Vauvenargues (1715–1747). Selections from the Characters, Reflexions and Maxims. 1903.



HEGESIPPUS passes rapidly from violent feeling to its opposite, and his passions are exhausted by their own vivacity. Feeble and strong, encouraged by the least success and thrown into consternation by the least misfortune, excessive joy soon throws him into sadness, hope into despair; and hate once satisfied awakes in him the extreme of pity. He is subject to repent without proportion things which he desired and executed without moderation. Quick to grow excited, he cannot exist in indifference. When he lacks anything his ardent imagination occupies him secretly with the objects his heart demands, and all his schemes are as extreme as his feelings. He esteems little what he does not desire or admire, and what he does not regard with passion he considers to be without interest. He passes swiftly from one idea to another, and he exhausts in a moment the feeling that sways him, but no one enters with more truth into the personage whom his passions make him deceive, and he is almost sincere in his tricks because he feels, in spite of himself, all that he desires to feign. He is the least suited for affairs that demand sequence and patience; he becomes attached to people and disgusted with them most promptly, urges a single interest very vivaciously, but is entirely incapable of conducting several at a time. He either entirely neglects little things or worries himself absurdly over them; he has the greatest confidence in himself and his schemes, but his imagination far outstrips his powers of execution. He is destined by nature to commit great faults because he imagines too vividly and undertakes too rashly what he has conceived with transport. He possesses, however, real and lofty courage, which makes him take up from reflexion affairs of which he despairs by feeling. Sometimes he is rebuffed by the slightest obstacles, but does not generally succumb to the greatest. Intrepid in despair, he counteracts the changefulness of his humour by resolution and prudence; he even derives virtues from his weakness, and repairs the inequalities of his heart by the wisdom of his mind. Equable minds are often mediocre, and we must learn to esteem those men who by sudden fits succeed in raising themselves to all the virtues although they cannot long remain there. Their heart goes out towards generosity, courage, pity, and immediately yields to opposite impulses. Such virtues are not false for being sudden, they sometimes go farther towards heroism than moderation and wisdom, which, more subject to common laws, have neither the vigour nor the boldness that is the sign of independence.