Letter from Nietzsche to Brandes (Aristocratic Radicalism)

Nice, Dec. 2, 1887.


My Dear Sir,

A few readers whom one honours and beyond them, no readers at all — that is really what I desire. As regards the latter part of this wish, I am bound to say my hope of its realisation is growing less and less. All the more happy I am in satis sunt pauci, that the pauci do not fail and have never failed me. Of the living amongst them I will mention (to name only those whom you are certain to know) my distinguished friend Jakob Burkhardt, Hans von Bulow, Taine, and the Swiss poet Keller; of the dead, the old Hegelian Bruno Bauer and Richard Wagner. It gives me sincere pleasure that so good a European and missionary of culture as yourself will in future be numbered amongst them; I thank you with all my heart for this proof of your goodwill.

I am afraid you will find it a difficult position. I myself have no doubt that my writings in one way or another are still “very German.” You will, I am sure, feel this all the more markedly, being so spoilt by yourself; I mean, by the free and graceful French way in which you handle the language (a more familiar way than mine). With me, a great many words have acquired an incrustation of foreign salts and taste differently on my tongue and on those of my readers. On the scale of my experiences and circumstances, the predominance is given to the rarer, remoter, more attenuated tones as against the normal, medial ones. Besides (as an old musician, which is what I really am), I have an ear for quarter-tones. Finally — and this probably does most to make my books obscure — there is in me a distrust of dialectics, even of reasons. What a person already holds ” true ” or has not yet acknowledged as true, seems to me to depend mainly on his courage, on the relative strength of his courage (I seldom have the courage for what I really know).

The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good. It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself. How far this mode of thought has carried me already, how far it will carry me yet — I am almost afraid to imagine.

But there are certain paths which do not allow one to go backward and so I go forward because I must. That I may not neglect anything on my part that might facilitate your access to my cave — that is, my philosophy —  en bloc. I recommend you especially to read the new prefaces to them (they have nearly all been republished); these prefaces, if read in order, will perhaps throw some light upon me, assuming that I am not obscurity in itself (obscure in myself) as obscurissimus obscurorum virorum. For that is quite possible.

Are you a musician? A work of mine for chorus and orchestra is just being published, a “Hymn to Life.” This is intended to represent my music to posterity and one day to be sung ” in my memory “; assuming that there is enough left of me for that. You see what posthumous thoughts I have. But a philosophy like mine is like a grave — it takes one from among the living. Bene vixit qui bene latuit — was inscribed on Descartes’ tombstone. What an epitaph, to be sure.

I too hope we may meet some day.





N.B. — I am staying this winter at Nice. My summer address is Sils-Maria, Upper Engadine, Switzerland — I have resigned my professorship at the University. I am three parts blind.

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