Book by Quote: Chesterfield’s

Ah, there we are again, for once, after a long while of want: A Book By Quote. Again, not in the plain vanilla version of just jotting down some bon mots but again, wherever appropriate ..! annotated with some of my interpretations. Which may be biased, as they are of human thought made. You know who I compare myself with, here.
Without further ado then, from Lord Chesterfield’s Letters:

(On people’s thoughts) … if we take them upon trust, without examining and comparing them with our own, it is really living upon other people’s scraps, or retailing other people’s goods.
  To add, the quote by Ford: “It is a poor business that only makes money” as this so neatly maps to banking business. But do keep on reading this post 😉

To know the thoughts of others is of use, because it suggest thoughts to one’s self, and helps one to form a judgement; but to repeat other people’s thoughts, without considering whether they are right or wrong, is the talent only of a parrot, or at most a player.
  Hence the annotations… And the parrot/player part is where so many (most?) ‘consultants’ and ‘business advisors’ (have) end(ed) up.

Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be well done without attention. It is the sure answer of a fool, when you ask him about any thing that was said or done where he was present, that ‘truly he did not mind it’.
  Yes that’s the Original. And the surety of any answer of remark that you don’t particularly like (to receive), about the speaker. I feel a need to insert a just-found pic here:
ron-swanson-advice

If a man uses strong protestations or oaths, to make you believe a thing, which is of itself so likely and probable that the bare saying of it would be sufficient, depend upon it he lies, and is highly interested in making you believe it; or else he would not take such pains.
  Ah, there we have all the bankers’ oaths, the quality (quod non) assurance (quod non) frameworks (quod non) of auditors, etc … In the style of Qui s’excuse, s’accuse — There should be a law against such things.

But this I will advise you to, which is, never to attack whole bodies of any kind; for, besides that all general rules have their exceptions, you unnecessarily make yourself a great number of enemies, by attacking a corps collectively. … They are all men, subject to the same passions and sentiments, … Individuals forgive sometimes; but bodies and societies never do.
  On the flip side, a great many are so dull they often (or more) overlook the qualifiers like ‘many’, ‘a fair share’, etc., that I will keep on including in my rants on a great many subjects, establishing clearly that either the receiving end can not mistake my charge to apply to them personally or it is with a toy sword at sharpest. Then again, there’s always the sully that don’t even get that; there’s no pleasing some people… (but by affirmation of their own self-image, i.e., on the negative side of any balance)

It is a trite, commonplace observation that courts are the seats of falsehood and dissimulation. That, like many, I might say most commonplace observations, is false. Falsehood and dissimulation are certainly to be found at courts; but where are they not to be found? Cottages have them, as well as courts; only with worse manners. A couple of neighbouring farmers in a village will contrive and practice as many tricks to overreach each other at the next market, or supplant each other in the favour of the squire, as any two courtiers can do to supplant each other in the favour of their prince. Whatever poets may write, or fools believe, of rural innocence and truth, and of the perfidy of courts, this is most undoubtedly true — that shephards and ministers are both men; their nature and passions the same, the modes of them only different.
  True, even more so when one sees that court life has receded well nigh into invisibility, and all the court fights (of wits and manners) have stayed mostly in the houses of common aptly named so. Though it doesn’t bode well for those that believe in the ultimate wisdom of crowds.

Having mentioned commonplace observation, I will particularly caution you against either using, believing or approving them. They are the common topics of witlings and coxcombs; those who really have wit have the utmost contempt for them, and scorn even to laugh at the pert things that those would-be wits say upon such subjects.
  Then again, pearls before swines ..?

Be convinced, that there are no persons so insignificant and inconsiderable, but may, some time or other, have it in their power to be of use to you; which they certainly will not, if you once have shown them contempt. Wrongs are often forgiven, but contempt never is. Our pride remembers it forever. It implies a discovery of weaknesses, which we are much more careful to conceal than crimes.
  Which is where the contempt of/by ‘great’ men of business and other walks of life, will boomerang back on them particularly when casually and inattentively served to you or me. Certainly the latter is p.ssed in advance.

Common sens (which, in truth, is very uncommon) is the best sense I know of; abide by it; it will counsel you best.
  Ah — have just started in Superforecasting, and there are many tricks to be added to just the System 1 responses, but on the whole, and ultimately statistically, this may be True extraordinaire.

Mimicry, which is the common and favourite amusement of little, low minds, is in the utmost contempt with great ones. It is the lowest and most illiberal of all buffoonery.
  So, what would be the appropriate response to some (minding previous quotes) in business, that while working as most minion of minion placeholders nay supporters and defenders, in hapless, calcified bureaucratic house of cards, still consider themselves to be in Business, to be entrepreneurs, etc. ..?

You may sometimes hear some people in good company interlard their discourse with oaths, by way of embellishment, as they think; but you must observe, too, that those who do so are never those who contribute, in any degree, to give that company the denomination of good company. They are always subalterns, or people of low education; for that practice, besides that it has no one temptation to plead, is as silly, and as illiberal, as it is wicked.
  Again, again, those oaths of the mediocre (i.e., not contributing a thing to the uplifting of the average, hence superfluous), the auditors and bankers that babble about integrity like being a lady; if one has to evoke it, one isn’t.

Among men, how often have I seen the most solid merit and knowledge neglected, unwelcome, or even rejected, for want of them! [the Graces, ed.] While flimsy parts [Knowledge, ed.], little knowledge, and less merit, introduced by the Graces, have been received, cherished, and admired. Even virtue, which is moral beauty, wants some of its charms, if unaccompanied by them.
  I tend to agree, as many of us have been with the first side, frustrated by the slick courtiers to a fault that have taken the attention by nothing but their licking (yes with a c in it).

… which is, to extend your desire of praise a little beyond the strictly praiseworthy; or else you may be apt to discover too much contempt for at least three parts in five of the world; who will never forgive you. In the mass of mankind, I fear, there is too great a majority of fools and knaves; who, singly from their number, must to a certain degree be respected, though they are by no means respectable. And a man who will show every knave or fool that he thinks him such, will engage in a most ruinous war, against numbers much superior to those that he and his allies can bring into the field. Abhor a knave, and pity a fool in your heart; but let neither of them unnecessarily see that you do so.
  Hence, my dear reader, I compliment you with making it this far through the text… Also, this is smart business advice. And politically, one may comment on those that seek the majority/popular mob vote; that they behave maybe too strictly according this rule.

A strong mind sees things in their true proportion; a weak one views them through a magnifying medium; which, like the microscope, makes an elephant of a flea; magnifies all little objects, but cannot receive great ones. … The sure characteristic of a sound and strong mind, is to find in everything, those certain bounds, quos ultra citrave nequit consistere rectum [refrain from only understanding the last word!; ed.] These boundaries are marked out by a very fine line, which only good sense and attention can discover; it is much too fine for a vulgar mind. In manners, this line is good-breeding; beyond it, is troublesome ceremony; short of it, is unbecoming negligence and inattention.
  beyond and short of which rectitude has no place for sure. And, where a tightrope is stretchend straight, in matters referred to here, the most narrow road is winding requiring all to look forward both at short and longer distances ahead. Indeed not for the commoners’ steering to succeed.

A vulgar man’s conversation always savours strongly of the lowness of his education and company. … Proverbial expressions and trite sayings are the flowers of the rhetoric of a vulgar man.
  There you have it, halfway through learning all of the sayings on this post by heart… Then again, the nuance is in the ‘trite’ element; when specific and perfectly fitting the flow of conversation (i.e., no bon mots just to summarise or ‘show off’ ugchh — so very unlike these and other posts here ..!!), the expression, saying or quotation may very well enhance the discussion of the (presupposed) worthy topic.

Remains of antiquity, public buildings, paintings, sculptures, etc., ought to be seen, and that with a proper degree of attention; but this is soon done, for they are only outsides.
  And, if one lives in a culturally suitable place oneself, the paintings, etc., will come to a museum near one, sometime soon always anyway.

Inform yourself too of that infernal court, the Inquisition; which, though not so considerable in Rome as in Spain and Portugal will, however, be a good sample of what the villainy of some men can contrive, the folly of others receive, and both together establish; in spite of the first natural principles of reason, justice and equity.
  No-one expected the Torquemada! to enter even in this righteous discussion…!

People in general will much better bear being told of their vices or crimes, than of their little failings and weaknesses. They, in some degree, justify or excuse (as they think) the former, by strong passions, seductions, and artifices of others; but to be told of, or to confess, their little failings and weaknesses, implies an inferiority of parts [high knowledge; ed.], too mortifying to hat self-love and vanity, which are inseparable from our natures.
True, of course. A good advice and warning, of course.

It is the character of an able man to despise little things in great business: but then he knows what things are little, and what not. He does not suppose things little because they are commonly called so: but by the consequences that may or may not attend them.
  …

The world is taken by the outside of things, and we must take the world as it is; you or I cannot set it straight.
  The simpletons will take this as an idea to adapt just like that — and the wise, and shrewd, see that ‘straight’ apparently is something different.

Character must be kept bright, as well as clean. Content yourself with mediocrity in nothing. In purity of character, and in politeness of manners, labour to excel all, if you wish to equal many.
  Here, Aristoteles echoes.

… words are the dress of thoughts; which should no more be presented in rags, tatters, and dirt, than your person should.
  Where a great many [sigh, not all … only little minds would overlook the difference] auditors drive overly fancy cars (are they not signs already of the outside of things par excellence …) but deliver crude, kurt messages. Demonstrating the rags and tatters of their minds.

Style is the dress of thoughts; and a well-dressed thought, like a well-dressed man, appears to great advantage.
  Similarly. Compare well-dressed with the overdressed or overfashionable, the latter distinction being with the above fine line.

… every numerous assembly is mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere reason and good sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their sense, and their seeming interests, are alone to be applied to. Understanding they have collectively none, but they have ears, and eyes, which must be flattered and seduced; and this can only be done by eloquence, tuneful periods, graceful action, and all the various parts of oratory. When you come into the House of Commons, if you imagine that speaking plain and unadorned sense and reason will do your business, you will find yourself most grossly mistaken.
  Ah. Nevertheless, I write your you dear reader, who of course is in no way part of any mob; that’s all the others around you — there’s no reason to suspect you wouldn’t be the odd one out, right …?

Weight without lustre is lead.   You had better talk trifles elegantly to the most trifling woman, then coarse inelegant sense to the most solid man.
  The shothand of course being most instructive, as a sound bite, but I added the follow-on explanation here for the most of us that would need it.

There is a bienséance also with regard to people of the lowest degree; a gentleman observes it with his footman, even with the beggar in the street. He considers them as objects of compassion, not of insult; he speaks to neither d’un ton brusque, but corrects the one coolly, and refuses the other with humanity.
  If this would come unexpected to you, I am surprised nor amused. Then again, those of true Standing already live by this; those of other rank, are wrong in their ignorance or reluctance, possibly but not certainly beyond repair.

I am by no means sure that Homer had superior invention, or excelled more in description than Ariosto.
  In my humble parts, I tend to be more sure of the excellence of the latter over the former. I.e., in comparison. Though both are so much above us, that their difference in distance falls in importance compared with their distance from, above, us. Ariosto is indeed the more fun to read, too, as of course you can tell from your experiences like I can.

… fore every prejudice is exposed, and prejudices are our mistresses; reason is at best our wife, very often heard indeed, but seldom minded.
  One’s typical time/era-local interpretation will suffice, here.

Weak minds will not like it [Voltaire; ed.],even though they do not understand it; which is commonly the measure of their admiration. Dull ones will want those minute and uninteresting details, …
  Elitist by parts, without signification of people’s societal rank being implied in any way — very subtly, then, it is still.

… he must be able to accost and receive with smiles those whom he would rather meet with swords.
  An often encountered situation… Particularly towards those that have risen by some things other than quality or performance and haven’t reverted to their station proper (stooped, fallen) by being exposed for their true value. Might we add that this happens more often, in a decadent society nay, it is a sign of that when found so commonly as today?

… have nothing to do, but put yourselves behind your Dutch colleagues, whose distinguishing talent is to wrangle tenaciously upon details.
  … Yes? Preposterous though it may seem, vene today, many Dutch colleagues (of whatever ‘trade’) still don’t see anything and I mean any thing, wrong with that remark. Discounting Yours Truly and a handful of others, not quite hiding out in Sherwood Forest, but those who object should look better.

Lies and perfidy are the refuge of fools and cowards.
  [Comment to be written up in a separate (series of?) post, because the fear of death cum utter lack of courage are rife in the latter-day organisations’ worlds.]

Take it for granted, that by far the greatest part of mankind do neither analyse nor search to the bottom; they are incapable of penetrating deeper than the surface.
  Aren’t so many as written, indeed only capable of picking up their check lists (‘work programs’ for an Orwellian twist of language) or personal annual objectives’ KPIs, and completely incapable of seeing the commander’s intent through the thickness of their dunceness ..? [Those that complain about the non-existence of that last word, have literally no other arguments ..? Ecce.]

Good-night! Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem; …
  ‘… be neither transported nor depressed by the accidents of life’ indeed. Tr.: When things become difficult, remember to keep your cool. — How handy a business advice.

The French whisper in confidence, in order that it be more known and the more credited, …
  Those pesky French! Using the tool of confidence to its fullest!

The object of all clubs is either drinking or gaming, but commonly both.
  Still member of some club, maybe ..?

In business be as able as you can, but do not be cunning; cunning is the dark sanctuary of incapacity. … But that character is universally despised and detested, and justly too; no great man was ever cunning.
  Easily applied to your opponents in some affair.

… never talk of ropes in the house of a hanged man.
  Derived from Terentius: Phormio. And true. Simpletons will keep it in mind. Only in the literal sense.

Which concludes the finer remarks. A great many more could be copied and applied but then; this is the Chinese post On Too Long already. So, I’ll leave you with:
DSC_0383
[Entrance to the Temple of Knowledge; Reims you recognize]

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About maverisk

Maverisk Consultancy, IS Audit and Advisory services: Wikinomics meets governance and audit; otherwise, see my personal LinkedIn profile
This entry was posted in Books by Quote, ERM, GRC, Information Risk Management, Sociological, psychological notes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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