It is not enough to succeed; friends must fail and La Rochefoucauld

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 6 18:15:33 UTC 2010

Citation: 1964, Only You, Dick Daring!: or How to Write One Television
Script and Make $50,000,000 by Merle Miller, Page 45, W. Sloane
Associates, New York. (Google snippet view only. WorldCat agrees with

Remember the advice of the wisest of men, Rochefoucauld, 'It is not
enough to have achieved personal success. One's best friend must also
have failed.'

In a separate post I investigated this quotation attributed to La
Rochefoucauld, Gore Vidal, and others. I contended that it can be
traced to a quote attributed to Somerset Maugham in 1959 though I am
happy to hear alternative suggestions.

This post centers on La Rochefoucauld. When a specific maxim is put
forth for comparison to the quote above it is always maxim 99. Here is
the original French and an English translation of maxim 99.

Citation: 1999, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations edited by
Elizabeth M. Knowles, Page 453, Oxford University Press.

Dans l'adversite de nos meilleurs amis, nous trouvons toujours quelque
chose qui ne nous deplait pas.
In the misfortune of our best friends, we always find something which
is not displeasing to us.
Reflexions ou Maximes Morales (1665) maxim 99

I think this is a different quote, and it expresses a gentler
sentiment. The word "must" in the original quote implies that success
is incomplete or inadequate without the mandated failure of one's best
friend. There is a cutting edge of cruelty that is blunted in
Rochefoucauld's meditation. Rochefoucauld even uses double negation,
"not displeasing", to further dull his sentiment.

Project Gutenberg has an English translation of "Reflections; or
Sentences and Moral Maxims" by François duc de La Rochefoucauld. The
introduction quotes Voltaire's assessment: "there is scarcely more
than one truth running through the book - that 'self-love is the
motive of everything'".

I searched through the document looking at the text surrounding all
instances of the string "friend" and was unable to find anything that
expressed the saying under investigation. I think the maxims are not
as harshly cynical as the saying. Perhaps others will be able to find
it somewhere in the writings of Rochefoucauld.

When searching for earlier versions of this quotation and its variants
I found some instances from before 1959 that partially matched the
quote. But these partial matches did not fit the full meaning of the
saying. Here is an example:

Citation: 1917, The Hawkeye, Volume 26, Page 35, University of Iowa.
(Google Books snippet view only. Not verified. Google Books metadata
for periodicals is not reliable.)

As individuals we must ever strive onward and upward - some will
succeed, others must fail - it is the destiny of Fate.

I think this quote is about logical necessity and not desirability.
For example, when engaged in a zero-sum game a competitor with a
positive score logically implies the existence of a competitor with a
negative score. The quote "It is not enough to succeed; others must
fail" suggests to me that the speaker desires the failure of others
and that failure is not logically necessary.

Garson O'Toole

The American Dialect Society -

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