BECK index

French Culture 1648-1715

by Sanderson Beck

Jansenism and Pascal’s Provincial Letters
Pascal’s Pensées
Quietism, Fénelon, Bayle & Malebranche
La Rochefoucauld and Mme. de Lafayette
Boileau, Fontenelle & La Fontaine’s Fables
La Bruyère’s Characters

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Jansenism and Pascal’s Provincial Letters

      Cornelius Jansen was born on October 28, 1585 at Acquoi in Gelderland and attended the University of Leuven (Louvain) where he joined the Augustinian party led by Michel Baius. After earning his degree in theology Jansen went to Paris in 1604. Then he studied the early Church Fathers for many years at the family home of Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, who became Abbot of Saint-Cyran in 1620. Jansen returned to teach at Leuven in 1617. He reread many times the works of Augustine, and in his 3-volume Augustinus he wrote that only the grace of God can save sinful humans. He also agreed with the doctrine of predestination that Calvinists accepted. He wrote commentaries on the New Testament and the Torah and a “Discourse on the Reformation of the Inner Man.” He earned his doctorate in theology at Leuven and was made a rector in 1635. That year in Mars gallicus he criticized Cardinal Richelieu’s war against Spain, and in 1636 King Felipe IV helped him become Bishop of Ypres. Jansen died during a plague on May 6, 1638. His Augustinus was published in 1640 without approval of the Roman Church.
      On March 6, 1642 Pope Urban VIII forbade the reading of Augustinus. The theology faculty at the University of Paris found five propositions in this book that Pope Innocent X condemned on May 31, 1653. Those five errors may be summarized as follows:

1. Some of God’s commandments are impossible for just people to keep.
2. In the fallen state no one ever resists sovereign grace.
3. To merit or demerit in the fallen state one must be free from all external constraint but not from interior necessity.
4. Semipelagians admitted the need for interior preventing grace for all acts, even for faith; but they fell into heresy by believing that people may follow or resist this grace.
5. To say that Jesus died or shed his blood for all men is Semipelagianism.

The Jansenists denied that these propositions could be found in Jansen’s Augustinus. The Abbot of Saint-Cyran taught the views of Jansen at the abbey of Port-Royal where he had become confessor in 1633. In May 1638 Cardinal Richelieu imprisoned Saint-Cyran who was released after Richelieu’s death in December 1642 but died in October 1643. Antoine Arnauld became a disciple of Jansen and an Augustinian, but Jesuits accused him of being a Jansenist heretic in 1644. In 1656 and 1657 the mathematician Blaise Pascal defended Arnauld in his Provincial Letters, but the Paris teachers of theology condemned Arnauld.
      Blaise Pascal was born at Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne on June 19, 1623. His father Etienne was a lawyer and President of the Court of Aids at Clermont, and his mother died in 1626. Etienne moved his family to Paris in 1631. Blaise began studying geometry on his own, and by the age of twelve he had understood Euclid’s first 32 theorems. In 1638 Etienne was a leader in the protest against the government’s not paying interest on its bonds. When Cardinal Richelieu ordered his arrest, Etienne went into hiding. Richelieu liked to put on plays and cast the precocious youth Jacqueline Pascal (Blaise’s younger sister) in a leading role. After a successful performance she begged Richelieu to pardon her father, and he told her he could return. When Etienne submitted to the powerful Cardinal, he appointed him Royal Commissioner in Upper Normandy to collect taxes. In 1639 Norman peasants were rebelling against the heavy taxes, and on January 2, 1640 about 2,000 soldiers entered Rouen with Chancellor Pierre Séguier to enforce the collection of taxes by Etienne Pascal who brought his family. That year Blaise wrote an essay on conic sections. He invented a calculating machine to help his father’s computations, and by 1645 he had perfected it and dedicated it to Chancellor Séguier.
      In January 1646 Etienne Pascal hurried to prevent a duel but slipped on the ice and broke his hip. Physicians spent three months in his home, talked about their conversions, and gave Blaise books by Jansen, Saint-Cyran, and Antoine Arnauld. He became convinced and converted his sisters and Etienne to Jansenism. He published his New Experiments on the Vacuum in 1647. That year Blaise had a serious health crisis, and for a while his legs were paralyzed. In 1648 Pascal was credited with inventing the syringe, the barometer, and the hydraulic press. After his father died in 1651, Blaise’s sister Jacqueline entered the Jansenist convent at Port Royal. In 1654 Pascal completed his treatise on the equilibrium of fluids and on the weight of the atmosphere, but it was not published until 1663.
      On the night of November 23, 1654 Pascal experienced his “second conversion” during which he submitted to Jesus Christ as his spiritual director. His “Memorial” of that night included the notes, “Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God. He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel. Greatness of the human soul.”1 The next January he retired from the world to live in the monastery at Port Royal, and after that he only wrote what they requested without using his name. According to Nicolas Fontaine’s “Conversation with Monsieur de Saci,” Pascal was especially influenced by the writings of Epictetus and Montaigne. Pascal wrote his Provincial Letters between January 1656 and March 1657. Pope Alexander VII condemned the Provincial Letters on December 7.
      In the first of his Provincial Letters Pascal noted that Arnauld and the Jansenists are accused of five errors that are not even in Jansen’s Augustinus. Secondly, if they were, Arnauld and the Jansenists would condemn them. Pascal believed that the Jesuits at the University of Paris were attacking the person of Arnauld to discredit him, not the views of the Jansenists. Pascal was also concerned that the motives of the Jesuits were political in that they were attempting to preserve and increase the power and influence of the Society of Jesus. Pascal criticized Jesuit casuistry as a moral system that justifies and excuses many sins. The issues in dispute revolve around the concepts of proximate power and sufficient grace. The Molinist Jesuits believed that sufficient grace is adequate for salvation, but the Thomist Dominicans held that efficacious grace is also needed. Pascal complained that the Jesuits were using their interpretation of sufficient grace for political reasons. Between his 2nd and 3rd Letters the theology professors at the Sorbonne censured Arnauld.
      Pascal explored the moral issues in his 4th Letter by examining the maxims of Jesuit ethics which were based on the ethics of Aristotle. In the 5th Letter he accused the Jesuits of wanting to extend their influence so that they could govern consciences. Although they may not corrupt morals, they do not reform them either. Although some Jesuits are evangelical in their morality, many want to make it easy for Christians and are lax. One way they do this is by excusing the consequences of one’s actions by focusing on the goodness of the intention. A sense of honor among nobles can lead to duels and justification for killing. Many Jesuits design their morals so as to win friends and expand their influence.
      In the 10th Letter Pascal argued that confession should involve the painful elements of shame for an action, recalling the situation, doing penance, resolving not to do it again, avoiding opportunities to sin, and feeling regret. Pascal addressed the next six letters to the “Jesuits’ Reverend Fathers” and continued his criticisms. He argued that they removed slander from their list of crimes and were using it against their enemies such as Saint-Cyran, Arnauld, and the nuns of Port Royal. In the last two letters Pascal took on the Jesuit leaders and endeavored to prove that the Catholic Jansenists are not heretics because they do not believe in the five propositions the Popes have condemned. He contended that the Jansenists do not agree with the Calvinists. His main charge against the Jesuits was that they used any means to justify their political goals.

      Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719) as a Jansenist was banished from Paris in 1681 and joined Antoine Arnauld in Brussels. In 1695 he published his completed Summary of the Morality of the Gospels. Jesuits complained, and the Archbishop of Malines had Quesnel arrested in 1696. In 1703 he escaped, and eluding Louis XIV’s agents he took refuge in the Dutch Republic. Cardinal Louis-Antoine Noailles persuaded him to revise his Summary, and in 1699 Quesnel published The New Testament in French with Moral Reflections on Each Verse. Quesnel became a cardinal in 1700 and joined the Gallicans (Torcy, Pontchartrain, and d’Aguesseau) on the Royal Council. On July 13, 1708 Pope Clement XI ordered his book burned as Jansenist. In November 1711 the Council banned the sale of Moral Reflections, and the King asked the Pope for a bull. On September 8, 1713 the papal bull Unigenitus condemned 101 sentences from the Moral Reflections as heresy. On February 5, 1714 Noailles and others in a letter protested the condemnation of the Moral Reflections, and this religious issue would be controversial in France for the next century.

Pascal’s Pensées

      Pascal also wrote “Comparison of Christians of the Earliest Times with Those of Our Times” in which he noted how much more aware and dedicated were the early Christians compared to his contemporaries who were baptized as babies and accepted their religion without much commitment. Pascal from childhood on often suffered from illness. His bad health worsened in the spring of 1658, and he wrote his “Prayer to Ask of God the Good Use of Sickness.” He was seriously ill from February 1659 to June 1660. In August he needed a stick for walking and could not ride. Pascal died of a stomach tumor at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662. He had suffered from depression, and an autopsy revealed brain damage.
      Pascal began writing down on scraps of paper ideas for his Apology for the Christian Religion, but they were not organized before his death; they were published as his Pensées (Thoughts) in 1670. Translators have organized these writings in various ways. I have chosen the following from the English version by Honor Levi2:

Happiness is neither outside us nor within us.
It is in God, and both outside and within us. (26)
Imagination orders everything.
It is the spring of beauty, justice, and happiness
which is the be-all and end-all of the world. (78)
The worst evil of all is civil war. (128)
Justice without strength is powerless.
Strength without justice is tyrannical. (135)
We know the truth not only by means of the reason
but also by means of the heart.
It is through the heart that we know the first principles. (142)
Custom is a second nature which destroys the first. (159)
Learn that humanity infinitely transcends humanity
and hear from your Master your true condition
of which you are unaware.
Listen to God. (164)
Some seek the true good in authority,
some in the intellectual quest for knowledge,
yet others in pleasures. (181)
Reason’s last step is to recognize that
there is an infinite number of things which surpass it. (220)
So let us work on thinking well.
That is the principle of morality. (232)
We must love only God and hate only ourselves. (405)
When wickedness has reason on its side,
it becomes proud, and shows off reason in all its lustre. (458)
Multiplicity which is not reduced to unity is confusion.
Unity which does not depend on multiplicity is tyranny. (501)
Thought constitutes the greatness of mankind. (628)
The pleasure of the great is the power to make people happy.
The proper function of wealth is to be distributed freely.
The proper function of everything is to be looked for.
The proper function of power is to protect. (650)
Let us weigh up the gain and the loss
by calling heads that God exists.
Let us assess the two cases:
if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing.
Wager that he exists then, without hesitating!...
You will realize in the end that
you have wagered on something certain and infinite,
for which you have paid nothing….
It is the heart that feels God, not reason: that is what faith is.
God felt by the heart, not by reason.
The heart has its reasons which reason itself does not know: we know that through countless things. (680)
The immortality of the soul is of such vital concern to us,
which affects us so deeply,
that we would have to have lost all feeling
in order to be indifferent to the truth about it. (681)

Here are some more quotes from Pascal’s Pensées translated by G. F. Pullen3:

In every dialogue and discourse
we must be able to say to anyone who takes offense:
“What are you complaining about?” (7)
Two things teach a man everything about his own nature:
instinct and experience. (17)
We are as a rule more easily persuaded by reasons
we have discovered for ourselves than by those
which have occurred to the minds of others. (18)
If we know a man’s ruling passion
we have a sure way to please him.
Yet every man has fancies which are contrary to his real good,
when he forms his own idea of what is good. (33)
A man must know himself.
Though such knowledge may not help him to find the truth,
at any rate it will help him to regulate his own life—
and self-government, if enlightened by true self-knowledge,
ought to be very strict. (36)
Let man therefore contemplate the whole of Nature
in her complete and lofty majesty; let him avert his eyes
from the common objects that surround him.
Let him look upon that dazzling light,
hung aloft like an eternal lamp to give light to the universe….
Nature is an infinite sphere,
whereof the center is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.
When all is done, the imagination is brought to silence by this,
the greatest accessible sign of the power of Almighty God.
Let us therefore know our limitations:
we are something, but we are not everything.
The conditions of our existence conceal from us
the knowledge of first principles, which are born of Nothing,
and the limitations of existence hide the Infinite from our sight.
The eternity of things, in itself or in God,
must always be a cause for amazement
in comparison with our brief human life. (43)
Weakness: All the activities of men are undertaken
that they may acquire wealth;
and they could not produce any evidence
that they possess it justly,
for they have only the imaginative faculty of human beings;
nor have they the strength
which is essential to peaceful possession. (53)
Thoughts: All is unity, all is diversity.
How many natures in that of man!
And how many employments! (61)
Tyranny is an inordinate desire to dominate other men….
Tyranny is the desire to attain by one’s own methods
an objective which is in fact only attainable
by some quite different means. (72)
Love or hatred can alter the course of justice.
Where an advocate has been well paid in advance,
how much the more just will his client’s cause appear! (74)
We are not content with our personal interior lives,
but are always wanting to project upon the minds of others
a fictitious notion of our own value;
we actually drive ourselves along
so as to achieve this object. (76)
Belief is natural to the mind,
and it is natural for the will to love;
so much so that if valid objects be lacking
they will necessarily attach themselves to false ones. (77)
Time heals our griefs and quarrels because we change;
we are no longer the same person. (82)
My knowledge of the physical sciences will not console me
in times of affliction for my ignorance of the moral law.
But the moral law will always comfort me and make up
what I lack in knowledge of the physical sciences. (105)
Men divert themselves by running after a ball or a hare;
even for kings it is a diversion. (117)
No doubt it is a bad thing to be full of faults,
but it is a greater evil to be full of them
and yet to be unwilling to recognize them,
since that is to add the further fault of self-delusion. (145)
Self-will is never satisfied,
even though all its desires may be within its reach.
But the moment we relinquish the desire, we find satisfaction.
If we are without self-will, we cannot fall into discontent;
and the gratifying of self-will cannot bestow happiness. (150)
Reason governs men far more imperiously than any master;
for if we disobey a master we may be unhappy,
but if we disobey reason we show ourselves fools. (175)
This religion imparts to little children truths
which grown men, with all their greater enlightenment,
have but imperfectly understood. (190)
The state of warfare between reason and the passions means
that those who desire peace are divided into two parties.
Some have wished to renounce the passions
and to become gods.
Others have wished to renounce reason
and become brute beasts.
But neither party has succeeded: reason remains,
to denounce the baseness and injustice of the passions,
and to disturb the peace of mind
of those who give way to them;
and the passions are always alive in those
who try to renounce them. (201)
The arguments used by atheists ought to be perfectly clear;
but is is very far from being perfectly clear
that the soul is material. (217)
Infinity—Nothing: The soul is cast into the body,
where it becomes subject to time,
and finds number and dimensions.
About these things it reasons, calling them nature,
or necessity, and it cannot believe in anything else….
We know that there is an infinite,
but we are ignorant of its nature….
We cannot know who God is, or what His nature is,
because He has neither extension nor limits.
But we know by faith that He exists,
and in the glorified life we shall know His nature. (223)
All the other religions have failed.
Let us see what the wisdom of God will do. 249)
All men seek happiness without exception….
God alone is man’s true good,
and ever since the time when man departed from that good
there is, strange to say, nothing in Nature
that has not at some time served to take its place. (250)
How dishonest are those philosophers
who will not discuss the immortality of the soul. (283)
Plato is a good preparation for Christianity. (284)
If man is not made for God,
why is he not happy except in God?
If man is made for God, why is he so opposed to Him? (341)
It is unworthy of God
to unite Himself to man in his condition of misery;
but it is not unworthy of God
to deliver man from his misery. (349)
You must be a very clever fellow to have arrived at the opinion
that man is too small to merit communion with God. (350)
If there is a single source of all things,
there must also be a single end;
all through Him, all for Him. (360)
Inequality among men is scarcely to be avoided;
but once you grant that, you open the door
not only to totalitarian rule but to absolute tyranny. (373)
We are creatures of habit. (374)
Reason creates natural intuitions,
and natural intuitions may be obliterated by reason. (378)
If we do not recognize that we are full of pride,
ambition, concupiscence, weakness, poverty, and injustice,
we are blind indeed.
And what shall we say to a man
who, knowing this to be his condition,
has no desire to be delivered from it? (380)
Men admit that justice is not inherent in these customs,
but in natural laws common to all countries. (401)
True justice: We have it no longer.
If we had, we should not take
the customs of our country as our rule of justice.
Thus, having failed to find justice,
we fall back upon force. (408)
We have not been successful in making justice strong,
because force is contrary to justice,
and the powerful have asserted that only power is just.
And so, having been unable to ensure
that what is right should be strong, people have tended
to act as though what was strong was right. (416)
Why do we follow a majority?
Because they have more right on their side?
No, but because they have more power. (419)
Two errors: 1. To take everything literally.
2. To take everything spiritually. (507)
The infinite distance between bodies and minds
is a type of the infinitely more infinite distance
between minds and charity; for charity is supernatural….
The majesty of wisdom
(and wisdom itself is of no account unless it be from God),
is unrecognized by those
whose concern is with material things. (568)
Two errors; to exclude reason,
and to admit no argument but reason. (661)

Quietism, Fénelon, Bayle & Malebranche

      Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé founded the Trappist order of monks, and at Soligny in 1664 he instituted silence, manual labor, and a restricted diet.
      Madame Guyon (1648-1717) suffered from an arranged marriage and became a widow at the age of 28. She had mystical experiences and published Spiritual Torrents in 1682, and she returned to Paris in July 1685 and published A Short and Very Simple Method of Orisons, which may be Practised Very Easily by All. She believed in praying all the time to stay in the presence of God. The Catholic Church considered her a Quietist, and in 1687 Pope Innocent XI condemned the Quietism of Miguel de Molinos as heresy. Guyon had influenced Barnabites at Thonon in Savoy, and her teacher, the Barnabite brother François La Combe, was put in the Bastille. After an illness she was arrested on January 29, 1688, but seven months later she retracted propositions in her book and was released at the behest of Mme. de Maintenon, who liked her ideas.
      Madame Guyon soon met François Fénelon who became her most prominent disciple. In October 1694 the Archbishop of Paris condemned Guyon’s books, and she was imprisoned from December 1695 to March 1703. The next year her books were published in the Netherlands and became popular. Her Life of Madame Guyon, Written by Herself was published in three volumes at Paris in 1791. Another autobiography written in prison was discovered and published in 1992.
      Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk in Paris, and after his death in 1691 Joseph de Beaufort, Vicar General to the Archbishop of Paris, compiled his writings as The Practice of the Presence of God which has four conversations of fifteen letters of spiritual counsel.

      François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon was born in Périgord on August 6, 1651 and was the son of an impoverished count. He was educated by tutors in Greek and Latin. In 1663 he attended a Jesuit school in Cahors where he studied humanities and philosophy before going on to the College of Plessis in Paris. His wealthy uncle Antoine, Marquis de Fénelon, had founded the seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and in 1668 he helped François go there. By 1675 he had become a priest. In 1678 the Archbishop of Paris appointed Fénelon superior to a community of women who were converted Catholics in Paris, and he lived with the Marquis in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
      Fénelon was a devoted Catholic and did not consider the Protestant church legitimate. After the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1684, his influential friend Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, sent Fénelon to convert Huguenots. He held open meetings for discussion but opposed forced conversions. He arranged for a supply of wheat for starving people, and he made sure the poor converts continued to receive the dole from the Huguenot consistory. In March 1686 he reported that progress was slow, and by July 1687 he felt they ought to leave them in peace. Later in 1711 he advised the Duke of Burgundy to never force his subjects to change their religion. He published his Treatise on the Education of Girls in 1687, and its success led to his being appointed tutor of the Dauphin’s 7-year-old son, the Duke of Burgundy, on August 18, 1689. In 1690 his younger brother, Duke Philippe of Anjou, was included, and three years later their brother, the Duke of Berry was added. To help their learning he wrote Fables and Dialogues of the Dead. In his dialog between “Socrates and Alcibiades” Fénelon wrote,

A people is no less a member of the human race,
which is society as a whole,
than a family is a member of a particular nation.
Each individual owes incomparably more to the human race,
which is the great fatherland,
than to the particular country in which he was born.
As a family is to the nation,
so is the nation to the universal commonweal;
wherefore it is infinitely more harmful
for nation to wrong nation, than for family to wrong family.

      Fénelon wrote his Treatise on the Education of Girls for the Duchess of Beauvillier and other mothers. The work begins, “Nothing is more neglected than the education of girls.” Women have a natural authority in the household and can be careful, attentive to detail, industrious, attractive, and persuasive. Their main duties are usually to manage the household, make their husbands happy, and raise their children well. Mothers with facial expressions and tone and of voice can help children sense right from wrong even before they understand language. They should make their children love truth and dislike pretense. They should avoid tiring children with excessive strictness and never command them in a way that makes them afraid. Many lessons can be introduced in cheerful conversations. Children like fairy tales, and fables can be told that bring out a moral. Fénelon urged the telling of sacred stories too, and death should be explained as the soul leaving the body. Women should learn how to manage an estate and a household. They need to learn to read and write and do arithmetic. They can also learn from poetry, music, arts, and crafts.
      In 1696 Fénelon was made the Archbishop of Cambrai. As a spiritual advisor to Mme. de Maintenon, she relied on his advice regarding the boarding school at Saint-Cyr for girls from struggling noble families that Louis and she had founded in 1684. After Madame Guyon’s imprisonment in 1695 Fénelon in 1697 wrote Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints on the Interior Life. In August perturbed Louis dismissed the royal tutor and confined him to his archdiocese of Cambrai while ordering Bossuet, de Noailles, and the Bishop of Chartres to write pamphlets criticizing Fénelon. He appealed to Rome. When the Inquisition condemned the book and 23 propositions in March 1699, Fénelon submitted to Pope Innocent XII. That year his novel, The Adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulysses, was published, and it implied criticism of the absolute rule of Louis XIV. The story shows the corrupting influence of luxury, the need for good rulers and ministers, and why imperial ambitions and warfare should be avoided.
      During the War of the Spanish Succession the Archbishop Fénelon was respected enough that he could travel in his northern archdiocese of Cambrai without being harmed by either side. He helped the sick and wounded and turned his palace into a hospital. His gardens gave refuge to peasants and their flocks, and he maintained them at his expense. In 1710 he wrote “The Condition of the French Army” to describe the suffering caused by the war. He found that unpaid soldiers often went days without bread. Starving and exhausted soldiers would turn to pillaging for food. The cities lacked funds because for ten years their revenues had been taken by the King for the war. Hospitals were overcrowded with soldiers and refused townspeople. French prisoners in Holland died of hunger because the King did not pay for them. Government intendants ravaged public depots and could not keep their promises. The nation was bankrupt and in disrepute. Everyone evaded the laws while they waited for the war to end.
      In 1711 Fénelon wrote “Questions for the Royal Conscience,” but it was not printed until 1734. He asked the King if he understood the truths of Christianity. Did he and his judges know his laws? Does he read the Gospel? Has he sought advisors who flatter his ambitions? Has he taken things from his subjects contrary to the laws? Has he levied troops against their wills. Does he make sure prisoners are released from the galleys at the end of their term? Does he pay his soldiers? Has he committed injustice against foreign nations? Should the great be less just than the small? Can borders be secure without taking things from others? Fénelon argued that even a successful war brings more evil than good to a state. A good king avoids war because of its disastrous consequences. He concluded, “Three-fourths of all wars occur because of pride, trickery, greed, or impetuosity.”
      Also in 1711 Fénelon wrote about plans for government with the Duke of Chevreuse in Tables de Chaulnes. They recommended local assemblies to balance the power of the centralized regime. Taxes should be lowered and fairly distributed. The States General should meet every three years. Church and State could help each other while remaining independent. Offices should not be sold, and trade should be encouraged as Colbert had done. The death of the Duke of Burgundy in 1712 was a great disappointment to Fénelon, and he died of a fever on January 5, 1715. He had spent so much on charities for convents and the poor that he left little for his heirs.

      Pierre Bayle was born on November 18, 1647 a son of a Calvinist minister in southern France. In 1666 he attended a Huguenot college at Puylaurens and then the Catholic Academy at Toulouse in 1669. He converted to Catholicism for about a year before returning to Calvinism and going to the Protestant Academy in Geneva in 1670. He was a professor of philosophy at the Huguenot Academy of Sedan from 1675 to 1681 when he avoided persecution by going to Rotterdam to be the Chair of History and Philosophy at the new Ecole Illustre. In 1682 Bayle wrote Diverse Thoughts on the Comet of 1680 and a critique of Louis Maimbourg’s hostile history of Calvinism. In the former Bayle argued that atheists can also be good citizens because most people respond to immediate pleasures and pains more than to the distant prospect of reward of heaven or punishment in hell after death. He also observed that believers can be wicked. In 1684 he founded Nouvelles de la république des lettres, a review of books which he edited for four years. His Commentaire philosophique was published in 1686 and again in 1713 with the subtitle Traité de la tolérance universelle.
      In 1692 Bayle began working on his encyclopedic project that was first published in 1697 as his Historical and Critical Dictionary and was enlarged in 1702. The first English translation was published in 1710. Bayle’s approach has been summarized as tolerance and skepticism, and the purpose of his Dictionary is to promote justice and critical freedom. He recommended the maxim, “Persecute no one for his opinions in religion and do not use the right of the sword against conscience.”4 He always supported intellectual liberty and considered it a crime to use violence to fight error when the pen is more effective. Protecting the freedom to err and make corrections without violence is basic to a just and self-reforming society. Both those who teach new ideas and the majority who defend the old are equally obligated not to use violence. Free communities are more likely to acquire knowledge and make improvements than societies that fear criticism and suppress dissent.

      Nicolas Malebranche was born on August 6, 1638 with a curved spine and weak lungs and suffered these disabilities his entire life yet lived until 1715. His father was secretary to Louis XIII. Nicolas was tutored at home and then attended the University of Paris. He spent a decade studying the philosophy of Descartes and worked to integrate his ideas with those of Plato and Augustine. In 1674 he began publishing On the Search for Truth which extended to three volumes. These were followed by his Treatise of Nature and Grace in 1680, Christian and Metaphysical Meditations in 1683, his Treatise on Ethics (Traité de morale) in 1684, and in 1688 his Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion which was banned by the Index in 1689. In 1708 Malebranche published a Dialogue Between a Christian Philosopher and a Chinese Philosopher, and in 1709 On the Search for Truth was put on the Index. The basis of Malebranche’s reality (metaphysics) is the omnipresence and omniscience of God.
      The first part of Malebranche’s Treatise on Ethics is “On Virtue,” which begins, “The Reason which enlightens man is the Word or the Wisdom of God Himself. Though every creature is a particular being, the reason which enlightens man’s mind is universal.”5 By reason one communicates with God and other intelligent beings. God sees all truths, and humans may see some. Malebranche suggests that God loves everything in proportion to their being loveable. Humans are free and can search for truth by meditating. Working on one’s own perfection helps one resemble God and thus works for happiness and dignity. God has created us for the chief duty of love, the universal virtue. Submitting to divine law is the complete sense of virtue. Some may think they are following virtue when they are fulfilling duties. The most important teaching is to love God with all your heart and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Malebranche observed that acts produce habits, and habits produce acts. A sinner can avoid committing a sin, and a just person can lose one’s charity. This is so because every sinner has some love of divine order, and every just person some self-love. Malebranche recommends silencing the senses, imagination, and passions to govern studies and meditate on clear ideas. The truth cannot be discovered without the effort of attention. The strong and free mind can search and find the truth. The correct use of the mind’s strength and freedom contributes to grace by teaching us contempt for passions and purity in our imagination.
      In “Part Two On Duties” Malebranche notes three conditions for making actions virtuous. The first is to examine the action itself and all its circumstances. The second is to suspend consent until the evidence is clear. The third is to obey the divine order “promptly, exactly, and inviolably.” He relates the duties to God’s power, wisdom, and love. To see God as good our love must be like God’s and follow divine law. Parents should set an example and guide children by reason. We should give equals the place they wish to fill in our hearts and minds by showing good inward dispositions to them in expression and behavior. The duty we owe to ourselves is to work for our own perfection and happiness.

La Rochefoucauld and Mme. de Lafayette

      François de La Rochefoucauld was born in Paris on September 15, 1613, the son of a count, and was called the Prince of Marillac until his father’s death in 1650 when he became the Duke of La Rochefoucauld. He married the heiress Andrée de Vivonne in 1628, and they raised seven children. He joined the army and fought against Spaniards in Italy in 1629 and in the Netherlands and Picardy (1635-36) and was wounded three times. In 1635 he and Duchess de Chevreuse conspired against Cardinal Richelieu who put him in the Bastille for eight days and exiled him to Verteuil for two years. In 1639 he fought again in Flanders. His father became duke and governor of Poitou but was dismissed. Cardinal Mazarin appointed his son to that governorship in 1646. During the Fronde civil wars La Rochefoucauld became attached to Anne de Bourbon, Duchess of Longueville, brother of the Prince of Condé. La Rochefoucauld may have drafted the Treaty of Madrid in 1651 and was involved in negotiating with the Spanish to obtain aid for the French nobles. He was seriously wounded at Mardyke, and in 1652 he fought with Condé at Faubourg Saint-Antoine where was shot in the head and almost lost his vision. The Fronde destroyed his home at Verteuil, ruining his finances. In 1659 he moved back to Paris where he was involved in five lawsuits over court precedence. La Rochefoucauld attended the salon of Mme. De Sablé where he met Mme. de Sévigné and the novelist Mme. de Lafayette. In the salons they made a game of creating and discussing pithy maxims, and he saw Lafayette daily as she was writing her novel, The Princess of Cleves. On June 17, 1671 La Rochefoucauld’s oldest soon was seriously wounded; his second son was killed as was his beloved natural son, the Duke of Longueville. He mourned for six months.
      La Rochefoucauld suffered from melancholy (depression) and expressed his pessimistic views in clever maxims that gave him a reputation as a cynic. In 1665 he published Reflections or Sentences and Moral Maxims, and it had subsequent editions in 1666, 1671, 1675, and 1678. In the first of the “Maxims Withdrawn by the Author” (563) he described how self-love is such a powerful influence on people. He believed it made people worship themselves, and it can make the powerful tyrants. Its desires are concealed, devious, and transform themselves in complicated ways. People are blind to them just as eyes cannot see themselves. The second maxim is “Self-love is the greatest flatterer of all.” The maxims are worth reading for the insights they provide to help us understand ourselves and others in realistic ways. La Rochefoucauld defined sincerity as “openness of heart” but found it in very few people. He noted that public robbery may be considered a skilful achievement, and wrongful seizing of a province may be called conquest. Here are some of my favorite maxims:

Where love is, no disguise can hide it for long;
where it is not, none can simulate it. (70)
Everybody complains of his memory,
but nobody of his judgements. (89)
To listen well and answer to the point
is one of the most perfect qualities
one can have in conversation. (139)
Few people are wise enough to prefer useful criticism
to the sort of praise which is their undoing. (147)
If we never flattered ourselves
the flattery of others could do us no harm. (152)
In jealousy there is more self-love than love. (324)
We forgive so long as we love. (330)
Excessive hatred brings us down
below the level of those we hate. (338)
Only those with real strength of character
can have real gentleness. (479)
Quarrels would not last long
if the fault were on one side only. (496)
We are quick to criticize the faults of others,
but slow to use those faults to correct our own. (526)
Little is needed to make a wise man happy,
but nothing can content a fool.
That is why nearly all men are miserable. (538)
Wisdom is to the soul what health is to the body. (541)
A wise man thinks it more advantageous
not to join battle than to win. (549)
It is more important to study men than books. (550)
A good woman is a hidden treasure:
the finder is well advised not to boast about it. (552)
When we love overmuch, it is hard to realize
that we are no longer loved in return. (553)
We only blame ourselves in order to be praised. (554)
We would rather see those we do good to
than those who do good to us. (558)
It is harder to disguise feelings we have
than to put on those we have not. (559)
Friendships taken up again need more care
than friendships never dropped. (560)
When you cannot find your peace in yourself
it is useless to look for it elsewhere. (571)
We are never as unhappy as we think,
nor as happy as we had hoped. (572)
How can we expect somebody else to keep our secret
if we cannot keep it ourselves? (584)
The most dangerous effect of men’s pride is blindness.
Pride maintains and increases this blindness
which prevents men from seeing the remedies
that might lighten their burden and cure their faults. (585)
We never blame vice of praise virtue
except through self-interest. (597)
Anger … is really pride gone mad. (601)
Self-confidence is at the root of
most of our confidence in others. (624)
Magnanimity is a noble effort of pride
which, by this effort, makes a man master of himself
so as to be master of all things. (628)
Luxury and excessive refinement
are sure forerunners of the decadence of states,
because when all individuals seek their own interests
they neglect the public weal. (629)
The cleverest course for the not so clever
is to know when to accept the wise guidance of others. (639)
If we are strong enough to own up to our misdeeds
we must not fret about them. (641)6

      Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne was born in Paris and baptized on March 18, 1634. After her father died in 1650, her mother Isabelle Pena married Renaud-René de Sévigné. That year Marie-Madeleine became a maid of honor to Queen Mother Anne and met Ménage, secretary to Cardinal de Retz. In 1652 she was introduced to Madame Sévigné. She visited Paris, met Henrietta of England in a convent, and read the longest novel ever published, Le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry and the first volume of her Clélie. These long novels portrayed women teaching men to be more courteous. In 1655 Marie-Madeleine fell in love and married the 38-year-old widower Jean-François Motier, the Count Lafayette, and they had two sons. In 1659 she moved to Paris. In 1661 Henrietta married Louis XIV’s brother Philippe, and Mme. de Lafayette entered the court. She would eventually write the History of Henrietta of England, but it would not be published until 1722. In 1662 she published anonymously the novella The Princess of Montpensier about adulterous love affairs set in the time of Queen Catherine de Médicis. In 1665 she began her close friendship with the Duke La Rochefoucauld which would continue until his death in 1680. They collaborated with the poet Jean Regnault de Segrais on the novel Zaïde which was published under his name in 1669-71. Mme. de Lafayette also wrote a Memoir of the Court of France for the years 1688 and 1689 which was published at Amsterdam in 1731 and has been useful to historians.
      Mme. de Lafayette’s most popular novel is The Princess of Cleves which was shared with her friends in a salon and probably received their suggestions over seven years before it went on sale in March 1678. The novel was a popular sensation for its realistic description of feelings and thoughts at the court of Henri II in 1558 and 1559. Several pamphlets criticized the heroine’s confession to her husband, and Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld wrote responses. Most of the characters were real people except for the Princess.
      Henri II in his last years is still in love with the elderly grandmother Diane de Poitiers, Duchess of Valentinois, who had been his father’s mistress. Queen Catherine de Médicis is still beautiful and tolerates this. Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland has just married the Dauphin François. The Duke of Nemours is described as “nature’s masterpiece,” and he has had several mistresses. The Constable of Montmorency handles the government. Hopes arise that Nemours may be able to marry England’s new Queen Elizabeth. Mademoiselle de Chartres arrives in court and astonishes the Prince of Cleves and others with her beauty. The Chevalier de Guise is his rival. Madame Chartres realizes that love is always mixed with self-interest; everyone at court is trying to better their positions by pleasing and helping others or by hindering some. Cleves courts her daughter who agrees to marry him even though she is not especially attracted to him. After the wedding at the Louvre the King and the two queens attend the supper party, and Nemours dances with Queen Mary. At another ball the King orders Nemours to dance with the Cleves princess, and he is entranced by her beauty. Although she has disappointed her husband by her lack of passion, she remains faithful to him. Nemours is so attracted to her that he refuses to go to England to court Elizabeth. While in Queen Mary’s apartments, the princess sees Nemours steal a miniature portrait of her. When Nemours is injured in a tournament, people notice the reaction of the princess. She finds a letter from a former mistress of Nemours who does not want to see him anymore because he is having other affairs.
      The princess persuades her husband to take her to their country estate. There he suspects she had an affair, and she confesses that she has fallen in love with someone else. He appreciates her honesty and offers to help her overcome the temptation. She declines to say who the man is. Later she learns that Nemours was hiding and heard this conversation. After several months she admits to her husband that Nemours is the man. He controls his jealousy because of her promise but complains that she is not being fair to him. She asks permission to live at a country home near Paris, and he sends one of his servants to watch her. He reports that twice she and Nemours were in the garden at night, but actually she refused to see him. The prince catches a fever, and his wife tries to persuade him that she has been faithful; but he doubts it and dies. Several months later her uncle Vidame agrees to intercede with her on behalf of Nemours, and a meeting is arranged. She tells Nemours that even though she is in love with him, she will not marry him. She goes to a convent for a while and then retires to an estate far from Paris. There she becomes ill and dies.

Boileau, Fontenelle & La Fontaine’s Fables

      Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was born in Paris on November 1, 1636. He gave up religion and law to write satires and literary criticism. In 1663 Boileau defended Molière early in his career, and in 1677 he did the same for Racine who became a close friend working together on a history of Louis XIV’s reign which was lost in a fire. In 1665 Boileau’s Satire V was aimed at the nobility by showing that noble actions are more important than birth. In 1668 Satire VIII portrayed man as the most foolish of animals, and he especially criticized the theologian Morel for writing against the Jansenists. Boileau wrote a Dialogue of the Heroes of Novels that satirized the lengthy work of Madeleine de Scudéry, but he did not publish it until after her death. In 1671 the theology faculty of the Sorbonne was about to ask the Parlement of Paris to forbid teaching any philosophy not based on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas; but Boileau’s devastating Burlesque Injunction caused them to put off that effort.
      In 1674 Boileau published his influential L’Art poétique, the mock epic La Lutrin, and his translation of On the Sublime by Longinus. L’Art poétique applied to literary criticism such values as beauty, truth, nature, genius, inspiration, technique, discipline, and reasonableness which includes propriety and verisimilitude. La Lutrin makes fun of the dispute in 1667 between the Precentor and the Treasurer of the Sante-Chapelle over the installation of a large lectern in the choir, and it includes the “Battle of the Books” in which two factions throw books at each other. This work influenced Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.
      In 1677 Boileau and Racine were appointed royal historiographers. In 1684 the French Academy admitted Boileau and La Fontaine. Boileau began a quarrel with Charles Perrault between ancients and moderns in 1687. In 1693 Boileau published his Satire X Against Women, and Perrault criticized the bachelor unmercifully. La Bruyère defended the ancients and Boileau as did the Jansenist Arnaud, and the quarrel ended by 1697. Boileau’s Satire XII attacked Jesuits for their casuistry, but he could not get it published before his death in 1711.

      Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757) studied law and then composed poems and plays, for Corneille was his uncle. He soon turned to philosophy and wrote The Origin of Fables, though he avoided publishing it until 1724. This began the practice of criticizing the myths of religions that would become popular in the enlightenment. Like Lucian, he published New Dialogs of the Dead in January 1683 imagining conversations between historical persons. These included dialogs between ancients such as Alexander and Phryne, Anacreon and Aristotle, and Homer and Aesop as well as dialogs between ancients and moderns and between modern people who had died. Both Socrates and Montaigne, for example, hoped to find less corruption in the other’s era. However, in January 1688 Fontenelle published his Digression on the Ancients and Moderns and found little progress in poetry but much more in science and learning. His Conversation on the Plurality of Worlds in 1686 explained the heliocentric planetary system of Copernicus and helped popularize this understanding. He published the controversial treatise History of Oracles anonymously in December 1688 which he translated and adapted from the scholarly research of Anton van Dael who had criticized superstitions and witch-hunting in his De oraculis veterum ethnicorum dissertationes in 1683. After several attempts Fontenelle was elected to the French Academy in 1691. In 1697 he became the secretary of the Academy of Sciences for the next 42 years, corresponding with scientists from various countries. He died 33 days short of a century.

      Jean de la Fontaine was baptized on July 8, 1621 in Chateau-Thierry. His father was a forest ranger for the government. In local schooling and at Paris after 1635 Jean learned Greek and Latin. In 1641 he began studying for the priesthood but gave it up after eighteen months. He went back home and wrote poetry which his father loved. In 1645 he returned to Paris to study law and began practicing it by 1649. In 1647 he married 14-year-old Marie Héricart who brought a dowry of 30,000 livres. In 1652 he bought an office similar to his father’s in Chateau-Thierry. In 1654 he adapted Terence’s The Eunuch which was performed in Paris. Apparently La Fontaine and his wife both had occasional affairs. His father’s death in 1658 brought Jean a large inheritance as the oldest son, though he had to pay some debts. His wife was given a legal separation and retained the remainder of her dowry. In 1659 Finance Minister Fouquet paid him an annual pension for verses, and La Fontaine also wrote odes, ballads, and songs for royal events. In 1661 Louis XIV ordered an end to the misuse of titles, and La Fontaine was fined 2,000 livres for having called himself esquire (écuyer). He wrote an “Ode to the King” pleading for clemency for Fouquet. In 1664 Marguerite de Lorraine, the Dowager Duchess of Orléans, made him a gentleman of her household, but his wife eventually went back to Chateau-Thierry. The Duke and Duchess of Bouillon also became his patrons, and he published his first book of tales in verse based on stories by Boccaccio and Ariosto.
      In 1668 La Fontaine published 124 Fables in six books based on Aesop’s animal stories. In 1673 Marguerite de la Sablière began supporting him and did so for twenty years until her death. La Fontaine had continued to publish more adult tales from time to time; but in 1675 the Lt. General of Police banned the sale of his recent tales because he believed they would corrupt morals. In 1678 and 1679 La Fontaine published the next five books of his Fables. In 1683 he disavowed his tales, and after a delay by Louis XIV the Académie Française elected him a member in 1684. In 1690-91 he added more fables, and Book XII was completed in 1694. These were written for the young Duke of Burgundy who gave him 50 louis d’or. La Fontaine died on April 13, 1695.
      Aesop's Fables had been translated into Latin verse by Phaedrus in the first century CE and were put into Greek verse by Babrius in the next century. In the 12th century Marie de France put some of Aesop’s tales into French verse,. There were also French verse versions by Guillaume Guerolt in 1547 and by Gilles Corrozet in 1587, and the work of Phaedrus was translated into French in 1596. All these were the raw material that La Fontaine used for the first six books of his well received Fables. Most of the second six books of La Fontaine were based on the Sanskrit Panchatantra animal stories which were written down in India about the 2nd-century BC and were translated into Persian about the 6th-century CE. In 1570 Thomas North translated these into English as The Fables of Bidpai. These fables were published in French as Le Livre des Lumières in 1644. In the 12th book La Fontaine also drew stories from Seneca, Martial, the Persian Sa’di, the Italian humanist Laurentius Abstemius, Mathurin Régnier, and Samuel Butler.
       La Fontaine dedicated the Fables to the Dauphin and noted how ingeniously Aesop presented his morals. They are filled with common sense and are wonderful for children yet contain important truths. By such charming stories the heart is taught to know itself, and without pain a prince can learn what he needs to know. In a struggle between two bulls and many frogs the conclusion is, “Whoever wins—I sadly state—lesser folk always pay for the wars of the great.”7 Sometimes the strong need help from the weak as in the fable of the lion and the rat when the lion is caught in a net.

Rat ran to the rescue and chewed with devotion
Till the net raveled off in a ruin, all loose.
         Time and patience are of more use
         Than force or fierce emotion.8

The lesson of “The Mule Who Boasted of His Pedigree” is the following:

Thus suffering can be a school
To knock sense back into the fool,
And men have every reason still
To praise the good that comes from ill.9

In “The Two Rats, the Fox, and the Egg” the fable discusses animal consciousness and human awareness.

As of our kind, between the beasts and angels,
we, in twofold guise, with treasures twain, are doubly blessed.
With one soul like the animals’—mad, wise,
foolish as children—worldly guest am I;
sacred, the other, flying free with hosts angelic through the air,
spread vast unto infinity yet fitting on a single point,
and there never to end, nay, once begun—
a strange reality, nor ever done.
In us, that daughter of the sun
would seem only a tender, feeble beam while children, we.
But, as our reason grows,
it punctures matter’s umbrageous protection,
piercing its shadows, to expose
that other soul in its gross imperfection.10

In La Fontaine’s last fable a hermit advises an arbiter and a hospital worker, “O brothers mine, let solitude’s peace be your home. For that is where you see yourself.”11

La Bruyère’s Characters

      Jean de La Bruyère was born on August 16, 1645. His father was the Controller of the Rentes de la Ville. Jean studied law and got his license in 1665. In 1673 he purchased the position of Treasurer-General of Finance for the district of Caen, but he spent the next eleven years living in Paris with his mother and brothers; he never married. In 1684 Bishop Bossuet helped La Bruyère become the tutor to the Prince of Condé’s 16-year-old grandson Louis de Bourbon at the Château de Chantilly. The arrogant youth and the Prince sometimes made fun of him because of his inferior social status. When the Prince of Condé died in December 1686, his grandson no longer wanted a tutor; but La Bruyère was allowed to stay on as librarian, giving him time for reading and writing.
      In 1688 La Bruyère published Les Caractères de Théophraste traduits du grec, avec les Caractères ou les Moeurs de ce siècle. His translation of Theophrastus was printed in larger type and was about a hundred pages while La Bruyère’s writing was twice that. In later editions the type of Theophrastus was made smaller than his words. By the 8th and final edition in 1694 no differentiation of the Theophrastus text remains, though the appearance of Greek names may be a clue. The number of La Bruyère’s remarks had increased from 420 to 1,120. The book was immediately popular and is a French classic praised by Voltaire and many others. His satirical portraits of contemporaries made some enemies, but after two tries La Bruyère was elected to the French Academy in 1693. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 11, 1696.
      Those interested in character portraits from his society may read the text of La Bruyère’s Characters. I picked out the following gems of wisdom:

A gentleman repays himself for the zeal
with which he performs his duty
by the pleasure he enjoys in acting thus,
and does not regret the praise, esteem, and gratitude
which he sometimes does not receive. (2:15)
If it be usual to be strongly impressed
by things that are scarce,
why are we so little impressed by virtue? (2:20)
Anything is a temptation to those who dread it. (3:34)
Whenever I find learning and sagacity
united in one and the same person,
I do not care what the sex may be, I admire. (3:49)
The greatest and most stirring interest a woman can feel
whose heart is no longer free,
is less to convince her lover of her own affection
than to be assured of his love for her. (3:72)
If it be true that in showing pity and compassion
we think of ourselves, because we fear to be
one day or another in the same circumstances
as those unfortunate people for whom we feel,
why are the latter so sparingly relieved by us
in their wretchedness? (4:48)
An intelligent man neither allows himself to be controlled
nor attempts to control others;
he wishes reason alone to rule, and that always. (4:71)
There are certain sublime sentiments,
certain noble and lofty actions, for which we are indebted
rather to the kindness of our disposition
than to the strength of our mind. (4:79)
The most delicate of pleasures
is to please another person. (5:16)
It is often easier as well as more advantageous
to conform ourselves to other men’s opinions
than to bring them over to ours. (5:48)
Nothing makes us better understand what trifling things
Providence thinks He bestows on men in granting them
wealth, money, dignities, and other advantages,
than the manner in which they are distributed
and the kind of men who have the largest share. (6:24)
A man is rich whose income is larger than his expenses,
and he is poor if his expenses are greater than his income….
If it be true that a man is rich who wants nothing,
a wise man is a very rich man.
If a man be poor who wishes to have everything,
then an ambitious and a miserly man
languish in extreme poverty. (6:49)
When we lavish our money, we rob our heir;
when we merely save it, we rob ourselves.
The middle course is to be just
to ourselves and to others. (6:66)
The court does not satisfy a man, but it prevents him
from being satisfied with anything else. (8:8)
If poverty is the mother of all crimes,
lack of intelligence is their father. (11:13)
Death happens but once,
yet we feel it every moment of our lives;
it is worse to dread it than to suffer it. (11:36)
Whatever is certain in death
is slightly alleviated by what is not so infallible;
the time when it shall happen is undefined,
but it is more or less connected with the infinite,
and what we call eternity. (11:38)
Man does not live long enough to be benefited by his faults;
he is committing them during the whole course of his life,
and it is as much as he can do, if, after many errors,
he dies at last improved.
Nothing revives more a man than the knowledge
that he has avoided doing some foolish action. (11:60)
A party spirit betrays the greatest men
to act as meanly as the vulgar herd. (11:63)
In well-constituted minds, festivals, spectacles, and music
bring more vividly before us, and make us feel the more
the misfortunes of our relatives or friends. (11:80)
A great mind is above insults, injustice, grief, and raillery, and
would be invulnerable were it not open to compassion. (11:81)
All men’s misfortunes proceed
from their aversion to being alone;
hence gambling, extravagance, dissipation, wine, women,
ignorance, slander, envy, and forgetfulness
of what we owe to God and ourselves. (11:99)
Vices arise from a depraved heart;
faults from some defect in our constitution;
ridicule from want of sense. (12:47)
Socrates was far from a cynic;
he did not indulge in personalities,
but lashed the morals and manners which were bad. (12:66)
If we wish to be essentially just to others,
we should be quick and not dilatory;
to let people wait is to commit an injustice. (12:81)
Parents are over-confident in expecting too much
from the good education of their children,
and commit a grievous error
if they expect nothing from it and neglect it. (12:84)
To think only of ourselves and of the present time
is a source of error in politics. (12:87)
Virtue is fortunate enough to be able to do without any help,
and can exist without admirers, partisans, and protectors;
lack of support and approbation does not harm it,
but, on the contrary, strengthens, purifies, and perfects it;
whether in or out of fashion, it is still virtue. (13:5)
I am convinced that true piety
is the source from which repose flows;
it renders life bearable and death without sting;
hypocrisy does not possess such advantages. (13:30)
It is the duty of a judge to administer justice,
but it is his profession to delay it;
some judges know their duty
and practice their profession. (14:43)
A good physician is a man who employs specifics,
or, if he has not got any, allows those persons
who have them to cure his patient. (14:66)
A sermon at present has become a mere show. (15:1)
The impossibility I find myself under
of proving there is no God,
is to me a convincing argument for His existence. (16:13)
God condemns and punishes those who offend Him,
and He is the only judge in His own cause,
which would shock all our ideas
if He Himself were not Justice and Truth—
that is, if He were not God. (16:14)
I feel there is a God, and I do not feel there is none;
this is sufficient for me,
and all other arguments seem to me superfluous;
I therefore conclude that He exists,
and this conclusion is inherent to my nature. (16:15)
Two sorts of men flourish in courts and reign there by turns,
freethinkers and hypocrites;
the first gaily, openly, without art or disguise,
the second cunningly and by intrigue. (16:26)
There are two sorts of freethinkers;
those who are really so, or at least believe themselves so,
and the hypocrites or pretended pious people,
who are unwilling to be thought freethinkers. (16:27)
It is as impossible for the thinking principle within me
to be matter, as it is to conceive that God should be matter;
as God, therefore, is a spirit,
so my soul is also a spirit. (16:37)
I cannot conceive the annihilation of a soul
which God has filled with the idea
of His infinite and all-perfect being. (16:42)
If the whole world were made for man,
it is literally the smallest thing God has done for man,
and this may be proved by religion.
Man is therefore neither presumptuous nor vain,
when he submits to the evidences of truth,
and owns the advantages he has received;
he might be accused of blindness and stupidity,
did he refuse to yield to the multitude of proofs
which religion lays before him, to show him the privileges
he enjoys, his resources, his expectations,
and to teach him what he is and what he may be. (16:45)
Everything is great and wonderful in nature;
there is nothing which does not bear the stamp of the artist;
the irregular and imperfect things we sometimes observe
imply regularity and perfection. (16:46)
Many millions of years, nay, many thousand millions of years,
in a word, as many as can be comprehended
within the limits of time, are but an instant
compared to the duration of God, who is eternal;
the extent of the whole universe is but a point, an atom,
compared to His immensity….
All justice is in conformity to a sovereign reason. (16:47)
A certain inequality in the condition of men
is conducive to the order and welfare of the whole,
is the work of God, or presupposes a divine law;
but too great a disproportion,
and such as is generally seen amongst men,
is their own work, or caused by the law of the strongest.
Extremes are faulty, and proceed from men;
all compensation is just, and proceeds from God. (16:49)12


1. “Pascal’s Memorial” in Great Shorter Works of Pascal tr. Emile Cailliet and John C. Blankenagel, p. 117.
2. Pensées and Other Writings by Pascal tr. Honor Levi.
3. The Essential Pascal ed. Robert W. Gleason,tr. G. F. Pullen.
4.Quoted in Political Writings by Bayle ed. Sally L. Jenkinson, p. xxxv.
5. Treatise on Ethics (1684) by Nicolas Malebranche tr. Craig Walton, p. 45.
6. Maxims by La Rochefoucauld tr. Leonard Tancock.
7. Selected Fables & Tales of La Fontaine tr. Marie Ponsot, II:5, p. 29.
8. Ibid., II:11, p. 30.
9. Selected Fables by La Fontaine tr. James Michie, VI:7, p. 70.
10. The Complete Fables by Jean de La Fontainetr. Norman R. Shapiro, IX:20, p. 263-64.
11. Ibid. XII:29, p. 396.
12. Characters by Jean de La Bruyere tr. Henri van Laun.

Copyright © 2016 by Sanderson Beck

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EUROPE: Wars & Plays 1588-1648

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