1. We should not be angry with men when we see their harshness, their ingratitude, their injustice, their pride, their self-love and forgetfulness of others; they are made thus, it is their nature; we might as well protest because a stone falls or because the sparks fly upward.
2. Men, from one point of view, are not fickle, or are fickle only in trivial matters. They change their habits, their language, manners and conventions; they retain their evil ways, firm and constant in wrongdoing, or in indifference towards virtue.
3. Stoicism is a flight of fancy, an idea like Plato's Republic. The Stoics pretended that man could be happy though destitute, impervious to injury, to ingratitude, to the loss of his possessions and of his family and friends; that he could envisage death unmoved, as an unimportant matter which should neither delight nor distress him; could withstand both pleasure and pain; could endure the touch of steel or flame in any part of his body without uttering the least sigh or shedding a single tear; and this phantom of virtue and constancy is what they were pleased to call a wise man. They left man endowed with all the faults they found in him, and reproved scarcely any of his defects. Instead of trying to correct his vices by showing them in a shocking or ridiculous light, they offered him an ideal of heroism and perfection beyond his capacity, and exhorted him to attain the impossible. Thus the wise man, who does not exist, or who is only imaginary, rises naturally and of his own accord above all misfortunes and afflictions: neither the most painful gout nor the acutest colic can wrest a moan from him; heaven and earth can be overthrown without involving him in their downfall, and he would stand firm on the ruins of the universe: while man as be really is goes out of his mind, and laments, gasping for breath and with eves aflame, in despair over a strayed dog or a broken piece of china.
4. Restlessness of mind, unevenness of temper, inconstancy of heart, uncertainty of behaviour: these are all vices of man's soul, but they are different from one another, and though they seem related they do not invariably imply one another in a single individual.
5. It is hard to decide whether irresolution makes man more wretched or more contemptible; and whether it is always worse to take the wrong decision than to take none.
6. A changeable man is not one person but several: he has as many selves as he acquires new tastes and different manners; he is for ever becoming what he was not before, and about to be what he has never been; he is all things in succession. Don't ask what sort of temperament he has, but what temperaments; nor what his character is, but how many sorts of character he has. Aren't you making a mistake? is that Euthycrates you are talking to? today, how icily he treats you! yesterday he sought you out, lavished endearments on you, till his friends were jealous of you: has he failed to recognize you? tell him your name.
7. Menalchas comes down the stairs, opens his door to go out, then shuts it again; he notices that he is wearing his nightcap; and when he comes to look closer, discovers that he is only half shaved, that he is wearing his sword on the wrong side, that his stockings are hanging down over his heels and his shirt over his breeches. If he walks in the public square, he suddenly feels a sharp blow in his stomach or in his face; he can't think what it may be, until, on opening his eyes and waking up, he finds himself either in front of the shaft of a cart or behind a long plank of wood carried on a workman's shoulder. He was once seen to collide with a blind man and become entangled in his legs, so that both of them fell over backward. More than once, he almost ran into a Prince who was coming towards him, and, belatedly aware of the situation, he barely had time to stand against the wall to make way. See him looking for something: he rummages about, shouting excitedly, calling his servants one after the other: 'Where have they put his things, they're losing everything'; he is asking for his gloves, which are on his hands, like the woman who asked for her mask when she happened to have it on her face. He goes into the royal apartments and walks under a chandelier, where his wig gets caught up and is left hanging; all the courtiers stare and laugh; Menalchas stares too, and laughs louder than the rest, and examines all the company to seewho is showing his ears and is without a wig. When he is in town, after going some little distance he thinks he has lost his way, and in great distress asks where he is; the passers-by tell him the name of his own street; next he goes into his own house, and comes out again precipitately, thinking he has made a mistake. On leaving the Palais de Justice he notices, at the foot of the main staircase, a carriage which he takes for his own; he climbs into it; the coachman whips up his horse and, so he thinks, drives his master home; Menalchas jumps out of the carriage, crosses the courtyard, goes through the waiting-room, the parlour, the study; it all seems familiar, nothing is strange to him; he sits down, takes a rest, feels at home. The master of the house appears: Menalchas gets up to receive him; he treats him most politely, begs him to sit down and thinks he is doing the honours of his home; he talks, falls into a brown study, begins talking again; the master of the house is bored and bewildered; Menalchas is equally so, but does not speak his mind: this is some idle bore, who will go away eventually, so he hopes, and he waits patiently; by the time night falls, he has only just begun to realize his mistake. Another time he pays a call on a lady, and presently, convinced that he is the host himself, he settles down in his armchair and makes no attempt to get out of it: then he begins to think that the lady pays very long visits, and he expects her at any moment to rise and leave him to himself; but as the visit drags on, and he's hungry, and it is growing late, he invites her to supper; she laughs so loud that he comes to his senses. He gets married one morning, and has forgotten all about it by that evening, and stays away from home on his wedding night; a few years later he loses his Wife, she dies in his arms, he attends her funeral, and next day, when they come to tell him dinner is served, he asks if his wife is ready and if she has been informed. On another occasion he goes into a church and, mistaking the blind man who stands by the door for a pillar, and his begging-bowl for the stoop, he dips his hand into it and is raising it to his forehead when he suddenly hears the pillar speaking, and offering grateful prayers. He goes forward up the nave, thinks he sees a prayer-stool and flings himself down heavily upon it: the object gives way beneath him and tries to call out; Menalchas is surprised to find himself kneeling on the legs, and leaning against the back, of a very small man, his arms thrown over the man's shoulders and his outstretched hands clasping his nose and closing his mouth. He retires in confusion and goes to kneel elsewhere. He takes out a book to say his prayers and finds it's his slipper, which he had mistaken for his prayer-book. He has barely left the church when a liveried servant runs after him, catches him up and asks him, laughing, whether he hasn't got Monsignor's slipper; Menalchas shows him his own, and says: 'This is the only slipper I've got on me'; he searches his person none the less, and pulls out a slipper belonging to the Bishop of —, whom be has just been visiting and found sitting, sick, by his fireside; before leaving him, Menalchas had picked up his slipper at the same time as one of his gloves, which was on the floor; and so he goes home minus one slipper. Once, having lost at cards all the money in his purse and being anxious to go on playing, he went into his study, opened a cupboard, took out his money box and extracted what he wanted, and then, so he thought, replaced the box; there was a sound of barking from the cupboard he had just closed; astonished at this phenomenon, he opened it again, and burst out laughing at the sight of his dog, which he had shut up in mistake for his money box. Playing backgammon one day, he asked for a drink, which was brought him; it being his turn to play, he held the dice-box in one hand and a glass in the other, and as he was very thirsty he swallowed the dice and almost the dice-box, while upsetting the glass of water over the backgammon board and drenching his opponent. In a house where he is a familiar visitor, he is liable to spit on the bed and throw his hat on the floor, instead of the other way about. While out in a boat, he asks the time; he is offered a watch; no sooner has he taken it than, forgetting all about the time and the watch, he throws it into the river as though it were something to be got rid of. Again, he will write a long letter, shake sand over it repeatedly and then invariably empty the sand into the ink-pot. That's not all; he writes a second letter, and after sealing them both, he addresses them wrongly; a peer of the realm receives one of the two, opens it and reads the words:
'Maître Olivier, on receipt of this letter, kindly send my provision of hay without delay. . .'
His farmer gets the other, opens it and has it read to him; it begins:
'Monseigneur, I shall unquestionably carry out the orders that your Grace has been pleased.. .
Another time, having written a letter at night, and sealed it, he blows out his candle; he is quite amazed to find himself in pitch darkness, and cannot think how it has happened. Menalchas is going down the stairs in the Louvre; another man is coming up, to whom he says: 'I was looking for you'; he takes him by the hand, leads him downstairs, across several courtyards, into and out of various rooms; he goes back and forth, and finally looks at the man whom he has been dragging after him for the past quarter of an hour; he is amazed to see that it is so-and-so, to whom he has nothing to say: he lets go of his hand and turns another way. Often he will ask you questions, and he's already far away when you try to answer him; or else he inquires after your father's health, and when you say he is very ill Menalchas calls out that he's delighted. On some other occasion, he happens to run into you:
'I'm so glad to meet you, I had just been calling on you to discuss a certain matter'; he stares at your hand: 'That's a fine ruby you've got; is it a balas?'
and he leaves you, and goes on his way; that was the important subject about which he had to talk to you. If he is in the country, he may congratulate one man on having been able to stay away from Court that autumn, and spending the Fontainebleau season on his own estates; he makes some conversation with others, then, turning to the first man again:
'You had fine weather at Fontainebleau ,' he says, 'you must have done a lot of hunting there.'
Next he begins a story which he forgets to finish; he laughs aloud to himself at something that occurs to him, answers some imaginary question, hums between his teeth, whistles, leans back in his chair, utters a plaintive cry, yawns, thinking himself quite alone. When he is eating in company, you will see bread accumulate imperceptibly on his plate: true, his neighbours are short of it, and they also lack knives and forks, of which he has promptly deprived them. A large ladle has recently been introduced to our tables, for convenience in serving; Menalchas seizes it, thrusts it into the dish, fills it and carries it to his mouth, and cannot get over his amazement at seeing the soup he has just been swallowing spill over his shirt and his clothes. He forgets to drink throughout dinner; or if he remembers, and thinks he has been given too much wine, he throws out more than half of it into his right-hand neighbour's face; he drinks the rest quite calmly and does not understand why everyone bursts out laughing to see him pouring out his surplus wine on to the floor. One day, he happens to be bed-bound through some ailment: visitors call; a whole circle of men and women are by his bedside, chatting to him, and in their presence he lifts his blanket and spits into the sheets. He is taken to see the Charter-house; he is shown a cloister adorned with paintings by an excellent artist; the monk who explains them tells him at great length the story of St Bruno and the canon; and Menalchas, who throughout the narrative has been far away from the cloister, comes back to it at last, and asks the monk whether it was the canon or St Bruno who was damned. Happening to be in company with a young widow, he talks to her about her late husband, and asks about the manner of his death; the young woman, whose grief is revived by this conversation, weeps and sobs and relates afresh the details of her husband's illness, starting before the onset of his fever and concluding with his death-agony.
'Madame,' asks Menalchas, who had apparently been listening attentively, 'was he the only one you had?'
One morning, he takes it into his head to hurry things up in his kitchen; he rises from table before dessert, and takes leave of the company; he spends the rest of the day visiting every part of the town, except the place at which he had arranged to meet someone on account of that urgent business which had cut short his dinner and made him leave on foot for fear his carriage might keep him waiting. You may hear him shouting, grumbling, cursing at one of his servants; he is astonished not to see him:
'Where can he be?' asks Menalchas, 'what is he doing? what's become of him? He's not to show his face here again, I'm sacking him on the spot.'
The valet appears, and Menalchas asks him angrily where he has been; he replies, he has been where his master sent him, and he gives a faithful account of his errand. You would often take Menalchas for what he is not: for a stupid man, since he does not listen and speaks even less; for a madman, since besides talking to himself he is liable to pull faces and shake his head unconsciously; for a proud uncivil man, since when you greet him he passes by without looking at you, or looks at you without returning your bow; for a tactless one, since he refers to bankruptcy amidst a family that has suffered that disgrace, to executions in front of a man whose father went to the scaffold, to humble birth in front of rich plebeians who give themselves out as nobility. He has planned to bring up an illegitimate son of his under the name and character of a servant, and although he is anxious to conceal this from his wife and children, he absent-mindedly calls him son a dozen times a day. He has, furthermore, decided to marry his son to a tradesman's daughter, yet he frequently remarks, when talking about his house and his ancestors, that the Menalchases never marry beneath them. To conclude, he never knows or notices, in any company, what the conversation is about. He thinks and speaks both at once, but the thing about which he is speaking is seldom that which is in his mind; so that his remarks are rarely consistent or rational: when he says No, you must understand Yes, and when he says Yes, assume that he means No; he makes such apt remarks as these with his eyes wide open, yet he does not use them: he looks neither at you nor at anyone else, nor at anything in the world. All that you can extract from him, when he is at his most attentive and conversational, are such words as: 'Yes, indeed; Quite true; Good! Really? Yes indeed! I think so; Of course; Good heavens!' and a few other monosyllables which are not even introduced appositely. He is never there with those he appears to be with; he addresses his lackey, in all seriousness, as Monsieur, and calls his friend by his lackey's name, La Verdure; he says Your Reverence to a prince of the blood; and Your Highness to a Jesuit. He happens to meet a magistrate, a man of grave character, venerable by virtue of his age and station, who questions him about a certain incident and asks him whether the thing is so; Menalchas replies, Yes, Mademoiselle. On one occasion, on his return from the country, his lackeys in their livery successfully attempted to rob him; they got out of his coach, held a torch to his face and demanded his purse, which he handed over. When he got home he described his adventure to his friends, who naturally asked for further details; Menalchas replied: 'Ask my servants, they were there.'
8. Discourtesy is not one specific vice of the soul but the result of several vices: foolish vanity, ignorance of one's duties, laziness, stupidity, thoughtlessness, contempt for others and jealousy. It only affects external manners, yet that makes it all the more detestable, for it is always a visible and flagrant fault. It is true that it gives more or less offence according to the cause that produces it.
9. To say of a man who is bad-tempered, moody, quarrelsome, sullen, touchy and capricious: 'that's his temperament', is not to excuse him, as it is intended to do, but to admit unwittingly that such great faults are irremediable.
What we call temperament is taken for granted too much by men: they ought to realize that it is not enough to be good, but that they should appear good, at least if they hope to mix in society, to be capable of associating and conversing with others, in a word to be men. We don't request vicious men to show gentleness and pliability; they are never short of these qualities, which serve them is a snare to take in simple souls, and to further their wiles; but we could wish that those who are good at heart were always obliging, easy-going, indulgent, and that it were not always so true that the wicked do us harm, and the good make us suffer.
10. The majority of men proceed from anger to insult. Some behave otherwise; they give offence, and then they grow angry; the surprise that we feel at this behaviour leaves no room for resentment.
11. We should make greater efforts to miss no opportunity of obliging others; it seems as though men accepted positions solely so as to be able to do favours, and then refrain from doing them; the easiest and quickest thing is to refuse, and granting comes as an afterthought.
12. Know exactly what You can expect from men in general and from each of them in particular, and then you may embark on social life.
13. If poverty is the mother of crime, unintelligence is its father.
14. Scoundrels are seldom highly intelligent: an honest and acute mind conduces in the long run to self-discipline, probity and virtue. The man who persists in wrong-doing, as in wrong thinking, shows a lack of sense and penetration: you try in vain to correct him by a satirical portrait which identifies him for others, but in which he does not recognize himself; it's like proffering insults to a deaf man. For the satisfaction of decent people and in order to avenge society, we could wish that no man were so bad as to be totally devoid of feeling.
15. There are some vices which we owe to nobody, which we bring with us into the world at birth and which become ingrained through habit; there are others which we contract, and which are alien to us. A man may be born easy-going, obliging, anxious to please; but the treatment he receives front those among whom he lives or on whom he depends thwarts his intentions and even his natural bent; he feels a resentment and acrimony which were unfamiliar to him, his character seems to have changed, and he finds himself, to his surprise, grown harsh and prickly.
16. It is sometimes asked why all men cannot live together as a single nation, speaking the same language, obeying the same laws and accepting by mutual agreement, the same customs and the same creed; but when 1 consider the discrepancy between men's minds, tastes and feelings, I am amazed to see as many as seven or eight people forgathering under the same roof, within the same precincts, and making up a single family.
17.There are some extraordinary fathers whose whole life seems devoted solely to providing their children with good reasons for not regretting their death.
18.The temper, habits and manners of most men are totally foreign to them. A man may spend his whole life being discontented, ill-tempered, miserly, cringing, submissive, laborious, self-seeking, who was by nature peaceable, idle, generous, nobly proud-hearted and incapable of meanness; the exigencies of life, the situation in which he finds himself the laws of necessity distort nature and cause these great alterations. And so the basic essence of any man cannot be defined: too many extraneous factors impair him, alter him, throw him into confusion; he is not exactly what he is or what he seems to be.
19.Our life is brief and tiresome; we spend it all in wishing. We postpone rest and happiness to some future date, to ail age when those best of treasures, health and youth, will have disappeared. That time comes, and finds us still desiring; and at that point sickness surprise us and puts out our light: had we recovered, we should only have gone on wishing.
20. When we long for something, we yield freely to the man from whom we hope to gain it; should we be sure of getting it, we temporize, we negotiate, we bargain.
21. It is so usual for men not to be happy, and so inevitable that all good things should be paid for by innumerable sufferings, that any-thing we achieve with case becomes suspect. We can scarcely understand either how something that costs so little can be of great advantage to us, or how, by fair means, we can so easily attain the end we seek. We think that we deserve success, but that we must only expect it very rarely,
22. The man who says he was not born happy might at least become so through the happiness of his friends or kindred. Envy deprives him of this last resource.
23. Whatever I may have said elsewhere, perhaps those who suffer are in the wrong. Men seem born for affliction, pain and poverty: few escape; and since every sort of misfortune may happen to them, they should be prepared for every sort of misfortune.
24. Men find it so hard to agree on their affairs, they are so touchy where their interests are concerned, they raise such difficulties, they are so anxious to deceive others and not to be deceived themselves, they rate so highly whatever is theirs and so low what belongs to others, that I must confess I do not see how they ever manage to conclude marriage settlements, contracts, purchases, peace treaties, truces, agreements or alliances.
25.Some men substitute arrogance for nobility, inhumanity for strength of character and knavery for intelligence.
Knaves readily believe that others are like themselves; nobody can deceive them, and they cannot deceive others for long.
I shall always be glad to avoid being a knave by being a tool and passing for one.
People are never deceived for their own good; knavery adds spite to falsehood.
26. If there were fewer dupes, there would be fewer so-called shrewd and knowing men, such as pride themselves on the skill with which they have tricked others during the whole course of their lives. How can you expect Erophilus, whose faithlessness, perfidy and deceitfulness, far from harming him, have won him favours and benefits from the very people whom he has failed to help or actually injured, not to have an infinitely high opinion of himself and of his cleverness?
27. In the streets and public squares of great cities, and on the lips of passers-by, we constantly hear talk of writs and executions, interrogatories, agreements made or repudiated. Is there not the slightest equity in the world? Is it, on the contrary, full of people who calmly demand what is not due to them, or flatly refuse to pay back what they owe?
The need for legal documents to remind or convince men of their promises is a disgrace to mankind!
Take away passions, self-seeking, injustice, how peaceful life would be in the greatest cities! The needs of daily life cause but a small fraction of our anxieties.
28. Nothing better enables a man of sense to endure calmly the wrongs done him by friends and kindred than to reflect on the vices of mankind, and how hard men find it to be constant, generous, loyal, swayed by feelings of friendship that outweigh self-interest. Since he knows their scope, he does not require of them that they should penetrate solid bodies, fly in the air, or be fairminded. He may hate mankind in general for its lack of virtue; but he forgives individuals, and even loves them from loftier motives, and endeavours to stand as little as possible in need of such indulgence himself.
29. We may long passionately for certain things, the very thought of which excites and transports us: if we happen to obtain them, we appreciate them more calmly than we had expected, and our enjoyment of them is less than our desire for something even better.
30. There are certain appalling afflictions and horrible calamities of which we dare not think, and the mere sight of which makes us shudder; if these should happen to overtake us, we find within ourselves resources of which we were unaware, we brace ourselves against our misfortune and do better than we had hoped.
31. It sometimes needs no more than the inheritance of a charming house, the possession of a fine horse or a pretty dog, the acquisition of a piece of tapestry or a clock, to alleviate great sorrow and make us less conscious of a loss.
32. Suppose men's life on earth were eternal, I wonder how they could possibly make more to-do about worldly success than they do as things are.
33. If One's life is wretched, one finds it hard to bear; if it is happy, it is horrible to lose it. The result is the same.
34. There is nothing that men love better, or manage worse, than their lives.
35. Irene travels at great expense to Epidaurus to visit Aesculapius in his temple, and consults him about all her ailments. To begin with she complains that she is weary and worn out; and the god tells her this is due to the long journey she has just made. She says that she has no appetite at night; the oracle bids her eat less at dinner. She adds that she is subject to insomnia; and he advises her not to lie in bed except at night. She asks him why she is putting on weight, and what's the remedy? The oracle replies that she must rise before noon and occasionally use her legs to walk with. She declares that wine upsets her: the oracle tells her to drink water; that she has indigestion, and he adds that she should diet.
'My eyesight is getting weaker,' says Irene. 'Wear spectacles,' says Aesculapius. 'I am growing weaker myself" she goes on, 'I am not as strong and healthy as I used to be.'
'The fact is,' says the god, 'you are growing old.' 'But how can I cure this infirmity?' 'The quickest way, Irene, is to die, as your mother and grandmother have done.' 'Son of Apollo,' exclaims Irene, 'what advice is this you're giving me? Is this the full extent of that vaunted learning, which has made the whole world revere you? What rare and mysterious secrets are you telling me? and was I not already familiar with all these remedies you offer me? '
'Why did you not make use of them, then,' replies the god, 'instead of coming to see me from so far away, and shortening your days by so long a journey?'.
36. Death only comes once, and we are aware of it every moment of our lives; dreading it is more painful than enduring it.
37. Anxiety, fear, depression do not avert death, on the contrary; nevertheless I doubt whether excessive laughter becomes men, who are mortal.
38. What is certain about death is somewhat alleviated by its uncertain clement; its indefiniteness in time bears some relation in infinity and to what is called eternity.
39. Let us remember that just as we now mourn the loss of our blooming youth, which is no more and will never return, so decrepitude will follow, and will make us sigh for our present manhood, which we do not value highly enough.
40. We dread old age, which we are not sure of being able to reach.
41. We hope to grow old, and we dread old age; in other words, we love life and we shun death.
42. It is easier to yield to nature and dread death than to strive constantly, arming oneself with reasons and reflections, and wrestle with oneself continually in order not to dread it.
43. If out of all mankind some had to die and others not, to die would be a heartbreaking misfortune.
44. A long sickness seems to have been inserted between life and death so that death itself might come as a relief both to those who die and to those who are left.
45. Humanly speaking, there is this to be said for death, that it puts an end to old age.
Death comes more timely when it forestalls decrepitude than when it ends it.
46. The regret that men Feel for their misspent lives does not always lead them to make a better use of the time they have left to live.
47. Life is a sleep; old men are those whose sleep has been the longest; they begin to awake only when they must die; if they then retrace the course of their years, they often discover neither virtues nor good deeds which might distinguish one year from another; they confound their different ages, finding nothing remarkable enough to measure the length of time they have lived; they have had a confused, formless and wholly incoherent dream; nevertheless they feel, as men do on waking, that they have slept a long time.
48. There are only three things that happen to a man: birth, life and death. He is unaware of birth, he suffers at death, and he forgets to live.
49. There is an age when reason does not yet exist, when we live only by instinct, like animals, and of which no trace remains in our memories. There is a second age when reason develops, when it matures, and when it might act, if it were not clouded and, as it were, extinguished by our constitutional vices and by a chain of passions which succeed one another and lead us into the third and last age. Reason, then, is ripe and should bear fruit; but it has been chilled and slowed down by age, sickness and suffering, and then thrown out of gear by the breaking-down of our worn-out machine; and yet these ages make up the whole life of man.
50. Children are haughty, disdainful, quick to anger, envious, curious, self-seeking, lazy, fickle, timid, intemperate, untruthful, secretive; they laugh and weep readily; the most trivial subjects give them immoderate delight or bitter distress; they wish not to be hurt, but they like hurting others: they are men already.
51. Children have neither past nor future; and unlike ourselves, they enjoy the present.
52. The characteristics of childhood seem unique; all children behave in much the same way, and it is only by careful scrutiny that we can discern the difference between them; these increase with the growth of reason, for reason develops those passions and vices which alone make men so unlike one another and so inconsistent with themselves.
53. The minds of children are already endowed with imagination and memory, those faculties which old men have lost; and they make marvellous use of these in their little games and all their amusements; it is through these that they can repeat what they have heard said and mimic what they have seen done, can ply all trades, whether actually busying themselves over a thousand little tasks or imitating different craftsmen by movement and gesture; can attend great banquets, where they enjoy fine fare; can be transported into palaces and enchanted places; although alone, can picture themselves equipped with a fine carriage and horses and a great train. of attendants; can lead armies, fight battles and taste the joys of victory; can talk to kings and the greatest princes; can be kings themselves, with their own subjects, possessing treasures which they can make themselves out of the leaves of trees or grains of sand; and are able, at this age, to be the arbiters of their own fortune and masters of their own happiness, which they will never be in later life.
54. No outward vices and no physical defects pass unnoticed by children; they recognize these at first glance, and can describe them in appropriate terms, with incomparable aptness. Grown to man's estate, they themselves display all the imperfections of which they had made game.
The sole concern of children is to find out the weak spot of their masters and of anyone else who is in authority over them; as soon as they have succeeded in wounding them, they gain the upper hand and wield over them an ascendancy which they never lose. The thing that first makes us lapse from our position of superiority over them is always what prevents us from recovering it.
55.Laziness, indolence and idleness, vices so natural to children, vanish in their play, where they show themselves lively, industrious, exact, devoted to rules and order, where they tolerate no mistakes in one another, and patiently begin again anything at which they themselves may have failed: sure signs that they may some day neglect their duties, but will never forget anything that may serve their pleasures.
56. To children everything seems great, courtyards and gardens, buildings, furniture, men and animals; to men, wordly things seem great, and presumably for the same reason: because they themselves are small.
57. Children, among themselves, begin with a democratic state where everyone is master, then, quite naturally, they soon tire of this and pass on to a monarchic system: one of them stands out from the rest, either by greater liveliness or superior physical gifts, or by a closer knowledge of the various games and the petty laws that govern them; the rest defer to him, and thus is formed an autocratic government concerned solely with pleasures.
58. Who can doubt that children conceive, judge and argue rationally? If it is only about little things, that is because they are children, lacking long experience, and if their terms are faulty, they are not so much to blame as their parents or teachers.
59. We forfeit any trust children may have in us, and we prove useless to them, if we punish them for faults they have not committed, or punish them severely for slight faults; they know precisely, and better than anyone, what they deserve, and they deserve only what they dread. They know if they are being chastised rightly or wrongly, and they are as likely to be spoiled by unfair penalties as by impunity.
60. We do not live long enough to learn from our faults; we commit them all through our lives, and all we can achieve through constant shortcomings is to die cured of them.
There is nothing so exhilarating as to have avoided doing something foolish.
61. It is painful to give an account of one's faults; one wants to have them excused, and pass the burden on to someone else; whence the director takes precedence over the confessor.
62. The faults of fools are sometimes so clumsy and so difficult to foresee that they baffle wise men, and are useful only to those who commit them.
63. A partisan spirit degrades the greatest men to the mean level of the populace.
64. We do things out of vanity or convention that we might do by inclination or for duty's sake, and we do them with the same outward show: thus a man died lately in Paris of a fever caught nursing his wife, whom he did not love.
65. Men wish, in their hearts, to be well thought of, and they carefully conceal this wish because they want to appear virtuous, and because to seek to derive from virtue any advantage other than virtue itself, namely esteem and praise, would mean not being, virtuous but being fond of esteem and praise, in other words vain: men are very vain, and they hate nothing more than being thought so.
66. A vain man finds satisfaction in speaking well or ill of himself; a modest man does not speak about himself
Nothing more clearly reveals the absurdity of vanity, and what a shameful vice it is, than the fact that it dares not show itself, and often hides behind the appearance of its opposite.
The ultimate refinement of vanity is false modesty, through which the vain man seems not to be vain, but on the contrary displays the opposite virtue to his characteristic vice; this is a lie. False pride is the pitfall of vanity; it leads us to want to be esteemed for qualities which we do in fact possess, but which are trivial and unworthy of notice: this is a delusion.
67. In speaking about themselves, men confess only their slighter faults, and such as presuppose great personal qualities or fine talents. Thus one complains of a poor memory, while complacently assuming one's great good sense and good judgement; one accepts the indictment of absent-mindedness, as though this implied a superior intelligence; one describes oneself as being clumsy, unable to do a thing with one's hands, sure that the lack of such petty talents is amply compensated by one's intellectual ones, or by those spiritual gifts which everyone recognizes in us; one admits to indolence, in terms which invariably signify one's lack of self-interest, and that one has cast off ambition; one is not ashamed of a slovenly appearance, which is merely neglect of trivial things and seems to suggest a concern only for those that are enduring and essential. A soldier likes to say that it was through excess of zeal, or curiosity, that he happened to be, on a certain day, in the forward trench or some other highly dangerous spot, without being on duty or under orders; and adds that he incurred his general's reproof. Thus, too, a man with a keen mind or resolute genius, endowed by nature with that prudence which other men seek in vain to acquire; who has strengthened the quality of his mind through great experience; who is kept busy, but not overwhelmed, by the number, weight, diversity and importance of his affairs; who, through the extent of his foresight and penetration, can control all events; who, far from consulting the many theories that have been set down on government and politics, is perhaps one of those sublime souls on whom these primary rules have been based; who is diverted, by the doing of great things, from the fine and delightful things he might be reading; and who on the other hand can profitably retrace and so to speak re-read his own life and actions: a man of this sort may well say, without loss of self-respect, that he knows no books and that he never reads.
68. We sometimes seek to conceal our imperfections, or lessen them in others' eyes by freely admitting them. One man will say: 'I am ignorant', who knows nothing at all; another says: 'I am old', when he is over sixty; and a third: 'I am not rich', when he is poor.
69. We confuse modesty with something very different if we take it to be an inward feeling of self-abasement; this is a superhuman virtue which is called humility. Man has by nature a high and proud opinion of himself, and of himself alone: modesty merely ensures that no one else will suffer thereby; it is an external virtue, governing a man's looks, his bearing, his speech, his tone of voice, and making him behave towards others, outwardly, as if it were not true that he holds them of no account.
70. The world is full of people who, inwardly and habitually comparing themselves with others, invariably decide in favour of their own merit and act accordingly.
71. You say that one should be modest, and those who are naturally good ask nothing better: make sure, however, that men do not infringe the rights of those who, out of modesty, give way to them, or crush those who complain.
So, too, we hear it said: 'Be modest in your dress.' People of merit will agree to that; but society wants ornament, and gets it; hungers for the superfluous, and is offered it. Some men respect others only for their fine linen or their costly cloth; and we are not always reluctant to will respect on those terms. There are places where one has to show oneself: the width of one's gold braid may determine whether one is to be admitted or turned away.
72. Our vanity and our excessive self-esteem make us suspect others of a haughty attitude towards us, which sometimes exists and often does not; a modest person is less touchy.
73. While we should guard against that vanity which makes us fancy that other people look at us with curiosity and respect and that their conversation consists in discussing our merits and singing our praises, we ought to have enough self-confidence not to believe that people whisper solely to speak ill of us, or that their laughter is always at our expense.
74. How comes it that Alcippus greets me today, smiles to me, and leaps out of his carriage for fear of missing me? I am not rich, and I am on foot: according to all the rules, he ought not to see me. Isn't it in order to be seen himself, sharing a carriage-seat with a great nobleman?
75. Our self-absorption is such that we relate everything to ourselves; we like being seen, pointed out, bowed to even by strangers: we think them proud if they forget to do so: they ought to guess who we are.
76. We seek our happiness outside ourselves, and in the opinion of men, whom we know to be flatterers, insincere, unjust, devoid of equity, full of envy, caprice and prejudice. How absurd!
77. It seems that one should laugh only at what is ridiculous: yet we see certain people who laugh equally at what is ridiculous and at what is not. If you are foolish and thoughtless and happen to say something silly in their presence, they laugh at you; if you are a man of sense, and say only what is rational, and in the right way, they laugh just the same.
78. Those who rob us of our possessions by violence or injustice, and who injure our good name by calumny, give us clear proof of their hatred for us; but they do not equally prove that they have lost every sort of respect for us; and so we are not incapable of some reversal of feeling towards them, and of reviving our friendship for them some day. Mockery, on the contrary, is of all injuries the most unforgivable; it is the language of contempt, and one of the ways in which this is most clearly expressed; it attacks a man in his last stronghold, his self-respect; it seeks to make him ridiculous in his own eyes, and thus convinces him that one's attitude towards him is of the utmost unfriendliness, and makes all reconciliation impossible.
There is something monstrous about the delight and readiness with which we mock, criticize and despise other people, while at the same time feeling angry resentment towards those who mock, criticize and despise ourselves.
79. Health and wealth, depriving men of the experience of suffering, harden their hearts towards their fellows; and people who are already burdened with their own misfortunes are those who through compassion partake more of the misfortune of others.
80. Men of noble nature seem moved by entertainments, plays and music to a closer and deeper sympathy with the distress of their kindred or friends.
81. A great soul is impervious to insults, injustice, pain and mockery; such a man would be invulnerable, did he not suffer through compassion.
82. The sight of certain miseries makes one ashamed of being happy.
83. One is quick to know one's slightest assets and slow to discern one's defects; one is conscious of having fine eyebrows and well-shaped nails, yet one is scarcely aware of being blind in one eye, and completely unaware of being unintelligent.
Alrgyra pulls off her glove to show a pretty hand, and makes a point of revealing a tiny shoe which implies that her foot is tiny; she laughs at funny or serious things to display her fine teeth; if she shows her ears, it is because they are well-shaped; and if she never dances, it's because she is ashamed of her thickset figure; she looks after all her own interests, save in one respect: she talks incessantly, and she lacks wit.
84. Men hold moral virtues of little account, and worship physical and intellectual gifts. A man who can say of himself, quite coolly and, so he thinks, without offending against modesty, that he is kind, constant, loyal, sincere, fair-minded, grateful, dares not say that he is lively, that he has fine teeth or a soft skin: that would be going too far.
It is true that there are two virtues that men admire, bravery and generosity, because there are two things that they respect, and that these virtues make one neglect, namely life and money: and so nobody dares profess to be brave or generous.
A man dare not describe himself, particularly without justification, as being handsome, great-hearted or sublime; these qualities are valued too highly; he merely thinks he possesses them.
85. Whatever relation there appears to be between jealousy and emulation, they are as distant from one another as vice is from virtue.
Jealousy and emulation are directed towards the same object, namely the fortune or merit of other people: with this difference, that emulation is a conscious, courageous and sincere feeling, which makes the soul fruitful, enabling it to profit by great examples and often to rise higher than the admired object; whereas jealousy, on the contrary, is a violent impulse, and as it were a forced admission of another's merit; jealousy even goes so far as to deny the existence of virtue in virtuous people, or else, if forced to recognize it, refuses to praise it or envies its rewards; it is a sterile passion, which leaves a man in the state it found him in, self-obsessed and concerned only for his own reputation, cold and grudging about the actions or achievements of anyone else, and astonished to find in society any talents other than his own, or any man with the same talents on which he prides himself: it is a shameful vice, which when carried to excess becomes vanity and presumption, leaving the man who is afflicted with it not so much convinced that his wit and worth exceed those of others, as that he alone possesses wit and worth.
Emulation and jealousy are found only among persons practising the same art, of similar talents and the same social condition. The meanest craftsmen are most subject to jealousy: those who profess the liberal arts or literature, painters, musicians, orators, poets, all those who put pen to paper, ought to be capable only of emulation.
Jealousy is never free from a sort of envy, and the two passions, indeed, are frequently identical. Envy, on the other hand, is sometimes found apart from jealousy: this is what we feel, for instance, towards men whose social condition is far higher than our own, who enjoy great wealth, princely patronage or a post in the Cabinet.
Envy and hatred always combine and strengthen one another in the same subject; and they are mutually distinguishable only in that one is directed towards a person, the other towards his state and condition.
An intelligent man is not jealous of a craftsman who has made a good sword, or of a sculptor who has just perfected a fine statue. He knows that these arts are governed by rules and a method which cannot be acquired by guesswork, and involve the handling of tools of which he knows neither the use, the name or the appearance; and he has merely to reflect that he has not served his apprenticeship in a certain craft, to be comforted for not being master of it. On the other hand, he may be capable of feeling envy and even jealousy towards ministers and those who govern, as though reason and good sense, which he has in common with them, were the only instruments that serve to rule a State and administer public affairs, and that they could take the place of rules, precepts and experience.
86. We meet few people whose minds are entirely dull and stupid, and even fewer of sublime and transcendent genius. Most men float somewhere between these two extremes. The interval is occupied by a large number of talents which, though ordinary, serve a valuable purpose, benefit the State and combine the useful with the agreeable: such are trade, finance, army administration, navigation, arts and crafts, a good memory, skill at cards, social and conversational gifts.
87. All the intelligence in the world has no effect on an unintelligent man; he has no ideas, and he is incapable of benefiting by those of others.
88. The next best thing to being rational would be to be aware that one was not rational; such knowledge is incompatible with actual madness. In the same way, the next best thing to being intelligent would be to realize one's lack of intelligence. In this way one would achieve the impossible: wanting intelligence, one would yet be neither a plain fool, nor a self-satisfied fool, nor an impertinent fool.
89. A man whose intelligence is limited is serious and all of apiece; he never laughs or jests, he gets no benefit out of lightheartedness; as incapable of rising to great things as of adapting himself, even for relaxation's sake, to trifles, he scarcely even knows how to play with his children.
90. Everyone says of a coxcomb that he is a coxcomb; nobody dares tell him so to his face: he dies without discovering it, and so nobody gets his revenge.
91. What a discrepancy between the mind and the heart! The philosopher lives unhappily for all his precepts, and the politician, with his stock of schemes and maxims, fails to govern himself.
92. The mind wears out, like anything else; learning is its food, which nourishes it and yet exhausts it.
93. Humble folk are sometimes burdened with a thousand useless virtues; they lack the means to turn them to good account.
94. There are some men who bear with ease the weight of favour and authority, who grow familiar with their own greatness, and who are not dizzy even in the most exalted position. Those, on the contrary, whom blind and undiscriminating fortune has, as it were, overwhelmed with her gifts enjoy these arrogantly and without restraint; their eyes, their gait, their tone of voice and their bearing towards others betray their continued admiration for themselves and for their own eminence; and they grow so unsociable that only their ruin can render them tractable.
95. A tall, well-built man with a deep chest and broad shoulders can carry a heavy burden with ease and unconcern, and still keep one hand free; a dwarf would be crushed by half that weight. Thus lofty posts make great men greater still, and small men much smaller.
96. Certain people find it profitable to be outrageous; they forge ahead, they scud along on a sea where others meet shipwreck; they succeed by breaking all the rules of success; their unconventional and extravagant behaviour brings them all the advantages due to the most consummate prudence; they are devoted to certain other men, great nobles to whom they have made sacrifice and in whom they have placed their highest hopes; they do not serve them, but they amuse them. Great folk make use of men of worth, who do them good service; they cannot do without this other sort, who grow grey in their company, offering clever talk in place of the deeds for which they expect to be rewarded; by dint of pleasantries they win weighty posts, and their continuous sprightliness raises them to the most solemn dignities; the end comes at last, and all unprepared they face a future which they have neither dreaded nor hoped for. They leave behind them on earth only the example of their fortune, which is fatal to those who try to follow it.
97. We could wish that certain men who have once proved themselves capable of a noble and heroic deed, famous throughout the world, instead of seeming exhausted by so great an effort, should at least display through the rest of their lives that wise and judicious behaviour which is to be seen even among ordinary men; that they should not lapse into meannesses unworthy of the high reputation they have acquired; and that they should mingle less with the common people, who having leisure to observe them at close quarters may pass from curiosity and admiration to indifference and possibly to contempt.
98. Some men find it easier to acquire a thousand virtues than to correct a single fault. They are particularly unfortunate, indeed, in that this vice is often the one most unbecoming to their condition, and most likely to make them appear ridiculous in society; it dims the brilliance of their real qualities, and prevents them from being perfect men of unsullied reputation. We do not require them to be more enlightened and incorruptible, more devoted to order and discipline, more faithful to duties, more zealous for the public good: we only wish they were not amorous.
99. Some men, during the course of their lives, grow so unlike themselves in heart and in mind that we are bound to be mistaken if we judge them only by what they appeared to be in their earliest youth. Some of them were once pious, wise and learned, who, grown soft through excessive good fortune, are no longer so. We know of others who began by a life of pleasures and who devoted all their wit to pursuing these, whom subsequent misfortune has made temperate, devout and wise: these are for the most part men of great character, and to be relied on deeply; their integrity has been tested by suffering and adversity; they graft on to that extreme courtesy which they have acquired through feminine society, and which they never lose, a sense of discipline, a power of reflection, and sometimes great capabilities, which they owe to the seclusion and leisure forced upon them by ill fortune.
All our troubles spring from our inability to endure Solitude: hence come gaming, luxury, dissipation, drink, licentiousness, scandal-mongering, envy, the neglect of oneself and of God.
100. Man seems sometimes to lack inner resources; darkness or loneliness disturb him, awakening foolish fears and vain terrors: the least evil that can afflict him then is boredom.
101. Boredom came into the world through indolence; it is largely responsible for men's pursuit of pleasure, gaining and the social round. A man who loves his work is content to be alone.
102. Most men spend the best part of their lives making the remaining part wretched.
103. There are some works of literature which begin with A and end with Z; good, bad and worse, everything goes into them; nothing of a certain type of thing is omitted; how affected and far-fetched are such productions! They are known as jeux d'esprit. Some men's behaviour follows the same trivial pattern: they have begun, and they must finish; they must cover the whole ground. It would be better either to change or to break off; but it is more uncommon and more difficult to carry on, so they carry on, spurred by obstacles; vanity sustains them in place of reason, which surrenders its claim. They display this affectation even in their most virtuous actions, and in those that involve religion.
104. Only our duties are onerous to us, because, since their performance concerns solely those things we are strictly obliged to do, it is not followed by high praise, which alone spurs us on to do meritorious actions and upholds us in our undertakings. N— delights in a showy piety which has won him the function of administrator of charity to the poor, made him custodian of their patrimony, and turned his house into a public storehouse whence alms are distributed; church people and sisters of charity have free access to it; the whole town witnesses his benefactions, and talks of them; who can doubt that he is a good man, save perhaps his creditors?
105. Gerontes dies of old age, without having made the will he had been planning for thirty years, and for lack of which his estate is shared out between ten people. For a long time he had been kept alive only through the care of his wife Asteria, who, though still a young woman, had devoted herself to him, kept constant watch over him, helped him in his old age and, at the last, closed his eyes. He has not left her enough to live on without taking another elderly husband.
106. To neglect one's function or one's benefice rather than sell it or resign it, even in extreme old age, implies a conviction that one is not one of those who must die; or, if one admits that one may die, it means that one loves oneself and nobody else.
107. Faustus is a dissolute wastrel, impious, ungrateful and debauched, whom his uncle Aurelius could neither hate nor disinherit.
Frontin, another nephew, despite twenty years of unquestioned probity and of uncritical kindness to the old man, could not win his favour, and got nothing from his estate but a meagre pension which Faustus, sole legatee, was obliged to pay him.
108. Hatred between men is so stubborn and enduring that the clearest symptom of approaching death in a sick man is a wish for reconciliation.
109. We insinuate ourselves into men's favour either by flattering the passions that possess their souls or by sympathizing with the infirmities that afflict their bodies; these are the only services that we can do them; it follows then that the man who enjoys good health and has few desires is less easily dominated by others.
110. Self-indulgence and sensual delight are born with man and die only at his death; neither the joys nor the sorrows of life can deprive him of them; he finds therein the reward of success, or a consolation for misfortune.
111. An old man in love is a gross anomaly in nature.
112. Few people remember having been young, and how hard they found it to be chaste and sober. The first thing that happens to men once they have had to give up any pleasure, whether for propriety's sake, or from satiety, or for their health, is to condemn it in other people. Such behaviour implies a sort of attachment to the very things one has just renounced: we want nobody else to enjoy the good things that we have lost; it is a feeling of jealousy.
113. It is not the fear of being poor some day that makes old men miserly, for some of them have such wealth that they can scarcely be troubled by this apprehension; and moreover how should they dread the lack of creature comforts in their declining years, since they deliberately deprive themselves of these to satisfy their avarice? Nor is it the desire to leave greater riches to their children, since it is not natural to love anything better than oneself, apart from the fact that some misers have no heirs. This vice is, rather, a result of the age and temperament of old men, who indulge in it as naturally as, in youth, they pursued pleasure or, in the prime of life, ambition; it takes neither vigour, youth nor health to be a miser; and there is no need to bestir oneself or make the slightest effort in order to save one's income; one merely has to leave one's wealth in one's safe, and deprive oneself of everything; that suits old men, who must have a passion, since they are human.
114. There are some men who have poor lodgings and hard beds, are badly dressed and worse fed; who endure the rigours of the weather; who deprive themselves of the company of men, and spend their days in solitude; to whom the present, past and future are painful; whose life is one continual penance, and who have thus discovered the secret of deserving damnation in the most painful way: they are misers.
115. Old men think tenderly of their younger days; they love the place where these are spent; the people they first knew at that time are dear to them; they cherish certain words of the old language the), first spoke; they cling to the old way of singing, old forms of the dance; they praise the fashions which then reigned in dress, furniture and equipment. They cannot bring themselves to criticize things which ministered to their passions and were so useful in their pleasures, and which remind them of these. How could they prefer unfamiliar customs and newfangled fashions in which they take no interest, from which they have nothing to gain, which the young have made and from which they, in their turn, derive such great advantages over the old?
116. Excessive neglect or excessive adornment of their persons make old men seem the more wrinkled and decrepit.
117. An old man is likely to be proud, disdainful and cantankerous unless he is very intelligent.
118. An old man who has lived at Court, who has great good sense and a faithful memory, is an inestimable treasure; we can read in him the history of the age, clothed in curious details, which are not to be found elsewhere; we can learn from him rules for conduct and morals which are always trustworthy, for they are founded on experience.
119. Young men, who have their passions to entertain them, can endure solitude better than the old.
120. Phidippus, who is no longer young, is fastidious in his cult of elegance and comfort; he pursues the most minute refinements; he has made eating, drinking, rest and exercise into a fine art; he has laid down little rules for himself, all tending towards his greater bodily comfort, and these he observes strictly; he would not break them for the sake of his mistress, did his regime allow him to have one; he has burdened himself with superfluities, which habit has rendered necessary to him. He thus multiplies and reinforces the bonds that attach him to this life, and seeks to devote what time he has left to making its loss more endurable. Was his dread of death not great enough?
121. Gnatho lives for himself alone, and the rest of mankind does not exist as far as he is concerned. Not content with having the best seat at table, he takes up enough room for two; he forgets that the meal is for the rest of the company as well as for himself; he takes possession of every dish, and appropriates every course; he will not settle for any one dish until he has tried them all, he would like to be able to taste them all, all at once; he helps himself with his fingers, handles and rehandles the food, pulls it about and tears it apart, treating it so that the other guests, if they want to eat, will have to eat his leavings. He spares them none of those disgusting exhibitions that can spoil the most ravenous appetite; gravy and sauces drip from his chin and beard; if he helps himself to a ragout out of one dish, he spills it on the way into another dish and over the tablecloth; he leaves a trail; he eats noisily, rolling his eyes; he treats the table like a manger; he picks his teeth and goes on eating. He makes himself at home wherever he goes, and will not put up with a crowd in church or at the theatre any more than in his own room: in a carriage, only, the back seats will do for him; in any other, if he is to be believed, he feels faint and swoons. If he travels with other people he goes ahead of them into the inn, and invariably secures for himself the best bed, in the best room; he takes over everything for his personal use; his own servants and other people's run errands for him simultaneously; he appropriates whatever lies within his reach, whether apparel or equipment; he gets in everyone's way, controls himself for nobody, pities nobody, knows of no other distresses than his own, which are repletion and biliousness, he sheds no tear at another's death and dreads only his own, to avert which he would welcome the extinction of the human race.
122. Clito has, throughout his life, been concerned with two things alone: namely, dining at noon and supping at night; he seems born only to digest; he has only one topic of conversation: he tells you what entrees were served at the last meal he was at, how many soups there were and what sort of soups, then he introduces the roast and the remove, he remembers exactly what side-dishes accompanied the first course, not forgetting the hors d'oeuvres and fruit, he names all the wine and liqueurs he has drunk; he is master of the full range of culinary terms; and he makes me want to eat at a good table from which he is absent. He has above all a discerning palate, which cannot be cheated, and he has never been exposed to the horrible discomfort of eating a bad ragout or drinking a mediocre wine. He is an illustrious person in his own field, and has carried the art of feeding well to its highest pitch; we shall never again see a man who eats so much and who eats so well; and indeed he is the arbiter of good things, and one dare not admit a liking for anything he disapproves of. But he is no more: he did at least have himself carried to the table until his last gasp; he was giving a dinner-party on the day he died. Wherever he may be, he is eating, and if he should come back to this world, it would be to eat.
123. Ruffinus is growing grey, but he enjoys good health, has a fresh complexion and a bright eye that promise him another twenty years of life; he is gay, jovial, informal and indifferent; he laughs wholeheartedly, and he laughs all alone and about nothing; he is satisfied with himself, his family, his small fortune; he says he is happy. He loses his only son, a young man of promise who might one day have been the pride of his family; he lets others do the weeping; he says: 'My son has died, it'll kill his mother'; and he is comforted. He has no feelings, he has neither friends nor enemies, he is ill at ease with nobody, gets on with everyone; he talks to a man whom he has met for the first time as freely and trustingly as to those he calls his old friends, and soon treats him to his quips and anecdotes. People accost him and then leave him without his noticing them, and, having begun a story to one man, he will finish telling it to the man who takes his place.
124. N— is weak, less through age, since he is barely sixty-eight, than through sickness; he has the gout, and is subject to renal colic; his face is haggard, his complexion greenish, as though he were at death's door; he gets his land marled, and reckons that he won't have to manure it for another fifteen years; he plants a young wood, and hopes that in less than twenty years it will give him fine shade; he has a stone house built for himself in the rue —, with iron staples at the angles, and he tells you, in a weak quavering voice, amid coughs, that it will last for ever; he walks through the building site every day, supported on the arm of a valet; he shows friends what he has done, and tells them what he plans to do. He is not building for his children's sake, for he has none, nor for his heirs, people of no account with whom he has quarrelled; it is for himself alone, and he will die tomorrow.
125. Antagoras has a face that everybody knows; the parish beadle, or the stone saint that stands on the high altar, are not more familiar to the crowd than he is. In the morning he hurried through all the halls and offices of the law-courts, and in the evening through the streets and squares of the town; he has been a litigant for forty years, and seems likely to have done with life before he's done with lawsuits. During all this time there have been no famous cases, no long and complicated procedures in which he has not taken some part at least. His name, moreover, seems made to fill a lawyer's mouth, and agrees as well with plaintiff or defendant, as an adjective with its noun. He is related to everyone and hated by everyone; there are no families of which he has not some complaint to make, or which have not some complaint to make of him. He devotes himself successively to seizing an estate, opposing the ratification of a sale, making use of a committimus, or ensuring that an arrest is carried out, and meanwhile attends a number of creditors' meetings every day; he is invariably put in charge of liquidating the estate of insolvent debtors, and he is the loser in every case of bankruptcy; yet he finds time to pay calls: he sits like a familiar piece of furniture in every alcove, where he discusses lawsuits and retails news. You left him at a house in the Marais, you find him again in the grand Faubourg [Saint-Germain], whither he has preceded you, and where he is already repeating his news and his legal gossip. If you are involved in a lawsuit yourself and go to visit one of your judges at crack of dawn to solicit help, the judge will keep you waiting for an audience until Antagoras has taken his leave.
126. Certain men spend the whole of a long life defending themselves against some people and injuring others, and die in extreme old age, having caused as much suffering as they have endured.
127. Distraint of property and goods, prisons and executions are necessary, I admit; but apart from justice, law and necessity, I am constantly amazed to see with what ferocity men treat other men.
128. Certain wild creatures, male and female, are to be seen about the countryside, grimy, livid, burnt black by the sun, as though tethered to the soil which they dig and till with unconquerable tenacity; they appear to have an articulate voice; and when they stand upright they show a human face; they are, in fact, men; at night they creep back into dens, where they live on black bread, water and roots; they spare other men the trouble of sowing, ploughing and reaping in order to live, and thus they deserve not to go short of that bread which they have sown.
129. Don Fernando, in his provincial home, is idle, ignorant, scurrilous, quarrelsome, crooked, intemperate and insolent; but he draws the sword against his neighbours, and risks his life over a trifle; he has killed men, and he will be killed.
130. The provincial nobleman, useless to his country, his family and himself, often ill-clad, homeless, and entirely worthless, repeats ten times a day that he is a gentleman, dismisses as bourgeois the doctor's hood and the magistrate's mortarboard, and spends his life obsessed with his parchments and titles, which he would not exchange for a chancellor's mace.
131. There exist generally, in men, infinite combinations of power, favour, natural aptitudes, wealth, dignity, nobility, strength, industry, ability, virtue, vice, weakness, stupidity, poverty, impotence, vulgarity and baseness. These things, mingled together in a thousand different ways in different individuals, also make up our various social ranks and conditions. Men, moreover, being all aware of one another's weakness and strength, act towards each other as they feel entitled to do, recognizing their equals, conscious of some men's superiority over them and of their own superiority over others; thus it happens that they treat one another either with familiarity, or with respect and deference, or with pride and contempt. It follows from this that in public places, where people forgather, a man may find himself at any moment between one acquaintance whom he seeks to accost and greet politely, and another whom he pretends not to recognize, and whose company he is particularly anxious to avoid; he prides himself on knowing the first and is ashamed of the second; indeed, it may happen that the person whom you are proud of knowing, and whom you seek to detain, is one whom you yourself embarrass, and who shuns your company; while the man who is ashamed of another is often the very man of whom someone else is ashamed; he despises the first, and is despised by the second. It is common enough, too, to feel contempt for those who are contemptuous of us. What a pitiful state of things! And since it is true that in this peculiar intercourse we lose on the one hand what we fancy we have gained on the other, would it not amount to the same thing if we gave up all haughtiness and pride, which are so unbecoming to weak mortals, and came to terms with one another, treating each other with mutual kindness, which besides sparing us the pain of mortification would procure us the great benefit of never mortifying anyone else?
132. Far from feeling afraid, or actually ashamed, of the title of philosopher, every living soul would benefit from a strong tincture of philosophy. It befits everyone; its practice is useful at all ages, to both sexes and in every rank of life; it consoles us for the good fortune of others, for unfair preferences, for lack of success, for the decline of our strength or our beauty; it arms us against poverty, old age, sickness and death, against fools and spiteful scoffers; it enables us to live in celibacy, or to endure the wife with whom we have to live.
133. Men, in the course of a single day, open their hearts to petty joys and let themselves be overcome by petty sorrows; nothing could be more uneven and less consistent than what takes place in so short a time in their minds and in their feelings. The remedy for this evil is to value the things of this world at no more than their true worth.
134. It is as hard to find a vain man who thinks himself happy enough as a modest man who thinks himself too unhappy.
135. The fate of the vineyard worker, the soldier and the stonemason prevents me from considering myself unhappy in lacking the fortune of princes or ministers.
136. The only true misfortune known to man is to be in fault, and to have some cause for self-reproach.
137. Most men, to attain their ends, are more capable of great efforts than of long perseverance; their indolence or their inconstancy makes them lose the fruit of their best beginnings; they let themselves be outstripped by those who started after them, and who walk slowly but steadily.
138. I venture to assert that men are better able to make plans than to carry them out, to decide what ought to be said or done than to do or say what they ought. In the course of some transaction, one may have firmly determined to keep silent on a certain matter, and then in a fit of passion, or through failing to control one's tongue, or in the heat of the discussion, it is the first thing that one lets slip.
139. Men act half-heartedly where their duties are involved, but satisfy their self-respect or rather their vanity by eagerly undertaking things that are no concern of theirs and are unbecoming to their station and character.
140. The difference between a man's assumed character and his own, when he reverts to it, is like that between a mask and a face.
141. Telephus has some intelligence, but ten times less, all things considered, than he presumes he has; thus his words and actions, his purposes and intentions would befit a man ten times as intelligent; and so he is clearly never within the limits of his own strength and scope. There is a sort of barrier that blocks him, and should warn him to go no further; but he oversteps it, he leaps out of his proper sphere, he finds his own weak point, and betrays himself by it; he talks about things of which he knows nothing, or does not know enough; he undertakes more than he can perform, he longs for more than he can attain; he vies with those who excel in every field. He has good and praiseworthy qualities, which he obscures by striving after great and dazzling ones; you can see quite clearly what he is not, but you have to guess what he really is. He's a man who does not know his own reach or nature; his chief characteristic is his inability to stick to his own natural character.
142. The most intelligent of men is uneven, liable to wax and wane; he may feel the spirit move him, and then leave him; at which point, if he is wise, he will speak little and write nothing, making no effort to be imaginative or charming. Does one sing when one has a cold? Surely one should wait for one's voice to return?
The fool is an automaton, a machine, a piece of clockwork; he is controlled and set in motion by weights, which make him turn for ever in the same direction and at the same rate; he is uniform, he never contradicts himself: if you have seen him once you have seen him at every moment and period of his life; just as the ox lows, or the blackbird whistles, so he is fixed and determined by his nature, indeed by his species. The least obvious part of him is his soul, which is inactive, unexercised, at rest.
143. The fool does not die; or if this happens to him in the common sense of the word, the fact is that he gains by death, and that just when another person would be dying, he begins to live. His soul then thinks, reasons, infers, concludes, judges, foresees, does exactly what it has never done before; it is released from a mass of flesh in which it lay buried, without functions, without any impulse worthy of it; one might almost say that it is ashamed of its own body and the brutish and imperfect organs to which it has been attached for so long a time, without succeeding in making from them anything better than a fool or simpleton; it goes on an equal footing with the greatest souls, with those that inspired men of high intelligence and talent. The soul of the yokel Alain can no longer be distinguished from those of the great Condé, of Richelieu, Pascal and Lingendes.
144. False delicacy, about matters of behaviour which are at one's own discretion, is so described not because it is insincere but because it is applied to things, and in circumstances, which do not warrant it. False delicacy in matters of taste and temperament, on the contrary, is so called because it is feigned or affected: as when Emilie screams with all her might about some slight danger of which she is really not frightened, or when some other lady, out of affectation, turns pale at the sight of a mouse, or claims to adore violets and swoon at the scent of tuberoses.
145. Who would dare undertake to satisfy men? Would any prince, however good and powerful, care to attempt it? let him try. Let him take a personal interest in their pleasures; let him throw open his palace to his courtiers, admit them even to his private apartments; and in a setting which is in itself a delight to the eye, let him offer them further entertainments; let him give them the choice of games, concerts and refreshments of every sort; let him add thereto sumptuous fare and complete freedom; let him share in their amusements; let the great man prove kind, the hero human and accessible; he will not have done enough. Men grow bored with the very things that delighted them at first; they would desert the table of the gods, and nectar would in time become insipid to them. They do not hesitate to criticize things that are perfect; this is partly through vanity, and through affected refinement; their taste, if one is to believe them, remains still unsatisfied despite all the eager efforts made to please them and the money spent, on a truly regal scale, to attain that end; and it is partly through a spiteful desire to diminish the pleasure that other people would have found in satisfying them. Such men, who are usually obsequious flatterers, may thus act out of character: sometimes we hardly recognize them, and we discover the man beneath the courtier.
146. Affectation in gesture, speech and manners is often a result of idleness and indifference; and it would seem that a strong attachment, or a concern with serious matters, force man to be natural.
147. Men have no characters, or at any rate none that shows any consistency, that does not contradict itself, and through which they may be recognized. They find it irksome to remain the same, to persevere either in following rules or in breaking them; and if they sometimes adopt one virtue as a change from another virtue, they more often discard one vice for the sake of another vice. They have opposing passions and contradictory weaknesses; they find it easier to make extremes meet than to follow a line of conduct that is all of a piece. Enemies of moderation, they exaggerate whatever they do, good or bad; and when they find such excess intolerable, they alleviate its effect by means of change. Adrastus was so corrupt and impious that he found it easier to follow the fashion and turn devout: it would have cost him more pains to become a good man.
148. How comes it that the very men who are ready to face the greatest disasters with cool unconcern lose their self-control and display inexhaustible resentment over the most trifling mishaps? Such behaviour is no sign of wisdom, for virtue is equable and consistent; it must be a vice, then, and what other than vanity, which is aroused and stimulated only by sensational incidents that can gratify it, but which remains indifferent to everything else?
149. We seldom repent of speaking little, and very often of speaking too much; a well-worn and familiar maxim, that everyone knows but that not everyone practises.
150. You injure Yourself by your own vindictiveness, and give your enemies too great an advantage, if you accuse them of things that are not true, and tell lies in order to disparage them.
151. If a man knew how to blush at his own actions, what crimes, not only secret but public and overt, would he not spare himself!
152. If certain men do not go as far in well-doing as they might, it is through some fault in their earliest training.
153. The very mediocrity of men's minds enables them to acquire sagacity.
154. Children need rods and birches; grown men need a crown, a sceptre, a judge's cap, fur hoods, fasces, drums and uniforms. Reason and justice, stripped of all their ornaments, can neither persuade nor deter. Man, who is a spirit, is led by his eyes and ears.
155. Timon, the misanthrope, may be inwardly austere and unsociable, but to outward view be is civil and even ceremonious; he is never impulsive or intimate with other men; on the contrary, he treats them with courteous gravity; be uses every means to keep them at arm's length, having no wish to know them better or to make friends with them, thus resembling a woman paying a call on another woman.
156. Reason is like truth, it is indivisible; you reach it by a single path, and you may stray from it by a thousand. The study of human wisdom is more restricted than that which might be made of fools and coxcombs. If you have met only polite and sensible men, you do not know mankind, or you know it only in part; however men may differ in their temperaments and habits, social intercourse and good breeding produce the same apparent effect, so that people resemble one another through their outward good manners, which are mutually pleasing, seem common to all, and give the impression that nothing exists elsewhere that does not come under their sway. On the other hand, the man who ventures among the populace or into the provinces soon makes strange discoveries there if he has eyes to see, observes things that are unfamiliar to him, of which he was quite unaware and could not have the least suspicion; his acquaintance with human nature progresses by these continuous experiences; and he can almost reckon in how many different ways man may prove insufferable.
157. After making a close and mature study of men, and recognizing the wrongness of their thoughts, their feelings, their tastes and affections, one is forced to admit that they have less to lose by inconstancy than by persistence.
158. How many weak, spineless and apathetic souls there are, without great faults which might furnish apt material for satire! How many sorts of absurd defects are widespread among men, whose very oddity makes them unimportant and of no use to the teacher or the moralist! These are exceptional vices, which are not contagious, and belong less to mankind than to the individual man.
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