Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696). Characters. 1885.

Of the Affections


(1.)PURE friendship is something which men of an inferior intellect can never taste.

(2.)Friendship can exist between persons of different sexes, without any coarse or sensual feelings; yet a woman always looks upon a man as a man, and so a man will look upon a woman as a woman. Such a connection is neither love nor pure friendship, but something out of the common.

(3.)Love arises suddenly, without any warning, through a natural disposition or through weakness; one glance of the fair transfixes us, determines us. Friendship, on the contrary, is formed gradually, in time, through familiarity and long acquaintance. How much intelligence, kindness of heart and affection; how many good offices and civilities are required among friends to accomplish in several years what a lovely face or a fine hand does in a minute.

(4.)Time, which strengthens friendship, weakens love.

(5.)As long as love lasts, it feeds on itself, and sometimes by those very means which seem rather likely to extinguish it, such as caprice, severity, absence, jealousy. Friendship, on the contrary, needs every assistance, and dies from want of attention, confidence, and kindness.

(6.)It is not so difficult to meet with excessive love as with perfect friendship.

(7.)Love and friendship exclude each other.

(8.)A man who is passionately in love neglects friendship, and one whose whole feelings are for friendship has none to give to love.

(9.)Love begins with love; and the warmest friendship cannot change even to the coldest love.

(10.)Nothing is more like the most ardent friendship than those acquaintances which we cultivate for the sake of our love.

(11.)We never love with all our heart and all our soul but once, and that is the first time we love. Subsequent inclinations are less instinctive.

(12.)Sudden love takes the longest time to be cured.

(13.)Love, slow and gradual in its growth, is too much like friendship ever to be a violent passion.

(14.)A man who loves so ardently that he wishes he were able to love ever so many thousand times more than he does, yields in love to none but to a man who loves more intensely than he could wish.

(15.)If I were to admit that in the ebullitions of a violent passion one may love another person better than oneself, whom should I please most—those who love or those who are beloved?

(16.)Men are not seldom inclined to fall in love, but cannot succeed in their desire; they seek every opportunity of being conquered, but fail to meet it, and, if I may say so, are compelled to remain at liberty.

(17.)Those who love too violently at first, soon contribute individually to their loving one another less, and, finally, to their not loving one another any longer. It is not so easy to decide who is most to blame for this rupture, the man or the woman. Women accuse men of being inconstant, and men retort that women are fickle.

(18.)However particular we may be in love, we pardon more faults in love than in friendship.

(19.)It is a sweet revenge to a man who loves passionately to make an ungrateful mistress appear still more so, by his very actions.

(20.)It is a sorry circumstance to love when we have not a fortune large enough to render those whom we love so happy that there is nothing more they can wish for.

(21.)If a woman with whom we have been violently in love, and who has not returned our passion, afterwards renders us some important services, she will hardly meet with anything but ingratitude.

(22.)A lively gratitude denotes a great esteem and affection for the person who lays us under some obligation.

(23.)To be in the company of those whom we love satisfies us; it does not signify whether we dream of them, speak or not speak to them, think of them or think of indifferent things, as long as we are near them.

(24.)Hatred is nearer to friendship than antipathy is.

(25.)It seems that antipathy changes oftener into love than into friendship.

(26.)We confide our secret to a friend, but in love it escapes us.

It is possible to enjoy some people’s confidence, and yet not their affections; he who possesses these needs no trusting, no confidence; everything is open to him.

(27.)In friendship we only see those faults which may be prejudicial to our friends; in those whom we love we discern no faults but those by which we suffer ourselves.

(28.)The first tiff in love, as the first fault in friendship, is the only one of which we are able to make good use.

(29.)Methinks that if an unjust, eccentric, and groundless suspicion has been called jealousy, that other jealousy which is just, natural, founded on reason and on experience, deserves some other name.

Our natural disposition has no small share in jealousy which does not always spring from a great passion. Yet it is a paradox for a violent love not to be esoteric.

Our idiosyncrasy often causes no suffering to any one but to ourselves; but in jealousy we suffer ourselves and give pain to others.

Those women who do not respect any of our feelings and give us so many opportunities of becoming jealous, should not be worthy of our jealousy if we were guided rather by their sentiments and conduct than by our affections.

(30.)Coolness in friendship and the slackening of its ties, arise not without cause; in love there is hardly any other cause for our ceasing to love but that of having loved to excess.

(31.)It is no more in our power to love always than it was not to love at all.

(32.)Love receives its death-wound from aversion, and forgetfulness buries it.

(33.)We perceive when love begins and when it declines by our perplexity when alone.

(34.)To cease from loving is a distinct proof that the powers of man are limited and his affections as well.

It is a weakness to love; it is sometimes another weakness to attempt the cure of it.

We are cured in the same way as we are comforted, for we cannot always weep nor love with all our heart.

(35.)There should be within the heart inexhaustible sources of grief for certain losses. It is seldom that either by our virtue or strength of mind we overcome a great affliction; we weep bitterly and are deeply moved, but afterwards we are either so weak or so flighty that we console ourselves.

(36.)When a plain-looking woman is loved, it is certain to be very passionately; for either her influence on her lover is irresistible, or she has some secret and more irresistible charms than those of beauty.

(37.)For a long time visits among lovers and professions of love are kept up through habit, after their behaviour has plainly proved that love no longer exists.

(38.)To endeavour to forget any one is a certain way of thinking of nothing else. Love has this in common with scruples, that it becomes embittered by the reflections and the thoughts that beset us to free ourselves. If we could do it, the only way to extinguish our passion would be never to think of it.

(39.)We should like those whom we love to receive all their happiness, or, if this were impossible, all their unhappiness from our hands.

(40.)To bewail the loss of a person we love is a happiness compared with the necessity of living with one we hate.

(41.)However disinterested we may be with regard to those we love, we must sometimes constrain ourselves for their sake, and have the generosity to accept gifts.

A man may freely accept a gift if he feels as great a pleasure in receiving it as his friend felt in giving it him.

(42.)To give is to act; we do not suffer any pains by our liberality, nor by yielding to the importunity or necessity of postulants.

(43.)If at any time we have been liberal to those we loved, whatever happens afterwards, there is no occasion to think of what we have given.

(44.)It has been said in Latin that it costs less to hate than to love; or, in other words, that friendship is more expensive than hatred. It is true that we need not be liberal towards our enemies; but does revenge cost nothing? Or, if it be so pleasing and natural to harm those we hate, is it less so to do good to those we love? Would it not be disagreeable and painful for us not to do so?

(45.)There is a pleasure in meeting the glance of a person whom we have lately laid under some obligations.

(46.)I do not know whether a benefit conferred upon an ungrateful person, and thus on a person unworthy of it, does not change its name, and whether it deserves any gratitude.

(47.)Liberality consists not so much in giving a great deal as in giving seasonably.

(48.)If it be true that in showing pity and compassion we think of ourselves, because we fear to be one day or another in the same circumstances as those unfortunate people for whom we feel, why are the latter so sparingly relieved by us in their wretchedness?

It is better to expose ourselves to ingratitude than to neglect our duty to the distressed.

(49.)Experience proves us that if we are effeminate, and indulgent towards ourselves, and obdurate towards others, we show but one and the same vice.

(50.)A moiling, toiling man, who shows no mercy to himself, is only lenient to others by excess of reason.

(51.)Though the charge of maintaining a poor person may be very burdensome to us, yet a change of fortune, which makes him no longer our dependent, gives us no great pleasure, in the same way as our joy at the preferment of a friend is somewhat tempered by the small grudge we bear him for having become our superior or our equal. Thus we agree but ill with ourselves, for we should like to have others dependent on us, but it must cost us nothing; and we should like to see our friends prosperous, yet when good fortune comes to them, the first thing we do is not always to be glad about it.

(52.)People send you invitations, ask you to come to their house, offer you even board and lodging, nay, their very fortune and their services; all this costs them nothing; but will they be as good as their word?

(53.)One faithful friend is enough for a man, and he is very fortunate to meet with one; yet he cannot have too many which may be of use to others.

(54.)When we have done all that we can do for certain people in order to acquire their friendship, and we find we have been unsuccessful, there is still one resource left to us, which is, not to do anything more.

(55.)To live with our enemies as if they might one day become our friends, and to live with our friends as if they might some time or other become our enemies, is equally opposed to the very nature of hatred, as well as to the rules of friendship. It may be a political maxim, it is certainly not a moral one.

(56.)We ought not to make those people our enemies who might have become our friends, if we had only known them better. We ought to choose friends of such a high and honourable character that, even after having ceased to remain our friends, they should not abuse our confidence, nor make us dread them as our enemies.

(57.)It is pleasant to visit our friends because we like and esteem them; it is a torture to frequent them because we want them; then we become applicants.

(58.)We should try and gain the affections of those to whom we wish to do good rather than of those who could do us some good.

(59.)We do not employ the same means for bettering our position as we do in pursuing frivolous and fanciful things. We feel a certain kind of freedom in acting according to our fancy, and, on the contrary, a certain kind of thraldom in labouring for obtaining a place. It is natural to desire it ardently and to take little pains to obtain it, for we think that we deserve it without seeking for it.

(60.)He who knows how to wait for what he desires does not feel very desperate if he fails in obtaining it; and he, on the contrary, who is very impatient in procuring a certain thing, takes so much pains about it, that, even when he is successful, he does not think himself sufficiently rewarded.

(61.)There are certain people who so ardently and so passionately desire a thing, that from dread of losing it they leave nothing undone to make them lose it.

(62.)Those things which we desire most never happen at all, or do not happen at the right time, and under those circumstances when they would have given us the greatest pleasure.

(63.)We must laugh before we are happy, or else we may die before ever having laughed at all.

(64.)Life is short, if we are only said to live when we enjoy ourselves; and if we were merely to count up the hours we spent agreeably, a great number of years would hardly make up a life of a few months.

(65.)How difficult is it to be pleased with any one

(66.)We imagine that it would be impossible to prevent our feeling some pleasure if we were present at the death of a wicked man, for then we could reap the harvest of our hatred, and get from him all that we could ever hope to get from him, namely, the delight his death causes us. But when at last this man really dies, and at a time when our interest will not permit us to rejoice, he dies either too soon or too late for us.

(67.)It is difficult for a proud man ever to forgive a person who has found him at fault, and who has good grounds for complaining of him; his pride is not assuaged till he has regained the advantages he lost and put the other person in the wrong.

(68.)As our affection increases towards those whom we wish to assist, so we violently hate those whom we have greatly offended.

(69.)It is as difficult at first to stifle the resentment of a wrong done to us as to retain it after many years.

(70.)It is weakness which makes us hate an enemy and seek revenge, and it is idleness that pacifies us and canses us to neglect it.

(71.)It is as much from idleness as from weakness that we allow ourselves to be controlled.

No man should think of controlling another person all at once, and without some preliminaries, in some important matter of business which might be of great consequence to him and to his family; such a person would at once become aware of the sway and ascendency intended to be obtained over him, and would throw off the yoke out of shame or inconsistency. He should be tried first with trifling things, and then success is certain when attempting greater ones. Some people, who, at first, scarcely ventured to make a man leave for the country or to let him return to town, obtained such an influence over him at last, that he made his will, as they told him, and only left his own son what he was obliged to leave him.

In order to control a man for any length of time and completely, a light hand is necessary, so as to let him feel his dependence as little as possible.

Some people allow themselves to be controlled up to a certain point, but beyond that they are intractable and ungovernable; suddenly all influence is lost over their feelings and mind, and neither rough nor gentle means, force nor address, can reduce them: yet, with this difference, that some act thus moved by reasoning and conclusive evidence, and others through inclination and constitution.

There are some men who turn a deaf ear to reason and good advice, and wilfully go wrong for fear of being controlled.

There are others who allow their friends to control them in trifling things, and thence presume to control them in things of weight and consequence.

Drance would fain pass for a man who rules his master, though his master and the world know better. For a man in office to talk incessantly to his employer, a man of high rank, at improper times and places, to be always whispering or using certain words with mysterious intent, to laugh boisterously in his presence, to interrupt him when he speaks, to interfere when others address him, to treat with contempt those who come to pay their court to his master, or express impatience till they are gone, to stand near him in too unconstrained an attitude, to lean with his back against the chimney-mantel as his master does, to pluck him by his coat, to tread upon his heels, to affect a certain familiarity and to take such liberties, are signs of a coxcomb rather than of a favourite.

An intelligent man neither allows himself to be controlled nor attempts to control others; he wishes reason alone to rule, and that always.

Had I a friend, a man of sense, I should not object to confide in him, and to be controlled by him in everything, completely and for ever. I should then be sure of acting rightly without the trouble of thinking about it, whilst enjoying all the calm of a man swayed by common-sense.

(72.)All passions are deceptive; they conceal themselves as much as possible from others and from themselves as well. No vice exists which does not pretend to be more or less like some virtue, and which does not take advantage of this assumed resemblance.

(73.)We open a book of devotion, and it affects us; we open a book of gallantry, and that, too, impresses us. If I may say so, it is the heart alone which reconciles things so opposed to one another, and allows incompatibilities.

(74.)Men are less ashamed of their crimes than of their weaknesses and their vanity. The same man who is openly unjust, violent, treacherous, and a slanderer, will conceal his love or his ambition for no other reason but to conceal it.

(75.)It rarely happens that a man can say he is ambitious, for if he has been so once, he remains so; but there comes a time when he admits he has been in love.

(76.)Men begin with love and end with ambition, and are seldom free from passion till they die.

(77.)Nothing is easier for passion than to overcome reason, but the greatest triumph is to conquer a man’s own interests.

(78.)A man who is swayed by his feelings is more sociable and agreeable to converse with than one who is swayed by his intelligence.

(79.)There are certain sublime sentiments, certain noble and lofty actions, for which we are indebted rather to the kindness of our disposition than to the strength of our mind.

(80.)There is no excess in the world so commendable as excessive gratitude.

(81.)A man must be completely wanting in intelligence if he does not show it when actuated by love, malice, or necessity.

(82.)There are certain spots which we admire, others which we love, and where we long to pass our days.

It seems that our mind, our temper, passions, taste and feelings, are influenced by the places where we dwell.

(83.)Benevolent persons should be the only ones to be envied, if there were not a better course open to us, which is, to excel them; thus we can avenge ourselves pleasantly on those whom we dislike.

(84.)Some people pretend they never were in love and never wrote poetry; two weaknesses which they dare not own—one of the heart, the other of the mind.

(85.)During the course of our life we now and then enjoy some pleasures so inviting, and have some encounters of so tender a nature, that though they are forbidden, it is but natural to wish that they were at least allowable. Nothing can be more delightful, except it be to abandon them for virtue’s sake.