Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). Minor Works.
Pascal - an original genius - purposed to master everything that was new in art and science. He was a mathematician and scientist as well as a religious enthusiast and moralist, and he shows a decidedly human side of his nature in this superb essay on Love.
Vol. 48, pp. 411-421
Discourse on the Passion of Love
MAN 1 is born for thought; therefore he is not a moment without it; but the pure thoughts that would render him happy, if he could always maintain them, weary and oppress him. They make a uniform life to which he cannot adapt himself; he must have excitement and action, that is, it is necessary that he should sometimes be agitated by those passions the deep and vivid sources of which he feels within his heart.
The passions which are the best suited to man and include many others, are love and ambition: they have little connec-tion with each other; nevertheless they are often allied; but they mutually weaken, not to say destroy, each other.
Whatever compass of mind one may have, he is capable of only one great passion; hence, when love and ambition are found together, they are only half as great as they would be if only one of them existed. The time of life determines neither the beginning nor the end of these two passions; they spring up in the earliest years and subsist very often unto the tomb. Nevertheless, as they require much warmth, young persons are best fitted for them, and it seems that they abate with years: this however is very rare.
The life of man is miserably brief. It is usually computed from his first entrance into the world; for my part, I would only compute it from the birth of reason and from the time that man begins to be influenced by it, which does not ordinarily happen before twenty years of age. Before this time, we are children, and a child is not a man.
How happy is a life that begins with love and ends with ambition! If I had to choose, this is the one I should take. So long as we have ardor we are amiable; but this ardor dies out, is lost; then what a fine and noble place is left for ambition! A tumultuous life is pleasing to great minds, but those who are mediocre have no pleasure in it; they are machines everywhere. Hence when love and ambition begin and end life, we are in the happiest condition of which human nature is capable.
The more mind we have the greater the passions are, since the passions being only sentiments and thoughts that belong purely to the mind although they are occasioned by the body, it is obvious that they are no longer any thing but the mind itself, and that thus they fill up its entire capacity. I speak here only of the ardent passions, for the others are often mingled together and cause a very annoying confusion; but this is never the case in those who have mind.
In a great soul everything is great.
It is asked whether it is necessary to love? This should not be asked, it should be felt. We do not deliberate upon it, we are forced to it, and take pleasure in deceiving ourselves when we discuss it.
Definiteness of mind causes definiteness of passion; this is why a great and definite mind loves with ardor, and sees distinctly what it loves.
There are two kinds of mind: the one geometrical, and the other what may be called the imaginative (de finesse).
The former is slow, rigid, and inflexible in its views, but the latter has a suppleness of thought which fastens at once upon the various pleasing qualities of what it loves. From the eyes it goes to the heart itself, and from the expression without it knows what is passing within.
When we have both kinds of mind combined, how much pleasure is given by love! For we possess at the same time the strength and the flexibility of mind essentially necessary for the eloquence of two persons.
We are born with a disposition to love in our hearts, which is developed in proportion as the mind is perfected, and impels us to love what appears to us beautiful without ever having been told what this is. Who can doubt after this whether we are in the world for anything else than to love? In fact, we conceal in vain, we always love. In the very things from which love seems to have been separated, it is found secretly and under seal, and man could not live a moment without this.
Man does not like to dwell with himself; nevertheless he loves; it is necessary then that he seek elsewhere something to love. He can find it only in beauty; but as he is himself the most beautiful creature that God has ever formed, he must find in himself the model of this beauty which he seeks without. Every one can perceive in himself the first glimmerings of it; and according as we observe that what is without agrees or disagrees with these, we form our ideas of beauty or deformity in all things. Nevertheless, although man seeks wherewith to fill up the great void he makes in going out of himself, he cannot however be satisfied with every kind of object. His heart is too large; it is necessary at least that it should be something that resembles him and approaches him as near as may be. Hence the beauty that can satisfy man consists not only in fitness, but also in resemblance; it is restricted and confined to the difference of sex.
Nature has so well impressed this truth on our souls, that we find a predisposition to all this; neither art nor study is required; it even seems that we have a place to fill in our hearts which is thus filled effectively. But we feel this better than we can express it. It is only those who know how to confuse and contemn their ideas who do not see it.
Although this general idea of beauty may be engraven in the innermost part of our souls with ineffaceable characters, it does not prevent us from being susceptible of great differences in its individual application; but this is only in the manner of regarding what pleases us. For we do not wish for beauty alone, but desire in connection with it a thousand circumstances that depend on the disposition in which it is found, and it is in this sense that it may be said that each one possesses the original of his beauty, the copy of which he is seeking externally. Nevertheless, women often determine this original. As they have an absolute empire over the minds of men, they paint on them either the qualities of the beauties which they possess or those which they esteem, and by this means add what pleases them to this radical beauty. Hence there is one epoch for blondes, another for brunettes, and the division there is among women in respect to esteem for the one or the other makes at the same time the difference among men in this regard.
Fashion even and country often regulate what is called beauty. It is a strange thing that custom should mingle so strongly with our passions. This does not hinder each one from having his idea of beauty by which he judges others and with which he compares them; it is on this principle that a lover finds his mistress the most beautiful and proposes her as a model.
Beauty is divided in a thousand different ways. The most proper object to sustain it is a woman. When she has intellect, she enlivens it and sets it off marvellously. If a woman wishes to please, and possesses the advantages of beauty or a portion of them at least, she will succeed; and even though men take ever so little heed of it, although she does not strive for it, she will make herself loved. There is an accessible point in their hearts; she will take up her abode there.
Man is born for pleasure; he feels it; no other proof of it is needed. He therefore follows his reason in giving himself to pleasure. But very often he feels passion in his heart without knowing in what it originated.
A true or false pleasure can equally fill the mind. For what matters it that this pleasure is false, if we are persuaded that it is true?
By force of speaking of love we become enamored. There is nothing so easy. It is the passion most natural to man.
Love has no age; it is always young. So the poets tell us; it is for this that they represent it to us under the figure of a child. But without asking any thing of it, we feel it.
Love gives intellect and is sustained by intellect. Address is needed in order to love. We daily exhaust the methods of pleasing; nevertheless it is necessary to please and we please.
We have a fountain of self-love which represents us to ourselves as being able to fill several places outside of ourselves; this is what makes us happy to be loved. As we desire it with ardor, we quickly remark it and perceive it in the eyes of the person who loves. For the eyes are the interpreters of the heart; but he alone who is interested in them can understand their language.
Man by himself is something imperfect; he must find a second in order to be happy. He oftenest seeks it in equality of condition, because in that the liberty and the opportunity of manifesting his wishes are most easily found. Yet he sometimes rises above this, and feels the kindling flame although he dares not tell it to the one who has caused it.
When we love a woman of unequal condition, ambition may accompany the beginning of the love; but in a little time the latter becomes master. It is a tyrant that will suffer no companion; it wishes to be alone; all the other passions must bend to it and obey it.
An elevated attachment fills the heart of man much better than a common and equal one; and little things float in his capacity; none but great ones lodge and dwell therein.
We often write things which we only prove by obliging every one to reflect upon himself, and find the truth of which we are speaking. In this consists the force of the proofs of what I assert.
When a man is fastidious in any quality of his mind, he is so in love. For as he must be moved by every object that is outside of himself, if there is any thing that is repugnant to his ideas, he perceives and shuns it; the rule of this fastidiousness depends on a pure, noble, and sublime reason. Thus we can believe ourselves fastidious without actually being so, and others have the right to condemn us; whilst for beauty each one has his rule, sovereign and independent of that of others. Yet between being fastidious and not being so at all, it must be granted that when one desires to be fastidious he is not far from actually being so. Women like to perceive fastidiousness in men, and this is, it seems to me, the most vulnerable point whereby to gain them: we are pleased to see that a thousand others are contemned and that we alone are esteemed.
Qualities of mind are not acquired by habit; they are only perfected. Whence it is easy to see that fastidiousness is a gift of nature and not an acquisition of art.
In proportion as we have more intellect, we find more original beauties; but this is not necessary in order to be in love; for when love, we find but one.
Does it not seem that as often as a woman goes out of herself to impress the hearts of others, she makes a place void for others in her own? Yet, I know some who affirm that this is not true. Dare we call this injustice? It is natural to give back as much as we have taken.
Attachment to the same thought wearies and destroys the mind of man. Hence for the solidity and permanence of the pleasure of love, it is sometimes necessary not to know that we love; and this is not to be guilty of an infidelity, for we do not therefore love another; it is to regain strength in order to love the better. This happens without our thinking of it; the mind is borne hither of itself; nature wills it, commands it. It must however be confessed that this is a miserable consequence of human weakness, and that we should be happier of we were not forced to change of thought; but there is no remedy.
The pleasure of loving without daring to tell it, has its pains, but it has its joys also. What transport do we not feel in moulding all our actions in view of pleasing the person whom we infinitely esteem! We study each day to find the means of revealing ourselves, and thus employ as much time as if we were holding converse with the one whom we love. The eyes kindle and grow dim at the same moment, and although we do not see plainly that the one who causes this disorder takes heed of it, we still have the satisfaction of feeling all these emotions for a person who deserves them so well. We would gladly have a hundred tongues to make it known; for as we cannot make use of words, we are obliged to confine ourselves to the eloquence of action.
Up to this point we have constant delight and sufficient occupation. Thus we are happy; for the secret of keeping a passion constantly alive is to suffer no void to spring up in the mind, by obliging it to apply itself without ceasing to what moves it so agreeably. But when it is in the state that I have just described, it cannot last long, because being sole actor in a passion in which there must necessarily be two, it is difficult to hinder it from soon exhausting all the emotions by which it is agitated.
Although the passion may be the same, novelty is needed; the mind takes delight in it, and he who knows how to procure it, knows how to make himself loved.
After having gone thus far, this plenitude sometimes diminishes, and receiving no assistance from the side of its source, we decline miserably, and hostile passions take possession of a heart which they rend into a thousand pieces. Yet a ray of hope, however faint it may be, exalts us as high as we were before. This is sometimes a play in which women delight; but sometimes in feigning to have compassion, they have it in reality. How happy we are when this is the case!
A firm and solid love always begins with the eloquence of action; the eyes have the best share in it. Nevertheless it is necessary to conjecture, but to conjecture rightly.
When two persons are of the same sentiments, they do not conjecture, or at least one conjectures what the other means to say without the other understanding it or daring to understand.
When we love, we appear to ourselves quite different from what we were before. Thus we imagine that every one perceives it; yet nothing is more false. But because the per-ception of reason is bounded by passion, we cannot assure ourselves and are always suspicious.
When we love, we are persuaded that we shall discover the passion of another: thus we are afraid.
The longer the way is in love, the greater is the pleasure that a sensitive mind feels in it.
There are certain minds to which hopes must long be given, and these are minds of refinement. There are others which cannot long resist difficulties, and these are the grossest. The former love longer and with more enjoyment; the latter love quicker, with more freedom, and sooner end.
The first effect of love is to inspire a profound respect; we have veneration for what we love. It is very just; we see nothing in the world so great as this.
Authors cannot tell us much of the love of their heroes; it is necessary that they should have been the heroes themselves.
Wandering in love is an monstrous as injustice in the mind.
In love, silence is of more avail than speech. It is good to be abashed; there is an eloquence in silence that penetrates more deeply than language can. How well a lover persuades his mistress when he is abashed before her, who elsewhere has so much presence of mind! Whatever vivacity we may have, it is well that in certain junctures it should be extinguished. All this takes place without rule or reflection, and when the mind acts, it is without thinking of it beforehand. This happens through necessity.
We often adore one that is unconscious of it, and do not fail to preserve an inviolable fidelity, although its object knows nothing of it. But this love must be very refined or very pure.
We know the minds of me, and consequently their passions, by the comparison that we make between ourselves and others.
I am of the opinion of him who said that in love one forgets his fortune, his relatives, and his friends; the most elevated attachments go as far as this. What causes us to go so far in love is that we do not think we have need of anything else than the object of our love: the mind is full; there is no longer any room for care or solicitude. Passion cannot exist without excess: thence it comes that we care no longer for what the world says, as we know already that our conduct ought not to be condemned, since it comes from reason. There is fulness of passion, and can be no beginning of reflection.
It is not an effect of custom, it is an obligation of nature, that men make the advances to gain the attachment of women.
This forgetfulness that is caused by love, and this attachment to the object of our love, make qualities spring up that we had not before. We become magnificent, without ever having been so.
The miser himself who loves becomes liberal, and does not remember ever to have had a contrary disposition; we see the reason of this in considering that there are some passions which contract the soul and render it stagnant, and that there are others which expand it and cause it to overflow.
We have unaptly taken away the name of reason from love and have opposed them to each other without good foundation, for love and reason are but the same thing. It is a precipitation of thought which is impelled to a side before fully examining every thing, but it is still a reason, and we should not and cannot wish that it were otherwise, for we would then be very disagreeable machines. Let us not therefore exclude reason from love, since they are inseparable. The poets were not right in painting Love blind; we must take off his bandage and restore to him henceforth the enjoyment of his eyes.
Souls fitted for love demand a life of action which becomes brilliant in new events. The external excitement must correspond with the internal, and this manner of living is a marvellous road to passion. Thence it is that courtiers are more successful in love than citizens, since the former are all fire and the latter lead a life in the uniformity of which there is nothing striking: a tempestuous life surprises, strikes, and penetrates.
It seems as though we had quite another soul when we love than when we do not love; we are exalted by this passion and become all greatness; the rest therefore must have proportion, otherwise this does not harmonize and is consequently disagreeable.
The pleasing and the beautiful are only the same thing; every one has his idea of it. It is of a moral beauty that I mean to speak, which consists in external words and actions. We have a rule indeed for becoming agreeable; yet the disposition of the body is necessary to it, but this cannot be acquired.
Men have taken pleasure in forming for themselves so elevated a standard of the pleasing that no one can attain it. Let us judge of it better, and say that this is simply nature with surprising facility and vivacity of mind. In love these two qualities are necessary. There must be nothing of force, and yet there must be nothing of slowness: habit gives the rest.
Respect and love should be so well proportioned as to sustain each other without love being stifled by respect.
Great souls are not those that love oftenest; it is a violent love of which I speak; an inundation of passion is needed to move them and fill them. But when they begin to love, they love much more strongly.
It is said that there are some nations more amorous than others; this is not speaking rightly, or at least it is not true in every sense.
Love consisting only in an attachment of thought, it is certain that it must be the same over all the earth. It is true that, considering it otherwise than in the thought, the climate may add something, but this is only in the body.
It is with love as with good sense; as one man believes himself to have as much mind as another, he also believes that he loves the same. Yet, they who have the most perception, love even to the most trifling things, which is not possible for others. It is necessary to be very subtle to remark this difference.
One cannot feign to love unless he is very near being a lover, or at least unless he loves in some direction; for the mind and the thoughts of love are requisite for this seeming, and how shall we find means of speaking well without this? The truth of passion is not so easily disguised as serious truth.
We must have ardor, activity, and prompt and natural warmth of mind for the former; the latter we conceal by slowness and pliancy, which it is easier to do.
When we are at a distance from the object of our love, we resolve to do or to say many things; but when we are near, we are irresolute. Whence comes this? It is because when we are at a distance reason is not so much perturbed, but is strangely so in the presence of the object: now for resolution, firmness is needed, which is destroyed by perturbation.
In love we dare not hazard, because we fear to lose every thing; it is necessary, however, to advance, but who can say how far? We tremble constantly until we have found this point. Prudence does nothing towards maintaining it when it is found.
There is nothing so embarrassing as to be a lover, and to see something in our favor without daring to believe it; we are alike opposed by hope and fear. But finally the latter becomes victorious over the other.
When we love ardently, it is always a novelty to see the person beloved. After a moment’s absence, he finds a void in his heart. What happiness is it to find her again! he feels at once a cessation of anxiety.
It is necessary, however, that this love should be already far advanced; for when it is budding, and has made no progress, we feel indeed a cessation of anxiety, but others supervene.
Although troubles thus succeed each other, one is not hindered from desiring the presence of his mistress by the hope of suffering less; yet, when he sees her, he fancies that he suffers more than before. Past troubles no longer move him, the present touch him, and it is of those that touch him that he judges.
Is not a lover in this state worthy of compassion?
Note 1. The authenticity of this fragment is disputed.