Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims


[The following reflections are extracted from the first two editions
of La Rochefoucauld, having been suppressed by the author in succeeding

I.–Self-love is the love of self, and of all things for self. It
makes men self-worshippers, and if fortune permits them, causes them to
tyrannize over others; it is never quiet when out of itself, and only
rests upon other subjects as a bee upon flowers, to extract from them
its proper food. Nothing is so headstrong as its desires, nothing so
well concealed as its designs, nothing so skilful as its management;
its suppleness is beyond description; its changes surpass those of the
metamorphoses, its refinements those of chemistry. We can neither plumb
the depths nor pierce the shades of its recesses. Therein it is hidden
from the most far-seeing eyes, therein it takes a thousand imperceptible
folds. There it is often to itself invisible; it there conceives, there
nourishes and rears, without being aware of it, numberless loves and
hatreds, some so monstrous that when they are brought to light it
disowns them, and cannot resolve to avow them. In the night which covers
it are born the ridiculous persuasions it has of itself, thence come its
errors, its ignorance, its silly mistakes; thence it is led to believe
that its passions which sleep are dead, and to think that it has lost
all appetite for that of which it is sated. But this thick darkness
which conceals it from itself does not hinder it from seeing that
perfectly which is out of itself; and in this it resembles our eyes
which behold all, and yet cannot set their own forms. In fact, in great
concerns and important matters when the violence of its desires
summons all its attention, it sees, feels, hears, imagines, suspects,
penetrates, divines all: so that we might think that each of its
passions had a magic power proper to it. Nothing is so close and strong
as its attachments, which, in sight of the extreme misfortunes which
threaten it, it vainly attempts to break. Yet sometimes it effects that
without trouble and quickly, which it failed to do with its whole power
and in the course of years, whence we may fairly conclude that it is
by itself that its desires are inflamed, rather than by the beauty and
merit of its objects, that its own taste embellishes and heightens them;
that it is itself the game it pursues, and that it follows eagerly
when it runs after that upon which itself is eager. It is made up of
contraries. It is imperious and obedient, sincere and false, piteous
and cruel, timid and bold. It has different desires according to the
diversity of temperaments, which turn and fix it sometimes upon riches,
sometimes on pleasures. It changes according to our age, our fortunes,
and our hopes; it is quite indifferent whether it has many or one,
because it can split itself into many portions, and unite in one as
it pleases. It is inconstant, and besides the changes which arise
from strange causes it has an infinity born of itself, and of its own
substance. It is inconstant through inconstancy, of lightness, love,
novelty, lassitude and distaste. It is capricious, and one sees it
sometimes work with intense eagerness and with incredible labour to
obtain things of little use to it which are even hurtful, but which it
pursues because it wishes for them. It is silly, and often throws its
whole application on the utmost frivolities. It finds all its pleasure
in the dullest matters, and places its pride in the most contemptible.
It is seen in all states of life, and in all conditions; it lives
everywhere and upon everything; it subsists on nothing; it accommodates
itself either to things or to the want of them; it goes over to
those who are at war with it, enters into their designs, and, this is
wonderful, it, with them, hates even itself; it conspires for its own
loss, it works towards its own ruin–in fact, caring only to exist, and
providing that it may be, it will be its own enemy! We must therefore
not be surprised if it is sometimes united to the rudest austerity, and
if it enters so boldly into partnership to destroy her, because when it
is rooted out in one place it re-establishes itself in another. When it
fancies that it abandons its pleasure it merely changes or suspends its
enjoyment. When even it is conquered in its full flight, we find that
it triumphs in its own defeat. Here then is the picture of self-love
whereof the whole of our life is but one long agitation. The sea is its
living image; and in the flux and reflux of its continuous waves there
is a faithful expression of the stormy succession of its thoughts and of
its eternal motion. (Edition of 1665, No. 1.)

II.–Passions are only the different degrees of the heat or coldness of
the blood. (1665, No. 13.)

III.–Moderation in good fortune is but apprehension of the shame which
follows upon haughtiness, or a fear of losing what we have. (1665, No.

IV.–Moderation is like temperance in eating; we could eat more but we
fear to make ourselves ill. (1665, No. 21.)

V.–Everybody finds that to abuse in another which he finds worthy of
abuse in himself. (1665, No. 33.)

VI.–Pride, as if tired of its artifices and its different
metamorphoses, after having solely filled the divers parts of the comedy
of life, exhibits itself with its natural face, and is discovered by
haughtiness; so much so that we may truly say that haughtiness is but
the flash and open declaration of pride. (1665, No. 37.)

VII.–One kind of happiness is to know exactly at what point to be
miserable. (1665, No. 53.)

VIII.–When we do not find peace of mind (REPOS) in ourselves it is
useless to seek it elsewhere. (1665, No. 53.)

IX.–One should be able to answer for one’s fortune, so as to be able to
answer for what we shall do. (1665, No. 70.)

X.–Love is to the soul of him who loves, what the soul is to the body
which it animates. (1665, No. 77.)

XI.–As one is never at liberty to love or to cease from loving, the
lover cannot with justice complain of the inconstancy of his mistress,
nor she of the fickleness of her lover. (1665, No. 81.)

XII.–Justice in those judges who are moderate is but a love of their
place. (1665, No. 89.)

XIII.–When we are tired of loving we are quite content if our mistress
should become faithless, to loose us from our fidelity. (1665, No. 85.)

XIV.–The first impulse of joy which we feel at the happiness of our
friends arises neither from our natural goodness nor from friendship;
it is the result of self-love, which flatters us with being lucky in our
own turn, or in reaping something from the good fortune of our friends.
(1665, No. 97.)

XV.–In the adversity of our best friends we always find something which
is not wholly displeasing to us. (1665, No. 99.)

[This gave occasion to Swift’s celebrated “Verses on his own Death.”
The four first are quoted opposite the title, then follow these lines:–
“This maxim more than all the rest, Is thought too base for human
breast; In all distresses of our friends, We first consult our private
ends; While nature kindly bent to ease us, Points out some circumstance
to please us.”

See also Chesterfield’s defence of this in his 129th letter; “they who
know the deception and wickedness of the human heart will not be either
romantic or blind enough to deny what Rochefoucauld and Swift have
affirmed as a general truth.”]

XVI.–How shall we hope that another person will keep our secret if we
do not keep it ourselves. (1665, No. 100.)

XVII.–As if it was not sufficient that self-love should have the power
to change itself, it has added that of changing other objects, and
this it does in a very astonishing manner; for not only does it so well
disguise them that it is itself deceived, but it even changes the state
and nature of things. Thus, when a female is adverse to us, and she
turns her hate and persecution against us, self-love pronounces on her
actions with all the severity of justice; it exaggerates the faults till
they are enormous, and looks at her good qualities in so disadvantageous
a light that they become more displeasing than her faults. If however
the same female becomes favourable to us, or certain of our interests
reconcile her to us, our sole self interest gives her back the lustre
which our hatred deprived her of. The bad qualities become effaced,
the good ones appear with a redoubled advantage; we even summon all our
indulgence to justify the war she has made upon us. Now although all
passions prove this truth, that of love exhibits it most clearly; for we
may see a lover moved with rage by the neglect or the infidelity of her
whom he loves, and meditating the utmost vengeance that his passion can
inspire. Nevertheless as soon as the sight of his beloved has calmed the
fury of his movements, his passion holds that beauty innocent; he only
accuses himself, he condemns his condemnations, and by the miraculous
power of selflove, he whitens the blackest actions of his mistress, and
takes from her all crime to lay it on himself.

{No date or number is given for this maxim}

XVIII.–There are none who press so heavily on others as the lazy ones,
when they have satisfied their idleness, and wish to appear industrious.
(1666, No. 91.)

XIX.–The blindness of men is the most dangerous effect of their pride;
it seems to nourish and augment it, it deprives us of knowledge of
remedies which can solace our miseries and can cure our faults. (1665,
No. 102.)

XX.–One has never less reason than when one despairs of finding it in
others. (1665, No. 103.)

XXI.–Philosophers, and Seneca above all, have not diminished crimes by
their precepts; they have only used them in the building up of pride.
(1665, No. 105.)

XXII.–It is a proof of little friendship not to perceive the growing
coolness of that of our friends. (1666, No. 97.)

XXIII.–The most wise may be so in indifferent and ordinary matters, but
they are seldom so in their most serious affairs. (1665, No. 132.)

XXIV.–The most subtle folly grows out of the most subtle wisdom. (1665,
No. 134.)

XXV.–Sobriety is the love of health, or an incapacity to eat much.
(1665, No. 135.)

XXVI.–We never forget things so well as when we are tired of talking of
them. (1665, No. 144.)

XXVII.–The praise bestowed upon us is at least useful in rooting us in
the practice of virtue. (1665, No. 155.)

XXVIII.–Self-love takes care to prevent him whom we flatter from being
him who most flatters us. (1665, No. 157.)

XXIX.–Men only blame vice and praise virtue from interest. (1665, No.

XXX.–We make no difference in the kinds of anger, although there is
that which is light and almost innocent, which arises from warmth of
complexion, temperament, and another very criminal, which is, to speak
properly, the fury of pride. (1665, No. 159.)

XXXI.–Great souls are not those who have fewer passions and more
virtues than the common, but those only who have greater designs. (1665,
No. 161.)

XXXII.–Kings do with men as with pieces of money; they make them bear
what value they will, and one is forced to receive them according to
their currency value, and not at their true worth. (1665, No. 165.)

[See Burns{, For A’ That An A’ That}– “The rank is but the guinea’s
stamp, {The} man’s {the gowd} for a’ that.” Also Farquhar and other
parallel passages pointed out in Familiar Words.]

XXXIII.–Natural ferocity makes fewer people cruel than self-love.
(1665, No. 174.)

XXXIV.–One may say of all our virtues as an Italian poet says of the
propriety of women, that it is often merely the art of appearing chaste.
(1665, No. 176.)

XXXV.–There are crimes which become innocent and even glorious by their
brilliancy,* their number, or their excess; thus it happens that public
robbery is called financial skill, and the unjust capture of provinces
is called a conquest. (1665, No. 192.)

*Some crimes may be excused by their brilliancy, such as
those of Jael, of Deborah, of Brutus, and of Charlotte
Corday–further than this the maxim is satire.

XXXVI.–One never finds in man good or evil in excess. (1665, No. 201.)

XXXVII.–Those who are incapable of committing great crimes do not
easily suspect others. (1665, No. {2}08.)

{The text incorrectly numbers this maxim as 508. It is 208.}

XXXVIII.–The pomp of funerals concerns rather the vanity of the living,
than the honour of the dead. (1665, No. 213.)

XXXIX.–Whatever variety and change appears in the world, we may remark
a secret chain, and a regulated order of all time by Providence, which
makes everything follow in due rank and fall into its destined course.
(1665, No. 225.)

XL.–Intrepidity should sustain the heart in conspiracies in place of
valour which alone furnishes all the firmness which is necessary for the
perils of war. (1665, No. 231.)

XLI.–Those who wish to define victory by her birth will be tempted to
imitate the poets, and to call her the Daughter of Heaven, since they
cannot find her origin on earth. Truly she is produced from an infinity
of actions, which instead of wishing to beget her, only look to the
particular interests of their masters, since all those who compose an
army, in aiming at their own rise and glory, produce a good so great and
general. (1665, No. 232.)

XLII.–That man who has never been in danger cannot answer for his
courage. (1665, No. 236.)

XLIII.–We more often place bounds on our gratitude than on our desires
and our hopes. (1665, No. 241.)

XLIV.–Imitation is always unhappy, for all which is counterfeit
displeases by the very things which charm us when they are original
(Naturelles). (1665, No. 245.)

XLV.–We do not regret the loss of our friends according to their
merits, but according to OUR wants, and the opinion with which we
believed we had impressed them of our worth. (1665, No. 248.)

XLVI.–It is very hard to separate the general goodness spread all over
the world from great cleverness. (1665, No. 252.)

XLVII.–For us to be always good, others should believe that they cannot
behave wickedly to us with impunity. (1665, No. 254.)

XLVIII.–A confidence in being able to please is often an infallible
means of being displeasing. (1665, No. 256.)

XLIX.–The confidence we have in ourselves arises in a great measure
from that that we have in others. (1665, No. 258.)

L.–There is a general revolution which changes the tastes of the mind
as well as the fortunes of the world. (1665, No. 250.)

LI.–Truth is foundation and the reason of the perfection of beauty, for
of whatever stature a thing may be, it cannot be beautiful and perfect
unless it be truly that she should be, and possess truly all that she
should have (1665, No. 260.)

[Beauty is truth, truth beauty.{–John Keats, “Ode on a a Grecian Urn,”
(1820), Stanza 5}]

LII.–There are fine things which are more brilliant when unfinished
than when finished too much. (1665, No. 262.)

LIII.–Magnanimity is a noble effort of pride which makes a man master
of himself, to make him master of all things. (1665, No. 271.)

LIV.–Luxury and too refined a policy in states are a sure presage of
their fall, because all parties looking after their own interest turn
away from the public good. (1665, No. 282.)

LV.–Of all passions that which is least known to us is idleness; she
is the most ardent and evil of all, although her violence may be
insensible, and the evils she causes concealed; if we consider her
power attentively we shall find that in all encounters she makes herself
mistress of our sentiments, our interests, and our pleasures; like the
(fabled) Remora, she can stop the greatest vessels, she is a hidden
rock, more dangerous in the most important matters than sudden squalls
and the most violent tempests. The repose of idleness is a magic charm
which suddenly suspends the most ardent pursuits and the most obstinate
resolutions. In fact to give a true notion of this passion we must add
that idleness, like a beatitude of the soul, consoles us for all losses
and fills the vacancy of all our wants. (1665, No. 290.)

LVI.–We are very fond of reading others’ characters, but we do not like
to be read ourselves. (1665, No. 296.)

LVII.–What a tiresome malady is that which forces one to preserve your
health by a severe regimen. (Ibid, No. 298.)

LVIII.–It is much easier to take love when one is free, than to get rid
of it after having taken it. (1665, No. 300.)

LIX.–Women for the most part surrender themselves more from weakness
than from passion. Whence it is that bold and pushing men succeed better
than others, although they are not so loveable. (1665, No. 301.)

LX.–Not to love is in love, an infallible means of being beloved.
(1665, No. 302.)

LXI.–The sincerity which lovers and mistresses ask that both should
know when they cease to love each other, arises much less from a wish
to be warned of the cessation of love, than from a desire to be assured
that they are beloved although no one denies it. (1665, No. 303.)

LXII.–The most just comparison of love is that of a fever, and we have
no power over either, as to its violence or its duration. (1665, No.

LXIII.–The greatest skill of the least skilful is to know how to submit
to the direction of another. (1665, No. 309.)

LXIV.–We always fear to see those whom we love when we have been
flirting with others. (16{74}, No. 372.)

LXV.–We ought to console ourselves for our faults when we have strength
enough to own them. (16{74}, No. 375.)

{The date of the previous two maxims is incorrectly cited as 1665 in
the text. I found this date immediately suspect because the translators’
introduction states that the 1665 edition only had 316 maxims. In fact,
the two maxims only appeared in the fourth of the first five editions