REFLECTIONS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS
I. On Confidence.
Though sincerity and confidence have many points of resemblance, they
have yet many points of difference.
Sincerity is an openness of heart, which shows us what we are, a love
of truth, a dislike to deception, a wish to compensate our faults and to
lessen them by the merit of confessing them.
Confidence leaves us less liberty, its rules are stricter, it requires
more prudence and reticence, and we are not always free to give it. It
relates not only to ourselves, since our interests are often mixed
up with those of others; it requires great delicacy not to expose
our friends in exposing ourselves, not to draw upon their goodness to
enhance the value of what we give.
Confidence always pleases those who receive it. It is a tribute we pay
to their merit, a deposit we commit to their trust, a pledge which
gives them a claim upon us, a kind of dependence to which we voluntarily
submit. I do not wish from what I have said to depreciate confidence,
so necessary to man. It is in society the link between acquaintance and
friendship. I only wish to state its limits to make it true and real.
I would that it was always sincere, always discreet, and that it had
neither weakness nor interest. I know it is hard to place proper limits
on being taken into all our friends’ confidence, and taking them into
Most frequently we make confidants from vanity, a love of talking, a
wish to win the confidence of others, and make an exchange of secrets.
Some may have a motive for confiding in us, towards whom we have no
motive for confiding. With them we discharge the obligation in keeping
their secrets and trusting them with small confidences.
Others whose fidelity we know trust nothing to us, but we confide in
them by choice and inclination.
We should hide from them nothing that concerns us, we should always show
them with equal truth, our virtues and our vices, without exaggerating
the one or diminishing the other. We should make it a rule never to
have half confidences. They always embarrass those who give them, and
dissatisfy those who receive them. They shed an uncertain light on what
we want hidden, increase curiosity, entitling the recipients to know
more, giving them leave to consider themselves free to talk of what they
have guessed. It is far safer and more honest to tell nothing than to be
silent when we have begun to tell. There are other rules to be observed
in matters confided to us, all are important, to all prudence and trust
Everyone agrees that a secret should be kept intact, but everyone does
not agree as to the nature and importance of secresy. Too often we
consult ourselves as to what we should say, what we should leave unsaid.
There are few permanent secrets, and the scruple against revealing them
will not last for ever.
With those friends whose truth we know we have the closest intimacy.
They have always spoken unreservedly to us, we should always do the same
to them. They know our habits and connexions, and see too clearly not
to perceive the slightest change. They may have elsewhere learnt what we
have promised not to tell. It is not in our power to tell them what has
been entrusted to us, though it might tend to their interest to know it.
We feel as confident of them as of ourselves, and we are reduced to the
hard fate of losing their friendship, which is dear to us, or of being
faithless as regards a secret. This is doubtless the hardest test of
fidelity, but it should not move an honest man; it is then that he can
sacrifice himself to others. His first duty is to rigidly keep his trust
in its entirety. He should not only control and guard his and his voice,
but even his lighter talk, so that nothing be seen in his conversation
or manner that could direct the curiosity of others towards that which
he wishes to conceal.
We have often need of strength and prudence wherewith to oppose the
exigencies of most of our friends who make a claim on our confidence,
and seek to know all about us. We should never allow them to acquire
this unexceptionable right. There are accidents and circumstances which
do not fall in their cognizance; if they complain, we should endure
their complaints and excuse ourselves with gentleness, but if they are
still unreasonable, we should sacrifice their friendship to our duty,
and choose between two inevitable evils, the one reparable, the other