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Q: quotation from Voltaire ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: quotation from Voltaire
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: sylk-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 04 Oct 2003 17:37 PDT
Expires: 03 Nov 2003 16:37 PST
Question ID: 262796
Exactly  where and when did Voltaire say, "The best is enemy of the
I need an exact reference--not where someone is quoting Voltaire--but
a primary  reference where Voltaire himself says this--page and date
and source
Thank you,
Subject: Re: quotation from Voltaire
Answered By: justaskscott-ga on 04 Oct 2003 21:33 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello Sylvia,

There are two citations for Voltaire's use of this phrase.  Both
citations are appropriate, since Voltaire wrote this phrase once in
Italian and another time in French.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Elizabeth Knowles ed. (5th ed.
1999), page 797, quotation number 11, provides this entry:

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien

The best is the enemy of the good

Contes (1772) 'La Begueule' l. 2; though often attributed to Voltaire,
the notion in fact derives from an Italian proverb quoted in his
Dictionnaire philosophique (1770 ed.) 'Art Dramatique': 'Il meglio è
l'inimico del bene'"

In other words, Voltaire wrote "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" in one
work, and "Il meglio è l'inimico del bene" in another.

As noted above, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" comes from "La
Bégueule", l. 2 (livre 2, or page 2) in Contes (1772).  (For some
reason, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations leaves out the accent ague
in "La Bégueule".)  The context for this phrase appears to be:

"| Dans ses écrits un sage Italien | dit, que le mieux est l'ennemi du

"Nyt fra Sprognævnet - Det gode er det bedstes fjende" (1998/1 marts)
[second paragraph of section]
Dansk Sprognævn

"Anatoly Vorobey (avva) wrote" (2003-06-30) [quoting Danish page]
Anatoly Vorobey's journal

As indicated above, "Il meglio è l'inimico del bene" comes from the
article "Art Dramatique" ("Dramatic Art") in the "Dictionnaire
philosophique" ("Philosophical Dictionary").  The phrase is the last
line of the article, as shown on this page:

"Dictionnaire philosophique - Art Dramatique"
Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations cites the 1770 edition.  Several
other sources cite the 1764 edition, perhaps because it was the year
the Dictionnaire philosophique was first published.  For example:

"The best is the enemy of the good" (The Columbia World of Quotations,

However, in other Voltaire quotations from the Dictionnaire
philosophique, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations specifies different
editions.  (One comes from a 1764 edition, and one from 1765.)  Given
this precision, I trust the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as to the
origination of this quote in the 1770 edition.

I have not seen a particular page citation for the 1770 edition.  But
perhaps it is enough to say that it is the last line of the article
"Art Dramatique".

If you need additional information, and you do not have access to a
good librarian to procure it, I would be happy to contact local

- justaskscott-ga

I searched for the following terms, in various combinations, on

"best is the enemy"
"mieux est l'ennemi"
"l'inimico del bene"
"dictionnaire philosophique"
"philosophical dictionary"

Request for Answer Clarification by sylk-ga on 06 Oct 2003 16:54 PDT
 I purchased a copy of Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire--the
translation in the Penguin Classics (400 pages) and could not find the
Art Dramatique among the definitions.  I will continue to look--I was
hoping not to have to purchase La Begueuele from a French source, but
I will keep looking.  I must have verification before I can give
Thank you, 

Clarification of Answer by justaskscott-ga on 06 Oct 2003 18:55 PDT
Perhaps the entry is "Dramatic Art" in the English translation: that
is how some sources translate "Art Dramatique".

I should be able to check on both of these Voltaire works.  I'm not
sure exactly when I will be able to do this, but I will try to do it
this week if time allows it.  I will post an update as soon as I have
further information.

Clarification of Answer by justaskscott-ga on 08 Oct 2003 15:48 PDT
I have gone to the library and looked at Œuvres complètes de Voltaire
(Paris, Garnier frères, 1877-85).

Volume 10 (Contes en vers. Satires. Épîtres. Poésies mêlées (1877))
includes "La Bégueule" (dated 1772).  The first and second lines are:
"Dans ses écrits un sage Italien | Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du
bien."  (I made an error in my original answer: "l. 2" stands for
"ligne 2", or line 2, not page 2.)

There is an editor's footnote at the end of the second line, which
states: "Voltaire cite le vers italien dans son article ART DRAMATIQUE
du Dictionnaire philosophique."  ("Voltaire quotes the Italian version
of this line in his article Dramatic Art in the Philosophical

Volume 17 (Dictionnaire philosophique I (1878)) contains the article
"Art Dramatique", which, a editor's footnote indicates, was published
in 1770.  The very last line is "Il meglio è l'inimico del bene."

The editor's footnote to this line says: "C'est ce proverbe que
Voltaire rappelle au commencement de l'un de ses Contes (la Bégueule,
1772, tome X): 'Dans ses écrits un sage italien | Dit que le mieux est
l'ennemi du bien.'"  ("It is this proverb that Voltaire recalls at the
beginning of one of his Contes (la Bégueule, 1772, volume X): 'Dans
ses écrits un sage italien | Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.'")

This information appears to verify the answer.

Request for Answer Clarification by sylk-ga on 08 Oct 2003 18:57 PDT
I have ordered La Begueule from France to verify this answer.  As I
mentioned, there was no Art Dramatique, nor Dramatic Arts, nor
Theatrical Art, etc. in the Penguin volume of 400 pages.  I could not
find a copy to confirm this quote so far.  I am assuming you are
correct, but until I see it for myself, I cannot give you credit.  I
should receive the French edition within ten days--hopefully much
sooner.  Thank you for your help.  I do need an exact page number--not
good enough just to say last line.  That is why I need to see it in
writing for myself--not just from a book of quotations.  I will keep
you posted.
Thank you,

Clarification of Answer by justaskscott-ga on 08 Oct 2003 19:38 PDT
The page number will differ depending on the edition you have ordered.
 In the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, the page numbers are Volume 10,
page 53 (for the French version in "La Bégueule", and Volume 17, page
428 (for the Italian version in the article "Art Dramatique").

Request for Answer Clarification by sylk-ga on 14 Oct 2003 12:35 PDT
Hi justaskscott,
  My copy of Voltaire's La Begueule arrived from France, and I could
verify your answer.  Yes, the quote is from the second line.  Thank
you very much for all your work.  Consider the research closed.  Best,

Clarification of Answer by justaskscott-ga on 14 Oct 2003 13:07 PDT
I'm glad that this worked out for you.  I am grateful for the rating and tip.
sylk-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $25.00
Excellent research and prompt

Subject: Re: quotation from Voltaire
From: hlabadie-ga on 05 Oct 2003 05:23 PDT
Dictionnaire de L'Académie française, Cinquième édition, 1798

"On dit proverbialement, Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien, pour dire,
qu'En voulant perfectionner ce qui est bien, on le gâte communément."

Seems to be proverbial in French, as well.

English has, "Leave well enough alone."
The equivalent Americanism would be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix

Subject: Re: quotation from Voltaire
From: hlabadie-ga on 06 Oct 2003 21:15 PDT
Unfortunately, the Penguin edition is only a selection of the more
interesting articles from the original. It concentrates on those
subjects that are timeless.


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