Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born at Röcken, in Saxony, in 1844. His father was a Lutheran clergyman, and his grandfather held a high official position in the Lutheran Church. His grandmother Nietzsche “came of a family of pastors,” and his mother was the “daughter of a parson”. In view of the strongly antagonistic attitude which Nietzsche afterwards adopted towards the Christian scheme of morality, the marked clerical strain in his ancestry is worthy of note. According to his sister Their ancestors, paternal and maternal, were very long-lived. “Of the four pairs of great-grandparents [one] great-grandfather…reached the age of ninety, five great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers died between seventy-five and eighty-six, two only failed to reach old age. The two grandfathers attained their seventieth year, the maternal grandmother died at eighty-two, and grandmother Nietzsche at seventy-seven.” Nietzsche's mother was also long-lived; she was born in 1826, and was married, in 1843, to Pastor Nietzsche, who was then thirty years old. She died in 1897, “after having suffered ill-health for several years”. Pastor Nietzsche is described by his daughter as being an “extraordinarily sensitive man…any sign of discord, either in the parish or in his own family, was so painful to him that he would withdraw to his study, and refuse to eat or drink, or speak with anybody”. This tendency to seek solitude is worthy of note, as it reappeared in a very marked degree in his son, Friedrich. The father was short-sighted—as was Nietzsche—and, in 1848, this resulted in an accident, the consequences of which were disastrous: he tripped over an obstacle which his defective eyesight had prevented him from observing, and he suffered as a result from concussion of the brain. This shock to the nervous system initiated a train of symptoms—chiefly cerebral—which led to his death eleven months later. The fall may have been the cause of the attack; or, as another biographer says, perhaps “only hastened its approach.” The same writer informs us that Pastor Nietzsche “might have hoped for a fine career had he not suffered from headaches and nerves”. Frau Förster-Nietzsche, however, says that her father had not suffered from headaches prior to the accident. In view of Nietzsche's history, one feels inclined to agree with Halévy, more especially as, where any history of nervous or of mental symptoms of a morbid character are concerned, relatives are usually the last to admit them. Mügge says that Pastor Nietzsche “suffered either from concussion or softening of the brain…doubtless this accident hastened his death”. The youngest of the three children born to Nietzsche's parents, a boy, died just after his second birthday “from teething convulsions”. There was apparently nervous instability in the family; and Ireland says that O. Hansson “learned from a family who knew Friedrich Nietzsche from childhood that a disposition to insanity had been inherited for several generations, both on the father's and the mother's side”. This statement is not in accord with the details of family history as given by Frau Förster-Nietzsche; at the same time, it is, perhaps, no injustice to her to surmise that she was desirous of minimising the pathological aspect of the family heredity, and of laying greater stress upon the more favourable characteristics. When Nietzsche's life-history with its morbid mental vicissitudes is considered, however, it would be surprising if the family annals were found to be clear of all traces of nervous instability.
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