Paris: Guillaume Desprez, 1670. Twelvemo: (ixxxii) 1-365 (21). Full nineteenth-century red morocco in Jansenist style, boards ruled in blind, raised bands, spine lettered in gilt, gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt, green silk ribbon marker. Publisher's woodcut cipher device on title page, woodcut initials and headpieces throughout text, with engraved headpiece on A1. Small bookbinder's ticket (“Thompson Relieur”) to verso of front free endpaper; nineteenth-century bookplate of Elias Horry Frost on first front flyleaf, his ownership inscriptions on second front flyleaf and title page; two ink inscriptions from Corinthians to first front flyleaf. 1884 catalog description of a different copy of this edition laid in.
“Édition originale” of Blaise Pascal's posthumously collected thoughts on religion, a masterpiece of French prose. Pascal established his brilliance early, inventing the mechanical calculator at the age of eighteen, developing the field of probability theory with Pierre de Fermat, and breaking new ground in projective geometry, hydrodynamics, and hydrostatics. One night in 1654, Pascal experienced a mystical vision that caused him to renounce his scientific career in favor of religious contemplation; after his death, a scrap of paper was found sewn into the lining of his coat containing a description of that night: “Joie, joie, joie, pleurs de joie.” Pascal joined the Jansenists, a sect of radical Augustinian Catholics. In his controversial Lettres provinciales (1656-1657), he took aim at the casuistry of the Jesuits, laying the groundwork for church reform. He then turned to a defense of his faith, recording his thoughts even as his health failed. His unfinished notes, now housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, were compiled after his death by Jansenist editors, and issued as the Pensées. Pascal engaged directly with the philosophical debates of the day, notably those raised by Descartes and Montaigne: “Le coeur a ses raisons que le raison ne connaît point.” Brilliantly argued, Pascal’s work proved magnetic even to those who disagreed with him: Voltaire described Pascal as a “giant” he wanted to “battle.” Pascal can be logical and forceful, as in Pascal’s Wager, when he places probability theory in service to theology. He can also be lyrical: “L’homme n’est qu’un roseau le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant.” This 1670 issue was preceded by an issue of about thirty copies, labeled the “préoriginale” by bibliographer Le Guern, printed at the end of 1669 by Guillaume Desprez for submission to the censors: only two copies of the 1669 issue are known to survive, both in French institutions. Desprez reprinted the Pensées three times in 1670, and two other editions with Desprez’s name on the title page, but not printed by him, appeared that year as well. This edition is the earliest 1670 issue, and the earliest obtainable edition of the Pensées, with Desprez’s woodcut cipher on the title page and continuous pagination from 1 to 365. Text in French. PMM 152. Maire, Bibliographie générale des oeuvres de Blaise Pascal, IV: 101, no. 3; Le Guern, Œuvres complètes / Pascal, II, 1597, ed. O. This copy is handsomely bound in Jansenist style by Thompson of Paris, active between 1842 and 1870. It was purchased in Paris by Elias Horry Frost in 1856; a successful cotton broker, Frost built one of the finest private libraries in the American South. A fine copy of a landmark book, in the earliest obtainable edition.