Reflections and Moral Maxims by La Rochefoucauld

I.—Of Love and of Women

To judge love by most of its effects, it seems more like hatred than kindness.

In love we often doubt of what we most believe.

As long as we love, we forgive.

Love is like fire, it cannot be without continual motion; as soon as it ceases to hope or fear it ceases to exist.

Many persons would never have been in love had they never heard talk of it.

Agreeable and pleasant as love is, it pleases more by the manners in which it shows itself than by itself alone.

We pass on from love to ambition; we seldom return from ambition to love.

Those who have had a great love affair find themselves all their life happy and unhappy at being cured of it.

In love the one who is first cured is best cured.

The reason why lovers are never weary of talking of each other is that they are always talking of themselves.

Constancy in love is a perpetual inconstancy which makes our heart attach itself in succession to all the qualities of our beloved, and prefer, now this trait and now that; so that this constancy is only a kind of inconstancy fixed and enclosed in a single object.

If there is a love pure and exempt from all mixture with our other passions, it is that which is hidden in the depth of our heart and unknown to ourselves.

The pleasure of love consists in loving, and our own passion gives us more happiness than the feelings which our beloved has for us.

The grace of novelty is to love like the fine bloom on fruit; it gives it a lustre which is easily effaced and never recovered.

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

Women often fancy themselves to be in love when they are not. Their natural passion for being beloved, their unwillingness to give a denial, the excitement of mind produced by an affair of gallantry, all these make them imagine they are in love when they are in fact only coquetting.

All women are flirts. Some are restrained by timidity and some by reason.

The greatest miracle of love is the reformation of a coquette.

A coquette pretends to be jealous of her lover, in order to conceal her envy of other women.

Most women yield more from weakness than from passion, hence an enterprising man usually succeeds with them better than an amiable man.

It is harder for women to overcome their coquetry than their love. No woman knows how much of a coquette she is.

Women who are in love more readily forgive great indiscretions than small infidelities.

Some people are so full of themselves that even when they become lovers they find a way of being occupied with their passion without being interested in the person whom they love.

It is useless to be young without being beautiful, or beautiful without being young.

In their first love affairs women love their lover; in all others they love love.

In the old age of love, as in the old age of life, we continue to live to pain long after we have ceased to live to pleasure.

There is no passion in which self-love reigns so powerfully as in love; we are always more ready to sacrifice the repose of a person we love than to lose our own.

There is a certain kind of love which, as it grows excessive, leaves no room for jealousy.

Jealousy is born with love, but it does not always die with it.

Jealousy is the greatest of all afflictions, and that which least excites pity in the persons that cause it.

In love and in friendship we are often happier by reason of the things that we do not know than by those that we do.

There are few women whose merit lasts longer than their beauty.

The reason why most women are little touched by friendship is that friendship is insipid to those who have felt what love is.


In the misfortunes of our best friends we always find something that does not displease us.

Rare as true love is, it is less rare than true friendship.

What makes us so changing in our friendships is that it is difficult to discern the qualities of the soul, and easy to recognize the qualities of the mind.

It is equally difficult to have a friendship for those whom we do not esteem as for those we esteem more than ourselves.

We love those who admire us, not those whom we admire.

Most of the friendships of the world ill deserve the name of friendship; still, a man may make occasional use of them, as in a business where the profits are uncertain and it is usual to be cheated.

It is more dishonourable to mistrust a friend than to be deceived by him.

We are fond of exaggerating the love our friends bear us, but it is less from a feeling of gratitude than from a desire to advertise our own merits.

What usually hinders us from revealing the depths of our hearts to our friends is not so much the distrust which we have of them as the distrust that we have of ourselves.

We confess our little defects merely to persuade our friends that we have no great failings.

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

Sincerity is an opening of the heart. It is found in exceedingly few people, and what passes for it is only a subtle dissimulation used to attract confidence.

We can love nothing except in relation to ourselves, and we merely follow our own bent and pleasure when we prefer our friends to ourselves; yet it is only by this preference that friendship can be made true and perfect.

It seems as if self-love is the dupe of kindness and that it is forgotten while we are working for the benefit of other men. In this case, however, our self-love is merely taking the safest road to arrive at its ends; it is lending at usury under the pretext of giving, it is aiming at winning all the world by subtle and delicate means.

The first impulses of joy excited in us by the good fortune of our friends proceed neither from our good nature nor from the friendship we have for them; it is an effect of self-love that flatters us with the hope either of being fortunate in our turn or of drawing some advantage from their prosperity.

What makes us so eager to form new acquaintances is not the mere pleasure of change or a weariness of old friendships, so much as a disgust at not being enough admired by those who know us too well, and a hope of winning more admiration from persons who do not know much about us.

III.—Things of the Mind

The mind is always the dupe of the heart. Those who are acquainted with their own mind are not acquainted with their own heart.

The mind is more indolent than the body.

It is the mark of fine intellects to explain many things in a few words; little minds have the gift of speaking much and saying nothing.

We speak but little when vanity does not make us speak.

A spirit of confidence helps on conversation more than brilliance of mind does.

True eloquence consists of saying all that is necessary, and nothing more.

A man may be witty and still be a fool; judgment is the source of wisdom.

A man does not please for very long when he has but one kind of wit.

It is a mistake to imagine that wit and judgment are two distinct things; judgment is only the perfection of wit, which pierces into the recesses of things and there perceives what from the outside seems to be imperceptible.

A man of intelligence would often be at a loss were it not for the company of fools.

 It is not so much fertility of mind that leads us to discover many expedients in regard to a single matter, as a defect of intelligence, that makes us stop at everything presented to our imagination, and hinders us from discerning at once which is the best course.

Some old men like to give good advice to console themselves for being no longer in a state to give a bad example.

No man of sound good sense strikes us as such unless he is of our way of thinking.

Stiffness of opinion comes from pettiness of mind; we do not easily believe in anything that is beyond our range of vision.

Good taste is based on judgment rather than on intelligence.

It is more often through pride than through any want of enlightenment that men set themselves stubbornly to oppose the most current opinions; finding all the best places taken on the popular side, they do not want those in the rear.

In order to understand things well one must know the detail of them; and as this is almost infinite, our knowledge is always superficial and imperfect.

It is never so difficult to talk well as when we are ashamed of our silence.

The excessive pleasure we feel in talking about ourselves ought to make us apprehensive that we afford little to our listeners.

Truth has not done so much good in the world as the false appearances of it have done harm.

Man's chief wisdom consists in being sensible of his follies.

IV.—Human Life and Human Nature

Youth is a continual intoxication; it is the fever of reason.

 The passions of youth are scarcely more opposed to salvation than the lukewarmness of old persons.

There is not enough material in a fool to make a good man out of him.

We have more strength than will, and it is often to excuse ourselves to ourselves that we imagine things are impossible.

There are few things impossible in themselves; it is the application to achieve them that we lack more than the means.

It is a mistake to imagine that only the more violent passions, such as ambition and love, can triumph over the rest. Idleness often masters them all. It indeed influences all our designs and actions, and insensibly destroys both our vices and our virtues.

Idleness is of all our passions that which is most unknown to ourselves. It is the most ardent and the most malign of all, though we do not feel its working, and the harm which it does is hidden. If we consider its power attentively, we shall see that in every struggle it triumphs over our feelings, our interests, and our pleasures. To give a true idea of this passion it is necessary to add that idleness is like a beatitude of the soul which consoles it for all its losses and serves in place of all its wealth.

The gratitude of most men is only a secret desire to receive greater favours.

We like better to see those on whom we confer benefits than those from whom we receive them.

It is less dangerous to do harm to most men than to do them too much good.

If we had no defects ourselves we should not take so much pleasure in observing the failings of others.

One man may be more cunning than another man, but he cannot be more cunning than all the world.

Mankind has made a virtue of moderation in order to limit the ambition of great men and to console mediocre people for their scanty fortune and their scanty merit.

We should often be ashamed of our finest actions if the world saw all the motives that produced them.

Our desire to speak of ourselves, and to reveal our defects in the best light in which we can show them, constitutes a great part of our sincerity.

The shame that arises from undeserved praise often leads us to do things which we should not otherwise have attempted.

The labours of the body free us from the pains of the mind. It is this that constitutes the happiness of the poor.

It is more necessary to study men than to study books.

The truly honest man is he who sets no value on himself.

Censorious as the world is, it is oftener favourable to false merit than unjust to true.

It is not enough to possess great qualities; we must know how to use them.

He who lives without folly is not so wise as he fancies.

Good manners are the least of all laws and the most strictly observed.

Everybody complains of a lack of memory, nobody of a lack of judgment.

The love of justice is nothing more than a fear of injustice.

Passion often makes a fool of a man of sense, and sometimes it makes a fool a man of sense.

Nature seems to have hidden in the depth of our minds a skill and a talent of which we are ignorant; only our passions are able to bring them out and to give us sometimes surer and more complete views than we could arrive at by thought and study.

Our passions are the only orators with an unfailing power of persuasion. They are an art of nature with infallible rules, and the simplest man who is possessed by passion is far more persuasive than the most eloquent speaker who is not moved by feeling.

As we grow old we grow foolish as well as wise.

Few people know how to grow old.

Death and the sun are things one cannot look at steadily.

V.—Virtues and Vices

Hypocrisy is a homage that vice pays to virtue.

Our vices are commonly disguised virtues.

Virtue would not go far if vanity did not go with her.

Prosperity is a stronger test of virtue than misfortune is.

Men blame vice and praise virtue only through self-interest.

Great souls are not those which have less passions and more virtues than common souls, but those which have larger ambitions.

Of all our virtues one might say what an Italian poet has said of the honesty of women, "that it is often nothing but an art of pretending to be honest."

Virtues are lost in self-interest, as rivers are in the sea.

To the honour of virtue it must be acknowledged that the greatest misfortunes befall men from their vices.

When our vices leave us, we flatter ourselves that we have left them.

Feebleness is more opposed to vice than virtue is.

What makes the pangs of shame and jealousy so sharp is that our vanity cannot help us to support them.

What makes the vanity of other persons so intolerable is that it hurts our own.

We have not the courage to say in general that we have no defects, and that our enemies have no good qualities; but in matters of detail we are not very far from believing it.

 If we never flattered ourselves the flattery of others Would not injure us.

We sometimes think we dislike flattery; we only dislike the way in which we are flattered.

Flattery is a kind of bad money to which our vanity gives currency.

Self-love, as it happens to be well or ill-conducted, constitutes virtue and vice.

We are so prepossessed in our own favour that we often mistake for virtues those vices that bear some resemblance to them, and are artfully disguised by self-love.

Nothing is so capable of lessening our self-love as the observation that we disapprove at one time what we approve at another.

Self-love is the love of self, and of everything for the sake of self. When fortune gives the means, self-love makes men idolise themselves and tyrannise over others. It never rests or fixes itself anywhere outside its home. If it settle on external things, it is only as the bee does on flowers, to extract what may be serviceable. Nothing is so impetuous as its desires, nothing so secret as its designs, nothing so adroit as its conduct. We can neither fathom the depth, nor penetrate the obscurity of its abyss. There, concealed from the most piercing eye, it makes numberless turnings and windings; there is it often invisible even to itself; there it conceives, breeds, and cherishes, without being aware of it, an infinity of likings and hatreds; some of which are so monstrous that, having given birth to them, self-love either does not recognize them, or cannot bear to own them. From the darkness which covers self-love spring the ridiculous notions which it entertains of itself; thence its errors, ignorance, and silly mistakes; thence it imagines that its feelings are dead when they are but asleep; and thinks that it has lost all appetite when it is for the moment sated.

 But the thick mist which hides it from itself does not hinder it from seeing perfectly whatever is without; and thus it resembles the eye, that sees all things except itself. In great concerns and important affairs, where the violence of its desire excites its whole attention, it sees, perceives, understands, invents, suspects, penetrates, and divines all things; so that one is tempted to believe that each of its passions has its peculiar magic.

Its desires are inflamed by itself rather than by the beauty and merit of the objects; its own taste heightens and embellishes them; itself is the game it pursues, and its own inclination is what is followed rather than the things which seem to be the objects of its inclination. Composed of contrarieties, it is imperious and obedient, sincere and hypocritical, merciful and cruel, timid and bold. Its desires tend, according to the diverse moods that direct it, sometimes to glory, sometimes to wealth, sometimes to pleasure. These are changed as age and experience alter; and whether it has many inclinations or only one is a matter of indifference, because it can split itself into many or collect itself into one just as is convenient or agreeable.

It is inconstant; and numberless are the changes, besides those which happen from external causes, which proceed from its own nature. Inconstant through levity, through love, through novelty, through satiety, through disgust, through inconstancy itself. Capricious; and sometimes labouring with eagerness and incredible pains to obtain things that are in no way advantageous, nay, even hurtful, but which are pursued merely as a passion. Whimsical, and often exerting intense application in the most trifling employments; taking delight in the most insipid things, and preserving all its haughtiness in the most contemptible pursuits. Attendant on all ages and conditions; living everywhere; living on everything; living on nothing. Easy in either the enjoyment, or privation of things. Going over to those who are at variance with it; even entering into their schemes; and, wonderful! joining with them, it hates itself; conspires its own destruction; labours to be undone; desires only to exist; and, that granted, consents to be its own enemy.

We are not therefore to be surprised if sometimes, uniting with the most rigid austerity, it enters boldly into a combination against itself; because what is lost in one respect is regained in another. When we think it relinquishes pleasures, it only suspends or changes them; and even when discomforted, and we seem to be rid of it, we find it triumphant in its own defeat. Such is self-love!—of which man's whole life is only a strong, a continued agitation. The sea is a striking image of it, and in the flux and reflux of the waves, self-love may find a lively expression of the turbulent succession of its thoughts, and of its eternal agitation.