French Renaissance Paleography


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De l'occasion et de la fortune


France, 1580
"De l’occasion et de la fortune." In Pensees politiques
Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT folio Case MS 5228



This philosophical text reflects on the potential impact on society of different kinds of personal beliefs about chance and fortune. It appears in a manuscript containing a series of meditations on government, intended to provide advice to rulers, compiled in about 1580, which the Newberry Library purchased in 1985. The author has not been identified. See below for a rough English translation of the first paragraph presented in the section that we have digitized.

- Carla Zecher


English Translation: 

There are some men who are so taken with their own importance that if they hear it said that fortune has some authority over human affairs, they laugh at this. And there are others who are so mistrustful of themselves (or through cowardice, or for having seen that an infinity of people with little merit nonetheless enjoy good fortune) that they hold human industriousness to be useless and in vain, and believe that all depends upon good or bad fortune. But although one can easily show the falsity of both of these opinions, still, being obliged to choose, it is better to follow the former, because they are always industrious and diligent, and when they have poor success they double their diligence and industry, being people who think that their loss arrives due to their indiscretion or insufficiency and not due to fortune. So that although they do not achieve what they desire, they at least strive courageously. Also, the one who is industrious no longer needs to wait for the arrival of fortune, because if it comes, he knows how to govern it; whereas the one who is not industrious is constrained not only to wait for fortune but also, when it comes, to wait for it alone to do all things for him. And although the fortuitous things that fortune brings can succeed well (which happens very seldom), besides the fact that this brings no praise to the one fortune favors, it is a dangerous example for the public, since it might cause the public to be less industrious.