Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues

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In order to achieve great things, we must live as though we were never going to die.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (6 August 171528 May 1747) was a French moralist, essayist, and miscellaneous writer.


Great thoughts come from the heart.
Necessity relieves us from the embarrassment of choice.
  • Les grandes pensées viennent du coeur.
    • Great thoughts come from the heart.
      • Maxim 127 in Réflexions et maximes ("Reflections and Maxims") (1746); this can be compared with "High-erected thoughts seated in the heart of courtesy", Sir Philip Sidney, Defence of Poesy (1581, published 1595).
  • La nécessité nous délivre de l'embarras du choix.
    • Necessity relieves us from the embarrassment of choice.
    • Maxim 592 in Reflections and Maxims (1746), as translated by F. G. Stevens.
  • Ceux qui médisent toujours, nuisent rarement; ils méditent plus de mal qu'ils n'en peuvent faire.
    • Those who continually slander, rarely do injury: they imagine more evil than they can accomplish.
    • Maxim 626 in Reflections and Maxims (1746) (tr. F. G. Stevens)
  • La clarté est la bonne foi des philosophes
    • Clarity is the good faith of philosophers
    • Maxim 729, Réflexions et maximes ("Reflections and Maxims") (1746).
  • Those who fear men like laws.
    • Réflexions (1746).
  • Our failings sometimes bind us to one another as closely as could virtue itself.
    • As quoted in Queers in History : The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays (2009), by Keith Stern, p. 465.
  • Pour exécuter de grandes choses, il faut vivre comme si on ne devait jamais mourir.
    • In order to achieve great things, we must live as though we were never going to die.
      • Quoted in Queers in History : The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays (2009), by Keith Stern, p. 466.
  • The things we know best are the things we haven't been taught.
    • As quoted in Queers in History : The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays (2009), by Keith Stern, p. 466.
  • Emotion has taught mankind to reason.
    • As quoted in Queers in History : The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays (2009), by Keith Stern, p. 466.
  • Lazy people are always looking for something to do.
    • As quoted in Queers in History : The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays (2009), by Keith Stern, p. 466.

Reflections and Maxims (1746)[edit]

as translated by E. Lee (1903)
  • Some authors regard morality in the same light as we regard modern architecture. Convenience is the first thing to be looked for.
    • p. 166.
  • It is proof of a narrow mind when things worthy of esteem are distinguished from things worthy of love. Great minds naturally love whatever is worthy of their esteem.
    • p. 166.
  • La modération des grands hommes ne borne que leurs vices. La modération des faibles est médiocrité.
    • The moderation of great men only sets a limit to their vices. The moderation of weak men is mediocrity.
      • p. 168.
  • If passion sometimes counsels greater boldness than does reflection, it gives more strength to execute it.
    • pp. 170-171.
  • Magnanimity owes no account to prudence of its motives.
    • p. 171.
  • Are we surprised if a sick man cannot walk, or keep awake, or stand upright? Would it not be more surprising if he was the same man as when he was well? If we have a headache, or have slept badly, we are excused for telling incapable of work, and yet no one suspects us of always being lazy. Shall we deny a dying man the privilege we grant a man with a headache? And dare we assert that the man who lacks courage in his last agony never possessed virtue when he was well.
    • p. 172.
  • Pour exécuter de grandes choses, il faut vivre comme si on ne devait jamais mourir.
    • To accomplish great things we must live as though we had never to die.
      • p. 172.
  • La pensée de la mort nous trompe, car elle nous fait oublier de vivre.
    • The thought of death deceives us; for it causes us to neglect to live.
      • p. 172.
  • The falsest of all philosophies is that which, under the pretext of delivering men from the embarrassment of their passions, counsels idleness and the abandonment and neglect of themselves.
    • p. 172.
  • No one says in the morning: A day is soon past, let us wait for the night. On the contrary, in the evening we consider what we shall do the next day. We should be very sorry to spend even one day at the mercy of time and bores. … Who can be certain of spending an hour without being bored, if he takes no care to fill even that short period according to his pleasure. Yet what we cannot be certain of for an hour, we sometimes feel assured of for life, and say: “If death is the end of everything, why give ourselves so much trouble? We are extremely foolish to make such a pother about the future”—that is to say, we are extremely foolish not to entrust our destinies to chance, and to provide for the interval which lies between us and death.
    • p. 173.
  • Reason and emotion counsel and supplement each other. Whoever heeds only the one, and puts aside the other, recklessly deprives himself of a portion of the aid granted us for the regulation of our conduct.
    • p. 173.
  • Young people suffer less from their faults than from the prudence of the old.
    • p. 174.
  • It is unjust to exact that men shall do out of deference to our advice what they have no desire to do for themselves.
    • p. 174.
  • La clémence vaut mieux que la justice.
    • Mercy is of greater value than justice.
      • p. 174.
  • We can love with all our hearts those in whom we recognize great faults. It would be impertinent to believe that perfection alone has the right to please us; sometimes our weaknesses attach us to each other as much as our virtues.
    • p. 175.
  • If our friends do us a service, we think they owe it to us by their title of friend. We never think that they do not owe us their friendship.
    • p. 175.
  • With kings, nations, and private individuals, the strongest assume to themselves rights over the weakest, and the same rule is followed by animals, by matter, by the elements, so that everything is performed in the universe by violence. And that order which we blame with some appearance of justice is the most universal, most absolute, most unchangeable, and most ancient law of nature.
    • p. 176.
  • Those who fear men love the laws.
    • p. 176.
  • Qui sait tout souffrir peut tout oser.
    • He who knows how to suffer everything can dare everything.
      • p. 176.
  • It is good to be firm by temperament and pliant by reflection.
    • p. 176.
  • It is of no use to possess a lively wit if it is not of the right proportion: the perfection of a clock is not to go fast, but to be accurate.
    • p. 177.
  • Superficial knowledge … is hurtful to those who possess true genius; for it necessarily draws them away from their main object, wastes their industry over details and subjects foreign to their needs and natural talent, and lastly does not serve, as they flatter themselves, to prove the breadth of their mind. In all ages there have been men of very moderate intelligence who knew much, and so on the contrary, men of the highest intelligence who knew very little. Ignorance is not lack of intelligence, nor knowledge a proof of genius.
    • p. 178.
  • As soon as an opinion becomes common it is sufficient reason for men to abandon it and to uphold the opposite opinion until that in its turn grows old, and they require to distinguish themselves by other things. Thus if they attain their goal in some art or science, we must expect them soon to cast it aside to acquire some fresh fame, and this is partly the reason why the most splendid ages degenerate so quickly, and, scarcely emerged from barbarism, plunge into it again.
    • p. 179.
  • Great men in teaching weak men to reflect have set them on the road to error.
    • p. 179.
  • Il est faux que l’égalité soit une loi de la nature. La nature n’a rien fait d’égal; la loi souveraine est la subordination et la dépendance.
    • It is not true that equality is a law of nature. nature has made nothing equal, her sovereign law is subordination and dependence.
      • p. 180.
  • The favorites of fortune or of fame topple from their pedestals before our eyes without diverting us from ambition.
    • p. 180.
  • La patience est l’art d’espérer.
    • Patience is the art of hoping.
      • p. 180.
  • Neither the gifts nor the blows of fortune equal those of nature.
    • p. 180.
  • We are forced to respect the gifts of nature, which study and fortune cannot give.
    • p. 180.
  • The generality of men are so bound within the sphere of their circumstances that they have not even the courage to get out of them through their ideas, and if we see a few whom, in a way, speculation over great things makes incapable of mean ones, we find still more with whom the practice of small things takes away the feeling for great ones.
    • pp. 180-181.
  • Persons of rank do not talk about such trifles as the common people do; but the common people do not busy themselves about such frivolous things as do persons of rank.
    • pp. 181-182.
  • Men are not to be judged by what they do not know, but by what they know, and by the manner in which they know it.
    • p. 182.
  • We are very wrong to think that some fault or other can exclude virtue, or to consider the alliance of good and evil as a monstrosity or an enigma.
    • p. 183.
  • Is it against justice or reason to love ourselves? And why is self-love always a vice?
    • p. 183.
  • As it is natural to believe many things without proof, so, despite all proof, is it natural to disbelieve others.
    • p. 184.
  • La foi est la consolation des misérables et la terreur des heureux.
    • Faith is the consolation of the wretched and the terror of the happy.
      • p. 184.
  • Men dissimulate their dearest, most constant, and most virtuous inclination from weakness and a fear of being condemned.
    • p. 184.
  • Men crowd into honorable careers without other vocation than their vanity, or at best their love of fame.
    • p. 185.
  • Children are … encouraged to be imitators, a course to which they are already too much inclined. No one thinks of making them original, courageous, independent.
    • p. 185.
  • If children had teachers for judgment and eloquence as they have for languages, if their memory was exercised less than their energy or their natural genius, if instead of deadening their vivacity of mind we tried to elevate the free scope and impulses of their souls, what might not result from a fine disposition? As it is, we forget that courage, or love of truth and glory are the virtues that matter most in youth; and our one endeavor is to subdue our children’s spirits, in order to teach them that dependence and suppleness are the first laws of success in life.
    • pp. 185-186.
  • It is in our own mind and not in exterior objects that we perceive most things; fools know scarcely anything because they are empty, and their heart is narrow; but great souls find in themselves a number of exterior things; they have no need to read or travel or to listen or to work to discover the highest truths; they have only to delve into themselves and search, if we may say so, their own thoughts.
    • p. 186.
  • When we are convinced of some great truths, and feel our convictions keenly, we must not fear to express it, although others have said it before us. Every thought is new when an author expresses it in a manner peculiar to himself.
    • p. 187.
  • It cannot be a vice in men to be sensible of their strength.
    • p. 187.
  • Whatever affection we have for our friends or relations, the happiness of others never suffices for our own.
    • p. 188.
  • Great men are sometimes so even in small things.
    • p. 188.
  • If a man is endowed with a noble and courageous soul, if he is painstaking, proud, ambitious, without meanness, of a profound a deep-seated intelligence, I dare assert that he lacks nothing to be neglected by the great and men in high office, who fear, more than other men, those whom they cannot dominate.
    • p. 188.
  • You can purchase the mind of Pascal for a crown. Pleasures even cheaper are sold to those who give themselves up to them. It is only luxuries and objects of caprice that are rare and difficult to obtain; unfortunately they are the only things that touch the curiosity and taste of ordinary men.
    • p. 189.
  • Some are born to invent, others to embellish; but the gilder attracts more attention than the architect.
    • p. 190.
  • There does not exist a man sufficiently intelligent never to be tiresome.
    • p. 190.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)[edit]

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • L'espérance fait plus de dupes que l'habileté.
    • Hope deceives more men than cunning does.
  • Most people grow old within a small circle of ideas, which they have not discovered for themselves. There are perhaps less wrong-minded people than thoughtless.
  • The art of pleasing is the art of deception.
  • When a thought is too weak to be expressed simply, it should be rejected.
  • He who knows how to suffer everything can risk everything.

External links[edit]

The Reflections and Maxims of Vauvenargues, translated in 1940 by F.G. Stevens at