In lieu of a normal book report, I’m listing a collection of quotes. These are the most salient passages for me, at this time in my life. I plan on re-reading this book many times, and I’m sure different passages will jump out as more important at those times.
6. A man at his best. You are not so born: strive daily to develop yourself in your person, in your calling, until perfection is attained: the fullness of your every gift, of your every faculty. You will know it in the improvement of your taste, in the clarification of your thinking, in the maturity of your judgment, in the control of your will. Some never attain the perfect, something always being lacking, and others are late in coming to themselves. The man complete, wise in speech, wise in action, is admitted, yea, he is welcomed into that rare fellowship of those who understand.
17. Change your style; not always in the same fashion, in order to divert the attention, and especially if you are being rivalled. Not always directly, or they will know your course, anticipate you, and frustrate even your intent. It is easy to kill the bird on the wing that flies straight; not that which turns. Nor always indirectly, for that trick is learned after the second feint. Malice is ever alert and much thought is necessary to outwit her; a gambler does not play the card which his opponent expects much less that which he desires.
27. Rate the intensive above the extensive. The perfect does not lie in quantity, but in quality. All that is best is always scant, and rare, for mass in anything cheapens it. Even among men the giants have often been true pygmies. Some judge books by their thickness, as though they had been written to exercise the arms, instead of the mind. Bigness, alone, never gets beyond the mediocre, and it is the curse of the universal man, that in trying to be everything, he is nothing. It is quality that bestows distinction, and in heroic proportions if the substance is sublime.
50. Do nothing to make you lose respect for yourself, or to cheapen yourself in your own eyes: let your own integrity be the standard of rectitude, and let your own dictates be stricter than the precepts of any law. Forego the unseemly, more because of this fear of yourself, than for fear of the sternness of outer authority: learn this fear of yourself; and there will be no need for that imaginary monitor of Seneca.
129. Never cry about your woes. To make lamentation only discredits you; to better purpose, to be an example of boldness against passion, than one of timidity under compassion; to lament is to open the way to the listener, to the very thing of which you complain, and by giving notice of a first insult, making excuse for a second; many a man with his complaint of injustices past, has invited more, and by crying for help, or for pity, has merely gained sufferance; or even contempt: better politics, to laud the generosity of one, thus to lay obligations upon antoher; for to recite the favors done by those absent, is to compel them from your present, for this is to sell the esteem in which you are held by the one, to the other; and so a man of sense will never publish abroad either the slights, or the wrongs he may have suffered, but only the honor in which he is held, for it will serve better to constrain his friends, and to restrain his enemies
194. A proper conceit of yourself, and of your aims, especially at the start of life. All have a high opinion of themselves, particularly those with the least reason; each dreams himself a fortune, and imagines himself a prodigy: hope wildly promises everything, and time then fulfills nothing: these things torment the spiriit, as the imagined gives way before the truth, wherefore let the man of judgment correct his blunders, and even though hoping for the best, always expect the worst, in order to be able to accept with equanimity whatever comes. It is well, of course, to aim somewhat high, in order to near the mark; but not so high the you miss altogether a starting upon your life’s job; to make this proper estimate of yourself is absolutely necessary, for without experience it is very easy to confuse the conjectured with the fact; there is no greater panacea against all that is foolish, than understanding; wherefore let every man know what is the sphere of his abilities, and his place, and thus be able to make the picture of himself coincide with the actual.
197. Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice retrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.
204. Approach the easy as though it were difficult, and the difficult, as though it were easy; the first lest overconfidence make you careless, and the second, lest faint-heartedness make you afraid; nothing more is required in order to do nothing, than to think it done; to go at the job, on the other hand, accomplishes the impossible; but the greatest undertakings should not be overly pondered, les contemplation of difficulties too clearly foreseen appall you.
245. Talk always about the uncommon, and forego the common, for it makes the better head; do not hold in too high opinion the man who never opposes you, for that is not a token of love for you, but of love for himself: do not allow yourself to be deceived through flattery, or be pleased by it, but cast it from you; always hold it to your credit that some men speak against you, especially if it be those who speak ill of all that is best; let that man pity himself whose ways please everybody, for it is a sign that they are of no value, for the excellent is of the few.
246. Never make explanation unless asked, and even when asked, it is a species of crime, if overdone: to excuse yourself before occasion demands, is to accuse yourself; and to allow yourself to be bled in health, is to make eyes at disease, and at malice; to explain in advance is to awaken slumbering doubt; a man of sense will never show notice of another’s suspicion, for that is to go hunting for trouble; then is the time to give it the lie through what is the uprightness of your whole way of life.
262. Know how to forget, even though it’s more luck than art. Matters best forgotten, are those best remembered, for memory plays the villain by forsaking us when we need her most, and the clown, by appearing when we would see her least; in all that gives pain she is most lavish, and in all that might give joy, most niggardly; at times the only remedy for an evil lies in forgetting it, and to be able to forget is the remedy; wherefore, train your memory to these comfortable manners, for she can bring you heaven, or hell: those self-satisfied are of course excepted, for in their state of innocence, they are already rejoicing in the happy state of feeble-mindedness.
268. A wise man does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times, the first in season, and the second out. He who starts by putting on his understanding wrong side to, must continue in this style ever afterwards, wearing about his feet what he should have placed upon his head, making left of what is right, and so proceeding in everything he does: there is only one good way to bring him to account, and that is to make him do by compulsion what he should have done through desire: but the man of sense sees at once, what sooner or later, must be, and does it to his joy, and to his credit.
287. Do nothing in passion, or everything goes wrong. He cannot work for himself, who is not in command of himself and passion invariably banishes reason. Here have recourse to another more prudent, who may be anyone, provided impassioned. They who look on always see more, than those who are in the play, for they are not excited. As quickly as you discover yourself roused, let intelligence blow the retreat, for the blood has hardly rushed into the head, before all you do shows blood, and in one brief moment is spewed forht the substance of many days of shame for you, and of slander for another.
In addition to these aphorisms, here are some passages I highlighted from the text:
… it is worse to be busy about the trivial, than to do nothing….
Continuous luck is always suspect….
Choose an occupation that brings distinction.
… it is reflection, and foresight that assure freedom to life.
Rest in accomplishment, and leave talk to others.
Virtue alone is sufficient unto itself: and it, only, makes a man worth loving in life, and in death, worth remembering.