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Ma avendo io già più volte pensato meco onde nasca questa grazia, lasciando quelli che
dalle stelle l’hanno, trovo una regula universalissima, la qual mi par valer circa questo in tutte
le cose umane che si facciano o dicano più che alcuna altra, e ciò è fuggir quanto più si po, e
come un asperissimo e pericoloso scoglio, la affettazione; e per dir forse una nova parola, usar
in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l’arte e dimostri ciò che si fa e dice venir
fatto senza fatica e quasi senza pensarvi. Da questo credo io che derivi assai la grazia, perchè
delle cose rare e ben fatte ognun sa la difficultà, onde in esse la facilità genera gran meraviglia; e, per lo contrario, il sforzare, e, come si dice, tirar per i capegli, dà summa disgrazia, e fa estimar poco ogni cosa, per grande ch’ella si sia. Però si puo dir quella esser vera arte, che non appare esser arte; nè più in altro si ha da poner studio, che nel nasconderla: perchè se è scoperta, leva in tutto il credito, e fa l’omo poco estimato.
I found a universal rule which appears to govern human actions or words more than any other: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and (to use perhaps a novel word for it) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura which suppresses all artifice and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless. I am sure that grace springs especially from this, since everyone knows how difficult it is to accomplish some unusual feat perfectly, and so accomplishment in such matters produces the greatest marvel; whereas, in contrast, to labor at what one is doing and, as we say, to make bones over it, shows an extreme lack of grace and causes everything, whatever its worth, to be discounted. So we can truthfully say that true art is what does not seem to be art; and the most important thing is to suppress the artistry, because if it is revealed this discredits a man completely and ruins his reputation.
–Baldassare Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano (1528), lib i, sec xxvi (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”