That system ... which makes virtue consist in prudence only, while it gives the highest encouragement to the habits of caution, vigilance, sobriety, and judicious moderation, seems to degrade equally both the amiable and respectable virtues, and to strip the former of all their beauty, and the latter of all their grandeur. ~ Adam Smith
Thin-lipped wisdom spoke at her from the worn chair, hinted at prudence, quoted from that book of cowardice whose author apes the name of common sense. ~ Oscar Wilde

Prudence is the exercise of sound judgment in practical affairs. It is classically considered to be a virtue, and in particular one of the four Cardinal virtues (which are with the three theological virtues part of the seven virtues). The word comes from Old French prudence (13th century), from Latin prudentia (foresight, sagacity), a contraction of providentia, foresight. It is often associated with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. In this case, the virtue is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place.


  • You're mistaken: men of sense often learn from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learned from a friend, but an enemy extorts it immediately. It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties.
  • It is always good
    When a man has two irons in the fire.
  • Look before you ere you leap.
    • Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part II (1664), Canto II. Heywood, Proverbs, Part I, Chapter II. Tottel, Miscellany (1557).
  • 'Tis true no lover has that pow'r
    T' enforce a desperate amour,
    As he that has two strings t' his bow,
    And burns for love and money too.
    • Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part III (1678), Canto I, line 1. Churchill, The Ghost, Book IV.
  • [Prudence] replaces [strength] by saving the man who has the misfortune of not possessing it from most occasions when it's needed.
  • You will hear every day the maxims of a low prudence. You will hear, that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. "What is this Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?" men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God have called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, "As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season." — then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men. The hour of that choice is the crisis of your history; and see that you hold yourself fast by the intellect.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson in "Literary Ethics" an address to the Literary Societes of Dartmouth College (24 July 1838).
  • Chance fights ever on the side of the prudent.
  • Il est sage de ne mettre ni crainte, ni espérance dans l'avenir incertain.
  • A prudent and discreet Silence will be sometimes more to thy Advantage, than the most witty expression, or even the best contrived Sincerity. A Man often repents that he has spoken, but seldom that he has held his Tongue.
  • Cautious silence is where prudence takes refuge.
  • Since men almost always walk in the paths beaten by others and carry on their affairs by imitating—even though it is not possible to keep wholly in the paths of others or to attain the ability of those you imitate—a prudent man will always choose to take paths beaten by great men and to imitate those who have been especially admirable, in order that if his ability does not reach theirs, at least it may offer some suggestion of it; and he will act like prudent archers, who, seeing that the mark they plan to hit is too far away and knowing what space can be covered by the power of their bows, take an aim much higher than their mark, not in order to reach with their arrows so great a height, but to be able, with the aid of so high an aim, to attain their purpose.
  • It is only by prudence, wisdom, and dexterity, that great ends are attained and obstacles overcome. Without these qualities nothing succeeds.
  • A prudent Chief not always must display
    His Pow'rs in equal Ranks, and fair Array,
    But with th' Occasion and the Place comply,
    Conceal his Force, nay seem sometimes to Fly.
  • The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
  • That system, again, which makes virtue consist in prudence only, while it gives the highest encouragement to the habits of caution, vigilance, sobriety, and judicious moderation, seems to degrade equally both the amiable and respectable virtues, and to strip the former of all their beauty, and the latter of all their grandeur.
  • A prudent mind can see room for misgiving, lest he who prospers should one day suffer reverse.
  • Nothing can be done at once hastily and prudently.
  • My idea of the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012) Ch. 10. Seneca's Upside and Downside, p. 156.
  • It behooves a prudent person to make trial of everything before arms.
    • Terence, Eunuchus, Act IV, Sc. 7 (789).
  • He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.
  • The last explanation remains to be made about prudence;
    Little and large alike drop quietly aside from the prudence that suits immortality.
    • Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, "Manhattan Streets I Saunter'd, Pondering"; originally published as "Poem of the Last Explanation of Prudence" (1856).
  • Thin-lipped wisdom spoke at her from the worn chair, hinted at prudence, quoted from that book of cowardice whose author apes the name of common sense.
    • Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 5, p. 57

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 645-47.
  • Multis terribilis, caveto multos.
    • If thou art terrible to many, then beware of many.
    • Ausonius, Septem Sapientum Sententiæ Septenis Versibus Explicatæ, IV. 5.
  • Et vulgariter dicitur, quod primum oportet cervum capere, et postea, cum captus fuerit, illum excoriare.
    • And it is a common saying that it is best first to catch the stag, and afterwards, when he has been caught, to skin him.
    • Henry de Bracton, Works, Book IV. Tit. I. C. 2, Section IV.
  • Archers ever
    Have two strings to a bow; and shall great Cupid
    (Archer of archers both in men and women),
    Be worse provided than a common archer?
  • Prudentia est rerum expectandarum fugiendarumque scientia.
    • Prudence is the knowledge of things to be sought, and those to be shunned.
    • Cicero, De Officiis (44 B.C.), I. 43.
  • Malo indisertam prudentiam, quam loquacem stultitiam.
    • I prefer silent prudence to loquacious folly.
    • Cicero, De Oratore, III. 35.
  • Præstat cautela quam medela.
  • According to her cloth she cut her coat.
  • * * * Therefore I am wel pleased to take any coulor to defend your honour and hope you wyl remember that who seaketh two strings to one bowe, he may shute strong but neuer strait.
  • For chance fights ever on the side of the prudent.
  • Yes, I had two strings to my bow; both golden ones, egad! and both cracked.
  • Great Estates may venture more. Little Boats must keep near Shore.
  • Wer sich nicht nach der Decke streckt,
    Dem bleiben die Füsse unbedeckt.
    • He who does not stretch himself according to the coverlet finds his feet uncovered.
    • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sprüche in Reimen, III.
  • Better is to bow than breake.
    • John Heywood, Proverbs, Part I, Chapter IX. Christyne, Morale Proverbs.
  • It is good to have a hatch before the durre.
  • Yee have many strings to your bowe.
  • So that every man lawfully ordained must bring a bow which hath two strings, a title of present right and another to provide for future possibility or chance.
    • Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, Chapter LXXX. No. 9.
  • Fænum habet in cornu, longe fuge.
    • He is a dangerous fellow, keep clear of him. (That is: he has hay on his horns, showing he is dangerous.)
    • Horace, Satires, I, IV. 34.
  • Fasten him as a nail in a sure place.
    • Isaiah, XXII. 23.
  • The first years of man must make provision for the last.
  • Nullum numen habes si sit prudentia.
    • One has no protecting power save prudence.
    • Juvenal, Satires, X. 365. Also Satires, XIV. 315.
  • Le trop d'expédients peut gâter une affaire.
  • Don't cross the bridge till you come to it,
    Is a proverb old, and of excellent wit.
  • Let your loins be gilded about, and your lights burning.
    • Luke, XII. 35.
  • Entre l'arbre et l'ecorce il n'y faut pas mettre le doigt.
    • Between the tree and the bark it is better not to put your finger.
    • Molière, Médecin Malgre Lui, Act I, scene 2.
  • Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter.
    • One must draw back in order to leap better.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Book I, Chapter XXXVIII.
  • Crede mihi; miseros prudentia prima relinquit.
    • Believe me; it is prudence that first forsakes the wretched.
    • Ovid, Epistolæ Ex Ponto, IV. 12. 47.
  • In ancient times all things were cheape,
    'Tis good to looke before thou leape,
    When corne is ripe 'tis time to reape.
  • Cito rumpes arcum, semper si tensum habueris.
    • You will soon break the bow if you keep it always stretched.
    • Phaedrus, Fab, Book III. 14. 10. Syrus—Maxims. 388.
  • Cum grano salis.
    • With a grain of salt.
    • Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXIII. 8. 77. Giving the story of Pompey, who when he took the palace of Mithridates, found hidden the antidote against poison, "to be taken fasting, addite salis grano".
  • Ne clochez pas devant les boyteux. (Old French.)
    Do not limp before the lame.
  • Prevention is the daughter of intelligence.
  • Be prudent, and if you hear, * * * some insult or some threat, * * * have the appearance of not hearing it.
  • Love all, trust a few,
    Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
    Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
    Under thy own life's key: be check'd for silence,
    But never tax'd for speech.
  • Think him as a serpent's egg
    Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
    And kill him in the shell.
  • In my school days, when I had lost one shaft,
    I shot his fellow of the self-same flight
    The self-same way with more advised watch,
    To find the other forth, and by adventuring both
    I oft found both.
  • I won't quarrel with my bread and butter.
  • Consilio melius vinces quam iracundia.
    • You will conquer more surely by prudence than by passion.
    • Syrus, Maxims.
  • Deliberandum est diu, quod statuendum semel.
    • That should be considered long which can be decided but once.
    • Syrus, Maxims.
  • It is well to moor your bark with two anchors.
  • Plura consilio quam vi perficimus.
    • We accomplish more by prudence than by force.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), II. 26.
  • Ratio et consilium, propriæ ducis artes.
    • Forethought and prudence are the proper qualities of a leader.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), XIII. 20.
  • Ut quimus, aiunt, quando ut volumus, non licet.
    • As we can, according to the old saying, when we can not, as we would.
    • Terence, Andria, IV. 5. 10.
  • Commodius esse opinor duplici spe utier.
    • I think it better to have two strings to my bow.
    • Terence, Phormio, IV. 2. 13.
  • Try therefor before ye trust; look before ye leap.
    • John Trapp, Commentary on I Peter, III. 17. Tracing the saying to St. Bernard.
  • Litus ama: * * * altum alii teneant.
    • Keep close to the shore: let others venture on the deep.
    • Virgil, Æneid (29-19 BC), V. 163.
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