From Chamfort’s Maximes et Pensees, number 65 in my edition. I’ll first give W.S. Merwin’s rendering even though I very much feel he improves the thought by mistranslation:
Men becomes little as they become alike. They are Milton’s devils, forced to become pygmies in order to find room in Pandemonium.
Les hommes deviennent petits en se rassemblant ; ce sont les diables de Milton, obligés de se rendre pygmées, pour entrer dans le Pandémonium.
I can find no dictionary entry for ‘rassembler’ as resemble, which is where Merwin’s ‘become alike’ has to have originated. Unless there is an alternate reading of ‘ressembler’ not given in my Folio Classique edition. More accurate to my text but less well phrased would be:
Men become small as they are gathered together – they are Milton’s devils, forced to make themselves pygmies in order to enter Pandemonium.
The distinction I’m making is that Merwin’s version is rosier than the original. By his rendering, reduction of personhood/character/etc. is a product of assimilation, not of the act of gathering together. This would seem to leave open the possibility that one could exist in a social context without being reduced by it (provided you didn’t ‘become like’ your peers). But Chamfort – as I read him at least – makes that reduction an automatic byproduct of all existence in a social context – that we in our totalities and potentialities are necessarily diminished by being crammed against one another.
From Chamfort’s Caracteres et Anecdotes – my wit-butchering translation
Un homme très-pauvre, qui avait fait un livre contre le gouvernement, disait: «Morbleu! la Bastille n’arrive point; et voilà qu’il faut tout à l’heure payer mon terme.»
A very poor man who had written a book against the government said: “Good god, they haven’t taken me to the Bastille yet – and now my rent is due.
Chamfort – Maximes 14
There are two sorts of moralists and political theorists – those who have seen only the hateful or ridiculous side of human nature (and this is the greatest number: Lucian, Montaigne, La Bruyere, La Rochefoucauld, Swift, Mandeville, Helvetius, etc.) and those who view it only from its good side and in its perfections (such are Shaftesbury and some others). The first group do not know the palace, of which they’ve only seen the toilets. The second are enthusiasts who turn their eyes from what offends then – but which exists no less for that. There is truth in the middle.
Il y a deux classes de Moralistes et de Politiques, ceux qui n’ont vu la nature humaine que du côté odieux ou ridicule, et c’est le plus grand nombre : Lucien, Montaigne, La Bruyère, La Rochefoucauld, Swift, Mandeville, Helvétius, etc. Ceux qui ne l’ont vue que du beau côté et dans ses perfections ; tels sont Shaftersbury et quelques autres. Les premiers ne connaissent pas le palais dont ils n’ont vu que les latrines. Les seconds sont des enthousiastes qui détournent leurs yeux loin de ce qui les offense, et qui n’en existe pas moins. Est in medio verum.
or, as Pascal says of things generally (Sellier 479), ‘et même à la fin de chaque vérité il faut ajouter qu’on se souvient de sa vérité opposée’