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Scott Lincoln "Omar" Davis

Chapter XII

Amiel's Journal

The Journal Intimne of Henri Frederic Amiel

Translated, by Mrs Humphrey Ward

A.L. Burt Company

Extracts from a translated version of Henri Frederic Amiel's "Journal Intime." - Copy Rec'd from mother in Spring 1999.  For some reason the following passages strike a chord or ring a bell.---When I discover such a passage it seems to be imperative to write them down as soon as I can.  Hence this page. - SLD


July 16, 1848. - There is but one thing needful - to posses 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 can 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 as it is impossible to be outside God, the best is consciously to dwell in Him.

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 o 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.

June 16, 1851. - This evening I walked up and down on the Point des Bergues, under a clear, moonless heaven delighting in the freshness of the water, streaked with light from the two quays, and glimmering under the twinkling stars.  Meeting all these different groups of young people, families, couples and children, who were returning to their homes, to their garrets or their drawing-rooms, singing or talking as they went, I felt a movement of sympathy for these passer-by; my eyes and ears became those of a poet or a painter; while even one's mere kindly curiosity seems to bring with it a joy in living and in seeing others live.

August 15, 1851. - To know how to be ready, a great thing, a precious gift, and one that implies calculation, grasp and decision.  To be always ready a man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied; he must know how to disengage what is essential from the detail in which it is enwrapped, for everything cannot be equally considered; in a word, he must be able to simplify his duties, his business, and his life.  To know how to be ready, is to know how to start.

It is astonishing how all of us are generally cumbered up with the thousand and one hindrances and duties which are not such, but which nevertheless wind us about with their spider threads and fetter the movement of our wings.  It is the lack of order which makes us slaves; the confusion of to-day discounts the freedom of tomorrow.

Confusion is the enemy of all comfort, and confusion is born of procrastination.  To know how to be ready we must be able to finish.  Nothing is done but what is finished.  The things which we leave dragging behind us will start up again later on before us and harass our path.  Let each day take thought for what concerns it, liquidate its own affairs and respect the day which is to follow, and then we shall be always ready.  To know how to be ready is at the bottom to know how to die.

December 2, 1851. - Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God.  Then if a bird sing among your branches, do not be too eager to tame it.  If you are conscious of something new - thought or feeling, wakening in the depths of your being - do not be in a hurry to let in light upon it, to look at it.  Let the springing germ have the protection of being forgotten, hedge it round with quiet, and do not break in upon its darkness; let it take shape and grow, and not a word of your happiness to anyone!  Sacred work of nature as it is, all conception should be enwrapped by the triple veil of modesty, silence and night.

He who is silent is forgotten; he who abstains is taken at his word; he who does not advance, falls back; he who stops is overwhelmed, distanced, crushed; he who ceases to grow greater becomes smaller; he who leaves off, gives up; the stationary condition is the beginning of the end. - It is the terrible symptom which precedes death.  To live, is to achieve a perpetual triumph.  It is to assert one's self against destruction, against sickness, against the annulling and dispersion of one's physical and moral being.  It is to will without ceasing, or rather to refresh one's will day by day.

It is not history which teaches conscience to be honest; it is the conscience which educates history.  Fact is corrupting, it is we who correct it by the persistence of our ideal.  The soul moralizes the past in order not to be demoralized by it.  Like the alchemists of the middle ages, she finds in the crucible of experience only the gold that she herself has poured into it.

March 3, 1852. - Opinion has its value and even its power; to have it against us is painful when we are among friends, and harmful in the case of the outer world.  We should neither flatter opinion nor court it; but it is better, if we can help it, not to throw it on a false scent.  The first error is meaningless; the second an imprudence.  We should be ashamed of the one; we may regret the other.  Look to yourself; you are much given to this last fault, and it has already done you great harm.  Be ready to bend your pride; abase yourself even so far as to show yourself ready and clever like others.  This world of skillful egotisms and active ambitions, this wold of men, in which one must deceive by smiles, conduct, and silence as much as by actual words, a world revolting to the proud and upright soul, it is our business to learn to live in it!  Success is required in it: succeed.  Only force is recognized there: be strong.  Opinion seeks to impose her law upon all, instead of setting her at defiance, it would be better to struggle with her and conquer . . .

April 2, 1852. - What a lovely walk!  Sky clear, sun raising, all the tints bright, all the outlines sharp, save for the soft and misty infinite of the lake.  A pinch of white frost, powdered the fields, lending a metallic relief to the hedges of green box, and to the whole landscape, still without leaves, an air of health and vigor, of youth and freshness.  "Bathe, O disciple, thy thirsty soul in the dew of dawn!" says Faust, to us, and he is right.  The morning air breathes a new and laughing energy into veins and marrow.  If every day is a repetition of life, every dawn gives signs as it were a new contract with existence.  At dawn everything is fresh, light, simple, as it is for children.  At dawn spiritual truth, like the atmosphere, is more transparent, and our organs, like the young leaves, drink in the light more eagerly, breaths in more ether, and less of things earthly.  If night and the starry sky speak to the meditative soul of God, of eternity and the infinite, the dawn is the time for projects, for resolutions, for the birth of action.  

May 2, 1852. - ...All seed-sowing is a mysterious thing, whether the seed  fall into earth or into souls.  Man is a husbandman; his whole work rightly understood is to develop life, to sow it everywhere.  Such is the mission of humanity, and of this divine mission the great instrument is speech.  We forget too often that language is both a seed-sowing and a revelation.  The influence of a word in season, is it not incalculable?  What a mystery is speech!  But we are blind to it, because we are carnal and earthy.  We see the stones and the trees by the road, the furniture of houses, all that is palpable and material.  We have no eyes for the invisible phalanxes of ideas which people the air and hover incessantly around each one of us.

April 17, 1855. - The weather is still incredibly brilliant, warm and clear.  The day is full of the singing of birds, the night is full of stars, nature has become all kindness, and it is a kindness clothed upon with splendor.

 For nearly two hours have I been lost in the contemplation of this magnificent spectacle.  I felt myself in the temple of the infinite, in the presence of the worlds, God's guest in this vast nature.  The stars wandering in the pale ether drew me far away from earth.  What peace beyond the power of words, what dews of life eternal, they shed on the adoring soul!  I felt the earth floating like a boat in this blue ocean.  Such deep and tranquil delight nourishes the whole man, it purifies and ennobles.  I surrendered myself, I was all gratitude and docility.

April 21, 1855. - I have been reading a great deal: ethnography, comparative anatomy, cosmic systems.  I have traversed the universe from the deepest depths of the empyrean to the peristaltic movements of the atoms in the elementary cell.  I have felt myself expanding in the infinite, and enfranchised in spirit from the bounds of time and space, able to trace back the whole boundless creation to a point without dimensions, and seeing the vast multitude of suns, of milky ways, of stars, and nebulae, all existent in the point.

 And on all sides stretched mysteries, marvels and prodigies, without limit, without number, and without end.  I felt the unfathomable thought of which the universe is the symbol live and burn within me.  I touched, proved, tasted, embraced my nothingness and my immensity;  I kissed the hem of the garments of God, and gave Him thanks for being Spirit and for being life.  Such moments are glimpses of the divine.  They make one conscious of one's immortality.  They bring home to one that an eternity is not too much for the study of the thoughts and works of the eternal;  they awaken in us an adoring ecstasy and the ardent humility of love.

To judge is to see clearly, to care for what is just and therefore to be impartial, more exactly, to be disinterested, more exactly still, to be impersonal.

To do easily what is difficult for others is the mark of talent.  To do what is impossible for talent is the mark of genius.

Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.

If nationality is consent, the state is compulsion.

Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us.  Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.

The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides never decides.  Accept life, and you must accept regret.

Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark.

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.

The faculty of intellectual metamorphosis is the first and indispensable faculty of the critic; without it he is not apt at understanding other minds, and ought, therefore, if he love truth, to hold his peace.  The conscientious critic must first criticize himself; what we do not understand we have not the right to judge.

June 14, 1858. - Sadness and anxiety seem to be increasing upon me.  Like cattle in a burning stable, I cling to what consumes me, to the solitary life which does me so much harm.  I let myself be devoured by inward suffering....

Yesterday, however, I struggled against this fatal tendency.  I went out into the country, and the children's caresses restored to me something of serenity and calm.  After we had dined out of doors all three sang some songs and school hymns, which were delightful to listen to.  The spring fairy had been scattering flowers over the fields with lavish hands; it was a little glimpse of paradise.  It is true, indeed, that the serpent too was not far off.  Yesterday there was a robbery close by the house, and death had visited another neighbor.  Sin and death lurk around every Eden, and sometimes within it.  Hence the tragic beauty, the melancholy poetry of human destiny.  Flowers, shade, a fine view, a sunset sky, joy, grace, feeling, abundance and serenity, tenderness and song.- here you have the element of beauty: the dangers of the present and the treacheries of the future, here is the element of pathos.  The fashion of this world passeth away.  Unless we have laid hold upon the eternity, unless we take the religious view of life, these bright, fleeting days can only be a subject for terror.  Happiness should be a prayer - and grief also.  Faith in the moral order, in the protecting fatherhood  of God, appeared to me in all its serious sweetness.

Every real need is stilled, and every vice is stimulated by satisfaction.

Obstinacy is will asserting itself without being able to justify itself.  It is persistence without a plausible motive.  It is the tenacity of self-love substituted for the tenacity of reason or conscience.

It is not what he has, nor even what he does, which directly expresses the worth of a man, but what he is.

To Be Continued...SLD

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