(7.) We are puffed up with pride and entertain a high opinion of ourselves and of the correctness of our judgment, and yet it is surprising we neglect to make use of it in speaking of other peoples merit; fashion, the fancy of the people or of the prince, carry us away like a torrent; we extol rather what is praised than what is praiseworthy.
(8.) I doubt whether anything is approved and commended more reluctantly than what deserves most to be approved and praised; and whether virtue, merit, beauty, good actions, and the best writings produce a more natural and certain impression than envy, jealousy, and antipathy. A pious person does not speak well of a saint, but of another pious person. If a handsome woman allows that another woman is beautiful, we may safely conclude she excels her; or if a poet praises a brother poets verses, it is pretty sure they are wretched and spiritless.
(9.) Men do not easily like one another, and are not much inclined to commend each other. Neither actions, behaviour, thoughts, nor expression please them nor are satisfactory; they substitute for what is recited, told, or read to them what they themselves would have done in such a circumstance, or what they think and have written on such a subject; and are so full of their own ideas that they have no room for anothers.
(10.) Men are generally inclined to become dissolute and frivolous, and such a large number of pernicious or ridiculous examples is to be found in this world, that I should feel inclined to believe that eccentricity, if kept within bounds and not gone too far, would almost be like correct reasoning and regular behaviour.
We must do as others do is a dangerous maxim, which nearly always means we must do wrong if it is applied to any but external things of no consequence, and depending on custom, fashion, or decency.
(11.) If men were not more like bears and panthers than men, if they were honest, just to themselves and to others, what would become of the law, the text and the prodigious amount of commentaries made on it; what of petitions and actions, and everything people call jurisprudence? And to what would those persons be reduced who owe all their importance and pride to the authority with which they are invested for seeing those laws executed? If those very men were honest and sincere, and had no prejudices, the wrangles of the schoolmen, scholasticism, and all controversies would vanish. If all men were temperate, chaste, and moderate, what would be the use of that mysterious medical jargon, a gold-mine for those persons who know how to use it? What a downfall would it be for all lawyers, doctors, and physicians if we could all agree to become wise!
We would have been obliged to do without many men great in peace and war. Several arts and sciences have been brought to a high degree of exquisite perfection, which, so far from being necessary, were introduced into the world as remedies for those evils only caused by our wickedness.
(12.) At a sermon, a concert, or in a picture gallery, we can hear in different parts of the room quite contrary opinions expressed upon the very same subject; and hence I draw the conclusion that in all kinds of works we may venture to insert bad things as well as good ones; for the good please some and the bad others; and we do not risk much more by putting in the very worst, for it will find admirers.
(13.) The phnix of vocal poetry rose out of his own ashes, and in one and the same day saw his reputation lost and recovered. That same judge so infallible and yet so decidedI mean the publicchanged his views regarding him, and either was, or is now, in error. He who should say to-day that Q is a wretched poet would pronounce as bad an opinion as he who formerly said he was a good one.
(14.) Chapelain was rich and Corneille was not; La Pucelle and Rodogune deserved a different fate; therefore, it has always been a question why, in certain professions, one man makes his fortune and another fails? Men should look for the reason of this in their own whimsical behaviour, which, on most important occasions, when their business, their pleasures, their health, and their life are at stake, often makes them leave what is best and take what is worst.
(15.) The profession of an actor was considered infamous among the Romans, and honourable among the Greeks: how is it considered amongst us? We think of them like the Romans, and live with them like the Greeks.
(16.) It was sufficient for Bathyllus to be a pantomimist to be courted by the Roman ladies; for Rhoe to dance on the stage, or for Roscia and Nerina to sing in the chorus to attract a crowd of lovers. Vanity and impudence, the consequences of being too powerful, made the Romans lose a taste for pleasures secretly and mysteriously enjoyed; they were fond of loving actresses, without any jealousy of the audience, and shared with the multitude the charms of their mistresses; they only cared to show they loved not a beauty nor an excellent actress, but an actress.
(17.) Nothing better demonstrates how men regard science and literature, and of what use they are considered in the State, than the recompense assigned to them, and the idea generally entertained of those persons who resolve to cultivate them. There is not a mere handicraft nor ever so vile a position, that is not a surer, quicker, and more certain way to wealth. An actor lolling in his coach bespatters the face of Corneille walking on foot. With many people learning and pedantry are synonymous.
(18.) A certain boldness is required to vindicate learning before some persons strongly prejudiced against learned men, whom they call ill-mannered, wanting in tact, unfit for society, and whom they send back, stripped in this way, to their study and their books. As ignorance is easy, and not difficult to acquire, many people embrace it; and these form a large majority at court and in the city, and overpower the learned. If the latter allege in their favour the names of dEstrées, de Harlay, Bossuet, Séguier, Montausier, Wardes, Chevreuse, Novion, Lamoignon, Scudéey, Pellisson, and of many other personages equally learned and polite; nay, if they dare mention the great names of Chartres, Condé, Conti, Bourbon, Maine, and Vendôme, as princes who to the noblest and loftiest acquirements add Greek atticism and Roman urbanity, those persons do not hesitate to reply that such examples are exceptional; and the sound arguments brought forward are powerless against public opinion. However, it seems that people should be more careful in giving their decisions, and at least not take the trouble of asserting that intellects producing such great progress in science, and making persons think well, judge well, speak well, and write well, could not acquire polite accomplishments.
(19.) A politician says: Such a man is learned, and therefore not fit for business; I would not trust him to take an inventory of my wardrobe; and he is quite right. Ossat, Ximenes, and Richelieu were learned, but were they men of ability and considered able ministers? He understands Greek, continues our statesman, he is a pedant, a philosopher. According to this argument an Athenian fruit-woman who probably spoke Greek was a philosopher, and the Bignons and Lamoignons are mere pedants, and nobody can doubt it, for they know Greek. How whimsical and crack-brained was the great, the wise, and judicious Antoninus to say: That a people would be happy whose ruler was philosophising, or who should be governed by a philosopher or a scribbler.
Languages are but the keys or entrance-gates of sciences, and nothing more; he that despises the one slights the other. It matters little whether languages are ancient or modern, dead or living, but whether they are barbarous or polite and whether the books written in them are good or bad. Suppose the French language should one day meet with the fate of the Greek and Latin tongues; would it be considered pedantic to read Molière or La Fontaine some ages after French had ceased to be a living language?
(20.) If I mention Eurypilus, you say he is a wit. You also call a man who shapes a beam a carpenter, and him who builds a wall a bricklayer. Let me ask you where this wit has his workshop, and what is his sign? Can we recognise him by his dress? What are his tools? Is it a wedge, a hammer, an anvil? Where does he rough-hew or shape his work, and where is it for sale? A workman is proud of his trade; is Eurypilus proud of being a wit? If he is proud of it, he is a coxcomb, who debases the natural dignity of his intellect, and has a low and mechanical mind, which never seriously applies itself to what is either lofty or intellectual; and if he is not proud of anything, and this I understand to be his real character, then he is a sensible and intelligent man. Do you not bestow the title of wit on every pretender to learning and on every wretched poet? Do you not think you have some intelligence, and if so, no doubt a first-rate and practical one? But do you consider yourself, therefore, a wit, and would you not deem it an insult to be called so? However, I give you leave to call Eurypilus so, and this ironically, as fools do, and without the least discrimination, or as ignorant people do who console themselves by irony for the want of a certain culture which they perceive in others.
(21.) I do not wish to hear anything more about pen, ink, or paper, style, printer, or press! Venture no more to tell me: Antisthenes, you are a first-rate author; continue to write. Shall we never see a folio volume of yours? Speak of all the virtues and vices in one connected and methodical treatise, without end, and they should also add, without any sale. I renounce everything that either was, is, or will be a book! Beryllus swoons when he sees a cat, and I on beholding a book. Am I better fed or warmer clothed; is my room sheltered against northern blasts; have I so much as a feather-bed, after having had my works for sale for more than twenty years? You say I have a great name and a first-rate reputation: you may just as well tell me that I have a stock of air I cannot dispose of. Have I one grain of that metal which procures all things? The low pettifogger swells his bill, get costs paid which never came out of his pocket, and a count or a magistrate becomes his son-in-law. A man in a red or filemot-coloured dress is changed into a secretary, and in a little time is richer than his master, who remains a commoner whilst he buys a title for hard cash. B enriches himself by some waxwork show; B by selling some bottled river-water. Another quack arrives with one trunk from the other side of the Pyrenees; it is scarcely unpacked when pensions rain on him, and he is ready to return whence he came with plenty of mules and cartloads full of property. Mercury is Mercury, and nothing else; and as gold alone cannot pay his go-betweens and his intrigues, he obtains, moreover, favour and distinctions. To confine myself to lawful gain, you pay a tiler for his tiles and a workman for his time and labour; but do you pay an author for his thoughts and writings? and if his thoughts are excellent, do you pay him liberally? Does he furnish his house or become ennobled by thinking or writing well? Men must be clothed and shaved, have houses with doors that shut close; but where is the necessity of their being well informed? It were folly, simplicity, stupidity, continues Antisthenes, to set up for an author or a philosopher! Get me, if possible, some lucrative post which may make my life easy, enable me to lend some money to a friend, and give to those who cannot return it; and then I can write for recreation or indolently, just as Tityrus whistles or plays on the flute; Ill have that or nothing, and will write on those conditions; I will yield to the violence of those who take me by the throat and exclaim, You shall write! I have the title of my new book ready for them: Of beauty, goodness, truth, ideas, of first principles, by Antisthenes, a fishmonger.
(22.) If the ambassadors of some foreign princes were apes who had learned to walk on their hind-legs, and to make themselves understood by interpreters, it could not surprise us more than the correctness of their answers, and the common sense which at times appears in their discourse. Our prepossession in favour of our native country and our national pride makes us forget that common sense is found in all climates, and correctness of thought wherever there are men. We should not like to be so treated by those we call barbarians; and if some barbarity still exists amongst us, it is in being amazed on hearing natives of other countries reason like ourselves.
All strangers are not barbarians, nor are all our countrymen civilised; in like manner every country is not savage, nor every town polished. There exists in Europe, in a large kingdom, a certain place in a maritime province where the villagers are gentle and affable, and, on the contrary, the burgesses and the magistrates coarse, with a boorishness inherited from their ancestors.
(25.) This prelate seldom comes to court, lives retired, and is never seen in the company of ladies: he neither plays grand nor little primero, is not present at feasts or spectacles, is not a party man, and does not intrigue; he is always in his diocese, where he resides, devotes himself to instructing his people by preaching and edifying them by his example; spends his wealth in charity, and wastes away through doing penance; he is strict in the observance of his duties, but his zeal and piety are like those of the apostles. Times are changed, and in the present reign he is threatened with a higher clerical dignity.
(26.) Persons of a certain position, and members of a profession of great dignity, to say no more, should understand that they are not to gamble, sing, and be as jocular as other men, so that the world may talk about them; if they see them so pleasant and agreeable, it will not be believed that they are elsewhere staid and severe. May we venture to hint that by acting in such an undignified manner they offend against those polished manners upon which they pride themselves, and which, on the contrary, modify outward behaviour and make it suit any condition of life, cause them to avoid strong contrasts, and never show the same man in these various shapes as a compound of eccentricity and extravagance.
(27.) At a first and single glance we ought not to judge of men as of a picture or statue; there is an inner man, and a heart to be searched; a veil of modesty covers merit, and a mask of hypocrisy covers wickedness. Few there are whose discernment authorises them to decide; it is but gradually, and even then, perhaps, compelled by time and circumstances, that perfect virtue or absolute vice show themselves in their true colours.
(28.) A FRAGMENT . He said that the intelligence of this fair lady was like a diamond in a handsome setting, and, continuing to speak of her, he added: Her common sense and agreeable manners charm the eyes and hearts of all who converse with her, so that they do not know whether to love or to admire her most; she can be a perfect friend, or produce such an impression that her admirers feel inclined to transgress the bounds of friendship. Too young and healthy-looking not to please, but too modest to affect it, she esteems men only for their merit, and believes she has only friends; her vivacity and sentiment surprise and interest us, and though she knows perfectly the delicacies and niceties of conversation, she sometimes suddenly makes some happy observations, which give a great deal of pleasure and need not be answered. She speaks to you like one who is not learned, who is not certain of anything, and wants to be informed; and she listens to you as a person who knows a great deal, highly values what you say, and on whom nothing of what you say is lost. Far from pretending to be witty by contradicting you, and by imitating Elvira, who had rather be thought sprightly than a woman of sense and sound judgment, she adopts your thoughts, thinks they are her own, enlarges on them, and embellishes them; and makes you pleased you have thought so correctly and expressed yourself better than you believed you did. She shows her contempt for vanity in her conversation and in her writings, and never employs witticisms instead of arguments, for she is aware that true eloquence is always unaffected. If it is to serve any one and to induce you to do the same, Arténice leaves to Elvira all pretty speeches and literary phraseology, and only tries to convince you by her sincerity, ardour, and earnestness. What she likes above everything is reading, as well as conversing with persons of merit and reputation, and this not so much to be known to them, as to know them. We may already commend her for all the wisdom she will have one day, and for all the merit she will have in time to come; her behaviour is without reproach; she has the best intentions, and principles which cannot be shaken, and are very useful to those who, like her, are exposed to be courted and flattered. She rather likes to be alone, without, however, altogether shunning society, and indeed without even being inclined to retirement, so that perhaps she wants nothing but opportunities, or, as some would call it, a large stage for the display of all her qualities.
(29.) The more natural a handsome woman is, the more amiable she appears; she loses nothing by being not in full dress, and without any other ornaments than her beauty and her youth. An artless charm beams on her countenance and animates every little action, so that there would be less danger in seeing her adorned in splendid and fashionable apparel. Thus an honest man is respected for his own sake, independent of any outward deportment by which he endeavours to give himself a graver appearance and to make his virtue more apparent. An austere look, an exaggerated modesty, eccentricity in dress, and a large skull-cap, add nothing to his probity nor heighten his merit; they conceal it, and perhaps make it appear less pure and ingenuous than it is.
Gravity too affected becomes comical; it is like extremities which join one another, and of which the centre is dignity; this cannot be called being grave, but acting the part of a grave man; a person who studies to assume a serious appearance will never succeed. Either gravity is natural, or there is no such thing, and it is easier to descend from it than to attain it.
(30.) A man of talent and of good repute, if he is peevish and austere, frightens young people and gives them a bad opinion of virtue, as they are afraid it requires too much austerity, and is too tiresome. If, on the contrary, he is cheerful and easily accessible, his example is instructive to them, for it teaches them that men may live happy, do a good deal of work, and yet be serious without giving up decent diversions; he thus is an exemplar they can follow.
(34.) A good deal of art is needed to return to nature; a good deal of time, practice, attention, and labour to dance with the same freedom and ease we walk with; to sing as we speak; to throw as much vivacity, passion, and persuasion in a studied speech to be publicly delivered as in one which we sometimes naturally use, without any preparation, and in familiar conversation.
(36.) Some trifling regulations have to be followed in certain places, some duties have to be fulfilled at certain times, and some decorum has to be observed by certain persons, which could not be divined by the most intelligent people, and which custom teaches without any trouble: we should, therefore, not condemn men who omit these things, as they have not been taught them, neither should we decide their characters by the shape of their nails or the curl of their hair; if we do form such a judgment we shall soon find out our error.
(39.) Unless we are very firm and pay continual attention to what we utter, we are liable to say yes and no about the same thing or person in an hours time, induced to do this merely by a sociable and friendly disposition, which naturally leads a person not to contradict men who hold different opinions.
(40.) A partial man is exposed to frequent mortifications; for it is as impossible for his favourites always to be happy or wise as for those who are out of his favour always to be at fault or unfortunate; and, therefore, he often is put out of countenance either through the failure of his friends, or some glorious deed done by those whom he dislikes.
(41.) A man liable to be prejudiced who ventures to accept an ecclesiastical or civil dignity is like a blind man wishing to be an artist, a dumb man who would be an orator, or a deaf man desiring to judge a symphony; these are but faint comparisons imperfectly expressing the wretchedness of prejudice. Besides, prejudice is a desperate and incurable disease, contaminating all who approach the patient, so that his equals, inferiors, relatives, friends, and even the doctors abandon him; it is past their skill to work any cure if they cannot make him confess what is his disease, and acknowledge that the remedies to heal it are to listen, to doubt, to inquire, and to examine. Flatterers, rogues, and slanderers, those who never open their mouths but to lie or to advance their own interests, are the quacks in whom he trusts, and who make him swallow all they please; they thus poison and kill him.
Foolishness is a criterion of a blockhead, vanity of a coxcomb, and impertinence of an impertinent man; ridicule seems sometimes to dwell in those who are really ridiculous, and sometimes in the imagination of those who believe they perceive ridicule where it neither is nor can be.
(57.) Shall I call a man sensible who only practises one art, or even a certain science, in which I allow him to be perfect, but beyond that displays neither judgment, memory, animation, morals, nor manners; does not understand me; thinks not, and expresses himself badly; a musician, for example, who, after he has enraptured me with his harmony, seems to be shut up with his lute in the same case, and when he is without his instrument is like a machine taken to pieces, in which there is something wanting and from which nothing more is to be expected?
Again, what shall I say of a certain talent for playing various games, and who can define it to me? Is there no need of foresight, shrewdness, or skill in playing ombre or chess? And if there is, how does it happen that we see men of hardly any intellect excel in these games, and others of great talent scarcely show moderate ability, and get confused and bewildered when they have to move a pawn or play a card?
There is something in this world, which, if possible, is still more difficult to understand. Some person seems dull, heavy, and stupefied; he knows neither how to speak, nor to relate what he has just seen; but, if he puts pen to paper, he can tell a tale better than any man; he makes animals, stones, and trees talk, and everything which does not speak; his works are light, elegant, natural, and full of delicacy.
Another is simple, timorous, and tiresome in conversation; he mistakes one word for another, and judges of the excellence of his work merely by the money it brings him; he cannot read this work aloud, nor decipher his own handwriting. But let him compose, and he is not inferior to Augustus, Pompey, Nicomedes, and Heraclius; he is a king, and a great king, a politician and a philosopher; he undertakes to make heroes speak and act; he depicts the Romans, and in his verse they are greater, and more like Romans, than in their own history.
Should you like to have an outline of another prodigy? Imagine a man, easy, gentle, affable, yielding, and then all of a sudden violent, enraged, furious, and capricious; represent to yourself a man simple, artless, credulous, sportive, and flighty, a grey-haired child; but let him recollect himself, or rather give himself up to the genius dwelling within him, and perhaps quite independent of him and without his knowledge, he will display rapture, lofty thoughts, splendid imagery, and pure latinity. You may well ask if I speak of one and the same man? Yes, of Theodas, and of no one else. He shrieks, is quite agitated, rolls on the ground, rises, shouts, and roars; and yet amidst this whirlwind of words shines forth a brilliant effulgence which delights us. To speak plainly, he talks like a fool and thinks like a wise man; he utters truth in a ridiculous way, and sensible and reasonable sayings in a foolish manner; people are surprised to hear common sense arise and bud amidst so much buffoonery, so many grimaces and contortions. I may say also that he speaks and acts better than he understands; he has within him, as it were, two souls, which are unconnected and do not depend on one another, but act each in their turn and have quite distinct functions. This astonishing picture would want another touch should I omit to state that he is anxiously craving for praise, has never enough of it, and is ready to fly at any of his critics, but in reality is docile enough to profit by their censure. I begin to imagine I have drawn the portraits of two wholly different persons; and yet to find a third in Theodas is not quite impossible, for he is kind-hearted, agreeable, and has excellent qualities.
(58.) One man is well known for his abilities, and is honoured and cherished wherever he goes, but he is slighted by his household and his own family, whom he cannot induce to esteem him; another man, on the contrary, is a prophet in his own country, has a great reputation among his friends, which does, however, not extend beyond his house, and prides himself on the rare and singular merit his familywhose idol he isbelieve he is possessed of, but which he leaves at home every time he goes out, and takes nowhere with him.
(59.) Every one attacks a man whose reputation is rising; the very persons he thinks his friends hardly pardon his growing merit, or that early popularity which seems to give him a share of the renown they already enjoy; they hold out as long as they can, until the king declares himself in his favour and rewards him; then they immediately gather in crowds round him, and only from that day be ranks as a man of merit.
(60.) We often pretend to praise immoderately some men who hardly deserve it, and to raise them, if it were possible, on a level with those who are really eminent, either because we are tired of admiring always the same persons, or because their fame, being divided, is less offensive to behold, and seems to us less brilliant and easier to be borne.
(61.) We see some men carried along by the propitious gale of favour, and, in one moment, they lose sight of land, and continue their course; everything smiles on them, and they are successful in whatever they undertake; their deeds and their works are extolled and well rewarded, and when they appear they are caressed and congratulated. A firm rock stands on the coast, and breakers dash against its base; all the blasts of power, riches, violence, flattery, authority, and favour cannot shake it. The public is the rock against which these men are dashed to pieces.
(62.) It is usual, and, as it were, natural to judge of other mens labour only by the affinity it bears to our own. Thus a poet, filled with grand and sublime ideas, does not greatly prize an orators speech, which is often merely about simple facts; and a man who writes the history of his native land cannot understand how any person of sense can spend his whole life in contriving fictions or hunting after a rhyme; and a divine, immersed in the study of the first four centuries, thinks all other learning and science sad, idle, and useless, whilst he perhaps is as much despised by a mathematician.
(63.) A man may have intelligence enough to excel in a particular thing and lecture on it, and yet not have sense enough to know he ought to be silent on some other subject of which he has but a slight knowledge; if such an illustrious man ventures beyond the bounds of his capacity, he loses his way, and talks like a fool.
(64.) Whether Herillus talks, declaims, or writes, he is continually quoting; he brings in the prince of philosophers to tell you that wine will make you intoxicated, and the Roman orator to say that water qualifies it. When he discourses of morals, it is not he, but the divine Plato who assures us that virtue is amiable, vice odious, and that both will become habitual. The most common and well-known things, which he himself might have thought out, he attributes to the ancients, the Romans and Greeks; it is not to give more authority to what he says, nor perhaps to get more credit for learning, but merely for the sake of employing quotations.
(65.) We often pretend that a witticism is our own, and by doing this we run the risk of destroying its effect; it falls flat, and witty people, or those who think themselves so, receive it coldly, because they ought to have said it, and did not. On the contrary, if told as anothers, it would meet with a better reception; it is but a jest which no one is obliged to know; it is related in a more insinuating manner, and causes less jealousy; it offends nobody; if it is amusing it is laughed at, and if excellent is admired.
(66.) Socrates was said to be insane, to be an intelligent madman; but those Greeks who gave such a name to so wise a man passed for madmen themselves. They exclaimed, What odd portraits does this philosopher present us with! What strange and peculiar manners does he describe! In what dreams did he discover and collect such extraordinary ideas! What colours and what a brush has he! They are only idle fancies! They were mistakenall those monsters and vices were painted from life, so that people imagined they saw them, and were terrified. Socrates was far from a cynic; he did not indulge in personalities, but lashed the morals and manners which were bad.
(67.) A man who has acquired wealth by his knowledge of the world is acquainted with a philosopher, and with his precepts, morals, and conduct; but not imagining that mankind can have any other goal in whatever they do than the one he marked out for himself during his whole lifetime, he says in his heart, I pity this rigid critic; his life has been a failure; he is on a wrong tack, and has lost his way; no wind will ever waft him to a prosperous harbour of preferment; and, according to his own principles, he is right in his arguments.
Antisthius says: I pardon those I have praised in my works, if they will forget me, for I did nothing for them, as they deserved to be commended. But I will not so easily pardon forgetfulness in those whose vices I have attacked, without touching their persons, if they owe me the invaluable boon of being amended; but as such an event never happens, it follows that neither the one nor the other are obliged to make me any return.
This philosopher continued saying: People may envy my writings or refuse them their reward, but they are unable to diminish their reputation; and if they did, what should hinder me from scorning their opinions?
(68.) It is a good thing to be a philosopher, but it does not much benefit a man to be thought one. It will be considered an insult to call any one a philosopher till the general voice of mankind has declared it otherwise, given its true meaning to this beautiful word, and granted it all the esteem it deserves.
(69.) There is a philosophy which raises us above ambition and fortune, and not only makes us the equals of the rich, the great, and the powerful, but places us above them; makes us contemn office and those who appoint to it; exempts us from wishing, asking, praying, soliciting, and begging for anything, and even restrains our emotion and our excessive exultation when successful. There is another philosophy which inclines and subjects us to all these things for the sake of our relatives and friends; and this is the better of the two.
(70.) It will shorten and rid us of a thousand tedious discussions to take it for granted that some persons are not capable of talking correctly, and to condemn all they have said, do say, or will say.
(72.) The same faults which are dull and unbearable in others are in their right place when we have them; they do not weigh us down, and are hardly felt. One man, speaking of another, draws a terrible likeness of him, and does not in the least imagine that at the same time he is painting himself.
If we could see the faults in other people, and could be brought to acknowledge that we possess the same faults, we would more readily amend them; it is when we are at a right distance from them, and when they appear what they really are, that we dislike them as much as they deserve.
(73.) A wise mans behaviour turns on two pivots, the past and the future. If he has a good memory and a keen foresight, he runs no danger of censuring in others what perhaps he has done himself, or of condemning an action which, in a parallel case, and in like circumstances, he sees it will be impossible for him to avoid.
(74.) Neither a soldier, a politician, nor a skilful gambler create luck, but they prepare it, allure it, and seem almost to fix it. They not only know what a fool and a coward ignore, I mean, to make use of luck when it does come, but by their precautions and measures they know how to take advantage of a lucky chance, or of several chances together. If a certain deal or throw succeeds, they gain; if another happens, they also win; and often profit by one and the same in various ways. These sharp men may be commended both for their good fortune and prudent conduct, and they should be rewarded for their luck as other men are for their virtue.
(76.) In the best of counsels there is something to displease us; they are not our own thoughts; and, therefore, presumption and caprice at first cause them to be rejected, whilst we only follow them through necessity or after having reflected.
(77.) This favourite has been wonderfully fortunate during his whole lifetime; he enjoyed an uninterrupted good fortune, was never in disgrace, occupied the highest posts, was in the kings confidence, had vast treasures, perfect health, and died quietly. But what an extraordinary account he will have to render of a life spent as a favourite, of advice given, of advice which was not tendered or not listened to, of good deeds omitted, and, on the contrary, of evil ones committed, either by himself or his instruments; in a word, of all his prosperity.
There is a report that Piso is dead; it is a great loss; he was an honest man, who deserved to live longer; he was intelligent and agreeable, resolute and courageous, to be depended upon, generous and faithful; add: provided he be really dead.
(80.) A certain person relieves the necessitous, but neglects his own family and leaves his son a beggar; another builds a new house though he has not paid for the lead of the one finished ten years before; a third makes presents and is very liberal, but ruins his creditors. I would fain know whether pity, liberality, and magnificence can be the virtues of a man without sense, or whether eccentricity and vanity are not rather the causes of this want of sense.
(82.) People say of a great man who has two meals a day, and spends the rest of his time in digesting what he has eaten, that he starves; all that they mean to express by this is that he is not rich, or that his affairs are not very prosperous; the remark about starving might be better applied to his creditors.
(85.) Were it true, as several persons affirm, that education does not alter the heart and constitution of man, and that in reality the changes it produces transform nothing and are merely superficial, yet I would still maintain that it is beneficial to him.
(88.) Next to being convicted of a crime, it is often the greatest misfortune for a man his being accused of having committed one, and being obliged to clear himself from the charge. He may be acquitted in a court of justice and yet be found guilty by the voice of the people.
(89.) One man faithfully observes certain religious duties and discharges them carefully, yet he is neither commended nor censured, he is not so much as thought of; another, after ten years utter neglect of such duties, attends again to them and is commended and extolled. Every person has a right to his own opinion; I, for my part, blame the second man for having so long neglected those duties, and think his reformation fortunate for himself.
(91.) Some men are forgotten in the distribution of favours, and we ask what can be the reason of this; if they had not been forgotten we should have raised the question why they had received them. Whence proceeds this dissimilitude? Is it from the character of these persons, or the instability of our opinions, or rather from both?
(92.) We often hear the question asked, Who shall be chancellor, primate, pope? People go even farther, and, according to their own wishes or caprice, often promote persons more aged and infirm than those who at present fill certain posts; and as there is no reason why any post should kill its occupant, but, on the contrary, often makes him young again, and reinvigorates his body and soul, it is not unusual for an official personage to outlive his appointed successor.
(93.) Disgrace extinguishes hatred and jealousy. As soon as a person is no longer a favourite, and when we do not envy him any more, we admit that his actions are good, and we can pardon in him any merit and a good many virtues; he might even be a hero, and not vex us.
Nothing seems right that a man does who has fallen into disgrace; his virtues and merit are slighted, misinterpreted, or called vices. If he is courageous, dreads neither fire nor sword, and faces the enemy with as much bravery as Bayard and Montrevel, he is called a braggadocio, and they make fun of him, for there is nothing of the true hero about him.
(94.) We need not wait twenty years to see a general alter his opinion on the most serious things as well as on those which appear most certain and true. I shall not venture to maintain that fire in its own nature, and independent of our sensations, is void of heat, that is to say, nothing like what we feel in ourselves on approaching it, lest some time or other it may become as hot as ever it was thought; nor shall I advance that one straight line falling on another makes two right angles, or two angles equal to two right angles, for fear something more or less be discovered, and my proposition be laughed at; nor, to mention something else, shall I say, with the whole of France, that Vauban is infallible, and that this is an undoubted fact, for who will guarantee me but that in a short time it may be hinted that even in sieges, in which lies his peculiar pre-eminence, and of which he is considered the best judge, he does not make some blunders, and is as liable to mistakes as Antiphilus is?
(95.) If you believe people who are exasperated against one another, and swayed by passion, a scholar is a mere sciolist, a magistrate a boor or a pettifogger, a financier an extortioner, and a nobleman an upstart; but it is strange these scurrilous names, invented by anger and hatred, should become so familiar to us, and that contempt, though cold and inert, should dare to employ them.
(96.) You agitate yourself, and give yourself a good deal of trouble, especially when the enemy begins to fly, and the victory is no longer doubtful, or when a town has capitulated; in a fight or during a siege you like to be seen everywhere in order to be nowhere; to forestall the orders of the general for fear of obeying them, and to seek opportunities rather than to wait for them or receive them. Is your courage a mere pretence?
(98.) Can we imagine that men who are so fond of life should love anything better, and that glory, which they prefer to life, is often no more than an opinion of themselves, entertained by a thousand people whom either they do not know or do not esteem?
(99.) Some persons who are neither soldiers nor courtiers make a campaign and follow the court; they do not assist in besieging a town, but are merely spectators, and are soon cured of their curiosity about a fortified place, however wonderful; about trenches; the effects of shells and cannon, about surprises, and the order and success of an attack of which they catch a mere glimpse. The place holds out, bad weather comes on, fatigues increase, the mud has to be waded through, and the seasons have to be encountered as well as the enemy; the lines may be forced, and we may find ourselves between the town and an army, and reduced to dire extremities. The besiegers lose heart, begin to murmur, and ask if the raising of the siege will be of such great consequence, and if the safety of the State depends on one citadel. They further add that the heavens themselves declare against them; and that it is best to submit, and put off the siege until another season. They no longer understand the firmness, and, if they may say so, the obstinacy of the general, who is not to be overcome by obstacles, but is stimulated by the difficulty of his undertaking, and watches by night and exposes his life by day to accomplish his design. But as soon as the enemy has capitulated, the very men who lost heart boast of the importance of the conquest, foretell the consequences it will have, exaggerate the necessity there was in undertaking it, as well as the danger and shame there would have been in raising it, and prove that the army opposed to the enemy was invincible. They return with the court, and as they pass through the towns and villages, are proud to be looked upon by the inhabitants, who are all at their windows, as the very men who took the place; thus they triumph all along the road and fancy themselves very courageous. When they are home again they deafen you with flanks, redans, ravelins, counter breastworks, curtains, and covert-ways; give you an account of the spots where curiosity led them, and where it was pretty dangerous, and of the risks they ran on returning of being killed or made prisoners; but they do not say one word about the mortal terror they were in.
(100.) It is no great disadvantage for a speaker to stop short in the middle of a sermon or a speech; it does not deprive him of his intelligence, good sense, imagination, morals, and learning; it robs him of nothing; but it is very surprising that, though it is considered more or less disgraceful and ridiculous, some men will expose themselves to so great a risk by tedious and often unprofitable discourses.
(101.) Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity; as they waste it in dressing themselves, in eating and sleeping, in foolish conversations, in making up their minds what to do, and, generally, in doing nothing at all, they want some more for their business or for their pleasures, whilst those who make the best use of it have some to spare.
There is no minister of State so busy but he knows he loses two hours every day, which amounts to a great deal in a long life; and if this waste is still greater among other conditions of men, what a large loss is there of what is most precious in this world, and of which every one complains he has not enough.
(102.) There exist some of Gods creatures called men, who have a spiritual soul, and who spend their whole lives in the sawing of marble, and devote all their attention to it; this is a very humble business and of not much consequence; there are other people who are astonished at this, yet who are of no use whatever, and spend their days in doing nothing, which is inferior to sawing marble.
(103.) Most men are so oblivious of their souls, and act and live in such a manner, that to them it seems to be of no use whatever; we therefore deem it no small commendation of any man to say he thinks; this has become a common eulogy, and yet it places a man only above a dog or a horse.
(104.) How do you amuse yourself? How do you pass your time? fools and clever people ask you. If I answer, in opening my eyes, in seeing, hearing, and understanding, in enjoying health, rest, and freedom, that is nothing; the solid, the great, and the only advantages of life are of no account. I gamble, I intrigue, are the answers they expect.
Liberty is not indolence; it is a free use of time; it is to choose our labour and our relaxation; in one word, to be free is not to do nothing, but to be the sole judge of what we wish to do and to leave undone; in this sense liberty is a great boon.
(105.) Cæsar was not too old to think of conquering the entire world; his sole happiness was to lead a noble life and to leave behind him a great name; being naturally proud and ambitious, and enjoying robust health, he could not better employ his time than in subjugating all nations. Alexander was very young for so serious a design; it is surprising that women or wine did not sooner ruin the undertaking of a man of such tender years.
(106.) A young prince, of an august race, the love and hope of his people, granted by Heaven to prolong the felicity of this earth, greater than his ancestors, the son of a hero who is his exemplar, has by his divine qualities and anticipated virtues already convinced the universe that the sons of heroes are nearer being so than other men.
(107.) If the world is only to last a hundred million years, it is still in all its freshness, and has but just begun; we ourselves are so near the first men and the patriarchs, that remote ages will not fail to reckon us among them. But if we may judge of what is to come by what is past, what new things will spring up in arts, sciences, in nature, and, I venture to say, even in history, which are as yet unknown to us! What discoveries will be made! What various revolutions will happen in states and empires! What ignorance must be ours, and how slight is an experience of not above six or seven thousand years!
(111.) Why this coldness, and why do you complain of some expressions which escaped me about some of our young courtiers? You are not vicious, Thrasyllus? If you are, it is unknown to me; but you yourself tell me so; what I do know is that you are no longer young.
You are personally offended at what I said of some great men, but you should not cry out when other people are hurt. Are you haughty, wicked, a buffoon, a flatterer, or a hypocrite? I protest I was ignorant of it, and did not think of you; I was speaking of men of high rank.
(113.) Whether men are of a superior or of an inferior condition, as soon as they are successful, their fellow-men are prejudiced in their favour, delighted and in raptures; a crime which has not failed is almost as much commended as real virtue, and luck supplies the place of all qualities; it must be an atrocious action, a foul and nefarious attempt indeed, which success cannot justify.
(114.) Men, led away by fair appearances and specious pretences, are easily induced to like and approve an ambitious scheme contrived by some great man; they speak feelingly of it; its boldness or novelty pleases them; it is already familiar to them, and they expect naught but its success. But should it happen to miscarry, they confidently, and without any regard for their former judgment, decide that the plan was rash and could never succeed.
(115.) Certain designs are of such great splendour and of such enormous consequence, that people talk about them for a long time; that they lead nations to fear or to hope, according to their various interests, and that a man stakes his glory and his entire fortune on them. After appearing on the worlds stage with such pomp he cannot slink away in silence; whatever terrible dangers he foresees will be the consequences of his undertaking; he must commence it; the smallest evil he has to expect will be a failure.
(116.) You cannot make a great man of a wicked man; you may commend his plans and contrivances, admire his conduct, extol his skill in employing the surest and shortest means to obtain his end; but if his purpose be bad, prudence has no share in it, and where prudence is wanting no greatness can ever exist.
(117.) An enemy is dead who was at the head of a formidable army, and intended to cross the Rhine; he understood the art of war, and his experience might have been seconded by fortune. What bonfires were lit, and what rejoicings took place! But there are other men, naturally odious, who are disliked by every one; it is therefore not on account of their success, nor because people fear they might be successful, that the voice of the public is lifted up, and that the very childrens hearts leap for joy as soon as it is rumoured abroad that the earth is at length rid of them.
(118.) O times! O morals! exclaims Heraclitus. O unfortunate age, rich in bad examples, when virtue is persecuted and crime is predominant and triumphant! I will turn a Lycaon or an Ægistheus, for I can never meet with a better opportunity nor a more favourable conjuncture; if, at least, I desire to be prosperous and to flourish. A certain personage says, I will cross the sea; I will dispossess my father of his patrimony; I will drive him, his wife, and his heir from their territory and kingdom; and he not only says it but does it. What he had reason to dread was the resentment of many kings, insulted in the person of one monarch. But they side with him; they almost have said to him: Cross the sea, rob your father; and let the entire world witness how a king can be driven from his kingdom, as if he were a petty lord turned out from his castle, or a farmer from his farm; show them that there is no longer any difference between private persons and ourselves. We are tired of these distinctions; teach the world that the nations whom God has placed underneath our feet may abandon us, betray us, and give us up, and themselves as well, into the hands of the stranger, and that they have less to fear from us than we have to dread them and their power. What person can behold such a sad scene without shedding tears or being deeply moved! Every office has its privileges, and every official speaks, pleads, and agitates to defend them; the royal dignity alone enjoys no longer such privileges, and the kings themselves have renounced them. Only one among them, ever kind-hearted and magnanimous, opens his arms to receive an unhappy family; all the others league themselves against him as if to avenge the assistance he lends to a cause which is theirs as well; spite and jealousy have more weight with them than considerations for their honour, religion, and rule, and even than domestic and personal interests; they do not perceive that, I will not say their election, but their very succession, and even their hereditary rights are at stake. Finally, in every one of them personal feelings prevail over those of a sovereign. One prince was going to set Europe free, and free himself as well from an ominous enemy; he was just on the point of reaping the glory of having destroyed a mighty empire when he abandoned his plan, and joined in a war in which success is far from certain. Those rulers who by virtue of their position are arbitrators and mediators temporise; and when they could already have interfered and done some good, they only promise they will do so. O shepherds, continues Heraclitus, O ye rustics who dwell in hovels and cottages; if the course of events does not affect you, if your hearts are not pierced by the malice of men, if man is no longer mentioned among you, but foxes and lynxes are the only subjects of your conversation, allow me to dwell with you, to appease my hunger with your black bread, and to quench my thirst with the water from your wells.
(119.) Ye little men, only six feet high, or at most seven, who, as soon as you have reached eight feet, are to be seen for money in booths at the fairs, as giants and wonders; who, without blushing, give yourselves the titles of highnesses and eminences, which is the utmost that can be granted to those mountain-tops so near the sky that they see the clouds form underneath them; ye haughty, vain-glorious animals who despise all other creatures, and who cannot even be compared to an elephant or a whale, draw near, ye men, and answer Democritus. Do you not commonly speak of hungry wolves, furious lions, and mischievous monkeys? Pray, who are you? Man is a rational creature is continually dinned in my ears. Who gave you this appellation? Did the wolves, or the lions, or the monkeys do so, or did you take it yourselves? It is already very ridiculous that you should bestow on animals, your fellow-creatures, all the bad epithets, and take the best for yourselves; leave it to them to give names, and you will see that they will not forget themselves, and how you will be treated. I do not mention, O men, your frivolities, your follies and caprices, which place you lower than the mole or the tortoise, who wisely move along quietly and follow invariably their own natural instinct; but listen to me for a moment: You say of a goshawk if it be very swift-winged and swoops well down on a partridge, that it is a good bird; of a greyhound following a hare very close and catching it, that it is a first-rate dog; it is also quite right that you should say of a man who hunts the wild boar, brings it to bay, walks up to it and kills it with a spear, that he is a courageous man. But if you see two dogs barking at each other, provoke, bite, and tear one another to pieces, you say they are foolish creatures, and take a stick to part them. If any one should come and tell you that all the cats of a large country met in a plain in their thousands and tens of thousands, and that after they had squalled to their hearts content they had fallen upon each other tooth and nail; that about ten thousand of them had been left dead on the spot and infected the air for ten leagues round with their evil-smelling carcasses; would you not say that it was the most disgraceful row you ever heard? And if the wolves acted in the same way, what a butchery would there be, and what howls would be heard! Now, if these two kind of animals were to tell you they love glory, would you come to the conclusion that this glory consists in their meeting together in such a way to destroy and annihilate their own species; and if you have come to such a conclusion, would you not laugh heartily at the folly of these poor animals? Like rational creatures, and to distinguish yourselves from those which only make use of their teeth and claws, you have invented spears, pikes, darts, sabres, and scimitars, and, in my opinion, very judiciously; for what could you have done to one another merely with your hands, except tearing your hair, scratching your faces, and, at best, gouging one anothers eyes out; whilst now you are provided with convenient instruments for making large wounds and for letting out the utmost drop of your blood, without there being any fear of your remaining alive? But as you grow more rational from year to year, you have greatly improved the old fashion of destroying yourselves; you use certain little globes which kill at once, if they but hit you on the head or chest; you have other globes, heavier and more massive, which cleverly cut you in two or disembowel you, without counting those falling on your roof, breaking through the floors from the garret to the cellar, which they destroy, and blowing up your wife who is lying-in, and the child, the nurse, and the house as well. And yet this is glory, which delights in all this hurly-burly and mighty hubbub! You have also defensive arms, and according to the rules and regulations, when waging war, you should put on a suit of iron, no doubt a pretty becoming dress, which always puts me in mind of those four famous fleas, formerly shown by a cunning artist, a quack, who knew how to keep them alive in a glass phial; each of those little animals wore a helmet, their bodies were covered by a breastplate; they had vambraces, knee-pieces, and a spear at their side; their accoutrements were quite perfect, and thus they skipped and jumped about in their bottle. Fancy a man of the size of Mount Athos, and why not? Would a soul be puzzled to animate such a body, for it would have plenty of room to move about in? If such a mans sight were piercing enough to discover you somewhere upon earth, with your offensive and defensive arms, what do you think would be his opinion of a parcel of little marmosets thus equipped, and of what you call war, cavalry, infantry, a memorable siege, a famous battle? Shall I never hear any other sound buzz in my ears? Is the world only filled with regiments and companies? Has everything been changed to battalions and squadrons?He takes a town, then a second, then a third; he wins a battle, two battles, he drives away the enemy, he conquers by sea, by land.Do you say these things of one of you, or of a giant, a Mount Athos? There is a remarkable man amongst you, pale and livid, with not ten ounces of flesh on his bones, and who would be blown down by the least gust of wind, one would think, and yet he makes more noise than half-a-dozen men, and sets everything in a blaze; he has just now been fishing in troubled waters, and caught a whole island at once; in another place, it is true, he is beaten and pursued, but escapes into the bogs, and will hearken neither, to peace nor to truce. He began betimes to show what he could do, and so severely bit his nurses breast that the poor woman died of it; I know what I mean, and that is sufficient. To conclude: he was born a subject and is no longer one; on the contrary, he is now the master, and those whom he has overcome and brought under his yoke are harnessed to the plough and till the ground with might and main; those good people seem even afraid of being unyoked one day and of becoming free, for they have pulled out the thong and lengthened the handle of the whip of the man who drives them; they forget nothing that can increase their slavery; they let him cross the water so that he may get new vassals and acquire fresh territories; and to succeed in this he has, it is true, only to take his father and mother by the shoulders and throw them out of doors, and they aid him in this virtuous undertaking. The people on this side and that side of the water subscribe, and each pays his share, to render him every day more and more formidable to all; the Picts and the Saxons compel the Batavians to be silent, and the latter act in the same manner to the Picts and Saxons; they may all boast of being his humble slaves, as they wished to be. But what do I hear of certain personages who wear crowns? I do not mean counts or marquesses, who swarm on this earth, but princes and sovereigns. This man does but whistle, and they come at his call; they uncover as soon as they are in his anteroom, and never speak but when he asks them a question. Are these the same princes who cavil so much and are so precise about rank and precedence, and who spend whole months in regulating such questions whilst some Diet is assembled? What shall this new ruler do to reward so blind a submission, and to satisfy the high opinion they have of him? If a battle is to be fought, he must win it, and in person; if the enemy besieges a town, he must go raise the siege and drive him away with ignominy, unless the ocean be between him and the enemy; it is the least he can do to please his courtiers. Cæsar himself comes and swells their number; at least he expects important services from him; for either the archon and his allies will fail, which is more difficult than impossible to conceive, or, if he succeeds, and nothing resists him, he is ready with his allies, who are jealous of Cæsars religion and greatness, to rush upon him, snatch away his eagle, and reduce him and his heir to the fasces argent and to his hereditary dominions. But there is no use saying anything more; they have all voluntarily given themselves up to the man whom they should perhaps have distrusted the most. Would Esop not have told them that the feathered tribe of a certain country got alarmed and frightened at being near a lion, whose mere roar terrified them; they went to the animal, who persuaded them he would come to some arrangement, and take them under his protection. The end of it was that he gobbled them all up one after another.