Journal of Henri Frederic Amiel/Preface
A YEAR and a half ago, I had the privilege of read- ing Amiel's book "Fragments d'tm journal intime." I was struck by the significance and depth of the subject, the beauty of the thought, and, above all, the sincerity of the book. In reading it I made note of those passages that especially struck me. My daughter undertook to translate these passages, and thus arose these extracts from Amiel's Private Journal ; that is, extracts from extracts of Amiel's very volumi- nous, unprinted journal kept by him from day to day in the course of thirty years.
Henri Amiel was born in 1821, in Geneva, and was early left an orphan. Having completed a course of higher education in Geneva, Amiel went abroad and then spent some years in the universities of Heidelberg and Berlin. After his return to his own country in 1849, though only twenty-eight years old, he received the ap- pointment in the Geneva Academy, first as Professor of yEsthetics and then of Philosophy, and there he re- mained until his death.
Amiel's whole life was spent in Geneva, where he died in 1881, in no wise distinguished from the great number of those very ordinary professors who, mechani- cally compiling their lectures from the latest books in their specialty, likewise mechanically repeat them to their hearers, and from the still larger number of unre- strained versifiers who offer their unnecessary but still salable wares to journals having a circulation of tens of thousands. Amiel had not the slightest success either
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in teaching or in the domain of literature. He was nearing old age when he wrote the following about him- self :
" What have I been able to extract from the talents which were given to me, from the peculiar conditions of my half -century life ? Are all my scribblings, col- lected together, my correspondence, these thousands of sincere pages, my lectures, my articles, my verses, my various memoranda, anything else than dry leaves ? To whom and to what have I ever been of any use ? Will rny name last one day longer than I, and will it mean anything to any one ? An empty life." 1
After Amiel's death two well-known French authors wrote about him and his diary : his friend, the well- known critic, Edmond Scherer, and the philosopher Caro. Curious was the sympathetic but somewhat con- descending tone with which these two writers treated Amiel, and they regretted that he lacked the qualities necessary for a perfectly genuine work. But meantime the genuine labors of these two writers E. Scherer's critical works and Caro's philosophical writings have barely outlived their authors ; while Amiel's unexpected non-genuine work, his diary, remains a book forever alive, necessary for men, fruitfully affecting their lives.
A writer is dear and necessary to us only in propor- tion as he opens to us the inner laboratory of his soul, it being taken for granted, of course, that his work is new, and not something done before. Whatever he may have written, a drama, a text-book, a story, a philo- sophical treatise, a lyrical poem, a criticism, a satire, we care only for the inner work of his soul as displayed in the production, and not for the architectural con- struction according to which he arranges his thoughts and feelings, while largely, and I think always, maiming them.
lu Est-ce que toutes mes paperasses reunies, ma correspondance, ces mil- Hers de pages intimes, mes fours, mes articles, mes rimes, mes notes diver ses sont autre chose que des feuilles seches ? A qui et a quoi aurai-je ete utile? Est-ce que man nom durera unjour etsignifier a-t-il quelque chose pour quel- qu'un ? Vie nulle. Vol. II., p. 190, 191.
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Everything Amiel molded in ready form his lec- tures, treatises, verses is dead ; his diary, where, without thinking of form, he spoke with himself, is full of life, vigor, instruction, consolation, and will always remain one of the best books, such as have been unwit- tingly left to us by men like Marcus Aurelius, Pascal, and Epictetus.
Pascal said :
" There are only three kinds of men : first, those who, finding God, serve Him ; secondly, those who, not find- ing Him, are occupied in the search for Him ; and thirdly, those who neither find Him nor seek for Him.
" The first are reasonable and happy ; the last are un- reasonable and unhappy ; those between are unhappy but reasonable."
I think that the distinction established by Pascal be- tween the first and the second classes, between those who, as he says, finding God, serve Him with all their hearts, and those who, not finding Him, seek Him with all their hearts, is not only not so great as he imag- ined, but does not even exist at all. I think that those who with all their hearts and with agony, en gemis- sant, as Pascal says, seek God, are already serving Him. They are serving Him by the fact that by these sufferings their searchings " trace out and open the way for others to reach God," as Pascal himself did in his "Thoughts," and as Amiel did all his life in his journal.
All Amiel's life, as it is presented to us in this jour- nal, was full of this passionate, painful search for God; and the contemplation of this search is the more instruc- tive that it never ceases to be a search, never pauses, never passes over into a consciousness of having dis- covered the truth, never into preaching.
Amiel never says to himself or to others, "I know the truth now; hear me ! " On the contrary, it seems to him, as is characteristic of one who honestly seeks the truth, that the more he knows the more he needs to know, and he unceasingly does all he can to discover more and more of it, and then he is constantly conscious of his ignorance. He keeps conjecturing what Christian-
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ity and the condition of the Christian should be, never for a minute pausing on the thought that Christianity is the thing which he professes, and that he himself real- izes in his own case the condition of a Christian.
And meantime his whole journal is full of expressions of the deepest Christian understanding and feeling. And these expressions affect the reader with especial force, owing to their very unconsciousness and sincerity. He talks to himself, not thinking of any one hearing him, not striving to seem to believe in what he does not believe, not concealing his sufferings and his searchings.
It is as if you were present without the knowledge of the master at the most mysterious and the profoundest and the most passionate inner work of the soul, ordi- narily concealed from the sight of strangers.
And so you may find many far more artistic and elo- quent expressions of religious feeling than Amiel's, but it would be difficult to find any more sincere or soul- affecting.
Not long before his death, knowing that his illness might at any moment end with suffocation, he wrote :
" When one does not dream of having before one a decade, a year, a month of reprieve, when one cannot reckon on more than a dozen hours, and the next night brings the threat of the unknown, it is. evident that one must renounce art, science, politics, and be content to commune with oneself, and this is possible even to the very end. This interior soliloquy is the sole resource of the man condemned to death when the execution of the sentence is delayed. He collects himself in his inmost tribunal. He no longer radiates, he psycholo- gizes. He no longer acts, he contemplates Like the
hare he returns to his ' form ' to die, and this ' form ' is his conscience, his thought. It is also his/0 nrnal intime. As long as he can hold his pen, and while he has a moment of solitude, he collects himself before this echo of himself, and converses with his God.
" Nevertheless there is not here a moral examination, an act of contrition, a cry of help. It is only an Amen of submission ' My child, give me thy heart.'
" Renunciation and acquiescence are less difficult to me than to others, for I wish nothing. I should wish only not to suffer, but Jesus at Gethsemane believed that he might offer the same prayer : let us join as he did these words, Nevertheless not my ivill but Thine be done, and let us wait." 1
Such he was on the eve of his death. He was not any the less frank and grave all through his journal, notwithstanding its beauty, and the refinement of his language, shown in many places and grown to be habit- ual with him. In the course of the whole thirty years of his journal he feels what we are all so apt to forget, that we are all condemned to death and our execution is only postponed. And this is what causes this book to be so frank, serious, and useful.