The Maxims of François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
June 29, 2003 4:32 PM   Subscribe

The Maxims of François Duc de La Rochefoucauld. He was on the losing side in the Fronde, and later became a luminary of the salons of 17th century France, more particularly the salon of Mme. de Sable at Port-Royal, who wrote a neat Maxim or too, herself. Also on topic are Mots Français and Four Essays on Writing and Sentences by Peter Kalkavage.
posted by y2karl (7 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, La Rochefoucauld, the remix in the wake of aphorisms...

Well, I hate to see a thread on as great a worthy as La Rochefoucauld languish, so I want to contribute something new. Here it is, call it "deep background": French Proverbs from 1611!

As an aside, I think it's against the touchstone of such moralistes as La Rochefoucauld that Nietzsche really formed the idea of his own writing. It's amazing that you could look through the indices of a whole bookshelf of secondary stuff on Nietzsche and find him understood in relation to almost any of his predecessors except these crucial ones. That's "philosophers" for ya. (I have leafed through one little book that seemed to buck the trend a bit: Ralph-Rainer Wuthenow's Nietzsche als Leser: Drei Essays.)
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:45 PM on June 29, 2003

[this is good], thanks.
posted by plep at 3:53 AM on June 30, 2003

man, this guy sure keeps the bookmarks coming...
posted by cohappy at 4:59 AM on June 30, 2003

As Rochefoucauld his maxims drew
From Nature, I believe 'em true:
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.

— Jonathan Swift, from Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:02 AM on June 30, 2003

Ah! I missed the other two threads...this makes me ever so happy. This, here, is why I loves me some MeFi. I have been complaining of late that I have never encounter people who share my interests, and I cited Chamfort in particular. And yet, he is linked and discussed in two or more threads here. I love it.

La Rochefoucauld is certainly rich soil by himself, but other aphorists (whatever those may be) worthy of a coincident reading include Vauvenargues (sadly, practically unavailable in English, though I know a gentleman in California working on a translation), Halifax, and Chamfort (bien sur!) (as well as the grand-masters Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, of course). Vauvenargues, whose cynicism was a bit more temperate and humane, in particular provides a nice counterpoint to some of La Rochefoucauld's harsher social disdain.
No one says in the morning: 'The day is soon over, let us await the night.' On the contrary, we think in the evening of what we shall do the next day. We should be very sorry to spend a single day at the mercy of bad weather or tiresome people. We do not leave to chance the employment of even a few hours; and we are right. For who can undertake to spend a single hour without ennui, if he is not at pains to fill that short period to his taste? But what we dare not undertake for a single hour, we sometimes undertake for the whole of our lives. And we say: 'If death ends all, why be at so much trouble? We are very silly to be so anxious about the future;' or, in other words, 'We are very silly not to trust our destinies to chance, and to take so much thought for that space which lies between us and death.'

—Vauvenargues, Reflections and Maxims 147, tr. F.G. Stevens
posted by dilettanti at 6:56 AM on June 30, 2003

Ah, Vauvenargues! Well, if we are pushing our French-maxims timeline so late, perhaps we can go a bit closer still to our own day. Now you've sent me rummaging (unsuccessfully, damn my itinerant life with everything in boxes) for my xeroxed copy of Joseph Joubert's notebooks (parts of which have been translated by Paul Auster: many gems are quoted in the linked review).

My internet rummaging has been more successful. Readers of French, rejoice in the complete text of Pensées, essais, maximes et correspondance de J. Joubert (hosted by the BNF)!
posted by Zurishaddai at 3:51 PM on June 30, 2003

P.S. The collection is really amazing. Here's the master author list: You'll find the complete works of Chamfort, La Rochefoucauld, etc. Some items are PDF reprints, such as Sainte-Beuve's anthology of French moralistes (Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère, Vauvenargues: edition of 1875, 758 pp.).

Balzac, Boileau, Brillat-Savarin, Byron, Chrétien de Troyes, Corbière, Diderot, Fénelon, Gautier, the Goncourts, Huysmans, La Boétie, Machiavel, Molière, Montesquieu, Musset, Nerval, Rabelais, Rousseau, Taine, Verlaine, Voltaire, Zola ...and these are just a few that caught my fancy now...

This single link does so much for French-readers, that it makes me wonder: why don't we have anything like it in English? I guess this is an advantage of a centralized cultural-academic mafia à l'européenne. At least y2karl won't be out of a job, though! :)
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:22 PM on July 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

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