The Original Quarto Version of Pascal's Landmark of French Literature

[LES PROVINCIALES] and related material.

([Paris or Leyden]: 1656-57; related material 1657-58). 235 x 165 mm. (9 1/4 x 6 1/2"). With 16 (of 18) letters (lacking letters IV and XVIII as well as general title and "Advertisement" leaf). 17 of 19 individually issued parts (including the "Refutation de la Réponse à la Douzième Lettre").

The original parts bound up in pleasing modern tan crushed morocco, blind-ruled border, raised bands, gilt titling, new endpapers. PMM 140; Tchemerzine V, 62-63. Light brown stain to head margin of the last quarter of the leaves, occasional faint browning or foxing elsewhere, more conspicuous on final gathering, minor worming in bottom margin of a few leaves, otherwise a very good copy internally, with nothing approaching a serious defect, and in a pleasing unworn binding.

In addition to related material normally not included, this volume contains 17 of the rare original(?) 19 separately issued letters, or "Provinciales," by the French polymath Blaise Pascal (1623-62), a series characterized by PMM as "the first example of French prose as we know it today, perfectly finished in form . . . on a subject of universal importance . . . [and] an expression of one of the finest intelligences of the seventeenth century." Prompted by the Jesuits' condemnation for heresy of Pascal's friend Antoine Arnauld, the letters are "a magnificent sustained invective" (PMM) against the laxity and casuistry of his detractors and at the same time a defense of Jansenism, that theological movement and faction within Catholicism that grew out of the writings of Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) and that emphasized many of the Calvinist tenets of faith (human sinfulness, lack of free will, and the necessity of divine Grace). The additional material, apparently collected from a variety of sources, comprises letters Pascal wrote to parish priests seeking assistance with the controversy. There is also a copy of Noel de la Lane's "Recit de ce qui s'est Passé au Parlement au Sujet de la Bulle de Nostre S. Père le Pape Alexandre VII. contre les Censures de Sorbonne" (ca. 1665). Pascal (1623-62) was a man of many attainments in several fields, among them physics, philosophy, and mathematics. Above all, he was a profound thinker, a devout Christian, and the creator of memorable prose. Written simply, lucidly, objectively, and wittily, the "Provinciales" represents a landmark in French literature, an early expression of Enlightenment thinking. It was enormously successful, dealt the Jesuits a fatal setback, and influenced the prose of Voltaire and Rousseau. Not surprisingly, the book was put on the Index and ordered to be burned. Originally printed clandestinely by various printers as separate publications at various times during 1656 and 1657, the series is bibliographically complicated, but it is clear that our quarto format versions precede the duodecimo printing dated 1657 and, obviously, those editions with later dates. It is likely, given the small parts we are missing, that someone assembled the various letters found here as they were issued at the time. A complete set of these letters in first edition--which is rarely seen--would sell for a considerable amount of money.

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PJP Catalog: Cat 69.207

[LES PROVINCIALES] and related material. BLAISE PASCAL, " Pseudonym "LOUIS DE MONTALTE.

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