Nonfiction > Jean de La Bruyère > Characters
Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696).  Characters.  1885.
Of the Gifts of Fortune
(1.)  A VERY rich man may eat of his side-dishes, have his walls and recesses painted, enjoy a palatial residence in the country and another in town, have a large retinue, even become connected with a duke through marriage, and make of his son a great nobleman, and all this will be considered quite right and proper; but to live happy is perhaps the privilege of other men.  1
(2.)  A lofty birth or a large fortune portend merit, and cause it to be the sooner noticed.  2
(3.)  The ambition of a coxcomb is excusable, because, after he has made a large fortune, people will be careful to discover in him some merit which he never had before, and as great as it is in his own opinion.  3
(4.)  As favour and riches forsake a man, we discover in him the foolishness they concealed, and which no one perceived before.  4
(5.)  We could never imagine what a strange disproportion a few or a great many pieces of money make between men, if we did not see it every day with our own eyes.  5
  Those few or many pieces of money are what determine men to adopt the profession of arms, of the law, or of the church, for they have hardly any other vocation.  6
(6.)  Two merchants were neighbours and in the same line of business, but their success in life was quite different. They each had a daughter; and these, brought up together, had been as intimate as girls of the same age and the same condition in life could have been; later, one of them, driven by want and misery, endeavoured to get a place, and entered the service of a great lady, one of the highest rank at court; and this same lady had formerly been her bosom friend.  7
(7.)  If a financier fails in making a lucky stroke, the courtiers say of him, “He is a mere citizen, a man sprung from nothing, a boor;” but if he succeeds, they become suitors for his daughter’s hand.  8
(8.)  Some men in their youth serve an apprenticeship to a certain trade, to follow a very different one the rest of their lives.  9
(9.)  A man is very plain-looking, dwarfish in size, and wanting in intelligence; but some one whispers to me that he has an annual income of fifty thousand livres. That concerns him alone, and I shall never be the better or the worse for it; but people might well consider me mad if I were to look on such a man in a different light because he is wealthy, and were to do so involuntarily.  10
(10.)  It is in vain to attempt to turn a very rich blockhead into ridicule, for the laughers will be on his side.  11
(11.)  N… has a clownish, rude doorkeeper, who looks somewhat like a Swiss, a big hall and an anteroom, where people are obliged to tire themselves out by dancing attendance; at last he makes his appearance with a serious mien and a solemn gait, hears only a few words of what is said, and sends people away without seeing them to the door. However inferior he may seem elsewhere, in his own house he will attract something very akin to respect.  12
(12.)  I want you, Clitiphon, and this has driven me early from my bed and room, and brought me to your door. Would to Heaven I had no occasion to ask you a favour or be troublesome to you! Your servants tell me you are in your own room, and that it will be at least an hour before you can see me; I return before that time, and they inform me you are gone out. What keeps you so deeply engaged, Clitiphon, in the innermost corner of your residence, that prevents you from seeing me? You file some papers, you collate some register, you sign your name or your initials to some documents. I had but one thing to ask you, and you had only to say “Yes” or “No.” If you wish to become a curiosity, be of use to those who depend on you, and you will be a greater curiosity by such conduct than by remaining invisible. You are a man of importance and overwhelmed with business, but if you in your turn have need of my services, come to the solitude of my study, where the philosopher is always to be found, and where you will not be put off till another day. You will find me turning over Plato’s writings “On the spirituality of the soul and its difference with the body,” or, pen in hand, calculating the distance between Saturn and Jupiter; admiring the works of the Creator and endeavouring, by acquiring a knowledge of truth, to rectify my opinions and to improve my morals. You can enter; all my doors are open; you will not get tired in my anteroom with waiting for me; you have no need to let me know beforehand when you are coming; you bring me something more precious than silver or gold, if it is an opportunity of being of service to you. Only tell me what you wish me to do for you? Do you want me to leave my books, my studies, my writings, and the line I have just begun? I am glad to be interrupted when I can be of service to you. A moneyed man, a man of business, is like a bear not yet tamed; there is no seeing him in his den but with the utmost difficulty; or, rather, he is not to be seen at all, for in the beginning he is but dimly visible, and afterwards you see no more of him. A man of letters, on the contrary, is as perceptible as a pillar in a cross-road; he is to be seen by everybody, at all times and in all conditions, at table, in bed, without clothes, dressed, in sickness or in health; he is not a man of importance, and does not wish to be one.  13
(13.)  Let us not envy a certain class of men for their enormous riches; they have paid such an equivalent for them that it would not suit us; they have given for them their peace of mind, their health, their honour, and their conscience; this is rather too dear, and there is nothing to be made out of such a bargain.  14
(14.)  The P.T.S. give us all possible sensations one after another; we first despise them for their low origin, then we envy them, afterwards fear, hate, and sometimes esteem and respect them; we often live long enough to finish by pitying them.  15
(15.)  Sosia was first a footman, then an under-farmer of the revenue, and by extortion, violence, and malversation has now raised himself to a high post on the ruins of several families. He was ennobled by virtue of his office, and the only thing he wanted was to be an honest man; this marvel has been effected by his becoming churchwarden.  16
(16.)  Arfuria used formerly to walk by herself, and go on foot towards the main entrance of a certain church, in which she heard from a distance the sermon of a Carmelite friar or of a doctor of divinity, of whom she saw but the side face, and could not hear many words he said. Her virtue was not apparent and her piety as well known as she herself was. Her husband has become a farmer of the huitième denier, and made a prodigious fortune in less than six years. Now she never comes to church but in a carriage, wearing a heavy train, which is borne up: the preacher stops while she seats herself opposite to him, so that not a single word nor the smallest gesture can escape her. The priests intrigue among themselves as to who shall be her father-confessor, for all wish to give her absolution, but the victory remains with the vicar of the parish.  17
(17.)  Crœsus is carried to the churchyard; and of all the immense wealth which he acquired by rapine and extortion, and which he has lavished in luxury and riotous living, there is not enough left for a decent burial; he died insolvent, without any property, and consequently without any attendance; neither medicines, nor cordials, nor physicians were seen about him, nor the most inferior priest to shrive him.  18
(18.)  Champagne, rising from a prolonged dinner, quite gorged, and his head full of the agreeable fumes of Avenay or Sillery, signs an order for a tax to be levied which would have produced a famine in a whole province, if other means had not been taken. He is excusable; for how can a man whose digestion is just beginning understand that people could anywhere die of starvation.  19
(19.)  Sylvanus has with his money bought rank and another name; he is lord of the same manor where his forefathers had been paying the taille; formerly he was not good enough to be Cleobulus’ page, but now he is his son-in-law.  20
(20.)  Doras is carried in a litter along the Appian Way; his freedmen and slaves run before him to clear the way and to turn aside the people; he wants nothing but Lictors; he enters Rome with quite a retinue, a triumphant foil to the meanness and poverty of his father Sanga.  21
(21.)  No one makes a better use of his fortune than Periander; it gives him a certain rank, influence, and authority; people no longer ask him to be their friend, but they implore his protection. In the beginning he spoke of himself as “such a man as I am,” but soon he says “a man of my rank;” for he pretends to be one of these men, and there are none who borrow money of him, or eat his dinners, which are exquisite, who dare dispute it. His residence is splendid; the outside is Doric, and there is no gate but a portico. Is it a private house or a temple? People are at a loss to know which. He is lord paramount of the entire precincts; every one envies him, and would rejoice at his downfall; his wife’s pearl necklace has made all the ladies of the neighbourhood her enemies. Everything in him is of a piece, and nothing yet belies that grandeur he has acquired, for which he has paid and does not owe anything. But why did his old and feeble father not die twenty years ago before Periander’s name was ever mentioned? How can any man ever endure those odious invitations to a funeral which always reveal the real origin of the deceased, and often put the widows or the heirs to the blush? How shall he hide them from the eyes of the envious, malicious, keen-sighted town, and offend a thousand people who will insist on taking their due places at all funerals? Besides, what would you have him do? Shall he style his father Noble homme and perhaps Honorable homme, whilst he himself is dubbed Messire?  22
(22.)  How many men are like trees, already strong and full grown, which are transplanted into some gardens, to the astonishment of those people who behold them in these fine spots, where they never saw them grow, and who neither know their beginning nor their progress!  23
(23.)  If some dead were to rise again and saw who bore their illustrious names, and that their ancient lands, their castles, and their venerable seats were owned by the very men whose fathers had perhaps been their tenants, what would they think of our age?  24
(24.)  Nothing makes us better understand what trifling things Providence thinks He bestows on men in granting them wealth, money, dignities, and other advantages, than the manner in which they are distributed and the kind of men who have the largest share.  25
(25.)  If you were to enter a kitchen, where all that art and method can do is employed to gratify your palate, and make you eat more than you want; if you see how the viands are prepared which will be served up at the feast; if you observe how they are manipulated, and the various modifications they undergo before they become first-rate dishes, and are brought to that neatness and elegance which charm your eyes, puzzle your choice, and make you decide to taste them all; and then saw the ingredients of this feast anywhere else than on a well-spread table, how offended and disgusted you would be! If you were to go behind the scenes, and count the weights, the wheels, the ropes in “flights” and in the machinery; if you were to consider how many men are employed in executing these movements, and how they ply their arms and strain their nerves, you would ask if these are the prime motors and mainsprings of so handsome and natural a spectacle, which seems so full of life and so intuitive, and you would be greatly astonished at such efforts and such energy. In like manner inquire not too narrowly into the origin of the fortune of any farmer of the revenue, of health, is lord of an abbey and of ten other benefices; they bring him in altogether one hundred and twenty thousand livres a year, which are paid him in golden coin. Elsewhere there are a hundred and twenty indigent families who have no fire to warm themselves during winter, no clothes to cover themselves, and who are often wanting bread; they are in a wretched and piteous state of poverty. What an inequality? And does this not clearly prove that there must be a future state?  26
(27.)  Chrysippus, an upstart, and the first nobleman of his lineage, thirty years ago limited his aims to two thousand livres a year; this was the height of his desires and the summit of his ambition; at least he said so, as many still remember. Some time after, I do not know by what means, he was able to give to one of his daughters as her dowry as much money as he thought formerly an ample competency for his whole lifetime. A like sum is put away for each of his other children, and he has a good many of them; and this is only an advance of their share in his estate, for a good deal of wealth may be expected at his death. He is still alive, and though advanced in years, employs the few days which still remain to him in labouring to become richer.  27
(28.)  Let Ergastus alone, and he will demand a duty from all who drink some water from the river or who walk on terra firma; he knows how to convert reeds, rushes, and nettles into gold; he listens to all projects, and proposes everything he hears. The prince gives nothing to any one but at Ergastus’ expense, and bestows no favours but what are his due, for his desire to have and to possess is never appeased. He would even deal in arts and sciences, and farm out harmony; were his advice to be taken, the people, for the pleasure of seeing him wealthy, and with a pack of hounds and a stable, would forget the music of Orpheus and be satisfied with his.  28
(29.)  Have no dealings with Crito, who only looks after his own advantages; the snare is always ready spread for those who wish to acquire his office, his estate, or anything he possesses, for his conditions will be exorbitant. There is no consideration or arrangement to be expected from one so wrapt up in his own interest and so inimical to yours; he will always take a man in if he can.  29
(30.)  Brontin, according to common report, retires from the busy world, and during a whole week sees none but priests; they enjoy their meditations, and he enjoys his.  30
(31.)  The people very often have the pleasure of seeing a tragedy acted, and of beholding expire on the world’s stage the most hateful personages, who did as much harm as they could whenever they appeared, and whom they heartily detested.  31
(32.)  If we divide the lives of the P.T.S. into two parts, the first, brisk and active, is wholly occupied in trying to oppress the people, and the second, bordering on death, is spent in betraying and ruining one another.  32
(33.)  The man who made your fortune and that of several others was unable to keep his own, or secure a maintenance for his wife and children after his death; they live in obscurity and in wretchedness. You are informed of their miserable condition, but you do not think of alleviating it; indeed you cannot do so, for you give a good many dinners, you build a good deal; but out of gratitude you have kept the portrait of your benefactor, which, it is true, has been removed from your own private room to the anteroom. You have at least shown him some respect, for it might have gone to the lumber-room.  33
(34.)  There exists a stubbornness of temper, and another of rank and condition, which both harden our hearts against the misfortunes of others, and, I should even say, prevent us from pitying the evils which befall our own family. A true financier grieves neither for the loss of friends, wife, nor children.  34
(35.)  “Away, fly; you are not far enough.” “Here,” say you, “I am under another tropic,” “Pass under the pole and into another hemisphere; ascend to the stars, if possible.” “I am there.” “Very well; then you are pretty safe.” I look down and discover on this earth a rapacious, insatiable, and inexorable man, who, in spite of everything he meets on his way or may encounter, and at whatever cost to others, will provide for himself, enlarge his fortune, and wallow in wealth.  35
(36.)  To make one’s fortune is so fine a phrase, and of such charming import, that it is universally used; it is to be met with in all languages, is pleasing to strangers and to barbarians, is to be found at court and in the city, has made its way into cloisters and scaled the walls of convents for both sexes; there is no place so sacred where it has not penetrated, no desert or solitude where it is unknown.  36
(37.)  A man who knows how to make good bargains or finds his money increase in his coffers, thinks presently that he has a good deal of brains and is almost fit to be a statesman.  37
(38.)  A man must have a certain sort of intelligence to make a fortune, and above all a large fortune; but it is neither a good nor a fine, a grand nor a sublime, a strong nor a delicate intellect. I am at a loss to tell exactly what it is, and shall be glad if some one will let me know.  38
  Custom or experience are of more avail in making our fortune than intelligence; we think of it too late, and when at last we have made up our mind to make it, we begin by committing some errors which we have not always the time to repair; and this, perhaps, is the reason why fortunes are far from common.  39
  A man of small intellect wishes to get on in life; he neglects everything, but from morning till evening he only thinks of one thing, and dreams of it at night, namely, to get on in the world. He begins early and from his very youth the chase after wealth; if a barrier in front of him stops the way, he naturally hesitates, and goes to the right or left, according as he sees an opening or thinks it most convenient; and if fresh obstacles arise, he returns to the path he just left, and determines, according to the nature of the difficulties, sometimes to overcome them, sometimes to avoid them, or to take other measures as his own interest, custom, and opportunity may direct him. Does any traveller need such a good head and such great talents to set out at first on a main road, and if that be crowded or impracticable, to cross the fields, jump over hedges and ditches, come back into the former road, and follow it until his journey’s end? Does he require so much intelligence to attain the goal? Is it, then, so wonderful for a fool ever to become rich or of repute?  40
  There are some stupid, and I may even say weak-minded men, who occupy handsome posts, and who die rich without any one ever supposing that they contributed to it in any way whatever by the smallest industry or their own labour. Somebody directed them to the fountain-head, or, perhaps, chance alone has led them to it; then they have been asked if they should like to have some water, and if so, to draw it; and they have drawn it.  41
(39.)  When we are young we are often poor; either we have not yet acquired nor inherited anything. We become rich and old at the same moment; for seldom do men obtain every advantage at one and the same time. But even if some persons are so fortunate, we ought not to envy them, since they lose by their death sufficiently to deserve our compassion.  42
(40.)  A man is thirty years old before he thinks of making his fortune, but it is not completed at fifty; he begins to build in his old age, and dies by the time his house is in a condition to be painted and glazed.  43
(41.)  What is the advantage of having a large fortune, unless it be to enjoy the vanity, industry, labour and outlay of those who came before us, and to labour ourselves in planting, building, and hoarding for our posterity?  44
(42.)  Men open their shops and set out their wares every morning to deceive their customers; and they close them at night after having cheated all day.  45
(43.)  A tradesman turns over all his goods, that he may sell you the worst; he has a certain preparation to give them a lustre, or else holds these goods in a peculiar light, to conceal their faults and to make them appear sound; he asks too large a price for them, so as to sell them for more than they are worth; he has forged mysterious trade-marks, so that people may believe they get the full value for their hard cash; he employs a short yard measure, so that the buyer may obtain as little for his money as possible, and has a pair of scales to try whether the gold he receives be of full weight.  46
(44.)  In all conditions of life a poor man is a near neighbour to an honest one, and a rich man is as little removed from a knave; tact and ability alone seldom procure great riches.  47
  A show of a certain amount of honesty is in any profession or business the surest way of growing rich.  48
(45.)  The shortest and best way of making your fortune is to let people clearly see that it is their interest to promote yours.  49
(46.)  Some men, stimulated by the necessities of life, and sometimes by a desire to gain money or glory, improve their secular talents or adopt a profession far from reputable, and overlook its danger and consequences for a considerable time; they leave it afterwards from secret and devout reasons, which never stirred them before they had reaped their harvest and enjoyed a comfortable income.  50
(47.)  There exist miseries in this world which wring the very heart; some people want even food; they dread the winter and are afraid to live; others eat hothouse fruits; the earth and the seasons are compelled to furnish forth delicacies; and mere citizens, simply because they have grown rich, dare to swallow in one morsel what would nourish a hundred families. Whatever may be brought forward against such extremes, let me be neither unhappy or happy if I can help it; I take refuge in mediocrity.  51
(48.)  It is well known that the poor are sad because they want everything and nobody comforts them; but if it be true that the rich are irascible, it is because they may want the smallest thing, or that some one might oppose them.  52
(49.)  A man is rich whose income is larger than his expenses, and he is poor if his expenses are greater than his income.  53
  There are some men who with an annual revenue of two millions are yearly still five hundred thousand livres in arrears.  54
  Nothing keeps longer than a middling fortune, and nothing melts away sooner than a large one.  55
  Great riches are a temptation for poverty.  56
  If it be true that a man is rich who wants nothing, a wise man is a very rich man.  57
  If a man be poor who wishes to have everything, then an ambitious and a miserly man languish in extreme poverty.  58
(50.)  Passions tyrannise over mankind, but ambition keeps the others in abeyance, and makes for a while a man appear to possess every virtue.  59
  I once believed that Tryphon, whom I now know to practise every vice, was sober, chaste, liberal, modest, and even pious; I might have believed so still if he had not made his fortune.  60
(51.)  All that a man wishes for is riches and grandeur; he falls very ill, and death draws near, and though his face be shrivelled and his legs totter, yet he is still talking of his fortune and his post.  61
(52.)  There are but two ways of rising in the world, either by your own industry or by the folly of others.  62
(53.)  The features may indicate the natural disposition, habits, and morals of a man, but it is the expression of the whole countenance that discovers his wealth; it is written in a man’s face whether he has more or less than a thousand livres a year.  63
(54.)  Chrysantes, a wealthy and impertinent man, would think it a disgrace to be seen with Eugenius, who is a man of merit but poor; Eugenius entertains the same feelings towards Chrysantes; so there is no chance of their ever quarrelling together.  64
(55.)  When I see some persons, who formerly were the first to bow to me, wait, on the contrary, till I salute them, and stand on ceremony with me, I say to myself, “All this is mighty fine, and I am very glad things go so well with them; it is quite certain that those gentlemen live in larger houses, have handsomer furniture and better repasts than formerly, and that for the last few months they have had a share in a business by which they have already made some very good profit. Pray Heaven they may in a short time come even to despise me!”  65
(56.)  If thoughts, books, and their authors were depending on the rich and on those who have made a large fortune, they would all be exiled, and that without appeal. Such men act superciliously and lord it over the learned! They keep their dignity with those poor wretches whose merit has not advanced or enriched them, and who still think and write sensibly! We must confess that at present the rich predominate, but the future will be for the virtuous and ingenious. Homer lives still and will ever flourish, whilst the tax-gatherers and publicans are no more and are utterly forgotten, and their native country and their very names are unknown at present. Were there any farmers of the revenue in Greece? What has become of all those important personages who despised Homer, who were careful to avoid him, who never bowed to him, or, if they did so, never called him “Sir,” who did not think him worthy of being admitted to their tables, who looked on him as a man who was not rich and had written a book? What will become of the Fauconnets? Will their names be transmitted to posterity as the name of Descartes was, who, though born a Frenchman, died in Sweden?  66
(57.)  The same amount of pride which makes a man treat haughtily his inferiors, makes him cringe servilely to those above him. It is the very nature of this vice, which is neither based on personal merit nor on virtue, but on riches, posts, influence, and useless knowledge, to render a man as supercilious to those who are below him as to over-value those who are of a loftier rank than they themselves are.  67
(58.)  There are some sordid minds, formed of slime and filth, to whom interest and gain are what glory and virtue are to superior souls; they feel no other pleasure but to acquire money and never to lose it; they are covetous and are always wanting ten per cent.; they only occupy themselves with their creditors; always dread the lowering or calling in of certain monies; and are absorbed and immerged in contracts, deeds, and parchments. Such people are neither relatives, friends, citizen, Christians, nor perhaps men; they have money.  68
(59.)  Let us first except those noble and courageous minds, if there are any yet on this earth, who assist those who are in want, contrive to do good, whom no necessities, nor inequality of rank or fortune, nor intrigues can separate from those they have once chosen for their friends; and after having made this remark, let us boldly state a lamentable truth, which makes us miserable to think about, namely, that there is not a person in this world, however intimately connected with us by social ties or by friendship, who likes us, enjoys our society, has a great many times offered us his services, and sometimes even rendered us one, who, when swayed by his own interests, would not feel inwardly disposed to break with us and become our enemy.  69
(60.)  Whilst Orontes is increasing in years, in wealth, and in income, a girl born in a certain family flourishes, grows up, becomes very handsome, and enters on her sixteenth year. Orontes, who is then fifty, of inferior birth, without intelligence and the smallest merit, has to be entreated to marry that young, handsome, and witty girl, and is preferred to all his rivals.  70
(61.)  Marriage, which ought to be a source of all felicity, is often to a man a heavy burden which crushes him through want of fortune. For his wife’s and children’s sake he is sorely tempted to commit fraud, to tell falsehoods, and obtain illicit gains. It must be a dreadful situation for any man to have to choose between roguery and indigence.  71
  To marry a widow means, in plain language, to make one’s fortune, though this is not always the case.  72
(62.)  A man who has only inherited sufficient money to live comfortably as a lawyer wishes presently to become an official, then a magistrate, and finally a judge. Thus it is with all ranks and conditions of men straitened or limited in their means, who, after having attempted several things beyond their power, force, if I may say so, their destiny; they have neither sense enough to forbear being rich nor to continue rich.  73
(63.)  Dine comfortably, Clearchus, make a good supper, put some wood on the fire, buy a cloak, put hangings all round your room, for you have no love for your heir; you even do not know him; you have not got any.  74
(64.)  When we are young we lay up for old age; when we are old we save for death; a prodigal heir first gives us a splendid funeral, and then lavishes whatever money is left to him.  75
(65.)  After his death a miser spends more money in one day than he spent in ten years when he was alive; and his heir more in ten months than the miser could find in his heart to part with during his whole lifetime.  76
(66.)  When we lavish our money we rob our heir; when we merely save it we rob ourselves. The middle course is to be just to ourselves and to others.  77
(67.)  Children, perhaps, would be dearer to their parents and parents to their children, were it not for the latter being their heirs.  78
(68.)  How wretched is man’s estate, and how it makes one sick of life! We have to moil and toil, to watch, to yield, and to be dependent, to acquire a little money, or else we get it at the last gasp of our nearest relations. He who can master his feelings so far as not to wish for his father’s death is an honest man.  79
(69.)  A person who expects to inherit something becomes over-polite; we are never better flattered, better obeyed, followed, courted, attended, and caressed than by those who hope to gain by our death, and wish it may happen soon.  80
(70.)  As far as different places, titles, and inheritances are concerned, all men look upon themselves as one another’s heirs, and, therefore, quietly and stealthily wish all their lives for one another’s death. The happiest man, under such circumstances, is he who has most to lose by his death, and most to leave to his successor.  81
(71.)  It is said of gambling that it makes all ranks equal; but there is often such a strange disparity and such a vast, immense, and profound chasm between this and that condition, that it pains us to see such extremes meet together. It is like discord in music, like colours which do not harmonise, like words that clash and jar on our ears, like those sounds and noises which make us shudder. In a word, it is a subversion of all order and decency. If any one tells me gambling is the custom throughout the whole western hemisphere, I reply that perhaps it is one of the reasons why we are considered barbarians in another part of the globe, and what the Eastern nations who travel this way particularly remark of us in their journals. I have not the smallest doubt that such an excessive familiarity appears to them as disgusting as their zombay and their other prostrations seem to us incongruous.  82
(72.)  An assembly of the provincial states or a parliament meeting to discuss a very important matter of business, presents nothing so grave and serious as a table crowded with gamblers who play very high; a melancholic severity is depicted on every countenance; implacable towards one another, and irreconcilable enemies as long as they are together, they neither regard relationship, connections, birth, or social distinctions. Chance alone, that blind and stern divinity, presides over the assembly, and pronounces her opinions like a sovereign; people show their respect for her by remaining very silent, and by being more attentive than they are elsewhere. Every passion seems in abeyance for a while, to give way to one passion only, during which the courtier neither pretends to be gentle, fawning, polite, nor pious.  83
(73.)  Even the smallest trace of their former condition seems utterly obliterated in those who have made their fortune by gambling; they lose sight of their equals, and associate only with persons of the highest rank. It is true that the fortune of the die or lansquenet often puts them in the same place whence it took them.  84
(74.)  I am not surprised that there are gambling houses, like so many snares laid for human avarice; like abysses where many a man’s money is engulphed and swallowed up without any hope of return: like frightful rocks against which the gamblers are thrown and perish; that certain men are sent forth to find out the precise time some person has landed with newly got prize-money, or who has gained a lawsuit which has brought him in a goodly sum, or who has received some presents, or who has had a very lucky run at play; what young man of family has just come into a large inheritance, or what desperate clerk will venture the monies of his office on the turn of a card. Truly cheating is villainous and rascally, but it is an old and well-known trade, and practised at all times by the men we call professional gamblers. They have a sign outside their doors, and this may be the inscription: “Here cheating is done fairly;” for I suppose they do not pretend to be blameless. Every one knows that if a man gambles in one of these houses he is certain to lose. What to me is unaccountable, is that there should always be as many fools as gamblers want, to make a living by them.  85
(75.)  Thousands have been ruined by gambling, and yet they tell you very coolly they cannot do without it. What an idle excuse is this! Is there any violent and shameful passion in existence to which we cannot apply the same language? Would any one be allowed to say, he cannot live without stealing, murdering, or rushing into all kinds of excesses? It is allowable to gamble in a frightful manner, without intermission, shame, or limit; to have no other aim but the total ruin of your adversary; to be carried away by a desire for gain, thrown into despair by losing or consumed by avarice; to risk on the turn of a card or die your own future and that of your wife and children; or should we do without it yet? And are there not sometimes worse consequences than these at the gambling-table, when men are entirely stripped, obliged to do without clothes and food, and cannot provide these for their families?  86
  I allow no one to be a knave, but I will allow a knave to play high, but not an honest man, for it is too silly to expose oneself to a heavy loss.  87
(76.)  There is but one sorrow which is lasting, and that is one produced by the loss of property; time, which alleviates all others, sharpens this; we feel it every moment during the course of our lives when we miss the fortune we have lost.  88
(77.)  The man who spends his fortune without marrying his daughters, paying his debts, or lending it out on good security, may be well enough liked by every one except by his wife and children.  89
(78.)  Neither the troubles, Zenobia, which disturb your empire, nor the war which since the death of the king, your husband, you have so heroically maintained against a powerful nation, diminish your magnificence in the least. You have preferred the banks of the Euphrates to any other country for erecting a splendid building; the air is healthy and temperate, the situation delightful; a sacred wood shades it on the west; the Syrian gods, who sometimes visit the earth, could not choose a finer abode; the adjacent country is peopled with men who are constantly busy shaping and cutting, coming and going, rolling or carting away the timber of Mount Lebanon, brass and porphyry; the air rings with the noise of cranes and machinery; and that noise instils a hope in the breasts of those who pass that way to go to Arabia, that, on their return home, they may see that palace finished, with all the splendour you design to bestow on it before you, or the princes, your children, make it your dwelling. Spare nothing, great queen; make use of your gold and of the best workmanship of first-class artists; let the Phidiasses and Zeuxisses of your century display the utmost of their skill on your walls and ceilings; lay out expensive and delightful gardens, so enchanting that they do not seem created by the hand of man; exhaust your treasures and your energy in this incomparable edifice; and, after you have brought it to perfection, one of those herdsmen who dwell in the neighbouring sandy deserts of Palmyra, and who has enriched himself by farming the tolls of your rivers, will purchase one day, with ready money, this royal demesne, and add fresh embellishments to it, so as to render it more worthy of him and his fortune.  90
(79.)  This palace, this furniture, these gardens, those handsome waterworks charm you, and on first beholding such a delightful mansion, you cannot forbear expressing your opinion that its owner ought to be superlatively happy. He is no more, and he never enjoyed it so pleasantly and so quietly as you did; he never knew a cheerful day or a quiet night; he sunk beneath the debts he contracted in adorning it with those beauties which so delight you. His creditors drove him from it, and then he turned round his head and looked upon it for the last time; this affected him so much that it caused his death.  91
(80.)  We cannot avoid observing the strokes of fate or the freaks of fortune which happen in certain families, and which a hundred years ago were never heard of because they did not exist. Providence, on a sudden, bestows its favours on them; and more than once showers on them wealth, honours, and dignities, so that they bask in prosperity. Eumolpus, one of those men who never had any ancestors, was raised so high that he obtained everything he desired during the course of a long life. Was this owing to the superior intelligence and to the profound capacity of either father or son, or to favourable circumstances? Fortune, at last, smiles on them no longer; it leaves them to sport elsewhere, and treats their descendants as it did their ancestors.  92
(81.)  The immediate cause of the ruin and overthrow of gentlemen of the long robe and the sword is that they have to spend their money, not according to their income, but according to their rank in society.  93
(82.)  If you have omitted nothing towards making your fortune, how great has been your labour! If you have neglected the most trifling thing, how lasting will be your repentance!  94
(83.)  Giton has a fresh complexion, a full face, pendulous cheeks, a steady and resolute look, broad shoulders, a huge chest, a firm and deliberate gait; he speaks with assurance, must have every word repeated that is said to him, and is not greatly pleased with what is told him. He takes a large handkerchief out of his pocket, and blows his nose with a tremendous noise: he expectorates about the room, and sneezes very loud; he sleeps by day, by night, and that soundly, for he snores in company. He takes up more room than any one else at table or whilst walking, and walks in the middle of the road when with his equals; he stops and they stop; he goes forward and they go forward; all are governed by what he does. He interrupts and corrects those who are talking, but is never interrupted, and people listen to him as long as he likes to speak, for their ideas are like his, and they take it for granted that the news he tells them is perfectly true. If he sits down he throws himself into an easy-chair, crosses his legs, frowns, pulls his hat over his eyes so as to see no one, or suddenly draws it back to show a supercilious and bold countenance; he is merry, ever laughing, impatient, impudent, a freethinker, and a politician full of secrets about the affairs of the day; he thinks he has talents and intelligence; he is wealthy.  95
  Phædo has sunken eyes, a reddish complexion, a lean body and an emaciated countenance; he sleeps very little, and his slumbers are light; he is absent-minded, pensive, and, with some intelligence, looks like a dolt; he forgets to say what he knows or to speak about those incidents with which he is acquainted; if he says something now and then, he does it badly; he thinks he bores those persons to whom he addresses himself, and therefore tells his story briefly but coldly, so that he is never listened to nor taken notice of, for he makes nobody laugh. He praises and laughs at other persons’ jests, is of their opinions, and runs and flies to render them some small services; he is over polite, and flatters and waits on them; he is close about his own affairs, and does not always tell the truth about them; he is very peculiar, scrupulous, and timorous. He steps lightly and softly, and seems afraid to tread the ground; he walks with his eyes downward, and dares not raise them to face the passers-by; he never joins in any conversation, but places himself behind the person who speaks; picks up by stealth all that has been said, and withdraws if any one looks at him. He does not take up any room nor fill a place anywhere; he walks about with his arms close to his body, his hat over his eyes that he may not be seen, and wraps and folds himself up in his cloak. There is no street nor gallery so crowded and filled with people, but he finds a way to get through without jostling, and to steal along unperceived. If they beg him to sit down, he seats himself on the edge of a chair, and talks in a low voice and not very distinctly; he freely expresses, however, his opinion on public affairs, is angry with the age, and but indifferently pleased with the cabinet and the ministers; he seldom opens his mouth but to reply; he coughs and blows his nose with his hat before his face, he almost expectorates on himself, and does not sneeze till he is alone, or if it does happen, no one hears it, so that no one has to say “God bless you.” He is poor.  96
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors