Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

500.–Some people are so self-occupied that when in love they find a
mode by which to be engrossed with the passion without being so with the
person they love.

501.–Love, though so very agreeable, pleases more by its ways than by
itself.

502.–A little wit with good sense bores less in the long run than much
wit with ill nature.

503.–Jealousy is the worst of all evils, yet the one that is least
pitied by those who cause it.

504.–Thus having treated of the hollowness of so many apparent virtues,
it is but just to say something on the hollowness of the contempt for
death. I allude to that contempt of death which the heathen boasted they
derived from their unaided understanding, without the hope of a future
state. There is a difference between meeting death with courage and
despising it. The first is common enough, the last I think always
feigned. Yet everything that could be has been written to persuade us
that death is no evil, and the weakest of men, equally with the bravest,
have given many noble examples on which to found such an opinion, still
I do not think that any man of good sense has ever yet believed in it.
And the pains we take to persuade others as well as ourselves amply show
that the task is far from easy. For many reasons we may be disgusted
with life, but for none may we despise it. Not even those who commit
suicide regard it as a light matter, and are as much alarmed and
startled as the rest of the world if death meets them in a different
way than the one they have selected. The difference we observe in the
courage of so great a number of brave men, is from meeting death in a
way different from what they imagined, when it shows itself nearer
at one time than at another. Thus it ultimately happens that having
despised death when they were ignorant of it, they dread it when they
become acquainted with it. If we could avoid seeing it with all its
surroundings, we might perhaps believe that it was not the greatest of
evils. The wisest and bravest are those who take the best means to avoid
reflecting on it, as every man who sees it in its real light regards
it as dreadful. The necessity of dying created all the constancy of
philosophers. They thought it but right to go with a good grace when
they could not avoid going, and being unable to prolong their lives
indefinitely, nothing remained but to build an immortal reputation, and
to save from the general wreck all that could be saved. To put a good
face upon it, let it suffice, not to say all that we think to ourselves,
but rely more on our nature than on our fallible reason, which might
make us think we could approach death with indifference. The glory of
dying with courage, the hope of being regretted, the desire to leave
behind us a good reputation, the assurance of being enfranchised from
the miseries of life and being no longer dependent on the wiles of
fortune, are resources which should not be passed over. But we must not
regard them as infallible. They should affect us in the same proportion
as a single shelter affects those who in war storm a fortress. At a
distance they think it may afford cover, but when near they find it
only a feeble protection. It is only deceiving ourselves to imagine
that death, when near, will seem the same as at a distance, or that our
feelings, which are merely weaknesses, are naturally so strong that they
will not suffer in an attack of the rudest of trials. It is equally as
absurd to try the effect of self-esteem and to think it will enable us
to count as naught what will of necessity destroy it. And the mind in
which we trust to find so many resources will be far too weak in the
struggle to persuade us in the way we wish. For it is this which betrays
us so frequently, and which, instead of filling us with contempt of
death, serves but to show us all that is frightful and fearful. The most
it can do for us is to persuade us to avert our gaze and fix it on other
objects. Cato and Brutus each selected noble ones. A lackey sometime
ago contented himself by dancing on the scaffold when he was about to be
broken on the wheel. So however diverse the motives they but realize the
same result. For the rest it is a fact that whatever difference there
may be between the peer and the peasant, we have constantly seen both
the one and the other meet death with the same composure. Still there
is always this difference, that the contempt the peer shows for death is
but the love of fame which hides death from his sight; in the peasant it
is but the result of his limited vision that hides from him the extent
of the evil, end leaves him free to reflect on other things.