Blaise Pascal.

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which she would be taken for the queen; hence we call sonnets made after
this model "Village Queens."


No one passes in the world as skilled in verse unless he has put up the
sign of a poet, a mathematician, etc. But educated people do not want a
sign, and draw little distinction between the trade of a poet and that
of an embroiderer.

People of education are not called poets or mathematicians, etc.; but
they are all these, and judges of all these. No one guesses what they
are. When they come into society, they talk on matters about which the
rest are talking. We do not observe in them one quality rather than
another, save when they have to make use of it. But then we remember it,
for it is characteristic of such persons that we do not say of them that
they are fine speakers, when it is not a question of oratory, and that
we say of them that they are fine speakers, when it is such a question.

It is therefore false praise to give a man when we say of him, on his
entry, that he is a very clever poet; and it is a bad sign when a man is
not asked to give his judgment on some verses.


We should not be able to say of a man, "He is a mathematician," or "a
preacher," or "eloquent"; but that he is "a gentleman." That universal
quality alone pleases me. It is a bad sign when, on seeing a person, you
remember his book. I would prefer you to see no quality till you meet it
and have occasion to use it (_Ne quid nimis_[14]), for fear some one
quality prevail and designate the man. Let none think him a fine
speaker, unless oratory be in question, and then let them think it.


Man is full of wants: he loves only those who can satisfy them all.
"This one is a good mathematician," one will say. But I have nothing to
do with mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. "That one is a
good soldier." He would take me for a besieged town. I need, then, an
upright man who can accommodate himself generally to all my wants.


[Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of
everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far
better to know something about everything than to know all about one
thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better;
but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world
feels this and does so; for the world is often a good judge.]


A poet and not an honest man.


If lightning fell on low places, etc., poets, and those who can only
reason about things of that kind, would lack proofs.


If we wished to prove the examples which we take to prove other things,
we should have to take those other things to be examples; for, as we
always believe the difficulty is in what we wish to prove, we find the
examples clearer and a help to demonstration.

Thus when we wish to demonstrate a general theorem, we must give the
rule as applied to a particular case; but if we wish to demonstrate a
particular case, we must begin with the general rule. For we always find
the thing obscure which we wish to prove, and that clear which we use
for the proof; for, when a thing is put forward to be proved, we first
fill ourselves with the imagination that it is therefore obscure, and on
the contrary that what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand it


_Epigrams of Martial._ - Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men
nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud. People are
mistaken in thinking otherwise.

For lust is the source of all our actions, and humanity, etc. We must
please those who have humane and tender feelings. That epigram about two
one-eyed people is worthless,[15] for it does not console them, and only
gives a point to the author's glory. All that is only for the sake of
the author is worthless. _Ambitiosa recident ornamenta._[16]


To call a king "Prince" is pleasing, because it diminishes his rank.


Certain authors, speaking of their works, say, "My book," "My
commentary," "My history," etc. They resemble middle-class people who
have a house of their own, and always have "My house" on their tongue.
They would do better to say, "Our book," "Our commentary," "Our
history," etc., because there is in them usually more of other people's
than their own.


Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don't speak.


Languages are ciphers, wherein letters are not changed into letters, but
words into words, so that an unknown language is decipherable.


A maker of witticisms, a bad character.


There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the
audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of
without that warmth.


When we find words repeated in a discourse, and, in trying to correct
them, discover that they are so appropriate that we would spoil the
discourse, we must leave them alone. This is the test; and our attempt
is the work of envy, which is blind, and does not see that repetition is
not in this place a fault; for there is no general rule.


To mask nature and disguise her. No more king, pope, bishop - but _august
monarch_, etc.; not Paris - _the capital of the kingdom_. There are
places in which we ought to call Paris, Paris, and others in which we
ought to call it the capital of the kingdom.


The same meaning changes with the words which express it. Meanings
receive their dignity from words instead of giving it to them. Examples
should be sought....


Sceptic, for obstinate.


No one calls another a Cartesian[17] but he who is one himself, a pedant
but a pedant, a provincial but a provincial; and I would wager it was
the printer who put it on the title of _Letters to a Provincial_.


A carriage _upset_ or _overturned_, according to the meaning _To spread
abroad_ or _upset_, according to the meaning. (The argument by force of
M. le Maître[18] over the friar.)


_Miscellaneous._ - A form of speech, "I should have liked to apply myself
to that."


The _aperitive_ virtue of a key, the _attractive_ virtue of a hook.


To guess: "The part that I take in your trouble." The Cardinal[19] did
not want to be guessed.

"My mind is disquieted." _I am disquieted_ is better.


I always feel uncomfortable under such compliments as these: "I have
given you a great deal of trouble," "I am afraid I am boring you," "I
fear this is too long." We either carry our audience with us, or
irritate them.


You are ungraceful: "Excuse me, pray." Without that excuse I would not
have known there was anything amiss. "With reverence be it spoken ...."
The only thing bad is their excuse.


"To extinguish the torch of sedition"; too luxuriant. "The restlessness
of his genius"; two superfluous grand words.




_First part_: Misery of man without God.

_Second part_: Happiness of man with God.

Or, _First part_: That nature is corrupt. Proved by nature itself.

_Second part_: That there is a Redeemer. Proved by Scripture.


_Order._ - I might well have taken this discourse in an order like this:
to show the vanity of all conditions of men, to show the vanity of
ordinary lives, and then the vanity of philosophic lives, sceptics,
stoics; but the order would not have been kept. I know a little what it
is, and how few people understand it. No human science can keep it.
Saint Thomas[20] did not keep it. Mathematics keep it, but they are
useless on account of their depth.


_Preface to the first part._ - To speak of those who have treated of the
knowledge of self; of the divisions of Charron,[21] which sadden and
weary us; of the confusion of Montaigne;[22] that he was quite aware of
his want of method, and shunned it by jumping from subject to subject;
that he sought to be fashionable.

His foolish project of describing himself! And this not casually and
against his maxims, since every one makes mistakes, but by his maxims
themselves, and by first and chief design. For to say silly things by
chance and weakness is a common misfortune; but to say them
intentionally is intolerable, and to say such as that ...


_Montaigne._ - Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad,
notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay.[23] Credulous; _people without
eyes_.[24] Ignorant; _squaring the circle,[25] a greater world_.[26] His
opinions on suicide, on death.[27] He suggests an indifference about
salvation, _without fear and without repentance_.[28] As his book was
not written with a religious purpose, he was not bound to mention
religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from it. One can
excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations of life
(730,231)[29]; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on
death, for a man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least
wish to die like a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his
only conception of death is a cowardly and effeminate one.


It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in


What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with
difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality,
could have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he
made too much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.


One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at
least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better.


_The vanity of the sciences._ - Physical science will not console me for
the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of
ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical


Men are never taught to be gentlemen, and are taught everything else;
and they never plume themselves so much on the rest of their knowledge
as on knowing how to be gentlemen. They only plume themselves on knowing
the one thing they do not know.


_The infinites, the mean._ - When we read too fast or too slowly, we
understand nothing.


_Nature_ ... - [Nature has set us so well in the centre, that if we
change one side of the balance, we change the other also. _I act._ Τά
ζῶα τρέχει. This makes me believe that the springs in our brain are so
adjusted that he who touches one touches also its contrary.]


Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give
him too much, the same.


_Man's disproportion._ - [This is where our innate knowledge leads us. If
it be not true, there is no truth in man; and if it be true, he finds
therein great cause for humiliation, being compelled to abase himself in
one way or another. And since he cannot exist without this knowledge, I
wish that, before entering on deeper researches into nature, he would
consider her both seriously and at leisure, that he would reflect upon
himself also, and knowing what proportion there is....] Let man then
contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn
his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that
brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let
the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle
described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast
circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described
by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be
arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust
the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for
conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the
ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our
conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in
comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the
centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.[30] In short
it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God, that
imagination loses itself in that thought.

Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all
existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of
nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I
mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth,
kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the
most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute
body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins
in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the
humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him
exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he
can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here
is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss.
I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can
conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let
him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its
firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the
visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he
will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others
the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself
in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their
vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which
a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself
imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or
rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He
who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and
observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between
those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight
of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into
admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than
to examine them with presumption.

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the
Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing
and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the
extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden
from him in an impenetrable secret, he is equally incapable of seeing
the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is
swallowed up.

What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of
things, in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their
end. All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the
Infinite. Who will follow these marvellous processes? The Author of
these wonders understands them. None other can do so.

Through failure to contemplate these Infinites, men have rashly rushed
into the examination of nature, as though they bore some proportion to
her. It is strange that they have wished to understand the beginnings of
things, and thence to arrive at the knowledge of the whole, with a
presumption as infinite as their object. For surely this design cannot
be formed without presumption or without a capacity infinite like

If we are well informed, we understand that, as nature has graven her
image and that of her Author on all things, they almost all partake of
her double infinity. Thus we see that all the sciences are infinite in
the extent of their researches. For who doubts that geometry, for
instance, has an infinite infinity of problems to solve? They are also
infinite in the multitude and fineness of their premises; for it is
clear that those which are put forward as ultimate are not
self-supporting, but are based on others which, again having others for
their support, do not permit of finality. But we represent some as
ultimate for reason, in the same way as in regard to material objects we
call that an indivisible point beyond which our senses can no longer
perceive anything, although by its nature it is infinitely divisible.

Of these two Infinites of science, that of greatness is the most
palpable, and hence a few persons have pretended to know all things. "I
will speak of the whole,"[31] said Democritus.

But the infinitely little is the least obvious. Philosophers have much
oftener claimed to have reached it, and it is here they have all
stumbled. This has given rise to such common titles as _First
Principles_, _Principles of Philosophy_,[32] and the like, as
ostentatious in fact, though not in appearance, as that one which blinds
us, _De omni scibili_.[33]

We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the centre
of things than of embracing their circumference. The visible extent of
the world visibly exceeds us; but as we exceed little things, we think
ourselves more capable of knowing them. And yet we need no less capacity
for attaining the Nothing than the All. Infinite capacity is required
for both, and it seems to me that whoever shall have understood the
ultimate principles of being might also attain to the knowledge of the
Infinite. The one depends on the other, and one leads to the other.
These extremes meet and reunite by force of distance, and find each
other in God, and in God alone.

Let us then take our compass; we are something, and we are not
everything. The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of
first beginnings which are born of the Nothing; and the littleness of
our being conceals from us the sight of the Infinite.

Our intellect holds the same position in the world of thought as our
body occupies in the expanse of nature.

Limited as we are in every way, this state which holds the mean between
two extremes is present in all our impotence. Our senses perceive no
extreme. Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great
distance or proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great
brevity of discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralysing (I
know some who cannot understand that to take four from nothing leaves
nothing). First principles are too self-evident for us; too much
pleasure disagrees with us. Too many concords are annoying in music; too
many benefits irritate us; we wish to have the wherewithal to over-pay
our debts. _Beneficia eo usque læta sunt dum videntur exsolvi posse; ubi
multum antevenere, pro gratia odium redditur._[34] We feel neither
extreme heat nor extreme cold. Excessive qualities are prejudicial to us
and not perceptible by the senses; we do not feel but suffer them.
Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also too much and too
little education. In short, extremes are for us as though they were not,
and we are not within their notice. They escape us, or we them.

This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain
knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever
drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach
ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and
if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for
ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, and yet most
contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground
and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the
Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to

Let us therefore not look for certainty and stability. Our reason is
always deceived by fickle shadows; nothing can fix the finite between
the two Infinites, which both enclose and fly from it.

If this be well understood, I think that we shall remain at rest, each
in the state wherein nature has placed him. As this sphere which has
fallen to us as our lot is always distant from either extreme, what
matters it that man should have a little more knowledge of the universe?
If he has it, he but gets a little higher. Is he not always infinitely
removed from the end, and is not the duration of our life equally
removed from eternity, even if it lasts ten years longer?

In comparison with these Infinites all finites are equal, and I see no
reason for fixing our imagination on one more than on another. The only
comparison which we make of ourselves to the finite is painful to us.

If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how
incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he
may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some
proportion. But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to
one another, that I believe it impossible to know one without the other
and without the whole.

Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein
to abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements
to compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees
light; he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependent alliance with
everything. To know man, then, it is necessary to know how it happens
that he needs air to live, and, to know the air, we must know how it is
thus related to the life of man, etc. Flame cannot exist without air;
therefore to understand the one, we must understand the other.

Since everything then is cause and effect, dependent and supporting,
mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though
imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most
different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without
knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in

[The eternity of things in itself or in God must also astonish our
brief duration. The fixed and constant immobility of nature, in
comparison with the continual change which goes on within us, must have
the same effect.]

And what completes our incapability of knowing things, is the fact that
they are simple, and that we are composed of two opposite natures,
different in kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational
part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are
simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of
things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows
itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself.

So if we are simply material, we can know nothing at all; and if we are
composed of mind and matter, we cannot know perfectly things which are
simple, whether spiritual or corporeal. Hence it comes that almost all
philosophers have confused ideas of things, and speak of material things
in spiritual terms, and of spiritual things in material terms. For they
say boldly that bodies have a tendency to fall, that they seek after
their centre, that they fly from destruction, that they fear the void,
that they have inclinations, sympathies, antipathies, all of which
attributes pertain only to mind. And in speaking of minds, they consider
them as in a place, and attribute to them movement from one place to
another; and these are qualities which belong only to bodies.

Instead of receiving the ideas of these things in their purity, we
colour them with our own qualities, and stamp with our composite being
all the simple things which we contemplate.

Who would not think, seeing us compose all things of mind and body, but
that this mixture would be quite intelligible to us? Yet it is the very
thing we least understand. Man is to himself the most wonderful object
in nature; for he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the
mind is, and least of all how a body should be united to a mind. This is
the consummation of his difficulties, and yet it is his very being.
_Modus quo corporibus adhærent spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non
potest, et hoc tamen homo est._[35] Finally, to complete the proof of
our weakness, I shall conclude with these two considerations....


[But perhaps this subject goes beyond the capacity of reason. Let us
therefore examine her solutions to problems within her powers. If there
be anything to which her own interest must have made her apply herself
most seriously, it is the inquiry into her own sovereign good. Let us
see, then, wherein these strong and clear-sighted souls have placed it,
and whether they agree.

One says that the sovereign good consists in virtue, another in
pleasure, another in the knowledge of nature, another in truth, _Felix

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