Francesco Guicciardini Quotes

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Francesco Guicciardini (6 March 1483 – 22 May 1540) was an Italian historian and statesman. A friend and critic of Niccolò Machiavelli, he is considered one of the major political writers of the Italian Renaissance. In his masterpiece, The History of Italy, Guicciardini paved the way for a new style in historiography with his use of government sources to support arguments and the realistic analysis of the people and events of his time.

Francesco Guicciardini

Francesco Guicciardini

It is a great mistake to make absolute, categorical, “by the card” pronouncements concerning the things of this world. Almost all of them have some exceptional qualities and distinctions due to differences in their circumstances, making it impossible to refer everything to the same standard. Such exceptional qualities and distinctions cannot be found in books, but must be taught by discretion. – Francesco Guicciardini

It is very misleading to judge through examples—for unless they are identical in every way, their use is limited, considering how even small variations in circumstances can give rise to widest differences in effects. And discerning these minute variations requires a good and clear eye. – Francesco Guicciardini

Whatever has occurred in the past or is occurring in the present will repeat itself in the future. However, the names and surfaces of things will have changed, and unless we have a discerning eye, we will not recognize them and act or judge accordingly. – Francesco Guicciardini

…Faith breeds obstinacy—for faith is no more than believing firmly and almost with certainty things that are not in themselves reasonable; or if reasonable, believing them more unreservedly than reason warrants.
Therefore, he who has faith becomes stubborn in his belief, and goes on his way resolute and intrepid, disregarding difficulties and dangers, and ready to suffer every extremity.
And so it happens that, as the things of this world are subject to infinite changes and chances, unlooked for help may come in many ways over time to one who has obstinately persevered. And when this perseverance is the result of faith, it may well be said that faith can accomplish great things.
We currently have a great example of such stubbornness of the Florentines—a group who, contrary to all human reason, prepared themselves to await the joint attack of Pope and Emperor, with no hope of receiving help for anyone else, with disunity among themselves, and with difficulties facing them on every side. For seven months, they have managed to fight off the assaults of armies, even though it seemed impossible for them to do so even for seven days.
In fact, they have brought things to such a point that if they were to win now, no one would be surprised, whereas earlier, everyone assumed they would lose.
And this stubbornness of theirs is mainly due to the belief that—as Friar Girolamo of Ferrara told them in his sermons—they cannot be destroyed. – Francesco Guicciardini

It is a mistake to believe that success of an enterprise depends on whether or not it is just—for every day we have proof that indicates the contrary, and shows that victory is not brought by the justice of a cause, but rather, by prudence, strength, and good fortune.
However, it is undoubtedly true that having right on one’s side can beget a firm confidence founded on the belief that God favors righteous causes. And this will make a person bold and stubborn—and such boldness and stubbornness will sometimes brings victories. – Francesco Guicciardini

If princes, when all goes well with them, make little account of their servants, and slight them or set them aside for the most minor of reasons/caprice/profit, how can they be displeased or complain if their servants—so long as they do not fail in any duty of fidelity or honor—leave them and accept other more profitable employment? – Francesco Guicciardini

…Keep your eye fixed not so much on what they [people] ought in reason to do, as on what they would be expected/likely to do based on their disposition and habits. – Francesco Guicciardini

If people were as discreet or grateful as they ought to be, then a master would have benefit his servants whenever he could on any occasion that offered him to do so.
But experience shows—and I have personally found this to be the case with my own servants—that as soon as they are fulfilled, or as soon as the master can;t continue providing the benefits he did at first, they will be quick to abandon him.
Thus, the master who looks after his own interests shouldn’t be too generous, and incline more to frugality than liberality, working on his servants by exciting their hopes rather than by satisfying them.
But in order for this to work, he must be lavishly bountiful to one of them every once in a while. This will be enough—for people by nature are moved more by hope than by fear, and are more exited and encouraged by the example of one person they see abundantly rewarded, than they are discouraged by the sight of many who have not been well treated. – Francesco Guicciardini

Even though many people prove to be ungrateful, don;t let that stop you from benefitting others—for not only is beneficence in itself a noble and almost divine quality, it may also happen that while you practice it, you will encounter someone so grateful that he will make up for all the others’ ingratitude. – Francesco Guicciardini

There is nothing people are less likely to remember than the benefits they’ve received. And thus, we should depend more on people who have no option of failing us, than on those who we have benefited. For oftentimes, the latter will either forget the benefit rendered to them, or think of them as less significant than they really were, or believe they had a right to receive them. – Francesco Guicciardini

If you wronged someone, never be tricked into thinking you have a good reason for trusting or confiding in him again—even when he has something to gain in the way of honor or profit should he come through. After all, due to certain people’s nature, their memory of a wrong can be so dominant that it will make them willing to harm themselves for revenge’s sake—either because they value this satisfaction more, or because their passion blinds them from recognizing what would really be in their best interests. – Francesco Guicciardini

Be careful of pleasing one person if it must cause equal displeasure in another—for the person who becomes slighted will be sure to remember, and will exagerate the severity of the offence since it benefits someone else; whereas the person who receives the pleasure will either forget it, or will consider the favor to be less than it was. And thus, assuming other conditions equal, you lose in this way far more than you gain. – Francesco Guicciardini

Beyond all others, let a prince beware of those whose nature it is never to be satisfied—for no load of benefits he may heap upon them will ever secure him against them. – Francesco Guicciardini

It is indeed great to have authority. If rightly used, it will make you feared even beyond your actual resources. Your subjects, not knowing how far your authority reaches, will usually choose to give way to you almost at once, rather than test if you can do what you threaten. – Francesco Guicciardini

Those governors I commend who, while they inflict few severities or punishments, yet know how to acquire and preserve a name for strictness. – Francesco Guicciardini

The discontented person will not lightly expose himself to danger, no matter how much he may want to harm you. Instead, he will await opportunities that might not ever never come. The desperate person, on the other hand, will seek out such opportunities, and plunge headlong into all kinds of revolutionary hopes and schemes. Thus, you seldom have much to fear from the discontented, but always must be on your guard against the desperate. – Francesco Guicciardini

When people see you in a position where you have no choice but to do what they want, they will hold you cheap and make little account of you. After all, people generally are influenced more by their interest or the indulgence of their spite than by what is right, what you deserve, what they owe you, or the thought that you have been brought low because of them or to help them in their distress.
Thus, you should flee this humiliation as you would flee fire.
Many people who are now exiled would have avoided such a fate if they had taken this counsel to mind—for, though a person will not be helped much by the fact that he was driven out due to his fidelity to a certain prince, he will certainly be harmed much by the fact that the prince, seeing him an outlaw, will think, “This man can do nothing,” and will thereby treat him however he wants and without much consideration. – Francesco Guicciardini

Do what you may, but you cannot prevent your subordinates stealing. Consider my own case: though I have gone far in being caring and setting a good example, I have never been able to put a stop to the dishonesty of the governors and other officers I have had under me. – Francesco Guicciardini

How true is that ancient saying “Place reveals the man”! Nothing so clearly reveals a person’s qualities as to give him place and power. How many are there who speak well, yet do not know how to do! And how many are there in the streets and marketplaces who seem to be capable people, but turn out to be shadows when employed! – Francesco Guicciardini

That “place show man” was a saying much applauded by the ancients, not only because place makes it plain whether someone’s capacity is great or small, but also because power and freedom from restraint more fully displays the bent of his mind and demonstrates what his true character is. For the higher the station someone fills, the less check or hindrance has he in indulging his natural temper. – Francesco Guicciardini

In conducting my various government positions, I have noticed that when I desired to bring about a reconciliation, civil accord, etc., it was advantageous, before moving in myself, to allow both sides to discuss and debate over them at great length. In the end, out of weariness, they would both join in begging me to adjust their differences; and when appealed to like this, I could accomplish—with credit, and without impeachment of obtrusiveness—something that I would have attempted in vain at first. – Francesco Guicciardini

We should place far more store on the real and substantial than on the ceremonial.
And yet it is unbelievable just how greatly courteous manners and pleasing words influence everyone. And this because all people believe they deserve to be greatly esteemed, and thus will feel hurt if they find you withholding the deference they are sure is their due. – Francesco Guicciardini

When ambassador in Spain, I observed that whenever the Catholic King, Don Ferdinand of Aragon, a most prudent and powerful prince, wanted to engage in any new enterprise, he would go about it in such a way so that even before his intention was made public, the whole court and people would be crying out and urging him that he ought to do that thing. – Francesco Guicciardini

Here is a good way to get support for some scheme of your own contriving from one who might otherwise oppose it: commit its conduct to him, and make him, as it were, sponsor for its adoption and success. Light men especially are often won over by this device, for many of them are so tickled by vanity as to prefer the like of empty honors to the solid advantages that it should be their object to seek. – Francesco Guicciardini

If you want people’s goodwill, take heed that, when a request is asked of you, you do not refuse it point-blank, but instead answer by generalities. For it may chance that he who makes the request shall not afterwards stand in need of your help, or that circumstances shall arise which will afford you abundant excuse for withholding it. Moreover, many people are so foolish and vulnerable to being fooled with words, that often, even without doing what you have no mind or power to do, you may contrive by a smooth answer to leave a person contented; whereas, had you denied that person, he would have been displeased with you whatever turn events had taken. – Francesco Guicciardini

It is honest and manly to never promise what you do not intend to do. However, people are unreasonable–and thus, even if you have a valid reason to deny someone, he will be dissatisfied. … Therefore, seek to amuse with answers of general encouragement, and as far as possible, avoid committing yourself by positive engagements. – Francesco Guicciardini

As long as it brings you no loss or discredit, it is a wise course, though little followed, to hide the displeasure that you feel against others. After all, you might have to make use of such people in the future–something that will be difficult to do if if they consider you an enemy. I have frequently had to seek assistance from people I hate–and they, believing the opposite, or at least not knowing about my dislike, have served me with the utmost alacrity. – Francesco Guicciardini

In your talk, be careful not to needlessly say what, if repeated to others, might offend them. For often at unlooked-for times and in unforeseen ways, saying such things can cause much harm to you. Be very careful, I tell you, for many people—even prudent ones—are guilty of this error, and it is difficult to refrain from it. But if the difficulty is great, so much greater is the gain to him who knows to overcome it. – Francesco Guicciardini

Should necessity or anger move you to speak sharply to anyone, at least be careful to say what will offend him only. For instance, if you want to taunt someone, don’t vilify his country, family, or kinsfolk. It is a great folly to incur the resentment of many, when your purpose is to only vex one person. – Francesco Guicciardini

Do not let the fear of making enemies or of causing displeasure to others keep you from doing what you ought to do. Doing one’s duty brings a person reputation, and this will help him far more than the making of a few enemies will hurt him. In this world we must either be dead outright, or must sometimes do things that give offence.
But the same tact that guides us in bestowing pleasure is also shown in knowing when and how to do what displeases—that is, these things must be done on just occasion, at fit season, with modesty, for honorable causes, and in creditable ways. – Francesco Guicciardini

At every turn, you can see the advantages you draw from having a good name and reputation. Firthermore, these advantages are almost nothing compared to those that are unseen, and that, led by the good opinion that prevails concerning you, come on their own, without your knowing why. – Francesco Guicciardini

Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them—for people are brought into constant contact with one another, and friends help and foes hinder at times and in places where you least expect it. – Francesco Guicciardini

From friends and kinsmen, you draw advantages that neither you nor they are aware of—advantages far in excess of those recognized as coming from them. After all, occasions when you need their help are rare in comparison with the day-to-day benefits of knowing you can have their support when you will. – Francesco Guicciardini

Like others, I have sought honors and preferment. Moreover, I have often obtained them beyond my wishes or hopes. But they’ve always been less satisfying than I epxected. And this, if we well consider it, is a strong reason why we should disencumber ourselves from vain desires. – Francesco Guicciardini

Greatness and honors are universally sought, because whatever is good or fair in them lies on the surface and is seen when they are looked at superficially, whereas the anxiety, weariness, fatigues, and risks that attend them are unseen and hidden. But if their inherent evils were as apparent as the good, we really would have no motive to desire them, other than this: the more a person is feared, reverenced, and honored, the more he seems to approach and resemble God. And who would not wish to obtain such a likeness? – Francesco Guicciardini

Be skeptical of those who tell you they chose to give up their position and power, due to their love of quiet. In almost every case, they have ultimately been forced into to their position of retirement—and experience shows us that as soon as the narrowest opening offers a return to their former mode of life, nearly all of them forsake their “much prized” tranquility, and throw themselves into the opportunity as eagerly as fire rushes upon dry or resinous fuel. – Francesco Guicciardini

Ambition itself is not evil; nor should he be condemned whose spirit prompts him to seek fame by worthy and honorable ways. In fact, people like this achieve the noble and loft, whereas those untouched by the passion for fame are generally frigid souls that are more disposed for ease than effort.
But hateful and pernicious is the ambition that makes self-aggrandizement its sole end and aim, as we find in most princes, who, having this as their goal, and wanting to clear the path that leads to it, will put aside conscience, honor, humanity, and all else that is good. – Francesco Guicciardini

Pursuits that are not pushed forward by this fiery spur [fame] are lifeless and empty. – Francesco Guicciardini

…Even if there are many proofs and almost a certainty indicating the very opposite, a confident assertion or denial will often to some extent perplex and puzzle your listeners’ minds. – Francesco Guicciardini

People who are involved in important matters and seeking to rise in the world should conceal their failures and magnify their successes. Though this is a type of charlatanism abhorrent to my nature, nowadays worldly advancement depends more on people’s opinions than reality, and it is beneficial to create the impression that things are going well, but harmful for the contrary to be believed. – Francesco Guicciardini

If you want to conceal or misrepresent one of your intentions, try to show others—with the strongest and gravest reasons possible—that you intend the opposite. When people think you are convinced that reason favors a particular course, they will readily persuade themselves that you will base your decisions on what reason dictates. – Francesco Guicciardini

Open sincerity is universally exalted and praised, whereas deception is detested and condemned. But for an individual, deception is usually more useful, while sincerity tends to advance the interests of others.
However, since deception is without a doubt not a good thing, I would commend someone who is usually open and sincere, and only resorts to deception in certain rare and important matters.
Furthermore, in this way, he will gain a reputation for honesty and sincerity as well as the accompanying advantages of such a reputation; and when he does resort to deception in those matters of extreme emergency, he will benefit even more from it, being that is reputation for honesty will make other believe him more easily. – Francesco Guicciardini

Even after someone has obtained a reputation for feigning and dissembling, we often find that his frauds sometimes succeed. – Francesco Guicciardini

A prince or anyone else who is employed in state affairs should not only conceal what is undesirable to have known, but he and his ministers should also be in the habit of being silent about anything at all that he would not have made public—including even very minor and insignificant matters. If your subjects and those about you are thus kept in the dark as to your intentions, and abide in suspense and wonder, they will watch even your slightest movements and gestures. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though you have much to gain by conducting your affairs secretly, you have even more to gain by contriving not to appear secretive to your friends. After all, most people feel slighted and offended when they see you unwilling to impart your affairs to them.
It is not desirable to gain a reputation for being suspicious and distrustful. And yet, people are so false and crafty, resort to so many deep and ambiguous devices, and are so selfish and uncaring, that we can hardly err in believing little and distrusting much. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that people should avoid ordinary conversation or talking together in pleasant and kindly amity, I will say that it is prudent to speak of your own affairs only when absolutely necessary, and when speaking them, to limit them to what is necessary for the present conversation or purpose, keeping as much to yourself as possible.

It is more pleasant to do otherwise, but more useful to do this. – Francesco Guicciardini

I am slow to believe news that in itself seems likely, unless it comes from a reliable source. After all, it is easy to fake what people are already prepared to accept, whereas things in themselves improbable and unlooked for are seldom invented. And since this is the case, I am also less apt to discredit unlikely news. – Francesco Guicciardini

It would by all means be desirable to do things or cause things to be done exactly as they ought to be, and so that they should be flawless down to the smallest detail. But this is very difficult to do, and it is a mistake to spend much time in over-refining—for other opportunities will often escape us while working to attain this perfection. And even when we think we have succeeded in our efforts, we will later come to see that we have been deceived—for due to the nature of things in this world, it’s almost impossible to find something that has no imperfection or blemish whatsoever. Thus, we must be content to take things as they are, and to consider the least evil as good. – Francesco Guicciardini

In all decisions and actions that we can make, there will be reasons that support the contrary—for nothing is perfect enough to be entirely free of blemishes. Nothing is so bad that it does not contain some good, and nothing is so good that is does not contain some bad. And thus it happens that many people, being perplexed by every trifling difficulty, rest always in suspense. These are the persons we speak of as over-scrupulous, because they entertain doubts about everything.
Rather than being this way, we should, after balancing the disadvantages on both sides, accept those that weigh the least, remembering that no course we can take will be clear and perfect in each and every way. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though we must be cautious in our undertakings, we are not therefore to conjure up so many difficulties in respect of them as shall make us stop short from thinking success hopeless. On the contrary, we are to reflect that greater facilities may disclose themselves in the execution of our designs, and that as we proceed, obstacles may disappear of themselves. – Francesco Guicciardini

Small and almost imperceptible beginnings are often the cause of great disasters or successes—and thus, maximum prudence lies in noting and weighing well all circumstances, even if small. – Francesco Guicciardini

How often we hear it said, “Had this been done or that left undone, this or the other result would have followed.” And yet, were it possible to test these opinions, we should find them false. – Francesco Guicciardini

How many acts are blamed when done, which, if we could see what would have followed had they not been done, would have been praised! And likewise, how many things are praised that under like circumstances would have been blamed!

Therefore, do not be hasty in either commending or condemning based on a mere superficial view of things. To form a just and solid judgment, look carefully below what appears to the eye/the apparent surface. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though I am naturally firm and settled in my resolutions, I often experience some sort of regret after making an important decision. And not because I believe I’d choose differently were to choose again. Rather, it’s because before I chose, I had the difficulties of each choice better in view; whereas after my resolution is formed, I no longer fear the difficulties of the options I didn’t take, and I only consider those that I still have to deal with, which, looked at alone, seem far greater than they would have appeared if contrasted with the others.
In order to free myself from this torment, I have to carefully recall in my mind those other difficulties I had previously set aside. – Francesco Guicciardini

Princes have an infinite number of secrets, and an endless number of matters to take into account. Thus, it is mere rashness to hastily judge their actions—for often it happens that what you suppose a prince to have done for one reason, he has in fact been done for another; and what seems to you done at random and imprudently, has been done designedly and with consummate wisdom. – Francesco Guicciardini

Messer Antonio of Venafra was wont to say, and with justice, that if some six or eight sensible men are brought together to consult, they become that many fools. For, disagreeing among themselves, they rather promote disputes than arrive at conclusions. – Francesco Guicciardini

Do not work to effect changes that do not remove the grievances under which you suffer, but merely substitute one oppressor for another. Changes of this kind only leave you where you were.
For example, what profits it to have banished John of Poppi from the service of the Medici, if Bernard of S. Miniato, a person of like character and condition, enters in his room? – Francesco Guicciardini

Future matters are so deceptive and subject to so many accidents that even the wisest of all people regularly make miscalculations. In fact, if we were to track their predictions, particularly those regarding particular events—for in their general conclusions they are less apt to be misled—we would find them as inaccurate as people who are considered less discerning.
Therefore, it’s usually unwise to give up a present good in due to apprehension of a future evil, unless the evil is either very certain and near, or far greater in degree than the good. Otherwise, due to a fear that may afterwards turn out to have been groundless, you may lose the good that lay within your grasp. – Francesco Guicciardini

Never assume anything will happen, no matter how certain it may seem. As long as you can do so without upsetting your plans, keep something in reserve to be used in case the opposite of your expectations occurs. After all, since things often turn out so differently from what was looked for, it is only prudent to act in this way. – Francesco Guicciardini

In narrating current events, some writers will enter on a discussion of what is likely to happen hereafter.
However, even when such forecasts are made by well-informed people and seem admirable to the reader, they are actually very misleading—for these types of logical conclusions are like chain links: they depend on one another, and if any of them fail, the other deductions will all fall to the ground. Even the smallest variation in the circumstances can be enough to cause an error in the conclusion.
Thus, it is impossible to form a judgment of the course of events that are still remote. Our opinions must be formed and modified from day to day. – Francesco Guicciardini

I have noticed that when men of great sagacity have to decide on an important matter, they almost always end up distinguishing the various courses it may take, and, after considering two or three probable contingencies, form their final decision on the assumption that one of these will indeed happen.
Be warned that this is a dangerous method to follow—for in almost all cases, some other contingency will turn up that was not taken into account by these deliberations and met by these decisions.
Thus, in forming decisions, it much wiser to assume that the unlikely might happen, and only limit your deliberations when necessary. – Francesco Guicciardini

Whoever well-considers it will hardly deny that in human affairs, Fortune rules supreme. After all, we constantly find the most momentous result springing from fortuitous causes that were not within human power to either foresee or escape. And although discernment and vigilance may temper many things, they cannot do so un-helped, but always stand in need of favorable Fortune. – Francesco Guicciardini

As for those who ascribe everything to prudence and capacity, and exclude as much as they can the influence of Fortune, even they must admit that much depends on being born at a time when your virtues or qualities are in demand. …
But of course, if someone could change his nature to suit the circumstances of the times, then he would be so much the less under Fortune’s control. However, this is difficult if not downright impossible to do. – Francesco Guicciardini

Neither wise men nor fools can in the end escape what has to be. And thus, nothing I have ever read seems to me more true than that saying of Seneca: “Ducunt volentes fata, nolentes trahunt” [Fate leads the willing; drags the unwilling.] – Francesco Guicciardini

The truest test of someone’s courage is his behavior when overtaken by unforeseen dangers. He who shows a good front to these—as we find very few do—really deserves to be called resolute and intrepid. – Francesco Guicciardini

Things we do not anticipate move us beyond comparison more than those that are foreseen—and thus, I pronounce it to be a great and resolute spirit that stands undismayed amid sudden dangers and disasters; for this in my judgment is the rarest excellence. – Francesco Guicciardini

The person who rushes blindly into dangers without discerning their true character—he is merely foolhardy.
The person who recognizes dangers and fears them no more than he should—he is the type of person that ought to be called brave. – Francesco Guicciardini

Those who govern states must not be daunted by seeming dangers, however great, near, and imminent they look. For, like the proverb says, “The Devil is never so black as he is painted.” Many things may come about that will cause dangers to disappear of themselves. And even of those that do arrive, some un-thought of remedy or alleviation will be found to accompany them. – Francesco Guicciardini

Anything that is destined to perish by a gradual wasting away rather than sudden violence will end up enduring longer than you might suppose at first sight.
An example of this is hectic patient, who, after his case has been pronounced hopeless, will sometimes linger on not just for days, but even for weeks or months. And likewise, in the city that has had to be reduced by blockade, the unconsumed stores are constantly in excess of what all had reckoned them to be. – Francesco Guicciardini

Do not attempt any [local] innovation in the hope that the people will second you—for this is a dangerous foundation to build on. The people will either lack the courage to stand by you, or, as is so often the case, will cherish views that differ greatly from what you imagine.
Consider the case of Brutus and Cassius: after murdering Caesar, not only did they not receive the public support they had counted on, they even had to flee to another city out of fear of that very public. – Francesco Guicciardini

Wise economy consists not so much in knowing how to avoid expenses—for these are often unavoidable—as in knowing how to spend to advantage and get extra value for your money. – Francesco Guicciardini

In wars, those who attempt to spend the least always end up spending the most—for nothing demands a larger or more unstinted/lavish outlay of money than war. The more complete the preparations are, the sooner will the war be over; and since the failure to spend money will prolong the enterprise, it will ultimately cost far more [than not trying to have saved money in the first place]. – Francesco Guicciardini

Too subtle an intellect is a gift that brings torment and unhappiness to its possessor, since it only serves to involve him in scruples and anxieties unknown to people of duller perceptions. – Francesco Guicciardini

Distrust those who talk loudly of liberty. Nearly all of them—nay, all of them without exception—have their own ends to serve; and we are often shown by experience—which is our surest guide—that these fellows will rapidly rush to an absolute government if they think it will allow them to push their fortunes better. – Francesco Guicciardini

One who has sound sense can make great use of another who has fine parts; much more so than the other can make of him. – Francesco Guicciardini

If you observe closely, you will find that not only the manners of people, but also their language and modes of speech, dress, style of building, methods of cultivation, and the like, alter from age to age; but, what is more remarkable, their sense of taste also alters, so that a kind of food that is relished by one generation is often displeasing to the next. – Francesco Guicciardini

There is nothing in life that should be more desirable or that brings more glory than seeing your enemy prostrate in the dust and at your mercy. And this glory is doubled by he who uses the occasion well—that is, he who shows mercy, and is content with having had the victory. – Francesco Guicciardini

Revenge does not always spring from hatred or a cruel disposition—it is sometimes necessary, in order to set an example that will teach others they must not harm us.
And likewise, it is not necessarily improper to get revenge without feeling rancor against the person revenged. – Francesco Guicciardini

If someone takes revenge in such a way that the person who is hurt does not know where the injury comes from, then the act must have been done out of a motive of rancor and hatred. It would be more generous/honest to work openly so that everyone may know who did the act—for then that person will be thought to have acted not so much from hatred and vindictiveness, but more from a motive to clear his honor—or in other words, to be known as the type of person who will not put up with offenses. – Francesco Guicciardini

What does it matter to me if the person who injures me is acting out of ignorance and not from ill will? In fact, this can make it all the worse—for ill will has definite ends, works by its own rules, and thus does not always inflict the hurt it might; whereas ignorance, having neither rule, nor aim, nor measure, behaves like a madman, and deals its blows in the dark. – Francesco Guicciardini

Happy/lucky are they to whom the same opportunity offers itself twice. Even a wise person may neglect or misuse it on the first occasion—but to fail to recognize and profit by it the second time is certainly foolish. – Francesco Guicciardini

If you would be someone employed in [worldly] affairs, never allow such affairs to leave your hold. You will not be able to recover them at your convenience.
But if you continuously retain your hold on them, one will lead to another, even without your using any special diligence or industry to get them. – Francesco Guicciardini

With a tyrant, it is safer to stand fairly well with him than share his closest intimacy. This way, if you are generally esteemed [in the community], not only will you profit by his greatness—and sometimes more than those people he feels close to—you may also hope to save yourself in the event of his downfall. – Francesco Guicciardini

To protect yourself against a brutal and bloodthirsty tyrant, no rule or remedy can be prescribed that will avail anything to you, except what is recommended in the case of the plague: Flee as fast and as far as you can. – Francesco Guicciardini

There is no man so prudent as to not sometimes make mistakes. Good fortune lies in our making fewer than others do, or in matters of lesser importance. – Francesco Guicciardini

He who would be loved by his superiors should be sure to show them respect and reverence. And if he errs on this point, let it be on the side of excess rather than the opposite—for there is nothing that offends a superior more than the notion that he has not received the attention or consideration he thinks his due. – Francesco Guicciardini

See the extent people deceive themselves! They regard the sins they do not commit as heinous, and those they do commit as trivial. – Francesco Guicciardini

During wartime, I have often received news that seemed to indicate our affairs were desperate, but was followed shortly later by other news of a reassuring kind; or sometimes the good news came first and the bad news later.
In fact, these contrary rumors were not uncommon at all—a lesson to a wise captain not to be too easily depressed or elated. – Francesco Guicciardini

To speak of “the people” is in truth to speak of a beast, mad, mistaken, perplexed, and lacking taste, discernment, or stability. – Francesco Guicciardini

It is no wonder we are ignorant of what has happened in past ages, or of what is currently happening in distant countries and remote cities. After all, if you note it well, you will see that we lack true knowledge even when it comes to what is presently going on day to day in our own town. In fact, between the palace and the marketplace there often lies so dense a mist or so thick a brick wall that no eye can penetrate it; so that the people know as much of what their rulers are dong, or their reasons for doing it, as they know of what is being done in China. And thus, the world is readily filled with empty and idle beliefs. – Francesco Guicciardini

All historians—without, as it seems to me, a single exception—are at fault in omitting to relate many things known in their times, due to the fact they considered them matters known by everyone. – Francesco Guicciardini

The very same things that readily succeed and “accomplish themselves” when undertaken at the proper moment, will, if attempted prematurely, not only fail, but will often become impossible to succeed when their time does come.
Thus, rather than rushing things hastily or precipitating events, we should await their season and maturity. – Francesco Guicciardini

Unless rightly understood, the proverb that bids the wise man to take advantage of time might be dangerous.
By failing to use an opportunity when it offers itself, it might be lost forever; and for many for many things we must decide and act quickly.
However, when we are surrounded by difficulties and trouble, procrastinating and gaining time can either extricate ourselves from troubles, or at least allow us to understand them better.
By putting this meaning on the proverb, it is wholesome; but interpreted otherwise, it might frequently prove harmful. – Francesco Guicciardini

He who is in too great haste to bring a war to a conclusion will often prolong it, by failing to await the necessary supplies and the right time for the enterprise.
Such a person makes what might have been easy quite difficult—and for every day he thought he would gain, he often loses a month or more. Plus, his haste often causes many additional disasters. – Francesco Guicciardini

Both in wars and in many other important matters, I have often seen preparations neglected due to impression that they were too late, and yet it has been seen afterwards that they would have been in time, and that the omission to make them has caused much loss.
This results from the fact that things often move slower than we anticipate them to, and that what we imagine will be over in a month often is still ongoing after a few months. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though human life is short, rest assured that he will find it long enough who knows to make wise use of his time, and does not unprofitably waste it; for a man’s nature fits him for great efforts, and anyone who is diligent and resolute will get through an incredible amount of work. – Francesco Guicciardini

Everyone has defects—some more, some fewer. It follows then that no friendship, fellowship/service, or dependent-relation/companionship can endure unless both sides have some tolerance towards each other.
Therefore, we ought to understand one another, and remember that change will never free us from all imperfections, but only introduce us to new and perhaps greater ones.
So we should try to tolerate one another.
However, let us be careful to be compliant only in such matters that can be put up with, and in themselves are not of great importance. – Francesco Guicciardini

Pray to God that you are always found on the winning side—for in being so, you will be credited even for what you had no part in; whereas he who stands with the losers is baled for an endless number of ___ he is wholly guiltless of. – Francesco Guicciardini

Trades and industries are at their best when they are not yet generally understood to be profitable. When seen by all to be so, they fall off; because, from many resorting to them, the competition prevents them from being any longer lucrative. In all things, it profits to be up betimes. – Francesco Guicciardini

In matters of business, take this as a maxim: it is not enough to give things their beginning, direction, or impulse; we must also follow them up and never slacken our efforts until they are brought to a conclusion. Whoever conducts business on this system contributes in no small measure to its settlement; while he who follows a different plan will often assume things to be ended which in truth are hardly begun, and the difficulties whereof are not yet reached; such are the heedlessness, futility, and perversity of men, and such the lets and hindrances that things present in their own nature. – Francesco Guicciardini

When enemies who usually have been leagued together against you chance to fall out, to attack one of them in the hope to dispose of him separately is often the occasion for all to unite afresh. It behoves you, therefore, to note carefully what the differences that have arisen between them are, together with all the other conditions and circumstances in which they stand, that you may judge whether it is more for your interest to single out one of them for attack, or to stand aloof and look on while they fight it out among themselves. – Francesco Guicciardini

In my youth, I made light of such superficial accomplishments as dancing, singing, and playing; nay, even of writing a fair hand, knowing how to ride, how to dress becomingly, and all other like arts, which savor more of show than substance.
Since then, however, I have seen reason to change my mind. For though it is undoubtedl a mistake to waste too much time in cultivating these graces, or to make a lad’s entire training consist in acquiring them to perfection, still I have found by experience that these gifts and the knack of doing everything confer honor and reputation even among men of good birth; and that too in so marked a degree that we may say he lacks something who is without them. Moreover, excellence in matters of this sort opens the way to the favor of princes, and offers a beginning or occasion to him who is a proficient therein to obtain high and lucrative preferment—for the world and its rulers are what they are, and not what they should be. – Francesco Guicciardini

Wars have no greater peril than he who has just entered upon them should take their success for certain. For however safe and easy they may seem, they are subject to a thousand accidents, and these will lead to still greater disorder if he whom it concerns is not ready to put forth both strengths and courage; as he will be where preparations have been made from the first on the footing that difficulties will have to be encountered. – Francesco Guicciardini

Prosperity/good-fortune is often our worst enemy, making us vicious, frivolous, and insolent—and thus, bearing it well is a better test of person than bearing adversity. – Francesco Guicciardini

Far higher satisfaction will be found in controlling than in gratifying the passions. For such gratification is brief, and of the body; whereas the satisfaction we feel when passion has been subdued is lasting, and is of the mind and conscience. – Francesco Guicciardini

Though venting our feelings—whether of pleasure or discontent—is a great case to a man’s heart, it is also dangerous wherefore, however hard it may be, it is wise to abstain. – Francesco Guicciardini

No two men could have been more unlike in character than the Popes Julius and Clement. For while the former was of great and even excessive courage, ardent, impulsive, frank, and open, the latter was of a temper inclining rather to timidity, most patient, moderate, and withal deceitful. And yet from natures so opposite the same results, in the shape of great achievements, could be looked for. Because in the hands of great masters patience and impetuosity are alike fitted to effect important ends; the one operating by a sudden onslaught, breaking down all opposition; the other seeking to wear out by delay and to conquer with the aid of time and opportunity. So that where the one hinders, the other helps, and conversely. But were it possible for a man to combine the two natures, he would indeed be divine. As this, however, can hardly happen, I believe that, all things considered, greater results are to be obtained by moderation and patience than by impetuosity and daring. – Francesco Guicciardini

Although we act on the best advice, yet, so uncertain is the future, the results are often uncertain. Still, we are not on that account to give ourselves up like beasts a prey to Fortune, but like men to walk by Reason. And he who is truly wise should be better pleased to have been guided by good advice though the result be untoward, than to have prospered in following evil counsel. – Francesco Guicciardini

I have ever been of a most open nature, and the sworn foe of all quirks and cavils, so that anyone dealing with me has always felt himself much at his ease. Nevertheless, I have recognized that in negotiating, this artifice is of signal service, namely, never to come at once to those questions that are of most moment, but postponing these to the last, to allow yourself to be drawn towards them only step by step and reluctantly. Whose does this often succeeds beyond his hopes; while he who transacts business as I do, will only secure that without which no settlement were possible. – Francesco Guicciardini

Storia d'Italia

Storia d’Italia

Quotes from Wikiquote

Storia d’ Italia

  • L’imitazione del male supera sempre l’esempio; comme per il contrario, l’imitazione del bene è sempre inferiore.
    • He who imitates what is evil always goes beyond the example that is set; on the contrary, he who imitates what is good always falls short.
  • Gli ambasciadori sono l’occhio e l’orecchio degli stati.
    • Ambassadors are the eye and ear of states.
  • Non è male alcuno nelle cose umane che non abbia congiunto seco qualche bene.
    • There is no evil in human affairs that has not some good mingled with it.
  • Ha sempre dimostrato l’esperienza, e lo dimostra la ragione, che mai succedono bene le cose che dipendono da molti.
    • Experience has always shown, and reason also, that affairs which depend on many seldom succeed.
  • Con disavvantaggio grande si fa la guerra con chi non ha che perdere.
    • We fight to great disadvantage when we fight with those who have nothing to lose.

Counsels and Reflections

  • Frank sincerity is a quality much extolled among men and pleasing to every one, while simulation, on the contrary, is detested and condemned. Yet for a man’s self, simulation is of the two by far the more useful; sincerity tending rather to the interest of others. But since it cannot be denied that it is not a fine thing to deceive, I would commend him whose conduct is as a rule open and straightforward, and who uses simulation only in matters of the gravest importance and such as very seldom occur; for in this way he will gain a name for honesty and sincerity, and with it the advantages attaching to these qualities. At the same time, when, in any extreme emergency, he resorts to simulation, he will draw all the greater advantage from it, because from his reputation for plain dealing his artifice will blind men more.
    • Number 104.
  • Non combattete mai con la religione, né con le cose che pare che dependono da Dio; perché questo obietto ha troppa forza nella mente degli sciocchi.
    • Never wage war on religion, nor upon seemingly holy institutions, for this thing has too great a force upon the minds of fools.
    • Number 253.
  • If displeased with any man, do all you can to prevent his seeing it, for otherwise he will become estranged. And occasions often arise when he might and would have served you had you not lost him by showing your dislike. Of this I have had experience to my own profit. For once and again I have felt ill-disposed towards some one who not being aware of my hostility has afterwards helped me when I needed help and proved my good friend.
    • Number 324.


  • – Francesco Guicciardini. Counsels and Reflections (Ricordi politici e civili). Translation by Ninian Hill Thomson. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1890.

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