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


The Inconstant Man

SUCH a man seems really to possess more than one character. A powerful imagination makes his soul take the shape of all the objects that affect it; he suddenly astonishes the world by acts of generosity and courage which were never expected of him, the image of virtue inflames, elevates, softens, masters his heart, he receives the impressions of the greatest examples and surpasses them. But when his imagination has grown cold his courage droops, his generosity sinks, and the vices opposed to those virtues take possession of his mind and soul, and after reigning there supreme for a short space yield to other objects. The actions of men of that character have no relevance one with another, they do not resemble each other any more than their thoughts, which vary ceaselessly; they possess, in some sort, inspiration. He who trusts in their words and their friendship lacks prudence; they are not deceitful, but they are inconstant. We cannot say that they have a great or a strong or a weak or a light nature; it is a swift and imperious imagination reigning supreme over their whole being which subjugates their genius and which prescribes for them in turn the great deeds and the faults, the heights and the littlenesses, the enthusiasms and disgusts, in short, all the different lines of conduct which we wrongly ascribe to hypocrisy or folly.