13 August 2013

Le pied, la main, la tête...

When I went to the Tour Saint-Jacques to see if I could book a tour in late July, I made sure I got there early so I'd be at the front of the line. It worked. But that meant I had to wait there from before 9 a.m. until the tour started at 10.

I took photos. Under the Tour Saint-Jacques, there's a statue of one of France's great men of science and literature. It must be protected from the elements by its placement under the arches and vaults of the tower, and I think it might have recently been restored.

Who is it? If I write « Pensées » maybe you'll know. Or « le pari de... ». Or « Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. » He was a mathematician and scientist, but also a philosopher and Christian mystic. Born in 1623, he died at the age of 39 of some mysterious malady.

It's not really clear that this man had any real connection to the Tour Saint-Jacques. One source says that the Baron Haussmann, who had the statue put up in the 1800s, mistakenly thought that the great scientist had performed experiments here. Another says he might have prepared here for meteorological work he did on a mountaintop in the Auvergne, or he might have demonstrated the findings from those mountaintop experiments at the Tour Saint-Jacques afterward for the Parisian public.

Blaise Pascal. That's him, with a thermometer, supposedly, in his hand. « L'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus faible de la nature », he wrote, « mais c'est un roseau pensant. » A thinking reed...


  1. I really admire the way sculptors can get the folds in soft cloth out of hard stone...
    and the detail...
    the cuffs...
    the bow on the bloomers...
    the rucks in his hose at the ankles...

  2. It is a marvellous sculpture.
    But M.Pascal looks about 59, not 39!

  3. That looks like a barometer behind him. Lovely work. I love the saggy ankles. P.

  4. My impression is that what he holds in his right hand is probably some kind of pencil to write some of his "pensées" on the folds of paper in his left hand.

  5. That's what I thought too, Charles-Henry. I think it was either French or English Wiki that mentioned the thermometer. Or maybe the Michelin guide. Anyway, the object in Pascal's hand is being held the way you would hold a pencil. Or could it be a piece of chalk? And what is the history of the pencil, anyway?

  6. Lovely photo details of the statue Ken.

  7. Indeed, just what IS the history of the pencil??

    Ditto what Tim said (or,is it actually Tim?)
    I am AMAZED by sculptures that have beautiful folds of cloth-- this one is incredible, don't you think!?

  8. I think Derwent, the pencil manufacturers in the north-west of England invented the pencil as we know it didn't they? They had access to the graphite and developed the technology I seem to remember (haven't bothered to look it up, so could be misremembering...)

  9. Guess he was the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of his day.
    I've always liked his first name, Blaise- is it pronounced like the mark on a horse's face?

  10. John D. Barrow in “100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World” says, ‘The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, a scientist serving in the army of Napoléon Bonaparte.’


    Before that, lead was used to write on paper. So Pascal may hold some contraption holding a piece of lead.

    In my opinion, for whatever it is worth, what he holds doesn’t look like a thermometer. There is no visible graduation and no visible container necessary to hold mercury.

    As Timm says, there is a barometer next to his left leg.

  11. In English, we still talk about pencil 'lead'. I recognized the barometer --thanks, Pauline -- from seeing the one in your apartment, CHM.

  12. Evelyn, Blaise is pronounced [blehz] and rhymes with 'says' (and French 'Claise'). I hope you have a really fine trip to Scandinavia. Bises...

  13. Considering the way he's holding the scroll, I would guess that's a pen in his hand!

  14. Surely it is a BIC...?
    If Pauline is comenting from the dining room table laptop...
    she always has a P at the end of t'comment...
    if she's on her computer, it will be Pollygarter who comments....
    and you will be treated to a picture of RonRon [on blogs that show the pix.]

  15. Susan's right about the pencil we know today in the sense of the one "wrapped" in wood that you can put in a sharpener.

    Earlier pencils were just the 'leads' and the graphite rods were encased in (metal) tubes-- propelling pencils. I guess this is the type which was invented in 1795.

  16. Just a thought: could the barometer-like contraption be an early thermometer like Galilleo's thermoscope?


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