Prudence combined with Virtue.
Since the emergence of rock n' roll in the 1950s we have all become quite familiar with the idea of a 'cover version' in music. Unfortunately that is not true yet in literature. Thus many gems of wisdom remain buried in time, expressed in voices and tones that make them stand apart from our modern times. Rather than digging them up, reinterpreting them and bringing them to light again, we pass by them on dusty shelves, and fail to unite our spirit with theirs. However, most wise things have been said before. And we could save ourselves from reading and writing a lot of mediocre books, if only we looked a little closer at the great but forgotten ones, and used our own voices to amplify the echo resounding from their pages.
The following short excerpt is precisely such a reinterpretation, a literary cover version if you'd like. The text in its original form spanned over more than 400 pages and yet had been a hybrid by birth. For most readers - unlike the names of his 18th century contemporaries such Eliphas Levi, Count Alessandro di Cagliastro (aka Giuseppe Balsamo, 1743-1795) or Comte St. Germain (1710-1784) - the original compiler's name does no longer conjure up images of ancient lineages, masonic lodges and grimoires in smoke filled rooms. Now that, indeed, might be a good thing; as it makes for a less prejudiced and more unbiased encounter with the actual man: Carl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803) was a German author, philosopher, occultist and alchemist; he also was a lawyer, one of the youngest ever privy councillors at the Munich Court, a Secret Archiver and member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He was an early member of Carl Weishaupt's Order of the Illuminati, yet quickly left again, became a prominent critic of it and mainly pursued mystical, kabbalistic and specifically numerological studies in his later years.
Karl von Eckartshausen.
Klugheit vereint mit Tugend, oder die Politik des Weisen, für gute Menschen.
München 1790. Link to digital version.
The text that forms the basis of the following excerpt was first published in 1790. Eckartshausen is humbly noted as its editor. He explains in the preface that the book presents a curated effort to bring together some of the essential theories on virtue and prudence in the modern world. Specifically, he refers to the French book 'La veritable politique des personnes de qualite' (The True Politic of People with Character) as its main source; a book which originally had been published 1700 and seen several editions since. However, no author is named anywhere and Eckartshausen admits that while he liberally took quotes from various related works he also interspersed his own ideas and voice into the more than 400 pages. As we can see, despite its relative old age, we are dealing with a book that never had a pure original form, but from the beginning only existed in its 'cover' or 'remixed' version.
Now, despite the French Revolution and general instability that Europe experienced at the time, printing paper must have been in solid supply for Eckartshausen and his Munich publisher Joseph Leutner in 1790. Otherwise it would have been not only easy, but a welcome effort to any reader, to trim the circumlocutory and repetitive text into a small pamphlet of much more succinct impact. Eckartshausen's own introduction together with the first 100 paragraphs contain most of the key ideas of the book; to the modern ready 230 years later much of the rest is repetition and digression.
The much shorter text you will be reading, therefore, follows in the same footsteps Eckarthausen himself took ninety years after the publication of 'la veritable politique': More than two centuries later it’s time for another remix, time to bring this wonderful voice back to the foreground of our journeys again. Because the prudence and virtue it shares could not be more important to our current times. To me, they are a stark reminder of why turning into a wolf when living amongst wolves simply isn't good enough.
Now, please note, the metaphor of the wolf in this context is exactly that, a symbol. No matter all the beauty, skill and social intelligence the actual species of wolves holds, at least since Roman times the metahpor of the brutal, selfish, outlawed wolf has developed in fables, tales and stage plays of the classical West. Whether we take the ancient proverb 'lupus fablis' (literally: (he appears like a) wolf in the fable, the original source of today's better known proverb ‘speaking of the devil’) or saying 'homo homini lupus est' (man is a wolf to man), the anthropomorphic wolf had turned into the epiphany of the predatory, uncivilised force that disrespects and destroys all social bonds. Which is why on the cover emblem of Eckartshausen’s book we see children cutting off wolves tails. A gruesome symbol for unmasking the vicious motives behind most modern politics.
Carl von Eckhartshausen.
Prudence combined with Virtue | 2019 Remix.
The theory of prudence is an essential science for the virtuous human who lives in social states and in political circumstances. A lack of knowledge of the human nature, and consequently the judgement of others according to one's own heart, often lets people plunge into disaster, and makes them commit many mistakes against the basic rules of prudence. Repeated experience and disappointments turn the good man warily, and small is the step from love for mankind to hating it. Thus it is necessary to adopt certain theories of prudence, to safeguard the good heart against deceit and malice. Yet it is hard to discover such teachings, as the majority of mankind posses the wrong kind of cleverness, one that is generally called politics, and which in itself is nothing other but the art of deceit.
No one defiles humanity more horrendously than the false politician; just as truth and benevolence adorn the soul with splendour, so baseness and deceit deform it. Wherever such politic exists, no virtue can dwell, but its semblance alone which betray the virtuous. The innocent impulses of the human nature are suffocated, and replaced by factitious ones. Lies and falsity create world politics. And hard is it in national states and courts to choose the middle-path, not to depart from the true prudence and never to alight on false politic. The virtuous one will always ask: What is to do? And there is only one thing that can be given as response - that what all fine people have done before: to walk the path of virtue at the hand of prudence.
As fine as the woman is who unites true prudence with virtue, as hideous is the character of the false politician who unites base cleverness with vice, who has no word, no capacity to think of their own, who always turns into whatever the circumstances dictate, who always smiles and always huddles against. And smiling and huddling they suppress and yet regret to have become the tool of suppression themselves. They master the art of exploiting the noble heart to their own advantage, to do everything for themselves and nothing for others, and on the rubble of the failed luck of their neighbour they erect the throne of their own.
At last, the high-minded will not to change the world; all that is left to them, is to do as much good as lies within their power, and to always protect innocence with prudence.
Mankind in its essence never changes much, yet time and context cause all the difference that separate today's people from the ones of centuries past. The finest, most clever gentleman of the 12th century might be quite awkward and bashful in our time.
With court and politics things really are no different from theatre: love and ambition are the common material of every play, yet it is in the weave of the net of intrigues where the story differs. It is important to know the fashions of one's time.
With respect to temporality honour is nothing but the work of man, it is nothing from within itself. Yet through the immense span of time during which it has lived among mankind, it has achieved so much gravity and esteem, that its value seems to supersede most other temporal things. Thus one cannot take care enough of one's good reputation, and to honour the name one received at birth.
Everything that sparkles is suspicious. Beware not to aim to excel in your mental capabilities to the detriment of your heart's voice. You did not receive your cognitive mind to sport it in public, but to use it for the good. It should shine through you, yet not be admired.
And remember in all your doing, that the way you act and the grace that accompanies your deeds, will substitute for most other things.
Yet, be strict in keeping your word, and always act upon what you have said. Frequently remind yourself of what one of the wise men in Greece once said: 'Three things are required to become like a god: doing good, speaking the truth and keeping your word.'
Honour is entirely build from virtue. Both are the only two goods entirely independent from good fortune as well as from the orders of the sovereigns.
Therein lies wisdom if one is neither embarrassed to talk nor to be silent. Silence not always veils great insights. The one talks the best who never talks untimely.
Always be wary of the unforgiving enemy called self-love. She stirs all desires and causes turmoil.
A noble naivety exists, she is the friend of all wisdom. She is most suitable to discard the errors of self-love, as she is more sublime than anything that could be acquired by study or education.
Yet our hearts know too many weaknesses, which make it easy for self-love to intrude. Everyone accounts for their own worth so much higher than it is. There is so much self-deceit in the choice of careers, as people deem themselves able to become everything that flatters their self-love and opens an unrestricted field to their desires.
So do not allow for your errors to turn grey. A long habit of co- existing with evil always is a more sovereign empress than common sense.
Self-love slips through every crack and crevice. She is so attentive and so delicate, that irrespectively of how alert you are and seek to know yourself, you will still overlook her here and there.
Always remember the proverb of an old Spaniard: 'A ship seems great in a river and yet is tiny at high sea.'
The world is full of shallow-minds. They do not possess anything that is their own, and only live on borrowed knowledge. Endeavour to find the ones from whom speak true common sense and thorough learning. Be mindful to act equitable upon their advise. Only trust talent that stems from first-hand experience.
Do not aim to stand in apparent respect of other people; never beg for their praise. Do not search for any other glory in your deeds than the one of having done them. Do good because of the good; this is the true ground upon which your name should be built. This alone is how, over time, you will force people to respect you.
Flee from avarice; of all vices she is the most base. The prodigal makes themselves despised, the scrooge makes themselves generally detested. Be generous and bountiful. Imagine you would lose everything you do not give. Yet for not to become a prodigal do often consult prudence for advise. There is no virtue without the latter.
The best technique to always enjoy the matters of luck with inner calm, is to always be prepared to lose them without grieve.
To gently prevent poverty, which is always on the hunt for the ones who cannot even forego the most dispensable needs.
Do not become the weather vane of chance. Never take your sight from the main object that will lead to your happiness. Too many projects make for none of them being successful.
Make good use of the adversities in life, whenever hostile luck plunges you into them. Consider that they will sharpen your mind, and grant buoyancy and firmness, which both will strengthen and develop your courage.
Never shrink from the gravity of great virtue. Not once will she push you down to the ground. Quite the opposite, you will carry her with increasing ease the more you are laden with her.
Never raise your caring view so far into the future that you forget the present moment over it.
Ensure that you are loved by other people, and not feared. Friendship holds ineffable benefits - an evil sign if one does not feel these.
Make friends irrespective of the costs that will come with it. Whatever they cost you, they are worth it, for as long as they are loyal and honest with you in return. However, to find such friends, you need to possess the qualities you seek for in others in yourself in the first place.
Great service done often is less relevant and less of a prove for true friendship as many small favours. Only the latter reveal how much you are really caring for your friends all the time. Great service is done with deliberation, often on purpose and more often even out of vanity. Small favours happen naturally and without any pressure applied. They gently follow the dynamics of the heart, from where they stem, and where they are governed.
But beware to befriend sentimentals; they sigh and whine in gentle elegies, yet in their actions alone they are as vapid as the sounds they make.
Also beware that a true friend will contradict you often, and that precisely is the testament of their unfeigned friendship. Look upon all flatterers as your enemies, who are more interested to praise your taste, then to better your heart and to illuminate your mind.
No better mirror exists than old friends. Take them for your soul doctors; accept their advise like healing potions, subject to their directive, or you will have to renounce your cure.
And remember: scholars and wisemen in general are ragged and wild humans. They deal so much with the dead, they do not know how to dwell amongst the living.
The most useful of all sciences is the one taught through self- knowledge and improvement of self. The only reason for not improving yourself further, is because you are not seeking diligently enough to know yourself better.
We know of nothing less than of our selves. And still nothing is of graver importance with respect to ourselves than not to deceive ourselves.
The sign of a bright mind is to know how to live with oneself. Make your inner calm independent of other people just as much as of good luck. Learn how to be your own best friend at all times.
Never envy the superiority of other people's talents. Rather delight in having found your master. Love reason where it reveals itself.
Nothing compares to the agony we inflict upon each other in disputes. Most things can be looked upon at least from two different angles. It is therefore an unjust thing to demand everyone to look from exactly the same angle that we happen to hold.
In general, you struggle to find the words only if you haven't allowed yourself enough time to think carefully in the first place.
Let it be said again: One has to learn to live in peace with other people. You can hold on to your own opinion if you consider it valid, however, without discarding the opinions of others. That is unless the latter concern your honour or the reputation of your neighbours.
Dislike of loneliness in general is a sure proof of mediocrity. Many there are who cannot even be by themselves for half an hour without being bored. They do not know how to put the time to use, and thus become uneasy and sullen. Loneliness makes them sad; they become unbearable to themselves.
A man of solid mind knows how to turn to use every moment of their life, and never are they occupied more usefully as when they are alone. And yet, we cannot forget that virtue means to learn how to live amongst the living.
Be it as it may: I very much recommend you the way of the outsider. Learn how to fight against the constant current of bad examples, hold your ground and hold on always and unswervingly to the good. Yet you will only succeed through the highest level of alertness: without it all our good intentions turn to smoke, the crowd sweeps us along, and we will perish in the face of others.