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authority of genius,-moments of irresistible intuition in which a man feels himself great as the universe and calm like God!... What hours, what memories!
And now for Obermann's turn, Obermann by the Lake of Bienne.
My path lay beside the green waters of the Thiele. Feeling inclined to muse, and finding the night so warm that there was no hard. ship in being all night out of doors, I took the road to Saint Blaise. I descended a steep where its ripple came up and expired. The bank, and got upon the shore of the lake air was calm; every one was at rest; I remained there for hours. Towards morning, the moon shed over the earth and waters the ineffable melancholy of her last gleams. Nature seems unspeakably grand, when, plunged in a long reverie, one hears the rippling of the waters upon a solitary strand, in the calm of a night still enkindled and luminous with the setting moon.
disappointed his friends, who expected much from his acquirements, talents, and vivacity; and that his fame rests upon two volumes of extracts from many thousand pages of a private journal, "Journal Intime," extending over more than thirty years, from 1848 to 1881, which he left behind him at his death. This journal explains his sterility; and displays in explaining it, say his critics, such sincerity, with such gifts of expression and eloquence, of profound analysis and speculative intuition, as to make it most surely 66 one of those books which will not die." The sincerity is unquestionable. As to the gifts of eloquence and expression, what are we to say? M. Scherer speaks of an 66 ever new eloquence "pouring itself in the pages of the journal; M. Paul Bourget, of "marvellous pages "where the feeling for nature finds an expression worthy of Shelley or Wordsworth; Mrs. Humphry Ward, of "magic of style," of "glow torment of our vain years; vast consciousness Sensibility beyond utterance, charm and and splendor of expression," of the "poet of a nature everywhere greater than we are, and artist" who fascinates us in Amiel's and everywhere impenetrable; all-embracing prose. I cannot quite agree. Obermann passion, ripened wisdom, delicious self-abanhas been mentioned; it seems to me that donment-everything that a mortal heart can we have only to place a passage from Sé- contain of life-weariness and yearning, I felt nancour beside a passage from Amiel, to it all, I experienced it all, in this memorable perceive the difference between a feeling night. I have made a grave step towards the for nature which gives magic to style and age of decline, I have swallowed up ten years one which does not. of life at once. Happy the simple, whose Here and through-heart is always young! out I am to use as far as possible Mrs. Humphry Ward's translation, at once No translation can render adequately spirited and faithful, of Amiel's journal. I the cadence of diction, the "dying fall" will take a passage where Amiel has evi- of reveries like those of Sénancour or dently some reminiscence of Sénancour Rousseau. But even in a translation we (whose work he knew well), is inspired by must surely perceive that the magic of Sénancour a passage which has been style is with Sénancour's feeling for naextolled by M. Paul Bourget. ture, not Amiel's; and in the original this is far more manifest still.
Shall I ever enjoy again those marvellous reveries of past days, as for instance, once, when I was still quite a youth in the early dawn sitting amongst the ruins of the castle of Faucigny; another time in the mountains above Lancy, under the midday sun, lying under a tree and visited by three butterflies; and again another night on the sandy shore of the North Sea, stretched full length upon the beach, my eyes wandering over the Milky Way? Will they ever return to me, those grandiose, immortal, cosmogonic dreams in which one seems to carry the world in one's breast, to touch the stars, to possess the infinite? Divine moments, hours of ecstasy, when thought flies from world to world, pene trates the great enigma, breathes with a respiration large, tranquil, and profound like that of the ocean, and hovers serene and boundless
like the blue heaven! Visits from the Muse
Urania, who traces around the foreheads of those she loves the phosphorescent nimbus of contemplative power, and who pours into their hearts the tranquil intoxication, if not the
Magic of style is creative; its pos sessor himself creates, and he inspires and enables his reader in some sort to create after him. And creation gives the sense of life and joy; hence its extraordinary value. But eloquence may exist without magic of style, and this eloquence, accom panying thoughts of rare worth and depth, may heighten their effect greatly. And M. Scherer says that Amiel's speculative philosophy is "on a far other scale of vastness "than Sénancour's, and therefore he gives the preference to the eloquence of Amiel, which clothes and conveys this vaster philosophy. Amiel was no doubt greatly Sénancour's superior in culture and instruction generally; in philosophical reading and what is called philosophical thought he was immensely his superior. My sense for philosophy, I know, is as far from satisfying Mr. Fred
eric Harrison as my sense for Hugo's did practically rule, in a great degree, poetry is from satisfying Mr. Swinburne. Amiel's life, which he often develops not But I am too old to change and too hard-only with great subtlety, but also with ened to hide what I think; and when I force, clearness, and eloquence, making it am presented with philosophical specula- both easy and interesting to us to follow tions and told that they are "on a high him. But still, when we have the ideas scale of vastness," I persist in looking present before us, I shall ask what is closely at them and in honestly asking their value, what does Amiel obtain in myself what I find to be their positive them for the service of either himself or value. And we get from Amiel's powers other people? of "speculative intuition things like
Is not mind the universal virtuality, the universe latent? If so, its zero would be the germ of the infinite, which is expressed mathematically by the double zero (oo).
Or, to let our philosopher develop himself at more length, let us take this return to the zero, which Mrs. Humphry Ward prefers here to render by nothingness :
This psychological reinvolution is an anticipation of death; it represents the life beyond the grave, the return to Scheol, the soul fading into the world of ghosts or descending into the region of die Mütter; it implies the simplification of the individual who, allowing all the accidents of personality to evaporate, exists henceforward only in the invisible state, the state of point, of potentiality, of pregnant nothingness. Is,not this the true definition of mind? is not mind, dissociated from space and time, just this? Its development, past or future, is contained in it just as a curve is contained in its algebraical formula. This nothing is an all. This punctum without dimensions is a punctum saliens.
French critics throw up their hands in dismay at the violence which the Germanized Amiel, propounding his speculative philosophy, often does to the French language. My objection is rather that such speculative philosophy as that of which I have been quoting specimens has no value, is perfectly futile. And Amiel's journal contains far too much of it.
What is futile we may throw aside; but when Amiel tells us of his "protean nature essentially metamorphosable, polarisable, and virtual," when he tells us of his longing for "totality," we must listen, although these phrases may in France, as M. Paul Bourget says, "raise a shudder in a humanist trained on Livy and Pascal." But these phrases stood for ideas which
Let us take first what, adopting his own phrase, we may call his "bedazzlement with the infinite," his thirst for "totality.” has the gift and the bent for making his Omnis determinatio est negatio. Amiel soul "the capacity for all form, not a soul but the soul." He finds it easier and more natural "to be man than a man.” His permanent instinct is to be "a subtle and fugitive spirit which no base can absorb or fix entirely." It costs him an effort to affirm his own personality; "the infinite draws me to it, the henosis of Plotinus intoxicates me like a philtre."
It intoxicates him until the thought of absorption and extinction, the nirvana of Buddhism, becomes his thought of refuge.
The individual life is a nothing ignorant of itself, and as soon as this nothing knows itself individual life is abolished in principle. For as soon as the illusion vanishes, nothingness resumes its eternal sway, the suffering of life have for this enfranchised individuality ceased is over, error has disappeared, time and form to be; the colored air-bubble has burst in the infinite space, and the misery of thought has sunk to rest in the changeless repose of allembracing nothing.
With this bedazement with the infinite and this drift towards Buddhism comes the impatience with all production, with even poetry and art themselves, because of their necessary limits and imperfection.
Composition demands a concentration, decision, and pliancy which I no longer possess. I cannot fuse together materials and ideas. If we are to give anything a form we must, so to speak, be the tyrants of it. We must treat our subject brutally and not be always trembling lest we should be doing it a wrong. We must be able to transmute and absorb it into our own substance. This sort of confident effrontery is beyond me; my whole nature tends to that impersonality which respects and truth which holds me back from concluding subordinates itself to the object; it is love of and deciding.
The desire for the all, the impatience with what is partial and limited, the fascination of the infinite, are the topics of page after page in the journal. It is a
prosaic mind which has never been in your natural tendency," he says to himself, contact with ideas of this sort, never felt". you arrive at disgust with life, despair, their charm. They lend themselves well pessimism." And again: "Melancholy to poetry, but what are we to say of their value as ideas to be lived with, dilated on, made the governing ideas of life? cept for use in passing, and with the power to dismiss them again, they are unprofitable. Shelley's
outlook on all sides. Disgust with my self." And again: "I cannot deceive Ex-myself as to the fate in store for me: increasing isolation, inward disappointment, enduring regrets, a melancholy neither to be consoled nor confessed, a mournful old age, a slow agony, a death in the desert." And all this misery by his own fault, his own mistakes. "To live is to conquer incessantly; one must have the courage to be happy. I turn in a vicious circle; I have never had clear sight of my true vocation."
Life like a dome of many-colored glass Stains the white radiance of eternity Until death tramples it to fragments has value as a splendid image nobly introduced in a beautiful and impassioned poem. But Amiel's "colored air-bubble," as a positive piece of "speculative intuiI cannot therefore fall in with that partion," has no value whatever. Nay, the ticular line of admiration which critics, thoughts which have positive truth and praising Amiel's journal, have commonly value, the thoughts to be lived with and followed. I cannot join in celebrating his dwelt upon, the thoughts which are a real prodigies of speculative intuition, the glow acquisition for our minds, are precisely and splendor of his beatific vision of absothoughts which counteract the "vague as-lute knowledge, the marvellous pages in piration and indeterminate desire pos- which his deep and vast philosophic sessing Amiel and filling his journal; they thought is laid bare, the secret of his subare thoughts insisting on the need of limit, lime malady is expressed. I hesitate to the feasibility of performance. Goethe admit that all this part of the journal has says admirably: — even a very profound psychological interest; its interest is rather pathological. In reading it we are not so much pursuing a study of psychology as a study of morbid pathology.
Wer grosses will muss sich zusammenraffen:
"He who will do great things must pull himself together: it is in working within limits that the master comes out." Buffon says not less admirably :—
Tout sujet est un; et quelque vaste qu'il soit, il peut être renfermé dans un seul dis
Every subject is one; and however vast it may be, is capable of being contained in a single discourse." The ideas to live with, the ideas of sterling value to us, are, I repeat, ideas of this kind; ideas staunchly counteracting and reducing the power of the infinite and indeterminate, not paralyzing us with it.
And indeed we have not to go beyond Amiel himself for proof of this. Amiel was paralyzed by living in these ideas of vague aspiration and indeterminate desire," of "confounding his personal life in the general life," by feeding on these ideas, treating them as august and precious, and filling hundreds of pages of journal with them. He was paralyzed by it, he became impotent and miserable. And he knew it, and tells us of it himself with a power of analysis and with a sad eloquence which to me are much more interesting and valuable than his philosophy of Maïa and the great wheel. "By
But the journal reveals a side in Amiel which his critics, so far as I have seen, have hardly noticed, a side of real power, originality, and value. He says himself that he never had clear sight of his true vocation; well, his true vocation, it seems to me, was that of a literary critic. Here he is admiraable; M. Scherer was a true friend when he offered to introduce him to an editor, and suggested an article on Uhland. There is hardly a literary criticism in these two volumes which is not masterly, and which does not make one desire more of the same kind. And not Amiel's literary criticism only, but his criticism of society, politics, national character, religion, is in general well-informed, just, and penetrat ing in an eminent degree. Any one single page of this criticism is worth, in my opinion, a hundred of Amiel's pages about the infinite illusion and the great wheel. It is to this side in Amiel that I desire now to draw attention. I would have abstained from writing about him if I had only to disparage and to find fault, only to say that he had been overpraised, and that his dealings with Maïa seemed to me profitable neither for himself nor for others.
Let me first take Amiel as a critic of
literature, and of the literature which he naturally knew best, French literature. Hear him as critic on that best of critics, Sainte-Beuve, of whose death (1869) he had just heard.
The fact is, Sainte-Beuve leaves a greater void behind him than either Béranger or Lamartine; their greatness was already distant, historical; he was still helping us to think. The true critic supplies all the world with a basis. He represents the public judgment, that is to say, the public reason, the touchstone, the scales, the crucible, which tests the value of each man and the merit of each work. Infallibility of judgment is perhaps rarer than anything else, so fine a balance of qualities does it demand-qualities both natural and acquired, qualities of both mind and heart. What years of labor, what study and comparison, are needed to bring the critical judgment to maturity! Like Plato's sage, it is only at fifty that the critic is risen to the true height of his literary priesthood, or, to put it less pompously, of his social function. Not till then has he compassed all modes of being, and made every shade of appreciation his own. And Sainte-Beuve joined to this infinitely refined culture a prodigious memory and an incredible multitude of facts and anecdotes stored up for the service of his thought.
The criticism is so sound, so admirably put, and so charming that one wishes Sainte-Beuve could have read it himself. Try Amiel next on the touchstone afforded by that "half genius, half charlatan," Victor Hugo.
fortune that the most powerful poet of France should not have better understood his role, and that, unlike the Hebrew prophets who chastised because they loved, he flatters his fellow-citizens from system and from pride. France is the world, Paris is France, Hugo is Paris. Bow down and worship, ye nations!
Finally, we will hear Amiel on a consummate and supreme French classic, as perfect as Hugo is flawed, La Fontaine.
and remarked his omissions.
history dates from Louis XIV. His geog
One cannot say
I have been again looking through Victor Compare his "Woodcutter and Death" Hugo's "Paris" (1867). For ten years event with Boileau's, and you can measure the proafter event has given the lie to the prophet, but digious difference between the artist and the the confidence of the prophet in his own imag- critic who wanted to teach him better. La inings is not therefore a whit diminished. Hu- Fontaine brings visibly before you the poor mility and common sense are only fit for Lilli- peasant under the monarchy, Boileau but putians. Victor Hugo superbly ignores every-exhibits a drudge sweating under his load. thing which he has not foreseen. He does The first is a historic witness, the second a not know that pride limits the mind, and that school-versifier. La Fontaine enables you to a limitless pride is a littleness of soul. If reconstruct the whole society of his age; the he could but learn to rank himself with pleasant old soul from Champagne, with his other men and France with other nations, he animals, turns out to be the one and only would see things more truly, and would Homer of France. not fall into his insane exaggerations, his extravagant oracles. But proportion and justness his chords will never know. He is vowed to the Titanic; his gold is always mixed with lead, his insight with childishness, his reason with madness. He cannot be simple; like the blaze of a house on fire, his light is blinding. In short, he astonishes but provokes, he stirs but annoys. His note is always half or two-thirds false, and that is why he perpetually makes us feel uncomfortable. The great poet in him cannot get clear of the charlatan. A few pricks of Voltaire's irony would have made the inflation of this genius collapse, and rendered him stronger by rendering him saner. It is a public mis
His weak side is his epicureanism, with its tinge of grossness. This, no doubt, was what made Lamartine dislike him. The religious string is wanting to his lyre, he has nothing which shows him to have known either Christianity or the high tragedies of the soul. Kind Nature is his goddess, Horace his prophet, and Montaigne his gospel. In other words, his horizon is that of the Renascence. This islet of paganism in the midst of a Catholic society is very curious; the paganism is perfectly simple and frank.
These are but notes, jottings in his journal, and Amiel passed from them to broodings over the infinite, and personal
It is in the novel that the average vulgarity of German society, and its inferiority to the societies of France and England are most clearly visible. The notion of a thing's jarring on the taste is wanting to German æsthetics. Their elegance knows nothing of grace; they have no sense of the enormous distance between distinction (gentlemanly, ladylike) and their stiff Vornehmlichkeit. Their imag ination lacks style, training, education, and knowledge of the world; it is stamped with an ill-bred air even in its Sunday clothes. The race is practical and intelligent, but common and ill-mannered. Ease, amiability, manners, wit, animation, dignity, charm, are qualities which belong to others.
Will that inner freedom of soul, that profound harmony of all the faculties, which I have so often observed among the best Germans, ever come to the surface? Will the conquerors of to-day ever civilize their forms shall be able to judge. As soon as the Gerof life? It is by their future novels that we man novel can give us quite good society, the Germans will be in the raw stage no longer.
ity, and totality. Probably the literary | Hugo's faults; the faults of the French criticism which he did so well, and for nation at large he judges with a like severwhich he shows a true vocation, gave him ity. But what a fine and just perception nevertheless but little pleasure because does the following passage show of the he did it thus fragmentarily and by fits deficiencies of Germany, the advantage and starts. To do it thoroughly, to make which the western nations have in their his fragments into wholes, to fit them for more finished civilization! coming before the public, composition with its toils and limits was necessary. Toils and limits composition indeed has; yet all composition is a kind of creation, creation gives, as I have already said, pleasure, and when successful and sustained, more than pleasure, joy. Amiel, had he tried the experiment with literary criticism, where lay his true vocation, would have found it so. Sainte-Beuve, whom he so much admires, would have been the most miserable of men if his production had been but a volume or two of middling poems and a journal. But Sainte-Beuve's motto, as Amiel himself notices, was that of the emperor Severus: Laboremus. "Work," Sainte-Beuve confesses to a friend, "is my sore burden, but it is also my great resource. I eat my heart out when I am not up to the neck in work; there you have the secret of the life I lead." If M. Scherer's introduction to the Revue Germanique could but have been used, if Amiel could but have written the article on Uhland and followed it up by plenty of articles more! I have quoted largely from Amiel's literary criticism, because this side of him has, so far as I have observed, received so little attention, and yet deserves attention so eminently. But his more general criticism, too, shows, as I have said, the same high qualities as his criticism of authors and books. I must quote one or two of his aphorisms. L'esprit sert bien à tout, mais ne suffit à rien: "Wits are of use for everything, sufficient for nothing." Une société vit de sa foi et se développe par la science: "A society lives on its faith and develops itself by science." L'Etat libéral est irréalisable avec une religion antilibérale, et presque irréalisable avec l'absence de religion: "Liberal communities are impossible with an anti-liberal religion, and almost impossible with the absence of religion." But epigrammatic sentences of this sort are perhaps not so very difficult to produce, in French at any rate.
Let us take Amiel when he has room and verge enough to show what he can really say which is important about society, religion, national life, and character. We have seen what an influence his years passed in Germany had upon him; we have seen how severely he judges Victor
And this pupil of Berlin, this devourer of German books, this victim, say the French critics, to the contagion of German style, after three hours, one day, of a Geschichte der Esthetik in Deutschland, breaks out:
Learning and even thought are not everything. A little esprit, point, vivacity, imagination, grace, would do no harm. Do these pedantic books leave a single image or sentence, a single striking or new fact, in the memory when one lays them down? No, nothing but fatigue and confusion. Oh, for clearness, terseness, brevity! Diderot, Voltaire, or even Galiani! A short article by Sainte-Beuve, Scherer, Renan, Victor Cherbulioz, gives one more pleasure, and makes one ponder and reflect more, than a thousand of these German pages crammed to the margin and showing the work itself rather than its result. The Germans heap the faggots for the pile, the French bring the fire. Spare me your lucubrations, give me facts or ideas. Keep your vats, your must, your dregs, to which will sparkle in the glass and kindle my yourselves; I want wine fully made, wine spirits instead of oppressing them.
Amiel may have been led away deteriora sequi; he may have Germanized until he has become capable of the verb dépersonnaliser and the noun réimplication; but after all, his heart is in the right place;