The Art of Wordly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracián

"He is twice great who has all the perfections in the opinion of all except of himself; he attains applause by two opposite paths."

Conceptismo is a literary movement of the Baroque period of Portuguese and Spanish literature. It began in the late 16th century and lasted through the 17th century.

Conceptismo is characterized by a rapid rhythm, directness, simple vocabulary, witty metaphors, and wordplay. In this style, multiple meanings are conveyed in a very concise manner, and conceptual intricacies are emphasised over elaborate vocabulary.

Gracián's style, generically called conceptism, is characterized by ellipsis and the concentration of a maximum of significance in a minimum of form, an approach referred to in Spanish as agudeza (wit), and which is brought to its extreme in the Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (literally The Oracle, a Manual of the Art of Discretion, commonly translated as The Art of Worldly Wisdom), which is almost entirely composed of three hundred maxims with commentary. He constantly plays with words: each phrase becomes a puzzle, using the most diverse rhetorical devices.

Sprezzatura [sprettsaˈtura] is an Italian word originating from Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".[1] It is the ability of the courtier to display "an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them".[2] Sprezzatura has also been described "as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance".[3]


Keep Matters for a Time in Suspense

Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom. A resolution declared is never highly thought of; it only leaves room for criticism.

Knowledge and Courage

Knowledge without courage is sterile.

Create a Feeling of Dependence

The wise man would rather see men needing him than thanking him.

Let it be one of the chief lessons of experience to keep hope alive without entirely satisfying it, by preserving it to make oneself always needed even by the patron on the throne.

A Man at his Highest Point

We are not born perfect: every day we develop our personality and in our calling till we reach the highest point of our completed being, to the full round of our accomplishments, of our excellence. This is known by the purity of our taste, the clearness of our thought, the maturity of our judgment, and the firmness of our will.

Avoid Victories over Superiors

They will allow a man to help them but not to surpass them.

To be without Passions

There is no higher rule than that over oneself, over one's impulses.

Avoid the Faults of your Nation

It is a triumph of cleverness to correct in oneself such national failings (anti-learning).

Cultivate those who can teach you

Let friendly intercourse be a school of knowledge and culture be taught through conversation: thus you make your friends your teachers and mingle the pleasures of conversation with the advantages of instruction. Sensible persons thus enjoy alternating pleasures: they reap applause for what they say, and gain instruction from what they hear.

Nature and Art

Every one has something unpolished without artificial training, and every kind of excellence needs some polish.

Keep Ministering Spirits

It is a privilege of the mighty to surround themselves with the champions of intellect.

He that cannot have sages in service should have them for his friends.

Vary the Mode of Action

Not always the same way, so as to distract attention, especially if there be a rival.

Arouse no Exaggerated Expectations on entering

It is better that reality should surpass the design and is better than was thought.

The Art of being Lucky

Virtue and insight; for there is no luck or ill-luck except wisdom and the reverse.

A Man of Knowledge to the Point

Wise men arm themselves with tasteful and elegant erudition; a practical knowledge of what is going on not of a common kind but more like an expert.

Be Spotless

The highest skill is to transform patches on our reputation into ornament.

Keep Imagination under Control

For it makes us either contented or discontented with ourselves.

It can do all this unless most prudent self-control keeps it in subjection.

Find out each Man's Thumbscrew

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.

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.

When in doubt, follow the suit of the wise and prudent.

Have the Reputation of being Gracious

to be able to do more good than others.

Know how to Withdraw

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.

Think over Things, most over the most Important

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.

Never Exaggerate

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.

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.

Think with the Few and speak with the Many

To dissent from others' views is regarded as an insult, because it is their condemnation.

Truth is for the few, error is both common and vulgar.

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.

Master your Antipathies

Good sense masters this feeling, for there is nothing more discreditable than to dislike those better than ourselves.

Avoid "Affairs of Honour"

It is easier to avoid such affairs than to come well out of them.

There is more valour needed not to take up the affair than to conquer in it.

Be Thorough

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.

Observation and Judgment

A man with these rules things, not they him.