Baltasar Gracian on Expressing Yourself

GRACIN~2

Baltasar Gracian y Morales (1601-1658)

I have a small book entitled The Art of Worldly Wisdom:  A collection of Aphorisms from the Works of Baltasar Gracian (translated by Martin Fischer, published by Barnes and Noble, 1993).  Baltasar Gracian y Morales (1601-1658) was a Spanish Jesuit scholar and writer of Baroque prose.  The Art of Worldly Wisdom is perhaps his most famous work.   It is a collection of three hundred paragraphs from his works on how to live in what we would consider the practical world of human relations as these first lines from five randomly-chosen paragraphs show:

  • Because an ass once, not twice.
  • Watch him who works by indirection.
  • Know how to put fire into your subordinates.
  • Know how to pretend ignorance.
  • Discover each man’s thumbscrew.
  • Choose an occupation that brings distinction.

Clearly, the drift of the works is more towards the earthly than the spritual, more towards Machivelli and Marcus Aurelius than Solomon and Lao Tzu.   With that in mind, I have quoted paragraph 216, the one that seems to bear the most relation to the art of writing.   Please let me know your thoughts on the value of Gracian’s advice.

“Be able to express yourself, not only clearly, but with charm.  Some conceive easily, but have a hard delivery; yet without pains, these children of the spirit, our thoughts and our judgments, are not rightly born; others are like those vessels that hold much but yield little;  while conversely others pour forth more than was anticipated;  what resolution is to the will, exposition is to the mind, and both are great attributes;  clear heads are much praised, but those balmy may be venerated because not understood;  wherefore at times be not too clear, in order not to seem too ordinary;  yet how can a world get a concept of what it hears, if the speaker himself has no clear notion of what he is talking about?”

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