Blaise Pascal.

The thoughts, letters, and opuscules of Blaise Pascal; online

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O. W. WIGHT, A. M.




Btowcrtj* {Dteetf,

Copyright, 1869 and 1887,












Tms volume contains : 1st, an account of the " Ya-
rious Editions of Pascal's Thoughts ;" 2d, an essay on
the " Genius and Writings of Pascal ;" 3d, Pascal
considered as a Philosophic Skeptic ;" 4th, the
"Thoughts of Pascal;" 5th, the "Letters of Pascal;"
6th, the " Opuscules of Pascal."

The introductory paper, on the " Various Editions
of Pascal," we have translated from M. Charles
Louandre's lengthy preface to his edition of Pascal's
Thoughts, etc. It gives a complete and interesting
history of the earlier and later editions, and to it
we refer for the considerations that have led us to
Ibllow the arrangement adopted by him.

The " Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pascal"
has been taken from the Edinburgh Review, for Jan-
uary, 1847, and is by Henry Rogers. We have used
it because it contains the fairest and ablest discussion,
from a religious point of view, of Pascal's philosophic

" Pascal considered as a Philosophic Skeptic," is


by the great French philosopher, M. Victor Cousiu,
and has been especially translated for this edition.
When M. Cousin published, in ,184:9, a new edition
of his "Blaise Pascal," he answered, in a lengthy
preface, those who had, in the mean time, attacked
him for bringing, in the first edition, a charge of
philosophic skepticism against the ablest and most
saintly of the Port-Royalists. It is this preface which
we here reproduce. Henry Rogers, in his article on
Pascal, especially attacks M. Cousin, and it is cer-
tainly fair to give the philosopher a chance to reply.
These two polemics, thus brought face to face with
each other, may be taken as able representatives of
all that has been said on this question.

Of the Thoughts of Pascal we here give an entirely
new version. After having carefully examined the
editions of Faugere, Havet, Asti6, and Louandre, we
have adopted that of the last, because it contains all
the Thoughts, and is neatest and most tasty in ar-
rangement. It also contains judiciously selected notes
from all the distinguished writers and commentators
on Pascal, and these notes, together with M. Louan-
dre's own notes, we have transferred.

In translating the Thoughts, we have constantly
aimed to express in English precisely what Pascal
expressed in French. "We fully agree with Pro-
fessor Felfcon, that "we are not among those who

think a paiaphrase is a translation. We do not
think it the translator's duty to give us what he
supposes his author would have written, had he writ
ten in English, for this is precisely what the trans-
lator can never know. It is his plain duty, as we
conceive, to let us know what his author has actually
written, as a German, or a Frenchman, or whatever
the case may be ; not violating, of course, the genius
of the language into which he translates, while doing
BO. "We do not admit that the English language is
incompetent to this task. It is rich enough to cope
with the difficulties of any foreign author, who has
a fund of solid thought sufficient to sustain a faithful
translation. Taking the whole range of the English
language and literature, from the racy primeval ex-
pressions of Chaucer to the affluent harmonies of
Spenser, the all-embracing, all-describing, all-expres-
sive forms of Shakspeare, the majestic music of Mil-
ton, which made his mother tongue search her coffers
round and round, to say nothing of the thousand-fold
varieties of later prose-writers and poets, we have no
doubt that all the phases of human thought, from the
broadest farce up to the subljmest conceptions ot
genius, may be furnished with suitable expression from
the store-houses of our mother-English speech." l

1 North American Review, October, 1841, pp. 409-10.


As to previous translations, but two need any at-
tention here. The version of Edward Craig, A. M.
Oxon., is now worthless, because the French edi-
tion from which he translated is now worthless
The translation of George Pearce, Esq., published
by the Longmans, in 1849, is at best a weak para-
phrase of Pascal. He has constantly missed the
meaning of the original, and has omitted every thing
savoring of Catholicism in Pascal. "The very few
passages," he says (Introduction to Pascal's Miscel-
lanies, p. xli.), " which incidentally occur among
these papers, containing either direct advocacy, or
tacit approval, of some of the doctrines of the Romish
Church, are omitted." We can conscientiously say
that our version is the first complete and honest
translation of Pascal's immortal Thoughts into the
English language. Not only have we adhered closely
to the original, but have put in brackets any addi-
tional word or phrase necessary to complete the
Bense in another tongue. That, however, we have
nowhere missed a shade of meaning, in Thoughts
fragmentary at best, and sometimes so obscure as
to be almost enigmatical; that we ha^e nowhere,
in a very literal rendering, used a form of expression
peculiarly Gallic, is too much to hope, too much to
be demanded. We devoutly pray Heaven that these
sublime Thoughts of one of the greatest souls vouch


aafed to earth, may inspire many a reader with hum-
ble reverence for religious truth.

For a translation of the Letters of Pascal we are
indebted to Miss Mary L. Booth, whose elegant
version of M. Cousin's "Madame de Chevreuse" ia
well known. In the arrangement of the Letters we
have followed the edition of Astie". No French edi-
tion contains all the letters. In our edition we be-
lieve the collection is complete.

The Opuscules among which are some of the
finest productions of Pascal have been translated
from the text of Faugere. The arrangement is that
of Louandre.

We take leave of Pascal with regret. Many holy
hours we have spent in his company, and have
thanked the Omniscient for such a revelation in man
of moral and intellectual force. We regard Pascal
not only as the greatest genius but as the holiest man
that France has produced. To the young men of
America we commend a writer in whom greatness
and rectitude of mind were combined in an equa,





THE history of these editions may be divided into three dis-
tinct periods, extending: 1" From 1670 to 1779; 2 From
1779 to 1842 ; 3 From 1842 to 1854.


It is known that Pascal, on renouncing alike the world
and science, formed the project of writing a great work on
Christianity. 1 He labored long upon it, but wholly within
himself, and, if we may rely upon the testimony of his contem-
poraries, it was only during the four last years of his life that
he committed fragments of it to paper. " The greatest care
and the principal occupation of those about him," it is said
in the Preface of 1669, "were to keep him from writing,
and even from speaking of aught that required any struggle
of mind, and to converse only of things indifferent and incapa-
ble of fatiguing him Nevertheless, when there

occurred to him any new thoughts, any views, any ideas, or
even any forms of expression that he foresaw might at some

1 It will be seen further on, in the extract from tit* Preface of the edition
f 1669, how, a dozen or thirteen years before his death, Pascal developed
Mfore BO me friends the plan of this work.


future time avail him in his design, since he was not then
in a condition to apply himself so closely as when he was in
good health, nor to impress them upon his mind and memory,
he preferred to make some note of it in writing, in order not
to forget it ; and for this purpose he took the first piece of pa-
per that he found at hand, on which he put down his thought
in few words, and often even in abbreviation, for he wrote onh
for himself; for which reason he contented himself with do-
ing it very slightly, in order not to fatigue his mind, and
set down only the things necessary to recall his views and

" Such is the manner in which the Thoughts were written ;
and I believe no one will find any difficulty in judging by these
slight beginnings and feeble essays of an invalid, which he had
written only for himself, to recall trains of thought that he
feared to lose, which he had never reviewed or retouched, what
the complete work would have been if he had been able to re-
cover his health perfectly, and give to it the finishing touch,
he who was so skilful in lucid exposition and clear arrangement,
who gave such a peculiar, noble, and striking turn to every
thing he wished to say, who intended to bestow more labor
upon this work than upon all that he had ever made, who in-
tended to devote to it all the strength of mind and all the tal-
ents that God had given him, and for the completion of which
he often said that he needed ten years of health.

" As it was known that Pascal had the design of producing
a work on religion, great care was taken after his death to col-
lect all the writings he had made on this subject. They were
found all filed together in different bundles, but without any
order, without any sequence, because, as I have already re-
marked, they were only the first expressions of his thoughts
which he wrote on bits of paper as they occurred to his mind.

"The first method that occurred to the mind, and that
hich was doubtless the easiest, was to have them printed just
is they came in the state in which they were found. But it
was soon judged that by such a procedure nearly all the frui
would be lost that might be hoped for from the work ; because


the most perfect, most coherent, the clearest and most extended
thoughts were intermingled with, and, as it were, lost among so
many others that were imperfect, obscure, half digested, and
even at times unintelligible to any other than to him who had
written them. Hence, there was every reason to believe that
gome would rebut others, and that the volume, uselessly swelled
with so many imperfect thoughts, might be regarded only as a
confused mass, without order, without sequence, and productive
of no good.

" There was another way of giving these writings to the
public, which was, to prepare them beforehand, to elucidate
obscure thoughts, to complete those that were imperfect, and,
taking the design of M. Pascal in all these fragments, to sup-
ply in some sort the work that he wished to produce. This
way would certainly have been the most perfect ; but it would
also have been very difficult to execute it well. Nevertheless,
the matter was a long time under consideration, and in fact the
work was commenced. But it was finally resolved to reject it
as well as the first, because it was considered almost impossible
to enter fully into the thought and design of the author, and
especially of an author deceased, and because it would not have
been giving the work of Pascal, but a work quite different.

" Thus, to shun the inconveniences of both these methods of
publishing these writings, an intermediate method has been
chosen and followed in this collection. Among this great
number of thoughts, only those have been chosen which have
appeared the clearest and most complete, and they have been
given as they were found, without any addition or change, ex-
cept that, while they were without sequence, without connec-
tion, and confusedly scattered from side to side, they have been
put in some sort of order, and those on the same subjects have
been arranged under the same titles, and all the others that
were too obscure or too imperfect have been suppressed."

We shall see further on what value is to be attached to the
Assertion, without any addition or change, and what were, for
the most part, those thoughts either too obscure or loo imperfect^
which the severe criticism of the first editors had put aside.


The prlnceps edition of 1669 was followed by two other edi-
tions, the last of which appeared in 1671. All three are, as to
text, perfectly identical. In 1678 there was a fourth re-im-
pression, to which were added a few new thoughts ; finally, in
1687, this last edition was reprinted, with a curious opuscule,
whose publication had been delayed by the Jansenist contro-
versy. This opuscule was the Life of Blaise Pascal, by his sis-
ter, Madame Perier. 1

Save the unimportant additions made in 1678, the Thoughts
remained, until the eighteenth century, what they were in the
first edition. But in 1727, Colbert, Bishop of Montpellier,
in a letter to the Bishop of Soissons, printed, in a very inexact
manner however, some new fragments on the miracles. Fi-
nally, in 1728, Father Desmolets, of the Oratory, published
under the title of Posthumous Works, or Sequel of Pascals
Thoughts, a considerable number of fragments till then un-
published ; he also gave, in the Continuation des Memoires de
Litterature, a morceau entitled Conversation of Pascal and Sacy
on the reading of Epictetus and Montaigne.

Thus, as time advanced from the seventeenth century, the
literary heritage of our author increased, while by the success-
ive publications that we have just indicated, the first editions
were rendered more and more incomplete.

"The Thoughts? says M. Sainte-Beuve, "had remained
unanimously accepted and unattacked, till Voltaire opened
the breach in 1734. 'Would you counsel me,' wrote Voltaire
at this date to Formont, ' to add to the Lettres philosophiques
some detached reflections on the Thoughts of Pascal ? I have
long desired to combat this giant. There is no warrior so well
armed that he may not be pierced in the weak point of his har-
ness ; and I confess to you that if, in spite of my weakness, I
could give some blows to this vanquisher of so many minds,

1 See for more ample details on the editions of 1678 and 1687, and on the
lanses that delayed the impression of Madame Pe'rier's Life, " Pensees,frag-
nents et Itttres de Blaise Pa-seal," par M. Prosper Faugere, Paris, 1844, in-8
t. i. Introduction, xxiii. et. eq.


cd break the yoke which he has imposed upon them, I should
almost dare to say with Lucretius :

" Quare superstHio 1 pedibus subjecta vicissim
Obteritur, DOS exaequat victoria ccelo."

" ' Moreover, I shall proceed with caution, and criticise no
passages that are so connected with our holy religion that one
cannot tear the skin of Pascal without making Christianity
bleed.' This was the first signal of reaction, for we cannot
honor with a serious appellation the chicaneries of the Arch-
bishop of Einbrun, M. de Tencin (1733), and the foolish accu-
sation of Father Hardouin, who, in his book of Atheists
unveiled (Athei detecti), ranked Pascal among them in excel-
lent company."

Things remained in the same state till 1776 ; at this date,
Condorcet undertook to unite in a new and general edition
what the editors of 1670, those of 1678, the Bishop of Mont-
pellier, and Father Desmolets, had in turn given to the pub-
lic, adding to these scattered pieces some new fragments,
among others the treatise entitled Of the geometrical spirit,
accompanying the whole with an Eloge. In spite of his eleva-
tion of mind, Condorcet forgot, in reprinting Pascal, a very
common and simple thing that the first obligation of an
editor is to respect the text of a writer he publishes. In order
to adapt himself to the taste of his times, and perhaps con-
vinced that he was heightening the glory of Pascal, he sup-
pressed a multitude of passages, and the finest, especially of
those wherein the- author of the Thoughts shows himself most
eloquently, most profoundly Christian. Voltaire applauded this
profanation, and, adopting in his turn this mutilated Pascal to
caress and rend him at the same time, gave, in 1778, a new
edition, accompanied by a commentary, that is, for the most
Bart, but a bitter and unjust criticism. 2

1 Rettigio in the text.

* Voltaire comprehended that Pascal was the great rival who interfered
with philosophy, and he attacked him face to face. Why did he attack
Pascal rather than Bossuet, or any other ? This is, in my opinion, a tin


Thus, in a space of a hundred and eight years, that is, from
1670 to 1778, Pascal had successively for editors Port-Royal
and his own family, the Bishop of Montpellier and Father
Desmolets, Condorcet and Voltaire ; and between these two
extreme dates, he was equally and pitilessly disfigured, cor-
rected, and mutilated, in the name of Jansenist piety and
philosophic skepticism. 1


In the year 1779 appeared a new edition of Pascal, that
comprised at once the scientific and literary works, and may
be regarded as an attempt at reaction, tut a reaction still
timid, against the spirit by which Voltaire and Condorcet had
been inspired. This edition, made by the Abbe Bossut, repro-
duced, with the pieces previously published, the text of the
edition of 1678, and contained, besides, new thoughts and
fragments hitherto unknown. It was, doubtless, the most
complete and the most worthy of all the editions that had
appeared up to that time ; it became an authority, and served
as a model for subsequent re-impressions, in 1783, by Father
Andre ; in 1803, by Renouard ; in 1819, by Lefevre ; and yet
the edition of Bossut, like the editions of 1669 and 1678,
fails to give the true and authentic text of Pascal.

A modest scholar who lived at Dijon, occupied with litera-
ture, without seeking to make a noise and gain renown, first
recognized, as early as the beginning of this century, that
all the editions of Pascal left very much to be desired ; and,
without having recourse to the autograph manuscript, he
nevertheless attempted to recover the primitive plan of Pas-
cal. This editor, to whose efforts sufficient justice has not

gular honor, and proves that Pascal is at the very heart of Christianitv.-

1 Salnte-Beuve remarks the fact, that no one among the French ^lergj
defended Pascal against Voltaire, and that the only champion who entered
&e lists in favor cf the author of the Thoughts was a Protestant, son of
fcc refugee Boullier, who ansvered Voltaire with vigor and gravity. PoH-
Royal, t. iii. p. 822, et seq.


been rendered, was M. Fran tin, who published, in 1835, the
Thoughts in a new order ; and, in an excellent Preliminary
Discourse, advanced just and sagacious ideas. The classifi-
cation adopted by M. Frantin is in many respects question-
able, and so much the more arbitrary, as the editor had not
the indications of the manuscript to guide him ; moreover, as,
tor the first edition, he was not acquainted with the original
text, he allowed faulty readings to remain ; but we should none
the less render this justice to him, that he first designated the
necessity of a revision, and showed that there was something
new to be tried. This is a merit which it would be unjust to

What M. Frantin had quietly attempted in 1835, M. Cousin
accomplished with tclat in 1842, in his report to the French
Academy, on the necessity of a new edition of Pascal's Thoughts. 1

Guided by what might be called the piety of admiration,
Cousin investigated the origin and source of the different
pieces which the editors had successively given under the title
of Thoughts. He established that those papers which had
been found altogether, filed in different bundles, but without
any order and sequence, collected and pasted on large sheets,
had reached us under the form of a grand folio register com-
posed of four hundred and ninety-one pages; that this pre-
cious register, falling as a heritage into the hands of the Abbe
Perier, had been deposited by him, in 1711, in the abbey of
Saint-Germain des Pres, as the following letter, which is found
on the first page of the manuscript, witnesses :

" I, the undersigned, priest, canon of the church of Clermont,
certify that the present volume, containing pages, the

first of which begins in these words,

and the last -in these, is composed

of small pieces of paper written on one side, or of loose leaves
that have been found since the death of M. Pascal, my un-

1 This report, first printed in the Journal des Savants (April-November,
.842), was afterwards published in book form. Paris, 1843. There liav
oeen several editions of it. Ed.


cle, among his papers, and are the originals of the book of
Pascal's Thoughts, printed by Desprez, at Paris, for the first
time in the year , and are written in his hand, except

certain that he dictated to persons that were with him ; which
volume I have deposited in the library of Saint-Germain-des-
Pres, to be preserved there among the other manuscripts which
are there kept.

" Done at Paris, this twenty-fifth September, one thousand
ueven hundred and eleven.

(Signed,) POKIER."

From the abbey Saint-Germain des Pres, where it remained
during the eighteenth century, the legacy of the Abbe Perier
was removed, at the period of the revolution, to the imperial
library ; moreover, M. Cousin has established that there exist,
in the same place, "two copies of the manuscript of the
Thoughts, both belonging to the end of the seventeenth cen-
tury or the beginning of the eighteenth ; . . . . that, as
a sequel to the Thoughts, one of the copies contains a number
of pieces relating to Pascal, and by Pascal himself;" finally,
that there are also " two very precious manuscripts, one com-
ing from the Oratory, the other from the collection called
Supplement aux Manuscrits Francais. The first is a folio
entitled Manuscrit concernant M. Pascal, M. Arntud, etc^
Oratoire, No. 160; it contains a great number of important
and little known pieces relating to Port-Royal, very many
letters of those Messieurs, among others of Pascal. The other
manuscript (Supplem. franc., No. 1485) contains the first
part of the Memoirs of Mademoiselle Marguerite Perier, niece
of Pascal, on all her family, with the same letters of Pascal
which are found in the Oratory manuscript, and many other
letters both of Pascal and of the most illustrious personages
of Port-Royal."

There was here, it is perceived, a rich mine to explore ; but
it is a most astonishing fact, that the existence of the autograph
manuscript, or copies of it, had long been known. Several
iditors had borrowed from the manuscript itself, and had ex


tracted new Thoughts from it ; and nevertheless no one, before
Cousin, had thought of examining the original text, or of veri-
fying the editions by this text. Honor, then, to M. Cousin !
he has been the first to devote himself to this verification, and
has thus restored to us the true Pascal.


After having indicated the different collections to which it
is indispensable to have recourse, M. Cousin set about demon-
strating the necessity of a new edition. He first examines the
publication of 1670, made by Pascal's friends, Arnaud, Nicole,
the Abbe Perier, and the Due de Roannez. " Port-Royal," he
says, "has treated Pascal as it had Saint-Cyran; and, after
having often softened the Thoughts in order to render them
more edifying, it has unscrupulously corrected the style to ren-
der it more exact, more regular, more natural, according to the
model of a natural and tranquil style which it had formed for
itself. Port-Royal had much esprit, and, sometimes, grandeur ;
it has therefore spared both the esprit and the grandeur of
Pascal ; but it has laid ruthless hands on every thing that re-
vealed what was deepest in his thought and soul ; and as this
soul shines forth at every line traced by the dying hand of
Pascal, Port-Royal was compelled to correct and alter every
thing. I defy any one to invent a method of altering the style
of a great writer to which the style of Pascal has not been sub-
jected in the hands of Port-Royal. There was here no Jesuit-
ical censorship to be feared ; there was no other censorship than

Online LibraryBlaise PascalThe thoughts, letters, and opuscules of Blaise Pascal; → online text (page 1 of 44)