S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
At the same time that I think discretion the most useful talent that man can be master of, I look upon cunning to be the accomplishment of little, mean, ungenerous minds. Discretion points out the noblest ends to us, and pursues the most proper and laudable methods of attaining them. Cunning has only private selfish aims, and sticks at nothing which may make them succeed. Discretion has large and extended views, and, like a well-formed eye, commands a whole horizon. Cunning is a kind of short-sightedness, that discovers the minutest objects which are near at hand, but is not able to discern things at a distance.
Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us in all the duties of life: cunning is a kind of instinct, that only looks out after our immediate interests and welfare . In short, cunning is only the mimic of discretion, and may pass upon weak men, in the same manner as vivacity is often mistaken for wit, and gravity for wisdom.
We take cunning for a sinister, or crooked, wisdom, and certainly there is a great difference between a cunning man and a wise man, not only in point of honesty, but in point of ability . In things that a man would not be seen in himself, it is a point of cunning to borrow the name of the world; as to say, The world says, or There is a speech abroad. It is a point of cunning to let fall those words in a mans own name which he would have another man learn and use, and thereupon take advantage . It is a good point of cunning for a man to shape the answer he would have in his own words and propositions; for it makes the other party stick the less . But these small wares and petty points of cunning are infinite, and it were a good deed to make the best of them; for that nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.
Cunning differs from wisdom as twilight from open day. He that walks in the sunshine goes boldly forward by the nearest way; he sees that where the path is straight and even he may proceed in security, and where it is rough and crooked he easily complies with the turns and avoids the obstructions. But the traveller in the dusk fears more as he sees less; he knows there may be danger, and therefore suspects that he is never safe; tries every step before he fixes his foot, and shrinks at every noise, lest violence should approach him. Wisdom comprehends at once the end and the means, estimates easiness or difficulty, and is cautious, or confident, in due proportion. Cunning discovers little at a time, and has no other means of certainty than multiplication of stratagems and superfluity of suspicion. The man of cunning always considers that he can never be too safe, and therefore always keeps himself enveloped in a mist, impenetrable, as he hopes, to the eye of rivalry or curiosity.
By this means it is that a cunning man is so far from being ashamed of being esteemed such, that he secretly rejoices in it. It has been a sort of maxim that the greatest art is to conceal art; but, I know not how, among some people we meet with, their greatest cunning is to appear cunning. There is Polypragon makes it the whole business of his life to be thought a cunning fellow, and thinks it a much greater character to be terrible than to be agreeable. When it has once entered a mans head to have an ambition to be thought crafty, all other evils are necessary consequences. To deceive is the immediate endeavour of him who is proud of the capacity of doing it.
The cunning are often deceived by those who have no such intention. When a plain, straightforward man declares plainly his real motives or designs, they set themselves to guess what these are, and hit on every possible solution but the right, taking for granted that he cannot mean what he says. Bacons remark on this we have already given in the Antitheta on Simulation and Dissimulation: He who acts in all things openly does not deceive the less; for most persons either do not understand or do not believe him.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Cunning.