The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Balthasar Gracian, tr. by Joseph Jacobs, , at sacred-texts.com
l Never lose Self-respect,
or be too familiar with oneself. Let your
own right feeling be the true standard of your rectitude, and owe more to the strictness of your own self-judgment than to all external sanctions. Leave off anything unseemly more from regard for your own self-respect than from fear of external authority. Pay regard to that and there is no need of Seneca's imaginary tutor.
li Know how to Choose well.
Most of life depends thereon. It needs good taste and correct judgment, for which neither intellect nor study suffices. To be choice, you must choose, and for this two things are needed: to be able to choose at all, and then to choose the best. There are many men of fecund and subtle mind, of keen judgment, of much learning, and of great observation who yet are at a loss when they come to choose. They always take the worst as if they had tried to go wrong. Thus this is one of the greatest gifts from above.
lii Never be put out.
’Tis a great aim of prudence never to be embarrassed. It is the sign of a real man. of a noble heart, for magnanimity is not easily put
out. The passions are the humours of the soul, and every excess in them weakens prudence; if they overflow through the mouth, the reputation will be in danger. Let a man therefore be so much and so great a master over himself that neither in the most fortunate nor in the most adverse circumstances can anything cause his reputation injury by disturbing his self-possession, but rather enhance it by showing his superiority.
liii Diligent and Intelligent.
Diligence promptly executes what intelligence slowly excogitates. Hurry is the failing of fools; they know not the crucial point and set to work without preparation. On the other hand, the wise more often fail from procrastination; foresight begets deliberation, and remiss action often nullifies prompt judgment. Celerity is the mother of good fortune. He has done much who leaves nothing over till to-morrow. Festina lente is a royal motto.
liv Know how to show your Teeth.
Even hares can pull the mane of a dead lion. There is no joke about courage. Give way
to the first and you must yield to the second, and so on till the last, and to gain your point at last costs as much trouble as would have gained much more at first. Moral courage exceeds physical; it should be like a sword kept ready for use in the scabbard of caution. It Is the shield of great place; moral cowardice lowers one more than physical. Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth. Wise Nature has thoughtfully combined in the bee the sweetness of its honey with the sharpness of its sting.
It's a sign of a noble heart dowered with patience, never to be in a hurry, never to be in a passion. First be master over yourself if you would be master over others. You must pass through the circumference of time before arriving at the centre of opportunity. A wise reserve seasons the aims and matures the means. Time's crutch effects more than the iron club of Hercules. God Himself chasteneth not with a rod but with time. He 1 spake a great word who said, "Time and I against any two."
[paragraph continues] Fortune herself rewards waiting with the first prize.
lvi Have Presence of Mind.
The child of a happy promptitude of spirit. Owing to this vivacity and wideawakeness there is no fear of danger or mischance. Many reflect much only to go wrong in the end: others attain their aim without thinking of it beforehand. There are natures of Antiperistasis who work best in an emergency. They are like monsters who succeed in all they do offhand, but fail in aught they think over. A thing occurs to them at once or never: for them there is no court of appeal. Celerity wins applause because it proves remarkable capacity; subtlety of judgment, prudence in action.
lvii Slow and Sure.
Early enough if well. Quickly done can be quickly undone. To last an eternity requires an eternity of preparation. Only excellence counts; only achievement endures. Profound intelligence is the only foundation for immortality. Worth much costs much. The precious metals are the heaviest.
lviii Adapt Yourself to your Company.
There is no need to show your ability before every one. Employ no more force than is necessary. Let there be no unnecessary expenditure either of knowledge or of power. The skilful falconer only flies enough birds to serve for the chase. If there is too much display to-day there will be nothing to show to-morrow. Always have some novelty wherewith to dazzle. To show something fresh each day keeps expectation alive and conceals the limits of capacity.
lix Finish off well.
In the house of Fortune, if you enter by the gate of pleasure you must leave by that of sorrow and vice versâ. You ought therefore to think of the finish, and attach more importance to a graceful exit than to applause on entrance. ’Tis the common lot of the unlucky to have a very fortunate outset and a very tragic end. The important point is not the vulgar applause on entrance—that comes to nearly all—but the general feeling at exit. Few in life are felt to deserve an encore. Fortune rarely accompanies any one to the
door: warmly as she may welcome the coming, she speeds but coldly the parting guest.
lx A Sound Judgment.
Some are born wise, and with this natural advantage enter upon their studies, with a moiety already mastered. With age and experience their reason ripens, and thus they attain a sound judgment. They abhor everything whimsical as leading prudence astray, especially in matters of state, where certainty is so necessary, owing to the importance of the affairs involved., Such men deserve to stand by the helm of state either as pilots or as men at the wheel.
lxi To Excel in what is Excellent.
A great rarity among excellences. You cannot have a great man without something pre-eminent. Mediocrities never win applause. Eminence in some distinguished post distinguishes one from the vulgar mob and ranks us with the elect. To be distinguished in a Small post is to be great in little: the more comfort, the less glory. The highest eminence in great affairs has the royal characteristic of exciting admiration and winning goodwill.
lxii Use good Instruments.
Some would have the subtlety of their wits proven by the meanness of their instruments. ’Tis a dangerous satisfaction, and deserves a fatal punishment. The excellence of a minister never diminished the greatness of his lord. All the glory of exploits reverts to the principal actor; also all the blame. Fame only does business with principals. She does not say, "This had good, that had bad servants," but, "This was a good artist, that a bad one." Let your assistants be selected and tested therefore, for you have to trust to them for an immortality of fame.
lxiii To he the First of the Kind is an Excellence,
and to be eminent in it as well, a double one. To have the first move is a great ad-vantage when the players are equal. Many a man would have been a veritable Phœnix if he had been the first of the sort. Those who come first are the heirs of Fame; the others get only a younger brother's allowance: whatever they do, they cannot persuade the world they are anything more than parrots. The skill of prodigies may find a new path to
eminence, but prudence accompanies them all the way. By the novelty of their enterprises sages write their names in the golden book of heroes. Some prefer to be first in things of minor import than second in greater exploits.
lxiv Avoid Worry.
Such prudence brings its own reward. It escapes much, and is thus the midwife of comfort and so of happiness. Neither give nor take bad news unless it can help. Some men's ears are stuffed with the sweets of flattery; others with the bitters of scandal, while some cannot live without a daily annoyance no more than Mithridates could without poison. It is no rule of life to prepare for yourself lifelong trouble in order to give a temporary enjoyment to another, however near and dear. You never ought to spoil your own chances to please another who advises and keeps out of the affair, and in all cases where to oblige another involves disobliging yourself, ’tis a standing rule that it is better he should suffer now than you afterwards and in vain.
lxv Elevated Taste.
You can train it like the intellect. Full
knowledge whets desire and increases enjoyment. You may know a noble spirit by the elevation of his taste: it must be a great thing that can satisfy a great mind. Big bites for big mouths, lofty things for lofty spirits. Before their judgment the bravest tremble, the most perfect lose confidence. Things of the first importance are few; let appreciation be rare. Taste can be imparted by intercourse: great good luck to associate with the highest taste. But do not affect to be dissatisfied with everything: ’tis the extreme of folly, and more odious if from affectation than if from Quixotry. Some would have God create another world and other ideals to satisfy their fantastic imagination.
lxvi See that Things end well.
Some regard more the rigour of the game than the winning of it, but to the world the discredit of the final failure does away with any recognition of the previous care. The victor need not explain. The world does not notice the details of the measures employed; but only the good or ill result. You lose nothing if you gain your end. A good end gilds everything, however unsatisfactory the means. Thus at times it is part of the art of
life to transgress the rules of the art, if you cannot end well otherwise.
lxvii Prefer Callings "en Evidence."
Most things depend on the satisfaction of others. Esteem is to excellence what the zephyr is to flowers, the breath of life. There are some callings which gain universal esteem, while others more important are without credit. The former, pursued before the eyes of all, obtain the universal favour; the others, though they are rarer and more valuable, remain obscure and unperceived, honoured but not applauded. Among princes conquerors are the most celebrated, and therefore the kings of Aragon earned such applause as warriors, conquerors, and great men. An able man will prefer callings en evidence which all men know of and utilise, and he thus becomes immortalised by universal suffrage.
lxviii It is better to help with Intelligence than with Memory.
The more as the latter needs only recollection, the former νοῦς. Many persons omit the à propos because it does not occur to them; a friend's advice on such occasions may enable
them to see the advantages. ’Tis one of the greatest gifts of mind to be able to offer what is needed at the moment: for want of that many things fail to be performed. Share the light of your intelligence, when you have any, and ask for it when you have it not, the first cautiously, the last anxiously. Give no more than a hint: this finesse is especially needful when it touches the interest of him whose attention you awaken. You should give but a taste at first, and then pass on to more when that is not sufficient. If he thinks of No, go in search of Yes. Therein lies the cleverness, for most things are not obtained simply because they are not attempted.
lxix Do not give way to every common Impulse.
He is a great man who never allows himself to be influenced by the impressions of others. Self-reflection is the school of wisdom. To know one's disposition and to allow for it, even going to the other extreme so as to find the juste milieu between nature and art. Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement. There be some whose humours are so monstrous that they are always under the influence of one or other of them, and put them in place of their real inclinations. They
are torn asunder by such disharmony and get involved in contradictory obligations. Such excesses not only destroy firmness of will; all power of judgment gets lost, desire and knowledge pulling in opposite directions.
lxx Know how to Refuse.
One ought not to give way in everything nor to everybody. To know how to refuse is therefore as important as to know how to consent. This is especially the case with men of position. All depends on the how. Some men's No is thought more of than the Yes of others: for a gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry Yes. There are some who always have No on their lips, whereby they make everything distasteful. No always comes first with them, and when sometimes they give way after all, it does them no good on account of the unpleasing herald. Your refusal need not be point-blank: let the disappointment come by degrees. Nor let the refusal be final; that would be to destroy dependence; let some spice of hope remain to soften the rejection. Let politeness compensate and fine words supply the place of deeds. Yes and No are soon said, but give much to think over.
lxxi Do not Vacillate.
Let not your actions be abnormal either from disposition or affectation. An able man is always the same in his best qualities; he gets the credit of trustworthiness. If he changes, he does so for good reason or good consideration. In matters of conduct change is hateful. There are some who are different every day; their intelligence varies, still more their will, and with this their fortune. Yesterday's white is to-day's black: to-day's No was yesterday's Yes. They always give the lie to their own credit and destroy their credit with others.
lxxii Be Resolute.
Bad execution of your designs does less harm than irresolution in forming them. Streams do less harm flowing than when dammed up. There are some men so infirm of purpose that they always require direction from others, and this not on account of any perplexity, for they judge clearly, but from sheer incapacity for action. It needs some skill to find out difficulties, but more to find a way out of them. There are others who are never in straits . their clear judgment and determined character
it them for the highest callings: their intelligence tells them where to insert the thin end of the wedge, their resolution how to drive it home. They soon get through anything: as soon as they have done with one sphere of action, they are ready for another. Affianced to Fortune, they make themselves sure of success.
lxxiii Utilise Slips.
That is how smart people get out of difficulties. They extricate themselves from the most intricate labyrinth by some witty application of a bright remark. They get out of a serious contention by an airy nothing or by raising a smile. Most of the great leaders are well grounded in this art. When you have to refuse, it is often the polite way to talk of something else. Sometimes it proves the highest understanding not to understand.
lxxiv Do not be Unsociable.
The truest wild beasts live in the most populous places. To be inaccessible is the fault of those who distrust themselves, whose honours change their manners. It is no way of earning people's goodwill by being ill-tempered
with them. It is a sight to see one of those unsociable monsters who make a point of being proudly impertinent. Their dependants who have the misfortune to be obliged to speak with them, enter as if prepared for a fight with a tiger armed with patience and with fear. To obtain their post these persons must have ingratiated themselves with every one, but having once obtained it they seek to indemnify themselves by disobliging all. It is a condition of their position that they should be accessible to all, yet, from pride or spleen, they are so to none. ’Tis a civil way to punish such men by letting them alone, and depriving them of opportunities of improvement by granting them no opportunity of intercourse.
lxxv Choose an Heroic Ideal;
but rather to emulate than to imitate. There are exemplars of greatness, living texts of honour. Let every one have before his mind the chief of his calling not so much to follow him as to spur himself on. Alexander wept not on account of Achilles dead and buried, but over himself, because his fame had not yet spread throughout the world. Nothing arouses ambition so much in the heart as the trumpet-clang of another's fame. The same
thing that sharpens envy, nourishes a generous spirit.
lxxvi Do not always be Jesting.
Wisdom is shown in serious matters, and is more appreciated than mere wit. He that is always ready for jests is never ready for serious things. They resemble liars in that men never believe either, always expecting a lie in one, a joke in the other. One never knows when you speak with judgment, which is the same as if you had none. A continual jest soon loses all zest. Many get the repute of being witty, but thereby lose the credit of being sensible. Jest has its little hour, seriousness should have all the rest.
lxxvii Be all Things to all Men
—a discreet Proteus, learned with the learned, saintly with the sainted. It is the great art to gain every one's suffrages; their goodwill gains general agreement. Notice men's moods and adapt yourself to each, genial or serious as the case may be. Follow their lead, glossing over the changes as cunningly as possible. This is an indispensable art for dependent persons. But this savoir faire calls for great cleverness. He only will find no difficulty who has a
universal genius in his knowledge and universal ingenuity in his wit.
lxxviii The Art of undertaking Things.
Fools rush in through the door; for folly is always bold. The same simplicity which robs them of all attention to precautions deprives them of all sense of shame at failure. But prudence enters with more deliberation. Its forerunners are caution and care; they advance and discover whether you can also advance without danger. Every rush forward is freed from danger by caution, while fortune some-times helps in such cases. Step cautiously where you suspect depth. Sagacity goes cautiously forward while precaution covers the ground. Nowadays there are unsuspected depths in human. intercourse, you must therefore cast the lead at every step.
lxxix A Genial Disposition.
If with moderation ’tis an accomplishment, not a defect. A grain of gaiety seasons all. The greatest men join in the fun at times, and it makes them liked by all. But they should always on such occasions preserve their dignity, nor go beyond the bounds of decorum. Others,
again, get themselves out of difficulty quickest by a joke. For there are things you must take in fun, though others perhaps mean them in earnest. You show a sense of placability, which acts as a magnet on all hearts.
lxxx Take care to get Information.
We live by information, not by sight. We exist by faith in others. The ear is the area-gate of truth but the front-door of lies. The truth is generally seen, rarely heard; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed. The passions tinge her with their colours wherever they touch her, sometimes favourably, sometimes the reverse. She always brings out the disposition, therefore receive her with caution from him that praises, with more caution from him that blames. Pay attention to the intention of the speaker; you should know beforehand on what footing he comes. Let reflection assay falsity and exaggeration.
lxxxi Renew your Brilliance.
’Tis the privilege of the Phœnix. Ability is wont to grow old, and with it fame. The
staleness of custom weakens admiration, and a mediocrity that's new often eclipses the highest excellence grown old. Try therefore to be born again in valour, in genius, in fortune, in all. Display startling novelties, rise afresh like the sun every day. Change too the scene on which you shine, so that your loss may be felt in the old scenes of your triumph, while the novelty of your powers wins you applause in the new.
lxxxii Drain Nothing to the Dregs, neither Good nor Ill.
A sage once reduced all virtue to the golden mean. Push right to the extreme and it becomes wrong: press all the juice from an orange and it becomes bitter. Even in enjoyment never go to extremes. Thought too subtle is dull. If you milk a cow too much you draw blood, not milk.
lxxxiii Allow Yourself some venial Fault.
Some such carelessness is often the greatest recommendation of talent. For envy exercises ostracism, most envenomed when most polite, It counts it to perfection as a failing that it has no faults; for being perfect in all it condemns
it in all. It becomes an Argus, all eyes for imperfection: ’tis its only consolation. Blame is like the lightning; it hits the highest. Let Homer nod now and then and affect some negligence in valour or in intellect—not in prudence—so as to disarm malevolence, or at least to prevent its bursting with its own venom. You thus leave your cloak on the horns of Envy in order to save your immortal parts.
lxxxiv Make use of your Enemies.
You should learn to seize things not by the blade, which cuts, but by the handle, which saves you from harm: especially is this the rule with the doings of your enemies. A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends. Their ill-will often levels mountains of difficulties which one would otherwise not face. Many have had their greatness made for them by their enemies. Flattery is more dangerous than hatred, because it covers the stains which the other causes to be wiped out. The wise will turn ill-will into a mirror more faithful than that of kindness. and remove or improve the faults referred to. Caution thrives well when rivalry and ill-will are next-door neighbours.
lxxxv Do not play Manille.
It is a fault of excellence that being so much in use it is liable to abuse. Because all covet it, all are vexed by it. It is a great misfortune to be of use to nobody; scarcely less to be of use to everybody. People who reach this stage lose by gaining, and at last bore those who desired them before. These Manilles wear away all kinds of excellence: losing the earlier esteem of the few, they obtain discredit among the vulgar. The remedy against this extreme is to moderate your brilliance. Be extraordinary in your excellence, if you like, but be ordinary in your display of it. The more light a torch gives, the more it burns away and the nearer ’tis to going out. Show yourself less and you will be rewarded by being esteemed more.
lxxxvi Prevent Scandal.
Many heads go to make the mob, and in each of them are eyes for malice to use and a tongue for detraction to wag. If a single ill report spread, it casts a blemish on your fair fame, and if it clings to you with a nickname, your reputation is in danger. Generally it is some salient defect or ridiculous trait that gives rise to the rumours. At times these are
malicious additions of private envy to general distrust. For there are wicked tongues that ruin a great reputation more easily by a witty sneer than by a direct accusation. It is easy to get into bad repute, because it is easy to believe evil of any one: it is not easy to clear yourself. The wise accordingly avoid these mischances, guarding against vulgar scandal with sedulous vigilance. It is far easier to prevent than to rectify.
lxxxvii Culture and Elegance.
Man is born a barbarian, and only raises himself above the beast by culture. Culture therefore makes the man; the more a man, the higher. Thanks to it, Greece could call the rest of the world barbarians. Ignorance is very raw; nothing contributes so much to culture as knowledge. But even knowledge is coarse If without elegance. Not alone must our intelligence be elegant, but our desires, and above all our conversation. Some men are naturally elegant in internal and external qualities, in their thoughts, in their address, in their dress, which is the rind of the soul, and in their talents, which is its fruit. There are others, on the other hand, so gauche that everything about them, even their very excellences,
is tarnished by an intolerable and barbaric want of neatness.
lxxxviii Let your Behaviour be Fine and Noble.
A great man ought not to be little in his behaviour. He ought never to pry too minutely into things, least of all in unpleasant matters. For though it is important to know all, it is not necessary to know all about all. One ought to act in such cases with the generosity of a gentleman, conduct worthy of a gallant man. To overlook forms a large part of the work of ruling. Most things must be left unnoticed among relatives and friends, and even among enemies. All superfluity is annoying, especially in things that annoy. To keep hovering around the object or your annoyance is a kind of mania. Generally speaking, every man behaves according to his heart and his understanding.
lxxxix Know Yourself
—in talents and capacity, in judgment and inclination. You cannot master yourself unless you know yourself. There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind. Let careful thought about yourself serve as a substitute.
[paragraph continues] When the outer image is forgotten, keep the inner one to improve and perfect. Learn the force of your intellect and capacity for affairs, test the force of your courage in order to apply it, and keep your foundations secure and your head clear for everything.
xc The Secret of Long Life
Lead a good life. Two things bring life speedily to an end: folly and immorality. Some lose their life because they have not the intelligence to keep it, others because they have not the will. Just as virtue is its own reward, so is vice its own punishment. He who lives a fast life runs through life in a double sense. A virtuous life never dies. The firmness of the soul is communicated to the body, and a good life is long not only in intention but also in extension.
xci Never set to work at anything if you have any doubts of its Prudence.
A suspicion of failure in the mind of the doer is proof positive of it in that of the onlooker, especially if he is a rival. If in the heat of action your judgment feels scruples, it will afterwards in cool reflection condemn it as a piece
of folly. Action is dangerous where prudence is in doubt: better leave such things alone. Wisdom does not trust to probabilities; it always marches in the mid-day light of reason. How can an enterprise succeed which the judgment condemns as soon as conceived? And if resolutions passed nem. con. by inner court often turn out unfortunately, what can we expect of those undertaken by a doubting reason and a vacillating judgment?
xcii Transcendant Wisdom.
I mean in everything. The first and highest rule of all deed and speech, the more necessary to be followed the higher and more numerous our posts, is: an ounce of wisdom is worth more than tons of cleverness. It is the only sure way, though it may not gain so much applause. The reputation of wisdom is the last triumph of fame. It is enough if you satisfy the wise, for their judgment is the touchstone of true success.
A man of many excellences equals many men. By imparting his own enjoyment of life to his circle he enriches their life. Variety in
excellences is the delight of life. It is a great art to profit by all that is good, and since Nature has made man in his highest development an abstract of herself, so let Art create in him a true microcosm by training his taste and intellect.
xciv Keep the extent of your Abilities unknown.
The wise man does not allow his knowledge and abilities to be sounded to the bottom, if he desires to be honoured by all. He allows you to know them but not to comprehend them. No one must know the extent of his abilities, lest he be disappointed. No one ever has an opportunity of fathoming him entirely. For guesses and doubts about the extent of his talents arouse more veneration than accurate knowledge of them, be they ever so great.
xcv Keep Expectation alive.
Keep stirring it up. Let much promise more, and great deeds herald greater. Do not rest your whole fortune on a single cast of the die. It requires great skill to moderate your forces so as to keep expectation from being dissipated.
xcvi The highest Discretion.
It is the throne of reason, the foundation of
prudence: by its means success is gained at little cost. It is a gift from above, and should be prayed for as the first and best quality. ’Tis the main piece of the panoply, and so important that its absence makes a man imperfect, whereas with other qualities it is merely a question of more or less. All the actions of life depend on its application; all require its assistance, for everything needs intelligence. Discretion consists in a natural tendency to the most rational course, combined with a liking for the surest.
xcvii Obtain and preserve a Reputation.
It is the usufruct of fame. It is expensive to obtain a reputation, for it only attaches to distinguished abilities, which are as rare as mediocrities are common. Once obtained, it is easily preserved. It confers many an obligation, but it does more. When it is owing to elevated powers or lofty spheres of action, it rises to a kind of veneration and yields a sort of majesty. But it is only a well-founded reputation that lasts permanently.
xcviii Write your Intentions in Cypher.
The passions are the gates of the soul. The most practical knowledge consists in disguising
them. He that plays with cards exposed runs a risk of losing the stakes. The reserve of caution should combat the curiosity of inquirers: adopt the policy of the cuttlefish. Do not even let your tastes be known, lest others utilise them either by running counter to them or by flattering them.
xcix Reality and Appearance.
Things pass for what they seem, not for what they are. Few see inside; many take to the outside. It is not enough to be right, if right seem false and ill.
32:1 Charles V.