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It was in the last days of December 1882 that the first volume of Henri Frédéric Amiel's Journal Intime was published at Geneva. The book, of which the general literary world knew nothing prior to its appearance, contained a long and remarkable Introduction from the pen of M. Edmond Scherer, the well-known French critic, who had been for many years one of Amiel's most valued friends, and it was prefaced also by a little Avertissement, in which the 'Editors'—that is to say, the Genevese friends to whom the care and publication of the Journal had been in the first instance entrusted - described in a few reserved and sober words the genesis and objects of the publication. Some thousands of sheets of Journal, covering a period of more than thirty years, had come into the hands of Amiel's literary heirs. "They were written,' said the Avertissement, with several ends in view. Amiel recorded in them his various occupations, and the incidents of each day. He preserved in them his psychological observations, and the impressions produced on him by books. But his Journal was, above all, the confidant of his most private and intimate thoughts ; a means whereby the thinker became conscious of his own inner life; a safe shelter wherein his questionings of fate and the future, the voice of grief, of self-examination and confession, the soul's cry for inward peace, might make
themselves freely heard.... In the directions concerning his papers which he left behind him, Amiel expressed the wish that his literary executors should publish those parts of the Journal which might seem to them to possess either interest as thought or value as experience. The publication of this volume is the fulfilment of this desire.—The reader will find in it, not a volume of Memoirs, but the confidences of a solitary thinker, the meditations of a philosopher for whom the things of the soul were the sovereign realities of existence.'
Thus modestly announced, the little volume made its quiet début. It contained nothing, or almost nothing, of ordinary biographical material. M. Scherer's Introduction supplied such facts as were absolutely necessary to the understanding of Amiel's intellectual history, but nothing more. Everything of a local or private character that could be excluded was excluded. The object of the Editors in their choice of passages for publication was declared to be simply the reproduction of the moral and intellectual physiognomy of their friend,' while M. Scherer expressly disclaimed any biographical intentions, and limited his Introduction as far as possible to 'a study of the character and thought of Amiel.' The contents of the volume, then, were purely literary and philosophical ; its prevailing tone was a tone of introspection, and the public which can admit the claims and overlook the inherent defects of introspective literature has always been a small
The writer of the Journal had been during his lifetime wholly unknown to the general European public. In Geneva itself he had been commonly regarded as a man who had signally disappointed the hopes and expectations of his friends, whose reserve and indecision of character had in many respects spoilt his life, and alienated the society around him; while his professorial lectures were
generally pronounced dry and unattractive, and the few volumes of poems which represented almost his only contributions to literature had nowhere met with any real cordiality of reception. Those concerned, therefore, in the publication of the first volume of the Journal can hardly have had much expectation of a wide success. Geneva is not a favourable starting-point for a French book, and it may well have seemed that not even the support of M. Scherer's name would be likely to carry the volume beyond a small local circle.
But 'wisdom is justified of her children !' It is now nearly three years since the first volume of the Journal Intime appeared; the impression made by it was deepened and extended by the publication of the second volume in 1884; and it is now not too much to say that this remarkable record of a life has made its way to what promises to be a permanent place in literature. Among those who think and read it is beginning to be generally recognised that another book has been added to the books which live —not to those, perhaps, which live in the public view, much discussed, much praised, the objects of feeling and of struggle, but to those in which a germ of permanent life has been deposited silently, almost secretly, which compel no homage and excite no rivalry, and which owe the place that the world half-unconsciously yields to them to nothing but that indestructible sympathy of man with man, that eternal answering of feeling to feeling, which is one of the great principles, perhaps the greatest principle, at the root of literature. M. Scherer naturally was the first among the recognised guides of opinion to attempt the placing of his friend's Journal. "The man who, during his lifetime, was incapable of giving us any deliberate or conscious work worthy of his powers, has now left us, after his death, a book which will not die. For the secret of
Amiel's malady is sublime, and the expression of it wonderful.' So ran one of the last paragraphs of the Introduction, and one may see in the sentences another instance of that courage, that reasoned rashness, which distinguishes the good from the mediocre critic. For it is as true now as it was in the days when La Bruyère rated the critics of his time for their incapacity to praise, and praise at once, that “the surest test of a man's critical power is his judgment of contemporaries.' M. Renan, I think, with that exquisite literary sense of his, was the next among the authorities to mention Amiel's name with the emphasis it deserved. He quoted a passage from the Journal in his Preface to the Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse, describing it as the saying 'd'un penscur distingué, M. Amiel de Genève. Since then M. Renan has devoted two curious articles to the completed Journal in the Journal des Debats. The first object of these reviews, no doubt, was not so much the critical appreciation of Amiel as the development of certain paradoxes which have been haunting various corners of M. Renan's mind for several years past, and to which it is to be hoped he has now given expression with sufficient emphasis and brusquerie to satisfy even his passion for intellectual adventure. Still, the rank of the book was fully recognised, and the first article especially contained some remarkable criticisms, to which we shall find occasion to recur. In these two volumes of pensées, said M. Renan, 'without any sacrifice of truth to artistic effect, we have both the perfect mirror of a modern mind of the best type, matured by the best modern culture, and also a striking picture of the sufferings which beset the sterility of genius. These two volumes may certainly be reckoned among the most interesting philosophical writings which have appeared of late years.'
M. Caro's article on the first volume of the Journal, in the Revue des Deuc Mondes for February 1883, may perhaps count as the first introduction of the book to the general cultivated public. He gave a careful analysis of the first half of the Journal,-resumed eighteen months later in the same periodical on the appearance of the second volume, -and, while protesting against what he conceived to be the general tendency and effect of Amiel's mental story, he showed himself fully conscious of the rare and delicate qualities of the new writer. · La rêverie a réussi a notre auteur,' he says, a little reluctantly-for M. Caro has his doubts as to the legitimacy of rêverie ;
a fait une euvre qui restera.' The same final judgment, accompanied by a very different series of comments, was pronounced on the Journal a year later by M. Paul Bourget, a young and rising writer, whose article is perhaps chiefly interesting as showing the kind of effect produced by Amiel's thought on minds of a type essentially alien from his own. There is a leaven of something positive and austere, of something which, for want of a better name, one calls Puritanism in Amiel, which escapes the author of Une Cruelle Enigme. But whether he has understood Amiel or no, M. Bourget is fully alive to the mark which the Journal is likely to make among modern records of mental history. He, too, insists that the book is already famous and will remain so; in the first place, because of its inexorable realism and sincerity; in the second, because it is the most perfect example available of a certain variety of the modern mind.
Amongst ourselves, although the Journal has attracted the attention of all who keep a vigilant eye on the progress of foreign literature, and although one or two appreciative articles have appeared on it in the magazines, the book has still to become generally known. One