30 September 2013

The Cure for Weltschmerz

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 346-347:
The question which concerns the world is, how this [morbid, melancholic] condition of the mind may be avoided. The cure Mr. Tennyson suggested was war; but wars, though more frequent than is desirable, are not to be had always. And in your case, my friend, it is happily not a cure but a preventive that is needed. Let me recommend certain precautions which taken together are likely to keep you safe. Care for the physical health in the first place, for if there is a morbid mind the bodily organs are not doing their work as they ought to do. Next, for the mind itself, I would heartily recommend hard study, really hard study, taken very regularly but in very moderate quantity. The effect of it on the mind is as bracing as that of cold water on the body, but as you ought not to remain too long in the cold bath, so it is dangerous to study hard more than a short time every day. Do some work that is very difficult (such as reading some language that you have to puzzle out à coups de dictionnaire) two hours a day regularly, to brace the fighting power of the intellect, but let the rest of the day’s work be easier. Acquire especially, if you possibly can, the enviable faculty of getting entirely rid of your work in the intervals of it, and of taking a hearty interest in common things, in a garden, or stable, or dog-kennel, or farm. If the work pursues you — if what is called unconscious cerebration, which ought to go forward without your knowing it, becomes conscious cerebration, and bothers you, then you have been working beyond your cerebral strength, and you are not safe.
Domenico Fetti, Archimedes (1620)