Jack Mitchell

D, or 500 Maxims, Aphorisms, & Reflections

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Though I had been a keen fan of La Rochefoucauld since my youth, the impulse to try and join his tradition came from (of all places) Twitter, in the old days of 140-character brevity. Why shouldn't I try tweeting a few concise, insightful, general truths in lieu of snark and insults - me quoque tollere humo? It was also a portable project, as I could jot down, reformulate, and cross out ideas by the campfire or while walking to work in the sunshine. As I say at the end of my essay on the aphoristic tradition (included in this volume),

"Our curt tongue is perfectly suited to [aphorism], while the more complacent and mendacious our culture grows the more people will seek an escape into reason and self-scrutiny: as they do, let aphorism, with its dour laughter and coy candour, serve to welcome the refugees. Personally, too, though it is fun to chew over a good aphorism, it is still more fun to compose one — remodeling it, rephrasing it, rejecting it, restoring it, until an hour’s or a day’s reflection receives a tiny, shining monument."

A sample


The summit of style is to kill with a word.


Flattery is the only reliable tyrannicide.


In health, the body obeys the will; in sickness, the will obeys the body.


God’s punishment of human folly is not to send a plague.


The notion of art for the sake of art is too close to the notion of life for the sake of life.


Under a tyrant at least no one believes the newspapers.


Good poetry says half of what it means; bad poetry means half of what it says.


We enjoy talking about ourselves chiefly because it requires no effort.


The unhappy see themselves through the eyes of the bad, the happy through the eyes of the good.


Optimists go to war; pessimists make and keep the peace.


To speak for one’s nation is to fancy oneself a king.


Without moderation, self-denial is self-indulgence.


Without law, power cannot sleep.


To love others, we must first understand how they resemble us, because we have no other measure of esteem.


Historians are hopelessly prejudiced in favour of historical significance.