[The previous essays in this series are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.]

     Five centuries after its publication, a key concept of Baldasar Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (1528) remains relevant to law students and lawyers.

     Castiglione (1478-1529), an Italian soldier and diplomat (and, ultimately, papal nuncio to Spain), offers readers a series of conversations among members of the “Court of Urbino”: more technically, of the Court of the Duke (Guidobaldo da Montefeltro) of central Italy’s city of Urbino.

     Participants discuss “the form of courtiership most appropriate for a gentleman living at the Courts of princes, by which he will have the knowledge and the ability to serve them in any reasonable thing, winning their favor and the praise of others.” 

     One of the speakers, Ottaviano Fregoso, observes that highest duty of a courtier is “to encourage and help his prince to be virtuous and to deter him from evil. . .  [A] man who strives to ensure that his prince is not deceived by anyone, does not listen to flatterers or slanderers or liars, and distinguishes between good and evil. . . aims at the best end of all.”

     Count Lodovico Canossa announces that he “would praise any man who. . . makes certain, whether he is writing or speaking, that he employs words in current usage in Tuscany or elsewhere in Italy which possess a certain grace when they are pronounced.”  He also recommends that a courtier “not hesitate to coin new words altogether.”

     Gracian himself notably introduces the term, sprezzatura, in the Count’s counsel that courtiers “practice in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless. . . . [W]e can truthfully say that true art is what does not seem to be art; and the most important thing is to conceal it, because if it is revealed this discredits a man completely and ruins his reputation. . .  [T]o reveal intense application and skill robs everything of grace.”

     The Court credits his current companions with “that graceful and nonchalant spontaneity. . . because of which they seem to be paying little, if any, attention to the way they speak or laugh or hold themselves, so that those who are watching them imagine that they couldn’t and wouldn’t ever know how to make a mistake.”

     Federico Fregoso (Ottaviano’s brother) proposes an exception: because mastering the “refined and ingenious recreation” of chess would divert one’s attentions from the pursuit of “some noble science or. . . something or other of importance,” “we reach what is a very rare conclusion: that mediocrity [in chess] is more to be praised than excellence.”

     Gaspare Pallavicino objects that “many Spaniards” are known for expertise at chess and other games, but “yet do not study them too exhaustively or neglect other things.”

     Which Federico promptly dismisses: “You may take it for granted. . . that they put in a great deal of study, but they conceal it.”

     Four hundred years later, a young J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), as another prominent physicist would recall, “worked very hard that spring [of 1929, in Zurich] but had a gift of concealing his assiduous application with an air of easy nonchalance. . . He spoke little of [his complex calculations and conjectures] and seemed to be much more interested in literature, especially the Hindu classics and the more esoteric Western writers.”

     Such dissimulation and misdirection would have been appreciated as well by Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658), the Spanish Jesuit teacher and philosopher whose much more practical and specific (if sometimes cynical) The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (1647) better repays the attention of modern professionals. 

     Of Gracian’s three hundred numbered paragraphs, Paragraph 127 advises:

     “Nonchalant grace in everything.  It gives life to your talents, spirit to your speech, soul to your deeds, lustre to splendour itself.  Other accomplishments embellish nature, but graceful nonchalance embellishes these accomplishments themselves.  It’s lauded even in our reasoning.  It mostly comes naturally, and owes little to study, for it’s superior to all rules.  It surpasses ease and outstrips elegance; it suggests naturalness and adds perfection.  Without it, all beauty is lifeless, and all grace, a disgrace.  It transcends courage, discretion, prudence and majesty itself.  It’s an expedient shortcut in all transactions, and an elegant way out of any tight spot.”

     Gracian might well have intended his “nonchalant grace” not to actually be (even “mostly”) natural, but (as with Castiglione’s) only to seem so. 

     In fact, this author repeatedly recommends reticence in revealing one’s capabilities, vulnerabilities, intentions, inclinations, and insights. 

     For example:

     ● “It’s neither useful nor pleasurable to show all your cards. . . Cautious silence is the refuge of good sense.” (Paragraph 3)

     ● “The circumspect man. . . should prevent the true depths of his knowledge or his courage from being plumbed.  He should allow himself to be known, but not fully understood.”  (Paragraph 94)

     ● “Don’t let your desires be known so that they won’t be anticipated, either by opposition or flattery.” (Paragraph 98)

     ● “Always have something in reserve. . . . Even where knowledge is concerned, something should be kept back, for this doubles your perfection.  There must always be something you can draw on in a tight spot.”  (Paragraph 170)

     ● “Never let something be seen half done. . . . Every great master should take care that their works are not seen in embryonic form; learn from nature not to show them until they are fit to appear.”  (Paragraph 231)

     ● “Don’t express an idea too plainly.  Most people don’t value what they understand, and what they can’t grasp, they venerate.  To be valued, things must cost us: something will be celebrated when it’s not understood.”  (Paragraph 253)

     To deflect, or redirect, potential criticism, one could introduce a deliberate error into an otherwise excellent work:

     ● “Allow yourself some minor slip. . . . Envy. . . accuses something truly perfect of sinning in not sinning and condemns it completely for being completely perfect. . . . So . . . affect some lapse or ingenuity or courage, but never of good sense, to quiet ill will so its poison isn’t spat out.  This is like distracting the bull of envy with a cape to safeguard your own immortality.” (Paragraph 83)

     Where Castligione’s Ottaviano Fregoso championed a courtier’s “being quick-witted and charming, prudent and scholarly” in effectively influencing a prince, Gracian agrees that, “It’s a great thing to earn people’s admiration, but more so their affection.  This is partly a matter of luck, but mostly of effort. . . . “ (Paragraph 40).

     However, Gracian’s book might serve not just as a guide to protecting oneself and one’s aspirations, but also as a manual both for manipulating, and for avoiding being manipulated by, others.  He warns, “A circumspect person should realize that nobody seeks you for your own sake; what they seek in and through you are their own interests.”  (Paragraph 252)

     The simplest, most direct, and most popular modern guide to increasing one’s general popularity is certainly Dale Carnegie’s (1888-1955) perennial best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936; revised edition 1981).

    Carnegie identifies and illustrates “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People,” “Six Ways to Make People Like You,” and principles to “Win People to Your Way of Thinking” and to “Be a Leader.”

     Many of these practices involve expressing concern for and appreciation of another person’s feelings, perspectives, and goals.  Carnegie’s seemingly self-subordinating suggestions feature the adverbs, “genuinely,” “sincerely,” and “honestly” (e.g., “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely”; “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view”); and the author insists that “The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart.”  Yet they have been criticized as enabling, and encouraging, exploitation.

     As simple and effective as his maxims and motivational messages seem, Carnegie emphasizes that “to get a real, lasting benefit out of this book. . . you ought to spend a few hours reviewing it every month.  Keep it on your desk in front of you every day.  Glance through it often. . . . Remember that the use of these principles can be made habitual only by a constant and vigorous campaign of review and application.  There is no other way.”

     Thus, though a Renaissance man only (if at all) figuratively, Carnegie joins Castiglione and Gracian in invoking the discipline and effort behind apparently-effortless goodness, graciousness, and poise.

     Often—and perhaps erroneously—the aphorism, “Ars est celare artem” (“It is [true] art to conceal art”) is attributed to the Roman poet Ovid.

     However, it was certainly (fictional) forensic laboratory wizard Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) who, in a 2013 episode of CBS’ NCIS, reminded a crime-busting colleague:

     “Just because I make it look easy, doesn’t mean it is!