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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.


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

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