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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Character of Cydias

By Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696)

From the ‘Characters’: Translation of Henri Van Laun

ASCANIUS is a sculptor, Hegio an iron-founder, Æschines a fuller, and Cydias [the poet Fontenelle] a wit, for that is his trade. He has a signboard, a shop, work that is ordered, and journeymen who work under him; he cannot possibly let you have those stanzas he has promised you in less than a month, unless he breaks his word with Dosithea, who has engaged him to write an elegy; he has also an idyl on the loom which is for Crantor, who presses him for it, and has promised him a liberal reward. You can have whatever you like—prose or verse, for he is just as good in one as in the other. If you want a letter of condolence, or one on some person’s absence, he will write them: he has them even ready-made; step into his warehouse, and you may pick and choose. Cydias has a friend who has nothing else to do but to promise to certain people a long time beforehand that the great man will come to them, and who finally introduces him in some society as a man seldom to be met with and exquisite in conversation. Then, just as a vocalist sings or as a lute-player touches his instrument in a company where it has been expected, Cydias, after having coughed, puts back his ruffles, extends his hand, opens his fingers, and very gravely utters his over-refined thoughts and his sophisticated arguments. Unlike those persons whose principles agree, and who know that reason and truth are one and the same thing, and snatch the words out of one another’s mouths to acquiesce in one another’s sentiments, he never opens his mouth but to contradict: “I think,” he says graciously, “it is just the opposite of what you say;” or, “I am not at all of your opinion;” or else, “Formerly I was under the same delusion as you are now; but …”; and then he continues, “There are three things to be considered,” to which he adds a fourth. He is an insipid chatterer; no sooner has he obtained a footing into any society than he looks out for some ladies whom he can fascinate, before whom he can set forth his wit or his philosophy, and produce his rare conceptions: for whether he speaks or writes, he ought never to be suspected of saying what is true or false, sensible or ridiculous; his only care is not to express the same sentiments as some one else, and to differ from everybody. Therefore in conversation, he often waits till every one has given his opinion on some casual subject, or one which not seldom he has introduced himself, in order to utter dogmatically things which are perfectly new, but which he thinks decisive and unanswerable. He is, in a word, a compound of pedantry and formality, to be admired by cits and rustics; in whom, nevertheless, there is nothing great except the opinion he has of himself.