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Encyclopedia > François de La Rochefoucauld

François de La Rochefoucauld (September 15, 1613 - March 17, 1680), was the greatest maxim writer of France, one of her best memoir writers, and perhaps the most complete and accomplished representative of her ancient nobility. He was born at Paris in the Rue des Petits Champs, at a time when the royal court oscillated between aiding the nobility and threatening it. In the public domain by age This image has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder, its copyright has expired, or it is ineligible for copyright. ... September 15 is the 258th day of the year (259th in leap years). ... Events January - Galileo observes Neptune, but mistakes it for a star and so is not credited with its discovery. ... March 17 is the 76th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (77th in Leap years). ... Events First Portuguese governor was appointed to Macau The Swedish city Karlskrona was founded as the Royal Swedish Navy relocated there. ... The French Republic or France (French: République française or France) is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in western Europe, and which is further made up of a collection of overseas islands and territories located in other continents. ... The Eiffel Tower has become the symbol of Paris throughout the world. ...


Early life and military career

The author of the Maximes, who during the lifetime of his father and part of his own most stirring years (until 1850) bore the title of prince de Marcillac, was somewhat neglected in the matter of education, at least of the scholastic kind; but he joined the army before he was sixteen (in 1629), and almost immediately began to make a figure in public life. He had been nominally married a year before to Andrée de Vivonne, who seems to have been an affectionate wife, while not a breath of scandal touches her--two points in which La Rochefoucauld was perhaps more fortunate than he deserved. For some years Marcillac continued to take part in the annual campaigns, where he displayed the utmost bravery, though he never obtained credit for much military skill. Then he passed under the spell of Madame de Chevreuse, the first of three celebrated women who successively influenced his life. Events March 4 - Massachusetts Bay Colony is granted a Royal charter. ...

Through Madame de Chevreuse he became attached to the queen, Anne of Austria, and in one of her quarrels with Richelieu and her husband a wild scheme seems to have been formed, according to which Marcillac was to carry her off to Brussels on a pillion. These caballings against Richelieu, however, had no more serious results (an eight days' experience of the Bastille excepted) than occasional exiles, that is to say, orders to retire to his father's estates. After the death of the great minister (1642), opportunity seemed to be favourable to the vague ambition which then animated half the nobility of France. Marcillac became one of the so-called importante, and took an active part in reconciling the queen and Condé in a league against Gaston, Duke of Orleans. But the growing credit of Mazarin came in his way, and the liaison in which about this time (1645) he became entangled with the beautiful duchess of Longueville made him irrevocably a Frondeur. He was a conspicuous figure in the siege of Paris, fought desperately in the desultory engagements which were constantly taking place, and was severely wounded at the siege of Mardyke. Anne of Austria Anne of Austria (September 22, 1601 _ January 20, 1666) was Queen Consort of France and Regent for her son, Louis XIV of France. ... For other uses of Richelieu, see Richelieu (disambiguation). ... Emblem of the Brussels-Capital Region Flag of The City of Brussels Brussels (Dutch: Brussel, French: Bruxelles, German: Brüssel) is the capital of Belgium and is considered by many to be the de facto capital of the European Union, as two of its three main institutions have their headquarters... A pillion is a pad or cushion behind the seat of the driver (rider) of a motorcycle, moped, or horse for a second person who is said to ride pillion (and is also often called a pillion). External links and references Be a happy pillion Relax. ... For Bastille Linux, a hardening application, see Bastille Linux. ... Gaston Jean-Baptiste, duc dOrléans (April 25, 1608 - February 2, 1660), third son of the French king Henry IV, and his wife Marie de Medici, was born at Fontainebleau. ... Cardinal Jules Mazarin, French diplomat and statesman Jules Mazarin, born Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino; but best known as Cardinal Mazarin (July 14, 1602 – March 9, 1661) served as the chief minister of France from 1642, until his death. ... For the French feminist newspaper, see La Fronde The Fronde (1648–1653) was a civil war in France, followed by the Franco-Spanish War with Spain (1653–1659). ... Siege of Paris Conflict Franco-Prussian War Date September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871 Place Paris, France Result German victory The Siege of Paris lasting from September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871 was the final defeat of the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War. ...

In the second Fronde Marcillac followed the fortunes of Condé, and the death of his father, which happened at the time (1650), gave rise to a characteristic incident. The nobility of the province gathered to the funeral, and the new duke de La Rochefoucauld took the opportunity of persuading them to follow him in an attempt on the royalist garrison of Saumur, which, however, was not successful. We have no space to follow La Rochefoucauld through the tortuous cabals and negotiations of the later Fronde; it is sufficient to say that he was always brave and generally unlucky. His run of bad fortune reached its climax in the battle of the Faubourg Saint Antoine (1652), where he was shot through the head, and it was thought that he would lose the sight of both eyes. It was nearly a year before he recovered, and then he found himself at his country seat of Verteuil, with no result of twenty years' fighting and intriguing except impaired health, a seriously embarrassed fortune, and some cause for bearing a grudge against almost every party and man of importance in the state. He spent some years in this retirement, and he was fortunate enough (thanks chiefly to the fidelity of Gourville, who had been in his service, and who, passing into the service of Mazarin and of Condé, had acquired both wealth and influence) to be able to repair in some measure the breaches in his fortune. He did not, however, return to court life much before Mazarin's death, when Louis XIV was on the eve of assuming absolute power, and the turbulent aristocratic anarchy of the Fronde was a thing utterly of the past. Saumur is a small city and commune in the Maine-et-Loire département of France on the Loire River, with an approximate population of 30,000 (in 2001). ... Jean Herauld Gourville (July 10, 1625 - June 14, 1703) was a French adventurer. ... Louis XIV King of France and Navarre By Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701) Louis XIV (Louis-Dieudonné) (September 5, 1638–September 1, 1715) reigned as King of France and King of Navarre from May 14, 1643 until his death. ...

Salon participation

Somewhat earlier, La Rochefoucauld had taken his place in the salon of Madame de Sable, a member of the old Rambouillet côterie, and the founder of a kind of successor to it. It was known that he, like almost all his more prominent contemporaries, had spent his solitude in writing memoirs, while the special literary employment of the Sable salon was the fabrication of Sentences and Maximes. In 1662, however, more trouble than reputation, and not a little of both, was given to him by a surreptitious publication of his memoirs, or what purported to be his memoirs, by the Elseviers. Many of his old friends were deeply wounded, and he hastened to deny flatly the authenticity of the publication, a denial which (as it seems, without any reason) was not very generally accepted. Three years later (1665) he published, though without his name, the still more famous Maximes, which at once established him high among the men of letters of the time. About the same date began the friendship with Madame de la Fayette, which lasted till the end of his life. The glimpses which we have of him henceforward are chiefly derived from the letters of Madame de Sévigné, and, though they show him suffering agonies from gout, are on the whole pleasant. He had a circle of devoted friends; he was recognized as a moralist and man of letters of the first rank; he might have entered the Académie française for the asking; and in the altered measure of the times his son, the prince de Marcillac, to whom some time before his death he resigned his titles and honours, enjoyed a considerable position at court. Above all, La Rochefoucauld was generally recognized by his contemporaries from the king downward as a type of the older noblesse as it was before the sun of the great monarch dimmed its brilliant qualities. This position he has retained until the present day. He died at Paris on the 17th of March 1680, of the disease which had so long tormented him. The salon is a 17th century French idea, a gathering of stimulating and attractive people of quality under the roof of an inspiring hostess, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, consciously following Horaces definition of the... Elsevier Science (short Elsevier) is one of the largest publishers of scientific literature. ... Madame de La Fayette (baptized March 18, 1634 - May 25, 1693) was a French writer, the alleged author of La Princesse de Clèves, Frances first historical novel and often taken to be one of the earliest European novels of its day. ... The Académie française, or French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. ...

La Rochefoucauld's character, if considered without the prejudice which a dislike to his ethical views has sometimes occasioned, is thoroughly respectable and even amiable. Like almost all his contemporaries, he saw in politics little more than a chessboard where the people at large were but pawns. The weight of testimony, however, inclines to the conclusion that he was unusually scrupulous in his conduct, and that his comparative ill-success in the struggle arose more from this scrupulousness than from anything else. He has been charged with irresolution, and there is some ground for admitting the charge so far as to pronounce him one of those the keenness of whose intellect, together with their apprehension of both sides of a question, interferes with their capacity as men of action. But there is no ground whatever for the view which represents the Maximes as the mere outcome of the spite of a disappointed intriguer, disappointed through his own want of skill rather than of fortune. The gently cynical view of life contained therein apparently did not impede his enjoyment of company, or his romantic engagements.

Literary works

His importance as a social and historical figure is, however, far inferior to his importance in literature. His work in this respect consists of three parts--letters, Memoirs and the Maximes. His letters exceed one hundred in number, and are biographically valuable, besides displaying not a few of his literary characteristics; but they need not further detain us. The Memoirs, when they are read in their proper form, yield in literary merit, in interest, and in value to no memoirs of the time, not even to those of Retz, between whom and La Rochefoucauld there was a strange mixture of enmity and esteem which resulted in a couple of most characteristic "portraits." But their history is unique in its strangeness. It has been said that a pirated edition appeared in Holland, and this, despite the author's protest, continued to be reprinted for some thirty years. It has been now proved to be a mere cento of the work of half a dozen different men, scarcely a third of which is La Rochefoucauld's, and which could only have been possible at a time when it was the habit of persons who frequented literary society to copy pell-mell in commonplace books the manuscript compositions of their friends and others. Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz (1614 - August 24, 1679), French churchman and agitator, was born at Montmirail. ... This article is about the region in the Netherlands. ...

Some years after La Rochefoucauld's death a new recension appeared, somewhat less incorrect than the former, but still largely adulterated, and this held its ground for more than a century. Only in 1817 did anything like a genuine edition (even then by no means perfect) appear. The Maximes, however, had no such fate. The author re-edited them frequently during his life, with alterations and additions; a few were added after his death, and it is usual now to print the whole of them, at whatever time they appeared, together. Thus taken, they amount to about seven hundred in number, in hardly any case exceeding half a page in length, and more frequently confined to two or three lines. The view of conduct which they illustrate is usually and not quite incorrectly summed up in the words "everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest." But though not absolutely incorrect, the phrase is misleading. The Maximes are in no respect mere deductions from or applications of any such general theory. They are on the contrary independent judgments on different relations of life, different affections of the human mind, and so forth, from which, taken together, the general view may be deduced or rather composed. Sentimental moralists have protested loudly against this view, yet it is easier to declaim against it in general than to find a flaw in the several parts of which it is made up. 1817 was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ...

With a few exceptions La Rochefoucauld's maxims represent the matured result of the reflection of a man deeply versed in the business and pleasures of the world, and possessed of an extraordinarily fine and acute intellect, on the conduct and motives which have guided himself and his fellows. There is as little trace in them of personal spite as of forfanleric de lice. But the astonishing excellence of the literary medium in which they are conveyed is even more remarkable than the general soundness of their ethical import. In uniting the four qualities of brevity, clearness, fulness of meaning and point, La Rochefoucauld has no rival. His Maximes are never mere epigrams; they are never platitudes; they are never dark sayings. He has packed them so full of meaning that it would be impossible to pack them closer, yet there is no undue compression; he has sharpened their point to the utmost, yet there is no loss of substance. The comparison which occurs most frequently, and which is perhaps on the whole the justest, is that of a bronze medallion, and it applies to the matter no less than to the form. Nothing is left unfinished, yet none of the workmanship is finical. The sentiment, far from being merely hard, as the sentimentalists pretend, has a vein of melancholy poetry running through it which calls to mind the traditions of La Rochefoucauld's devotion to the romances of chivalry. The maxims are never shallow; each is the text for a whole sermon of application and corollary which any one of though and experience can write. Add to all this that the language in which they are written is French, still at almost its greatest strength, and chastened but as yet not emasculated by the reforming influence of the 18th century, and it is not necessary to say more. To the literary critic no less than to the man of the world La Rochefoucauld ranks among the scanty number of pocket-books to be read and re-read with ever new admiration instruction and delight. La Rochefoucauld's theories about human nature are based on such topics as self-interest and self-love, passions and emotions, vanity, relationships, love, conversation, insincerity, and trickery. His writings are very concise, straightforward, and candid.

The editions of La Rochefoucauld's Maximes (as the full title runs Reflexions on sentences et maximes morales) published in his lifetime bear the dates 1665 (editio princeps), 1666, 1671, 1675, 1678. An important edition which appeared after his death in 1693 may rank almost with these. As long as the Memoirs remained in the stat above described, no edition of them need be mentioned, and none o the complete works was possible. The previous more or less complete editions are all superseded by that of MM Gilbert and Gourdaul (1868-1883), in the series of "Grands Ecrivains de la France," 3 vols. There are still some puzzles as to the text; but this edition supplie all available material in regard to them. The handsomest separate edition of the Maximes is the so-called Edition des bibliophiles (1870); but cheap and handy issues are plentiful. See the English version by GH Powell (1903). Nearly all the great French critics of the 19th century have dealt more or less with La Rochefoucauld: the chief recent monograph on him is that of J Bourdeau in the Grands Ecrivains français (1893).

Quotes from the Maxims

  • "Our virtues are usually just disguised vices."
  • "What we call virtues are often just a collection of casual actions and selfish interests which chance or our own industry manages to arrange [in a certain way]. It is not always from valor that men are valiant, or from chastity that women are chaste."
  • "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."
  • "If we had no faults, we should not take so much pleasure in noting those of others."
  • "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."
  • "Those who know their minds do not necessarily know their hearts."
  • "Sincerity is an openness of heart that is found in very few people. What we usually see is only an artful disguise people put on to win the confidence of others."
  • "When not prompted by vanity, we say little."
  • "The refusal of praise is actually the wish to be praised twice."
  • "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."


  • This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • The maxims are taken from the Rodney Ohebsion A Collection of Wisdom translation

The Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica ( 1911) in many ways represents the sum of knowledge at the beginning of the 20th century. ...

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about:
  • Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld bio and selections from Maxims (http://www.immediex.com/rochefoucauld.html)
  • La Rochefoucauld bio with a few quotes from Maxims (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/rochefou.htm)
  • Project Gutenberg dowload page for e-text of Maxims and other Rochefoucauld writings (http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/9105) translated by J. W. Willis Bund and J. Hain Friswell
  • Experimental version of the Maxims (in French) (http://www.fp.ulaval.ca/GBoss/aap/Duc_de_La_rochefoucauld.htm)



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