Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/254

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242
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

living man among his surroundings, and pointed out with incomparable skill his relation not only to the religious and philosophical, but to the social, political, and literary movements of a profonndly interesting period. I shall only aim at setting out one or two cardinal points.

First of all, Pascal came at a great period: at the time when philosophic systems were being stirred by the influences named after Descartes and Bacon; when the greatest minds were breaking off the fetters of effete scholasticism; and when it was possible for men of the highest order to take a Pisgah sight of the promised land of knowledge without being distracted and bewildered, like their successors, in the complexity of actual explorations of the region. In one respect Pascal was especially qualified to take part in the new movement. The philosophy of Descartes was essentially a philosophy for mathematicians, for mathematics, at that time, represented the decisive example of intellectual progress. Metaphysics, it seems, might at last become progressive if, instead of wearily rambling round the old dialectical circle, it could adopt similar methods. Descartes laid down the principle. Spinoza's Ethics, appropriating the forms of geometrical demonstration, and presenting the whole