One of my favourite books is the collection of quotes by François de la Rochefoucauld (who, should you be interested, I detail a little following this entry), and one of my favourite quotes within being:
“The only thing constant in life is change”.
Like most maxims, this is most true, and it has been most vividly shown to me of late. Which is why I write this now, in the hope that I will not forget.
Just over a week ago, I was in despair. My finances were abysmal; I was sure to be facing imminent eviction from my little studio in W1 where I had lived for the past four years. This despair led me to the local council office, pleading for assistance, which came in the form of a leaflet on Shelter, the charity for homeless people.
What was I to do? I had and did work hard to put a roof over my head, and I paid my taxes. Now, in my hour of need, the future seemed desperately suffused with clouds of gloom as grey as the winter sky above me. Could my plea not be heard?
Well, another phrase came into play it seems, so put by Max Ehrmann:
“Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should…”
For this was Friday. One day later, I received an unexpected call with an incredible offer, and just over a week later my circumstances were remarkably different. So to today, where I have just had a lunch in the Hoxton Grill, in celebration of my new joy and liberty found by now residing just in my own flat, here in the very urban, very hip London postcode of E2.
Going from a studio to a flat is quite a leap, and I’m not sure quite when I’ll get used to having so much space compared to what I had before, but I’m thoroughly thankful for the simple adventure of walking the hallway to pass from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to living room (just in itself the same sized space as my entire living quarters these past few years.).
Furthermore, I’d always wanted to live in this part of London. I’m a man of extremes, and when it comes to living I desire either the peace of solitude found best in the middle of nature, or else at the heart of a bustling city environment. Here on my door step now are some of my favourite places in the capital, such as the fascinating markets of Spitafields and Columbia Road, along with historic journeys to be had in the Geffreye Museum, and others yet to be discovered. A new chapter of my life in Londinium has truly begun.
For your further interest:
François de la Rochefoucauld, or to give him his full title, François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac, was born in Paris in 1613, and he was a leading exponent of the Maxime.
Born at a time when the royal court was oscillating between aiding the nobility and threatening it, he was considered an exemplar of the accomplished 17th-Century nobleman, though in 1650 he dropped the title of Prince de Marcillac, perhaps a wise move given the climate of impending revolution the country was coming under. Wit, repartee and the swordmanship of words were an important aspect of life in the higher echelons of society; a persons standing could be swiftly elevated or equally destroyed by a few choice words: the fall of Madame… in ‘Dangerous Liasons’, one of my favourite films, gives a fine illustration of this.
It was in 1665 that he first anonymously published the Maximes, swiftly establishing his position among the men of letters of the time.
The majority of what is contained consist of just two or three lines, and hardly any exceed half a page. The view of human conduct they describe has been summed up by the words “everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest.”
But this is somewhat unfair. La Rochefoucauld reflects on the conduct and motives of both himself and people in general.
His Maximes represent the mature thoughts of a man deeply versed in the business and pleasures of the world, and are possessed of an extraordinarily fine and acute intellect. There is no spite in them, nor is there any boasting or gloating, but their literary value even surpasses this ethical soundness. For brevity, clarity, fullness of meaning and point, La Rochefoucauld has no rival.
His Maximes never become platitudes, nor yet dark sayings. His theories on human nature concern self-interest and self-love, the passions and the emotions, love, conversation and sincerity (and the lack of it), and as with all great writing, are as relevant today as they were when written over three hundred years ago.
I give you now just a small selection, of some seven hundred in all.
La passion fait souvent un fou du plus habile homme, et rend souvent les plus sots habiles.
Passion often renders the most clever man a fool, and even sometimes renders the most foolish man clever.
Il y a dans le coeur humain une génération perpétuelle de passions, en sorte que la ruine de l’une est presque toujours l’établissement d’une autre.
In the human heart there is a perpetual generation of passions, such that the ruin of one is almost always the foundation of another.
Il ne faut pas s’offenser que les autres nous cachent la vérité, puisque nous nous la cachons si souvent à nous-mêmes.
We should not be upset that others hide the truth from us, when we hide it so often from ourselves.
La philosophie triomphe aisément des maux passés et des maux à venir. Mais les maux présents triomphent d’elle.
Philosophy triumphs easily over past and future evils; but present evils triumph over it.
Il faut de plus grandes vertus pour soutenir la bonne fortune que la mauvaise.
We need greater virtues to sustain good than evil fortune.
Si nous n’avions point de défauts, nous ne prendrions pas tant de plaisir à en remarquer dans les autres.
If we had no faults, we should not take so much pleasure in noting those of others.
Nous promettons selon nos espérances, et nous tenons selon nos craintes.
We promise according to our hopes; we fulfill according to our fears.
On n’est jamais si heureux ni si malheureux qu’on s’imagine.
One is never so happy or so unhappy as one fancies.
La bonne grâce est au corps ce que le bon sens est à l’esprit.
What grace is to the body, good sense is to the mind.
Il n’y a qu’une sorte d’amour, mais il y en a mille différentes copies.
There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand different versions.
Il est plus honteux de se défier de ses amis que d’en être trompé.
It is more disgraceful to distrust than to be deceived by our friends.
On aime mieux dire du mal de soi-même que de n’en point parler.
We would rather speak ill of ourselves than not talk about ourselves at all.
Il y a des reproches qui louent et des louanges qui médisent.
Some condemnations praise; some praise damns.
Le refus des louanges est un désir d’être loué deux fois.
The refusal of praise is only the wish to be praised twice.
Il vaut mieux employer notre esprit à supporter les infortunes qui nous arrivent qu’à prévoir celles qui nous peuvent arriver.
It is better to set one’s mind to bearing the misfortunes that are happening than to think of those that may happen.
Il y a des gens niais qui se connaissent et qui emploient habilement leur niaiserie.
There are foolish people who recognize their foolishness and use it skillfully.
En vieillissant on devient plus fou et plus sage.
As we age, we become crazier and wiser.
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 we affect a part and an appearance to seem what we wish to be. Thus the world is merely composed of actors.
L’absence diminue les médiocres passions, et augmente les grandes, comme le vent éteint les bougies et allume le feu.
Absence extinguishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind will blow out a candle, and fan a fire.
On pardonne tant que l’on aime.
We pardon to the extent that we love.
Les esprits médiocres condamnent d’ordinaire tout ce qui passe leur portée.
Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding.
Les querelles ne dureraient pas longtemps, si le tort n’était que d’un côté.
Quarrels would not last long if the fault were only on one side.
Il faut écouter ceux qui parlent, si on veut en être écouté.
One must listen if one wishes to be listened to.
Il faut gouverner la fortune comme la santé: en jouir quand elle est bonne, prendre patience quand elle est mauvaise.
Luck must be dealt with like health: enjoy it when it is good, be patient when it is bad.
En amour, celui qui est guéri le premier est toujours le mieux guéri.
In love, the first healed is the best healed.
Il n’y a que les personnes qui ont de la fermeté qui puissent avoir une véritable douceur.
Only firm people can be truly soft.
Ceux qui ont eu de grandes passions se trouvent toute leur vie heureux, et malheureux, d’en être guéris.
Those who have had great passions are happy all their lives and would be unhappy to have been cured of them.
La Rochefoucauld died in the city of his birth, aged 66, on the 17th of March 1680, of gout. As some of my creative writing would testify, I’m greatly indebted to him that he left us with his words.
(first published March 2010)