top of page

Nietzsche : Letters to his friends

Dernière mise à jour : 13 avr. 2021

Erwin Rohde, Carl von Gersdorff and Friedrich Nietzsche, 1871

Extracts from :

Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche

(translated by Anthony M. Ludovici)

Nietzsche to Freiherr Carl Von Gersdorff - April, 1866

"Now and again one enjoys hours of peaceful reflection when, with mingled gladness and sorrow, one seems to hover over one's life just as those lovely summer days, so exquisitely described by Emerson, seem to lie stretched out at ease above the hilltops. It is then, as he says, that Nature is perfect, and we feel the same; then we are free from the spell of the ever vigilant will; then we are nothing but a pure, contemplative and dispassionate eye. (...)

For recreation I turn to three things, and a wonderful recreation they provide ! my Schopenhauer, Schumann's music, and, finally, solitary walks. Yesterday a heavy storm hung in the sky, and I hastened up a neighbouring hill, called Leusch (perhaps you can explain the word to me ?). ... The storm broke with a mighty crash, discharging thunder and hail, and I felt inexpressibly well and full of zest, and realized with singular clearness that to understand Nature one must go to her as I had just done, as a refuge from all worries and oppressions.

What did man with his restless will matter to me then ? What did I care for the eternal "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" ? How different are lightning, storm and hail — free powers without ethics ! How happy, how strong they are — pure will untrammeled by the muddling influence of the intellect !"


Nietzsche to Freiherr Carl Von Gersdorff - April, 1867

"In short, old man, one cannot pursue one's path too independently. Truth seldom resides in the temple men have built in her honour, or where priests have been ordained to her service. The good work or the rubbish we produce we alone have to pay for, not those who have given us their good or their foolish advice. Let us at least have the pleasure of scoring our blunders off our own bat.

There is no such thing as a general recipe for the assistance of all men. One must be one's own doctor and gather one's medical experience on one's own body. As a matter of fact, we give too little thought to our own welfare; our egoism is not shrewd enough, our reason not selfish enough."


Nietzsche to Rohde - February, 1868

"My present life, my dear friend, is really very lonely and friendless. It offers me no stimulation that I do not myself provide; none of that harmonious concord of souls which many a happy hour in Leipzig used to afford; but rather, enstrangement of the soul from itself, preponderance of obsessional influences, which draw the soul up tightly with a sense of fear, and teach it to regard things with an earnestness that they do not deserve. This is the seamy side of my present existence, and you will certainly be able to enter into my feelings about it.

Let us, however, turn it round the other way. This life is certainly uncomfortable, but enjoyed as an entremets, absolutely useful. It makes a constant call on a man's energy and is relished particularly as an ἀντίδοτον [antidote] against paralyzing scepticism, concerning the effects of which we have observed a good deal together."


Nietzsche to Rohde - August, 1869

"This is the last day of the holidays. Feelings long since dead and buried seem to wake again. I feel just like a fourth-form boy who waxes sentimental and writes poems about the ephemeral character of earthly happiness when he hears the clock strike on the last day of the holidays. Oh, dear friend, what a small amount of joy is mine and what a lot of my own smoke I have to consume ! Aye, I wouldn't fear even an attack of that dreadful dysentery if by means of it I could purchase a talk with you every evening. How unsatisfactory letters are!

Incidentally I discovered the following beautiful passage in old Goethe yesterday:

"How precious is the dear and certain speech

Of the present friend! The Solitary,

Robbed of its power benign, sinks into gloom;

Too slowly ripens, then locked in his breast,

Thought and each firm resolve ; but in the presence

Of the beloved friend they leap to life!"

[Goethe: Iphigenia, Act. IV.]

You see, that's the whole thing: we are in eternal need of midwives, and with the view of being confined most men go into the public house or to a "colleague," and then the little thoughts and little plans romp out like kittens. When, however, we are pregnant and there is no one at hand to assist us in our difficult delivery, then darkly and gloomily we lay our rude, unformed, newborn thought in the murky recess of some cave; the sunny rays of friendship are denied it.

But with my incessant talk about solitude, I shall soon develop into a regular Joseph, the carpenter, and then no kind Mary will wish to join her lot with mine. "The calf and the baby ass, men say, do praise the Lord most perfectly." There s the whole thing ! A little cattle makes the whole world kin, the edifice is crowned. Remember it was the shepherds and the sheep who saw the stars; to people like us everything is dark."


Nietzsche to Rohde - December, 1875

"Let me tell you how I am faring. As far as my health is concerned, things are not so good as I really supposed they would be when I effected the complete change in my mode of life here. Every two or three weeks I have to lie in bed for about thirty-six hours in great pain with the usual trouble you know so well. Perhaps it will gradually get better, but I feel as if I had never had such a hard winter.

What with new lectures, etc., the day drags so wearily that in the evening I am always more and more glad to have finished, and actually marvel at the hardness of existence. The whole exasperating business does not seem worth while; the pain you inflict on yourself and others is out of all proportion to the benefit either they or you yourself derive from your efforts. This is the opinion of a man who does not happen to be troubled by his passions, though he is certainly not made happy by them either.

During the hours that I rest my eyes, my sister reads aloud to me, almost always Walter Scott, whom I would readily agree with Schopenhauer in calling "immortal." What pleases me so much in him is his artistic calm, his Andante. I should like to recommend him to you, but there are some things which, though they benefit me, can get no hold of your spirit, because you think more quickly and more sharply than I do. As to the use of novels for the treatment of one's soul, I will say nothing more particularly as you are already forced to help yourself with your own "novel."

Nay, I advise you to read "Don Quixote" again — not because it is the most cheerful but because it is the most austere reading I know. I took it up during the summer holidays, and all personal troubles seemed to shrink to nothing and appear simply laughable, not even worthy of a wry face. All earnestness, all passion, and everything men take to heart is Quixotism — for some things it is good to know this; otherwise it is better not to know it."


Nietzsche to Freiherr Karl Von Gersdorff - December, 1875 "I am of opinion that the will to knowledge is the last remaining vestige of the will to life; it is an intermediary region between willing and no longer willing, a piece of purgatory, in so far as we look discontentedly and contemptuously on life, and a piece of Nirvana, in so far as, through it, the soul approaches the state of pure disinterested contemplation. I am training myself to unlearn the eager hurry of the will to knowledge. This is what all scholars suffer from, and that is why they all lack the glorious serenity derived from acquired enlightenment, insight. For the present I am too heavily burdened by the various claims of my official post to help falling all too frequently though reluctantly into that eager hurry, but by degrees I shall put all this right.

And then my health will be more settled — a condition I shall not attain before I thoroughly deserve it, before, that is to say, I have discovered that state of my soul which is, as it were, my destiny, that healthy state in which it has retained but one of all its instincts — the will to know.

A simple home, a perfectly regular daily routine, no enervating hankering after honours or society, my sister's company (which makes everything about me Nietzschean and strangeful restful), the consciousness of having 40 excellent books of all times and climes (and many more which are not altogether bad), the constant joy of having found educators in Schopenhauer and Wagner, and the Greeks as the object of my daily work, the belief that henceforward I shall no longer lack pupils — all these things now for the time being make up my life."


Nietzsche to Rohde - August, 1877

"How can I express it ? But every time I think of you I am overcome by a sort of deep emotion; and when, a day or two ago, someone wrote to me "Rohde's young wife is an exceedingly sweet woman whose every feature is illumined by her noble soul," I actually wept. And I can give you absolutely no plausible reason for having done so.

We might ask the psychologists for an explanation. Ultimately they would declare it was envy and that I grudged you your happiness, or that it was my vexation at someone having run away with my friend and having concealed him Heaven alone knows where, on the Rhine or in Paris, and refused to give him up again.

When I was humming my "Hymn to Solitude" to myself a few days ago, I suddenly had the feeling that you could not abide my music at all and that you would much have preferred a song on Dual Bliss. The same evening I played a song of this sort, as well as I was able, and it was so successful that all the angels might have listened to it with joy, particularly the human ones. But it was in a dark room and no one heard it. Thus I am forced to consume my own happiness, tears, and everything in private.

Shall I tell you all about myself — how every day I set out two hours before the sun rises on the hills and after that take my walks only among the lengthening shadows of the afternoon and evening ? How many things I have thought out, and how rich I feel now that this year I have at last been allowed to strip off the old moss growth of the daily routine of teaching and thinking ! As to my life here, I can only say that it is tolerable, in spite of all my ailments which have certainly followed me even up to the heights — but I have so many intervals of happy exultation both of thought and feeling.


I am rather dreading the coming winter. Things must change. The man who only has a few moments a day for what he regards as most important, and who has to spend the rest of his time and energy performing duties which others could carry out equally well — such a man is not a harmonious whole; he must be in conflict with himself and must ultimately fall ill.

If I exercise any influence over youth at all, I owe it to my writings, and for these I have to thank my leisure moments — yes, the intervals I have won for myself, in the midst of professional duties by means of illness. Well, things must change: si male nunc non olim sic erit. ["If things are bad today, at some future time they will be better."]"


To Rohde - February, 1884


I know not how it was, but when I read your last letter and especially when I saw the

charming photograph of your child, I felt as if you were shaking me by the hand gazing at

me sadly the while — sadly, as if you meant to say:

"How is it possible that we should have so little in common now, and that we should be living as if in different worlds ! And there was a time when —"

The same thing, dear friend, has happened in regard to all the people I love; everything is over, it all belongs to the past, it is all merely merciful indulgence now. We see each other

still, we talk in order to avoid being silent — we still write each other letters in order to

avoid being silent. Truth, however glances from their eyes, and these tell me (I hear it well


"Friend Nietzsche, you are now quite alone !"

That's what I have lived and fought for ! Meanwhile I continue along my road; as a matter of fact it is a journey, a sea-journey — and it is not in vain that I sojourned for so many years in Columbus' town.

My Zarathustra has come to an end in its three acts. You have the first, and the two others I hope to be able to send you within a month or six weeks. There is a sort of abyss of the future, something uncanny, particularly in his supreme happiness. Everything in it is my

own, independent of all example, parallel, or predecessor. He who has once lived in its

atmosphere returns to this world with another face.

But of this one should not speak. From you, however, as a homo literatus I shall not

withold a confession: I have the idea that with this Zarathustra I have brought the German

language to its acme of perfection. (...)

Forgive me ! I shall take care not to make this confession to anyone else, but once, I

believe, you alone expressed the pleasure my style had given you. Moreover I have

remained a poet to the utmost limits of this concept, although I have already tyrannized

over myself thoroughly with the reverse of everything that could be called poetry.

Ah, dear friend, what an absurdly silent life I lead ! So much alone, so much alone ! So


Remain fond of me; I am truly fond of you."

* * * *

Télécharger • 1.37MB


PayPal ButtonPayPal Button
bottom of page