Morale Philosophique  ca. 1800
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The practice of extracting pithy sayings, words to the wise, and inspirational poetry into a personal anthology was as common among the educated elite in 18th century France as it was in America. Such commonplace books provide evidence of the range of authors and the types of literature enjoyed by members of the elite, but in what they include -- and exclude -- these books may also be revealing of the personal beliefs and moral principles of the individual compiler. Presumably, if the compiler felt a passage worth recording, he or she felt that it contained some literary, philosophical, or moral merit. The act of recording passages from scripture and from orthodox religious writers, for example, fairly clearly distinguishes that compiler from one who chooses to cite secular writers or at times anticlerical philosophers.