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Maxims (Classics) [Paperback]

La Rochefoucauld , Leonard Tancock
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Jun 1981 Classics
The philosophy of La Rochefoucauld, which influenced French intellectuals as diverse as Voltaire and the Jansenists, is captured here in more than 600 penetrating and pithy aphorisms.

Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; First Thus edition (25 Jun 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014044095X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140440959
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.8 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 309,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

"Stuart D. Warner and Stéphane Douard's handsome new edition of the 'Maximes' admirably succeeds in it two high purposes: it is a book beautifully organizesd for the maximum convenience of its readers that provides a translation - chaste, literal, and elegant - absolutely faithful tot he meaning of the great La Rochefoucauld. A spendid achievement in every way."

-Joseph Epstein
"A thorough edition and a superb translation of the most acute work in the French classical moralistic wisdom. The Introduction is brilliant. What La Rochefoucald denounced as the appetites of human pride is not so different indeed from what nowadays is called narcissism. His book expressed disillusion wih aristocratic individualistic values. But his resemblance with the 'demystifiers' of our times makes his 'Maximes' essential reading. A very remarkable book."

-Jean Starobinski
"La Rochefoucauld's sententious reflections on life, death and much of what passes in their compass are given shape in a masterly introduction that locates their author his relation to his moral and spiritual heritage and to a future that has become our modern environment. The thoughtful translation adds much to the merit of this valuable work."

-Joseph Cropsey --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Moral Reflections

Nos vertus ne sont, le plus souvent, que des vices déguisés.
Our virtues are, most often, only vices disguised.

1 Ce que nous prenons pour des vertus n’est souvent qu’un assemblage de diverses actions et de divers intérêts, que la fortune ou notre industrie savent arranger; et ce n’est pas toujours par valeur et par chasteté que les hommes sont vaillants, et que les femmes sont chastes.
What we take for virtues are often only a collection of various actions and interests which fortune or our own industry knows how to arrange; and it is not always through valor and chastity that men are valiant and that women are chaste.

2 L’amour-propre est le plus grand de tous les flatteurs.
Self-love is the greatest of all flatterers.

3 Quelque découverte que 1'on ait faite dans le pays 1'amour-propre, il y reste encore bien des terres inconnues.
Whatever discovery was made in the country of self-love, many unknown lands remain there still.

4 L’amour-propre est plus habile que le plus habile homme du monde.
Self-love is more clever than the most clever man in the world.

5 La durée de nos passions ne dépend pas plus de nous que la durée de notre vie.
The duration of our passions depends on us no more than the duration of our lives.

6 La passion fait souvent un fou du plus habile homme, et rend souvent les plus sots habiles.
Passion often makes a madman out of the most clever man, and often renders the most foolish clever.

7 Ces grandes et éclatantes actions qui éblouissent les yeux sont représentées par les politiques comme les effets des grands desseins, au lieu que ce sont d'ordinaire les effets de 1'humeur et des passions. Ainsi la guerre d'Auguste et d’Antoine, qu'on rapporte à 1'ambition qu’ils avaient de se rendre maîtres du monde, n’était peut-être qu’un effet de_jalousie.
These great and brilliant actions which dazzle the eyes are represented by statesmen as the effects of great designs, whereas they are ordinarily the effects of the humors and of the passions. Thus, the war of Augustus and Anthony, which is ascribed to the ambition they had to become masters of the world, was perhaps only an effect of jealousy.

8 Les passions sont les seuls orateurs qui persuadent toujours. Elles sont comme un art de la nature dont les règles sont infaillibles; et 1'homme le plus simple qui a de la passion persuade mieux que le plus éloquent qui n'en a point.
Passions are the only orators which always persuade. They are like an art of nature, the rules of which are infallible. and the simplest man who has some passion persuades better than the most eloquent who has none.

9 Les passions ont une injustice et un propre intérêt qui fait qu'il est dangereux de les suivre, et quon sen doit déffier lors même qu'elles paraissent les plus raisonnables.
Passions have an injustice and a self-interest of their own which makes following them dangerous, and one should distrust them, even when they appear most reasonable.

10 II y a dans le cœur humain une géneration perpétuelle de passions, en sorts que la ruine de 1'une est presque toujours 1'établissement d'une autre.
There is in the human heart a perpetual generation of passions, such that the downfall of one is almost always the establishment of another.

11 Les passions en engendrent souvent qui leur sont contraires. L’avarice produit quelquefois la prodigalité; et la prodigalité 1'avarice; on est souvent ferme par faiblesse, et audacieux par timidité.
Passions often engender passions which are contrary to them. Avarice sometimes begets prodigality, and prodigality avarice; one is often resolute through weakness, and bold through timidity.

12 Quelque soin que 1'on prenne de couvrir ses passions par des apparences de piété et d’honneur, elles paraissent toujours au travers de ces voiles.
Whatever care one takes to cover one's passions with appearances of piety and honor, they always appear through these veils.

13 Notre amour-propre souffre plus impatiemment la condemnation de nos goûts que de nos opinions.
Our self-love suffers more impatiently the condemnation of our tastes than our opinions.

14 Les hommes ne sont pas seulement sujets à perdre le souvenir des bien faits et des injures; its haïssent même ceux qui les ont obligés, et cessent de haïr. ceux qui leur ont fait des outrages. L’application à récompenser le bien, et a se venger du mal, leur paraît une servitude à laquelle ils ont peine de se soumettre.
Men are not only subject to losing the memory of benefits and injuries, they even hate those who benefited them, and cease to hate those who have committed outrages against them. The diligence of rewarding the good and taking revenge on the bad appears to them as a servitude into which they have difficulty delivering themselves.

15 La clémence des princes n’est souvent qu'une politique pour gagner 1'affection des peuples.
The leniency of princes is often only a policy for winning the affection of the people.

16 Cette clémence dont on fait une vertu se pratique tantôt par vanité, quelque fois par paresse, souvent par crainte, et presque toujours par tous les trois ensemble.
This leniency of which a virtue is made is sometimes practiced out of vanity, now and then out of laziness, often out of fear, and almost always out of all three together.

17 La moderation des personnes heureuses vient du calme que la bonne fortune donne à leur humeur
The moderation of happy people comes from the calm that good fortune gives to their humors. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable insight into human nature 29 Dec 2000
In this work, La Rochefoucauld captures with amazing precision, the true nature of people. His maxims are summaries of his insights into human behavoir. Arguably, they display a pessimistic, infinitely cynical, and even, it could be argued, a misanthropic view of people. There can, however, be no question that these snappy, sometimes witty truisms will strike a chord with any human being. So perceptive are they, that they apply to modern life almost as much as they did to the seventeen century France in which and for which they were written
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. T. White TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliant thinking at an inexpensive price is to me, irresistible. And this is the book which fits that bill.

Thus London, reposed at leisure, in a cafe; the waitress stares briefly in my direction. Not at me, alas, but at the book I'm reading. She asks what is this book to which all my attention was hence directed. I said: "it's Maxims; a book of wisdom, really." She remains transfixed, and I unhesitatingly add, before she's time to reacquaint herself with her duties: "Listen to this" as I lean toward her, 'jealousy is always born with love, but does not always die with it.'" She thinks for a mere moment and smiles, "yes, that's wise. Very wise."


If the art of thinking appeals to you then this is your book.

Full marks, of course.

from me, a T. White and one who was briefly his waitress, one, otherwise unremarkable day in London, circa July 2011 A.D.
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The book is one of the frankest in the world and unveils a world of incredible contradictions. It is a serious book that will have you thinking about human behavior. It exposes an unmistakable cynicism and vanity that is human nature.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
every cynic will know of la rochefoucauld, the greatest cynic of them all. this book collects all his known maxims in one collection - giving you the opportunity to put down others with withering phrases, quickly and easily. when my mother-in-law told me off for buying cheap curtains i simply said, "nothing is given so liberally as our advice" (maxim no 110) and she was stumped for words. on another occasion, when my father-in-law said i watched too many soaps, i retorted: "when vanity is not prompting us we have little to say" (maxim no 137). i am not fond of the in-laws.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
112 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Maxims' as a Classic of 'Crooked Wisdom.' 24 Jun 2001
By tepi - Published on Amazon.com
The famous Indian classic, Kautilya's 'Arthasastra,' a treatise which deals with the attainment of worldly ends, distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom - Straight and Crooked. To the former belong (to use Western examples) such works as 'The Imitation of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis, a work which teaches how, ideally, the virtuous should live, while overlooking the fact that often it would be extremely impractical and socially disastrous to live in such a way.
The second class of books, those which teach the art of 'Crooked Wisdom,' is exemplified in the East by Kautilya's 'Arthasastra' itself, and in the West by such works as Balthasar Gracian's 'The Art of Worldly Wisdom,' Francesco Guicciardini's 'Maxims and Reflections of a Renaissance Statesman' (Ricordi), and by the present collection of Maxims by La Rochefoucauld.
These books are both highly realistic and extremely practical, for they depict, not man as he is supposed to be, but man as he is with all his selfishness, stupidity, ambition, arrogance, malice, laziness and other imperfections, and they teach the art of how, not merely to survive, but even to thrive in the midst of our far from perfect fellow men and women. And, certainly in the case of La Rochefoucauld, this teaching is done with great precision and wit.
'Crooked Wisdom,' then, should not be understood as the product of a crooked mind, but as the clear-sighted wisdom one needs to survive in a world teeming with such minds, a world, as Tancock says, involved in a "sordid struggle of self-interests, a scramble for power, position, and influence in which the foulest motives and methods [are] decked with labels such as duty, honor, patriotism, and glory."
La Rochefoucauld seems to provoke two very different kinds of reaction. Fully paid up members of the rose-tinted spectacles club, are shocked and horrified by his portrait of man and society, and they tend to dislike both the man and his book.
The more realistically inclined, however, will savor his bite and wit and will readily acknowledge the self-evident truth of much if not all of what he says. The man was undoubtedly brilliant, not only in terms of the many profound insights he gave us - particularly those having to do with 'amour propre' or self-love - but also in terms of the skill with which he translated those insights into pithy and memorable maxims.
Tancock defines the maxim as the expression of "some thought about human motives or behavior in a form containing the maximum of clarity and TRUTH with the minimum of words arranged in the most striking and memorable order" (my caps). La Rochefoucauld's aim, in short, was simply to tell the truth, and to tell it for our benefit.
The maxim as a literary genre was cultivated in his milieu, and La Rochefoucauld's were polished to a high state of perfection, for they had to satisfy a critical and sophisticated audience. Seven years were devoted to refining them, during which the circle of his aristocratic friends and fellow habitues of Mmme de Sable's salon repeatedly offered advice and criticism.
The 'Maxims,' then, although the product of an individual sensibility, also become in a sense the product a collective effort, having emerged from a serious and civilized salon whose interests were psychological, literary, and linguistic. Anyone who feels inclined to dismiss them might keep this in mind.
I discovered La Rochefoucauld many years ago, and have always been a great admirer of his Maxims. Once read, they are never forgotten. They have a way of burrowing deeply into the mind, and the fact that they tend to recur in those moments when we are reflecting on life and mulling over our experiences seems to me a kind of proof of their veracity.
One that has always struck me as particularly significant is Maxim 22 : "Philosophy easily triumphs over past ills and ills to come, but present ills triumph over philosophy." Or, in the words of the Red Queen : "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but no jam today." If such truths are not exactly cheering, this in no way detracts from their being true.
There is an enormous amount to be learned by the honest and open-minded reader from La Rochefoucauld's 'Maxims,' especially if they also have a sense of humor. But the 'Happy Days! Happy Sky!' school, whose main requirement of a writer would seem to be that he should confirm them in their beautiful illusions, would be wiser to look elsewhere for edification. La Rochefoucauld is not a writer for the faint of heart, nor for those without a sense of humor.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth Hurts 29 Jan 2001
By Lance Kirby - Published on Amazon.com
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These maxims, though brief, speak volumes about their author and the human condition. Francois duc do La Rouchefoucauld was cursed with a double nature which led him in his career as a courtier to, as Leonard Tanner puts it in his introduction "romantic self-dedication followed by bitter disillusion." After the fighting in Paris of 1652 he retired to a quiet life of contemplation and the society of such friends as Mme de Sevigne, who's letters give us such a vibrant window upon that age. It was during the many meetings he had with these friends that the first maxims evolved, and which he would continue to compose and perfect until his death in 1680. Nothing quite like them had ever existed before in European literature, and their precision and bleak though biting wit would shape the style of French letters for centuries to come. Essential reading for the student of the school of hard knocks.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring Wisdom Direct from the Court of Louis XIV 4 April 2007
By Edward H. Binns - Published on Amazon.com
La Rochefoucauld isn't for everyone. Let's excuse those who are going to be offended right away. Do you insist your movies be in color and have a happy endings? You're excused. Do you believe man is perfectable through his institutions? You're excused. Do you believe that love remains bright, eternal and unchanging? You're excused. Do you believe you know yourself completely and thoroughly? Then I'll see you around. Have a nice day.

Now, for the rest of us, realists rather than idealists, La Rochefoucauld is a Godsend. A nobleman from the highest levels of the French aristrocracy pulls up a chair and starts talking to us, telling us deep and profound things, giving us insights so quickly and so accurately that we erupt over and over again with deep, raucous laughter. He tells us the essential, conceptual problems with love. He tells us that the sexes are not the same and cannot act identically, and says this profoundly and without dismissing or mocking either men or women.

He warns us about vanity, resentment, envy and jealousy. Most especially, he convinces us that these qualities are dominent in human affairs. He tells us why a dismissive attitude about death is not genuine. He warns us of the great dangers brought about through laziness.

The art of using the minimum words to convey a subtle truth was in its highest form in Paris at this time. The Maxims were shared and honed in a salon. La Rochefoucauld's life of warfare and court intrigue and betrayal and unrequited love allowed him to bring deep wisdom into the emotions and moods he describes. Particularly, his rivalry with a self-aggrandizing courtier informs his writing. Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, was a pompous and annoying hypocrite who was extremely successful in some aspects of his life. Retz once received eight votes for election to the Papacy. Yet La Rochefoucauld both saw through him and came to understand why so many others did not pierce the veil of the cardinal's reputation.

The salon and rivalry with Retz are an important introduction Tancock gives us to the Maxims. That material should be read thoroughly and introspectively, especially the cardinal's written description of La Rochefoucauld and the duke's written description of the cardinal.

In the actual body of the Maxims and Reflections, La Rochefoucauld tells us of the dominent human characteristic, an impulse for self-preservation so strong that affection for oneself, pride, and vanity about one's reputation become included in it. It's called "amour-propre," for which self-love is only a glib translation. The essay on self-love, the longest and most stunning of the writings, is more than a maxim. It resists being broken down into pithy sayings. Sturdily written, it was so shocking to the French aristocracy that it was excluded from later editions of the Maxims.

But La Rochefoucauld's description of amour-propre is a masterpiece, a work of genius and modern psychology, three hundred years ahead of its time. Personally, it is the most important essay I ever read. Here is a partial quote from Tancock's translation of the maxim on self-love (number 563):

"....From this enveloping darkness come the ludicrous ideas it has about its own nature -- the errors, ignorances, obtusenesses, and sillinesses where itself is concerned -- believing, for instance, that its emotions are dead when they are merely dormant, that it has given up wanting to run just because it is resting, or that it has lost the tastes it has satiated. But this thick darkness that hides it from itself does not prevent its seeing with perfect clarity things outside itself, just as our eyes can perceive everything else and are only blind when it comes to seeing themselves. Indeed, where its main interests and really important affairs are concerned, and the violence of its desires takes up the whole of its attention, self-love sees, feels, hears, imagines, suspects, penetrates, and guesses everything, and one is tempted to believe that its every passion has magical properties of its own..."

Tancock here, and throughout the book, performs a meticulous translation for us. His friend, W. G. Moore, wrote about this particular passage in his book "La Rochefoucauld, His Mind and Art" and said:

"Surely this is writing of a high order. Lucid in form, short unremarkable phrases, few images, most of the stress on the single verb -- these features are not usually combined with the description of something that no human eye has seen or brain registered. Apparently the only way of describing the quality called amour-propre is to make it personal. The phrases are understandable as applied to a human being; perhaps even more to an animal, in a lair, taking precautions against surprise, running, resting, feeding, hiding, finding no rest,. We are not, as we thought, in the domain of critical assessment, still less in the domain of phrase-making, we are reading about magic, a picture is conjured up before our eyes; we watch the imagination at work. What it shows is a monster, something unnatural. The mood of scorn, discernible in many epigrams, is absent. The attitude is one of respect, almost awe, before something ubiquitous and mysterious. Yet we know what is being described: the power and plight of fallen man is here more imposing and impressive than in a Bossuet sermon. This is an Augustinian passage."

Let this nobleman, Francois, the sixth duke of La Rochefoucauld, stun you, amuse you, and lead you to greater wisdom.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World class aphorisms 9 Jun 2000
By Manuel Haas - Published on Amazon.com
Be warned! La Rochefoucauld is not a very edifying writer. He doesn't believe in making people better. Instead he says: "Virtue wouldn't go very far if it were not for vanity keeping it company." The Maxims offer one of the most disillusioned views of human nature in world literature. What really recommends them, however, is their clarity and elegance. Again and again they have been compared to diamonds.
La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) is the most famous of the French moralists who dissected human behaviour in razor-sharp aphorisms. Get this volume to discover a tradition of thinking which is largely alien to English literature, with the notable exception of Oscar Wilde. "Most young people feel they are just being natural when they are nothing but gross."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self- love is our essence 2 Nov 2004
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
These maxims- aphorisms are a Western classic .In one way they look with a cynical eye at this vain self - aggrandizing creature the human being and do their best to debunk his illusions. On the other they are written with such grace , point and wit that they amuse and give the reader pleasure.

If there is one criticism it is that on the whole Rouchefoucaud has a very limited view of mankind and human nature. We may not all be as wonderful as we think, but humanity is far better and good in many ways than is seen in these aphorisms.
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