French Language Blog

De la Rochefoucauld’s Maxims Posted by on Apr 20, 2021 in History, Literature

17th century nobleman and militaire1service member, soldier, member of the military François de la Rochefoucauld upset the powerful (including Cardinal Richelieu), spent time in the Bastille prison, and had famous friendships with the likes of la marquise de Sévigné, but is most famous today for his maxims.

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De la Rochefoucauld’s Maxims

A maxim is a short, impactful statement that highlights a fundamental truth. Based on those he left behind, de la Rochefoucauld was a keen observer of the human condition. Writing during the reign of Louis XIV, he was able, in just a few words, to capture the highs and lows of what makes people tick.

I’ve only recently discovered them, but I’m hooked. Here,from Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales (available from the great open-source Project Gutenberg), are a few of my favorites.

Sur l’amitié


Il est plus honteux de se défier de ses amis que d’en être trompé.


It is more shameful to mistrust ones friends than to be tricked by them.


Notre défiance justifie la tromperie d’autrui.


Our mistrust (of others) justifies their perfidy.

Sur l’amour


Il n’y a point de déguisement qui puisse longtemps cacher l’amour où il est, ni le feindre où il n’est pas.


There is no disguise that can hide love for long where it exists, nor fake it where it does not.


Il n’y a guère de gens qui ne soient honteux de s’être aimés quand ils ne s’aiment plus.


Rare are those who would not be ashamed of being loved when they no longer love.


Si on juge de l’amour par la plupart de ses effets, il ressemble plus à la haine qu’à l’amitié.


Judging by its major effects, love ressembles hate more than it does friendship.

Speaking of disguises …


Nous sommes si accoutumés à nous déguiser aux autres qu’enfin nous déguisons a nous-mêmes.


We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves for others (hiding ourselves from others), that we end up disguising ourselves to ourselves (hiding from ourselves).

Two for the road …

The following make an interesting pair. Are our passions a source of strength … or a trap?


Les passions sont les seuls orateurs qui persuadent toujours. Elles sont comme un art de la nature dont les règles sont infaillibles; et l’homme le plus simple qui a de la passion persuade mieux que le plus éloquent qui n’en a point.


Passions are the only orators who always persuade. They are like a near-infallible power of nature; and the simplest man who has passion will persaude more than the most eloquent who has none.


Les passions ont une injustice et un propre intérêt qui fait qu’il est dangereux de les suivre, et qu’on s’en doit défier lors même qu’elles paraissent les plus raisonnables.


Passions are unjust and have a self-interest that makes them dangerous to follow; so much so that one needs to be wary even when they seem to be the most reasonable.

Louis XIV … or 14

It seems today that people can turn just about anything into a scandal. Well recently, the Italian press (and some more reactionary conservatives in France) have gotten all worked up over the news that some people people were replacing the traditional Roman numerals in king’s names (Louis XIV) with Arabic numerals (Louis 14).2Somewhat embarrassingly, we Americans had our own number “scandal” of sorts not too long ago. In a survey “designed to tease out prejudice[s]”, 56% of those surveyed said we should not be teaching Arabic numerals in American schools 🙁 …

While it is true that the soon-to-reopen Musée Carnavalet (like the Louvre and British Museum before them) is using the updated Louis 14 in a selection of materials designed to improve access for visitors with disabilities, there is no wholesale replacement planned and the convention of using Roman numerals in the names of kings and emperors stands.


  • 1
    service member, soldier, member of the military
  • 2
    Somewhat embarrassingly, we Americans had our own number “scandal” of sorts not too long ago. In a survey “designed to tease out prejudice[s]”, 56% of those surveyed said we should not be teaching Arabic numerals in American schools 🙁 …
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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


  1. anand p guta:

    It may be desireable to have version of the text in French also along with its English text appearing with the lesson / communication .A student could then try to translate the text from English to French or vice versa. Thanks – merci beaucoup

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @anand p guta Merci pour votre commentaire. I try and mix English and French in a way that makes the post approachable for all different level of learner, but I’ll consider your request for possible future posts.