Nonfiction > Jean de La Bruyère > Characters
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Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696).  Characters.  1885.
 
IX.
Of the Great
 
(1.)  THE COMMON people are so blindly prepossessed in favour of the great, and so enthusiastic about their bearing, looks, tone of voice, and manners, that if the latter would take it into their heads to be good, this prepossession would become idolatry.  1
 
(2.)  If you are intrinsically vicious, O Theagenes I pity you; if you have become so out of weakness for those men who have an interest in your being debauched, who have conspired to corrupt you, and boast already of their success, you will excuse me if I despise you. But if you are wise, temperate, modest, polite, generous, grateful, industrious, and besides of a birth and rank which ought to set examples rather than copy those others give, and to make rules rather than to receive them, agree with such a class of men, and be complaisant enough to imitate their disorders, vices, and follies, after the respect they owe you has obliged them to imitate your virtues. This is a bitter but useful ironical remark, very suitable for securing your morals, for ruining all their projects, and for compelling them to remain as they are, and leave you as you are.  2
 
(3.)  In one thing great men have an immense advantage over others; they may enjoy their sumptuous banquets, their costly furniture, their dogs, horses, monkeys, dwarfs, fools, and flatterers; but I envy them the happiness of having in their service their equals, and sometimes even their superiors, in feelings and intelligence.  3
 
(4.)  Great lords delight in opening glades in forests, in raising terraces on long and solid foundations, in gilding their ceilings, in bringing a good deal of water where there was none before, in growing oranges in hothouses; but they are not anxious to restore peace to the distracted, to make joyful the afflicted, and to forestall urgent necessities, or to relieve them.  4
 
(5.)  The question arises, whether, in comparing the different conditions of men, their troubles and advantages, we cannot observe such a mixture or balance of good and evil as seems to place them on an equality, or at least as makes one scarcely more desirable than another. Those men who are powerful, rich, and who want nothing may put the question, but the decision must be left to the indigent.  5
  There is, however, a kind of charm belonging to each of those different conditions, and which lasts till misery removes it. The great please themselves in excess, their inferiors in moderation: these delight in lording and commanding; those are pleased, and even proud, to serve and to obey: the great are surrounded, complimented, and respected; the little surround, compliment, and cringe; and both are satisfied.  6
 
(6.)  Good words cost the great so little, and their rank gives them such a dispensation for not keeping what they have most solemnly promised, that they really are moderate in being so sparing of those promises.  7
 
(7.)  “Such a person,” says some great man, “has grown old and feeble, and has worn himself out in my service. What can I do for him?” A younger competitor steps in, and obtains the post which had been refused to this unfortunate man for no other reason but that he too well deserved it.  8
 
(8.)  “I do not know how it happens,” you exclaim with a cold and disdainful air, “that Philanthes, though he possesses merit, intelligence, is agreeable, exact in fulfilling his duties, faithful and fond of his master, is not greatly valued by him, cannot please, and is not at all liked.”—“Explain yourself; do you blame Philanthes or the great man whom he serves?”  9
 
(9.)  It is often more advantageous to quit the service of great men than to complain of them.  10
 
(10.)  Who can explain to me why some men get a prize in a lottery and others find favour with the great?  11
 
(11.)  The great are so happily situated that in the whole course of their lives they never feel the loss of their best servants, or of persons eminent in their various capacities, and from whom they have obtained all the pleasure and profit they could. As soon as those unique persons, so difficult to replace, are dead, a host of flatterers are ready to expose their supposed weaknesses, from which, according to them, their successors are entirely free; they are convinced that these successors, whilst possessing all the skill and knowledge of their predecessors, will have none of their faults; and this is the language which consoles princes for the loss of worthy and excellent servants, and makes them satisfied with indifferent ones.  12
 
(12.)  The great feel a contempt for intelligent men, who have nothing but intelligence; men of intelligence despise the great, who possess nothing but greatness; a good man pities them both, if their greatness or intelligence is not allied with virtue.  13
 
(13.)  When, on the one hand, I see some brisk, busy, intriguing, bold, dangerous, and obnoxious persons at the table of the great, and sometimes intimate with them, and, on the other hand, consider what difficulty a man of merit has to obtain an interview with them, I am not always inclined to believe that the wicked are tolerated out of interest, or that good men and true are looked upon as useless; but I am rather confirmed in my opinion that rank and sound judgment do not always go together, and that a liking for virtue and virtuous people is a distinct quality.  14
 
(14.)  Lucilius chooses to spend his life rather in being admitted on sufferance by a few of the great than in being reduced to his living familiarly with his equals.  15
  The custom of associating with people who are our superiors in rank ought to have some restrictions; it often requires extraordinary talents to put it into practice.  16
 
(15.)  Theophilus’ disease seems to be incurable; he has suffered from it these thirty years, and now he is past recovery. He was, is, and will always be desirous of governing the great; death alone can extinguish with his life this craving for swaying and ruling other minds. Is it in him zeal for his neighbour’s weal, or is he accustomed to it, or is it an excessive good opinion he has of himself? He insinuates himself into every palace, and does not stop in the middle of an apartment, but goes on to a window-niche or a closet; other people wait to be seen or to have an audience till he has finished his speech, which lasts generally a goodly time, during which he gesticulates much. He penetrates the secrets of many families, has a share in their good or bad fortunes; forestalls many an occasion, offers his services, and forces himself upon people so discreetly that he must be admitted. The care of ten thousand souls, for which he is accountable to Providence as much as for his own, is not sufficient to employ his time or satisfy his ambition; there are others of a higher rank, and of more consideration, for whom he is not responsible, but of whom he officiously takes charge. He listens and watches for anything that may gratify his spirit of intrigue, meddling and muddling. A great man has scarcely set foot on shore, but he gets hold of him, and pounces upon him; and we hear that Theophilus is his guide and director before we could even suspect he had so much as thought of it.  17
 
(16.)  A coldness or incivility from our superiors in rank makes us hate them; but a bow or a smile soon reconciles us.  18
 
(17.)  There are some proud men whom the success of their rivals humbles and mortifies; it is a disgrace which even sometimes makes them return your bow; but time, which alleviates all things, restores them at last to their natural disposition.  19
 
(18.)  The contempt the great feel for the common people renders them so indifferent to their flattery or praises, that it does not feed their vanity. In like manner, princes praised continually and unreservedly by the great and the courtiers, would be more elated if they had a better opinion of those who praise them.  20
 
(19.)  The great believe themselves the only persons who are the pink of perfection, and will hardly allow any sound judgment, ability, or refined feelings in any of a meaner rank; but they arrogate to themselves those qualities by virtue of their birth. However, they are greatly in error in entertaining such absurd prejudices, for the best thoughts, the best discourses, the best writings, and perhaps the most refined behaviour, have not always been found among them. They have large estates and a long train of ancestors, and there is no arguing about those facts.  21
 
(20.)  Have you any intelligence, grandeur of mind, capacity, taste, sound judgment? Can I believe prejudice and flattery which so boldly proclaim your merit? No! I suspect and reject them. I will not be dazzled by that look of capacity and grandeur which makes it appear as if you could act, speak, and write better than any one else; which makes you so niggardly of bestowing praise, and renders it impossible to obtain the smallest approbation from you. Hence I naturally infer that you are a favourite, have influence, and are very wealthy. How shall we describe you, Telephon? We can only approach you as we do fire, namely, from a certain distance; and to form an opinion of you in a sensible and rational manner, we ought to strip you, handle you, and confront you with your equals. Your confidant, your most intimate friend, who gives you advice, for whom you give up the society of Socrates and Aristides, with whom you laugh, and who laughs louder than yourself, Davus, in short, I know thoroughly; and this is enough for me to make you out.  22
 
(21.)  There are some persons who, if they did know their inferiors and themselves, would be ashamed to be above them.  23
 
(22.)  If there are but few excellent orators, are there many who can understand them? If good writers are scarce, are there many who can read? Thus we are always complaining of the paucity of persons qualified to counsel kings, and assist them in the administration of affairs; but if such able and intelligent personages make their appearance, and act according to their ideas and knowledge, are they beloved and esteemed as much as they deserve? Are they commended for what they plan and do for their country? They exist, that is all; they are censured if they fail, and envied if they succeed. Let us then blame the people for whom it would be ridiculous to find an excuse. The great and those in power look on their dissatisfaction and jealousy as inevitable; and, for this reason, they have been gradually induced not to take into account and to neglect their opinions in whatever they undertake, and even to consider this a rule in politics.  24
  The common people hate one another for the injuries they reciprocally do each other; the great are execrated by them for all the harm they do, and for all the good they do not, whilst they are also blamed for their obscurity, poverty, and misfortunes.  25
 
(23.)  The great think it too much condescension to have the same religion and the same God as the common people, for how can they be called Peter, John, or James, as any tradesman or labourer? Let us avoid, they say, to have anything in common with the multitude; let us affect, on the contrary, a distinction which may separate us from them; the people are welcome to the twelve apostles, their disciples, and the first martyrs, fit patrons for such folks; let them every year rejoice on some saint’s day, which each celebrates as if it were his birthday; but for us great people, let us have recourse to profane names, and be baptized by such patronymics as Hannibal, Cæsar, and Pompey, for they were indeed great men; by that of Lucretia, for she was an illustrious Roman lady; or by those of Rinaldo, Rogero, Oliviero, and Tancredo, who were paladins and among the most marvellous heroes of romance; by those of Hector, Achilles, or Hercules, all demi-gods: even by those of Phœbus and Diana; and who shall prevent us from calling ourselves Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, or Adonis?  26
 
(24.)  While the great neglect to become acquainted not only with the interests of their princes and with public affairs, but with their own, while they ignore how to govern a household or a family, boast of this very ignorance, and are impoverished and ruled by their agents, while they are satisfied with being dainty in eating and drinking, with visiting Thais and Phryne, talking of various packs of hounds, telling how many stages there are between Paris and Besançon or Philipsburg, some citizens instruct themselves in what is going on within and without the kingdom, study the art of government, become shrewd politicians, are acquainted with the strength and weakness of an entire state, think of bettering their position, obtain a place, rise, become powerful, and relieve their prince of a portion of the cares of state. The great, who disdained them, now respect them, and think themselves fortunate in being accepted as their sons-in-law.  27
 
(25.)  If I compare the two most opposite conditions of men, I mean the great and the common people, the latter appear satisfied if they only have the necessities of life, and the former fretful and poor amidst superfluities. A man of the people can do no harm; a great man will do no good, and is capable of doing great mischief; the first only plans and practises useful things, the second adds to them what is hurtful. Here rusticity and frankness show themselves ingenuously; there a malignant and corrupt disposition lies hidden under a veneer of politeness. If the common people have scarcely any culture, the great have no soul; the first have a good foundation and no outward appearances; the latter are all outward appearance and but a mere superstratum. Were I to choose between the two, I should select, without hesitation, being a plebeian.  28
 
(26.)  However able the great at court may be, and whatever skill they may possess in appearing what they are not, and in not appearing what they are, they cannot conceal their malice and their inclination to make fun of other people, and often to render a person ridiculous who is not really so. These fine talents are discovered in them at the first glance, and are admirable without doubt to ensnare a dupe or make a fool of a man who already was one, but are still better suited to deprive them of the pleasure they might receive from a person of intelligence, who knows how to vary and adapt his conversation in a thousand agreeable and pleasant ways, and would do so, if the dangerous inclination of a courtier to ridicule any one did not induce him to be very reserved; he, therefore, assumes a grave air, and so effectively entrenches himself behind it, that the jokers, ill disposed as they are, cannot find an opportunity of making fun of him.  29
 
(27.)  Ease, affluence, and a smooth and prosperous career are the cause why princes can take some delight in laughing at a dwarf, a monkey, an imbecile, or a wretched story; men less fortunate never laugh but when they ought to.  30
 
(28.)  A great man loves champagne and hates wine from La Brie; he gets intoxicated with better wine than a man of the people; and this is the only difference between orgies in the two most opposite conditions of life, that of a lord and of a footman.  31
 
(29.)  It would seem, at the first glance, that the pleasures of princes always are a little seasoned with the pleasure of inconveniencing other people. But this is not so; princes are like other men; they only think of themselves, and follow their own inclinations, passions, and convenience, which is quite natural.  32
 
(30.)  One would think that the first rule of companies, of people in office and in power, is to provide those who depend on them in their business with as many obstructions as they dread those dependants might place in their way.  33
 
(31.)  I cannot imagine in what a great man is happier than others, except perhaps in having more often the power as well as the opportunity of rendering a service; and if such an opportunity occurs, it seems to me that by all means he ought to embrace it. If it is for an honest man, he should be afraid of letting it slip; but as it is right to act thus, he should forestall any solicitation, and not be seen until thanks are due to him for his success: if it is an easy thing to render such a service, he should not set any value on it; if he refuses to assist this honest man, I pity them both.  34
 
(32.)  Some men are born inaccessible, and yet these are the very men of whom others stand in need, and on whom they depend; they move about continually, are as restless as quicksilver, turn on their heels, gesticulate, shout, and are always in motion. Like those cardboard temples erected for fireworks during public festivals, they scatter fire and flames, thunder and lightning; and there is no approaching them until they are extinguished and have fallen down, and then only they can be handled, but are of no more use, and good for nothing.  35
 
(33.)  A Swiss hall-porter, a valet-de-chambre, a footman, if they have no more sense than belongs to their station in life, do no longer estimate themselves by the meanness of their condition, but by the rank and fortune of those whom they serve, and without discrimination think that all people who enter by the door or ascend the staircase where they are in waiting are inferior to them and their masters; so true is it that we are doomed to suffer from the great and from all who belong to them.  36
 
(34.)  A man in office ought to love his prince, his wife, his children, and, next to them, men of intelligence; he ought to befriend them, surround himself with them, and never be without them; he cannot repay, I will not say with too many pensions or kindnesses, but with too great an intimacy and too many demonstrations of friendship, the assistance and the services they render him even when he does not suspect it. What rumours do they not scatter to the winds? How many stories do they not prove to be but fable and fiction? How well do they understand to justify want of success by good intentions, and demonstrate the soundness of a project and the correctness of certain measures by a prosperous issue; raise their voices against malice and envy, and prove that good enterprises proceed from the best of motives; put a favourable construction on wretched appearances, palliate slight faults, exhibit only virtues and place them in the best light; spread on innumerable occasions a report of facts and details which redound to their patron’s honour, and make a jest of those who dare doubt it or advance anything to the contrary. I know it is a maxim with great men to let people speak, while they themselves continue to act as they think fit; but I also know that it not seldom happens that their carelessness in paying attention to what people say of them prevents them from performing the actions they intended.  37
 
(35.)  To be sensible of merit, and, when known, to treat it well, are two great steps quickly to be taken one after another, but of which few great men are capable.  38
 
(36.)  You are great, you are powerful, but this is not enough; act in such a manner that I can esteem you, so that I should be sorry to lose your favour, or sorry I was never able to obtain it.  39
 
(37.)  You say of a great man or of a person in office, that he is very obliging, kind, and delights in being serviceable; and you confirm this by giving details of everything he has done in a certain business, in which he knew you took some interest. I understand what you mean; you succeed without any solicitation, you have influence, you are known to the ministers of state, you stand well with the great. What else would you have me understand?  40
  A man tells you, “I think I am not very well treated by a certain personage; he has become proud since he has bettered his position; he treats me with contempt and no longer knows me.” You answer, “I have no reason to complain of him; on the contrary, I must commend him; he even seems to me to be very civil.” I believe I understand you too. You would let us know that some person in office has a regard for you, that in the anteroom he selects you from a large number of cultured gentlemen from whom he turns aside, to avoid the inconvenience of bowing to them or smiling on them.  41
  “To commend some one, to commend some great man,” is a nice phrase to start with, and which doubtless means to commend ourselves, when we relate all the good some great man has done to us, or never thought of doing to us.  42
  We praise the great to show we are intimate with them, rarely out of esteem or gratitude; we often do not know the persons we praise; vanity and levity not seldom prevail over resentment; we are very dissatisfied with them, and yet we praise them.  43
 
(38.)  If it is dangerous to be concerned in a suspicious affair, it is much more so when you are an accomplice of the great; they will get clear and leave you to pay double, and for them and for yourself.  44
 
(39.)  A prince’s fortune is not large enough to pay a man for a base complacency, if he considers what it costs the man whom he would reward; and all his power is not sufficient to punish him, if he measures the punishment by the injury done to him.  45
 
(40.)  The nobility expose their lives for the safety of the state and the glory of their sovereign, and the magistrates relieve the prince of part of the burden of administering justice to his people. Both these functions are sublime and of great use, and men are scarcely capable of performing higher duties; but why men of the robe and the sword reciprocally despise each other is beyond my comprehension.  46
 
(41.)  If it be true that the great venture more in risking their lives, destined to be spent in gaiety, pleasure, and plenty, than a private person who ventures only a life that is wretched, it must also be confessed that they receive a wholly different compensation, namely, glory and a grand reputation. The common soldier entertains no thoughts of becoming known, and dies unnoticed, among many others; he lived indeed very much in the same way, but still he was alive; this is one of the chief causes of the want of courage in people of low and servile condition. On the contrary, those personages whose birth distinguishes them from the common people, and who are exposed to the gaze of all men, to their censures and praises, exert themselves more than they were predisposed to do, even if they are not naturally courageous; and this elevation of heart and mind, which they derive from their ancestors, is the cause of courage being usually found among persons of noble birth, and is perhaps nobility itself.  47
  Press me into the service as a common soldier, I am Thersites; put me at the head of an army for which I am responsible to the whole of Europe, and I am Achilles.  48
 
(42.)  Princes, without any science or rules, can form a judgment by comparison; they are born and brought up amidst the best things, with which they compare what they read, see, and hear. Whoever does not approach Lulli, Racine, and Le Brun they condemn.  49
 
(43.)  To talk to young princes of nothing but their rank is an excess of precaution, while all courtiers consider it their duty and part and parcel of their politeness to respect them; so that they are less apt to ignore the regard due to their birth than to confound persons, and treat all sorts of ranks and conditions of men indifferently, or without distinction. They have an innate pride which they show when needed; they only have to be taught how to regulate it, and how to acquire kindness of heart, culture, gentlemanly manners, and sound discrimination.  50
 
(44.)  It is downright hypocrisy in a man of a certain position not at once to take the rank due to him, and which every one is willing to yield; he need not trouble himself to be modest, to mingle with the crowd that opens and makes way for him, to take the lowest seat at a public meeting, so that every one may see him there and run to lead him to a higher place. Modesty in men of ordinary condition is more trying; if they push themselves into a crowd, they are almost crushed to death, and if they choose an uncomfortable seat, they may remain there.  51
 
(45.)  Aristarchus hies to the market-place with a herald and a trumpeter, who blows on his instrument, so that a crowd comes running and gathers round him: “Oyez! Oyez! people!” exclaims the herald, “be attentive; silence! silence! This very Aristarchus, whom you see before you, is to do a good action to-morrow.” I would have said, in more simple and less ornate style: “Aristarchus has done well; is he now going to do better? If so, let me not know that he does well, or at least let me not suspect that I should be told it.”  52
 
(46.)  The best actions of men are spoiled and weakened by their manner of doing them, which sometimes leaves even a suspicion of the purity of their intentions. Whoever protects or commends virtue for virtue’s sake, or condemns and blames vice for the sake of vice, acts without design, naturally, without any artifice or peculiarity, pomp or affectation; he neither replies demurely and sententiously, and still less makes sharp and satirical remarks; he never acts a part for the benefit of the public, but he shows a good example and acquits himself of his duty; he is not a subject to be talked about when ladies visit one another, nor for the cabinet, nor amongst the newsmongers; he does not provide an amusing gentleman with a subject for a funny story. The good he does is, indeed, a little less known, but good he does, and what more could he desire?  53
 
(47.)  The great ought not to like the early ages of the world, for they are not favourable to them, and they must feel mortified to see that we are all descended from one brother and sister. All mankind form but one family, and the whole difference is merely in the nearer or more remote degree of relationship.  54
 
(48.)  Theognis is very dandified in his dress, and goes abroad decked out like a lady; he is scarcely out of the house, and already his looks and countenance are arranged in a studied manner, so that he is fit to appear in public, and that the passers-by may behold him gracefully bestowing his smiles on them. If he enters any apartments at court, he turns to the right, where there is a large number of people, and to the left, where there are none; he bows to those who are there and to those who are not; he embraces the first man he meets, presses his head against his bosom, and then asks his name. Some one wants his assistance in a very easy matter of business; he waits on Theognis, and presents his request, to which the latter kindly listens, is delighted in being of use to him, and entreats him to procure him opportunities of serving him; but when the other comes to the point, Theognis tells him it lies not in his power to help him, begs him to fancy himself in his position, and to judge for himself. The postulant leaves, is seen to the door and caressed by Theognis, and becomes so embarrassed that he is almost satisfied with his request being refused.  55
 
(49.)  A man must have a very bad opinion of mankind and yet know them well to believe he can impose on them with studied demonstrations of friendship and long and useless embraces.  56
 
(50.)  Pamphilus does not converse with the people he meets in the apartments at court or in the public walks; but some persons would think by his serious mien and his loud voice that he admits them into his presence, gives them audience, and then dismisses them. He has a stock of phrases, at once civil and haughty; an imperious, gentlemanly kind of civility, which he makes use of without any discrimination; a false dignity which debases him, and is very troublesome to his friends who are loth to despise him.  57
  A true Pamphilus is full of his own merit, keeps himself always in view, and never forgets his ideas about his grandeur, alliances, office, and dignity; he takes everything belonging to his escutcheon, and produces it when he wants to show off; he speaks of his order and his blue ribbon, which he displays or hides with equal ostentation. A Pamphilus, in a word, would be a great man, and believes he is one; but he really is not, and is only an imitation one. If at any time he smiles on a person of the lower orders, or a man of intelligence, he chooses his time so well that he is never caught in the fact; and were he unfortunately caught in the least familiarity with a person neither rich, powerful, nor the friend of a minister of state, his relative, nor one of his household, he would blush up to his ears; he is very severe, and shows no mercy to a man who has not yet made his fortune. One day he sees you in a public walk and avoids you; the next day he meets you in a less public place, or, if it be public, in the company of some great man, and he takes courage, comes up to you, and says, “Yesterday you pretended not to see me.” Sometimes he will leave you abruptly to go and speak to some lord and to the secretary of some minister, and sometimes, finding that you are in conversation with them, he will pass between you and them and take them away. Meet him at any other time and he will not stop; you must run and then he’ll speak so loud as to expose you and him to all within hearing. Thus the Pamphiluses live, as it were, always on a stage; they are a class nurtured in dissimulation, who hate nothing more than to be natural, and who are real actors as much as ever Floridor and Mondori were.  58
  We can never say enough of the Pamphiluses; they are servile and timorous before princes and ministers; proud and overbearing to people who are merely virtuous; dumbfounded and embarrassed before the learned; brisk, forward, and positive before the ignorant. They talk of war to a lawyer and of politics to a financier; they pretend to know history among women, are poets among doctors, and mathematicians among poets. They do not trouble themselves about maxims, and less about principles; they live at random, are wafted onward and carried away by a blast of favour and the attractions of wealth; they have no feelings of their own, but they borrow them as they want them, and the person to whom they apply is neither a wise, able, nor virtuous man, but a man of fashion.  59
 
(51.)  We nourish a fruitless jealousy and an impotent hatred against the great and men in power, which, instead of avenging us for their splendour and position, only adds to our own misery the galling load of another’s happiness. What is to be done against such an inveterate and contagious disease of the mind? Let us be satisfied with little, and, if possible, with less; let us learn to bear those losses which may occur; the prescription is infallible, and I will try it. Then I shall refrain from bribing a doorkeeper or from mollifying a secretary; from being driven from the door by a large crowd of candidates and courtiers which a minister’s house disgorges several times a day; from repining in an ante-chamber, from presenting to him, whilst trembling and stammering, a well-founded request; from bearing with his stateliness, his bitter laugh, and his laconism. Now I neither hate nor envy him any more; he begs nothing of me, nor I of him; we stand on the same footing, unless perhaps that he is never at rest, and that I am.  60
 
(52.)  If the great have frequent opportunities of doing us good, they seldom wish to do so; and if they wanted to injure us it lies not always in their power; therefore the sort of worship we pay them may frustrate our expectations, if rendered from other motives but hope or fear. A man may sometimes live a long while without depending on them in the least, or being indebted to them for his good or bad fortune. We ought to honour them, as they are great and we little, and because there are others less than ourselves who honour us.  61
 
(53.)  The same passions, the same weaknesses, the same meannesses, the same eccentricities, the same quarrels in families and among relatives, the same jealousies and antipathies prevail at court and in town. You find everywhere daughters-in-law, mothers-in-law, husbands and wives; divorces, separations, and patched-up reconciliations; everywhere fancies, fits of passion, partialities, tittle-tattle, and what is called evil-talking. An observer would easily imagine that the inhabitants of a small town or of the Rue Saint-Denis were transported to V… or to F…. In these two last places people display, perhaps, more pride, haughtiness, and perhaps more decorum in hating one another; they injure one another with more skill and refinement; their outbursts of rage are more eloquent, and they insult one another with more politeness and in a more select phraseology; they do not defile the purity of the language, they only offend men or blast their reputations; the outside of vice is handsome, but in reality, I say it again, it is the same as in the most abject conditions, for whatever is base, weak, and worthless is found there. These men so eminent by their birth, by favour, or by their position, these minds so powerful and so sagacious, these women so polished and so witty, are themselves but common people, though they despise common people.  62
  The words “common people” include several things; they are a comprehensive expression, and we may be surprised to see what they contain and how far they extend. The common people, in opposition to the great, signify the mob and the multitude; but, as opposed to wise, able, and virtuous men, they include the great as well as the little.  63
 
(54.)  The great are governed by sensations; their minds are unoccupied, and everything makes immediately a strong impression on them. If anything happens, they talk about it too much; soon after they talk about it but little, and then not at all, nor ever will; actions, conduct, execution, incidents are all forgotten; expect from them neither amendment, foresight, reflection, gratitude, nor reward.  64
 
(55.)  We are led to two opposite extremes with regard to certain persons. After their death satires about them are current among the people, while the churches re-echo with their praises. Sometimes they deserve neither those libels nor these funeral orations, and sometimes both.  65
 
(56.)  The less we talk of the great and powerful the better; if we say any good of them, it is often almost flattery; it is dangerous to speak ill of them whilst they are alive, and cowardly when they are dead.  66
 
 
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