Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Easy applies not only to a thing easily done, but also to a thing which appears to be so. The pencil of Correggio is easy, the style of Quinault is much more easy than that of Despréaux, and the style of Ovid surpasses in facility that of Persius.

This facility in painting, music, eloquence, and poetry, consists in a natural and spontaneous felicity, which admits of nothing that implies research, strength, or profundity. Thus the pictures of Paul Veronese have a much more easy and less finished air than those of Michel Angelo. The symphonies of Rameau are superior to those of Lulli, but appear less easy. Bossuet is more truly eloquent and more easy than Fléchier. Rousseau, in his epistles, has not near the facility and truth of Despréaux.

The commentator of Despréaux says that “this exact and laborious poet taught the illustrious Racine to make verses with difficulty, and that those which appear easy are those which have been made with the most difficulty.”

It is true that it often costs much pains to express ourselves with clearness, as also that the natural may be arrived at by effort; but it is also true that a happy genius often produces easy beauties without any labor, and that enthusiasm goes much farther than art.

Most of the impassioned expressions of our good poets have come finished from their pen, and appear easy, as if they had in reality been composed without labor; the imagination, therefore, often conceives and brings forth easily. It is not thus with didactic works, which require art to make them appear easy. For example, there is much less ease than profundity in Pope’s “Essay on Man.”

Bad works may be rapidly constructed, which, having no genius, will appear easy, and it is often the lot of those who, without genius, have the unfortunate habit of composing. It is in this sense that a personage of the old comedy, called the “Italian,” says to another: “Thou makest bad verses admirably well.”

The term “easy” is an insult to a woman, but is sometimes in society praise for a man; it is, however, a fault in a statesman. The manners of Atticus were easy; he was the most amiable of the Romans; the easy Cleopatra gave herself as easily to Antony as to Cæsar; the easy Claudius allowed himself to be governed by Agrippina; easy applied to Claudius is only a lenitive, the proper expression is weak.

An easy man is in general one possessed of a mind which easily gives itself up to reason and remonstrance — a heart which melts at the prayers which are made to it; while a weak man is one who allows too much authority over him.

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