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Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658)


Baltasar Gracián was a Spanish baroque moralist, philosopher, and Jesuit scholar, whose works influenced La Rochefoucauld, and later Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, who referred to Gracián's El criterión as  "one of the best books in the world." Gracián wrote in concentrated, terse style; he was the master of the baroque literary style known as conceptismo (conceptism). His Oráculo manual y arte de prudentia (1647, The Pocket Oracle), a collection of three hundred maxims, was translated by Joseph Jacobs in 1892 as The Art of Wordly Wisdom. It is Gracián's most famous book outside of Spain. When Ignatius Loyola's Exercitia was a manual of prayer and devotion, Oráculo offered practical advices for social life.

"KEEP YOUR IMAGINATION UNDER CONTROL. You must sometimes correct it, sometimes assist it. For it is all important for our happiness and balances reason. The imagination can tyrannize, not being content with looking on, but influences and even often dominates our life. It can make is happy or burden us, depending on the folly that it leads us to. It can make us either content or discontent with ourselves. Before some people it continually holds up the penalties of action and becomes the mortifying lash of fools. The others the imagination promises happiness and adventure with blissful delusion. It can do all this unless you lord over it with the most prudent self-control." (in The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr.  Joseph Jacobs, 1892)

Baltasar Gracián y Morales was born in Belmonte, a village in Aragon near Calatayud, the son of Francisco Gracián, a doctor, and Angela Morales. During his childhood Gracián lived with his uncle, who was a chaplain. He studied at a Jesuit school in Saragosa and at the age of 18 he became a novice with the Jesuits. Between the years 1621 and 1623 he studied philosophy at the College of Calatayud.

Like his brothers, Gracián decided to pursue a clerical career. After studying theology in Saragosa, he was ordained in 1627 as a priest and in 1635 he took his final vows. Gracián taught philosophy and theology at several Jesuit schools in Aragon and in the Jesuit University of Gandia (1633-36). In 1636 he was sent as a preacher annd confessor to the Colegio de Huesca. He also worked as the rector of the Jesuit college at Tarragona. During the French siege of 1644, he stayed in the city. In Huesca he befriended the rich patron of letters, Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa, who financed the publication of his most important books, and helped him when he had troubles with the Jesuits. Moreover, he had access to Lastanosa's large library.

In 1640 Gracián traveled to Madrid, where the court was located, and gained fame as a preacher, partly due of his criticism of aristocrats and their servants and lackeys. Once in Valencia he jokingly announced that he has a letter sent to him straight from the Hell. During the war in 1646 Gracián served as a military priest in Lerida, witnessing horrors of war first hand.

Almost all Gracián's publications were published under pseudonyms. El Criticón appeared under the name of García de Malones, an anagram of his own name. The only exception was El Comulgatorio (1655, Sanctuary Meditations for Priests and Frequent Communicants), which was printed with the permisson of his order and came out under his own name.

Even during his lifetime Gracián was recognized as a master of style, but he had to conceal his frustration when lesser talented authorities tampered with his writings. Gracián was repeatedly disciplined, his performance as a professor of theology was criticized, and he was also put on bread and water for punishment. His superiors characterized him as colericus (choleric), biliosus (ill-humored), and melancolicus (melancholic). Embittered Gracián tried unsuccessfully to leave the Jesuits and become a monk. Just a few months before his death, Gracián received a final warning, which suggested that he should be locked up without paper, pen, or ink.

The third part of El criticón came out in 1657 under the pseudonym of Lorenzo Gracián, who was the author's brother. It was denounced by ecclesiastical authorities in Spain but admired in France and in England. Since the publication of the first part in 1651, the allegorical novel had strained Gracián's relationships with the Church. "A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends," he once said. Baltasar Gracián died in Tarragona on December 6, 1658.

"KNOWLEDGE AND COURAGE. These are the elements of greatness. Because they are immortal they bestow immortality. Each is as much as he knows, and the wise can do anything. A person without knowledge is in world without light. Wisdom and strength are the eyes and hands. Knowledge without courage is sterile." (in The Art of Worldly Wisdom)

Along with Quevedo (1580-1645) Gracián became known as one the leading Spanish exponent of conceptismo, a stylistic form and practice which sought to express witty and original ideas by puns, antitheses, epigrams, twisted metaphors and other verbal devices. The conceptistas disapproved arcane language and insisted that language should be precise and correct. In Agudeza y arte de ingenio (1648, The Mind's Wit and Art) Gracián set forth his views on different kinds of conceit and defined the numerous varieties of literary agudeza (fine distinction; ingenuity). Noteworthy is that Gracián doesn't take examples from Cervantes' Don Quixote, the most famous Spanish novel of all times.

Gracián lived in a time when Spain's power was declining. Wars, corruption and inflation undermined economy and restrictions were placed on civil and religious freedom. At the same time the baroque culture in the country was thriving. Gracián was the contemporary of the painters Velasquez (1599-1660), Murillo (1617-1682), and Zurbaran (1598-1664), and the writers Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and Calderón (1600-1681). To gain success in the world of constant struggle, Gracián's advice for young heroes in El héroe (1637, The Hero) was that "let all Men indeed know you, in order to be esteem'd by all, but lay yourselves open to none". (The Hero, from the Spanish of B. Gracian; with remarks moral, political, and historical of the learned by Father J. de Courbeville, 1726, p. 5) 

The Hero criticized Machiavelli (1469-1527), except the idea that the end justifies the means, and drew a portrait of the perfect Christian leader. Its first edition has been lost, but by 1646, it had been translated into French and Portuguese and plagiarized by a French Jesuit. Gracián's ideal image of the politician, as presented in El político Don Fernando el Católico (1640), was King Ferdinand the Catholic, "that great master in the art of kingship, the greatest oracle of the reason of State," as he wrote. To Macchiavelli's concept of "reason of state," which was actually popularized by the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Botero, he referred as "reason of stable". Both authors believed in the concentration of power into a single person – "There is no equality in the world," Gracián  said.

In El discreto (1646, The Complet Gentleman) Gracián continued the Renaissance tradition of Castiglione and described the qualities which make the sophisticated man of the world. The English translation of part one of El Criticón by Paul Rycaut appeared in 1681. Gracián examined society and contemporary moral decline from the standpoint of two characters. Andrenio, a young savage, is a kind of literary ancestor of Rousseau's Émile (1762), although Gracián emphasizes in his other books the importance of personal improvement. Andrenio is the disciple of Critilo, an ideal man, who advises Andrenio to rely on his reason, not instincts, and not to be swayed by appearances. Gracián doesn't hide his pessimistic views about stupidity and egoism of human beings. In Madrid Andrenio is seduced by Falsirena and Critilo finds a good opportunity to criticize women. Then the companions meet the wise Salastano (an anagram of Lastanosa), travel to France, and finally arrive Rome at their old age.

The first, lost edition of the Oráculo manual was small enough to fit in the pocket to be carried around. Possibly the idea came from portable prayer books. Gracián's collection of advices for social interactions and gaining success for life was written for people, who were ready to take advantage of opportunity, starting from the author himself.  Gracián dedicated his work to Don Luis Méndez de Haro who had replaced Count-Duke of Olivares as the King's favorite. This "handbook" has been described as "an odd compound of shrewdness, cynicism, and moralizing".  ('On Power, Image and Gracián's Prototype' by Isabel C. Livosky, in Rhetoric and Politics: Baltasar Gracián and the New World Order, edited by Nicholas Spadaccini and Jenaro Taléns, 1997, p. 78) It was translated into German by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) as Balthazar Gracian's Hand-Orakel und Kunst der Weltklugheit. The translation appeared in 1862, two years after Schopenhauer's death, but already in the 1820s, he had translated 50 of its 300 aphorisms.

For further reading: Artful Immorality - Variants of Cynicism: Machiavelli, Gracián, Diderot, Nietzsche by D.S. Mayfield (2015); Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-century Spain: Inquisition, Social Criticism and Theology in the Case of El Criticón by Patricia W. Manning (2009); An Early Bourgeois Literature in Golden Age Spain: Lazarillo de Tormes, Guzmán de Alfarache, and Baltasar Gracián by Francisco J. Sánchez (2003); Courtiers, Courtesans, Picaros and Prostitutes: the Art and Artifice of Selling One's Self in Golden Age Spain by Jennifer Cooley (2002); Rhetoric and Politics: Baltasar Gracián and the New World Order, edited by  Nicholas Spadaccini and Jenaro Talens (1997); 'Gracián, Baltasar' by Pedro Maria Muñoz, in Encyclopedia of the Essay, edited by Tracy Chevalier (1997); Gracián, Wit, and the Baroque Age by Arturo Zárate Ruiz (1996);'Introduction,' in A Pocket Mirror for Heroes, edited and translated by Christopher Maurer (1995); Borges y Baltasar Gracián by Julio O. Chiappini (1994); La poética di Gracián in Europa by Luciano Anceschi (1989); Gracián: Vida, estilo, y reflexión by Jorge M. Ayala (1987); The Truth Disguised by Theodore L. Kassier (1976); Baltasar Gracián by Virginia R. Foster (1975); Gracián and Perfection by Monroe Z. Hafter (1966); Baltasar Garcián: Su vida y su obra by Evaristo Correa Calderón (1961); Gracián y el barroco by Miguel Batllori (1958); Baltasar Gracián et Nietzsche by Victor Bouillier (1926)

Selected works:

  • El Héroe, 1637 - The Heroe (tr. John Skeffington, 1652) / The Hero (from the Spanish of B. Gracian; with remarks moral, political, and historical of the learned by J. de Courbeville, 1726) - Sankarin taskupeili (suom. Tarja Härkönen, teoksista El Héroe, El Criticón, Agudeza y arte de ingenio ja El Discreto, 1996)
  • El Político Don Fernando el Católico, 1640 (ed.  E. Correa Calderón)
  • Arte de ingenio, 1642 (rev. ed. Agudeza y arte de ingenio, 1648) - The Mind's Wit and Art (tr.  Leonard H. Chambers)
  • El Discreto, 1646 - The Complet Gentleman (tr.  T. Saldkeld, 1730)
  • Oráculo manual y arte de prudentia, 1647 - The Art of Worldy Wisdom (tr.  Joseph Jacobs, 1892) / A Truthtelling Manual and the Art of Worldly Wisdom (translated by Martin Fischer, 1934; edited and with an introduction by Steven Schroeder, 2007) / The Oracle, a Manual of the Art of Discretion (tr.  L.B. Walton, 1953) / Practical Wisdom for Perilous Times (selection, ed.  J. Leonard Kaye, 1992) / A Pocket Mirror for Heroes (selection; edited and translated by Christopher Maurer, 1995) / The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (translated by Jeremy Robbins, 2011) - Viisauden käsikirja: kolmesataa sääntöä maailmanviisautta (suom. Sirkka Salomaa, Arthur Schopenhauerin saksannoksesta "Hand-orakel und Kunst der Weltklugheit", 1950) / Maallisen viisauden käsikirja (suom. Annikki Suni, 1994)
  • El Comulgatorio, 1655 - Sanctuary Meditations for Priests and Frequent Communicants (translated by Mariana Monteiro, 11875) 
  • El Criticón, 1651-57 (3 vols.) - The Critick (tr.  Paul Rycaut, 1681)
  • Tratados políticos, 1941 (edited by Gabriel Julía Andreu)
  • Obras completas, 1944 (edited by E. Correa Calderón)
  • Obras completas, 1960 (edited by Arturo del Hoyo)
  • The Best of Gracía, 1964 (traanslated by Thomas C. Corvan)
  • Obras completas, 1993 (2 vols., edited by Emilio Blanco)
  • El hombre en su perfección: saber para vivir, 1996 (edited by J. Ignacio Díez Fernández) 
  • El discreto, 1997 (edited by Aurora Egido) 
  • El comulgatorio, 2003 (introduction by Aurora Egido, edited by Luis Sánchez Laílla)
  • El político don Fernando el Católico, 2010 (introduction by  Aurora Egido, edited by Luis Sánchez Laílla) 
  • Obras completas, 2011 (edited by Santos Alonso)  
  • El arte de la prudencia, 2012 (edited by Emilio Blanco)
  • El criticón, 2016 (edited by Luis Sánchez Laílla and José Enrique Laplana) 

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