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I have begun in old age to understand just how oddly we are all put together. We are so proud of our autonomy that we seldom if ever realize how generous we are to ourselves, and just how stingy with others. One of the booby traps of freedom — which is bordered on all sides by isolation — is that we think so well of ourselves. I now see that I have helped myself to the best cuts at life’s banquet.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
“Ralph Ellison in Tivoli” (1998)

Originally printed in News from the Republic of Letters, No. 3 (1998). Reprinted in the Los Angeles Times (10 May 1998).
Added on 5-Oct-22 | Last updated 5-Oct-22
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For tho’ it is certainly more laudable, and a thing of greater moment, to be generous, constant, and magnanimous, than merely to be polite and well bred; yet we find, from daily experience, that sweetness of manners, a genteel carriage, and, polite address are frequently of more advantage to those who are so happy as to be possessed of them, than any greatness of soul or brightness of parts are to those who are adorned with those more shining talents.

[E come che l’esser liberale o constante o magnanimo sia per sé sanza alcun fallo più laudabil cosa e maggiore che non è l’essere avenente e costumato, non di meno forse che la dolcezza de’ costumi e la convenevolezza de’ modi e delle maniere e delle parole giovano non meno a’ possessori di esse che la grandezza dell’animo e la sicurezza altresì a’ loro possessori non fanno.]

Giovanni della Casa
Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556) Florentine poet, author, diplomat, bishop
Galateo: Or, A Treatise on Politeness and Delicacy of Manners [Il Galateo overo de’ costumi], ch. 1 (1558) [tr. Graves (1774)]

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

And albeit Liberalitie, or magnanimitie, of themselves beare a greater praise, then, to be a well taught or manored man: yet perchaunce, the courteous behaviour and entertainement with good maners and words, helpe no lesse, him that hath them: then the high minde and courage, advaunceth him in whome they be.
[tr. Peterson (1576)]

Although liberality, courage, or generosity are without doubt far greater and more praiseworthy things than charm and manners, none the less, pleasant habits and decorous manners and words are perhaps no less useful to those who have them than a noble spirit and self-assurance are to others.
[tr. Einsenbichler/Bartlett (1986)]

Added on 22-Aug-22 | Last updated 13-Dec-22
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We’d all like a reputation for generosity, and we’d all like to buy it cheap.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 9 (1963)
Added on 30-Dec-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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Those who so act and so live as to give proof of loyalty and uprightness, of fairness and generosity; who are free from all passion, caprice, and insolence, and have great strength of character — men like those just mentioned — such men let us consider good, as they were accounted good in life, and also entitled to be called by that term because, in as far as that is possible for man, they follow Nature, who is the best guide to good living.

[Qui ita se gerunt, ita vivunt, ut eorum probetur fides integritas aequitas1 liberalitas, nec sit in eis ulla cupiditas libido audacia, sintque magna constantia, ut ei fuerunt, modo quos nominavi, hos viros bonos, ut habiti sunt, sic etiam appellandos putemus, quia sequantur, quantum homines possunt, naturam optimam bene vivendi ducem.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Laelius De Amicitia [Laelius on Friendship], ch. 5, part 3 (5.3) / sec. 19 (44 BC) [tr. Falconer (1923)]

Original Latin. Alternate translations:

Those who so conduct themselves, and so live that their honor, their integrity, their justice, and liberality are approved; so that there is not in them any covetousness, or licentiousness, or boldness; and that they are of great consistency, as those men whom I have mentioned above; -- let us consider these worthy of the appellation of good men, as they have been accounted such because they follow (as far as men are able) nature, which is the best guide of a good life.
[tr. Edmonds (1871)]

Those who so conduct themselves, so live, that their good faith, integrity, equity, and kindness win approval, who are entirely free from avarice, lust, and the infirmities of a hasty temper, and in whom there is perfect consistency of character; in fine, men like those whom I have named, while they are regarded as good, ought to be so called, because to the utmost of human capacity they follow Nature, who is the best guide in living well.
[tr. Peabody (1887)]

We mean then by the "good" those whose actions and lives leave no question as to their honour, purity, equity, and liberality; who are free from greed, lust, and violence; and who have the courage of their convictions. The men I have just named may serve as examples. Such men as these being generally accounted “good,” let us agree to call them so, on the ground that to the best of human ability they follow nature as the most perfect guide to a good life.
[tr. Shuckburgh (1909)]

Those who comport themselves in such a way, who live in such a way that their loyalty, integrity, fairness and generosity are proven, such that there is no desire, lust, and insolence in them, and such that they have great steadfastness of character (like those whom I named just before), we consider ought indeed to be called good men (as is customary), because they follow (as much as humans can) nature -- the best leader in proper living.

Added on 19-Apr-21 | Last updated 11-Aug-22
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Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) French philosopher
Letter to Joë Bousquet (13 Apr 1942)

Quoted in Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life (1976) [tr. Rosenthal].
Added on 7-Apr-20 | Last updated 7-Apr-20
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He who gives only what he would as readily throw away gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice.

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
Notes from Life, “Of Money: Giving and Taking” (1853)
Added on 5-Sep-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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A generous heart suffers for the misfortunes of others as much as though it had caused them.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], #173 (1746) [tr. Stevens (1940)]
Added on 28-Sep-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-17
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And I believe, too, in the gospel of Liberty, in giving to others what we claim for ourselves. I believe there is room everywhere for thought, and the more liberty you give away, the more you will have. In liberty extravagance is economy. Let us be just. Let us be generous to each other.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do To Be Saved?” Sec. 11 (1880)
Added on 23-Nov-11 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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We may also observe that a great many people do many things that seem to be inspired more by a spirit of ostentation than by heart-felt kindness; for such people are not really generous but are rather influenced by a sort of ambition to make a show of being open-handed. Such a pose is nearer akin to hypocrisy than to generosity or moral goodness.

[Videre etiam licet plerosque non tam natura liberales quam quadam gloria ductos, ut benefici videantur, facere multa, quae proficisci ab ostentatione magis quam a voluntate videantur. Talis autem sinulatio vanitati est coniunctior quam aut liberalitati aut honestati.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 14 (1.14) / sec. 44 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:trans.:

One may also observe in a great many people, that they take a sort of pride in being counted magnificent, and give very plentifully, not from any generous principle in their natures, but only to appear great in the eye of the world; so that all their bounty is resolved into nothing but mere outside and pretense, and is nearer of kin to vanity and folly, than it is to either liberality or honesty.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

Besides we may observe, that most men, not so much from a liberal disposition, as led by some show of apparent beneficence, do acts of kindness, which seem to flow more from ostentation than from the heart. This conduct is more allied to vanity than to liberality or honour.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

For it is easy to observe, that most of them are not so much by nature generous, as they are misled by a kind of pride to do a great many things in order that they may seem to be generous; which things seem to spring not so much from good will as from ostentation. Now such a simulation is more nearly allied to duplicity than to generosity or virtue.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

We can see, also, that a large number of persons, less from a liberal nature than for the reputation of generosity, do many things that evidently proceed from ostentation rather than from good will.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

It is also manifest that the conduct of men who are not really generous but only ambitious of the name often springs from vainglory rather than from a pure motive. Such hypocrisy, I hold, savours more of deceit than of liberality or honour.
[tr. Gardiner (1899)]

It is quite clear that many individuals who are not so much innately generous as they are swayed by the vain desire to seem generous, often indulge in gestures that apparently originate in ostentation rather than in genuine open-handedness. This kind of pretense is closer to vanity than to generosity or uprightness.
[tr. Edinger (1974)]

Added on 29-May-11 | Last updated 25-Aug-22
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