They Attack Not Us

“They who, without any previous knowledge of us, think amiss of us, do us no harm; they attack not us, but the phantom of their own imagination”

Jean de la Bruyère, from Caractères (1688)


Portrait of Jean de la Bruyère via Wikipedia

Jean de la Bruyère (16 August 1645 – 11 May 1696) was a French philosopher and moralist, who was noted for his satire. He was born in Paris to a middle-class family. Little is known of the events of his life, though the impressions derived from the few notices of him describe a silent, observant, but somewhat awkward man. La Bruyère’s chief work, Caractères, or as English Characters: Or, the Manners of the Age, came out to a turbulent reception in 1688. French intellectual Nicolas de Malézieu predicted that it would bring “bien des lecteurs et bien des ennemis” (many readers and many enemies). That proved to be true. His unpopularity was, however, chiefly confined to the subjects of his sarcastic portraiture and to the hack writers of the time, of whom he had a nasty habit of insulting frequently. La Bruyère died very suddenly. He is said to have been struck dumb at a gathering of friends, and, being carried home, expired of apoplexy a day or two afterward. The Caractères, a translation of Theophrastus, and a few surviving letters, complete the list of his literary work.

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