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JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE
lading othered by his
Rhe beauty of Fichte's style is often striking, and, in or out of
Germany, he is seldom equaled in coherency of expression.
The charge so often brought against other German philosophers, that in their anxiety to express thought with accuracy they frequently become uncouth, does not lie against him, for the earnestness of his love for truth, his depth of admiration for the sublime and beautiful in morals and in nature, molds his sentences into harmony, and adds to his metaphysics the great power of eloquence. His metaphysical treatises and philosophical essays are the work of a poet and an orator, deeply moved by his own thought and by the anxious hope of persuading others to accept it as a means of helping themselves to attain higher modes of existence and of usefulness.
He was born at Rammenau in Upper Lusatia, May 19th, 1762, in the humblest circumstances. His father was a poor ribbon-weaver, but the family seems to have had, as an inheritance, the traits of intellectuality which Fichte displayed at a very early age. Fortunately for the world, they were developed in his case by the education he was enabled to acquire by his acquaintance with Freiherr Von Miltitz, a German nobleman who immortalized himself by helping the ribbon-weaver's son to prepare himself for the university. On the death of his patron, Fichte, supporting himself by teaching and writing, continued to strive for higher education until after many hardships and vicissitudes he won, in 1794, the recognition of appointment to the chair of Philosophy in the University of Jena. This, which carried with it authority in the entire world of learning, was hastened by the admiration Kant had publicly expressed for Fichte's first published philosophical work, - the Kritik aller Offenbarung." In 1799 he was forced out of his position at Jena on a charge of unorthodoxy, and in the same year he went to Berlin, where he made his home until his death, January 27th, 1814. During the latter part of his life, 1809-14, he filled the chair of Philosophy in the University of Berlin. He delivered a series of lectures at Erlangen and visited Copenhagen, but Berlin which received when Jena rejected him is entitled to the credit of his work more fully than any other city in Germany. It is in a Berlin churchyard that he lies buried, and on the monument which marks his grave is inscribed the highest tribute any man can receive from those he leaves behind him:
«The Teachers shall shine
W. V. B.
THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUE LIFE
The religious man is forever secured from the possibility of 1 doubt and uncertainty. In every moment he knows dis
tinctly what he wills, and ought to will; for the innermost root of his life — his will — forever flows forth from the Divinity, immediately and without possibility of error; its indication is infallible, and for that indication he has an infallible perception. In every moment he knows assuredly that in all eternity he shall know what he shall will, and ought to will; that in all eternity the fountain of Divine Love which has burst forth in him shall never be dried up, but shall uphold him securely, and bear him onward forever. It is the root of his existence; it has now arisen upon him clear and bright, and his eye is fixed upon it with unspeakable love:- how could that fountain ever be dried up, how could that leader and guardian ever turn aside ? Whatever comes to pass around him, nothing appears to him strange or unaccountable; — he knows assuredly, whether he understand it or not, that it is in God's world, and that there nothing can be that does not directly tend to good.
In him there is no fear for the future, for the absolute fountain of all blessedness eternally bears him on towards it; — no sorrow for the past, for in so far as he was not in God he was nothing, and this is now at an end, and since he has dwelt in God he has been born into life; while in so far as he was in God, that which he has done is assuredly right and good. He has never aught to deny himself, nor aught to long for; for he is at all times in eternal possession of the fullness of all that he is capable of enjoying. For him all labor and effort have vanished; his whole outward existence flows forth, softly and gently, from his inward being, and issues out into reality without difficulty or hindrance. To use the language of one of our great poets:
“Ever pure and mirror-bright and even,
Life amidst the Immortals glides away.
Changeless 'midst a ruined world's decay.”
Thus much have I desired to say to you, concerning the True Life and its Blessedness. It is true that we might say much more on this subject; and that, in particular, it would be very interesting, now that we have learned to know the moral-religious man in the central point of his being, to accompany him thence out into common life, and even into the most ordinary concerns and circumstances of his existence, and there to contemplate him in all his admirable serenity and loveliness. But, without a fundamental knowledge of that first central-point, such a description might become, to the hearer, either empty declamation, or else a mere air castle, producing, indeed, for the moment an æsthetic pleasure, but containing within itself no true ground of persistence;- and this is the reason why we rather choose to abstain from this prolongation of our subject.
From «The Way towards the Blessed Life,”
THE GLORY AND BEAUTY OF THE SUPERNATURAL
ODILY sufferings, pain and sickness, should such befall me, I
cannot avoid feeling, for they are incidents of my nature,
and I am and remain natural here below. But they shall not trouble me. They affect only the Nature, with which I am, in some strange way, connected; not myself, the being which is elevated above all Nature. The sure end of all pain, and of all susceptibility of pain, is death; and of all which the natural man is accustomed to regard as evil, this is the least so to me. Indeed, I shall not die for myself, but only for others, for those that remain behind, from whose connection I am severed. For myself, the hour of death is the hour of birth to a new and more glorious life.
Since my heart is thus closed to all desire for the earthly, since, in fact, I have no longer any heart for the perishable, the universe appears to my eye in a transfigured form. The dead, inert mass wộich but choked up space has vanished; and instead thereof flows, and waves, and rushes the eternal stream of life, and power, and deed; — of the original life, of thy life, O Infinite! For all life is thy life, and only the religious eye pierces to the kingdom of veritable beauty.
I am related to Thee, and all that I behold around me is related to me. All is quick, all is soul, and gazes upon me with bright spirit-eyes, and speaks in spirit-tones to my heart. Most diversely sundered and severed, I behold, in all the forms without me, myself again, and beam upon myself from them, as the morning sun, in thousand dewdrops diversely refracted, glances toward itself.
Thy life, as the finite can apprehend it, is a willing which shapes and represents itself by means of itself alone. This life, made sensible in various ways to mortal eyes, flows through me and from me downward, through the immeasurable whole of nature. Here it streams, as self-creating, self-fashioning matter, through my veins and muscles, and deposits its fullness out of me, in the tree, in the plant, in the grass. One connected stream, drop by drop, the forming life flows in all shapes and on all sides, wherever my eye can follow it, and looks upon me, from every point of the universe, with a different aspect, as the same force which fashions my own body in darkness and in secret. Yonder it waves free, and leaps and dances as self-forming motion in the brute; and, in every new body, represents itself as another separate, self-subsisting world; — the same power which, invisible to me, stirs and moves in my own members. All that lives follows this universal attraction, this one principle of all movement, which conducts the harmonious shock from one end of the universe to the other. The brute follows it without freedom. I, from whom, in the visible world, the movement proceeds (without, therefore, originating in me), follow it freely.
But pure and holy, and near to thine own essence as aught, to mortal apprehension, can be; this thy life flows forth as a band which binds spirits with spirits in one; as air and ether of the one world of Reason, inconceivable and incomprehensible, and yet lying plainly revealed to the spiritual eye. Conducted by this light stream, thought floats unrestrained and the same from soul to soul, and returns purer and transfigured from the kindred breast. Through this mystery the individual finds, and understands, and loves himself only in another; and every spirit detaches itself only
from other spirits; and there is no man, but only a Humanity; — no isolated thinking, and loving, and hating, but only a thinking, and loving, and hating in and through one another. Through this mystery the affinity of Spirits, in the invisible world, streams forth into their corporeal nature, and represents itself in two sexes, which, though every spiritual band could be severed, are still constrained, as natural beings, to love each other. It flows forth into the affection of parents and children, of brothers and sisters; as if the souls were sprung from one blood as well as the bodies;— as if the minds were branches and blossoms of the same stem. And from thence it embraces, in narrower or wider circles, the whole sentient world. Even the hatred of spirits is grounded in thirst for love; and no enmity springs up, except from friendship denied.
Mine eye discerns this eternal life and motion, in all the veins of sensible and spiritual nature, through what seems to others a dead mass. And it sees this life forever ascend and grow, and transfigure itself into a more spiritual expression of its own nature. The universe is no longer to me that circle which returns into itself, that game which repeats itself without ceasing, that monster which devours itself in order to reproduce itself as it was before. It is spiritualized to my contemplation, and bears the peculiar impress of the spirit: continual progress toward perfection, in a straight line which stretches into infinity.
The sun rises and sets, the stars vanish and return again, and all the spheres hold their cycle dance. But they never return precisely such as they disappear; and in the shining fountains of life there is also life and progress. Every hour which they bring, every morning and every evening sinks down with new blessings on the world. New life and new love drop from the spheres, as dewdrops from the cloud, and embrace nature, as the cool night embraces the earth.
All death in Nature is birth; and precisely in dying, the sublimation of life appears most conspicuous. There is no deathbringing principle in Nature, for Nature is only life, throughout. Not death kills, but the more living life, which, hidden behind the old, begins and unfolds itself. Death and birth are only the struggle of life with itself to manifest itself in ever more transfigured form, more like itself.
And my death, - can that be anything different from this? I, who am not a mere representation and copy of life, but who