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The Art of Worldly Wisdom


Quick anecdotes which rival anything found in Stoicism. This book should be much more widely read than it is

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Key Takeaways
  1. It is indeed because of the unpractical nature of practical maxims that they have been so much neglected. You must act in the concrete, you can only maximise in general terms. Then, again, maxims can only appeal to the mind, to the intellect: the motive force of action is the will, the temperament.
  2. After all this elaborate explanation why so few maxims have been composed it may seem contradictory to give as a further and final reason because so many exist--under another form. For what are the majority of proverbs but maxims under another name, or rather maxims without the name of their author?
  3. Schopenhauer, who translated the book, observes that there is nothing like it in German, and there is certainly none approaching it in English, and if France or Italy can produce its superior, it is strange that its fame has remained so confined to its native country.
  4. Whether any ideal person will learn to rule the world by studying Gracian’s or any one else’s maxims is somewhat more doubtful, for reasons I have given above in discussing proverbs. The man who can act on maxims can act without them, and so does not need them. And there is the same amount of contradiction in maxims as in proverbs.
  5. Knowledge and Courage are the elements of Greatness. They give immortality, because they are immortal. Each is as much as he knows, and the wise can do anything.
  6. Not he that adorns but he that adores makes a divinity.
  7. All victories breed hate, and that over your superior
  8. There is no higher rule than that over oneself, over one’s impulses
  9. Wise men frequent the houses of great noblemen not because they are temples of vanity, but as theatres of good breeding.
  10. Every one has something unpolished without artificial training, and every kind of excellence needs some polish.
  11. Act sometimes on Second Thoughts, sometimes on First Impulse.
  12. It is a privilege of the mighty to surround themselves with the champions of intellect;
  13. Knowledge and Good Intentions together ensure continuance of success.
  14. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants.
  15. Work is the price which is paid for reputation. What costs little is little worth.
  16. Imagination weds Hope and gives birth to much more than things are in themselves. However great the excellences, they never suffice to fulfil expectations, and as men find themselves disappointed with their exorbitant expectations they are more ready to be disillusionised than to admire.
  17. But on a true philosophy there is no other umpire than virtue and insight; for there is no luck or ill-luck except wisdom and the reverse.
  18. He cannot make himself understood who does not himself easily understand.
  19. Find out each Man’s Thumbscrew. ‘Tis the art of setting their wills in action. It needs more skill than resolution. You must know where to get at any one. Every volition has a special motive which varies according to taste. All men are idolaters, some of fame, others of self-interest, most of pleasure. Skill consists in knowing these idols in order to bring them into play. Knowing any man’s mainspring of motive you have as it were the key to his will. Have resort to primary motors, which are not always the highest but more often the lowest part of his nature: there are more dispositions badly organised than well. First guess a man’s ruling passion, appeal to it by a word, set it in motion by temptation, and you will infallibly give checkmate to his freedom of will.
  20. Excellence resides in quality not in quantity . The best is always few and rare: much lowers value. Even among men giants are commonly the real dwarfs. Some reckon books by the thickness, as if they were written to try the brawn more than the brain. Extent alone never rises above mediocrity: it is the misfortune of universal geniuses that in attempting to be at home everywhere, are so nowhere. Intensity gives eminence, and rises to the heroic in matters sublime.
  21. Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. All excess is a failing, but above all in personal intercourse.
  25. 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.
  26. It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck even while waiting for it.
  27. When you find Fortune favourable, stride boldly forward, for she favours the bold and, being a woman, the young. But if you have bad luck, keep retired so as not to redouble the influence of your unlucky star.
  28. Luck long lasting was ever suspicious; interrupted seems safer
  29. 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.
  30. Never Exaggerate.
  31. 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.
  32. Think with the Few and speak with the Many.
  33. 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.
  34. Good sense masters this feeling, for there is nothing more discreditable than to dislike those better than ourselves. As sympathy with great men en-nobles us, so dislike to them degrades us.
  35. Be Thorough. How much depends on the person. The interior must be at least as much as the exterior.
  36. Observation and Judgment. A man with these rules things, not they him.
  37. Never be put out. ‘Tis a great aim of prudence never to be embarrassed. It is the sign of a real man.
  38. 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.
  39. 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.
  40. It’s a sign of a noble heart dowered with patience, never to be in a hurry, never to be in a passion.
  41. First be master over yourself if you would be master over others.
  42. 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.
  43. 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.
  44. Always have some novelty wherewith to dazzle. To show something fresh each day keeps expectation alive and conceals the limits of capacity.
  45. To be distinguished in a Small post is to be great in little: the more comfort, the less glory.
  46. Avoid Worry.
  47. You may know a noble spirit by the elevation of his taste: it must be a great thing that can satisfy a great mind. Big bites for big mouths, lofty things for lofty spirits.
  48. Things of the first importance are few; let appreciation be rare. Taste can be imparted by intercourse: great good luck to associate with the highest taste. But do not affect to be dissatisfied with everything:
  49. You lose nothing if you gain your end. A good end gilds everything, however unsatisfactory the means. Thus at times it is part of the art of life to transgress the rules of the art, if you cannot end well otherwise.
  50. Most things depend on the satisfaction of others.
  51. ‘Tis one of the greatest gifts of mind to be able to offer what is needed at the moment:
  52. Share the light of your intelligence, when you have any, and ask for it when you have it not, the first cautiously, the last anxiously.
  53. Do not give way to every common Impulse. He is a great man who never allows himself to be influenced by the impressions of others. Self-reflection is the school of wisdom. To know one’s disposition and to allow for it, even going to the other extreme so as to find the juste milieu between nature and art. Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement.
  54. To know how to refuse is therefore as important as to know how to consent.
  55. Let every one have before his mind the chief of his calling not so much to follow him as to spur himself on.
  56. The same thing that sharpens envy, nourishes a generous spirit.
  57. The truth is generally seen, rarely heard ; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed.
  58. A sage once reduced all virtue to the golden mean. Push right to the extreme and it becomes wrong: press all the juice from an orange and it becomes bitter. Even in enjoyment never go to extremes. Thought too subtle is dull.
  59. It is a great misfortune to be of use to nobody; scarcely less to be of use to everybody.
  60. The remedy against this extreme is to moderate your brilliance. Be extraordinary in your excellence, if you like, but be ordinary in your display of it.
  61. It is far easier to prevent than to rectify.
  62. Man is born a barbarian, and only raises himself above the beast by culture. Culture therefore makes the man; the more a man, the higher.
  63. For though it is important to know all, it is not necessary to know all about all.
  64. You cannot master yourself unless you know yourself.
  65. A virtuous life never dies.
  66. Never set to work at anything if you have any doubts of its Prudence.
  67. Keep the extent of your Abilities unknown.
  68. But it is only a well-founded reputation that lasts permanently.
  69. Things pass for what they seem, not for what they are. Few see inside; many take to the outside. It is not enough to be right, if right seem false and ill.
  70. Philosophy is nowadays discredited, but yet it was always the chiefest concern of the wise.
  71. You should aim to be independent of any one vote, of any one fashion, of any one century.
  72. It is intolerable when an office engrosses a man with fixed hours and a settled routine. Those are better that leave a man free to follow his own devices, combining variety with importance, for the change refreshes the mind. The most in repute are those that have least or most distant dependence on others; the worst is that which worries us both here and hereafter.
  73. Good things, when short, are twice as good.
  74. Well said is soon said.
  75. Self-satisfaction arises mostly from ignorance:
  76. Have Friends. ‘Tis a second existence.
  77. Only act with Honourable Men. You can trust them and they you. Their honour is the best surety of their behaviour even in misunderstandings, for they always act having regard to what they are. Hence ‘tis better to have a dispute with honourable people than to have a victory over dishonourable ones.
  78. You should keep your desires sealed up, still more your defects.
  79. Never complain.
  80. By complaining of past offences we give occasion for future ones, and in seeking aid or counsel we only obtain indifference or contempt.
  81. Things do not pass for what they are but for what they seem. To be of use and to know how to show yourself of use, is to be twice as useful.
  82. long expected is highest prized.
  83. Better Mad with the rest of the World than Wise alone.
  84. The Sage should be Self-sufficing.
  85. It takes a wise doctor to know when not to prescribe, and at times the greater skill consists in not applying remedies.
  86. Recognise unlucky Days. They exist: nothing goes well on them; even though the game may be changed the ill-luck remains.
  87. Find the Good in a Thing at once.
  88. The attention you pay to yourself you probably owe to others.
  89. Look into the Interior of Things. Things are generally other than they seem, and ignorance that never looks beneath the rind becomes disabused when you show the kernel.
  90. Never call things easy or common: that makes them depreciated rather than made accessible. All rush after the unusual, which is more appetising both for the taste and for the intelligence.
  91. The whole of life should be one course of thought how not to miss the right path. Rumination and foresight enable one to determine the line of life.
  92. Maturity of mind is best shown in slow belief.
  93. The first step towards getting into a passion is to announce that you are in a passion. By this means you begin the conflict with command over your temper, for one has to regulate one’s passion to the exact point that is necessary and no further. This is the art of arts in falling into and getting out of a rage. You should know how and when best to come to a stop: it is most difficult to halt while running at the double. It is a great proof of wisdom to remain clear-sighted during paroxysms of rage. Every excess of passion is a digression from rational conduct.
  94. Though this is the most important thing in life, it is the one least cared for. Intelligence brings friends to some, chance to most. Yet a man is judged by his friends, for there was never agreement between wise men and fools.
  95. Better be cheated in the price than in the quality of goods.
  96. Men must be studied as deeply as books.
  97. Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil. ‘Tis the sole remedy against misfortune, the very ventilation of the soul.
  98. The wise are always impatient, for he that increases knowledge increase impatience of folly.
  99. There is always time to add a word, never to withdraw one . Talk as if you were making your will: the fewer words the less litigation.
  100. Know your pet Faults. The most perfect of men has them, and is either wedded to them or has illicit relations with them.
  101. The envious die not once, but as oft as the envied wins applause.
  102. A mean victory brings no glory, but rather disgrace. Honour always has the upper hand.
  103. In men of honour the smallest trace of meanness repels:
  104. Be more careful not to Miss once than to Hit a hundred times.
  105. Never contend with a Man who has nothing to Lose;
  106. Do not live in a Hurry. To know how to separate things is to know how to enjoy them.
  107. Even in the search for knowledge there should be moderation, lest we learn things better left unknown.
  108. Only Truth can give true reputation: only reality can be of real profit. One deceit needs many others, and so the whole house is built in the air and must soon come to the ground. Unfounded things never reach old age. They promise too much to be much trusted, just as that cannot be true which proves too much.
  109. Have Knowledge, or know those that have Knowledge. Without intelligence, either one’s own or another’s, true life is impossible. But many do not know that they do not know, and many think they know when they know nothing.
  110. To seek advice does not lessen greatness or argue incapacity. On the contrary, to ask advice proves you well advised. Take counsel with reason it you do not wish to court defeat.
  111. What must be done need not be said, and what must be said need not be done.
  112. Do not hold your Views too firmly. Every fool is fully convinced, and every one fully persuaded is a fool: the more erroneous his judgment the more firmly he holds it.
  113. Find Consolation in all Things.
  114. To promise everything is to promise nothing: promises are the pitfalls of fools. The true courtesy is performance of duty:
  115. Have reasonable Views of Yourself and of your Affairs, especially in the beginning of life. Every one has a high opinion of himself, especially those who have least ground for it.
  116. Know your ruling Star. None so helpless as not to have one; if he is unlucky, that is because he does not know it.
  117. The true road to respect is through merit, and if industry accompany merit the path becomes shorter. Integrity alone is not sufficient, push and insistence is degrading, for things arrive by that means so besprinkled with dust that the discredit destroys reputation. The true way is the middle one, half-way between de-serving a place and pushing oneself into it.
  118. Though all the world is full of fools, there is none that thinks himself one, or even suspects the fact.
  119. Speech is easy, action hard . Actions are the stuff of life, words its frippery. Eminent deeds endure, striking words pass away. Actions are the fruit of thought; if this is wise, they are effective.
  120. Mediocrities are as numerous as they are worth-less: eminent greatness is rare in every respect, since it needs complete perfection, and the higher the species the more difficult is the highest rank in it.
  121. Attempt easy Tasks as if they were difficult, and difficult as if they were easy.
  122. Fate varies: all is not good luck nor all mischance.
  123. 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.
  124. A wise man may make one slip but never two, and that only in running, not while standing still.
  125. 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;
  126. 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.
  127. 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.
  128. Do not be the Slave of First Impressions.
  129. Plan out your Life wisely, not as chance will have it, but with prudence and foresight.
  130. He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other’s slave.
  131. Some put all their strength in the commencement and never carry a thing to a conclusion. They invent but never execute. These be paltering spirits.
  132. Nothing is easier than to deceive an honest man.
  133. We do not think much of a man who never contradicts us that is no sign he loves us, but rather that he loves himself.
  134. Nothing really belongs to us but time, which even he has who has nothing else.
  135. Do Good a little at a time, but often.
  136. The Wise do at once what the Fool does at last.
  137. 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
  138. Make use of Absence to make yourself more esteemed or valued.
  139. Respect yourself if you would have others respect you.
  140. The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good.
  141. Prefer to be loved with respect rather than with passion, for that is a love suitable for many.
  142. 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.
  143. 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.
  144. Always act as if your Acts were seen.
  145. Demand is the measure of value.
  146. Happiness earned gives double joy.
What I got out of it
  1. Too many gems to call any out but I will definitely read through these highlights every year

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