8

I am looking for the source of the quote

We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves

allegedly by François de La Rochefoucauld.

The only French version I could find was

Nous sommes plus intéressés à faire croire que nous sommes heureux qu’à essayer d’être heureux nous-mêmes.

but I cannot find it in maxims or elsewhere.

Would anyone know where it comes from?

a picture of Rochefoucauld with the English version of the alleged quote

5
  • 1
    If you've read the maxims (and I urge you to!), you'll know this is quintessential Rochefoucault! I would have been shocked if it hadn't been authentic. It would take a scholar to fake it so well.
    – PatrickT
    May 30 at 3:03
  • 1
    @PatrickT I am reading them actually. Yes, looked authentic, but I am always checking for sources just in case. I could not find one myself, thus the question :)
    – Yulia V
    May 30 at 9:23
  • And a great question. He's a wonderful stylist. I can't think of a greater aphorist. In the same league is Oscar Wilde, who is funnier, just as cynical, a tad shallower. More cynical and contemporary is Cioran (not sure if he's been translated).
    – PatrickT
    May 30 at 10:30
  • 1
    @PatrickT Nietzsche? bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/…
    – Yulia V
    May 30 at 11:26
  • Indeed. Cioran's main inspiration. It's never too clear if the humour is intended or not...
    – PatrickT
    May 30 at 11:33
10

The version you found on the internet was translated from English back to French. The real quote, which is due either to La Rochefoucault or to the Abbé de Saint-Réal, is:

Nous nous tourmentons moins pour devenir heureux que pour faire croire que nous le sommes.

My translation (as literal as I could grammatically make it):

We torment ourselves less to become happy than to make others believe that we are happy.

This quote can be found in many places on the internet, most often attributed to La Rochefoucauld, but sometimes to the Abbé de Saint-Réal.

The earliest I could find it in Google books is in this 1701 book which quotes it, and attributes it to La Rochefoucauld (1638–1680).

It is in this 1705 edition of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims, where it is the sixth in a list of 50 maxims.

However, here is a link on Google books to a 1722 edition of Oeuvres de M. L'Abbé de Saint-Réal (1633-1692) which contains the exact same list of 50 maxims.

So the list of 50 maxims seems to have been incorporated into editions of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims after his death, but it wasn't in editions published when he was alive (at least, it's not in this edition that Tsundoku found, which is a reproduction of the 1668 edition, and which the editor's note claims is the last one published before La Rochefoucauld died in 1680.)

In conclusion, this maxim is by one of two 17th century writers, and was attributed to both of them in posthumous collections of their work in the 18th century. Which is the real author? I don't know whether it is possible to determine this from the resources we have. If you really want to figure this out, you might get clues by scanning Google books for the other 49 maxims in the list.

7
  • 1
    I found it in this edition of Réflexions, ou Sentences et maximes morales but not in this one.
    – Tsundoku
    May 29 at 18:16
  • 1
    @Tsundoku: the same list of 50 maxims is in Les oeuvres de M. L'Abbé de Saint-Réal. This may be a case of 18th-century plagiarism.
    – Peter Shor
    May 29 at 18:21
  • @PeterShor, looks more like an error from Google books, because the link is to scans of the Maximes of la Rochefoucauld, not Saint-Réal.
    – PatrickT
    May 30 at 3:07
  • 1
    @PeterShor, Oh I see, you're right. Very interesting. Not an error by Google books. But it does look out of place: these Maxims are all from La Rochefoucauld. A few paragraphs earlier l'abbé generously cites Pascal, but here these maxims are inserted without attribution. They were taken out of Volume 2 of the 1745 edition (rangée dans un meilleur ordre et augmentée) (or moved, couldn't find them). In the edition of 1804 they appear as an appendix, still without attribution. Very curious indeed. Well spotted!
    – PatrickT
    May 30 at 11:30
  • 1
    @PatrickT: I'm going to agree that it's very likely La Rochefoucauld wrote that list of fifty maxims, and it was incorporated by mistake into Saint-Réal's collected works after his death, but I don't see that there's any definitive proof of this that would hold up in a court of law.
    – Peter Shor
    May 31 at 12:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.