Pierre Nicole (October 19, 1625 – November 16, 1695) was one of the most distinguished of the French Jansenists.
Born in Chartres, he was the son of a provincial barrister, who took in charge his education. Sent to Paris in 1642 to study theology, he soon entered into relations with the Jansenist community at Port-Royal through his aunt, Marie des Anges Suireau, who was for a short time abbess of the convent, and he taught for a while at the Petites écoles de Port-Royal. Some scruple of conscience forbade him to proceed to the priesthood, and he remained throughout life a "clerk in minor orders," although a profound theological scholar. For some years he was a master in the "little school" for boys established at Port Royal, and had the honour of teaching Greek to young Jean Racine, the future poet. But his chief duty was to act, in collaboration with Antoine Arnauld, as general editor of the controversial literature put forth by the Jansenists.
He had a large share in collecting the materials for Pascal's Provincial Letters (1656); in 1658 he translated the Letters into Latin, under the pseudonym of Nicholas Wendrock. In 1662 he coauthored the very successful Port-Royal Logic with Antoine Arnauld, based on a Cartesian reading of Aristotelian logic. In 1664 he himself began a series of letters, Les Imaginaires, intended to show that the heretical opinions commonly ascribed to the Jansenists really existed only in the imagination of the Jesuits. His letters being violently attacked by Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, an erratic minor poet who professed great devotion to the Jesuits, Nicole replied to him in another series of letters, Les Visionnaires (1666). In the course of these he observed that poets and dramatists were no better than "public poisoners." This remark stung Racine to the quick; he turned not only on his old master, but on all Port Royal, in a scathing reply, which—as Boileau told him—did more honour to his head than to his heart...
Quotes by Pierre Nicole
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