Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Contrast, opposition of figures, situations, fortune, manners, etc. A modest shepherdess forms a beautiful contrast in a painting with a haughty princess, The part of the impostor and that of Aristes constitute a very admirable contrast in “Tartuffe.”

The little may contrast with the great in painting, but cannot be said to be contrary to it. Opposition of colors contrasts; but there are also colors contrary to each other; that is, which produce an ill effect because they shock the eye when brought very near it.

“Contradictory” is a term to be used only in logic. It is contradictory for anything to be and not to be; to be in many places at once; to be of a certain number or size, and not to be so. An opinion, a discourse, or a decree, we may call contradictory. The different fortunes of Charles XII. have been contrary, but not contradictory; they form in history a beautiful contrast.

It is a striking contrast — and the two things are perfectly contrary — but it is not contradictory, that the pope should be worshipped in Rome, and burned in London on the same day; that while he was called God’s vicegerent in Italy, he should be represented in the streets of Moscow as a hog, for the amusement of Peter the Great.

Mahomet, stationed at the right hand of God over half the globe, and damned over the other half, is the greatest of contrasts. Travel far from your own country, and everything will be contrast for you. The white man who first saw a negro was much astonished; but the first who said that the negro was the offspring of a white pair astonishes me much more; I do not agree with him. A painter who represents white men, negroes, and olive-colored people, may display fine contrasts.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01