Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF CONTRASTS. - Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
Return to Title Page for Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
OF CONTRASTS. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
The soul loves symmetry, it also loves contrasts; this requires to be a good deal explained. For example; if Nature requires of painters and sculptors to proportion the parts of their figures, it requires also that they contrast their different attitudes. One foot placed like another, one member extended like another, are insupportable; the reason of it is, because this symmetry makes the attitudes be almost always the same; which we may observe in Gothic figures, which by this almost always resemble each other; thus there is no more variety in the works of Art. Besides, Nature has not made us thus, and, as she has given us motion, she has not formed us in our actions and manners like pagods; and if men thus stiff and constrained are intolerable, what must it be in the productions of art.
The attitudes must then be contrasted, especially in works of sculpture, which, naturally languid, cannot be animated but by the force of contrast and situation.
But, as we said that the variety which they have endeavoured to give the Gothic, has made it quite uniform; it has often happened, that that variety, which they have endeavoured to give us by the means of contrasts, has become a vicious symmetry and uniformity.
This is not perceived in certain works of painting and sculpture only, but also in the style of some writers, who, in every phrase, contrast the beginning with the end by perpetual antitheses; such as St. Augustine and other authors of the low Latin, and some of our moderns, as St. Evremont. The turn of the phrase always the same, and always uniform, displeases extremely; this perpetual contrast becomes Symmetry, and this opposition always studiously sought for becomes uniformity.
The mind finds so little variety in it, that when you have seen one part of the phrase, you guess at the other: you see words opposed to each other, but opposed always in the same manner: you see a turn of phrase, but it is always the same.
Many painters have fallen into this fault, of putting contrasts every where, and without art: so that when one sees one figure the disposition of those next it can easily be divined: this continual diversity becomes something of a resemblance. Besides, Nature, which places every thing in disorder, never discovers an affectation of a perpetual contrast; without adding further, that she does not put all bodies in motion, and in a forced motion; she is more various than to do this; she places some in rest, and gives to others different kinds of movement.
If the intelligent part of the soul loves variety, the sensitive part of it is no less fond of it; for the soul cannot long bear the same situation, because it is joined to a body, which cannot endure it. That our soul may be excited, the spirits must flow in the nerves: but there are in this two things, a lassitude in the nerves, and an intermission of spirits which flow no more, or are dissipated from those places where they run.
Thus at length every thing fatigues us, especially great pleasures: we quit them always with as much pleasure as we began them; for the fibres, which were the organs of them, have need of rest; we must make use of others more proper to be of service to us, and, so to speak, make a proper division of our toil.
Our Soul grows tired with enjoyment; not to perceive any pleasure at all is to fall into a state of lifeless insensibility, which quite oppresses it. We find a remedy for all this by varying its modifications: it feels, and it does not grow tired.