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


Varus, or Liberality

VARUS hates useless luxury and purposeless profusion. He dresses simply, goes afoot, likes order in his affairs, and retires at times into the country so as to spend less. But he is kind to those who are unfortunate, liberal and lavish where the interests of his fortune are concerned, grateful for the slightest service, and considerate towards all who suffer. If he has to give money to a man who makes no ceremony about receiving it, who is besides poor and of low rank, Varus’s only fear is of giving it him in a manner that might make him feel his position. He embraces him, shakes hands with him, in a way apologizes for his kind deed. He says that between friends everything is in common, and such kindly conduct raises the soul of the poor man so that he in his turn apologizes for the poverty that compels him to ask assistance. Varus replies: “My friend, mankind has only attached shame to receiving in order to avenge themselves for the shame they have in giving; but, believe me, more generosity is required for accepting a friend’s help than for giving it him.” Varus has everything that money can procure, and deserves to be sought out; for at need on important occasions he borrows, and he never hesitates to put himself out in order to satisfy himself, if need be, or to satisfy his friends. As he was not born rich he is reduced to owe largely, but he is never unpunctual in his payments. He pays at the date fixed, and all purses are open to him because his probity is known and his orderly conduct makes him seem quite at ease when he is most involved. In that way he has sufficient for his gifts and his own kind heart. But if any one, hearing his generosity talked of, attempts to make a dupe of him, after the manner of rascals who always think themselves cleverer than honest men, Varus, who can penetrate the most secret thoughts, and who knows mankind well, easily sees through the rascal’s purpose, and takes delight in playing with him. Instead of giving him time to state his demand, he is first, and says: “Well, my friend, you are out very early to-day. Have you some important business on hand? Are you by any chance seeking an honest money lender? You’ll have a vast deal of trouble to find him, I assure you. I know people who have been wanting a hundred pistoles for the last three weeks, and can’t find them, even with good interest.” The rascal, ashamed and confused at being found out—for the best way to unmask a man who is prepared is to be beforehand with him—replies that in truth he has lost large sums at cards the last few days, but, fortunately, he has been able to pay off his debts. Glad to have baffled him, Varus pretends to believe him, and treats him with the utmost civility. They are already risen and near the door when the borrower, beginning to regret his feeling of shame, and who is besides somewhat reassured by Varus’s manner, says: “I regret that I did pay So-and-so for I haven’t a crown left; if you could possibly lend me four pistoles, I will return them to-morrow morning.” “What!” exclaims Varus, “can a man like you possibly be in want of four pistoles? How have you let yourself come to that pass? What’s the use of possessing such intelligence? What do you do with it? How do you employ it?” “I don’t exactly know, but you would be doing me a great favour if you would lend me those four pistoles.” “Oh! as to that, my dear fellow, it’s quite impossible, for it was of myself I was speaking just now. I have been seeking money for the last month, and it is a consolation to find that a man like you is in equally low water.” Then he accompanies him to the door, overwhelms him with those protestations that rascals are so fond of employing and are always so surprised to find in the mouths of honest folk.