Essays, civil and moral (Harvard Classics)/Of Seeming Wise
OF SEEMING WISE
It hath been an opinion that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are. But howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man. For as the Apostle saith of godliness, Having a show of godliness, hut denying the power thereof; so certainly there are in point of wisdom and sufficiency, that do nothing or little very solemnly: magno conatu nugas [with great effort, trifles]. It is ridiculous thing and fit for a satire to persons of judgment, to see what shifts these formalists have, and what prospectives to make superficies [a surface] to seem body that hath depth and bulk. Some are so close and reserved, as they will not show their wares but by a dark light; and seem always to keep back somewhat; and when they know within themselves they speak of that they do not well know, would nevertheless seem to others to know of that which they may not well speak. Some help themselves with countenance and gesture, and are wise by signs; as Cicero saith of Piso, that when he answered him, he fetched one of his brows up to his forehead, and bent the other down to his chin; Respondes, altero ad frontem sublato, altero ad mentum depresso supercilio, crudelitatem tibi non placere [You answer, with one eyebrow lifted to the forehead and the other lowered to the chin, that cruelty does not please you]. Some think to bear it by speaking a great word, and being peremptory; and go on, and take by admittance that which they cannot make good. Some, whatsoever is beyond their reach, will seem to despise or make light of it as impertinent or curious; and so would have their ignorance seem judgment. Some are never without a difference, and commonly by amusing men with a subtility, blanch the matter; of whom A. Gellius saith, Hominem delirum, qui verborum minutiis rerum frangit pondera [A foolish man, that with verbal points and niceties breaks up the mass of matter]. Of which kind also, Plato in his Protagoras bringeth in Prodius in scorn, and maketh him make a speech that consisteth of distinctions from the beginning to the end. Generally, such men in all deliberations find ease to be of the negative side, and affect a credit to object and foretell difficulties; for when propositions are denied, there is an end of them; but if they be allowed, it requireth a new work; which false point of wisdom is the bane of business. To conclude, there is no decaying merchant, or inward beggar, hath so many tricks to uphold the credit of their wealth, as these empty persons have to maintain the credit of their sufficiency. Seeming wise men may make shift to get opinion; but let no man choose them for employment; for certainly you were better take for business a man somewhat absurd than over-formal.
- St. Paul.
- Carry it off.
- Assume what they can not prove.
- Uselessly elaborate.
- Secretly bankrupt.