Holbrook Jackson reviews “The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche.”


1845-1945, Friedrich Nietzsche, Reviews / Monday, March 22nd, 2021
The following review of the first English language edition of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche by Holbrook Jackson was published in The Bookman vol. 41. Holbrook Jackson was a writer and socialist. He was part of the early Nietzscheans in England that included Oscar Levy, Anthony Ludovici, A.R. Orage, and others. Holbrook’s book The Eighteen Nineties: A Review of Art and Ideas at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (1913) has been quite useful in getting a better appreciation of the time.

THE COMPLETE NIETZSCHE.1)“The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche.” (First complete and Authorised Translation in 18 volumes). Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy. (T. N. Foulis.

One cannot contemplate the completion of the English translation of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche without feelings of gratitude towards the practical enthusiasm of Dr. Oscar Levy who has guided so remarkable an enterprise to success. At the outset, the production of a complete set of Nietzsche’s works in English was not without commercial hazard, but the results must indeed be gratifying to all concerned for (and it will come as a surprise to many people) no less than seven of the eighteen volumes comprising the edition are in a second, and three are in a third edition. That would indicate the existence of a public seriously interested in Friedrich Nietzsche, for it may be surmised with some certainty that the light interest aroused by journalistic exploitation of the challenge of his thought, and the tragedy of his life, has long since been surfeited, and those who skim over the surface of philosophic fashions are engaged elsewhere. There are, as a matter of fact, a great many people who feel, rightly or wrongly, that Nietzsche has a message for them; and their number is still respectable after it has been written down by the subtraction of those (and they are still many) who misuse or misunderstand him, drawn as they have been to his work by his apparent, but apparent only to the dull-witted, advocacy of moral license, and his childish and often irritating insistence on a desire to write only for the elect. To say you write for the elect is the surest way of attracting the mediocre. But, whatever, the status of Nietzsche’s public there is little doubt that his thought and ideas are at length receiving something like acceptance in this country, or rather, we are at length in the heyday of surprise at the daring of the great German psychologist, although long after he has ceased to startle our continental neighbors. But up to the present, his direct influence has been small, what real influence he has had on English writers has been indirect, coming through French, German, and Italian authors who have written under his spell. It may be indeed that Nietzsche will not affect us as he has affected others, for we have become inured to the flaming aphorism of revolt in this country by the genius of Mr. Bernard Shaw, a thinker bearing many superficial resemblances to Nietzsche, though fundamentally opposed to him. So similar at times have these two thinkers been that shallow critics have hinted rather broadly as to Mr. Shaw’s continental inspirers. The author of “Man and Superman” is strong enough to be his own first line of defense, but it is interesting to note, in the light of past criticisms of his originality, that the publication of Nietzsche’s autobiography, “Ecce Homo,” actually lays the German open to the charge of having plagiarised the Irishman! In this autobiography, which is, by the way, one of the most remarkable and inspiring books ever written, Nietzsche repeatedly uses the egotistical gags which have been the stock properties of Bernard Shaw’s drum and trumpeting for something like a quarter of a century. Before G.B.S. an autobiography like “Ecce Homo,” with such chapter headings as “Why I am so wise,” “Why I am so clever,” and “Why I write such excellent books,” might have evoked an admonitory leader in The Times, and scare headlines in the Daily Mail; but familiarity with that method of self-expression has, as usual, produced indifference.

This is not the place or the time to interpret the Nietzschean idea, even if one could grant that place or time were ever proper to such an endeavor, which is doubtful. No interpretation of Nietzsche can have anything but a purely subjective value. Nietzsche has ever been his own best interpreter, but he becomes doubly so by the publication of “Ecce Homo,” which, with a stroke of the pen as it were, robs all his friendly commentators of their validity. All that need be said in a general way about Nietzsche, either in elucidation, in extenuation, or even in praise, is said in this wonderful book, and it is said on the authority of the only final authority, Friedrich Nietzsche himself, that is why Dr. Oscar Levy might have stayed the energy of his translators at the translation, and added himself the few necessary bibliographical and biographical details which are really all the preface each volume requires; not that the existing prefaces are incapable, they are unnecessary. Beyond a natural feeling against being talked to by what might be called conscientious Nietzscheans, before beginning one of the Master’s books, I have none but feelings of gratitude for this splendid monument to the genius of the deepest and the highest thinker of our time. The volumes themselves are convenient and quietly dignified both as to type and binding.

The completion of the English translation of his works gives us in this country the first chance of drawing for ourselves a full-length portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, and we are helped very considerably in this task by “Ecce Homo,” which is at least a three-quarter portrait of the artist by himself. In this book he not only reveals his own ideas one by one in a sort of organic relationship with each other, but he reveals himself also in relation to them, and here they do not always square well together; particularly in the philosopher’s aspiration to be a satyr rather than a saint, for Nietzsche was by constitution the latter. He admits to never having had a desire, and from what we know of his life we can believe him: perhaps even Nietzsche was sentimentalizing when he patronized the satyr. His love of health also is unrelated to his condition, or rather related contrariwise, for, of course, it is not the first time an invalid has written vehemently of health. Such inconsistencies are forced upon readers of Nietzsche, not because they affect his philosophy, but because in so intensely personal a thinker they affect your view of him. The fact that his sanity gave way just after he had written “Ecce Homo,” in 1889, has been used by many writers as an argument against his ideas, but the relationship, in this case, is very remote. Nietzsche was undoubtedly sane when he wrote his books, he wrote nothing after his mind gave way. It is conceivable that even the strongest of minds might break beneath such pressure as Nietzsche could bring to bear upon himself, for he was no formal thinker; he did not codify and co-ordinate the already thought-out, he constant1y, made tracks into the unknown, and it is inconceivable that his ideas should be finally condemned and repudiated because of that. It may be unusual to say instinct is superior to reason; it may be illogical to stigmatize morality as decadent; it may have been wrong of him to prefer Dionysus to Christ or satyr to saint; his objection to ideals may have been inconvenient; his deep sense of the formative value of tragedy may have been unpleasant, and his dream of superman, absurd. But neither the charges of being unusual, illogical, wrong, inconvenient, unpleasant, or even absurd, are sufficient, severally or collectively, to convict a man of insanity–or there are very few of us sane. One idea, and one only, in the whole of Nietzsche’s works touches the borderland, that is his conception of “eternal recurrence,” but that idea, upon which one might brood oneself into Bedlam, is by no means peculiar to him, it exists in all its appalling emptiness in several writers and in many forms. Friedrich Nietzsche is really much saner than most men, or perhaps than any man–he is as sane as the animals. It is his extreme naturalism, in an age conventional and artificial in idea and habit, that arouses doubts as to his sanity. Nietzsche is the naturalist of psychology–a sufficiently new thing to attract and repel. Like life, he is paradoxical, a yea-saying and a destruction. To accept life as a battle and take the consequences without revenge or resentment–and what does not destroy you creates you–that is the essence of Nietzsche. And after breathing the rare air of his thoughts one feels that the unwritten lave is no longer unwritten, the contentiousness of life no longer a contention. He calls one of his books, “a book for all and none,”–Nietzsche may be described as a philosopher for all and none.

HOLBROOK JACKSON.

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References

References
1 “The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche.” (First complete and Authorised Translation in 18 volumes). Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy. (T. N. Foulis.