Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/277

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
265
PASCAL

shade all the feebler repetitions of similar combinations of faith and scepticism. The half-hearted unbelievers who turn sentimental over the charms of decayed superstition, and the half-hearted believers who flirt with scepticism to prove that a lie is as good as a truth, may equally derive inspiration from Pascal, but fail to equal his charm because they have not his earnestness and intellectual courage, and what we might almost call the brutal frankness of his avowals. Whatever we may think of his philosophy, every line indicates a consuming desire for a genuine standing-ground which at least commands respect.

Let us turn first to the sceptical side of Pascal. He begins the Pensées by showing us men poised between the two infinites. It is a curious proof of his power that the mathematical illustration near the beginning—the passage in which he imagines a mite, and then the smallest corpuscle in the mite's body, and then a new universe within the corpuscle, and a mite in that universe, and so forth—which, in other hands, would appear as quaint or extravagant[1]—is made profoundly im-

  1. A curious application of the same illustration may be found in De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes, p. 321, where it is used not to depress but to exalt human intelligence, by showing how far it can push the ' evaluation of π?