Cologne [Paris]: Pierre de la Vallée, [1656-]1657. First edition.
A beautiful copy of Pascal’s 18 Provincial letters, bound in fine red morocco in 1865 by Chambolle-Duru, from the collection of Benzon (his sales catalogue no. 42, 1875) with two further rare works relating to Pascal. Provenance: inscription to title ‘Ex libris Congregationis domus Missionis Trecensis’, repeated on the 8th letter.
“The Lettres Provinciales, as they are called, are the first example of French prose as we know it today, perfectly finished in form, varied in style, and on a subject of universal importance… [Pascal] was an infant prodigy, whose work in mathematics and natural science attracted considerable attention before he was sixteen... [But he] will always be chiefly remembered as a moralist, more especially as the great apologist for Jansenism, the seventeenth-century French ascetic movement of reform inside the Roman Catholic Church... At the end of 1655, the movement had been much under attack from the Jesuits, and Pascal was persuaded to write a rejoinder... [his] counter-attack took the form of a brilliant exposure of the casuistical methods of argument employed by the Jesuits... Pascal’s weapon was irony, and the freshness with which the gravity of the subject contrasts with the lightness of the manner is an enduring triumph. The vividness and distinction of his style recalls Milton at its best.” (Printing and the Mind of Man).
The style of the letters meant that, quite apart from their religious influence, the Provincial Letters were popular as a literary work. Adding to that popularity was Pascal’s use of humor, mockery, and satire in his arguments. The letters also influenced the prose of later French writers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
4to (230 x 172 mm), bound in fine full red morocco with raised bands, gilt spine lettering, all edges gilt, marbled end-papers, elaborately gilt blind-tooled inner boarders, engraved armorial book plate of Benzon. Fully complete: pp [i-xiii: title and Notice (in first state)]; 1-8 (1st letter); 1-8 (2nd letter); 1-8 (answer from the Provincial and 3rd letter); 1-8 (4th letter); 1-8 (5th letter); 1-8 (6th letter); 1-8 (7th letter); 1-8 (8th letter); 1-8 (9th letter); 1-8 (10th letter); 1-8 (11th letter); 1-8 (12th letter); 1-8 (Refutation to response of 12th letter); 1-8 (13th letter); 1-8 (14th letter); 1-8 (15th letter); 1-12 (16th letter); 1-8 (17th letter, 23 January 1657); 1-12 (18th letter). Bound with: Nobilissimi Scutarii Blasii Pascalis tumulus (1662), pp [1-2] 3-4 [and:] L’Apologie pour les casuists contre les calomnies des iansenistes: par un theologien & Professeur en droit Canon. Condamnée par nosseigneurs les prelats, & par la Faculté de Theologie de Paris. (Paris, 1659), pp [i-iv] 1-191 [192:blank].