Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims - by François de La Rochefoucauld

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.


Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.

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.

The constancy of the wise is only the talent of concealing the agitation of their hearts.

Jealousy is in a manner just and reasonable, as it tends to preserve a good which belongs, or which we believe belongs to us, on the other hand envy is a fury which cannot endure the happiness of others.

We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible.

If we had no faults we should not take so much pleasure in noting those of others.

We promise according to our hopes; we perform according to our fears.

Interest speaks all sorts of tongues and plays all sorts of characters; even that of disinterestedness.

Those who apply themselves too closely to little things often become incapable of great things.

The contempt of riches in philosophers was only a hidden desire to avenge their merit upon the injustice of fortune, by despising the very goods of which fortune had deprived them; it was a secret to guard themselves against the degradation of poverty, it was a back way by which to arrive at that distinction which they could not gain by riches.

["It is always easy as well as agreeable for the inferior ranks of mankind to claim merit from the contempt of that pomp and pleasure which fortune has placed beyond their reach. The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance."--Gibbon, Decline And Fall, Chap. 15.]

Although men flatter themselves with their great actions, they are not so often the result of a great design as of chance.

There are no accidents so unfortunate from which skilful men will not draw some advantage, nor so fortunate that foolish men will not turn them to their hurt.

Sincerity is an openness of heart; we find it in very few people; what we usually see is only an artful dissimulation to win the confidence of others.

What grace is to the body good sense is to the mind.

Silence is the best resolve for him who distrusts himself.

What men term friendship is merely a partnership with a collection of reciprocal interests, and an exchange of favours--in fact it is but a trade in which self love always expects to gain.

It is more disgraceful to distrust than to be deceived by our friends.

Everyone blames his memory, no one blames his judgment.

Old men delight in giving good advice as a consolation for the fact that they can no longer set bad examples.

To understand matters rightly we should understand their details, and as that knowledge is almost infinite, our knowledge is always superficial and imperfect.

We are inconsolable at being deceived by our enemies and betrayed by our friends, yet still we are often content to be thus served by ourselves.

It is as easy unwittingly to deceive oneself as to deceive others.

Cunning and treachery are the offspring of incapacity.

The true way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others.

It is far easier to be wise for others than to be so for oneself. [Hence the proverb, "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client."]

One of the reasons that we find so few persons rational and agreeable in conversation is there is hardly a person who does not think more of what he wants to say than of his answer to what is said. The most clever and polite are content with only seeming attentive while we perceive in their mind and eyes that at the very time they are wandering from what is said and desire to return to what they want to say. Instead of considering that the worst way to persuade or please others is to try thus strongly to please ourselves, and that to listen well and to answer well are some of the greatest charms we can have in conversation.

As it is the mark of great minds to say many things in a few words, so it is that of little minds to use many words to say nothing.

Few are sufficiently wise to prefer censure which is useful to praise which is treacherous.

However brilliant an action it should not be esteemed great unless the result of a great motive.

Ability wins us the esteem of the true men, luck that of the people.

He is a truly good man who desires always to bear the inspection of good men.

Perfect valour is to do without witnesses what one would do before all the world.

Too great a hurry to discharge of an obligation is a kind of ingratitude.

There is great ability in knowing how to conceal one's ability. ["You have accomplished a great stroke in diplomacy when you have made others think that you have only very average abilities."--La Bruyère.]

It is as common to change one's tastes, as it is uncommon to change one's inclinations.

In all professions we affect a part and an appearance to seem what we wish to be. Thus the world is merely composed of actors.

["All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."--Shakespeare, As You Like It{, Act II, Scene VII, Jaques}.

We are nearer loving those who hate us, than those who love us more than we desire.

To be a great man one should know how to profit by every phase of fortune.

Why we hate with so much bitterness those who deceive us is because they think themselves more clever than we are.

We almost always are bored with persons with whom we should not be bored.

A gentleman may love like a lunatic, but not like a beast.

However we distrust the sincerity of those whom we talk with, we always believe them more sincere with us than with others.

Most young people think they are natural when they are only boorish and rude.

Ordinary men commonly condemn what is beyond them.

We may bestow advice, but we cannot inspire the conduct.

Fortune makes visible our virtues or our vices, as light does objects.

We should manage fortune like our health, enjoy it when it is good, be patient when it is bad, and never resort to strong remedies but in an extremity.

The greatest effort of friendship is not to show our faults to a friend, but to show him his own.

Nothing prevents our being unaffected so much as our desire to seem so.

We should not judge of a man's merit by his great abilities, but by the use he makes of them.

We should earnestly desire but few things if we clearly knew what we desired.

A well-trained mind has less difficulty in submitting to than in guiding an ill-trained mind.

In great matters we should not try so much to create opportunities as to utilise those that offer themselves.

It would be well for us if we knew all our passions make us do.

It is only people who possess firmness who can possess true gentleness. In those who appear gentle it is generally only weakness, which is readily converted into harshness.

The calm or disturbance of our mind does not depend so much on what we regard as the more important things of life, as in a judicious or injudicious arrangement of the little things of daily occurrence.

When we do not find peace of mind in ourselves it is useless to seek it elsewhere.

In the adversity of our best friends we always find something which is not wholly displeasing to us.

That man who has never been in danger cannot answer for his courage.

Women for the most part surrender themselves more from weakness than from passion. Whence it is that bold and pushing men succeed better than others, although they are not so loveable.

The labour of the body frees us from the pains of the mind, and thus makes the poor happy.

It is more easy to extinguish the first desire than to satisfy those which follow.

Before strongly desiring anything we should examine what happiness he has who possesses it.

A true friend is the greatest of all goods, and that of which we think least of acquiring.

It is more necessary to study men than books.

We are always bored by those whom we bore.