The tragedy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s life was that it happened to be a one-man show, a monodrama wherein no other actor entered upon the stage: not a soul is at his side to succour him; no woman is there to soften by her ever-present sympathy the stresses of the atmosphere. Every action takes its birth in him, and its repercussions are felt by him alone. Not one person ventures to enter wholeheartedly into the innermost sanctum of Nietzsche’s destiny; the poet-philosopher is doomed to speak, to struggle, to suffer alone. He converses with no one, and no one has anything to say to him. What is even more terrible is that none hearken to his voice.
In this unique tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche had neither fellow-actors nor audience, neither stage nor scenery nor costume; the drama ran its course in a spaceless realm of thought. Basel, Naumburg, Nice, Sorrento, Sils-Maria, Genoa, and so forth are so many names serving as milestones on his life’s road; they were never abiding-places, never a home. The scene having once been set, it remained the same till the curtain was rung down; it was composed of isolation, of solitude, of that agonizing loneliness which Nietzsche’s own thoughts gathered around him and with which he was entrapped as by an impenetrable bell-glass, a solitude wherein there were no flowers or colours or music or beasts or men, a solitude whence even God was excluded, the dead and petrified solitude of some primeval world which existed long ago or may come into being æons hence.
At first, while he was professor of Basel University and could speak his mind from the professorial chair, and while Wagner’s friendship thrust him into the limelight, Nietzsche’s words drew attentive listeners; but the more he delved into his own mind, the more he plunged into the depths of time, the less did he find responsive echoes. One by one his friends, and even strangers, rose to their feet and withdrew affrighted at the sound of his monologue, which became wilder and more ecstatic as the philosopher warmed to his task. Thus was he left terribly alone, upon the stage of his fate. Gradually the solitary actor grew disquieted by the fact that he was talking into the void; he raised his voice, shouted, gesticulated, hoping to find a response even if it were no better than a contradiction.
Thus the drama was played to a finish before empty seats, and no one guessed that the mightiest tragedy of the nineteenth century was unrolling itself before men’s eyes. Such was Friedrich Nietzsche’s tragedy, and it had its roots in his utter loneliness. Unexampled was the way in which an inordinate wealth of thought and feeling confronted a world monstrously void and impenetrably silent. The daimon within him hounded him out of his world and his day, chasing him to the uttermost marge of his own being.
Nietzsche never tried to evade the demands of the monster whose grip he felt. The harder the blows, the more resonantly did the unflawed metal of his will respond. And upon this anvil, brought to red heat by passion, the hammer descended with increased vigour, forging the slogan which was ultimately to steel his mind to every attack. “The greatness of man; amor fati; never desiring to change what has happened in the past; what will happen in the future and throughout eternity; not merely to bear the inevitable, still less to mask it, but to love it.”
This fervent love-song to the Powers smothers the cry of his heart. Thrown to earth, oppressed by the mutism of the world, gnawed by the bitterness and sorrow, he never once raised his hands to implore a respite. Quite otherwise! He demanded to be yet further tortured, to become yet more isolated, to be granted yet deeper trials; the greatest to which mortal man can be put. “O will of my soul that I call fate, thou who art in me and above me, take care of me and preserve me for a great destiny.”
These are only excerpts of a chapter of The Struggle with the Daimon, as in earlier or later installments of this series. A new edition of Zweig’s book, with syntax modified for readers of our century (I prefer the 1930 edition that I quote by direct typing from the text), is now available in the market.