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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Mme. de Cornuel

  • [A witty Frenchwoman, belonging to the society of the so-called Précieuses of the seventeenth century: her mots are recorded in the correspondence of Mme. de Sévigné, and the memoirs of the period; died 1694.]
  • No man is a hero to his valet (Il n’y a pas de grand homme pour son valet-de-chambre).

  • Attributed to Mme. de Cornuel by Mlle. Aïssé.—Letters, 161: Paris, 1853. The saying is, however, common to many authors and heroes. Thus Montaigne: “Few men are admired by their servants” (Peu d’hommes ont ésté admirez par leurs domestiques).—Essays, III. 2. The ordinary meaning given to the mot is, that the man who is great before the world exhibits his weaknesses at home; but Goethe founds the aphorism, “es giebt, sagt man, für den Kammerdiener keinen Helden,” upon the fact that only a hero can appreciate a hero, the servant being unable to look above his equals.—Ottilien’s Diary: Wahlverwandtschaften, II. 5.
  • Condé, wearied by pompous and extravagant eulogies, sent their authors to ask the opinion of his valet (Allez le demander à mon valet). Marshal Catinat (1637–1712), whose modesty was equal to his bravery, so that Sainte-Beuve calls him “a hero in spite of himself” (le héros sans désir), and of whom Louis XIV. said to Père la Chaise and Archbishop Harlay, on seeing his name in a new list of marshals, “Here comes virtue crowned!” (C’est bien la vertu couronnée!), used an expression which may be the original of all such French mots: “A man must be indeed a hero to appear such in the eyes of his valet” (Il faut être bien héros pour l’être aux yeux de son valet-de-chambre). La Bruyère wrote in his contemporaneous “Caractères:” “The nearer we approach great men, the clearer we see that they are men. Barely do they appear great before their valets” (Rarement ils sont grands vis-à-vis de leurs valets-de-chambre). All these sayings may, however, be referred to Antigonus I., king of Sparta, who, when Hermodotus addressed him in a poem as son of the sun, and a god, replied, “My valet-de-chambre sings me no such song.”—PLUTARCH: Apothegms, and Concerning Isis and Osiris, chap. 24.
  • Dr. Johnson once observed, “People may be taken in once, who imagine that an author is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require uncommon opportunities for their exertion.”—BOSWELL: Life, 1763. “All celebrated people,” said Napoleon, “lose on a close view.”
  • I saw some curious things, love in the tomb and ministers in the cradle.

  • Describing a visit to Versailles, where she had seen the aged Louis XIV. and Mme. de Maintenon surrounded by young ministers.
  • She called the eight generals who were appointed to take the place of the great antagonist of Condé, “Turenne’s small change” (la monnaie de M. Turenne).—Nouvelle Biographie Universelle.
  • Mme. de Cornuel was asked to find a preceptor for a friend’s son: such a list of necessary qualities was given that she finally said in despair, “I have sought for a preceptor for you: I have not found him; and, if I do, I will marry him.”
  • Mme. de Saint-Loup called upon her, and in the course of an hour observed, “Madame, I was deceived in being told that you had lost your wits” (que vous aviez perdu la tête). “You see,” replied Mme. de Cornuel, “how impossible it is to believe what you hear: now I was told that you had found yours” (Vous voyez le fond que l’on doit faire sur les nouvelles: on m’avait dit, à moi, que vous aviez retrouvé la vôtre).