Page:Moralreflection00stangoog.djvu/19

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xi
INTRODUCTION.

erally acquiesced in:—"One of the works which most cohtaibnted- te~form the taste of the nation, and to give it a spirit of justness and precision, was the collection of the 'Maxims' of Francis, Due de la Rochefoucauld. Though there is scarcely more than one truth running through the book—^that ' self-love is the motive of every thing;' yet Ais thought is presented under so many various aspects, that it is almost always striking; it is not so much a book as materials for ornamenting a book. This little collection was read with avidity; it taught people to think and to comprise their thoughts in a lively, precise, and delicate turn of expression. This was a merit which, before him, no one in Europe had attained, since the revival of letters."[1]

It would be difficult to give higher praise than this to the style of the " Maxims," to which, no doubt, the work owes a great part of its popularity. If not precisely the in* ventor. La Rochefoucauld is, at all events, the model of this mode of writing, in which success indeed is rare, but

  1. Notwithstanding their popularity, and Voltaire's assertion that they are known by heart, the " Maxims" have been most unblushingly pillaged on almost all sides; indeed there is hardly any modern collection of thoughts or aphorisms which is not indebted to this work. A late instance may be found in the review of Baron Wessenberg's " Thoughts," by the Quarterly Review, Dec, 1848, where it appears by the extracts that the baron adopts, as his own, one of the " Maxims," (No. 89,) which is quoted with approbation, and evidently unrecognized by the reviewer. Some plagiarisms may be detected in the illustrations quoted in the ensuing pages, which, however, have not been collected for that purpose so much, as to compare the manner in which different minds have expressed themselves on similar subjects. Many other illustrations of the " Maxims" will, of course, suggest themselves, according to the various extent of individual reading.