Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims


Some apology must be made for an attempt “to translate the
untranslatable.” Notwithstanding there are no less than eight English
translations of La Rochefoucauld, hardly any are readable, none are free
from faults, and all fail more or less to convey the author’s meaning.
Though so often translated, there is not a complete English edition
of the Maxims and Reflections. All the translations are confined
exclusively to the Maxims, none include the Reflections. This may be
accounted for, from the fact that most of the translations are taken
from the old editions of the Maxims, in which the Reflections do
not appear. Until M. Suard devoted his attention to the text of
Rochefoucauld, the various editions were but reprints of the preceding
ones, without any regard to the alterations made by the author in the
later editions published during his life-time. So much was this the
case, that Maxims which had been rejected by Rochefoucauld in his last
edition, were still retained in the body of the work. To give but one
example, the celebrated Maxim as to the misfortunes of our friends, was
omitted in the last edition of the book, published in Rochefoucauld’s
life-time, yet in every English edition this Maxim appears in the body
of the work.

M. Aimé Martin in 1827 published an edition of the Maxims and
Reflections which has ever since been the standard text of Rochefoucauld
in France. The Maxims are printed from the edition of 1678, the last
published during the author’s life, and the last which received his
corrections. To this edition were added two Supplements; the first
containing the Maxims which had appeared in the editions of 1665, 1666,
and 1675, and which were afterwards omitted; the second, some additional
Maxims found among various of the author’s manuscripts in the Royal
Library at Paris. And a Series of Reflections which had been previously
published in a work called “Receuil de pièces d’histoire et de
littérature.” Paris, 1731. They were first published with the Maxims in
an edition by Gabriel Brotier.

In an edition of Rochefoucauld entitled “Reflexions, ou Sentences et
Maximes Morales, augmentées de plus deux cent nouvelles Maximes et
Maximes et Pensées diverses suivant les copies Imprimées à Paris, chez
Claude Barbin, et Matre Cramoisy 1692,”* some fifty Maxims were added,
ascribed by the editor to Rochefoucauld, and as his family allowed them
to be published under his name, it seems probable they were genuine.
These fifty form the third supplement to this book.

*In all the French editions this book is spoken of as
published in 1693. The only copy I have seen is in the
Cambridge University Library, 47, 16, 81, and is called
“Reflexions Morales.”

The apology for the present edition of Rochefoucauld must therefore be
twofold: firstly, that it is an attempt to give the public a complete
English edition of Rochefoucauld’s works as a moralist. The body of the
work comprises the Maxims as the author finally left them, the first
supplement, those published in former editions, and rejected by the
author in the later; the second, the unpublished Maxims taken from the
author’s correspondence and manuscripts, and the third, the Maxims first
published in 1692. While the Reflections, in which the thoughts in the
Maxims are extended and elaborated, now appear in English for the first
time. And secondly, that it is an attempt (to quote the preface of the
edition of 1749) “to do the Duc de la Rochefoucauld the justice to make
him speak English.”