The Highly Archéd Brow of Modern Man

T. S. Eliot wrote an excellent introduction to Pascal’s Thoughts, full of playful expression and humble wit. Well worth the reading. I specially like the semi-conversational styling he adopts: at one point he binds together multiple linked (but separate) comments with an excess of dashes, which, to be fair, is perfectly suited for the style of the Thoughts themselves. He even repeats himself when returning to the original clause. Just good writing.

Eliot raises the spectre of Michel de Montaigne as a fearsome literary force whom Pascal intended to discredit, but whose own essays were so filmy and fluid that they left a mark on Pascal’s meditations. Says Eliot, “By the time a man knew Montaigne well enough to attack him, he would be thoroughly infected by him.”

One element which Montaigne conveys though his essays is a charming natural skepticism toward himself and his subjects. Here is Eliot describing how Montaigne captured this quintessential skepticism of every human being, and the three possible outcomes from that skeptic mind:

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