Reflections and Moral Maxims by La
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
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
All women are flirts. Some are restrained by timidity
and some by reason.
The greatest miracle of love is the reformation of a
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
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
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
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
We love those who admire us, not those whom we
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
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
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
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
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
IV.—Human Life and Human Nature
Youth is a continual intoxication; it is the fever of
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
There are few things impossible in themselves; it is
the application to achieve them that we lack more than
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
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
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
The labours of the body free us from the pains of the
mind. It is this that constitutes the happiness of the
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
Everybody complains of a lack of memory, nobody
of a lack of judgment.
The love of justice is nothing more than a fear of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.