Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Herman Hesse

German-Swiss Poet, Novelist and Painter, Nobel Prize in Literature

"All higher humor begins with ceasing to take oneself seriously."

"God does not send us despair in order to kill us; he sends it in order to awaken us to a new life."

"Courage has need of reason, but it is not reason’s child; it springs from deeper strata."

"Soft is stronger than hard, water than rock, love than violence."

"Nothing makes the multitude angrier than when someone forces them to change their opinion of him."

"Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin."

"Any attempt to replace the personal conscience by a collective conscience does violence to the individual and is the first step toward totalitarianism."

"If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us."

"One cannot have pleasure without giving it."

"There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself."

"There is nothing so evil, savage, and cruel in nature as the normal man."

"Those who cannot think or take responsibility for themselves need, and clamor for, a leader."

"All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened. "

"Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. "

"Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud. "

"Happiness is a how; not a what. A talent, not an object. "

"Whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value. "

"It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is. "

"Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it."

"Meaning and reality were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them. "

"Only the ideas that we really live have any value. "

"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest. "

"Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. "

"To be able to throw one's self away for the sake of a moment, to be able to sacrifice years for a woman's smile - that is happiness."

"Within us there is someone who knows everything, wills everything, does everything better than we ourselves. "

"In reality, every self is far from being a unity; it is a constellation of Selves, a chaos of forms, of states and stages, of inheritances and potentialities. Man is an onion made up of a hundred layers, a texture made up of many threads."

"Many people pass for normal, and indeed for highly valuable members of society, who are incurably mad; and many, on the other hand, are looked upon as mad who are geniuses."

"I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value. "

"Love of God is not always the same as love of good. "

"Sacrifice is no longer a matter of doing specifically sacred things on particular occasions, but of sacrificing (making sacred) all we do and all we are."

"The eternity of the spirit does not begin after death, but is, like God, always present. "

"To mere reason the world always looks two-dimensional. "

"The man of power is ruined by power, the man of money by money, the submissive man by subservience, the pleasure seeker by pleasure. "

"Viewed philosophically, music is time made aesthetically perceptible as the present. And the identity of the present moment and eternity once again becomes apparent."

"Words are really a mask. They rarely express the true meaning; in fact, they tend to hide it."

"Each man had only one genuine vocation-to find the way to himself... . His task was to discover his own destiny-not an arbitrary one-and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness."

"Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his"

"Leadership has slipped out from the hands of priests and scholars to some place where it can no longer be called to account and made responsible, where, however, it can no longer legitimatize itself or appeal to any authority. For that stratum of writers and intellectuals which seems from time to time to lead because it shapes public opinion or at least supplies the slogans of the day ? that stratum is not identical with the creative stratum."

"If today the ability to read is everyone?s portion, still only a few notice what a powerful talisman has thus been put into their hands. The child proud of his youthful knowledge of the alphabet first achieves for himself the reading of a verse or a saying, then the reading of a first little story, a fairy tale, and while those who have not been called seem to apply their reading ability to news reports or to the business sections of their newspapers, there are a few who remain constantly bewitched by the strange miracle of letters and words (which once, to be sure, were an enchantment and magic formula to everyone). From these few come the readers. They discover as children the few poems and stories ? and instead of turning their backs on these things after acquiring the ability to read they press forward into the realm of books and discover step by step how vast, how various and blessed this world is! At first they took this world for a little child?s pretty garden with a tulip bed and a little fish pond; now the garden becomes a park, it becomes a landscape, a section of the earth, the world, it becomes Paradise and the Ivory Coast, it entices with constantly new enchantments, blooms in ever-new colors. And what yesterday appeared to be a garden or a park or a jungle, today or tomorrow is recognized as a temple, a temple with a thousand halls and courtyards in which the spirit of all nations and times is present, constantly waiting for reawakening, ever ready to recognize the many-voiced multiplicity of its phenomena as a unity. And for every true reader this endless world of books looks different, everyone seeks and recognizes himself in it? A thousand ways lead through the jungle to a thousand goals, and no goal is the final one; with each step new expanses open."

"The great and mysterious thing about this reading experience is this: the more discriminatingly, the more sensitively, and the more associatively we learn to read, the more clearly we see every thought and every poem in its uniqueness, its individuality, in its precise limitations and see that all beauty, all charm depend on this individuality and uniqueness ? at the same time we come to realize ever more clearly how all these hundred thousand voices of nations strive toward the same goals, call upon the same gods by different names, dream the same wishes, suffer the same sorrows. Out of the thousandfold fabric of countless languages and books of several thousand years, in ecstatic instants there stares at the reader a marvelously noble and transcendent chimera: the countenance of humanity, charmed into unity from a thousand contradictory features."

"Every true reader could, even if not one new book were published, spend decades and centuries studying on, fighting on, continuing to rejoice in the treasure of those already at hand."

"We have not quite reached the point where younger rivals like radio, film, and so forth have taken everything away from the printed book, but only that part of its function which is dispensable."

"We can observe every day how completely marvelous and like fairy tales are the histories of books, how at one moment they have the greatest enchantment and then again the gift of becoming invisible. Poets live and die, known by few or none, and we see their work after their death, often decades after their death, suddenly rise resplendent from the grave as though time did not exist."

"The laws of the spirit change just as little as those of nature and it is equally impossible to ?discard? them. Priesthoods and astrologers? guilds can be dissolved or deprived of their privileges. Discoveries or poetic inventions that formerly were secret possessions of the few can be made accessible to the many, who can even be forced to learn about these treasures. But all this goes on at the most superficial level and in reality nothing in the world of the spirit has changed since Luther translated the Bible and Gutenberg invented the printing press. The whole magic is still there, and the spirit is still the secret of a small hierarchically organized band of privileged persons, only now the band has become anonymous."

"What the crowd does not yet suspect and will perhaps not discover for a long time has already begun to be decided among creators themselves: the fundamental distinction between the media through which an artistic goal is attempted. When this divorce is final, to be sure, there will still be sloppy novels and trashy films, whose creators are unstable talents, freebooters in areas in which they lack competence. But to the clarification of concepts and the relief of literature and her present rivals this separation will contribute much. Then the cinema will be no more able to damage literature than, for example, photography has hurt painting."

"We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. For even the most childish intoxication with progress will soon be forced to recognize that writing and books have a function that is eternal. It will become evident that formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself."

"With all peoples the word and writing are holy and magical; naming and writing were originally magical operations, magical conquests of nature through the spirit, and everywhere the gift of writing was thought to be of divine origin. With most peoples, writing and reading were secret and holy arts reserved for the priesthood alone?Today all this is apparently completely changed. Today, so it seems, the world of writing and of the intellect is open to everyone? Today, so it seems, being able to read and write is little more than being able to breathe? Writing and the book have apparently been divested of every special dignity, every enchantment, every magic? From a liberal, democratic point of view, this is progress and is accepted as a matter of course; from other points of view, however, it is a devaluation and vulgarization of the spirit."

"She seemed to know more of life than is known to the wisest of the wise. It might be the highest wisdom or the merest artlessness. It is certain in any case that life is quite disarmed by the gift to live so entirely in the present, to treasure with such eager care every flower by the wayside and the light that plays on every passing moment."

"She could be transformed into each of my thoughts, and each of my thoughts on it."

"Seriousness... is produced by an overestimation of time... In eternity, however, there is no time: eternity is only an instant, long enough for a joke."