The Provincial Letters, by Blaise Pascal

Reply of the “provincial” to the First Two Letters Of His Friend

February 2, 1656


Your two letters have not been confined to me. Everybody has seen them, everybody understands them, and everybody believes them. They are not only in high repute among theologians — they have proved agreeable to men of the world, and intelligible even to the ladies.

In a communication which I lately received from one of the gentlemen of the Academy — one of the most illustrious names in a society of men who are all illustrious — who had seen only your first letter, he writes me as follows: “I only wish that the Sorbonne, which owes so much to the memory of the late cardinal, would acknowledge the jurisdiction of his French Academy. The author of the letter would be satisfied; for, in the capacity of an academician, I would authoritatively condemn, I would banish, I would proscribe — I had almost said exterminate — to the extent of my power, this proximate power, which makes so much noise about nothing and without knowing what it would have. The misfortune is that our academic power is a very limited and remote power. I am sorry for it; and still more sorry that my small power cannot discharge me from my obligations to you,” &c.

My next extract is from the pen of a lady, whom I shall not indicate in any way whatever. She writes thus to a female friend who had transmitted to her the first of your letters: “You can have no idea how much I am obliged to you for the letter you sent me — it is so very ingenious, and so nicely written. It narrates, and yet it is not a narrative; it clears up the most intricate and involved of all possible matters; its raillery is exquisite; it enlightens those who know little about the subject and imparts double delight to those who understand it. It is an admirable apology; and, if they would so take it, a delicate and innocent censure. In short, that letter displays so much art, so much spirit, and so much judgment, that I burn with curiosity to know who wrote it,” &c.

You too, perhaps, would like to know who the lady is that writes in this style; but you must be content to esteem without knowing her; when you come to know her, your esteem will be greatly enhanced.

Take my word for it, then, and continue your letters; and let the censure come when it may, we are quite prepared for receiving it. These words proximate power and sufficient grace, with which we are threatened, will frighten us no longer. We have learned from the Jesuits, the Jacobins, and M. le Moine, in how many different ways they may be turned, and how little solidity there is in these new-fangled terms, to give ourselves any trouble about them. Meanwhile, I remain, &c.

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