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Maxims [Paperback]

By Stuart D. Warner (Translator) & Stephane Douard (Translator)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   152
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.4" Width: 5.4" Height: 0.5"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2009
Publisher   St. Augustines Press
ISBN  1587314959  
EAN  9781587314957  

Availability  1 units.
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Item Description...
The philosophy of La Rochefoucauld, which influenced French intellectuals as diverse as Voltaire and the Jansenists, is captured here in more than 600 penetrating and pithy aphorisms.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Enduring Wisdom Direct from the Court of Louis XIV  Apr 4, 2007
La Rochefoucauld isn't for everyone. Let's excuse those who are going to be offended right away. Do you insist your movies be in color and have a happy endings? You're excused. Do you believe man is perfectable through his institutions? You're excused. Do you believe that love remains bright, eternal and unchanging? You're excused. Do you believe you know yourself completely and thoroughly? Then I'll see you around. Have a nice day.

Now, for the rest of us, realists rather than idealists, La Rochefoucauld is a Godsend. A nobleman from the highest levels of the French aristrocracy pulls up a chair and starts talking to us, telling us deep and profound things, giving us insights so quickly and so accurately that we erupt over and over again with deep, raucous laughter. He tells us the essential, conceptual problems with love. He tells us that the sexes are not the same and cannot act identically, and says this profoundly and without dismissing or mocking either men or women.

He warns us about vanity, resentment, envy and jealousy. Most especially, he convinces us that these qualities are dominent in human affairs. He tells us why a dismissive attitude about death is not genuine. He warns us of the great dangers brought about through laziness.

The art of using the minimum words to convey a subtle truth was in its highest form in Paris at this time. The Maxims were shared and honed in a salon. La Rochefoucauld's life of warfare and court intrigue and betrayal and unrequited love allowed him to bring deep wisdom into the emotions and moods he describes. Particularly, his rivalry with a self-aggrandizing courtier informs his writing. Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, was a pompous and annoying hypocrite who was extremely successful in some aspects of his life. Retz once received eight votes for election to the Papacy. Yet La Rochefoucauld both saw through him and came to understand why so many others did not pierce the veil of the cardinal's reputation.

The salon and rivalry with Retz are an important introduction Tancock gives us to the Maxims. That material should be read thoroughly and introspectively, especially the cardinal's written description of La Rochefoucauld and the duke's written description of the cardinal.

In the actual body of the Maxims and Reflections, La Rochefoucauld tells us of the dominent human characteristic, an impulse for self-preservation so strong that affection for oneself, pride, and vanity about one's reputation become included in it. It's called "amour-propre," for which self-love is only a glib translation. The essay on self-love, the longest and most stunning of the writings, is more than a maxim. It resists being broken down into pithy sayings. Sturdily written, it was so shocking to the French aristocracy that it was excluded from later editions of the Maxims.

But La Rochefoucauld's description of amour-propre is a masterpiece, a work of genius and modern psychology, three hundred years ahead of its time. Personally, it is the most important essay I ever read. Here is a partial quote from Tancock's translation of the maxim on self-love (number 563):

"....From this enveloping darkness come the ludicrous ideas it has about its own nature -- the errors, ignorances, obtusenesses, and sillinesses where itself is concerned -- believing, for instance, that its emotions are dead when they are merely dormant, that it has given up wanting to run just because it is resting, or that it has lost the tastes it has satiated. But this thick darkness that hides it from itself does not prevent its seeing with perfect clarity things outside itself, just as our eyes can perceive everything else and are only blind when it comes to seeing themselves. Indeed, where its main interests and really important affairs are concerned, and the violence of its desires takes up the whole of its attention, self-love sees, feels, hears, imagines, suspects, penetrates, and guesses everything, and one is tempted to believe that its every passion has magical properties of its own..."

Tancock here, and throughout the book, performs a meticulous translation for us. His friend, W. G. Moore, wrote about this particular passage in his book "La Rochefoucauld, His Mind and Art" and said:

"Surely this is writing of a high order. Lucid in form, short unremarkable phrases, few images, most of the stress on the single verb -- these features are not usually combined with the description of something that no human eye has seen or brain registered. Apparently the only way of describing the quality called amour-propre is to make it personal. The phrases are understandable as applied to a human being; perhaps even more to an animal, in a lair, taking precautions against surprise, running, resting, feeding, hiding, finding no rest,. We are not, as we thought, in the domain of critical assessment, still less in the domain of phrase-making, we are reading about magic, a picture is conjured up before our eyes; we watch the imagination at work. What it shows is a monster, something unnatural. The mood of scorn, discernible in many epigrams, is absent. The attitude is one of respect, almost awe, before something ubiquitous and mysterious. Yet we know what is being described: the power and plight of fallen man is here more imposing and impressive than in a Bossuet sermon. This is an Augustinian passage."

Let this nobleman, Francois, the sixth duke of La Rochefoucauld, stun you, amuse you, and lead you to greater wisdom.
Self- love is our essence   Nov 2, 2004
These maxims- aphorisms are a Western classic .In one way they look with a cynical eye at this vain self - aggrandizing creature the human being and do their best to debunk his illusions. On the other they are written with such grace , point and wit that they amuse and give the reader pleasure.
If there is one criticism it is that on the whole Rouchefoucaud has a very limited view of mankind and human nature. We may not all be as wonderful as we think, but humanity is far better and good in many ways than is seen in these aphorisms.
Fascinating And Unique  Jul 27, 2004
There is nothing quite like this book. I am a little surprised it is not more widely read, because in my opinion, Rochefoucauld's insights are absolutely fascinating.

Maxims is a brutally candid, straightforward, and oftentimes blunt look at human nature. For the most part, La Rochefoucauld believes that we have inaccurate perceptions of ourselves and others, and that the actual motives of our behaviors are often vastly different from the motives we commonly attribute our behavior to. Basically, he tries to get at the root of human nature, and says that appearances are very deceiving, as evidenced by the book's opening line (right before maxim #1), "Our virtues are usually just disguised vices." In his view of human nature, La Rochefoucauld portrays people as mainly self-interested, vain, and deceptive. His statements are brief and to the point, and he brings an immense amount of content into one very short book. Maxims is a very enjoyable and fun read, and in my opinion is one of the best books ever written. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I made it a major part of my book A Collection of Wisdom.

There are several English translations of Maxims available. This Tancock translation is excellent. The other most used one is probably the J.W. Willis Bund & J. Hain Friswell translation. Also be sure to check out my ultra clear translation of selected material from Maxims contained in A Collection of Wisdom.

Some of my favorite Maxims:

The passions are the most effective orators for persuading. They are a natural art that have infallible rules; and the simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without it. (8)

A man often believes he is leading when he is [actually being] led; while his mind seeks one goal, his heart unknowingly drags him towards another. (43)

A clever man should handle his interests so that each will fall in suitable order [of their value]. Our greediness often brings trouble to this order, and makes us pursue so many things at the same time, that while we attend to the trifling too eagerly, we miss the great. (66)

Men would not live long in society if they were not the dupes of each other. (87)

The head is ever the dupe of the heart. (102)

We become so used to disguising ourselves to others, that we end up becoming disguised to ourselves. (119)

...Some of the greatest charms we can have in conversation come from listening well and answering well. (139)

In all aspects of life, we take on a part and an appearance to seem to be what we wish to be [seen as]--and thus the world is merely composed of actors. (256)
The 'Maxims' as a Classic of 'Crooked Wisdom.'  Jun 24, 2001
The famous Indian classic, Kautilya's 'Arthasastra,' a treatise which deals with the attainment of worldly ends, distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom - Straight and Crooked. To the former belong (to use Western examples) such works as 'The Imitation of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis, a work which teaches how, ideally, the virtuous should live, while overlooking the fact that often it would be extremely impractical and socially disastrous to live in such a way.

The second class of books, those which teach the art of 'Crooked Wisdom,' is exemplified in the East by Kautilya's 'Arthasastra' itself, and in the West by such works as Balthasar Gracian's 'The Art of Worldly Wisdom,' Francesco Guicciardini's 'Maxims and Reflections of a Renaissance Statesman' (Ricordi), and by the present collection of Maxims by La Rochefoucauld.

These books are both highly realistic and extremely practical, for they depict, not man as he is supposed to be, but man as he is with all his selfishness, stupidity, ambition, arrogance, malice, laziness and other imperfections, and they teach the art of how, not merely to survive, but even to thrive in the midst of our far from perfect fellow men and women. And, certainly in the case of La Rochefoucauld, this teaching is done with great precision and wit.

'Crooked Wisdom,' then, should not be understood as the product of a crooked mind, but as the clear-sighted wisdom one needs to survive in a world teeming with such minds, a world, as Tancock says, involved in a "sordid struggle of self-interests, a scramble for power, position, and influence in which the foulest motives and methods [are] decked with labels such as duty, honor, patriotism, and glory."

La Rochefoucauld seems to provoke two very different kinds of reaction. Fully paid up members of the rose-tinted spectacles club, are shocked and horrified by his portrait of man and society, and they tend to dislike both the man and his book.

The more realistically inclined, however, will savor his bite and wit and will readily acknowledge the self-evident truth of much if not all of what he says. The man was undoubtedly brilliant, not only in terms of the many profound insights he gave us - particularly those having to do with 'amour propre' or self-love - but also in terms of the skill with which he translated those insights into pithy and memorable maxims.

Tancock defines the maxim as the expression of "some thought about human motives or behavior in a form containing the maximum of clarity and TRUTH with the minimum of words arranged in the most striking and memorable order" (my caps). La Rochefoucauld's aim, in short, was simply to tell the truth, and to tell it for our benefit.

The maxim as a literary genre was cultivated in his milieu, and La Rochefoucauld's were polished to a high state of perfection, for they had to satisfy a critical and sophisticated audience. Seven years were devoted to refining them, during which the circle of his aristocratic friends and fellow habitues of Mmme de Sable's salon repeatedly offered advice and criticism.

The 'Maxims,' then, although the product of an individual sensibility, also become in a sense the product a collective effort, having emerged from a serious and civilized salon whose interests were psychological, literary, and linguistic. Anyone who feels inclined to dismiss them might keep this in mind.

I discovered La Rochefoucauld many years ago, and have always been a great admirer of his Maxims. Once read, they are never forgotten. They have a way of burrowing deeply into the mind, and the fact that they tend to recur in those moments when we are reflecting on life and mulling over our experiences seems to me a kind of proof of their veracity.

One that has always struck me as particularly significant is Maxim 22 : "Philosophy easily triumphs over past ills and ills to come, but present ills triumph over philosophy." Or, in the words of the Red Queen : "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but no jam today." If such truths are not exactly cheering, this in no way detracts from their being true.

There is an enormous amount to be learned by the honest and open-minded reader from La Rochefoucauld's 'Maxims,' especially if they also have a sense of humor. But the 'Happy Days! Happy Sky!' school, whose main requirement of a writer would seem to be that he should confirm them in their beautiful illusions, would be wiser to look elsewhere for edification. La Rochefoucauld is not a writer for the faint of heart, nor for those without a sense of humor.

La Rochefoucauld is Very Important  Jun 17, 2001
FERDINAND-DREYFUS, Un philanthrope d'autrefois: La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, 1747-1827 (Paris, 1903). Translated to English. WJH (François-Alexandre-Frédéric).

Born at La Roche-Guyon, on 11 January, 1747; died at Paris, 27 March, 1827.

Opposed during the last years of the reign of Louis XV to the government of Maupeou, and the friend of all the reformers who surrounded Louis XVI, he owed to the influence of these economists the favour of the king. Having little liking for the military profession he devoted himself to scientific agriculture. During the rage for rural life which characterized the last years of the old regime, La Rochefoucauld made his estate at Liancourt an experimental station, whishing to improve both the soil and the peasantry. He introduced new methods of farming, founded the first model technical school in France (intended for the children of poor soldiers), and started two factories. Politically, he was a partisan of a democratic regime of which the king was to be the head, and throughout his life was faithful to this dream. Deputy for the nobility of Clermont in Beauvaisis at the States-General, he voted unhesitatingly for the "reunion of the three orders". it was he who in the night which followed the taking of the Bastille (14 July, 1789) roused Louis XVI, saying: "Sire, it is not a revolt, it is a revolution." He presided at the Constituent Assembly from 20 July to 3 August, 1789. On the night of 4 August he was one of the most enthusiastic in voting the abolition of titles of nobility and privileges. As grand master of the wardrobe he accompanied Louis XVI from Versailles to Paris on 5 and 6 October, 1789. As president of the committee of mendicancy, he made a supreme effort at the Constituent Assembly to organize public relief; he determined the extent and the limits of the rights of every citizen to assistance, determined the obligations of the State, and established a budget of State assistance which amounted annually to five millions and a half of francs, and which implied the national confiscation of hospital property, of ecclesiastical charitable property, and of the income from private foundations.

Liancourt is one of the most undiscerning representatives of the tendency which led the revolutionary state to destroy all collective forms of charity. Absolutely devoted to the person of Louis XVI as well as to the doctrines of the Revolution, he secured for himself in 1792 the lieutenancy of Normandy and Picardy, so as to prepare for the flight of the king as far as Rouen; but Louis XVI refused to place himself in the hands of constitutional deputies. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt emigrated shortly after 10 August, and resided in England until 1794, afterwards in the United States (1794-7). He took advantage of his residence in that country to write eight volumes on the United States to induce Washington to interfere in favour of Lafayette, and to gather ideas upon education and agriculture which he attempted later to apply in France. After 18 Brumaire, Napoleon authorized him to return to his Liancourt estate, which was restored to him. This former duke and peer gloried in being appointed, during the first Empire (1806), general inspector of the "Ecole des arts et métiers" at Châlons, of which his Liancourt school had been a forerunner. The book "Prisons de Philadelphie" which he composed in American and published in 1796, was meant to initiate a penitentiary reform in France at the Restoration in 1814 he begged but one favour-to be appointed prison inspector. In 1819 he became inspector of one of the twenty-eight arrondissements into which France was divided for penitentiary purposes. Louis XVIII gave him back neither the blue ribbon nor the mastership of the wardrobe, and in the House of Peers he sat with the opposition.

La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was the Franklin of the Revolution. An aristocrat by birth, a liberal in his views, in touch with all the representatives of the new commerce, he availed himself of this concurrence of circumstances to become the leader of every campaign for the people's protection and betterment; improvement of sanitary conditions in hospitals and foundling asylums, reorganization of schools according to the theories of Lancaster, whose book he had translated (Système anglais d'Instruction). He brought into use the methods of mutual instruction, and the pupils between 1816 and 1820 increased from 165,000 to 1,123,000. In 1818 he established the first savings bank and provident institution in Paris. On 19 Nov., 1821, he founded the Society of Christian Morals, over which he presided until 1825. It was at times looked upon with suspicion by the police of the Restoration. At its meetings were such men as Charles de Rémusat, Charles Coquerel, Guizot the Pedagogue, Oberlin, and Llorente, historian of the Inquisition. Broglie, Guizot, and Benjamin Constant were chairmen in turn, and Dufaure, Tocqueville, and Lamartine made there their maiden speeches. In these meetings provident institutions, rather than charitable ones, were discussed; slavery, lottery, gambling were combatted, and the matter of prison inspection was taken up. When La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt died, the Restoration would not permit the students of Châlons to carry his coffin, and the two chambers were much concerned over such extreme measures. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was a typical philanthropist, with all that this word implies of generous intentions and practical innovations; but also with a certain naïve pride, inherited from the philosophy of the eighteenth century, which led him to mistrust the charitable initiative of the Church, and to forget that the Church, the most perfect representative of the spirit of brotherhood, is still called in our modern society to win the victory for this spirit by putting it to practical uses, as she alone can.


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