Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696). Characters. 1885.
(1.)LET us not be angry with men when we see them cruel, ungrateful, unjust, proud, egotists, and forgetful of others; they are made so; it is their nature; we might just as well quarrel with a stone for falling to the ground, or with a fire when the flames ascend.
(2.)In one sense men are not fickle, or only in trifles; they change their habits, language, outward appearance, their rules of propriety, and sometimes their taste; but they always preserve their bad morals, and adhere tenaciously to what is ill and to their indifference for virtue.
(3.)Stoicism is a mere fancy, a fiction, like Plato’s Republic. The Stoics pretend a man may laugh at poverty; not feel insults, ingratitude, loss of property, relatives, and friends; look unconcernedly on death, and regard it as a matter of indifference which ought neither to make him merry nor melancholy; not let pleasure or pain conquer him; be wounded or burned without breathing the slightest sigh or shedding a single tear; and this phantasm of courage and imaginary firmness they are pleased to call a philosopher. They have left man with the same faults they found in him, and did not blame his smallest foible. Instead of depicting vice as something terrible or ridiculous, which might have corrected him, they have limned an idea of perfection and heroism of which man is not capable, and they exhorted him to aim at what is impossible. Thus, the philosopher that is to be, but will never exist except in imagination, finds himself naturally, and without any exertions of his own, above all events and all ills; the most excruciating fit of the gout, the most severe attack of colic, cannot draw from him the least complaint; Heaven and earth may be overturned, without dragging him along in their downfall; and he remains calm and collected amidst the ruins of the universe, whilst a man really beside himself utters loud exclamations, despairs, looks fierce, and is in an agony for the loss of a dog or for a China dish broken into pieces.
(4.)Restlessness of mind, inequality of temper, fickleness of affections, and instability of conduct, are all vices of the mind, but they are all different; and, in spite of their appearing analogous, are not always found in one and the same subject.
(5.)It is difficult to decide whether irresolution makes a man more unfortunate than contemptible, or even whether it is always a greater disadvantage to take a wrong step than to take none at all.
(6.)A man of variable mind is not one man, but several men in one; he multiplies himself as often as he changes his taste and manners; he is not this minute what he was the last, and will not be the next what he is now; he is his own successor. Do not ask what is his nature, but what are his proclivities; nor what mood he is in, but how many sorts of moods he has. Are you not mistaken, and is it Eutichrates whom you accost? To-day he is cool to you, but yesterday he was anxious to see you, and was so demonstrative that his friends were jealous of you. Surely he does not remember you; tell him your name.
(7.)Menalcas goes down-stairs, opens the door to go out, and shuts it again; he perceives that he has his nightcap on, and on looking at himself with a little more attention, he finds that he is but half shaved, that he has fastened his sword on the wrong side, that his stockings are hanging on his heels, and that his shirt is bulging out above his breeches. If he walks about, he feels something strike him all at once in the stomach or in the face, and he cannot imagine what it is, until he opens his eyes and wakes up, when he finds himself before the shaft of a cart, or behind a long plank a workman is carrying. He has been seen to run his head against a blind man, and to get entangled between his legs, so that both fell backwards. Often he meets a prince face to face, who wishes to pass; he recollects himself with some difficulty, and scarcely has time to squeeze himself up against the wall to make room for him. He searches about, rummages, shouts, gets excited, calls his servants one after another, and complains that everything is lost or mislaid; he asks for his gloves which he holds in his hands, like the woman who asked for the mask she had on her face. He enters the rooms at Versailles, and passing under a chandelier, his wig gets hooked on to one of the brackets and is left hanging, whilst all the courtiers stare and laugh. Menalcas looks also, and laughs louder than any of them, staring in the meanwhile at all the company to see what man shows his ears and has lost his wig. If he goes into town, before he has gone far he thinks he has lost his way, gets uneasy, and asks some of the passers-by where he is, who name to him the very street he lives in; he enters his own house, runs out in haste, and fancies he is mistaken. He comes out of the Palais de Justice, and finding a carriage waiting at the bottom of the great staircase, he thinks it is his own and enters it; the coachman just touches the horses with his whip, and supposes all the while he is driving his master home; Menalcas jumps out, crosses the courtyard, mounts the stairs, and passes through the ante-chamber and ordinary rooms into the study; but nothing is strange or new to him; he sits down, takes a rest, and feels himself at home. When the real master of the house arrives, he rises to receive him, treats him very politely, begs him to be seated, and believes he is doing the honours of his own room; he talks, muses, and talks again; the master of the house is tired and amazed, and Menalcas as much as he, though he does not say what he thinks, but supposes the other is some bore who has nothing to do, and will leave soon—at least he hopes so, and remains patient; yet it is almost night before he is undeceived, and that with some difficulty. Another time he pays a visit to a lady, and imagines that she is visiting him; he sits down in her arm-chair without any thought of giving it up; it then seems to him that the lady is somewhat long in her visit, and he expects every moment that she will rise and leave him at liberty; but as she delays, he is growing hungry, and night coming on, he invites her to have some supper with him, at which she bursts out in such loud laughter that he comes to himself. He marries in the morning, but has forgotten it at night, and does not sleep at home on his wedding-night; some time afterwards his wife dies in his arms, and he is present at her funeral; the next day one of the servants informs him that dinner is on the table, when he asks if his wife is already dressed and if they have told her it is served up. He enters a church, and takes a blind man, always stationed at the door, for a pillar, and the plate he holds in his hands for a holy-water basin, into which he dips his hands; and when he makes the sign of the cross on his forehead, he, on a sudden, hears the pillar speak and beg for alms; he walks through the aisle, and fancying he sees a praying-chair, throws himself heavily on it; the chair bends, gives way. and strives to cry out; Menalcas is surprised to find himself kneeling on the legs of a very little man, and leaning on his back, with both his arms on his shoulders, his folded hands extended, taking him by the nose and stopping his mouth; he is quite confused, withdraws, and goes and kneels elsewhere. He takes out his prayer-book as he thinks, but he pulls out a slipper instead, which he had inadvertently put into his pocket before he went out; he has hardly left the church when a footman runs after him, comes up to him, and asks him, with a laugh, if he has not got the bishop’s slipper; Menalcas produces his, and assures him that he has no other slippers about him; but, however, after searching he finds the slipper of his lordship, whom he has just been visiting, had found indisposed at his fireside, and whose slipper he had pocketed before he took his leave, instead of one of his gloves he had dropt; so that Menalcas returns home with one slipper less. One day whilst gambling he lost all the money he had about him, and, as he wished to continue, he went into his private room, unlocked a cupboard, took out his cash-box, helped himself to whatever he pleased, and then thought he put it back again in its former place; but he heard some barking going on in the cupboard he just locked, and, quite astonished at this marvellous occurrence, he opened it again, and burst out laughing on beholding his dog he had locked up instead of his cash-box. Whilst he is playing backgammon he asks for something to drink, which is brought him; it is his turn to play, and, holding the box in one hand and the glass in the other, and being very thirsty, he gulps down the dice and almost the box, whilst the water is thrown on the board, and quite wets the person he is playing with. One day being in a room with a family with whom he was very intimate, he spits on the bed, and throws his hat on the ground, thinking he is spitting on the floor and shying his hat on the bed. Once on the river he asked what o’clock it was; they hand him a watch, but it is scarcely in his hands when he forgets both the time and the watch, and throws the latter into the river as a thing which bothers him. He writes a long letter, throws some sand on his paper, and then pours the sand into the inkstand; but that is not all. He writes a second letter, and after having sealed both, he makes a mistake in addressing them; one of them is sent to a duke and peer of the realm, who, on opening it, reads: “Mr. Oliver,—Pray don’t fail to send me my provision of hay as soon as you receive this letter.” His farmer receives the other letter, opens it, has it read to him, and finds in it: “My lord,—I receive with the utmost submission the orders which it has pleased your highness,” and so on. He writes another letter at night, and after sealing it, puts out the light; yet is surprised to be on a sudden in the dark, and is at a loss to conceive how it has happened. Coming down the Louvre staircase, Menalcas meets another person coming up, and exclaims that the latter is the very man he is looking for; he takes him by the hand, and they go down-stairs together, cross several courtyards, enter some apartments, and come out again; he moves about, and returns whence he started; then, looking more narrowly at the man he has thus been dragging after him for a quarter of an hour, he wonders who it is, has nothing to say to him, lets go his hand, and turns another way. He often asks a question, and is almost out of sight before it is possible to answer him; or else he will ask you, whilst he is running about, how your father is, and when you answer him that he is seriously unwell, he will shout to you that he is very glad to hear it. Another time, if you fall in his way, he is delighted to meet you, and says he has just come from your house to talk to you on a certain matter of business; then, looking at your hand, he exclaims, “That’s a fine ruby you wear; is it a balass ruby?” and then he leaves you, and goes on his way; this is the important matter of business he was so anxious to talk to you about. If he is in the country, he tells some person he must feel happy he has been able to leave the court in the autumn and to have spent on his estate all the time the court was at Fontainebleau; whilst to other people he talks about something else; then, going back to the first, he says to him, “You have had some very fine weather at Fontainebleau, and you must have followed the royal hunt pretty often.” He begins a story which he forgets to finish; he laughs to himself, and that aloud, at something he is thinking of, and replies to his own thoughts; he hums a tune, whistles, throws himself into a chair, sends forth a pitiful whine, yawns, and thinks himself alone. When he is at a dinner-party he gradually gathers all the bread on his own plate, and his neighbours have none; and he does the same with the knives and forks, which do not remain long in their hands. Lately some large spoons, convenient for helping every one, have been introduced at certain tables; he takes one of these spoons, plunges it into the dish, fills it, puts it into his mouth, and is highly astonished to see the soup he has just taken all over his clothes and linen. He forgets to drink at dinner, or, if he remembers it, thinks there is too much wine poured out for him; he flings more than half of it in the face of a gentleman seated at his right hand, drinks the rest with a great deal of composure, and cannot understand why everybody should burst out laughing for throwing on the floor the wine he did not wish to drink. He keeps his bed a day or two for a slight indisposition, and a goodly number of ladies and gentlemen visit him, and converse with him in the ruelle; in their presence he lifts up the blankets and spits in the sheets. He is taken to the Convent of the Carthusians, where they show him a gallery adorned with paintings, all executed by the hand of a master; the monk who explains the subjects persistently expatiates on the life of Saint Bruno, and points out the adventure with the canon in one of the pictures. Menalcas, whose thoughts are all the while wandering away from the gallery, and far beyond it, returns to it at last, and asks the monk whether it is the canon or Saint Bruno who is damned. Being once, as it happened, with a young widow, he talks to her of her deceased husband, and asks of what he died; this conversation renews all the sorrows of the lady, who, amidst tears and sobs, tells him all the particulars of her late husband’s illness, from the night he first was attacked by fever to his final agony; whereupon Menalcas, who apparently listens to her narrative with great attention, asks her if the deceased was her only husband. One morning he gets it into his head to hurry on everything for dinner; but he rises before the dessert is brought on, and leaves his guests by themselves. That day he is sure to be seen everywhere in town except on the spot where he has made an appointment about the very business which prevented him finishing his dinner, and made him walk, for fear it would take too long a time to get the horses and carriage ready. You may frequently hear him shout, scold, and get in a rage about one of his servants being out of the way. “Where can that man be?” says he; “what can he be doing? what has become of him? Let him never more present himself before me; I discharge him this very minute!” The servant makes his appearance, and he asks him, in a contemptuous tone, where he comes from; the man replies he has been where he was sent to, and gives a faithful account of his errand. You would often take Menalcas for what he is not, for an idiot; for he does not listen, and speaks still less; for a madman, because he talks to himself, and indulges in certain grimaces and involuntary motions of the head; for proud and discourteous, because when you bow to him, he may pass without looking at you, or look at you and not return your bow; for a man without any feeling, for he talks of bankruptcy in a family where there is such a blot; of executions and the scaffold before a person whose father has been beheaded; of plebeians before plebeians who have become rich and pretend to be of noble birth. He even intends to bring up his illegitimate son in his house, and pretends he is a servant; and though he would have his wife and children know nothing about the matter, he cannot forbear calling him his son every hour of the day. He resolves to let his son marry the daughter of some man of business, yet he now and then boasts of his birth and ancestors, and that no Menalcas has ever made a misalliance. In short, he seems to be absent minded, and to pay no attention to the conversation going on; he thinks and speaks at the same time, but what he says is seldom about what he thinks; so that there is hardly any coherence and sequence in his talk; he often says “yes” when he should say “no,” and when he says “no,” you must suppose he would say “yes.” When he answers you so pertinently, his eyes are fixed on your countenance, but it does not follow that he sees you; he looks neither at you nor at any one, nor at anything in the world. All that you can draw from him, even when he is most sociable and most attentive, are some such words as these: “Yes, indeed; it is true; very well; really; indeed; I believe so; certainly; O Heaven!” and some other monosyllables, even not always used on the right occasions. He never is with those with whom he appears to be; he calls his footman very seriously “Sir,” and his friend “La Verdure;” says “Your Reverence” to a prince of the royal blood, and “Your Highness” to a Jesuit. When he is at mass, and the priest sneezes, he cries out aloud, “God bless you!” He is in the company of a magistrate of serious disposition, and venerable by his age and dignity, who asks him whether a certain event happened in such and such a way, and Menalcas replies, “Yes, miss.” As he came one day from the country, his footmen plotted to rob him and succeeded; they jumped down from behind his coach, presented the end of a torch to his breast, and demanded his purse, which he gave up. When he came home he told his friends what had happened, and when they asked for details he said they had better inquire of his servants, who also were present.
(8.)Impoliteness is not a vice of the mind, but the consequence of several vices; of foolish vanity, of ignorance of one’s duties, of idleness, of stupidity, of absence of mind, of contempt for others, and of jealousy. Though it only shows itself outwardly, it is not the less odious, because it is a fault which is always visible and manifest; however, it gives more or less offence, according as the motives for displaying it are more or less offensive.
(9.)If we say of an angry, captious, quarrelsome, melancholy, formal, capricious person, that it is all owing to his temper, it is not to find an excuse for him, whatever people may think, but an involuntary acknowledgment that such great faults admit of no remedy.
What we call good temper is a thing too much neglected among men; they ought to understand that they should not alone be good, but also appear to be so, at least if they are inclined to be sociable and disposed to friendly intercourse; in other words, if they would be men. We do not require wicked men to be gentle and urbane; in these qualities they are never wanting, for they employ them to ensnare the simple, and to find a larger field for their operations; but we wish kind-hearted men always to be tractable, accessible, and courteous; so that there should no longer be any reason for saying that wicked men do harm and that good men make others uncomfortable.
(10.)The generality of men proceed from anger to insults; others act differently, for they first give offence and then grow angry; our surprise at such behaviour always supersedes resentment.
(11.)Men do not sufficiently take advantage of every opportunity for pleasing other people. When a person accepts a certain post, it seems that he intends to acquire the power of obliging others without using it; nothing is quicker and more readily given than a refusal, whilst nothing is ever granted until after mature reflection.
(12.)Know exactly what you are to expect from men in general, and from each of them in particular, and then mix with the people around you.
(13.)If poverty is the mother of all crimes, lack of intelligence is their father.
(14.)A knave can hardly be a very intelligent man; a clear and far-seeing mind leads to regularity, honesty, and virtue; it is want of sense and penetration which begets obstinacy in wickedness as well as in duplicity; in vain we endeavour to correct such a man by satire; it may describe him to others, but he himself will not know his own picture; it is like scolding a deaf man. It would be well, please gentlemen of sense and culture, and avenge everybody, if a rogue were not so constituted as to be without any feeling whatever.
(15.)There are some vices for which we are indebted to none but ourselves, which are innate in us, and are strengthened by habit; there are others we contract which are foreign to us. Sometimes men are naturally inclined to yield without much difficulty, to be urbane, and to desire to please; but by the treatment they meet from those whom they frequent and on whom they depend, they soon lose all moderation, and even change their disposition; they grow melancholy and peevish to a degree ere this unknown to them; their temper is completely changed, and they are themselves astonished at their being rude and tetchy.
(16.)Some people ask why the whole bulk of mankind does not constitute one nation, and does not like to speak the same language, obey the same laws, and agree among themselves to adopt the same customs and the same worship? For my part, observing how greatly minds, tastes, and sentiments differ, I am astonished to see seven or eight persons, living under the same roof and within the same walls, constitute one family.
(17.)There are some extraordinary fathers, who seem, during the whole course of their lives, to be preparing reasons for their children for being consoled at their deaths.
(18.)Everything is strange in the dispositions, morals, and manners of men: one person who during his whole lifetime has been melancholy, passionate, avaricious, fawning, submissive, laborious, and egotistical, was born lively, peaceable, indolent, ostentatious, and with lofty feelings, abhorring anything base; want, circumstances, and dire necessity have compelled him and caused such a great change. Such a man’s inmost feelings can really not be described, for too many external things have altered, changed, and upset him, so that he is not exactly what he thinks he is himself or what he appears to be.
(19.)Life is short and tedious, and is wholly spent in wishing; we trust to find rest and enjoyment at some future time, often at an age when our best blessings, youth and health, have already left us. When at last that time has arrived, it surprises us in the midst of fresh desires; we have got no farther when we are attacked by a fever which kills us; if we had been cured, it would only have been to give us more time for other desires.
(20.)A man requesting a favour from another, surrenders himself at discretion to the personage from whom he expects it, but when he is quite sure it will be granted, he temporises, parleys, and capitulates.
(21.)It is so usual for men not to be happy, and so essential for every blessing to be acquired with infinite trouble, that what is obtained easily is looked upon with suspicion. We can hardly understand how anything which costs us so little can be greatly to our advantage, or how by strictly honest means we can so easily obtain what we want; we may think we deserve our success, but we ought very seldom to depend on it.
(22.)A man who says he is not born happy may at least become so by the happiness his friends and relatives enjoy, but envy deprives him even of this last resource.
(23.)Whatever I may somewhere have said, it is, perhaps, wrong to be dejected. Men seem born to misfortune, pain, and poverty, and as few escape this, and as every kind of calamity seems to befall them, they ought to be prepared for every misfortune.
(24.)Men find it so very difficult to make business arrangements, they are so very touchy where their smallest interests are concerned, they are so bristling over with difficulties, so willing to deceive and so unwilling to be deceived, they place so high a value on what belongs to themselves, and are so apt to undervalue what belongs to others, that I admit I cannot understand how and in what way marriages, contracts, acquisitions, conventions, truces, treaties, and alliances are brought about.
(25.)Among some people arrogance supplies the place of grandeur, inhumanity of decision, and roguery of intelligence.
Knaves easily believe others as bad as themselves; there is no deceiving them, neither do they long deceive.
I would rather at any time be considered a fool than a rogue.
We never deceive people to benefit them, for knavery is a compound of wickedness and falsehood.
(26.)If there were not so many dupes in this world there would be fewer of those men called shrewd or sharp, who are honoured for having been artful enough in deceiving others during the whole course of their lives, and are proud of having done so. Why should you expect Erophilus not to presume on himself and his shrewdness, whose breach of faith, bad actions, and roguery, instead of doing him any harm, have procured him favours and rewards, even from those whom he has either never served or to whom he has done an ill turn?
(27.)We hear nothing in the squares and in the streets of great cities, and out of the mouths of the passers-by, but such words as “writs, executions, interrogatories, bonds, and pleadings.” Is there not the smallest equity more left in this world? Or is it, on the contrary, full of people who coolly ask for what is not due to them, or who distinctly refuse to pay what they owe?
The invention of legal documents to remind men of what they promised, and to convince them that they did so, is a shame to humanity.
If you suppress passion, interest, and injustice, how quiet would the greatest cities be! The necessities of life, and the means of satisfying them, are the cause of nearly half the difficulties.
(28.)Nothing is of greater assistance to a man for bearing quietly the wrongs done to him by relatives and friends than his reflections on the vices of humanity; on the difficulty men have in being constant, generous, and faithful, or on their loving anything better than their own interests. He knows the extent of their power, and does not require them to penetrate solid bodies, to fly in the air, or to give every one his due; he may dislike mankind in general for having no greater respect for virtue; but he finds excuses for individuals, and even loves them from higher motives, whilst he does his best to require himself as little indulgence as possible.
(29.)There are certain things which we most passionately desire, and of which the mere thought carries us away and throws us into an ecstasy: if we happen to obtain them, we are less sensible of them than we thought we should be, and we enjoy them the less because we aspire to get some of greater importance.
(30.)There exist some evils so terrible and some misfortunes so horrible that we dare not think of them, whilst their very aspect makes us shudder; but if they happen to fall on us, we find ourselves stronger than we imagined; we grapple with our ill luck, and behave better than we expected we should.
(31.)Sometimes a pretty house which we inherit, or a fine horse, or a handsome dog which is given to us, or some hangings, or a clock presented to us, will alleviate a great grief, and make us feel less acutely a great loss.
(32.)Suppose men were to live for ever in this world, I do not think I could discover what more they could do than they do at present.
(33.)If life be wretched, it is hard to bear it; if it be happy, it is horrible to lose it; both come to the same thing.
(34.)There is nothing men are so anxious to keep, and yet are so careless about, as life.
(35.)Irene is at great cost conveyed to Epidaurus; she visits Æsculapius in his temple, and consults him about all her ailings. She complains first that she is weary and excessively fatigued, and the god replies that the long journey she just made is the cause of this; she says that she is not inclined to eat any supper, and the oracle orders her to eat less dinner; she adds she cannot sleep at night, and he prescribes her to lie a-bed by day; she complains of her corpulency, and asks how it can be prevented; the oracle replies she should get up before noon and now and then use her legs to walk; she declares that wine disagrees with her, the oracle bids her drink water; she suffers from indigestion, and he tells her she must diet herself. “My sight begins to fail me,” says Irene. “Use spectacles,” says Æsculapius. “I grow weak,” continues she; “I am not half so strong nor so healthy as I was.” “You grow old,” says the god. “But how,” asks she, “can I get rid of this disease?” “The shortest way to cure it, Irene, is to die, as your mother and grandmother have done.” “Son of Apollo!” exclaimed Irene, “is this all the advice you give me? Is this the skill praised by all, and for which every one reveres you? What rare and secret things did you tell me, and what remedies have you prescribed for me, which I did not know before?” “Why did you not take these, then,” the god replied, “without coming such a long distance to consult me, and shortening your days by such a tedious journey?”
(36.)Death happens but once, yet we feel it every moment of our lives; it is worse to dread it than to suffer it.
(37.)Restlessness, fear, and dejection cannot delay death, but, on the contrary, hasten it; I only question whether man, who is mortal, should indulge in much laughing.
(38.)Whatever is certain in death is slightly alleviated by what is not so infallible; the time when it shall happen is undefined, but it is more or less connected with the infinite, and what we call eternity.
(39.)When we are sighing for the loss of our past blooming youth, which will return no more, let us think that decrepitude will come, when we shall regret the mature age we have reached and do not sufficiently value.
(40.)The fear of old age disturbs us, yet we are not certain of becoming old.
(41.)We hope to grow old, and yet we dread old age; or, in other words, we are willing to live, and afraid to die.
(42.)A man had better yield to nature and fear death, than be engaged in continual conflicts, provide himself with arguments and reflections, and be always combating his own feelings in order not to fear it.
(43.)If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.
(44.)A long disease seems to be a halting place between life and death, that death itself may be a comfort to those who die and to those who are left behind.
(45.)Humanly speaking, there is something good in death, namely, that it puts an end to old age. That death which prevents decrepitude comes more seasonably than that which ends it.
(46.)Men regret their life has been ill-spent, but this does not always induce them to make a better use of the time they have yet to live.
(47.)Life is a kind of sleep; old men have slept longer than others, and only begin to wake again when they are to die. If, then, they take a retrospect of the whole course of their lives, they frequently discover neither virtues nor commendable actions to distinguish one year from another; they confound one time of their life with another time, and see nothing of sufficient note by which to measure how long they have lived. They have dreamt in a confused, indistinct, and incoherent way; but, nevertheless, they are aware, as all people who wake up, that they have slept for a long while.
(48.)There are but three events which concern man: birth, life, and death. They are unconscious of their birth, they suffer when they die, and they neglect to live.
(49.)There is a time preceding the power of reasoning, when, like animals, we live by instinct alone, and of which memory retains no vestiges. There is a second period, when reason is developed, formed, and might act, if it were not obscured and partly extinguished by vices of the constitution, and a sequence of passions following one another till the third and last age; reason then, being in its full strength, should produce something; but it is chilled and impaired by years, disease, and sorrow, and rendered useless by the machinery getting old and out of gear; yet these three periods constitute the whole life of man.
(50.)Children are overbearing, supercilious, passionate, envious, inquisitive, egotistical, idle, fickle, timid, intemperate, liars, and dissemblers; they laugh and weep easily, are excessive in their joys and sorrows, and that about the most trifling objects; they bear no pain, but like to inflict it on others; already they are men.
(51.)Children are neither for the past nor the future, but enjoy the present, which we rarely do.
(52.)There seems to be but one character in childhood; at that age morals and manners are nearly all the same, and it is only by paying great attention that we can perceive any difference, which, however, increases in the same proportion as reason does, whilst the passions and vices gather strength as well; these alone make men so unlike each other and so at variance with themselves.
(53.)Children already possess those faculties which are extinct in old men, namely, imagination and memory, and which are very useful to them in their little sports and amusements; by the help of these they repeat what they have heard, imitate what they see done, exercise all trades, either in busying themselves with many small labours or in copying the movements and gestures of various workmen; are guests at a sumptuous feast and entertained most luxuriously; are transported to enchanted palaces and places; have splendid carriages and a large retinue, though they are by themselves; are at the head of armies, give battle, and enjoy the delights of obtaining a victory; converse with kings and with the greatest princes; are themselves monarchs, have subjects, possess treasures which they make of leaves or sand; and know then, what they will ignore in afterlife, to be satisfied with their fortune and to be masters of their own happiness.
(54.)There are no outward vices, nor bodily defects, which children do not perceive; they observe them at once, and know how to describe them in suitable terms, for more exact definitions could not be invented; but when they become men, they, in their turn, contract the same imperfections which they ridiculed.
The only anxiety children have is to find out the weaknesses of their masters, and of the persons they have to obey; as soon as they have taken once advantage of these, they get the upper hand, and obtain an influence over these people which they never part with; for what once deprived these persons of their superiority will always prevent them recovering it.
(55.)Idleness, indolence, and laziness, vices so natural to children, disappear as soon as they begin to play; they are then lively, attentive, exact observers of rule and order, never pardon the least slip, and several times begin again one and the same thing, in which they failed; these are sure forebodings that they may, hereafter, neglect their duties, but will forget nothing that can promote their pleasures.
(56.)To children everything seems great; courtyards, gardens, houses, furniture, men, and animals; to men the things of the world appear so, and, I dare say, for the same reason, because they are little.
(57.)Children begin among themselves with a democracy, where every one is master; and what is very natural, it does not suit them for any length of time, and then they adopt a monarchy. One of them distinguishes himself from among the rest, either by greater vivacity, strength, and comeliness, or by a more exact knowledge of their various sports and of the little laws which regulate them; all the others submit to him, and then an absolute government is established, but only in matters of pleasure.
(58.)Who can doubt but that children conceive, judge, and reason consistently? If only in small things consider they are children, and without much experience; if they make use of an indifferent phraseology it is less their fault than their parents’ and masters’.
(59.)It destroys all confidence in the minds of children, and alienates them as well, to punish them for faults they have not committed, or even to be severe with them for trifling offences; they know exactly, and better than any one, what they deserve, and seldom deserve more than they dread; when they are chastised, they know if it is justly or unjustly, whilst unjust punishments do them more harm than not to be punished at all.
(60.)Man does not live long enough to be benefited by his faults; he is committing them during the whole course of his life, and it is as much as he can do, if, after many errors, he dies at last improved.
Nothing revives more a man than the knowledge that he has avoided doing some foolish action.
(61.)Men are loath to particularise their faults; they conceal them or blame some other person for them, and this gives the “spiritual director” an advantage over the father-confessor.
(62.)The faults of blockheads are sometimes so great and so difficult to foresee, that wise men are puzzled by them; they are only of use to those who commit them.
(63.)A party spirit betrays the greatest men to act as meanly as the vulgar herd.
(64.)Vanity and propriety lead us to act in the same way and in the same manner as we should do through inclination or a feeling of duty; a man died lately in Paris of a fever which he got by sitting up at night with his wife, for whom he did not care.
(65.)All men in their hearts covet esteem, but are loath any one should discover their anxiety to be esteemed; for men wish to be considered virtuous; and men would no longer be thought virtuous, but fond of esteem and praises, and vain, were they to derive any other advantages from virtue than virtue itself. Men are very vain, and of all things hate to be thought so.
(66.)A vain man finds it to his advantage to speak well or ill of himself; a modest man never talks of himself.
We cannot better understand how ridiculous vanity is, and what a disgraceful vice it is, than by observing how careful it is not to be seen, and how often it hides itself underneath a semblance of modesty.
False modesty is the highest affectation of vanity; it never shows a vain man in his true colours, but, on the contrary, enhances his reputation, through the very virtue which is the opposite of the vice constituting his real character; it is a falsehood. False glory is the rock on which vanity splits; it induces a desire in men to be esteemed for things they indeed possess, but which are frivolous and unworthy of being noticed; it is an error.
(67.)Men speak of themselves in such a manner, that though they admit they are guilty of some trifling faults, these very faults imply noble talents or great qualities. Thus they complain of a bad memory, though quite satisfied with the large amount of common sense and sound judgment they possess; submit to being reproached for absence of mind and musing, imagining them the concomitants of intelligence; acknowledge being awkward and not able to do anything with their hands, and comfort themselves for being without these small qualities by the knowledge of possessing those of the understanding or those innate feelings which every one allows them. In owning their indolence they always intimate they are disinterested and entirely cured of ambition; they are not ashamed of being slovenly, which shows they merely are careless of little things, and seems to imply that they solely occupy themselves with solid and important matters. A military man affects to say that it was rashness or curiosity which carried him into the trenches on a certain day, or in a dangerous spot, without being on duty or ordered to do so; and he adds that the general reprimanded him for it. Thus a man possessing brains or a solid genius and an innate circumspection which other men endeavour in vain to acquire; a man who has strengthened his mind by a long experience; to whom the number, weight, variety, difficulty, and importance of affairs merely procure some occupation without embarrassing him; who, by his extensive knowledge and penetration masters all events; who does not consult all the remarks ever written on the art of governments and politics, but is, perhaps, one of those sublime minds created to sway others, and from whose example those rules were first made; who is diverted, by the great things he does, from those pleasant and agreeable things he might read, and who, on the contrary, loses nothing by recapitulating and turning over, as it were, his own life and actions: a man, so constituted, may easily, and without compromising himself, admit that he knows nothing of books and never reads.
(68.)Men intend sometimes to conceal their imperfections, or attenuate the opinion of others about them, by frankly acknowledging them. “I am very ignorant,” says some man who knows nothing; “I am getting old,” says a second above threescore; “I am far from rich,” says a third who is wretchedly poor.
(69.)There is either no such thing as modesty, or it is mistaken for something quite different, if we think it to be an inward sentiment, debasing man in his own eyes, and which is a supernatural virtue we call humility. Man naturally thinks of himself with pride and conceit, and thinks thus of no one but himself; modesty only aims at modifying this disposition so that no one shall suffer by it; it is an external virtue, which commands our looks, gait, words, tone of voice, and obliges a man ostensibly to act with others as if in reality he did not despise them.
(70.)There are many people in this world who inwardly and habitually draw a comparison between themselves and others, always give a decision in favour of their own merits, and behave accordingly.
(71.)You say, “Men must be modest;” that is what all intelligent men desire; but the a people tyrannise over those who yield through modesty, and should not crush them when they give way.
Again some say, “People should be quiet in their dress;” intelligent men do not wish for anything else; but the world requires ornaments, and we comply with its demands; it runs eagerly after superfluities, and we display them. Some people value others only for the fine linen or the rich silks they wear, and we do not always refuse to purchase esteem, even on those terms. There are some places where every person shows himself, and where you will be admitted or refused admittance according as your gold lace is broader or narrower.
(72.)Vanity, and the high value we set upon ourselves, makes us imagine that others treat us very haughtily, which is sometimes true and often false; a modest man is not so susceptible.
(73.)We ought not to be so vain and imagine that others are anxious to have a look at us, and to esteem us, and that our talents and merits are the topics of their conversations, but we should have so much confidence in ourselves as not to fancy when people whisper that they speak ill of us, or laugh only to make fun of us.
(74.)What is the reason that to-day Alcippus bows to me, smiles and almost throws himself out of his coach to take notice of me. I am not rich, and on foot; therefore, according to the present fashion, he ought not to have seen me. Is it not because a person of the highest rank is with him in his carriage?
(75.)Men are so full of themselves, that everything they do is connected with self; they like to be seen, to be shown about, even by those who do not know them, and who, if they omit this, are said to be proud, for they should guess who and what those men are.
(76.)We never look for happiness within ourselves, but in the opinions of men we know to be flatterers, insincere, unjust, envious, whimsical and prejudiced. How eccentric!
(77.)We might think that people laugh only at something really ridiculous; yet there are certain people who laugh just as much at what is not so as at what is. If you are foolish and thoughtless, and some unbecoming expression escapes you, they laugh at you; if you are wise, and say nothing but what is sensible, and as it should be said, they laugh at you all the same.
(78.)Those who, by violence or injustice, steal our property, or rob us of our honour by slander, show effectually that they hate us; but this is not an undoubted proof that they no longer esteem us; therefore, it is not impossible that we may forgive them, and, one day or other, again become their friends. Ridicule, on the contrary, is of all wrongs the least to be excused, for it is the language of contempt, and one of the ways in which it is most plainly expressed; it attacks a man in his last intrenchment, namely, the good opinion he has of himself; it aims at making him ridiculous in his own eyes; and thus convinces him that the person who ridicules him is very badly disposed towards him, so that he resolves never to be reconciled to him.
It is monstrous to consider how easy it is for us to ridicule, censure, and despise others, and how we enjoy it; and yet how enraged we are when others ridicule, censure, and despise us.
(79.)Health and wealth prevent men from experiencing misfortunes, and thus make them callous to their suffering fellow-creatures; whilst they who already are burdened by their own miseries feel most tenderly those of others.
(80.)In well-constituted minds, festivals, spectacles, and music bring more vividly before us, and make us feel the more the misfortunes of our relatives or friends.
(81.)A great mind is above insults, injustice, grief, and raillery, and would be invulnerable were it not open to compassion.
(82.)We feel somewhat ashamed of being happy at the sight of certain miseries.
(83.)Men have a very quick perception of their smallest advantages and are as backward in discovering their faults. They never ignore they have fine eyebrows and well-shaped nails, but scarcely know they have lost an eye, and not at all when they are wanting in understanding.
Argyra pulls off her glove to show her fine hand, and does not forget to let us have a peep of her little shoe, which makes us think she has a small foot; she laughs at serious as well as at funny observations to show her fine teeth; if she does not hide her ears it is because they are well shaped; and if she does not dance, it is because she is not too well satisfied with her waist, which is not very slender. She knows perfectly well what she is about, with the exception of one thing: she is always talking, and has not one grain of sense.
(84.)Men do not value very highly the affections of the heart, but idolise the gifts of body and mind. A person who, in speaking of himself, would coolly say that he is good, constant, faithful, sincere, just, and grateful, does not imagine he offends against modesty; but he would not venture to say that he is sprightly, or that he has fine teeth or a soft skin; that would be rather too much of a good thing.
It cannot be denied that men admire two virtues, courage and liberality, because they highly value two things which these virtues cause us to neglect, namely, life and money; yet no one boasts that he is courageous or liberal.
No one in speaking of himself will say, especially without any foundation, that he is handsome, generous, eminent, for men value those qualities too highly, and so they are satisfied with thinking they possess them.
(85.)Whatever similarity is apparent between jealousy and emulation, they differ as much as vice and virtue.
Jealousy and emulation have the same object, which is the prosperity or merit of another, but with this difference, that the latter is a voluntary sentiment, as courageous as sincere, which fertilises the mind and induces it to take advantage of great examples, so that it not seldom excels what it admires; whilst the first, on the contrary, is violent in its action, and, as it were, a forced acknowledgment of a merit it does not possess; it goes so far as even to deny merit whenever it exists; or, if it is compelled to admit its existence, refuses to commend it, and envies the reward it receives. Jealousy is a barren passion, which leaves a man in the same state it finds him, fills him with high ideas of himself and of his reputation; causes him to become callous and insensible to the actions and labours of others; and inspires him with astonishment on perceiving in this world other talents than his own, or other men with the same talents on which he prides himself; this disgraceful vice, which by its very excess always turns to vanity and presumption, does not so much persuade the person infected with it that he has more intelligence and merit than others, as that he alone is intelligent and praiseworthy.
Emulation and jealousy are always found in persons practising the same art, possessing the same talents, and filling the same positions. The meanest artisans are most subject to jealousy; those persons who follow the liberal arts or literature, as artists, musicians, orators, poets, and all who pretend to write, ought not to be capable of anything but emulation.
Jealousy is never free from some sort of envy; and these two passions are often taken for one another. But this is wrong: envy may sometimes exist without jealousy, as, for example, when a position very superior to our own, a large fortune, royal favour, or a secretaryship of state have caused it.
Envy and hatred are always united, and fortify each other in one and the same person; they can only be distinguished from one another in this, that the latter aims at the individual, the former at his position and condition in life.
An intelligent man is not jealous of a cutler who has made a first-rate sword, nor of a sculptor who has just finished a fine piece of statuary; he knows there are rules and methods in those arts beyond his ken; that tools have to be handled with which he is unacquainted, and of whose very names and shapes he is ignorant; it is sufficient for him to be aware that he has never served an apprenticeship to such a trade, and he consoles himself, therefore, that he has not mastered them. But he may, on the contrary, envy, and even be jealous of a minister of state, and of those who govern; as if reason and common sense, of which he has a share as well as they have, are the only things required for ruling a nation and for the administration of public affairs, and as if they could take the place of regulations, directions, and experience.
(86.)We meet with few utterly dull and stupid men, but with fewer sublime and transcendental ones. The generality of mankind hovers between these two extremes; the gap is filled by a great number of men of ordinary talents, but who are very useful and serviceable to the State, and efficient as well as agreeable; as, for example, in commerce, finances, during war, in navigation, arts, trades, in the possession of a good memory, in gambling, in society, and in conversation.
(87.)All the intelligence of the world is useless to a man who has none, for having no ideas himself, he cannot be improved by those of others.
(88.)To feel the want of reasoning faculties is the next thing to possessing them; a madman cannot have this sensation. Thus the next best thing to intelligence is the consciousness that we have none, for then we might do what is considered impossible, and, without intelligence, neither be a fool nor a fop nor impertinent.
(89.)A man who has not a large amount of intelligence is grave and all of a piece; he does not laugh, he never jokes nor trifles; and is as incapable of rising to great things as of suiting himself, by way of change, to small ones; he hardly knows how to play with his children.
(90.)Everybody says of a coxcomb that he is a coxcomb, but no one dares to tell him so; he dies without knowing it and without anybody being avenged on him.
(91.)What a dissonance is there between the mind and the heart! Some philosophers lead bad lives though they have large stores of “wise saws;” and some politicians, full of schemes and ideas, cannot govern themselves.
(92.)The mind wears out like other things; sciences are its aliment; they nourish it and wear it out.
(93.)Men of inferior rank are sometimes burdened with a thousand useless virtues, but they have no opportunities of making use of them.
(94.)We meet with some men who bear with ease the weight of the royal favour and of power, who get accustomed to their grandeur, and remain steady though they occupy the highest posts. On the contrary, those men whom fortune, without any choice or discrimination, has almost blindly overwhelmed with its blessings, behave insolently and extravagantly; their looks, their carriage, their tone of voice, and their manner of receiving people, show for some time the admiration they have for themselves, as well as for beholding themselves on such an eminence; they become at last so restless that their downfall alone can tame them.
(95.)A stout and robust fellow, who has a wide chest and a broad pair of shoulders, carries heavy burdens quickly and gracefully, and has still one hand at liberty, while a dwarf would be crushed by half his load. Thus eminent stations make great men yet more great, and little ones less.
(96.)Some men gain by being eccentric; they scud along in full sail in a sea where others are lost and dashed to pieces; they are successful by the very means which would seem to prevent all success; they reap from their irregularity and folly all the advantages of consummate wisdom; they are men who devote themselves to other men, to high-born nobles, for whom they have sacrificed everything, and in whom they have placed their last hope; they do not serve, but amuse them. Obsequious men of merit are useful to the great; they are necessary to them, and grow old whilst retailing their witticisms, for which they expect to be rewarded as if they had done some noble deeds; by dint of being funny they obtain posts of great importance, and rise to the highest dignities by continually buffooning, until finally and unexpectedly they find themselves in a position they neither dreaded nor anticipated. Nothing remains of them in this world but an example of their success, which it would be dangerous to imitate.
(97.)People might expect that certain persons who once performed some noble and heroic actions known to the entire world, would not be exhausted by so arduous an effort, and should at least be as rational and judicious in their behaviour as men commonly are; that they should be above any meanness unworthy of the great reputation they have acquired; and that by mixing less with the people they should not give them an opportunity of viewing them too closely, so that curiosity and admiration might not change to indifference, and perhaps to contempt.
(98.)It is easier for some men to enrich themselves with a thousand virtues than to correct a single vice; it is unfortunate for them that this vice is often the least suitable to their condition in life, and renders them highly ridiculous; it weakens their splendid and grand qualities, and prevents them from becoming perfect and keeping their reputation stainless. We do not require these men to be more enlightened and incorruptible, more fond of order and discipline, more assiduous in doing their duties, more zealous for the public good, or more solemn in their deportment; we could only desire them to be less amorous.
(99.)Some men in the course of their lives alter so much in feeling and intelligence, that we are sure to make a mistake if we judge merely of them by what they appeared in their early youth. Some were pious, wise, and learned, who have been spoiled by the favours fortune bestowed on them, and are so no longer; others began their lives amidst pleasures, and devoted all their intelligence in their pursuit, but, being no longer in favour, they now are religious, wise, and temperate. These latter commonly become great men, who may be relied upon; their honesty has been tried by patience and adversity; they, moreover, show great politeness, which they owe to the society of ladies, and display in every circumstance, as well as a spirit of order, thoughtfulness, and sometimes lofty capacities, acquired by study and the leisure of a shattered fortune.
All men’s misfortunes proceed from their aversion to being alone; hence gambling, extravagance, dissipation, wine, women, ignorance, slander, envy, and forgetfulness of what we owe to God and ourselves.
(100.)Men are sometimes unbearable to themselves; darkness and solitude unsettle them, and throw them into a state of imaginary dread and groundless terror; at such a time the least harm that can befall them is a lassitude of everything.
(101.)Idleness is the mother of listlessness, and chiefly induces men to hunt after diversions, gambling, and company. He who loves work requires nothing else.
(102.)Most men employ the first years of their life in making the last miserable.
(103.)There are some works which begin with the first letter of the alphabet and end with the last; good, bad, and indifferent things are all inserted; nothing of a certain nature is forgotten; and these, though made up of far-fetched jokes and affectations, are called “sports of wit.” The same kind of sport also rules our conduct; a certain matter once commenced must be finished, and we have to go on till the end. It would have been much better to alter our plan or entirely to drop it; but it is far more odd and difficult to proceed with it, and therefore we go on, and are stimulated by contradiction; vanity encourages us, and takes the place of reason, which abandons and leaves us. Such eccentricity is even carried on in the most virtuous actions, and often in some of a religious nature.
(104.)To do our duty is an effort to us, because when we do it we only perform our obligations, and seldom receive those eulogies which are the greatest incentive to commendable actions, and support us in our enterprises. N… loves to make a display of his charity, so he is appointed a superintendent of a charity-board, and a steward to its revenues, whilst his house becomes a public office for the distribution of them; his doors are open to all clergymen or to Sisters of Charity; and every one sees and talks about his liberality in relieving the poor. Who would dare to imagine N… was not an honest man, unless it were his creditors?
(105.)Géronte dies of mere decrepitude, and without having made the will he intended to make for those last thirty years; as he died intestate, about half a score of relatives share his estate among them. For a long time he was only kept alive through the care taken of him by his wife, Asteria, who, though young, always attended on him, never let him go out of her sight, nursed him in his old age, and at last closed his eyes. He has not left her money enough to rid her of the necessity of taking another old man for a husband.
(106.)When people are loth to sell or give up their posts and offices, even when in extreme old age, it is a token they are possessed of the notion that they are immortal; or if they think they may die, it is a sign they love nobody but themselves.
(107.)Faustus is a rake, a prodigal, a free-thinker, as well as ungrateful and passionate; yet his uncle Aurelius neither hates him nor disinherits him.
Frontin, his other nephew, after twenty years of acknowledged honesty and of blind complacency for the old man, never gained his favour; and the only legacy left to him is a small pension, which Faustus, the sole heir, has to pay him.
(108.)Hatred is so lasting and stubborn, that reconciliation on a sick-bed certainly forebodes death.
(109.)We insinuate ourselves into the favour of others, either by flattering those passions which animate them, or by pitying the infirmities which afflict their bodies; and this is the only way by which we can show our regard for them; hence the healthy and those who do not desire anything, are less easy to be swayed.
(110.)Want of vigour and voluptuousness are innate in man and cease with him, and fortunate or unfortunate circumstances never make him abandon them; they are the fruits of prosperity or become a solace in adversity.
(111.)The most unnatural sight in the world is an old man in love.
(112.)Few men remember that they have been young, and how hard it was then to live chaste and temperate.
The first thing men do when they have renounced pleasure, through decency, lassitude, or for the sake of health, is to condemn it in others. Such conduct denotes a kind of latent affection for the very things they left off; they would like no one to enjoy a pleasure they can no longer indulge in; and thus they show their feelings of jealousy.
(113.)It is not the dread of one day wanting money which renders old men avaricious, for some of them have such a large quantity of it that this cannot make them uneasy; besides, how can the fear disturb them of being in want of the common necessities of life when they are old, since by their own free will they deprive themselves of these to satisfy their avarice. Neither do they wish to leave great riches to their children, for they naturally love nobody better than themselves; moreover, there are many misers who have no heirs. Avarice seems rather an effect of age and of the disposition of old men, who as naturally give themselves up to it as they did to pleasure in their youth, or to ambition in their manhood. Neither vigour, youth, nor health are needed to become a miser; nor is there any necessity for people hurrying themselves, nor for those who hoard being in the slightest degree active; a man has nothing to do but let the money lie in his coffers, and deny himself everything; this is not very difficult for old people, who must have some passion or other because they are men.
(114.)There are some people who dwell in wretched houses, have hardly any beds, are badly clad and worse fed; who are exposed to all the severity of the seasons, deprive themselves of the society of their fellow-creatures, and live in continual solitude; who grieve for the present, the past, and the future; whose lives are a perpetual penance, and who have thus discovered the secret of going to perdition by the most troublesome way: I mean misers.
(115.)The remembrance of their youth remains green in the heart of old men; they love the places where they lived; and the persons with whom they then began an acquaintance are dear to them; they still affect certain words in use when they first began to speak; they prefer the ancient style of singing and dancing; and boast of the old fashions in dress, furnishing, and carriages; they cannot bring themselves to disapprove of those things which served their passions, and are always recalling them. Can any one imagine these old men would prefer new customs and the latest fashions, which they do not adopt, and from which they have nothing to expect, which young men have invented, and which give them, in their turn, such a great advantage over their elders?
(116.)An old man who is careless in his dress, or else overdressed, increases his wrinkles, and looks as senile as he really is.
(117.)An old man is proud, disdainful, and unsociable if he is not very intelligent.
(118.)A courtier of a ripe old age, who is a sensible man and has a good memory, is an inestimable treasure; he is full of anecdotes and maxims; he knows a good many curious circumstances of the history of the age, which are never met with in books; and from him we may learn such rules for our conduct and manners which can be depended upon, because they are based on experience.
(119.)Young men can bear solitude better than old people, because their passions occupy their thoughts.
(120.)Though Philip is rather old, he is over-natty and effeminate, and only cares for little dainties: he has studied the art of eating, drinking, sleeping, and taking exercise, and scrupulously observes the smallest rules he has prescribed for himself, which all tend to his comfort; even a mistress, if his system allowed him to keep one, could not tempt him to break them; he is overburdened with superfluities, to which he is so accustomed that he cannot do without them. He thus increases and strengthens the ties which bind him to life, and employs the remainder of it in making its loss more grievous. Was he not already sufficiently afraid of dying?
(121.)Gnathon lives for no one but himself, and the rest of the world are to him as if they did not exist. He is not satisfied with occupying the best seat at table, but he must take the seats of two other guests, and forgets that the dinner was not provided for him alone, but for the company as well; he lays hold of every dish, and looks on each course as his own; he never sticks to one single dish until he has tried them all, and would like to enjoy them all at one and the same time. At table his hands serve for a knife and fork; he paws the meat over and over again, and tears it to pieces, so that if the other guests wish to dine, it must be on his leavings. He does not spare them any of those filthy and disgusting habits which are enough to spoil the appetite of the most hungry; the gravy and sauce run over his chin and beard; if he takes part of a stew out of a dish, he spills it by the way over another dish and on the cloth, so you may distinguish him by his track. He eats with a great deal of smacking and noise, rolls his eyes, and uses the table as a manger, picks his teeth and continues eating; he makes every place his home, and will have as much elbow-room in church and in a theatre as if he were in his own room. When he rides in a coach, it must always be forward, for he says that any other seat will make him fall in a swoon, if we can believe him. When he travels he is always in advance of his companions, so as to get first to the inn, and choose the best room and the best bed for himself; he makes use of everybody, and his own and other people’s servants run about and do his errands; everything is his he lays his hands on, even clothes and luggage; he disturbs every one, but does not inconvenience himself for anybody; he pities no one, and knows no other indispositions but his own, his overfeeding and biliousness; he laments no person’s death, fears no one’s but his own, and to redeem his own life, would willingly consent to see the entire human race become extinct.
(122.)Clito never had but two things to do in his life, to dine at noon and to eat supper in the evening; he seems only born for digestion, and has only one subject of conversation, namely, the entrées of the last dinner he was present at, and how many different kinds of potages there were; he then talks of the roasts and entremets; remembers precisely what dishes were brought up after the first course, does not forget the side-dishes, the fruit and the assiettes; names all the wines and every kind of liquor he has drunk; shows himself as well acquainted as a man can possibly be with culinary language, and makes his hearer long to be at a good dinner, provided he were not there. He prides himself on his palate which cannot be imposed upon, and has never been exposed to the terrible inconvenience of being compelled to eat a wretched stew or to drink an indifferent wine. He is a remarkable person in his way, who has brought the art of good living to the highest perfection; there never will be another man who ate so much and so nicely; he is, therefore, the supreme arbiter of dainty bits, and it would hardly be allowable to like anything he did not approve of. But he is no more! When he was almost dying he still would be carried to the table, and had guests to dinner on the day of his death. Wherever he may be he is sure to eat; and should he rise from the grave it will be to eat.
(123.)Ruffinus’ hair begins to turn grey, but he is healthy; his ruddy cheeks and sparkling eyes promise him at least twenty years more; he is lively, jovial, familiar, and does not care for anything; he laughs heartily, even when he is alone, and without any cause; he is satisfied with himself, with his family, his little fortune, and calls himself fortunate. Some time since he lost his only son, a young man of great promise, who might have become an honour to his family; other people shed tears, but he did not, and merely said, “My son is dead, and his mother will soon follow him,” and then he was comforted. He has no passions, no friends nor enemies; no one troubles him; everybody and everything suits him; he speaks to those he never saw before with the same freedom and confidence as to those he calls his old friends, and very soon tells them his bad jokes and stories. Some people address him and then leave him, but he does not mind it, and the tale he began to one person he finishes to another who has just come.
(124.)N… is less worn with age than disease, for he is not more than threescore and eight, but he has the gout and suffers from nephritic colic; he looks quite emaciated and has a greenish complexion, which forebodes no good; yet he has his lands marled, and reckons he has no need to manure them these fifteen years; he has some young wood planted, and hopes that in less than twenty years it will afford him a delicious shade. He has a house built of free-stone, and at the corners are iron clasps to make it stronger; he assures you, coughing, and in a weak and feeble tone of voice, that it will last for ever. He walks every day among the workmen, leaning on one of his servants’ arms, shows his friends what he has done, and tells them what he purposes to do. He does not build for his children, for he has none, nor for his heirs, who are scoundrels and who have quarrelled with him; he only builds to enjoy it himself, and to-morrow he will be dead.
(125.)Antagoras has a familiar and popular countenance; he is as well known to the mob as the parish beadle or as the saint carved in stone adorning the high altar. Every morning he runs up and down the courts and the offices of parliament, and every evening up and down the streets and highways of the town. He has had a lawsuit these forty years, and has always been nearer his death than the end of his legal troubles. There has not been any celebrated case or any long and difficult lawsuit tried that he has not had something to do with; his name is in the mouth of every barrister, and agrees as naturally with such words as “plaintiff” or “defendant” as an adjective does with a substantive. He is everybody’s kinsman, and disliked by all; there is scarcely a family of whom he does not complain, or who does not complain of him; he is perpetually engaged in seizing some property, in asking for an injunction to prevent the sale of an office or some stocks, in using the privilege of pleading in certain cases or of seeing some judgments put into execution; besides this, he is every day at some meeting of creditors, is appointed chairman of their committee, and loses money by every bankruptcy; he finds some spare moments for a few private visits, and like an old gossip talks about lawsuits, and tells you all the news about them. You leave him one hour at one end of the town and find him the next at another end, where he arrived before you, and has been giving again all the details of his lawsuit. If you yourself are engaged in a lawsuit and wait early the next morning on your judge, you are sure to meet Antagoras, who must first leave before you can be admitted.
(126.)Some men pass their long lives in defending themselves and in injuring other people, and die at last, worn out with age, after having caused as many evils as they suffered.
(127.)There must, I confess, be seizures of land, distraint on furniture, prisons, and punishments; but without taking into consideration justice, law, and stern necessity, it has always astonished me to observe with what violence some men treat other men.
(128.)Certain wild animals, male and female, are scattered over the country, dark, livid, and quite tanned by the sun, who are chained, as it were, to the land they are always digging and turning up and down with an unwearied stubbornness; their voice is somewhat articulate, and when they stand erect they discover a human face, and, indeed, are men. At night they retire to their burrows, where they live on black bread, water, and roots; they spare other men the trouble of sowing, tilling the ground, and reaping for their sustenance, and, therefore, deserve not to be in want of that bread they sow themselves.
(129.)Don Fernando resides in his province, and is idle, ignorant, slanderous, quarrelsome, knavish, intemperate, and impertinent; but he draws his sword against his neighbours, and exposes his life for the smallest trifle; he has killed several men, and will be killed in his turn.
(130.)A provincial nobleman, useless to his country, his family and himself, often without a roof to cover himself, without clothes or the least merit, tells you ten times a day that he is of noble lineage, despises all graduates, doctors, and presidents of parliaments as upstarts, and spends all his time among parchments and old title-deeds, which he would not part with to be appointed chancellor.
(131.)Power, favour, genius, riches, dignity, nobility, force, industry, capacity, virtue, vice, weakness, stupidity, poverty, impotence, plebeianism, and servility generally are combined in men in endless variety. These qualities mixed together in a thousand various manners, and compensating one another in many ways, form the different states and conditions of human life. Moreover people who are acquainted with each other’s strength and weakness act reciprocally, for they believe it their duty; they know their equals, are conscious that some men are their superiors, and that they are superior to some others; and hence familiarity, respect or deference, pride or contempt. This is the reason why, in places of public resort, we see each moment some persons we wish to accost or bow to, and others we pretend not to know, and still less desire to meet; and why we are proud of being with the first and ashamed of the others. Hence it even happens that the very person with whom you think it an honour to be seen, and with whom you are desirous to converse, deems you troublesome and leaves you; and that often the very person who blushes when he meets others, receives the same treatment when others meet him, and that a man who treated others with contempt is himself disdained, for it is common enough to despise those who despise us. How wretched is such a behaviour; and since it is certain that in this strange interchange we gain on one side what we lose on another, should, we not do better to abandon all haughtiness and pride, qualities so unsuited to frail humanity, and make an arrangement to treat one another with mutual kindness, by which we should at once gain the advantage of never being mortified ourselves, and the happiness, which is just as great, of never mortifying others?
(132.)Instead of being frightened, or even ashamed, at being called a philosopher, everybody in this world ought to have a strong tincture of philosophy; it suits every one: its practice is useful to people of all ages, sexes, and conditions; it consoles us for the happiness of others, for the promotion of those whom we think undeserving, for failures, and decay of strength and beauty; it steels us against poverty, age, sickness, and death, against fools and buffoons; it will help us to pass away our life without a wife, or to bear with the one with whom we have to live.
(133.)Men are one hour overjoyed at trifles, and the next overcome with grief for a mere disappointment; nothing is more unequal and incoherent than the emotions stirring their hearts and minds in so short a time. If they would set no higher value on the things of this world than they really deserve, this evil would be cured.
(134.)It is as difficult to find a vain man who believes himself as happy as he deserves, as a modest man who believes himself too unhappy.
(135.)When I contemplate the fortune of princes and of their Ministers, which is not mine, I am prevented from thinking myself unhappy by considering, at the same time, the fate of the vine-dresser, the soldier, and the stone-cutter.
(136.)There is but one real misfortune which can befall a man, and that is to find himself at fault, and to have something to reproach himself with.
(137.)The generality of men are more capable of great efforts to obtain their ends than of continuous perseverance; their occupation and inconstancy deprives them of the fruits of the most promising beginnings; they are often overtaken by those who started some time after them, and who walk slowly but without intermission.
(138.)I almost dare affirm that men know better how to plan certain measures than to pursue them, how to resolve what they must needs do and say than to do or to say what is necessary. A man is firmly determined not to mention a certain subject when negotiating some business; and afterwards, either through passion, garrulity, or in the heat of conversation, it is the first thing which escapes him.
(139.)Men are indolent in what is their particular duty, whilst they think it very deserving, or rather whilst it pleases their vanity, to busy themselves about those things which do not concern them, nor suit their condition of life or character.
(140.)There is as much difference between a heterogeneous character a man adopts and his real character as there is between a mask and a countenance of flesh and blood.
(141.)Telephus has some intelligence, but ten times less, if rightly computed, than he imagines he has; therefore, in everything he says, does, meditates, and projects, he goes ten times beyond his capacity, and thus always exceeds the true measure of his intellectual power and grasp. And this argument is well founded. He is limited by a barrier, as it were, and should be warned not to pass it; but he leaps over it, launches out of his sphere, and though he knows his own weakness, always displays it; he speaks about what he does not understand, or badly understands; attempts things above his power, and aims at what is too much for him; he thinks himself the equal of the very best men ever seen. Whatever is good and commendable in him is obscured by an affectation of doing something great and wonderful; people can easily see what he is not, but have to guess what he really is. He is a man who never measures his ability, and does not know himself; his true character is not to be satisfied with the one that suits him, and which is his own.
(142.)The intelligence of a highly cultivated man is not always the same, and has its ebbs and flows; sometimes he is full of animation, but cannot keep it up; then, if he be wise, he will say little, not write at all, and not endeavour either to draw upon his imagination, or try to please. Does a man sing who has a cold? and should he not rather wait till he recovers his voice?
A blockhead is an automaton, a piece of machinery moved by springs and weights, always turning him about in one direction; he always displays the same equanimity, is uniform, and never alters; if you have seen him once you have seen him as he ever was, and will be; he is at best but like a lowing ox or a whistling blackbird; I may say, he acts according to the persistence and doggedness of his nature and species. What you see least is his torpid soul, which is never stirring, but always dormant.
(143.)A blockhead never dies; or if, according to our manner of speaking, he dies at one time or other, I may truly say he gains by it, and that, when others die, he begins to live. His mind then thinks, reasons, draws inferences and conclusions, judges, foresees, and does everything it never did before; it finds itself released from a lump of flesh, in which it seemed buried without having anything to do, and without any motion, or at least any worthy of that name; I should almost say, it blushes to have lodged in such a body, as well as for its own crude and imperfect organs, to which it has been shackled so long, and with which it could only produce a blockhead or a fool. Now it is equal to the greatest of those minds which animated the bodies of the cleverest or the most intellectual men, and the mind of the merest clodhopper is no longer to be distinguished from those of Condé, Richelieu, Pascal, and Lingendes.
(144.)A false delicacy in familiar actions, in manners or conduct, is not so called because it is simulated, but because it is really employed in things and on occasions where it is utterly out of place. On the other hand, a false delicacy in taste or temper is only so when it is feigned or affected. Emilia screams as loud as she can when a trifling accident happens, and when she is not a bit afraid; another lady affectedly turns pale at the sight of a mouse, or is fond of violets, and swoons at the scent of a tuberose.
(145.)Who would venture and flatter himself to satisfy mankind? Let no prince, however good and powerful, pretend to do so. Let him promote their pleasures, let him open his palace to his courtiers, and even admit them amongst his own followers; let him show them other spectacles in those very places of which the mere sight is a spectacle; let him give them their choice of games, concerts, and refreshments, and add to this magnificent cheer, amidst the most complete liberty; join with them in their amusements; let the great man become affable, and the hero humane and familiar, and this would not be sufficient. Men finally tire of the very things which at first enraptured them; they would forsake the table of the gods; and nectar, in time, would become insipid. Through vanity and wretched over-refinement, they do not hesitate to criticise things which are perfect; in spite of every exertion, their taste, if we may believe them, can never be gratified, and even regal expenditure would be unsuccessful; malice prompts them to do what they can to lessen the joy others may feel in satisfying them. These same people, commonly so sycophantic and complaisant, are liable to forget themselves; sometimes they are scarcely to be recognised, and we see the man even in the courtier.
(146.)Affectation in gesture, speech, and manners is frequently the outcome of indolence or indifference; whereas a great passion or matters of importance seem to compel a man to become natural.
(147.)Men have no characters, or if they have, it is that of having no constant and invariable one, by which they may at all times be known; they cannot bear to be always the same, to persevere either in regularity or license; and if they sometimes forsake one virtue for another, they more often get disgusted with one vice through another vice. Their passions run counter to another, and their foibles contradict each other; extremes are easier to them than a regular and natural conduct would be; they dislike moderation, and are extravagant in good as well as evil things; and when they no longer are able to stand excesses they relieve themselves by change. Adrastes was such a profligate libertine that he found it comparatively easy to comply with the fashion and to become devout; he would have found it much more difficult to become an honest man.
(148.)What is the reason that some people, who can meet the most trying disasters with coolness, lose all command over themselves and fly into a passion at the least inconvenience? Such conduct is not wise, for virtue is always the same and does not contradict itself; it is a vice, then, and nothing else but vanity, roused and stirred up by those events which make a noise in the world and when there is something to be gained, but which is negligent in all other things.
(149.)We seldom repent talking too little, but very often talking too much; this is a common and well-known maxim, which everybody knows and nobody practises.
(150.)To say things of our enemies which are not true, and to lie to defame them, is to avenge ourselves on ourselves, and give them too great an advantage over us.
(151.)If men knew how to blush at their own actions, how many crimes, and not only those that are hidden, but those that are public and well known, would never be committed!
(152.)If some men are not so honest as they might be, the fault lies in their bringing up.
(153.)There exists in some people a happy mediocrity of intelligence which contributes to keep them discreet.
(154.)Rods and ferulas are for children; crowns, sceptres, caps, gowns, fasces, kettledrums, archers’ dresses for men. Reason and justice, without their gewgaws, would neither convince nor intimidate; man who has intelligence, is led by his eyes and his ears.
(155.)Timon, or the misanthrope, may have an austere and savage mind, but outwardly he is polite, and even ceremonious; he does not lose all command over himself, and does not become familiar with other men; on the contrary, he treats them politely and gravely, and in a manner that does not encourage any freedom to be taken; he does not desire to be better acquainted with them nor to make friends of them, and is somewhat like a lady visiting another lady.
(156.)Reason is ever allied to truth, and is almost identical with it; only one way leads to it, but a thousand roads can lead us astray. The study of wisdom is not so extensive as that of fools and coxcombs; he who has seen none but polite and reasonable men, either does not know men, or knows them only by halves. Whatever difference may be noticed in disposition and manners, intercourse with the world and politeness produce the same appearance in all, and externally make men resemble one another in some way which mutually pleases, and being common to all, leads us to believe that everything else is in the same proportion. A man, on the contrary, who mixes with the common people, or retires into the country, will, if he has eyes, in a short time make some strange discoveries, and see things which are new to him, and which he never before imagined existed; gradually and by experience he increases his knowledge of humanity, and almost calculates in how many different ways man may become unbearable.
(157.)After having maturely considered mankind and found out the insincerity of their thoughts, opinions, inclinations, and affections, we are compelled to acknowledge that stubbornness does them more harm than inconstancy.
(158.)How many weak, effeminate, careless minds exist without any extraordinary faults, and who yet are proper subjects for satire! How many various kinds of ridicule are disseminated amongst the whole human race, which by their very eccentricity are of little consequence, and are not ameliorated by instruction or morality. Such vices are individual and not contagious, and are rather personal than belonging to humanity in general.