Aphorisms by Jack Mitchell

François de la Rochefoucauld (Geary’s Guide, pp. 131–134) cast a cynical, clinical eye on human vanity and personal weakness. Jack Mitchell, associate professor, Roman history at Dalhousie University, translates—literally and figuratively—the Duc’s devastating aphoristic observations for contemporary readers. The literal translation comes in Reflections, or Moral Opinions and Maxims: A Bilingual Edition, Mitchell’s rendering of Rochefoucauld’s Maxims in English; the figurative translation comes in D, or 500 Maxims, Aphorisms, & Reflections, Mitchell’s own aphorisms, which parallel the themes of the Duc’s rueful exploration of the human psyche. The books refresh Rochefoucauld’s voice and add Mitchell’s own to the grand tradition of the moral aphorism. A selection from Mitchell’s sayings…

The apocalypse is the easy way out.

Misers live for a moment that never arrives.

The wise suffer from an excess of moderation.

Life would not seem so short if we could remember it.

A reader’s library is his only true biography.

Sketches are the aphorism of the hand.

Only the studious discover what is not worth learning.

To learn, read; to know, reread.


More Aphorisms by Laurence Musgrove

I wrote about Laurence Musgrove—professor of, among other things, rhetoric and composition, creative writing (poetry), and visual thinking at Angelo State University in Texas—back in 2013, in connection with his witty, illustrated alter-ego, Tex. But behind every great wisecracking cartoon character is an animated human aphorist, and Musgrove is the source of memorable maxims even when they are not appearing in speech bubbles above Tex’s head. In his recent collection—One Kind of Recording: Aphorisms—he writes, “aphorists whittle sentences to a point.” Musgrove’s sentences are pointed and often poignant observations about life’s many inconspicuous yet decisive moments. A selection…

The signposts
to your life
are just up ahead
but mostly
behind you.

The more things you know
the more things remind you
of other things you know.

The best seat in the house
is sometimes outside.

From the bandwagon
it’s hard to see
you’re running over.

Take it or leave it
usually means take it.

The only way
to get anywhere
is to leave.

Age is when
the temporary
becomes permanent.

Close friends
know how to
keep their distance.

Apology admits
it should have
spoken up sooner.

Our lives depend
on those who
depend on us.

The aphorism
is a song
we’ve never heard
but recognize.