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Grey Eminence [Paperback]

Aldous Huxley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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March 14 1994 0006547435 978-0006547433 New edition
The life of Father Joseph, Cardinal Richelieu's aide, was a monstrous paradox. After a day spent in directing operations on the battlefield Father Joseph would pass the night in prayer, or in composing spiritual guidance for the nuns in his care. He was an aspirant to sainthood, a practising mystic, yet his ruthless exercise of power succeeded in prolonging the Thirty Years War, with all its unspeakable horrors. How a religious man could lead such a life, how an individual could reconcile the seemingly opposing moral systems of religion and politics, was a theme to which Huxley would continuously return.

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"Penetrating and vivid... This biography will rank amongst Huxley's best books. He never wrote better; he never hit upon a more interesting theme" Sunday Times "A remarkable biography" Observer "Grey Eminence is lucid, scholarly and thoughtful. Huxley has used all his ingenuity to explain this extraordinary character" New Statesman

About the Author

Aldous Huxley was born on 26th July 1894 near Godalming, Surrey. He began writing poetry and short stories in his early twenties, but it was his first novel, 'Crome Yellow' (1921), which established his literary reputation. This was swiftly followed by 'Antic Hay' (1923), 'Those Barren Leaves' (1925) and 'Point Counter Point' (1928) - bright, brilliant satires in which Huxley wittily but ruthlessly passed judgement on the shortcomings of contemporary society. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy and an account of his experiences there can be found in 'Along The Road' (1925). The great novels of ideas, including his most famous work 'Brave New World' (published in 1932 this warned against the dehumanising aspects of scientific and material 'progress') and the pacifist novel 'Eyeless in Gaza' (1936) were accompanied by a series of wise and brilliant essays, collected in volume form under titles such as 'Music at Night' (1931) and 'Ends and Means' (1937). In 1937, at the height of his fame, Huxley left Europe to live in California, working for a time as a screenwriter in Hollywood. As the West braced itself for war, Huxley came increasingly to believe that the key to solving the world's problems lay in changing the individual through mystical enlightenment. The exploration of the inner life through mysticism and hallucinogenic drugs was to dominate his work for the rest of his life. His beliefs found expression in both fiction ('Time Must Have a Stop', 1944 and 'Island', 1962) and non-fiction ('The Perennial Philosophy', 1945, 'Grey Eminence', 1941 and the famous account of his first mescalin experience, 'The Doors of Perception', 1954. Huxley died in California on 22nd November 1963.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Huxley's best book - perhaps surprisingly Oct. 11 2010
Format:Paperback
Who is actually interested in the obscure Christian mystical practices and depressing court intrigues of 17th century France? I certainly wasn't, until I picked up this book. I've read quite a few of Huxley's books but I really thought this was the best, rather surprisingly, as "Brave New World" and others I found to be incredibly good.

'Grey Eminence' follows the life of the French Father Joseph, a Capuchin monk and mystic until circumstance (and perhaps his own vicarious lust for power) drew him into the power politics of the 30 Years' War in Europe. Working essentially as the lackey for the powerful and heartless Cardinal Richelieu (or perhaps as his puppetmaster, as this book shows), Father Joseph remained a monk to the last, eating one meal a day and basically walking all over Europe (and barefoot!) to accomplish his intrigues and lay seige to various strongholds of heathenism (as Pere Joseph perceived it, at least). If only all history could be written so well, I'd be reading a lot more of it.

However, above and beyond the history (very well done) and biography (also excellent), the themes Huxley brings up throughout the book fascinating and tie in very well with much of his life's work. A central idea is the Christian mystic practice of "active annihilation," that is, destroying one's own will utterly so that one acts merely as an instrument or conduit for God's (or ultimate reality's, as Huxley prefers to look at it) will or intention. This idea is examined magnificently - its ultimate benefits if successful (Huxley considers such an attainment the highest form of spiritual realization, and makes a good case for this assertion) and its horrible, horrible consequences if unsuccessful (with the life of Father Joseph as a case study in this kind of failure).
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5.0 out of 5 stars morality and politics Jan. 10 2004
Format:Hardcover
Aldous Huxley's little book "Grey Eminence" has the brilliance of the protracted essay, brevity of the vast historical exposition and the breath of coverage which embraces 400 years of recent European History. "Grey Emmince" is a spiritual and historical biography of François Le Clerc du Tremblay, a French nobleman of the 17th century who as a Capuchin monk became a contemplative, advanced enough in the world of spirituality to became a founding farther of a new monastic order. At the same time he was a right-hand man and a designated successor of Cardinal Richelieu. As Huxley claims, Farther Joseph's policies contributed to the protraction of 30 year war and immeasurable suffering of the population the Holy Roman Empire whose lands were devastated during this generation-long war.
Father Joseph is thus an enigmatic figure. A man of God and an original power politician. How is that possible? According to Huxley, father Joseph was able to convince himself of the doctrine of the divine rights of Kings and of the divine origin of the French monarchy in particular. What was good for France was desired by God. And more, if the acts of power politician are practiced together "active annihilation" of those acts in the contemplation of divine Godhead, then they attain a moral power and meaning. Curious doctrine, but perhaps not so distant of the realities of the contemporary power politics.
Huxley historical exposition on which background the biography is plaid out are vivid, interesting and accurate. Huxley also devotes some time to the compare and contrast of Catholic contemplative practices of the time of the Counter-Reformation and modern Buddhist practices (which the author himself indulged in).
Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crucial study of problems between politics and religion July 22 1995
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a brilliant investigation of the dangerous relations
when we mix politics and religion. This book is almost banned in
Latin American countryes. The reason: we still suffer from
this problem.

Please forgive my poor spelling and writing in English.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating biography of the French pol Father Joseph Nov. 8 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What was the 30-Year War that raged across 17th century Europe? How did a mystical French priest, Father Joseph, become a leading politican and war leader during the 17th century? What are the perils of bringing intense religious beliefs into earthly politics? How did this modest monk, who considered wearing shoes a sin, inspire King Louis XIII to continue a war that lead to millions of deaths?
Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and Doors of Perception, wrote this complex biography of Father Joseph while German bombs were being dropped on London and he was a Hollywood screenwriter. A committed pacifist and spiritual seeker, Huxley sought to understand the barbarism of Nazi Germany and offer a parable for his own relucance to get involved in World War II br tracing the tragic career of a hermit turned Forign Minister. Father Joseph, according to Huxley, was born to be on the side on angels, but found himself hated as warmonker and religious fanatic. Sensitive souls, Huxley warns, should not be forced into public affairs because they destroy their higher selves and place impossible demands on mere mortals.
As always with the polyglot philosopher, Huxley's poignant narrative illuminates the connections between history, theology, and psycholgy. Armed with a lethal wit, Huxley brings this forgotten religious leader to life with absorbing details and shocking absurdities. A compelling, if disturbing, biography to read as the Christian Right continues to grow in influence and power. Can you get Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed to read this?
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huxley's best book - perhaps surprisingly July 21 2010
By Kieran Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Who is actually interested in the obscure Christian mystical practices and depressing court intrigues of 17th century France? I certainly wasn't, until I picked up this book. I've read quite a few of Huxley's books but I really thought this was the best, rather surprisingly, as "Brave New World" and others I found to be incredibly good.

'Grey Eminence' follows the life of the French Father Joseph, a Capuchin monk and mystic until circumstance (and perhaps his own vicarious lust for power) drew him into the power politics of the 30 Years' War in Europe. Working essentially as the lackey for the powerful and heartless Cardinal Richelieu (or perhaps as his puppetmaster, as this book shows), Father Joseph remained a monk to the last, eating one meal a day and basically walking all over Europe (and barefoot!) to accomplish his intrigues and lay seige to various strongholds of heathenism (as Pere Joseph perceived it, at least). If only all history could be written so well, I'd be reading a lot more of it.

However, above and beyond the history (very well done) and biography (also excellent), the themes Huxley brings up throughout the book fascinating and tie in very well with much of his life's work. A central idea is the Christian mystic practice of "active annihilation," that is, destroying one's own will utterly so that one acts merely as an instrument or conduit for God's (or ultimate reality's, as Huxley prefers to look at it) will or intention. This idea is examined magnificently - its ultimate benefits if successful (Huxley considers such an attainment the highest form of spiritual realization, and makes a good case for this assertion) and its horrible, horrible consequences if unsuccessful (with the life of Father Joseph as a case study in this kind of failure). Pere Joseph's mistake was to assume that France, too, was but an instrument of God's will - and therefore anything he could do to increase and maintain French hegemony, and by implication to ruin and destroy its competitors, was God's will. Big mistake, as Huxley so sympathetically points out. Father Joseph's and Richelieu's policies greatly exacerbated the 30 Years' War and led directly (and indirectly) to untold suffering not only of France's enemies, but its own people. Rape, pillage, destruction, cannabalism, and so on...

If I'm not mistaken this book was written during WWII (published, it says, in 1944) and it can also be seen not only as a parallel of that contemporary madness, but as Huxley's Apology for his own reluctance to engage in politics and the war. Huxley, we can assume, is Father Joseph the younger, a well-intentioned mystic seeking to align himself with the true will or purpose of this universe. Humbly admitting that he has not nearly arrived at that point, Huxley defends the idea, in this long parable, that one who believes unflinchingly that right is on their side and acts with this resolve (not to mention deafness to criticism) will only sow hatred and misery in the world --- unless (a big if), they truly have achieved active annihilation.

The prose shines here, the people come alive, and the insights and arguments (as above) are intriguing reading. It's great to see this appears to be still in print. Highly recommended. In fact this book is so good I wanted to steal it from the library of the monastery I borrowed it from and just let them keep my 'lost book deposit' - as I feel though that I haven't quite completely 'actively annihilated' my own will, it's probably best to stick to conventional morality for now and just return it!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars morality and politics Jan. 10 2004
By Boris Aleksandrovsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Aldous Huxley's little book "Grey Eminence" has the brilliance of the protracted essay, brevity of the vast historical exposition and the breath of coverage which embraces 400 years of recent European History. "Grey Emmince" is a spiritual and historical biography of François Le Clerc du Tremblay, a French nobleman of the 17th century who as a Capuchin monk became a contemplative, advanced enough in the world of spirituality to became a founding farther of a new monastic order. At the same time he was a right-hand man and a designated successor of Cardinal Richelieu. As Huxley claims, Farther Joseph's policies contributed to the protraction of 30 year war and immeasurable suffering of the population the Holy Roman Empire whose lands were devastated during this generation-long war.
Father Joseph is thus an enigmatic figure. A man of God and an original power politician. How is that possible? According to Huxley, father Joseph was able to convince himself of the doctrine of the divine rights of Kings and of the divine origin of the French monarchy in particular. What was good for France was desired by God. And more, if the acts of power politician are practiced together "active annihilation" of those acts in the contemplation of divine Godhead, then they attain a moral power and meaning. Curious doctrine, but perhaps not so distant of the realities of the contemporary power politics.
Huxley historical exposition on which background the biography is plaid out are vivid, interesting and accurate. Huxley also devotes some time to the compare and contrast of Catholic contemplative practices of the time of the Counter-Reformation and modern Buddhist practices (which the author himself indulged in). This will be of interest to the modern reader, one would hope.
The conclusion of the story of Father Joseph is bittersweet. At end power politics destroyed the former contemplative life, and the union with God became more and more problematic. And so the partise of active annihilation, and thus justification for the actions of the politician. He became one of the most hated people in Europe of his generation. At the same time, if one looks at the achievements of the "Grey Eminence" France was actually much better off for it.
At the end it is appropriate to quote pope Urban VIII who said the following about Richelieu - "If there is a God, Cardinal Richelieu will have much to answer for. If not, he has done very well".
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huxley's best book - perhaps surprisingly July 21 2010
By Kieran Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Who is actually interested in the obscure Christian mystical practices and depressing court intrigues of 17th century France? I certainly wasn't, until I picked up this book. I've read quite a few of Huxley's books but I really thought this was the best, rather surprisingly, as "Brave New World" and others I found to be incredibly good.

'Grey Eminence' follows the life of the French Father Joseph, a Capuchin monk and mystic until circumstance (and perhaps his own vicarious lust for power) drew him into the power politics of the 30 Years' War in Europe. Working essentially as the lackey for the powerful and heartless Cardinal Richelieu (or perhaps as his puppetmaster, as this book shows), Father Joseph remained a monk to the last, eating one meal a day and basically walking all over Europe (and barefoot!) to accomplish his intrigues and lay seige to various strongholds of heathenism (as Pere Joseph perceived it, at least). If only all history could be written so well, I'd be reading a lot more of it.

However, above and beyond the history (very well done) and biography (also excellent), the themes Huxley brings up throughout the book fascinating and tie in very well with much of his life's work. A central idea is the Christian mystic practice of "active annihilation," that is, destroying one's own will utterly so that one acts merely as an instrument or conduit for God's (or ultimate reality's, as Huxley prefers to look at it) will or intention. This idea is examined magnificently - its ultimate benefits if successful (Huxley considers such an attainment the highest form of spiritual realization, and makes a good case for this assertion) and its horrible, horrible consequences if unsuccessful (with the life of Father Joseph as a case study in this kind of failure). Pere Joseph's mistake was to assume that France, too, was but an instrument of God's will - and therefore anything he could do to increase and maintain French hegemony, and by implication to ruin and destroy its competitors, was God's will. Big mistake, as Huxley so sympathetically points out. Father Joseph's and Richelieu's policies greatly exacerbated the 30 Years' War and led directly (and indirectly) to untold suffering not only of France's enemies, but its own people. Rape, pillage, destruction, cannabalism, and so on...

If I'm not mistaken this book was written during WWII (published, it says, in 1944) and it can also be seen not only as a parallel of that contemporary madness, but as Huxley's Apology for his own reluctance to engage in politics and the war. Huxley, we can assume, is Father Joseph the younger, a well-intentioned mystic seeking to align himself with the true will or purpose of this universe. Humbly admitting that he has not nearly arrived at that point, Huxley defends the idea, in this long parable, that one who believes unflinchingly that right is on their side and acts with this resolve (not to mention deafness to criticism) will only sow hatred and misery in the world --- unless (a big if), they truly have achieved active annihilation.

The prose shines here, the people come alive, and the insights and arguments (as above) are intriguing reading. It's great to see this appears to be still in print. Highly recommended. In fact this book is so good I wanted to steal it from the library of the monastery I borrowed it from and just let them keep my 'lost book deposit' - as I feel though that I haven't quite completely 'actively annihilated' my own will, it's probably best to stick to conventional morality for now and just return it!
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