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


The Proficient in the Art of Dealing with Mankind

HE who knows men and understands how to deal with them has no need of the vulgar artifices of flattery in order to win hearts. He is candid, ingenious, and friendly; he does not display a vain pomp of expression, nor does he adorn his conversation with figures of speech that would only serve to show off his own intelligence without interesting other people. Wherever he may chance to meet him, at table, on a journey, at the play, in a minister’s waiting room, or at the prince’s palace, if he finds himself in the company of a man likely to listen to him, he joins him, gains influence over him, persuades him by appealing to the serious and sensitive side of his mind, forces him to open his heart, excites and awakes in him passions and interests that were dormant or that he did not recognize, foresees or guesses his thoughts, and winds himself in a moment into his entire confidence. Thus he can win those whom he does not know, as he can preserve the regard of those he has already won. He enters so deeply into the character of his interlocutor, what he says to him is so nicely proportioned to his thoughts and feelings, that where others would comprehend nothing, or take no pleasure, he understands all. Thus he prefers a téte-à-téte; but if circumstances compel him to speak before several persons of varying manners or opinions, or if he has to decide between two men who do not agree, since he knows the different sides of human affairs, since he can exhaust the for and against of every subject, and set all in the best light and reconcile opposite views, he quickly seizes the hidden point by which diverse opinions may be reconciled, and his conclusion is of such a nature that none of those who submitted themselves to his counsel can object to it. He does not know how to shine at a supper party or in a scrappy, interrupted conversation, where each speaker follows the vivacity of his imagination or humour without reflexion, but the art of pleasing and dominating in serious conversation, gentle acquiescence, and the charms of attractive intercourse, are the amiable gifts which nature has accorded him. He is the most eloquent man in the world when it is a question of softening a haughty mind, or of rousing a weak one, of consoling an unhappy man, or of inspiring a timid and reserved one with courage and confidence. He knows how to soften, conquer, convince, rouse, according to need; he has the sort of mind which serves to rule men’s hearts, and which is suited for anything of which the end is noble, useful, great.