Amiel’s Journal Intime – a slow read amply rewarded

Henri Frédéric Amiel
Henri Frédéric Amiel

When Amy started reading Amiel’s Journal Intime, I had my doubts. What could a 19th century Swiss philosopher have to say to a 21st century reader? Plenty, as it turns out.

Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821-81) taught aesthetics and philosophy at the University of Geneva. He never married, and his not having found a wife remained a lifelong regret. Still, he found happiness in communing with nature, in an unquenchable thirst for learning, and a faith in God strong enough to ask tough questions.

The Journal Intime was a multi-volume work originally penned in French and compiled over several decades. Thankfully, it didn’t take several decades for me to read it, but it did take several months! Unlike a John Grisham page-turner that you can devour in a few hours, Amiel’s writing is like a savoury meal best digested slowly and in small portions. Here are a few quotes that I hope will whet your appetite to download this free book on your own Kindle.

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The power of example

“Like alone acts upon like. Therefore do not amend by reasoning, but by example; approach feeling by feeling; do not hope to excite love except by love. Be what you wish others to become. Let yourself and not your words preach for you.” – April 7, 1851

“Be careful of your reputation, not through vanity, but that you may not harm your life’s work, and out of love for truth.” – March 3, 1852

“Every life is a profession of faith, and exercises an inevitable and silent propaganda. As far as lies in its power, it tends to transform the universe and humanity into its own image. Thus we all have a cure of souls.” – May 2, 1852

“An evil example is a spiritual poison: it is the proclamation of a sacrilegious faith, of an impure God. Sin would be only an evil for him who commits it, were it not a crime toward the weak brethren, whom it corrupts.” – May 2, 1852

The danger of materialism

“Materialism is the auxiliary doctrine of every tyranny, whether of the one or of the masses. To crush what is spiritual, moral, human so to speak, in man, by specializing him; to form more wheels of the great social machine, instead of perfect individuals; to make society and not conscience the center of life, to enslave the soul to things, to de-personalize man, this is the dominant drift of our epoch.” – June 17, 1852

A proper view of God

“To believe in a good and fatherly God, who educates us, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, who punishes only when he must, and takes away only with regret; this thought, or rather this conviction, gives courage and security.” – September 27, 1852

Self-control

“I am capable of all the passions, for I bear them all within me. Like a tamer of wild beasts, I keep them caged and lassoed, but I sometimes hear them growling. I have stifled more than one nascent love. Why? Because with that prophetic certainty which belongs to moral intuition, I felt it lacking in true life, and less durable than myself. I choked it down in the name of the supreme affection to come.” – November 6, 1852

Falsity

“An error is the more dangerous in proportion to the degree of truth which it contains.” – December 26, 1852

Don’t lose your cool

“The child who can rouse in us anger, or impatience, or excitement, feels himself stronger than we, and a child only respects strength.” – January 6, 1853

The value of rest

“To sleep is to strain and purify our emotions, to deposit the mud of life, to calm the fever of the soul, to return into the bosom of maternal nature, thence to re-issue, healed and strong. Sleep is a sort of innocence and purification. Blessed be He who gave it to the poor sons of men as the sure and faithful companion of life, our daily healer and consoler.” – March 20, 1853

Know yourself

“Give up, then, this trying to know all, to embrace all. Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite thing, and some definite work; dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not, and to believe in your own individuality.” – September 4, 1855

Rootlessness

“I am indeed always the same; the being who wanders when he need not, the voluntary exile, the eternal traveler, the man incapable of repose, who, driven on by an inward voice, builds nowhere, buys and labors nowhere, but passes, looks, camps, and goes.” – July 3, 1856

Indecisiveness

“The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.” – December 17, 1856

Guilty conscience

“We are never more discontented with others than when we are discontented with ourselves. The consciousness of wrong-doing makes us irritable, and our heart in its cunning quarrels with what is outside it, in order that it may deafen the clamor within.” – September 24, 1857

Holiness and sin

“Sanctification implies perpetual martyrdom, but it is a martyrdom which glorifies. A crown of thorns is the sad eternal symbol of the life of the saints. The best measure of the profundity of any religious doctrine is given by its conception of sin and the cure of sin.” – December 13, 1858

Die unto sin! This great saying of Christianity remains still the highest theoretical solution of the inner life. Only in it is there any peace of conscience; and without this peace there is no peace…” – July 17, 1859

“The free being who abandons the conduct of himself, yields himself to Satan; in the moral world there is no ground without a master, and the waste lands belong to the Evil One.” – May 27, 1860

Pointless preaching

“I am oppressed by a feeling of inappropriateness and malaise at the sight of philosophy in the pulpit. ‘They have taken away my Saviour, and I know not where they have laid him’; so the simple folk have a right to say, and I repeat it with them.” – May 27, 1860

Prayer

“Prayer is the essential weapon of all religions. He who can no longer pray because he doubts whether there is a being to whom prayer ascends and from who blessing descends, he indeed is cruelly solitary and prodigiously impoverished.” – November 25, 1863

Contentment

“It is best to limit one’s self to what is strictly necessary, to live austerely and by rule, to content oneself with a little, and to attach no value to anything but peace of conscience and a sense of duty done.” – January 29, 1866

Eternal life

“The eternal life is not the future life; it is life in harmony with the true order of things – life in God.” – December 4, 1863

Religion as enduring

“Doubt is the accomplice of tyranny. ‘If a people will not believe it must obey,’ said Tocqueville. All liberty implies dependence, and has it conditions; this is what negative and quarrelsome minds are apt to forget. They think they can do away with religion; they do not know that religion is indestructible, and that the question is simply, Which will you have?”

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I hope that you’ve enjoyed this smattering of quotes. They make you think, don’t they? May God raise up a new generation of deep, faithful thinkers, like Henri Frédéric Amiel.

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Photo credit: Britannica

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