la rochefoucauld

Maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “Jealousy is in some sort rational and just; since it only aims at the Preservation of a Good which belongs, or which we think belongs, to us: Whereas Envy is a Frenzy that cannot bear the Good of others.”
  • “Good Sense should be the Test of all Rules, both ancient and modern; whatever is incompatible therewith is false.”
  • “Avarice is more opposite to Economy than Liberality.”
  • “We ought to be able to answer for our Fortune, to be able to answer for what we shall do.”
  • “The most violent Passions have their Intermissions; Vanity only gives us no Respite.”
  • “‘Tis more difficult to conceal the Sensations we have, than to feign those we have not.”
  • “We should have but little Pleasure were we never to flatter ourselves.”
  • “We love much better those, who endeavour to imitate us, than those who strive to equal us. For Imitation is a Sign of Esteem, but Competition of Envy.”
  • “Whatever Difference may appear in Men’s Fortunes, there is nevertheless a certain Compensation of Good and Ill that makes all equal.”

And “The common Foible of old People who have been handsome, is to forget that they are no longer so.”

“Money Is Not Advice”

Proverbs of Latin America:

  • Of the doctor, the poet, and the fool we all have a small portion. (Mexico)
  • Each of us bears his friend and his enemy within himself. (Costa Rica)
  • The mother-in-law does not remember she was a daughter-in-law. (Venezuela)
  • Halfway is 12 miles when you have 14 miles to go. (Panama)
  • Diligence is the mother of good fortune. (Peru)
  • Face to face respect appears. (Ecuador)
  • You may believe every good report of a grateful man. (Guatemala)
  • Many go for wool and come back shorn themselves. (Dominican Republic)
  • He who marries prudence is the brother-in-law of peace. (Bolivia)
  • Nothing is so burdensome as a secret. (Colombia)
  • The vulgar keep no account of your hits, but of your misses. (Paraguay)
  • Grief shared is half grief; joy shared is double joy. (Honduras)
  • A “no” in time is better than a late “yes.” (Uruguay)
  • When you mourn, you cannot sing; when you sing, you cannot mourn. (Argentina)

(From Guy Zona, Eyes That See Do Not Grow Old, 1996.)


In the spring of 1908, Max Beerbohm and Edmund Gosse sent a message back and forth, each adding a line until they had composed a sonnet to Henry James, whose incomprehensible novels they both admired. The odd-numbered lines are Beerbohm’s, the even-numbered Gosse’s:

To Henry James

Say, indefatigable alchemist,
Melts not the very moral of your scene,
Curls it not off in vapour from between
Those lips that labour with conspicuous twist?

Your fine eyes, blurred like arc-lamps in a mist
Immensely glare, yet glimmering intervene,
So that your May-Be and your Might-Have-Been
Leave us still plunging for the genuine gist.

How different from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, —
As clear as water and as smooth as oil,
And no jot knowing of what Maisie knew!
Flushed with the sunset air of roseate Rye

You stand, marmoreal darling of the Few,
Lord of the troubled speech and single Eye.

“The sonnet was never shown to James himself,” writes J.G. Riewald in Max Beerbohm’s Mischievous Wit, “because, according to Max, ‘he would be too complex to understand our special brand of sincere reverence.'”

Will Power

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare ‘It’s Greek to me’, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise — why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then — to give the devil his due — if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then — by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness’ sake! what the dickens! but me no buts — it is all one to me for you are quoting Shakespeare.

— Bernard Levin, Enthusiasms, 1983

In a Word

n. writing inspired by illness

After a shining start, Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel lost his patronage and his health, leaving him remembered largely for a private journal that became his only reality, the symptom and source of his illness. In the end it ran to 12 compulsively written volumes totaling 6 million words, a real-time description of its writer’s inner life:

  • “I can find no words for what I feel. My consciousness is withdrawn into itself; I hear my heart beating, and my life passing. It seems to me that I have become a statue on the banks of the river of time, that I am the spectator of some mystery, and shall issue from it old, or no longer capable of age.”
  • “Am I not more attached to the ennuis I know, than in love with pleasures unknown to me?”
  • “At bottom there is but one subject of study: the forms and metamorphoses of mind. All other subjects may be reduced to this study.”

He was slowly suffocating as he wrote his final entries — the last, written on April 19, 1881, reads, “A terrible sense of oppression. My flesh and my heart fail me. Que vivre est difficile, ô mon coeur fatigué!

“We think our protagonist was virtually unique in the degree to which he turned his diary into a fetishistic addiction, not so different from the substance addiction common in his culture,” write George S. Rousseau and Caroline Warman. “His diary was his fix. Boundaries between himself and his diary are nonexistent. And his larger definition of life, or living, was so firmly fused with the diary that he could not conceive of life, or living, apart from it.”

(George S. Rousseau and Caroline Warman, “Writing as Pathology, Poison, or Cure: Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s Journal intime,” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 3:3 [2002], 229–262.)

“The Black Patch”

Submitted by Randolph Hartley for Life magazine’s 1915 short story contest:

I wear a black patch over my left eye. It has aroused the curiosity of many; no one has suspected the horror that it hides.

Twenty years ago Bernard Vroom and I, fellow students at the University of Jena, were devotees at the feet of Professor Malhausen, the foremost optical surgeon of his time. Living, working, dreaming together, Vroom and I became almost as one intelligence in our passionate study of the anatomy of the eye. Vroom it was who advanced the theory that a living eye-ball might be transferred from the head of one man to the head of another. It was I who suggested, and arranged for, the operation, performed by Professor Malhausen, through which Vroom’s left eye became mine and my left eye became Vroom’s. Professor Malhausen’s monograph, published shortly afterward, describes the delicate operation in detail. The ultimate effects of the operation are my own story.

Very distinctly do I remember the final struggle for breath when the anesthetic was administered; and quite as vividly do I recall my return to consciousness, in a hospital cot, weakened by a six weeks’ illness with brain fever, which had followed the operation. Slowly but clearly my mind advanced through the process of self-identification, and memory brought me to the moment of my last conscious thought. With a mingled feeling of curiosity and dread I opened my eyes.

I opened my eyes and beheld two distinct and strongly contrasting scenes. One, which was visible most clearly when I employed only my right eye, was the bare hospital room in which I lay. The other, distinct to the left eye alone, was the deck of a ship, a stretch of blue sea, and in the distance a low, tropical coast that was to me totally unfamiliar.

Perplexed and vaguely afraid, I begged the nurse to send at once for Vroom. She explained gently that Vroom had recovered quickly, and that, although deeply distressed over leaving me, he had sailed for Egypt, a fortnight since, on a scientific mission. In a flash the truth came to me overwhelmingly. The severing of the optic nerve had not destroyed the sympathy between Vroom’s two eyes. With Vroom’s left eye, now physically mine, I was beholding that which Vroom beheld with his right. The magnitude of the discovery and its potentialities stunned me. I dared not tell Professor Malhausen for fear of being thought insane. For the same reason I have held the secret until now.

On the second day of double-vision my left eye revealed a gorgeous picture of the port and city of Alexandria — and of a woman. Evidently she and Vroom were standing close together at the ship’s rail. I saw on her face an expression that I had never seen on woman’s before. I thrilled with exultation. Then suddenly I went cold. The look was for Vroom, not for me. I had found a love that was not mine, a love to which every atom of my being responded, and it was to be my portion to behold on my loved one’s face, by day and by night, the manifestation of her love for another man.

From that moment on I lived in the world that was revealed to me by my left eye. My right was employed only when I set down in my diary the impressions and experiences of this other life. The record was chiefly of the woman, whose name I never knew. The final entry, unfinished, describes the evidences that I saw of her marriage to Vroom in the English Garrison Church at Cairo. I could write no more. A jealousy so sane and so well founded, so amply fed by new fuel every new moment that it was the acme of torture, possessed me. I was truly insane, but with a true vision, and to me was given the weapon of extreme cunning that insanity provides. I convinced Professor Malhausen that my left eye was sightless, and by simulating calmness and strength I gained my discharge from the hospital. The next day I sailed from Bremen for Port Said.

Upon reaching Cairo I had, naturally, no difficulty in finding my way through the already familiar streets, to the Eden Palace Hotel, and to the very door of Vroom’s apartment, overlooking the Esbekieh Gardens. Without plan, save for the instant sight of her I loved, I opened the door. Vroom stood there facing me, a revolver in his hand.

“You did not consider,” he said calmly, “that my left eye also is sympathetic; that I have followed every movement of yours; that I am acquainted with your errand through the entries in your diary, which I read line by line as you wrote. You shall not see her. I have sent her far away.”

I rushed upon him in a frenzy. His revolver clicked but missed fire. I bore him backward over a divan, my hands at his throat. His eyes grew big as I strangled him. And into my left eye came a vision of my own face, as Vroom saw it, distorted by the lust of murder. He died with that picture fixed in his own eye, and upon the retina of the eye that once was his, and is now mine, that fearful picture of my face was fixed, to remain until my death.

I wear a black patch over my left eye. I dare not look upon the horror that it hides.

A Private World

As a boy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s son Hartley invented an imaginary world called Ejuxria, with a detailed history and geography that he described to his brother Derwent as he created it. Derwent later recalled:

The Ejuxrian world presented a complete analogon to the world of fact, so far as it was known to Hartley, complete in all its parts; furnishing a theatre and scene of action, with dramatis personae and machinery, in which, day after day, for the space of long years, he went on evolving the complicated drama of existence. There were many nations, continental and insular, each with its separate history, civil, ecclesiastical, and literary, its forms of religion and government, and specific national character. When at length a sense of unreality was forced upon him, and he felt himself obliged to account for his knowledge of, and connection with, this distant land, he had a story … of a great bird, by which he was transported to and fro. But he recurred to these explanations with great reluctance and got rid of them as quickly as possible. Once I asked him how it came that his absence on these occasions was not observed; — but he was angry and mortified, and I never repeated the experiment.

Robert Southey and Hartley’s mother saw to it that “a spot of waste ground was appropriated for Hartley’s use: this was divided into kingdoms and subdivided into provinces, each of the former being assigned to one of his playmates. A canal was to run through the whole, upon which ships were to be built. … War was to be declared and battles fought between the sovereign powers … [Hartley] had a scheme for training cats and even rats for various offices and labours, civil and military. … But how he talked! and how his hearers, one of them a playfellow from the town, the Sancho Panza of our Don Quixote, listened and believed!”

Derwent believed that Hartley kept elaborating Ejuxria even in adulthood. In Private Lives of the Ancient Mariner, Molly Lefebure speculates that Hartley’s great bird may eventually have evolved into an albatross in Samuel Coleridge’s mind. “Birds of such omen do not come into one’s life simply to be forgotten,” she writes. “They perch on the masthead of shrouded memory to swoop down into close view at some mysteriously given moment.”

Love and Law

Writing in the San Francisco journal The Californian in 1865, Mark Twain answered this inquiry from a reader:

I loved and still love, the beautiful Edwitha Howard, and intended to marry her. Yet during my temporary absence at Benicia, last week, alas! she married Jones. Is my happiness to be thus blasted for life? Have I no redress?

“Of course you have,” Twain answered. He argued that intention is everything in the law — if you call your friend a fool, this is not an insult if you intended it playfully. And killing a man by accident does not constitute murder.

Ergo, if you had married Edwitha accidentally, and without really intending to do it, you would not actually be married to her at all, because the act of marriage could not be complete without the intention. And, ergo, in the strict spirit of the law, since you deliberately intended to marry Edwitha, and didn’t do it, you are married to her all the same — because, as I said before, the intention constitutes the crime. It is as clear as day that Edwitha is your wife, and your redress lies in taking a club and mutilating Jones with it as much as you can. Any man has a right to protect his own wife from the advances of other men.

But you have another alternative — you were married to Edwitha first, because of your deliberate intention, and now you can prosecute her for bigamy, in subsequently marrying Jones.

But there is another phase in this complicated case: You intended to marry Edwitha, and consequently, according to law, she is your wife — there is no getting around that — but she didn’t marry you, and if she never intended to marry you you are not her husband, of course. Ergo, in marrying Jones, she was guilty of bigamy, because she was the wife of another man at the time — which is all very well as far as it goes — but then, don’t you see, she had no other husband when she married Jones, and consequently she was not guilty of bigamy.

Now according to this view of the case, Jones married a spinster, who was a widow at the same time and another man’s wife at the same time, and yet who had no husband and never had one, and never had any intention of getting married, and therefore, of course, never had been married; and by the same reasoning you are a bachelor, because you have never been any one’s husband, and a married man because you have a wife living, and to all intents and purposes a widower, because you have been deprived of that wife, and a consummate ass for going off to Benicia in the first place, while things were so mixed.

“And by this time I have got myself so tangled up in the intricacies of this extraordinary case that I shall have to give up any further attempt to advise you,” he added. “I might get confused and fail to make myself understood. I think I could take up the argument where I left off, and by following it closely awhile, perhaps I could prove to your satisfaction, either that you never existed at all, or that you are dead, now, and consequently don’t need the faithless Edwitha — I think I could do that, if it would afford you any comfort.”

Mystery Guest

Who is Horatio? He’s described as a friend of Hamlet, a fellow student at Wittenberg. He seems to be Danish, since he speaks of the elder Hamlet as “our King” and of Danes as countrymen.

But he’s not from Elsinore: He’s unfamiliar with Danish court customs and with people such as Laertes and Osric, and he says he’s seen the King only once (and presumably recently, since he recalls that the King’s beard, like his ghost’s, was gray).

Marcellus and Barnardo, like Hamlet, seem to regard Horatio as a learned and trustworthy companion, but he’s not a close friend — Hamlet is surprised to see him and finds his absence from the university puzzling. Hamlet calls him a good friend, but Horatio calls himself Hamlet’s “poor servant ever.”

At the end of the play, Horatio promises to tell his friend’s story to the Norwegian Prince and “report [his] cause aright,” restoring Hamlet’s reputation and honoring his memory. University of Alberta political scientist Leon Harold Craig notes that this seems to mean that Horatio plans to reveal that Hamlet’s seemingly wayward behavior had been feigned. But “can Horatio plausibly explain why Hamlet should think it ‘meet / To put an antic disposition on’? Indeed, does Horatio even know himself?”

(Leon Harold Craig, Philosophy and the Puzzles of Hamlet, 2014.)


Sherlock Holmes has the reputation of being relentlessly dour — in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” Watson even says that “Homes seldom laughed.” To counter this, A.G. Cooper counted up 292 instances of Holmes’ laughter, and Charles E. Lauterbach and Edward S. Lauterbach even compiled this table:

Frequency Table Showing the Number and Kind of Responses Sherlock Holmes Made to Humorous Situations and Comments in His 60 Recorded Adventures

Smile: 103
Laugh: 65
Joke: 58
Chuckle: 31
Humor: 10
Amusement: 9
Cheer: 7
Delight: 7
Twinkle: 7
Miscellaneous: 19
Total: 316

The explanation, they suggest, is that Watson was deaf.

(A.G. Cooper, “Holmesian Humour,” Sherlock Holmes Journal 6:4 [Spring 1964), 109-113; Charles E. Lauterbach and Edward S. Lauterbach, “The Man Who Seldom Laughed,” Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual No. 5 [1960], 265-271.)