lay duties upon people and give them no rights, you must pay them well.


I can promise to be sincere, but not to be impartial.


Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.


We are all so limited that we always think we are right; and so we may conceive of an extraordinary mind which not only errs but has a positive delight in error.


It is very rare to find pure and steady activity in the accomplishment of what is good and right. We usually see pedantry trying to keep back, and audacity trying to go on too fast.


Word and picture are correlatives which are continually in quest of each other, as is sufficiently evident in the case of metaphors and similes. So from all time what was said or sung inwardly to the ear had to be presented equally to the eye. And so in childish days we see word and picture in continual balance; in the book of the law and in the way of salvation, in the Bible and in the spelling-book. When something was spoken which could not be pictured, and something pictured which could not be spoken, all went well; but mistakes were often made, and a word was used instead of a picture; and thence arose those monsters of symbolical mysticism, which are doubly an evil.


For the man of the world a collection of anecdotes and maxims is of the greatest value, if he knows how to intersperse the one in his conversation at fitting moments, and remember the other when a case arises for their application.


When you lose interest in anything, you also lose the memory for it.


The world is a bell with a crack in it; it rattles, but does not ring.


The importunity of young dilettanti must be borne with good-will; for as they grow old they become the truest worshippers of Art and the Master.


People have to become really bad before they care for nothing but mischief, and delight in it.


Clever people are the best encyclopædia.


There are people who make no mistakes because they never wish to do anything worth doing.


If I know my relation to myself and the outer world, I call it truth. Every man can have his own peculiar truth; and yet it is always the same.


No one is the master of any truly productive energy; and all men must let it work on by itself.


A man never understands how anthropomorphic he is.


A difference which offers nothing to the understanding is no difference at all.


A man cannot live for every one; least of all for those with whom he would not care to live.


If a man sets out to study all the laws, he will have no time left to transgress them.


Things that are mysterious are not yet miracles.


'Converts are not in my good books.'


A frivolous impulsive encouragement of problematical talents was a mistake of my early years; and I have never been able to abandon it altogether.


I should like to be honest with you, without our falling out; but it will not do. You act wrongly, and fall between two stools; you win no adherents and lose your friends. What is to be the end of it?


It is all one whether you are of high or of humble origin. You will always have to pay for your humanity.


When I hear people speak of liberal ideas, it is always a wonder to me that men are so readily put off with empty verbiage. An idea cannot be liberal; but it may be potent, vigorous, exclusive, in order to fulfil its mission of being productive. Still less can a concept be liberal; for a concept has quite another mission. Where, however, we must look for liberality, is in the sentiments; and the sentiments are the inner man as he lives and moves. A man's sentiments, however, are rarely liberal, because they proceed directly from him personally, and from his immediate relations and requirements. Further we will not write, and let us apply this test to what we hear every day.


If a clever man commits a folly, it is not a small one.


There is a poetry without figures of speech, which is a single figure of speech.


I went on troubling myself about general ideas until I learnt to understand the particular achievements of the best men.


It is only when a man knows little, that he knows anything at all. With knowledge grows doubt.


The errors of a man are what make him really lovable.


There are men who love their like and seek it; others love their opposite and follow after it.


If a man has always let himself think the world as bad as the adversary represents it to be, he must have become a miserable person.


Ill-favour and hatred limit the spectator to the surface, even when keen perception is added unto them; but when keen perception unites with good-will and love, it gets at the heart of man and the world; nay, it may hope to reach the highest goal of all.


Raw matter is seen by every one; the contents are found only by him who has his eyes about him; and the form is a secret to the majority.


We may learn to know the world as we please: it will always retain a bright and a dark side.


Error is continually repeating itself in action, and we must unweariedly repeat the truth in word.


As in Rome there is, apart from the Romans, a population of statues, so apart from this real world there is a world of illusion, almost more potent, in which most men live.


Mankind is like the Red Sea: the staff has scarcely parted the waves asunder, before they flow together again.


Thoughts come back; beliefs persist; facts pass by never to return.


Of all peoples, the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life the best.


We readily bow to antiquity, but not to posterity. It is only a father that does not grudge talent to his son.


There is no virtue in subordinating oneself; but there is virtue in descending, and in recognising anything as above us, which is beneath us.


The whole art of living consists in giving up existence in order to exist.


All our pursuits and actions are a wearying process. Well is it for him who wearies not.


Hope is the second soul of the unhappy.


Love is a true renovator.


Mankind is not without a wish to serve; hence the chivalry of the French is a servitude.


In the theatre the pleasure of what we see and hear restrains our reflections.


There is no limit to the increase of experience, but theories cannot become clearer and more complete in just the same sense. The field of experience is the whole universe in all directions. Theory remains shut up within the limits of the human faculties. Hence there is no way of looking at the world, but it recurs, and the curious thing happens, that with increased experience a limited theory may again come into favour.

It is always the same world which stands open to observation, which is continually being contemplated or guessed at; and it is always the same men who live in the true or in the false; more at their ease in the latter than in the former.


Truth is at variance with our natures, but not so error; and for a very simple reason. Truth requires us to recognise ourselves as limited, but error flatters us with the belief that in one way or another we are subject to no bounds at all.


That some men think they can still do what they have been able to do, is natural enough; that others think they can do what they have never been able to do, is singular, but not rare.


At all times it has not been the age, but individuals alone, who have worked for knowledge. It was the age which put Socrates to death by poison, the age which burnt Huss. The ages have always remained alike.


That is true Symbolism, where the more particular represents the more general, not as a dream or shade, but as a vivid, instantaneous revelation of the Inscrutable.


Everything of an abstract or symbolic nature, as soon as it is challenged by realities, ends by consuming them and itself. So credit consumes both money and itself.


Mastery often passes for egoism.


With Protestants, as soon as good works cease and their merit is denied, sentimentality takes their place.


If a man knows where to get good advice, it is as though he could supply it himself.


The use of mottoes is to indicate something we have not attained, but strive to attain. It is right to keep them always before our eyes.


'If a man cannot lift a stone himself, let him leave it, even though he has some one to help him.'


Despotism promotes general self-government, because from top to bottom it makes the individual responsible, and so produces the highest degree of activity.


A man must pay dear for his errors if he wishes to get rid of them, and even then he is lucky.


Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away by it.


School itself is the only true preparation for it.


Error is related to truth as sleep to waking. I have observed that on awakening from error a man turns again to truth as with new vigour.


Every one suffers who does not work for himself. A man works for others to have them share in his joy.


Men's prejudices rest upon their character for the time being and cannot be overcome, as being part and parcel of themselves. Neither evidence nor common-sense nor reason has the slightest influence upon them.


Characters often make a law of their failings. Men who know the world have said that when prudence is only fear in disguise, its scruples cannot be conquered. The weak often have revolutionary sentiments; they think they would be well off if they were not ruled, and fail to perceive that they can rule neither themselves nor others.


Common-sense is born pure in the healthy man, is self-developed, and is revealed by a resolute perception and recognition of what is necessary and useful. Practical men and women avail themselves of it with confidence. Where it is absent, both sexes find anything necessary when they desire it, and useful when it gives them pleasure.


All men, as they attain freedom, give play to their errors. The strong do too much, and the weak too little.


The conflict of the old, the existing, the continuing, with development, improvement, and reform, is always the same. Order of every kind turns at last to pedantry, and to get rid of the one, people destroy the other; and so it goes on for a while, until people perceive that order must be established anew. Classicism and Romanticism; close corporations and freedom of trade; the maintenance of large estates and the division of the land,—it is always the same conflict which ends by producing a new one. The best policy of those in power would be so to moderate this conflict as to let it right itself without the destruction of either element. But this has not been granted to men, and it seems not to be the will of God.


A great work limits us for the moment, because we feel it above our powers; and only in so far as we afterwards incorporate it with our culture, and make it part of our mind and heart, does it become a dear and worthy object.


It is no wonder that we all more or less delight in the mediocre, because it leaves us in peace: it gives us the comfortable feeling of intercourse with what is like ourselves.


There is no use in reproving vulgarity, for it never changes.


We cannot escape a contradiction in ourselves; we must try to resolve it. If the contradiction comes from others, it does not affect us: it is their affair.


There are many things in the world that are at once good and excellent, but they do not come into contact.


Which is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.


When men have to do with women, they get spun off like a distaff.


It may well be that a man is at times horribly threshed by misfortunes, public and private: but the reckless flail of Fate, when it beats the rich sheaves, crushes only the straw; and the corn feels nothing of it and dances merrily on the floor, careless whether its way is to the mill or the furrow.


However probable it is that a desire may be fulfilled, there is always a doubt; and so when the desire is realised, it is always surprising.


Absurdities presented with good taste rouse disgust and admiration.


Of the best society it used to be said: their speech instructs the mind, and their silence the feelings.


Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.


Beauty and Genius must be kept afar if one would avoid becoming their slave.


We treat the aged with consideration, as we treat children.


An old man loses one of the greatest of human privileges: he is no more judged by his peers.


In the matter of knowledge, it has happened to me as to one who rises early, and in the dark impatiently awaits the dawn, and then the sun; but is blinded when it appears.


Great primeval powers, evolved in time or in eternity, work on unceasingly: whether to weal or to woe, is a matter of chance.



People often say to themselves in life that they should avoid a variety of occupation, and, more particularly, be the less willing to enter upon new work the older they grow. But it is easy to talk, easy to give advice to oneself and others. To grow old is itself to enter upon a new business; all the circumstances change, and a man must either cease acting altogether, or willingly and consciously take over the new rôle.


Of the Absolute in the theoretical sense, I do not venture to speak; but this I maintain: that if a man recognises it in its manifestation, and always keeps his gaze fixed upon it, he will experience very great reward.


To live in a great idea means to treat the impossible as though it were possible. It is just the same with a strong character; and when an idea and a character meet, things arise which fill the world with wonder for thousands of years.


Napoleon lived wholly in a great idea, but he was unable to take conscious hold of it. After utterly disavowing all ideals and denying them any reality, he zealously strove to realise them. His clear, incorruptible intellect could not, however, tolerate such a perpetual conflict within; and there is much value in the thoughts which he was compelled, as it were, to utter, and which are expressed very peculiarly and with much charm.


He considered the idea as a thing of the mind, that had, it is true, no reality, but still, on passing away, left a residuum—a caput mortuum—to which some reality could not be altogether refused. We may think this a very perverse and material notion; but when he entertained his friends with the neverending consequences of his life and actions, in full belief and confidence in them, he expressed himself quite differently. Then, indeed, he was ready to admit that life produces life; that a fruitful act has effects to all time. He took pleasure in confessing that he had given a great impulse, a new direction, to the course of the world's affairs.


It always remains a very remarkable fact that men whose whole personality is almost all idea, are so extremely shy of all phantasy. In this case was Hamann, who could not bear the mention of "things of another world." He took occasion to express himself on this point in a certain paragraph, which he wrote in fourteen different ways; and still, apparently, he was never quite satisfied with it.

Two of these attempts have been preserved to us; a third we have ourselves attempted, which we are induced to print here by the preceding observations.


Man is placed as a real being in the midst of a real world, and endowed with such organs that he can perceive and produce the real and also the possible.

All healthy men have the conviction of their own existence and of an existence around them. However, even the brain contains a hollow spot, that is to say, a place in which no object is mirrored; just as in the eye itself there is a little spot that does not see. If a man pays particular attention to this spot and is absorbed in it, he falls into a state of mental sickness, has presentiments of "things of another world," which are, in reality, no things at all; possessing neither form nor limit, but alarming him like dark, empty tracts of night, and pursuing him as something more than phantoms, if he does not tear himself free from them.


To the several perversities of the day a man should always oppose only the great masses of universal history.


No one can live much with children without finding that they always react to any outward influence upon them.


With any specially childish nature the reaction is even passionate, while its action is energetic.


That is why children's lives are a series of refined judgments, not to say prejudices; and to efface a rapid but partial perception in order to make way for a more general one, time is necessary. To bear this in mind is one of the teacher's greatest duties.


Friendship can only be bred in practice and be maintained by practice. Affection, nay, love itself, is no help at all to friendship. True, active, productive friendship consists in keeping equal pace in life: in my friend approving my aims, while I approve his, and in thus moving forwards together steadfastly, however much our way of thought and life may vary.



In the world people take a man at his own estimate; but he must estimate himself at something. Disagreeableness is more easily tolerated than insignificance.


You can force anything on society so long as it has no sequel.


We do not learn to know men if they come to us; we must go to them to find out what they are.


That we have many criticisms to make on those who visit us, and that, as soon as they depart, we pass no very amiable judgment upon them, seems to me almost natural; for we have, so to speak, a right to measure them by our own standard. Even intelligent and fair-minded men hardly refrain from sharp censure on such occasions.


But if, on the contrary, we have been in their homes, and have seen them in their surroundings and habits and the circumstances which are necessary and inevitable for them; if we have seen the kind of influence they exert on those around them, or how they behave, it is only ignorance and ill-will that can find food for ridicule in what must appear to us in more than one sense worthy of respect.


What we call conduct and good manners obtains for us that which otherwise is to be obtained only by force, or not even by force.


Women's society is the element of good manners.


How can the character, the peculiar nature of a man, be compatible with good manners?


It is through his good manners that a man's peculiar nature should be made all the more conspicuous. Every one likes distinction, but it should not be disagreeable.


The most privileged position, in life as in society, is that of an educated soldier. Rough warriors, at any rate, remain true to their character, and as great strength is usually the cover for good nature, we get on with them at need.


No one is more troublesome than an awkward civilian. As his business is not with anything brutal or coarse, he might be expected to show delicacy of feeling.


When we live with people who have a delicate sense of what is fitting, we get quite anxious about them if anything happens to disturb this sense.


No one would come into a room with spectacles on his nose, if he knew that women at once lose any inclination to look at or talk to him.


A familiar in the place of a respectful demeanour is always ridiculous.


There is no outward sign of politeness that will be found to lack some deep moral foundation. The right kind of education would be that which conveyed the sign and the foundation at the same time.


A man's manners are the mirror in which he shows his portrait.


There is a politeness of the heart, and it is allied to love. It produces the most agreeable politeness of outward demeanour.


Voluntary dependence is the best state, and how should that be possible without love?


We are never further from our wishes than when we fancy we possess the object of them.


No one is more of a slave than he who thinks himself free without being so.


A man has only to declare himself free to feel at the same moment that he is limited. Should he venture to declare himself limited, he feels himself free.


Against the great superiority of another there is no remedy but love.


It is a terrible thing for an eminent man to be gloried in by fools.


It is said that no man is a hero to his valet. That is only because a hero can be recognised only by a hero. The valet will probably know how to appreciate his like,—his fellow-valet.


There is no greater consolation for mediocrity than that the genius is not immortal.


The greatest men are linked to their age by some weak point.


We generally take men to be more dangerous than they are.


Fools and wise folk are alike harmless. It is the half-wise, and the half-foolish, who are the most dangerous.


To see a difficult thing lightly handled gives us the impression of the impossible.


Difficulties increase the nearer we come to our aim.


Sowing is not so painful as reaping.


We are fond of looking to the future, because our secret wishes make us apt to turn in our favour the uncertainties which move about in it hither and thither.


It is not easy to be in any great assembly without thinking that the chance which brings so many people together will also make us meet our friends.


A man may live never so retired a life but he becomes a debtor or a creditor before he is aware of it.


If anyone meets us who owes us a debt of gratitude, it immediately crosses our mind. How often can we meet some one to whom we owe gratitude, without thinking of it!


To communicate oneself is Nature; to receive a communication as it is given is Culture.


No one would speak much in society if he were aware how often we misunderstand others.


It is only because we have not understood a thing that we cannot repeat it without alteration.


To make a long speech in the presence of others without flattering your audience, is to rouse dislike.


Every word that we utter rouses its contrary.


Contradiction and flattery make, both of them, bad conversation.


The pleasantest society is that in which there exists a genial deference amongst the members one towards another.


By nothing do men show their character more than by the things they laugh at.


The ridiculous springs from a moral contrast innocently presented to the senses.


The sensual man often laughs when there is nothing to laugh at. Whatever it is that moves him, he shows that he is pleased with himself.


An intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, a wise man hardly anything.


A man well on in years was reproved for still troubling himself about young women. 'It is the only means,' he replied, 'of regaining one's youth; and that is something every one wishes to do.'


A man does not mind being blamed for his faults, and being punished for them, and he patiently suffers much for the sake of them; but he becomes impatient if he is required to give them up.


Certain faults are necessary to the individual if he is to exist. We should not like old friends to give up certain peculiarities.


It is said of a man that he will soon die, when he acts in any way unlike himself.


What kind of faults in ourselves should we retain, nay, even cultivate? Those which rather flatter other people than offend them.


The passions are good or bad qualities, only intensified.


Our passions are, in truth, like the phoenix. When the old one burns away, the new one rises out of its ashes at once.


Great passions are hopeless diseases. That which could cure them is the first thing to make them really dangerous.


Passion is enhanced and tempered by avowal. In nothing, perhaps, is the middle course more desirable than in confidence and reticence towards those we love.


To sit in judgment on the departed is never likely to be equitable. We all suffer from life; who except God can call us to account? Let not their faults and sufferings, but what they have accomplished and done, occupy the survivors.


It is failings that show human nature, and merits that distinguish the individual; faults and misfortunes we all have in common; virtues belong to each one separately.



The secret places in the way of life may not and cannot be revealed: there are rocks of offence on which every traveller must stumble. But the poet points to where they are.


It would not be worth while to see seventy years if all the wisdom of this world were foolishness with God.


The true is Godlike: we do not see it itself; we must guess at it through its manifestations.


The real scholar learns how to evolve the unknown from the known, and draws near the master.


In the smithy the iron is softened by blowing up the fire, and taking the dross from the bar. As soon as it is purified, it is beaten and pressed, and becomes firm again by the addition of fresh water. The same thing happens to a man at the hands of his teacher.


What belongs to a man, he cannot get rid of, even though he throws it away.


Of true religions there are only two: one of them recognises and worships the Holy that without form or shape dwells in and around us; and the other recognises and worships it in its fairest form. Everything that lies between these two is idolatry.


It is undeniable that in the Reformation the human mind tried to free itself; and the renaissance of Greek and Roman antiquity brought about the wish and longing for a freer, more seemly, and elegant life. The movement was favoured in no small degree by the fact that men's hearts aimed at returning to a certain simple state of nature, while the imagination sought to concentrate itself.


The Saints were all at once driven from heaven; and senses, thought, and heart were turned from a divine mother with a tender child, to the grown man doing good and suffering evil, who was later transfigured into a being half-divine in its nature, and then recognised and honoured as God himself. He stood against a background where the Creator had opened out the universe; a spiritual influence went out from him; his sufferings were adopted as an example, and his transfiguration was the pledge of everlastingness.


As a coal is revived by incense, so prayer revives the hopes of the heart.


From a strict point of view we must have a reformation of ourselves every day, and protest against others, even though it be in no religious sense.


It should be our earnest endeavour to use words coinciding as closely as possible with what we feel, see, think, experience, imagine, and reason. It is an endeavour which we cannot evade, and which is daily to be renewed.

Let every man examine himself, and he will find this a much harder task than he might suppose; for, unhappily, a man usually takes words as mere make-shifts; his knowledge and his thought are in most cases better than his method of expression.

False, irrelevant, and futile ideas may arise in ourselves and others, or find their way into us from without. Let us persist in the effort to remove them as far as we can, by plain and honest purpose.


As we grow older, the ordeals grow greater.


Where I cannot be moral, my power is gone.


A man is not deceived by others, he deceives himself.


Laws are all made by old people and by men. Youths and women want the exceptions, old people the rules.


It is not the intelligent man who rules, but intelligence; not the wise man, but wisdom.


To praise a man is to put oneself on his level.


It is not enough to know, we must also apply; it is not enough to will, we must also do.


Chinese, Indian, and Egyptian antiquities are never more than curiosities; it is well to make acquaintance with them; but in point of moral and æsthetic culture they can help us little.


The German runs no greater danger than to advance with and by the example of his neighbours. There is perhaps no nation that is fitter for the process of self-development; so that it has proved of the greatest advantage to Germany to have obtained the notice of the world so late.


Even men of insight do not see that they try to explain things which lie at the foundation of our experience, and in which we must simply acquiesce.

Yet still the attempt may have its advantage, as otherwise we should break off our researches too soon.


From this time forward, if a man does not apply himself to some art or handiwork, he will be in a bad way. In the rapid changes of the world, knowledge is no longer a furtherance; by the time a man has taken note of everything, he has lost himself.


Besides, in these days the world forces universal culture upon us, and so we need not trouble ourselves further about it; we must appropriate some particular culture.


The greatest difficulties lie where we do not look for them.


Our interest in public events is mostly the merest philistinism.


Nothing is more highly to be prized than the value of each day.


Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt! This is so strange an utterance, that it could only have come from one who fancied himself autochthonous. The man who looks upon it as an honour to be descended from wise ancestors, will allow them at least as much common-sense as he allows himself.


Strictly speaking, everything depends upon a man's intentions; where these exist, thoughts appear; and as the intentions are, so are the thoughts.


If a man lives long in a high position, he does not, it is true, experience all that a man can experience; but he experiences things like them, and perhaps some things that have no parallel elsewhere.



The first and last thing that is required of genius is love of truth.


To be and remain true to oneself and others, is to possess the noblest attribute of the greatest talents.


Great talents are the best means of conciliation.


The action of genius is in a way ubiquitous: towards general truths before experience, and towards particular truths after it.


An active scepticism is one which constantly aims at overcoming itself, and arriving by means of regulated experience at a kind of conditioned certainty.


The general nature of the sceptical mind is its tendency to inquire whether any particular predicate really attaches to any particular object; and the purpose of the inquiry is safely to apply in practice what has thus been discovered and proved.


The mind endowed with active powers and keeping with a practical object to the task that lies nearest, is the worthiest there is on earth.


Perfection is the measure of heaven, and the wish to be perfect the measure of man.


Not only what is born with him, but also what he acquires, makes the man.


A man is well equipped for all the real necessities of life if he trusts his senses, and so cultivates them that they remain worthy of being trusted.


The senses do not deceive; it is the judgment that deceives.


The lower animal is taught by its organs; man teaches his organs, and dominates them.


All direct invitation to live up to ideals is of doubtful value, particularly if addressed to women. Whatever the reason of it may be, a man of any importance collects round him a seraglio of a more or less religious, moral, and æsthetic character.


When a great idea enters the world as a Gospel, it becomes an offence to the multitude, which stagnates in pedantry; and to those who have much learning but little depth, it is folly.


Every idea appears at first as a strange visitor, and when it begins to be realised, it is hardly distinguishable from phantasy and phantastery.


This it is that has been called, in a good and in a bad sense, ideology; and this is why the ideologist is so repugnant to the hard-working, practical man of every day.


You may recognise the utility of an idea, and yet not quite understand how to make a perfect use of it.


Credo Deum! That is a fine, a worthy thing to say; but to recognise God where and as he reveals himself, is the only true bliss on earth.


Kepler said: 'My wish is that I may perceive the God whom I find everywhere in the external world, in like manner also within and inside me.' The good man was not aware that in that very moment the divine in him stood in the closest connection with the divine in the Universe.


What is predestination? It is this: God is mightier and wiser than we are, and so he does with us as he pleases.


Toleration should, strictly speaking, be only a passing mood; it ought to lead to acknowledgment and appreciation. To tolerate a person is to affront him.


Faith, Love, and Hope once felt, in a quiet sociable hour, a plastic impulse in their nature; they worked together and created a lovely image, a Pandora in the higher sense, Patience.


'I stumbled over the roots of the tree which I planted.' It must have been an old forester who said that.


A leaf blown by the wind often looks like a bird.


Does the sparrow know how the stork feels?


Lamps make oil-spots, and candles want snuffing; it is only the light of heaven that shines pure and leaves no stain.


If you miss the first button-hole, you will not succeed in buttoning up your coat.


A burnt child dreads the fire; an old man who has often been singed is afraid of warming himself.


It is not worth while to do anything for the world that we have with us, as the existing order may in a moment pass away. It is for the past and the future that we must work: for the past, to acknowledge its merits; for the future, to try to increase its value.


Let every man ask himself with which of his faculties he can and will somehow influence his age.


Let no one think that people have waited for him as for the Saviour.


Character in matters great and small consists in a man steadily pursuing the things of which he feels himself capable.


The man who wants to be active and has to be so, need only think of what is fitting at the moment, and he will make his way without difficulty. This is where women have the advantage, if they understand it.


The moment is a kind of public; a man must deceive it into believing that he is doing something; then it leaves us alone to go our way in secret; whereat its grandchildren cannot fail to be astonished.


There are men who put their knowledge in the place of insight.


In some states, as a consequence of the violent movements experienced in almost all directions, there has come about a certain overpressure in the system of education, the harm of which will be more generally felt hereafter; though even now it is perfectly well recognised by capable and honest authorities. Capable men live in a sort of despair over the fact that they are bound by the rules of their office to teach and communicate things which they look upon as useless and hurtful.


There is no sadder sight than the direct striving after the unconditioned in this thoroughly conditioned world.


Before the Revolution it was all effort; afterwards it all changed to demand.


Can a nation become ripe? That is a strange question. I would answer, Yes! if all the men could be born thirty years of age. But as youth will always be too forward and old age too backward, the really mature man is always hemmed in between them, and has to resort to strange devices to make his way through.


It does not look well for monarchs to speak through the press, for power should act and not talk. The projects of the liberal party always bear being read: the man who is overpowered may at least express his views in speech, because he cannot act. When Mazarin was shown some satirical songs on a new tax, 'Let them sing,' said he, 'as long as they pay.'


Vanity is a desire of personal glory, the wish to be appreciated, honoured, and run after, not because of one's personal qualities, merits, and achievements, but because of one's individual existence. At best, therefore, it is a frivolous beauty whom it befits.


The most important matters of feeling as of reason, of experience as of reflection, should be treated of only by word of mouth. The spoken word at once dies if it is not kept alive by some other word following on it and suited to the hearer. Observe what happens in social converse. If the word is not dead when it reaches the hearer, he murders it at once by a contradiction, a stipulation, a condition, a digression, an interruption, and all the thousand tricks of conversation. With the written word the case is still worse. No one cares to read anything to which he is not already to some extent accustomed: he demands the known and the familiar under an altered form. Still the written word has this advantage, that it lasts and can await the time when it is allowed to take effect.


Both what is reasonable and what is unreasonable have to undergo the like contradiction.


Dialectic is the culture of the spirit of contradiction, which is given to man that he may learn to perceive the differences between things.


With those who are really of like disposition with himself a man cannot long be at variance; he will always come to an agreement again. With those who are really of adverse disposition, he may in vain try to preserve harmony; he will always come to a separation again.


Opponents fancy they refute us when they repeat their own opinion and pay no attention to ours.


People who contradict and dispute should now and then remember that not every mode of speech is intelligible to every one.


Every man hears only what he understands.


I am quite prepared to find that many a reader will disagree with me; but when he has a thing before him in black and white, he must let it stand. Another reader may perhaps take up the very same copy and agree with me.


The truest liberality is appreciation.


For the strenuous man the difficulty is to recognise the merits of elder contemporaries and not let himself be hindered by their defects.


Some men think about the defects of their friends, and there is nothing to be gained by it. I have always paid attention to the merits of my enemies, and found it an advantage.


There are many men who fancy they understand whatever they experience.


The public must be treated like women: they must be told absolutely nothing but what they like to hear.


Every age of man has a certain philosophy answering to it. The child comes out as a realist: he finds himself as convinced that pears and apples exist as that he himself exists. The youth in a storm of inner passion is forced to turn his gaze within, and feel in advance what he is going to be: he is changed into an idealist. But the man has every reason to become a sceptic: he does well to doubt whether the means he has chosen to his end are the right ones. Before and during action he has every reason for keeping his understanding mobile, that he may not afterwards have to grieve over a false choice. Yet when he grows old he will always confess himself a mystic: he sees that so much seems to depend on chance; that folly succeeds and wisdom fails; that good and evil fortune are brought unexpectedly to the same level; so it is and so it has been, and old age acquiesces in that which is and was and will be.


When a man grows old he must consciously remain at a certain stage.


It does not become an old man to run after the fashion, either in thought or in dress. But he must know where he is, and what the others are aiming at.

What is called fashion is the tradition of the moment. All tradition carries with it a certain necessity for people to put themselves on a level with it.


We have long been busy with the critique of reason. I should like to see a critique of common-sense. It would be a real benefit to mankind if we could convincingly prove to the ordinary intelligence how far it can go; and that is just as much as it fully requires for life on this earth.


The thinker makes a great mistake when he asks after cause and effect: they both together make up the indivisible phenomenon.


All practical men try to bring the world under their hands; all thinkers, under their heads. How far each succeeds, they may both see for themselves.


Shall we say that a man thinks only when he cannot think out that of which he is thinking?


What is invention or discovery? It is the conclusion of what we were looking for.


It is with history as with nature and with everything of any depth, it may be past, present, or future: the further we seriously pursue it, the more difficult are the problems that appear. The man who is not afraid of them, but attacks them bravely, has a feeling of higher culture and greater ease the further he progresses.


Every phenomenon is within our reach if we treat it as an inclined plane, which is of easy ascent, though the thick end of the wedge may be steep and inaccessible.


If a man would enter upon some course of knowledge, he must either be deceived or deceive himself, unless external necessity irresistibly determines him. Who would become a physician if, at one and the same time, he saw before him all the horrible sights that await him?


How many years must a man do nothing before he can at all know what is to be done and how to do it!


Duty: where a man loves what he commands himself to do.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe