Essays and AphorismseBook - 1970
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The only cogent moral argument against suicide is that it is opposed to the achievement of the highest moral goal, inasmuch as it substitutes for a true redemption from this world of misery a merely apparent one. But it is a very long way from a mistake of this kind to a crime, which is what the Christian clergy want to call it.
The result is that much reading robs the mind of all elasticity, as the continual pressure of a weight does a spring, and that the surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book every time you have a free moment. The practice of doing this is the reason erudition makes most men duller and sillier than they are by nature and robs their writing of all effectiveness; they are in Pope's words: For ever reading, never to be read.
Fundamentally it is only our own basic thoughts that possess truth and life, for only these do we really understand through and through. The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another's table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest.
Reading is merely a surrogate for thinking for yourself; it means letting someone else direct your thoughts...-you should read only when your own thoughts dry up..."Was du ererbt von deinen Vatern hast, Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen." (What you have inherited from your forefathers you must first win for yourself if you are to possess it.)
People who pass their lives in reading and acquire their wisdom from books are like those who learn about a country from travel descriptions: they can impart information about a great number of things, but at bottom they possess no connected, clear, thorough knowledge of what the country is like. On the other hand, people who pass their lives in thinking are like those who have visited the country themselves: they alone are really familiar with it, possess connected knowledge of it and are truly at home in it.
Mere experience is no more a substitute for thinking than reading is. Pure empiricism is related to thinking as eating is to digestion and assimilation. When empiricism boasts that it alone has, through its discoveries, advanced human knowledge, it is as if the mouth should boast that it alone keeps the body alive.
If you want to know how you really feel about someone take note of the impression an unexpected letter from him makes on you where you first see it on the doormat.
People need external activity because they have no internal activity. Where, on the contrary, the latter does exist, the former is likely to be a very troublesome, indeed execrable annoyance and impediment. -The former fact also explains the restlessness of those who have nothing to do, and their aimless travelling.
The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. - A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.
And then again, there can be said to be three kinds of author. Firstly, there are those who write without thinking. They write from memory, from reminiscence, or even directly from other people's books. This class is the most numerous. - Secondly, there are those who think while writing. They think in order to write. Very common. - Thirdly, there are those who have thought before they started writing. They write simply because they have thought. Rare.
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