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and somehow help or hinder in the cosmic play. But this passion and this interest are wholly by the way; they have no independent meaning or abiding reality, for the significance of the players, divine and human, is exhausted in the game; God and man alike are absorbed in the process, and in fact enjoy any being that they possess solely in order to constitute the game. Now any single game, however intricate, provided that it be played long enough will in the end discover its rules through the application of some law of averages. A transcendent mathematics, it seems, will provide the key. By thinking and reasoning, by deduction and induction, the rules of the game may be ascertained, and its progress furthered. The one secret of life is l'art de démontrer.' The day will come when logic need no longer reduce man to tears, for man will possess the formula by which tears may be irrefragably and for ever reduced to logic. A richer and more varied experience of life will in the process of time doubtless suggest an equation which will take away the sins of the world by demonstrating that they never existed. Meanwhile the meaning of these things for us is, like ourselves, ephemeral. But we are permitted to console ourselves with the reflection that though their significance is infinitesimal, it is cosmic.
There are persons of culture who are precluded by an invincible ignorance of the higher mathematics from an adequate appreciation of cosmic reality. There are others whose contemplation of the remarkable record of human progress is saddened and embittered by an ineradicable distrust of the methods and results of modern historians. Indeed it is sometimes difficult to avoid the conclusion that the best and greatest of all games is in serious danger of being ruined by professionalism. In these circumstances it is perhaps permissible to reflect upon one peculiarity of the historic process which is apt to be overlooked by masters of the mathematical average and dissectors of the refractory document. The historic process, in addition to its noteworthy efforts to get itself properly understood by means of a ceaseless production of great mathematicians, great historians, great scientists, great sociologists, and other
profound investigators of the least common measure of all that is, has a deplorable knack occasionally as though by accident of just throwing up, as it were, by the way that very rarest of all great things—a great man. Now with all reverence be it said, a process which is in real earnest about being understood ought to avoid this kind of thing. It has a deplorable effect upon the averages, calculated to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect; and it provokes profane and unregenerate persons to open and notorious blasphemy. For whereas the impression that is made upon ordinary men by great mathematicians, great historians, great scientists, great sociologists, and so forth, is precisely that which they themselves proclaim to be the fact, namely that the game is somehow all the time, so to speak, playing the man, the impression that is made by the great man is precisely the reverse. The outward circumstances and conditions seem to be of identical nature, the same averages doubtless working themselves out with the same mathematical precision; the same possibilities unquestionably presented to the same desolating processes of historical investigation-nevertheless an impression is conveyed that amid it all and in spite of it all the game is no longer playing the man, but that the man-the great man, that isis somehow managing to play the game. It is only an impression; it cannot, by the very nature of the hypothesis, be proved, il faut parier. But it is a disturbing reflection; averages and documents so final, so convincing are apt to grow all sicklied o'er with the pale cast of a disquieting thought. And so, perhaps, as Nietzsche has said, the time will come when we shall wisely keep away from all constructions of the world-process, or even of the history of man; a time when we shall no more look at masses, but at individuals, who form a sort of bridge over the wan stream of becoming. They may not perhaps continue a process, but they live out of time as contemporaries; and thanks to history that permits such a company, they live as the Republic of geniuses of which Schopenhauer speaks. One giant calls to the other across the waste spaces of time, and the high-spirit talk goes on, undisturbed by the wanton
noisy dwarfs who creep among them. The task of history is to be the mediator between these, and even to give the motive and power to produce the great men.1
This is a very different view of the significance of history, an impression made by the emergence not of talent but of manhood, not of gifts which are owned, but of personality which appears to be creative and immeasurable. For the thing we value in this life story which we study is not the supreme talent of the mathematician and the scientist, not the charm of the honnête homme and the master of style, not the reflections of the philosopher and the saint-the gifts were there, they were superb gifts, beyond the scope of all but a very few even when taken singly, unsurpassed by any in their combination-but it is not these things in the last resort that awaken the thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls; they drop away like some integument or vesture, they are only the instrument on which he played, the tools he used to live his life withal-they drop away with the old Seventeenth-century France in which he lived, with Descartes and Mersenne, with Méré and Miton, with Arnauld and the Jesuits-these too we feel were only the limiting conditions, the stakes that marked the course, the language in which he read the rules of the game—as outward concrete existences they drop away to appear again transmuted and fused into one ordered whole, in that living passionate utterly unique experience which as a thing seemingly existent beyond space and time we do supremely value and call Blaise Pascal. In such a view it is not some stupendous game which is being played out by God and man, exhausting in its interminable process the significance of God and man alike, and directed to some end of which man certainly and God perhaps is ignorant. The players are no longer here a part of the game, they do not exist for the sake of the game; it is the game which exists for the sake of the players. It is not one interminable game to which the players come and go, contribute their share, play their brief hand, and pass away. It is God,
1 Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History,' from Thoughts out of Season, vol. ii p. 81, trans. Adrian Collins.
shall we say, which determines the rules and sets the game to each individual player; and it is for the player's sake that the game is set; it is the player that really matters, not the game. It is true the rules are strict, there is no great room for improvisation; there is a fixed cadre of law and order, and need therefore for 'l'art de démontrer.' There can be no game at all without its rules. But suppose the main interest is the players-not the game, but how the game is played-will logical deduction and the law of averages, an accurate acquaintance with the rules, suffice? If it is personalities and not processes which are the last concern, and the ultimate stuff of the universe, then finesse is of more value than mathematics, and intuition a safer guide than logic. There is need for 'l'art d'agréer.' An endless game can be subjected to the law of averages, no doubt, when it has gone on long enough. But how if it be really an infinity of infinitesimal games, played under the same rules, with infinite variation by an infinity of persons, and with God as arbiter? Why, then, in that case one day the game will end, but the player will be left face to face with the God who dealt the hand and fixed the stakes. There is a beyond to the game, it seems, God and my own soul-Deus et anima mea.
Here are the two views of history. Is the ultimate meaning infinite process or immortal personality? Is it the task of life to further an infinite development or to learn to know an infinite Person? In the one case mathematics and historical criticism, in the other case intuition and character are likely to be our primary instruments in approaching truth. It is a peculiarity of the situation that no arguments can lead to a final decision, and that nevertheless in every hour and day of life the decision must be made. 'Il faut parier: cela n'est pas volontaire.' Take it as we will, life is prima facie a gamble. We are all set down at the table, and we cannot choose our cards. Nous sommes embarqués.' Nevertheless we are free, it would seem, to form some opinion about the nature of the game. We must bet, and see what happens.
So the stakes are set, and the cards are dealt.
Blaise Pascal-to play!
And as luck would have it, Providence was on his side.
It is good to watch his play, intellect and imagination at top speed; the intellect cutting out some clear problem, some representative view of life; the imagination endowing it with vitality and passion, and posing it as the term of an internal dialectic which pushes remorselessly on to the final dénouement. There are four groups which stand out, clearly silhouetted against the background of comment and argument the Sceptics, the Rationalists, the Jesuits, the Jansenists. Here are the pieces which constitute the game, the refractory and contradictory material which intellect and passion will fuse into that consistent whole which Pascal will not demonstrate but live.
Montaigne first of all, the great guide and comment to human life, a sort of lay bible. Life as the genial sceptical man of the world sees it. Pascal was soaked in Montaigne, knew him as though he had been a contemporary, and loved him. They have had many a chat together, all alone, over the fire. For this kindly doubting cynic is he not just a living morsel-more than a morsel of Blaise Pascal himself? So he can condemn without offence Le sot projet qu'il a de se peindre,'' Mots lascifs,'' Crédule,' ' Il faisait trop d'histoires,' 'Il parlait trop de soi,' 'Il inspire une nonchalance du salut, sans crainte, sans repentir.' 'On ne peut excuser ses sentiments tout païens sur la mort ... il ne pense qu'à mourir lâchement et mollement par tout son livre.'1 One cannot forgive him that. L'immortalité de l'âme est une chose qui nous importe si fort, qui nous touche si profondément, qu'il faut avoir perdu tout sentiment pour être dans l'indifférence de savoir ce qui en est.' 'On mourra seul,' 'Le dernier acte est sanglant, quelque belle que soit la comédie en tout le reste : on jette enfin de la terre sur la tête, et en voilà pour jamais.' 3 One cannot forgive him for trifling with death; one dare not, for 'Ce n'est pas dans Montaigne, mais dans moi, que je trouve tout ce que j'y vois.' 4
1 Pens. 63.
2 Pens. 194.
3 Pens. 210.
4 Pens. 64.