The health of the soul is no more assured than the health of the body; and however much we seem to have distanced ourselves from our passions, we are in no less danger of being swept away by them than of falling ill when we are well. It seems that Nature has prescribed for each of us from birth the limits of virtue and vice.
One may say that, in the course of life, our vices wait upon us like landlords in successive lodgings; and I doubt that we could avoid them even if we were permitted to travel twice down the same road. When our vices abandon us, we flatter ourselves with the belief that we are abandoning them. There are relapses in the maladies of the soul, just as there are of the body. What we call our cure is most often only an intermission or a change of disease. The faults of the soul are like wounds in the body: no matter how much care we take to cure them, the scars always remain, always in danger of reopening.
What often keeps us from abandoning ourselves to a single vice is that we have several. We easily forget those of our faults which are known only to ourselves. There are people of whom we would never believe capable of evil without having seen it; but there are no people in whom we should be surprised to see it. Et quelquefois on louerait moins Monsieur le Prince et M.
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We glorify some people in order to detract from others. The desire to appear clever often gets in the way of becoming clever. Virtue would not go far if vanity did not keep it company. Those who think they can find enough in themselves to be able to do without everyone else are greatly deceived; but those who think that the world cannot do without them are deceived even more. Falsely upright people are those who disguise their faults from others and from themselves; truly upright people are those who know their faults and confess them.
The strictness of women is a kind of makeup by which they add to their beauty. It is a truly honorable person who is willing to be perpetually exposed to the scrutiny of other honorable people.
Foolishness follows us throughout our lives. If someone seems wise, it is only because his follies are in keeping with his age and fortune. There are silly people who know themselves, and who employ their silliness skillfully. Some people are like catchy songs that you can sing only for a short while. Most people judge others either by their fashionableness or their fortune.
Love of glory, fear of shame, desire to make a fortune, the desire to make our life pleasant and agreeable, and the wish to deprecate others are often the causes of that bravery so celebrated by people. Bravery for common soldiers is a dangerous method of earning a living. Perfect bravery and complete cowardice are two extremes that we rarely find. The space between the two is vast, and contains all types of courage. There are no fewer difference among types of courage than there are among faces and temperaments. There are men who willingly expose themselves to danger at the outset of an action but lose heart and become discouraged as it goes on.
Men will freely expose themselves at the beginning of an action, and retreat and become easily discouraged if it should last. There are those who are content themselves when they satisfy public honor, but then will do little beyond that. Some are not always equally masters of their fear. Others allow themselves to be overcome by terrors; others charge forth because they dare not remain at their posts. Some may be found whose fortitude is strengthened by small perils, and who then prepare them face greater dangers.
Some will face a sword cut but fear from a musket shot; others do not dread musket shots but fear to fight with swords. These different kinds of courage come together in that, by night, by increasing fear and concealing brave or cowardly actions, men may handle the situation. There is even a more general caution to be observed, for we meet with no man who does all he would have done if he were assured of surviving. It is certain that the fear of death does somewhat reduce valor.
Perfect valor means being able to perform the same act without witnesses that one would perform in front of the whole world. Bravery is an extraordinary force that lifts the soul above troubles, disorders, and emotions which the sight of great perils can arouse in it; and it is by this force that heroes maintain their inner equilibrium and preserve the free play of their liberty even in the most adverse and terrible circumstances. In war, most men expose themselves to danger just enough to save their honor.
But few will continue to so expose themselves long enough to insure the success of the cause they are fighting for. Vanity, shame, and especially temperament often make men brave and women virtuous. We do not wish to die, and we do wish to acquire glory; this fact makes brave men more clever and thoughtful in avoiding death than crafty lawbenders do in guarding their own goods. There are few people who, on the approach of old age, do not show signs of just where their minds or bodies will eventually fail.
Gratitude is like good faith among merchants: it holds commerce together; and we pay up not because it is the right thing to do, but so that we can more easily find people to extend credit to us. All those who fulfill the duties of gratitude cannot, by doing so, pride themselves on being grateful. The imbalance of gratitude between parties derives from the fact that the pride of the giver and the pride of the receiver cannot agree on the value of the benefit conferred.
Too great an eagerness to repay an obligation is a kind of ingratitude. Fortunate people rarely correct their own faults; they always believe they are right when fortune favors their bad conduct.
Jeannot et Colin
L'orgueil ne veut pas devoir, et l'amour-propre ne veut pas payer. The good that we receive from someone should counterbalance any harm they have done to us. Nothing is so infectious as example, and we never perform great good or great evil without inspiring similar actions. We imitate good actions by emulation, and bad ones by our evil nature, which previously shame had held prisoner, and which example now sets free.
Jean-Baptiste Boyer d'Argens
Whatever pretext we might assign to our afflictions, it is often only vanity and self-interest that causes them. Ainsi les morts ont l'honneur des larmes qui ne coulent que pour les vivants. In afflictions there are various kinds of hypocrisy. In one, under the pretext of bemoaning the loss of someone dear to us, we are actually weeping for ourselves; we regret the loss of the good opinion they had of us. We weep for the lessening of our store of good things, of our pleasure, of our importance. Hence the dead have the honor of tears that were never shed for the living. I say that this is a type of hypocrisy in which we deceive ourselves of the true nature of these afflictions.
There is another type of hypocrisy that is not so innocent, because it seeks to impose itself on everybody.
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It is the affliction of certain people who aspire to the glory of a beautiful and immortal sorrow. After time, which consumes all, obliterates what sorrow they really felt, they do not cease venting their tears, their laments, and their sighs; they were a lugubrious mask, and constantly strive, by all their actions, that their grief will only cease at their own life's end.
Since their sex closes to them all roads that lead to glory, they try to achieve celebrity by acting out an inconsolable affliction. It is more often through pride than ignorance that people are so opposed to common opinions. We find the best places already taken, and we don't want to be stuck in the last row. We are easily reconciled to the misfortunes of our friends when they serve to elicit our fondness for them. It seems that self-love is the fool of goodness and forgets itself when we work for the good of others.
And yet it is the most certain way for self-love to arrive at its goals. It amounts to charging interest under the guise of giving. In the end, it is the way of taking in everyone by a suble and delicate manner. People should not be called good unless they have the power to be bad.
All other forms of goodness are usually only laziness or weak will. It is not as dangerous to do evil to most men as to do them too much good.