Think? Abstract? - Sauve qui peut! Save yourself who can! So I can already hear a traitor, bought out by the enemy, shouting out this essay for the fact that there will be talk of metaphysics here. For metaphysics is the word, like abstract and almost also thinking, is the word from which everyone runs away more or less like from one afflicted with the plague.
But it is not so badly meant that what is thinking and what is abstract should be explained here. Nothing is more unbearable to the beautiful world than explaining. It is terrible enough when someone starts to explain, because if need be I understand everything myself. Here the explanation of thought and the abstract already proved to be completely superfluous anyway; for it is precisely because the beautiful world already knows what the abstract is that it flees from it. Just as one does not desire what one does not know, one cannot hate it.
Nor is it intended to deceitfully reconcile the beautiful world with the thought or the abstract; for example, that under the guise of easy preservation, thought and the abstract should be blackened so that it would have crept into society unknown to the author, and without having aroused any revulsion, and would even have been drawn in imperceptibly by society itself, or, as the Swabians express themselves, fenced in and now revealed to the author of this entanglement this otherwise alien guest, namely the abstract, whom the whole of society would have treated and recognised as a good acquaintance under a different title. Such limits of knowledge, by which the world is to be taught against its will, have the inexcusable fault in themselves that they are both shameful and the machinist wanted to achieve a little fame for himself, so that this shame and vanity cancel out the effect, for they rather repel a teaching bought at that price.
In any case, the creation of such a plan would already be spoiled, for it requires that the word of the riddle not be pronounced in advance. But this has already been done by the inscription; in this one, if this essay were to deal with such deceit, the words should not have appeared from the very beginning, but, like the minister in the comedy, should have walked around the whole play in overdresses, and only in the last scene should he have unbuttoned it and let the star of wisdom flash. The unbuttoning of a metaphysical overcoat would not even look as good here as the unbuttoning of the ministerial one, for what it would bring to light would be nothing more than a few words; for the best part of the fun should be that it would show that society had long since become the owner of the thing itself; so in the end it would only acquire the name, whereas the minister’s star would mean something more real, a bag of money.
What is thinking, what is abstract - that everyone present knows this is assumed to be in good company, and that is where we are. The only question is, who he is, who thinks abstractly. The intention is not, as has already been reminded, to reconcile her with these things, to expect her to put up with something heavy, to talk into her conscience about the fact that she recklessly neglects something like this, which for a being endowed with reason is appropriate to her rank and position. Rather, the intention is to reconcile the beautiful world with herself, if she does not otherwise have a conscience about this neglect, but still has a certain respect, at least inwardly, for abstract thinking as for something high, and looks away from it, not because it is too low for her, but because it is too high for her, not because it is too mean, but because it is too noble, or vice versa, because it gives her an espresso, seems to be something special, something that does not distinguish you in the general society, like a new plaster, but rather something that excludes you from the society or makes you look ridiculous, like poor clothes or rich clothes, if they are made of old set gems or rich embroidery, but which has long since become Chinese.
Who thinks abstractly? The uneducated person, not the educated. Good society does not think abstractly because it is too easy, because it is too low, low not because of its external status, not because of an empty pretence that puts itself above what it cannot put aside, but because of the inner insignificance of the matter.
The prejudice and respect for abstract thinking is so great that fine noses will smell satire or irony ahead of time; only because they are readers of the “Morgenblatt” do they know that there is a price to be paid for satire and that I would rather believe I deserve it and compete for it than just give my things away here.
I need only give examples for my sentence, which everyone will admit to contain it. So a murderer is led to the place of execution. Ladies may remark that he is a strong, handsome, interesting man. Those people find the remark appalling: what a murderer is beautiful? how can one be so badly thinking and call a murderer beautiful; you are probably something not much better! This is a corruption of morals that reigns among the noble people, perhaps the priest who knows the reason for things and the hearts adds. A connoisseur of human nature goes to the path taken by the criminal’s education, finds in his story a bad upbringing, a bad family background of father and mother, some immense harshness in a minor offence of this man, which embittered him against the civil order, a first reaction against it, which drove him out of it and now made it possible for him to preserve himself only through crime. - There may well be people who, when they hear this, will say: he wants to excuse this murderer! I remember hearing a mayor complain in my youth that the book writers are going too far and are trying to eradicate Christianity and accountability; one of them wrote a defence of suicide; it was terrible, too terrible! - From further enquiry it emerged that Werther’s suffering was understood.
This means, abstractly thought, to see in the murderer nothing but this abstract, that he is a murderer, and to exterminate by this simple quality all the rest of human beings in him. A fine, sensitive Leipzig world is quite different. She sprinkled and tied wreaths of flowers around the wheel and the criminal who was braided on it. - But this is again the opposite abstraction. The Christians may well be practicing the rosary, or rather the rosary of the cross, wrapping the cross with roses. The cross is the long-sacred gallows and wheel. It has lost its one-sided meaning of being the instrument of dishonouring punishment and, on the contrary, knows the idea of the highest pain and the deepest rejection, together with the most joyful bliss and divine honour. On the other hand, the Leipzig Cross, bound with violets and gossip roses, is a pukebucket reconciliation, a kind of licentious compatibility of sensitivity with evil.
Quite differently, I once heard a mean old woman, a hospital woman, kill the abstraction of the murderer and make him live to honour. The severed head was laid on the scaffold, and it was sunshine; how beautiful, she said, God’s merciful sun Binders head shone! - You are not worthy of sunshine, they said to a goblin about whom they were enraged. That woman saw that the murderer’s head was shone upon by the sun and was therefore still worth it. She lifted him from the punishment of the sheepskin into the sun grace of God, did not bring about reconciliation through her violet and her sensitive vanity, but saw him received by grace in the higher sun.
Old woman, her eggs are rotten, says the shopper to the hawker’s wife. What, does she reply, my eggs are rotten? She may be rotten to me! She should tell me that about my eggs? She? Didn’t her father get eaten up by the lice on the road, didn’t her mother run away with the French and her grandmother die in hospital, - she bought a whole shirt for her honeymoon kerchief; we know where she got the kerchief and the caps; if it weren’t for the officers, some people wouldn’t be so clean now, and if the merciful women paid more attention to their housekeeping, some people would be sitting in the stick house, - she just mended the holes in her stockings! - In short, she leaves no good thread on her. She thinks abstractly and subsumes it by scarf, cap, shirt, etc. as by the fingers and other parts, also by the father and the whole clan, all alone under the crime of having found the eggs rotten; everything about her is dyed through and through with rotten eggs, whereas those officers of whom the hawker’s wife spoke - if otherwise, how much to doubt, there is some truth in it - may see quite different things about her.
To pass from the maid to the servant, no servant is worse off than a man of little standing and little income, and the better off the more distinguished the master is. The common man thinks in a more abstract way, he acts nobly against the servant and behaves to him only as a servant; he holds on to this one predicate. The best place for the servant is with the French. The noble man is familiar with the waiter, the Frenchman is a good friend of the waiter; when they are alone, the waiter has the big word, you can see Diderot “Jacque et son maître,” the gentleman does nothing but take a pinch of tobacco and look at the clock and lets the waiter do everything else. The noble man knows that the servant is not only a servant, but also knows the news of the city, knows the girls, has good stops in his head; he asks him about it, and the servant is allowed to say what he knows about what the principal asked about. With the French gentleman, the servant is not only allowed to put this but also the matter on the table, to have his opinion and to assert it, and if the gentleman wants something, it is not done by command, but he must first give the servant his opinion and give him a good word that his opinion will prevail.
In the military the same difference occurs; in the Prussian army the soldier can be beaten, so he is a scoundrel; for what has the passive right to be beaten is a scoundrel. Thus the common soldier is considered by the officer for this abstract of a beatable subject with whom a gentleman in uniform and with a port d’épée must associate himself, and that is to surrender to the devil.