Page:Moralreflection00stangoog.djvu/29

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xxi
INTRODUCTION.

subscribe to their correctness, and to reflect credit on the human heart." The recommendation contained in this remark, may be sufficiently palatable to disguise the sneer which it involves; but it would seem more honest, and in the end more salutary, to reverse the advice^ and to recommend the reader to consider each maxim as applicable to himself only, and in no way to his neighbors. He will thus avoid any breaches of charity, and be led to the true utility of the maxims, namely, the aid they give to the extirpation of the dangerous habit of self-deceit, the habit of all others the most fatal to virtue. They can hardly fail to open the eyes of men to the various and singular modes in which self-delusion operates, the readiness with which glosses over error, the acuteness with which it discovers excuses applicable only to itself, nay, the perverse subtlety with which it would palm off its very errors as instances of virtue. No man who is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the maxims, can pretend to that degree of mental obliquity which looks for illustrations of their working solely in the conduct of others.

Should it still be considered that La Rochefoucauld presents us with too low a view of human nature to serve the purposes of morality, it should be remembered, in his defence as an author, that the times in which he lived, and the political and moral state of the society of his day, are known to have closely corresponded with the general picture he has offered us, and in this respect may be said to afford him a complete justification.[1] Another circumstance for

  1. The writer whom La Rochefoucauld most frequently reminds us of is Tacitus, and this coincidence may suggest a strong similarity in the state of society at the respective periods which the two authors had in view.