100 Books: 100 Texts That Influenced My Thinking–La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims

François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac (September 15, 1613-March 17, 1680) was a noted French author of maxims and memoirs.

I learned a lot from the English translation of The Moral Maxims and Reflections of the Duke De La Rochefoucauld by George H. Powell (1903).

Born in Paris on the Rue des Petits Champs, he was considered a model of the accomplished 17th-century nobleman. Until 1650, he bore the title of Prince de Marcillac.

La Rochefoucauld made frequent alterations and additions to his maxims during his life, and some were added after his death. The majority of the maxims (estimated at 504) consist of just two or three lines.

In his introduction, the author advises: “the best approach for the reader to take would be to put in his mind right from the start that none of these maxims apply to himself in particular, and that he is the sole exception, even though they appear to be generalities. After that I guarantee that he will be the first to endorse them and he will believe that they do credit to the human spirit.

Maxims

Here are some examples:

VIII. Sincere enthusiasm is the only orator who always persuades. It is like an art the rules of which never fail; the simplest man with enthusiasm persuades better than the most eloquent with none.

XIV. Men are not only subject to losing all recollection of kindnesses and injuries done them, they even hate those to whom they are obliged and cease to hate those who have harmed them. The effort of repaying the kindness and avenging the evil seem to them a servitude to which they are unwilling to submit.

XXX. If we had no faults, we would not take so much pleasure in noticing those of others.

CCLXI. Flirtatiousness is fundamental to a woman’s nature, but not all put it into practice because some are restrained by fear or by good sense.

CDXI. There hardly exist faults which are not more pardonable than the means by which one tries to hide them.

CDXXXIII. The truest mark of having been born with great qualities is to have been born without envy.

People generally complain about their memory, but never about their judgment.

La Rochefoucauld’s thoughts on human nature concern pride, elf-love, vanity, feelings and emotions, love, sincerity, conversation, and politics.

Most French critics of the 19th century wrote to some extent about La Rochefoucauld.

I learned a lot from the English translation of The Moral Maxims and Reflections of the Duke De La Rochefoucauld by George H. Powell (1903).