Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


It is easy to write in prose, but very difficult to be a poet. More than one “prosateur” has affected to despise poetry; in reference to which propensity, we may call to mind the bon-mot of Montaigne: “We cannot attain to poetry; let us revenge ourselves by abusing it.”

We have already remarked, that Montesquieu, being unable to succeed in verse, professed, in his “Persian Letters,” to discover no merit in Virgil or Horace. The eloquent Bossuet endeavored to make verses, but they were detestable; he took care, however, not to declaim against great poets.

Fénelon scarcely made better verses than Bossuet, but knew by heart all the fine poetry of antiquity. His mind was full of it, and he continually quotes it in his letters.

It appears to me, that there never existed a truly eloquent man who did not love poetry. I will simply cite, for example, Cæsar and Cicero; the one composed a tragedy on Œdipus, and we have pieces of poetry by the latter which might pass among the best that preceded Lucretius, Virgil, and Horace.

A certain Abbé Trublet has printed, that he cannot read a poem at once from beginning to end. Indeed, Mr. Abbé! but what can we read, what can we understand, what can we do, for a long time together, any more than poetry?

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