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Amiel's Journal by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

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In this second edition of the English translation of Amiel's "Journal
Intime," I have inserted a good many new passages, taken from the last
French edition (_Cinquieme edition, revue et augmentee_.) But I have not
translated all the fresh material to be found in that edition nor have I
omitted certain sections of the Journal which in these two recent
volumes have been omitted by their French editors. It would be of no
interest to give my reasons for these variations at length. They depend
upon certain differences between the English and the French public,
which are more readily felt than explained. Some of the passages which I
have left untranslated seemed to me to overweight the introspective side
of the Journal, already so full--to overweight it, at any rate, for
English readers. Others which I have retained, though they often relate
to local names and books, more or less unfamiliar to the general public,
yet seemed to me valuable as supplying some of that surrounding detail,
that setting, which helps one to understand a life. Besides, we English
are in many ways more akin to Protestant and Puritan Geneva than the
French readers to whom the original Journal primarily addresses itself,
and some of the entries I have kept have probably, by the nature of
things, more savor for us than for them.

M. A. W.


This translation of Amiel's "Journal Intime" is primarily addressed to
those whose knowledge of French, while it may be sufficient to carry
them with more or less complete understanding through a novel or a
newspaper, is yet not enough to allow them to understand and appreciate
a book containing subtle and complicated forms of expression. I believe
there are many such to be found among the reading public, and among
those who would naturally take a strong interest in such a life and mind
as Amiel's, were it not for the barrier of language. It is, at any rate,
in the hope that a certain number of additional readers may be thereby
attracted to the "Journal Intime" that this translation of it has been

The difficulties of the translation have been sometimes considerable,
owing, first of all, to those elliptical modes of speech which a man
naturally employs when he is writing for himself and not for the public,
but which a translator at all events is bound in some degree to expand.
Every here and there Amiel expresses himself in a kind of shorthand,
perfectly intelligible to a Frenchman, but for which an English
equivalent, at once terse and clear, is hard to find. Another difficulty
has been his constant use of a technical philosophical language, which,
according to his French critics, is not French--even philosophical
French--but German. Very often it has been impossible to give any other
than a literal rendering of such passages, if the thought of the
original was to be preserved; but in those cases where a choice was open
to me, I have preferred the more literary to the more technical
expression; and I have been encouraged to do so by the fact that Amiel,
when he came to prepare for publication a certain number of "Pensees,"
extracted from the Journal, and printed at the end of a volume of poems
published in 1853, frequently softened his phrases, so that sentences
which survive in the Journal in a more technical form are to be found in
a more literary form in the "Grains de Mil."

In two or three cases--not more, I think--I have allowed myself to
transpose a sentence bodily, and in a few instances I have added some
explanatory words to the text, which wherever the addition was of any
importance, are indicated by square brackets.

My warmest thanks are due to my friend and critic, M. Edmond Scherer,
from whose valuable and interesting study, prefixed to the French
Journal, as well as from certain materials in his possession which he
has very kindly allowed me to make use of, I have drawn by far the
greater part of the biographical material embodied in the Introduction.
M. Scherer has also given me help and advice through the whole process
of translation--advice which his scholarly knowledge of English has made
especially worth having.

In the translation of the more technical philosophical passages I have
been greatly helped by another friend, Mr. Bernard Bosanquet, Fellow of
University College, Oxford, the translator of Lotze, of whose care and
pains in the matter I cherish a grateful remembrance.

But with all the help that has been so freely given me, not only by
these friends but by others, I confide the little book to the public
with many a misgiving! May it at least win a few more friends and
readers here and there for one who lived alone, and died sadly persuaded
that his life had been a barren mistake; whereas, all the while--such is
the irony of things--he had been in reality working out the mission
assigned him in the spiritual economy, and faithfully obeying the secret
mandate which had impressed itself upon his youthful consciousness:
"_Let the living live; and you, gather together your thoughts, leave
behind you a legacy of feeling and ideas; you will be most useful so_."



It was in the last days of December, 1882, that the first volume of
Henri Frederic Amiel's "Journal Intime" was published at Geneva. The
book, of which the general literary world knew nothing prior to its
appearance, contained a long and remarkable Introduction from the pen of
M. Edmond Scherer, the well-known French critic, who had been for many
years one of Amiel's most valued friends, and it was prefaced also by a
little _Avertissement_, in which the "Editors"--that is to say, the
Genevese friends to whom the care and publication of the Journal had
been in the first instance entrusted--described in a few reserved and
sober words the genesis and objects of the publication. Some thousands
of sheets of Journal, covering a period of more than thirty years, had
come into the hands of Amiel's literary heirs. "They were written," said
the _Avertissement_, "with several ends in view. Amiel recorded in them
his various occupations, and the incidents of each day. He preserved in
them his psychological observations, and the impressions produced on him
by books. But his Journal was, above all, the confidant of his most
private and intimate thoughts; a means whereby the thinker became
conscious of his own inner life; a safe shelter wherein his questionings
of fate and the future, the voice of grief, of self-examination and
confession, the soul's cry for inward peace, might make themselves
freely heard.

"... In the directions concerning his papers which he left behind him,
Amiel expressed the wish that his literary executors should publish
those parts of the Journal which might seem to them to possess either
interest as thought or value as experience. The publication of this
volume is the fulfillment of this desire. The reader will find in it,
_not a volume of Memoirs_, but the confidences of a solitary thinker,
the meditations of a philosopher for whom the things of the soul were
the sovereign realities of existence."

Thus modestly announced, the little volume made its quiet _debut_. It
contained nothing, or almost nothing, of ordinary biographical material.
M. Scherer's Introduction supplied such facts as were absolutely
necessary to the understanding of Amiel's intellectual history, but
nothing more. Everything of a local or private character that could be
excluded was excluded. The object of the editors in their choice of
passages for publication was declared to be simply "the reproduction of
the moral and intellectual physiognomy of their friend," while M.
Scherer expressly disclaimed any biographical intentions, and limited
his Introduction as far as possible to "a study of the character and
thought of Amiel." The contents of the volume, then, were purely
literary and philosophical; its prevailing tone was a tone of
introspection, and the public which can admit the claims and overlook
the inherent defects of introspective literature has always been a small
one. The writer of the Journal had been during his lifetime wholly
unknown to the general European public. In Geneva itself he had been
commonly regarded as a man who had signally disappointed the hopes and
expectations of his friends, whose reserve and indecision of character
had in many respects spoiled his life, and alienated the society around
him; while his professional lectures were generally pronounced dry and
unattractive, and the few volumes of poems which represented almost his
only contributions to literature had nowhere met with any real
cordiality of reception. Those concerned, therefore, in the publication
of the first volume of the Journal can hardly have had much expectation
of a wide success. Geneva is not a favorable starting-point for a French
book, and it may well have seemed that not even the support of M.
Scherer's name would be likely to carry the volume beyond a small local

But "wisdom is justified of her children!" It is now nearly three years
since the first volume of the "Journal Intime" appeared; the impression
made by it was deepened and extended by the publication of the second
volume in 1884; and it is now not too much to say that this remarkable
record of a life has made its way to what promises to be a permanent
place in literature. Among those who think and read it is beginning to
be generally recognized that another book has been added to the books
which live--not to those, perhaps, which live in the public view, much
discussed, much praised, the objects of feeling and of struggle, but to
those in which a germ of permanent life has been deposited silently,
almost secretly, which compel no homage and excite no rivalry, and which
owe the place that the world half-unconsciously yields to them to
nothing but that indestructible sympathy of man with man, that eternal
answering of feeling to feeling, which is one of the great principles,
perhaps the greatest principle, at the root of literature. M. Scherer
naturally was the first among the recognized guides of opinion to
attempt the placing of his friend's Journal. "The man who, during his
lifetime, was incapable of giving us any deliberate or conscious work
worthy of his powers, has now left us, after his death, a book which
will not die. For the secret of Amiel's malady is sublime, and the
expression of it wonderful." So ran one of the last paragraphs of the
Introduction, and one may see in the sentences another instance of that
courage, that reasoned rashness, which distinguishes the good from the
mediocre critic. For it is as true now as it was in the days when La
Bruyere rated the critics of his time for their incapacity to praise,
and praise at once, that "the surest test of a man's critical power is
his judgment of contemporaries." M. Renan, I think, with that exquisite
literary sense of his, was the next among the authorities to mention
Amiel's name with the emphasis it deserved. He quoted a passage from the
Journal in his Preface to the "Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse,"
describing it as the saying "_d'un penseur distingue, M. Amiel de
Geneve_." Since then M. Renan has devoted two curious articles to the
completed Journal in the _Journal des Desbats_. The first object of
these reviews, no doubt, was not so much the critical appreciation of
Amiel as the development of certain paradoxes which have been haunting
various corners of M. Renan's mind for several years past, and to which
it is to be hoped he has now given expression with sufficient emphasis
and _brusquerie_ to satisfy even his passion for intellectual adventure.
Still, the rank of the book was fully recognized, and the first article
especially contained some remarkable criticisms, to which we shall find
occasion to recur. "In these two volumes of _pensees_," said M. Renan,
"without any sacrifice of truth to artistic effect, we have both the
perfect mirror of a modern mind of the best type, matured by the best
modern culture, and also a striking picture of the sufferings which
beset the sterility of genius. These two volumes may certainly be
reckoned among the most interesting philosophical writings which have
appeared of late years."

M. Caro's article on the first volume of the Journal, in the _Revue des
Deux Mondes_ for February, 1883, may perhaps count as the first
introduction of the book to the general cultivated public. He gave a
careful analysis of the first half of the Journal--resumed eighteen
months later in the same periodical on the appearance of the second
volume--and, while protesting against what he conceived to be the
general tendency and effect of Amiel's mental story, he showed himself
fully conscious of the rare and delicate qualities of the new writer.
"_La reverie a reussi a notre auteur_," he says, a little
reluctantly--for M. Caro has his doubts as to the legitimacy of
_reverie_; "_Il en aufait une oeuvure qui restera_." The same final
judgment, accompanied by a very different series of comments, was
pronounced on the Journal a year later by M. Paul Bourget, a young and
rising writer, whose article is perhaps chiefly interesting as showing
the kind of effect produced by Amiel's thought on minds of a type
essentially alien from his own. There is a leaven of something positive
and austere, of something which, for want of a better name, one calls
Puritanism, in Amiel, which escapes the author of "Une Cruelle Enigme."
But whether he has understood Amiel or no, M. Bourget is fully alive to
the mark which the Journal is likely to make among modern records of
mental history. He, too, insists that the book is already famous and
will remain so; in the first place, because of its inexorable realism
and sincerity; in the second, because it is the most perfect example
available of a certain variety of the modern mind.

Among ourselves, although the Journal has attracted the attention of all
who keep a vigilant eye on the progress of foreign literature, and
although one or two appreciative articles have appeared on it in the
magazines, the book has still to become generally known. One remarkable
English testimony to it, however, must be quoted. Six months after the
publication of the first volume, the late Mark Pattison, who since then
has himself bequeathed to literature a strange and memorable fragment of
autobiography, addressed a letter to M. Scherer as the editor of the
"Journal Intime," which M. Scherer has since published, nearly a year
after the death of the writer. The words have a strong and melancholy
interest for all who knew Mark Pattison; and they certainly deserve a
place in any attempt to estimate the impression already made on
contemporary thought by the "Journal Intime."

"I wish to convey to you, sir," writes the rector of Lincoln, "the
thanks of one at least of the public for giving the light to this
precious record of a unique experience. I say unique, but I can vouch
that there is in existence at least one other soul which has lived
through the same struggles, mental and moral, as Amiel. In your pathetic
description of the _volonte qui voudrait vouloir, mais impuissante a se
fournir a elle-meme des motifs_--of the repugnance for all action--the
soul petrified by the sentiment of the infinite, in all this I recognize
myself. _Celui qui a dechiffre le secret de la vie finie, qui en a lu le
mot, est sorti du monde des vivants, il est mort de fait_. I can feel
forcibly the truth of this, as it applies to myself!

"It is not, however, with the view of thrusting my egotism upon you that
I have ventured upon addressing you. As I cannot suppose that so
peculiar a psychological revelation will enjoy a wide popularity, I
think it a duty to the editor to assure him that there are persons in
the world whose souls respond, in the depths of their inmost nature, to
the cry of anguish which makes itself heard in the pages of these
remarkable confessions."

So much for the place which the Journal--the fruit of so many years of
painful thought and disappointed effort; seems to be at last securing
for its author among those contemporaries who in his lifetime knew
nothing of him. It is a natural consequence of the success of the book
that the more it penetrates, the greater desire there is to know
something more than its original editors and M. Scherer have yet told us
about the personal history of the man who wrote it--about his
education, his habits, and his friends. Perhaps some day this wish may
find its satisfaction. It is an innocent one, and the public may even be
said to have a kind of right to know as much as can be told it of the
personalities which move and stir it. At present the biographical
material available is extremely scanty, and if it were not for the
kindness of M. Scherer, who has allowed the present writer access to
certain manuscript material in his possession, even the sketch which
follows, vague and imperfect as it necessarily is, would have been

[Footnote: Four or five articles on the subject of Amiel's life have
been contributed to the _Revue Internationale_ by Mdlle. Berthe Vadier
during the passage of the present book through the press. My knowledge
of them, however, came too late to enable me to make use of them for the
purposes of the present introduction.]

Henri Frederic Amiel was born at Geneva in September, 1821. He belonged
to one of the emigrant families, of which a more or less steady supply
had enriched the little republic during the three centuries following
the Reformation. Amiel's ancestors, like those of Sismondi, left
Languedoc for Geneva after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His
father must have been a youth at the time when Geneva passed into the
power of the French republic, and would seem to have married and settled
in the halcyon days following the restoration of Genevese independence
in 1814. Amiel was born when the prosperity of Geneva was at its height,
when the little state was administered by men of European reputation,
and Genevese society had power to attract distinguished visitors and
admirers from all parts. The veteran Bonstetten, who had been the friend
of Gray and the associate of Voltaire, was still talking and enjoying
life in his _appartement_ overlooking the woods of La Batie. Rossi and
Sismondi were busy lecturing to the Genevese youth, or taking part in
Genevese legislation; an active scientific group, headed by the Pictets,
De la Rive, and the botanist Auguste-Pyrame de Candolle, kept the
country abreast of European thought and speculation, while the mixed
nationality of the place--the blending in it of French keenness with
Protestant enthusiasms and Protestant solidity--was beginning to find
inimitable and characteristic expression in the stories of Toepffer. The
country was governed by an aristocracy, which was not so much an
aristocracy of birth as one of merit and intellect, and the moderate
constitutional ideas which represented the Liberalism of the
post-Waterloo period were nowhere more warmly embraced or more
intelligently carried out than in Geneva.

During the years, however, which immediately followed Amiel's birth,
some signs of decadence began to be visible in this brilliant Genevese
society. The generation which had waited for, prepared, and controlled,
the Restoration of 1814, was falling into the background, and the
younger generation, with all its respectability, wanted energy, above
all, wanted leaders. The revolutionary forces in the state, which had
made themselves violently felt during the civil turmoils of the period
preceding the assembly of the French States General, and had afterward
produced the miniature Terror which forced Sismondi into exile, had been
for awhile laid to sleep by the events of 1814. But the slumber was a
short one at Geneva as elsewhere, and when Rossi quitted the republic
for France in 1833, he did so with a mind full of misgivings as to the
political future of the little state which had given him--an exile and a
Catholic--so generous a welcome in 1819. The ideas of 1830 were shaking
the fabric and disturbing the equilibrium of the Swiss Confederation as
a whole, and of many of the cantons composing it. Geneva was still
apparently tranquil while her neighbors were disturbed, but no one
looking back on the history of the republic, and able to measure the
strength of the Radical force in Europe after the fall of Charles X.,
could have felt much doubt but that a few more years would bring Geneva
also into the whirlpool of political change.

In the same year--1833--that M. Rossi had left Geneva, Henri Frederic
Amiel, at twelve years old, was left orphaned of both his parents. They
had died comparatively young--his mother was only just over thirty, and
his father cannot have been much older. On the death of the mother the
little family was broken up, the boy passing into the care of one
relative, his two sisters into that of another. Certain notes in M.
Scherer's possession throw a little light here and there upon a
childhood and youth which must necessarily have been a little bare and
forlorn. They show us a sensitive, impressionable boy, of health rather
delicate than robust, already disposed to a more or less melancholy and
dreamy view of life, and showing a deep interest in those religious
problems and ideas in which the air of Geneva has been steeped since the
days of Calvin. The religious teaching which a Genevese lad undergoes
prior to his admission to full church membership, made a deep impression
on him, and certain mystical elements of character, which remained
strong in him to the end, showed themselves very early. At the college
or public school of Geneva, and at the academie, he would seem to have
done only moderately as far as prizes and honors were concerned. We are
told, however, that he read enormously, and that he was, generally
speaking, inclined rather to make friends with men older than himself
than with his contemporaries. He fell specially under the influence of
Adolphe Pictet, a brilliant philologist and man of letters belonging to
a well-known Genevese family, and in later life he was able, while
reviewing one of M. Pictet's books, to give grateful expression to his
sense of obligation.

Writing in 1856 he describes the effect produced in Geneva by M.
Pictet's Lectures on Aesthetics in 1840--the first ever delivered in a
town in which the Beautiful had been for centuries regarded as the rival
and enemy of the True. "He who is now writing," says Amiel, "was then
among M. Pictet's youngest hearers. Since then twenty experiences of the
same kind have followed each other in his intellectual experience, yet
none has effaced the deep impression made upon him by these lectures.
Coming as they did at a favorable moment, and answering many a positive
question and many a vague aspiration of youth, they exercised a decisive
influence over his thought; they were to him an important step in that
continuous initiation which we call life, they filled him with fresh
intuitions, they brought near to him the horizons of his dreams. And, as
always happens with a first-rate man, what struck him even more than the
teaching was the teacher. So that this memory of 1840 is still dear and
precious to him, and for this double service, which is not of the kind
one forgets, the student of those days delights in expressing to the
professor of 1840 his sincere and filial gratitude."

Amiel's first literary production, or practically his first, seems to
have been the result partly of these lectures, and partly of a visit to
Italy which began in November, 1841. In 1842, a year which was spent
entirely in Italy and Sicily, he contributed three articles on M. Rio's
book, "L'Art Chretien," to the _Bibliotheque Universelle de Geneve_. We
see in them the young student conscientiously writing his first
review--writing it at inordinate length, as young reviewers are apt to
do, and treating the subject _ab ovo_ in a grave, pontifical way, which
is a little naive and inexperienced indeed, but still promising, as all
seriousness of work and purpose is promising. All that is individual in
it is first of all the strong Christian feeling which much of it shows,
and secondly, the tone of melancholy which already makes itself felt
here and there, especially in one rather remarkable passage. As to the
Christian feeling, we find M. Rio described as belonging to "that noble
school of men who are striving to rekindle the dead beliefs of France,
to rescue Frenchmen from the camp of materialistic or pantheistic ideas,
and rally them round that Christian banner which is the banner of true
progress and true civilization." The Renaissance is treated as a
disastrous but inevitable crisis, in which the idealism of the Middle
Ages was dethroned by the naturalism of modern times--"The Renaissance
perhaps robbed us of more than it gave us"--and so on. The tone of
criticism is instructive enough to the student of Amiel's mind, but the
product itself has no particular savor of its own. The occasional note
of depression and discouragement, however, is a different thing; here,
for those who know the "Journal Intime," there is already something
characteristic, something which foretells the future. For instance,
after dwelling with evident zest on the nature of the metaphysical
problems lying at the root of art in general, and Christian art in
particular, the writer goes on to set the difficulty of M. Rio's task
against its attractiveness, to insist on the intricacy of the
investigations involved, and on the impossibility of making the two
instruments on which their success depends--the imaginative and the
analytical faculty--work harmoniously and effectively together. And
supposing the goal achieved, supposing a man by insight and patience has
succeeded in forcing his way farther than any previous explorer into the
recesses of the Beautiful or the True, there still remains the enormous,
the insuperable difficulty of expression, of fit and adequate
communication from mind to mind; there still remains the question
whether, after all, "he who discovers a new world in the depths of the
invisible would not do wisely to plant on it a flag known to himself
alone, and, like Achilles, 'devour his heart in secret;' whether the
greatest problems which have ever been guessed on earth had not better
have remained buried in the brain which had found the key to them, and
whether the deepest thinkers--those whose hand has been boldest in
drawing aside the veil, and their eye keenest in fathoming the mysteries
beyond it--had not better, like the prophetess of Ilion, have kept for
heaven, and heaven only, secrets and mysteries which human tongue cannot
truly express, nor human intelligence conceive."

Curious words for a beginner of twenty-one! There is a touch, no doubt,
of youth and fatuity in the passage; one feels how much the vague
sonorous phrases have pleased the writer's immature literary sense; but
there is something else too--there is a breath of that same speculative
passion which burns in the Journal, and one hears, as it were, the first
accents of a melancholy, the first expression of a mood of mind, which
became in after years the fixed characteristic of the writer. "At twenty
he was already proud, timid, and melancholy," writes an old friend; and
a little farther on, "Discouragement took possession of him _very

However, in spite of this inbred tendency, which was probably hereditary
and inevitable, the years which followed these articles, from 1842 to
Christmas, 1848, were years of happiness and steady intellectual
expansion. They were Amiel's _Wanderjahre_, spent in a free, wandering
student life, which left deep marks on his intellectual development.
During four years, from 1844 to 1848, his headquarters were at Berlin;
but every vacation saw him exploring some new country or fresh
intellectual center--Scandinavia in 1845, Holland in 1846, Vienna,
Munich, and Tuebingen in 1848, while Paris had already attracted him in
1841, and he was to make acquaintance with London ten years later, in
1851. No circumstances could have been more favorable, one would have
thought, to the development of such a nature. With his extraordinary
power of "throwing himself into the object"--of effacing himself and his
own personality in the presence of the thing to be understood and
absorbed--he must have passed these years of travel and acquisition in a
state of continuous intellectual energy and excitement. It is in no
spirit of conceit that he says in 1857, comparing himself with Maine de
Biran, "This nature is, as it were, only one of the men which exist in
me. My horizon is vaster; I have seen much more of men, things,
countries, peoples, books; I have a greater mass of experiences." This
fact, indeed, of a wide and varied personal experience, must never be
forgotten in any critical estimate of Amiel as a man or writer. We may
so easily conceive him as a sedentary professor, with the ordinary
professorial knowledge, or rather ignorance, of men and the world,
falling into introspection under the pressure of circumstance, and for
want, as it were, of something else to think about. Not at all. The man
who has left us these microscopic analyses of his own moods and
feelings, had penetrated more or less into the social and intellectual
life of half a dozen European countries, and was familiar not only with
the books, but, to a large extent also, with the men of his generation.
The meditative and introspective gift was in him, not the product, but
the mistress of circumstance. It took from the outer world what that
world had to give, and then made the stuff so gained subservient to its
own ends.

Of these years of travel, however, the four years spent at Berlin were
by far the most important. "It was at Heidelberg and Berlin," says M.
Scherer, "that the world of science and speculation first opened on the
dazzled eyes of the young man. He was accustomed to speak of his four
years at Berlin as 'his intellectual phase,' and one felt that he
inclined to regard them as the happiest period of his life. The spell
which Berlin laid upon him lasted long." Probably his happiness in
Germany was partly owing to a sense of reaction against Geneva. There
are signs that he had felt himself somewhat isolated at school and
college, and that in the German world his special individuality, with
its dreaminess and its melancholy, found congenial surroundings far more
readily than had been the case in the drier and harsher atmosphere of
the Protestant Rome. However this may be, it is certain that German
thought took possession of him, that he became steeped not only in
German methods of speculation, but in German modes of expression, in
German forms of sentiment, which clung to him through life, and vitally
affected both his opinions and his style. M. Renan and M. Bourget shake
their heads over the Germanisms, which, according to the latter, give a
certain "barbarous" air to many passages of the Journal. But both admit
that Amiel's individuality owes a great part of its penetrating force to
that intermingling of German with French elements, of which there are
such abundant traces in the "Journal Intime." Amiel, in fact, is one
more typical product of a movement which is certainly of enormous
importance in the history of modern thought, even though we may not be
prepared to assent to all the sweeping terms in which a writer like M.
Taine describes it. "From 1780 to 1830," says M. Taine, "Germany
produced all the ideas of our historical age, and during another
half-century, perhaps another century, _notre grande affaire sera de les
repenser_." He is inclined to compare the influence of German ideas on
the modern world to the ferment of the Renaissance. No spiritual force
"more original, more universal, more fruitful in consequences of every
sort and bearing, more capable of transforming and remaking everything
presented to it, has arisen during the last three hundred years. Like
the spirit of the Renaissance and of the classical age, it attracts into
its orbit all the great works of contemporary intelligence." Quinet,
pursuing a somewhat different line of thought, regards the worship of
German ideas inaugurated in France by Madame de Stael as the natural
result of reaction from the eighteenth century and all its ways. "German
systems, German hypotheses, beliefs, and poetry, all were eagerly
welcomed as a cure for hearts crushed by the mockery of Candide and the
materialism of the Revolution.... Under the Restoration France continued
to study German philosophy and poetry with profound veneration and
submission. We imitated, translated, compiled, and then again we
compiled, translated, imitated." The importance of the part played by
German influence in French Romanticism has indeed been much disputed,
but the debt of French metaphysics, French philology, and French
historical study, to German methods and German research during the last
half-century is beyond dispute. And the movement to-day is as strong as
ever. A modern critic like M. Darmstetter regards it as a misfortune
that the artificial stimulus given by the war to the study of German
has, to some extent, checked the study of English in France. He thinks
that the French have more to gain from our literature--taking literature
in its general and popular sense--than from German literature. But he
raises no question as to the inevitable subjection of the French to the
German mind in matters of exact thought and knowledge. "To study
philology, mythology, history, without reading German," he is as ready
to confess as any one else, "is to condemn one's self to remain in every
department twenty years behind the progress of science."

Of this great movement, already so productive, Amiel is then a fresh and
remarkable instance. Having caught from the Germans not only their love
of exact knowledge but also their love of vast horizons, their
insatiable curiosity as to the whence and whither of all things, their
sense of mystery and immensity in the universe, he then brings those
elements in him which belong to his French inheritance--and something
individual besides, which is not French but Genevese--to bear on his new
acquisitions, and the result is of the highest literary interest and
value. Not that he succeeds altogether in the task of fusion. For one
who was to write and think in French, he was perhaps too long in
Germany; he had drunk too deeply of German thought; he had been too much
dazzled by the spectacle of Berlin and its imposing intellectual
activities. "As to his _literary_ talent," says M. Scherer, after
dwelling on the rapid growth of his intellectual powers under German
influence, "the profit which Amiel derived from his stay at Berlin is
more doubtful. Too long contact with the German mind had led to the
development in him of certain strangenesses of style which he had
afterward to get rid of, and even perhaps of some habits of thought
which he afterward felt the need of checking and correcting." This is
very true. Amiel is no doubt often guilty, as M. Caro puts it, of
attempts "to write German in French," and there are in his thought
itself veins of mysticism, elements of _Schwaermerei_, here and there, of
which a good deal must be laid to the account of his German training.

M. Renan regrets that after Geneva and after Berlin he never came to
Paris. Paris, he thinks, would have counteracted the Hegelian influences
brought to hear upon him at Berlin, [Footnote: See a not, however, on
the subject of Amiel's philosophical relationships, printed as an
Appendix to the present volume.] would have taught him cheerfulness, and
taught him also the art of writing, not beautiful fragments, but a book.
Possibly--but how much we should have lost! Instead of the Amiel we
know, we should have had one accomplished French critic the more.
Instead of the spiritual drama of the "Journal Intime," some further
additions to French _belles lettres_; instead of something to love,
something to admire! No, there is no wishing the German element in Amiel
away. Its invading, troubling effect upon his thought and temperament
goes far to explain the interest and suggestiveness of his mental
history. The language he speaks is the language of that French criticism
which--we have Sainte-Beuve's authority for it--is best described by
the motto of Montaigne, "_Un peu de chaque chose et rien de l'ensemble,
a la francaise_," and the thought he tries to express in it is thought
torn and strained by the constant effort to reach the All, the totality
of things: "What I desire is the sum of all desires, and what I seek to
know is the sum of all different kinds of knowledge. Always the
complete, the absolute, the _teres atque rotundum_." And it was this
antagonism, or rather this fusion of traditions in him, which went far
to make him original, which opened to him, that is to say, so many new
lights on old paths, and stirred in him such capacities of fresh and
individual expression.

We have been carried forward, however, a little too far by this general
discussion of Amiel's debts to Germany. Let us take up the biographical
thread again. In 1848 his Berlin apprenticeship came to an end, and he
returned to Geneva. "How many places, how many impressions,
observations, thoughts--how many forms of men and things--have passed
before me and in me since April, 1843," he writes in the Journal, two or
three months after his return. "The last seven years have been the most
important of my life; they have been the novitiate of my intelligence,
the initiation of my being into being." The first literary evidence of
his matured powers is to be found in two extremely interesting papers on
Berlin, which he contributed to the _Bibliotheque Universelle_ in 1848,
apparently just before he left Germany. Here for the first time we have
the Amiel of the "Journal Intime." The young man who five years before
had written his painstaking review of M. Rio is now in his turn a
master. He speaks with dignity and authority, he has a graphic, vigorous
prose at command, the form of expression is condensed and epigrammatic,
and there is a mixture of enthusiasm and criticism in his description of
the powerful intellectual machine then working in the Prussian capital
which represents a permanent note of character, a lasting attitude of
mind. A great deal, of course, in the two papers is technical and
statistic, but what there is of general comment and criticism is so good
that one is tempted to make some melancholy comparisons between them and
another article in the _Bibliotheque_, that on Adolphe Pictet, written
in 1856, and from which we have already quoted. In 1848 Amiel was for
awhile master of his powers and his knowledge; no fatal divorce had yet
taken place in him between the accumulating and producing faculties; he
writes readily even for the public, without labor, without affectations.
Eight years later the reflective faculty has outgrown his control;
composition, which represents the practical side of the intellectual
life, has become difficult and painful to him, and he has developed what
he himself calls "a wavering manner, born of doubt and scruple."

How few could have foreseen the failure in public and practical life
which lay before him at the moment of his reappearance at Geneva in
1848! "My first meeting with him in 1849 is still vividly present to
me," says M. Scherer. "He was twenty-eight, and he had just come from
Germany laden with science, but he wore his knowledge lightly, his looks
were attractive, his conversation animated, and no affectation spoiled
the favorable impression he made on the bystander--the whole effect,
indeed, was of something brilliant and striking. In his young alertness
Amiel seemed to be entering upon life as a conqueror; one would have
said the future was all his own."

His return, moreover, was marked by a success which seemed to secure him
at once an important position in his native town. After a public
competition he was appointed, in 1849, professor of esthetics and French
literature at the Academy of Geneva, a post which he held for four
years, exchanging it for the professorship of moral philosophy in 1854.
Thus at twenty-eight, without any struggle to succeed, he had gained, it
would have seemed, that safe foothold in life which should be all the
philosopher or the critic wants to secure the full and fruitful
development of his gifts. Unfortunately the appointment, instead of the
foundation and support, was to be the stumbling block of his career.
Geneva at the time was in a state of social and political ferment. After
a long struggle, beginning with the revolutionary outbreak of November,
1841, the Radical party, led by James Fazy, had succeeded in ousting the
Conservatives--that is to say, the governing class, which had ruled the
republic since the Restoration--from power. And with the advent of the
democratic constitution of 1846, and the exclusion of the old Genevese
families from the administration they had so long monopolized, a number
of subsidiary changes were effected, not less important to the ultimate
success of Radicalism than the change in political machinery introduced
by the new constitution. Among them was the disappearance of almost the
whole existing staff of the academy, then and now the center of Genevese
education, and up to 1847 the stronghold of the moderate ideas of 1814,
followed by the appointment of new men less likely to hamper the Radical
order of things.

Of these new men Amiel was one. He had been absent from Geneva during
the years of conflict which had preceded Fazy's triumph; he seems to
have had no family or party connections with the leaders of the defeated
side, and as M. Scherer points out, he could accept a non-political post
at the hands of the new government, two years after the violent measures
which had marked its accession, without breaking any pledges or
sacrificing any convictions. But none the less the step was a fatal one.
M. Renan is so far in the right. If any timely friend had at that moment
succeeded in tempting Amiel to Paris, as Guizot tempted Rossi in 1833,
there can be little question that the young professor's after life would
have been happier and saner. As it was, Amiel threw himself into the
competition for the chair, was appointed professor, and then found
himself in a hopelessly false position, placed on the threshold of life,
in relations and surroundings for which he was radically unfitted, and
cut off by no fault of his own from the _milieu_ to which he rightly
belonged, and in which his sensitive individuality might have expanded
normally and freely. For the defeated upper class very naturally shut
their doors on the nominees of the new _regime_, and as this class
represented at that moment almost everything that was intellectually
distinguished in Geneva, as it was the guardian, broadly speaking, of
the scientific and literary traditions of the little state, we can
easily imagine how galling such a social ostracism must have been to the
young professor, accustomed to the stimulating atmosphere, the common
intellectual interests of Berlin, and tormented with perhaps more than
the ordinary craving of youth for sympathy and for affection. In a great
city, containing within it a number of different circles of life, Amiel
would easily have found his own circle, nor could political discords
have affected his social comfort to anything like the same extent. But
in a town not much larger than Oxford, and in which the cultured class
had hitherto formed a more or less homogeneous and united whole, it was
almost impossible for Amiel to escape from his grievance and establish a
sufficient barrier of friendly interests between himself and the society
which ignored him. There can be no doubt that he suffered, both in mind
and character, from the struggle the position involved. He had no
natural sympathy with radicalism. His taste, which was extremely
fastidious, his judgment, his passionate respect for truth, were all
offended by the noise, the narrowness, the dogmatism of the triumphant
democracy. So that there was no making up on the one side for what he
had lost on the other, and he proudly resigned himself to an isolation
and a reserve which, reinforcing, as they did, certain native weaknesses
of character, had the most unfortunate effect upon his life.

In a passage of the Journal written nearly thirty years after his
election he allows himself a few pathetic words, half of accusation,
half of self-reproach, which make us realize how deeply this
untowardness of social circumstance had affected him. He is discussing
one of Madame de Stael's favorite words, the word _consideration_. "What
is _consideration_?" he asks. "How does a man obtain it? how does it
differ from fame, esteem, admiration?" And then he turns upon himself.
"It is curious, but the idea of consideration has been to me so little
of a motive that I have not even been conscious of such an idea. But
ought I not to have been conscious of it?" he asks himself
anxiously--"ought I not to have been more careful to win the good
opinion of others, more determined to conquer their hostility or
indifference? 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 goodwill. But to hunt down consideration and reputation
--to force the esteem of others--seemed to me an effort unworthy of
myself, almost a degradation. A struggle with unfavorable opinion has
seemed to me beneath me, 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. Untimely despair and the
deepest discouragement have been my constant portion. Incapable of
taking any interest in my talents for their 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."

Still one may no doubt easily exaggerate this loneliness of Amiel's. His
social difficulties represent rather a dull discomfort in his life,
which in course of time, and in combination with a good many other
causes, produced certain unfavorable results on his temperament and on
his public career, than anything very tragic and acute. They were real,
and he, being what he was, was specially unfitted to cope with and
conquer them. But he had his friends, his pleasures, and even to some
extent his successes, like other men. "He had an elasticity of mind,"
says M. Scherer, speaking of him as he knew him in youth, "which reacted
against vexations from without, and his cheerfulness was readily
restored by conversation and the society of a few kindred spirits. We
were accustomed, two or three friends and I, to walk every Thursday to
the Saleve, Lamartine's _Saleve aux flancs azures_; we dined there, and
did not return till nightfall." They were days devoted to _debauches
platoniciennes_, to "the free exchange of ideas, the free play of fancy
and of gayety. Amiel was not one of the original members of these
Thursday parties; but whenever he joined us we regarded it as a
fete-day. In serious discussion he was a master of the unexpected, and
his energy, his _entrain_, affected us all. If his grammatical
questions, his discussions of rhymes and synonyms, astonished us at
times, how often, on the other hand, did he not give us cause to admire
the variety of his knowledge, the precision of his ideas, the charm of
his quick intelligence! We found him always, besides, kindly and
amiable, a nature one might trust and lean upon with perfect security.
He awakened in us but one regret; _we could not understand how it was a
man so richly gifted produced nothing, or only trivialities_."

In these last words of M. Scherer's we have come across the determining
fact of Amiel's life in its relation to the outer world--that "sterility
of genius," of which he was the victim. For social ostracism and
political anxiety would have mattered to him comparatively little if he
could but have lost himself in the fruitful activities of thought, in
the struggles and the victories of composition and creation. A German
professor of Amiel's knowledge would have wanted nothing beyond his
_Fach_, and nine men out of ten in his circumstances would have made
themselves the slave of a _magnum opus_, and forgotten the vexations of
everyday life in the "_douces joies de la science_." But there were
certain characteristics in Amiel which made it impossible--which
neutralized his powers, his knowledge, his intelligence, and condemned
him, so far as his public performance was concerned, to barrenness and
failure. What were these characteristics, this element of unsoundness
and disease, which M. Caro calls "_la maladie de l'ideal_?"

Before we can answer the question we must go back a little and try to
realize the intellectual and moral equipment of the young man of
twenty-eight, who seemed to M. Scherer to have the world at his feet.
What were the chief qualities of mind and heart which Amiel brought back
with him from Berlin? In the first place, an omnivorous desire to know:
"Amiel," says M. Scherer, "read everything." In the second, an
extraordinary power of sustained and concentrated thought, and a
passionate, almost a religious, delight in the exercise of his power.
Knowledge, science, stirred in him no mere sense of curiosity or cold
critical instinct--"he came to his desk as to an altar." "A friend who
knew him well," says M. Scherer, "remembers having heard him speak with
deep emotion of that lofty serenity of mood which he had experienced
during his years in Germany whenever, in the early morning before dawn,
with his reading-lamp beside him, he had found himself penetrating once
more into the region of pure thought, 'conversing with ideas, enjoying
the inmost life of things.'" "Thought," he says somewhere in the
Journal, "is like opium. It can intoxicate us and yet leave us broad
awake." To this intoxication of thought he seems to have been always
specially liable, and his German experience--unbalanced, as such an
experience generally is with a young man, by family life, or by any
healthy commonplace interests and pleasures--developed the intellectual
passion in him to an abnormal degree. For four years he had devoted
himself to the alternate excitement and satisfaction of this passion. He
had read enormously, thought enormously, and in the absence of any
imperative claim on the practical side of him, the accumulative,
reflective faculties had grown out of all proportion to the rest of the
personality. Nor had any special subject the power to fix him. Had he
been in France, what Sainte-Beuve calls the French "_imagination de
detail_" would probably have attracted his pliant, responsive nature,
and he would have found happy occupation in some one of the innumerable
departments of research on which the French have been patiently spending
their analytical gift since that general widening of horizons which
accompanied and gave value to the Romantic movement. But instead he was
at Berlin, in the center of that speculative ferment which followed the
death of Hegel and the break-up of the Hegelian idea into a number of
different and conflicting sections of philosophical opinion. He was
under the spell of German synthesis, of that traditional, involuntary
effort which the German mind makes, generation after generation, to find
the unity of experience, to range its accumulations from life and
thought under a more and more perfect, a more and more exhaustive,
formula. Not this study or that study, not this detail or that, but the
whole of things, the sum of Knowledge, the Infinite, the Absolute, alone
had value or reality. In his own words: "There is no repose for the mind
except in the absolute; for feeling except in the infinite; for the soul
except in the divine. Nothing finite is true, is interesting, is worthy
to fix my attention. All that is particular is exclusive, and all that
is exclusive repels me. There is nothing non-exclusive but the All; my
end is communion with Being through the whole of Being."

It was not, indeed, that he neglected the study of detail; he had a
strong natural aptitude for it, and his knowledge was wide and real; but
detail was ultimately valuable to him, not in itself, but as food for a
speculative hunger, for which, after all, there is no real satisfaction.
All the pleasant paths which traverse the kingdom of Knowledge, in which
so many of us find shelter and life-long means of happiness, led Amiel
straight into the wilderness of abstract speculation. And the longer he
lingered in the wilderness, unchecked by any sense of intellectual
responsibility, and far from the sounds of human life, the stranger and
the weirder grew the hallucinations of thought. The Journal gives
marvelous expression to them: "I can find no words for what I feel. My
consciousness is withdrawn into itself; I hear my heart beating, and my
life passing. It seems to me that I have become a statue on the banks of
the river of time, that I am the spectator of some mystery, and shall
issue from it old, or no longer capable of age." Or again: "I am a
spectator, so to speak, of the molecular whirlwind which men call
individual life; I am conscious of an incessant metamorphosis, an
irresistible movement of existence, which is going on within me--and
this phenomenology of myself serves as a window opened upon the mystery
of the world. I am, or rather my sensible consciousness is, concentrated
upon this ideal standing-point, this invisible threshold, as it were,
whence one hears the impetuous passage of time, rushing and foaming as
it flows out into the changeless ocean of eternity. After all the
bewildering distractions of life--after having drowned myself in a
multiplicity of trifles and in the caprices of this fugitive existence,
yet without ever attaining to self-intoxication or self-delusion--I come
again upon the fathomless abyss, the silent and melancholy cavern, where
dwell '_Die Muetter_,' where sleeps that which neither lives nor dies,
which has neither movement nor change, nor extension, nor form, and
which lasts when all else passes away."

Wonderful sentences! "_Prodiges de la pensee speculative, decrits dans
une langue non moins prodigieuse_," as M. Scherer says of the
innumerable passages which describe either this intoxication of the
infinite, or the various forms and consequences of that deadening of
personality which the abstract processes of thought tend to produce. But
it is easy to understand that a man in whom experiences of this kind
become habitual is likely to lose his hold upon the normal interests of
life. What are politics or literature to such a mind but fragments
without real importance--dwarfed reflections of ideal truths for which
neither language nor institutions provide any adequate expression! How
is it possible to take seriously what is so manifestly relative and
temporary as the various existing forms of human activity? Above all,
how is it possible to take one's self seriously, to spend one's thought
on the petty interests of a petty individuality, when the beatific
vision of universal knowledge, of absolute being, has once dawned on the
dazzled beholder? The charm and the savor of everything relative and
phenomenal is gone. A man may go on talking, teaching, writing--but the
spring of personal action is broken; his actions are like the actions of
a somnambulist.

No doubt to some extent this mood is familiar to all minds endowed with
the true speculative genius. The philosopher has always tended to become
unfit for practical life; his unfitness, indeed, is one of the comic
motives, so to speak, of literature. But a mood which, in the great
majority of thinkers, is intermittent, and is easily kept within bounds
by the practical needs, the mere physical instincts of life, was in
Amiel almost constant, and the natural impulse of the human animal
toward healthy movement and a normal play of function, never very strong
in him, was gradually weakened and destroyed by an untoward combination
of circumstances. The low health from which he suffered more or less
from his boyhood, and then the depressing influences of the social
difficulties we have described, made it more and more difficult for the
rest of the organism to react against the tyranny of the brain. And as
the normal human motives lost their force, what he calls "the Buddhist
tendency in me" gathered strength year by year, until, like some strange
misgrowth, it had absorbed the whole energies and drained the innermost
life-blood of the personality which had developed it. And the result is
another soul's tragedy, another story of conflict and failure, which
throws fresh light on the mysterious capacities of human nature, and
warns us, as the letters of Obermann in their day warned the generation
of George Sand, that with the rise of new intellectual perceptions new
spiritual dangers come into being, and that across the path of
continuous evolution which the modern mind is traversing there lies many
a _selva oscura_, many a lonely and desolate tract, in which loss and
pain await it. The story of the "Journal Intime" is a story to make us
think, to make us anxious; but at the same time, in the case of a nature
like Amiel's, there is so much high poetry thrown off from the long
process of conflict, the power of vision and of reproduction which the
intellect gains at the expense of the rest of the personality is in many
respects so real and so splendid, and produces results so stirring often
to the heart and imagination of the listener, that in the end we put
down the record not so much with a throb of pity as with an impulse of
gratitude. The individual error and suffering is almost forgotten; all
that we can realize is the enrichment of human feeling, the quickened
sense of spiritual reality bequeathed to us by the baffled and solitary
thinker whose _via dolorosa_ is before us.

The manner in which this intellectual idiosyncrasy we have been
describing gradually affected Amiel's life supplies abundant proof of
its actuality and sincerity. It is a pitiful story. Amiel might have
been saved from despair by love and marriage, by paternity, by strenuous
and successful literary production; and this mental habit of his--this
tyranny of ideal conceptions, helped by the natural accompaniment of
such a tyranny, a critical sense of abnormal acuteness--stood between
him and everything healing and restoring. "I am afraid of an imperfect,
a faulty synthesis, and I linger in the provisional, from timidity and
from loyalty." "As soon as a thing attracts me I turn away from it; or
rather, I cannot either be content with the second-best, or discover
anything which satisfies my aspiration. The real disgusts me, and I
cannot find the ideal." And so one thing after another is put away.
Family life attracted him perpetually. "I cannot escape," he writes,
"from the ideal of it. A companion, of my life, of my work, of my
thoughts, of my hopes; within a common worship--toward the world outside
kindness and beneficence; education to undertake; the thousand and one
moral relations which develop round the first--all these ideas
intoxicate me sometimes." But in vain. "Reality, the present, the
irreparable, the necessary, repel and even terrify me. I have too much
imagination, conscience, and penetration and not enough character. _The
life of thought alone seems to me to have enough elasticity and
immensity, to be free enough from the irreparable; practical life makes
me afraid._ I am distrustful of myself and of happiness because I know
myself. The ideal poisons for me all imperfect possession. And I abhor
useless regrets and repentance."

It is the same, at bottom, with his professional work. He protects the
intellectual freedom, as it were, of his students with the same jealousy
as he protects his own. There shall be no oratorical device, no
persuading, no cajoling of the mind this way or that. "A professor is
the priest of his subject, and should do the honors of it gravely and
with dignity." And so the man who in his private Journal is master of an
eloquence and a poetry, capable of illuminating the most difficult and
abstract of subjects, becomes in the lecture-room a dry compendium of
universal knowledge. "Led by his passion for the whole," says M.
Scherer, "Amiel offered his hearers, not so much a series of positive
teachings, as an index of subjects, a framework--what the Germans call
a _Schematismus_. The skeleton was admirably put together, and excellent
of its kind, and lent itself admirably to a certain kind of analysis and
demonstration; but it was a skeleton--flesh, body, and life were

So that as a professor he made no mark. He was conscientiousness itself
in whatever he conceived to be his duty. But with all the critical and
philosophical power which, as we know from the Journal, he might have
lavished on his teaching, had the conditions been other than they were,
the study of literature, and the study of philosophy as such, owe him
nothing. But for the Journal his years of training and his years of
teaching would have left equally little record behind them. "His pupils
at Geneva," writes one who was himself among the number, [Footnote: M.
Alphonse Rivier, now Professor of International Law at the University
of Brussels.] "never learned to appreciate him at his true worth. We did
justice no doubt to a knowledge as varied as it was wide, to his vast
stores of reading, to that cosmopolitanism of the best kind which he had
brought back with him from his travels; we liked him for his indulgence,
his kindly wit. But I look back without any sense of pleasure to his

Many a student, however, has shrunk from the burden and risks of family
life, and has found himself incapable of teaching effectively what he
knows, and has yet redeemed all other incapacities in the field of
literary production. And here indeed we come to the strangest feature in
Amiel's career--his literary sterility. That he possessed literary power
of the highest order is abundantly proved by the "Journal Intime."
Knowledge, insight, eloquence, critical power--all were his. And the
impulse to produce, which is the natural, though by no means the
invariable, accompaniment of the literary gift, must have been fairly
strong in him also. For the "Journal Intime" runs to 17,000 folio pages
of MS., and his half dozen volumes of poems, though the actual quantity
is not large, represent an amount of labor which would have more than
carried him through some serious piece of critical or philosophical
work, and so enabled him to content the just expectations of his world.
He began to write early, as is proved by the fact that at twenty he was
a contributor to the best literary periodical which Geneva possessed. He
was a charming correspondent, and in spite of his passion for abstract
thought, his intellectual interest, at any rate, in all the activities
of the day--politics, religious organizations, literature, art--was of
the keenest kind. And yet at the time of his death all that this fine
critic and profound thinker had given to the world, after a life
entirely spent in the pursuit of letters, was, in the first place, a few
volumes of poems which had had no effect except on a small number of
sympathetic friends; a few pages of _pensees_ intermingled with the
poems, and, as we now know, extracted from the Journal; and four or five
scattered essays, the length of magazine articles, on Mme. de Stael,
Rousseau, the history of the Academy of Geneva, the literature of
French-speaking Switzerland, and so on! And more than this, the
production, such as it was, had been a production born of effort and
difficulty; and the labor squandered on poetical forms, on metrical
experiments and intricate problems of translation, as well as the
occasional affectations of the prose style, might well have convinced
the critical bystander that the mind of which these things were the
offspring could have no real importance, no profitable message, for the

The whole "Journal Intime" is in some sense Amiel's explanation of these
facts. In it he has made full and bitter confession of his weakness, his
failure; he has endeavored, with an acuteness of analysis no other hand
can rival, to make the reasons of his failure and isolation clear both
to himself and others. "To love, to dream, to feel, to learn, to
understand--all these are possible to me if only I may be dispensed from
willing--I have a sort of primitive horror of ambition, of struggle, of
hatred, of all which dissipates the soul and makes it dependent on
external things and aims. The joy of becoming once more conscious of
myself, of listening to the passage of time and the flow of the
universal life, is sometimes enough to make me forget every desire and
to quench in me both the wish to produce and the power to execute." It
is the result of what he himself calls _"l'eblouissement de l'infini_."
He no sooner makes a step toward production, toward action and the
realization of himself, than a vague sense of peril overtakes him. The
inner life, with its boundless horizons and its indescribable
exaltations, seems endangered. Is he not about to place between himself
and the forms of speculative truth some barrier of sense and matter--to
give up the real for the apparent, the substance for the shadow? One is
reminded of Clough's cry under a somewhat similar experience:

"If this pure solace should desert my mind,
What were all else? I dare not risk the loss.
To the old paths, my soul!"

And in close combination with the speculative sense, with the tendency
which carries a man toward the contemplative study of life and nature as
a whole, is the critical sense--the tendency which, in the realm of
action and concrete performance, carries him, as Amiel expresses it,
_"droit au defaut,"_ and makes him conscious at once of the weak point,
the germ of failure in a project or an action. It is another aspect of
the same idiosyncrasy. "The point I have reached seems to be explained
by a too restless search for perfection, by the abuse of the critical
faculty, and by an unreasonable distrust of first impulses, first
thoughts, first words. Confidence and spontaneity of life are drifting
out of my reach, and this is why I can no longer act." For abuse of the
critical faculty brings with it its natural consequences--timidity of
soul, paralysis of the will, complete self-distrust. "To know is enough
for me; expression seems to me often a profanity. What I lack is
character, will, individuality." "By what mystery," he writes to M.
Scherer, "do others expect much from me? whereas I feel myself to be
incapable of anything serious or important." _Defiance_ and
_impuissance_ are the words constantly on his lips. "My friends see what
I might have been; I see what I am."

And yet the literary instinct remains, and must in some way be
satisfied. And so he takes refuge in what he himself calls scales,
exercises, _tours de force_ in verse-translation of the most laborious
and difficult kind, in ingenious _vers d'occasion_, in metrical
experiments and other literary trifling, as his friends think it, of the
same sort. "I am afraid of greatness. I am not afraid of ingenuity; all
my published literary essays are little else than studies, games,
exercises, for the purpose of testing myself. I play scales, as it were;
I run up and down my instrument. I train my hand and make sure of its
capacity and skill. But the work itself remains unachieved. I am always
preparing and never accomplishing, and my energy is swallowed up in a
kind of barren curiosity."

Not that he surrenders himself to the nature which is stronger than he
all at once. His sense of duty rebels, his conscience suffers, and he
makes resolution after resolution to shake himself free from the mental
tradition which had taken such hold upon him--to write, to produce, to
satisfy his friends. In 1861, a year after M. Scherer had left Geneva,
Amiel wrote to him, describing his difficulties and his discouragements,
and asking, as one may ask an old friend of one's youth, for help and
counsel. M. Scherer, much touched by the appeal, answered it plainly and
frankly--described the feeling of those who knew him as they watched his
life slipping away unmarked by any of the achievements of which his
youth had given promise, and pointed out various literary openings in
which, if he were to put out his powers, he could not but succeed. To
begin with, he urged him to join the _Revue Germanique,_ then being
started by Charles Dollfus, Renan, Littre, and others. Amiel left the
letter for three months unanswered and then wrote a reply which M.
Scherer probably received with a sigh of impatience. For, rightly
interpreted, it meant that old habits were too strong, and that the
momentary impulse had died away. When, a little later, "Les Etrangeres,"
a collection of verse-translations, came out, it was dedicated to M.
Scherer, who did not, however, pretend to give it any very cordial
reception. Amiel took his friend's coolness in very good part, calling
him his "dear Rhadamanthus." "How little I knew!" cries M. Scherer.
"What I regret is to have discovered too late by means of the Journal,
the key to a problem which seemed to me hardly serious, and which I now
feel to have been tragic. A kind of remorse seizes me that I was not
able to understand my friend better, and to soothe his suffering by a
sympathy which would have been a mixture of pity and admiration."

Was it that all the while Amiel felt himself sure of his _revanche_ that
he knew the value of all those sheets of Journal which were slowly
accumulating under his hand? Did he say to himself sometimes: "My
friends are wrong; my gifts and my knowledge are not lost; I have given
expression to them in the only way possible to me, and when I die it
will be found that I too, like other men, have performed the task
appointed me, and contributed my quota to the human store?" It is clear
that very early he began to regard it as possible that portions of the
Journal should be published after his death, and, as we have seen, he
left certain "literary instructions," dated seven years before his last
illness, in which his executors were directed to publish such parts of
it as might seem to them to possess any general interest. But it is
clear also that the Journal was not, in any sense, written for
publication. "These pages," say the Geneva editors, "written _au courant
de la plume_--sometimes in the morning, but more often at the end of the
day, without any idea of composition or publicity--are marked by the
repetition, the _lacunae_, the carelessness, inherent in this kind of
monologue. The thoughts and sentiments expressed have no other aim than
sincerity of rendering."

And his estimate of the value of the record thus produced was, in
general, a low one, especially during the depression and discouragement
of his later years. "This Journal of mine," he writes in 1876,
"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."
And again: "Is everything 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! When all is added up--nothing!" In passages like
these there is no anticipation of any posthumous triumph over the
disapproval of his friends and the criticism of his fellow-citizens. The
Journal was a relief, the means of satisfying a need of expression which
otherwise could find no outlet; "a grief-cheating device," but nothing
more. It did not still the sense of remorse for wasted gifts and
opportunities which followed poor Amiel through the painful months of
his last illness. Like Keats, he passed away, feeling that all was over,
and the great game of life lost forever.

It still remains for us to gather up a few facts and impressions of a
different kind from those which we have been dwelling on, which may
serve to complete and correct the picture we have so far drawn of the
author of the Journal. For Amiel is full of contradictions and
surprises, which, are indeed one great source of his attractiveness. Had
he only been the thinker, the critic, the idealist we have been
describing, he would never have touched our feeling as he now does; what
makes him so interesting is that there was in him a _fond_ of heredity,
a temperament and disposition, which were perpetually reacting against
the oppression of the intellect and its accumulations. In his hours of
intellectual concentration he freed himself from all trammels of country
or society, or even, as he insists, from all sense of personality. But
at other times he was the dutiful son of a country which he loved,
taking a warm interest in everything Genevese, especially in everything
that represented the older life of the town. When it was a question of
separating the Genevese state from the church, which had been the center
of the national life during three centuries of honorable history, Amiel
the philosopher, the cosmopolitan, threw himself ardently on to the side
of the opponents of separation, and rejoiced in their victory. A large
proportion of his poems deal with national subjects. He was one of the
first members of "_L'Institut Genevois_," founded in 1853, and he took a
warm interest in the movement started by M. Eugene Rambert toward 1870,
for the improvement of secondary education throughout French-speaking
Switzerland. One of his friends dwells with emphasis on his "_sens
profond des nationalites, des langues, des villes_"--on his love for
local characteristics, for everything deep-rooted in the past, and
helping to sustain the present. He is convinced that no state can live
and thrive without a certain number of national prejudices, without _a
priori_ beliefs and traditions. It pleases him to see that there is a
force in the Genevese nationality which resists the leveling influences
of a crude radicalism; it rejoices him that Geneva "has not yet become a
mere copy of anything, and that she is still capable of deciding for
herself. Those who say to her, 'Do as they do at New York, at Paris, at
Rome, at Berlin,' are still in the minority. The _doctrinaires_ who
would split her up and destroy her unity waste their breath upon her.
She divines the snare laid for her, and turns away. I like this proof of

His love of traveling never left him. Paris attracted him, as it
attracts all who cling to letters, and he gained at one time or another
a certain amount of acquaintance with French literary men. In 1852 we
find him for a time brought into contact with Thierry, Lamennais,
Beranger, Mignet, etc., as well as with Romantics like Alfred de Vigny
and Theophile Gautier. There are poems addressed to De Vigny and Gautier
in his first published volume of 1854. He revisited Italy and his old
haunts and friends in Germany more than once, and in general kept the
current of his life fresh and vigorous by his openness to impressions
and additions from without.

He was, as we have said, a delightful correspondent, "taking pains with
the smallest note," and within a small circle of friends much liked. His
was not a nature to be generally appreciated at its true value; the
motives which governed his life were too remote from the ordinary
motives of human conduct, and his characteristics just those which have
always excited the distrust, if not the scorn, of the more practical and
vigorous order of minds. Probably, too--especially in his later
years--there was a certain amount of self-consciousness and
artificiality in his attitude toward the outer world, which was the
result partly of the social difficulties we have described, partly of
his own sense of difference from his surroundings, and partly again of
that timidity of nature, that self-distrust, which is revealed to us in
the Journal. So that he was by no means generally popular, and the great
success of the Journal is still a mystery to the majority of those who
knew him merely as a fellow-citizen and acquaintance. But his friends
loved him and believed in him, and the reserved student, whose manners
were thought affected in general society, could and did make himself
delightful to those who understood him, or those who looked to him for
affection. "According to my remembrance of him," writes M. Scherer, "he
was bright, sociable, a charming companion. Others who knew him better
and longer than I say the same. The mobility of his disposition
counteracted his tendency to exaggerations of feeling. In spite of his
fits of melancholy, his natural turn of mind was cheerful; up to the end
he was young, a child even, amused by mere nothings; and whoever had
heard him laugh his hearty student's laugh would have found it difficult
to identify him with the author of so many somber pages." M. Rivier, his
old pupil, remembers him as "strong and active, still handsome,
delightful in conversation, ready to amuse and be amused." Indeed, if
the photographs of him are to be trusted, there must have been something
specially attractive in the sensitive, expressive face, with its lofty
brow, fine eyes, and kindly mouth. It is the face of a poet rather than
of a student, and makes one understand certain other little points which
his friends lay stress on--for instance, his love for and popularity
with children.

In his poems, or at any rate in the earlier ones, this lighter side
finds more expression, proportionally, than in the Journal. In the
volume called "Grains de Mil," published in 1854, and containing verse
written between the ages of eighteen and thirty, there are poems
addressed, now to his sister, now to old Genevese friends, and now to
famous men of other countries whom he had seen and made friends with in
passing, which, read side by side with the "Journal Intime," bring a
certain gleam and sparkle into an otherwise somber picture. Amiel was
never a master of poetical form; his verse, compared to his prose, is
tame and fettered; it never reaches the glow and splendor of expression
which mark the finest passages of the Journal. It has ability,
thought--beauty even, of a certain kind, but no plastic power, none of
the incommunicable magic which a George Eliot seeks for in vain, while
it comes unasked, to deck with imperishable charm the commonplace
metaphysic and the simpler emotions of a Tennyson or a Burns. Still as
Amiel's work, his poetry has an interest for those who are interested in
him. Sincerity is written in every line of it. Most of the thoughts and
experiences with which one grows familiar in the Journal are repeated in
it; the same joys, the same aspirations, the same sorrows are visible
throughout it, so that in reading it one is more and more impressed with
the force and reality of the inner life which has left behind it so
definite an image of itself. And every now and then the poems add a
detail, a new impression, which seems by contrast to give fresh value to
the fine-spun speculations, the lofty despairs, of the Journal. Take
these verses, written at twenty-one, to his younger sister:

"Treize ans! et sur ton front aucun baiser de mere
Ne viendra, pauvre enfant, invoquer le bonheur;
Treize ans! et dans ce jour mil regard de ton pere
Ne fera d'allegresse epanouir ton coeur.

"Orpheline, c'est la le nom dont tu t'appelles,
Oiseau ne dans un nid que la foudre a brise;
De la couvee, helas! seuls, trois petits, sans ailes
Furent lances au vent, loin du reste ecrase.

"Et, semes par l'eclair sur les monts, dans les plaines,
Un meme toit encor n'a pu les abriter,
Et du foyer natal, malgre leurs plaintes vaines
Dieu, peut-etre longtemps, voudra les ecarter.

"Pourtant console-toi! pense, dans tes alarmes,
Qu'un double bien te reste, espoir et souvenir;
Une main dans le ciel pour essuyer tes larmes;
Une main ici-bas, enfant, pour te benir."

The last stanza is especially poor, and in none of them is there much
poetical promise. But the pathetic image of a forlorn and orphaned
childhood, "_un nid que la foudre a brise_," which it calls up, and the
tone of brotherly affection, linger in one's memory. And through much of
the volume of 1863, in the verses to "My Godson," or in the charming
poem to Loulou, the little girl who at five years old, daisy in hand,
had sworn him eternal friendship over Gretchen's game of "_Er liebt
mich--liebt mich nicht_," one hears the same tender note.

"Merci, prophetique fleurette,
Corolle a l'oracle vainqueur,
Car voila trois ans, paquerette,
Que tu m'ouvris un petit coeur.

"Et depuis trois hivers, ma belle,
L'enfant aux grands yeux de velours
Maintient son petit coeur fidele,
Fidele comme aux premiers jours."

His last poetical volume, "Jour a Jour," published in 1880, is far more
uniformly melancholy and didactic in tone than the two earlier
collections from which we have been quoting. But though the dominant
note is one of pain and austerity, of philosophy touched with emotion,
and the general tone more purely introspective, there are many traces in
it of the younger Amiel, dear, for very ordinary human reasons, to his
sisters and his friends. And, in general, the pathetic interest of the
book for all whose sympathy answers to what George Sand calls "_les
tragedies que la pensee apercoit et que l'oeil ne voit point_" is very
great. Amiel published it a year before his death, and the struggle with
failing power which the Journal reveals to us in its saddest and most
intimate reality, is here expressed in more reserved and measured form.
Faith, doubt, submission, tenderness of feeling, infinite aspiration,
moral passion, that straining hope of something beyond, which is the
life of the religious soul--they are all here, and the _Dernier Mot_
with which the sad little volume ends is poor Amiel's epitaph on
himself, his conscious farewell to that more public aspect of his life
in which he had suffered much and achieved comparatively so little.

"Nous avons a plaisir complique le bonheur,
Et par un ideal frivole et suborneur
Attache nos coeurs a la terre;
Dupes des faux dehors tenus pour l'important,
Mille choses pour nous ont du prix ... et pourtant
Une seule etait necessaire.

"Sans fin nous prodiguons calculs, efforts, travaux;
Cependant, au milieu des succes, des bravos
En nous quelque chose soupire;
Multipliant nos pas et nos soins de fourmis,
Nous vondrions nous faire une foule d'amis....
Pourtant un seul pouvait suffire.

"Victime des desirs, esclave des regrets,
L'homme s'agite, et s'use, et vieillit sans progres
Sur sa toile de Penelope;
Comme un sage mourant, puissions-nous dire en paix
J'ai trop longtemps erre, cherche; je me trompais;
Tout est bien, mon Dieu m'enveloppe."

Upon the small remains of Amiel's prose outside the Journal there is no
occasion to dwell. The two essays on Madame de Stael and Rousseau
contain much fine critical remark, and might find a place perhaps as an
appendix to some future edition of the Journal; and some of the
"Pensees," published in the latter half of the volume containing the
"Grains de Mils," are worthy of preservation. But in general, whatever
he himself published was inferior to what might justly have been
expected of him, and no one was more conscious of the fact than himself.

The story of his fatal illness, of the weary struggle for health which
filled the last seven years of his life, is abundantly told in the
Journal--we must not repeat it here. He had never been a strong man, and
at fifty-three he received, at his doctor's hands, his _arret de mort_.
We are told that what killed him was "heart disease, complicated by
disease of the larynx," and that he suffered "much and long." He was
buried in the cemetery of Clarens, not far from his great contemporary
Alexander Vinet; and the affection of a sculptor friend provided the
monument which now marks his resting-place.

We have thus exhausted all the biographical material which is at present
available for the description of Amiel's life and relations toward the
outside world. It is to be hoped that the friends to whom the charge of
his memory has been specially committed may see their way in the future,
if not to a formal biography, which is very likely better left
unattempted, at least to a volume of Letters, which would complete the
"Journal Intime," as Joubert's "Correspondence" completes the "Pensees."
There must be ample material for it; and Amiel's letters would probably
supply us with more of that literary and critical reflection which his
mind produced so freely and so well, as long as there was no question of
publication, but which is at present somewhat overweighted in the
"Journal Intime."

But whether biography or correspondence is ever forthcoming or not, the
Journal remains--and the Journal is the important matter. We shall read
the Letters if they appear, as we now read the Poems, for the Journal's
sake. The man himself, as poet, teacher, and _litterateur_, produced no
appreciable effect on his generation; but the posthumous record of his
inner life has stirred the hearts of readers all over Europe, and won
him a niche in the House of Fame. What are the reasons for this striking
transformation of a man's position--a transformation which, as M.
Scherer says, will rank among the curiosities of literary history? In
other words, what has given the "Journal Intime" its sudden and
unexpected success?

In the first place, no doubt, its poetical quality, its beauty of
manner--that fine literary expression in which Amiel has been able to
clothe the subtler processes of thought, no less than the secrets of
religious feeling, or the aspects of natural scenery. Style is what
gives value and currency to thought, and Amiel, in spite of all his
Germanisms, has style of the best kind. He possesses in prose that
indispensable magic which he lacks in poetry.

His style, indeed, is by no means always in harmony with the central
French tradition. Probably a Frenchman will be inclined to apply
Sainte-Beuve's remarks on Amiel's elder countryman, Rodolphe Toepffer, to
Amiel himself: "_C'est ainsi qu'on ecrit dans les litteratures qui n'ont
point de capitale, de quartier general classique, ou d'Academie; c'est
ainsi qu'un Allemand, qu'un Americain, ou meme un Anglais, use a son gre
de sa langue. En France au contraire, ou il y a une Academie Francaise
... on doit trouver qu'un tel style est une tres-grande nouveaute et le
succes qu'il a obtenu un evenement: il a fallu bien des circonstances
pour y preparer_." No doubt the preparatory circumstance in Amiel's case
has been just that Germanization of the French mind on which M. Taine
and M. Bourget dwell with so much emphasis. But, be this as it may,
there is no mistaking the enthusiasm with which some of the best living
writers of French have hailed these pages--instinct, as one declares,
"with a strange and marvelous poetry;" full of phrases "_d'une intense
suggestion de beaute_;" according to another. Not that the whole of the
Journal flows with the same ease, the same felicity. There are a certain
number of passages where Amiel ceases to be the writer, and becomes the
technical philosopher; there are others, though not many, into which a
certain German heaviness and diffuseness has crept, dulling the edge of
the sentences, and retarding the development of the thought. When all
deductions have been made, however, Amiel's claim is still first and
foremost, the claim of the poet and the artist; of the man whose thought
uses at will the harmonies and resources of speech, and who has
attained, in words of his own, "to the full and masterly expression of

Then to the poetical beauty of manner which first helped the book to
penetrate, _faire sa trouee_, as the French say, we must add its
extraordinary psychological interest. Both as poet and as psychologist,
Amiel makes another link in a special tradition; he adds another name to
the list of those who have won a hearing from their fellows as
interpreters of the inner life, as the revealers of man to himself. He
is the successor of St. Augustine and Dante; he is the brother of
Obermann and Maurice de Guerin. What others have done for the spiritual
life of other generations he has done for the spiritual life of this,
and the wealth of poetical, scientific, and psychological faculty which
he has brought to the analysis of human feeling and human perceptions
places him--so far as the present century is concerned--at the head of
the small and delicately-gifted class to which he belongs. For beside
his spiritual experience Obermann's is superficial, and Maurice de
Guerin's a passing trouble, a mere quick outburst of passionate feeling.
Amiel indeed has neither the continuous romantic beauty nor the rich
descriptive wealth of Senancour. The Dent du Midi, with its untrodden
solitude, its primeval silences and its hovering eagles, the Swiss
landscape described in the "Fragment on the Ranz des Vaches," the summer
moonlight on the Lake of Neufchatel--these various pictures are the work
of one of the most finished artists in words that literature has
produced. But how true George Sand's criticism is! "_Chez Obermann la
sensibilite est active, l'intelligence est paresseuse ou insuffisante._"
He has a certain antique power of making the truisms of life splendid
and impressive. No one can write more poetical exercises than he on the
old text of _pulvis et umbra sumus_, but beyond this his philosophical
power fails him. As soon as he leaves the region of romantic description
how wearisome the pages are apt to grow! Instead of a poet, "_un
ergoteur Voltairien_;" instead of the explorer of fresh secrets of the
heart, a Parisian talking a cheap cynicism! Intellectually, the ground
gives way; there is no solidity of knowledge, no range of thought. Above
all, the scientific idea in our sense is almost absent; so that while
Amiel represents the modern mind at its keenest and best, dealing at
will with the vast additions to knowledge which the last fifty years
have brought forth, Senancour is still in the eighteenth-century stage,
talking like Rousseau of a return to primitive manners, and discussing
Christianity in the tone of the "Encyclopedie."

Maurice de Guerin, again, is the inventor of new terms in the language
of feeling, a poet as Amiel and Senancour are. His love of nature, the
earth-passion which breathes in his letters and journal, has a strange
savor, a force and flame which is all his own. Beside his actual sense
of community with the visible world, Amiel's love of landscape has a
tame, didactic air. The Swiss thinker is too ready to make nature a mere
vehicle of moral or philosophical thought; Maurice de Guerin loves her
for herself alone, and has found words to describe her influence over
him of extraordinary individuality and power. But for the rest the story
of his inner life has but small value in the history of thought. His
difficulties do not go deep enough; his struggle is intellectually not
serious enough--we see in it only a common incident of modern experience
poetically told; it throws no light on the genesis and progress of the
great forces which are molding and renovating the thought of the
present--it tells us nothing for the future.

No--there is much more in the "Journal Intime" than the imagination or
the poetical glow which Amiel shares with his immediate predecessors in
the art of confession-writing. His book is representative of human
experience in its more intimate and personal forms to an extent hardly
equaled since Rousseau. For his study of himself is only a means to an
end. "What interests me in myself," he declares, "is that I find in my
own case a genuine example of human nature, and therefore a specimen of
general value." It is the human consciousness of to-day, of the modern
world, in its two-fold relation--its relation toward the infinite and
the unknowable, and its relation toward the visible universe which
conditions it--which is the real subject of the "Journal Intime." There
are few elements of our present life which, in a greater or less degree,
are not made vocal in these pages. Amiel's intellectual interest is
untiring. Philosophy, science, letters, art--he has penetrated the
spirit of them all; there is nothing, or almost nothing, within the wide
range of modern activities which he has not at one time or other felt
the attraction of, and learned in some sense to understand. "Amiel,"
says M. Renan, "has his defects, but he was certainly one of the
strongest speculative heads who, during the period from 1845 to 1880,
have reflected on the nature of things." And, although a certain fatal
spiritual weakness debarred him to a great extent from the world of
practical life, his sympathy with action, whether it was the action of
the politician or the social reformer, or merely that steady
half-conscious performance of its daily duty which keeps humanity sweet
and living, was unfailing. His horizon was not bounded by his own
"prison-cell," or by that dream-world which he has described with so
much subtle beauty; rather the energies which should have found their
natural expression in literary or family life, pent up within the mind
itself, excited in it a perpetual eagerness for intellectual discovery,
and new powers of sympathy with whatever crossed its field of vision.

So that the thinker, the historian, the critic, will find himself at
home with Amiel. The power of organizing his thought, the art of writing
a book, _monumentum aere perennius_, was indeed denied him--he laments
it bitterly; but, on the other hand, he is receptivity itself,
responsive to all the great forces which move the time, catching and
reflecting on the mobile mirror of his mind whatever winds are blowing
from the hills of thought.

And if the thinker is at home with him, so too are the religious minds,
the natures for whom God and duty are the foundation of existence. Here,
indeed, we come to the innermost secret of Amiel's charm, the fact which
probably goes farther than any other to explain his fascination for a
large and growing class of readers. For, while he represents all the
intellectual complexities of a time bewildered by the range and number
of its own acquisitions, the religious instinct in him is as strong and
tenacious as in any of the representative exponents of the life of
faith. The intellect is clear and unwavering; but the heart clings to
old traditions, and steadies itself on the rock of duty. His Calvinistic
training lingers long in him; and what detaches him from the Hegelian
school, with which he has much in common, is his own stronger sense of
personal need, his preoccupation with the idea of "sin." "He speaks,"
says M. Renan contemptuously, "of sin, of salvation, of redemption, and
conversion, as if these things were realities. He asks me 'What does M.
Renan make of sin?' _Eh bien, je crois que je le supprime_." But it is
just because Amiel is profoundly sensitive to the problems of evil and
responsibility, and M. Renan dismisses them with this half-tolerant,
half-skeptical smile, that M. Renan's "Souvenirs" inform and entertain
us, while the "Journal Intime" makes a deep impression on that moral
sense which is at the root of individual and national life.

The Journal is full, indeed, of this note of personal religion.
Religion, Amiel declares again and again, cannot be replaced by
philosophy. The redemption of the intelligence is not the redemption of
the heart. The philosopher and critic may succeed in demonstrating that
the various definite forms into which the religious thought of man has
thrown itself throughout history are not absolute truth, but only the
temporary creations of a need which gradually and surely outgrows them
all. "The Trinity, the life to come, paradise and hell, may cease to be
dogmas and spiritual realities, the form and the letter may vanish
away--the question of humanity remains: What is it which saves?" Amiel's
answer to the question will recall to a wide English circle the method
and spirit of an English teacher, whose dear memory lives to-day in many
a heart, and is guiding many an effort in the cause of good--the method
and spirit of the late Professor Green of Balliol. In many respects
there was a gulf of difference between the two men. The one had all the
will and force of personality which the other lacked. But the ultimate
creed of both, the way in which both interpret the facts of nature and
consciousness, is practically the same. In Amiel's case, we have to
gather it through all the variations and inevitable contradictions of a
Journal which is the reflection of a life, not the systematic expression
of a series of ideas, but the main results are clear enough. Man is
saved by love and duty, and by the hope which springs from duty, or
rather from the moral facts of consciousness, as a flower springs from
the soil. Conscience and the moral progress of the race--these are his
points of departure. Faith in the reality of the moral law is what he
clings to when his inherited creed has yielded to the pressure of the
intellect, and after all the storms of pessimism and necessitarianism
have passed over him. The reconciliation of the two certitudes, the two
methods, the scientific and the religious, "is to be sought for in that
moral law which is also a fact, and every step of which requires for its
explanation another cosmos than the cosmos of necessity." "Nature is the
virtuality of mind, the soul the fruit of life, and liberty the flower
of necessity." Consciousness is the one fixed point in this boundless
and bottomless gulf of things, and the soul's inward law, as it has been
painfully elaborated by human history, the only revelation of God.

The only but the sufficient revelation! For this first article of a
reasonable creed is the key to all else--the clue which leads the mind
safely through the labyrinth of doubt into the presence of the Eternal.
Without attempting to define the indefinable, the soul rises from the
belief in the reality of love and duty to the belief in "a holy will at
the root of nature and destiny"--for "if man is capable of conceiving
goodness, the general principle of things, which cannot be inferior to
man, must be good." And then the religious consciousness seizes on this
intellectual deduction, and clothes it in language of the heart, in the
tender and beautiful language of faith. "There is but one thing
needful--to possess God. All our senses, all our powers of mind and
soul, are so many ways of approaching the Divine, so many modes of
tasting and adoring God. Religion is not a method; it is a life--a
higher and supernatural life, mystical in its root and practical in its
fruits; a communion with God, a calm and deep enthusiasm, a love which
radiates, a force which acts, a happiness which overflows." And the
faith of his youth and his maturity bears the shock of suffering, and
supports him through his last hours. He writes a few months before the
end: "The animal expires; man surrenders his soul to the author of the
soul." ... "We dream alone, we suffer alone, we die alone, we inhabit the
last resting-place alone. But there is nothing to prevent us from
opening our solitude to God. And so what was an austere monologue
becomes dialogue, reluctance becomes docility, renunciation passes into
peace, and the sense of painful defeat is lost in the sense of recovered
liberty"--_"Tout est bien, mon Dieu m'enveloppe."_

Nor is this all. It is not only that Amiel's inmost thought and
affections are stayed on this conception of "a holy will at the root of
nature and destiny"--in a certain very real sense he is a Christian. No
one is more sensitive than he to the contribution which Christianity has
made to the religious wealth of mankind; no one more penetrated than he
with the truth of its essential doctrine "death unto sin and a new birth
unto righteousness." "The religion of sin, of repentance and
reconciliation," he cries, "the religion of the new birth and of eternal
life, is not a religion to be ashamed of." The world has found
inspiration and guidance for eighteen centuries in the religious
consciousness of Jesus. "The gospel has modified the world and consoled
mankind," and so "we may hold aloof from the churches and yet bow
ourselves before Jesus. We may be suspicious of the clergy and refuse to
have anything to do with catechisms, and yet love the Holy and the Just
who came to save and not to curse." And in fact Amiel's whole life and
thought are steeped in Christianity. He is the spiritual descendant of
one of the intensest and most individual forms of Christian belief, and
traces of his religious ancestry are visible in him at every step.
Protestantism of the sincerer and nobler kind leaves an indelible
impression on the nature which has once surrounded itself to the austere
and penetrating influences flowing from the religion of sin and grace;
and so far as feeling and temperament are concerned, Amiel retained
throughout his life the marks of Calvinism and Geneva.

And yet how clear the intellect remains, through all the anxieties of
thought, and in the face of the soul's dearest memories and most
passionate needs! Amiel, as soon as his reasoning faculty has once
reached its maturity, never deceives himself as to the special claims of
the religion which by instinct and inheritance he loves; he makes no
compromise with dogma or with miracle. Beyond the religions of the
present he sees always the essential religion which lasts when all local
forms and marvels have passed away; and as years go on, with more and
more clearness of conviction, he learns to regard all special beliefs
and systems as "prejudices, useful in practice, but still narrownesses
of the mind;" misgrowths of thought, necessary in their time and place,
but still of no absolute value, and having no final claim on the thought
of man.

And it is just here--in this mixture of the faith which clings and
aspires, with the intellectual pliancy which allows the mind to sway
freely under the pressure of life and experience, and the deep respect
for truth, which will allow nothing to interfere between thought and its
appointed tasks--that Amiel's special claim upon us lies. It is this
balance of forces in him which makes him so widely representative of the
modern mind--of its doubts, its convictions, its hopes. He speaks for
the life of to-day as no other single voice has yet spoken for it; in
his contradictions, his fears, his despairs, and yet in the constant
straining toward the unseen and the ideal which gives a fundamental
unity to his inner life, he is the type of a generation universally
touched with doubt, and yet as sensitive to the need of faith as any
that have gone before it; more widely conscious than its predecessors of
the limitations of the human mind, and of the iron pressure of man's
physical environment; but at the same time--paradox as it may seem--more
conscious of man's greatness, more deeply thrilled by the spectacle of
the nobility and beauty interwoven with the universe.

And he plays this part of his so modestly, with so much hesitation, so
much doubt of his thought and of himself! He is no preacher, like
Emerson and Carlyle, with whom, as poet and idealist, he has so much in
common; there is little resemblance between him and the men who speak,
as it were, from a height to the crowd beneath, sure always of
themselves and what they have to say. And here again he represents the
present and foreshadows the future. For the age of the preachers is
passing those who speak with authority on the riddles of life and nature
as the priests of this or that all-explaining dogma, are becoming less
important as knowledge spreads, and the complexity of experience is made
evident to a wider range of minds. The force of things is against _the
certain people_. Again and again truth escapes from the prisons made for
her by mortal hands, and as humanity carries on the endless pursuit she
will pay more and more respectful heed to voices like this voice of the
lonely Genevese thinker--with its pathetic alterations of hope and fear,
and the moral steadfastness which is the inmost note of it--to these
meditative lives, which, through all the ebb and flow of thought, and in
the dim ways of doubt and suffering, rich in knowledge, and yet rich in
faith, grasp in new forms, and proclaim to us in new words,

"The mighty hopes which make us men."


* * * * *

[Where no other name is mentioned, Geneva is to be understood as the
author's place of residence.]

BERLIN, July 16. 1848.--There is but one thing needful--to possess God.
All our senses, all our powers of mind and soul, all our external
resources, are so many ways of approaching the divinity, so many modes
of tasting and of adoring God. We must learn to detach ourselves from
all that is capable of being lost, to bind ourselves absolutely only to
what is absolute and eternal, and to enjoy the rest as a loan, a
usufruct.... To adore, to understand, to receive, to feel, to give, to
act: there is my law my duty, my happiness, my heaven. Let come what
come will--even death. Only be at peace with self, live in the presence
of God, in communion with Him, and leave the guidance of existence to
those universal powers against whom thou canst do nothing! If death
gives me time, so much the better. If its summons is near, so much the
better still; if a half-death overtake me, still so much the better, for
so the path of success is closed to me only that I may find opening
before me the path of heroism, of moral greatness and resignation. Every
life has its potentiality of greatness, and as it is impossible to be
outside God, the best is consciously to dwell in Him.

BERLIN, July 20, 1848.--It gives liberty and breadth to thought, to
learn to judge our own epoch from the point of view of universal
history, history from the point of view of geological periods, geology
from the point of view of astronomy. When the duration of a man's life
or of a people's life appears to us as microscopic as that of a fly and
inversely, the life of a gnat as infinite as that of a celestial body,
with all its dust of nations, we feel ourselves at once very small and
very great, and we are able, as it were, to survey from the height of
the spheres our own existence, and the little whirlwinds which agitate
our little Europe.

At bottom there is but one subject of study: the forms and metamorphoses
of mind. All other subjects may be reduced to that; all other studies
bring us back to this study.

GENEVA, April 20, 1849.--It is six years [Footnote: Amiel left Geneva
for Paris and Berlin in April, 1848, the preceding year, 1841-42,
having been spent in Italy and Sicily.] to-day since I last left Geneva.
How many journeys, how many impressions, observations, thoughts, how
many forms of men and things have since then passed before me and in me!
The last seven years have been the most important of my life: they have
been the novitiate of my intelligence, the initiation of my being into

Three snowstorms this afternoon. Poor blossoming plum-trees and peach
trees! What a difference from six years ago, when the cherry-trees,
adorned in their green spring dress and laden with their bridal flowers,
smiled at my departure along the Vaudois fields, and the lilacs of
Burgundy threw great gusts of perfume into my face!...

May 3, 1849.--I have never felt any inward assurance of genius, or any
presentiment of glory or of happiness. I have never seen myself in
imagination great or famous, or even a husband, a father, an influential
citizen. This indifference to the future, this absolute self-distrust,
are, no doubt, to be taken as signs. What dreams I have are all vague
and indefinite; I ought not to live, for I am now scarcely capable of
living. Recognize your place; let the living live; and you, gather
together your thoughts, leave behind you a legacy of feeling and ideas;
you will be most useful so. Renounce yourself, accept the cup given you,
with its honey and its gall, as it comes. Bring God down into your
heart. Embalm your soul in Him now, make within you a temple for the
Holy Spirit, be diligent in good works, make others happier and better.

Put personal ambition away from you, and then you will find consolation
in living or in dying, whatever may happen to you.

May 27, 1849.--To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the
cross and bitterness of life. It is the secret of that sad and
melancholy smile on the lips of great men which so few understand; it is
the cruelest trial reserved for self-devotion; it is what must have
oftenest wrung the heart of the Son of man; and if God could suffer, it
would be the wound we should be forever inflicting upon Him. He also--He
above all--is the great misunderstood, the least comprehended. Alas!
alas! never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic,
tender; to look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope
always, like God; to love always--this is duty.

June 3, 1849.--Fresh and delicious weather. A long morning walk.
Surprised the hawthorn and wild rose-trees in flower. From the fields
vague and health-giving scents. The Voirons fringed with dazzling mists,
and tints of exquisite softness over the Saleve. Work in the fields, two
delightful donkeys, one pulling greedily at a hedge of barberry. Then
three little children. I felt a boundless desire to caress and play with
them. To be able to enjoy such leisure, these peaceful fields, fine
weather, contentment; to have my two sisters with me; to rest my eyes on
balmy meadows and blossoming orchards; to listen to the life singing in
the grass and on the trees; to be so calmly happy--is it not too much?
is it deserved? O let me enjoy it with gratitude. The days of trouble
come soon enough and are many enough. I have no presentiment of
happiness. All the more let me profit by the present. Come, kind nature,
smile and enchant me! Veil from me awhile my own griefs and those of
others; let me see only the folds of thy queenly mantle, and hide all
miserable and ignoble things from me under thy bounties and splendors!

October 1, 1849.--Yesterday, Sunday, I read through and made extracts
from the gospel of St. John. It confirmed me in my belief that about
Jesus we must believe no one but Himself, and that what we have to do is
to discover the true image of the founder behind all the prismatic
reactions through which it comes to us, and which alter it more or less.
A ray of heavenly light traversing human life, the message of Christ has
been broken into a thousand rainbow colors and carried in a thousand
directions. It is the historical task of Christianity to assume with
every succeeding age a fresh metamorphosis, and to be forever
spiritualizing more and more her understanding of the Christ and of

I am astounded at the incredible amount of Judaism and formalism which
still exists nineteen centuries after the Redeemer's proclamation, "it
is the letter which killeth"--after his protest against a dead
symbolism. The new religion is so profound that it is not understood
even now, and would seem a blasphemy to the greater number of
Christians. The person of Christ is the center of it. Redemption,
eternal life, divinity, humanity, propitiation, incarnation, judgment,
Satan, heaven and hell--all these beliefs have been so materialized and
coarsened, that with a strange irony they present to us the spectacle of
things having a profound meaning and yet carnally interpreted. Christian
boldness and Christian liberty must be reconquered; it is the church
which is heretical, the church whose sight is troubled and her heart
timid. Whether we will or no, there is an esoteric doctrine, there is a
relative revelation; each man enters into God so much as God enters into
him, or as Angelus, [Footnote: Angelus Silesius, otherwise Johannes
Soheffler, the German seventeenth century hymn-writer, whose tender and
mystical verses have been popularized in England by Miss Winkworth's
translations in the _Lyra Germanica_.] I think, said, "the eye by which
I see God is the same eye by which He sees me."

Christianity, if it is to triumph over pantheism, must absorb it. To our
pusillanimous eyes Jesus would have borne the marks of a hateful
pantheism, for he confirmed the Biblical phrase "ye are gods," and so
would St. Paul, who tells us that we are of "the race of God." Our
century wants a new theology--that is to say, a more profound
explanation of the nature of Christ and of the light which it flashes
upon heaven and upon humanity.

* * * * *

Heroism is the brilliant triumph of the soul over the flesh--that is to
say, over fear: fear of poverty, of suffering, of calumny, of sickness,
of isolation, and of death. There is no serious piety without heroism.
Heroism is the dazzling and glorious concentration of courage.

* * * * *

Duty has the virtue of making us feel the reality of a positive world
while at the same time detaching us from it.

* * * * *

December 30, 1850.--The relation of thought to action filled my mind on
waking, and I found myself carried toward a bizarre formula, which seems
to have something of the night still clinging about it: _Action is but
coarsened thought_; thought become concrete, obscure, and unconscious.
It seemed to me that our most trifling actions, of eating, walking, and
sleeping, were the condensation of a multitude of truths and thoughts,
and that the wealth of ideas involved was in direct proportion to the
commonness of the action (as our dreams are the more active, the deeper
our sleep). We are hemmed round with mystery, and the greatest mysteries
are contained in what we see and do every day. In all spontaneity the
work of creation is reproduced in analogy. When the spontaneity is
unconscious, you have simple action; when it is conscious, intelligent
and moral action. At bottom this is nothing more than the proposition of
Hegel: ["What is rational is real; and what is real is rational;"] but
it had never seemed to me more evident, more palpable. Everything which
is, is thought, but not conscious and individual thought. The human
intelligence is but the consciousness of being. It is what I have
formulated before: Everything is a symbol of a symbol, and a symbol of
what? of mind.

... I have just been looking through the complete works of Montesquieu,
and cannot yet make plain to myself the impression left on me by this
singular style, with its mixture of gravity and affectation, of
carelessness and precision, of strength and delicacy; so full of sly
intention for all its coldness, expressing at once inquisitiveness and
indifference, abrupt, piecemeal, like notes thrown together haphazard,
and yet deliberate. I seem to see an intelligence naturally grave and
austere donning a dress of wit for convention's sake. The author desires
to entertain as much as to teach, the thinker is also a _bel-esprit_,
the jurisconsult has a touch of the coxcomb, and a perfumed breath from
the temple of Venus has penetrated the tribunal of Minos. Here we have
austerity, as the century understood it, in philosophy or religion. In
Montesquieu, the art, if there is any, lies not in the words but in the
matter. The words run freely and lightly, but the thought is

* * * * *

Each bud flowers but once and each flower has but its minute of perfect
beauty; so, in the garden of the soul each feeling has, as it were, its
flowering instant, its one and only moment of expansive grace and
radiant kingship. Each star passes but once in the night through the
meridian over our heads and shines there but an instant; so, in the
heaven of the mind each thought touches its zenith but once, and in that
moment all its brilliancy and all its greatness culminate. Artist, poet,
or thinker, if you want to fix and immortalize your ideas or your
feelings, seize them at this precise and fleeting moment, for it is
their highest point. Before it, you have but vague outlines or dim
presentiments of them. After it you will have only weakened reminiscence
or powerless regret; that moment is the moment of your ideal.

Spite is anger which is afraid to show itself, it is an impotent fury
conscious of its impotence.

* * * * *

Nothing resembles pride so much as discouragement.

* * * * *

To repel one's cross is to make it heavier.

* * * * *

In the conduct of life, habits count for more than maxims, because habit
is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct. To reform one's maxims is
nothing: it is but to change the title of the book. To learn new habits
is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a
tissue of habits.

* * * * *

February 17, 1851.--I have been reading, for six or seven hours without
stopping the _Pensees_ of Joubert. I felt at first a very strong
attraction toward the book, and a deep interest in it, but I have
already a good deal cooled down. These scattered and fragmentary
thoughts, falling upon one without a pause, like drops of light, tire,
not my head, but reasoning power. The merits of Joubert consist in the
grace of the style, the vivacity or _finesse_ of the criticisms, the
charm of the metaphors; but he starts many more problems than he solves,
he notices and records more than he explains. His philosophy is merely
literary and popular; his originality is only in detail and in
execution. Altogether, he is a writer of reflections rather than a
philosopher, a critic of remarkable gifts, endowed with exquisite
sensibility, but, as an intelligence, destitute of the capacity for
co-ordination. He wants concentration and continuity. It is not that he
has no claims to be considered a philosopher or an artist, but rather
that he is both imperfectly, for he thinks and writes marvelously, _on a
small scale_. He is an entomologist, a lapidary, a jeweler, a coiner of
sentences, of adages, of criticisms, of aphorisms, counsels, problems;
and his book, extracted from the accumulations of his journal during
fifty years of his life, is a collection of precious stones, of
butterflies, coins and engraved gems. The whole, however, is more subtle
than strong, more poetical than profound, and leaves upon the reader
rather the impression of a great wealth of small curiosities of value,
than of a great intellectual existence and a new point of view. The
place of Joubert seems to me then, below and very far from the
philosophers and the true poets, but honorable among the moralists and
the critics. He is one of those men who are superior to their works, and
who have themselves the unity which these lack. This first judgment is,
besides, indiscriminate and severe. I shall have to modify it later.

February 20th.--I have almost finished these two volumes of _Pensees_
and the greater part of the _Correspondance_. This last has especially
charmed me; it is remarkable for grace, delicacy, atticism, and
precision. The chapters on metaphysics and philosophy are the most
insignificant. All that has to do with large views with the whole of
things, is very little at Joubert's command; he has no philosophy of
history, no speculative intuition. He is the thinker of detail, and his
proper field is psychology and matters of taste. In this sphere of the
subtleties and delicacies of imagination and feeling, within the circle
of personal affectation and preoccupations, of social and educational
interests, he abounds in ingenuity and sagacity, in fine criticisms, in
exquisite touches. It is like a bee going from flower to flower, a
teasing, plundering, wayward zephyr, an Aeolian harp, a ray of furtive
light stealing through the leaves. Taken as a whole, there is something
impalpable and immaterial about him, which I will not venture to call
effeminate, but which is scarcely manly. He wants bone and body: timid,
dreamy, and _clairvoyant_, he hovers far above reality. He is rather a
soul, a breath, than a man. It is the mind of a woman in the character
of a child, so that we feel for him less admiration than tenderness and

February 27, 1851.--Read over the first book of _Emile_. I was revolted,
contrary to all expectation, for I opened the book with a sort of hunger
for style and beauty. I was conscious instead of an impression of
heaviness and harshness, of labored, _hammering_ emphasis, of something
violent, passionate, and obstinate, without serenity, greatness,
nobility. Both the qualities and the defects of the book produced in me
a sense of lack of good manners, a blaze of talent, but no grace, no
distinction, the accent of good company wanting. I understood how it is
that Rousseau rouses a particular kind of repugnance, the repugnance of
good taste, and I felt the danger to style involved in such a model as
well as the danger to thought arising from a truth so alloyed and
sophisticated. What there is of true and strong in Rousseau did not
escape me, and I still admired him, but his bad sides appeared to me
with a clearness relatively new.

(_Same day._)--The _pensee_-writer is to the philosopher what the
_dilettante_ is to the artist. He plays with thought, and makes it
produce a crowd of pretty things in detail, but he is more anxious about
truths than truth, and what is essential in thought, its sequence, its
unity, escapes him. He handles his instrument agreeably, but he does not
possess it, still less does he create it. He is a gardener and not a
geologist; he cultivates the earth only so much as is necessary to make
it produce for him flowers and fruits; he does not dig deep enough into
it to understand it. In a word, the _pensee_-writer deals with what is
superficial and fragmentary. He is the literary, the oratorical, the
talking or writing philosopher; whereas the philosopher is the
scientific _pensee_-writer. The _pensee_-writers serve to stimulate or
to popularize the philosophers. They have thus a double use, besides
their charm. They are the pioneers of the army of readers, the doctors
of the crowd, the money-changers of thought, which they convert into
current coin. The writer of _pensee_ is a man of letters, though of a
serious type, and therefore he is popular. The philosopher is a
specialist, as far as the form of his science goes, though not in
substance, and therefore he can never become popular. In France, for one
philosopher (Descartes) there have been thirty writers of _pensees_; in
Germany, for ten such writers there have been twenty philosophers.

March 25, 1851.--How many illustrious men whom I have known have been
already reaped by death, Steffens, Marheineke, Neander, Mendelssohn,
Thorwaldsen, Oelenschlaeger, Geijer, Tegner, Oersted, Stuhr, Lachmann;
and with us, Sismondi, Toepffer, de Candolle, savants, artists, poets,
musicians, historians. [Footnote: Of these Marheineke, Neander, and
Lachmann had been lecturing at Berlin during Amiel's residence there.
The Danish dramatic poet Oelenschlaeger and the Swedish writer Tegner
were among the Scandinavian men of letters with whom he made
acquaintance during his tour of Sweden and Denmark in 1845. He probably
came across the Swedish historian Geijer on the same occasion. Schelling
and Alexander von Humboldt, mentioned a little lower down, were also
still holding sway at Berlin when he was a student. There is an

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