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Aphorisms 31-60

xxxi Select the Lucky and avoid the Unlucky.

Ill-luck is generally the penalty of folly, and there is no disease so contagious to those who share in it. Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it. The greatest skill at cards is to know when to discard; the smallest of current trumps is worth more than the ace of trumps of the last game. When in doubt, follow thesuit of the wise and prudent; sooner or later they will win the odd trick.

xxxii Have the Reputation of being Gracious.

’Tis the chief glory of the high and mighty to be gracious, a prerogative of kings to conquer universal goodwill. That is the great advantage of a commanding position--to be able to do more good than others. Those make friends who do friendly acts. On the other hand, there are some who lay themselves out for not being gracious, not on account of the difficulty, but from a bad disposition. In all things they are the opposite of Divine grace.

xxxiii Know how to Withdraw.

If it is a great lesson in life to know how to deny, it is a still greater to know how to deny oneself as regards both affairs and persons. There are extraneous occupations which eat away precious time. To be occupied in what does not concern you is worse than doing nothing. It is not enough for a careful man not to interfere with others, he must see that they do not interfere with him. One is not obliged to belong so much to all as not to belong at all to oneself. So with friends, theirhelp should not be abused or more demanded from them than they themselves will grant. All excess is a failing, but above all in personal intercourse. A wise moderation in this best preserves the goodwill and esteem of all, for by this means that precious boon of courtesy is not gradually worn away. Thus you preserve your genius free to select the elect, and never sin against the unwritten laws of good taste.

xxxiv Know your strongest Point--

your pre-eminent gift; cultivate that and you will assist the rest. Every one would have excelled in something if he had known his strong point. Notice in what quality you surpass, and take charge of that. In some judgment excels, in others valour. Most do violence to their natural aptitude, and thus attain superiority in nothing. Time disillusionises us too late of what first flattered the passions.

xxv Think over Things, most over the most Important.

All fools come to grief from want of thought. They never see even the half of things, and as they do not observe their own loss or gain, stillless do they apply any diligence to them. Some make much of what imports little and little of much, always weighing in the wrong scale. Many never lose their common sense, because they have none to lose. There are matters which should be observed with the closest attention of the mind, and thenceforth kept in its lowest depths. The wise man thinks over everything, but with a difference, most profoundly where there is some profound difficulty, and thinks that perhaps there is more in it than he thinks. Thus his comprehension extends as far as his apprehension.

xxxvi In Acting or Refraining, weigh your Luck.

More depends on that than on noticing your temperament. If he is a fool who at forty applies to Hippocrates for health, still more is he one who then first applies to Seneca for wisdom. It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck even while waiting for it. For something is to be done with it by waiting so as to use it at the proper moment, since it has periods and offers opportunities, though one cannot calculate its path, its steps are so irregular. When you find Fortune favourable, stride boldly forward, for she favours the bold and, being a woman, the young. Butif you have bad luck, keep retired so as not to redouble the influence of your unlucky star.

xxxvii Keep a Store of Sarcasms, and know how to use them.

This is the point of greatest tact in human intercourse. Such sarcasms are often thrown out to test men's moods, and by their means one often obtains the most subtle and penetrating touchstone of the heart. Other sarcasms are malicious, insolent, poisoned by envy or envenomed by passion, unexpected flashes which destroy at once all favour and esteem. Struck by the slightest word of this kind, many fall away from the closest intimacy with superiors or inferiors which could not be the slightest shaken by a whole conspiracy of popular insinuation or private malevolence. Other sarcasms, on the other hand, work favourably, confirming and assisting one's reputation. But the greater the skill with which they are launched, the greater the caution with which they should be received and the foresight with which they should he foreseen. For here a knowledge of the evil is in itself a means of defence, and a shot foreseen always misses its mark.

xxxviii Leave your Luck while Winning.

All the best players do it. A fine retreat is as good as a gallant attack. Bring your exploits under cover when there are enough, or even when there are many of them. Luck long lasting was ever suspicious; interrupted seems safer, and is even sweeter to the taste for a little infusion of bitter-sweet. The higher the heap of luck, the greater the risk of a slip, and down comes all. Fortune pays you sometimes for the intensity of her favours by the shortness of their duration. She soon tires of carrying any one long on her shoulders.

xxxix Recognise when Things are ripe, and then enjoy them.

The works of nature all reach a certain point of maturity; up to that they improve, after that they degenerate. Few works of art reach such a point that they cannot be improved. It is an especial privilege of good taste to enjoy everything at its ripest. Not all can do this, nor do all who can know this. There is a ripening point too for fruits of intellect; it is well to know this both for their value in use and for their value in exchange.

xl The Goodwill of People.

’Tis much to gain universal admiration; more, universal love. Something depends on natural disposition, more on practice: the first founds, the second then builds on that foundation. Brilliant parts suffice not, though they are presupposed; win good opinion and ’tis easy to win goodwill. Kindly acts besides are required to produce kindly feelings, doing good with both hands, good words and better deeds, loving so as to be loved. Courtesy is the politic witchery of great personages. First lay hand on deeds and then on pens; words follow swords; for there is goodwill to be won among writers, and it is eternal.

xli Never Exaggerate.

It is an important object of attention not to talk in superlatives, so as neither to offend against truth nor to give a mean idea of one's understanding. Exaggeration is a prodigality of the judgment which shows the narrowness of one's knowledge or one's taste. Praise arouses lively curiosity, begets desire, and if afterwards the value does not correspond to the price, as generally happens, expectation revolts againstthe deception, and revenges itself by under-estimating the thing recommended and the person recommending. A prudent man goes more cautiously to work, and prefers to err by omission than by commission. Extraordinary things are rare, therefore moderate ordinary valuation. Exaggeration is a branch of lying, and you lose by it the credit of good taste, which is much, and of good sense, which is more.

xlii Born to Command.

It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognising the secret vigour of connatural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem which they inspire, they hold the hearts and minds of the rest. If their other qualities permit, such men are born to be the prime motors of the state. They per-form more by a gesture than others by a long harangue.

xliii Think with the Few and speak with the Many.

By swimming against the stream it is impossible to remove error, easy to fall intodanger; only a Socrates can undertake it. To dissent from others' views is regarded as an insult, because it is their condemnation. Disgust is doubled on account of the thing blamed and of the person who praised it. Truth is for the few, error is both common and vulgar. The wise man is not known by what he says on the house-tops, for there he speaks not with his own voice but with that of common folly, however much his inmost thoughts may gainsay it. The prudent avoid being contradicted as much as contradicting: though they have their censure ready they are not ready to publish it. Thought is free, force cannot and should not be used to it. The wise man therefore retires into silence, and if he allows himself to come out of it, he does so in the shade and before few and fit persons.

xliv Sympathy with great Minds.

It is an heroic quality to agree with heroes. ’Tis like a miracle of nature for mystery and for use. There is a natural kinship of hearts and minds: its effects are such that vulgar ignorance scents witchcraft. Esteem established, goodwill follows, which at times reaches affection. It persuades without words and obtains without earning. This sympathyis sometimes active, sometimes passive, both alike felicific; the more so, the more sublime. ’Tis a great art to recognise, to distinguish and to utilise this gift. No amount of energy suffices without that favour of nature.

xlv Use, but do not abuse, Cunning.

One ought not to delight in it, still less to boast of it. Everything artificial should be concealed, most of all cunning, which is hated. Deceit is much in use; therefore our caution has to be redoubled, but not so as to show itself, for it arouses distrust, causes much annoy, awakens revenge, and gives rise to more ills than you would imagine. To go to work with caution is of great advantage in action, and there is no greater proof of wisdom. The greatest skill in any deed consists in the sure mastery with which it is executed.

xlvi Master your Antipathies.

We often allow ourselves to take dislikes, and that before we know anything of a person. At times this innate yet vulgar aversion attaches Itself to eminent personalities. Good sense masters this feeling, for there is nothing more discreditable than to dislike those better thanourselves. As sympathy with great men en-nobles us, so dislike to them degrades us.

xlvii Avoid "Affairs of Honour"

--one of the chiefest aims of prudence. In men of great ability the extremes are kept far asunder, so that there is a long distance between them, and they always keep in the middle of their caution, so that they take time to break through it. It is easier to avoid such affairs than to come well out of them. They test our judgment; it is better to avoid them than to conquer in them. One affair of honour leads to another, and may lead to an affair of dishonour. There are men so constituted by nature or by nation that they easily enter upon such obligations. But for him that walks by the light of reason, such a matter requires long thinking over. There is more valour needed not to take up the affair than to conquer in it. When there is one fool ready for the occasion, one may excuse oneself from being the second.

xlviii Be Thorough.

How much depends on the person. The interior must be at least as much as the exterior. There are natures all frontage, like houses thatfor want of means have the portico of a palace leading to the rooms of a cottage. It is no use boring into such persons, although they bore you, for conversation flags after the first salutation. They prance through the first compliments like Sicilian barbs, but silence soon succeeds, for the flow of words soon ceases where there is no spring of thoughts. Others may be taken in by them because they themselves have but a view of the surface, but not the prudent, who look within them and find nothing there except material for scorn.

xlix Observation and Judgment.

A man with these rules things, not they him. He sounds at once the profoundest depths; he is a phrenologist by means of physiognomy. On seeing a person he understands him and judges of his inmost nature. From a few observations he deciphers the most hidden recesses of his nature. Keen observation, subtile insight, judicious inference: with these he discovers, notices, grasps, and comprehends everything.

l Never lose Self-respect,

or be too familiar with oneself. Let yourown 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 putout. 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 wayto 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.

lv Wait.

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."

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 thedoor: 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.

Balthasar Gracian

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