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

Antoine Rivarol

  • [Called also Comte de Rivarol; a witty French writer, denominated by Voltaire “the Frenchman par excellence;” born in Languedoc, 1753; translated Dante’s “Inferno;” gained distinction as a journalist; emigrated 1792; died in Berlin, 1801.]
  • It is an immense advantage to have done nothing, but one should not abuse it (C’est un terrible avantage que de n’avoir rien fait, mais il ne faut pas en abuser.)

  • When resolving to support himself with his pen, which he called “that miserable accoucheuse of wit, with its long, sharp, and screeching beak.”—Nouvelle Biographie Universelle.
  • He said he translated “The Inferno” because he found his ancestors in it (J’ai traduit l’Enfer de Dante, parce que j’y retrouvais mes ancêtres.)
  • To a gentleman who asked him what he thought of his last book, “I do like you, sir,” he replied: “I do not think.”
  • He called Buffon’s dissipated son “the worst chapter in his father’s Natural History.”
  • He could say nothing worse of his life than to compare it to Mercier, an eccentric dramatist: “My life is so tiresome a drama, that I think Mercier must have written it” (Ma vie est un drame si ennuyeux, que c’est Mercier, je crois, qui l’a fait).
  • He remarked of Beauzée, a celebrated grammarian of the period, “He is a very honest man, who has passed his life between the supine and the gerundive” (C’est un bien honnête homme, qui a passé sa vie entre le supin et le gérondif). When obliged by his bookseller to write a treatise on grammar, Rivarol, whom Burke called “the Tacitus of the Revolution,” exclaimed, “I am like a lover obliged to dissect his mistress” (Je ressemble à un amant obligé de dissequer sa maîtresse).
  • He congratulated a stupid man who boasted of knowing four languages: “You have four words for one idea” (Je vous en félicite: vous avez quatre mots contre une idée).
  • Mme. de Staël showed him her foot at a masked ball, as a sufficient means of recognition; knowing that she was exceedingly vain of it, more than of her face, which was unmistakably plain, he exclaimed, “What an ugly pedestal!” (Quel vilain piédestal!—pied de Staël!)
  • The passions are the orators of great assemblies.

  • Rivarol said of modern philosophy, that “it is nothing but passions armed with principles” (La philosophie moderne n’est rien autre chose que les passions armées de principes). He pronounced, in 1789, an accurate judgment of the course of the French Revolution: “The vices of the court commenced the Revolution: the vices of the people will finish it” (Les vices de la cour ont commencé la révolution: les vices du peuple l’acheveront); but he wittily said of the nobles, “They take their recollections for rights” (Ils prennent leurs souvenirs pour des droits). He called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” “the criminal preface of an impossible book” (la préface criminelle d’un livre impossible).
  • He remarked of the notoriously uncleanly Chevalier de P——, “He would make a black spot in mud” (Il fait tache dans la boue).
  • There is nothing so unready as readiness of wit.

  • Rivarol sarcastically remarked to Florian, the fabulist, who passed before him in the Palais Royal with a manuscript sticking out of his pocket, “If you were not known, how you would be robbed!”
  • Impiety is the greatest of indiscretions.

  • Talleyrand approved of the demand of the Duchesse de Dino for the last sacraments during a severe illness, by saying, “There is no feeling less aristocratic than incredulity.”
  • When one gave Rivarol a rose on his death-bed, he said, “It is going to change to a poppy: I see the great shadow of Eternity advance.” He had already said of Chamfort’s election to the French Academy, that “it is like grafting a lily-of-the-valley upon poppies” (C’est une branche de muguet entée sur des pavots).
  • Rivarol was attended during his last illness, at Berlin, by the physician of the Queen of Prussia, Dr. Formiez. The day before his death, Rivarol asked him if there was any hope. The doctor replied, that the patient’s strong constitution, assisted by the means employed, ought to weather the storm. “Ah, my dear Formiez, I am afraid, for all that,” exclaimed the dying wit, with an untranslatable pun,—“je crains bien, avec tout cela, que vous ne me dé-formiez.”