Tips from a Jesuit on how to survive in the modern world

Worldly-wise advice from the 17th century:

Balthasar Gracian [1601-1658], a Jesuit priest, wrote this collection of pithy sayings four centuries ago.

Gracian speaks to the twenty-first century as well as the seventeenth. It’s only a matter of time before someone markets Gracian’s life advice to busy executives, like Sun Tzu or the Book of Five Rings (if it hasn’t been already). . . .

Blithe Spirit readers should be apprised of at least two other, more recent, translations, by Christopher Maurer (Doubleday ,1992) and Jeremy Robbins (Penguin, 2011).

Robbins notes in his introduction that Gracian (1601-1658) in 1657 was “punished by the Jesuits for his consistent failure to obtain formal permission to publish, as required” — not only this “oracle” but a novel and other works.

This included being removed from his teaching post, being publicly reprimanded, and put on a diet of bread and water. He considered leaving the Jesuits for another order, but was rehabilitated and sent to a college, where he died months later.

Begin with this first epigram, from the 1892 translation by Joseph Jacobs.

i Everything is at its Acme;

especially the art of making one’s way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.

So matters stood in the 17th century, as now in the 21st, when the advice applies as precisely now as when written.

Source: The Art of Worldly Wisdom Index

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