Quotations about:
    discretion


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He that has a secret should not only hide it, but hide that he has it to hide.

Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
The French Revolution: A History, Part 2, Book 1, ch. 7 (2.1.7) (1837)
    (Source)

Carlyle puts this in quotes, but he is again apparently quoting himself. He later used the phrase in his history of Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the Great).
 
Added on 25-Apr-24 | Last updated 26-Apr-24
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Children are unreliable, foreigners to discretion.

Lucy Malleson
Anthony Gilbert (1899-1973) English writer (pseud. of Lucy Beatrice Malleson)
Is She Dead Too? (1950)
 
Added on 3-Jan-24 | Last updated 3-Jan-24
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It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to exercise either of them.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 20, Epigraph (1897)
    (Source)

Cited as from Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar. Sometimes misquoted "... never to practice either."
 
Added on 13-Dec-23 | Last updated 13-Dec-23
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Politeness is the art of choosing among one’s real thoughts.

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Quoted in Abel Stevens, Madame de Staël, Vol. 1, ch. 4 “Early Character” (1880)
    (Source)

Stated as a possible paraphrase: "It was a maxim with her that politeness is the art of choosing among one's real thoughts."
 
Added on 28-Nov-22 | Last updated 28-Nov-22
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To me are bedroom joys revealed,
Enjoy at will, my lips are sealed.

[Dulcis conscia lectuli lucerna,
Quidquid vis facias licet, tacebo.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 14, epigram 39 (14.39) (AD 84-85) [tr. Whigham (1987)]
    (Source)

"A Bedside Lamp [Lucerna cubicularis]". (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Privy to nocturnal glee;
Nought I say, of all I see.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), "The Chamber-Lamp," Book 11, ep. 17]

I am a night-lamp, privy to the pleasures of the couch; do whatever you please, I shall be silent.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859), "A Night-Lamp"]

I am a lamp, privy to the pleasures of your couch: you may do what you will, I shall be silent.
[tr. Ker (1920), "A Bedroom Lamp"]

A lamp am I, aware of your joy in bed:
Do what you will, not one word will be said.
[tr. Bovie (1970)]

I am a lamp, confidante of your sweet bed. You may do whatever you will, I shall be silent.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993), "Bedroom Lamp"]

I show but do not countenance what you do.
Douse me. The only record is in you.
[tr. Porter (2010), "A Bedside Light"]

 
Added on 22-Apr-22 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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There is more valour needed not to take up the affair of honor than to conquer in it. When there is one fool ready for the occasion, one may excuse oneself from being the second.

[Estima por más valor el no empeñarse que el vencer. y ya que haya un necio ocasionado, escusa que con él no sean dos.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 47 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
    (Source)

(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

He finds greater advantage in not engaging, than in overcoming: and though some rash blockhead may be ready to begin, yet he has a care not to make a second.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

He will deem it better courage not to become ensnarled, than to win, and even should the everpresent fool bob up, he will excuse himself on the ground that he does not wish to be another.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

There is more courage in avoiding danger than in conquering it. He sees that there is already one rash fool, and avoids adding another.
[tr. Maurer (1992)]

 
Added on 3-Jan-22 | Last updated 11-Jul-23
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Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion, incapable, that is, of doing an honest or intelligent job, and thus guarantees a steady intellectual decline.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Free Enterprise in Ideas,” Freedom, Loyalty and Dissent (1954)
    (Source)

Originally published in the Saturday Review (1952), based on a speech to the Advertising Council's American Round Table, New York City (1951).
 
Added on 17-Jun-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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Be your character what it will, it will be known; and nobody will take it up on your own word. Never imagine that anything you can say yourself will varnish your defects or add lustre to your perfections! but, on the contrary, it may, and nine times in ten will, make the former more glaring, and the latter obscure.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #166 (19 Oct 1748)
    (Source)
 
Added on 25-Feb-21 | Last updated 11-Oct-22
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A real man of fashion and pleasures observes decency: at least, neither borrows nor affects vices; and, if he unfortunately has any, he gratifies them with choice, delicacy, and secrecy.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #119 (27 Mar 1747)
    (Source)
 
Added on 8-Jan-21 | Last updated 12-Oct-22
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Secrets with girls, like loaded guns with boys,
Are never valued till they make a noise.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
Tales of the Hall, “The Maid’s Story” (1819)
    (Source)
 
Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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Alcohol: A liquid good for preserving almost everything except secrets.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Charles Wayland Towne, The Foolish Dictionary (1905)
 
Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 23-Aug-17
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Thy friend has a friend, and thy friend’s friend has a friend; be discreet.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 28b
    (Source)

Noted as a common saying. The summary "be discreet" does not appear in the actual Talmud translations I found, but seems to be an explanation from early Christian reviews of the Talmud for when the verse is given as a stand-alone proverb.
 
Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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Lesson to the Indiscreet: They who say all they think, and tell all they know, put others on their guard and prevent themselves from being told anything of consequence.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
A Note Book of Horace Walpole, “1781” (1927)
 
Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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A wise Man will keep his Suspicions muzzled, but he will keep them awake.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Of Caution and Suspicion,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
    (Source)
 
Added on 28-Dec-16 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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CATO: Content thyself to be obscurely good.
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
Cato, Act 4, sc. 4, l. 139ff (1713)
    (Source)
 
Added on 23-Aug-16 | Last updated 25-Mar-24
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FALSTAFF: The better part of valour is discretion.

Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part 1, Act 4, sc. 4, l. 122ff (4.4.122) (1597)
    (Source)
 
Added on 12-Jul-16 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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Be wiser than other people, if you can; but do not tell them so.

Chesterfield - be wiser - wist_info

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #104 (29 Nov 1745)
    (Source)
 
Added on 18-Nov-15 | Last updated 12-Oct-22
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Were there no hearers, there would be no backbiters.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum, or Outlandish Proverbs, Sentences, &c. (compiler), # 69 (1640 ed.)
    (Source)
 
Added on 13-Nov-15 | Last updated 8-Mar-24
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“My dear young lady,” said the Professor, suddenly looking up with a very sharp expression at both of them, “there is one plan which no one has yet suggested and which is well worth trying.”

“What’s that?” said Susan.

“We might all try minding our own business,” said he. And that was the end of that conversation.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer, literary scholar, lay theologian [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
 
Added on 28-Nov-14 | Last updated 28-Nov-14
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I will begin to speak, when I have that to say which had not better be unsaid.

Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) Roman politician, statesman, orator [Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, Cato Minor]
In Plutarch, “Cato the Younger,” Parallel Lives [tr. Dryden (1693)]
 
Added on 11-Sep-14 | Last updated 11-Sep-14
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Be a listener only, keep within yourself, and endeavor to establish with yourself the habit of silence especially in politics. In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them therefore as you would by an angry bull: it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph (24 Nov 1808)
    (Source)
 
Added on 24-Jan-13 | Last updated 3-Aug-22
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Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.

[恭而無禮則勞、愼而無禮則葸、勇而無禮則亂、直而無禮則絞。]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 8, verse 2 (8.2.1) (6th C. BC – AD 3rd C.) [tr. Legge (1861)]
    (Source)

(Source (Chinese)). Brooks (below) believes this text was interpolated into Book 8 at the time that Book 14 was collected. Alternate translations:

Without the Proprieties, we have these results: for deferential demeanour, a worried one; for calm attentiveness, awkward bashfulness; for manly conduct, disorderliness; for straightforwardness, perversity.
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

Earnestness without judgment becomes pedantry; caution without judgment becomes timidity; courage without judgment leads to crime; uprightness without judgment makes men tyrannical.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

Courtesy uncontrolled by the laws of good taste becomes labored effort, caution uncontrolled becomes timidity, boldness uncontrolled becomes recklessness, and frankness uncontrolled become effrontery.
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

Respect without rules of procedure becomes laborious fuss: scrupulosity without rules of procedure, timidity (fear to show the thought); boldness without such rules breeds confusion; directness without rules of procedure becomes rude.
[tr. Pound (1933)]

Courtesy not bounded by the prescriptions of ritual becomes tiresome. Caution not bounded by the prescriptions of ritual becomes timidity, daring becomes turbulence, inflexibility becomes harshness.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

Not to follow the rites in being modest is annoyance. Not to follow them in exercising care is timidity. Not to follow them in acts of bravery is confusion. Not to follow them in our uprightness is brusqueness.
[tr. Ware (1950)]

Unless a man has the spirit of the rites, in being respectful he will wear himself out, in being careful he will become timid, in having courage he will become unruly, and in being forthright he will become intolerant.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

If one is courteous but does without ritual, then one dissipates one's energies; if one is cautious but does without ritual, then one becomes timid; if one is bold but does without ritual, then one becomes reckless; if one is forthright but does without ritual, then one becomes rude.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

Without ritual, courtesy is tiresome; without ritual, prudence is timid; without ritual, bravery is quarrelsome; without ritual, frankness is hurtful.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

Respectfulness without the rituals becomes laboriousness; discretion without the rituals becomes apprehensiveness; courage without the rituals becomes rebelliousness; straightforwardness without the rituals becomes impetuosity.
[tr. Huang (1997)]

One would be tired if one is humble but not polite; One would be week if one is cautious but not polite; One would be foolhardy if one is brave but not polite; One would be caustic if one is frank but not polite.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #190]

Deference unmediated by observing ritual propriety [li] is lethargy; caution unmediated by observing ritual propriety is timidity; boldness unmediated by observing ritual propriety is rowdiness; candor unmediated by observing ritual propriety is rudeness.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

If he is respectful without propriety, he becomes wearisome. If he is careful without propriety, he becomes finicky. If he is brave without propriety, he becomes disruptive. If he is upright without propriety, he becomes censorious.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

Reverence becomes tedium without Ritual, and caution becomes timidity. Without Ritual, courage becomes recklessness, and truth becomes intolerance.
[tr. Hinton (1998)]

If you are respectful but lack ritual you will become exasperating; if you are careful but lack ritual you will become timid; if you are courageous but lack ritual you will become unruly; and if you are upright but lack ritual you will become inflexible.
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

Courtesy without ritual becomes labored; caution without ritual becomes timidity; daring without ritual becomes riotousness; directness without ritual becomes obtrusiveness.
[tr. Watson (2007)]

Unless a man acts according to the spirit of the rites, in being respectful, he will tire himself out; in being cautious, he will become timid; in being brave, he will become unruly; in being forthright, he will become derisive.
[tr. Chin (2014)]

 
Added on 13-Mar-12 | Last updated 8-May-23
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Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.

Earl Kemp Long
Earl Kemp Long (1895-1960) American politician, orator.
(Attributed)

Advice on political discretion. Widely attributed, but with no primary sourcing or particular context I can find. Quoted in his biography, Michael L. Kurtz, Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, ch. 7 (1990).
 
Added on 14-Oct-08 | Last updated 29-Mar-24
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It takes a clever man to hide his cleverness.

[C’est une grande habileté que de savoir cacher son habileté.]

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammatist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims], ¶245 (1678) [tr. Heard (1917), ¶253]
    (Source)

In the 1665 edition, this read: Le plus grand art d’un habile homme est celui de savoir cacher son habileté.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

It is a Great Act of Wisdom to be able to Conceal one's being Wise.
[tr. Stanhope (1694), ¶246]

It requires no small degree of ability to know when to conceal it.
[pub. Donaldson (1783), "Ability," ¶4]

It is a great ability to be able to conceal one's ability.
[ed. Gowens (1851), ¶257]

There is great ability in knowing how to conceal one's ability.
[tr. Bund/Friswell (1871), ¶245]

It is the height of art to conceal art.
[tr. Stevens (1939), ¶245]

A very clever man will know how to hide his cleverness.
[tr. FitzGibbon (1957), ¶245]

It is exceedingly clever to know how to hide your cleverness.
[tr. Kronenberger (1959), ¶245]

To conceal ingenuity is ingenuity indeed.
[tr. Tancock (1959), ¶245]

It is great cleverness to know how to hide our cleverness.
[tr. Whichello (2016), ¶245]

 
Added on 26-Jul-07 | Last updated 9-Feb-24
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Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!

Beatrice Campbell (1865-1940) English actress [Mrs. Patrick Campbell, née Beatrice Stella Tanner]
(Attributed)

Apocryphally a rebuke c. 1910 to a young actress who criticized an older actor as seeming too affectionate toward the handsome leading man in the production. Most famously given in this form in Alan Dent, Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1961).

Further discussion and variants:
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Oct-22
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Discretion is the salt, and fancy the sugar of life; the one preserves, the other sweetens it.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 1, “Discretion” (1862)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one. If you are asked what o’clock it is, tell it; but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #142 (22 Feb 1748)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Oct-22
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