Front Page Titles (by Subject) THOUGHTS ON STYLE. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
THOUGHTS ON STYLE. - Blaise Pascal, The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal 
The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal, translated from the text of M. Auguste Molinier by C. Kegan Paul (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THOUGHTS ON STYLE.
ELOQUENCE is an art of saying things in such a manner, 1, that those to whom we speak can hear them without pain, and with pleasure; 2, that they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly to reflect upon what is said. It consists therefore in a correspondence which we endeavour to establish between the mind and the heart of those to whom we speak on the one hand, and, on the other, the thoughts and the expressions employed; this supposes that we have thoroughly studied the heart of man so as to know all its springs, and to find at last the true proportions of the discourse we wish to suit to it. We should put ourselves in the place of those who are to listen to us, and make experiment on our own heart of the turn we give to our discourse, to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can be sure that our auditor will be as it were forced to yield. So far as possible we must confine ourselves to what is natural and simple, not aggrandise that which is little, or belittle that which is great. It is not enough that a phrase be beautiful, it must be fitted to the subject, and not have in it excess or defect.
Eloquence is painted thought, and thus those who, after having painted it, add somewhat more, make a picture, not a portrait.
Eloquence.—We need both what is pleasing and what is real, but that which pleases must itself be drawn from the true.
Eloquence, which persuades by gentleness, not by empire, as a tyrant, not as a king.
There is a certain pattern of charm and beauty which consists in a certain relation between our nature, such as it is, whether weak or strong, and the thing which pleases us.
Whatever is formed on this pattern delights us, whether house, song, discourse, verse, prose, woman, birds, rivers, trees, rooms, dresses, etc.
Whatever is not made on this pattern displeases those who have good taste.
And as there is a perfect relation between a song and a house which are made on a good pattern, because they are like this unique pattern, though each after its kind, there is also a perfect relation between things made on a bad pattern. Not that the bad is unique, for there are many; but every bad sonnet, for instance, on whatever false pattern it is constructed, is exactly like a woman dressed on that pattern.
Nothing makes us understand better the absurdity of a false sonnet than to consider nature and the pattern, and then to imagine a woman or a house constructed on that pattern.
When a natural discourse paints a passion or an effect, we feel in our mind the truth of what we read, which was there before, though we did not know it, and we are inclined to love him who makes us feel it. For he has not made a display of his own riches, but of ours, and thus this benefit renders him pleasant to us, besides that such a community of intellect necessarily inclines the heart to love.
All the false beauties which we blame in Cicero have their admirers and in great number.
The last thing we decide on in writing a book is what shall be the first we put in it.
Language.—We ought not to turn the mind from one thing to another save for relaxation, at suitable times, and no other, for he that diverts out of season wearies, and he who wearies us out of season repels us, and we simply turn away. So much it pleases our wayward lust to do the exact contrary of what those seek to obtain from us who give us no pleasure, the coin for which we will do whatever we are asked.
When we meet with a natural style, we are charmed and astonished, for we looked for an author, and we found a man. But those who have good taste, and who seeing a book expect to find a man, are altogether surprised to find an author: plus poetice quam humane locutus es. Those pay great honour to nature, who show her that she is able to discourse on all things, even on theology.
Languages are ciphers, where letters are not changed into letters, but words into words, so that an unknown language can be deciphered.
When in a discourse we find words repeated, and in trying to correct them find we cannot change them for others without manifest disadvantage, we must let them stand, for this is the true test; our criticism came of envy which is blind, and does not see that repetition is not in this place a fault, for there is no general rule.
Miscellaneous Language.—Those who force words for the sake of antitheses are like those who make false windows for symmetry.
Their rule is not to speak accurately, but in accurate form.
To put a mask on nature and disguise her. No more King, pope, bishop, but sacred majesty, no more Paris, but the capital of the Kingdom.
There are places in which we should call Paris, Paris, and others in which we ought to call it the capital of the Kingdom.
There are those who speak well and write ill. Because the place and the audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than would have been produced without that warmth.
Miscellaneous.—A figure of speech, “I should have wished to apply myself to that.”
The aperitive virtue of a key, the attractive virtue of a crook.
To guess. The part that I take in your sorrow. The Cardinal did not choose to be guessed.
My mind is disquieted within me. I am disquieted is better.
To extinguish the torch of sedition, too luxuriant.
The restlessness of his genius. Two striking words too much.
A coach upset or overturned, according to the meaning.
Spread abroad, or upset, according to the meaning.
The argument by force of M. le M. over the friar.
Is what we see at one glance.
Founded on the fact that there is no reason for any difference.
And founded also on the face of man.
Whence it comes that symmetry is only wanted in breadth, not in heighth or depth.
Sceptic, for obstinate.
Descartes useless and uncertain.
No one calls another a courtier but he who is not one himself, a pedant save 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.
The chief talent, that which rules all others.
If the lightning were to strike low-lying places, etc., poets, and those whose only reasonings are on things of that nature would lack proofs.
Poetical beauty.—As we talk of poetical beauty, so ought we to talk of mathematical beauty and medical beauty; yet we do not use those terms, because we know perfectly the object of mathematics, that it consists in proofs, and the object of medicine, that it consists in healing, but we do not understand wherein consists charm which is the object of poetry. We do not know what is the natural model to be imitated, and for want of that knowledge we invent a set of extravagant terms, “the golden age, the wonder of our times, fatal,” etc., and call this jargon poetic beauty.
But if we imagine a woman on that pattern, which consists in saying little things in great words, we shall see a pretty girl bedecked with mirrors and chains absurd to our taste, because we know better wherein consists the charm of woman than the charm of verse. But those who do not know, would admire her in such trimmings, and in many villages she would be taken for the queen, wherefore sonnets made on such a pattern have been called The Village Queens.
Those who judge of a work without rule are in regard to others as those who possess a watch are in regard to others. One says, “it was two hours ago,” another, “it is only three-quarters of an hour.” I look at my watch and say to the one, “you are weary of us,” and to the other, “time flies fast with you, for it is only an hour and a half.” And I laugh at those who say that time goes slowly with me, and that I judge by fancy. They do not know that I judge by my watch.
[P. 303, l. 11.]plus poetice quam humane locutus es Petronius, c. 90, where the words have not the turn that Pascal here gives them.
[P. 304, l. 8.]The part that I take in your sorrow. The Chevalier de Méré, in his Discours de la Conversation, says, that he had been witness to a bet, that on opening a letter of condolence the set phrase condemned above would occur, and that the lady to whom the letter was addressed could not help laughing in spite of her distress. Pascal’s note is against writing mere formal phrases which can thus be easily guessed. The Cardinal is Mazarin.
[P. 304, l. 17.]M. le M. Le Maistre, Antoine, 1608-1658. The allusion is to Les Plaidoyers et Harangues de M. le Maistre, Paris, 1657. On the first page of Plaidoyer VI., Pour un fils mis en religion par force, we find “Dieu qui repand des aveuglements et des tenebres sur les passions illégitimes,” and Pascal probably refers to this passage as one in which the word repandre could not be replaced by verser.
[P. 305, l. 32.]I judge by my watch. Mlle. Perier says, that Pascal always wore a watch attached to his left wrist-band.