In Search of Amiel
AMONG all the attractions of Geneva, none had appealed to me so much as the possibility of finding some background for Amiel’s Journal. The other literary backgrounds had already been elaborately explored, and were at the traveler’s disposal, but Amiel’s had never been furnished. Though he was the last Genevan to add one to the world’s classics, his trail seemed to have been lost. Amiel himself gives us hardly a trace of where he might be found, and no one of all the readers and lovers of the Journal had ever sought out his home and his surroundings.
It seemed impossible that those who knew Geneva well should not be familiar
with the house of one who had been the most recent of its scholars and writers to achieve a permanent place in the world’s thought. His home might be a block away from where I began my search for it, but nowhere was there a clue. The last Amiel had disappeared from the directory. Guides, of course, had never even heard the name, and frankly doubted whether there had ever been such a person. Guidebooks were as ignorant, and the little group of Genevans whom my curiosity had stirred up genially advised me to try something else. When, at last, the proprietor of the Métropole had done his best by consulting certain old residents who were supposed to know the town pretty thoroughly, and still no help appeared, there was nothing further in the way of a leading, except the desire of ten years to set Amiel in the midst of his surroundings. I kept on, simply hoping that something would turn up.
Toward noon I found what I thought would surely set me upon the right track. Some pastors and professors were holding an ordination service in the cathedral. Among the professors some must have known Amiel. When the bleak service was over, I followed their procession out into the robing-room, with high hopes of ending my search successfully within a few minutes. But Amiel seemed hopelessly lost. Though some of them remembered him, none had ever known where he had lived. Eighteen years had gone by since the death of the old professor of philosophy, whom few ever knew well, even when he was amongst them. They knew, to be sure, that he had become famous in the world outside Geneva; but everywhere was surprise that any one should wish to know of his whereabouts.
Logical methods of procedure had now been proved ineffectual, and there was plainly no chance of success except by resorting to rashness. This I promptly did. Passing out through the cathedral, I walked up to the first stranger I saw,— a very unpromising one, too, I thought, — addressed myself to him despairingly as to a sort of personification of Genevan ignorance, and asked him if he had ever heard of Amiel. To my astonishment he replied, “Yes,he was an old acquaintance of mine.” He had never known Amiel in his home, as, indeed, few ever had; but he could tell me of a nephew of his who would put me on the right track.
Two years later I was to find out that within a few rods of the spot where we were talking outside the cathedral, and in plain view of it, stood the house of the friend to whom Amiel had confided the care of that vast manuscript from which the Journal was selected by her hands. Later on that same day I was to discover that just below us, down the steep stone staircase leading from the cathedral to the Rue Verdaine, one would come out almost opposite Amiel’s home.
“Ah, you Americans, it is always so,” said the hotel wiseacres who had wished me Godspeed on my wild goose chase early in the morning. The nephew had sent word that he would be glad to see me, and tell me personally what I wished to know, I had seen in the directory that he was a numismate, and not knowing with any exactness what that might be, I had hoped that it meant perhaps a humble negotiator of coins and stamps who would be easy to get on with. But such thoughts disappeared when I was set down at the door of the great house in the walled garden on the Route du Chêne.
The numismate was a private scholar and antiquarian, a member of many European learned societies, — of one of which he was at that time president, — and his house was a treasury of rare and beautiful things. The lowlier type of numismate that I had imagined could not, however, have made me feel more at home than did this more distinguished representative among his cabinets of coins and medals. How had I ever found him out, he asked, or what had led me to take such an interest in his uncle ? Few had ever sought him on that errand, — an American gentleman from Baltimore once, and only a few others. No, none of them had ever seen Mrs. Humphry Ward, who was known to them only as the English translator. The surprise that Amiel should ever have become a figure in the greater world seemed to remain with his family and friends, as with the rest of Geneva. It was strange to them that one should come from so far to inquire about the quiet professor, who had seemed of all men least likely to engage the world’s attention.
The first sign I met with of the real Amiel was the great bust whose bronze copy now stands at the head of the staircase in the university. Among the many surprises and contradictions which I found in my search, not the least was this bust, which has such a military air that it made me think instantly — as it has every one to whom I have shown the photograph of it — of General Lee. There is here nothing of the shyness and self-effacement which one would almost certainly expect to discover in Amiel. His last portrait, which hung on the wall of his nephew’s study, painted in ihe last days by his old friend, Mademoiselle B——, has more of the quality of the recluse and the philosopher; but the bust is that of one quite equal to facing life and battling with it. In this same study were those other volumes of the philosopher which are now only known at all because of the more famous Journal. They were born out of his skill, not out of his heart; and one by one they fell by the wayside and were forgotten,— with the exception, perhaps, of the last one, Jour à Jour, abook of poems, published the year before his death, of which it was pleasant to learn that its reception had brought to the author some happiness at a time when it was bitterly needed. Renan had said some fine things of this last volume.
I saw the more personal souvenirs of Amiel, — the miniatures of himself on porcelain made when he had returned to Geneva in his youth, — “a young conqueror,” as Scherer said, — and taken the city by storm through the powers which he then displayed. I saw, too, the portrait of his beautiful mother, who died in his boyhood, and that of his “Napoleonic father, ” as he once called him in speaking of the difference of their dispositions. The journal instinct seems to have been strong in the family. Amiel himself kept another besides the one which is published, and his father before him had left a stout, go-afoot sort of record, in which he had carefully set down the plain story of his commercial success.
The nephew finished his kindness to me for the time being — I was afterward to experience more of it — by giving me copies of all the Amiel portraits and a letter to his uncle’s old friend, Mademoiselle B—, who with her mother had made a home for Amiel in his last years, and was still living on alone in the same apartments in the city. The Rue Verdaine, to which the letter directed me, with its high tenements, its little shops, its crowds of children, the women drawing or washing at the street fountain, looked of all places the most unlikely to have been the home of one who loved the beautiful as Amiel did. I thought there must be some mistake; but when I had found the right number and mounted the stairs above the shops on the ground floor, I came into a quite different state of things in the beautiful apartment which looked straight across at the old College of Calvin where Amiel had gone to school as a boy.
There was the same cordiality on the part of Amiel’s biographer and friend that I had met with at his nephew’s. Both the nephew and the biographer were perhaps better known in Switzerland than Amiel himself had ever been in his own day. But with all the cordiality there was the wonder, which none of them ever seemed to get over, that a stranger from across the sea should at this late day be tracing out the footsteps of one who still, to that home at least, was simply the quiet professor rather than the modern Hamlet.
After a little Mademoiselle B—went in and threw open the shutters of Amiel’s room, letting in light upon an apartment so beautiful and so full of cheer and color that it seemed strangely out of keeping with the sombreness of Amiel’s spirit as it appears in those last pages which he had written there. It was here that he had died. It was here also, as his friend told me, that he had kept on at the Journal after ill-health had separated him from his other tasks, writing occasionally days at a time. He never alluded to his Journal, though constantly bringing out his other writings to read in the family circle, nor did he ever give a hint of any expectation that through it he might still find his way to a place in the great world from which he seemed at that time so thoroughly and hopelessly detached. Almost the only intimation of such a hope is the line he had written upon the box in which the manuscript was found after his death: “I give no one authority to destroy a single page of this Journal.”
It was due to the correspondence which grew from this visit that two years later I found myself for three weeks an inmate of this home. That nothing was to be left undone which would give a stranger interested in Amiel every opportunity to recall him, I knew on my arrival, late Saturday night, when I was shown to my room. It was Amiel’s room. On the writing table lay the first greeting of my hostess: it was a gift of those earlier volumes of Amiel to the first stranger who had ever crossed that threshold in search of him.
What I found during those next weeks was just what I hoped to find, — a full other side to Amiel and his life. There was the other side; and in his home one comes to dwell in the memory of that, rather than under the shadow of a great sorrow. I do not mean to say that there was anything exaggerated in his disclosure of his own soul; the tragedy was all there, only there were compensations, and Amiel was swift to seize them.
We think of him in full retreat, utterly overcome and prostrate in the battle of life; but that was never the way his friends saw him. That he was a failure the world around him knew well enough; but it never suspected anything of the inward suffering which was going on. Even to his family the Journal came as a surprise. Amiel held himself well up in the world, and seemed not to need sympathy. In him men saw a man of the world, always reserved, it is true, and increasingly so as the years went on; but they saw nothing of the tragic. Before the world he was quite likely to joke when he was at his worst. On the first appearance of the Journal much was made of his unhappy childhood. There is no truth in it. He was early orphaned, to be sure, but he passed into the home of an uncle where love and companionship were never wanting. Much more has been made of the unfortunate circumstances under which he took his professorship and of the bad position in which he had put himself by coming into office on the very movement that had overthrown the old aristocratic régime with which his natural sympathies lay. It is true, he was for a long time ostracized, and Genevan ostracism could not be a gentle thing, — “even Swiss mirth,” says Amiel, “is like that of a dancing bear,” — but that does not mainly account for his career. The ostracism ended in good season, leaving him perfectly free to take whatever society he would. His malady went deeper, and has been perfectly described as the malady of the ideal. Over and again he has said that the ideal unfitted him for all imperfect possession.
But strangely enough, idealist as he was, no man could have kept a firmer hand on life’s drudgeries than Amiel. He was the one man on the faculty who could always be counted upon to do the thousand and one things of administration and arrangement which usually go begging. They said, “ He is a bachelor; he has the time; let him do it; ” and he did it. The worst of it was that he did it altogether too well. The work brought relief to him because it enabled him to feel that he was doing something. At the same time it turned his mind from the greater things of which he was capable, but which he feared to touch, because, whenever he looked toward them, his ideal of what they required became more exalted and made action toward them seem almost a profanation.
It is one of the most beautiful memories cherished of him that, although nearly every one of his own efforts in literature failed, he never grew sour or reached the point where he could not heartily rejoice in the success of everybody else. Critic that he was, — the best in Geneva, — and impatient of imperfection, Amiel’s were usually the first congratulations which reached his more successful fellows. He would become fairly gay and light-hearted over another man’s achievement, so that his friends were able to say that hardly a new literary talent dawned in Geneva in his time toward which he had not contributed something. Unable to do it himself, he yet cordially admired any one else who dared to take the plunge and let himself go. Attentions seldom came to him, and appreciation was slight; but a very little went a long way; it was enough to brighten up everything, at least for the time being.
It was true of him that he was unwilling to allow others to do for him the things he was only too glad to do for them. It was the fault for which Bishop Westcott reproached himself at the end of his life. Up to the last Amiel had his near relatives within reach, but he seems to have prized his independence overmuch. His favorite sister had married the most famous physician of Geneva, a man of strong, positive character, who appreciated Amiel’s worth, but could not easily overlook the fact that, with such powers as he had, he had accomplished so little. He no doubt also took it amiss that in all those years when the professor was more or less constantly under the care of physicians he had never consulted his own brother-inlaw, the chief of them all. But, it seems, Amiel was ready enough for relations with his relatives whenever there was a chance for himself to be the benefactor.
Another brother-in-law, pastor of the Madeleine, a church strategically located in the neighborhood of Hell and Purgatory streets, found perhaps as little to increase his brotherly pride in Amiel’s very irregular attendance on his own ministrations. Yet Amiel could attend church to very good purpose when he chose, as one may learn from that splendid passage on the preaching of Adolphe Monod at St. Gervais, in the Journal for November 9, 1851. One wonders whether the sermon could have been better than the description of it.
With the children of the family he was at his best and always at home. Strangely enough this man, critical and analytical to a degree which had nearly killed his own creativeness, never made others timid or uneasy in his presence, and was the soul of kindness to all those who approached him. All weak creatures turned toward him instinctively, so that, as he said, he believed “he could even woo the birds to come and build in his beard as in that of the statue of some mediæval saint.”
The bust on the university staircase is the only visible reminder of Amiel in his native city. A prize in the university, founded by his sister and called the Amiel Prize, is his other memorial there. In awarding the prize six years after Amiel’s death, Professor Ritter recalled how, in speaking to the university some years before, he had expressed the hope that possibly among the professor’s literary remains might be found something which would yet justify the earlier expectations which had been held concerning him. Possibly there might be waiting for Amiel such a fame as had been achieved by the works of Joubert, Eugénie de Guérin, and Doudan. The years had now gone by, the J ournal had achieved its place as the last great classic of the inner life, and once more the same voice was speaking of Amiel: “ Les dés ont été jetés, messieurs, et la partie a été gagnée. Le succès du Journal Intime a été incontestable. Une cinquième édition vient de paraître; une traduction anglaise a été publiée, une traduction allemande est en préparation. Le philosophe genevois est sorti de l’obscurité. Et lui, l’écrivain, le penseur, notre ancien collègue Amiel, qui aurait aujourd’hui soixante-cinq ans, il n’est plus là pour se réjouir avec nous du succés de son œuvre. Combien de soldats sont morts dans les batailles, après avoir fait vaillamment leur devoir! Et les fanfares de la victoire, ils ne les ont pas entendues. C’est le caractère des races d’élite d’enfanter des hommes qui, dans le plaisir de travailler àa leur œuvre, oublient qu’ils ont droit à d’autres récompenses. D’ailleurs, messieurs, notre Genève, semblable en cela à quelques villes plus illustres, est coutumière de I’ingratitude: de plus grands qu’Amiel l’ont éprouvée de sa part. Rappelez-vous la juste invective de Schiller: —
housseau’s Grab.’ ”
The visible reminders of Amiel are few enough; but the audible reminders of him are constant. I mean that the companies never march, and the bands never play, in Switzerland without giving a constant memorial of Amiel. It is the last thing we should expect of him, — more surprising than the military look of the bust, — yet it is true, that one of the two great national anthems is his, words and music both. There is not a child in Switzerland, they say, who does not know the song Roulez Tambours, which, if not the official national anthem, is just as familiar and popular. One does not easily think of anything of Amiel’s being shouted in the streets or serving to excite and express the spirit of the crowds. I asked a soldier one day if he knew the Roulez Tambours. “Naturellement,” he replied ; and drawing himself up, he sang it at me like a demon, while those who stood by joined in at once. It is called the Swiss Marseillaise, and has almost as much vim and go as the more famous song. Like all of Amiel’s successes it was an aside, struck off by him nearly fifty years ago in a burst of patriotic fervor when the quarrel rose between Switzerland and Prussia over the affairs of Neuchâtel. The danger was averted, but the song lived. Probably it is hardly connected with Amiel in the minds of the population, although his name is always published as the author. There is no evidence that he ever gave himself any pride over the matter; it was an incident in his life, but a solid and enduring contribution to the life of the nation. And it is hard to believe that a citizen of Geneva, who had lived to see one of his own songs adopted into the affections of the whole people, could have heard it sung or played for twenty years of his life in town and country without some grateful stirrings of his heart.
In the mornings I sat reading or writing in Amiel’s room which looks down upon the little courtyard of which he had written on Ascension Day, 1879: “In my courtyard the ivy is green again, the chestnut tree is full of leaf, the Persian lilac beside the little fountain is flushed with red and just about to flower; through the wide openings to the right, and left of the old College of Calvin I see the Salève above the trees of St. Antoine, the Voirons above the hill of Cologny; while the three flights of steps which from landing to landing lead between two high walls from the Rue Verdaine to the terrace of the Tranehées, recall to one’s imagination some old city of the south, a glimpse of Perugia or Malaga.” Straight across from the window is the school he attended as a boy, the old College of Calvin, its roof the last of the outer world visible to him as he lay upon his bed in the last days, his mind traveling backward and forward over the long career that lay between the old professor and the eager handsome boy who had seemed to have everything before him, breaking out now and again in the devoutness which had never left him, as he spoke of his life, his hopes, and his regrets. This was his room: here he had brought his Journal to its close, little dreaming that what was to him more like a settling of accounts with himself should ever become a story known and read the world over — one more of the world’s great confessions, which was to relieve and interpret many an experience beside his own. As I sat there one morning reading Eleanor, then Mrs. Ward’s latest work, I ran across a line which, though it was strangely familiar, I could not place:
Then suddenly it came back to me where I had seen it, — it was the last line of the Journal as we know it, quoted by Amiel in this very room just before the end.
To this day no member of his family has ever looked upon the full story of his life as it lies in that vast manuscript with its seventeen thousand folio pages, although the injunction that none of them should see it until twenty years after his death has been fully carried out and might now seem to impose no further obligation. He had left it to his friend Mademoiselle F—, to whose judgment we
owe the now famous selections; but her name has never appeared in connection with the work. It was with the explicit understanding that her name was never to be published in this connection that she broke over her long-continued habit of refusing to talk about Amiel enough to ask me to visit her in the beautiful old house just above the cathedral. The pictures of her two friends, Amiel and Edmond Scherer, rested upon the table. Of the visit of that August evening I can only say that talking with her it was not hard to understand how Amiel might have intrusted to her the story of his inner life. After her death the manuscript passes to the nephew, Dr. S——, or, in the event of his death, to the public library. Some day there may appear more pages of that literary criticism which Amiel seems to have struck off with so little effort, — criticism which Arnold accounted sufficient to justify the opinion that, in the bent which Amiel’s mind took, another great critic was lost to Europe.
In the afternoons there were the philosopher’s old haunts to be sought out,—the walks beside the Rhône and Arve where he had run and played as a boy, or walked forever pondering and observing as a man. Through the Journal you can follow him almost everywhere in Geneva except home. Lancy, Haut-Mornex on the Salève, Vandœuvres, Pressy, saw him often; but to Vevay, Montreux, and Clarens he returned again and again. He was a great traveler, and vacations always saw him en route as soon as possible for various resorts where the different groups of random acquaintances, to which he occasionally joined himself and whose leading spirit he so often became, had as little reason as his near neighbors to suspect the sadness which was eating out his heart. Free from all obligation, knowing that nothing was expected of him, it was in these chance associations that he was at his best, and let himself out.
His letters are full of his experiences at these places, where we find him organizing expeditions, getting up plays, giving readings, — his hearers used to say that he read with so much distinction that they could not tell whether the matter read was really fine or not,—and engaging in all the life of the company.
Migratory in his habits, he had many homes in Geneva, or rather many lodgings, until he came to spend his last years in that real home on the Rue Verdaine. The most romantic of all is the little house at the end of the long courtyard, which the visitor may enter by opening the door of 16 Rue Etienne, beside the little store. Here is monastic seclusion. Down at the farther end, in the lower story of the house fronting you, Amiel had his study for the last twenty years of his life. There he worked in the daytime, with no sound to be heard save that of the birds in the garden or the occasional strains of the organ in the oratory close by. Outside the window of the room which contained his philosophical library, was a little gem of a garden, in a space so small that amongst us it would have been given over despairingly to the rubbish. But there it glowed with flowers in the midst of the tenements. The present tenant, quite guiltless of any knowledge of the author of the Journal, showed me all the rooms without a question; and when I was through wished to tell me about the picture of the young man which hung on the wall. It was her son, who had lately died out in the Argentine. Nor can I forget the worn-looking seamstress at the other end of the court, huddled in the tiniest of rooms, hardly large enough for sewing machine and bed, who, without knowing what it was all about, was only too willing to crowd things a little more in order to make room for the photographer who went with me, — a son of the photographer of Amiel himself. He undertook his task con amore, for he had just become interested in the Journal himself, and until then had known as little of Amiel’s homes as the rest of Geneva. In the evenings there were long talks in the salon, where a portrait of the professor, painted during the last days by the one who told me of Amiel’s life, hung above us. It was the portrait of which Amiel had said at its completion, “ Je m’y retrouve.” There was just a touch of something Jewish in the countenance, which had made him often wonder whether there might have been Jewish blood somewhere in his line.
Knowing that his time was short, he had at last, broken his reserve about himself, and taken pains to recall the story of his life to the friend who now told it to me, with much that was omitted from the biographical sketch. About what was contained in the Journal he was as usual silent. Remarkable confidences indeed in which a man should tell apparently the whole story of his life, and yet manage to leave it untold. The Journal does not exaggerate the depth and intensity of his sorrows. As one reviewer has said, “What even so cool a person as Scherer would call a tragedy other people might well consider a veritable supplice;” yet alongside it ran this other current of Amiel’s joys which he snatched as he went. Save in his worst moments, there could not have been dullness in any company where he was present, for his insatiable mind was incessantly at something. On the table of the salon was the little box which contained some hundreds of his “impromptus,” as he called them. He would burst into the room at times, or at others stop the reading on which they were engaged, and say “Give me an impromptu, quick! ” and taking whatever theme was suggested, dash off almost instantly into an epigram or quatrain, or even a series of verses. Like Goethe he never had a chagrin without making a poem of it.
He was the soul of industry, always at work on something, and the greater the difficulty of it, the more relief it seemed to be. He too easily took refuge in correctness : in that he would not be found wanting; it was some satisfaction to a conscience which could never dare attempt the highest things of which it wa9 capable. Les Elrangeres, a book of translations of the poetry of other tongues into French, represented the kind of difficulty with which it seemed to give him pleasure to contend. The labor spent upon that book had been enormous. He had dedicated it to his old friend Scherer, as a sign to him that he had not utterly given up the hope of doing something. Scherer’s acknowledgment had been slow in coming; but when it came it was in the shape of a review of such enterprises in general, and the hopelessness and futility of rhythmical translations. Scherer had not forgiven Amiel, the leading spirit of the distinguished group of years before to which both of them belonged, for his failure to use his gifts in any work worthy of him.
In middle life Amiel had written frankly to Scherer, asking him whether in his judgment it was still possible for him to do something. Scherer had welcomed the opportunity which Amiel had never before given to any of his friends, and went into the whole matter with him. He told him how his friends had never been able to understand his exercising himself with the small undertakings which were so far below his real gifts. He told him of his strange perversity in keeping to the rare and the ingenious instead of striking out boldly in some larger work for which he was so well equipped. Scherer had been deeply touched by Amiel’s confidence, and believed that now perhaps the way was opening to something better. He not only gave Amiel a full description of what he thought to be his fault; but he even had in mind the immediate work upon which he thought he might begin to regain himself. He was ready with the suggestion of the precise thing which Amiel ought to do, and offered to stand sponsor for it out in the greater world if he would attempt it. Scherer waited anxiously for the reply, which was weeks in coming. It might have disclosed to Scherer the root of the whole matter, as later the Journal did in a way which quite overwhelmed him. But Amiel’s answer only made Scherer feel that it was a comedy which was being enacted, and that the matter was not serious enough longer to occupy his mind. In short he gave him up; he did not divine what the matter was until twenty years afterward, when the Journal was put into his hands. Then he atoned for his misunderstanding by the noble introduction with which he offered the record to the world, confidently predicting that here was one more of the books which would live, and doing more perhaps, by his confident judgment, to gain the book a wide acceptance than any other influence save Amiel’s own wonderful gift.
The years of his teaching in the university were as neutral as could well be. They were years of great faithfulness and great industry, but without a hint of that richness of which we know Amiel to have been capable. He felt that a professor was the high priest of his subject, and perhaps a little disdained being interesting. Of his vast stores of knowledge, of the things which interested him most, of the things which made him so easily the most notable member of any group when he chose to be, — of these he brought hardly a vestige into his class-room. It must have been hard for him as well as the students to leave these things out. Ernest Naville, Amiel’s predecessor in the university, upon whose achievements the Journal has some beautiful passages, told me in a letter of seeing once a notebook of one of Amiel’s students in which figured a great number of accolades, and then underneath more accolades. Farther and farther he would carry the division and the subdivision, into which he never poured the richness which was his to give. It was the recollection how Amiel once, in visiting him, and looking over the portraits of philosophers with him, had without a moment’s preparation given out a wealth of interesting and illuminating comment on each philosopher, which made Naville think how different all might have been if Amiel could have persuaded himself that it was right to do the same thing with his college classes which he had done so wonderfully in his friend’s study.
But it was not to be. From these greater things, which seem to have hung before his mind even up to the last, he took refuge in correctness and industry — and the Journal. Up to the end he was still making plans. Action was what he craved, after all; but he saw too much, and was incapable of that “little necessary blindness” which enables one to do his work in this kind of a world. Work he did in great volume really, his literary industry was enormous and incessant; but he knew, as others did, that it was not of the sort he longed to do.
Considering the friends the Journal has made, it was surprising enough to hear that, though many strangers had first and last been in the house, this was the first time that one had ever crossed the threshold with the direct purpose of inquiring about Amiel. An English lady had once made sure that it was his home, and contented herself with sketching it from the street. My hostess did not regret this absence of interest, for as she said, ‘ Si la maison était devenue un pélerinage, je l’aurais quittée.” If pilgrimages were not wanted, this one at any rate had been undertaken with her consent and approval, and nothing was lacking to make it a success. From day to day she brought out some new reminder of the man, the friend, the writer. Amiel grew real and delightful through the experiences of those weeks. His letters of ten years, carefully arranged, she offered me to read; and when I found the writing too difficult, she copied them out in a fair hand that enabled me to read them all. They are so full of the same sort of things which make up the brighter passages of the Journal, that one may well believe that, if all his friends should bring together their share of his letter-writing industry, we should have a volume well worthy to stand beside the other.
The gifts of this friend and the nephew are around me as I write. One day it was all of Amiel’s works; a few days later the psalm-book which he had owned from his youth; then the little book of devotions which had been long in his possession; the beautiful bronze medallion of Amiel, and the companion of it with the profile of that successful brother-in-law, the physician; later, the costly edition of the Journal, printed only for the family and his friends out of the ample property which he had left after dealing generously with others but always sparingly with himself. But even all this kindness had not prepared me for the gift of that last afternoon when I was preparing to go. It was nothing less than the old and worn portfolio, the companion of Amiel’s travels and thoughts, in which he had written so much. Worn with use, its blotters had pressed many of those pages in which he poured out the story of his heart, and they still bear legibly lines of poetry or prose which he scribbled upon them.
At Clarens, overlooking the lake, under the shadow of the Cubly, Amiel had, years before his death, chosen his own resting place and named it “The Oasis.” Here in his vacations he had often come on sunny days, and here he rests, not far from the grave of Vinet, surrounded by graves of Russians, French, and English, the stone above his grave bearing the inscriptions, “Aime et Reste D’ Accord,” and “Celui qui sème pour l’esprit, moissonera de l’esprit de la vie éternelle.”
Amiel has won a firm place at last in the world, which during his lifetime seemed to have nothing for him. If he did not act himself in the literal sense in which we commonly speak of action, he did explore to the bitter end and the last analysis those subtle causes which paralyze the spirit and make action impossible. AmieFs was after all a contribution to the active life, the life upon which he looked with longing eyes. Act himself he could not; but he cleared the decks for other men to act, and made impossible for any who thoroughly ponder his story a repetition of his own career. The world sends up a shout of victory when the scientist announces the discovery of one more germ. Amiel had tracked down and isolated the germ of a malady which before him and during his lifetime had destroyed the power of many a spirit beside his own. Those who knew him and his time have told of how common and disastrous was this malady a generation ago in other lives which were without Amiel’s power of expressing their experience.
I can readily believe what I have often been told by others, that they never read the Journal without feeling more like going to work. He had exhausted for them every delusion which would make them stay their hands, all those spectres which, if they can, will keep men from creativeness. Something of this sort, after all, is the praise which belongs to the solitary Genevan thinker, for with this confession abroad among men it is difficult to believe that on any large scale his trouble can ever prevail again. No languid and despairing coteries making a business of pessimism can ever sincerely fasten themselves upon Amiel. There is something about him which forbids — to do that is to mistake him altogether. If to many his confession seems only a piece of spiritual pathology, let them stop to think that it has assisted in making the trouble more rare by interpreting it. He has written the penitential psalm of culture.
But if the story of his malady should sometime cease to attract attention, there will always be enough left to make his book endure; for even after leaving out all that is morbid, there remains more than enough to make a classic Book of Joys, which will always be read because of its constant life in the ideal, its wealth of common things lifted into spiritual companionship, its high, pure atmosphere, which is perhaps the most immediate impression it gives the reader, and because of the depth and the insight of its discriminations and its judgments of life. He will always be a friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit.