Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims


The description of the “ancien regime” in France, “a despotism tempered
by epigrams,” like most epigrammatic sentences, contains some truth,
with much fiction. The society of the last half of the seventeenth, and
the whole of the eighteenth centuries, was doubtless greatly influenced
by the precise and terse mode in which the popular writers of that date
expressed their thoughts. To a people naturally inclined to think that
every possible view, every conceivable argument, upon a question is
included in a short aphorism, a shrug, and the word “voilà,” truths
expressed in condensed sentences must always have a peculiar charm. It
is, perhaps, from this love of epigram, that we find so many eminent
French writers of maxims. Pascal, De Retz, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère,
Montesquieu, and Vauvenargues, each contributed to the rich stock of
French epigrams. No other country can show such a list of brilliant
writers–in England certainly we cannot. Our most celebrated, Lord
Bacon, has, by his other works, so surpassed his maxims, that their fame
is, to a great measure, obscured. The only Englishman who could have
rivalled La Rochefoucauld or La Bruyère was the Earl of Chesterfield,
and he only could have done so from his very intimate connexion
with France; but unfortunately his brilliant genius was spent in the
impossible task of trying to refine a boorish young Briton, in “cutting
blocks with a razor.”

Of all the French epigrammatic writers La Rochefoucauld is at once the
most widely known, and the most distinguished. Voltaire, whose opinion
on the century of Louis XIV. is entitled to the greatest weight, says,
“One of the works that most largely contributed to form the taste of
the nation, and to diffuse a spirit of justice and precision, is the
collection of maxims, by Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld.”

This Francois, the second Duc de la Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marsillac,
the author of the maxims, was one of the most illustrious members of the
most illustrious families among the French noblesse. Descended from the
ancient Dukes of Guienne, the founder of the Family Fulk or Foucauld, a
younger branch of the House of Lusignan, was at the commencement of
the eleventh century the Seigneur of a small town, La Roche, in the
Angounois. Our chief knowledge of this feudal lord is drawn from
the monkish chronicles. As the benefactor of the various abbeys and
monasteries in his province, he is naturally spoken of by them in terms
of eulogy, and in the charter of one of the abbeys of Angouleme he is
called, “vir nobilissimus Fulcaldus.” His territorial power enabled him
to adopt what was then, as is still in Scotland, a common custom, to
prefix the name of his estate to his surname, and thus to create and
transmit to his descendants the illustrious surname of La Rochefoucauld.

From that time until that great crisis in the history of the French
aristocracy, the Revolution of 1789, the family of La Rochefoucauld have
been, “if not first, in the very first line” of that most illustrious
body. One Seigneur served under Philip Augustus against Richard Coeur de
Lion, and was made prisoner at the battle of Gisors. The eighth
Seigneur Guy performed a great tilt at Bordeaux, attended (according
to Froissart) to the Lists by some two hundred of his kindred and
relations. The sixteenth Seigneur Francais was chamberlain to Charles
VIII. and Louis XII., and stood at the font as sponsor, giving his name
to that last light of French chivalry, Francis I. In 1515 he was created
a baron, and was afterwards advanced to a count, on account of his great
service to Francis and his predecessors.

The second count pushed the family fortune still further by obtaining
a patent as the Prince de Marsillac. His widow, Anne de Polignac,
entertained Charles V. at the family chateau at Verteuil, in so princely
a manner that on leaving Charles observed, “He had never entered a
house so redolent of high virtue, uprightness, and lordliness as that

The third count, after serving with distinction under the Duke of
Guise against the Spaniards, was made prisoner at St. Quintin, and only
regained his liberty to fall a victim to the “bloody infamy” of St.
Bartholomew. His son, the fourth count, saved with difficulty from that
massacre, after serving with distinction in the religious wars, was
taken prisoner in a skirmish at St. Yriex la Perche, and murdered by the
Leaguers in cold blood.

The fifth count, one of the ministers of Louis XIII., after fighting
against the English and Buckingham at the Ile de Ré, was created a duke.
His son Francis, the second duke, by his writings has made the family
name a household word.

The third duke fought in many of the earlier campaigns of Louis XIV. at
Torcy, Lille, Cambray, and was dangerously wounded at the passage of
the Rhine. From his bravery he rose to high favour at Court, and was
appointed Master of the Horse (Grand Veneur) and Lord Chamberlain. His
son, the fourth duke, commanded the regiment of Navarre, and took part
in storming the village of Neerwinden on the day when William III. was
defeated at Landen. He was afterwards created Duc de la Rochequyon and
Marquis de Liancourt.

The fifth duke, banished from Court by Louis XV., became the friend of
the philosopher Voltaire.

The sixth duke, the friend of Condorcet, was the last of the long line
of noble lords who bore that distinguished name. In those terrible days
of September, 1792, when the French people were proclaiming universal
humanity, the duke was seized as an aristocrat by the mob at Gisors and
put to death behind his own carriage, in which sat his mother and
his wife, at the very place where, some six centuries previously, his
ancestor had been taken prisoner in a fair fight. A modern writer has
spoken of this murder “as an admirable reprisal upon the grandson
for the writings and conduct of the grandfather.” But M. Sainte Beuve
observes as to this, he can see nothing admirable in the death of the
duke, and if it proves anything, it is only that the grandfather was not
so wrong in his judgment of men as is usually supposed.

Francis, the author, was born on the 15th December 1615. M. Sainte Beuve
divides his life into four periods, first, from his birth till he was
thirty-five, when he became mixed up in the war of the Fronde; the
second period, during the progress of that war; the third, the twelve
years that followed, while he recovered from his wounds, and wrote his
maxims during his retirement from society; and the last from that time
till his death.

In the same way that Herodotus calls each book of his history by
the name of one of the muses, so each of these four periods of La
Rochefoucauld’s life may be associated with the name of a woman who was
for the time his ruling passion. These four ladies are the Duchesse de
Chevreuse, the Duchesse de Longueville, Madame de Sablé, and Madame de
La Fayette.

La Rochefoucauld’s early education was neglected; his father, occupied
in the affairs of state, either had not, or did not devote any time to
his education. His natural talents and his habits of observation soon,
however, supplied all deficiencies. By birth and station placed in
the best society of the French Court, he soon became a most finished
courtier. Knowing how precarious Court favour then was, his father, when
young Rochefoucauld was only nine years old, sent him into the army.
He was subsequently attached to the regiment of Auvergne. Though but
sixteen he was present, and took part in the military operations at the
siege of Cassel. The Court of Louis XIII. was then ruled imperiously
by Richelieu. The Duke de la Rochefoucauld was strongly opposed to the
Cardinal’s party. By joining in the plots of Gaston of Orleans, he gave
Richelieu an opportunity of ridding Paris of his opposition. When those
plots were discovered, the Duke was sent into a sort of banishment to
Blois. His son, who was then at Court with him, was, upon the pretext of
a liaison with Mdlle. d’Hautefort, one of the ladies in waiting on the
Queen (Anne of Austria), but in reality to prevent the Duke learning
what was passing at Paris, sent with his father. The result of the exile
was Rochefoucauld’s marriage. With the exception that his wife’s name
was Mdlle. Vivonne, and that she was the mother of five sons and three
daughters, nothing is known of her. While Rochefoucauld and his father
were at Blois, the Duchesse de Chevreuse, one of the beauties of
the Court, and the mistress of Louis, was banished to Tours. She and
Rochefoucauld met, and soon became intimate, and for a time she was
destined to be the one motive of his actions. The Duchesse was engaged
in a correspondence with the Court of Spain and the Queen. Into this
plot Rochefoucauld threw himself with all his energy; his connexion with
the Queen brought him back to his old love Mdlle. d’Hautefort, and led
him to her party, which he afterwards followed. The course he took shut
him off from all chance of Court favour. The King regarded him with
coldness, the Cardinal with irritation. Although the Bastile and the
scaffold, the fate of Chalais and Montmorency, were before his eyes,
they failed to deter him from plotting. He was about twenty-three;
returning to Paris, he warmly sided with the Queen. He says in his
Memoirs that the only persons she could then trust were himself and
Mdlle. d’Hautefort, and it was proposed he should take both of them
from Paris to Brussels. Into this plan he entered with all his youthful
indiscretion, it being for several reasons the very one he would wish to
adopt, as it would strengthen his influence with Anne of Austria, place
Richelieu and his master in an uncomfortable position, and save Mdlle.
d’Hautefort from the attentions the King was showing her.

But Richelieu of course discovered this plot, and Rochefoucauld was,
of course, sent to the Bastile. He was liberated after a week’s
imprisonment, but banished to his chateau at Verteuil.

The reason for this clemency was that the Cardinal desired to win
Rochefoucauld from the Queen’s party. A command in the army was offered
to him, but by the Queen’s orders refused.

For some three years Rochefoucauld remained at Verteuil, waiting the
time for his reckoning with Richelieu; speculating on the King’s death,
and the favours he would then receive from the Queen. During this period
he was more or less engaged in plotting against his enemy the Cardinal,
and hatching treason with Cinq Mars and De Thou.

M. Sainte Beuve says, that unless we study this first part of
Rochefoucauld’s life, we shall never understand his maxims. The bitter
disappointment of the passionate love, the high hopes then formed, the
deceit and treachery then witnessed, furnished the real key to their
meaning. The cutting cynicism of the morality was built on the ruins of
that chivalrous ambition and romantic affection. He saw his friend Cinq
Mars sent to the scaffold, himself betrayed by men whom he had trusted,
and the only reason he could assign for these actions was intense

Meanwhile, Richelieu died. Rochefoucauld returned to Court, and found
Anne of Austria regent, and Mazarin minister. The Queen’s former friends
flocked there in numbers, expecting that now their time of prosperity
had come. They were bitterly disappointed. Mazarin relied on hope
instead of gratitude, to keep the Queen’s adherents on his side. The
most that any received were promises that were never performed. In after
years, doubtless, Rochefoucauld’s recollection of his disappointment led
him to write the maxim: “We promise according to our hopes, we perform
according to our fears.” But he was not even to receive promises; he
asked for the Governorship of Havre, which was then vacant. He was
flatly refused. Disappointment gave rise to anger, and uniting with
his old flame, the Duchesse de Chevreuse, who had received the same
treatment, and with the Duke of Beaufort, they formed a conspiracy
against the government. The plot was, of course, discovered and crushed.
Beaufort was arrested, the Duchesse banished. Irritated and disgusted,
Rochefoucauld went with the Duc d’Enghein, who was then joining the
army, on a campaign, and here he found the one love of his life, the
Duke’s sister, Mdme. de Longueville. This lady, young, beautiful, and
accomplished, obtained a great ascendancy over Rochefoucauld, and was
the cause of his taking the side of Condé in the subsequent civil war.
Rochefoucauld did not stay long with the army. He was badly wounded at
the siege of Mardik, and returned from thence to Paris. On recovering
from his wounds, the war of the Fronde broke out. This war is said
to have been most ridiculous, as being carried on without a definite
object, a plan, or a leader. But this description is hardly correct; it
was the struggle of the French nobility against the rule of the Court;
an attempt, the final attempt, to recover their lost influence over the
state, and to save themselves from sinking under the rule of cardinals
and priests.

With the general history of that war we have nothing to do; it is far
too complicated and too confused to be stated here. The memoirs of
Rochefoucauld and De Retz will give the details to those who desire to
trace the contests of the factions–the course of the intrigues. We may
confine ourselves to its progress so far as it relates to the Duc de la

On the Cardinal causing the Princes de Condé and Conti, and the Duc de
Longueville, to be arrested, Rochefoucauld and the Duchess fled into
Normandy. Leaving her at Dieppe, he went into Poitou, of which province
he had some years previously bought the post of governor. He was there
joined by the Duc de Bouillon, and he and the Duke marched to, and
occupied Bordeaux. Cardinal Mazarin and Marechal de la Meilleraie
advanced in force on Bordeaux, and attacked the town. A bloody battle
followed. Rochefoucauld defended the town with the greatest bravery,
and repulsed the Cardinal. Notwithstanding the repulse, the burghers of
Bordeaux were anxious to make peace, and save the city from destruction.
The Parliament of Bordeaux compelled Rochefoucauld to surrender. He did
so, and returned nominally to Poitou, but in reality in secret to Paris.

There he found the Queen engaged in trying to maintain her position by
playing off the rival parties of the Prince Condé and the Cardinal
De Retz against each other. Rochefoucauld eagerly espoused his old
party–that of Condé. In August, 1651, the contending parties met in the
Hall of the Parliament of Paris, and it was with great difficulty they
were prevented from coming to blows even there. It is even said that
Rochefoucauld had ordered his followers to murder De Retz.

Rochefoucauld was soon to undergo a bitter disappointment. While
occupied with party strife and faction in Paris, Madame de Chevreuse
left him, and formed an alliance with the Duc de Nemours. Rochefoucauld
still loved her. It was, probably, thinking of this that he afterwards
wrote, “Jealousy is born with love, but does not die with it.” He
endeavoured to get Madame de Chatillon, the old mistress of the Duc de
Nemours, reinstated in favour, but in this he did not succeed. The Duc
de Nemours was soon after killed in a duel. The war went on, and after
several indecisive skirmishes, the decisive battle was fought at Paris,
in the Faubourg St. Antoine, where the Parisians first learnt the use
or the abuse of their favourite defence, the barricade. In this battle,
Rochefoucauld behaved with great bravery. He was wounded in the head, a
wound which for a time deprived him of his sight. Before he recovered,
the war was over, Louis XIV. had attained his majority, the gold of
Mazarin, the arms of Turenne, had been successful, the French nobility
were vanquished, the court supremacy established.

This completed Rochefoucauld’s active life.

When he recovered his health, he devoted himself to society. Madame
de Sablé assumed a hold over him. He lived a quiet life, and occupied
himself in composing an account of his early life, called his “Memoirs,”
and his immortal “Maxims.”

From the time he ceased to take part in public life, Rochefoucauld’s
real glory began. Having acted the various parts of soldier, politician,
and lover with but small success, he now commenced the part of moralist,
by which he is known to the world.

Living in the most brilliant society that France possessed, famous
from his writings, distinguished from the part he had taken in public
affairs, he formed the centre of one of those remarkable French literary
societies, a society which numbered among its members La Fontaine,
Racine, Boileau. Among his most attached friends was Madame de
La Fayette (the authoress of the “Princess of Cleeves”), and this
friendship continued until his death. He was not, however, destined to
pass away in that gay society without some troubles. At the passage of
the Rhine in 1672 two of his sons were engaged; the one was killed, the
other severely wounded. Rochefoucauld was much affected by this, but
perhaps still more by the death of the young Duc de Longueville, who
perished on the same occasion.

Sainte Beuve says that the cynical book and that young life were the
only fruits of the war of the Fronde. Madame de Sévigné, who was with
him when he heard the news of the death of so much that was dear to
him, says, “I saw his heart laid bare on that cruel occasion, and his
courage, his merit, his tenderness, and good sense surpassed all I ever
met with. I hold his wit and accomplishments as nothing in comparison.”
The combined effect of his wounds and the gout caused the last years of
Rochefoucauld’s life to be spent in great pain. Madame de Sévigné,
who was {with} him continually during his last illness, speaks of the
fortitude with which he bore his sufferings as something to be admired.
Writing to her daughter, she says, “Believe me, it is not for nothing he
has moralised all his life; he has thought so often on his last moments
that they are nothing new or unfamiliar to him.”

In his last illness, the great moralist was attended by the great
divine, Bossuet. Whether that matchless eloquence or his own philosophic
calm had, in spite of his writings, brought him into the state Madame
de Sévigné describes, we know not; but one, or both, contributed to
his passing away in a manner that did not disgrace a French noble or a
French philosopher. On the 11th March, 1680, he ended his stormy life in
peace after so much strife, a loyal subject after so much treason.

One of his friends, Madame Deshoulières, shortly before he died sent
him an ode on death, which aptly describes his state– “Oui, soyez alors
plus ferme, Que ces vulgaires humains Qui, près de leur dernier terme,
De vaines terreurs sont pleins. En sage que rien n’offense, Livrez-vous
sans resistance A d’inévitables traits; Et, d’une demarche égale, Passez
cette onde fatal Qu’on ne repasse jamais.”

Rochefoucauld left behind him only two works, the one, Memoirs of his
own time, the other the Maxims. The first described the scenes in which
his youth had been spent, and though written in a lively style, and
giving faithful pictures of the intrigues and the scandals of the court
during Louis XIV.’s minority, yet, except to the historian, has ceased
at the present day to be of much interest. It forms, perhaps, the true
key to understand the special as opposed to general application of the

Notwithstanding the assertion of Bayle, that “there are few people so
bigoted to antiquity as not to prefer the Memoirs of La Rochefoucauld
to the Commentaries of Caesar,” or the statement of Voltaire, “that the
Memoirs are universally read and the Maxims are learnt by heart,” few
persons at the present day ever heard of the Memoirs, and the knowledge
of most as to the Maxims is confined to that most celebrated of all,
though omitted from his last edition, “There is something in the
misfortunes of our best friends which does not wholly displease us.” Yet
it is difficult to assign a cause for this; no book is perhaps oftener
unwittingly quoted, none certainly oftener unblushingly pillaged; upon
none have so many contradictory opinions been given.

“Few books,” says Mr. Hallam, “have been more highly extolled, or more
severely blamed, than the maxims of the Duke of Rochefoucauld, and that
not only here, but also in France.” Rousseau speaks of it as, “a sad and
melancholy book,” though he goes on to say “it is usually so in youth
when we do not like seeing man as he is.” Voltaire says of it, in the
words above quoted, “One of the works which most contributed to form the
taste of the (French) nation, and to give it a spirit of justness
and precision, was the collection of the maxims of Francois Duc de la
Rochefoucauld, though there is scarcely more than one truth running
through the book–that ‘self-love is the motive of everything’–yet
this thought is presented under so many varied aspects that it is
nearly always striking. It is not so much a book as it is materials for
ornamenting a book. This little collection was read with avidity, it
taught people to think, and to comprise their thoughts in a lively,
precise, and delicate turn of expression. This was a merit which, before
him, no one in Europe had attained since the revival of letters.”

Dr. Johnson speaks of it as “the only book written by a man of fashion,
of which professed authors need be jealous.”

Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, says, “Till you come to
know mankind by your experience, I know no thing nor no man that can
in the meantime bring you so well acquainted with them as Le Duc de la
Rochefoucauld. His little book of maxims, which I would advise you to
look into for some moments at least every day of your life, is, I fear,
too like and too exact a picture of human nature. I own it seems to
degrade it, but yet my experience does not convince me that it degrades
it unjustly.”

Bishop Butler, on the other hand, blames the book in no measured terms.
“There is a strange affectation,” says the bishop, “in some people of
explaining away all particular affection, and representing the whole
life as nothing but one continued exercise of self-love. Hence arise
that surprising confusion and perplexity in the Epicureans of old,
Hobbes, the author of ‘Reflexions Morales,’ and the whole set of
writers, of calling actions interested which are done of the most
manifest known interest, merely for the gratification of a present

The judgment the reader will be most inclined to adopt will perhaps be
either that of Mr. Hallam, “Concise and energetic in expression, reduced
to those short aphorisms which leave much to the reader’s acuteness and
yet save his labour, not often obscure, and never wearisome, an evident
generalisation of long experience, without pedantry, without method,
without deductive reasonings, yet wearing an appearance at least of
profundity; they delight the intelligent though indolent man of the
world, and must be read with some admiration by the philosopher . . . .
yet they bear witness to the contracted observation and the precipitate
inferences which an intercourse with a single class of society scarcely
fails to generate.” Or that of Addison, who speaks of Rochefoucauld “as
the great philosopher for administering consolation to the idle, the
curious, and the worthless part of mankind.”

We are fortunately in possession of materials such as rarely exist to
enable us to form a judgment of Rochefoucauld’s character. We have, with
a vanity that could only exist in a Frenchman, a description or portrait
of himself, of his own painting, and one of those inimitable living
sketches in which his great enemy, Cardinal De Retz, makes all the chief
actors in the court of the regency of Anne of Austria pass across the
stage before us.

We will first look on the portrait Rochefoucauld has left us of himself:
“I am,” says he, “of a medium height, active, and well-proportioned. My
complexion dark, but uniform, a high forehead; and of moderate height,
black eyes, small, deep set, eyebrows black and thick but well placed. I
am rather embarrassed in talking of my nose, for it is neither flat nor
aquiline, nor large; nor pointed: but I believe, as far as I can say,
it is too large than too small, and comes down just a trifle too low. I
have a large mouth, lips generally red enough, neither shaped well nor
badly. I have white teeth, and fairly even. I have been told I have
a little too much chin. I have just looked at myself in the glass to
ascertain the fact, and I do not know how to decide. As to the shape of
my face, it is either square or oval, but which I should find it very
difficult to say. I have black hair, which curls by nature, and thick
and long enough to entitle me to lay claim to a fine head. I have in my
countenance somewhat of grief and pride, which gives many people an idea
I despise them, although I am not at all given to do so. My gestures are
very free, rather inclined to be too much so, for in speaking they
make me use too much action. Such, candidly, I believe I am in outward
appearance, and I believe it will be found that what I have said
above of myself is not far from the real case. I shall use the same
truthfulness in the remainder of my picture, for I have studied myself
sufficiently to know myself well; and I will lack neither boldness to
speak as freely as I can of my good qualities, nor sincerity to freely
avow that I have faults.

“In the first place, to speak of my temper. I am melancholy, and I have
hardly been seen for the last three or four years to laugh above three
or four times. It seems to me that my melancholy would be even endurable
and pleasant if I had none but what belonged to me constitutionally; but
it arises from so many other causes, fills my imagination in such a way,
and possesses my mind so strongly that for the greater part of my time
I remain without speaking a word, or give no meaning to what I say. I am
extremely reserved to those I do not know, and I am not very open with
the greater part of those I do. It is a fault I know well, and I should
neglect no means to correct myself of it; but as a certain gloomy air I
have tends to make me seem more reserved than I am in fact, and as it is
not in our power to rid ourselves of a bad expression that arises from
a natural conformation of features, I think that even when I have cured
myself internally, externally some bad expression will always remain.

“I have ability. I have no hesitation in saying it, as for what purpose
should I pretend otherwise. So great circumvention, and so great
depreciation, in speaking of the gifts one has, seems to me to hide a
little vanity under an apparent modesty, and craftily to try to make
others believe in greater virtues than are imputed to us. On my part
I am content not to be considered better-looking than I am, nor of a
better temper than I describe, nor more witty and clever than I am. Once
more, I have ability, but a mind spoilt by melancholy, for though I
know my own language tolerably well, and have a good memory, a mode
of thought not particularly confused, I yet have so great a mixture of
discontent that I often say what I have to say very badly.

“The conversation of gentlemen is one of the pleasures that most amuses
me. I like it to be serious and morality to form the substance of it.
Yet I also know how to enjoy it when trifling; and if I do not make
many witty speeches, it is not because I do not appreciate the value of
trifles well said, and that I do not find great amusement in that manner
of raillery in which certain prompt and ready-witted persons excel so
well. I write well in prose; I do well in verse; and if I was envious of
the glory that springs from that quarter, I think with a little labour
I could acquire some reputation. I like reading, in general; but that in
which one finds something to polish the wit and strengthen the soul
is what I like best. But, above all, I have the greatest pleasure in
reading with an intelligent person, for then we reflect constantly upon
what we read, and the observations we make form the most pleasant and
useful form of conversation there is.

“I am a fair critic of the works in verse and prose that are shown me;
but perhaps I speak my opinion with almost too great freedom. Another
fault in me is that I have sometimes a spirit of delicacy far too
scrupulous, and a spirit of criticism far too severe. I do not dislike
an argument, and I often of my own free will engage in one; but I
generally back my opinion with too much warmth, and sometimes, when the
wrong side is advocated against me, from the strength of my zeal for
reason, I become a little unreasonable myself.

“I have virtuous sentiments, good inclinations, and so strong a desire
to be a wholly good man that my friend cannot afford me a greater
pleasure than candidly to show me my faults. Those who know me most
intimately, and those who have the goodness sometimes to give me the
above advice, know that I always receive it with all the joy that could
be expected, and with all reverence of mind that could be desired.

“I have all the passions pretty mildly, and pretty well under control.
I am hardly ever seen in a rage, and I never hated any one. I am not,
however, incapable of avenging myself if I have been offended, or if my
honour demanded I should resent an insult put upon me; on the contrary,
I feel clear that duty would so well discharge the office of hatred in
me that I should follow my revenge with even greater keenness than other

“Ambition does not weary me. I fear but few things, and I do not fear
death in the least. I am but little given to pity, and I could wish I
was not so at all. Though there is nothing I would not do to comfort an
afflicted person, and I really believe that one should do all one can to
show great sympathy to him for his misfortune, for miserable people are
so foolish that this does them the greatest good in the world; yet
I also hold that we should be content with expressing sympathy, and
carefully avoid having any. It is a passion that is wholly worthless in
a well-regulated mind, which only serves to weaken the heart, and which
should be left to ordinary persons, who, as they never do anything from
reason, have need of passions to stimulate their actions.

“I love my friends; and I love them to such an extent that I would not
for a moment weigh my interest against theirs. I condescend to them,
I patiently endure their bad temper. But, also, I do not make much of
their caresses, and I do not feel great uneasiness in their absence.

“Naturally, I have but little curiosity about the majority of things
that stir up curiosity in other men. I am very secret, and I have less
difficulty than most men in holding my tongue as to what is told me in
confidence. I am most particular as to my word, and I would never fail,
whatever might be the consequence, to do what I had promised; and I have
made this an inflexible law during the whole of my life.

“I keep the most punctilious civility to women. I do not believe I have
ever said anything before them which could cause them annoyance. When
their intellect is cultivated, I prefer their society to that of men:
one there finds a mildness one does not meet with among ourselves,
and it seems to me beyond this that they express themselves with more
neatness, and give a more agreeable turn to the things they talk about.
As for flirtation, I formerly indulged in a little, now I shall do so no
more, though I am still young. I have renounced all flirtation, and I am
simply astonished that there are still so many sensible people who can
occupy their time with it.

“I wholly approve of real loves; they indicate greatness of soul, and
although, in the uneasiness they give rise to, there is a something
contrary to strict wisdom, they fit in so well with the most severe
virtue, that I believe they cannot be censured with justice. To me who
have known all that is fine and grand in the lofty aspirations of love,
if I ever fall in love, it will assuredly be in love of that nature. But
in accordance with the present turn of my mind, I do not believe that
the knowledge I have of it will ever change from my mind to my heart.”

Such is his own description of himself. Let us now turn to the other
picture, delineated by the man who was his bitterest enemy, and whom (we
say it with regret) Rochefoucauld tried to murder.

Cardinal De Retz thus paints him:– “In M. de la Rochefoucauld there was
ever an indescribable something. From his infancy he always wanted to
be mixed up with plots, at a time when he could not understand even
the smallest interests (which has indeed never been his weak point,)
or comprehend greater ones, which in another sense has never been his
strong point. He was never fitted for any matter, and I really cannot
tell the reason. His glance was not sufficiently wide, and he could not
take in at once all that lay in his sight, but his good sense, perfect
in theories, combined with his gentleness, his winning ways, his
pleasing manners, which are perfect, should more than compensate for
his lack of penetration. He always had a natural irresoluteness, but I
cannot say to what this irresolution is to be attributed. It could not
arise in him from the wealth of his imagination, for that was anything
but lively. I cannot put it down to the barrenness of his judgment, for,
although he was not prompt in action, he had a good store of reason. We
see the effects of this irresolution, although we cannot assign a
cause for it. He was never a general, though a great soldier; never,
naturally, a good courtier, although he had always a good idea of being
so. He was never a good partizan, although all his life engaged in
intrigues. That air of pride and timidity which your see in his private
life, is turned in business into an apologetic manner. He always
believed he had need of it; and this, combined with his ‘Maxims,’ which
show little faith in virtue, and his habitual custom, to give up matters
with the same haste he undertook them, leads me to the conclusion that
he would have done far better to have known his own mind, and have
passed himself off, as he could have done, for the most polished
courtier, the most agreeable man in private life that had appeared in
his century.”

It is but justice to the Cardinal to say, that the Duc is not painted in
such dark colours as we should have expected, judging from what we know
of the character of De Retz. With his marvellous power of depicting
character, a power unrivalled, except by St. Simon and perhaps by Lord
Clarendon, we should have expected the malignity of the priest would
have stamped the features of his great enemy with the impress of infamy,
and not have simply made him appear a courtier, weak, insincere,
and nothing more. Though rather beyond our subject, the character of
Cardinal de Retz, as delineated by Mdme. Sévigné, in one of her letters,
will help us to form a true conclusion on the different characters of
the Duc and the Cardinal. She says:– “Paul de Gondi Cardinal de Retz
possesses great elevation of character, a certain extent of intellect,
and more of the ostentation than of the true greatness of courage. He
has an extraordinary memory, more energy than polish in his words, an
easy humour, docility of character, and weakness in submitting to
the complaints and reproaches of his friends, a little piety, some
appearances of religion. He appears ambitious without being really so.
Vanity and those who have guided him, have made him undertake great
things, almost all opposed to his profession. He excited the greatest
troubles in the State without any design of turning them to account, and
far from declaring himself the enemy of Cardinal Mazarin with any view
of occupying his place, he thought of nothing but making himself an
object of dread to him, and flattering himself with the false vanity of
being his rival. He was clever enough, however, to take advantage of
the public calamities to get himself made Cardinal. He endured his
imprisonment with firmness, and owed his liberty solely to his own
daring. In the obscurity of a life of wandering and concealment, his
indolence for many years supported him with reputation. He preserved the
Archbishopric of Paris against the power of Cardinal Mazarin, but after
the death of that minister, he resigned it without knowing what he
was doing, and without making use of the opportunity to promote the
interests of himself and his friends. He has taken part in several
conclaves, and his conduct has always increased his reputation.

“His natural bent is to indolence, nevertheless he labours with
activity in pressing business, and reposes with indifference when it is
concluded. He has great presence of mind, and knows so well how to turn
it to his own advantage on all occasions presented him by fortune,
that it would seem as if he had foreseen and desired them. He loves
to narrate, and seeks to dazzle all his listeners indifferently by his
extraordinary adventures, and his imagination often supplies him with
more than his memory. The generality of his qualities are false, and
what has most contributed to his reputation is his power of throwing
a good light on his faults. He is insensible alike to hatred and to
friendship, whatever pains he may be at to appear taken up with the one
or the other. He is incapable of envy or avarice, whether from virtue or
from carelessness. He has borrowed more from his friends than a private
person could ever hope to be able to repay; he has felt the vanity of
acquiring so much on credit, and of undertaking to discharge it. He has
neither taste nor refinement; he is amused by everything and pleased
by nothing. He avoids difficult matters with considerable address,
not allowing people to penetrate the slight acquaintance he has with
everything. The retreat he has just made from the world is the most
brilliant and the most unreal action of his life; it is a sacrifice he
has made to his pride under the pretence of devotion; he quits the court
to which he cannot attach himself, and retires from a world which is
retiring from him.”

The Maxims were first published in 1665, with a preface by Segrais.
This preface was omitted in the subsequent editions. The first edition
contained 316 maxims, counting the last upon death, which was not
numbered. The second in 1666 contained only 102; the third in 1671, and
the fourth in 1675, 413. In this last edition we first meet with the
introductory maxim, “Our virtues are generally but disguised vices.” The
edition of 1678, the fifth, increased the number to 504. This was the
last edition revised by the author, and published in his lifetime. The
text of that edition has been used for the present translation. The next
edition, the sixth, was published in 1693, about thirteen years after
the author’s death. This edition included fifty new maxims, attributed
by the editor to Rochefoucauld. Most likely they were his writing, as
the fact was never denied by his family, through whose permission they
were published. They form the third supplement to the translation. This
sixth edition was published by Claude Barbin, and the French editions
since that time have been too numerous to be enumerated. The great
popularity of the Maxims is perhaps best shown from the numerous
translations that have been made of them. No less than eight English
translations, or so-called translations, have appeared; one American, a
Swedish, and a Spanish translation, an Italian imitation, with parallel
passages, and an English imitation by Hazlitt. The titles of the English
editions are as follows:– i. Seneca Unmasked. By Mrs. Aphara Behn.
London, 1689. She calls the author the Duke of Rushfucave. ii. Moral
Maxims and Reflections, in four parts. By the Duke de la Rochefoucauld.
Now made English. London, 1694. 12 mo. iii. Moral Maxims and Reflections
of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld. Newly made English. London, 1706. 12
mo. iv. Moral Maxims of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld. Translated
from the French. With notes. London, 1749. 12 mo. v. Maxims and Moral
Reflections of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld. Revised and improved.
London, 1775. 8 vo. vi. Maxims and Moral Reflections of the Duke de la
Rochefoucauld. A new edition, revised and improved, by L. D. London,
1781. 8 vo. vii. The Gentleman’s Library. La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims
and Moral Reflections. London, 1813. 12 mo. viii. Moral Reflections,
Sentences, and Maxims of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, newly translated
from the French; with an introduction and notes. London, 1850. 16 mo.
ix. Maxims and Moral Reflections of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld: with a
Memoir by the Chevalier de Chatelain. London, 1868. 12 mo.

The perusal of the Maxims will suggest to every reader to a greater
or less degree, in accordance with the extent of his reading, parallel
passages, and similar ideas. Of ancient writers Rochefoucauld most
strongly reminds us of Tacitus; of modern writers, Junius most strongly
reminds us of Rochefoucauld. Some examples from both are given in the
notes to this translation. It is curious to see how the expressions
of the bitterest writer of English political satire to a great extent
express the same ideas as the great French satirist of private life.
Had space permitted the parallel could have been drawn very closely, and
much of the invective of Junius traced to its source in Rochefoucauld.

One of the persons whom Rochefoucauld patronised and protected, was
the great French fabulist, La Fontaine. This patronage was repaid by
La Fontaine giving, in one of his fables, “L’Homme et son Image,” an
elaborate defence of his patron. After there depicting a man who fancied
himself one of the most lovely in the world, and who complained he
always found all mirrors untrustworthy, at last discovered his real
image reflected in the water. He thus applies his fable:– “Je parle
à tous: et cette erreur extrême, Est un mal que chacun se plait
d’entretenir, Notre âme, c’est cet homme amoureux de lui même, Tant
de miroirs, ce sont les sottises d’autrui. Miroirs, de nos défauts les
peintres légitimes, Et quant au canal, c’est celui Qui chacun sait, le
livre des MAXIMES.”

It is just this: the book is a mirror in which we all see ourselves.
This has made it so unpopular. It is too true. We dislike to be told
of our faults, while we only like to be told of our neighbour’s.
Notwithstanding Rousseau’s assertion, it is young men, who, before they
know their own faults and only know their neighbours’, that read and
thoroughly appreciate Rochefoucauld.

After so many varied opinions he then pleases us more and seems far
truer than he is in reality, it is impossible to give any general
conclusion of such distinguished writers on the subject. Each reader
will form his own opinion of the merits of the author and his book. To
some, both will seem deserving of the highest praise; to others both
will seem deserving of the highest censure. The truest judgment as to
the author will be found in the remarks of a countryman of his own, as
to the book in the remarks of a countryman of ours.

As to the author, M. Sainte Beuve says:–“C’était un misanthrope poli,
insinuant, souriant, qui précédait de bien peu et préparait avec charme

As to the book, Mr. Hallam says:–“Among the books in ancient and
modern times which record the conclusions of observing men on the moral
qualities of their fellows, a high place should be reserved for the
Maxims of Rochefoucauld”.