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

Sebastian Chamfort

  • [A satirical French writer, born in Auvergne, 1741; lived mostly in Paris; admitted to the Academy, 1781; was the friend of Mirabeau, and favored the Revolution, “Tableaux” of which he published; died, 1794, after being arrested by the Jacobins.]
  • What is the Third Estate?

  • Chamfort furnished ideas to other men, who, like Mirabeau, enjoyed “brushing the most electric head in Europe:” of him Mme. Roland said that “he made one laugh and think at the same time.” Visiting one day the Comte de Lauraguais, he said, “I have just done a piece of work” (J’ai fait un ouvrage). “What!” said his friend, “a book?” ouvrage having in French the double meaning that “work” has in English. “No, I am not such a fool,” replied Chamfort; “but the title of a book. I gave it to that Puritan Sieyès: he can comment on it at his leisure; but, do what he may, the title alone will last.” The title was: “What is the Third Estate? Every thing. What part has it in government? Nothing. What does it want? To become something.” (Qu’est-ce que le Tiers État? Tout. Qu’a-t-il? Rien. Que veut-il? Y devenir quelque chose.) The pamphlet which Sieyès wrote with that title immortalized him: the title alone remains. In his essay the constitution-maker attempted to prove that the Third Estate, the commonalty, as distinguished from the nobles and the clergy, formed a nation complete in itself, which could exist without the other two orders, while they were nothing without it.
  • Chamfort was also the author of the mot d’ordre, “War to the castle, peace to the cabin!” (Guerre aux châteaux, paix aux chaumières!), which was called by Alison “the principle of the Revolution,” and was promulgated by Cambon, a merchant and financier, who was the last president of the Legislative Assembly, a member of the committee of public safety, and who, after the fall of Robespierre, directed for a time the finances of the republic.
  • “I shall not believe in the Revolution,” said Chamfort, “until cabs go at a walk” (Je ne croirai pas à la révolution que quand les cabriolets vont au pas); which was equivalent to saying, “until rich people in carriages cease to run down poor foot-passengers” (écraser les passants). “The man,” says Sainte-Beuve, “who wanted a cab for himself in 1782, and obtained none, wished no one to have one in 1792.” In the opinion of conservatives like Sainte-Beuve, personal resentments furnish the motives of revolutions. Louis XV. would have suppressed cabs altogether: “If I were lieutenant of police, I would prohibit those Paris cabriolets.”—Journal of Mme. du Hausset, 293.
  • Chamfort’s paraphrase of the watchword of the Revolution, “Fraternity or death,” which he called a “brotherhood of Cain,” was, “Be my brother, or I will kill thee” (Sois mon frère, ou je te tue). Thus Carlyle quotes “fiery Isnard”: “We will have equality, should we descend for it to the tomb.”—French Revolution, II., 1, 12. Goethe wrote in the second volume of his posthumous “Aphorisms:” “What sort of liberality is that which everybody talks about, but will hinder his neighbor from practising?” Chamfort said of the early acts of the Revolution, “The French are a new people, which has as yet only organized insurrection: it is little, but better than nothing.” When Marmontel was regretting these excesses, Chamfort asked him, “Do you think that revolutions are made with rose-water?” (Voulez-vous donc qu’on vous fasse des révolutions à l’eau-rose?)—Autobiography of Marmontel.
  • Every man who at forty years of age is not a misanthrope has never loved his race (Tout homme qui à quarante ans n’est pas misanthrope n’a jamais aimé les hommes).

  • Chamfort divided his friends into three classes: “the friends who love me, the friends who do not trouble themselves about me, and the friends who detest me.”
  • He said of himself, “My head is Tacitus, my heart Tibullus” (J’ai du Tacite dans la tête, et du Tibulle dans le cœur). “Neither one nor the other,” says Sainte-Beuve, “left either his head or his heart for the good of posterity.”
  • Chamfort called chance “a nickname for Providence.” He considered marriage “a fine invention to interest us as much in the future as in the present.”
  • He prefixed the nobiliary particle de to his name; and when the Duc de Créqui said a name was nothing, Chamfort replied, “It is easy to say that; but call yourself M. Criquet, instead of M. le Duc de Créqui, and see the effect when you enter a drawing-room.”