Gracián

Every so often one is asked: If you could assemble a dinner party with anyone who ever lived, whom would you invite?

For me, the list would have to include Baltasar Gracián y Morales, a Jesuit writer, philosopher, and courtier who lived in seventeenth-century Spain. He’s hardly a household name, but he has always struck me as one of the wisest men who ever lived.

Above all, Gracián lives on as an aphorist. A sampling:

Some marry the first information they receive, and turn what comes later into their concubine. Since deceit is always first to arrive, there is no room left for truth.

The wise man would rather see men needing him than thanking him. To keep them on the threshold of hope is diplomatic, to trust to their gratitude boorish; hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one.

Freedom is more precious than the gift that makes us lose it.

The one rule for pleasing: whet the appetite, keep people hungry.

A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

Let the first impulse pass, wait for the second.

A beautiful woman should break her mirror early.

Little and good is twice good.

Fortunate people often have very favorable beginnings and very tragic endings. What matters isn’t being applauded when you arrive – for that is common – but being missed when you leave.

Little said is soon amended. There is always time to add a word, never to withdraw one.

Don’t show off every day, or you’ll stop surprising people. There must always be some novelty left over. The person who displays a little more of it each day keeps up expectations, and no one ever discovers the limits of his talent.

Don’t take the wrong side of an argument just because your opponent has taken the right side.

It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.

Never participate in the secrets of those above you; you think you share the fruit, and you share the stones – the confidence of a prince is not a grant, but a tax.

The envious die not once, but as oft as the envied win applause.

A bad manner spoils everything, even reason and justice; a good one supplies everything, gilds a ‘No,’ sweetens truth, and adds a touch of beauty to old age itself.

Carry right too far and it becomes wrong. The orange squeezed completely dry gives only bitterness.

Perhaps my favorite:

Tepid incredulity acts as an emetic upon secrets.

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