The Folly’s greater to have none at all

From Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst (On the use of Riches) – lines 153-160 in the Twickenham edition:

“All this is madness,” cries a sober sage:
“But who, my friend, has Reason in his rage?
The ruling Passion, be it what it will,
The ruling Passion conquers Reason still.’
Less mad the wildest whimsy we can frame,
Than ev’n that Passion, if it has no aim;
For tho’ such motives Folly you may call,
The Folly’s greater to have none at all.

The last lines are reminiscent of Rochefoucauld’s Maxime CCIX:


Qui vit sans folie n’est pas si sage qu’il croit
He who lives without folly is not as wise as he believes

Folie, which I’ve rendered to be in accord with Pope, never makes the crossing intact. But in Rochefoucauld it generally carries a sense far closer to passion than to madness. One could almost say hobbyhorse.

La paresse, toute languissante qu’elle est, ne laisse pas d’en être souvent la maîtresse

Some thoughts of La Rochefoucauld on laziness (paresse):

266

C’est se tromper que de croire qu’il n’y ait que les violentes passions, comme l’ambition et l’amour, qui puissent triompher des autres. La paresse, toute languissante qu’elle est, ne laisse pas d’en être souvent la maîtresse; elle usurpe sur tous les desseins et sur toutes les actions de la vie; elle y détruit et y consume insensiblement les passions et les vertus.

We deceive ourselves if we believe that there are violent passions like ambition and love that can triumph over others. Idleness, languishing as she is, does not often fail in being mistress; she usurps authority over all the plans and actions of life; imperceptibly consuming and destroying both passions and virtues.

398

De tous nos défauts, celui dont nous demeurons le plus aisément d’accord, c’est de la paresse; nous nous persuadons qu’elle tient à toutes les vertus paisibles et que, sans détruire entièrement les autres, elle en suspend seulement les fonctions.

Of all our faults that which we most readily admit is idleness: we believe that it makes all virtues ineffectual, and that without utterly destroying, it at least suspends their operation.

482

L’esprit s’attache par paresse et par constance à ce qui lui est facile ou agréable; cette habitude met toujours des bornes à nos connaissances, et jamais personne ne s’est donné la peine d’étendre et de conduire son esprit aussi loin qu’il pourrait aller.

The mind attaches itself by idleness and habit to whatever is easy or pleasant. This habit always places bounds to our knowledge, and no one has ever yet taken the pains to enlarge and expand his mind to the full extent of its capacities.

54

De toutes les passions celle qui est plus inconnue à nous-mêmes, c’est la paresse; elle est la plus ardente et la plus maligne de toutes, quoique sa violence soit insensible, et que les dommages qu’elle cause soient très cachés; si nous considérons attentivement son pouvoir, nous verrons qu’elle se rend en toutes rencontres maîtresse de nos sentiments, de nos intérêts et de nos plaisirs; c’est la rémore qui a la force d’arrêter les plus grands vaisseaux, c’est une bonace plus dangereuse aux plus importantes affaires que les écueils, et que les plus grandes tempêtes; le repos de la paresse est un charme secret de l’âme qui suspend soudainement les plus ardentes poursuites et les plus opiniâtres résolutions; pour donner enfin la véritable idée de cette passion, il faut dire que la paresse est comme une béatitude de l’âme, qui la console de toutes ses pertes, et qui lui tient lieu de tous les biens.

Of all passions that which is least known to us is idleness; she is the most ardent and evil of all, although her violence may be insensible, and the evils she causes concealed; if we consider her power attentively we shall find that in all encounters she makes herself mistress of our sentiments, our interests, and our pleasures; like the Remora, she can stop the greatest vessels, she is a hidden rock, more dangerous in the most important matters than sudden squalls and the most violent tempests. The repose of idleness is a magic charm of the soul which suddenly suspends the most ardent pursuits and the most obstinate resolutions. In fact to give a true notion of this passion we must add that idleness, like a beatitude of the soul, consoles us for all losses and fills the vacancy of all our wants.

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.

La Rochefoucauld on resolutions

A run of Réflexions morales that feel seasonally appropriate

188

La santé de l’âme n’est pas plus assurée que celle du corps; et quoique l’on paraisse éloigné des passions, on n’est pas moins en danger de s’y laisser emporter que de tomber malade quand on se porte bien.

The health of the soul is no more assured than that of the body; and even though you appear removed from passions, you are no less in danger of being carried away by them than of falling sick when in good health.

189

Il semble que la nature ait prescrit à chaque homme dès sa naissance des bornes pour les vertus et pour les vices.

It seems that nature has stipulated for each man from his birth the limits for his virtues and for his vices.

191

On peut dire que les vices nous attendent dans le cours de la vie comme des hôtes chez qui il faut successivement loger; et je doute que l’expérience nous les fît éviter s’il nous était permis de faire deux fois le même chemin.

We can say that vices await us in the course of life like hosts with whom we must successively lodge; and I doubt that experience would make us avoid them if it were permitted us to travel twice the same path.

192

Quand les vices nous quittent, nous nous flattons de la créance que c’est nous qui les quittons.

When vices leave us, we flatter ourselves with the belief that it is we who have left them.

193

Il y a des rechutes dans les maladies de l’âme, comme dans celles du corps. Ce que nous prenons pour notre guérison n’est le plus souvent qu’un relâche ou un changement de mal.

There are relapses in the illnesses of the soul, just as in those of the body.  What we take for our healing is most often only a break or a changing of disease.

194

Les défauts de l’âme sont comme les blessures du corps: quelque soin qu’on prenne de les guérir, la cicatrice paraît toujours, et elles sont à tout moment en danger de se rouvrir.

The defects of the souls are like the wounds of the body; whatever care one takes to heal them, the scarring always shows, and they are at every moment in danger of being opened.

195

Ce qui nous empêche souvent de nous abandonner à un seul vice est que nous en avons plusieurs.

What often prevents us from abandoning ourselves to a single vice is that we have many of them.

A perpetual generation of passions

Reflexion IX of La Rochefoucauld’s. Obvious style differences notwithstanding, Proust is to me the true end heir of La Rochefoucauld’s tradition and I always think it would be a curious experiment for an editor to try adding various maxims throughout the novel as aid to help first time readers stay on track. This one maybe most of all prompts that thought.

There is in the human heart a perpetual generation of passions, such that the wreck of one is almost always the establishment of another.

Il y a dans le cœur humain une génération perpétuelle de passions, en sorte que la ruine de l’une est presque toujours l’établissement d’une autre.