Henri-Frédéric Amiel

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Ten clever men are not worth one man of talent, nor ten men of talent worth one man of genius. And in the individual, feeling is more than cleverness, reason is worth as much as feeling, and conscience has it over reason. … Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (27 September 182111 May 1881) was a Swiss philosopher, mystic, poet and critic.


  • "There is a great affinity in me with the Hindu genius - that mind, vast, imaginative, loving, dreamy and speculative, but destitute of ambition, personality and will. Pantheistic disinterestedness, the effacement of the self in the great whole, womanish gentleness, a horror of slaughter, antipathy to action - these are all present in my nature, in the nature at least which has been developed by years and circumstances. Still the West has also its part in me. What I have found difficult to keep up a prejudice in favor of my form, nationality or individuality whatever. Hence my indifference to my own person, my own usefulness, interest or opinions of the moment. What does it all matter? It is not perhaps not a bad thing,' he says, 'that in the midst of the devouring activities of the Western world there should be a few Brahmanical souls."
    • Amie1, Henri Frederic Amie! s journal: The Journal intime of Henri-Frederic Amie! p. 159 161,224. and 269. quoted in Londhe, S. (2008). A tribute to Hinduism: Thoughts and wisdom spanning continents and time about India and her culture. New Delhi: Pragun Publication.

Journal Intime (1882)

There is nothing non-exclusive but the All; my end is communion with Being through the whole of Being.
The Journal Intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel as translated by Mary Augusta Ward
To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life.

Quotes used in the Introduction by Ward

  • Ought I not to have been more careful to win the good opinion of others, more determined to conquer their hostility or indifference? It would have been a joy to me to be smiled upon, loved, encouraged, welcomed, and to obtain what I was so ready to give, kindness and goodwill. But to hunt down consideration and reputation — to force the esteem of others — seemed to me an effort unworthy of myself, almost a degradation. A struggle with unfavorable opinion has seemed to me beneath me, for all the while my heart has been full of sadness and disappointment, and I have known and felt that I have been systematically and deliberately isolated. Untimely despair and the deepest discouragement have been my constant portion. Incapable of taking any interest in my talents for their own sake, I let everything slip as soon as the hope of being loved for them and by them had forsaken me. A hermit against my will, I have not even found peace in solitude, because my inmost conscience has not been any better satisfied than my heart.
  • [There still remains the question whether] he who discovers a new world in the depths of the invisible would not do wisely to plant on it a flag known to himself alone, and, like Achilles, "devour his heart in secret;" whether the greatest problems which have ever been guessed on earth had not better have remained buried in the brain which had found the key to them, and whether the deepest thinkers — those whose hand has been boldest in drawing aside the veil, and their eye keenest in fathoming the mysteries beyond it — had not better, like the prophetess of Ilion, have kept for heaven, and heaven only, secrets and mysteries which human tongue cannot truly express, nor human intelligence conceive.
    • Review of L'Art Chrétien by Alexis-François Rio in the Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève. (1842)
  • There is no repose for the mind except in the absolute; for feeling except in the infinite; for the soul except in the divine. Nothing finite is true, is interesting, is worthy to fix my attention. All that is particular is exclusive, and all that is exclusive repels me. There is nothing non-exclusive but the All; my end is communion with Being through the whole of Being.
  • I can find no words for what I feel. My consciousness is withdrawn into itself; I hear my heart beating, and my life passing. It seems to me that I have become a statue on the banks of the river of time, that I am the spectator of some mystery, and shall issue from it old, or no longer capable of age.
  • I am a spectator, so to speak, of the molecular whirlwind which men call individual life; I am conscious of an incessant metamorphosis, an irresistible movement of existence, which is going on within me — and this phenomenology of myself serves as a window opened upon the mystery of the world. I am, or rather my sensible consciousness is, concentrated upon this ideal standing-point, this invisible threshold, as it were, whence one hears the impetuous passage of time, rushing and foaming as it flows out into the changeless ocean of eternity. After all the bewildering distractions of life — after having drowned myself in a multiplicity of trifles and in the caprices of this fugitive existence, yet without ever attaining to self-intoxication or self-delusion — I come again upon the fathomless abyss, the silent and melancholy cavern, where dwell 'Die Mütter,' where sleeps that which neither lives nor dies, which has neither movement nor change, nor extension, nor form, and which lasts when all else passes away.

Journal entries

  • Uncertainty is the refuge of hope. — Amiel's journal; the Journal intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel 1890 (p.368) [1]
  • There is but one thing needful — to possess 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, as a usufruct…. To worship, to comprehend, to receive, to feel, to give, to act: this our law, our duty, our happiness, our heaven.
    • 16 July 1848
    • Only one thing is necessary: to possess God — All the senses, all the forces of the soul and of the spirit, all the exterior resources are so many open outlets to the Divinity; so many ways of tasting and of adoring God. We should be able to detach ourselves from all that is perishable and cling absolutely to the eternal and the absolute and enjoy the all else as a loan, as a usufruct…. To worship, to comprehend, to receive, to feel, to give, to act: this our law, our duty, our happiness, our heaven.
      • As translated in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • 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 canst 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 resignation. Every life has its potentiality of greatness, and as it is impossible to be outside God, the best is consciously to dwell in Him.
    • 16 July 1848
  • It gives liberty and breadth to thought, to learn to judge our own epoch from the point of view of universal history, history from the point of view of geological periods, geology from the point of view of astronomy.
    • 20 July 1848
  • At bottom there is but one subject of study: the forms and metamorphoses of mind. All other subjects may be reduced to that; all other studies bring us back to this study.
    • 20 July 1848
  • I have never felt any inward assurance of genius, or any presentiment of glory or of happiness. I have never seen myself in imagination great or famous, or even a husband, a father, an influential citizen. This indifference to the future, this absolute self-distrust, are, no doubt, to be taken as signs. What dreams I have are all vague and indefinite; I ought not to live, for I am now scarcely capable of living.
    • 3 May 1849
  • Put personal ambition away from you, and then you will find consolation in living or in dying, whatever may happen to you.
    • 3 May 1849
  • To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life. It is the secret of that sad and melancholy smile on the lips of great men which so few understand; it is the cruelest trial reserved for self-devotion; it is what must have oftenest wrung the heart of the Son of man; and if God could suffer, it would be the wound we should be forever inflicting upon Him. He also — He above all — is the great misunderstood, the least comprehended.
    • 27 May 1849
  • Redemption, eternal life, divinity, humanity, propitiation, incarnation, judgment, Satan, heaven and hell — all these beliefs have been so materialized and coarsened, that with a strange irony they present to us the spectacle of things having a profound meaning and yet carnally interpreted. Christian boldness and Christian liberty must be reconquered; it is the church which is heretical, the church whose sight is troubled and her heart timid. Whether we will or no, there is an esoteric doctrine, there is a relative revelation; each man enters into God so much as God enters into him, or as Angelus, I think, said, "the eye by which I see God is the same eye by which He sees me."
  • Christianity, if it is to triumph over pantheism, must absorb it. To our pusillanimous eyes Jesus would have borne the marks of a hateful pantheism, for he confirmed the Biblical phrase "ye are gods," and so would St. Paul, who tells us that we are of "the race of God." Our century wants a new theology — that is to say, a more profound explanation of the nature of Christ and of the light which it flashes upon heaven and upon humanity.
    • 1 October 1849
  • 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 no serious piety without heroism. Heroism is the dazzling and glorious concentration of courage.
    • 1 October 1849
  • The relation of thought to action filled my mind on waking, and I found myself carried toward a bizarre formula, which seems to have something of the night still clinging about it: Action is but coarsened thought; thought become concrete, obscure, and unconscious. It seemed to me that our most trifling actions, of eating, walking, and sleeping, were the condensation of a multitude of truths and thoughts, and that the wealth of ideas involved was in direct proportion to the commonness of the action (as our dreams are the more active, the deeper our sleep). We are hemmed round with mystery, and the greatest mysteries are contained in what we see and do every day. In all spontaneity the work of creation is reproduced in analogy. When the spontaneity is unconscious, you have simple action; when it is conscious, intelligent and moral action.
    • 30 December 1850
  • Everything which is, is thought, but not conscious and individual thought. The human intelligence is but the consciousness of being. It is what I have formulated before: Everything is a symbol of a symbol, and a symbol of what? of mind.
    • 30 December 1850
  • Each bud flowers but once and each flower has but its minute of perfect beauty; so, in the garden of the soul each feeling has, as it were, its flowering instant, its one and only moment of expansive grace and radiant kingship. Each star passes but once in the night through the meridian over our heads and shines there but an instant; so, in the heaven of the mind each thought touches its zenith but once, and in that moment all its brilliancy and all its greatness culminate. Artist, poet, or thinker, if you want to fix and immortalize your ideas or your feelings, seize them at this precise and fleeting moment, for it is their highest point. Before it, you have but vague outlines or dim presentiments of them. After it you will have only weakened reminiscence or powerless regret; that moment is the moment of your ideal.
    • 30 December 1850
  • Spite is anger which is afraid to show itself, it is an impotent fury conscious of its impotence. (30 December 1850)
  • To repel one's cross is to make it heavier.
    • Variant translation: To shun one's cross is to make it heavier.
  • In the conduct of life, habits count for more than maxims, because habit is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct. To reform one's maxims is nothing: it is but to change the title of the book. To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits.
  • Whenever conscience speaks with a divided, uncertain, and disputed voice, it is not yet the voice of God. Descend still deeper into yourself, until you hear nothing but a clear and undivided voice, a voice which does away with doubt and brings with it persuasion, light and serenity.
    • 6 April 1851
  • My privilege is to be spectator of my life drama, to be fully conscious of the tragi-comedy of my own destiny, and, more than that, to be in the secret of the tragi-comic itself, that is to say, to be unable to take my illusions seriously, to see myself, so to speak, from the theater on the stage, or to be like a man looking from beyond the tomb into existence. I feel myself forced to feign a particular interest in my individual part, while all the time I am living in the confidence of the poet who is playing with all these agents which seem so important, and knows all that they are ignorant of. It is a strange position, and one which becomes painful as soon as grief obliges me to betake myself once more to my own little rôle, binding me closely to it, and warning me that I am going too far in imagining myself, because of my conversations with the poet, dispensed from taking up again my modest part of valet in the piece. Shakespeare must have experienced this feeling often, and Hamlet, I think, must express it somewhere. It is a Doppelgängerei, quite German in character, and which explains the disgust with reality and the repugnance to public life, so common among the thinkers of Germany. There is, as it were, a degradation a gnostic fall, in thus folding one's wings and going back again into the vulgar shell of one's own individuality. Without grief, which is the string of this venturesome kite, man would soar too quickly and too high, and the chosen souls would be lost for the race, like balloons which, save for gravitation, would never return from the empyrean.
    • 8 November 1852
  • We must learn to look upon life as an apprenticeship to progressive renunciation, a perpetual diminution in our pretensions, our hopes, our powers, and our liberty.
    • 22 October 1856
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 27 October 1856
  • Liberty, equality — bad principles! The only true principle for humanity is justice; and justice to the feeble becomes necessarily protection or kindness.
    • Undated entry of December 1863 or early 1864, as translated by Mrs. Humphry Ward (1893), p. 215
  • The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings.
    • 21 January 1866
  • The spirit of sarcasm lives and thrives in the midst of universal wreck; its balls are enchanted and itself invulnerable, and it braves retaliations and reprisals because itself is a mere flash, a bodiless and magical nothing.
    • 16 February 1868
  • Clever men will recognize and tolerate nothing but cleverness; every authority rouses their ridicule, every superstition amuses them, every convention moves them to contradiction. Only force finds favor in their eyes, and they have no toleration for anything that is not purely natural and spontaneous. And yet ten clever men are not worth one man of talent, nor ten men of talent worth one man of genius. And in the individual, feeling is more than cleverness, reason is worth as much as feeling, and conscience has it over reason. If, then, the clever man is not mockable, he may at least be neither loved, nor considered, nor esteemed. He may make himself feared, it is true, and force others to respect his independence; but this negative advantage, which is the result of a negative superiority, brings no happiness with it. Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing.
    • 16 February 1868
  • Action limits us; whereas in the state of contemplation we are endlessly expansive. Will localizes us; thought universalizes us. My soul wavers between half a dozen antagonistic general conceptions, because it is responsive to all the great instincts of human nature, and its aspiration is to the absolute, which is only to be reached through a succession of contraries. It has taken me a great deal of time to understand myself, and I frequently find myself beginning over again the study of the oft-solved problem, so difficult is it for us to maintain any fixed point within us. I love everything, and detest one thing only — the hopeless imprisonment of my being within a single arbitrary form, even were it chosen by myself. Liberty for the inner man is then the strongest of my passions — perhaps my only passion. Is such a passion lawful? It has been my habit to think so, but intermittently, by fits and starts. I am not perfectly sure of it.
    • 8 March 1868
    • The will localizes us, thought universalizes us. My soul wavers between two, four, six general and contradictory conceptions, for it obeys all the great instincts of human nature, and aspires to the absolute, which can only be realized by a succession of contraries.
      • As translated in The Private Journal of Henri Frédéric Amiel (1935), p. 238
  • Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!
  • My mind has been a tumult of opposing systems, — Stoicism, Quietism, Buddhism, Christianity. Shall I never be at peace with myself? If impersonality is a good, why am I not consistent in the pursuit of it? and if it is a temptation, why return to it, after having judged and conquered it?
    Is happiness anything more than a conventional fiction? The deepest reason for my state of doubt is that the supreme end and aim of life seems to me a mere lure and deception. The individual is an eternal dupe, who never obtains what he seeks, and who is forever deceived by hope. My instinct is in harmony with the pessimism of Buddha and of Schopenhauer. It is a doubt which never leaves me, even in my moments of religious fervor. Nature is indeed for me a Mala; and I look at her, as it were, with the eyes of an artist. My intelligence remains skeptical. What, then, do I believe in? I do not know. And what is it I hope for? It would be difficult to say. Folly! I believe in goodness, and I hope that good will prevail. Deep within this ironical and disappointed being of mine there is a child hidden — a frank, sad, simple creature, who believes in the ideal, in love, in holiness, and all heavenly superstitions. A whole millennium of idyls sleeps in my heart; I am a pseudo-skeptic, a pseudo-scoffer.
    • 31 August 1869
  • This morning the music of a brass band which had stopped under my windows moved me almost to tears. It exercised an indefinable, nostalgic power over me; it set me dreaming of another world, of infinite passion and supreme happiness. Such impressions are the echoes of Paradise in the soul; memories of ideal spheres whose sad sweetness ravishes and intoxicates the heart. O Plato! O Pythagoras! ages ago you heard these harmonies, surprised these moments of inward ecstasy, — knew these divine transports! If music thus carries us to heaven, it is because music is harmony, harmony is perfection, perfection is our dream, and our dream is heaven.
    • 17 March 1870
  • Society lives by faith, develops by reason.
    • 7 May 1870
  • The efficacy of religion lies precisely in what is not rational, philosophic or eternal; its efficacy lies in the unforeseen, the miraculous, the extraordinary. Thus religion attracts more devotion according as it demands more faith,—that is to say, as it becomes more incredible to the profane mind. The philosopher aspires to explain away all mysteries, to dissolve them into light. Mystery on the other hand is demanded and pursued by the religious instinct; mystery constitutes the essence of worship, the power of proselytism. When the "cross" became the "foolishness" of the cross, it took possession of the masses.
    • 5 June 1870
  • If ignorance and passion are the foes of popular morality, it must be confessed that moral indifference is the malady of the cultivated classes. The modern separation of enlightenment and virtue, of thought and conscience, of the intellectual aristocracy from the honest and common crowd is the greatest danger that can threaten liberty.
    • 25 October 1870
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