Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658) was a writer during the Golden Age of Spain, a time characterized by a surge in literature, of which Gracián was a part. His books, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which I cover here, and The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, from which I will draw today, are collections of 300 aphorisms, each written with wit, grace, and precision, reflecting his period in history, yet at the same time providing guidance.
#6: The height of perfection. – No one is born complete; perfect yourself and your activities day by day until you become a truly consummate being, your talents and your qualities all perfected. This will be evident in the excellence of your taste, the refinement of your intellect, the maturity of your judgement, the purity of your will. Some never manage to be complete; something is always missing. Others take a long time. The consummate man, wise in word and sensible in deed, is admitted into, and sought out for, the singular company of the discreet.
#32: Be known for pleasing people. – To please is greatly to the credit of rulers, a quality that enables sovereigns to gain universal favor. The one advantage of ruling is precisely this, to be able to do more good than others. True friends are those who do favors. In contrast, others are set on pleasing no one, not so much because it’s tiresome as out of malignancy, being entirely opposed to such divine dealings.
#195: Know how to appreciate. – There’s no one who can’t be better than someone at something, and none who excel that can’t be excelled. Knowing how to enjoy the best in everyone is a useful form of knowledge. The wise appreciate everyone, recognizing the good in all and knowing how much it costs to do things well. Fools despise everyone because they are ignorant of the good and choose the worst.
#274: Have appeal. – It casts a polite and politic spell. Let such gallant allure be used more to win goodwill than personal advantage–or use it for everything. Merit alone is not enough without charm, which is what leads to approval, sovereignty’s most useful instrument. To win someone over is a matter of luck, though artifice can help this along, for artifice works best where natural gifts are already found. This gives rise to affection, and eventually to universal favor.
For further reading: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence by Baltasar Gracián (2011)