Front Page Titles (by Subject) FINESSE, FINENESS, ETC. Of the Different Significations of the Word. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3)
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FINESSE, FINENESS, ETC. Of the Different Significations of the Word. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. V.
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FINESSE, FINENESS, ETC.
Fineness either in its proper or its figurative sense does not signify either light, slender, fine, or of a rare thin texture; this word expresses something delicate and finished. Light cloth, soft linen, thin lace, or slender galloon, are not always fine.
This word has a relation to the verb “to finish,” whence come the finishings of art; thus, we say, the finishings of Vanderwerff’s pencil or of Mieris; we say, a fine horse, fine gold, a fine diamond. A fine horse is opposed to a clumsy one; the fine diamond to a false one; fine or refined gold to gold mixed with alloy.
Fineness is generally applied to delicate things and lightness of manufacture. Although we say a fine horse, we seldom say, “the fineness of a horse.” We speak of the fineness of hair, lace, or stuff. When by this word we should express the fault or wrong use of anything, we add the adverb “too”; as—This thread is broken, it was too fine; this stuff is too fine for the season.
Fineness or finesse, in a figurative sense, applies to conduct, speech, and works of mind. In conduct, finesse always expresses, as in the arts, something delicate or subtile; it may sometimes exist without ability, but it is very rarely unaccompanied by a little deception; politics admit it, and society reproves it.
Finesse is not exactly subtlety; we draw a person into a snare with finesse; we escape from it with subtlety. We act with finesse, and we play a subtle trick. Distrust is inspired by an unsparing use of finesse; yet we almost always deceive ourselves if we too generally suspect it.
Finesse, in works of wit, as in conversation, consists in the art of not expressing a thought clearly, but leaving it so as to be easily perceived. It is an enigma to which people of sense readily find the solution.
A chancellor one day offering his protection to parliament, the first president turning towards the assembly, said: “Gentlemen, thank the chancellor; he has given us more than we demanded of him”—a very witty reproof.
Finesse, in conversation and writing, differs from delicacy; the first applies equally to piquant and agreeable things, even to blame and praise; and still more to indecencies, over which a veil is drawn, through which we cannot penetrate without a blush. Bold things may be said with finesse.
Delicacy expresses soft and agreeable sentiments and ingenious praise; thus finesse belongs more to epigram, and delicacy to madrigal. It is delicacy which enters into a lover’s jealousies, and not finesse.
The praises given to Louis XIV. by Despréaux are not always equally delicate; satires are not always sufficiently ingenious in the way of finesse. When Iphigenia, in Racine, has received from her father the order never to see Achilles more, she cries: “Dieux plus doux, vous n’aviez demandé que ma vie!”—“More gentle gods, you only ask my life!” The true character of this partakes rather of delicacy than of finesse.