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In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
FRANCIS, DUKE OF ROCHEFOUCAULD.
FRANCIS, Duke of Rochefoucauld, Prince of Marsillac, a distinguished wit and nobleman of the reign of Louis XIV., was born in 1613. He distinguished himself as the most brilliant nobleman about the court, and by his share in the good graces of the celebrated Duchess of Longueville, was involved in the civil wars of the Fronde. He signalized his courage at the battle of St. Antoine, in Paris, and received a shot which for some time deprived him of his sight. At a more advanced period, his house was the resort of the best company at Paris, including Boileau, Racine, and the Mesdames Sevigné and La Fayette. By the former of these ladies, he is spoken of as holding the first rank in “ courage, merit, tenderness, and good sense.” The letters of Madame de Maintenon, also, speak of him with high, but inconsistent praise. Huet describes him as possessing a nervous temperament, which would not allow him to accept a seat in the French Academy, owing to his want of courage to make a public speech. The Duke de Rochefoucauld died with philosophic tranquillity, at Paris, in 1680, in his sixty-eighth year. This nobleman wrote “ Mémoires de la Règne d'Anne d'Autriche,” 2 vols. 12mo., 1713, an energetic and faithful representation of that fretful
period; but he is chiefly famous for a work entitled "Réflexions et Maximes.”
This book has made much noise in the world; it has been abused, criticised, controverted, and yet no one can deny that there is a great deal of truth in it, though it generalizes too much. It is deemed by some writers to be rather a satire upon, than an exposition of human nature, and unfavorable to virtue, by giving it a principle in coinmon with vice.
La Rochefoucauld attributed all the actions of men, good or bad, to the moving-spring of self-interest. Friendship is an exchange of good offices, generosity is the means of gaining good opinion, justice itself is derived from the fear of suffering from the oppression of others. This may be all true, but still, there are actions in which men can have no self-interest in view; in which they act from enthusiasm, or a strong sense of duty, or from benevolence, or some motive other than self-interest ; such are, for instance, the self-devotedness of the patriot, the perseverance of the upright man through good and evil report, the sacrifice made by pure love, and, above all, the calm resignation of the Christian martyr. These, and other similar instances, La Rochefoucauld has not taken into account, because, probably, he had seen no specimen of them. Possibly a somewhat deeper insight into the sources of human conduct, would show not only that self-love is the mainspring of all action, but that all which is admirable in performance is best promoted and explained by it.
La Rochefoucauld has accounted for most actions of a great proportion of mankind, perhaps by far the greater; and for so doing he has been abused, because, as a French lady observed, he has told every body's secret. He has placed himself, with regard to private morality, in the same
predicament as Machiavelli with regard to political morality. J. J. Rousseau, who was certainly not free from selfishness, has abused La Rochefoucauld's maxims, and yet, in his “ Emile,” he observes that “selfishness is the mainspring of all our actions ;” and that “authors, while they are ever talking of truth, which they care little about, think chiefly of their own interest, of which they do not talk." La Fontaine, in his fable, (b. i. 11,) “L'Homme et son Image,” has made an ingenious defence of La Rochefoucauld's book. The “ Maxims” receive a portion of their peculiar point from the very courtly scene of contemplation, and from the delicacy and finesse with which the veil is penetrated that is spread over the surface of refined society.
It is well known that Swift was a decided admirer of Rochefoucauld, and his celebrated poem on his own death commences with an avowal of the fact.* The misanthropy of that great man renders his suffrage any thing but popular; but possibly, as in the doctrine of the invariable predominance of the stronger motive, that of self-love simply bespeaks a more strict attention to early cultivation and discipline, to render it not only compatible with virtue, but strictly and philosophically connected with the highest, the noblest, and, in common
* Dr. Swift wrote a poem of near five hundred lines upon the Maxims of Rochefoucauld, and was a long time about it. They were committed to the care of the celebrated author of “ The Test ;" an edition was printed in 1738, in which more than one hundred lines were omitted. Dr. King assigned many judicious reasons—though some of them were merely temporary aud prudential—for the mutilations; but they were so far from satisfying Dr. Swift, that a complete edition was immediately printed by Faulkner, with the dean's express permission.-Swift's Works, Sheridan's Edition, 19 vols., London, 1801.