Vauvenargues (17151747). Selections from the Characters, Reflexions and Maxims. 1903.
The Man of the World
A MAN of the world is not he who best knows other men, who has the most foresight or skill in affairs, who is best informed either through experience or study. He is neither a good economist nor a man of learning, nor a politician, nor an intelligent officer, nor a hard-working magistrate; he is a man who is ignorant of nothing, yet who knows nothing, who, plying his own calling, whatever it may be, very ill, thinks himself capable of carrying on that of others very well. He is possessed of much useless wit; he can say flattering things that do not flatter, and sensible things that do not instruct; he can convince no one although he speaks well. For he is endowed with the sort of eloquence which creates trifles or brings them into prominence, and only succeeds in crushing great subjects. He is as acute regarding the absurdity and outward seeming of men as he is blind to their depth of mind. He is rich in words and in all outward things, and, unable to take the lead by good sense, is compelled to make an appearance by eccentricity; and dreading to be tiresome by reason, is tiresome by his inconsequence and digressions. He is cheerful without being gay, and vivacious without being passionate. He has need of constant change of place and aims, and cannot make up for his lack of depth by the variety of his amusements. If several persons of that character meet together, and some game cannot be arranged, such men, although they teem with wit, have not enough of it to keep up a half-hours conversation, even with the ladies, or to prevent their being greatly bored with each other. All the facts, all the news, all the jests, all the reflexions are exhausted in a moment. He who is not occupied in playing cards is obliged to look on at the game so as not to find himself by the fire-side with another man to whom he has nothing to say. All those amiable persons who have banished reason from their talk clearly demonstrate how little it is to be dispensed with. False things may supply conversation that pricks the minds surface, but only true things penetrate the heart, create interest, and are never exhausted.