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OF THE JE NE SCAIS QUOI. - 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.
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OF THE JE NE SCAIS QUOI.
There is sometimes in persons and things a certain invisible charm, a natural grace, which cannot be defined, and which we have been obliged to call the I don’t know what. It appears to me, that it is an effect principally derived from surprize. We are struck with this, that a person pleases us more, than it appeared to us at first that she ought to have done, and we are agreeably surprised that she has known how to overcome those defects which our eyes pointed out to us, and which the heart no more believes she had: you see the reason why ordinary women have very often graces, and the handsome ones seldom have them; for a beautiful person commonly produces the contrary effect from that which we expected of her; she becomes less lovely in our eyes, after having surprised us with what is fine, she surprises us with what is not so; but the impression of what is good is old, that of what is bad is new; thus handsome people rarely produce strong passions, which are almost constantly reserved for those who have graces, that is to say, charms which we did not expect, and which we had no reason to expect. Rich dresses are seldom graceful, those of shepherdesses often are so. We admire the majesty of the draperies of Paul Veronese; but we are touched with the simplicity of Raphael, and the purity of Corregio. Paul Veronese promises us a great deal, and pays what he promised: Raphael and Corregio promise little, and pay a great deal; and this pleases us more.
Graces are more commonly found in the mind, than the countenance: for a beautiful face appears immediately, and conceals nothing; but the mind does not shew itself but by little and little, when it chuses it, and as much as it chuses; it can conceal itself to appear again, and produce that sort of surprize which constitutes grace.
Grace is seldomer found in the face than in the manner; for our manner is produced every moment, and can create surprise: in a word, a woman can be beautiful but one way, she can be graceful a thousand.
The law of the two sexes has established, among civilized and savage nations, that men should ask, and women only grant: hence it happens, that Grace is more peculiarly attached to the women. As they have all to defend, they have all to conceal; the least word, the least gesture, every thing which, without shocking the first of duties, shews itself in them, every thing which appears at liberty becomes a grace; and such is the Wisdom of Nature, that that which would be nothing without the law of modesty, becomes of infinite value after that happy law which constitutes the felicity of society.
As constraint and affectation cannot surprise us, grace is neither found in constrained nor affected manners, but in a certain freedom or ease which is between the two extremes, and the mind is agreeably surprised to perceive, that they have kept clear of two rocks.
It would seem that our natural manners ought to be the most easy, they are the least so of any: for education, which constrains us, makes us always lose our natural manner; we are then charmed to see it return.
Nothing pleases us so much in dress, as when it appears in that negligence, or even in that disorder, which conceals from us those pains which neatness does not require, and which vanity alone could have made us take; and one’s wit is never graceful, but when what is said appears to be hit off, and not studied.
When you say things which have cost you pains, you may indeed shew that you have wit, but not a graceful wit. To make this appear, you must not seem to perceive it yourself; that others, who from something naturally unaffected and simple in you, did not expect it of you, may be agreeably surprised by perceiving it.
Thus Graces are not acquired; to have them, one must be simple and unaffected; but how can one study to be so?
One of the most beautiful fictions of Homer is that of the girdle, which gave Venus the power of pleasing. Nothing is more proper to make us conceive that magic and power of the Graces, which seem to be given to a person by an invisible power, and are distinguished from beauty itself. Now this girdle could not be given but to Venus; it could not agree with the majestic beauty of Juno; for majesty requires a certain gravity, that is, a constraint opposite to the simplicity of the Graces: it could not agree with the proud beauty of Pallas; for pride is contrary to the sweetness of the Graces, and may often be suspected of affectation.