Archives For The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Choose a heroic ideal, more as something to emulate than as something to imitate. Examples of greatness lie about us, living texts of renown. Let each set before himself the greatest in his line, not so much as something to follow as something to spur him on. Alexander did not weep over Achilles dead, but over himself unborn, as yet, to glory. There is nothing that so thrills the ambition as the clarion of another’s fame. For that same impulse which buries jealousy lifts up the noble spirit.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Not unapproachable: It is in the government that the really ungoverned have their being. To be unapproachable is the vice of people who do not know themselves; they confuse their spleen with their splendor. The road to affection does not lie in surliness. A show indeed, one of these erratics, making a point of his exclusiveness!  His unfortunate subordinates enter to have speech as to battle with a tiger, as full of spears as of fears. To win office, such a person could get himself in with everybody. But having arrived, his presumptuousness gets him out with everybody. Because of his place he should be accessible to the many. But because of his gall or his spite, he becomes accessible to none. A just punishment, to let him be, robbing him of both his brains and his following.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Know the difference of evasion. It is the prudent person’s way of keeping out of trouble. With the gallantry of a witty remark one is able to extricate oneself from the most intricate of labyrinths, to emerge gracefully from the bitterest encounter and with a smile. It was to this that the greatest of the great captains ascribed his power. A courteous way of saying no is to change the conversation, nor is there greater politeness than that of not being able to understand.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

A person of decision: Poor execution is not as bad as indecision, for matter in motion does not rot like stagnant matter. Some are so incapable of decision that they need constantly to be prodded from without. This springs at times less from a confused judgement, since theirs may be unusually clear, than from unwillingness to act. It is an evidence of genius to foresee difficulties, but an evidence of greater genius to be able to see the way out of such difficulties. Others are embarrassed as they are of great judgement and determination, they are porn for the highest posts. Because their quick comprehension eases the day’s business and speeds it, whatever they tackle is soon finished. After having set one world in order, time is left to start upon another, and inasmuch as they feel that luck is with them, they set forth in confidence.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Not eccentric: Not freakish in manner, either by nature or by affection. A thinking person is ever the same in all he does, for upon this is founded his reputation as a person of wisdom. Change in him depends upon himself and has its causes and its reasons; in matters of common sense mere moodiness is something abhorrent. There are those who are of different face daily, until even their judgement goes awry. In like proportion goes their will, and so even, their luck. What was yesterday the white of their yes is today the black of their no. Always ruining the good opinion, they fog the concept people had of them.

 ~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Know how to say no. You cannot say yes to everything or to everybody, so it is important to know how not to say yes. This is especially vital in those who command, for here fashion enters. The no of one person is more embellished. There are many who carry an eternal no in the mouth with which they spoil everything. It always comes first, so that even when later they grant everything, such answer gives little satisfaction because of the bad taste provided by the first. Refusal should never be flat, the truth appearing by degrees. Nor should it be absolute, for that would cancel dependence, so some remnant of hope must be kept alive to sweeten the bitterness of the refusal. Employ courtesy to fill the void of the denial, and let pleasing words disguise the failure of action. Yes and no are quickly spoken, but they demand long consideration.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

No slave to vulgar moods: A great person is never the victim of passing fancies. This is a good precept to meditate upon yourself, to discover your present mood and to prepare against it. Or even to throw yourself into an opposite one, in order to come to rest between the natural and the assumed, on the balance point of common sense. It is a principle that in order to improve yourself, you must first know yourself. For there exist veritable monsters of moodiness, always of a different temper, and of a different mind with each. Eternally enslaved by their smug intemperance, they involve themselves most consistently, their excess checkmating not only their purpose but attacking their judgement, thus defeating both their ends and their plan.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Choose an occupation that brings distinction. Most things depend upon the satisfaction they give others.  Appreciation is to talent what the west wind is to the flowers: breath and life itself. There are occupations which enjoy public and life itself. There are occupations which enjoy public acclaim, and there are others, even though more important, which receive no recognition. The former, because done in the sight of everybody, win popular favor. The latter, even though they possess more of the rare and the worthy, remain unnoticed because done in obscurity. They may be venerated, but they receive no approbation. Among princes, it is the victorious who are celebrated. It is for this reason that the victorious who are celebrated. It is for this reason that the kings of Aragon are so highly honored as warriors, conquerors, and great men. Let the man of gifts find himself a place thus prized, where all may see him and all may play a part with him. Then will the voice of the people hold him immortal.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Keep the happy ending in mind.

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To be flawless: This is the requisite of perfection, yet few live without some weaknesses, either of the spirit or of the flesh. They are tormented by them when they could so easily overcome them. The critical judgement of another is always offended when some slight defect defaces a heavenly set of gifts, for a single cloud is enough to obscure the sun. Such are the shadows upon a reputation, which malice is ever quick to discover but as slow to forget. The greatest of achievements would be to transform these flaws into adornments. By such trick did Caesar know how to cover his inborn ugliness with laurel.

~ Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom