Collected maxims and other reflections

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A wise and skilful Hand tempers them together, and makes excellent use of them against the Misfortunes that attend Humane Life. CXCII Vices may be said to take us from one to another in the Course of our Lives, just as Inn-keepers where we lodge upon a Journey do; and I question, whether if we could travel the same Road twice over, the Experience of having been once ill used, would prevail with us to change our House next Time. CXCIV The Distempers of the Soul have their Relapses, as many and as dangerous as those of the Body; and what we take for a perfect Cure, is generally either an abatement of the same Disease, or the changing of that for another.

CXCV The Defects and Faults of the Mind, are like Wounds in the Body; after all imaginable Care hath been taken to heal them up, still there will be a Scar left behind, and they are in continual Danger of breaking the Skin, and bursting out again. CXCVI The only Reason why we do not give our selves intirely to one Vice, is oftentimes because our Affections are divided, and we are fond of several.

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CXCVIII Some Men are so good, that one cannot fairly believe any thing ill of them, without the Demonstration of seeing it our selves, but never any were so good, that we should be astonished when we do see it. CC The Desire to be thought a wise Man, oftentimes hinders ones coming to be really such.

CCII He that fansies such a sufficiency in himself, that he can live without all the World, is mightily mistaken; but he that imagines himself so necessary, that other People cannot live without him, is a great deal more mistaken. The Men of true unaffected Goodness know their own Failings perfectly, and confess them freely. If one Man seem wiser than his Neighbours, it is only, because his Follies are better suited to his Age and his Fortune. CCX He that lives without Folly, is not so wise as he imagines. Some Men venture at all upon the first Charge or two, but if the Action continue, they cool, and are easily dejected.

Some satisfie themselves with having done what in strict Honour was necessary, and will not be prevailed upon to advance one Step farther. It is observable, that some have not the command of their Fears, at all Times alike. Others are sometimes carried away with a general Consternation; some throw themselves into the Action, because they dare not stay at their own Post.

Now and then the being used to smaller Dangers hardens the Courage, and fits it for venturing upon greater. Some Fellows value not a Sword at all, but fear a Musket-Shot; and others are as unconcerned at the Discharge of a Musket, and ready to run at the sight of a naked Sword. All these couragious Men of so many Sorts and Sizes, agree in this, that Night, as it adds to their Fear, so it conceals what they do well or ill, and gives them opportunity of sparing themselves. Which makes it very plain, that let a Man be never so Stoat, yet the Fear of Death does certainly give some damp to his Courage.

And by this inward Strength it is, that Heroes preserve themselves in a Calm and quiet State, enjoy a Presence of Mind, and the free use of their Reason in the midst of those terrible Accidents, that amaze and confound other People. CCXX Most Men are willing to expose their Persons in an Engagement, for the love of Honour; but very few are content to expose themselves so far, as the design they go upon requires, to render it successful.

And we frequently pay not so much out of a Principle that we ought to discharge our Debts, as to secure our selves a Place to be trusted in another Time.


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  4. CCXXV Some there are who have done all that can be expected by Way of Gratitude, and are not able for all that, to please themselves upon their being grateful, not satisfied with what they have done. The Giver over-reckons, and the Receiver undervalues them. The Good we are carried to the imitation of by our Emulation, and the bad by Corruption and Malignity of our Nature; which Shame indeed confines and keeps up close, but Example unlocks its Chains, and lets it loose. In one sort, we pretend to lament the Loss of some Friend exceeding dear to us, and all the while this Lamentation is only for our selves.

    We are troubled to think our selves less happy, less easie, less considerable, and less valued, than we were before. And this I call Hypocrisie of one kind, because in these Afflictions, People impose upon themselves. There is another kind, not so harmless as this, because that imposes upon all the World. And this is the Affliction of a sort of Persons, that pretend to a Decency, and a never dying Concern in their Grief. When Time, the Waster of all Things, hath worn off the Concern they really had, then they will needs be obstinate in their Sorrows, and still carry on their Complaints and their Sighs.

    They put on all the Characters of Mourning and Sadness, and take a great deal of Pains by all their Actions, to make the World believe, their Melancholy can never have any rest, any cessation, but in the Grave. This dismal, tiresome, and solemn Vanity is most usual among ambitious Women: Their Sex hath shut them out from all the common Ways that lead to Honour, and that makes them attempt to signalize themselves, by all this Pageantry of an Affliction, too deep to admit of any Comfort. There are yet another sort of Tears, that have but shallow Springs, quickly and easily flow, and are as easily dried up again; these are such as weep to gain the Reputation of Tenderness and good Nature; such as cry because they would be pitied; such as cry because they would make other People cry; and, in a Word, such as cry, only because they are ashamed not to cry.

    CCXL Nothing imposes more upon our Pride, than the Intimacy and particular Confidences of Great Persons; for we look upon our selves as admitted to these by virtue of our own Desert; and never consider, that it happens much oftner, from a particular Vanity in their Humour, or the not being able to keep a Secret. For indeed, a Man may observe, that the unbosoming ones self to another, is a kind of release to the Soul, which strives to lighten its Burden, and find Ease, by throwing off the Weight that lay heavy upon it.

    CCXLI If we look upon Agreeableness distinct from Beauty, we may call it a sort of Proportion, the Rules of which no body can positively define; a secret relation of the Lines to one another, and of all these together, to the Complexion and Air of the Person. CCLI True Eloquence consists in saying all that is fit to be said, and leaving out all that is not fit.

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    CCLV Humility is very often only the putting on of a Submission, by which Men hope to bring other People to submit to them: It is a more artificial sort of Pride, which debases it self with a Design of being exalted; and though this Vice transform it self into a Thousand several Shapes, yet the Disguise is never more effectual, nor more capable of deceiving the World, than when concealed under a Form of Humility. CCLXII Self-Love hath no where a greater share, nor is more predominant in any Passion, than in that of Love, and Men are always more disposed to sacrifice all the Ease of them they love, than to part with any Degree of their own.

    We relieve others, that they may return the like, when our own Occasions call for it; and the good Offices we do them, are, in strict speaking, so many Kindnesses done to our selves before-hand. CCLXVI It is a mighty Error, to suppose, that none but violent and strong Passions, such as Love and Ambition, are able to vanquish the rest: Even Idleness, as feeble and languishing as it is, sometimes reigns over them; this usurps the Throne, and sits paramount over all the Designs and Actions of our Lives, and insensibly wastes and destroys all our Passions and all our Vertues.

    Men are pleased to find others to blame, and loth to give themselves the trouble of inquiring how far, and whether they are so or not. And we should never expose our Ease, and our Lives, so many Ways as we do, if it were not to bribe Men to give Sentence in our Favour. The Diversion of an Amour, the little Commotions that an Intrigue raises in their Breasts; the natural Inclination to be Courted, and the Trouble of denying, makes them fancy that what they feel is Passion; when, in Truth, it is nothing but a coquet Humour.

    But yet one may say, That it is the Wisdom of Pride, the best and most noble Method for getting the Commendations of others. CCXCVI It is a hard matter to love those, for whom we have not a real Esteem; and it is every whit as hard to love those, that we think a great deal better than our selves.

    CCXCIX Almost every body takes a delight to return small Favours; a great many pay their Acknowledgments for moderate ones, but there is scarce any body, but is unthankful for such as are extraordinary. CCCIV We often forgive those that have injured us, but we can never pardon those that we have injured. CCCV Interest, upon which we commonly lay the blame of all our ill Actions, oftentimes deserves the commendation due to our good ones.

    CCCXIII What an odd Thing it is, that our Memories should serve us to recollect all the little Circumstances that have happened to us, and yet that we should not remember, how often we have told them over and over again, to one and the same Person? CCCXIV The exceeding Delight we take in discoursing about our selves, may well make us suspect, that we allow but very little Pleasure to them that converse with us. CCCXV The Reason why we do not let our Friends see the very bottom of our Hearts, is, not so much, from any distrust we have of them, as that we have of our selves.

    CCCL The Reason why we have so little Patience with those that have tricked us, is because they fancy themselves to have more Wit than we. No body is worth the Jealousie of another, who will give any just occasion for it. CCCLXIV Some good Qualities, if they be natural, usually degenerate into Faults, and others again, are never compleat, if they be acquired: For instance, a Man should learn good Husbandry in his Estate, and his Confidences, from Reason and Experience only, if he would keep this Quality from being vicious; and on the other side, Courage and good Nature must be born with us, or we can never have them in any good Degree.

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    CCCLXV Though we pretend never so much to distrust the Sincerity of those we converse with, yet still we think they tell more Truth to us, than to any body else. When good, enjoy and make the best of it; when ill, bear it patiently, and never take strong Physick, without an absolute necessity. CCCXCVII Of all our Faults, we are most easily reconciled to Idleness; we perswade our selves, that it is allied to all the Peaceable Vertues, and as for the rest, that it does not destroy any of them utterly, but only suspends the Exercise of them.

    And there are some troublesome Fellows, who deserve to be rewarded so far, as to have their Absence purchased by Preferments at a distance. CCCCIII Nature seems to have treasured up in every one of our Minds some secret Talents, and some one particular Faculty, which we are not sensible of; it is the Privilege of the Passions alone, to bring these to Light, and to direct us sometimes to surer and more excellent Aims than it is possible for Art to do.

    CCCCIV We come altogether fresh and raw into the several Stages of Life, and notwithstanding we have lived so long, are as much to seek sometimes, as if we had never had any Experience at all. CCCCVI Those that are overtaken by any Subtilties of ours, do not seem near so foolish and ridiculous to us, as we our selves are in our own Opinion, when we have been outwitted by theirs. There is a great deal of Difference between suffering Death with Bravery and Resolution, and slighting it. The former is very usual, but I very much suspect, that the other is never real and sincere.

    But still I am very much perswaded, that no wise Man ever believed so; and the trouble they are at to perswade others and themselves, shews plainly, that this was no such easie Undertaking. There may be a great many Reasons, why Men should be out of Conceit with Life; but there can be none, why we should despise Death: Even those who run voluntarily upon it, do not reckon it so inconsiderable a Matter, but are confounded, and decline it as much as others, if it approach them in any other Shape, but that of their own chusing.

    Blackmore Translator , A. Blackmore Translator. Description Deceptively brief and insidiously easy to read, La Rochefoucauld's shrewd, unflattering analyses of human behavior have influenced writers, thinkers, and public figures as various as Voltaire, Proust, de Gaulle, Nietzsche, and Conan Doyle. This is the fullest collection of La Rochefoucauld's writings ever published in English, and includes the first complete translation of the R flexions diverses Miscellaneous Reflections.

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