Nonfiction > Marquis de Vauvenargues > Selections
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Vauvenargues (1715–1747).  Selections from the Characters, Reflexions and Maxims.  1903.
 
Dialogue
Brutus and a Roman Youth
 
The Young Man:
ILLUSTRIOUS shade, deign to show me affection. You were my model so long as I lived; like you I was ambitious, I tried to imitate your other virtues. Fortune was against me, I have foiled its hatred, I have escaped its severity by killing myself.
  1
 
Brutus:
  You made that decision very young, my friend. Had you no resources left in the world?
  2
 
The Young Man:
  I thought none remained to me except chance, and I could not wait.
  3
 
Brutus:
  What right had you to expect anything of fortune? Did you come of a noble house?
  4
 
The Young Man:
  My birth was lowly; I desired to ennoble myself by virtue and fame.
  5
 
Brutus:
  What means did you take to raise yourself? For surely you had not merely a vague desire to make your fortune without striving for a special object.
  6
 
The Young Man:
  I hoped to advance by my intelligence and courage; I felt that I possessed a lofty mind.
  7
 
Brutus:
  And so you cultivated some talent? For you knew that no man gets on by magnanimity unless he is in a position to develop it in great affairs?
  8
 
The Young Man:
  I knew the human heart a little; I understood the spirit of finesse and skilful management; I hoped to make myself master of the minds of other men; by that means a man can attain anything.
  9
 
Brutus:
  Yes, if you are already some way advanced in your career, and acquainted with the great. But what had you done towards obtaining your end and making yourself known? Had you distinguished yourself in the wars?
  10
 
The Young Man:
  I conducted myself with coolness in all dangers, and I did my duty. But I had little taste for the details of my occupation. I thought I should have done better in high affairs, but I neglected to make a reputation in lower ones.
  11
 
Brutus:
  And you believe that this talent of yours for high affairs would be guessed if you showed it in lower ones?
  12
 
The Young Man:
  That is exactly what I did imagine, illustrious shade, for I had no experience of life, and no one had instructed me in the ways of the world. I had not been brought up for fortune.
  13
 
Brutus:
  Had you cultivated the art of eloquence?
  14
 
The Young Man:
  I cultivated it as far as the occupation of war permitted. I loved literature and poetry, but all that was useless under the rule of Tiberius, who only cared for politics, and, in his old age, despised the arts. At Rome eloquence no longer led to honours; it was a talent quite useless for making a man’s fortune, and there was scant opportunity for practising it.
  15
 
Brutus:
  You should have devoted yourself to the things that would render you agreeable to your master, and useful to your country under the conditions in which it then was.
  16
 
The Young Man:
  I recognized the truth of what you say, but I discovered it too late, and I killed myself to punish myself for my faults.
  17
 
Brutus:
  Your faults are not unpardonable, my friend. You did not take the right road to fortune: but you might have succeeded by other means, since thousands have got on without merit and without calculable industry. You are too hard on yourself: like the generality of men you judge of your conduct by its success.
  18
 
The Young Man:
  It is a sweet consolation, oh great shade! that you should make excuses for me. I never dared to open my heart to any one so long as I lived. You are the first to whom I have confessed my ambition, and who has pardoned my ill fortune.
  19
 
Brutus:
  Alas! if I had known you in the world I should have tried to console you in your misfortunes. I see that you lack neither virtue, nor intelligence, nor courage. In more favourable times you would have made your fortune, for you have a Roman heart.
  20
 
The Young Man:
  If that is so, my dear Brutus, I do not regret my misfortune. Fortune is partial and unjust; it is not a great evil to miss it when we feel certain that we deserved it. And when it is attained unworthily and by an unjust title, it matters little, for then it only serves to make greater faults, and to increase vices.
  21
 
 
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