The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Balthasar Gracian, tr. by Joseph Jacobs, , at sacred-texts.com
ccl When to change the Conversation.
When they talk scandal. With some all goes contrariwise: their No is Yes, and their Yes No. If they speak ill of a thing it is the highest praise. For what they want for them-selves they depreciate to others. To praise a thing is not always to speak well of it, for some, to avoid praising what's good, praise what's bad, and nothing is good for him for whom nothing is bad.
ccli Use human Means as if there were no divine ones, and divine as if there were no human ones.
A masterly rule: it needs no comment.
cclii Neither belong entirely to Yourself nor entirely to Others.
Both are mean forms of tyranny. To desire to be all for oneself is the same as desiring to
have all for oneself. Such persons will not yield a jot or lose a tittle of their comfort. They are rarely beholden, lean on their own luck, and their crutch generally breaks. It is convenient at times to belong to others, that others may belong to us. And he that holds public office is no more nor less than a public slave, or let a man give up both berth and burthen, as the old woman said to Hadrian. On the other hand, others are all for others, which is folly, that always flies to extremes, in this case in a most unfortunate manner. No day, no hour, is their own, but they have so much too much of others that they may be called the slaves of all. This applies even to knowledge, where a man may know everything for others and nothing for himself. A shrewd man knows that others when they seek him do not seek him, but their advantage in him and by him.
ccliii Do not Explain overmuch.
Most men do not esteem what they understand, and venerate what they do not see. To be valued things should cost dear: what is not understood becomes overrated. You have to appear wiser and more prudent than he
requires with whom you deal, if you desire to give him a high opinion of you: yet in this there should be moderation and no excess. And though with sensible people common sense holds its own, with most men a little elaboration is necessary. Give them no time for blame: occupy them with understanding your drift. Many praise a thing without being able to tell why, if asked. The reason is that they venerate the unknown as a mystery, and praise it because they hear it praised.
ccliv Never despise an Evil, however small,
for they never come alone: they are linked together like pieces of good fortune. Fortune and misfortune generally go to find their fellows. Hence all avoid the unlucky and associate with the fortunate. Even the doves with all their innocence resort to the whitest walls. Everything fails with the unfortunate—himself, his words, and his luck. Do not wake Misfortune when she sleeps. One slip is a little thing: yet some fatal loss may follow it till you do not know where it will end. For just as no happiness is perfect, so no ill-luck is complete. Patience serves with what comes from above; prudence with that from below.
cclv Do Good a little at a time, but often.
One should never give beyond the possibility of return. Who gives much does not give but sells. Nor drain gratitude to the dregs, for when the recipient sees all return is impossible he breaks off correspondence. With many persons it is not necessary to do more than overburden them with favours to lose them altogether: they cannot repay you, and so they retire, preferring rather to be enemies than perpetual debtors. The idol never wishes to see before him the sculptor who shaped him, nor does the benefited wish to see his benefactor always before his eyes. There is a great subtlety in giving what costs little yet is much desired, so that it is esteemed the more.
cclvi Go armed against Discourtesy,
and against perfidy, presumption, and all other kinds of folly. There is much of it in the world, and prudence lies in avoiding a meeting with it. Arm yourself each day before the mirror of attention with the weapons of defence. Thus you will beat down the attacks of folly. Be prepared for the occasion, and do not expose your reputation
to vulgar contingencies. Armed with prudence, a man cannot be disarmed by impertinence. The road of human intercourse is difficult, for it is full of ruts which may jolt our credit. Best to take a byway, taking Ulysses as a model of shrewdness. Feigned misunderstanding is of great value in such matters. Aided by politeness it helps us over all, and is often the only way out of difficulties.
cclvii Never let Matters come to a Rupture,
for our reputation always comes injured out of the encounter. Every one may be of importance as an enemy if not as a friend. Few can do us good, almost any can do us harm. In Jove's bosom itself even his eagle never nestles securely from the day he has quarrelled with a beetle. Hidden foes use the paw of the declared enemy to stir up the fire, and meanwhile they lie in ambush for such an occasion. Friends provoked become the bitterest of enemies. They cover their own failings with the faults of others. Every one speaks as things seem to him, and things seem as he wishes them to appear. All blame us at the beginning for want of foresight, at the end for lack of patience, at all times for
imprudence. If, however, a breach is inevitable, let it be rather excused as a slackening of friendship than by an outburst of wrath: here is a good application of the saying about a good retreat.
cclviii Find out some one to share your Troubles.
You will never be all alone, even in dangers, nor bear all the burden of hate. Some think by their high position to carry off the whole glory of success, and have to bear the whole humiliation of defeat. In this way they have none to excuse them, none to share the blame. Neither fate nor the mob are so bold against two. Hence the wise physician, if he has failed to cure, looks out for some one who, under the name of a consultation, may help him carry out, the corpse. Share weight and woe, for misfortune falls with double force on him that stands alone.
cclix Anticipate Injuries and turn them into Favours.
It is wiser to avoid than to revenge them. It is an uncommon piece of shrewdness to change a rival into a confidant, or transform into guards of honour those who were aiming
attacks at us. It helps much to know how to oblige, for he leaves no time for injuries that fills it up with gratitude. That is true savoir faire to turn anxieties into pleasures. Try and make a confidential relation out of ill-will itself.
cclx We belong to none and none to us, entirely.
Neither relationship nor friendship nor the most intimate connection is sufficient to effect this. To give one's whole confidence is quite different from giving one's regard. The closest intimacy has its exceptions, without which the laws of friendship would be broken. The friend always keeps one secret to himself, and even the son always hides something from his father. Some things are kept from one that are revealed to another and vice versâ. In this way one reveals all and conceals all, by making a distinction among the persons with whom we are connected.
cclxi Do not follow up a Folly.
Many make an obligation out of a blunder, and because they have entered the wrong path think it proves their strength of character to go on in it. Within they regret their error, while
outwardly they excuse it. At the beginning of their mistake they were regarded as inattentive, in the end as fools. Neither an unconsidered promise nor a mistaken resolution are really binding. Yet some continue in their folly and prefer to be constant fools.
cclxii Be able to Forget.
It is more a matter of luck than of skill. The things we remember best are those better for-gotten. Memory is not only unruly, leaving us in the lurch when most needed, but stupid as well, putting its nose into places where it is not wanted. In painful things it is active, but neglectful in recalling the pleasurable. Very often the only remedy for the ill is to forget it, and all we forget is the remedy. Nevertheless one should cultivate good habits of memory, for it is capable of making existence a Paradise or an Inferno. The happy are an exception who enjoy innocently their simple happiness.
cclxiii Many things of Taste one should not possess oneself.
One enjoys them better if another's than if one's own. The owner has the good of them the first day, for all the rest of the time they
are for others. You take a double enjoyment in other men's property, being without fear of spoiling it and with the pleasure of novelty. Everything tastes better for having been without it: even water from another's well tastes like nectar. Possession not alone hinders enjoyment: it increases annoyance whether you lend or keep. You gain nothing except keeping things for or from others, and by this means gain more enemies than friends.
cclxiv Have no careless Days.
Fate loves to play tricks, and will heap up chances to catch us unawares. Our intelligence, prudence, and courage, even our beauty, must always be ready for trial. For their day of careless trust will be that of their discredit. Care always fails just when it was most wanted. It is thoughtlessness that trips us up into destruction. Accordingly it is a piece of military strategy to put perfection to its trial when unprepared. The days of parade are known and are allowed to pass by, but the day is chosen when least expected so as to put valour to the severest test.
cclxv Set those under you difficult Task,
Many have proved themselves able at once
when they had to deal with a difficulty, just as fear of drowning makes a swimmer of a man, In this way many have discovered their own courage, knowledge, or tact, which but for the opportunity would have been for ever buried beneath their want of enterprise. Dangers are the occasions to create a name for oneself; and if a noble mind sees honour at stake, he will do the work of thousands. Queen Isabella the Catholic knew well this rule of life, as well as all the others, and to a shrewd favour of this kind from her the Great Captain won his fame, and many others earned an undying name. By this great art she made great men.
cclxvi Do not become Bad from sheer Goodness.
That is, by never getting into a temper. Such men without feeling are scarcely to be considered men. It does not always arise from laziness, but from sheer inability. To feel strongly on occasion is something personal: birds soon mock at the mawkin. It is a sign of good taste to combine bitter and sweet. All sweets is diet for children and fools. It is very bad to sink into such insensibility out of very goodness.
cclxvii Silken Words, sugared Manners.
Arrows pierce the body, insults the soul. Sweet pastry perfumes the breath. It is a great art in life to know how to sell wind. Most things are paid for in words, and by them you can remove impossibilities. Thus we deal in air, and a royal breath can produce courage and power. Always have your mouth full of sugar to sweeten your words, so that even your ill-wishers enjoy them. To please one must be peaceful.
cclxviii The Wise do at once what the Fool does at last.
Both do the same thing; the only difference lies in the time they do it: the one at the right time, the other at the wrong. Who starts out with his mind topsyturvy will so continue till the end. He catches by the foot what he ought to knock on the head, he turns right into left, and in all his acts is but a child. There is only one way to get him in the right way, and that is to force him to do what he might have done of his own accord. The wise man, on the other hand, sees at once what must be done sooner or later, so he does it willingly and gains honour thereby,
cclxix Make use of the Novelty of your Position;
for men are valued while they are new. Novelty pleases all because it is uncommon, taste is refreshed, and a brand new mediocrity is thought more of than accustomed excellence. Ability wears away by use and becomes old. However, know that the glory of novelty is short-lived: after four days respect is gone. Accordingly, learn to utilise the first fruits of appreciation, and seize during the rapid passage of applause all that can be put to use. For once the heat of novelty over, the passion cools and the appreciation of novelty is exchanged for satiety at the customary: believe that all has its season, which soon passes.
cclxx Do not condemn alone that which pleases all.
There must be something good in a thing that pleases so many; even if it cannot be explained it is certainly enjoyed. Singularity is always hated, and, when in the wrong, laughed at. You simply destroy respect for your taste rather than do harm to the object of your blame, and are left alone, you and your bad taste. If you cannot find the good in a thing, hide your incapacity and do not damn it straightway. As a general rule bad
taste springs from want of knowledge. What all say, is so, or will be so.
cclxxi In every Occupation if you know little stick to the safest.
If you are not respected as subtle, you will be regarded as sure. On the other hand, a man well trained can plunge in and act as he pleases. To know little and yet seek danger is nothing else than to seek ruin. In such a case take stand on the right hand, for what is done cannot be undone. Let little knowledge keep to the king's highway, and in every case, knowing or unknowing, security is shrewder than singularity.
cclxxii Sell Things by the Tariff of Courtesy.
You oblige people most that way. The bid of an interested buyer will never equal the return gift of an honourable recipient of a favour. Courtesy does not really make presents, but really lays men under obligation, and generosity is the great obligation. To a right-minded man nothing costs more dear that what is given him: you sell it him twice and for two prices: one for the value, one for the politeness. At the same time it is true that with vulgar souls generosity is gibberish,
for they do not understand the language of good breeding.
cclxxiii Comprehend their Dispositions with whom you deal,
so as to know their intentions. Cause known, effect known, beforehand in the disposition and after in the motive. The melancholy man always foresees misfortunes, the backbiter scandals; having no conception of the good, evil offers itself to them. A man moved by passion always speaks of things differently from what they are; it is his passion speaks, not his reason. Thus each speaks as his feeling or his humour prompts him, and all far from the truth. Learn how to decipher faces and spell out the soul in the features. If a man laughs always, set him down as foolish; if never, as false. Beware of the gossip: he is either a babbler or a spy. Expect little good from the misshapen: they generally take revenge on Nature, and do little honour to her, as she has done little to them. Beauty and folly generally go hand in hand.
cclxxiv Be Attractive.
magnet of your pleasant qualities more to obtain goodwill than good deeds, but apply it to all. Merit is not enough unless supported by grace, which is the sole thing that gives general acceptance, and the most practical means of rule over others. To be in vogue is a matter of luck, yet it can be encouraged by skill, for art can best take root on a soil favoured by nature. There goodwill grows and develops into universal favour.
cclxxv Join in the Game as far as Decency permits.
Do not always pose and be a bore: this is a maxim for gallant bearing. You may yield a touch of dignity to gain the general good-will: you may now and then go where most go, yet not beyond the bounds of decorum. He who makes a fool of himself in public will not be regarded as discreet in private life. One may lose more on a day of pleasure than has been gained during a whole life of labour. Still you must not always keep away: to be singular is to condemn all others. Still less act the prude—leave that to its appropriate sex: even religious prudery is ridiculous. Nothing so becomes a man as to be a man: a woman may
affect a manly bearing as an excellence, but not vice versâ.
cclxxvi Know how to renew your Character,
with the help both of Nature and of Art, Every seven years the disposition changes, they say. Let it be a change for the better and for the nobler in your taste. After the first seven comes reason, with each succeeding lustre let a new excellence be added. Observe this change so as to aid it, and hope also for betterment in others. Hence it arises that many change their behaviour when they change their position or their occupation. At times the change is not noticed till it reaches the height of maturity. At twenty Man is a Peacock, at thirty a Lion, at forty a Camel, at fifty a Serpent, at sixty a Dog, at seventy an Ape, at eighty nothing at all.
cclxxvii Display yourself.
’Tis the illumination of talents: for each there comes an appropriate moment; use it, for not every day comes a triumph. There are some dashing men who make much show with a little, a whole exhibition with much. If ability to display them is joined to versatile gifts, they are regarded as miraculous. There
are whole nations given to display: the Spanish people take the highest rank in this. Light was the first thing to cause Creation to shine forth. Display fills up much, supplies much, and gives a second existence to things, especially when combined with real excellence. Heaven that grants perfection, provides also the means of display; for one without the other were abortive. Skill is however needed for display. Even excellence depends on circumstances and is not always opportune. Ostentation is out of place when it is out of time. More than any other quality it should be free of any affectation. This is its rock of offence, for it then borders on vanity and so on contempt: it must be moderate to avoid being vulgar, and any excess is despised by the wise. At times it consists in a sort of mute eloquence, a careless display of excellence, for a wise concealment is often the most effective boast, since the very withdrawal from view piques curiosity to the highest. ’Tis a fine subtlety too not to display one's excellence all at one time, but to grant stolen glances at it, more and more as time goes on. Each exploit should be the pledge of a greater, and applause at the first should only die away in expectation of its sequel.
cclxxviii Avoid Notoriety in all Things.
Even excellences become defects if they become notorious. Notoriety arises from singularity, which is always blamed: he that is singular is left severely alone. Even beauty is discredited by coxcombry, which offends by the very notice it attracts. Still more does this apply to discreditable singularities. Yet among the wicked there are some that seek to be known for seeking novelties in vice so as to attain to the fame of infamy. Even in matters of the intellect want of moderation may degenerate into loquacity.
cclxxix Do not contradict the Contradicter.
You have to distinguish whether the contra-diction comes from cunning or from vulgarity. It is not always obstinacy, but may be artfulness. Notice this: for in the first case one may get into difficulties, in the other into danger. Caution is never more needed than against spies. There is no such countercheck to the picklock of the mind as to leave the key of caution in the lock.
cclxxx Be Trustworthy.
Honourable dealing is at an end: trusts are
denied: few keep their word: the greater the service, the poorer the reward: that is the way with all the world nowadays. There are whole nations inclined to false dealing: with some treachery has always to be feared, with others breach of promise, with others deceit. Yet this bad behaviour of others should rather be a warning to us than an example. The fear is that the sight of such unworthy behaviour should override our integrity. But a man of honour should never forget what he is because he sees what others are.
cclxxxi Find Favour with Men of Sense.
The tepid Yes of a remarkable man is worth more than all the applause of the vulgar: you cannot make a meal off the smoke of chaff. The wise speak with understanding and their praise gives permanent satisfaction. The sage Antigonus reduced the theatre of his fame to Zeus alone, and Plato called Aristotle his whole school. Some strive to fill their stomach albeit only with the breath of the mob. Even monarchs have need of authors, and fear their pens more than ugly women the painter's pencil.
cclxxxii Make use of Absence to make yourself more esteemed or valued.
If the accustomed presence diminishes fame, absence augments it. One that is regarded as a lion in his absence may be laughed at when present as the ridiculous result of the parturition of the mountains. Talents get soiled by use, for it is easier to see the exterior rind than the kernel of greatness it encloses. Imagination reaches farther than sight, and disillusion, which ordinarily comes through the ears, also goes out through the ears. He keeps his fame that keeps himself in the centre of public opinion. Even the Phoenix uses its retirement for new adornment and turns absence into desire.
cclxxxiii Have the Gift of Discovery.
It is a proof of the highest genius, yet when was genius without a touch of madness? If discovery be a gift of genius, choice of means is a mark of sound sense. Discovery comes by special grace and very seldom. For many can follow up a thing when found, but to find it first is the gift of the few, and those the first in excellence and in age. Novelty flatters, and if successful gives the possessor double
credit. In matters of judgment novelties are dangerous because leading to paradox, in matters of genius they deserve all praise. Yet both equally deserve applause if successful.
cclxxxiv Do not be Importunate,
and so you will not be slighted. Respect yourself if you would have others respect you. Be sooner sparing than lavish with your presence. You will thus become desired and so well received. Never come unasked and only go when sent for. If you undertake a thing of your own accord you get all the blame if it fails, none of the thanks If it succeeds. The importunate is always the butt of blame; and because he thrusts himself in without shame he is thrust out with it.
cclxxxv Never die of another's Ill-luck.
Notice those who stick in the mud, and observe how they call others to their aid so as to console themselves with a companion in misfortune. They seek some one to help them to bear misfortune, and often those who turned the cold shoulder on them in prosperity give them now a helping hand. There is great
caution needed in helping the drowning without danger to oneself.
cclxxxvi Do not become responsible for all or for every one,
otherwise you become a slave and the slave of all. Some are born more fortunate than others: they are born to do good as others to receive it. Freedom is more precious than any gifts for which you may be tempted to give it up. Lay less stress on making many dependent on you than on keeping yourself independent of any. The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good. Above all do not regard responsibility as a favour, for generally it is another's plan to make one dependent on him.
cclxxxvii Never act in a Passion.
If you do, all is lost. You cannot act for yourself if you are not yourself, and passion always drives out reason. In such cases inter-pose a prudent go-between who can only be prudent if he keeps cool. That is why lookers-on see most of the game, because they keep cool. As soon as you notice that you are losing your temper beat a wise retreat. For no sooner is
the blood up than it is spilt, and in a few moments occasion may be given for many days' repentance for oneself and complaints of the other party.
cclxxxviii Live for the Moment.
Our acts and thoughts and all must be determined by circumstances. Will when you may, for time and tide wait for no man. Do not live by certain fixed rules, except those that relate to the cardinal virtues. Nor let your will subscribe fixed conditions, for you may have to drink the water to-morrow which you cast away to-day. There be some so absurdly paradoxical that they expect all the circumstances of an action should bend to their eccentric whims and not vice versâ. The wise man knows that the very polestar of prudence lies in steering by the wind.
cclxxxix Nothing depreciates a Man more than to show he is a Man like other Men.
The day he is seen to be very human he ceases to be thought divine. Frivolity is the exact opposite of reputation. And as the re-served are held to be more than men, so the frivolous are held to be less. No failing causes
such failure of respect. For frivolity is the exact opposite of solid seriousness. A man of levity cannot be a man of weight even when he is old, and age should oblige him to be prudent. Although this blemish is so common it is none the less despised.
ccxc ’Tis a piece of good Fortune to combine Men's Love and Respect.
Generally one dare not be liked if one would be respected. Love is more sensitive than hate. Love and honour do not go well together. So that one should aim neither to be much feared nor much loved. Love introduces confidence, and the further this advances, the more respect recedes. Prefer to be loved with respect rather than with passion, for that is a love suitable for many.
ccxci Know how to Test.
The care of the wise must guard against the snare of the wicked. Great judgment is needed to test that of another. It is more important to know the characteristics and properties of persons than those of vegetables and minerals. It is indeed one of the shrewdest things in life. You can tell metals by
their ring and men by their voice. Words are proof of integrity, deeds still more. Here one requires extraordinary care, deep observation, subtle discernment, and judicious decision.
ccxcii Let your personal Qualities surpass those of your Office,
Let it not be the other way about. How-ever high the post, the person should be higher. An extensive capacity expands and dilates more and more as his office becomes higher. On the other hand, the narrow-minded will easily lose heart and come to grief with diminished responsibilities and reputation. The great Augustus thought more of being a great man than a great prince. Here a lofty mind finds fit place, and well-grounded confidence finds its opportunity.
It is shown in the costume, still more in the customs. Material weight is the sign of a precious metal; moral, of a precious man. Maturity gives finish to his capacity and arouses respect. A composed bearing in a man forms a façade to his soul. It does not
consist in the insensibility of fools, as frivolity would have it, but in a calm tone of authority. With men of this kind sentences are orations and acts are deeds. Maturity finishes a man off, for each is so far a complete man according as he possesses maturity. On ceasing to be a child a man begins to gain seriousness and authority.
ccxciv Be moderate in your Views.
Every one holds views according to his interest, and imagines he has abundant grounds for them. For with most men judgment has to give way to inclination. It may occur that two may meet with exactly opposite views and yet each thinks to have reason on his side, yet reason is always true to itself and never has two faces. In such a difficulty a prudent man will go to work with care, for his decision of his opponent's view may cast doubt on his own. Place yourself in such a case in the other man's place and then investigate the reasons for his opinion. You will not then condemn him or justify yourself in such a confusing way.
ccxcv Do not affect what you have not effected.
Many claim exploits without the slightest claim. 'With the greatest coolness they make
a mystery of all. Chameleons of applause they afford others a surfeit of laughter. Vanity is always objectionable, here it is despicable. These ants of honour go crawling about filching scraps of exploits. The greater your exploits the less you need affect them: content yourself with doing, leave the talking to others. Give away your deeds but do not sell them. And do not hire venal pens to write down praises in the mud, to the derision of the knowing ones. Aspire rather to be a hero than merely to appear one.
ccxcvi Noble Qualities.
Noble qualities make noblemen: a single one of them is worth more than a multitude of mediocre ones. There was once a man who made all his belongings, even his household utensils, as great as possible. How much more ought a great man see that the qualities of his soul are as great as possible. In God all is eternal and infinite, so in a hero everything should be great and majestic, so that all his deeds, nay, all his words, should he pervaded by a transcendent majesty.
ccxcvii Always act as if your Acts were seen.
He must see all round who sees that men see him or will see him. He knows that walls have ears and that ill deeds rebound back. Even when alone he acts as if the eyes of the whole world were upon him. For as he knows that sooner or later all will be known, so he considers those to be present as witnesses who must afterwards hear of the deed. He that wished the whole world might always see him did not mind that his neighbours could see him over their walls.
ccxcviii Three Things go to a Prodigy.
They are the choicest gifts of Heaven's prodigality—a fertile genius, a profound intellect, a pleasant and refined taste. To think well is good, to think right is better: ’tis the understanding of the good. It will not do for the judgment to reside in the backbone: it would be of more trouble than use. To think aright is the fruit of a reasonable nature. At twenty the will rules; at thirty the intellect; at forty the judgment. There are minds that shine in the dark like the eyes of the lynx, and are most clear where there is most darkness. Others are more adapted for the occasion: they always hit on that which suits the emergency:
such a quality produces much and good; a sort of fecund felicity. In the meantime good taste seasons the whole of life.
ccxcix Leave off Hungry.
One ought to remove even the bowl of nectar from the lips. Demand is the measure of value. Even with regard to bodily thirst it is a mark of good taste to slake but not to quench it. Little and good is twice good. The second time comes a great falling off. Surfeit of pleasure was ever dangerous and brings down the ill-will of the Highest Powers. The only way to please is to revive the appetite by the hunger that is left. If you must excite desire, better do it by the impatience of want than by the repletion of enjoyment. Happiness earned gives double joy.
ccc In one word, be a Saint.
So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities. She it is that makes a man prudent, discreet, sagacious, cautious, wise, courageous, thoughtful, trustworthy, happy, honoured, truthful, and a universal Hero. Three HHH's make a man happy—Health, Holiness, and a Headpiece.
[paragraph continues] Virtue is the sun of the microcosm, and has for hemisphere a good conscience. She is so beautiful that she finds favour with both God and man. Nothing is lovable but virtue, nothing detestable but vice. Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest. A man's capacity and greatness are to be measured by his virtue and not by his fortune. She alone is all-sufficient. She makes men lovable in life, memorable after death.