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The Malady of the Century by Max Nordau

Part 8 out of 8

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to-day, a flourishing tract of land and a hundred people whose
existence he has improved would testify aloud that his term on earth
had not been in vain.

"And for all that, Eynhardt was a rare and noble character, and
Haber the personification of all that is commonplace and work-a-day.
Eynhardt's gaze was on the stars, Haber's eyes fixed on the ground
at his feet. Wilhelm plucked that supremest fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge, the consciousness of our ignorance; Paul has the conceit
to think himself a discoverer, to have solved enigmas. But the
noble, soaring spirit leaves no trace behind, and the dull, mediocre
person plows his name in deep and enduring characters in the soil of
his native land. What was wanting in Eynhardt to make him not only a
harmonious but a useful being? Obviously only the will. But was this
want an organic one? I do not think so, for his lofty moral beauty
was perfect in proportion and balance, and this noble nature could
not possibly have been born incomplete, impossible that in a being
so perfectly formed in all other respects such an important organ as
the will should be missing. His absence of volition was but the
result of his perception of the vanity of all earthly ambitions, and
his absence of desire the outcome of his contempt for all that was
worthless and transitory, his aversion to the ways of the world a
tragic foregoing of the hope of ever getting behind it, and reaching
the eternal root and significance of the thing itself.

"Why was this German Buddhist not endowed with Haber's cheerful
activity? What an ideal and crowning flower of manhood would he not
have been if he had not only thought but acted! But am I not
desiring the impossible? Does not the one nature preclude the other?
I fear so. In order to attack unconcernedly that which lies nearest
to us, we must be unable to see beyond, like the bull charging at
the red cloak. He would not do it, if behind the red rag, he saw the
man with the sword, and behind the man with the sword the thousand
spectators who will not leave the arena till the sharp steel has
pierced his heart. He who sees or divines behind the nearest objects
their distant causes, paralyzed by the vision of the endless chain
of cause and effect, loses the courage to act. And inversely, to
retain that courage, to strive with pleasure and zeal after earthly
things, one must make use of the world and its ordinances, must move
the pieces on the chess-board of life with patience, and, according
to its puerile rules, attach importance to much that is narrow and
paltry, and that is what, in his superior wisdom, the sage will not
stoop to do.

"I always come back to this thought. If the world consisted entirely
of Habers the earth would flourish and blossom, there would be
abundance of food and money, but our life would be like that of the
beasts of the field that graze and are happy when they chew the cud.
If, on the other hand, there were only Eynhardts, our existence
would be passed in wandering delightfully, our souls full of perfect
peace, through the gardens of the Academos in company with Plato;
but the world would starve and die out with this wise and lofty-
minded race; unless, indeed, the sun took pity on them, and brought
forth grains and fruits without their assistance, and unless a few
flighty little women, particularly inaccessible to the higher
philosophy, should surprise these transcendental and passionless
thinkers in an unguarded moment, and beguile them into committing
some slight act of folly.

"To combine in one intelligence Haber's circumscribed vision, naive
self confidence, and enterprising activity with Enyhardt's sublime
idealism and knowledge of good and evil is outside the range of
possibility. And which of the two is of the greater benefit to the
world? Which of them raises mankind to a higher level of
development? Which of them best fulfills his purpose as a human
being? Whose point of view of the world and of life is the more
correct? Which of the two would I set up as a model before the child
whom Eynhardt snatched from death at the price of his own body, and
in whom his life as it were finds its continuation? My old friend
Pyrrhon, thou who hearkened, two thousand two hundred years before
my day, to the profound wisdom of the Brahmins, I can but answer in
thy words, 'Uden horizo,'--I do not decide."


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