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 wanting. 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. 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 lectures. 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 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. 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 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 world.
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. 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.
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? It is another aspect of the same idiosyncrasy.
Confidence and spontaneity of life are drifting out of my reach, and this is why I can no longer act. What I lack is character, will, individuality. And yet the literary instinct remains, and must in some way be satisfied. 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 , a year after 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.
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. Scherer, who did not, however, pretend to give it any very cordial reception. 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? But it is clear also that the Journal was not, in any sense, written for publication. 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.
It will be useful to nobody, and even for myself—it has rather helped me to shirk life than to practice it. 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! 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.
Eugene Rambert toward , for the improvement of secondary education throughout French-speaking Switzerland.
Adam : Seigneur, sa peau est si douce. Mais dis moi, tu va faire quoi pour vos 50 ans de mariage? Ships from the UK. Malice among the evil is not restrained; You will not be excused for your part. Add a Review Maybe Later. And I would have liked you to be at my side all those mornings to show you these unparalleled skies, for you who love nature and life so dearly and have such a gift to describe and depict it in your verses. Le lendemain matin prendre un Alkaseltrer manger la dinde froide avec de la mayonnaise et nettoyer le bordel que vous avez mis dans la cuisine.
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 vitality. 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. There are poems addressed to De Vigny and Gautier in his first published volume of 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.
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. Others who knew him better and longer than I say the same.
The mobility of his disposition counteracted his tendency to exaggerations of feeling. 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.
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. 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:. The last stanza is especially poor, and in none of them is there much poetical promise. 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. 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.
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. But whether biography or correspondence is ever forthcoming or not, the Journal remains—and the Journal is the important matter.
Scherer says, will rank among the curiosities of literary history?