Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Extracts from Amiel’s Journal
Greeks vs. Moderns
By Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821–1881)
Translation of Mary Augusta Ward

NOVEMBER 10TH, 1852.—How much have we not to learn from the Greeks, those immortal ancestors of ours! And how much better they solved their problem than we have solved ours! Their ideal man is not ours; but they understood infinitely better than we, how to reverence, cultivate, and ennoble the man whom they knew. In a thousand respects we are still barbarians beside them, as Béranger said to me with a sigh in 1843: barbarians in education, in eloquence, in public life, in poetry, in matters of art, etc. We must have millions of men in order to produce a few elect spirits: a thousand was enough in Greece. If the measure of a civilization is to be the number of perfected men that it produces, we are still far from this model people. The slaves are no longer below us, but they are among us. Barbarism is no longer at our frontiers: it lives side by side with us. We carry within us much greater things than they, but we ourselves are smaller. It is a strange result. Objective civilization produced great men while making no conscious effort toward such a result; subjective civilization produces a miserable and imperfect race, contrary to its mission and its earnest desire. The world grows more majestic, but man diminishes. Why is this?  1
  We have too much barbarian blood in our veins, and we lack measure, harmony, and grace. Christianity, in breaking man up into outer and inner, the world into earth and heaven, hell and paradise, has decomposed the human unity, in order, it is true, to reconstruct it more profoundly and more truly. But Christianity has not yet digested this powerful leaven. She has not yet conquered the true humanity; she is still living under the antinomy of sin and grace, of here below and there above. She has not penetrated into the whole heart of Jesus. She is still in the narthex of penitence; she is not reconciled, and even the churches still wear the livery of service, and have none of the joy of the daughters of God, baptized of the Holy Spirit.  2
  Then, again, there is our excessive division of labor; our bad and foolish education which does not develop the whole man; and the problem of poverty. We have abolished slavery, but without having solved the question of labor. In law, there are no more slaves—in fact, there are many. And while the majority of men are not free, the free man, in the true sense of the term, can neither be conceived nor realized. Here are enough causes for our inferiority.  3

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