François, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680). Moral Maxims and Reflections. 1912.

New Moral Reflections

Part II

A Man can never please long, that hath but one Sort of Wit.

Fools and Coxcombs see all by their own Humour.

Wit serves sometimes to make us play the Fool with greater Confidence.

Briskness, that increases with Old Age, is but one Degree removed from Folly.

The first Cure in Love is always the best.

Young Women that would not be thought Coquet, and Old Men that would not be Ridiculous, should never talk of Love, as if they had any concern in it.

We may seem Great in an Employment below our Desert, but we very often look little in one that is too big for us.

We often in our Misfortunes take that for Constancy and Patience, which is only Dejection of Mind; we suffer without daring to hold up our Heads, just as Cowards let themselves be knockt o’ th’ Head, because they have not Courage to strike again.

Confidence goes farther in Company, than Wit.

All our Passions engage us in Faults; but those are the most ridiculous ones, that Love makes us commit.

Few Men know how to be old.

We value our selves upon Failings most distant from our own; when we are fickle and irresolute, we brag of being Obstinate and Peremptory.

A penetrating Wit hath an Air of Divination, which swells our Vanity more than any other Accomplishment of the Mind.

The Beauty of Novelty, and the Length of Custom, though so very opposite to one another, yet agree in this, that they both alike keep us from discovering the Faults of our Friends.

Most Friends give us a Dislike to Friendship, and most Devotees to Vows.

We easily forgive our Friends those Faults, by which our selves are not offended.

Women in Love can sooner forgive great Indiscretions, than small Infidelities.

It is with an old Love, as it is with old Age, a Man lives to all the Miseries, but is dead to all the Pleasures of Life.

Nothing hinders a Thing from appearing Natural, so much as the straining our selves to make it seem so.

When we commend good Actions heartily, we make them in some measure our own.

The surest Sign of a Noble Disposition, is to have no Envy in ones Nature.

When our Friends have deceived us, there is nothing but Indifference due to the Expressions of their Kindness; but still we owe them a tender Sense of their Misfortunes.

Fortune and Humour govern the World.

It is easier to know Mankind in general, than any one Man in particular.

A Man’s Worth is not to be esteemed so much according to his good Qualities, as according to the use he makes of them.

There is a kind of Acknowledgment, that does not only discharge us of all past Obligations, but makes our Friends our Debtors for new Kindnesses, while we pay what we are indebted for old ones.

We should desire very few Things Passionately, if we did but perfectly know the Nature of the Things we desire.

The Reason why most Women have so little Sense of Friendship, is because this is but a cold and flat Passion, to those that have felt that of Love.

In Friendship as well as Love, Ignorance very often contributes more to our Happiness, than Knowledge.

We attempt to vindicate, and value our selves upon those Faults we have no design to mend.

The strongest Passions allow us some rest, but Vanity keeps us perpetually in motion.

The older a Fool is, the worse he is.

Irresolution is more opposite to Vertue, than Vice.

The Pains we feel from Shame and Jealousie are therefore so cutting, because Vanity can give us no Assistance in the bearing them.

Decency is the least of all Laws, and yet the most followed.

A good Disposition finds it easier to submit to perverse ones, than to direct and manage them.

When Fortune surprizes a Man with a great Preferment, to which he is neither advanced by Degrees, nor raised before by his own Hopes; it is scarce possible for him to behave himself well, and make the World think he deserves his Character.

What we cut off from our other Faults, is very often but so much added to our Pride.

There are no Coxcombs so troublesome, as those that have some Wit.

Every Man thinks himself in some one good Quality or other, equal to the Person he hath the highest Esteem for.

In Affairs of Consequence, it is not a Man’s Business so much to seek Occasions, as to make the best of those that offer themselves.

Generally speaking, it were a good saving Bargain, to renounce all the good Men said of us, upon Condition they would say no ill.

As much as the World is inclined to think ill of one another, we see them oftener favourable to false Merit, than injurious to true.

A Man of Wit may sometimes be a Coxcomb, but a Man of Judgment never can.

We shall get more by letting the World see us as we really are, than by striving to appear what we are not.

The Judgments our Enemies make concerning us, come nearer to the Truth, than those we pass concerning our selves.

Several Remedies are good to cure Love, but there is never a one of them infallible.

We none of us know the utmost that our Passions have the Power to make us do.

Old Age is a Tyrant, that forbids us all the Pleasures of Youth, upon Pain of Death.

The same Pride that disposes us to condemn the Faults we think our selves free from, inclines us to undervalue the good Qualities we want.

The bewailing our Enemies Misfortunes, is sometimes more the Effect of Pride than of Good Nature; we express our Pity and Compassion, to make them know that we are above them.

It is impossible for us to love any Thing without some respect to our selves; and we only consult our own Inclination, and our own Pleasure, when we prefer our Friends before our own Interest, and yet this Preference is the only Thing, that can render Friendship perfect and sincere.

What Men call Friendship, is no more than Society; ’tis only a mutual care of Interests, an exchange of good Offices: In a Word, it is only a sort of Traffick, in which Self-Love ever proposes to be the Gainer.

There is an Excess both in Happiness and Misery above our Power of Sensation.

Innocence does not find near so much Protection as Guilt.

Of all violent Passions, that which misbecomes a Woman least, is Love.

Vanity prevails with us to deny our selves, more than Reason can do.

There are some bad Qualities, that make great Accomplishments.

Men never desire any Thing very eagerly, which they desire only by the Dictates of Reason.

All our Qualities are doubtful and uncertain both in Good and Evil; and they are almost all at the disposal of Time and Opportunity.

At first Women love their Lover, but afterwards they love the Passion it self.

Pride, as well as other Passions, hath its unaccountable Whimsies; we are ashamed to own our selves Jealous, when we are so; and yet afterwards we value our selves upon having been so, and for being capable of being so.

As uncommon a Thing as true Love is, it is yet easier to find than true Friendship.

Few Women’s Worth lasts longer than their Beauty.

The greatest Part of our intimate Confidences, proceed from a Desire either to be pitied or admired.

Our Envy always lasts longer than the good Fortune of those we envy.

The same Resolution which helps to resist Love, helps to make it more violent and lasting too. People of unsettled Minds are always driven about with Passions, but never absolutely filled with any.

It is not in the Power of Imagination it self, to invent so many odd and distant Contrarieties, as there are naturally in the Heart of every Man.

No Man can have a true Sweetness of Temper without Constancy and Resolution; they that seem to have it, have commonly only an Easiness that quickly turns peevish and sower.

Cowardice is a dangerous Fault to tell those of that we would have mend it.

It ought to be agreed on all Hands for the Honour of Vertue, that Men’s greatest Miseries, are such as their own Vices bring upon them.

True good Nature is a mighty Rarity; those that fancy they have it, are commonly no better than either weak or complaisant.

Idleness and Constancy fix the Mind to what it finds easie and agreeable: This Habit always confines and cramps up our Knowledge, and no body was ever at the Pains to stretch and carry his Understanding as far as it could go.

We speak ill of other People, commonly not so much out of Malice, as Pride.

When the Soul is ruffled by the remains of one Passion, it is more disposed to entertain a new one, than when it is intirely cured, and at rest from all.

Those that have had great Passions, esteem themselves perpetually happy, and unhappy in being cured of them.

There are fewer Men free from Envy, than Interest.

Our Minds are as much given to Laziness, as our Bodies.

The Composedness, or the Disorder of our Humour, does not depend so much upon the great and most considerable Accidents of our Lives, as upon a suitable, or unsuitable Management of little Things, that befall us every Day.

Though Men are extremely Wicked, yet they never had the Confidence to profess themselves Enemies to Vertue, and even when they take delight in persecuting it, they either pretend not to think it real, or forge some Faults, and lay to its charge.

Men often go from Love to Ambition, but they seldom come back again from Ambition to Love.

Extreme Covetousness is generally mistaken: No Passion in the World so often misses of its Aim, nor is so much prevailed upon by the present, in prejudice to a future Interest.

Covetousness sometimes is the Cause of quite contrary Effects. There are a World of People, that sacrifice all their present Possessions to doubtful and distant Hopes; and others again slight great Advantages that are future, for the sake of some mean and pitiful Gain in present.

One would think, Men could never suppose they had Faults enough, they are so perpetually adding to the number of them, by some particular Qualities which they affect to set themselves off with, and these they cherish and cultivate so carefully, that they come at last to the Natural, and past their Power to mend, though they would.

Men are more sensible of their own Failings, than we are apt to imagine; for they are seldom in the Wrong, when we hear them talk of their Conduct. The same Principle of Self-Love that blinds them at other Times, makes them quick sighted upon these Occasions, and shews them Things in so true a Light, that it forces them to suppress or disguise the least Matters that are liable to be condemned.

When young Men come first into the World, it is fit they should be either very Modest, or very Tenacious; for brisk Parts, and a composed Temper, commonly turn to Impertinence.

Quarrels would never last long, if there were not Faults on both Sides.

It signifies little for Women to be young, except they be Handsom, nor Handsom, except they be young.

Some Persons are so extreamly whiffling and inconsiderable, that they are as far from any real Faults, as they are from substantial Vertues.

A Ladies first Intrigue goes for nothing, till she admits of a second.

Some Men are so exceeding full of themselves, that when they fall in Love, they entertain themselves with their own Passion, instead of the Person they make Love to.

Love, though a very agreeable Passion, pleases more by the Ways it takes to shew it self, than it does upon its own Account.

The Man of Temper and good Sense, finds less Difficulty in submitting to perverse Dispositions, than in bringing them to Reason.

A little Wit, with good Management, is less troublesome at long-run, than a great deal of Wit with a perverse Temper.

Jealousie is the greatest of Evils, and meets with least Pity from the Persons that occasion it.

Men of indifferent Parts are apt to condemn every Thing above their own Capacity.

Most young Men think they follow Nature, when they are rough and ill bred.

The Grace of being New, is to Love; as the Gloss is to the Fruit, it gives it a Lustre, which is easily defaced, and when once gone, never returns any more.

If we look nicely into the several Effects of Envy, it will be found to carry a Man more from his Duty, than Interest does.

Most Men are ashamed of having loved themselves, when they leave off doing it.

A good Taste of Things is more the Effect of Judgment than Wit.

Men are obstinate in contradicting Opinions generally received, not so much because they are ignorant, as because they are proud; those that are on the right Side have got the upper Hand, and they scorn to take up with the lower.

Prosperous Persons seldom mend much; they always think themselves in the right, so long as Fortune approves their ill Conduct.

Nothing should be a greater Humiliation to Persons that have deserved great Praises, than the Trouble they are eternally at, to make themselves valued by poor and little Things.

Flattery is like false Money, and if it were not for our own Vanity could never pass in payment.

Some ungrateful Men are less to blame for Ingratitude, than the Persons that laid the Obligations upon them.

Our bad Qualities commonly take better in Conversation, than our good ones.

Men would never live so long together in Society, and good Correspondence, if they did not mutually make Fools of one another.

What we call Passions, are in Truth nothing else, but so many different Degrees of Heat, and Cold in the Blood.

Moderation in Prosperity is generally nothing else, but Apprehension of the Shame that attends an indecent Transport, or the Fear of losing what one hath.

Moderation is like Temperance; a Man would be well enough pleased to eat more, but only he is afraid it will not agree with his Health.

All the World thinks That a Fault in another, which they think so in themselves.

When Pride hath used all its Artifices, and appeared in all its Shapes, and played all the Parts of Humane Life, as if it were grown weary of Disguises, it pulls off the Mask, and shews its own true Face at last, and is known by its Insolence. So that properly speaking, Insolence is the breaking out, the very Complexion, and true Discovery of Pride.

We are sensible only of strong Transports, and extraordinary Emotions in our Humour and Constitution, as of Anger, when it is violent. And very few discern that these Humours have a regular and stated Course, which move our Wills to different Actions, by gentle and insensible Impressions. They go their Rounds as it were, and command us by turns, so that a considerable Part of what we do is theirs, though we are not able to see how it is so.

One considerable Part of Happiness is to know how far a Man must be unhappy.

If a Man cannot find Ease within himself, it is to very little purpose to seek it any where else.

No Man should engage for what he will do, except he could answer for his Success.

How should we be able to say what will please us hereafter, when we scarce know exactly what we would have at present?

Justice with many Men, is only the Fear of having what is our own taken from us. This makes them tender of their Neighbour’s Property, and careful not to invade it. This fear holds Men in, within the Compass of that Estate, which Birth or Fortune hath given them, and were it not for this, they would continually be making Incursions upon one another.

Justice in well behaved Judges, is often only the Love of their Preferment.

The first Motion of Joy for the Happiness of our Friends, is not always the Effect either of Good Nature, or Friendship, but of Self-Love, which flatters us with the Hope, that our turn of being happy is coming, or that we shall reap some benefit from their Good Fortune.

As if the Power of transforming it self were small, Self-Love does frequently transform its Objects too; and that after a very strange manner. It not only disguises them so artificially, as to deceive its self, but it perfectly alters the Nature and Condition of the Things themselves. Thus when any Person acts in opposition to us, Self-Love passes Sentence upon every Action, with the utmost Rigour of Justice; it aggravates every Defect of his, and makes it look monstrous and horrible; and it sets all his Excellencies in so ill a Light, that they look more disagreeable than his Defects. And yet when any of our Affairs brings this Person back again to Reconciliation and Favour, the Satisfaction we receive, presently restores his Merit, and allows him all that our Aversion so lately took from him. His ill Qualities are utterly forgot, and his good ones appear with greater Lustre than before; nay, we summon all our Indulgence and Partiality to excuse and justifie the Quarrel he formerly had against us. This is a Truth attested by every Passion, but none gives such clear Evidence of it as Love. For we find the Lover, when full of Rage and Revenge, at the Neglect or the Unfaithfulness of his Mistress, yet lay by all the Violence of his Resentments, and one view of her, calms his Passions again. His Transport and Joy pronounces this Beauty innocent, accuses himself alone, and condemns nothing but his own condemning her before. By this strange magical Power of Self-Love, the blackest and basest Actions of his Mistress are made white and innocent, and he takes the Fault off from her to lay it upon himself.

The most pernicious Effect of Pride, is, That it blinds Men’s Eyes; for this cherishes and increases the Vice, and will not let us see any of those Remedies, that might either soften our Misfortunes, or correct our Extravagancies.

When once Men are past all Hopes of finding Reason from others, they grow past all Reason themselves.

The Philosophers, and especially Seneca, did not remove Men’s Faults by their Instructions, but only directed them to contribute the more to the setting up their Pride.

The wisest Men commonly shew themselves so in less Matters, and generally fail in those of the greatest Consequence.

The nicest Folly proceeds from the nicest Wisdom.

Sobriety is very often only a Fondness of Health, and the Effect of a weak Constitution, which will not bear Intemperance.

A Man never forgets Things so effectually, as when he hath talked himself weary of them.

That Modesty that would seem to decline Praise, is, at the bottom, only a Desire of having it better express’d.

There is this good at least in Commendation, that it helps to confirm Men in the Practice of Vertue.

We are to blame, not to distinguish between the several Sorts of Anger, for there is one kind of it light and harmless, and the result of a warm Complexion; and another kind exceeding vicious, which, if we would call it by its right Name, is the very Rage and Madness of Pride.

Great Souls are not distinguish’d by having less Passion, and more Vertue; but by having Nobler and Greater Designs than the Vulgar.

Self-Love makes more Men cruel, than natural Sternness, and a rough Temper.

Every Man that hath some Vices is not despised, but every Man that hath no Vertue, is, and ought to be, despised.

Those that find no Disposition in themselves to be guilty of great Faults, are not apt, upon slight Grounds, to suspect others of them.

Pompous Funerals are made more out of a Design to gratifie the Vanity of the Living, than to do Honour to the Dead.

In the midst of all the uncertain and various Accidents in the World, we may discern a secret Connexion, a certain Method, and regular Order, constantly observed by Providence, which brings every Thing in, in its due Place, and makes all contribute to the fulfilling the Ends appointed for it.

Fearlessness is requisite to buoy up the Mind in Wickedness, and Conspiracies, but Valour is sufficient to give a Man Constancy of Mind in Honourable Actions, and the Hazards of War.

No Man can engage for his own Courage, who was never in any Danger that might put it upon the Tryal.

Imitation always succeeds ill; and even those Things which when Natural are most graceful and charming, when put on, and affected, we nauseate and despise.

Goodness, when universal, and shewed to all the World, without distinction, is very hardly known from great Cunning and Address.

The Way to be alway safe, is to possess other People with an Opinion, That they can never do an ill Thing to us, without suffering for it.

A Man’s own Confidence in himself makes up a great Part of that Trust which he hath in others.

There is a kind of general Revolution, not more visible in the Turn it gives to the Fortunes of the World, than it is in the change of Men’s Understandings, and the different Relish of Wit.

Magnanimity is a bold Stroke of Pride, by which a Man gets above himself, in order to get above every Thing else.

Luxury, and too great Delicacy in a State, is a sure Sign that their Affairs are in a declining Condition; for when Men are so nice and curious in their own Concerns, they mind nothing but private Interest, and take off all their Care from the Publick.

Of all the Passions we are exposed to, none is more concealed from our Knowledge than Idleness. It is the most violent, and the most mischievous of any, and yet at the same Time its Violence we are never sensible of, and the Damage we sustain by it is very seldom seen. If we consider its Power carefully, it will be found, upon all Occasions, to reign absolute over all our Sentiments, our Interests, and our Pleasures. This is a Remora that can stop the largest Ships, and a Calm of worse Consequence to our Affairs, than any Rocks, and Storms. The Ease and Quiet of Sloth, is a secret Charm upon the Soul, to suspend its most eager Pursuits, and shakes its most peremptory Resolutions. In a Word, to give a true Image of this Passion, we must say, that it is a supposed Felicity of the Soul, that makes her easie under all her Losses, and supplies the Place of all her Enjoyments and Advantages.

There are several Vertues made up of many different Actions, cast into such a convenient Order, by Fortune, as she thought fit.

Most Women yield more through Weakness than Passion; and this is the Reason, that bold daring Men commonly succeed better than others, who have as much or more Merit to recommend them.

The Sincerity, which Lovers and their Ladies bargain for, in agreeing to tell one another, when they can love no longer, is not asked so much out of a Desire to be satisfied, when their Love is at an End; as to be the better assured, that Love does really continue, so long as they are told nothing to the contrary.

Love cannot be compared to any Thing more properly, than to a Fever; for in both Cases, both the Degree, and the Continuance of the Disease is out of a Man’s own Power.

Most young People impute that Behaviour to a natural and easie Fashion, which, in Truth, proceeds from no other Cause, than the want of good Breeding, and good Sense.