Blaise Pascal (16231662). Letters. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
From Pascal to His Sister Jacqueline
January 26, 1648.
MY DEAR SISTER, WE have received your letters. I intended to reply to the first that you wrote me more than four months since, but my indisposition and some other things prevented me. Since then I have not been in a condition to write, either on account of my illness, for want of leisure, or for some other reason. I have few hours of leisure and health together; I shall however endeavor to finish this letter without forcing myself; I know not whether it will be long or short. My principal design is to make you understand the truth of the visit which you know of, in which I hoped to have wherewith to satisfy you and to reply to your last letters. I can commence with nothing else than the expression of the pleasure which they have given me; I have received satisfactions so sensible from them that I cannot tell them to you by word of mouth. I entreat you to believe that, though I may not have written to you, there has not been an hour in which you have not been present to me, in which I have not made wishes for the continuation of the great designs with which Heaven has inspired you.1 I have felt new transports of joy at all the letters which bore testimony of it, and I have been delighted to see the continuance of it without your receiving any news on our part. This has made me judge that there was a more than human support, since there was no need of human means to sustain it. I should be glad neverthe-less to contribute something to it; but I have none of the capacities necessary for that purpose. My weakness is so great that, if I should undertake it, I should do an act of temerity rather than of charity, and I should have a right to fear for us both the calamity that menaces the blind led by the blind. I have felt my incapacity incomparably more since the visits which are in question; and far from having brought back enough of light for others, I have brought nothing but confusion and trouble for myself, which God alone can calm, and in which I shall work with care, but without impatience and disquietude, knowing well that both would remove me from it. I repeat that God alone can calm it, and that I shall work for this, since I find nothing but occasions for making it spring up and increase in those from whom I had expected its dissipation; so that, seeing myself reduced to myself alone, it remains to me only to pray to God that he may bless it with success. For this I shall have need of the aid of scholars and disinterested persons: the first will not afford it; I seek no longer but for the latterand hence I desire infinitely to see you, for letters are long, inconvenient, and almost useless on such occasions. Nevertheless I will write you something of it.
The first time I saw M. Rebours,2 I made myself known to him and was received with as much civility as I could wish. This was due to my father, since I received it on his account. After the first compliments, I asked permission to see him again from time to time; he granted it to me: thus I was at liberty to see him, so that I do not account this first sight as a visit, since it was only the permission for such. I was there for some time, and among other conversation, I told him with my usual frankness and naïveté, that we had seen their books and those of their adversaries, which was sufficient to make him understand that we were of their sentiments. He expressed some pleasure at this. I then told him that I thought that many things could be demonstrated upon the mere principles of common-sense that their adversaries said were contrary to it, and that well-directed reasoning led to a belief in them, although it was necessary to believe in them without the aid of reasoning. These were my own words, in which I think there was not wherewith to wound the most severe modesty. But as you know that all actions may have two sources, and that such language might proceed from a principle of vanity and of confidence in reasoning, this suspicion, which was increased the knowledge that he had of my studies in geometry, sufficed to make him find this language strange, and he expressed it to me by a repartee so full of humility and gentleness that it would doubtless have confounded the pride that he wished to refute. Still I endeavored to make him understand my motive; but my justification increased his suspicions and he took my excuses for obstinacy. I acknowledge that his discourse was so beautiful that if I had been in the state in which he believed me, he would have drawn me from it; but as I did not think myself in this disease; I opposed the remedy which he presented me; but he insisted on it the more, the more I seemed to evade it, because he took my refusal for obstinacy; and the more he strove to continue, the more my thanks testified to him that I did not consider it necessary; so that the whole of this interview passed in this equivocating and in an embarrassment which continued in all the rest, and which could not be unravelled. I shall not relate the others word for word, since it would not be necessary to my purpose, I shall only tell you in substance the purport af what was said on them, or rather, the principle of their restraint.
But I entreat you before all things to draw no conclusions from what I write, for things may escape me without sufficient precision; and this may cause some suspicion to spring up in you as disadvantageous as unjust. For indeed, after having reflected on it carefully, I find in it only an obscurity which it would be difficult and dangerous to decide, and for myself, I suspend my judgment entirely, as much from my weakness as from my want of knowledge.