Pascal on Eloquence

Jacques Barzun Translation (2003):

16. Eloquence is the art of saying things in such a way ( 1) that those to whom we speak are able to hear them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that they feel their self-interest involved, so that self-love leads them the more willingly to think over what has been said. It consists, then, in a correspondence which we try to establish, on the one hand, between the head and the heart of those to whom we speak and, on the other, between the thoughts and the expressions that we use. This presupposes that we have studied the heart of man in order to know all its workings and that we find the right arrangement of the remarks that we wish to make suitable. We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and try out on our own heart the appeal we make in what we say, so as to see whether the one is rightly made for the other, and whether we can feel confident that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender. We ought to restrict ourselves, so far as possible, to the simple and natural, and not to magnify that which is small or diminish that which is great. It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to the subject and there must be in it nothing excessive or lacking.

W. F. Trotter Translation (1958):

16. Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way—(1) that those to whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly to reflection upon it. It consists, then, in a correspondence which we seek to establish between the head and the heart of those to whom we speak on the one hand, and, on the other, between the thoughts and the expressions which we employ. This assumes that we have studied well the heart of man so as to know all its powers, and then to find the just proportions of the discourse which we wish to adapt to them. We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender. We ought to restrict ourselves, so far as possible, to the simple and natural, and not to magnify that which is little, or belittle that which is great. It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to the subject, and there must be in it nothing of excess or defect.

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