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Aphorisms 211-240

ccxi In Heaven all is bliss:


in Hell all misery. On earth, between the two, both one thing and the other. We stand between the two extremes, and therefore share both. Fate varies: all is not good luck nor all mischance. This world is merely zero: by itself it is of no value, but with Heaven in Front of it, it means much. Indifference at its ups and downs is prudent, nor is there any novelty for the wise. Our life gets as complicated as a comedy as it goes on, but the complications get gradually resolved: see that the curtain comes down on a good dénoûment.

ccxii Keep to Yourself the final Touches of your Art.


This is a maxim of the great masters who pride themselves on this subtlety in teaching their pupils: one must always remain superior, remain master. One must teach an art artfully. The source of knowledge need not be pointed out no more than that of giving. By this means a man preserves the respect and the dependence of others. In amusing and teaching you must keep to the rule: keep up expectation and advance in perfection. To keep a reserve is a great rule for life and for success, especially for those in high place.


ccxiii Know how to Contradict.


A chief means of finding things out--to embarrass others without being embarrassed. The true thumbscrew, it brings the passions into play. Tepid incredulity acts as an emetic on secrets. It is the key to a locked-up breast, and with great subtlety makes a double trial of both mind and will. A sly depreciation of another's mysterious word scents out the profoundest secrets; some sweet bait brings them into the mouth till they fall from the tongue and are caught in the net of astute deceit. By reserving your attention the other becomes less attentive, and lets his thoughts appear while otherwise his heart were inscrutable. An affected doubt is the subtlest picklock that curiosity can use to find out what it wants to know. Also in learning it is a subtle plan of the pupil to contradict the master, who thereupon takes pains to explain the truth more thoroughly and with more force, so that a moderate contradiction produces complete instruction.


ccxiv Do not turn one Blunder into two.


It is quite usual to commit four others in order to remedy one, or to excuse one piece of impertinence by still another. Folly is either related to, or identical with the family of Lies, for in both cases it needs many to support one. The worst of a bad case is having to fight it, and worse than the ill itself is not being able to conceal it. The annuity of one failing serves to support many others. A wise man may make one slip but never two, and that only in running, not while standing still.


ccxv Watch him that acts on Second Thoughts.


It is a device of business men to put theopponent off his guard before attacking him, and thus to conquer by being defeated: they dissemble their desire so as to attain it. They put themselves second so as to come out first in the final spurt. This method rarely fails if it is not noticed. Let therefore the attention never sleep when the intention is so wide awake. And if the other puts himself second so to hide his plan, put yourself first to discover it. Prudence can discern the artifices which such a man uses, and notices the pretexts he puts forward to gain his ends. He aims at one thing to get another: then he turns round smartly and fires straight at his target. It is well to know what you grant him, and at times it is desirable to give him to understand that you understand.


ccxvi Be Expressive.


This depends not only on the clearness but also on the vivacity of your thoughts. Some have an easy conception but a hard labour, for without clearness the children of the mind, thoughts and judgments, cannot be brought into the world. Many have a capacity like that of vessels with a large mouth and a small vent. Others again say more than they think.Resolution for the will, expression for the thought: two great gifts. Plausible minds are applauded: yet confused ones are often venerated just because they are not understood, and at times obscurity is convenient if you wish to avoid vulgarity; yet how shall the audience understand one that connects no definite idea with what he says?


ccxvii Neither Love nor Hate, for ever


Trust the friends of to-day as if they will be enemies to-morrow, and that of the worst kind. As this happens in reality, let it happen in your precaution. Do not put weapons in the hand for deserters from friendship to wage war with. On the other hand, leave the door of reconciliation open for enemies, and if it is also the gate of generosity so much the more safe. The vengeance of long ago is at times the torment of to-day, and the joy over the ill we have done is turned to grief,


ccxviii Never act from Obstinacy but from Knowledge.


All obstinacy is an excrescence of the mind, a grandchild of passion which never did anything right. There are persons who makea war out of everything, real banditti of intercourse. All that they undertake must end in victory; they do not know how to get on in peace. Such men are fatal when they rule and govern, for they make government rebellion, and enemies out of those whom they ought to regard as children. They try to effect everything with strategy and treat it as the fruit of their skill. But when others have recognised their perverse humour all revolt against them and learn to overturn their chimerical plans, and they succeed in nothing but only heap up a mass of troubles, since everything serves to increase their disappointment. They have a head turned and a heart spoilt. Nothing can be done with such monsters except to flee from them, even to the Antipodes, where the savagery is easier to bear than their loathsome nature.


ccxix Do not pass for a Hypocrite,


though such men are indispensable nowadays. Be considered rather prudent than astute. Sincerity in behaviour pleases all, though not all can show it in their own affairs. Sincerity should not degenerate into simplicity nor sagacity into cunning. Berather respected as wise than feared as sly. The open-hearted are loved but deceived. The great art consists in disclosing what is thought to be deceit. In the golden age simplicity flourished, in these days of iron cunning. 'The reputation of being a man who knows what he has to do is honourable and inspires confidence, but to be considered a hypocrite is deceptive and arouses mistrust.


ccxx If you cannot clothe Yourself in Lionskin use Foxpelt.


To follow the times is to lead them. He that gets what he wants never loses his reputation. Cleverness when force will not do. One way or another, the king's highway of valour or the bypath of cunning. Skill has effected more than force, and astuteness has conquered courage more often than the other way. When you cannot get a thing then is the time to despise it.


ccxxi Do not seize Occasions to embarrass Yourself or Others.


There are some men stumbling-blocks of good manners either for themselves or for others: they are always on the point of some stupidity. Youmeet with them easily and part from them uneasily. A hundred annoyances a day is nothing to them. Their humour always strokes the wrong way since they contradict all and every. They put on the judgment cap wrong side foremost and thus condemn all. Yet the greatest test of others' patience and prudence are just those who do no good and speak ill of all. There are many monsters in the wide realm of Indecorum.


ccxxii Reserve is proof of Prudence.


The tongue is a wild beast; once let loose it is difficult to chain. It is the pulse of the soul by which wise men judge of its health: by this pulse a careful observer feels every movement of the heart. The worst is that he who should be most reserved is the least. The sage saves himself from worries and embarrassments, and shows his mastery over himself. He goes his way carefully, a Janus for impartiality, an Argus for watchfulness. Truly Momus had better placed the eyes in the hand than the window in the breast.


ccxxiii Be not Eccentric,


neither from affectation nor carelessness. Many have some remarkable and individual quality leading to eccentric actions. These are more defects than excellent differences. And just as some are known for some special ugliness, so these for something repellant in their outward behaviour. Such eccentricities simply serve as trademarks through their atrocious singularity: they cause either derision or ill-will.


ccxxiv Never take Things against the Grain,


no matter how they come. Everything has a smooth and a seamy side, and the best weapon wounds if taken by the blade, while the enemy's spear may be our best protection if taken by the staff. Many things cause pain which would cause pleasure if you regarded their advantages. There is a favourable and an unfavourable side to everything, the cleverness consists in finding out the favourable. The same thing looks quite different in another light; look at it therefore on its best side and do not exchange good for evil. Thus it haps that many find joy, many grief, in everything. This remark is a great protection against the frowns of fortune, and a weighty rule of life for all times and all conditions.

ccxxv Know your chief Fault.


There lives none that has not in himself' a counterbalance to his most conspicuous merit: if this be nourished by desire it may grow to be a tyrant. Commence war against it, summoning prudence as your ally, and the first thing to do is the public manifesto, for an evil once known is soon conquered, especially when the one afflicted regards it in the same light as the onlookers. To be master of oneself one should know oneself. If the chief imperfection surrender, the rest will come to an end.


ccxxvi Take care to be Obliging.


Most talk and act, not as they are, but as they are obliged. To persuade people of ill is easy for any, since the ill is easily credited even when at times it is incredible. The best we have depends on the opinion of others. Some are satisfied if they have right on their side, but that is not enough, for it must be assisted by energy. To oblige persons often costs little and helps much. With words you may purchase deeds. In this great house of the world there is no chamber so hid that it may not be wanted one day in the year, and then you would miss it however little is itsworth. Every one speaks of a subject according to his feelings.


ccxxvii Do not be the Slave of First Impressions.


Some marry the very first account they hear: all others must live with them as concubines. But as a lie has swift legs, the truth with them can find no lodging. We should neither satisfy our will with the first object nor our mind with the first proposition: for that were superficial. Many are like new casks who keep the scent of the first liquor they hold, be it good or bad. If this superficiality becomes known, it becomes fatal, for it then gives opportunity for cunning mischief; the ill-minded hasten to colour the mind of the credulous. Always therefore leave room for a second hearing. Alexander always kept one ear for the other side. Wait for the second or even third edition of news. To be the slave of your impressions argues want of capacity, and is not far from being the slave of your passions.


ccxxviii Do not be a Scandal-monger.


Still less pass for one, for that means to be considered a slanderer. Do not be witty atthe cost of others: it is easy but hateful. All men have their revenge on such an one by speaking ill of him, and as they are many and he but one, he is more likely to be overcome than they convinced. Evil should never be our pleasure, and therefore never our theme. The backbiter is always hated, and if now and then one of the great consorts with him, it is less from pleasure in his sneers than from esteem for his insight. He that speaks ill will always hear worse.


ccxxix Plan out your Life wisely,


not as chance will have it, but with prudence and foresight. Without amusements it is wearisome, like a long journey where there are no inns: manifold knowledge gives manifold pleasure. The first day's journey of a noble life should be passed in conversing with the dead: we live to know and to know our-selves: hence true books make us truly men. The second day should be spent with the living, seeing and noticing all the good in the world. Everything is not to be found in a single country. The Universal Father has divided His gifts, and at times has given the richest dower to the ugliest. The third day isentirely for oneself. The last felicity is to be a philosopher.


ccxxx Open your Eyes betimes.


Not all that see have their eyes open, nor do all those see that look. To come up to things too late is more worry than help. Some just begin to see when there is nothing more to see: they pull their houses about their ears before they come to themselves. It is difficult to give sense to those who have no power of will, still more difficult to give energy to those who have no sense. Those who surround them play with them a game of blind man's buff, making them the butts of others, and be-cause they are hard of hearing, they do not open their eyes to see. There are often those who encourage such insensibility on which their very existence depends. Unhappy steed whose rider is blind: it will never grow sleek.


ccxxxi Never let Things be seen half-finished.


They can only be enjoyed when complete. All beginnings are misshapen, and this deformity sticks in the imagination. The recollection of having seen a thing imperfect disturbs our enjoyment of it when completed. To swallow something great at one gulp may disturb the judgment of the separate parts, but satisfies the taste. Till a thing is everything, it is nothing, and while it is in process of being it is still nothing. To see the tastiest dishes prepared arouses rather disgust than appetite. Let each great master take care not to let his work be seen in its embryonic stages: they might take this lesson from Dame Nature, who never brings the child to the light till it is fit to be seen.


ccxxxii Have a Touch of the Trader.


Life should not be all thought: there should be action as well. Very wise folk are generally easily deceived, for while they know out-of-the-way things they do not know the ordinary things of life, which are much more needful. The observation of higher things leaves them no time for things close at hand. Since they know not the very first thing they should know, and what everybody knows so well, they are either considered or thought ignorant by the superficial multitude. Let therefore the prudent take care to have something of the trader about him--enough to prevent him being deceived and so laughed at, Be a man adapted to the daily round, which if not the highest is the most necessary thing in life. Of what use is knowledge if it is not practical, and to know how to live is nowadays the true knowledge.


ccxxxiii Let not the proffered Morsel be distasteful;


otherwise it gives more discomfort than pleasure. Some displease when attempting to oblige, because they take no account of varieties of taste. What is flattery to one is an offence to another, and in attempting to be useful one may become insulting. It often costs more to displease a man than it would have cost to please him: you thereby lose both gift and thanks because you have lost the compass which steers for pleasure. He who knows not another's taste, knows not how to please him. Thus it haps that many insult where they mean to praise, and get soundly punished, and rightly so. Others desire to charm by their conversation, and only succeed in boring by their loquacity.


ccxxxiv Never trust your Honour to another, unless you have his in Pledge.


Arrange that silence is a mutual advantage;disclosure a danger to both. Where honour is at stake you must act with a partner, so that each must be careful of the other's honour for the sake of his own. Never entrust your honour to another; but if you have, let caution surpass prudence. Let the danger be in common and the risk mutual, so that your partner cannot turn king's evidence.


ccxxxv Know how to Ask.


With some nothing easier: with others nothing so difficult. For there are men who cannot refuse: with them no skill is required. But with others their first word at all times is No; with them great art is required, and with all the propitious moment. Surprise them when in a pleasant mood, when a repast of body or soul has just left them refreshed, if only their shrewdness has not anticipated the cunning of the applicant. The days of joy are the days of favour, for joy overflows from the inner man into the outward creation. It is no use applying when another has been refused, since the objection to a No has just been overcome. Nor is it a good time after sorrow. To oblige a person beforehand is a sure way, unless he is mean.

ccxxxvi Make an Obligation beforehand of what would have to be a Reward afterwards.


This is a stroke of subtle policy; to grant favours before they are deserved is a proof of being obliging. Favours thus granted beforehand have two great advantages: the promptness of the gift obliges the recipient the more strongly; and the same gift which would afterwards be merely a reward is beforehand an obligation. This is a subtle means of transforming obligations, since that which would have forced the superior to reward is changed into one that obliges the one obliged to satisfy the obligation. But this is only suitable for men who have the feeling of obligation, since with men of lower stamp the honorarium paid beforehand acts rather as a bit than as a spur.


ccxxxvii Never share the Secrets of your Superiors.


You may think you will share pears, but you will only share parings. Many have been ruined by being confidants: they are like sops of bread used as forks, they run the same risk of being eaten up afterwards. It is no favour in a prince to share a secret: it is only a relief. Many break the mirror that reminds them of their ugliness. We donot like seeing those who have seen us as we are: nor is he seen In a favourable light who has seen us in an unfavourable one. None ought to be too much beholden to us, least of all one of the great, unless it be for benefits done him rather than for such favours received from him. Especially dangerous are secrets entrusted to friends. He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other's slave. With a prince this is an intolerable position which cannot last. He will desire to recover his lost liberty, and to gain it will overturn everything, including right and reason. Accordingly neither tell secrets nor listen to them.


ccxxxviii Know what is wanting in Yourself.


Many would have been great personages if they had not had something wanting without which they could not rise to the height of perfection. It is remarkable with some that they could be much better if they could he better in something. They do not perhaps take themselves seriously enough to do justice to their great abilities; some are wanting in geniality of disposition, a quality which their entourage soon find the want of, especially ifthey are in high office. Some are without organising ability, others lack moderation. In all such cases a careful man may make of habit a second nature.


ccxxxix Do not be Captious.


It is much more important to be sensible. To know more than is necessary blunts your weapons, for fine points generally bend or break. Common-sense truth is the surest. It is well to know but not to niggle. Lengthy comment leads to disputes. It is much better to have sound sense, which does not wander from the matter in hand.


ccxl Make use of Folly.


The wisest play this card at times, and there are times when the greatest wisdom lies in seeming not to be wise. You need not be unwise, but merely affect unwisdom. To be wise with fools and foolish with the wise were of little use. Speak to each in his own language. He is no fool who affects folly, but he is who suffers from it. Ingenuous folly rather than the pretended is the true foolishness, since cleverness has arrived at such a pitch. To be well liked one must dress in the skin of the simplest of animals.

Balthasar Gracian

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