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1878.—REPRINT, 1882

_All Rights reserved_


The translations in this volume are chiefly my own; but I have also taken
expressions and sentences freely from others—and especially from Dr
M’Crie, in his translation of the ‘Provincial Letters’—when they seemed
to convey well the sense of the original. It would be impossible to
distinguish in all cases between what is my own and what I have borrowed.
The ‘Provincial Letters’ have been translated at least four times into
English. The translation of Dr M’Crie, published in 1846, is the most
spirited. The ‘Pensées’ were translated by the Rev. Edward Craig, A.M.
Oxon., in 1825, following the French edition of 1819, which again
followed that of Bossut in 1779. A new translation, both of the
‘Letters’ and ‘Pensées,’ by George Pearce, Esq.—the latter after the
restored text of M. Faugère—appeared in 1849 and 1850.

J. T.











There are few names which have become more classical in modern literature
than that of Blaise Pascal. There is hardly any name more famous at once
in literature, science, and religion. Cut off at the early age of
thirty-nine—the fatal age of genius—he had long before attained
pre-eminent distinction as a geometer and discoverer in physical science;
while the rumour of his genius as the author of the ‘Provincial Letters,’
and as one of the chiefs of a notable school of religious thought, had
spread far and wide. His writings continue to be studied for the
perfection of their style and the vitality of their substance. As a
writer, he belongs to no school, and is admired simply for his greatness
by Encyclopedist and Romanticist, by Catholic and Protestant alike,—by
men like Voltaire and Condorcet and Sainte-Beuve, no less than by men
like Bossuet, Vinet, and Neander. His ‘Pensées’ have been carefully
restored, and re-edited with minute and loving faithfulness in our time
by editors of such opposite tastes and tendencies as M. Prosper Faugère,
M. Havet, and M. Victor Rochet. Cousin considered it one of the glories
of his long intellectual career that he had first led the way to the
remarkable restoration of Pascal’s remains. Of all the illustrious names
which group themselves around Port Royal, it is Pascal alone, and
Racine—who was more its pupil, but less its representative—whose genius
can be said to survive, and to invest it with an undying lustre.

Pascal’s early death, the reserve of his friends under the assaults which
the ‘Provincial Letters’ provoked, and his very fame, as a writer, have
served in some degree to obscure his personality. To many a modern
reader he is little else than a great name. The man is hidden away
behind the author of the ‘Pensées,’ or the defender of Port Royal. Some
might even say that his writings are now more admired than studied. They
have been so long the subject of eulogy that their classical character is
taken for granted, and the reader of the present day is content to look
at them from a respectful distance rather than spontaneously study them
for himself. There may be some truth in this view. Pascal is certainly,
like many other great writers, far more widely known than he is
understood or appreciated. The old, which are still the common, editions
of the ‘Pensées,’ have also given a certain commonplace to his
reputation. It were certainly a worthy task to set him more clearly
before our age both as a man and as a writer.

It is no easy task, however, to do this; and to tell the full story of
Pascal’s life is no longer possible. Its records, numerous as they are,
are incomplete; all fail more or less at an interesting point of his
career. They leave much unexplained; and the most familiar confidences
of his sisters and niece, who have preserved many interesting details
regarding him, have not entirely removed the veil from certain aspects of
his character. The well-known life by Madame Périer, his elder sister,
is of course the chief authentic source of his biography. It was written
shortly after his death, although not published for some time later; and
nothing can be more lively, graphic, and yet dignified, than its
portraiture of his youthful precocity, and, again, of the devotions and
austerities of his later years. But it leaves many gaps unsupplied.
Like other memoirs of the kind, it is written from a somewhat
conventional point of view. No one, as M. Havet says, was nearer to him
in all senses of the expression, or could have given a more true and
complete account of all the incidents in his life; but she was not only
his sister, but his enthusiastic friend and admirer, in whose eyes he was
at once a genius and a saint—a man of God, called to a great mission. It
was from a consciousness of this mission, and the full glory of his
religious fame, that she looked back upon all his life; and the lines in
which she draws it are coloured, in consequence, too gravely and
monotonously. Certain particulars she drops out of sight altogether.
These are to be found scattered here and there, sometimes in his own
letters, more frequently in the letters of his younger sister,
Jacqueline, and in a supplementary memoir, written by his niece,
Marguerite Périer, all of which have been carefully published in our
time, and made accessible to any reader. {3} The researches of M.
Cousin, M. Faugère, and M. Havet, the curious and interesting monograph
of M. Lélut, {4a} have thrown light on various points; while the copious
portraiture of Sainte-Beuve {4b} has given to the whole an animation and
a desultory charm which no English pen need strive to imitate.

My only hope, as my aim, will be in this little volume to set before the
English reader perhaps a more full and connected account of the life and
writings of Pascal than has yet appeared in our language, freely availing
myself of all the sources I have indicated. And if long and loving
familiarity with a subject—an intimacy often renewed both with the
‘Provincial Letters’ and the ‘Pensées’—form any qualification for such a
task, I may be allowed to possess it. It is now nearly thirty years
since the study of Neander first drew me to the study of Pascal; and I
ventured, with the confidence of youth, to draw from the ‘Pensées,’ which
had then recently appeared in the new and admirable edition of M.
Faugère, the outlines of a Christian Philosophy. {4c} I shall venture on
no such ambition within the bounds of this volume; but I trust I may be
able to bring together the story of Pascal’s life, controversy, and
thought in such a manner as to lead others to the study of a writer truly
great in the imperishable grandeur and elevation of his ideas, no less
than in the exquisite finish and graces of his style.


Blaise Pascal was born at Clermont-Ferrand on the 19th June 1623. He
belonged to an old Auvergne family, Louis XI. having ennobled one of its
members for administrative services as early as 1478, although no use was
made of the title, at least in the seventeenth century. The family
cherished with more pride its ancient connection with the legal or
‘Parliamentary’ institutions of their country. {5} Pascal’s grandfather,
Martin Pascal, was treasurer of France; and his father, Étienne, after
completing his legal studies in Paris, acquired the position of Second
President of the Court of Aides at Clermont. In the year 1618 he married
Antoinette Begon, who became the mother of four children, of whom three
survived and became distinguished. Madame Pascal died in 1626 or 1628;
{6a} and two years afterwards (in 1630) Étienne Pascal abandoned his
professional duties, and came to Paris, in order that he might devote
himself to the education of his children.

Soon after the Pascal family settled in Paris, their character and
endowments seem to have attracted a widespread interest. If not superior
to the Arnaulds, they were no less remarkable. They did not escape the
penetrating eye of Richelieu, who, as he looked upon the father with his
son, then fifteen years of age, and his two daughters, was so struck by
their beauty that he exclaimed, without waiting for their formal
introduction to him, that he _would like to make something great of
them_. {6b} Étienne Pascal was a man not only of official capacity, but
of keen intellectual instincts and aspirations. He shared eagerly in the
scientific enthusiasm of his time. A letter by him addressed to the
Jesuit Noël shows that the vein of satire, half pleasant, half severe,
which reached such perfection in the famous ‘Letters’ of his son, was not
unknown to the father. The careful and systematic education which he
gave to his son would alone have stamped him as a man of remarkable

Gilberte, Pascal’s elder sister and biographer, exerted an influence upon
his character only second to that of his father. She married her cousin,
M. Périer, also of a Parliamentary family, and Counsellor of the Court of
Aides at Clermont.

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