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

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Selected Maxims
By François, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680)
Translation of A. S. Bolton (see full text)

PASSION often makes the cleverest man a fool, and often renders the most foolish clever.  1
  Those great and brilliant feats which dazzle our eyes are represented by politicians as the effects of great designs, whereas they are usually only the effects of temper and of passions. Thus the war between Augustus and Antony, which is ascribed to their ambition to make themselves masters of the world, was perhaps only an effect of jealousy.  2
  The passions often beget their contraries. Avarice sometimes produces prodigality, and prodigality avarice; we are often firm from weakness, and daring from timidity.  3
  Our self-love bears more impatiently the condemnation of our tastes than of our opinions.  4
  The moderation of prosperous people comes from the calm which good fortune gives to their temper.  5
  We have strength enough to bear the ills of others.  6
  The steadfastness of sages is only the art of locking up their uneasiness in their hearts.  7
  Philosophy triumphs easily over troubles passed and troubles to come; but present troubles triumph over it.  8
  When great men allow themselves to be cast down by continued misfortunes, they show that they bore them only through the strength of their ambition, and not through that of their soul; and that, great vanity apart, heroes are made like other men.  9
  It requires greater virtue to bear good fortune than bad.  10
  Neither sin nor death can be looked at steadily.  11
  We often make a parade of passions,—even of the most criminal; but envy is a timid and shameful passion which we never dare to acknowledge.  12
  Jealousy is in some measure just and reasonable, since it tends only to retain a good which belongs to us, or which we think belongs to us; whereas envy is a fury which cannot endure the good of others.  13
  We have more strength than will; and it is often to excuse ourselves to ourselves that we imagine that things are impossible.  14
  Pride has a greater share than goodness in our remonstrances with those who commit faults; and we reprove not so much to correct, as to persuade them that we ourselves are free from them.  15
  We promise according to our hopes, and we perform according to our fears.  16
  Interest speaks all sorts of languages, and plays all sorts of parts,—even that of disinterestedness.  17
  Those who occupy themselves too much with small things usually become incapable of great.  18
  Strength and weakness of mind are misnamed: they are in fact only the good or bad arrangement of the bodily organs.  19
  The love or the indifference which the philosophers had for life was only a taste of their self-love; which we should no more argue about than about the taste of the tongue or the choice of colors.  20
  Happiness is in relish, and not in things: it is by having what we like that we are happy, and not in having what others find likable.  21
  We are never so happy or so unhappy as we imagine.  22
  Nothing ought to lessen the satisfaction we have in ourselves so much as seeing that we disapprove at one time what we approved at another.  23
  Contempt for riches was with the philosophers a hidden desire to avenge their worth for the injustice of fortune, by contempt for the good things of which she deprived them; it was a secret to secure themselves from the degradation of poverty; it was a byway to gain that consolation which they could not have from wealth.  24
  Sincerity is a frankness of heart. We find it in very few people, and what we usually see is only a delicate dissimulation to gain the confidence of others.  25
  Grace is to the body what good sense is to the mind.  26
  It is difficult to define love. What we may say of it is, that in the soul it is a ruling passion; in the mind it is a sympathy; and in the body it is a hidden and delicate desire to possess what we love, after much mystery.  27
  There is no disguise which can hide love long where it is, or feign it where it is not.  28
  There are few people who are not ashamed of having loved each other when they no longer love each other.  29
  We may find women who have never had a gallantry, but it is rare to find any who have only had one.  30
  Love, as well as fire, cannot exist without constant motion; and it ceases to live as soon as it ceases to hope or to fear.  31
  It is of true love as of the apparition of spirits: all the world talks of it, but few people have seen it.  32
  The love of justice is in most men only the fear of suffering injustice.  33
  What makes us so fickle in our friendships is, that it is difficult to know the qualities of the soul and easy to know those of the mind.  34
  We can love nothing but by its relation to ourselves; and we only follow our taste and our pleasure when we prefer our friends to ourselves. Nevertheless it is by this preference alone that friendship can be true and perfect.  35
  Every one complains of his memory, and no one complains of his judgment.  36
  To undeceive a man absorbed in his own merit, is to do him as bad a turn as was done to that mad Athenian who believed that all the ships which entered the harbor belonged to himself.  37
  Old men like to give good advice, to console themselves for being no longer able to give bad examples.  38
  The sign of extraordinary merit is to see that those who envy it most are constrained to praise it.  39
  We are mistaken when we think that the mind and the judgment are two different things. The judgment is only the greatness of the light of the mind: this light penetrates the depths of things; it notes there all that should be noted, and perceives those things which seem imperceptible. Thus we must admit that it is the extent of the light of the mind which causes all the effects which we attribute to judgment.  40
  Refinement of mind consists in thinking on proper and delicate things.  41
  The mind is ever the dupe of the heart.  42
  All who know their mind do not know their heart.  43
  The mind could not long play the part of the heart.  44
  Youth changes its tastes from heat of blood, and age preserves its own from habit.  45
  We give nothing so liberally as advice.  46
  The more we love a lady-love, the nearer we are to hating her.  47
  There are some good marriages, but no delightful ones.  48
  We often do good to be able to do harm with impunity.  49
  If we resist our passions, it is more from their weakness than from our strength.  50
  The true way to be deceived is to think oneself sharper than others.  51
  The least fault of women who give themselves up to love-making, is making love.  52
  One of the causes why we find so few people who appear reasonable and agreeable in conversation is, that there is scarcely any one who does not think more of what he wishes to say than of replying exactly to what is said to him. The cleverest and the most compliant think it enough to show an attentive air, while we see in their eyes and in their mind a wandering from what is said to them, and a hurry to return to what they wish to say; instead of considering that it is a bad way to please or to persuade others, to try so hard to please oneself, and that to listen well and answer well is one of the greatest accomplishments we can have in conversation.  53
  We generally praise only to be praised.  54
  Nature creates merit, and fortune sets it to work.  55
  It is more easy to appear worthy of a calling not our own than of the one we follow.  56
  There are two kinds of constancy in love: the one comes from constantly finding new things to love in the person we love, and the other comes from our making it a point of honor to be constant.  57
  There are heroes in evil as well as in good.  58
  We do not despise all who have vices, but we despise all who have not any virtue.  59
  We may say that vices await us in the journey of life, as hosts with whom we must successively lodge; and I doubt whether experience would enable us to avoid them were we allowed to travel the same road again.  60
  When vices leave us, we flatter ourselves by thinking that it is we who leave them.  61
  Virtue would not go so far if vanity did not keep her company.  62
  Whoever thinks he can do without the world deceives himself much; but whoever thinks the world cannot do without him deceives himself much more.  63
  The virtue of women is often the love of their reputation and their repose.  64
  The true gentleman is he who does not plume himself on anything.  65
  Perfect valor is to do without a witness all that we could do before the whole world.  66
  Hypocrisy is a homage which vice renders to virtue.  67
  All those who discharge debts of gratitude cannot on that account flatter themselves that they are grateful.  68
  Too great eagerness to requite an obligation is a kind of ingratitude.  69
  Fortunate people seldom correct themselves: they always think they are right when fortune favors their bad conduct.  70
  Pride will not owe, and self-love will not pay.  71
  The good we have received from a man requires us to be tender of the evil he does us.  72
  Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or any great harm that does not produce its like. We copy good actions from emulation, and bad ones from the malignity of our nature, which shame kept a prisoner and example sets at liberty.  73
  It is a great folly to wish to be wise all alone.  74
  In afflictions there are various sorts of hypocrisy. In one, while pretending to mourn the loss of a person dear to us, we mourn for ourselves: we regret the good opinion he had of us, we mourn the diminution of our possessions, of our pleasure, of our consideration. Thus the dead are honored with tears which flow only for the living. I say that it is a kind of hypocrisy, for in these sorts of afflictions we deceive ourselves. There is another hypocrisy which is not so innocent, because it imposes on every one: it is the affliction of certain persons who aspire to the glory of a noble and immortal grief. When time, which wastes all things, has quenched the grief they really felt, they persist in their tears, their wailings, and their sighs; they assume a mournful aspect, and labor to persuade, by all their acts, that their grief will only end with their life. This sad and wearisome vanity is generally found in ambitious women: as their sex bars them from the roads which lead to glory, they seek celebrity by the show of unspeakable sorrow. There is yet another kind of tears whose springs are only small, which flow and dry up easily: the weepers weep to have a name for being tender; they weep to be pitied; they weep to be wept for: in short, they weep to avoid the shame of not weeping.  75
  It is more often from pride than from deficiency of light that we so obstinately oppose the most received opinions: we find the first places taken on the good side, and we will have nothing to do with the last.  76
  No one deserves to be praised for goodness, unless he has strength to be bad: all other goodness is most often only sloth or weakness of will.  77
  It is not so dangerous to do harm to most men as it is to do them too much good.  78
  Coquetry is the basis of the temper of women; but all do not practice it, for the coquetry of some is restrained by fear or by reason.  79
  We often inconvenience others when we think we never could inconvenience them.  80
  Magnanimity despises everything to gain everything.  81
  True eloquence consists in saying all that is needed, and in saying only what is needed.  82
  It is as common to see tastes change as it is uncommon to see inclinations change.  83
  Gravity is a physical cloak invented to hide mental defects.  84
  The pleasure of love is in loving; and we are happier in the passion we feel than in that we inspire.  85
  What is called liberality is most often only the vanity of giving, which we prefer to the thing we give.  86
  There are people whom the world approves of, whose only merits are the vices which serve in the intercourse of life.  87
  The charm of novelty is, in relation to love, what the bloom is on fruit: it gives a lustre to it which is easily effaced, and which never returns.  88
  Absence diminishes moderate passions and increases great ones, as wind puts out candles and inflames fire.  89
  Women often think they love even when they do not. The occupation of an intrigue, the excitement of mind which gallantry causes, the natural inclination to the pleasure of being loved, and the pain of refusing,—persuade them that they are influenced by love, when they are influenced only by coquetry.  90
  There are bad people who would be less dangerous if there was no good in them.  91
  The gratitude of most men is only a secret desire to obtain greater favors.  92
  Nearly every one takes pleasure in acknowledging small obligations; many are grateful for common ones; but there is scarcely any one who is not ungrateful for great ones.  93
  We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those whom we bore.  94
  The reason why lovers and their lady-loves do not weary of being together, is that they always talk of themselves.  95
  Why should we have memory enough to retain even the smallest particulars of what has happened to us, and yet not have enough to remember how often we have told them to the same individual?  96
  In jealousy there is more of self-love than of love.  97
  We sometimes think we hate flattery, but we only hate the way in which we are flattered.  98
  We forgive as long as we love.  99
  Women can less overcome their coquetry than their love.  100
  The passions of youth are scarcely more opposed to salvation than is the tepidity of age.  101
  There can be no order either in the mind or in the heart of woman, if her temperament be not in harmony with it.  102
  We find few sensible people except those who are of our way of thinking.  103
  The greatest miracle of love is to cure coquetry.  104
  Most women mourn the death of their lovers, not so much because they loved them as to appear more worthy of being loved.  105
  Most young people think they are natural when they are only unpolished and rude.  106
  When our worth declines, our taste also declines.  107
  We ought only to be astonished that we are still able to be astonished.  108
  What makes the vanity of others unbearable to us is, that it wounds our own.  109
  We may be sharper than one other, but not sharper than all others.  110
  There is merit without loftiness, but there is no loftiness without some merit.  111
  Loftiness is to merit, what dress is to handsome women.  112
  Whatever shame we may have deserved, it is almost always in our power to re-establish our reputation.  113
  Confidence contributes more to conversation than does mind.  114
  Women who love, forgive great indiscretions more readily than small infidelities.  115
  Nothing prevents us from being natural so much as the desire to appear so.  116
  To praise noble actions heartily is in some sort to take part in them.  117
  The reason why most women are but little influenced by friendship is, that it is insipid when they have tasted of love.  118
  Decorum is the least of all laws and the most observed.  119
  In great matters, we ought to strive less to create opportunities than to profit by those which offer.  120
  There are few occasions on which we should make a bad bargain by giving up the good that is said of us, on condition that nothing bad may be said.  121
  In their first love women love the lover, in the others they love love.  122
  There are few women whose worth lasts longer than their beauty.  123
  However wicked men may be, they dare not appear the enemies of virtue: when they wish to persecute it they pretend to believe it is false, or they impute crimes to it.  124
  Quarrels would not last long if the wrong were only on one side.  125
  Love, pleasant as it is, pleases even more by the ways in which it shows itself than by itself.  126
  It seems that it is the Devil who has purposely placed sloth on the frontier of many virtues.  127
  The ruin of a neighbor pleases friends and enemies.  128
  Little is wanted to make the wise happy; nothing can satisfy a fool: therefore nearly all men are miserable.  129
  It is sometimes agreeable to a husband to have a jealous wife: he always hears her talk of what he likes.  130
  An honest woman is a hidden treasure: he who has found her does well not to boast of her.  131
  It is never more difficult to talk well than when we are ashamed to be silent.  132
  We prefer seeing those to whom we do good, to seeing those who do good to us.  133
  In the adversity of our best friends we always find something which does not displease us.  134
  There are none who hurry others so much as the slothful when they have gratified their sloth, in order to appear diligent.  135
  Great souls are not those which have fewer passions and more virtues than common ones, but those only which have greater aims.  136
  Luxury and too great refinement in States are the sure forerunners of decay; because every individual, clinging to his own interests, turns aside from the public good.  137
  Of all the passions, that which is the most unknown to ourselves is sloth; it is the most fierce and malignant of all, though its violence may be insensible, and the harm it does may be deeply hidden. If we attentively consider its power, we shall see that on all occasions it masters our feelings, our interests, and our pleasures; it is the remora which has power to stop the largest vessels; it is a calm more dangerous to the most important affairs than rocks and the most violent tempests. The repose of sloth is a secret charm of the soul, which suddenly suspends the most ardent pursuits and the most stubborn resolves. In short, to give a true idea of this passion, we must say that sloth is like a beatitude of the soul, which consoles it for all its losses and takes the place of all its good.  138

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