Descartes letter

15 February 1650


Your Highness,

There are still god in heavens and holy messengers on earth, since I could find a way to have this letter sent to you, together with the accompanying package. My name is Jules Ferry and I am nothing but a servant. Were it not for the unmeasurable importance of this message, and for the fact that I was conjured to deliver it with utmost discretion, I would have never taken the liberty of addressing a letter to Your Highness – nor a single word, for that matter. But, for reasons which I do not even begin to understand, God gave me access not only to secrets of the state, but of the soul, too. As servant of Your uncle – Charles the 1st – I came to see the British political scene with more than just bodily yes. But since from surfaces to depth is just a one-way street, I could not go on living in London after Your uncle’s death, so I went to Sweden, being accepted at the Royal Court as a librarian.

That library was, for me, the hall between polis and psyche, for I met Mr. Decartes, who used to spend a lot of time there. He seemed quit eager to talk to me – apparently because I had been recommended to him as a serious, yet discrete, scholar; the real reason of his interest only became clear later on – namely, a few weeks ago, when he rushed into the library on day, saying that he had just made a final breakthrough. I thought that he was referring to his scientific research; but the electrical spark from his eyes made me suspect that it was nothing like that – and from the bits and pieces of his discourse I understood that he had found the philosophical stone: it was a feeling – or better say, a spiritual touch with sensorial effects, in which Descartes saw (well, felt) the genuine crossing-point between faith, reason, and senses. Just as I was beginning to think that the fever which had been troubling him lately was now affecting his sanity, he showed me a parcel and said it was a manuscript containing his new idea. He described it as neither scientific nor philosophical in character; actually, it rather seemed to be of personal value for Descartes (than have public significance): he insisted that the manuscript should be seen by only one person – Your Highness – and only after his death. He made me promise that I would deliver it (together with the accompanying abstract and motto) in utmost secrecy. Here You have Mr. Descartes’ words:

Après et malgré toute ma métaphysique et ma science, j uis arrivé à quelque chose de très différente, qu’on pourrait appeler, pour le moment, une éthique. C’est une démarche qui tente de prouver: qu’on n’est pas, si n’on sente pas ses pensées, après avoir pensé à ses passions ; que toute la vérité relève de quelque chose de plus évidente que le cogito ; que l’entendement, l’imagination et les sens ne suffisent pas pour recouvrir le sen du monde ; qu’on n’est pas seul.

The motto that he chose for the manuscript – too straight and bold to bear the signiture of Descartes himself – was : Il faut parier. Mr. Descartes made me sware to convey this message to Your Highness as the key of life itself ; which I do now, only four days after his death, hoping that it will help You open doors that would have otherwise remained unnoticed.

Humbly, yet truly Yours,

Jules Ferry