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Amiel's Journal by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

Part 6 out of 8

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movement produces a cloud of ink which shrouds his thought in darkness.
And what a doctrine! A thoroughgoing pessimism, which regards the world
as absurd, "absolutely idiotic," and reproaches Hartmann for having
allowed the evolution of the universe some little remains of logic,
while, on the contrary, this evolution is eminently contradictory, and
there is no reason anywhere except in the poor brain of the reasoner. Of
all possible worlds that which exists is the worst. Its only excuse is
that it tends of itself to destruction. The hope of the philosopher is
that reasonable beings will shorten their agony and hasten the return of
everything to nothing. It is the philosophy of a desperate Satanism,
which has not even the resigned perspectives of Buddhism to offer to the
disappointed and disillusioned soul. The individual can but protest and
curse. This frantic Sivaism is developed from the conception which makes
the world the product of blind will, the principle of everything.

The acrid blasphemy of the doctrine naturally leads the writer to
indulgence in epithets of bad taste which prevent our regarding his work
as the mere challenge of a paradoxical theorist. We have really to do
with a theophobist, whom faith in goodness rouses to a fury of contempt.
In order to hasten the deliverance of the world, he kills all
consolation, all hope, and all illusion in the germ, and substitutes for
the love of humanity which inspired Cakyamouni, that Mephistophelian
gall which defiles, withers, and corrodes everything it touches.

Evolutionism, fatalism, pessimism, nihilism--how strange it is to see
this desolate and terrible doctrine growing and expanding at the very
moment when the German nation is celebrating its greatness and its
triumphs! The contrast is so startling that it sets one thinking.

This orgie of philosophic thought, identifying error with existence
itself, and developing the axiom of Proudhon--"Evil is God," will bring
back the mass of mankind to the Christian theodicy, which is neither
optimist nor pessimist, but simply declares that the felicity which
Christianity calls eternal life is accessible to man.

Self-mockery, starting from a horror of stupidity and hypocrisy, and
standing in the way of all wholeness of mind and all true
seriousness--this is the goal to which intellect brings us at last,
unless conscience cries out.

The mind must have for ballast the clear conception of duty, if it is
not to fluctuate between levity and despair.

* * * * *

Before giving advice we must have secured its acceptance, or rather,
have made it desired.

* * * * *

If we begin by overrating the being we love, we shall end by treating it
with wholesale injustice.

* * * * *

It is dangerous to abandon one's self to the luxury of grief; it
deprives one of courage, and even of the wish for recovery.

* * * * *

We learn to recognize a mere blunting of the conscience in that
incapacity for indignation which is not to be confounded with the
gentleness of charity, or the reserve of humility.

February 7, 1872.--Without faith a man can do nothing.

But faith can stifle all science.

What, then, is this Proteus, and whence?

Faith is a certitude without proofs. Being a certitude, it is an
energetic principle of action. Being without proof, it is the contrary
of science. Hence its two aspects and its two effects. Is its point of
departure intelligence? No. Thought may shake or strengthen faith; it
cannot produce it. Is its origin in the will? No; good will may favor
it, ill-will may hinder it, but no one believes by will, and faith is
not a duty. Faith is a sentiment, for it is a hope; it is an instinct,
for it precedes all outward instruction. Faith is the heritage of the
individual at birth; it is that which binds him to the whole of being.
The individual only detaches himself with difficulty from the maternal
breast; he only isolates himself by an effort from the nature around
him, from the love which enwraps him, the ideas in which he floats, the
cradle in which he lies. He is born in union with humanity, with the
world, and with God. The trace of this original union is faith. Faith is
the reminiscence of that vague Eden whence our individuality issued, but
which it inhabited in the somnambulist state anterior to the personal

Our individual life consists in separating ourselves from our _milieu_;
in so reacting upon it that we apprehend it consciously, and make
ourselves spiritual personalities--that is to say, intelligent and
free. Our primitive faith is nothing more than the neutral matter which
our experience of life and things works up a fresh, and which may be so
affected by our studies of every kind as to perish completely in its
original form. We ourselves may die before we have been able to recover
the harmony of a personal faith which may satisfy our mind and
conscience as well as our hearts. But the need of faith never leaves us.
It is the postulate of a higher truth which is to bring all things into
harmony. It is the stimulus of research; it holds out to us the reward,
it points us to the goal. Such at least is the true, the excellent
faith. That which is a mere prejudice of childhood, which has never
known doubt, which ignores science, which cannot respect or understand
or tolerate different convictions--such a faith is a stupidity and a
hatred, the mother of all fanaticisms. We may then repeat of faith what
Aesop said of the tongue--

"Quid medius lingua, lingua quid pejus eadem?"

To draw the poison-fangs of faith in ourselves, we must subordinate it
to the love of truth. The supreme worship of the true is the only means
of purification for all religions all confessions, all sects. Faith
should only be allowed the second place, for faith has a judge--in
truth. When she exalts herself to the position of supreme judge the
world is enslaved: Christianity, from the fourth to the seventeenth
century, is the proof of it... Will the enlightened faith ever conquer
the vulgar faith? We must look forward in trust to a better future.

The difficulty, however, is this. A narrow faith has much more energy
than an enlightened faith; the world belongs to will much more than to
wisdom. It is not then certain that liberty will triumph over
fanaticism; and besides, independent thought will never have the force
of prejudice. The solution is to be found in a division of labor. After
those whose business it will have been to hold up to the world the ideal
of a pure and free faith, will come the men of violence, who will bring
the new creed within the circle of recognized interests, prejudices, and
institutions. Is not this just what happened to Christianity? After the
gentle Master, the impetuous Paul and the bitter Councils. It is true
that this is what corrupted the gospel. But still Christianity has done
more good than harm to humanity, and so the world advances, by the
successive decay of gradually improved ideals.

June 19, 1872.--The wrangle in the Paris Synod still goes on. [Footnote:
A synod of the Reformed churches of France was then occupied in
determining the constituent conditions of Protestant belief.] The
supernatural is the stone of stumbling.

It might be possible to agree on the idea of the divine; but no, that is
not the question--the chaff must be separated from the good grain. The
supernatural is miracle, and miracle is an objective phenomenon
independent of all preceding casuality. Now, miracle thus understood
cannot be proved experimentally; and besides, the subjective phenomena,
far more important than all the rest, are left out of account in the
definition. Men will not see that miracle is a perception of the soul; a
vision of the divine behind nature; a psychical crisis, analogous to
that of Aeneas on the last day of Troy, which reveals to us the heavenly
powers prompting and directing human action. For the indifferent there
are no miracles. It is only the religious souls who are capable of
recognizing the finger of God in certain given facts.

The minds which have reached the doctrine of immanence are
incomprehensible to the fanatics of transcendence. They will never
understand--these last--that the _panentheism_ of Krause is ten times
more religious than their dogmatic supernaturalism. Their passion for
the facts which are objective, isolated, and past, prevents them from
seeing the facts which are eternal and spiritual. They can only adore
what comes to them from without. As soon as their dramaturgy is
interpreted symbolically all seems to them lost. They must have their
local prodigies--their vanished unverifiable miracles, because for them
the divine is there and only there.

This faith can hardly fail to conquer among the races pledged to the
Cartesian dualism, who call the incomprehensible clear, and abhor what
is profound. Women also will always find local miracle more easy to
understand than universal miracle, and the visible objective
intervention of God more probable than his psychological and inward
action. The Latin world by its mental form is doomed to petrify its
abstractions, and to remain forever outside the inmost sanctuary of
life, that central hearth where ideas are still undivided, without shape
or determination. The Latin mind makes everything objective, because it
remains outside things, and outside itself. It is like the eye which
only perceives what is exterior to it, and which cannot see itself
except artificially, and from a distance, by means of the reflecting
surface of a mirror.

August 30, 1872.--_A priori_ speculations weary me now as much as
anybody. All the different scholasticisms make me doubtful of what they
profess to demonstrate, because, instead of examining, they affirm from
the beginning. Their object is to throw up entrenchments around a
prejudice, and not to discover the truth. They accumulate that which
darkens rather than that which enlightens. They are descended, all of
them, from the Catholic procedure, which excludes comparison,
information, and previous examination. Their object is to trick men into
assent, to furnish faith with arguments, and to suppress free inquiry.
But to persuade me, a man must have no _parti pris_, and must begin with
showing a temper of critical sincerity; he must explain to me how the
matter lies, point out to me the questions involved in it, their origin,
their difficulties, the different solutions attempted, and their degree
of probability. He must respect my reason, my conscience, and my
liberty. All scholasticism is an attempt to take by storm; the authority
pretends to explain itself, but only pretends, and its deference is
merely illusory. The dice are loaded and the premises are pre-judged.
The unknown is taken as known, and all the rest is deduced from it.

Philosophy means the complete liberty of the mind, and therefore
independence of all social, political, or religious prejudice. It is to
begin with neither Christian nor pagan, neither monarchical nor
democratic, neither socialist nor individualist; it is critical and
impartial; it loves one thing only--truth. If it disturbs the ready-made
opinions of the church or the state--of the historical medium--in which
the philosopher happens to have been born, so much the worse, but there
is no help for it.

"Est ut est aut non est,"

Philosophy means, first, doubt; and afterward the consciousness of what
knowledge means, the consciousness of uncertainty and of ignorance, the
consciousness of limit, shade, degree, possibility. The ordinary man
doubts nothing and suspects nothing. The philosopher is more cautious,
but he is thereby unfitted for action, because, although he sees the
goal less dimly than others, he sees his own weakness too clearly, and
has no illusions as to his chances of reaching it.

The philosopher is like a man fasting in the midst of universal
intoxication. He alone perceives the illusion of which all creatures are
the willing playthings; he is less duped than his neighbor by his own
nature. He judges more sanely, he sees things as they are. It is in this
that his liberty consists--in the ability to see clearly and soberly, in
the power of mental record. Philosophy has for its foundation critical
lucidity. The end and climax of it would be the intuition of the
universal law, of the first principle and the final aim of the universe.
Not to be deceived is its first desire; to understand, its second.
Emancipation from error is the condition of real knowledge. The
philosopher is a skeptic seeking a plausible hypothesis, which may
explain to him the whole of his experiences. When he imagines that he
has found such a key to life he offers it to, but does not force it on
his fellow men.

October 9, 1872.--I have been taking tea at the M's. These English homes
are very attractive. They are the recompense and the result of a
long-lived civilization, and of an ideal untiringly pursued. What ideal?
That of a moral order, founded on respect for self and for others, and
on reverence for duty--in a word, upon personal worth and dignity. The
master shows consideration to his guests, the children are deferential
to their parents, and every one and everything has its place. They
understand both how to command and how to obey. The little world is well
governed, and seems to go of itself; duty is the _genius loci_--but duty
tinged with a reserve and self-control which is the English
characteristic. The children are the great test of this domestic system;
they are happy, smiling, trustful, and yet no trouble. One feels that
they know themselves to be loved, but that they know also that they must
obey. _Our_ children behave like masters of the house, and when any
definite order comes to limit their encroachments they see in it an
abuse of power, an arbitrary act. Why? Because it is their principle to
believe that everything turns round them. Our children may be gentle and
affectionate, but they are not grateful, and they know nothing of

How do English mothers attain this result? By a rule which is
impersonal, invariable, and firm; in other words, by law, which forms
man for liberty, while arbitrary decree only leads to rebellion and
attempts at emancipation. This method has the immense advantage of
forming characters which are restive under arbitrary authority, and yet
amenable to justice, conscious of what is due to them and what they owe
to others, watchful over conscience, and practiced in self-government.
In every English child one feels something of the national motto--"God
and my right," and in every English household one has a sense that the
home is a citadel, or better still, a ship in which every one has his
place. Naturally in such a world the value set on family life
corresponds with the cost of producing it; it is sweet to those whose
efforts maintain it.

October l4, 1872.--The man who gives himself to contemplation looks on
at, rather than directs his life, is rather a spectator than an actor,
seeks rather to understand than to achieve. Is this mode of existence
illegitimate, immoral? Is one bound to act? Is such detachment an
idiosyncrasy to be respected or a sin to be fought against? I have
always hesitated on this point, and I have wasted years in futile
self-reproach and useless fits of activity. My western conscience,
penetrated as it is with Christian morality, has always persecuted my
oriental quietism and Buddhist tendencies. I have not dared to approve
myself, I have not known how to correct myself. In this, as in all else,
I have remained divided, and perplexed, wavering between two extremes.
So equilibrium is somehow preserved, but the crystallization of action
or thought becomes impossible.

Having early a glimpse of the absolute, I have never had the indiscreet
effrontery of individualism. What right have I to make a merit of a
defect? I have never been able to see any necessity for imposing myself
upon others, nor for succeeding. I have seen nothing clearly except my
own deficiencies and the superiority of others. That is not the way to
make a career. With varied aptitudes and a fair intelligence, I had no
dominant tendency, no imperious faculty, so that while by virtue of
capacity I felt myself free, yet when free I could not discover what was
best. Equilibrium produced indecision, and indecision has rendered all
my faculties barren.

November 8, 1872. (_Friday_).--I have been turning over the "Stoics"
again. Poor Louisa Siefert! [Footnote: Louise Siefert, a modern French
poetess, died 1879. In addition to "Les Stoiques," she published
"L'Annee Republicaine," Paris 1869, and other works.] Ah! we play the
stoic, and all the while the poisoned arrow in the side pierces and
wounds, _lethalis arundo_. What is it that, like all passionate souls,
she really craves for? Two things which are contradictory--glory and
happiness. She adores two incompatibles--the Reformation and the
Revolution, France and the contrary of France; her talent itself is a
combination of two opposing qualities, inwardness and brilliancy, noisy
display and lyrical charm. She dislocates the rhythm of her verse, while
at the same time she has a sensitive ear for rhyme. She is always
wavering between Valmore and Baudelaire, between Leconte de Lisle and
Sainte-Beuve--that is to say, her taste is a bringing together of
extremes. She herself has described it:

"Toujours extreme en mes desirs,
Jadis, enfant joyeuse et folle,
Souvent une seule parole
Bouleversait tous mes plaisirs."

But what a fine instrument she possesses! what strength of soul! what
wealth of imagination!

December 3, 1872.--What a strange dream! I was under an illusion and yet
not under it; I was playing a comedy to myself, deceiving my imagination
without being able to deceive my consciousness. This power which dreams
have of fusing incompatibles together, of uniting what is exclusive, of
identifying yes and no, is what is most wonderful and most symbolical in
them. In a dream our individuality is not shut up within itself; it
envelops, so to speak, its surroundings; it is the landscape, and all
that it contains, ourselves included. But if our imagination is not our
own, if it is impersonal, then personality is but a special and limited
case of its general functions. _A fortiori_ it would be the same for
thought. And if so, thought might exist without possessing itself
individually, without embodying itself in an _ego_. In other words,
dreams lead us to the idea of an imagination enfranchised from the
limits of personality, and even of a thought which should be no longer
conscious. The individual who dreams is on the way to become dissolved
in the universal phantasmagoria of Maia. Dreams are excursions into the
limbo of things, a semi-deliverance from the human prison. The man who
dreams is but the _locale_ of various phenomena of which he is the
spectator in spite of himself; he is passive and impersonal; he is the
plaything of unknown vibrations and invisible sprites.

The man who should never issue from the state of dream would have never
attained humanity, properly so called, but the man who had never dreamed
would only know the mind in its completed or manufactured state, and
would not be able to understand the genesis of personality; he would be
like a crystal, incapable of guessing what crystallization means. So
that the waking life issues from the dream life, as dreams are an
emanation from the nervous life, and this again is the fine flower of
organic life. Thought is the highest point of a series of ascending
metamorphoses, which is called nature. Personality by means of thought,
recovers in inward profundity what it has lost in extension, and makes
up for the rich accumulations of receptive passivity by the enormous
privilege of that empire over self which is called liberty. Dreams, by
confusing and suppressing all limits, make us feel, indeed, the severity
of the conditions attached to the higher existence; but conscious and
voluntary thought alone brings knowledge and allows us to act--that is
to say, is alone capable of science and of perfection. Let us then take
pleasure in dreaming for reasons of psychological curiosity and mental
recreation; but let us never speak ill of thought, which is our strength
and our dignity. Let us begin as Orientals, and end as Westerns, for
these are the two halves of wisdom.

December 11, 1872.--A deep and dreamless sleep and now I wake up to the
gray, lowering, rainy sky, which has kept us company for so long. The
air is mild, the general outlook depressing. I think that it is partly
the fault of my windows, which are not very clean, and contribute by
their dimness to this gloomy aspect of the outer world. Rain and smoke
have besmeared them.

Between us and things how many screens there are! Mood, health, the
tissues of the eye, the window-panes of our cell, mist, smoke, rain,
dust, and light itself--and all infinitely variable! Heraclitus said:
"No man bathes twice in the same river." I feel inclined to say; No one
sees the same landscape twice over, for a window is one kaleidoscope,
and the spectator another.

What is madness? Illusion, raised to the second power. A sound mind
establishes regular relations, a _modus vivendi_, between things, men,
and itself, and it is under the delusion that it has got hold of stable
truth and eternal fact. Madness does not even see what sanity sees,
deceiving itself all the while by the belief that it sees better than
sanity. The sane mind or common sense confounds the fact of experience
with necessary fact, and assumes in good faith that what is, is the
measure of what may be; while madness cannot perceive any difference
between what is and what it imagines--it confounds its dreams with

Wisdom consists in rising superior both to madness and to common sense,
and in lending one's self to the universal illusion without becoming its
dupe. It is best, on the whole, for a man of taste who knows how to be
gay with the gay, and serious with the serious, to enter into the game
of Maia, and to play his part with a good grace in the fantastic
tragi-comedy which is called the Universe. It seems to me that here
intellectualism reaches its limit. [Footnote: "We all believe in duty,"
says M. Renan, "and in the triumph of righteousness;" but it is possible
notwithstanding, "que tout le contraire soit vrai--et que le monde ne
soit qu'une amusante feerie dont aucun dieu ne se soucie. Il faut donc
nous arranger de maniere a ceque, dans le cas ou le seconde hypothese
serait la vraie, nous n'ayons pas ete trop dupes."

This strain of remark, which is developed at considerable length, is
meant as a criticism of Amiel's want of sensitiveness to the irony of
things. But in reality, as the passage in the text shows, M. Renan is
only expressing a feeling with which Amiel was just as familiar as his
critic. Only he is delivered from this last doubt of all by his habitual
seriousness; by that sense of "horror and awe" which M. Renan puts away
from him. Conscience saves him "from the sorceries of Maia."] The mind,
in its intellectual capacity, arrives at the intuition that all reality
is but the dream of a dream. What delivers us from the palace of dreams
is pain, personal pain; it is also the sense of obligation, or that
which combines the two, the pain of sin; and again it is love; in short,
the moral order. What saves us from the sorceries of Maia is conscience;
conscience dissipates the narcotic vapors, the opium-like
hallucinations, the placid stupor of contemplative indifference. It
drives us into contact with the terrible wheels within wheels of human
suffering and human responsibility; it is the bugle-call, the cockcrow,
which puts the phantoms to flight; it is the armed archangel who chases
man from an artificial paradise. Intellectualism may be described as an
intoxication conscious of itself; the moral energy which replaces it, on
the other hand, represents a state of fast, a famine and a sleepless
thirst. Alas! Alas!

Those who have the most frivolous idea of sin are just those who suppose
that there is a fixed gulf between good people and others.

* * * * *

The ideal which the wife and mother makes for herself, the manner in
which she understands duty and life, contain the fate of the community.
Her faith becomes the star of the conjugal ship, and her love the
animating principle that fashions the future of all belonging to her.
Woman is the salvation or destruction of the family. She carries its
destinies in the folds of her mantle.

* * * * *

Perhaps it is not desirable that a woman should be free in mind; she
would immediately abuse her freedom. She cannot become philosophical
without losing her special gift, which is the worship of all that is
individual, the defense of usage, manners, beliefs, traditions. Her role
is to slacken the combustion of thought. It is analogous to that of
azote in vital air.

* * * * *

In every loving woman there is a priestess of the past--a pious guardian
of some affection, of which the object has disappeared.

January 6, 1873.--I have been reading the seven tragedies of Aeschylus,
in the translation of Leconte de Lisle. The "Prometheus" and the
"Eumenides" are greatest where all is great; they have the sublimity of
the old prophets. Both depict a religious revolution--a profound crisis
in the life of humanity. In "Prometheus" it is civilization wrenched
from the jealous hands of the gods; in the "Eumenides" it is the
transformation of the idea of justice, and the substitution of atonement
and pardon for the law of implacable revenge. "Prometheus" shows us the
martyrdom which waits for all the saviors of men; the "Eumenides" is the
glorification of Athens and the Areopagus--that is to say, of a truly
human civilization. How magnificent it is as poetry, and how small the
adventures of individual passion seem beside this colossal type of
tragedy, of which the theme is the destinies of nations!

March 31, 1873. (4 P. M.)--

"En quel songe
Se plonge
Mon coeur, et que veut-il?"

For an hour past I have been the prey of a vague anxiety; I recognize my
old enemy.... It is a sense of void and anguish; a sense of something
lacking: what? Love, peace--God perhaps. The feeling is one of pure want
unmixed with hope, and there is anguish in it because I can clearly
distinguish neither the evil nor its remedy.

"O printemps sans pitie, dans l'ame endolorie,
Avec tes chants d'oiseaux, tes brises, ton azur,
Tu creuses sourdement, conspirateur obscur,
Le gouffre des langueurs et de la reverie."

Of all the hours of the day, in fine weather, the afternoon, about 3
o'clock, is the time which to me is most difficult to bear. I never feel
more strongly than I do then, "_le vide effrayant de la vie_," the
stress of mental anxiety, or the painful thirst for happiness. This
torture born of the sunlight is a strange phenomenon. Is it that the
sun, just as it brings out the stain upon a garment, the wrinkles in a
face, or the discoloration of the hair, so also it illumines with
inexorable distinctness the scars and rents of the heart? Does it rouse
in us a sort of shame of existence? In any case the bright hours of the
day are capable of flooding the whole soul with melancholy, of kindling
in us the passion for death, or suicide, or annihilation, or of driving
us to that which is next akin to death, the deadening of the senses by
the pursuit of pleasure. They rouse in the lonely man a horror of
himself; they make him long to escape from his own misery and solitude--

"Le coeur trempe sept fois dans le neant divin."

People talk of the temptations to crime connected with darkness, but the
dumb sense of desolation which is often the product of the most
brilliant moment of daylight must not be forgotten either. From the one,
as from the other, God is absent; but in the first case a man follows
his senses and the cry of his passion; in the second, he feels himself
lost and bewildered, a creature forsaken by all the world.

"En nous sont deux instincts qui bravent la raison,
C'est l'effroi du bonheur et la soif du poison.
Coeur solitaire, a toi prends garde!"

April 3, 1873.--I have been to see my friends ----. Their niece has just
arrived with two of her children, and the conversation turned on Father
Hyacinthe's lecture.

Women of an enthusiastic temperament have a curious way of speaking of
extempore preachers and orators. They imagine that inspiration radiates
from a crowd as such, and that inspiration is all that is wanted. Could
there be a more _naif_ and childish explanation of what is really a
lecture in which nothing has been left to accident, neither the plan,
nor the metaphors, nor even the length of the whole, and where
everything has been prepared with the greatest care! But women, in their
love of what is marvelous and miraculous, prefer to ignore all this. The
meditation, the labor, the calculation of effects, the art, in a word,
which have gone to the making of it, diminishes for them the value of
the thing, and they prefer to believe it fallen from heaven, or sent
down from on high. They ask for bread, but cannot bear the idea of a
baker. The sex is superstitious, and hates to understand what it wishes
to admire. It would vex it to be forced to give the smaller share to
feeling, and the larger share to thought. It wishes to believe that
imagination can do the work of reason, and feeling the work of science,
and it never asks itself how it is that women, so rich in heart and
imagination, have never distinguished themselves as orators--that is to
say, have never known how to combine a multitude of facts, ideas, and
impulses, into one complex unity. Enthusiastic women never even suspect
the difference that there is between the excitement of a popular
harangue, which is nothing but a mere passionate outburst, and the
unfolding of a didactic process, the aim of which is to prove something
and to convince its hearers. Therefore, for them, study, reflection,
technique, count as nothing; the improvisatore mounts upon the tripod,
Pallas all armed issues from his lips, and conquers the applause of the
dazzled assembly.

Evidently women divide orators into two groups; the artisans of speech,
who manufacture their laborious discourses by the aid of the midnight
lamp, and the inspired souls, who simply give themselves the trouble to
be born. They will never understand the saying of Quintilian, "_Fit
orator, nascitur poeta._"

The enthusiasm which acts is perhaps an enlightening force, but the
enthusiasm which accepts is very like blindness. For this latter
enthusiasm confuses the value of things, ignores their shades of
difference, and is an obstacle to all sensible criticism and all calm
judgment. The "Ewig-Weibliche" favors exaggeration, mysticism,
sentimentalism--all that excites and startles. It is the enemy of
clearness, of a calm and rational view of things, the antipodes of
criticism and of science. I have had only too much sympathy and weakness
for the feminine nature. The very excess of my former indulgence toward
it makes me now more conscious of its infirmity. Justice and science,
law and reason, are virile things, and they come before imagination,
feeling, reverie, and fancy. When one reflects that Catholic
superstition is maintained by women, one feels how needful it is not to
hand over the reins to the "Eternal Womanly."

May 23, 1873.--The fundamental error of France lies in her psychology.
France has always believed that to say a thing is the same as to do it,
as though speech were action, as though rhetoric were capable of
modifying the tendencies, habits, and character of real beings, and as
though verbiage were an efficient substitute for will, conscience, and

France proceeds by bursts of eloquence, of cannonading, or of
law-making; she thinks that so she can change the nature of things; and
she produces only phrases and ruins. She has never understood the first
line of Montesquieu: "Laws are necessary relations, derived from the
nature of things." She will not see that her incapacity to organize
liberty comes from her own nature; from the notions which she has of the
individual, of society, of religion, of law, of duty--from the manner in
which she brings up children. Her way is to plant trees downward, and
then she is astonished at the result! Universal suffrage, with a bad
religion and a bad popular education, means perpetual wavering between
anarchy and dictatorship, between the red and the black, between Danton
and Loyola.

How many scapegoats will Prance sacrifice before it occurs to her to
beat her own breast in penitence?

August 18, 1873. (_Scheveningen_).--Yesterday, Sunday, the landscape was
clear and distinct, the air bracing, the sea bright and gleaming, and of
an ashy-blue color. There were beautiful effects of beach, sea, and
distance; and dazzling tracks of gold upon the waves, after the sun had
sunk below the bands of vapor drawn across the middle sky, and before it
had disappeared in the mists of the sea horizon. The place was very
full. All Scheveningen and the Hague, the village and the capital, had
streamed out on to the terrace, amusing themselves at innumerable
tables, and swamping the strangers and the bathers. The orchestra played
some Wagner, some Auber, and some waltzes. What was all the world
doing? Simply enjoying life.

A thousand thoughts wandered through my brain. I thought how much
history it had taken to make what I saw possible; Judaea, Egypt, Greece,
Germany, Gaul; all the centuries from Moses to Napoleon, and all the
zones from Batavia to Guiana, had united in the formation of this
gathering. The industry, the science, the art, the geography, the
commerce, the religion of the whole human race, are repeated in every
human combination; and what we see before our own eyes at any given
moment is inexplicable without reference to all that has ever been. This
interlacing of the ten thousand threads which necessity weaves into the
production of one single phenomenon is a stupefying thought. One feels
one's self in the presence of law itself--allowed a glimpse of the
mysterious workshop of nature. The ephemeral perceives the eternal.

What matters the brevity of the individual span, seeing that the
generations, the centuries, and the worlds themselves are but occupied
forever with the ceaseless reproduction of the hymn of life, in all the
hundred thousand modes and variations which make up the universal
symphony? The motive is always the same; the monad has but one law: all
truths are but the variation of one single truth. The universe
represents the infinite wealth of the Spirit seeking in vain to exhaust
all possibilities, and the goodness of the Creator, who would fain share
with the created all that sleeps within the limbo of Omnipotence.

To contemplate and adore, to receive and give back, to have uttered
one's note and moved one's grain of sand, is all which is expected from
such insects as we are; it is enough to give motive and meaning to our
fugitive apparition in existence....

After the concert was over the paved esplanade behind the hotels and the
two roads leading to the Hague were alive with people. One might have
fancied one's self upon one of the great Parisian boulevards just when
the theaters are emptying themselves--there were so many carriages,
omnibuses, and cabs. Then, when the human tumult had disappeared, the
peace of the starry heaven shone out resplendent, and the dreamy glimmer
of the Milky Way was only answered by the distant murmur of the ocean.

_Later_.--What is it which has always come between real life and me?
What glass screen has, as it were, interposed itself between me and the
enjoyment, the possession, the contact of things, leaving me only the
role of the looker-on?

False shame, no doubt. I have been ashamed to desire. Fatal result of
timidity, aggravated by intellectual delusion! This renunciation
beforehand of all natural ambitions, this systematic putting aside of
all longings and all desires, has perhaps been false in idea; it has
been too like a foolish, self-inflicted mutilation. Fear, too, has had a
large share in it--

"La peur de ce que j'aime est ma fatalite."

I very soon discovered that it was simpler for me to give up a wish than
to satisfy it. Not being able to obtain all that my nature longed for, I
renounced the whole _en bloc_, without even taking the trouble to
determine in detail what might have attracted me; for what was the good
of stirring up trouble in one's self and evoking images of inaccessible

Thus I anticipated in spirit all possible disillusions, in the true
stoical fashion. Only, with singular lack of logic, I have sometimes
allowed regret to overtake me, and I have looked at conduct founded upon
exceptional principles with the eyes of the ordinary man. I should have
been ascetic to the end; contemplation ought to have been enough for me,
especially now, when the hair begins to whiten. But, after all, I am a
man, and not a theorem. A system cannot suffer, but I suffer. Logic
makes only one demand--that of consequence; but life makes a thousand;
the body wants health, the imagination cries out for beauty, and the
heart for love; pride asks for consideration, the soul yearns for peace,
the conscience for holiness; our whole being is athirst for happiness
and for perfection; and we, tottering, mutilated, and incomplete, cannot
always feign philosophic insensibility; we stretch out our arms toward
life, and we say to it under our breath, "Why--why--hast thou deceived

August 19,1873. (_Scheveningen_).--I have had a morning walk. It has
been raining in the night. There are large clouds all round; the sea,
veined with green and drab, has put on the serious air of labor. She is
about her business, in no threatening but at the same time in no
lingering mood. She is making her clouds, heaping up her sands, visiting
her shores and bathing them with foam, gathering up her floods for the
tide, carrying the ships to their destinations, and feeding the
universal life. I found in a hidden nook a sheet of fine sand which the
water had furrowed and folded like the pink palate of a kitten's mouth,
or like a dappled sky. Everything repeats itself by analogy, and each
little fraction of the earth reproduces in a smaller and individual form
all the phenomena of the planet. Farther on I came across a bank of
crumbling shells, and it was borne in upon me that the sea-sand itself
might well be only the detritus of the organic life of preceding eras, a
vast monument or pyramid of immemorial age, built up by countless
generations of molluscs who have labored at the architecture of the
shores like good workmen of God. If the dunes and the mountains are the
dust of living creatures who have preceded us, how can we doubt but that
our death will be as serviceable as our life, and that nothing which has
been lent is lost? Mutual borrowing and temporary service seem to be the
law of existence. Only, the strong prey upon and devour the weak, and
the concrete inequality of lots within the abstract equality of
destinies wounds and disquiets the sense of justice.

_Same day_.--A new spirit governs and inspires the generation which will
succeed me. It is a singular sensation to feel the grass growing under
one's feet, to see one's self intellectually uprooted. One must address
one's contemporaries. Younger men will not listen to you. Thought, like
love, will not tolerate a gray hair. Knowledge herself loves the young,
as Fortune used to do in olden days. Contemporary civilization does not
know what to do with old age; in proportion as it defies physical
experiment, it despises moral experience. One sees therein the triumph
of Darwinism; it is a state of war, and war must have young soldiers; it
can only put up with age in its leaders when they have the strength and
the mettle of veterans.

In point of fact, one must either be strong or disappear, either
constantly rejuvenate one's self or perish. It is as though the humanity
of our day had, like the migratory birds, an immense voyage to make
across space; she can no longer support the weak or help on the
laggards. The great assault upon the future makes her hard and pitiless
to all who fall by the way. Her motto is, "The devil take the hindmost."

The worship of strength has never lacked altars, but it looks as though
the more we talk of justice and humanity, the more that other god sees
his kingdom widen.

August 20, 1873. (_Scheveningen_).--I have now watched the sea which
beats upon this shore under many different aspects. On the whole, I
should class it with the Baltic. As far as color, effect, and landscape
go, it is widely different from the Breton or Basque ocean, and, above
all, from the Mediterranean. It never attains to the blue-green of the
Atlantic, nor the indigo of the Ionian Sea. Its scale of color runs from
flint to emerald, and when it turns to blue, the blue is a turquoise
shade splashed with gray. The sea here is not amusing itself; it has a
busy and serious air, like an Englishman or a Dutchman. Neither polyps
nor jelly-fish, neither sea-weed nor crabs enliven the sands at low
water; the sea life is poor and meagre. What is wonderful is the
struggle of man against a miserly and formidable power. Nature has done
little for him, but she allows herself to be managed. Stepmother though
she be, she is accommodating, subject to the occasional destruction of a
hundred thousand lives in a single inundation.

The air inside the dune is altogether different from that outside it.
The air of the sea is life-giving, bracing, oxydized; the air inland is
soft, relaxing, and warm. In the same way there are two Hollands in
every Dutchman: there is the man of the _polder_, heavy, pale,
phlegmatic, slow, patient himself, and trying to the patience of others,
and there is the man of the _dune_, of the harbor, the shore, the sea,
who is tenacious, seasoned, persevering, sunburned, daring. Where the
two agree is in calculating prudence, and in methodical persistency of

August 22, 1873. (_Scheveningen_).--The weather is rainy, the whole
atmosphere gray; it is a time favorable to thought and meditation. I
have a liking for such days as these; they revive one's converse with
one's self and make it possible to live the inner life; they are quiet
and peaceful, like a song in a minor key. We are nothing but thought,
but we feel our life to its very center. Our very sensations turn to
reverie. It is a strange state of mind; it is like those silences in
worship which are not the empty moments of devotion, but the full
moments, and which are so because at such times the soul, instead of
being polarized, dispersed, localized, in a single impression or
thought, feels her own totality and is conscious of herself. She tastes
her own substance. She is no longer played upon, colored, set in motion,
affected, from without; she is in equilibrium and at rest. Openness and
self-surrender become possible to her; she contemplates and she adores.
She sees the changeless and the eternal enwrapping all the phenomena of
time. She is in the religious state, in harmony with the general order,
or at least in intellectual harmony. For _holiness_, indeed, more is
wanted--a harmony of will, a perfect self-devotion, death to self and
absolute submission.

Psychological peace--that harmony which is perfect but virtual--is but
the zero, the potentiality of all numbers; it is not that moral peace
which is victorious over all ills, which is real, positive, tried by
experience, and able to face whatever fresh storms may assail it.

The peace of fact is not the peace of principle. There are indeed two
happinesses, that of nature and that of conquest--two equilibria, that
of Greece and that of Nazareth--two kingdoms, that of the natural man
and that of the regenerate man.

_Later_. (_Scheveningen_).--Why do doctors so often make mistakes?
Because they are not sufficiently individual in their diagnoses or their
treatment. They class a sick man under some given department of their
nosology, whereas every invalid is really a special case, a unique
example. How is it possible that so coarse a method of sifting should
produce judicious therapeutics? Every illness is a factor simple or
complex, which is multiplied by a second factor, invariably complex--the
individual, that is to say, who is suffering from it, so that the result
is a special problem, demanding a special solution, the more so the
greater the remoteness of the patient from childhood or from country

The principal grievance which I have against the doctors is that they
neglect the real problem, which is to seize the unity of the individual
who claims their care. Their methods of investigation are far too
elementary; a doctor who does not read you to the bottom is ignorant of
essentials. To me the ideal doctor would be a man endowed with profound
knowledge of life and of the soul, intuitively divining any suffering or
disorder of whatever kind, and restoring peace by his mere presence.
Such a doctor is possible, but the greater number of them lack the
higher and inner life, they know nothing of the transcendent
laboratories of nature; they seem to me superficial, profane, strangers
to divine things, destitute of intuition and sympathy. The model doctor
should be at once a genius, a saint, a man of God.

September 11, 1873. (_Amsterdam_).--The doctor has just gone. He says I
have fever about me, and does not think that I can start for another
three days without imprudence. I dare not write to my Genevese friends
and tell them that I am coming back from the sea in a radically worse
state of strength and throat than when I went there, and that I have
only wasted my time, my trouble, my money, and my hopes....

This contradictory double fact--on the one side an eager hopefulness
springing up afresh after all disappointments, and on the other an
experience almost invariably unfavorable--can be explained like all
illusions by the whim of nature, which either wills us to be deceived or
wills us to act as if we were so.

Skepticism is the wiser course, but in delivering us from error it tends
to paralyze life. Maturity of mind consists in taking part in the
prescribed game as seriously as though one believed in it. Good-humored
compliance, tempered by a smile, is, on the whole, the best line to
take; one lends one's self to an optical illusion, and the voluntary
concession has an air of liberty. Once imprisoned in existence, we must
submit to its laws with a good grace; to rebel against it only ends in
impotent rage, when once we have denied ourselves the solution of

Humility and submission, or the religious point of view; clear-eyed
indulgence with a touch of irony, or the point of view of worldly
wisdom--these two attitudes are possible. The second is sufficient for
the minor ills of life, the other is perhaps necessary in the greater
ones. The pessimism of Schopenhauer supposes at least health and
intellect as means of enduring the rest of life. But optimism either of
the stoical or the Christian sort is needed to make it possible for us
to bear the worst sufferings of flesh, heart and soul. If we are to
escape the grip of despair, we must believe either that the whole of
things at least is good, or that grief is a fatherly grace, a purifying

There can be no doubt that the idea of a happy immortality, serving as a
harbor of refuge from the tempests of this mortal existence, and
rewarding the fidelity, the patience, the submission, and the courage of
the travelers on life's sea--there can be no doubt that this idea, the
strength of so many generations, and the faith of the church, carries
with it inexpressible consolation to those who are wearied, burdened,
and tormented by pain and suffering. To feel one's self individually
cared for and protected by God gives a special dignity and beauty to
life. Monotheism lightens the struggle for existence. But does the study
of nature allow of the maintenance of those local revelations which are
called Mosaism, Christianity, Islamism? These religions founded upon an
infantine cosmogony, and upon a chimerical history of humanity, can they
bear confronting with modern astronomy and geology? The present mode of
escape, which consists in trying to satisfy the claims of both science
and faith--of the science which contradicts all the ancient beliefs, and
the faith which, in the case of things that are beyond nature and
incapable of verification, affirms them on her own responsibility
only--this mode of escape cannot last forever. Every fresh cosmical
conception demands a religion which corresponds to it. Our age of
transition stands bewildered between the two incompatible methods, the
scientific method and the religious method, and between the two
certitudes, which contradict each other.

Surely the reconciliation of the two must be sought for in the moral
law, which is also a fact, and every step of which requires for its
explanation another cosmos than the cosmos of necessity. Who knows if
necessity is not a particular case of liberty, and its condition? Who
knows if nature is not a laboratory for the fabrication of thinking
beings who are ultimately to become free creatures? Biology protests,
and indeed the supposed existence of souls, independently of time,
space, and matter, is a fiction of faith, less logical than the Platonic
dogma. But the question remains open. We may eliminate the idea of
purpose from nature, yet, as the guiding conception of the highest being
of our planet, it is a fact, and a fact which postulates a meaning in
the history of the universe.

My thought is straying in vague paths: why? because I have no creed. All
my studies end in notes of interrogation, and that I may not draw
premature or arbitrary conclusions I draw none.

_Later on_.--My creed has melted away, but I believe in good, in the
moral order, and in salvation; religion for me is to live and die in
God, in complete abandonment to the holy will which is at the root of
nature and destiny. I believe even in the gospel, the good news--that is
to say, in the reconciliation of the sinner with God, by faith in the
love of a pardoning Father.

October 4, 1873. (_Geneva_).--I have been dreaming a long while in the
moonlight, which floods my room with a radiance, full of vague mystery.
The state of mind induced in us by this fantastic light is itself so dim
and ghost-like that analysis loses its way in it, and arrives at nothing
articulate. It is something indefinite and intangible, like the noise of
waves which is made up of a thousand fused and mingled sounds. It is the
reverberation of all the unsatisfied desires of the soul, of all the
stifled sorrows of the heart, mingling in a vague sonorous whole, and
dying away in cloudy murmurs. All those imperceptible regrets, which
never individually reach the consciousness, accumulate at last into a
definite result; they become the voice of a feeling of emptiness and
aspiration; their tone is melancholy itself. In youth the tone of these
Aeolian vibrations of the heart is all hope--a proof that these
thousands of indistinguishable accents make up indeed the fundamental
note of our being, and reveal the tone of our whole situation. Tell me
what you feel in your solitary room when the full moon is shining in
upon you and your lamp is dying out, and I will tell you how old you
are, and I shall know if you are happy.

* * * * *

The best path through life is the high road, which initiates us at the
right moment into all experience. Exceptional itineraries are
suspicious, and matter for anxiety. What is normal is at once most
convenient, most honest, and most wholesome. Cross roads may tempt us
for one reason or another, but it is very seldom that we do not come to
regret having taken them.

* * * * *

Each man begins the world afresh, and not one fault of the first man has
been avoided by his remotest descendant. The collective experience of
the race accumulates, but individual experience dies with the
individual, and the result is that institutions become wiser and
knowledge as such increases; but the young man, although more
cultivated, is just as presumptuous, and not less fallible to-day than
he ever was. So that absolutely there is progress, and relatively there
is none. Circumstances improve, but merit remains the same. The whole is
better, perhaps, but man is not positively better--he is only different.
His defects and his virtues change their form, but the total balance
does not show him to be the richer. A thousand things advance, nine
hundred and ninety-eight fall back, this is progress. There is nothing
in it to be proud of, but something, after all, to console one.

February 4, 1874.--I am still reading the "Origines du Christianisme" by
Ernest Havet. [Footnote: Ernest Havet, born 1813, a distinguished French
scholar and professor. He became professor of Latin oratory at the
College de France in 1855, and a member of the Institute in January,
1880. His admirable edition of the "Pensees de Pascal" is well-known.
"Le Christianisme et ses Origines," an important book, in four volumes,
was developed from a series of articles in the _Revue des deux Mondes_,
and the _Revue Contemporaine_.] I like the book and I dislike it. I like
it for its independence and courage; I dislike it for the insufficiency
of its fundamental ideas, and the imperfection of its categories.

The author, for instance, has no clear idea of religion; and his
philosophy of history is superficial. He is a Jacobin. "The Republic and
Free Thought"--he cannot get beyond that. This curt and narrow school of
opinion is the refuge of men of independent mind, who have been
scandalized by the colossal fraud of ultramontanism; but it leads rather
to cursing history than to understanding it. It is the criticism of the
eighteenth century, of which the general result is purely negative. But
Voltairianism is only the half of the philosophic mind. Hegel frees
thought in a very different way.

Havet, too, makes another mistake. He regards Christianity as synonymous
with Roman Catholicism and with the church. I know very well that the
Roman Church does the same, and that with her the assimilation is a
matter of sound tactics; but scientifically it is inexact. We ought not
even to identify Christianity with the gospel, nor the gospel with
religion in general. It is the business of critical precision to clear
away these perpetual confusions in which Christian practice and
Christian preaching abound. To disentangle ideas, to distinguish and
limit them, to fit them into their true place and order, is the first
duty of science whenever it lays hands upon such chaotic and complex
things as manners, idioms, or beliefs. Entanglement is the condition of
life; order and clearness are the signs of serious and successful

Formerly it was the ideas of nature which were a tissue of errors and
incoherent fancies; now it is the turn of moral and psychological ideas.
The best issue from the present Babel would be the formation or the
sketching out of a truly scientific science of man.

February 16, 1874.--The multitude, who already possess force, and even,
according to the Republican view, right, have always been persuaded by
the Cleons of the day that enlightenment, wisdom, thought, and reason,
are also theirs. The game of these conjurors and quacks of universal
suffrage has always been to flatter the crowd in order to make an
instrument of it. They pretend to adore the puppet of which they pull
the threads.

The theory of radicalism is a piece of juggling, for it supposes
premises of which it knows the falsity; it manufactures the oracle whose
revelations it pretends to adore; it proclaims that the multitude
creates a brain for itself, while all the time it is the clever man who
is the brain of the multitude, and suggests to it what it is supposed to
invent. To reign by flattery has been the common practice of the
courtiers of all despotisms, the favorites of all tyrants; it is an old
and trite method, but none the less odious for that.

The honest politician should worship nothing but reason and justice, and
it is his business to preach them to the masses, who represent, on an
average, the age of childhood and not that of maturity. We corrupt
childhood if we tell it that it cannot be mistaken, and that it knows
more than its elders. We corrupt the masses when we tell them that they
are wise and far-seeing and possess the gift of infallibility.

It is one of Montesquieu's subtle remarks, that the more wise men you
heap together the less wisdom you will obtain. Radicalism pretends that
the greater number of illiterate, passionate, thoughtless--above all,
young people, you heap together, the greater will be the enlightenment
resulting. The second thesis is no doubt the repartee to the first, but
the joke is a bad one. All that can be got from a crowd is instinct or
passion; the instinct may be good, but the passion may be bad, and
neither is the instinct capable of producing a clear idea, nor the
passion of leading to a just resolution.

A crowd is a material force, and the support of numbers gives a
proposition the force of law; but that wise and ripened temper of mind
which takes everything into account, and therefore tends to truth, is
never engendered by the impetuosity of the masses. The masses are the
material of democracy, but its form--that is to say, the laws which
express the general reason, justice, and utility--can only be rightly
shaped by wisdom, which is by no means a universal property. The
fundamental error of the radical theory is to confound the right to do
good with good itself, and universal suffrage with universal wisdom. It
rests upon a legal fiction, which assumes a real equality of
enlightenment and merit among those whom it declares electors. It is
quite possible, however, that these electors may not desire the public
good, and that even if they do, they may be deceived as to the manner of
realizing it. Universal suffrage is not a dogma--it is an instrument;
and according to the population in whose hands it is placed, the
instrument is serviceable or deadly to the proprietor.

February 27, 1874.--Among the peoples, in whom the social gifts are the
strongest, the individual fears ridicule above all things, and ridicule
is the certain result of originality. No one, therefore, wishes to make
a party of his own; every one wishes to be on the side of all the world.
"All the world" is the greatest of powers; it is sovereign, and calls
itself _we_. _We_ dress, _we_ dine, _we_ walk, _we_ go out, _we_ come
in, like this, and not like that. This _we_ is always right, whatever it
does. The subjects of _We_ are more prostrate than the slaves of the
East before the Padishah. The good pleasure of the sovereign decides
every appeal; his caprice is law. What _we_ does or says is called
custom, what it thinks is called opinion, what it believes to be
beautiful or good is called fashion. Among such nations as these _we_ is
the brain, the conscience, the reason, the taste, and the judgment of
all. The individual finds everything decided for him without his
troubling about it. He is dispensed from the task of finding out
anything whatever. Provided that he imitates, copies, and repeats the
models furnished by _we_, he has nothing more to fear. He knows all that
he need know, and has entered into salvation.

April 29, 1874.--Strange reminiscence! At the end of the terrace of La
Treille, on the eastern side, as I looked down the slope, it seemed to
me that I saw once more in imagination a little path which existed there
when I was a child, and ran through the bushy underwood, which was
thicker then than it is now. It is at least forty years since this
impression disappeared from my mind. The revival of an image so dead and
so forgotten set me thinking. Consciousness seems to be like a book, in
which the leaves turned by life successively cover and hide each other
in spite of their semi-transparency; but although the book may be open
at the page of the present, the wind, for a few seconds, may blow back
the first pages into view.

And at death will these leaves cease to hide each other, and shall we
see all our past at once? Is death the passage from the successive to
the simultaneous--that is to say, from time to eternity? Shall we then
understand, in its unity, the poem or mysterious episode of our
existence, which till then we have spelled out phrase by phrase? And is
this the secret of that glory which so often enwraps the brow and
countenance of those who are newly dead? If so, death would be like the
arrival of a traveler at the top of a great mountain, whence he sees
spread out before him the whole configuration of the country, of which
till then he had had but passing glimpses. To be able to overlook one's
own history, to divine its meaning in the general concert and in the
divine plan, would be the beginning of eternal felicity. Till then we
had sacrificed ourselves to the universal order, but then we should
understand and appreciate the beauty of that order. We had toiled and
labored under the conductor of the orchestra; and we should find
ourselves become surprised and delighted hearers. We had seen nothing
but our own little path in the mist; and suddenly a marvelous panorama
and boundless distances would open before our dazzled eyes. Why not?

May 31, 1874.--I have been reading the philosophical poems of Madame
Ackermann. She has rendered in fine verse that sense of desolation which
has been so often stirred in me by the philosophy of Schopenhauer, of
Hartmann, Comte, and Darwin. What tragic force and power! What thought
and passion! She has courage for everything, and attacks the most
tremendous subjects.

Science is implacable; will it suppress all religions? All those which
start from a false conception of nature, certainly. But if the
scientific conception of nature proves incapable of bringing harmony and
peace to man, what will happen? Despair is not a durable situation. We
shall have to build a moral city without God, without an immortality of
the soul, without hope. Buddhism and stoicism present themselves as
possible alternatives.

But even if we suppose that there is no finality in the cosmos, it is
certain that man has ends at which he aims, and if so the notion of end
or purpose is a real phenomenon, although a limited one. Physical
science may very well be limited by moral science, and _vice versa_. But
if these two conceptions of the world are in opposition, which must give

I still incline to believe that nature is the virtuality of mind--that
the soul is the fruit of life, and liberty the flower of necessity--that
all is bound together, and that nothing can be done without. Our modern
philosophy has returned to the point of view of the Ionians, the [Greek:
_physikoi_], or naturalist thinkers. But it will have to pass once more
through Plato and through Aristotle, through the philosophy of
"goodness" and "purpose," through the science of mind.

July 3, 1874.--Rebellion against common sense is a piece of childishness
of which I am quite capable. But it does not last long. I am soon
brought back to the advantages and obligations of my situation; I return
to a calmer self-consciousness. It is disagreeable to me, no doubt, to
realize all that is hopelessly lost to me, all that is now and will be
forever denied to me; but I reckon up my privileges as well as my
losses--I lay stress on what I have, and not only on what I want. And so
I escape from that terrible dilemma of "all or nothing," which for me
always ends in the adoption of the second alternative. It seems to me at
such times that a man may without shame content himself with being
_some_ thing and _some_ one--

"Ni si haut, ni si bas...."

These brusque lapses into the formless, indeterminate state, are the
price of my critical faculty. All my former habits become suddenly
fluid; it seems to me that I am beginning life over again, and that all
my acquired capital has disappeared at a stroke. I am forever new-born;
I am a mind which has never taken to itself a body, a country, an
avocation, a sex, a species. Am I even quite sure of being a man, a
European, an inhabitant of this earth? It seems to me so easy to be
something else, that to be what I am appears to me a mere piece of
arbitrary choice. I cannot possibly take an accidental structure of
which the value is purely relative, seriously. When once a man has
touched the absolute, all that might be other than what it is seems to
him indifferent. All these ants pursuing their private ends excite his
mirth. He looks down from the moon upon his hovel; he beholds the earth
from the heights of the sun; he considers his life from the point of
view of the Hindoo pondering the days of Brahma; he sees the finite from
the distance of the infinite, and thenceforward the insignificance of
all those things which men hold to be important makes effort ridiculous,
passion burlesque, and prejudice absurd.

August 7, 1874. (_Clarens_).--A day perfectly beautiful, luminous,
limpid, brilliant.

I passed the morning in the churchyard; the "Oasis" was delightful.
Innumerable sensations, sweet and serious, peaceful and solemn, passed
over me.... Around me Russians, English, Swedes, Germans, were sleeping
their last sleep under the shadow of the Cubly. The landscape was one
vast splendor; the woods were deep and mysterious, the roses full blown;
all around me were butterflies--a noise of wings--the murmur of birds. I
caught glimpses through the trees of distant mists, of soaring
mountains, of the tender blue of the lake.... A little conjunction of
things struck me. Two ladies were tending and watering a grave; two
nurses were suckling their children. This double protest against death
had something touching and poetical in it. "Sleep, you who are dead; we,
the living, are thinking of you, or at least carrying on the pilgrimage
of the race!" such seemed to me the words in my ear. It was clear to me
that the Oasis of Clarens is the spot in which I should like to rest.
Here I am surrounded with memories; here death is like a sleep--a sleep
instinct with hope.

* * * * *

Hope is not forbidden us, but peace and submission are the essentials.

September 1, 1874. (_Clarens_).--On waking it seemed to me that I was
staring into the future with wide startled eyes. Is it indeed to _me_
that these things apply. [Footnote: Amiel had just received at the hands
of his doctor the medical verdict, which was his _arret de mort_.]
Incessant and growing humiliation, my slavery becoming heavier, my
circle of action steadily narrower!... What is hateful in my situation
is that deliverance can never be hoped for, and that one misery will
succeed another in such a way as to leave me no breathing space, not
even in the future, not even in hope. All possibilities are closed to
me, one by one. It is difficult for the natural man to escape from a
dumb rage against inevitable agony.

_Noon_.--An indifferent nature? A Satanic principle of things? A good
and just God? Three points of view. The second is improbable and
horrible. The first appeals to our stoicism. My organic combination has
never been anything but mediocre; it has lasted as long as it could.
Every man has his turn, and all must submit. To die quickly is a
privilege; I shall die by inches. Well, submit. Rebellion would be
useless and senseless. After all, I belong to the better-endowed half of
human-kind, and my lot is superior to the average.

But the third point of view alone can give joy. Only is it tenable? Is
there a particular Providence directing all the circumstances of our
life, and therefore imposing all our trials upon us for educational
ends? Is this heroic faith compatible with our actual knowledge of the
laws of nature? Scarcely; But what this faith makes objective we may
hold as subjective truth. The moral being may moralize his sufferings by
using natural facts for his own inner education. What he cannot change
he calls the will of God, and to will what God wills brings him peace.

To nature both our continued existence and our morality are equally
indifferent. But God, on the other hand, if God is, desires our
sanctification; and if suffering purifies us, then we may console
ourselves or suffering. This is what makes the great advantage of the
Christian faith; it is the triumph over pain, the victory over death.
There is but one thing necessary--death unto sin, the immolation of our
selfish will, the filial sacrifice of our desires. Evil consists in
living for _self_--that is to say, for one's own vanity, pride,
sensuality, or even health. Righteousness consists in willingly
accepting one's lot, in submitting to, and espousing the destiny
assigned us, in willing what God commands, in renouncing what he forbids
us, in consenting to what he takes from us or refuses us.

In my own particular case, what has been taken from me is health--that
is to say, the surest basis of all independence; but friendship and
material comfort are still left to me; I am neither called upon to bear
the slavery of poverty nor the hell of absolute isolation.

Health cut off, means marriage, travel, study, and work forbidden or
endangered. It means life reduced in attractiveness and utility by

Thy will be done!

September 14, 1874. (_Charnex_).--A long walk and conversation with
----. We followed a high mountain path. Seated on the turf, and talking
with open heart, our eyes wandered over the blue immensity below us, and
the smiling outlines of the shore. All was friendly, azure-tinted,
caressing, to the sight. The soul I was reading was profound and pure.
Such an experience is like a flight into paradise. A few light clouds
climbed the broad spaces of the sky, steamers made long tracks upon the
water at our feet, white sails were dotted over the vast distance of the
lake, and sea-gulls like gigantic butterflies quivered above its
rippling surface.

September 21, 1874. (_Charnex_).--A wonderful day! Never has the lake
been bluer, or the landscape softer. It was enchanting. But tragedy is
hidden under the eclogue; the serpent crawls under the flowers. All the
future is dark. The phantoms which for three or four weeks I have been
able to keep at bay, wait for me behind the door, as the Eumenides
waited for Orestes. Hemmed in on all sides!

"On ne croit plus a son etoile,
On sent que derriere la toile
Sont le deuil, les maux et la mort."

For a fortnight I have been happy, and now this happiness is going.

There are no more birds, but a few white or blue butterflies are still
left. Flowers are becoming rare--a few daisies in the fields, some blue
or yellow chicories and colchicums, some wild geraniums growing among
fragments of old walls, and the brown berries of the privet--this is all
we were able to find. In the fields they are digging potatoes, beating
down the nuts, and beginning the apple harvest. The leaves are thinning
and changing color; I watch them turning red on the pear-trees, gray on
the plums, yellow on the walnut-trees, and tinging the thickly-strewn
turf with shades of reddish-brown. We are nearing the end of the fine
weather; the coloring is the coloring of late autumn; there is no need
now to keep out of the sun. Everything is soberer, more measured, more
fugitive, less emphatic. Energy is gone, youth is past, prodigality at
an end, the summer over. The year is on the wane and tends toward
winter; it is once more in harmony with my own age and position, and
next Sunday it will keep my birthday. All these different consonances
form a melancholy harmony.

* * * * *

The distinguishing mark of religion is not so much liberty as obedience,
and its value is measured by the sacrifices which it can extract from
the individual.

* * * * *

A young girl's love is a kind of piety. We must approach it with
adoration if we are not to profane it, and with poetry if we are to
understand it. If there is anything in the world which gives us a sweet,
ineffable impression, of the ideal, it is this trembling modest love. To
deceive it would be a crime. Merely to watch its unfolding life is bliss
to the beholder; he sees in it the birth of a divine marvel. When the
garland of youth fades on our brow, let us try at least to have the
virtues of maturity; may we grow better, gentler, graver, like the fruit
of the vine, while its leaf withers and falls.

* * * * *

To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the
most difficult chapters in the great art of living.

* * * * *

He who asks of life nothing but the improvement of his own nature, and a
continuous moral progress toward inward contentment and religious
submission, is less liable than any one else to miss and waste life.

January 2, 1875. (_Hyeres_.)--In spite of my sleeping draught I have had
a bad night. Once it seemed as if I must choke, for I could breathe
neither way.

Could I be more fragile, more sensitive, more vulnerable! People talk to
me as if there were still a career before me, while all the time I know
that the ground is slipping from under me, and that the defense of my
health is already a hopeless task. At bottom, I am only living on out of
complaisance and without a shadow of self-delusion. I know that not one
of my desires will be realized, and for a long time I have had no
desires at all. I simply accept what comes to me as though it were a
bird perching on my window. I smile at it, but I know very well that my
visitor has wings and will not stay long. The resignation which comes
from despair has a kind of melancholy sweetness. It looks at life as a
man sees it from his death-bed, and judges it without bitterness and
without vain regrets.

I no longer hope to get well, or to be useful, or to be happy. I hope
that those who have loved me will love me to the end; I should wish to
have done them some good, and to leave them a tender memory of myself. I
wish to die without rebellion and without weakness; that is about all.
Is this relic of hope and of desire still too much? Let all be as God
will. I resign myself into his hands.

January 22, 1875. (_Hyeres_).--The French mind, according to Gioberti,
apprehends only the outward form of truth, and exaggerates it by
isolating it, so that it acts as a solvent upon the realities with which
it works. It takes the shadow for the substance, the word for the thing,
appearance for reality, and abstract formula for truth. It lives in a
world of intellectual _assignats_. If you talk to a Frenchman of art, of
language, of religion, of the state, of duty, of the family, you feel in
his way of speaking that his thought remains outside the subject, that
he never penetrates into its substance, its inmost core. He is not
striving to understand it in its essence, but only to say something
plausible about it. On his lips the noblest words become thin and empty;
for example--mind, idea, religion. The French mind is superficial and
yet not comprehensive; it has an extraordinarily fine edge, and yet no
penetrating power. Its desire is to enjoy its own resources by the help
of things, but it has none of the respect, the disinterestedness, the
patience, and the self-forgetfulness, which, are indispensable if we
wish to see things as they are. Far from being the philosophic mind, it
is a mere counterfeit of it, for it does not enable a man to solve any
problem whatever, and remains incapable of understanding all that is
living, complex, and concrete. Abstraction is its original sin,
presumption its incurable defect, and plausibility its fatal limit.

The French language has no power of expressing truths of birth and
germination; it paints effects, results, the _caput mortuum_, but not
the cause, the motive power, the native force the development of any
phenomenon whatever. It is analytic and descriptive, but it explains
nothing, for it avoids all beginnings and processes of formation. With
it crystallization is not the mysterious act itself by which a substance
passes from the fluid state to the solid state. It is the product of
that act.

The thirst for truth is not a French passion. In everything appearance
is preferred to reality, the outside to the inside, the fashion to the
material, that which shines to that which profits, opinion to
conscience. That is to say, the Frenchman's center of gravity is always
outside him--he is always thinking of others, playing to the gallery. To
him individuals are so many zeros; the unit which turns them into a
number must be added from outside; it may be royalty, the writer of the
day, the favorite newspaper, or any other temporary master of fashion.
All this is probably the result of an exaggerated sociability, which
weakens the soul's forces of resistance, destroys its capacity for
investigation and personal conviction, and kills in it the worship of
the ideal.

January 27, 1875. (_Hyeres_).--The whole atmosphere has a luminous
serenity, a limpid clearness. The islands are like swans swimming in a
golden stream. Peace, splendor, boundless space!... And I meanwhile look
quietly on while the soft hours glide away. I long to catch the wild
bird, happiness, and tame it. Above all, I long to share it with others.
These delicious mornings impress me indescribably. They intoxicate me,
they carry me away. I feel beguiled out of myself, dissolved in
sunbeams, breezes, perfumes, and sudden impulses of joy. And yet all the
time I pine for I know not what intangible Eden.

Lamartine in the "Preludes" has admirably described this oppressive
effect of happiness on fragile human nature. I suspect that the reason
for it is that the finite creature feels itself invaded by the infinite,
and the invasion produces dizziness, a kind of vertigo, a longing to
fling one's self into the great gulf of being. To feel life too
intensely is to yearn for death; and for man, to die means to become
like unto the gods--to be initiated into the great mystery. Pathetic and
beautiful illusion.

_Ten o'clock in the evening_.--From one end to the other the day has
been perfect, and my walk this afternoon to Beau Vallon was one long
delight. It was like an expedition into Arcadia. Here was a wild and
woodland corner, which would have made a fit setting for a dance of
nymphs, and there an ilex overshadowing a rock, which reminded me of an
ode of Horace or a drawing of Tibur. I felt a kind of certainty that the
landscape had much that was Greek in it. And what made the sense of
resemblance the more striking was the sea, which one feels to be always
near, though one may not see it, and which any turn of the valley may
bring into view. We found out a little tower with an overgrown garden,
of which the owner might have been taken for a husbandman of the
Odyssey. He could scarcely speak any French, but was not without a
certain grave dignity. I translated to him the inscription on his
sun-dial, "_Hora est benefaciendi_," which is beautiful, and pleased him
greatly. It would be an inspiring place to write a novel in. Only I do
not know whether the little den would have a decent room, and one would
certainly have to live upon eggs, milk, and figs, like Philemon.
February 15, 1875. (_Hyeres_).--I have just been reading the two last
"Discours" at the French Academy, lingering over every word and weighing
every idea. This kind of writing is a sort of intellectual dainty, for
it is the art "of expressing truth with all the courtesy and finesse
possible;" the art of appearing perfectly at ease without the smallest
loss of manners; of being gracefully sincere, and of making criticism
itself a pleasure to the person criticized. Legacy as it is from the
monarchical tradition, this particular kind of eloquence is the
distinguishing mark of those men of the world who are also men of
breeding, and those men of letters who are also gentlemen. Democracy
could never have invented it, and in this delicate _genre_ of literature
France may give points to all rival peoples, for it is the fruit of that
refined and yet vigorous social sense which is produced by court and
drawing-room life, by literature and good company, by means of a mutual
education continued for centuries. This complicated product is as
original in its way as Athenian eloquence, but it is less healthy and
less durable. If ever France becomes Americanized this _genre_ at least
will perish, without hope of revival.

April 16, 1875. (_Hyeres_).--I have already gone through the various
emotions of leave-taking. I have been wandering slowly through the
streets and up the castle hill, gathering a harvest of images and
recollections. Already I am full of regret that I have not made a better
study of the country, in which I have now spent four months and more. It
is like what happens when a friend dies; we accuse ourselves of having
loved him too little, or loved him ill; or it is like our own death,
when we look back upon life and feel that it has been misspent.

August 16,1875.--Life is but a daily oscillation between revolt and
submission, between the instinct of the _ego_, which is to expand, to
take delight in its own tranquil sense of inviolability, if not to
triumph in its own sovereignty, and the instinct of the soul, which is
to obey the universal order, to accept the will of God.

The cold renunciation of disillusioned reason brings no real peace.
Peace is only to be found in reconciliation with destiny, when destiny
seems, in the religious sense of the word, _good_; that is to say, when
man feels himself directly in the presence of God. Then, and then only,
does the will acquiesce. Nay more, it only completely acquiesces when it
adores. The soul only submits to the hardness of fate by virtue of its
discovery of a sublime compensation--the loving kindness of the
Almighty. That is to say, it cannot resign itself to lack or famine, it
shrinks from the void around it, and the happiness either of hope or
faith is essential to it. It may very well vary its objects, but some
object it must have. It may renounce its former idols, but it will
demand another cult. The soul hungers and thirsts after happiness, and
it is in vain that everything deserts it--it will never submit to its

August 28, 1875. (_Geneva_).--A word used by Sainte-Beuve a propos of
Benjamin Constant has struck me: it is the word _consideration_. To
possess or not to possess _consideration_ was to Madame de Stael a
matter of supreme importance--the loss of it an irreparable evil, the
acquirement of it a pressing necessity. What, then, is this good thing?
The esteem of the public. And how is it gained? By honorable character
and life, combined with a certain aggregate of services rendered and of
successes obtained. It is not exactly a good conscience, but it is
something like it, for it is the witness from without, if not the
witness from within. _Consideration_ is not reputation, still less
celebrity, fame, or glory; it has nothing to do with _savoir faire_, and
is not always the attendant of talent or genius. It is the reward given
to constancy in duty, to probity of conduct. It is the homage rendered
to a life held to be irreproachable. It is a little more than esteem,
and a little less than admiration. To enjoy public consideration is at
once a happiness and a power. The loss of it is a misfortune and a
source of daily suffering. Here am I, at the age of fifty-three, without
ever having given this idea the smallest place in my life. It is
curious, but the desire for consideration has been to me so little of a
motive that I have not even been conscious of such an idea at all. The
fact shows, I suppose, that for me the audience, the gallery, the
public, has never had more than a negative importance. I have neither
asked nor expected anything from it, not even justice; and to be a
dependent upon it, to solicit its suffrages and its good graces, has
always seemed to me an act of homage and flunkeyism against which my
pride has instinctively rebelled. I have never even tried to gain the
good will of a _coterie_ or a newspaper, nor so much as the vote of an
elector. And yet it would have been a joy to me to be smiled upon,
loved, encouraged, welcomed, and to obtain what I was so ready to give,
kindness and good will. But to hunt down consideration and
reputation--to force the esteem of others--seemed to me an effort
unworthy of myself, almost a degradation. I have never even thought of

Perhaps I have lost consideration by my indifference to it. Probably I
have disappointed public expectation by thus allowing an over-sensitive
and irritable consciousness to lead me into isolation and retreat. I
know that the world, which is only eager to silence you when you do
speak, is angry with your silence as soon as its own action has killed
in you the wish to speak. No doubt, to be silent with a perfectly clear
conscience a man must not hold a public office. I now indeed say to
myself that a professor is morally bound to justify his position by
publication; that students, authorities, and public are placed thereby
in a healthier relation toward him; that it is necessary for his good
repute in the world, and for the proper maintenance of his position. But
this point of view has not been a familiar one to me. I have endeavored
to give conscientious lectures, and I have discharged all the subsidiary
duties of my post to the best of my ability; but I have never been able
to bend myself to a struggle with hostile opinion, for all the while my
heart has been full of sadness and disappointment, and I have known and
felt that I have been systematically and deliberately isolated.
Premature despair and the deepest discouragement have been my constant
portion. Incapable of taking any interest in my talents for my own sake,
I let everything slip as soon as the hope of being loved for them and by
them had forsaken me. A hermit against my will, I have not even found
peace in solitude, because my inmost conscience has not been any better
satisfied than my heart.

Does not all this make up a melancholy lot, a barren failure of a life?
What use have I made of my gifts, of my special circumstances, of my
half-century of existence? What have I paid back to my country? Are all
the documents I have produced, taken together, my correspondence, these
thousands of journal pages, my lectures, my articles, my poems, my notes
of different kinds, anything better than withered leaves? To whom and to
what have I been useful? Will my name survive me a single day, and will
it ever mean anything to anybody? A life of no account! A great many
comings and goings, a great many scrawls--for nothing. When all is added
up--nothing! And worst of all, it has not been a life used up in the
service of some adored object, or sacrificed to any future hope. Its
sufferings will have been vain, its renunciations useless, its
sacrifices gratuitous, its dreariness without reward.... No, I am wrong;
it will have had its secret treasure, its sweetness, its reward. It will
have inspired a few affections of great price; it will have given joy to
a few souls; its hidden existence will have had some value. Besides, if
in itself it has been nothing, it has understood much. If it has not
been in harmony with the great order, still it has loved it. If it has
missed happiness and duty, it has at least felt its own nothingness, and
implored its pardon.

_Later on._--There is a great affinity in me with the Hindoo
genius--that mind, vast, imaginative, loving, dreamy, and speculative,
but destitute of ambition, personality, and will. Pantheistic
disinterestedness, the effacement of the self in the great whole,
womanish gentleness, a horror of slaughter, antipathy to action--these
are all present in my nature, in the nature at least which has been
developed by years and circumstances. Still the West has also had its
part in me. What I have found difficult is to keep up a prejudice in
favor of any form, nationality, or individuality whatever. Hence my
indifference to my own person, my own usefulness, interest, or opinions
of the moment. What does it all matter? _Omnis determinatio est
negatio_. Grief localizes us, love particularizes us, but thought
delivers us from personality.... To be a man is a poor thing, to be a
man is well; to be _the_ man--man in essence and in principle--that
alone is to be desired.

Yes, but in these Brahmanic aspirations what becomes of the
subordination of the individual to duty? Pleasure may lie in ceasing to
be individual, but duty lies in performing the microscopic task allotted
to us. The problem set before us is to bring our daily task into the
temple of contemplation and ply it there, to act as in the presence of
God, to interfuse one's little part with religion. So only can we inform
the detail of life, all that is passing, temporary, and insignificant,
with beauty and nobility. So may we dignify and consecrate the meanest
of occupations. So may we feel that we are paying our tribute to the
universal work and the eternal will. So are we reconciled with life and
delivered from the fear of death. So are we in order and at peace.

September 1, 1875.--I have been working for some hours at my article on
Mme. de Stael, but with what labor, what painful effort! When I write
for publication every word is misery, and my pen stumbles at every line,
so anxious am I to find the ideally best expression, and so great is the
number of possibilities which open before me at every step.

Composition demands a concentration, decision, and pliancy which I no
longer possess. I cannot fuse together materials and ideas. If we are to
give anything a form, we must, so to speak, be the tyrants of it.
[Footnote: Compare this paragraph from the "Pensees of a new writer, M.
Joseph Roux, a country cure, living in a remote part of the _Bas
Limousin_, whose thoughts have been edited and published this year by M.
Paul Marieton (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre):

"Le verbe ne souffre et ne connait que la volonte qui le dompte, et
n'emporte loin sans peril que l'intelligence qui lui menage avec empire
l'eperon et le frein."]

We must treat our subject brutally, and not be always trembling lest we
are doing it a wrong. We must be able to transmute and absorb it into
our own substance. This sort of confident effrontery is beyond me: my
whole nature tends to that impersonality which respects and subordinates
itself to the object; it is love of truth which holds me back from
concluding and deciding. And then I am always retracing my steps:
instead of going forward I work in a circle: I am afraid of having
forgotten a point, of having exaggerated an expression, of having used a
word out of place, while all the time I ought to have been thinking of
essentials and aiming at breadth of treatment. I do not know how to
sacrifice anything, how to give up anything whatever. Hurtful timidity,
unprofitable conscientiousness, fatal slavery to detail!

In reality I have never given much thought to the art of writing, to the
best way of making an article, an essay, a book, nor have I ever
methodically undergone the writer's apprenticeship; it would have been
useful to me, and I was always ashamed of what was useful. I have felt,
as it were, a scruple against trying to surprise the secret of the
masters of literature, against picking _chef-d'oeuvres_ to pieces. When
I think that I have always postponed the serious study of the art of
writing, from a sort of awe of it, and a secret love of its beauty, I am
furious with my own stupidity, and with my own respect. Practice and
routine would have given me that ease, lightness, and assurance, without
which the natural gift and impulse dies away. But on the contrary, I
have developed two opposed habits of mind, the habit of scientific
analysis which exhausts the material offered to it, and the habit of
immediate notation of passing impressions. The art of composition lies
between the two; you want for it both the living unity of the thing and
the sustained operation of thought.

October 25, 1875.--I have been listening to M. Taine's first lecture (on
the "Ancien Regime") delivered in the university hall. It was an
extremely substantial piece of work--clear, instructive, compact, and
full of matter. As a writer he shows great skill in the French method of
simplifying his subject by massing it in large striking divisions; his
great defect is a constant straining after points; his principal merit
is the sense he has of historical reality, his desire to see things as
they are. For the rest, he has extreme openness of mind, freedom of
thought, and precision of language. The hall was crowded.

October 26, 1875.--All origins are secret; the principle of every
individual or collective life is a mystery--that is to say, something
irrational, inexplicable, not to be defined. We may even go farther and
say, Every individuality is an insoluble enigma, and no beginning
explains it. In fact, all that has _become_ may be explained
retrospectively, but the beginning of anything whatever did not
_become_. It represents always the "_fiat lux_," the initial miracle,
the act of creation; for it is the consequence of nothing else, it
simply appears among anterior things which make a _milieu_, an occasion,
a surrounding for it, but which are witnesses of its appearance without
understanding whence it comes.

Perhaps also there are no true individuals, and, if so, no beginning but
one only, the primordial impulse, the first movement. All men on this
hypothesis would be but _man_ in two sexes; man again might be reduced
to the animal, the animal to the plant, and the only individuality left
would be a living nature, reduced to a living matter, to the hylozoism
of Thales. However, even upon this hypothesis, if there were but one
absolute beginning, relative beginnings would still remain to us as
multiple symbols of the absolute. Every life, called individual for
convenience sake and by analogy, would represent in miniature the
history of the world, and would be to the eye of the philosopher a
microscopic compendium of it.

The history of the formation of ideas is what, frees the mind.

* * * * *

A philosophic truth does not become popular until some eloquent soul has
humanized it or some gifted personality has translated and embodied it.
Pure truth cannot be assimilated by the crowd; it must be communicated
by contagion.

January 30, 1876.--After dinner I went two steps off, to Marc Monnier's,
to hear the "Luthier de Cremone," a one-act comedy in verse, read by the
author, Francois Coppee.

It was a feast of fine sensations, of literary dainties. For the little
piece is a pearl. It is steeped in poetry, and every line is a fresh
pleasure to one's taste.

This young _maestro_ is like the violin he writes about, vibrating and
passionate; he has, besides delicacy, point, grace, all that a writer
wants to make what is simple, naive, heartfelt, and out of the beaten
track, acceptable to a cultivated society.

How to return to nature through art: there is the problem of all highly
composite literatures like our own. Rousseau himself attacked letters
with all the resources of the art of writing, and boasted the delights
of savage life with a skill and adroitness developed only by the most
advanced civilization. And it is indeed this marriage of contraries
which charms us; this spiced gentleness, this learned innocence, this
calculated simplicity, this yes and no, this foolish wisdom. It is the
supreme irony of such combinations which tickles the taste of advanced
and artificial epochs, epochs when men ask for two sensations at once,
like the contrary meanings fused by the smile of La Gioconda. And our
satisfaction, too, in work of this kind is best expressed by that
ambiguous curve of the lip which says: I feel your charm, but I am not
your dupe; I see the illusion both from within and from without; I yield
to you, but I understand you; I am complaisant, but I am proud; I am
open to sensations, yet not the slave of any; you have talent, I have
subtlety of perception; we are quits, and we understand each other.

February 1, 1876.--This evening we talked of the infinitely great and
the infinitely small. The great things of the universe are for----so
much easier to understand than the small, because all greatness is a
multiple of herself, whereas she is incapable of analyzing what requires
a different sort of measurement.

It is possible for the thinking being to place himself in all points of
view, and to teach his soul to live under the most different modes of
being. But it must be confessed that very few profit by the possibility.
Men are in general imprisoned, held in a vice by their circumstances
almost as the animals are, but they have very little suspicion of it
because they have so little faculty of self-judgment. It is only the
critic and the philosopher who can penetrate into all states of being,
and realize their life from within.

When the imagination shrinks in fear from the phantoms which it creates,
it may be excused because it is imagination. But when the intellect
allows itself to be tyrannized over or terrified by the categories to
which itself gives birth, it is in the wrong, for it is not allowed to
intellect--the critical power of man--to be the dupe of anything.

Now, in the superstition of size the mind is merely the dupe of itself,
for it creates the notion of space. The created is not more than the
creator, the son not more than the father. The point of view wants
rectifying. The mind has to free itself from space, which gives it a
false notion of itself, but it can only attain this freedom by reversing
things and by learning to see space in the mind instead of the mind in
space. How can it do this? Simply by reducing space to its virtuality.
Space is dispersion; mind is concentration.

And that is why God is present everywhere, without taking up a thousand
millions of cube leagues, nor a hundred times more nor a hundred times

In the state of thought the universe occupies but a single point; but in
the state of dispersion and analysis this thought requires the heaven of
heavens for its expansion.

In the same way, time and number are contained in the mind. Man, as
mind, is not their inferior, but their superior.

It is true that before he can reach this state of freedom his own body
must appear to him at will either speck or world--that is to say, he
must be independent of it. So long as the self still feels itself
spatial, dispersed, corporeal, it is but a soul, it is not a mind; it is
conscious of itself only as the animal is, the impressionable,
affectionate, active and restless animal.

The mind being the subject of phenomena cannot be itself phenomenal; the
mirror of an image, if it was an image, could not be a mirror. There can
be no echo without a noise. Consciousness means some one who experiences
something. And all the somethings together cannot take the place of the
some one. The phenomenon exists only for a point which is not itself,
and for which it is an object. The perceptible supposes the perceiver.

May 15, 1876.--This morning I corrected the proofs of the "Etrangeres."
[Footnote: _Les Etrangeres: Poesies traduites de diverses
litteratures_, par H. F. Amiel, 1876.] Here at least is one thing off my
hands. The piece of prose theorizing which ends the volume pleased and
satisfied me a good deal more than my new meters. The book, as a whole,
may be regarded as an attempt to solve the problem of French
verse-translation considered as a special art. It is science applied to
poetry. It ought not, I think, to do any discredit to a philosopher,
for, after all, it is nothing but applied psychology.

Do I feel any relief, any joy, pride, hope? Hardly. It seems to me that
I feel nothing at all, or at least my feeling is so vague and doubtful
that I cannot analyze it. On the whole, I am rather tempted to say to
myself, how much labor for how small a result--_Much ado about nothing!_
And yet the work in itself is good, is successful. But what does
verse-translation matter? Already my interest in it is fading; my mind
and my energies clamor for something else.

What will Edmond Scherer say to the volume?

* * * * *

To the inmost self of me this literary attempt is quite indifferent--a
Lilliputian affair. In comparing my work with other work of the same
kind, I find a sort of relative satisfaction; but I see the intrinsic
futility of it, and the insignificance of its success or failure. I do
not believe in the public; I do not believe in my own work; I have no
ambition, properly speaking, and I blow soap-bubbles for want of
something to do.

"Car le neant peut seul bien cacher l'infini."

Self-satire, disillusion, absence of prejudice, may be freedom, but they
are not strength.

July 12, 1876.--Trouble on trouble. My cough has been worse than ever. I
cannot see that the fine weather or the holidays have made any change
for the better in my state of health. On the contrary, the process of
demolition seems more rapid. It is a painful experience, this premature
decay!... "_Apres tant de malheurs, que vous reste-t-il? Moi._" This
_"moi"_ is the central consciousness, the trunk of all the branches
which have been cut away, that which bears every successive mutilation.
Soon I shall have nothing else left than bare intellect. Death reduces
us to the mathematical "point;" the destruction which precedes it forces
us back, as it were, by a series of ever-narrowing concentric circles to
this last inaccessible refuge. Already I have a foretaste of that zero
in which all forms and all modes are extinguished. I see how we return
into the night, and inversely I understand how we issue from it. Life is
but a meteor, of which the whole brief course is before me. Birth, life,
death assume a fresh meaning to us at each phase of our existence. To
see one's self as a firework in the darkness--to become a witness of
one's own fugitive phenomenon--this is practical psychology. I prefer
indeed the spectacle of the world, which is a vaster and more splendid
firework; but when illness narrows my horizon and makes me dwell
perforce upon my own miseries, these miseries are still capable of
supplying food for my psychological curiosity. What interests me in
myself, in spite of my repulsions is, that I find in my own case a
genuine example of human nature, and therefore a specimen of general
value. The sample enables me to understand a multitude of similar
situations, and numbers of my fellow-men.

To enter consciously into all possible modes of being would be
sufficient occupation for hundreds of centuries--at least for our finite
intelligences, which are conditioned by time. The progressive happiness
of the process, indeed may be easily poisoned and embittered by the
ambition which asks for everything at once, and clamors to reach the
absolute at a bound. But it may be answered that aspirations are
necessarily prophetic, for they could only have come into being under
the action of the same cause which will enable them to reach their goal.
The soul can only imagine the absolute because the absolute exists; our
consciousness of a possible perfection is the guarantee that perfection
will be realized.

Thought itself is eternal. It is the consciousness of thought which is
gradually achieved through the long succession of ages, races, and
humanities. Such is the doctrine of Hegel. The history of the mind is,
according to him one of approximation to the absolute, and the absolute
differs at the two ends of the story. It _was_ at the beginning; it
_knows itself_ at the end. Or rather it advances in the possession of
itself with the gradual unfolding of creation. Such also was the
conception of Aristotle.

If the history of the mind and of consciousness is the very marrow and
essence of being, then to be driven back on psychology, even personal
psychology, is to be still occupied with the main question of things, to
keep to the subject, to feel one's self in the center of the universal
drama. There is comfort in the idea. Everything else may be taken away
from us, but if thought remains we are still connected by a magic thread
with the axis of the world. But we may lose thought and speech. Then
nothing remains but simple feeling, the sense of the presence of God and
of death in God--the last relic of the human privilege, which is to
participate in the whole, to commune with the absolute.

"Ta vie est un eclair qui meurt dans son nuage,
Mais l'eclair t'a sauve s'il t'a fait voir le ciel."

July 26, 1876.--A private journal is a friend to idleness. It frees us
from the necessity of looking all round a subject, it puts up with every
kind of repetition, it accompanies all the caprices and meanderings of
the inner life, and proposes to itself no definite end. This journal of
mine represents the material of a good many volumes: what prodigious
waste of time, of thought, of strength! It will be useful to nobody, and
even for myself--it has rather helped me to shirk life than to practice
it. A journal takes the place of a confidant, that is, of friend or
wife; it becomes a substitute for production, a substitute for country
and public. It is a grief-cheating device, a mode of escape and
withdrawal; but, factotum as it is, though it takes the place of
everything, properly speaking it represents nothing at all....

What is it which makes the history of a soul? It is the stratification
of its different stages of progress, the story of its acquisitions and
of the general course of its destiny. Before my history can teach
anybody anything, or even interest myself, it must be disentangled from
its materials, distilled and simplified. These thousands of pages are
but the pile of leaves and bark from which the essence has still to be
extracted. A whole forest of cinchonas are worth but one cask of
quinine. A whole Smyrna rose-garden goes to produce one vial of perfume.

This mass of written talk, the work of twenty-nine years, may in the end
be worth nothing at all; for each is only interested in his own romance,
his own individual life. Even I perhaps shall never have time to read
them over myself. So--so what? I shall have lived my life, and life
consists in repeating the human type, and the burden of the human song,
as myriads of my kindred have done, are doing, and will do, century
after century. To rise to consciousness of this burden and this type is
something, and we can scarcely achieve anything further. The realization
of the type is more complete, and the burden a more joyous one, if
circumstances are kind and propitious, but whether the puppets have done
this or that--

"Trois p'tits tours et puis s'en vont!"

everything falls into the same gulf at last, and comes to very much the
same thing.

To rebel against fate--to try to escape the inevitable issue--is almost
puerile. When the duration of a centenarian and that of an insect are
quantities sensibly equivalent--and geology and astronomy enable us to
regard such durations from this point of view--what is the meaning of
all our tiny efforts and cries, the value of our anger, our ambition,
our hope? For the dream of a dream it is absurd to raise these
make-believe tempests. The forty millions of infusoria which make up a
cube-inch of chalk--do they matter much to us? and do the forty millions
of men who make up France matter any more to an inhabitant of the moon
or Jupiter?

To be a conscious monad--a nothing which knows itself to be the
microscopic phantom of the universe: this is all we can ever attain to.

September 12, 1876.--What is your own particular absurdity? Why, simply
that you exhaust yourself in trying to understand wisdom without
practicing it, that you are always making preparations for nothing, that
you live without living. Contemplation which has not the courage to be
purely contemplative, renunciation which does not renounce completely,
chronic contradiction--there is your case. Inconsistent skepticism,
irresolution, not convinced but incorrigible, weakness which will not
accept itself and cannot transform itself into strength--there is your

The comic side of it lies in capacity to direct others, becoming
incapacity to direct one's self, in the dream of the infinitely great
stopped short by the infinitely little, in what seems to be the utter
uselessness of talent. To arrive at immobility by excess of motion, at
zero from abundance of numbers, is a strange farce, a sad comedy; the
poorest gossip can laugh at its absurdity.

September 19, 1876.--My reading to-day has been Doudan's "Lettres et
Melanges." [Footnote: Ximenes Doudan, born in 1800, died 1872, the
brilliant friend and tutor of the De Broglie family, whose conversation
was so much sought after in life, and whose letters have been so eagerly
read in France since his death. Compare M. Scherer's two articles on
Doudan's "Lettres" and "Pensees" in his last published volume of
essays.] A fascinating book! Wit, grace, subtlety, imagination,
thought--these letters possess them all. How much I regret that I never
knew the man himself. He was a Frenchman of the best type, _un delicat
ne sublime_, to quote Sainte-Beuve's expression. Fastidiousness of
temper, and a too keen love of perfection, led him to withhold his
talent from the public, but while still living, and within his own
circle, he was the recognized equal of the best. He scarcely lacked
anything except that fraction of ambition, of brutality and material
force which are necessary to success in this world; but he was
appreciated by the best society of Paris, and he cared for nothing else.
He reminds me of Joubert.

September 20th.--To be witty is to satisfy another's wits by the
bestowal on him of two pleasures, that of understanding one thing and
that of guessing another, and so achieving a double stroke.

Thus Doudan scarcely ever speaks out his thought directly; he disguises
and suggests it by imagery, allusion, hyperbole; he overlays it with
light irony and feigned anger, with gentle mischief and assumed
humility. The more the thing to be guessed differs from the thing said,
the more pleasant surprise there is for the interlocutor or the
correspondent concerned. These charming and delicate ways of expression
allow a man to teach what he will without pedantry, and to venture what
he will without offense. There is something Attic and aerial in them;
they mingle grave and gay, fiction and truth, with a light grace of
touch such as neither La Fontaine nor Alcibiades would have been ashamed
of. Socratic _badinage_ like this presupposes a free and equal mind,
victorious over physical ill and inward discontents. Such delicate
playfulness is the exclusive heritage of those rare natures in whom
subtlety is the disguise of superiority, and taste its revelation. "What
balance of faculties and cultivation it requires! What personal
distinction it shows! Perhaps only a valetudinarian would have been
capable of this _morbidezza_ of touch, this marriage of virile thought
and feminine caprice. If there is excess anywhere, it lies perhaps in a
certain effeminacy of sentiment. Doudan can put up with nothing but what
is perfect--nothing but what is absolutely harmonious; all that is
rough, harsh, powerful, brutal, and unexpected, throws him into
convulsions. Audacity--boldness of all kinds--repels him. This Athenian
of the Roman time is a true disciple of Epicurus in all matters of
sight, hearing, and intelligence--a crumpled rose-leaf disturbs him.

"Une ombre, un souffle, un rien, tout lui donnait la fievre."

What all this softness wants is strength, creative and muscular force.
His range is not as wide as I thought it at first. The classical world
and the Renaissance--that is to say, the horizon of La Fontaine--is his
horizon. He is out of his element in the German or Slav literatures. He
knows nothing of Asia. Humanity for him is not much larger than France,
and he has never made a bible of Nature. In music and painting he is
more or less exclusive. In philosophy he stops at Kant. To sum up: he is
a man of exquisite and ingenious taste, but he is not a first-rate
critic, still less a poet, philosopher, or artist. He was an admirable
talker, a delightful letter writer, who might have become an author had
he chosen to concentrate himself. I must wait for the second volume in
order to review and correct this preliminary impression.

Midday.--I have now gone once more through the whole volume, lingering
over the Attic charm of it, and meditating on the originality and
distinction of the man's organization. Doudan was a keen penetrating
psychologist, a diviner of aptitudes, a trainer of minds, a man of
infinite taste and talent, capable of every _nuance_ and of every
delicacy; but his defect was a want of persevering energy of thought, a
lack of patience in execution. Timidity, unworldliness, indolence,
indifference, confined him to the role of the literary counsellor and
made him judge of the field in which he ought rather to have fought. But
do I mean to blame him?--no indeed! In the first place, it would be to
fire on my allies; in the second, very likely he chose the better part.

Was it not Goethe who remarked that in the neighborhood of all famous
men we find men who never achieve fame, and yet were esteemed by those
who did, as their equals or superiors? Descartes, I think, said the same
thing. Fame will not run after the men who are afraid of her. She makes
mock of those trembling and respectful lovers who deserve but cannot
force her favors. The public is won by the bold, imperious talents--by
the enterprising and the skillful. It does not believe in modesty, which
it regards as a device of impotence. The golden book contains but a
section of the true geniuses; it names those only who have taken glory
by storm.

November 15, 1876.--I have been reading "L'Avenir Religieux des Peuples
Civilises," by Emile de Laveleye. The theory of this writer is that the
gospel, in its pure form, is capable of providing the religion of the
future, and that the abolition of all religious principle, which is what
the socialism of the present moment demands, is as much to be feared as
Catholic superstition. The Protestant method, according to him, is the
means of transition whereby sacerdotal Christianity passes into the pure
religion of the gospel. Laveleye does not think that civilization can
last without the belief in God and in another life. Perhaps he forgets
that Japan and China prove the contrary. But it is enough to determine
him against atheism if it can be shown that a general atheism would
bring about a lowering of the moral average. After all, however, this is
nothing but a religion of utilitarianism. A belief is not true because
it is useful. And it is truth alone--scientific, established, proved,
and rational truth--which is capable of satisfying nowadays the awakened
minds of all classes. We may still say perhaps, "faith governs the
world"--but the faith of the present is no longer in revelation or in
the priest--it is in reason and in science. Is there a science of
goodness and happiness?--that is the question. Do justice and goodness
depend upon any particular religion? How are men to be made free,
honest, just, and good?--there is the point.

On my way through the book I perceived many new applications of my law
of irony. Every epoch has two contradictory aspirations which are
logically antagonistic and practically associated. Thus the philosophic
materialism of the last century was the champion of liberty. And at the
present moment we find Darwinians in love with equality, while Darwinism
itself is based on the right of the stronger. Absurdity is interwoven
with life: real beings are animated contradictions, absurdities brought
into action. Harmony with self would mean peace, repose, and perhaps
immobility By far the greater number of human beings can only conceive
action, or practice it, under the form of war--a war of competition at
home, a bloody war of nations abroad, and finally war with self. So that
life is a perpetual combat; it wills that which it wills not, and wills
not that it wills. Hence what I call the law of irony--that is to say,
the refutation of the self by itself, the concrete realization of the

Is such a result inevitable? I think not. Struggle is the caricature of
harmony, and harmony, which is the association of contraries, is also a
principle of movement. War is a brutal and fierce means of pacification;
it means the suppression of resistance by the destruction or enslavement
of the conquered. Mutual respect would be a better way out of
difficulties. Conflict is the result of the selfishness which will
acknowledge no other limit than that of external force. The laws of
animality govern almost the whole of history. The history of man is
essentially zoological; it becomes human late in the day, and then only
in the beautiful souls, the souls alive to justice, goodness,
enthusiasm, and devotion. The angel shows itself rarely and with

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