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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Volume X — Rutebœuf to Balzac; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 169-172.


Jean de la Bruyère [1655-1696]


MENIPPUS is the crow that is made fine with other birds’ feathers. He neither speaks nor thinks himself, but repeats other peoples’ thoughts and discourse. It is so natural for him to make use of their wit, that he himself is the first to be deceived by it; for, imagining that he expresses his own judgment or conception, he but echoes the man he last parted with. For a quarter of an hour he is tolerable, but then, his shallow memory flagging, he becomes insipid. He alone is ignorant of his distance from the sublime and heroic that he affects. He is quite unfit to judge of another’s wit, innocently believing himself to have as much as possible, and thus assumes the air and deportment of one who neither needs more for himself, nor envies it in others. Without concealment he often soliloquizes to himself, and thus you may meet him chattering and arguing to himself as if some great matter were under deliberation. If you salute him at such a time he is strangely perplexed, not knowing whether to answer your salutation or not, and before he comes to a resolution you are out of sight. It is his vanity that has elevated him and made him what he is. To observe him you would conclude that his whole business was to consider his own person, dress, and deportment; that he fancied the eyes of all men open only to behold him, and that as he passed along they but relieved each other in admiring him.

— “The Characters



NICANDER entertains Elise on the sweet and charming manner in which he lived with his wife, from the day of their marriage to the hour of her death. He has said before that he is sorry they had no children; he now repeats the remark. At times he talks of his houses in town, at times of his lands in the country, calculates the revenue they bring him, describes the plan of his buildings, and the situation of his seat, enlarges on the convenience of the apartments, the richness and neatness of their furnishings; he assures her that he loves good cheer and fine entertainments, and complains that his late wife was too much averse to society. “You are so rich,’ says one of his friends brought there for the purpose, “why do you not buy such an office, or make such an addition to your estate?” “Indeed,” replies Nicander, “you believe me richer than I am!” He forgets neither his extraction nor his connections. “The lord treasurer, who is my cousin; the chancellor’s wife, who is my near kinswoman;” this is his style. He tells her how he once became discontented with his nearest relations, and offended with his heirs. “Am I not wronged? Have I any great reason to do well for them?” he asks Elise, and desires her to be judge. He then intimates that he is in a feeble and languishing state of health, and speaks of the vault where he designs to be interred. He fawns, flatters, and is very officious to all those who have any interest in the lady he courts. But Elise has not the courage to grow rich at the price of being his wife. While he is yet talking to her, in comes a gentleman whose presence alone dismounts the batteries that Nicander 171 has raised. He gets up melancholy and embarrassed, and is now saying elsewhere what he said to Elise.

— “The Characters


IPHIS at church sees a new-fashioned shoe; he looks upon his own and blushes, and can no longer believe himself dressed. He came to prayers only to show himself, and now he hides himself. The foot keeps him in his room the rest of the day. He has a soft hand, with which he gives you a gentle pat. He is sure to laugh often to show his white teeth. He strains his mouth to a perpetual smile. He looks upon his legs, he views himself in the glass, and nobody can have so good an opinion of another as he has of himself. He has acquired a delicate and clear voice, and has a happy manner in talking. He has a turn of the head, a sweetness in his glance that he never fails to make use of. His gait is slow, and the prettiest he is able to contrive. He sometimes employs a little rouge, but seldom; he will not make a habit of it. It is true that he wears breeches and a hat, has neither earrings nor necklace, therefore I have not put him in the chapter on woman.

— “The Characters


THE pleasure of criticizing robs us of the pleasure of unconscious delight.

The most accomplished work of the age would fail under the hands of censors and critics, if the author would listen 172 to all their objections, and allow each one to throw out the passage that had pleased him least.

This good we get from the perfidiousness of woman, that it cures us of jealousy.

There are but two ways of rising in the world — by your own industry, or by the weakness of others.

If life is miserable, it is painful to live; if happy, it is terrible to die; both come to the same thing.

There is nothing men are so anxious to preserve, or so careless about, as life.

If some men died, and others did not, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.

There are but three events that happen to men — birth, life, and death. They know nothing of their birth, suffer when they die, and forget to live.

— “The Characters


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