The Vocation of the Scholar/Preface


These Lectures were delivered last Summer before a considerable number of the young men studying at this University. They form the introduction to a whole which the Author intends to complete, and, when time permits, to lay before the public. A motive—which to mention here would contribute neither to a just estimation of these pages, nor to a right understanding of them—induced him to allow these first five Lectures to be published by themselves. Their being printed just as they were delivered, without the alteration of a single word, must be his excuse for many inaccuracies of expression. In consequence of other occupations, he was unable, even at first, to give to these discourses the polish which he desired. Declamation is a valuable auxiliary in oral communication. To alter them for the press was for a similar reason impossible.

There are in these Lectures many assertions which may not please all classes of readers. But for this the Author is not to blame;—in all his inquiries he has troubled himself very little as to what was likely to please his hearers or be disagreeable to them: Truth alone has been his object,—and what he, according to his best knowledge, held to be true, that he has boldly declared, so far as he was able.

But besides that class of readers who have reasons for their dissatisfaction with what I advance in these Lectures, there are others who hold such speculations as at best useless, because they cannot be carried out into practice, and because they find nothing in the actual world, as it is now constituted, at all corresponding thereto;—indeed it is to be feared that the greater number of otherwise honest, respectable, well-behaved, sober-minded people, will thus judge of them. For although, in all ages, those who have been capable of raising themselves to ideas, have always found themselves in a minority,—yet, for reasons which I may well be excused for withholding here, their number has never been less than at the present time. Whilst, within the circle which common experience has drawn around us, men take larger and more general views, and pass more accurate judgments on the phenomena presented to them, than perhaps at any former period; the majority are completely misled and dazzled, so soon as they take a single step beyond this limit. If it be impossible to re-kindle in such minds the once-extinguished sparks of higher genius, we must let them remain without disturbance within that circle; and in so far as they are there useful and necessary, we must not derogate from their value in and for such a sphere. But when they desire to draw down to their own level all to which they cannot raise themselves;—when, for example, they would insist that everything which is printed should be made as practically useful as a cookery-book, or a ready-reckoner, or a service-regulation, and decry everything which cannot so be used,—then indeed do they perpetrate a great wrong.

That the Ideal cannot be manifested in the Actual world, we know as well as they do,—perhaps better. All we maintain is, that the Actual must be judged by the Ideal, and modified in accordance with it by those who feel themselves capable of such a task. Be it granted that they cannot convince themselves of this;—being what they are, they lose very little thereby, and Humanity loses nothing. This alone becomes clear, that they have not been reckoned on in the great plan for the ennoblement of Humanity. This will assuredly proceed on its glorious way;—over them will kindly Nature watch, vouchsafing them, in proper season, rain and sunshine, fitting nourishment and undisturbed digestion, and therewithal comfortable thoughts.

Jena, Michaelmas 1794.