Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

GRACE.

In persons and works, grace signifies, not only that which is pleasing, but that which is attractive; so that the ancients imagined that the goddess of beauty ought never to appear without the graces. Beauty never displeases, but it may be deprived of this secret charm, which invites us to regard it, and sentimentally attracts and fills the soul. Grace in figure, carriage, action, discourse, depends on its attractive merit. A beautiful woman will have no grace, if her mouth be shut without a smile, and if her eyes display no sweetness. The serious is not always graceful, because unattractive, and approaching too near to the severe, which repels.

A well-made man whose carriage is timid or constrained, gait precipitate or heavy, and gestures awkward, has no gracefulness, because he has nothing gentle or attractive in his exterior. The voice of an orator which wants flexibility or softness is without grace.

It is the same in all the arts. Proportion and beauty may not be graceful. It cannot be said that the pyramids of Egypt are graceful; it cannot be said that the Colossus of Rhodes is as much so as the Venus of Cnidus. All that is merely strong and vigorous exhibits not the charm of grace.

It would show but small acquaintance with Michelangelo and Caravaggio to attribute to them the grace of Albano. The sixth book of the “Æneid” is sublime; the fourth has more grace. Some of the gallant odes of Horace breathe gracefulness, as some of his epistles cultivate reason.

It seems, in general, that the little and pretty of all kinds are more susceptible of grace than the large. A funeral oration, a tragedy, or a sermon, are badly praised, if they are only honored with the epithet of graceful.

It is not good for any kind of work to be opposed to grace, for its opposite is rudeness, barbarity, and dryness. The Hercules of Farnese should not have the gracefulness of the Apollo of Belvidere and of Antinous, but it is neither rude nor clumsy. The burning of Troy is not described by Virgil with the graces of an elegy of Tibullus: it pleases by stronger beauties. A work, then, may be deprived of grace, without being in the least disagreeable. The terrible, or horrible, in description, is not to be graceful, neither should it solely affect its opposite; for if an artist, whatever branch he may cultivate, expresses only frightful things, and softens them not by agreeable contrasts, he will repel.

Grace, in painting and sculpture, consists in softness of outline and harmonious expression; and painting, next to sculpture, has grace in the unison of parts, and of figures which animate one another, and which become agreeable by their attributes and their expression.

Graces of diction, whether in eloquence or poetry, depend on choice of words and harmony of phrases, and still more upon delicacy of ideas and smiling descriptions. The abuse of grace is affectation, as the abuse of the sublime is absurdity; all perfection is nearly a fault.

To have grace applies equally to persons and things. This dress, this work, or that woman, is graceful. What is called a good grace applies to manner alone. She presents herself with good grace. He has done that which was expected of him with a good grace. To possess the graces: This woman has grace in her carriage, in all that she says and does.

To obtain grace is, by a metaphor, to obtain pardon, as to grant grace is to grant pardon. We make grace of one thing by taking away all the rest. The commissioners took all his effects and made him a gift — a grace — of his money. To grant graces, to diffuse graces, is the finest privilege of the sovereignty; it is to do good by something more than justice. To have one’s good graces is usually said in relation to a superior: to have a lady’s good graces, is to be her favorite lover. To be in grace, is said of a courtier who has been in disgrace: we should not allow our happiness to depend on the one, nor our misery on the other. Graces, in Greek, are “charities”; a term which signifies amiable.

The graces, divinities of antiquity, are one of the most beautiful allegories of the Greek mythology. As this mythology always varied according either to the imagination of the poets, who were its theologians, or to the customs of the people, the number, names, and attributes of the graces often change; but it was at last agreed to fix them as three, Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, that is to say, sparkling, blooming, mirthful. They were always near Venus. No veil should cover their charms. They preside over favors, concord, rejoicings, love, and even eloquence; they were the sensible emblem of all that can render life agreeable. They were painted dancing and holding hands; and every one who entered their temples was crowned with flowers. Those who have condemned the fabulous mythology should at least acknowledge the merit of these lively fictions, which announce truths intimately connected with the felicity of mankind.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25