On the Nature of the Scholar/Lecture 1

I now open the course of public lectures which I have announced on the roll under the title “De Moribus Eruditorum.” This inscription may be translated—“Morality for the Scholar,”—“On the Vocation of the Scholar,”—“On the Duty of the Scholar,” &c.;—but in what way soever the title may be translated and understood, the idea itself demands a deeper investigation. I proceed to this preliminary inquiry.

Generally speaking, when we hear the word Morality the idea is suggested of a formation of character and conduct according to rule and precept. But it is true only in a limited sense, and only as seen from a lower point of enlightenment, that man is formed by precept, or can form himself upon precept. On the contrary, from the highest point—that of absolute truth, on which we here take our stand,—whatever is to be manifested in the thought or deed of man, must first be inwardly present in his Nature, and indeed itself constitute his Nature, being, and life; for that which lies in the essential Nature of man must necessarily reveal itself in his outward life, shine forth in all his thoughts, desires, and acts, and become his unvarying and unalterable character. How the freedom of man, and all the efforts by means of culture, instruction, religion, legislation, to form him to goodness, are to be reconciled with this truth, is the object of an entirely different inquiry, into which we do not now enter. We can here only declare in general, that the two principles may be thoroughly reconciled, and that a deeper study of philosophy will clearly show the possibility of their union.

The fixed disposition and modes of action, or in a word, the character, of the true Scholar, when contemplated from the highest point of view, can, properly speaking, only be described, not by any means enacted or imposed. On the contrary, this apparent and outwardly manifest character of the true Scholar is founded upon that which already exists in his own inward Nature, independently of all manifestation and before all manifestation; and it is necessarily produced and unchangeably determined by this inward Nature. Hence, if we are to describe his character, we must first unfold his Nature:—only from the idea of the latter can the former be surely and completely deduced. To make such a deduction from this pre-supposed Nature, is the proper object of these lectures. Their contents may therefore be briefly stated: they are—a description of the Nature of the Scholar, and of its manifestations in the world of freedom.

The following propositions will aid us in attaining some insight into the Nature of the Scholar:—

1. The whole material world, with all its adaptations and ends, and in particular the life of man in this world, are by no means, in themselves and in deed and truth, that which they seem to be to the uncultivated and natural sense of man; but there is something higher, which lies concealed behind all natural appearance. This concealed foundation of all appearance may, in its greatest universality, be aptly named the Divine Idea; and this expression, "Divine Idea," shall not in the meantime signify anything more than this higher ground of appearance, until we shall have more clearly defined its meaning.

2. A certain part of the meaning of this Divine Idea of the world is accessible to, and conceivable by, the cultivated mind; and, by the free activity of man, under the guidance of this Idea, may be impressed upon the world of sense and represented in it.

3. If there were among men some individuals who had attained, wholly or partially, to the possession of this last-mentioned or attainable portion of the Divine Idea of the world,—whether with the view of maintaining and extending the knowledge of the Idea among men by communicating it to others, or of imaging it forth in the world of sense by direct and immediate action thereon, then were these individuals the seat of a higher and more spiritual life in the world, and of a progressive development thereof according to the Divine Idea.

4. In every age, that kind of education and spiritual culture by means of which the age hopes to lead mankind to the knowledge of the ascertained part of the Divine Idea, is the Learned Culture of the age; and every man who partakes in this culture is a Scholar of the age.

From what has now been said, it clearly follows that the whole of the training and education which an age calls Learned Culture, is only the means towards a knowledge of the attainable portion of the Divine Idea, and is only valuable in so far as it actually is such a means, and truly fulfils its purpose. Whether in any given case this end has been attained or not, can never be determined by common observation, for it is quite blind to the Idea, and can do no more than recognize the merely empirical fact whether a man has enjoyed, or has not enjoyed, the advantage of what is called Learned Culture. Hence there are two very different notions of a Scholar:—the one, according to appearance and mere intention; and in this respect, every one must be considered a Scholar who has gone through a course of Learned Culture, or as it is commonly expressed, who has studied or who still studies:—the other, according to truth; and in this respect, he only is to be looked upon as a Scholar who has, through the Learned Culture of his age, arrived at a knowledge of the Idea. Through the Learned Culture of his age, I say; for if a man, without the use of this means, can arrive at a knowledge of the Idea by some other way (and I am far from denying that he may do so), yet such an one will be unable either to communicate his knowledge theoretically, or to realize it immediately in the world, according to any well-defined rule, because he must want that knowledge of his age, and of the means of influencing it, which can be acquired only in schools of learning. Hence there may indeed be a higher life alive within him, but not such a life as can grasp the rest of the world and call forth its powers;—he may display all the special results of Learned Culture, but without this plastic power;—and hence we may have a most excellent Man indeed, but not a Scholar.

As for us, we have here no thought of considering this matter by outward seeming, but only according to truth. Henceforward, throughout the whole course of these Lectures, he only will be esteemed a Scholar who, through the Learned Culture of his age, has actually attained a knowledge of the Idea, or at least strives with life and strength to attain it. He who has received this culture without thereby attaining to the Idea, is in truth (as we are now to look upon the matter) nothing;—he is an equivocal mongrel between the possessor of the Idea and him who derives his strength and confidence from common reality;—in his vain struggles after the Idea, he has lost the power to lay hold of and cultivate reality, and now wavers between two worlds without properly belonging to either of them.

The distinction which we have already noticed in the modes of the direct application of the Idea in general, is obviously also applicable in particular to him who comes to the possession of this Idea through Learned Culture;—that is, to the Scholar. Either, it is his special and peculiar object to communicate to others the Ideas of which he has himself attained a living knowledge;—and then his proper business is the theory of Ideas, general or particular,—he is a Teacher of Knowledge. But it is only as distinguished from, and contrasted with the second application of Ideas, that the business of the scientific teacher is characterized as mere theory; in a wider sense it is as practical as that of the directly active man. The object of his activity is the human mind and spirit; and it is a most ennobling employment systematically to prepare and elevate these for the reception of Ideas. Or, it may be the peculiar business of him who through Learned Culture has obtained possession of Ideas, to fashion the world (which, as regards his design, is a passive world) in accordance with these Ideas; perhaps to model the Legislation,—the legal and social relations of men to each other,—or even that all-surrounding nature which constantly presses upon their higher being,—after the Divine Idea of justice or of beauty, so far as that is possible in the age and under the conditions in which he is placed; while he reserves to himself his own original conceptions, as well as the art with which he impresses them on the world. In this case he is a pragmatic Scholar. No one, I may remark in passing, ought to intermeddle in the direct guidance and ordering of human affairs, who is not a Scholar in the true sense of the word; that is, who has not by means of Learned Culture become a participator in the Divine Idea. With labourers and hodmen it is otherwise:—their virtue consists in punctual obedience, and in the careful avoidance of independent thought or self-reliant action in the ordering of their occupations.

From a different point of view arises another significant distinction in the idea of the Scholar: this, namely,—either the Scholar has actually laid hold of the whole Divine Idea in so far as it is attainable by man, or of a particular part of it,—which last indeed is not possible without having first a clear survey of the whole;—either he has actually laid hold of it, and penetrated into its significance until it stands lucid and distinct before him, so that it has become his own possession, to be recalled at any time in the same shape, an element in his personality;—and then he is a complete and Finished Scholar, a man who has studied:or, he as yet only strives and struggles to attain a clear insight into the Idea generally, or into that particular portion or point of it from which he, for his part, will penetrate the whole:—already, one by one, sparks of light arise on every side, and disclose a higher world before him; but they do not yet unite into one indivisible whole,—they vanish as they came, without his bidding, and he cannot as yet bring them under the dominion of his will;—and then he is a Progressive, a self-forming Scholar—a Student. That it be really the Idea which is either possessed or struggled after is common to both of these: if the striving be only after the outward form—the mere letter of Learned Culture, then we have, if the round be finished—the complete,—if it be unfinished—the progressive, bungler. The latter is always more tolerable than the former, for it may still be hoped that in pursuing his course he may perhaps at some future point be laid hold of by the Idea; but of the former all hope is lost.

This, gentlemen, is our conception of the Nature of the Scholar; and these are all the possible modifications of that conception—not in any respect changing, but rather wholly arising out of the original,—the conception, namely, of fixed and definite being, which alone furnishes a sufficient answer to the question,—What is the Scholar?

But philosophical knowledge, such as we are now seeking, is not satisfied with answering the question, What is?—philosophy asks also for the How, and, strictly speaking, asks for this only, as for that which is already implied in the What. All philosophical knowledge is, by its nature, not empiric, but genetic,—not merely apprehending existing being, but producing and constructing this being from the very root of its life. Thus, with respect to the Scholar, the determinate form of whose being we have now described, there still remains the question,—How does he become a Scholar?—and since his being and growth is an uninterrupted, living, constantly self-producing being,—How does he maintain the life of a Scholar?

I answer shortly,—by his inherent, characteristic, and all-engrossing love for the Idea. Consider it thus:—Every form of existence holds and upholds itself; and in living existences this self-support, and the consciousness of it, is self-love. In individual human beings the Eternal Divine Idea takes up its abode, as their spiritual nature this indwelling Divine Idea encircles itself in them with unspeakable love; and then we say, adapting our language to common appearance, this man loves the Idea, and lives in the Idea,—when in truth it is the Idea itself which, in his place and in his person, lives and loves itself; and his person is but the sensible manifestation of this existence of the Idea, and has, in and for itself alone, neither significance nor life. These strictly framed definitions or formula lay open the whole matter, and we may now proceed once more to adopt the language of appearance without fear of misapprehension. In the True Scholar the Idea has acquired a personal existence which has entirely superseded his own, and absorbed it in itself. He loves the Idea, not before all else, for he loves nothing else beside it,—he loves it alone;—it alone is the source of all his joys, of all his pleasures; it alone is the spring of all his thoughts, efforts, and deeds; for it alone does he live, and without it life would be to him odious and unmeaning. In both—in the Finished as well as in the Progressive Scholar—does the Idea reside, with this difference only,—that in the former it has attained all the clearness and firm consistency which was possible in that individual and under existing circumstances, and having now a settled abode within him, seeks to expatiate abroad, strives to flow forth in living words and deeds;—while in the latter it is still active only within himself, striving after the development and strengthening of such an existence as it may attain under the circumstances in which he is placed. To both alike would their life be valueless, could they not fashion either others or themselves after the Idea.

This is the sole and unvarying life-principle of the Scholar,—of him to whom we give that name. All his deeds and efforts, under all possible conditions in which he can be supposed to exist, spring with absolute necessity from this principle. Hence, we have only to contemplate him in those relations which are requisite for our purpose, and we may calculate with certainty both his inward and outward life, and describe it beforehand. And in this way it is possible to deduce with scientific 1 accuracy, from the essential Nature of the Scholar, its manifestations in the world of freedom or apparent chance. This is our present task, and that the rule for its fulfilment.

We shall turn first of all to the Students,—that is to say, to those who are justly entitled to the name of Progressive Scholars in the sense of that word already defined; and it is proper that we should first apply to them the principles which we have laid down. If they be not such as we have supposed them to be, then our words will be to them mere words, without sense, meaning or application. If they be such as we have supposed them to be, then they will in due time become mature and perfect Scholars; for that effort of the Idea to unfold itself, which is so much higher than all the pursuits of sense, is also infinitely more mighty, and with silent power breaks a way for itself through every obstacle. It will be well for the studious youth to know now what he shall one day become,—to contemplate in his youth a picture of his riper age. I shall therefore, after performing my first duty, proceed also to construct from the same principles the character of the Finished Scholar.

Clearness is gained by contrast; and therefore, wherever I show how the Scholar will manifest himself, I shall also declare how, for the same reasons, he will not manifest himself.

In both divisions of the subject, but particularly in the second, where I shall have to speak of the Finished Scholar, I shall guard myself carefully from making any satirical allusion to the present state of the literary world, any censure of it, or generally any reference to it; and I entreat my hearers once for all not to impute to me any such suggestion. The philosopher peacefully constructs his theorem upon given principles, without deigning to turn his attention to the actual state of .things, or needing the recollection of it to enable him to pursue his inquiry; just as the geometer constructs his scheme without troubling himself whether his purely abstract figures can be copied with our instruments. And it is especially well that the unprejudiced and studious youth should remain in ignorance of the degeneracies and corruptions of the society into which he must one day enter, until he shall have acquired power sufficient to stem the tide of its example.

This, gentlemen, is the entire plan of the lectures which I now propose to deliver, with the principles on which they shall be founded. To-day I shall only add one or two observations to what I have already said.

In considerations like those of to-day, or those, necessarily similar in their nature, which are to follow, it is common for men to censure,—first, their severity,—very often with the good-natured supposition that the speaker was not aware that his strictness would be disagreeable to them,—that they have only frankly to tell him this, and he will then reconsider the matter, and soften down his principles. Thus we have said that he who with his Learned Culture has not attained a knowledge of the Idea, or does not at least struggle to attain it, is, properly speaking, nothing;—and farther on, we have said he is a bungler. This is in the manner of those severe sayings by which philosophers give so much offence. Leaving the present case, to deal directly with the general principle, I have to remind you that a thinker of this sort, without having firmness enough to refuse all respect to Truth, seeks to chaffer with her and cheapen something from her, in order by a favourable bargain to obtain some consideration for himself. But Truth, who is once for all what she is, and cannot change her nature in aught, proceeds on her way without turning aside; and there remains nothing for her, with respect to those who do not seek her simply because she is true, but to leave them standing there, just as if they had never accosted her.

Again, it is a common charge against discourses of this kind, that they cannot be understood. Thus I can suppose—not you, gentlemen,—but some Finished Scholar according to appearance, under whose eye, perhaps, these thoughts may come,—approaching them, and, puzzled and doubtful, at last thoughtfully exclaiming:—The Idea—the Divine Idea,—that which lies at the bottom of all appearance,—what may this mean? I would reply to such an inquirer,—What then may this question mean?—Strictly speaking, it means, in most cases, nothing more than the following:—Under what other name, and by what other formula, do I already know this thing which thou expressest by a name so extraordinary, and to me so unheard of?—and to that again, in most cases, the only fitting answer would be,—Thou knowest not this thing at all, and during thy whole life hast understood nothing of it, neither under this nor under any other name; and if thou art to come to any knowledge of it, thou must even now begin anew to learn it, and then most fitly under that name by which it is first offered to thee.

In the following lectures the word Idea, which I have used to-day, will be in many respects better defined and explained, and, as I hope, ultimately brought to perfect clearness; but that is by no means the business of a single hour. We reserve this, as well as everything else to which we have to direct your attention, for the succeeding lectures.