Last Words

Last words. – One will recall that the emperor Augustus, that frightful man who has as much self-control and who could be as silent as any wise Socrates, became indiscreet against himself with his last words: he let his mask fall for the first time when he made it clear that he had worn a mask and acted a comedy – he had played the father of the fatherland and the wisdom on the throne well enough to create the proper illusion! Plaudite amici, comoedia finita est!1 The thought of the dying Nero – qualis artifex pereo!2 – was also the thought of the dying Augustus: actor’s vanity! Actor’s prolixity! And truly the opposite of the dying Socrates! But Tiberius died silently, this most tormented of all self-tormentors – he was genuine and no actor! What might have passed through his mind at the end? Maybe this: ‘Life – that is a long death. What a fool I was to shorten so many lives! Was I made to be a benefactor? I should have given them eternal life: that way, I could have seen them die forever. That’s why I had such good eyes: qualis spectator pereo!3 When after a long death-struggle he seemed to recover his strength, it was considered advisable to smother him with pillows – he died a double death.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

  1. ‘Father of the Fatherland’ was an honorary title bestowed by the Roman Senate on the emperor Augustus. In his biography (chapter 99) Suetonius reports that these Latin words (= ‘Applaud my friends, the comedy is over!’) were among the last Augustus spoke on his deathbed.
  2. ‘I die, what a loss to art!’
  3. ‘I die, but what a good observer I was!’


Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can recieve from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson on Swedenborg

It is remarkable that this man, who, by his perception of symbols, saw the poetic construction of things and the primary relation of mind to matter, remained entirely devoid of the whole apparatus of poetic expression, which that perception creates. He knew the grammar and rudiments of the Mother-Tongue,- how could he not read off one strain into music? Was he like Saadi, who, in his vision, designed to fill his lap with the celestial flowers, as presents for his friends; but the fragrance of the roses so intoxicated him that the skirt dropped from his hands? or is reporting a breach of the manners of that heavenly society? or was it that he saw the vision intellectually, and hence that chiding of the intellectual that pervades his books? Be it as it may, his books have no melody, no emotion, no humor, no relief to the dead prosaic level. In his profuse and accurate imagery is no pleasure, for there is no beauty. We wander forlorn in a lack-lustre landscape. No bird ever sang in all these gardens of the dead.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men

Let a Man Learn…

Let a man learn to look for the permanent in the mutable and fleeting; let him learn to bear the disappearance of things he was wont to reverence without losing his reverence; let him learn that he is here, not to work but to be worked upon; and that, though abyss open under abyss, and opinion displace opinion, all are at last contained in the Eternal Cause:-

“If my bark sink, ’tis to another sea.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men

Great Men

Great men are more distinguished by range and extent, than by originality. If we require the originality which consists in weaving, like a spider, their web from their own bowels; in finding clay, and making bricks, and building the house; no great men are original. Nor does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other men. The hero is in the press of knights, and the thick of events; and, seeing what men want, and sharing their desire, he adds the needful length of sight and of arm, to come at the desired point. The greatest genius is the most indebted man. A poet is no rattlebrain, saying what comes uppermost, and, because he says every thing, saying, at last, something good; but a heart in unison with his time and country. There is nothing whimsical and fantastic in his production, but sweet and sad earnest, freighted with the weightiest convictions, and pointed with the most determined aim which any man or class knows of in his times.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men

As Far As Chaos

The Greeks said, that Alexander went as far as Chaos; Goethe went, only the other day, as far; and one step further he hazarded, and brought himself back.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men

God’s Temple

The decline of the influence of Calvin, or Fenelon, or Wesley, or Channing, need give us no uneasiness. The builder of heaven has not so ill constructed his creature as that the religion, that is, the public nature, should fall out: the public and the private element, like north and south, like inside and outside, like centrifugal and centripetal, adhere to every soul, and cannot be subdued, except the soul is dissipated. God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins of churches and religions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Worship