Bertrand Russell Quotes 366
A mark in every face I meet,says Blake. Though the kinds are different, you will find that unhappiness meets you everywhere. Let us suppose that you are in New York, in New York, the most typically modern of great cities. Stand in a busy street during working hours, or on a main thoroughfare at a week-end, or at a dance of an evening; empty your mind of your own ego, and let the personalities of the strangers about you take possession of you one after another. You will find that each of these different crowds has its own trouble. In the work-hour crowd you will see anxiety, excessive concentration, dyspepsia, lack of interest in anything but the struggle, incapacity for play, unconsciousness of their fellow creatures. On a main road at the week-end you will see men and women, all 'comfortably off, and some very rich, engaged in the pursuit of pleasure. This pursuit is conducted by all at a uniform pace, that of the slowest car in the procession; it is impossible to see the road for the cars, or the scenery, since looking aside would cause an accident; all the occupants of all the cars are absorbed in the desire to pass other cars, which they cannot do on account of the crowd; if their minds wander from this preoccupation, as will happen occasionally to those who are not themselves driving, unutterable boredom seizes upon them and stamps their features with trivial discontent. Once in a way a car-load of coloured people will show genuine enjoyment, but will cause indignation by erratic behaviour, and ultimately get into the hands of the police owing to an accident: enjoyment in holiday time is illegal.
Marks of weakness, marks of woe,
There's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away,The author of Ecclesiastes says.
When the glow of early thought declines in feeling's dull decay.
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.All these three pessimists arrived at these gloomy conclusions after reviewing the pleasures of life. Mr. Krutch has lived in the most intellectual circles of New York; Byron swam the Hellespont and had innumerable love affairs; the author of Ecclesiastes was even more varied in his pursuit of pleasure; he tried wine, he tried music, "and that of all sorts," he built pools of water, he had men-servants and maid-servants, and servants born in his house. Even in these circumstances his wisdom departed not from him. Nevertheless he saw that all is vanity, even wisdom.
Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.His wisdom seems to have annoyed him; he made unsuccessful efforts to get rid of it.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.But his wisdom remained with him.
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise.? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity....It is fortunate for literary men that people no longer read anything written long ago, for if they did they would come to the conclusion that, whatever may be said about pools of water, the making of new books is certainly vanity. If we can show that the doctrine of Ecclesiastes is not the only one open to a wise man, we need not trouble ourselves much with the later expressions of the same mood.
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full.If one were to attempt to set up these arguments in the style of a modern philosopher they would come to something like this: Man is perpetually toiling, and matter is perpetually in motion yet nothing abides, although the new thing that comes after it is in no way different from what has gone before. A man dies, and his heir reaps the benefits of his labours; the rivers run into the sea, but their waters are not permitted to stay there. Over and over again in an endless purposeless cycle men and things are born and die without improvement, without permanent achievement, day after day, year after year. The rivers, if they were wise, would stay where they are. Solomon, if he were wise, would not plant fruit trees of which his son is to enjoy the fruit.
There is no new thing under the sun.
There is no remembrance of former things.
I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because
I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
I warmed both hands before the fire;This attitude is quite as rational as that of indignation with death. If, therefore, moods were to be decided by reason, there would be quite as much reason for cheerfulness as for despair.
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
'For the more skeptical of the Victorians, love performed some of the functions of the God whom they had lost. Faced with it, many of even the most hard-headed turned, for the moment, mystical. They found themselves in the presence of something which awoke in them that sense of reverence which nothing else claimed, and something to which they felt, even in the very depth of their being, that an unquestioning loyalty was due. For them love, like God, demanded all sacrifices; but like Him, also, it rewarded the believer by investing all the phenomena of life with a meaning not yet analysed away. We have grown used - more than they - to a Godless universe, but we are not yet accustomed to one which is loveless as well, and only when we have so become shall we realise what atheism really means.'It is curious how different the Victorian age looks to the young of our time from what it seemed when one was living in it. I remember two old ladies both typical of certain aspects of the period, whom I knew well in my youth. One was a Puritan, and the other a Voltairean. The former regretted that so much poetry deals with love, which, she maintained, is an uninteresting subject. The latter remarked :
'Nobody can say anything against me, but I always say that it is not so bad to break the seventh commandment as the sixth, because at any rate it requires the consent of the other party.'Neither of these views was quite like what Mr. Krutch presents as typically Victorian. His ideas are derived evidently from certain writers who were by no means in harmony with their environment. The best example, I suppose, is Robert Browning. I cannot, however, resist the conviction that there is something stuffy about love as he conceived it.
God be thanked, the meanest of His creaturesThis assumes that combativeness is the only possible attitude towards the world at large. Why? Because the world is cruel, Browning would say. Because it will not accept you at your own valuation, we should say. A couple may form, as the Brownings did, a mutual admiration society. It is very pleasant to have someone at hand who is sure to praise your work, whether it deserves it or not. And Browning undoubtedly felt that he was a fine, manly fellow when he denounced Fitzgerald in no measured terms for having dared not to admire Aurora Leigh. I cannot feel that this complete suspension of the critical faculty on both sides is really admirable. It is bound up with fear and with the desire to find a refuge from the cold blasts of impartial criticism. Many old bachelors learn to derive the same satisfaction from their own fireside.
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
One to show a woman when he loves her!
Oh Love! they wrong thee muchThe anonymous author of these lines was not seeking a solution for atheism, or a key to the universe; he was merely enjoying himself. And not only is love a source of delight, but its absence is a source of pain.
That say thy sweet is bitter,
When thy rich fruit is such
As nothing can be sweeter.
True love is a durable fire,I come next to what Mr. Krutch has to say about tragedy. He contends, and in this I cannot but agree with him, that Ibsen's Ghosts is inferior to King Leer. 'No increased powers of expression, no greater gift for words, could have transformed Ibsen into Shakespeare. The materials out of which the latter created his works - his conception of human dignity, his sense of the importance of human passions, his vision of the amplitude of human life - simply did not and could not exist for lbsen, as they did not and could not exist for his contemporaries. God and Man and Nature had all somehow dwindled in the course of the intervening centuries, not because the realistic creed of modern art led us to seek out mean people, but because this meanness of human life was somehow thrust upon us by the operation of that same process which led to the development of realistic theories of art by which our vision could be justified:' It is undoubtedly the case that the old-fashioned kind of tragedy which dealt with princes and their sorrows is not suitable to our age, and when we try to treat in the same manner the sorrows of an obscure individual the effect is not the same. The reason for this is not, however, any deterioration in our outlook on life, but quite the reverse. It is due to the fact that we can no longer regard certain individuals as the great ones of the earth, who have a right to tragic passions, while all the rest must merely drudge and toil to produce the magnificence of those few. Shakespeare says:
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never dead, never cold,
From itself never turning.
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;In Shakespeare's day this sentiment, if not literally believed, at least expressed an outlook which was practically universal and most profoundly accepted by Shakespeare himself. Consequently the death of Cinna the poet is comic, whereas the deaths of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius are tragic. The cosmic significance of an individual death is lost to us because we have become democratic, not only in outward forms, but in our inmost convictions. High tragedy in the present day, therefore, has to concern itself rather with the community than with the individual.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
'My dear sir,' he would say, 'this chapter lacks pep; you can't expect your reader to be interested in a mere string of proper names of persons about whom you tell him so little. You have begun your story, I will admit, in fine style, and at first I was very favourably impressed, but you have altogether too much wish to tell it all. Pick out the highlights, take out the superfluous matter, and bring me back your manuscript when you have reduced it to a reasonable length.'So the modern publisher would speak, knowing the modern reader's fear of boredom. He would say the same sort of thing about the Confucian classics, the Koran, Marx's Capital, and all the other sacred books which have proved to be bestsellers. Nor does this apply only to sacred books. All the best novels contain boring passages. A novel which sparkles from the first page to the last is pretty sure not to be a great book. Nor have the lives of great men been exciting except at a few great moments. Socrates could enjoy a banquet now and again, and must have derived considerable satisfaction from his conversations while the hemlock was taking effect, but most of his life he lived quietly with Xanthippe, taking a constitutional in the afternoon, and perhaps meeting a few friends by the way. Kant is said never to have been more than ten miles from Konigsberg in all his life. Darwin, after going round the world, spent the whole of the rest of his life in his own house. Marx, after stirring up a few revolutions, decided to spend the remainder of his days in the British Museum. Altogether it will be found that a quiet life is characteristic of great men, and that their pleasures have not been of the sort that would look exciting to the outward eye. No great achievement is possible without persistent work, so absorbing and so difficult that little energy is left over for the more strenuous kinds of amusement, except such as serve to recuperate physical energy during holidays, of which Alpine climbing may serve as the best example.
'I must not imagine that my tail is better than that, for that would be conceited, but oh, how I wish it were! That odious bird is so convinced of his own magnificence! Shall I pull out some of his feathers? And then perhaps I need no longer fear comparison with him.'Or perhaps he would lay a trap for him, and prove that he was a wicked peacock who had been guilty of unpeacockly behaviour, and he would denounce him to the assembly of the leaders. Gradually he would establish the principle that peacocks with specially fine tails are almost always wicked, and that the wise ruler in the peacock kingdom would seek out the humble bird with only a few draggled tail feathers. Having got this principle accepted, he would get all the finest birds put to death, and in the end a really splendid tail will become only a dim memory of the past. Such is the victory of envy masquerading as morality. But where every peacock thinks himself more splendid than any of the others, there is no need for all this repression. Each peacock expects to win the first prize in the competition, and each, because he values his own peahen, believes that he has done so.
The only man that e'er I knewBut there are not many who have this degree of force in their inner life. To almost everybody sympathetic surroundings are necessary to happiness. To the majority, of course, the surroundings in which they happen to find themselves are sympathetic. They imbibe current prejudices in youth, and instinctively adapt themselves to the beliefs and customs which they find in existence around them. But to a large minority which includes practically all who have any intellectual or artistic merit, this attitude of acquiescence is impossible. A person born, let us say, in some small country town finds himself from early youth surrounded by hostility to everything that is necessary for mental excellence. If he wishes to read serious books, other boys despise him, and teachers tell him that such works are unsettling. If he cares for art, his contemporaries think him unmanly, and his elders think him immoral. If he desires any career, however respectable, which has not been common in the circle to which he belongs, he is told that he is setting himself up, and that what was good enough for his father ought to be good enough for him. If he shows any tendency to criticise his parents' religious tenets or political affiliations, he is likely to find himself in serious trouble. For all these reasons, to most young men and young women of exceptional merit adolescence is a time of great unhappiness. To their more ordinary companions it may be a time of gaiety and enjoyment, but for themselves they want something more serious, which they can find neither among their elders nor among their contemporaries in the particular social setting in which chance has caused them to be born.
Who did not make me almost spew
Was Fuseli: he was both Turk and Jew.
And so, dear Christian friends, how do you do?
The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from ev'ry eye,
To give repentance to her lover
And wring his bosom is - to die.
Upon Paul's steeple stands a treePaul's steeple is gone, and I do not know at what date the hedges disappeared between St Paul's and London Bridge. It is many centuries since the little boys of London town could enjoy such pleasures as this rhyme suggests, but until not so very long ago the bulk of the population lived in the country. The towns were not very vast; it was easy to get out of them, and by no means uncommon to find gardens attached to many houses in them. Nowadays there is in England an immense preponderance of the urban over the rural population. In America this preponderance is as yet slight, but it is very rapidly increasing. Cities like London and New York are so large that it takes a very long time to get out of them. Those who live in the city usually have to be content with a flat, to which, of course, not a square inch of soil is attached, and in which people of moderate means have to be content with the absolute minimum of space. If there are young children, life in a flat is difficult. There is no room for them to play, and there is no room for their parents to get away from their noise. Consequently professional men tend more and more to live in the suburbs. This is undoubtedly desirable from the point of view of the children, but it adds considerably to the fatigue of the man's life, and greatly diminishes the part which he can play in the family.
As full of apples as may be,
The little boys of London town
They run with sticks to knock them down.
And then they run from hedge to hedge
Until they come to London Bridge.