A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind

Number 257 of La Rochefoucauld’s Réflexions morales

La gravité est un mystère du corps inventé pour cacher les défauts de l’esprit.

Gravity is a mystery of the body invented in order to hide the defects of the mind.

Which Laurence Sterne cites in his perfect portrait of Yorick’s sensibilities regarding – because it comes to mind in my own struggle with this – what I’ll call ‘professionalism.’

For, to speak the truth, Yorick had an invincible dislike and opposition in his nature to gravity;—not to gravity as such;—for where gravity was wanted, he would be the most grave or serious of mortal men for days and weeks together;—but he was an enemy to the affectation of it, and declared open war against it, only as it appeared a cloak for ignorance, or for folly: and then, whenever it fell in his way, however sheltered and protected, he seldom gave it much quarter.

Sometimes, in his wild way of talking, he would say, that Gravity was an errant scoundrel, and he would add,—of the most dangerous kind too,—because a sly one; and that he verily believed, more honest, well-meaning people were bubbled out of their goods and money by it in one twelve-month, than by pocket-picking and shop-lifting in seven. In the naked temper which a merry heart discovered, he would say there was no danger,—but to itself:—whereas the very essence of gravity was design, and consequently deceit;—’twas a taught trick to gain credit of the world for more sense and knowledge than a man was worth; and that, with all its pretensions,—it was no better, but often worse, than what a French wit had long ago defined it,—viz. ‘A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind;’—which definition of gravity, Yorick, with great imprudence, would say, deserved to be wrote in letters of gold.

I think I knew – or could have guessed – the source but I hadn’t realized the similar connection with the reflexion immediately proceeding, number 256:

Dans toutes les professions chacun affecte une mine et un extérieur pour paraître ce qu’il veut qu’on le croie. Ainsi on peut dire que le monde n’est composé que de mines.

In all professions each person puts on an expression and an exterior in order to appear as what he wishes to be taken for.  Accordingly you could say that the world is composed only of appearances.

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