1. You can hardly pay a man a greater compliment than to censure him for not knowing the ways of the Court: that single phrase implies the possession of every sort of virtue.
2. A man who knows the ways of the Court is master of his gestures, his eyes and his face; he is deep, impenetrable; he pretends not to notice injuries done him, he smiles to his enemies, controls his temper, disguises his passions, belies his heart, speaks and acts against his real opinions. All this elaborate procedure is merely a vice which we call deceitfulness, which is sometimes as useless to the courtier for his advancement as frankness, sincerity and virtue would have been.
3. Who can give a name to certain changeable colours, which vary according to the light in which we look at them? in the same way, who can define the Court?
4. To absent oneself from the Court for a single moment means to give it up: the courtier who has seen it in the morning sees it again in the evening, so that he may know it again next day, or so that he may be known there himself.
5. One is small at Court, and however great one's vanity one feels small; but the affliction is a common one, and even the great are small there.
6. Seen from the provinces, as from a coign of vantage, the Court appears an admirable thing; when one draws nearer to it, its charms decrease, as though through excessive foreshortening.
7. it is hard to accustom oneself to a life that takes place in a waiting-room, in courtyards or on a staircase.
8. The Court does not make a man happy; it prevents him from being happy elsewhere.
9. A well-bred man must have some experience of the Court: he discovers, on entering there, a new world which was unfamiliar to him, where he sees vice and good manners reigning as equals, and where he can profit as much from what is bad as from what is good.
10. The Court is like a marble building: it is made up of men who are very hard, but highly polished.
11. Some men go to Court for the sake of coming back and winning the respect of the local gentry or of the Bishop of their diocese.
12. The embroiderer and the confectioner would be unnecessary, and would display their skills in vain, if men were simple and temperate: courts would be deserted, and kings would lack company, if men were cured of vanity and self-interest. They are willing to be slaves here, so that they may be masters elsewhere. A haughty, proud and domineering air seems to have been handed out wholesale to the leading people at Court, so that they may distribute it retail in the provinces: they do exactly as they are done by, real apes of their ruler.
13. Nothing changes certain courtiers for the worse so much as the Prince's presence: I can scarcely recognize their faces; their features are distorted, and their expression degraded. Proud and haughty people are the most disfigured, for they have most to lose; the man who is well-bred and modest can hold his own better: he has nothing to amend.
14. The courtier's manner is contagious: you catch it at Versailles, as you pick up a Norman accent at Rouen or Falaise; it can be noticed in quartermasters' assistants, petty controllers and purveyors of fruit: with a mind of very ordinary scope, one call make great progress in this field. A man of lofty natural gifts and solid merit sets too little value on this sort of talent to concentrate on studying and appropriating; he acquires it without reflection, and never thinks of discarding it.
15. N— bustles noisily in; he thrusts people aside, makes them give way; he scratches at the door, he almost knocks; he gives his name; everyone breathes freely, and he only goes in with the crowd.
16. Certain bold adventurers appear at Court, who are free and familiar in their ways; they thrust themselves forward, claiming to have all the mastery of their art that others lack; and the Court accepts their word for it. Meanwhile they take advantage of the general error, or of men's love for what is new; they force their way through the crowd and gain the King's confidence; the courtier sees them talking to him, while he himself is lucky if he is so much as seen. Conveniently for the nobility, such men can be endured with impunity and dismissed in the same fashion; then they disappear, having acquired wealth and discredit, and those they have been deceiving are all ready to be deceived again by someone else.
17. You see some men come in making only the slightest bow, swaying their shoulders and strutting like a woman; they ask you questions without looking at you; they raise their voices, as though to show that they consider everyone else beneath them; when they halt, people gather round them; they hold forth, preside over the company and keep up this ridiculous and affected haughtiness until some great noble happens to appear who, by his mere presence, strips them of it, thus making them more natural and less unpleasant.
18. Courts cannot do without courtiers of a certain kind, smooth-tongued, obsequious, insinuating men, devoted to women, whose pleasures they organize, whose foibles they study and whose every passion they flatter: they whisper ribaldries in their ears, talk to them of their husbands and their lovers in suitable terms, guess at their sorrows and their sicknesses and arrange for their confinements; arbiters of fashion, they encourage exquisite luxury and extravagance, and teach ladies the quickest way to lay out vast sums on dress, furniture and equipage; their own clothes display originality and splendour, and they will not live in old palaces until they have remodelled and embellished them; their fare is delicate and choice; there is no sort of sensual delight which they have not tried out, and on which they cannot give an opinion. They owe their fortune to themselves alone, and they maintain it as skilfully as they built it up. Disdainful and proud, they no longer address a word to their equals, they no longer greet them; they talk where everyone else keeps silence, they make their way into places, and at times, when the greatest folk dare not show themselves: the latter, with years of service and honourable wounds to their credit, with high offices or great dignities; do not display so bold a countenance, so free and easy a manner. Such people enjoy the confidence of the greatest princes, join in all their pleasures and all their entertainments, spend their whole time in the Louvre or Versailles, where they go about and behave as though in their own homes; they are here, there and everywhere, theirs are always the first faces that strike a visitor to the Court; they are lavish with their embraces, they laugh, they are effusive, amusing, they tell stories: easy-going, pleasant people, rich and ready to lend, and of no consequence whatever.
19. Would you not believe, meeting Cimon and Clitander, that they alone are in charge of the administration of the whole State, and must bear the sole responsibility for it? One of them must at least run affairs on land, and the other on sea. To depict them, an artist would have to express bustling zeal, restlessness, curiosity, activity, he would have to paint movement. Nobody has ever seen them sitting down, or staying in one place; indeed, who has ever seen them walking? you see them running, talking as they run, and asking questions without waiting for an answer. They haven't come from anywhere, and they are going nowhere: they just pass to and fro. if you held them up in their precipitate course, the machine would run down; don't ask them any questions, or give them time to breathe and remember that they have no pressing business, that they could stay with you, and stay for a long time, and even follow you wherever you chose to take them. They are not among Jupiter's satellites, I mean those who throng round the Prince, but they herald him, they go before him; they rush forward impetuously amid the crowd of courtiers; it is dangerous to be in their way. Their vocation is to be seen and seen again, and they never go to bed without having fulfilled this important task, which is of such great benefit to the State. Moreover, they are well informed of all unimportant news, and know everything about the Court that would better be left unknown; they are lacking in none of the talents needed to get on moderately well. They are alert and watchful enough about whatever they think is to their advantage, and inclined to be venturesome, hasty and irresponsible. Indeed, they charge along as though they were two fiery horses harnessed to Fortune's chariot; but both are very far from riding in it.
20. A man about the Court whose name is not fine enough must bury it under a better one; but if he bears a name of which he is not ashamed, he must then insinuate that it is the most illustrious of all names, and that his family is the most ancient of all families: he must be connected with the Princes of Lorraine, the Rohans, the Chastillons, the Montmorencis and, if possible, with princes of the royal blood; he must talk only of dukes, cardinals and ministers, must introduce into every conversation his paternal and maternal forebears, and find room for the oriflamme and the Crusades; he must have halls hung with genealogical tables, scutcheons bearing sixteen quarters, portraits of his ancestors and their connexions by marriage; he must pride himself on having an ancient castle with turrets and battlements and a portcullis; must talk to all and sundry about my line, my branch, my name, my coat of arms; must say of so-and-so that he is not a man of quality, and of his wife that she is no gentlewoman; or if he hears that Hyacinthus has won first prize in the royal lottery, he must inquire about Hyacinthus' birth. Some people may laugh at these inapt remarks, but he won't mind their laughter; others will tell stories about him, and he'll let them go on telling; he will still maintain that he comes next in rank to the royal house, and by dint of saying so, he'll be believed.
21. You see some men come in making only the slightest bow, swaying their shoulders and strutting like a woman; they ask you questions without looking at you; they raise their voices, as though to show that they consider everyone else beneath them; when they halt, people gather round them; they hold forth, preside over the company and keep up this ridiculous and affected haughtiness until some great noble happens to appear who, by his mere presence, strips them of it, thus making them more natural and less unpleasant.
22. Sleeping and waking, courtiers are ruled by self-interest; this is what they brood upon morning and evening, by day and by night; this dictates their thoughts and words, their silence, their actions; it impels them to seek out some men and neglect others, to climb or to condescend; it is the rule that determines their attentions, their kindness, their respect, their indifference, their contempt. Though virtue may incline some men a little way towards moderation and wisdom, yet ambition, that prime motive, carries them off along with those who are most avid and violent in their desires and ambitions: how can one remain still while everything around one is astir and on the move, how can one not run where others are running? A courtier feels responsible to himself for his success and fortune: any man who has not made his at Court is assumed to be irrevocably doomed never to make it. Meanwhile, shall one leave the Court without having gained the least benefit from it, or stay on stubbornly, lacking favours or rewards? a question so thorny, so complicated and so hard to settle, that an infinite number of courtiers grow old wavering between yes and no, and die still undecided.
23. There is no one at Court so mean and contemptible as the man who can in no way contribute to one's advancement: I wonder he date show himself.
24. The man who sees far behind him another of his own age and rank, with whom he first came to Court, if he thinks he has good grounds for believing in his own deserts and for holding a better opinion of himself than of the man who has lagged behind him, has forgotten what he used to think, before his advancement, about himself and those who were ahead of him.
25. We can hardly expect more of a friend who has risen to a favoured position than to be still included among his acquaintance.
26. If a man who is in favour dares to take advantage of it before it escapes him, if he makes use of a propitious wind to get on, if be keeps his eyes open for anything that falls vacant, post or benefice, so as to ask for it and get it, and is well supplied with pensions, titles and privileges, you may blame him for his greed and ambition; everything tempts him, you will say, he turns everything to his profit or to that of his kindred or his parasites, and by the number and variety of the favours he enjoys he has made his fortune many times over. And yet what ought he to have done? To judge not so much by your comments as by the way you yourself would have acted in his place, he has done exactly what he ought.
We blame those who achieve great success when they have the chance, because the mediocrity of our own position makes us despair of ever being able to imitate them and incur such a reproach. If it were in our power to follow in their steps, we should begin to feel that they were not so much to blame, and we should be more restrained, for fear of condemning ourselves in anticipation.
27. Let us not exaggerate, nor condemn the Court for vices it has not got; true merit suffers no worse outrage there than to be sometimes left unrewarded; it is not always treated with contempt, when it has once been recognized; it is merely forgotten, and the Court is the place where people best know how to do nothing, or very little, for those of whom they think most highly.
28. Among all the means a man may use to build up his fortune at Court, one or another is bound to let him down: one of my friends who promised to speak for me has not done so, another is lukewarm; a third happens to speak against my interests, quite unintentionally; one shows a lack of goodwill, another a lack of cunning and tact; none of them are so anxious to see me happy that they will do all that's in their power to make me so. Each of them remembers very well what it cost him to secure his own position, and what help he received to that end; he would be ready, indeed, to redeem his indebtedness to one man by rendering similar services to another, were not the courtier's first and sole concern, after he has achieved success, to think of himself.
29. Courtiers use all the wit, skill and subtlety they possess not to find means of helping those of their friends who implore their aid, but only to offer plausible reasons, specious pretexts, for being quite unable to do so; and they convince themselves that by this means they have fulfilled all the requirements of friendship or gratitude.
Nobody, at Court, wants to make the first move on another's behalf; one offers one's support because one hopes, judging others by oneself, that nobody, is going to make such a move and that thus one will be excused from giving support: it is a polite and gentle way of denying the use of one's influence, services or intercession to someone who needs them.
30. How many people lavish endearments on you, love you and esteem you in private who, in public, are ashamed of you and who, at the King's levee or at Mass, will cut you dead! Only a handful of courtiers are great enough, or self-confident enough, to pay public honour to merit when it stands on its own, lacking high social status.
31. I see a man being surrounded and followed; but he is in office. I see another being sought out by everyone; but he is in favour at Court. Here is one whom even the greatest nobles make much of; he is rich. And here's another whom everybody stares at with curiosity, and points out; he is learned and eloquent. I discover one to whom nobody forgets to bow; but then he's spiteful. I should like to see a man who is good, and nothing more, and yet who is sought after.
32. Should a man be appointed to a new post, praise of him pours forth, overflowing into courtyards and chapels, reaching the stair, the hall, the gallery, the whole of the royal apartment; one's quite submerged, one's overwhelmed by it. There are no two opinions on the man; envy and jealousy speak with the same voice as adulation; all are swept away by the torrent, which forces them to say what they think, or don't think, of a man, and often to praise one whom they do not know. A man of wit, merit or valour becomes, in one instant, a genius of the first rank, a hero, a demi-god. Every portrait painted of him flatters him so prodigiously that the man himself seems de-formed by the side of them; he can never attain the heights to which subservience and flattery would raise him; he blushes at his own reputation. Should he seem insecure in the position to which he has been raised, everyone readily shifts to another point of view; should he fall from it completely, the machinery that had raised him so high, by means of applause and eulogy, is still available to make him lapse into utter neglect: I mean that there are none who despise him more heartily, who blame him more sharply, and who speak more ill of him, than those who had devoted themselves to the rage for praising him.
33. I think it true to say of any eminent and responsible position that it is more easily attained than maintained.
34. Some men fall from a height through the very faults that had raised them to it.
35. There are two ways, at Court, of getting rid of people: you may lose your temper with them, or you may behave in such a way that they lose theirs with you, and take an aversion to you.
36. Courtiers speak well of a man for two reasons: firstly, so that he may know they have spoken well of him, and secondly, so that he may speak well of them.
37. It is as risky, at Court, to make the first approaches to someone as it is frustrating not to do so.
38. There are some people for whom not to know a man's name or face is a pretext for laughing at him and despising him. Who is that man? they ask; he is neither Rousseau nor Fabry nor La Couture, whom they could not have failed to recognize.
39. I have heard so much ill spoken of a certain man, and I have seen so little harm in him, that I begin to suspect he may have some unwelcome virtue that outshines that of others.
40. You are an upright man, seeking neither to please favourites nor to displease them, and devoted exclusively to your master and to your duty: there's no hope for you.
41. Effrontery is not a matter of choice, but of temperament; it is a vice, but a natural one; the man who is born without it is modest, and cannot readily pass from that extreme to the other; it is pointless to exhort him: 'be bold, and you'll succeed'; a bad imitation would gain him nothing, indeed would make him fail. Nothing less than true native impudence is needed to succeed at Court.
42. You bestir yourself, you bustle about, you scheme, you worry, you make your request and it is refused, you make it again and it is granted; 'without my having asked,' you say, 'when such a thing was furthest from my mind'; an old trick, a naive lie that takes in nobody.
43. You lay your schemes to gain an important post, you set up your machinery, you've taken all the right steps and secured the desired support; some people are to make the first move, others to second them; the fuse is laid, the mine is all ready to go off; then you leave the Court. How could anybody suspect Artermon of trying to climb into such a fine place, when he has to be dragged from his estate or from his administration to assume it? A crude artifice, a well-worn ruse which the courtier has used so often that, should I want to deceive everyone and conceal my ambition, I should put myself in full view of my Prince and within his reach, so as to receive from him the favour I'd been seeking with such fervour.
44. Men hope that no one will discover their designs for their own advancement, or guess that they are aiming at a certain dignity, because if they should not attain it, they think it is a disgrace to meet with a refusal; while if they should succeed, it is more creditable to be considered worthy of that honour by the one who confers it than to plot and scheme because they think themselves worthy of it; thus they win respect both for the dignity they have acquired and for their modesty.
Which is more shameful, to be denied a post that one deserves, or to obtain it without deserving it?
However difficult it is to gain a position at Court it is an even harder struggle to make oneself worthy of one.
It costs less to invite the question: 'Why did he get that post?' than to justify the comment: 'He ought to have got it.'
A man may seek election to municipal posts nowadays, or solicit a seat in the French Academy, as once he would have asked for a Consulship; but he might with as good reason spend the early years of his life working to fit himself for an important post and then ask, openly and confidently, without secrecy or intrigue, for the right to serve his country, his King and the State in it.
45. Any courtier to whom the Prince has just granted a good administrative post, a leading position or a substantial pension, will protest, out of vanity or to display his lack of self-interest, that the gift delights him far less than the way it was given. The only thing that's sure and unquestionable is that he says so.
It is boorish to give ungraciously: the giving is the hardest part; what does it cost to add a smile?
It must be admitted, none the less, that some men have shown more politeness in refusing to give than others in giving; and that some have needed so much pressing and have given with such an ill will, and attached such unwelcome conditions to the favour one has wrested from them, that it seems a greater favour to be exempted from receiving anything from them.
46. Certain greedy men are to be found at Court, who will assume any rank in order to enjoy its advantages: a governorship, a public office, a benefice, anything suits them: they are so adaptable that they can cope with any favour; they are amphibious, they can live in the Church or in the Army, and can combine the Law with either. If you ask: 'What do these people do at Court?' they receive favours, and they envy all those on whom favours are conferred.
47. Many men drag out their lives at Court embracing and congratulating those who receive favours, and die there at last, having gained nothing.
48. Menophilus borrows his manners from one profession and his dress from another; he wears a mask all the year round, though his face is uncovered; he appears at Court, in town and elsewhere under a certain name and in the same disguise; but he is recognized and identified by his face.
49. You can attain dignities by the main road, the beaten track; or by a devious path, which is the quickest way.
50. People run to stare at unfortunate wretches; they line the streets or look out of windows to observe the face and bearing of a condemned man, who knows he is about to die: a vain, vicious, inhuman curiosity; if men were wise, the public square would be deserted, and it would be thought disgraceful even to see such sights. If you are so consumed with curiosity, employ it on some nobler subject: look at a fortunate man, see him on the very day he has been appointed to a new post, and is being congratulated on this; read in his eyes, underneath an assumed calm and a feigned modesty, how pleased he is, how full of himself; see with what serenity this fulfilment of his desires pervades his heart and his face, how eagerly he looks forward to liv ing and enjoying good health, and how, next, his joy escapes him and can no longer be concealed, how his happiness is almost too great to bear, with what a grave and distant air he treats those who are no longer his equals; he does not answer them, he does not see them; while the embraces and endearments of the great, whom he now sees at close quarters, complete his ruin; he is confused and bewildered: it's like a brief madness. If you want to be happy, if you seek favours, how many pitfalls must you avoid!
51. A man who has newly acquired a position ceases to use his intelligence and his reason to determine his behaviour and his attitude to other people; he borrows his rules from his position and rank, and becomes neglectful, proud, arrogant, hard and ungrateful.
52. Theonas, thirty years an abbé, was weary of that condition. No one could long more ardently and impatiently to be raised to the purple than he did to wear a gold cross on his breast, and since the great festivals invariably slipped by without bringing the least change to his fortune, he inveighed against the age, thought the State ill governed and foretold only disaster for it. Having decided in his heart that virtue is an impediment to a man's career at Court, he had resigned himself at last and renounced all hopes of a prelacy, when someone rushed up to tell him that he had been appointed to a bishopric. Radiant with joy and self-confidence at this unexpected news, he declared: 'You'll see I shan't stop there, they will make me an archbishop.'
53. Even the best-intentioned of nobles and ministers need to have rogues by them at Court; but making use of these is a delicate business, and needs skill. There are times and occasions when no one else can take their place. Honour, virtue, conscientiousness always deserve respect, but are often useless: what's one to do, in certain circumstances, with an upright man?
54. An ancient writer whom I quote here in his own terms, for fear of weakening his meaning by my translation, says that
'a man who will shun lowly folk, nay, his own peers, contemning and flouting them, and will cleave only to the proud and mighty, partaking of all their japes and pastimes, their wantonness and wicked ways, who will brave it shamelessly, unheeding of the taunts and gleeks of sundry men, and press forward undaunted, with all his cunning, such a man will be blessed of fortune.'
55. When the Prince is young, Fortune is kind.
56. Timantes, who had never changed, and had lost nothing of that merit which first won him reputation and rewards, had none the less sunk in the estimation of his fellow-courtiers; they were tired of respecting him; they greeted him coldly, they no longer smiled to him, they began to avoid his company, ceased to embrace him and never took him aside to whisper some mysterious and trivial secret in his ear; they had nothing more to say to him. It took the pension or the new appointment with which he has recently been honoured to restore his half-forgotten virtues, and refresh men's memories of them: now he is treated as he was in the beginning, or even better.
57. How many friends and relatives a newly appointed minister acquires in a single night! Some stress old acquaintance, common intellectual interests or the rights of a neighbour; others run through their family tree, going back to the third generation and scanning both the father's and the mother's side; they all want to be connected somehow with this man, and repeat, several times a day, that they are connected with him; they would gladly have it set down in print: 'He is my friend, and I'm delighted at his success; I am bound to share in his pleasure, he's a relation of mine.' You frivolous creatures, whose only goddess is success, you silly courtiers, did you speak in those terms a week ago? Has he become since then a worthier man, more deserving of the honour the Prince has paid him? Or were you waiting for this event to get to know him better?
58. What sustains and reassures me under petty humiliations from those of higher rank or from my equals is the thought:
'These people judge me by my fortune, and they are quite right: it is a very humble one. They would undoubtedly adore me if I were a minister.'
Am I shortly to be promoted? does he know? has he some foreknowledge of it? here he comes to greet me.
59. The man who says: 'I dined at Tibur yesterday', or 'I am supping there tonight', who repeats it, who brings the name of Plancus ten times into the slightest conversation, saying: 'Plancus was asking me.... As I was saying to Plancus . . .' learns of his hero's sudden death. He promptly dashes off, collects a crowd in the public square or under the portico, indicts the dead man, censures his behaviour, denigrates his administration, denies him even the technical knowledge that public opinion grants him, will not even grant him a well-stocked memory nor praise him as an austere and hardworking man, nor credit him with an enemy among those who are the enemies of the State.
60. A man of parts may find some amusement in seeing how, at some entertainment or social gathering, the very seat that has been refused him is offered to a man who has neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear, nor intelligence to understand and appreciate, and whose only recommendation is a certain livery which he once wore.
61. Theodotus is austere in his dress, but comical in expression; he seems to be making a stage entry; his voice, his gait, his gestures and attitudes match his face. He is subtle, sly, soft-spoken and mysterious; he comes up and whispers in your ear: 'What fine weather! it's thawing!' If he lacks the grand manner, he has every sort of mannerism, even those that only befit a young précieuse. Imagine the concentration of a child building a card castle or chasing a butterfly: such is Theodotus' over a trivial affair, which is not worth bothering about; he treats it seriously, as something of capital importance; he bestirs himself, he bustles about and achieves his end; he breathes again, and takes a rest — quite rightly, for it cost him a great deal of trouble. Some people seem drunk or bewitched with favour-seeking; they think of it by day, they dream of it by night; they climb up a minister's stair, and they come down it again; they leave his waiting-room, and they go back into it; they have nothing to say to him, but they speak to him; they speak to him a second time; then they're satisfied, they have spoken to him. Press them and twist them, and they will ooze pride, arrogance, presumption; address a remark to them, they answer nothing, they do not know you, their eyes are wild and their minds wander; their relatives ought to look after them and shut them up, lest their folly should become a dangerous frenzy. Theodotus has a gentler mania: he is madly in love with favour, but his passion is more subdued; he makes his vows to it in secret, he worships and serves it mysteriously; he is ever on the lookout for such newcomers as wear the livery of Favour: he offers his help to push their claims, he busies himself for them, tacitly sacrificing for their sake all ties of loyalty, friendship, gratitude or respect for merit. If Cassini's post should fall vacant and the porter or groom of the favourite should take it into his head to ask for it, Theodotus would second his request, would declare him worthy of the post and capable of observing and calculating, of discussing parhelia and parallaxes. If you should ask whether Theodotus is an author or a plagiarist, an original or an imitative writer, I would give you his works and tell you: 'Read and judge for yourself.' But who is to decide, from the portrait I have just drawn of him, whether he is a pious man or a courtier? I can speak my mind more boldly about his stars. Yes, Theodotus, I have studied your horoscope, you are going to win a position, and that quite soon; lose no more sleep, and publish nothing more: the public begs you for quarter.
62. You need not hope for sincerity, frankness, fair play, helpfulness, goodwill, generosity or strength of mind from a man who has been an assiduous courtier for any length of time, and who is secretly seeking advancement. Can you recognize him by his face and conversation? He has given up calling things by their right names; he no longer refers to rogues or knaves, fools or coxcombs; the man about whom he might happen to speak his mind may be the very one who, if he heard about it, would prevent him from getting on; while thinking ill of everyone, he speaks ill of nobody; and while solely concerned with his own good, he seeks to imply that he is concerned with everyone's, so that everyone may do good to him, or at any rate do him no harm. Not content with being insincere, he cannot endure sincerity in others; truth offends his ears; he listens with cold indifference to criticisms of the Court and of courtiers, and then because he has heard such criticisms he feels that he has countenanced them, that he is responsible for them. He is a social tyrant and a martyr to ambition; there is a depressing circumspection about his ways and words; his pleasantries are harmless, but stiff and laboured; his laughter is forced, his endearments affected, his conversation desultory and his mind for ever wandering. He is lavish, nay, he gushes over with praises for the words and deeds of whoever enjoys position and favour, but he's as feeble as a consumptive in praise of anyone else; he has different complimentary formulae for the beginning and end of the visits he pays and receives; and everyone who is taken in by affected expressions and manners finds his company wholly delightful. He aims equally at acquiring patrons and parasites; he acts as mediator, confidant, go-between; he wants to govern others. He has a novice's zeal for all the trivial practices of the Court; he knows where one must stand in order to be seen; he is capable of embracing you, sharing your joy, asking endless fervent questions about your health and your affairs; and while you are answering, he loses the thread of his interest, interrupts you and starts another topic; or else if somebody appears who has to be spoken to in different terms, he knows how to condole with them while completing his congratulations to yourself-, he weeps with one eye and smiles with the other. Modelling himself sometimes on ministers or on the reigning favourite, he makes public pronouncements about trivial things, about wind or frost; on the other hand he affects an air of mystery about the important things he knows, and even more about the things he does not know.
63. There is a certain country where joy is openly displayed, but insincere, and where unhappiness is covert, but real. Who would believe that those who throng so eagerly to entertainments, who laugh and applaud the comedies of Molière and of the Italian actors, who enjoy feasting, hunting, ballets and tournaments are really concealing so much anxiety, so many different worries and interests, hopes and fears, such intense passions and such serious problems?
64. Life at Court is a serious, melancholy game, requiring concentration: you have to arrange your pieces and lay your schemes, you must have a plan, follow it through, thwart your opponent's, you must be daring on occasion, and play according to the inspiration of the moment; and after all your forethought and calculation, you may meet with check, sometimes with checkmate; often, if you manage your pawns well, you may get as far as Queen, and win the game; the cleverest play prevails, or the luckiest.
65. The wheels and springs and all the works are hidden; the watch shows nothing but its hand, which moves forward imperceptibly and completes a circle; an image of the courtier, the more perfect in that after having travelled a considerable way he often comes back to the very place he started from.
66. 'Two thirds of my life have passed; why should I worry about what's left me? The most brilliant fortune would not justify the torment I inflict upon myself, nor the mean actions to which I sometimes sink, nor the humiliation and shame to which I submit; thirty years will bring down these powerful giants, whom we could only see by peering upward; we shall all disappear, I myself who am next to nothing, and those whom I gazed at so eagerly, and from whom I hope to gain advancement; the greatest of all blessings, if such things exist, would be to live in peaceful retirement in some place that was one's own.'
Such were N—'s thoughts while he was in disgrace; he forgot them in prosperity.
67. A nobleman who lives at home in the country is free, but unsupported; if he lives at Court he is protected, but a slave: which makes things even.
68. Xantippus in his country retreat, under an ancient roof and on a wretched bed, dreamed one night that he saw the King and spoke to him, and that this made him very happy; he was sad when he woke; he told his dream, and said: 'What strange fancies come into a man's mind when he's asleep!' Xantippus went on living; he came to Court, he saw the King, he spoke to him; and he went even further than his dream, for he is a favourite.
69. Who is more of a slave than an assiduous courtier? Only a more assiduous courtier.
70. A slave has only one master; an ambitious man is enslaved to all those who may help to further his advancement.
71. A thousand people, whom nobody knows, throng to the King's levee in hopes of being seen by him, whereas he cannot possibly see the whole thousand; if he sees today only those whom he saw yesterday and whom he will see tomorrow, how many will be heartbroken!
72. Of all those who pay assiduous court to great nobles, a handful honour them sincerely, a large number cultivate them for reasons of ambition and self-interest and an even greater number out of ridiculous vanity or a foolish eagerness to let themselves be seen.
73. There are certain families which, by all the rules or conventions of society, ought to be irreconcilable. They have come to terms at last; and where religion failed when it sought to bring them together, interest has come into play and succeeded with ease.
74. I have heard of a region where old men are gallant, obliging and polite, and where young men, on the contrary, are rough and surly, lacking manners or principles: they have lost interest in women at an age when young men elsewhere are beginning to feel it; they prefer feasting, food and ridiculous amours. Here a man is judged sober and temperate if he only gets drunk on wine: they are so used to this that it seems insipid to them; they try to stimulate their jaded taste by spirits and the strongest sort of liquor; to complete their debauchery, they need only to drink aqua fortis. The women of this country hasten the ruin of their beauty by artifices which they think enhance it; they paint their lips, their cheeks, their eyebrows and their shoulders, which they expose together with their bosoms, arms and ears, as if they were afraid of concealing any part that might prove attractive, or of not showing enough of themselves. The men who dwell here have an ambiguous and uncertain cast of features, lost amid a dense mass of false hair, which they prefer to their own natural hair and of which they make a headdress that hangs half-way down their bodies, changes their appearance and prevents one from recognizing a man by his face. These people have, moreover, their God and their King; the great folk of the nation assemble every day, at a fixed time, in a temple which they call a church; within this temple stands an altar sacred to their God, where a priest celebrates the rites they consider holy, sacred and awe-inspiring; these great folk form a vast ring at the foot of this altar, and stand there turning their backs to the priest and to the holy mysteries, and their faces towards the King, who is seen kneeling in a gallery, and to whom they seem de-voted with all their minds and hearts. There appears to be a kind of hierarchy in this custom; the people worship the King and the King worships God. This country is known by its inhabitants as ***; it is at a latitude of 48 degrees from the Pole and more than eleven hundred leagues by sea from the land of the Iroquois and Hurons.
75. When one considers how the courtier's whole happiness lies in the sight of the King's face, how he is concerned and satisfied his whole life long merely with seeing the King and being seen by him, one can understand a little better how the sight of God may constitute the whole glory and happiness of His saints.
76. Great nobles are respectful in their bearing towards princes: it is in their interest, they have others below them. Courtiers of a lesser rank are more casual about such duties, behave with familiarity and live like men who do not have to set an example to anyone.
77. What is lacking to the youth of our day? They can do anything, they know everything; or at any rate they could not behave with more self-confidence if their knowledge were equal to their powers.
78. Men are weak creatures! A great noble says of Timagenes, who is your friend, that he's a fool: quite wrongly. I don't expect you to retort that he is highly intelligent: but you might venture to reflect that he is not a fool.
The same noble declares that Iphicrates lacks courage; you have seen him perform a brave deed: don't worry, I'll excuse you from mentioning it, provided that even after what you have heard a great man say you still remember that you witnessed such a deed.
79. The whole skill and wisdom of a courtier consists in knowing how to speak to Kings. A word escapes one, and it passes from the King's ear into his memory and even, perhaps, into his heart; it cannot be retrieved; all the care one takes and all the skill one uses to explain it away or to tone it down serve only to engrave it more profoundly and impress it more strongly. If one's words injure oneself alone, which is certainly no common misfortune, there still remains an immediate remedy, which is to learn by one's mistake and endure the penalty for one's imprudence; but if they injure someone else, what distress and remorse must one endure! Is there any more helpful rule for avoiding such a hazard than to speak to one's sovereign about other people, their persons, their works, their actions, manners or conduct, with at least as much restraint and care as when speaking of oneself?
80. 'A clever tongue means a spiteful nature'. I would say that, if it had not been said before. Those who injure the reputation or fortune of others rather than miss the chance of a clever remark deserve a degrading punishment: that has not been said before, and I venture to say it.
81. There are certain phrases which are to be had ready-made, as though from a shop, and which people use to congratulate one another in various circumstances. Although they are often spoken without affection and received without gratitude we cannot do without them, because they are at least the outward sign of the best thing in the world, which is friendship, and because men, being unable to count on each other for the real thing, seem to have agreed among themselves to make do with the appearance of it.
82. A man who knows five or six technical terms and nothing more can profess to be a connoisseur in music, in painting, in architecture or in good food; he thinks he gets more pleasure than others do from hearing, seeing and eating; he takes in his fellows, and he is taken in himself.
83. The Court is never without a certain number of people in whom social experience, good manners or wealth take the place of wit and are a substitute for worth. They know how to make their exits and their entrances; they cope with a conversation by keeping out of it; they are liked, so long as they hold their tongues, and win respect by maintaining a long silence, or uttering a few monosyllables at most; they can bluff you with facial expressions or a tone of voice, with a gesture and a smile: I dare assert that they are not two inches deep; if you probe a little, you reach bedrock.
84. There are some people to whom favour comes as an accident: they are the first to be surprised and bewildered by it. They collect themselves at last, and conclude that they have deserved their luck; and as though stupidity and success were things incompatible, as though nobody could be fortunate and foolish at the same time, they think themselves witty; they venture, indeed they make bold to speak out on all occasions and on any topic that may present itself, regardless of who is listening to them. Shall I add that they inspire horror or the utmost disgust by the foolish nonsense they talk? It is true, at any rate, that they bring irretrievable dishonour on those who have had any share in their promotion.
85. What shall I call the sort of people whom only fools think clever? I know, at any rate, that men of taste put them on a level with those they manage to deceive.
It's a sign of considerable shrewdness to be able to make others think one is not exceptionally shrewd.
Shrewdness is neither a very good quality nor a very bad one; it wavers between vice and virtue. There are no circumstances in which it cannot be replaced by prudence, and perhaps it always should.
Shrewdness is a direct step towards imposture; it is easy to slip from one to the other; insincerity is the only factor that distinguishes between them; add this to shrewdness, and you have imposture.
With people who are shrewd enough to listen to everything and speak little, you should speak even less; or if you speak a lot, say very little.
86. To settle some honourable and weighty matter, you need the agreement of two people. 'I'll give my consent,' says one, 'provided so-and-so is willing'; and so-and-so agrees, and only requires re-assurance as to the other's intentions. Meanwhile nothing gets done; months and years go by fruitlessly. 'I'm at a loss,' you say, 'I cannot understand it, they only need to meet and talk to one another.' I tell you, however, that the whole thing is quite clear to me; they have already talked to one another.
87. It strikes me that a man who pleads on another's behalf has the confidence of one who asks for justice; whereas when speaking or acting on one's own behalf one feels ashamed and embarrassed, as though begging a favour.
88. Unless one is on one's guard against the traps that are constantly laid at Court to make a fool of one, one may be surprised to find oneself, for all one's intelligence, the dupe of those who are more foolish than oneself.
89. There are some occasions in life when truth and simplicity are the best stratagem in the world.
90. When you are in favour every stratagem succeeds, you can't go wrong, all roads lead to your goal; otherwise, whatever you do is wrong, nothing profits you, and there is no path but leads you astray.
91. A man who has lived by intrigue for a certain time cannot do without it: any other sort of life seems tedious to him.
92. A man needs intelligence to belong to a cabal; yet he may have so much more that he is above intrigue and faction, and cannot submit to them; then he will achieve great success or a high reputation by other means.
93. YOU, Aristides, with your lofty mind, your universal learning, your staunch integrity and your distinguished talents, need not fear to fall from favour at Court nor to lose the patronage of the great, so long as they have need of you.
94. A favourite should keep close watch on his ways; for if he should make me wait in his antechamber for a shorter time than usual, show a more open countenance, frown less, listen to me more readily, walk with me a little further when I leave, I shall assume that he is beginning to fall from favour, and I shall be right.
Man's inner resources must be very scanty, since it takes disgrace or humiliation to make him more humane, more accommodating, less surly and more civil.
95. We watch certain people at Court, and we realize from their words and their behaviour that they never think about their grand fathers or about their grandsons; the present is theirs; they do not enjoy it, they misuse it.
96. Strato was born under two stars: he is fortunate and unfortunate to the same degree. His life is like a novel; no, for it lacks probability. He has not had adventures; he has had happy dreams and bad ones; indeed, no dream could match his life. No one has extracted more from his fate than he; he has had extreme experiences and commonplace ones; he has shone, he has suffered, he has led an ordinary life; nothing has eluded him. He has won fame through virtues which he himself assured us in all seriousness that he possessed: he said: I am brave and intelligent, and everyone has repeated after him: He is intelligent and brave. Through these varying fortunes, he has never failed to excite the imagination of his fellow-courtiers, who have spoken better and worse of him than he deserves. Charming, delightful, rare, marvellous, heroic, have all been said in his praise; and the exact contrary, since then, has been used to denigrate him: an ambiguous, involved, secretive character; an enigma, an almost unanswerable question.
97. Favour raises a man above his equals; his fall brings him below them.
98. The man who, one fine day, can resolutely renounce a great name, a great position or a great fortune escapes thereby, at one blow, from many cares, many sleepless nights and, sometimes, from many crimes.
99. In a hundred years' time the world will still exist, just as it is, the stage and the sets will be the same, but not the actors. All those who now rejoice over a favour received, or grieve and lament over one denied, will have vanished from the boards. Other men are already stepping on to the stage, who will act the same parts in the same play; they will vanish in their turn; and those who do not yet exist will some day be no more; new actors will be there in their stead. What reliance can one place on a character out of a play?
100. Whoever has seen the Court has seen the most beautiful, brilliant and splendid thing in the world; whoever despises the Court, after having seen it, despises the world.
101. Town life spoils one for provincial life; life at Court disillusions one about the town, and cures one of loving the Court.
A sound mind learns at Court to love solitude and retirement.
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