I’ve just been lucky enough to find a copy of the Martin Fischer translation of Baltasar Gracian’s A Truthtelling Manual and the Art of Worldly Wisdom, the second edition printed by Charles C. Thomas, Springfield Illinois, 1956. The pages were uncut, so the book had never been read, and the dustjacket and slipbox of this little book, about 3 x 5 x 1 inches, are in fine condition. All for $14! Gracian’s manual will be well-known to some of you. For others, here is a short description from the dustjacket:
This is not a sweetmeat for children but a volume for men of this world—and but few of them. A new translation into English of the famous Spanish classic of Padre Baltasar Gracian. A practical manual of self-instruction, absolutely unique, and peculiarly appropriate to the thinking man of these perilous times.
Baltasar Gracián y Morales (c. 1601-1658) was a Jesuit priest and professor in Spain, well-known, indeed infamous in a manner similar to St John Chrysostom: bane of the wealthy, beloved of the people. The Oraculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia comprises three hundred paragraphs excerpted from Gracian’s other works, as polished and well-set jewels of his thought, by his friend and publisher Don Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa in 1653. The first paragraph:
Everything today has its point, but the art of making yourself count for something the greatest: more is demanded to produce one wise man today, than seven formerly; and more is needed to deal with a single individual in our times, than with a whole people in the past.
I can dimly remember hearing of Gracian’s Manual as a child, and recall it as one of those books that young men were expected to possess, and not just possess but read, and not just read but live, a manual on becoming a man. Specifically, the Manual brings to mind an old world approach to education in the proper Latin sense, the raising up of a boy into a man. Moving to California as a child led to a distancing for me from such traditional things, as it probably does for all families but the most staunchly traditional in this faddish land of fruits and nuts. Still, the memory was struck and resounded today, in my seeing this little book stuck in a shelf, and was reinforced by the clerk, an older man than I am, but one who knew it as I did: a book for a man on how to be a man, and one meant to be carried and read. So I will, and hopefully it’s not too late to take some of Gracian’s advice to heart and do a bit more growing up. For as my gentlemen readers will undoubtedly, if only secretly, admit, there still lies too much of the boy in each of us, oftentimes harbored.
Inside the cover of this particular copy I’ve bought is an inscription: “With thanks and appreciation EWL.” But, as I noted, the pages were uncut, and this book has never been read. I find that very sad. It has, however, found a loving home at last.