Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

II. On Difference of Character.

Although all the qualities of mind may be united in a great genius,
yet there are some which are special and peculiar to him; his views are
unlimited; he always acts uniformly and with the same activity; he sees
distant objects as if present; he comprehends and grasps the greatest,
sees and notices the smallest matters; his thoughts are elevated, broad,
just and intelligible. Nothing escapes his observation, and he often
finds truth in spite of the obscurity that hides her from others.

A lofty mind always thinks nobly, it easily creates vivid, agreeable,
and natural fancies, places them in their best light, clothes them with
all appropriate adornments, studies others’ tastes, and clears away from
its own thoughts all that is useless and disagreeable.

A clever, pliant, winning mind knows how to avoid and overcome
difficulties. Bending easily to what it wants, it understands the
inclination and temper it is dealing with, and by managing their
interests it advances and establishes its own.

A well regulated mind sees all things as they should be seen, appraises
them at their proper value, turns them to its own advantage, and adheres
firmly to its own opinions as it knows all their force and weight.

A difference exists between a working mind and a business-like mind. We
can undertake business without turning it to our own interest. Some are
clever only in what does not concern them, and the reverse in all that
does. There are others again whose cleverness is limited to their own
business, and who know how to turn everything to their own advantage.

It is possible to have a serious turn of mind, and yet to talk
pleasantly and cheerfully. This class of mind is suited to all persons
in all times of life. Young persons have usually a cheerful and
satirical turn, untempered by seriousness, thus often making themselves
disagreeable.

No part is easier to play than that of being always pleasant; and the
applause we sometimes receive in censuring others is not worth being
exposed to the chance of offending them when they are out of temper.

Satire is at once the most agreeable and most dangerous of mental
qualities. It always pleases when it is refined, but we always fear
those who use it too much, yet satire should be allowed when unmixed
with spite, and when the person satirised can join in the satire.

It is unfortunate to have a satirical turn without affecting to be
pleased or without loving to jest. It requires much adroitness to
continue satirical without falling into one of these extremes.

Raillery is a kind of mirth which takes possession of the imagination,
and shows every object in an absurd light; wit combines more or less
softness or harshness.

There is a kind of refined and flattering raillery that only hits the
faults that persons admit, which understands how to hide the praise it
gives under the appearance of blame, and shows the good while feigning a
wish to hide it.

An acute mind and a cunning mind are very dissimilar. The first always
pleases; it is unfettered, it perceives the most delicate and sees the
most imperceptible matters. A cunning spirit never goes straight, it
endeavours to secure its object by byeways and short cuts. This conduct
is soon found out, it always gives rise to distrust and never reaches
greatness.

There is a difference between an ardent and a brilliant mind, a fiery
spirit travels further and faster, while a brilliant mind is sparkling,
attractive, accurate.

Gentleness of mind is an easy and accommodating manner which always
pleases when not insipid.

A mind full of details devotes itself to the management and regulation
of the smallest particulars it meets with. This distinction is usually
limited to little matters, yet it is not absolutely incompatible with
greatness, and when these two qualities are united in the same mind they
raise it infinitely above others.

The expression “Bel Esprit” is much perverted, for all that one can say
of the different kinds of mind meet together in the “Bel Esprit.” Yet as
the epithet is bestowed on an infinite number of bad poets and tedious
authors, it is more often used to ridicule than to praise.

There are yet many other epithets for the mind which mean the same
thing, the difference lies in the tone and manner of saying them, but
as tones and manner cannot appear in writing I shall not go into
distinctions I cannot explain. Custom explains this in saying that a
man has wit, has much wit, that he is a great wit; there are tones and
manners which make all the difference between phrases which seem all
alike on paper, and yet express a different order of mind.

So we say that a man has only one kind of wit, that he has several, that
he has every variety of wit.

One can be a fool with much wit, and one need not be a fool even with
very little wit.

To have much mind is a doubtful expression. It may mean every class of
mind that can be mentioned, it may mean none in particular. It may mean
that he talks sensibly while he acts foolishly. We may have a mind, but
a narrow one. A mind may be fitted for some things, not for others. We
may have a large measure of mind fitted for nothing, and one is often
inconvenienced with much mind; still of this kind of mind we may say
that it is sometimes pleasing in society.

Though the gifts of the mind are infinite, they can, it seems to me, be
thus classified.

There are some so beautiful that everyone can see and feel their beauty.

There are some lovely, it is true, but which are wearisome.

There are some which are lovely, which all the world admire, but without
knowing why.

There are some so refined and delicate that few are capable even of
remarking all their beauties.

There are others which, though imperfect, yet are produced with such
skill, and sustained and managed with such sense and grace, that they
even deserve to be admired.