Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims


Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.

[This epigraph which is the key to the system of La Rochefoucauld, is
found in another form as No. 179 of the maxims of the first edition,
1665, it is omitted from the 2nd and 3rd, and reappears for the first
time in the 4th edition, in 1675, as at present, at the head of the
Reflections.–Aimé Martin. Its best answer is arrived at by reversing
the predicate and the subject, and you at once form a contradictory
maxim equally true, our vices are most frequently but virtues

1.–What we term virtue is often but a mass of various actions and
divers interests, which fortune, or our own industry, manage to arrange;
and it is not always from valour or from chastity that men are brave,
and women chaste.

“Who combats bravely is not therefore brave, He dreads a death-bed like
the meanest slave; Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise, His pride
in reasoning, not in acting, lies.” Pope, Moral Essays, Ep. i. line 115.

2.–Self-love is the greatest of flatterers.

3.–Whatever discoveries have been made in the region of self-love,
there remain many unexplored territories there.

[This is the first hint of the system the author tries to develope. He
wishes to find in vice a motive for all our actions, but this does not
suffice him; he is obliged to call other passions to the help of his
system and to confound pride, vanity, interest and egotism with self
love. This confusion destroys the unity of his principle.–Aimé Martin.]

4.–Self love is more cunning than the most cunning man in the world.

5.–The duration of our passions is no more dependant upon us than the
duration of our life. [Then what becomes of free will?–Aimé; Martin]

6.–Passion often renders the most clever man a fool, and even sometimes
renders the most foolish man clever.

7.–Great and striking actions which dazzle the eyes are represented by
politicians as the effect of great designs, instead of which they are
commonly caused by the temper and the passions. Thus the war between
Augustus and Anthony, which is set down to the ambition they entertained
of making themselves masters of the world, was probably but an effect of

8.–The passions are the only advocates which always persuade. They are
a natural art, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man
with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.

[See Maxim 249 which is an illustration of this.]

9.–The passions possess a certain injustice and self interest which
makes it dangerous to follow them, and in reality we should distrust
them even when they appear most trustworthy.

10.–In the human heart there is a perpetual generation of passions; so
that the ruin of one is almost always the foundation of another.

11.–Passions often produce their contraries: avarice sometimes leads to
prodigality, and prodigality to avarice; we are often obstinate through
weakness and daring though timidity.

12.–Whatever care we take to conceal our passions under the appearances
of piety and honour, they are always to be seen through these veils.

[The 1st edition, 1665, preserves the image perhaps better–“however
we may conceal our passions under the veil, etc., there is always some
place where they peep out.”]

13.–Our self love endures more impatiently the condemnation of our
tastes than of our opinions.

14.–Men are not only prone to forget benefits and injuries; they even
hate those who have obliged them, and cease to hate those who have
injured them. The necessity of revenging an injury or of recompensing a
benefit seems a slavery to which they are unwilling to submit.

15.–The clemency of Princes is often but policy to win the affections
of the people.

[“So many are the advantages which monarchs gain by clemency, so greatly
does it raise their fame and endear them to their subjects, that it
is generally happy for them to have an opportunity of displaying
it.”–Montesquieu, Esprit Des Lois, Lib. VI., C. 21.]

16.–This clemency of which they make a merit, arises oftentimes from
vanity, sometimes from idleness, oftentimes from fear, and almost always
from all three combined.

[La Rochefoucauld is content to paint the age in which he lived. Here
the clemency spoken of is nothing more than an expression of the policy
of Anne of Austria. Rochefoucauld had sacrificed all to her; even the
favour of Cardinal Richelieu, but when she became regent she bestowed
her favours upon those she hated; her friends were forgotten.–Aimé
Martin. The reader will hereby see that the age in which the writer
lived best interprets his maxims.]

17.–The moderation of those who are happy arises from the calm which
good fortune bestows upon their temper.

18.–Moderation is caused by the fear of exciting the envy and contempt
which those merit who are intoxicated with their good fortune; it is a
vain display of our strength of mind, and in short the moderation of men
at their greatest height is only a desire to appear greater than their

19.–We have all sufficient strength to support the misfortunes of

[The strongest example of this is the passage in Lucretius, lib. ii.,
line I:– “Suave mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis E terra magnum
alterius spectare laborem.”]