Henri-Frédéric Amiel quotes

Henri-Frédéric Amiel photo
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Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Birthdate: 27. September 1821
Date of death: 11. May 1881
Other names: Fréderik Henri Amiel

Henri Frédéric Amiel was a Swiss moral philosopher, poet, and critic.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

30 December 1850
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

1 October 1849
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„We are hemmed round with mystery, and the greatest mysteries are contained in what we see and do every day.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

30 December 1850
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

16 February 1868
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Journal Intime (1882), Quotes used in the Introduction by Ward
Context: 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.

„Shakespeare must have experienced this feeling often, and Hamlet, I think, must express it somewhere.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

8 November 1852
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

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
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„I can find no words for what I feel.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Journal Intime (1882), Quotes used in the Introduction by Ward
Context: 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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Journal Intime (1882), Quotes used in the Introduction by Ward
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

8 November 1852
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

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„Action is but coarsened thought“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

30 December 1850
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„In the conduct of life, habits count for more than maxims, because habit is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

8 November 1852
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„The efficacy of religion lies precisely in what is not rational, philosophic or eternal; its efficacy lies in the unforeseen, the miraculous, the extraordinary.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), Journal
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

1 October 1849; Amiel is here actually quoting Meister Eckhart, not Angelus Silesius as he supposed.
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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."

„Action limits us; whereas in the state of contemplation we are endlessly expansive. Will localizes us; thought universalizes us.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

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
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

16 July 1848
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„Christianity, if it is to triumph over pantheism, must absorb it.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

1 October 1849
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Henri-Frédéric Amiel

16 February 1868
Journal Intime (1882), Journal entries
Context: 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.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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