Dorfling’s suicide made a profound impression on Wilhelm, and for months he was haunted by the vision of that motionless form with its white face and blood-stained breast. It had a weird fascination for him, causing him to revert constantly to that tragical May night that had begun with a cheerful dinner, and ended in a fatal pistol shot. Paul’s comment on the occurrence was short and concise. “The poor chap was mad,” he said, and there the matter ended as far as he was concerned. Mayboom revered his friend’s memory as he would a saint, and erected a kind of chapel to him in his house, in which Dorfling’s portrait, his book, and various objects belonging to him, thrown up in relief against draperies and surrounded by a variety of symbolical accessories, were set forth for the pious delectation of the master of the house and his visitors. Schrotter held aloof from this cult. He appreciated Dorfling’s character, his consistency, his strength of will and highmindedness as they deserved, but he was never tired of preaching and demonstrating to Wilhelm that all these admirable qualities had been turned out of their proper course by a disturbing morbid influence. It was monstrous, he contended, that a system of philosophy should arm you for suicide. What if the premises should prove false? Then your voluntary death would be a frightful mistake which nothing could retrieve. One has no right to risk making such a mistake. He believed in development, in the progress of the organic world from a lower to a higher stage. Progress and development, however, were conditional upon life, and he who has recourse to self-destruction sets an example of unseemly revolt against one of the most beautiful and comforting of all the laws of nature. Moreover, suicide was a waste of force on which it was simply heartrending to have to look. There were so many great deeds to be done which called for the laying down of life. In a thousand different ways one might benefit mankind by Winkelried-like actions. If one was determined to die, one should at least render thereby to those left behind one of those sublime services which demand the sacrifice of a life.
In their frequent conversations upon this subject, he was so earnest, so eloquent, so markedly intentional, that Wilhelm finally gave him the smiling assurance that he was preaching to a convert. It was true, he had the highest respect for a man who did not hesitate to cast life from him when his whole mind and thought led him to the conviction that death was preferable to life; and unprincipled as suicide might be from an objective point of view, subjectively considered, there surely was an ideal fitness in making one’s actions agree to the uttermost point with one’s opinions? Nevertheless, he himself did not approve of Dorfling’s deed, and would certainly never imitate it, for one could never know what intentions the unknown powers might not have with regard to the individual; by committing suicide he maybe threw up some possible mission, or by his premature departure disturbed the action of the great machine in which he—as some small screw or wheel—doubtless had his modest place and function.