Baltasar Gracian

Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) was a Jesuit priest with a reputation as a preacher although, as his Wikipedia page states, “some of his oratorical displays, such as reading a letter sent from Hell from the pulpit, were frowned upon by his superiors.”

He wrote a lot of advice for people, to help smooth their way in the world. You’d think he was some kind of oily polished courtier, but apparently Gracian wasn’t that great at taking his own advice on how to climb the ladder of success. Sure, he wrote a highly praised novel, and was famous within his lifetime, and later on, Schopenhauer thought he was cool. But he seems to have let principles stand in the way of his own career. As Wikipedia puts it,

In 1651, he published the first part of the Criticón (Faultfinder) without the permission of his superiors, whom he disobeyed repeatedly. This attracted the Society’s displeasure. Ignoring the reprimands, he published the second part of Criticón in 1657, as a result was sanctioned and exiled to Graus at the beginning of 1658.

He tried to get out of the Jesuits and join another religious order instead, but they wouldn’t let him. Anyway, Baltasar Gracian said a lot of smart and interesting things, and here are some of them.

“The tongue is a wild animal, and once it breaks loose, it is hard to return it to its cage.”

“Some people know everything for others and nothing for themselves.”

“How will others understand what they are hearing if we ourselves have no clear idea what we are saying?”

“Bravery and courtesy have this advantage: They are saved through being spent. Give in abundance of either and it still remains with you.”

“It is worse to busy yourself with the trivial than to do nothing.”

“Know how to choose. Most things in life depend on it… Knowing how to choose is one of heaven’s greatest gifts.”

“The wise person finds enemies more useful than the fool does friends.”

“Plan for bad fortune while your fortune is good.”

“Don’t waste the favors people owe you. Keep important friends for great occasions.”

“The person who receives a favor would rather lose sight of the person who did it.”

“Incur the fewest obligations by seeking the fewest favors. Being beholden for everything or to everyone is to become the property of another, both controlled and influenced. Independence is more precious than any gift you may give up for it. A favor of personal gratification often leads to indebtedness beyond your desire.”

“Know how to take things…If you grab the blade, the best thing will do you harm; the most harmful will defend you if you seize it by the hilt.”

“We have nothing to call our own but time.”