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Blaise Pascal: On Diversions

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Blaise Pascal, anonymous portrait, 17th century





Blaise Pascal


Thoughts




[Trans. by C. Kegan Paul]



DIVERSION.



— When I have set myself now and then to consider the various distractions of men, the toils and dangers to which they expose themselves in the court or the camp, whence arise so many quarrels and passions, such daring and often such evil exploits, etc., I have discovered that all the misfortunes of men arise from one thing only, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own chamber.


A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to dwell with pleasure in his own home, would not leave it for sea-faring or to besiege a city. An office in the army would not be bought so dearly but that it seems insupportable not to stir from the town, and people only seek conversation and amusing games because they cannot remain with pleasure in their own homes.


But upon stricter examination, when, having found the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found one which is paramount, the natural evil of our weak and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can console us when we think of it attentively.



Whatever condition we represent to ourselves, if we bring to our minds all the advantages it is possible to possess, Royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king surrounded with all the conditions which he can desire, if he be without diversion, and be allowed to consider and examine what he is, this feeble happiness will never sustain him; he will necessarily fall into a foreboding of maladies which threaten him, of revolutions which may arise, and lastly, of death and inevitable diseases; so that if he be without what is called diversion he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the humblest of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.


Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and offices of state, are so sought after. Not that there is in these any real happiness, or that any imagine true bliss to consist in the money won at play, or in the hare which is hunted; we would not have these as gifts.


We do not seek an easy and peaceful lot which leaves us free to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the troubles of statecraft, but seek rather the distraction which amuses us, and diverts our mind from these thoughts. Hence it comes that men so love noise and movement, hence it comes that a prison is so horrible a punishment, hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible.


And it is the great subject of happiness in the condition of kings, that all about them try incessantly to divert them, and to procure for them all manner of pleasures. The king is surrounded by persons who think only how to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of self. (...)



Take heed to this. What is it to be superintendent, chancellor, first president, but to be in a condition wherein from early morning a vast number of persons flock in from every side, so as not to leave them an hour in the day in which they can think of themselves?


And if they are in disgrace and dismissed to their country houses, though they want neither wealth nor retinue at need, they yet are miserable and desolate because no one hinders them from thinking of themselves.


Thus man is so unhappy that he wearies himself without cause of weariness by the peculiar state of his temperament, and he is so frivolous that, being full of a thousand essential causes of weariness, the least thing, such as a cue and a ball to strike with it, is enough to divert him."