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


Pherecides, or Ambition Deceived

PHERECIDES sacrificed a mediocre fortune to hopes that were scarcely wise. He entered on several careers at the same time, and not understanding how to curb his desires he trusted too implicitly to his ambition and his courage. He persists that circumstances and the world were against him. He thought a man could control his own destiny, and that it depended neither on his position nor on the waywardness of human affairs. He overtaxed his strength, he relied unsuccessfully on his own resources, he could not overcome adversity. He saw his equals leave the ranks and by various chances pass him in the race. Some owed their advance to gambling, others to rich inheritances, others again to the favour of the great, or to quite frivolous talents, but talents loved of the world; others again succeeded by dancing well, by the possession of pleasing features, beautiful hair or fine teeth. Pherecides committed an irreparable fault, he wished to hasten his destiny. He neglected the means that would have led to fortune slowly and gradually, but perhaps surely. Instead of applying himself with unceasing industry to one object, he aimed too high and cultivated no special talent. The great advantages he sought made him despise the small ones within his reach and he obtained neither. The haughty disposition that he vainly tried to conceal, deprived him of the assistance of men in office, so that the elevation of his soul, his mind and his merit were harmful to his advancement and his aims. Had he expected less of his resources, he would have better proportioned his hopes and his actions to his circumstances; mature and moderate minds do not force their future, they proportion their enterprises to their circumstances, they await their fortune from events, and sometimes win it without trouble. But it is one of the illusions of youth to believe that everything can be done by our own strength and intelligence, and to desire to rise by our own industry, or by paths that merit alone cannot open to men without fortune. Pherecides was reduced to regret the very advantages he had despised. The people he wished to excel found themselves naturally above him, and no one pitied his misfortunes or deigned to discover their cause.