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SOME THOUGHTS ON PASCAL.

give me the way I behaved to you — spirits.” We miss in him the quiet and he was right.”

charm of Fénelon or Berkeley, and the “My dear, forgiveness is an easy sweetness and brotherliness of Massilvirtue to practise towards a culprit like lon; but he had a power of fascination you,” replied Miss Whimper, nodding all his own, while intellectually he was sagaciously. If there was one thing greater than any of those, and even as the old la prided herself upon under- a moralist was fully the equal of the standing better than another, it was a best of them. love affair.

Blaise Pascal was the earliest born of those great men of letters of the age of Louis XIV. who in themselves were sufficient to make an age illustrious.

He was born at Clermont-Ferrand on From Macmillan's Magazine. the 19th June, 1623. Strange stories

are told of his precocity, some of which It is a little difficult to fix on the may be in excess of the truth ; but, point of view from which Pascal should after making all reasonable allowance be judged. We have before us a num- for possible exaggeration, there remains ber of extracts from French and En- evidence enough to warrant us in deglish writers, in which he is described scribing him as the most interesting as a man of reinarkable gifts, but ut- and remarkable boyish prodigy of the terly improvident both mentally and modern world. It is not from Pascal spiritually. Improvidence of this kind that we know anything of this ; he was may or may not be censurable ; it is at too proud a mau, too sensitive and releast uncommou.

served, to be vainglorious, and in him The modern attitude towards Pascal was no proneness to vulgar self-asseroutside the Church of Rome is proba- tion. His father, Etienne Pascal, subly not far from that of the writer of perintended the education of his son, the following passage, which is taken and wished him, before learning mathfrom Larousse's “ Universal Dictionary ematics, to become proficient in the of the Nineteenth Century : "" It has humanities. But the boy by force of been said that Pascal has made more genius discovered for himself many of conversions than Bourdaloue. So much the laws of mathematics, and showed the worse for converts and for Church ! especially a great aptitude for geomefor such converts were surely sick, in- try. Let it not be forgotten that the firm, or lame !” Even within his own elder Pascal's friends were among the communion he has not been forgiven best intellects of the time, and that they for his severe handling of the Jesuits ; were the men to whom the Academy of seldom, indeed, do we meet with a de- Sciences owed its beginnings. The abvout son of Rome who will praise Pas- normal power of the boy was freely cal heartily. In many of the extracts admitted by them, and they had better to which reference has just been made proof of it than we ever have. there are expressions which savor of What Sainte-Beuve says, closely followcondescension, and there are others in ing the words of Nicole, is certainly which the critics preach too much. true of Blaise Pascal throughout his Now, let us say at once that whatever life : “It was easier for him to make may be wanting in Pascal of that ideal discoveries for himself than to study completeness of character which would after the way of others.” We know be entirely satisfying, there is in his that at sixteen Blaise wrote a small life nothing to apologize for or to ex- treatise on conic sections which filled plain away. And the critic has not Descartes with wonder and incredulived who had the right to preach in lity ;” the treatise still exists, and may dealing with such a man as Pascal. be examined by the sceptical. For For assuredly he was (as Bayle called some years the youth gave himself up him) “one of the world's sublimest | so closely to scientific studies as to

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overtax his physical strength. “From connection, yet often they exist tothe age of eighteen," says his sister gether ; but they tend to weaken, yea (Mme. Périer), “ he hardly ever passed to destroy each other. For however a day without pain.” But in spite of great may be the spirit of a man, he is pain he continued to work with his ac- at one time capable only of one great customed ardor, until in the summer of passion. So when the heart is stirred 1647 he was partially paralyzed. Then by bothi ambition and love, each loses for about three years, probably fearing half its strength by that which is given a recurrence of the paralysis or some to the other. Age does not determine thing worse, he lived quietly in Paris, either the beginning or the end of these and afterwards in Auvergne. At the two passions ; man feels them first in end of 1650 the family came back to youth, and even in age it is often only Paris, when Blaise (with health in death that kills them.” Many of Paspart restored) for the first time began cal's critics have believed that this fine to go much into society. The death of cssay was inspired by the writer's pashis father about a year later checked sion for the beautiful and charming sisfor a time his intercourse with the ter of his friend, the Duc de Roannez, world ; but with this slight break he a woman of station too exalted to may be said to have lived in society become the wife of Blaise Pascal. from the end of 1650 until his conver- • Man,” he says,

“considered alone, sion four years afterwards.

is not a complete being ; to be happy, Some of his biographers have thought he has need of another. Usually we it necessary to apologize for all this, as seek this second self in our own rank, if Pascal could know men from books, because the freedom and opportunity or as if a good man should go through to make known our feelings are found life and know as little as possible of the most easily among our equals. Someworld into which he was born. Pascal times, however, we love a woman of owed a great deal to the experiences of higher rank than our own, and the pasthese years ; such tact and urbanity as sion grows within us, though we dare he shows in his later work do not come not tell it to her who has inspired it. to a man naturally, or by the mere When we thus love a woman who is process of self-communion. That his set higher in the world than ourselves, life was pure during these years is suf- ambition may at first attend upon love, ficiently attested by the fact that his but the latter soon gains the mastery. enemies the Jesuits, who in those days For love is a tyrant that will endure no knew everything that coulil throw dis- rival ; it will reign alone, and all other credit upon their opponents, were not passions must yield to it and obey it.” able to discover any offences of Pascal It is difficult to believe that the man against the moral law. Indeed, if he who wrote this essay was a mere scienhad not come later so entirely into the tific analyst of emotion ; there is in it sphere of religion, his genius and vir- so much of the insight that usually tues would still have given him a place comes only through experience. among great and good men.

But the life which he led in the world It must have been during this period left him sorrowing, and soon the things of his life that he wrote the “ Discourse of the spirit claimed him altogether. on Love,”? 1 which has the same eleva- This was at the end of 1654 or the tion of virtue and the same rareness beginning of 1655.

He himself bad, that we find in his other writings. while he was still young, filled his sis“The passions of man,” says Pascal, ter Jacqueline with that ardent desire " which are most natural to him, and for the religious life which in the end which comprehend most others, are took her to Port Royal to shine among love and ambition. They have no true the saints of that noble sisterliood ; and

she now became one of the chief in1 Pascal's authorship of this “ Discourse” has been questioned, but no other possible author of it struments in his own close surrender of has been discovered.

himself to religion. And with this

came a new order into his life which acter ; and to compare them generally

; continued to the end.

would be as unprofitable as to compare He was never a priest ; he did not Euripides with Plato. But the limited even take the vows of the brotherhood comparison we have just ventured upon of Port Royal, nor did he always reside will be of use if it can bring closely there; but she has no other son so home to us those characteristics of Pasgreat, and he has a large place in her cal to which we Englishmen are usually history. At the time of his first going rather blind. His grace and urbanity, to Port Royal the Jansenists were his ease and sense of fitness, that lofty wrangling with the Jesuits, and his manner which is never wanting in simshare in the dispute has come down to plicity, yet is never familiar — these us in the famous - Provincial Letters.”' and other qualities go to form a style Within four years of his conversion he quite perfect of its kind. began that long tight with death, which An English critic recently said that, ended, after so much suffering, on the after he had left the theatre on witness19th of August, 1662. He was just ing Mme. Bernhardt's striking performover thirty-nine years of age.

ance of Phèdre, his first impulse was This is a bare outline of his life, to go to his library, and burn at once which might easily have been filled in, the collected writings of Thomas Carif it had seemed needful ; but Pascal is lyle. Certainly it would have been uupre-eminently one of those rare beings wise to do it, for Carlyle has to-day a whose outer life is of small account, more important message for Englishwhose inner life is in truth everything. men than Racine. But it is not diffiWe know the historical period in which cult to feel something like sympathy his life was cast ; we can see to what with the train of the critic's thought. extent his thought was colored by his Racine has such perfect grace, and so surroundings; and for the rest, we can noble a literary manner, that we may come near to him in his Thoughts,” well feel annoyed at what is fantastic in though even there we cannot grasp him Carlyle, if by chance the two come towholly, he was so much greater than gether, and a comparison is forced upon his work. There are men of genius us. The thing which is fantastic in (Shelley for example) who are better literature is apt to remind us of the and more interesting in their works displays of the village prodigy ; and than in themselves, for however fasci- such displays jar somewhat on a fine nating may be their genius, they are taste. But it is foolish to seek comdisappointing by their weaknesses. parisons of this sort, for in art and in Pascal is not of this class ; lofty as was literature we cannot be too catholic. his genius, his character was loftier In Pascal's writing there is no trace still.

of the fantastic ; he is as free from it He lived in the great age of French as Tacitus. The style is no doubt the literature, and was the contemporary of man himself, though we cannot always Bossuet and Bourdaloue, Racine, Cor- with other writers safely use the phrase neille, and Molière. However English in this way. But if we consider the critics may disagree with regard to the characteristics of the man we see at merits of the poetry of the French, once the foundation of the style. there can be no disagreement as to their poet grafted on a geometrician,” M. prose ; in that region they are supreme. Ernest Legouvé calls him ; and in this Pascal in prosc and Racine in verse, respect he is without parallel in literary among the great writers of the age of history. For his mathematical genius Louis XIV., are remarkable for their is of the highest order, while his purely perfect taste and the soundness of their literary genius (notwithstanding the literary styles. Personally there is little actual narrowness of liis achievement) in common between them ; Racine, gives him a place in the first rank of apart from his literary faculty, is not men of letters. That style, noble, siman attractive, certainly not a great char-Iple, and impassioned, vivid, full of indi

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viduality and distinction, free from all the Jesuitical morality of that time as rhetorical device, and without a trace of taught in the books published with the the orator's accent — this style of Pas- sanction of the proper authorities; it cal's is surely the best of all modern is not even to the point to assert that literary styles. There is many a fine other teaching bodies in the French style (Landor's will serve as an illus- | Church had similar casuistical maxims. tration) that has upon it a trace of the If your neighbor's moral teaching is confectioner; thought and expression pernicious, and you feel it a duty to say are not united quite indissolubly — you so, you are not therefore bound to find oan separate them. But you cannot do all the men upon earth who preach a this with Pascal's work.

like morality; there is a limit to a His work, as we said just now, is by man's duty. Nor are you in such a no means large; there are novels that case called upon to appraise the virtue would perhaps be found to contain as of your neighbor ; your real conceru is many words (if one were foolish enough to kill a deadly thing. Pascal brought a to count them) as the whole of his ex- simple morality to test the teachings of taut writings. His miscellaneous work the Jesuits, and there is on his part no would not have won for him more than positive unfairness in pressing his case; a passing notice in literary history ; it indeed, with his literary power and his is the “ Provincial Letters” and the mastery of the arts of ridicule, le could

Thoughts” that have secured for him have made the satire a great deal more a place among the great masters of severe. Outside France the “ Provinprose. Let us say first a few words cial Letters are not much read to-day. about the “Provincial Letters.” In the Like all polemical writing, they need to Church of Rome Pascal is not regarded be treated historically before we can do with favor, and Mary Stuart has the them justice ; and for this reason they better chance of canonization. Pascal do not lend themselves to quotation. was one of the Jansenists, and they But the “ Provincial Letters " would have never been popular at Rome. not, even with the addition of his misJoseph de Maistre shows the Roman cellaneous writings, have caused Bayle attitude towards Pascal when he says, to describe him (so justly) as

one of “No man of taste would deny that the the world's sublimest spirits.” It is “Provincials' are a very pretty libel.” the “Thoughts” that bring him into Chateaubriand strikes much the same the region of the sublime ; and it is note when he calls Pascal “a calum- of the “ Thoughts” that we would now niator of genius, who has left us an speak. immortal lic.” This piece of declama- Pascal, after completing the “Protion is absurd, for the “ Provincials” vincial Letters,” designed a work in are true in substance, which is the defence of the Christian religion. He great moral question with regard to did not live to write it ; but in the last them; and as to their literary value, years of his life, always in physical there is of course no question. In weakness and often in pain, he wrote these letters Pascal is the champion of down some of his meditations, mostly a rational liberty ; man's intellect was on the subject of religion. After his in fetters in the France of that day, death these were found among his paand, without intending it, Pascal did pers, and were published by the Port something for the cause of freedom of Royalists, with many excisions. The conscience. It does not in any way full text has since been restored from affect us that many of the Jesuits be- Pascal's manuscript, so now in reading sides Bourdaloue were saintly men ; if the “ Thoughts we may fcel that we France had then contained ten thou- lave them as they came from his pen. sand Bourdaloues, their existence would He did not arrange them ; they were not have affected our judgment in this scattered memoranda, even without matter. The passages quoted by Pas- dates ; and they are most interesting cal were fair examples of one side of land pathetic in their disarrangement.

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When many of these meditations were onwards." Yet who will say that Newwritten Pascal's mind no doubt was man had killed his reason when he occupied with that work on Christianity wrote this? We will no more accept which was to be the crown of his la- Pascal's morbid utterances as expresbors. It is easy to understand that the sive of his whole self, than we will in subject should so often be a religious such wise accept Carlyle's atrabilious

ligion almost alone occupied memoirs. If we go to the “ Thoughts him in his last years.

we can easily show, in his own words, Some of his reflections on religion are how far Pascal at his best was from the of the kind we look for from the purely excesses of monasticism. monastic mind ; this it is which explains the attitude of the writer in the ex: stitious ; but only pride refuses to accept

To fix our hopes on mere forms is supertract from “The Universal Dictionary

them. Piety is not superstition ; to quoted at the beginning of this article. carry piety so far, is to destroy it. By the side of that passage we may

Again : place the following, from the historical introduction of Dr. McCrie to his excel

Faith indeed tells us what our senses do lent translation of the “ Provincial Let- not tell us, but not the contrary of what ters : ? ** We see [in Pascal] a noble they perceive to be true. Faith is above mind debilitated by superstition ; we

the senses, not in opposition to them. see a useful life prematurely terminat

Once more : ing in, if not shortened by, the petty The utmost reach of reason is to recogausterities and solicitudes of monasti. nize what an infinity of things go beyond it cism.” Here Pascal is placed in that altogether. The reason is a feeble one great class of mystics whose insanity which does not perceive this. Doubt, cerwas publicly certified some years ago

tainty, and submission have each their own by a distinguished doctor of medicine. province, and the true force of reason is M. Barrère, in his work on “French unknown to him who does not distinguish

them. Writers,” says 6 Pascal has been com

What is condemned in the “Thoughts” pared with Byron ; to make the comparison more just, it should be added as narrow and monastic, is such a pasthat he was a sick Byron and a Jansen- sage as the following, which certainly ist." This has been a favorite

does justify something like anger :

comparison, and following it up we find Pascald The noble deaths of Lacedæmonians and classed among the members of that fam- other pagans do not appeal to us, for what ily of literary men which includes Chat- have we to do with them? But we are terton, Burns, and Heine, men of genius strongly moved at the deaths of the martyrs, who have never reached their goal.

since they are members of our body. Our Pascal was of a quite different order souls are at one with theirs ; their resolution from these men, who, with all their may form our own, not merely by example,

but by inheritance. But in the examples genius, were weaklings. He was of

of the heathen there is nothing of this, – that glorious army of heroes and saints there is no spiritual tie between us ; just as who have sweetened and ennobled our we do not become rich by seeing a stranger human life, and the remembrance of who is so, but by having a father or huswhom is a blessing forever. He not band who is rich. only reached his goal, but lived in sight

But on the other hand, see how justly of it, if such a thing is possible to man ; le speaks of religion, how grandly he nor did he largely forego the claims of speaks of the Christian's God and of reason at the call of superstition. cal has no passage so apparently retro

All men upon the earth seek to be grade as that of Cardinal Newman in

happy, all men, without exception. Howthe

Apologia,” where he expresses ever greatly their methods may differ, all so piercingly the need for something have the one object. Those who go to war 66 which will afford a fulcrum for us, and those who stay at home alike desire whereby to keep the earth from moving happiness, for the will of man works only

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