How to Speak

“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.”

— Pascal Pensées

Nathanael Szobody

Husband, father, and working for Christ's kingdom in Chad.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Samuel Szobody
    "It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to the subject" How can a thing be beautiful without it giving consideration to its context, its purpose; how it suits the subject? For it not to do so, I don't think it is beauty. I'm intrigued by what he says about eloquence but may need to read what his position is on aesthetics, for that phrase doesn't appear to show a huge understanding of it.
  2. Authoradmin
    I think you are making precisely the point that Pascal is making. While a given poem, for instance, might be considered beautiful (regardless of where you may happen to hear it) an orator should consider whether his audience will appreciate it in the context of a given oration; otherwise what was beautiful just becomes out of place. His statement that you quote from the end of the paragraph is not meant to be abstracted; he is expounding on what makes an oration good--and we could say, beautiful. His point in the phrase you quote is precisely an exhortation to pay attention to context and speak accordingly.