Johann Caspar Lavater.

Secret journal of a self-observer : or, confessions and familiar letters of the Rev. J. C. Lavater (Volume 1) online

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A Self- Observer ;



Of THt






By the Rev. PETER WILL,



The large Indictment ftands before my View,

Drawn forth by Confcience, moft amazing true ;

And fill'd with Secrets hid fronf human Eye,

When, fooliih Man ! thy God Itood witnefs by.

Then, oh, thou Maicfly divinely great,

Accept the fad Confeflions I repeat;

For thine's the contrite Spirit, thinc's an Heart

Oppreffed with Sorrow, broke with inward Smart j

That at thy Foot-ftool in Confeflion fhows

How well its faulti, how well the Judge it knows.


lontoon :


P R E F ' A C E



SENTIMENTAL works and books which tend to
promote the knowledge of the human heart, being,
at prefent, read with fo much avidity, the fubfe-
quent Journal may hope to be not entirely unaccept-
able to many a feeling and fenfible heart.

Thus much, at leaft, is certain, and it has fre-
quently been repeated by keen-fighted obfervers,
that a faithful and circumftantial moral hiftory of
the moft common and unromantic character is infi-
nitely more important, and fitter for improving the
human heart, than the moft extraordinary and in-
terefting Novel. The number of thofe that may
expect to derive a real and lafting moral benefit from
A 2 the


the former, are as thoufand to one, if compared
with thofe that, perhaps, may reap the fame ad-
vantage from the latter. Few only arc called to be-
come heroes on the public/^*? of the world j but
all, without exception, are deftinated to become
heroes in dome/lie virtue.

It ought to be entirely indifferent to the reader by
what accident the following fheets are come in my
pofieffion. Suffice it to fay, that they are the real
and genuine Journal of a man, whofe firft and laft
concern it was to get thoroughly acquainted with his
heart ; that the Author is a man of a cheerful and
open difpoiltion, and not in the leaft given to gloomy

melancholy j in fliort, of a man who -but I

will not add a word more to his praife, left I point
out his perfon more diftinctly than the fcope of the
prefent work requires *. The dear man will certainly

* If the reader will take the trouble to read the two letters
which are prefixed to the fecond volume of the Journal, he will
learn why, notwithftandirig this declaration of the Editor, Mr. La-
vater is mentioned, on the title page, as the real author of the
fubfequerit work.



never have imagined that his fentiments and obfer-
vations would one time be difclofed to the Public ;
of which the negligence, and the fimplicity with
Which they are written, will eafily convince every
candid reader. He will, undoubtedly, be terrified
at the fight of a printed copy ; however, he will, at
the fame time, be generous enough not to be angry
with the Editor for having taken a liberty which,
probably, will occafion the beautifulleft fentiments.
It is natural to expect that nothing has been inter-
polated hi the Journal, although fome part of it has
been omitted, left the author would have been
known, or expofed to mifreprefentations.

The Editor flatters himfelf that the Public will
not be difpleafed with the infertion of thofe paflages
which properly do not belong to the Author's obfer-
vations on himfelf, but contain either the charac-
teriftic of others, or criticifms on books or pafTages,
which made a particular impreffion on him, &c.
&c. &c.

Only one month has previoufly been offered to the
Public as a Specimen, and if the aim of the Editor



fliould be attained, it will be in his power to publifh
two more.

As for the reft, we wifh that our readers may pof-
fefs that candour which charadlerifes the Author of
the Journal, and the publication of the prefent work
will need no further apology.

A. P. R.

R. Oftober, 1770.



X HE fcope of the fubfequent work, as well as the
hiftory of its publication, being fully explained in
Mr. Lavater's letter, which is prefixed to the fecond
volume, the Tranflator has nothing to add, but to
beg the Reader not to impute it to him, if the ftile
in which the Journal is written fhould appear rather
fingular. Mr. Lavater's manner of expreffing hi*
ideas, being as extraordinary as his manner of think-
ing, thofe who are not intimately acquainted with
the writings of this eccentric, but truly venerable
man, will eafily be induced to miftake for a foreign
idiom what, in reality, is an idiom of the Author,
and could not be exchanged for a genuine Englifh
one, as it is the peculiar charadteriftic which diftin-
guifhes his way of thinking. Confidering this, the
Tranflator flatters himfelf that he will not be pro-
nounced arrogant, if he hopes that not all expref-
fions, which may found rather ftrange in an elegant



car, will be charged on him as proofs of neglect, or
of a too deficient knowledge of the language. The
prefent Tranflation, which originally was intended
to be circulated only in manufcript, among fome ad-
mirers of Mr. Lavater, would certainly never have
been intruded on the Public, if the Tranflator were
not fully perfuaded, that its great utility will over-
balance its many defects, and contribute to propa-
gate piety and religious prudence, for which purpofo
he recommends the perufal of it particularly to his
congregation, who always have difplayed the moft
laudable defire to improve in Chriftian knowledge
and virtue.

May the divine Author of Truth give his bleffing
to the weak efforts of the Tranflator, to contribute
his mite to the encreafe of ferious meditation and
Chriftian circumfpeftion, and animate the readers
of thefe pages with a fincere and active defire to
profit by the example of their venerable Author !

Upper Thornhaugh-Street.





JANUARY, 1769.


I AM going to begin a Journal with this
prefent year. O that not one of my future
days might 'be entirely loft to heaven and
myfelf! that every one might be diftin-
guifhed by at leaft one good deed, and moft
of them entirely dedicated to Thee, my God ;
becoming an immortal foul, and a fource of
eternal happinefs.

VOL. I. B Spirit


Spirit of Grace remind me every day to
watch and to pray, becaufe I do not know
when my Judge mall come : yes, my foul,
work while it is day, for the night cometh
when no man can work. O Lord, teach me
to number my days, that I may apply my
heart unto wifdom.

Let me, Father, let me never
Sink in (lumber's peaceful lap,
Till I have furveyed the aftions,
And the errors of the day.

And thou, my heart, be fincere : do not
conceal from me thy fecret recefles j I will
make friendlhip, and eret a covenant with
thee. Know, my heart, that no friendship
upon earth is wifer, and more abounding in
bleffings, than the friendfhip and intimacy of
a heart with itfelf. He who is not his own
confidant, can never become a friend of
God and virtue. The more we fhun our-



felvcs, the nearer we approach to hypocrify ;
and there is nothing in the world I defpife
more than an hypocrite.

Thofe that know the human heart have
made the juft remark, that we ceafe being
fmcere, as foon as we perceive that we are
obferved. But it is juft the reverfe with a
rigorous obfervation of ourfelves ; we always
begin to be fmcere, as foon as our heart per-
ceives that we watch its fentiments.

Left I fhould deceive myfelf, I will make
a firm refolution never to mew thefe re-
marks to any perfon whatever ; to conceal
them with the greateft care, and to write
every thing that could produce the leaft bad
confequence in ciphers entirely arbitrary,
which no one but myfelf fliall be able to
folve j and to write down every thing remark-
able. I fhall perceive in the courfe and fluc-
tuation of my fentiments, all the fecret
B 2 artifices


artifices of paflions ; every thing which may
have a remarkable influence upon the im-
provement of my moral character, &c. &c.
&c. as carefully, as if I were to read my
journal to God: fo carefully, that on my
death-bed I fhall be enabled, by thefe re-
cords, to give to myfelf an account of my
life, like that which will be laid before me,
when my fpirit fhall have taken its flight to
better regions.


The following rules fhall always be before
mine eyes; they mall be fufpended fome-
where in my fludy, and read and revolved
by me every morning and evening.


I will never rife in the, morning without
offering thanks and prayers to God ; nor



without refle&ing that it, perhaps, may be
the laft time.


I will never begin my daily occupations,
neither in the morning nor in the afternoon,
without having previoufly implored God, on
my knees, in a retired place (at lead for a
few moments), to grant me his aid and


I will not do nor defign any thing I would
omit if Jcfus (Thrift were ftanding vifibly be-
fore me j nothing which I might repent of
at the uncertain hour of death. I will, with
the afliftance of God, accuftom myfelf to do
every thing, without exception, in the name
of Jefus Chrift j and, as his difciple, to figh
every hour to God for the bleflings of the
Holy Ghoft, and always to be difpofed to

63 IV. J xvill



I will read every day a chapter in the
Bible, and particularly in the gofpel; and
feleft fome fentiment or other from the
chapters I mall read, and revolve it fre-
quently in my mind.


Every day mall be marked with at leait
one particular work of charity.


I will make it every day my principal
bufinefs to be ufeful to my family.


I will never eat or drink fo much as to
caufe the lead inconvenience or hindrance
in the performance of my occupations ; and
between meals abflain, as much as poffible,



from drinking wine, and from eating (a morfel
in the evening excepted).


Whitherfoever I may go, I will previoufly
figh to God that I may not commit a fin, but
always leave behind me fomething ufeful ;
the fame I will do before every meal where-
foever I may take it.


I will never fleep longer than eight hours,
at moft, whilft in health.


I will never lay down to fleep without
having prayed firft.


In my prayers for others, which I will

never omit, I will mention by name my pa-

B 4 rents,


rents, my wife, my children, my fervants,
and my friends, &c,


I will examine myfelf after thefe rules
every night, and honeftly mark in my jour-
nal the number which I mail have omitted;
the fame I will obferve with regard to what-
ever I mall have read, tranfa&ed, finned, and
learned. God, thou feed what I have wrote ;
may I be able to read it every morning with
fincerity, and every night with joy, and the
loud applaufe of my conscience.



JANUARY i, 1769.

THIS morning I awoke at three o'clock,
and heard the watchman : I never hear him
without fome fweet melancholy, accompa-
nied by a nice perception of the fleetnefs of
my life, and of the imperfect ideas of fleep-
lefs philofophers, fighing, and fick people,
women in labour, dying, &c. &c. This morn-
ing I had a livelier fenfe of that idea than
ufual ; I proftrated myfelf in my imagination
before God, and offered to him the firft fen-
timents of this new year (I could not check
my tears as I was filently praying), and re-
commended to the mercy of God all my
brethren and fillers in the whole world. I
revolved in my mind the above-mentioned
rules ; renewed my pious resolutions, and
with a ferene confidence refigned my whole
temporal an<i eternal happinefs to the cars



of my beft and faithfulleft Father in hea-

Then flept again with tranquillity till half
an hour paft fix, when I awoke with joy and
gratitude, prayed, repeated the new year's
hymn of Gellert, and read the four firft
chapters of St. Matthew. My fentiments
for the day was: Thou malt not tempt the
Lord thy God.

O, my God ! I will look up to Thee for
every blefling during the enfuing year, and
never doubt but that thou wilt grant me
more than thou haft promifed, and never
afk what thou haft not promifed.

I took the firm refolution to wifh to-day
to no one an happy new year with my lips
only. O ! what an offence againft truth is it
to wifli one with the lips a bleffing which
the heart does not concur in ; and, perhaps,
might envy another in the enjoyment thereof.



Be thou, therefore, ever prefent to my heart
to-day, thou facred fenfe of fincerity ; and,
oh ! my heart, never forget that it is mean
hypocrify to pronounce a with without mean-
ing any thing with it. I found it difficult to
execute this refolution. My words overfliot
my fentiments feveral times. I overtook them
again, and always felt an inward pleafure
when I perceived that my wifhes were
anointed with fincerity and love for human-

Good God ! how many inward and valu-
able pleafures do we chafe away from our
foul, by banifliing from it humanity, the moft
precious jewel of our nature. Mortals, like
myfelf, brothers and fillers are all of you,
who with me inhabit one globe, breathe one
air, and imbibe the light of one fun, and I
mould force myfelf to wifh you happy ; I
fhould mean and feel nothing, when I am



wifhing you, in the prefence of the omnipre*
fent Father, the Father of all, happy days,
health, new ftrength for being virtuous, and
every thing that God himfelf calls bleffings.
Wiihing an happy new year to my maid, I
fuppreffed fome bitter reflections which were
going to mix with my wifh. I fpoke with
that natural mild refignation which is always
the companion of true fimplicity : however,
I cannot deny that I conquered my acrimony;
I believed to have performed fomething
great, and fomething very mean : if thou,
my heart! hadft conquered thyfelf a little

Alas! how inattentive was I at church
and yet I had prayed fervently at firft what
a trifle was it that took away my attention !
Good God! if I did but know by what means
I could fix my foul ! How fudden is the tran-
fition from ferious devotion to wild fancies-^-

a mien,


a mien, a muff. Alas! what infignificant
trifles withdraw my attention from heaven
to earth ! The fermon on the fleetnefs of
human life made me, however, again very
ferious, until the preacher began to pro-
nounce his wifhes. What an art is it to
gratulate in an artlefs manner ! I will, how-
ever, firft learn myfelf how to gratulate with
fincerity, before I weigh the gratulations of
x>thers on the balance of criticifm.

In the evening I endeavoured to be alone
as foon as poflible. I mud converfe with
myfelf. Shall I live this year more happy
and virtuous ? faid I to myfelf this morning.
I began my talk with writing down my jour-
nal, and continued it thus far. Now it
(truck five o'clock already five o'clock, faid
I, and I have not yet performed any parti-
cular work of charity ; to-morrow I could
indeed perform two, inftead of one, and thus


make up the omiffion of this day ; however,
I will not tranfgrefs, knowingly, a rule, the
performance of which I have to-day folemnly
promifed to God and my confcience ; for
that reafon I would not let pafs the prefent
firft day of the year without having per-
formed a particular work of charity. An-
other reafon perhaps was, becaufe I wifhed
to have the pleafure, on the firft day of the
next year, to look back on this day with the
joy of a benevolent heart ; for I have fre-
quently remarked, that I have a particular
defire of marking with virtuous a&ions, and,
above all, with deeds of charity, thofe days
which diftinguim themfelves in the almanack
by fome extraordinary feftivity, or fomething
elfe remarkable. How eafy do we recollet
them when they return the next year ! On
New-year's-day, on my birth-day, on Eafter-
day, I have been here or there ; have per-


formed this or that that haplefs fufferer
who is now reftored to his health or that
brother who, perhaps, is now in the other
world or a third who fuffers ftill. Oh!
how did he rejoice on that day, when I fur-
prifed him with a charitable relief. But now
I will rife ; will leave off writing. I will not
write a line more, but go and al. But
whither am I going ? and what do I intend
to do ? Thou needeft not go far. Has not
my maid a fick mother, who, moreover, is
poor ? How often has me already begged
foft old linen to drefs her wounds with ?
I went down to my wife: " My dear! I
" want a new-year's gift ;" " For whom ?"
" For myfelf, or rather for a poor perfon ;
" or for him who has faid : inafmuch as ye
" have done it unto one of the leaft of my brethrer,
" ye have done it unto me." " Well, what is it

" then ?" Some old linen for Kitty's mo-



" ther." " Is that all ? I will inftantly go*
" and look for fome: but then I beg of
" you a' reciprocal kindnefs- let us fing
" fome hymns." I confented to it, and did
ft with inward pleafure, with a pious fatis-
faction, and with tears of joy.

What is the reafon that I am never more
pious than when I hear fpiritual mufick ?
Are the fine, fweet, melting fenfations,
which it commonly thrills the foul with,
really of a moral nature ; although they are
nothing but the immediate effecl of tones,
of certain circular vibrations of the air ;
although they feem to be merely mechani-
cal, vaniflnng as foon as the tones are heard
no more, leaving fo rarely a lafting impref-
fion behind ? And yet I have frequently been
proud of them ; have numbered them on the
(core of my moral feelings: but mould virtue
be nothing elfe but the effect of a vibration



of the ai/, regulated in this or that manner,
can a true moral nature be afcribed to a
fentiment which does not root in the foul ;
coming only on certain occafions, and difap-
pearing with them r Should not fdf-fuffitiency
be the effential character of virtue ? The con-
fcioufneTs of acting right under all circum-
ftances ; the inward conviction of the law-
fulnefs of our aftions fhould not that be
the criterion of our character ? But cannot
fentiments be fincere> and of a moral nature,
although they be produced only by acci-
dental circumflances ? A difficult query. It
can, however, not be denied ; only thofe
fentiments which I can create within myfelf,
as often as I choofe, through juft and great
ideas which I can produce, and which are
natural and familiar to me on all occafions
only thofe fentiments I mail take over
with me into the other world. Mufick can
VOL. I. C ia ife


raife rtiy feelings ; yet my God and my Re-
deemer will not be lefs amiable, although
the mulick mould have died away like a foft
ftream of harmonies. It is always true, that
I owe him my exiftence, and my immorta-
lity 5 and this idea, ever true and inconteft-
able, ought always to have a felf-fufficient
power of roufing within myfelf fentiments
of gratitude and love.

Thus Tar I had wrote, when my wife
brought me the little bundle of linen I had
defired. " Will that do ?" Perfeftly well!
" I will give it to the fervant," faid I. The
fervant was called ; flie anfwered, crofsly,
(lie could not come. Her anfwer did not
provoke me ; and it made me quite proud
that I was not angry, and mould be able to
fhame her, by a gift for her mother. Five
minutes after me came : " What are your

" commands ?" " Kitty," faid I, in a firm



and gentle accent, " there is fomething for
" your mother ; you may go prefently, and
" take it to her." It was indeed a triumph
to me, to fee her furprifed, and fo much
afhamed: me went away, and I was fatis-

We fupped foon after, and I was very
cheerful during our meal. When the table
was going to be cleared, I ftruggled with
myfelf, whether I mould, or fhould not fay,
" henceforward we will always join in our
" evening prayers." How cowardly is it of
the father of a houfe not to dare to make
the rlrft advances towards fo laudable a cuf-
tom ? However, I attempted it ; fetched in-
ftantly the excellent hymns of Gellert, and
prayed : then we parted, and I perufed my
rules, and my journal. Have I performed
every thing in the name of Jefus Chrift ?
Have I prayed for the perfons named in my
C a eleventh


eleventh rule? No-j I have not; I will do
it now. O ! merciful God ! with Thee will
I converfe, before mine eyes mall be clofed.

JANUARY the Second.

I AWOKE at fix o'clock, remembered
that I am a mortal, gave thanks to God,
and read the fifth, fixth, and feventh chap-
ters of St. Matthew. What a treafure of
morals! How difficult to fingle out a parti-
cular paflage ! I went dire&ly to my occu-
pations, and continued them fucceflively till
noon. I ate with a good appetite. My wife
alked me, during dinner, what fentiment I had
chofen for the prefent day : " Henceforth,
" my dear," anfwered I, " we will pray and
" read together in the morning, and choofe
" a common fentiment for the day j I have

" been


" been angry with myfelf to-day, for having
" neglefted it fo long. The fentiment which
" I have chofen for this day is : Give to him
" that asketh thee, and from him that would
" borrow of thee, turn not thou away"

" Pray how is this to be underftood?" faid
Ihe. " Literally," replied I. Literally ?
" very ftrange, indeed!" " We, at leaft, muft
" take it fo, my dear, as we would do if
" we had heard Jefus Chrift himfelf pro-
<( nounce thefe words. No doubt we muft.
" take thefe words fo as if he himfelf had
" fpoken them to us, fmce he has caufed
" them to be committed to writings for
" whatever is written, can have no other
" meaning than the word simply. The gofpel
" contains, as I think, anfwers, either general
" or particular ones; yet they are always ea-
" /ily to be comprehended by our confcience$
(l they are unequivocal to him who reads them
3 *> with


" with a plain, fimple fenfe of truth ; they are,
" in every refpeft, divine anfwers to all moral
" queftions, folutions of all problems which
" ever can be ftated. However, only hearts
" which are plain, fincere unto the voice of
" truth, and void of paflions, can compre-
" hend thefe anfwers and folutions : Give to
f( him that a/keth thee, and from him that would
" borrow of tkee, turn not thou away ; fays he
" whofe property all my pofleilions are. I
" am the fteward, and not the proprietor of
" my fortune. The proprietor commandeth
" me to give unto him that alketh of me,
" and not to refufe the prayer of him who
" wants to borrow of me, while it mail be
" in my power to give and to lend; I muft,
" of courfe, give to him who has nothing ;
" or, to ufe other words, if I have two coats,
" 1 muft give one unto him who has none-, and
" if I have meat, I muft dofoJikewife, though



" I flioidd not be ajked. How much more
" will it be incumbent upon me if that
" mould be the cafe ?" This was fo clear to
me, that I fpoke it rather with warmth.
My wife made no reply, except, " that (he
" would take it into confideration."

I was juft rifen from dinner, when a widow
defired to fpeak with me ; I ordered her to
be fhewn into my ftudy. " You will excufe
" me, dear Sir !" faid fhe, " I entreat you to
* f excufe me. Alas ! I can fcarcely tell it ;
" I muft pay my houfe-rent, and I am fix
" dollars too fhort ; I have been ill a whole
" month, and could hardly keep my poor
<e children from ftarvings I have laid by
" every penny but, gracious heaven ! I am,
" neverthelefs, fix dollars too fhort, and muft
" have them to-day, or to-morrow ; pray
" hear me, dear Sir!" Here (he took afmall
parcel out of her pocket, untied it, and faid,
C 4 " There,


" There, Sir, is a book enchafed with filver ;

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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