14 November 2006

Encyclopedia of Diderot & d´Alembert


I stumbled upon a beautiful project. First published over the course of more than twenty years (1751-1777), the 32 volumes of the Encyclopédie include 21 volumes of text with more than 70,000 articles on subjects ranging from asparagus to zodiac.

Here is one article written by Diderot about beautiful vs nice. Enlightening stuff! Try searching the translated and free texts for more enlightment. Art is a good one for example.

Beautiful / Nice
Beautiful is opposed to nice, and describes something great, noble, and regular; it is admired. As for nice, it is finely and delicately made; it appeals. The beautiful in works of spirit, supposes some truth in the subject, some elevation in the thoughts, some soundness in the expression, some novelty in the turn, and some regularity in the behavior: singularity and brightness are enough to make them nice.

Some things can be nice or beautiful, like comedy; some others can only be beautiful, like tragedy. There sometimes is more merit to have found a nice thing than a beautiful one; in such occasions, a thing only merits the epithet of beautiful because of the importance of its object; and a thing is called nice, only because of the lack of importance of its object. Care is only granted then to the advantages, and the difficulty of invention is overlooked. It is so true that the beautiful carries with it some idea of greatness, that the same object previously called beautiful, would only appear nice, if it had been done smaller.

The spirit is a maker of nice things; but the soul produces great ones. Ingenious traits are ordinarily only nice; there is beauty everywhere one notices feeling. A man that says that a beautiful thing is indeed beautiful, does not offer great proof of his understanding; one that says that the same thing is nice, is foolish, or has no understanding. Boileau, that impertinent, says that Corneille sometimes is nice.

1 comment:

Martin Norberg said...

Lovely to see this. The encyclopedia is well worth studying - it was quite unlike modern encyclopedies. Partly a collection of human knowkedge, but also a great satire over pre-revolution France. Voltaire is perhaps the one of the encyclopedians who is still read and cited today, but the others (like Diderot) are well worth checking out too... Very sharp, very witty.