on aesthetics

Beauty no accident—Even the beauty of a race or of a family, the charm and perfection of all its movements, is attained with pains: like genius it is the final result of the accumulated work of generations. Great sacrifices must have been made on the altar of good taste, for its sake many things must have been done, and much must have been left undone—the seventeenth century in France is admirable for both of these things,—in this century there must have been a principle of selection in respect to company, locality, clothing, the gratification of the instinct of sex; beauty must have been preferred to profit, to habit, to opinion and to indolence. The first rule of all:—nobody must “let himself go,” not even when he is alone.—Good things are exceedingly costly:; and in all cases the law obtains that he who possesses them is a different person from him who is acquiring them. Everything good is an inheritance: that which is not inherited is imperfect, it is simply a beginning. In Athens at the time of Cicero—who expresses his surprise at the fact—the men and youths were by far superior in beauty to the women: but what hard work and exertions the male sex had for centuries imposed upon itself in the service of beauty! We must not be mistaken in regard to the method employed here: the mere discipline of feelings and thoughts is little better than nil (—it is in this that the great error of German culture, which is quite illusory, lies): the body must be persuaded first. The strict maintenance of a distinguished and tasteful demeanor, the obligation of frequenting only those who do not “let themselves go,” is amply sufficient to render one distinguished and tasteful: in two or three generations everything has already taken deep root. The fate of a people and of humanity is decided according to whether they begin culture at the right place—not at the “soul” (as the fatal superstition of the priests and half-priests would have it): the right place is the body, demeanor, diet, physiology—the rest follows as the night the day…. That is why the Greeks remain the first event in culture—they knew and they did what was needful. Christianity with its contempt of the body is the greatest mishap that has ever befallen mankind. ~F.W.N.

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