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Symposium

Paul had hardly returned from his wedding trip to Paris when he surprised his friends by a series of quite unexpected business engagements. He gave up his post as lecturer, in spite of the fact that the appointment as professor for the next six months depended on it; he left his young wife for three weeks, during which nothing was heard of him, except an occasional letter bearing the postmarks of Hamburg, Altona, or Harburg, then he appeared again, and told Malvine that they were to remove from Berlin, to spend in future a portion of the year in Hamburg, but to live chiefly on some property near Harburg. He had decided to leave his academic profession and become a practical landowner, and accordingly had taken a large leasehold estate. He gave Wilhelm and Schrotter further particulars of his plans. The place he had bought was hardly to be called an estate, but a wild desert bit of moorland called “Friesenmoor,” growing only a kind of marsh grass. This piece of land, from which nothing but peat could be obtained, was worthless, and he had bought it for a few thalers. After many years of study on the subject, and without saying a word to any living soul, Paul had come to the conclusion that this arid moor could be made into rich arable land by proper cultivation, and seeing money was to be made out of this possession, he decided without loss of time to put his theories into practice. There was always the risk that he might lose his money, but he had great confidence in his science, and “nothing venture, nothing have.” He considered it quite unnecessary to explain everything about his speculation to Malvine and the old lady. He knew, too, that merely the word “speculation” would frighten them to death.

The separation from Malvine dissolved her grandmother and mother into sighs and tears, but during the short time that they had known Paul, his quiet, determined character had made such an impression on the two women that they submitted without a word to whatever he arranged. Frau Brohl packed up several boxes for her granddaughter, filled with the work of her hands, gave her various recipes for preserving fruits and for fish sauces, and let her go. She withstood bravely the temptation to fill up the empty room with the overflow furniture from the drawing-room, and spoke on the contrary of leaving the room free, so that the young couple might make it their headquarters when they came to Berlin. Paul hypocritically invited Frau Brohl and Frau Marker to come and live on his estate he did not even fear two mothers-in-law. Grandmother and mother, though pleased with his attachment for them, declined with thanks. The cunning dog had reckoned on that refusal. He would have been in a terrible dilemma had they accepted. He would then have had to reveal the whole truth, and tell them that his so-called “property” was a mere swamp, where there was no place for one’s feet to tread unless clad in waterproof boots; hardly a fit place for townspeople, accustomed to comfort. Before the changes on the Friesenmoor could be brought about one fell into pools, one’s feet got fast in boggy earth, and the only inhabitants at present were waterfowl, frogs and toads. He did not even take Malvine to his property but lived in Hamburg, going to Harburg every morning and returning in the evening.

In a short time the neighborhood between the Seeve and the Suderelbe wore a different appearance. Hundreds of laborers were to be seen on the moor, which hitherto had reflected only the sky in its silent pools. Dams were thrown up, trenches dug, a dwelling house was raised on piles, numbers of business offices, and quite a village for workmen, all mounted and secure on piles of wood, stakes, and stone foundations. Flatboats floated on the pools, the houses were roofed in, windmills flapped their sails, and Paul, who had ordered and built everything, came every day to see how the workmen were getting on. In the autumn he took Malvine for the first time to Harburg, and leaving the carriage at the office brought her by boat to the border of the Friesenmoor, to show her the picture all at once. The men stood on each side of the new house with their shovels and pickaxes, and greeted the young wife with such a hearty cheer that her eyes filled with tears. The broad flat surface of the marsh was now arranged in regular lines where the water was being drawn off, all so well superintended and orderly, that Malvine could not help thinking of a chessboard. The windmill moved its long restless arms, as if to welcome her as mistress here; the one-storied dwelling house, raised on stone steps, lay there hospitably built on a raised terrace, with its number of large well-lighted rooms opening a vista of peace and happiness to Malvine, and she thought it all so delightful that she would have liked to send for her furniture from Hamburg and stay there. Paul, however, reflected what danger there might be to her in her condition to stay through the winter in a house not yet dry, and so she gave in to his wishes.

At the end of March a telegram from Hamburg announced the birth of a fine boy, to whom Wilhelm was to stand godfather. He was to be named Paul Wilhelm, and to be known by the latter name. When the warm weather came, Paul and his family were to go to the moor, and during the removal Malvine went with her mother and grandmother, who had both nursed her tenderly, to Berlin for a visit. Paul went through a great deal of worry and anxiety this summer. He had everything at stake in waiting for the results of his undertaking. All his money was in the buildings, the earth-works, and waterworks; if the barren swamp did not yield twice the sum intrusted to it he was a ruined man. But as July drew near, and Paul looked at the thick standing ears of barley and wheat, he felt the weight of his anxiety lifted, and in August he proclaimed in letters to his friends that the battle was won, the harvest more abundant than he had dared to hope for, and the remaining half-year would complete the transformation of the worthless moorland into a veritable Australian gold mine. He regarded his property now with a parental tenderness, as if it were some living being whom he had trained and educated. The first harvest had given him experience, and opportunity for new work, and he stayed through the autumn and winter in his house in the midst of his workmen, whom he felt inclined to canonize. The men now formed a little colony with their wives and children, and Paul was as happy as possible within the limited boundary of his horizon, between the Suderelbe and the Seeve.

These two years had been outwardly uneventful for Wilhelm. In the mornings he worked in the Physical Institute, in the afternoons he worked at home, in the evenings he gossiped with Schrotter a journey to Hamburg and a fortnight’s visit to the house on the Friesenmoor had given him change. Paul came pretty often to Berlin, and found in the society of his old friends the enjoyment of his early years renewed, and Wilhelm with his girlish face, his enthusiastic eyes, and his unworldly manner did not seem a year older. The professor of physics, who had frequently been invited to go abroad to direct the teaching in other European and foreign schools, asked Wilhelm to go with him to Turkey, Japan, and Chili as professor. He had the highest opinion of Wilhelm, and deeply regretted that his misadventure with Herr von Pechlar made an appointment in Germany impossible. Wilhelm, however, declined, on the ground that he did not feel an aptitude for teaching, only for learning.

He had scarcely any intercourse now with Barinskoi, whose immoral views at last became unbearable; he rarely saw him except when he came to borrow money. Of late a new acquaintance had come into his limited social circle. This was a man of about thirty-five, called Dorfling, an overgrown thin creature, with long, straight gray hair, and deep intellectual eyes in his thin face. He came from the Rhine, and was the son of a rich merchant, into whose business he should have gone. However, when he was twenty-six he boldly told his father that the world outside was of deeper and wider interest to him than account books. The father died, and Dorfling hastened to put the business into liquidation, and devote himself to philosophical studies. For a year he drifted from one school to another, sitting at the feet of the most celebrated teachers and plunging himself into their systems. In the autumn of 1872 he appeared suddenly in Berlin, and renewed his old acquaintance with Wilhelm. Since then he had become a frequent guest at Dr. Schrotter’s dinner table, and a companion to Wilhelm, in his afternoon walks.

Dorfling was the most wonderful listener that any one could wish to have, though he himself was rather silent. If the talk turned on great questions of knowledge, morality, the object of life, Dorfling’s share in the conversation consisted in the following half-audible remark: “Yes, it is a powerful and interesting subject. I have just been working at it, and you will find my opinions in my book.” If he were asked to give his opinions now, or at least to indicate them, he shook his head and gently said, “I am not good at extempore speaking. My thoughts only come out clearly when I have a pen in my hand.” Not a day passed by without an allusion to “the book,” to which he devoted his nights, and of which he always spoke, with emotion in his voice, as the work of his life.

It was impossible to get more information out of him, either about its title, scope, or contents. It was a philosophic work, no doubt, as he always said on speaking of such subjects, “I have mentioned that in my book.” But that was all that could be got out of him. Schrotter and Wilhelm were too good to tease him much about it, though the former, with a suspicion of a smile, would say that he hoped this and that would have a place in the book, so that one might at least know his opinion on it. Paul, who always saw him when he came to Berlin, used to ask whether the book was not yet ready. Dorfling gave no answer, but his pale face grew paler, and an expression of pain came to his eyes.

Barinskoi, who now sponged on Dorfling just as he had previously done on Wilhelm, giving them in fact turn and turn about, had the bad taste to make jokes continually about the book, at one time calling it the Holy Grail, another time comparing it to the diamond country of Sindbad’s tale, and in a hundred ways making vulgar and sceptical jokes. On one of his outbreaks of dissipation he had disappeared far longer than usual, and on his return he looked more miserable than ever. Dorfling made some kindly inquiries, and learned that he was recovering from an attack of inflammation of the lungs, and Barinskoi, by way of showing gratitude, remarked, “The doctors gave me up, but I held out, as I do not mean to die until I have read your book.” Dorfling, with a contemptuous look, turned his back on him.

One day, soon after the Easter of 1874, Dorfling brought his friends a great piece of news. The book was ready, it was even in the press, and would be published in a few days by a large firm, but he wanted to present them with copies before the book appeared at the shops. He therefore invited them to a little festival to celebrate the occasion. He had been thinking over the book for seventeen years, had been eight years in writing it, and as it had taken such an important place in his life, he must be pardoned a little vanity about it now. Paul had a written invitation sent him, and he thought the occasion was sufficiently important to come to Berlin on purpose.

On the appointed evening they all met at eight o’clock at Borchardt’s in the Franzbsischen Straße. A dignified waiter, who in appearance and manner looked more like an ambassador, received the guests, and took them into a private room on the left side of the large room above the ground floor. This little room was all lined with red like a jewel case, thick red portieres were over the doors, and the amount of gas with which it was lighted made it rather warmer than was comfortable. A large table with divans on three sides of it nearly filled the room; it was beautifully decorated and covered with flowers. Numerous wineglasses were placed before each guest, and champagne was cooling in an ice-bucket near the door.

Dorfling was there, and received his guests as the waiter lifted the heavy portiere. He was in evening dress, and his slightly flushed face beamed with pleasure. His friends regretted keenly that they had come in ordinary morning clothes, and expressed their apologies. He interrupted them, saying they must overlook one of his little whims and not say anything more about it.

Then they sat down to table, impressed by his charming manner. Dorfling put Schrotter on his right hand, and Wilhelm and Paul on his left; near Schrotter was Barinskoi and a friend of Dorfling’s, named Mayboorn. This man was, like Dorfling, a Rhinelander, he combined a successful career as a writer of comic verses with a confirmed pessimism. When he had written one of his merriest couplets, he would stop his work and sigh with Dorfling over the tragedy of life. The papers treated his farces as rubbish, but the public adored them. The earnest critic would hardly touch his name with a pair of tongs, but the theatre managers fought for possession of his work. He had a beautiful wife who worshiped him, two wonderful children, and the appearance and bearing of Timon of Athens.

At Dorfling’s summons two waiters came in; one of them put a large dish of oysters on the table, while the other placed a thick octavo volume before each guest.

“The last of the season,” cried Barinskoi gayly, and helped himself to oysters.

“The book! Bravo!” said Paul, and held out his hand to Dorfling.

There was a short silence, while they all, even the cynical Barinskoi, contemplated the book before them, On the pearl-gray cover they read;

“The Philosophy of Deliverance, by X. Rheinthaler.”

“What an expressive title,” said Wilhelm, breaking the silence first.

“Admirably adapted for a comic song,” remarked Mayboom, with a melancholy air. Barinskoi laughed loudly, while Dorfling looked blandly at him. The comic poet sighed deeply and began to eat.

“But why Rheinthaler?” asked Paul.

“I at first wanted the book to appear anonymously; but the public is accustomed now to see a proper name on the title page. If it does not find one, its curiosity is excited, and what I particularly wished to avoid comes to pass, namely, the diversion of attention from the essential to the unessential.”

“That does not explain why you have not put your own name to it,” said Paul.

“My own name? What for? What is a name? What is an individuality, which a name symbolizes? The thoughts which I have put down in this book are not from me, the transient accident called Dorfling, but from the absolute everlasting thing which thinks in my brain. I am merely the carrier of the truth, appointed by it. What would you say if a postman put his name on all the letters he delivers?”

“I should not be capable of such self-effacement,” said Paul. “If I had devoted the best years of my life to any work I should be unable to renounce the recognition I had earned.”

“Recognition, Herr Haber. What sort of word is that? One does what one does, not because one wills, but because one must; not on account of an operation aimed at, but because of a compelling cause. He who reckons on any kind of reward for his works is on the same footing as a silly woman who claims men’s approbation because she is pretty or an unreasoning child, who wants to be praised and petted because he has eaten his dinner. A mature perception arrives at this idea of the duty which one must fulfill, and in no hope of the gratification of individual vanity or self-seeking. Recognition! Does the wind hope for recognition from the ships it helps to sail? Is it blamed if it dashes the ship to pieces? It blows, as it must, and is perfectly indifferent about what men say, and as to its effect on trees, and chimney-pots, and ships. My brain is now thinking just as the wind blows. There is no difference between my organism and what goes on in the atmosphere. Both obey the laws of nature, and I merely fulfill these when I write a book.”

“I quite agree with you,” said Wilhelm.

The oysters had been eaten, and some wonderful Markobrunner drunk. The waiter now brought some Printanière soup. The conversation halted, as everyone had involuntarily opened his copy of the book, some of them perhaps really curious to read, the others out of sympathy for the writer.

“Please don’t read it now,” said Dorfling, “the book will be just the same to-morrow, but the soup will be cold.”

“That is the remark of a philosopher,” said Barinskoi, and poked his pointed red nose in the savory steam from his soup.

“It is difficult to tear oneself away,” said Schrotter; “it would be very friendly of you to give an idea of the thoughts at the foundation of your thesis.”

“How could I explain a whole system intelligibly in a few words?” said Dorfling.

“You could leave out all the proofs and the development, we can read those presently in your book. You need only just give us the main ideas of your ‘Philosophy of Deliverance.’”

All the guests joined in Schrotter’s request, Paul the most eagerly, for the idea of having to read through that thick, dry book had frightened him, and now he saw the possibility of knowing its contents in an agreeable and comfortable way.

Dorfling objected at first, but as his friends insisted he began.

“The phenomenal world, in my opinion, is the foundation of a single spiritual principle which you can call what you like strength, final cause, will, consciousness, God. This eternal principle separates part of itself from its own being and this is the soul of mankind. Every soul perceives clearly that it is a part of an eternal whole; it feels itself unhappy and uneasy in its fragmentary existence, and yearns to go back again to the whole from whence it came. Individual life means removal from that all-embracing whole; individual death is the complete union of finite parts with the infinite whole. Thus, although life is a necessity, it is a continual pain, and ceaseless yearning; death is the freedom from pain and the fulfillment of that yearning. The only aim of life is death at the end of it, and death is the goal toward which every activity of the living organism eagerly strives.”

Paul looked at Wilhelm and Schrotter, but as they were silent he said nothing. Schrotter after consideration, said:

“Why do you separate a part of the eternal principle from itself?”

“To make its unity manifold through divisibility, to arrive at the consciousness of the ‘ego,’ through the creation of an absolute negation.”

“Your eternal principle then,” said Schrotter, “appears to you like some lord or master, who is lonely because he is by himself in the world, and wishes to have the society of others.”

“Over this, however, is placed the creation of the negation arriving at the consciousness of its own ‘ego,’ in addition to the knowledge of the object it has in view; thus consciousness precedes the rest,” said Wilhelm.

Dorfling shook his head.

“These objections are close reasoning. You will find them answered in the book.”

“You are right,” said Schrotter, “it is unfair to criticize before we have read the book. I only want to make one remark, not in the sense of criticism, but rather to confirm a fact. Your “Philosophy of Deliverance” is no other than a form of Christianity which looks upon the earth as a vale of tears, on life as a banishment, and on death as going home to the Father’s house. The theology of the Vatican would not find a hitch in your system.”

“Forgive me, doctor,” answered Dorfling. “I see a great difference between my system and Christianity. Both of them hold that life is a misery, and death is the deliverance. But Christianity does not explain why God creates men, and sends them to the misery of earth, instead of leaving them in peace in heaven. I, on the contrary, claim that I explain the creation of living and conscious beings.”

“Your assertion then means that the eternal principle of phenomena creates organisms, with the object of arriving at the consciousness of itself?”

“Exactly.”

“Now, we have already answered you as to that,” said Schrotter, “and I will not keep back my objection any longer. Let me get away for a moment from your system, and say that between metaphysics and theology I do not see the least difference. A metaphysical system and a religious dogma are both attempts to explain the incomprehensible secret to human reason. The negro solves the riddle of the musical-box, believing that a spirit is inside it, which gives forth musical sounds at the white man’s command; and that is precisely what priests and philosophers do when they explain the great workings of the universe by a God, or a principle, or whatever they call their fetich. Human nature always wants to know the why and wherefore of things. When we are not sure of our ground, we help ourselves by conjectures, or even by imagination. These conjectures are senseless or reasonable, according to whether our knowledge is insufficient or comprehensive. Men are satisfied in their childhood with stories as explanations of the world’s mysteries, in their maturity they advance to plausible hypotheses: the stories yield to theology, hypotheses to philosophy. Religion presents a fictitious solution to the riddle in a concrete form, and metaphysics in an abstract form; the one relates and asserts, the other argues and avoids the improbable. It is only a difference of degree, not of character.”

“That is just so,” cried Wilhelm. “Metaphysics are as incapable as religion of disclosing what lies behind the phenomenal world, and I cannot conceive (forgive me, Dorfling, if I say straight out what I mean), I cannot conceive how a philosopher can really take his own system in earnest. He must know that his explanation is only a conjecture, a possibility at the best, and he actually has the temerity to preach it as a fixed truth. No, my friend, I do not expect anything from metaphysics. It only interests me as a means for studying psychology. The history of philosophical systems is a history of the development of the mind of humanity. The systems are only valuable as testimonials to the endless extent and possibility of human thought. All the systems put together do not contain a spark of objective truth.”

“That is upon the whole the difference between natural science and metaphysics,” said Schrotter. “Science regulates the boundary between what is known and what is not known, and declares when the limit is reached. Our knowledge has attained to a certain point, and beyond that we know and understand nothing, absolutely nothing. Metaphysics will not stop at that limit. It confuses knowledge and dreams together, and manufactures out of the two something quite worthless. It explains things which it does not understand, and which cannot be understood, and offers us detailed descriptions of countries into which it has never traveled, and where mankind probably never will travel.”

“May I say a word in defence of your metaphysics?” said Dorfling, with a slight smile.

“Yes, go on,” cried Barinskoi. He had drunk more than all the rest put together, and the serious conversation seemed to afford him great amusement.

“Look here, Eynhardt. I cannot possibly uphold your statement that metaphysics do not contain a spark of objective truth. To be certain of that, one must also be certain what objective truth is. But you are not certain, as you very well know, and so logically you must admit the possibility that metaphysics can hold a spark of objective truth. I am of an entirely different opinion on this point. I believe that the science of the actual content of things, the foundation of all appearances, the laws of the universe, in short, everything which you call objective truth, is the property peculiar to the atoms, of which the world formerly existed. Absolute science, I say, is inherent matter, like motion and gravitation. Matter does not learn of them, it possesses them. A cell has not studied chemistry, but with unfailing accuracy it executes its wonderful chemical operations. Water knows nothing of physics and mathematics, but it flows from the spring, just as high as the laws of hydraulic pressure command.”

“Bravo,” interrupted Mayboom, “that explains at last something I never understood; and that is, why a flower pot should fall off a window straight on the heads of people in the street, with unfailing accuracy.”

“Please, Mayboom, no bad jokes to-day,” said Dorfling gently.

The comic song writer sighed and again sank into deep thought, and the philosopher went on:

“The science of truth, to which every atom adheres, dwells in men. We must not forget that man is a collection of countless millions of atoms; the collected consciousness of mankind can know just as much of what each atom knows, as a whole people can understand of Greek or Sanscrit because one or other of its members can read those languages. Only through intercommunication can the knowledge of the few become the knowledge of the many. The development of the living being I regard in this way, that the atoms at first only hang loosely, gradually becoming more closely knit together, until they make a substantial organism. The single atoms in the course of this process of development step over the boundary toward consciousness. At first it is a trembling, insecure foreboding, like the sensation of light to one nearly blind, then the outlines of truth become clearer, and all at once grow sharp and clearly defined. The different attempts at explanation of the secrets of the world are the expression of these forebodings of truth. So every one of the religious and philosophical systems is to my mind a grain of the truth, and the whole of it will be found in the great unity which we shall reach in a higher development.”

“As charming as a pretty story,” said Schrotter, “but it is only a story after all. You conjecture that the thing is so situated, but you are not in a condition to prove it; and if I deny it, you have no means of compelling me to believe, as I can compell you to believe that twice two makes four. No, no; nothing can come of these metaphysical speculations. The whole philosophy is not worth psychological treatment. We are no further to-day than the old Greeks, whose knowledge led to the formula, ‘Know thyself.’ We can hope to know ourselves some day, to know what goes on in our brains. I hardly believe, however, that science will ever arrive at it.”

“The study of natural science has brought me to the same conclusion,” said Wilhelm. “We know nothing to-day of the nature of phenomena we knew nothing yesterday, and we shall know nothing to-morrow. The great advance in thought has only brought us to the point of no more self-deception, and exactly knowing what we do know, whereas yesterday men deceived themselves, and imagined that the fables of religion and metaphysics were positive knowledge. The history of physical science is in this respect very interesting. It teaches that every step forward does not consist of a new explanation, but rather goes to prove, that the earlier explanations were untrustworthy. The sphere of the exact sciences does not grow wider, but narrower. It would be very instructive to study the history of natural science at the point it has reached.”

“Why do you not write such a history?” asked Schrotter.

“Why? It would be foolish to add another book to the millions of books already written. All that one can say about it is soon said. Anything really new is written once in a thousand years, all the rest is repetition, dilution, compilation. If everyone who writes on a subject were to read first everything which has been written on that subject, he would very soon throw his pen out of the window.”

“I must again differ from you,” said Dorfling. “I think it is best, that we so seldom know all that has been thought and written on a subject. It is best that we write new books without wearying to read the millions of others. I grant that most books are only repetitions of earlier ones. But it is unconscious repetition, and it is exactly that which gives it a wonderfully new meaning. It proves unity of mind, identity of science. Thousands of men daily discover gunpowder. Many of them laugh, because gunpowder was first discovered two hundred years ago. I do not laugh. I see in it the manifestation of the eternal unity of phenomenal principle. So many men could not arrive at the same thought if they were not fragments of a whole; now you know why I have written a book, and also, why I have not put my individual name on the title-page.”

From the next room they heard a woman laugh in a wild, excited way, glasses chinked together, and a man’s voice was just distinguished in conversation. Barinskoi pricked up his ears and winked at Paul; the others paid no attention.

“Do not misunderstand me,” said Wilhelm, answering Dorfling’s last remark. “I do not mean to say that your book is superfluous. You had every right to it, having made it the object of your life.”

“Not the object of my life,” interrupted Dorfling. “The only object I have in life is death, which I call deliverance.”

“Very good; I will say then, when you conceived it your duty to write it.”

“‘Duty’ yes, I will allow that word to pass. Let us rather say impulse, or instinct. If one has a perception one also feels an impulse, which one calls a feeling of duty to share it with others.”

Wilhelm smiled.

“You believe even in perception. That proves above all what you mean by your duty. I know, to my regret, that I have no perceptions to share with others, and the duty of my life is only toward my own moral education and greatest possible perfection.”

“That is not enough,” Paul broke in, “this self-culture in one’s own study does no one any good. For that reason I do not mind if I appear unphilosophical. One has duties toward one’s fellowmen. One must be useful to the State, as a good citizen. One must make money, to add to the national wealth.”

“Bravo, Herr Haber,” said Mayboom gravely. “You speak like a town-crier,” and after a short pause he added, “That is a great compliment from me.”

“We express the same meaning in different forms,” answered Wilhelm. “How can you add to the national wealth? By making yourself a rich man. And I try to be useful to the community by educating myself in the greatest possible morality, and the highest ideal of a citizen. No one can work outside of himself when every individual strives to be good and true, then the whole people will be good and noble.”

“Now you are disputing as to your life’s duty,” cried Baninskoi, whose eyes glowed, and whole face was red with the alcohol he had imbibed. “Prove first that it is a duty. I deny without exception every duty to others. Why should I trouble myself about the world? What are my fellow-creatures to me? Dinner is trumps, and long live wine!” and he drank a glassful.

“It is an instinct born with us,” said Wilhelm, without any vexation, “to care for one’s fellow-creatures, and to feel a duty in sympathy for others.”

“But suppose I have not got this instinct?” answered Barinskoi.

“Then you are an unhealthy exception.”

“Prove it.”

“The best proof is the continuance of mankind. If the instinct of sympathy with others were to fail among men, humanity would long ago have ceased to exist.”

Barinskoi laughed.

“That is a convenient arrangement. Instinct then is the only foundation for your duty, and the continuance of humanity is the only sanction of your instinct. I will leave you to listen to your instinct, and sympathize as much as you like, but for my part I joyfully renounce this duty; the only punishment I should be afraid of is the destruction of mankind, and that is not likely to happen in my lifetime.”

“There is another punishment,” said Mayboom solemnly, “that I take this bottle of champagne away from you on account of your bad behavior.”

While he spoke he took away the bottle, and Barinskoi tried to get it back again; a little struggle ensued. Dorfling put an end to it by an emphatic “Please don’t do that.” Turning to Wilhelm he went on:

“I do not believe in your idea of duty; you place instinct at the foundation. I use another word. I call your instinct the foreboding that each has of its being, and its outflow toward the eternal phenomenon of principle. At all events, that seems to suffice for a foundation. But I conceive duty to be quite a different thing. You limit your view to self-culture, and have love for your fellow-creatures, but no desire to instruct them. Now, I think that culture should begin with oneself, but end with others. That is my idea of love for humanity. One need hardly go out of oneself to do this. One can influence things remote without disturbing oneself. Just think of the magnet; it is an immense source of influence, called example. It sets an astonishing example without moving out of itself an example which cannot be overlooked, and powerfully affects the imagination.”

“One illustration for another,” said Schrotter, who had shown his interest in the conversation by nodding his head now and then. “You wish man to play the part of a magnet; that is not enough, I want him to play the part of a cogwheel. He must catch hold of his surroundings while he moves, he must also move all those round him. Everyone cannot be a magnet; we are not all made of the same stuff. But one can make a cogged wheel out of whatever one will and beside, a magnet only influences certain substances. It will draw iron, but cannot attract copper, wood, or stone; but the cogwheel takes hold of anything near it, of whatever material it is made. I will not work the illustration to death. You can see by this what I mean. I think a far-reaching activity is the first business of mankind. Our nerves are not so much those of sensation as of movement; we do not only take in impressions from the outside, we are provided with organs which give out impressions received from within. Every sensation of movement which nature sends through us is a summons to be answered by an action, not only self-culture, not example, not passive good-will toward others, but by the intention an object of activity toward the world and humanity. The Middle Ages summoned up the business of life in the words, ‘Ora et Labora.’ They are beautiful words, and after this lapse of time we take the meaning out for ourselves, in other words, ’Think and Act.’”

The woman’s laughter from the next room became louder, and then they heard chairs pushed back, and the noise of departure. The rustling of a silk dress, with the clinking of spurs and sword, passed the door, became fainter, and then ceased. It was near midnight, and Schrotter rose to go. He was thinking of Bhani, who was sitting up for him at home. The dinner must have been paid for beforehand, for the guests were spared the sight of a money transaction to chill the end of their pleasant evening. The cool night air felt refreshing after the heat of the small room. Dorfling declined the offers his friends made to accompany him home. They all wished him “Farewell.”

“Die well, would be a better wish,” replied Dorfling, and with these strange words in their ears they left him.

Schrotter and Wilhelm went a part of the way with Paul, who had the furthest to go. For a little while he was silent, then he broke out:

“I declare this is beyond my comprehension. The whole time I was there I felt as if I were in a vault with a lot of ghosts. You, Herr Doctor, were the only living being among them; I breathed again when I heard you talking. If I had not head the sounds from next door, and had not had the realities of our dinner before me, I should have thought I was dreaming.”

“What has put you out so, my dear Paul?” said Wilhelm.

“What! Are you men of flesh and blood? Are you really alive? There we sat for four mortal hours, and the talk was wearisome to a degree, never one sensible word.”

“Now! now!” protested Schrotter.

“Herr Doctor, forgive me, but I must repeat it, never one sensible word. Do you call Dorfling’s ‘Philosophy of Deliverance’ sensible? or, Wilhelm, your philosophy of self-culture, which, with all deference to you, I call philosophical onanism? Only six men, two of them under thirty-five, and the whole blessed evening not one word about either pleasure or love.”

They had come to the place where Friedrichstrasse and Leipzigerstrasse cross each other; and Schrotter signed to them to look toward the left corner. There under a gas lamp they saw Barinskoi in earnest conversation with a woman.

“Yes, look at him! That brute is still the most reasonable among all your philosophics. He has his method of sponging, and enjoys himself according to the category of Aristotle. But your metaphysics ”

“What do you really want, Paul?”

“Well, I want you all to have to do for once with practical life, with two hundred workmen to pay and ten thousand acres of land to see after; and artificial manures and the price of corn to worry you; then perhaps you would take a little less interest as to whether the soul was a phenomenon or an india-rubber ball, or whether men were magnets or cogwheels.”

Wilhelm only smiled. He had long ago given up trying to bring his practical friend to ideal views. At the corner of the Kochstrasse they separated, and Paul continued his way to the Lutzowstrasse, while Wilhelm and Schrotter turned back.

Twenty minutes later, as Wilhelm entered his bedroom, his eyes fell on a letter for him in Dorfling’s handwriting. He opened it, greatly surprised, and read as follows:

“Dear friend: When you read this I shall be free from all trouble and all doubt. I have accomplished what I set myself to do, and I am going back to eternity from this limited sphere. May you be as happy as I shall be in a few hours! Keep a friendly thought for me as long as you stay in this world of misery, and believe that he who writes this had the warmest friendship for you.”

“L. Dorfling.”

Wilhelm stood as if thunderstruck. Was it by any chance a dreadful joke? No; Dorfling was incapable of that. It must be a grim reality. He ran quickly out of the house to seek Schrotter. The old Indian servant opened the door, and in his broken English informed him that Schrotter Sahib had found a letter when he reached home and had immediately gone out again.

Wilhelm could now doubt no longer, and running swiftly, he reached the street where Dorfling lived, waited in agonizing suspense for the door to be opened, flew up the stairs, and through the open door to his friend’s bedroom. There he found Schrotter; Mayboom was also there sobbing, and a tearful old servant. In an arm chair near the bed was Dorfling, still in his dress coat and tie, his head sunk on his breast, his face hardly whiter than in life, his arms hanging down, and in the middle of the white shirt-front a great red stain. On the floor lay a revolver.

Wilhelm, horrified, took his friend’s hand. It was still quite warm. His agonizing look sought Schrotter’s, who answered in a hushed voice, “He is dead.”

Then his tears broke out, and his trembling fingers had hardly strength to close the lids over his friend’s eyes, those eyes which looked so strangely quiet and peaceful as if they now knew the answer to the Great Secret.