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March 26, 2005

'The Art of Worldly Wisdom' - by Balthasar Gracián


Written in 1637 by a Spanish Jesuit priest, it was soon translated from Spanish into eight major European languages.

Among its enthusiasts over the centuries have been La Rochefoucauld, Joseph Addison, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, the latter having translated it into German.

Much of what passes these days for profundity and wisdom is contained in this little book, written 368 years ago.

For example, as a boy I read an interview with Jack Kent Cooke in which he said his philosophy was, "Never complain, never explain."

I thought that was pretty good advice back in the day and I still do.

But after I read Gracián's book I got the feeling Jack Kent Cooke had been there before me.

Consider the following maxims:

    129. Never complain.

    To complain always brings discredit. Better to be a model of self-reliance opposed to the passion of others than an object of their compassion. For complaining opens the way for the bearer to act like those we are complaining of, and to disclose one insult forms an excuse for another. By complaining of past offenses we give occasion for future ones, and in seeking aid or counsel we only obtain indifference or contempt. It is much more politic to praise a person's favors, so that others may be obliged to follow suit. To recount the favors we owe the absent is to demand similar ones from those present, and thus we sell our credit with the one to the other. The shrewd will therefore never publish to the world his failures or his defects, but only those marks of consideration that serve to keep friendship alive and enmity silent.

    253. Do not explain too much.

    Most people do not esteem what they understand and venerate what they do not see. To be valued things should cost dear; what is understood becomes overrated. You have to appear wiser and more prudent than is required by the people you are dealing with if you want to give a high opinion of yourself. Yet in this there should be moderation and no excess. And though with sensible people common sense holds its own, with most people a little elaboration is necessary. Give them no time for criticizing — occupy them with discerning your meaning. 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.

The Shambhala edition pictured above ($6.26 at Amazon) measures only 4.6" x 3.0" x 0.7", perfect for taking just about anywhere.

It contains Gracián's 300 maxims along with his brief exegesis on each.

The book has endured over the centuries and belongs in the company of such classics as Machiavelli's "The Prince" and Sun-Tzu's "The Art of War."

March 26, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Beautiful...Gracian is a treasure in many ways, not the least of which are his wonderfully archaic word usage & arcane-sounding mythological references...You rock, Joe, whoever you are...

Posted by: Lowell | Feb 17, 2010 4:10:42 PM

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