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Berthold Auerbach: Practicing for mutual manslaughter

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

German writers on peace and war

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Berthold Auerbach
From On the Heights
Translated by Simon Adler Stern

“What do we really do in the world? The trees would grow without us, the animals in the field, and in the air, and in the water would live without us. Everything has of itself something to do in the world; man alone must make himself something to do. And so we paint, and we build, and plough, and study, and practice for mutual manslaughter, and the only difference between man and beast is that men bury their dead.”

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“You cannot imagine what it is for a favorite and a respected officer to venture upon philosophy – how opposed it is to the military service, appearing unsuitable to your superiors and laughable to your comrades.”

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Men destroy and kill each other, but they don’t eat each other, that alone distinguishes them from beasts. And one thing besides – yes, one thing besides! that is it! Man alone can kill himself.

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Man alone sends forth the fatal bullet, and produces an effect where only his eye can reach.

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Frau Gunther looked at her husband with a beaming expression. “I find that Bronnen has converted you from your aversion to the military profession,” she said, softly.

“In no wise,” replied Gunther, “only Bronnen has not been affected by it. He unites with resolute courage and easy acknowledgement of the power of others a profound and serious mind…”

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Miscellaneous excerpts

They are not all gods who allow themselves to be worshipped.

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“Most people are the changelings of themselves; they were changed in the cradle of education.”

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He sat down by Irma, and pointing to the works of Spinoza and Shakespeare, which always lay on his work-table, he said, –

“To these two men the whole world is open. They lived centuries ago, and I have them on my quiet mountains always with me. I shall pass away, and leave no trace of my thoughts behind me; but I have lived the enduring life with the highest minds. The tree, the beast, they only live for themselves, and only for the space of time allotted to them. We receive with our life the mind of centuries; and he who in truth becomes a human being is the whole humanity in himself. So you, too, go on living with your father, and with all that is genuine and beautiful in the history of the human race.”

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“You have wrestled honorably with yourself and the highest ideas.”

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“I know every art wishes now to isolate itself and be independent, and not to be subject to others. A drama without music is a repast without wine. When men see a great drama without having passed beforehand through the initiatory undulations of music, they appear to me as if unconsecrated, unpurified; music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life, and says to each one, ‘Thou art now no longer in thine office, or in the barracks, or in thy workshop.’…”

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