Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mencken on Nietzsche

I'm in the middle of reading H.L. Mencken's biography of Nietzsche, and I found this passage, on pages 56-58, to be rather humorous:
Nietzsche never married, but he was by no means a misogynist. ...During all his wanderings he was much petted by the belles of pump room and hotel parlor, not only because he was a mysterious and romantic looking fellow, but also because his philosophy was thought to be blasphemous and indecent, particularly by those who knew nothing about it. But the fair admirers he singled out were either securely married or hopelessly antique. "For me to marry," he soliloquized in 1887, "would probably be sheer assininity."

There are sentimental critics who hold that Nietzsche's utter lack of geniality was due to his lack of a wife. A good woman - alike beautiful and sensible - would have rescued him, they say, from his gloomy fancies. He would have expanded and mellowed in the sunshine of her smiles, and children would have civilized him. The defect in this theory lies in the fact that philosophers do not seem to flourish amid scenes of connubial joy. High thinking, it would appear, presupposes boarding house fare and hall bed-rooms. Spinoza, munching his solitary herring up his desolate backstairs, makes a picture that pains us, perhaps, but it must be admitted that it satisfies our sense of eternal fitness. A married Spinoza, with two sons at college, another managing the family lens business, a daughter busy with her trousseau and a wife growing querulous and fat - the vision, alas, is preposterous, outrageous and impossible! We must think of philosophers as beings alone but not lonesome. A married Schopenhauer or Kant or Nietzsche would be unthinkable.

...Nietzsche himself sought to show, in more than one place, that a man whose whole existence was colored by one woman would inevitably acquire some trace of her feminine outlook, and so lose his own sure vision. The ideal state for a philosopher, indeed, is celibacy tempered by polygamy. [emphasis added]
Now, maybe I keyed in to this passage because it struck a little too close to home - not that I'm any kind of great philosopher, mind you - but the question is this: Is this truly an accurate assessment? Have all the greatest philosophers (and perhaps even artists--Beethoven, for example) been bachelors?

1 comment:

john said...

You might check out 'Zarathustra's Secret' on the question of Nietzsche and marriage.