La Rochefoucauld – Maxims to Live By

I have a soft spot for La Rochefoucauld and for about a year had his Moral Reflections or Sententiae and Maxims as a bedside table book, perfect for dipping into during nights when insomnia came to visit.

Cynic, pessimist, skeptic, La Rochefoucauld was all those things, and yet these are labels, even resistances to an unsettling body of work. My copy of his Maxims is heavily annotated. There are so many of his reflections worthy of meditation, but they should be treated as more than entertainment. It is all to easy to be unsettled by the truth of what he wrote and put the book down and live as though we hadn’t read it. Here’s a half a dozen I try to recall and live by after closing the book:

  • What is least often found in love affairs is love.
  • There is more pride than kindness in our reprimands to people who are at fault; and we reprove them not so much to correct them as to convince them that we ourselves are free from such wrongdoing.
  • Love, like fire, is sustained only by constant motion; and it ceases to exist when it ceases to hope or fear.
  • Old people like to give good advice, as a consolation for the fact they can no longer set bad examples.
  • A man in place has no more friends when he loses his post. It was not, therefore, him, but his place that had friends.
  • Have the courage the laugh at your personal defects, and the world will be deprived of that pleasure, by being reminded of their own.

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