Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Blaise Pascal > Letters
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Blaise Pascal (1623–1662).  Letters.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Letter from Pascal to Queen Christina, on Sending Her the Arithmetical Machine, 1650
 
 
MADAME,
  If I had as much health as zeal, I should go myself to present to Your Majesty a work of several years which I dare offer you from so far; and I should not suffer any other hands than mine to have the honor of bearing it to the feet of the greatest princess in the world. This work, Madame, is a machine for making arithmetical calculations without pen or counters. Your Majesty is not ignorant of the cost of time and pains of new productions, above all when the inventors wish to bring them themselves to their highest perfection; this is why it would be useless to say how much I have laboured upon this one, and I cannot better express myself than by saying that I have devoted myself to it with as much ardor as though I had foreseen that it would one day appear before so august a person. But, Madame, if this honor has not been the veritable motive of my work, it will be at least its recompense; and I shall esteem myself too happy if, after so many vigils, it can give Your Majesty a few moments’ satisfaction. I shall not importune Your Majesty with the details of the parts which compose this machine; if you have any curiosity in respect to it, you can satisfy yourself in a discourse which I have addressed to M. de Bourdelot; in which I have sketched in a few words the whole history of this work, the object of its invention, the occasion that led to its investigation, the utility of its applications, the difficulty of its execution, the degree of its progress, the success of its accomplishment, and the rules for its use. I shall therefore only speak here of the motive that led me to offer it to Your Majesty, which I consider as the consummation and happiest fortune of its destiny. I know, Madame, that I may be suspected of having sought honor in presenting it to Your Majesty, since it can pass only for something extraordinary when it is seen that it is addressed to you: and that whilst it should only be offered to you through the consideration of its excellence, it will be judged that it is excellent for the sole reason that it is offered to you. It is not this hope, however, that has inspired me with such a design. It is too great, Madame, to have any other object than Your Majesty yourself. What has really determined me to this is the union that I find in your sacred person of two things that equally overwhelm me with admiration and respect—which are, sovereign authority and solid science; for I have an especial veneration for those who are elevated to the supreme degree either of power or of knowledge. The latter may, if I am not mistaken, as well as the former, pass for sovereigns. The same gradations are found in genius as in condition; and the power of kings over their subjects is, it seems to me, only an image of the power of minds over inferior minds, over whom they exercise the right of persuasion, which is with them what the right of command is in political government. This second empire even appears to me of an order so much the more elevated, as minds are of an order more elevated than bodies; and so much the more just, as it can be shared and preserved only by merit, whilst the other can be shared and preserved by birth and fortune. It must be acknowledged then that each of these empires is great in itself; but, Madame, let Your Majesty, who is not wounded by it, permit me to say, the one without the other appears to me defective. However powerful a monarch may be, something is wanting to his glory if he has not pre-eminence of mind; and however enlightened a subject may be, his condition is always lowered by dependence. Men who naturally desire what is most perfect, have hitherto continually aspired to meet this sovereign par excellence. All kings and scholars have hitherto been but faint outlines of it, only half performing their endeavor; this masterpiece has been reserved for our own times. And that this great marvel might appear accompanied with all possible subjects of wonder, the position that men could not attain is filled by a youthful queen, in whom are found combined the advantage of experience with the tenderness of youth, the leisure of study with the occupation of royal birth, and the eminence of science with the feebleness of sex. It is Your Majesty, Madame, that furnishes to the world this unique example that was wanting to it. You it is in whom power ;s dispensed by the light of science, and science exalted by the lustre of authority. It is from this marvellous union that, as Your Majesty sees nothing beneath your power, you also see nothing above your mind, and that you will be the admiration of every age. Reign then, incomparable princess, in a manner wholly new; let your genius subdue every thin that is not submissive to your arms; reign by right of birth during a long course of years over so many triumphant provinces; but reign continually by the force of your merit over the whole extent of the earth. As for me, not having been born under the former of your empires, I wish all the world to know that I glory in living under the latter; and it is to bear witness to this that I dare to raise my eyes to my queen, in giving her this first proof of my dependence.
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  This, Madame, is what leads me to make to Your Majesty this present, although unworthy of you. My weakness has not checked my ambition. I have figured to myself that although the name alone of Your Majesty seems to put away from you every thing that is disproportioned to your greatness, you will not however reject every thing that is inferior to yourself; as your greatness would thus be without homage and your glory without praise. You will be contented to receive a great mental effort, without exacting that it should be the effort of a mind as great as your own. It is by this condescension that you will deign to enter into communication with the rest of mankind; and all these joint considerations make me protest, with all the submission of which one of the greatest admirers of your heroic qualities is capable, that I desire nothing with so much ardor as to be able to be adopted, Madame, by Your Majesty, as your most humble, most obedient, and most faithful servant.
BLAISE PASCAL.
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