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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.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels [CC0]

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

84

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

Ouvrir

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

86

Notre défiance justifie la tromperie d’autrui.

Ouvrir

Our mistrust (of others) justifies their perfidy.

Sur l’amour

70

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

Ouvrir

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

71

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

Ouvrir

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

72

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

Ouvrir

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

Speaking of disguises …

119

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

Ouvrir

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?

8

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.

Ouvrir

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.

9

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.

Ouvrir

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

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


Comments:

  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.


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