Monday, January 20, 2003

The Intimate Journal of Henri Amiel: April 3, 1873

April 3, 1873

Women of an enthusiastic temperament have a curious way of speaking of extempore preachers and orators. They imagine that inspiration radiates from a crowd as such, and that inspiration is all that is wanted. Could there be a more naïf and childish explanation of what is really a lecture in which nothing has been left to accident, neither the plan, nor the metaphors, nor even the length of the whole, and where everything has been prepared with the greatest care! But women, in their love of what is mar- velous and miraculous, prefer to ignore all this. The meditation, the labor, the calculation of effects, the art, in a word, which have gone to the making of it, diminishes for them the value of the thing, and they prefer to believe it fallen from heaven, or sent down from on high. They ask for bread, but cannot bear the idea of a baker. The sex is superstitious, and hates to understand what it wishes to admire. It would vex it to be forced to give the smaller share to feeling, and the larger share to thought. It wishes to believe that imagination can do the work of reason, and feeling the work of science, and it never asks itself how it is that women, so rich in heart and imagina- tion, have never distinguished themselves as orators--that is to say, have never known how to combine a multitude of facts, ideas, and impulses, into one complex unity. Enthu- siastic women never even suspect the difference that there is between the excitement of a popular harangue, which is nothing but a mere passionate outburst, and the unfold- ing of a didactic process, the aim of which is to prove something and to convince its hearers. Therefore, for them, study, reflection, technique, count as nothing; the improvisatore mounts upon the tripod, Pallas all armed issues from his lips, and conquers the applause of the dazzled assembly.

Evidently women divide orators into two groups; the artisans of speech, who manufacture their laborious dis- courses by the aid of the midnight lamp, and the inspired souls, who simply give themselves the trouble to he born. They will never understand the saying of Quintilian, "Fit orator, nascitur poeta." [A poet is born but an orator is made]

The enthusiasm which acts is perhaps an enlightening force, but the enthusiasm which accepts is very like blind- ness. For this latter enthusiasm confuses the value of things, ignores their shades of difference, and is an obstacle to all sensible criticism and all calm judgment. The "Ewig-Weibliche" [Eternal Womanly] favors exaggeration, mysticism, sentimentalism--all that excites and startles. It is the enemy of clearness, of a calm and rational view of things, the antipodes of criticism and of science. [The preponderant influence of women is all to the advantage of religion and the priests, and subsidiarily the poets, to the detriment of truth and liberty. This influence is an intoxication analogous to the intoxication of love.--So Athene prefers the males, and Proudhon has shown that the accession of women destroyed ancient society, because, as a reciprocal effect, it made the men effeminate.]

I have had only too much sympathy and weakness for the feminine nature. The very excess of my former indulgence toward it makes me now more conscious of its infirmities. Justice and science, law and reason, are virile things, and they come before imagination, feeling, reverie, and fancy. When one reflects that Catholic superstition is maintained by women, one feels how needful it is not to hand over the reins to the "Eternal Womanly," [the charm of which at bottom is dangerous and deceptive.]

Previous Index Next