35 Aphorisms Written by a Cool French Guy

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about aphorisms, which, simply put, is a saying expressing a belief, usually true. Think, quote of the day.

There are millions of recorded aphorisms, and web sites devoted to them, one in particular I found helpful, in that the aphorisms were categorized based on love, friendship, life, etc. I chose love, thinking, maybe I could blog something about my Perigee Moon character and his rather rocky road to a lasting and fulfilling relationship. I discovered a majority of the aphorisms I particularly liked were authored by a French gent who lived in the sixteen hundreds, so I decided to research him and discuss his aphorisms exclusively.

His name is François de la Rochefoucauld and he was considered the greatest maxim writer of France, a maxim being “a compact expression of a general truth or rule of conduct.”  I believe roughly, maxim = aphorism, or at least they are enough alike that M. de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims appear in nearly every list of popular aphorisms.

Here is a picture of Francois:

Notwithstanding the big hair, he is a comely fellow. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, with the strange getups those dudes used to wear, and the wigs, facial hair, and the rather petulant expressions they all seem to portray which makes me surmise things that aren’t necessarily true.

He had an unremarkable military career of twenty years, and ended up in some court or another, one of those places where they ate, drank and entertained themselves until they were so bored they created some scandal just to relieve the tedium. He was married quite young, to Andree de Vivonne (“who seemed to be an affectionate wife, while not a breath of scandal touched her”) and yet he had relationships with a couple of other ladies as well, so there might have been a bit of dalliance going on there, which was okay for the Ms but not the Mmes. Oh, wasn’t that always the way?

Given the subject of some of his most interesting maxims, I believe it safe to suppose M. de la Rochefoucauld might have been enjoying some strange on the side. But who knows? I could be wrong about it, and thankfully he can’t sue me for slander or defamation of character since he’s been dead for 400 years. Speaking of 400 years, it’s interesting that these aphorisms (or maxims), are as appropriate today as they were then.

Here are 20 of my favorites with snarky comments:

  1. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” We’re watching you, Kim Jong-um, Mr. Current-Supreme-Leader.
  2. “How can we expect another to keep our secret if we cannot keep it ourselves.” You should have read this, Anthony Weiner, before tweeting those jockey shorts pics.
  3. “We hardly find any persons of good sense save those who agree with us.” Just ask a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat. It’s the one thing upon which they can both agree.
  4. “A refusal of praise is a desire to be praised twice.”  You’re pretty. My nose is too big. You’re beautiful. My mouth is too small. You’re exquisite. I’m too fat. Okay, you’re right. I guess you’re actually pretty nasty.
  5. “It is the prerogative of great men only to have great defects.” William Jefferson Clinton.
  6. “It is easier to appear worthy of a position one does not hold, than of the office which one fills.” Ohio Governor John Kasich.
  7. “Preserving the health by too strict a regimen is a worrisome malady.” It’s the old joke, where you give up things that are fun to do, and take up things that are not fun to do, and you may not live longer but it will seem like longer. A lot longer.
  8. “Attention to health is life’s greatest hindrance.” Ask any hypochondriac.
  9. “We do not despise all those who have vices, but we despise all those who have not a single virtue.” Rush Limbaugh. Congratulations for having no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  10. “The greatest miracle of love is the cure of coquetry.” As soon as a couple shares a laundry basket and a bathroom, coquetry is pretty much history, and in its place the willingness to discuss just about anything.
  11. “One may outwit another, but not all the others.” Is this the same as “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. “ George W. Bush.
  12. “Some people resemble ballads which are only sung for a certain time.” Remember the Macarena? Think about that, Kim (Kardashian).  
  13. “The world rewards the appearance of merit oftener than merit itself.” Donald Trump comes to mind.
  14. “Those who occupy their minds with small matters, generally become incapable of greatness.” See, Jerry Falwell? Everyone has forgotten about you.
  15. “We all have strength enough to endure the misfortune of others.” We should all think of this one, each time we watch a news report about those affected by natural disasters.
  16. “True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about but few have seen.” That’s because you can’t find true love on Match.com. The odds are as good as being struck by lightning and winning the lottery – in the same day.
  17. “Those who apply themselves too much to little things often become incapable of great ones.” Any person who participates in any capacity to the production of Dancing With the Stars, and this goes double for you, Bruno.
  18. “There are foolish people who recognize their foolishness and use it skillfully.” Paris Hilton.
  19. “The love of justice is simply in the majority of men the fear of suffering injustice.” The NRA.
  20. “Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding.” Fox News.

My hope is not to offend any readers; I have probably shown my true colors here, which is a shade of blue-purple. I suspect most are left-leaners anyway, or you wouldn’t have been hanging out here for this long. Am I right?

The following of M. de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims are too insightful to deface with jokes, or references to bad people. I like these. They were written 400 years ago and are as true today as they were then.

  1. “It is a kind of happiness to know how unhappy we must be.”
  2. “In their first passion, women love their lovers; in all the others, they love love.”
  3. “In jealousy there is more of self-love than love.”
  4. “One is never so happy or so unhappy as one fancies.”
  5. “Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.”
  6.  “Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example.”
  7. “Everyone blames his memory; no one blames his judgment.”
  8. “There are very few people who are not ashamed of having been in love when they no longer love each other.”
  9. “It is almost always a fault of one who loves not to realize when he ceases to be loved.”
  10. “When a man is in love, he doubts, very often, what he most firmly believes.”
  11. “There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand imitations.”
  12. “If we resist our passions it is more from their weakness than from our strength.”
  13. “We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves.”
  14. “Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.”
  15. “When a man must force himself to be faithful in his love, this is hardly better than unfaithfulness.”

There are many more of M. de la Rochfoucauld’s aphorisms (maxims), this is a mere sampling. They aren’t platitudes and they aren’t dark sayings. They are packed full of meaning, no wasted words, yet with no loss of substance. I detect some melancholy poetry as well. He was an experienced writer and a deep thinker with a devotion to the romance of chivalry. Each one could be the subject of an entire essay.

8 thoughts on “35 Aphorisms Written by a Cool French Guy

  1. What a wonderfully creative post! You not only educated and enlightened me, but you entertained me immensely. I loved #2 with your snarky comment. But it is amazing to see how four centuries later, so much of these still ring true and can be applied to contemporary situations.

  2. Pingback: Stop Pulling Your Hair Out – Steps to Easy E-formatting | Lynn Schneider Books

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