THE MEN'S TRIBUNE

Copyright © 2000 Thomas Pollock aka Spartacus
                          All Rights Reserved


PERSIAN LETTERS

BY

BARON DE MONTESQUIEU

 

Translated and introduced by John Davidson

(selections)






                          INTRODUCTION
 

    *         *         *          *          *          *
 

                                     X

The eighteenth century was in France the age of the
"monstrous regiment of women."   The divine right of
kings, as it had done in England half a century before, re-
solved itself into the divine right of mistresses.  One legacy
bequeathed by them was the French Revolution; modern
conversation was the other.  In England conversation re-
mained among men, and produced clubs; in France women
invaded it, and the salon was the result: the heyday past,
the Regent's mistress, the minister's mistress, opened a
salon, where Montesquieu and all celebrities might meet to
talk.  Claudine Guérin de Tencin, saddened by the suicide
of a lover and the arrival of her forty-fifth year; Madame
Geoffrin, "whimsical and cross-grained," citizen's daughter,
millionaire's widow, who had the excellent talent of draw-
ing every one out in his own subject, and called her salon
"a shop"; Marie de Vichy, Marquise du Deffand, whom
Massillon could not convert, who was interested in nothing,
and had neither temperament nor romance; and the Duchess
de Chaulnes, the "intimate enemy" of Madame du Deffand,
"a typical woman of the eighteenth century," delighting
only in wit, bons-mots, and gallantry, and made piercingly
sagacious by her wicked life: these and others like them
kept salons, primarily for their own amusement.  Earnest
talk on momentous matters was the one thing forbidden.
Clear analysis of questions of finance, of morality, of legis-
lation, clear mockery of the problems of human destiny,
and facile, brilliant, and winged talk, "on everything
à propos of nothing," was the order of the day.
    Madame du Deffand was Montesquieu's favorite among
these.  She gathered about her in her own phrase les trom-
peurs, le trompés, et les trompettes--everybody connected
with  diplomacy, in fact.   In her salon the author of
L'Esprit des Lois learned much.  " I like that woman," he
said. " with all my heart; she pleases me, amuses me; it is
impossible to weary in her company.  It was in this
society that Montesquieu " talked out " his books; and the
reader should remember that it was for this society they
were written...

                                                       JOHN DAVIDSON.

LONDON, September, 1891.


                       LETTER IX
 

    THE CHIEF EUNUCH TO IBBI, AT ERZEROUM
 

YOU follow your old master on his travels; you wander
through provinces and kingdoms; no grief can make
any impression on you; you see new sights all day
long; everything you behold entertains you, and you are
unconscious of the flight of time.
    It is not so with me.  Shut up in a hideous prison, I
am always surrounded by the same objects; there is no
change even in what vexes me.  Weighed down by fifty
years of care and annoyance, I lament my wretched case:
all my life long I have never passed a single untroubled
day, or known a peaceful moment.
    When my first master formed the cruel design of intrust-
ing his wives to my care, and induced me by flattering
promises, supplemented by a thousand threats, to separate
myself forever from my manhood, tired of the toilsome
service in which I was engaged, I calculated that the sacri-
fice of my passions would be more than repaid by ease and
wealth.  How unfortunate was I !  Preoccupied with the
thought of the ills I would escape, I had no idea of the
others to which I fled: I expected that the inability to
satisfy love would secure me from its assaults.   Alas!  al-
though passion had been rendered inefficient, its force re-
mained unabated; and, far from being relieved, I found
myself surrounded by objects which continually whetted my
desires.  When I entered the seraglio, where everything
filled me with regret for what I had lost, my agitation in-
creased each moment; a thousand natural charms seemed
to unfold themselves to my sight only to tantalize me; and
to crown my misery, I had constantly before me their for-
tunate possessor.  While this wretched time lasted, I never
led a woman to my master's bed without feeling wild rage
in my heart, and despair unutterable in my soul.
    And thus I passed my miserable youth, with no confidant
but my own bosom.  Wearied with longing and sad as
night, there was nothing left but to endure in silence.  I
was forced to turn the sternest glances on those very
women whom I would fain have regarded with looks of
love.  It would have undone me had they read my thoughts:
how they would have tyrannized over me!  I remember
one day, as I attended a lady at the bath, I was so car-
ried away that I lost command of myself, and dared to lay
my hand where I should not.  My first thought was that
my last day had come.  I was, however, fortunate enough
to escape a dreadful death; but the fair one, whom I had
made the witness of my weakness, extorted a heavy price
for her silence: I entirely lost command of her, and she
forced me, each time at the risk of my life, to comply
with a thousand caprices.
    At length, the fire of youth burnt out, I grow old and
become, in that particular, at peace with myself. Women
I regard with indifference, I pay them back for all their
contempt, and all the torments which I suffered through
them.  I never forget that I was born to command
them, and in the exercise of my authority I feel as if
I had recovered my lost manhood.  I hate women now
that I can regard them without passion, and detect and
discuss all their weaknesses.  Although I guard them for
another, I experience a secret joy in making myself obeyed.
When I take all their pleasures from them, I feel as if it
were at my behest alone; and that always gives me satis-
faction more or less direct.  The seraglio is my empire;
and my ambition, the only passion left me, finds no small
gratification.  I mark with pleasure that all depends on
me, and that my presence is required at all times: I will-
ingly incur the hatred of all these women, because that
establishes me more firmly in my post.  And they do not
hate me for nothing, I can tell you: I interfere with their
most innocent pleasures; I am always in the way, an in-
surmountable obstacle; before they know where they are
they find their schemes frustrated; I am armed with re-
fusals, I bristle with scruples; not a word is heard from
me but duty, virtue, chastity, modesty.  I make them des-
perate by dinning them with the weakness of their sex,
and the authority of our master.  Then I lament the neces-
sity which requires me to be so severe, and lead them to
believe that my only motives are their truest interest and
my profound attachment to them.
    Do not suppose that in my turn I have not to suffer
endless unpleasantness.  Every day these women seek occa-
sions to repay me with interest, and their reprisals are
often terrible.  Between us there goes on a constant inter-
change of ascendancy and obedience.  They are always
putting me upon the meanest services; they affect a sublime
contempt; and, regardless of my age, they force me to rise
ten times during the night for the merest trifle.  I am worn
off my feet with endless commissions, orders, employments,
and caprices; one would think that they take turn about
in inventing occupations for me.   They often amuse them-
selves by making me doubly vigilant; they give me imag-
inary confidences.  Sometimes I am told that a young man
has been seen prowling around the walls, or a startling
noise has been heard, or some one is about to receive a letter.
All this bothers me, and amuses them; they are delighted
when they see me tormenting myself.  Sometimes they
station me behind  the door, and keep me standing there
night and day.  They well know how to pretend to be ill,
to swoon away, to be frightened out of their wits: they are
never at a loss to work their will on me.  When they are
in this mood, implicit obedience, unquestioning compliance
are my only resources: a refusal from such a man as I am
would be a thing unheard of; and if I were to hesitate in
obeying them, they would punish me at their discretion.  I
would sooner die, my dear Ibbi, than submit to such hu-
miliation.
    But this is not all.  I am never for an instant sure of
my master's favor; for each of his wives is an enemy who
never ceases to hope for my ruin.  They take advantage
of certain snatches of time when I cannot be heard, when
he can refuse them nothing, and when I am always in the
wrong.  I conduct to my master's bed women whose spite
is roused against me: do you imagine that they will move
a finger in my behalf, or say a single word in my favor?
I have everything to fear from their tears, their sighs,
their embraces, from their very pleasures; it is their time
of triumph; their charms are arrayed against me: their pres-
ent services obliterate in a moment all those rendered by
me in the past; and nothing can plead for me with a
master who is no longer himself.
    Many a time I lie down high in my master's favor, and
awake to find myself disgraced.  The day on which they
whipped me so ignominiously round the seraglio, what had
I done:,  I leave a woman in my master's arms: when she
sees him impassioned she bursts into a torrent of tears,
and pours out complaints so skillfully that they become
more anguished in proportion as the love she causes grows
vehement.  What could I do to defend myself at a crisis
of that kind?  When I least expected it, ruin overtook
me; I was the victim of an amorous intrigue, of a treaty
sealed with sighs.  Behold, dear Ibbi, the wretched plight
in which I have always lived.
    What happiness is yours!  Your duties are confined to
attendance on Usbek.  It is easy for you to please him,
and to retain his favor to your dying day.

    ISPAHAN, the last day of the moon
                    of  Saphar, 1711.


                      LETTER XXIV

              RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA

WE HAVE now been a month at Paris, and all the time
constantly moving about.  There is much to do
before one can get settled, find out the people with
whom one has business, and procure the many requisites
which are all wanted at the same time.
    Paris is quite as large as Ispahan.  The houses are so
high that you would swear they must be inhabited by as-
trologers.   You can easily imagine that a city built in the
air, with six or seven houses one above the other, is
densely peopled: and that when everybody is abroad, there
is a mighty bustle.
    You will scarcely believe that during the month I have
been here I have not yet seen any one walking. There is no
people in the world who hold more by their vehicles than the
French: they run; they fly: the slow carriages of Asia, the
measured step of our camels, would put them into a state of
coma.   As for me, who am not made for such hurry, and
who often go a-foot without changing my pace, I am some-
times as mad as a Christian; for, passing over splashing
from head to foot, I cannot pardon the elbowings I meet
with regularly and periodically.  A man, coming up behind
me, passes me, and turns me half round; then another,
crossing me on the opposite side, spins me suddenly round
to my first position.  Before I have walked a hundred
paces, I am more bruised than if I had gone ten leagues.
    You must not expect from me an exhaustive account of
the manners and customs of the Europeans: I have myself
but a faint notion of them yet, and have hardly had time
to recover from my astonishment.
    The King of France* is the most powerful of European
potentates.  He has no mines of gold like his neigh-
bor, the King of Spain; but he is much wealthier than
that prince, because his riches are drawn from a more

* Louis XIV.

inexhaustible source, the vanity of his subjects.  He has
undertaken and carried on great wars, without any other
supplies than those derived from the sale of titles of
honor; and it is by a prodigy of human pride that his
troops are paid, his towns fortified, and his fleets equipped.
    Then again, the king is a great magician, for his dominion
extends to the minds of his subjects; he makes them think
what he wishes.  If he has only a million crowns in his
exchequer, and has need of two millions, he has only to
persuade them that one crown is worth two, and they be-
lieve it.*  If he has a costly war on hand, and is short of
money, he simply suggests to his subjects that a piece of
paper is coin of the realm, and they are straightway con-
vinced of it.  He has even succeeded in persuading them
that his touch is a sovereign cure for all sorts of diseases,
so great is the power and influence he has over their
minds.
    What I have told you of this prince need not astonish
you: there is another magician more powerful still, who is
master of the king's mind, as absolutely as the king is
master of the minds of his subjects.  This magician is
called the Pope.  Sometimes he makes the king believe
that three are no more than one; that the bread which he
eats is not bread; the wine which he drinks not wine;
and a thousand things of a like nature.
    And, to keep him in practice, and prevent him from
losing the habit of belief, he gives him, now and again, as
an exercise, certain articles of faith.  Some two years ago
he sent him a large document which he called "Constitu-
tion," and wished to enforce belief in all that it contained
upon this prince and his subjects under heavy penalties.

    * The French kings regarded money as a mere symbol, the value
of which they could raise or lower at their pleasure.  "Kings treat
men as they do pieces of money; they give them that value they
choose, and people are forced to accept them according to their
currency, and not according to their true worth."--LA ROCHEFOU-
CAULD.
    An anachronism. The date of this letter if 1712, but the Bull
Unigenitus, which, under the name of the "Constitution," troubled
France during the greater part of the eighteenth century, was not
issued till 1713.

He succeeded in the case of the king, who set the example
of immediate submission; but some of his subjects revolted,
and declared that they would not believe a single word of
what was contained in this document.  The women are the
prime movers in this rebellion, which divides the court,
the kingdom, and every family in the land, because the
document prohibits them from reading a book which all
the Christians assert is of divine origin: it is, indeed,
their Koran.  The women, enraged at this affront to their
sex, exert all their power against the "Constitution"; and
they have brought over to their side all the men who are
not anxious about their privilege in the matter.  And truly,
the Mufti does not reason amiss.  By the great Hali ! he
must have been instructed in the principles of our holy re-
ligion, because, since women are inferior creatures compared
to us, and may not, according to our prophets, enter into
Paradise, why should they meddle with a book which is
only designed to teach the way thither? ....


                  LETTER XXXVIII

          RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA

It is an all-important question among men, whether it is
better to deprive women of their liberty, or to leave
them free.  It seems to me that much is to be said on
both sides.  When Europeans declare that it is most
ungenerous to keep those whom we love in misery, we
Asiatics reply that men lower themselves by renouncing
the dominion which nature has given them over women.
If we are told how troublesome it must be to have a crowd
of women shut up together, our reply is, that ten women
who obey are less bother than one who does not.  If we
object, in our turn, that Europeans cannot be happy with
women who are unfaithful to them; they answer that the
fidelity we boast of does not prevent that disgust, which
always follows a surfeit of desire; that our women belong
to us too absolutely; that possession obtained to easily
leaves no scope for hope or fear; that a little coquetry,
like salt, stimulates the appetite, and prevents corruption.
Perhaps even a wiser man than I would find this question
difficult to decide; for, if the Asiatics do well in seeking
due means to quiet their uneasiness, the Europeans do
equally well in not being uneasy.
    After all, say they, though we should be unfortunate as
husbands, we can always find compensation as lovers.  A
man could have just reason to complain of the infidelity of
his wife only if there were no more than three people in
the world; odd may be made even, as long as a fourth can
be found.
    Another much-discussed question is, whether women are
intended by nature to be subject to men.  "No," said a
very gallant philosopher to me the other day; "nature
never dictated such a law.  The dominion which we exer-
cise over them is tyrannical; they yield themselves to men
only because they are more tender-hearted, and consequently,
more human and more rational.  These advantages, which,
had we been reasonable, would, without doubt, have given
them the superiority, have been the cause of their subor-
dination, because we are irrational.
    "Now, if it is true that it is a tyrannical power which we
have over women, it is none the less true that they exer-
cise over us a natural dominion--that of beauty, which
nothing can resist.  Our power does not extend to all
countries, but that of beauty is universal.  Why, then,
should we have any privilege!  Is it because we are
stronger than they?  But that would be the height of in-
justice.  We use every possible means to discourage them.
Our powers would be found equal if we were educated
alike.  Try women in those gifts which education has
not weakened, and we will soon see which is the abler
sex."
    It must be admitted, although shocking to our ideas of
propriety, that, among the most polite people, women have
always borne sway over their husbands; their authority was
established by law among the Egyptians in honor of Isis,
and among the Babylonians in honor of Semiramis.  It
was said of the Romans that they, who ruled all the
world, were ruled by their wives.  I say nothing of the
Sauromates,*  who were held in a state of slavery by
their women; they were too barbarous to be cited as an
example.

    * Herodotus, iv. 110-47.

    You see, my dear Ibben, that I have fallen in with the
fashion of this country, where they are fond of defending
extraordinary opinions, and of reducing everything to a
paradox.  The prophet has decided this question, and has
settled the rights of both sexes.  "Women," he says, "ought
to honor their husbands; and husbands, their wives: but
men are a degree higher in the scale of creation than
women."

    PARIS, the 26th of the second moon of
                      Gemmadi, 1713.


                          LETTER LI
 

     *         *         *          *          *          *
 

    Although fathers, in arranging their daughters' marriages,
usually stipulate that the husband shall not whip them, yet
you would hardly believe how dearly the Muscovite women
like to be beaten; they are unable to understand how they
can possess their husband's love, if he does not thrash them
in proper style.  If he is slack in this matter, it is an unpar-
donable indication of coldness.  Here is a letter which a
Muscovite wife recently wrote to her mother:

    " MY DEAR MOTHER ,--- I am the most wretched woman
in the world.  I have left nothing undone to make my
husband love me, and I have never been able to succeed.
Yesterday, having a thousand things to attend to in the
house, I went out and stayed away all day.  I expected on
my return that he would beat me severely, but he did not
say a single word.  My sister fares much better; her us-
band beats her every day; he knocks her down at once if
she only looks at a man:  they are very affectionate, and
there is between them the best understanding in the
world.
    " It is that which makes her so proud, but I will not
allow her to triumph over me any longer.  I am resolved
to make my husband love me, whatever it may cost: I will
so anger him that he will be forced to give me marks of his
affection.  No one shall say that I am not beaten, and that
I am of no consequence in my own house. I will cry out
with all my might at the least touch, so that people may
think that all goes well; and if any of my neighbors should
come to my aid, I feel as if I would strangle them. I wish,
my dear mother, you would point out to my husband how
unworthy he treats me.  My father is a gentleman, and
behaved differently; indeed, if I remember rightly, when I
war a little girl he used to love you too much. I embrace
you, my dear mother." ...



 

                        LETTER LII

                      RICA TO USBEK, AT * * *
 

I WAS much amused in a certain house the other day.
There were present women of all ages; one of eighty
years, one of sixty, and one of forty; the last had
with her a niece of from twenty to twenty-two.  Instinct
led me to choose the company of the youngest.  She whis-
pered to me, " What do you think of my aunt?  Old as she
is, she still tries to pass for a beauty, and wishes to have
lovers."  "She is wrong" said I;  "such an intention is
becoming only in you."  A moment after, I found myself
beside her aunt, who said to me, "What do think of that
woman!  Although she is at least sixty years old she has
spent hours today over her toilet."  "It was a waste of
time," said I,  "which only such charms as yours could
have excused."  I crossed over to the unfortunate dame of
threescore, and was pitying her in my heart, when she
whispered to me, "Did you ever see anything so ridiculous?
Fancy a woman of eighty wearing flame-colored ribbons!
She would like to be young, and she succeeds, for that is
childish."
    "Good Heavens!" I exclaimed to myself; "must we be
forever blind to our own folly?  Perhaps, after all," I ar-
gued, "it is a blessing that we should find consolation in
the absurdities of others."  However, I was bent on being
amused, and I said, still to myself, "this is surely high
enough; let us descend, beginning at the summit."  So I ad-
dressed the lady of fourscore.  "Madam," I said, "you are so
wonderfully like that lady, whom I have just left to speak to
you, that I am certain you must be sisters--I should say
about the same age." "Indeed sir," she rejoined, "when
one of us dies, the other will not have long to live; I do
not believe there is two days' difference between us."  Hav-
ing left my decrepit dame, I went again to her of sixty.
"Madam, you must decide a bet I have made.  I have
wagered that you and that lady,"  indicating her of forty,
"are of the same age."  "Well," said she, "I believe there
is not six months' difference."   Good, so far; let us get on.
Still descending I returned to the lady of forty.  "Madam,
have the goodness to tell me if you were jesting when you
called that young lady at the other table, your niece.  You
are as young as she; there is even a touch of age in her
face, which you certainly have not; and the brilliancy of
your complexion .  .  ."  "Listen," she said; "I am her
aunt; but her mother was at least twenty-five years older
than me.  We are not even children of the same marriage;
I have heard my departed sister say that her daughter and
I were born in the same year "  "I was right, then, ma-
dam, and you cannot blame me for being astonished."
    My dear Usbek, women who feel that the loss of their
charms is aging them before their time, long ardently to be
young again; and why should we blame them for deceiving
others, since they take such trouble to deceive themselves,
and to dispossess their minds of the most painful of all
thoughts?

    PARIS, the 3d of the moon of
                 Chalval, 1713.



 

                        LETTER LV

                 RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA
 

AMONG the Europeans, the first quarter of an hour of
marriage settles all difficulties; the last favors are
always contemporary with the marriage blessing.  The
women here are not like those of Persia, who sometimes
dispute the ground for months together.  They give them-
selves at once; and if they lose nothing, it is because they
have nothing to lose.  One shameful result of this is, that
one can always tell the moment of their defeat; and, with-
out consulting the stars, it is possible to predict to the
very hour the birth of their children.
    The French seldom speak of their wives:*  they are
afraid to do so before people who may know them better
than themselves.

    * It was a rule of good society.  " Most men understand that they
should say very little about their wives; but few know that they
should talk still less about themselves."-- LA ROCHEFOUCALD.

    There are, among the French, a set of most miserable
men, whom nobody comforts--jealous husbands, to wit;
there are among them those whom everybody hates ---
namely, jealous husbands; there are men whom the whole
world despises --- once more, jealous husbands.
    And so, there is no country where there are so few of
them as in France.  Their peace of mind is not based upon
the confidence which they have in their wives; but on the bad
opinion which they have of them.  All the wise precautions
of the Asiatics; the veils which cover them, the prisons in
which they are kept, the eunuchs who guard them, seem to
the French only so many obstacles better fitted to exercise
than to tire the ingenuity of women.  Here, husbands ac-
cept their lot with a good grace, and the infidelities of their
wives seem to them as inevitable as fate.  A husband, who
would wish to monopolize his wife, would be looked upon
as a disturber of the pleasure of the public, as a lunatic
who wanted to enjoy the light of the sun to the exclusion
of everybody else.
    Here, a husband who loves his wife is a man who has
not enough merit to engage the affections of some other
woman; who makes a bad use of the power given him by
the law to supply those pleasures which he can obtain in
no other way; who claims all his rights to the prejudice of
the whole community; who appropriates to his own use
that which he only holds in pawn; and who tries, as far
as he can, to overturn the tacit agreement, in which the
happiness of both sexes consists.  The fame, so little de-
sired in Asia, of being married to a beautiful woman, is
here the source of no uneasiness.  No one has ever to seek
far for entertainment.  A prince consoles himself for the
loss of one place by taking anothers; when Bagdad fell to
the Turks, were we not taking from the Mogul the fortress
of Candahar?
    Generally speaking, a man who winks at his wife's infi-
delities, does not lose respect; on the contrary, he is
praised for his prudence: dishonor only attaches to special
cases.
    Not that there are no virtuous women; there are, and
they may be said to be distinguished too.  My conductor
always took care to point them out; but they were all so
ugly that one would require to be a saint not to hate virtue.
    After what I have told you of the morals and manners
of this country, you will easily imagine that the French do
not altogether plume themselves upon their constancy.
They believe that it is as ridiculous to swear eternal love
to a woman, as to insist that one will always be in the
best of health, or always as happy as the day is long.
When they promise a woman to love her all their lives,
they suppose that she on her side undertakes to be always
lovable; and if she breaks her word, they think that they
are no longer bound by theirs.

    PARIS, the 7th of the moon of
                 Zilcade, 1714.



 

                       LETTER LVI

                 USBEK TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA
 

GAMING is very common in Europe.  To be a
gamester is to have a position in society, although one
is neither well-born, wealthy, nor a man of integrity:
it entitles one, without any inquiry, to rank as a gentle-
man.  All know that it is often a most untrustworthy
credential, but people have made up their minds to be de-
ceived.
    Above all, the women follow it.  It is true that the at-
tractions of a dearer passion prevent them from giving it
much attention in their youth; but as they grow old, their
love of gaming seems to grow young, and when all others
are decayed, that passion fills up the void.
    Their desire is to ruin their husbands; and for that pur-
pose they have means suitable to all ages, from the ten-
derest youth to the most decrepit age; dress and luxury
begin the disorder, which gallantry increases, and gaming
completes.
    I have often seen nine or ten women, or rather, nine or
ten centuries, seated round a table; I have watched them
hoping, fearing, rejoicing-above all, in their transports of
anger:  you would have said that they would never grow
calm again, and that life would leave them before their
despair; you would have been in doubt whether they were
paying their creditors or their legatees.
    It seems to have been the chief aim of our holy Prophet
to restrain us from everything that might disturb the rea-
son: he has prohibited the use of wine, which steals away
man's brains; by a special law be has forbidden games of
chance; and where the cause of passion could not be
removed he has subdued it.  Love among us brings with
it no trouble, no frenzy: it is a languid passion which
leaves our souls serene: plurality of wives saves us from
the dominion of women, and tempers the violence of our
desires.

    PARIS, the 10th of the moon of
                  Zilhage, 1714.



 

                        LETTER LXIII

                        RICA TO USBEK, AT * * *
 

    *         *         *          *          *          *
 

    In order to gratify women a talent is necessary different
from that other gift which pleases them still more; it con-
sists in a sort of playfulness of mind, which entertains
them, as it seems to promise them every moment what one
cannot perform except occasionally.
    This gayety of mind naturally adapted to the dressing-
room seems to be forming the general character of the
nation: they trifle in council, at the head of an army, with
an ambassador.  Professions appear ridiculous only in pro-
portion to the professional gravity adopted: a doctor would
be less absurd if his dress were more cheerful, and if,
while killing his patients, he jested pleasantly.

    PARIS, the 10th of the first moon of
                       Rebiab, 1714.


                     LETTER LXXIX

                  USBEK TO RHEDI, AT VENICE
 

MOST legislators have been men of inferior capacity
whom chance exalted over their fellows, and who took
counsel almost exclusively of their own prejudices and
whims.
    It would seem that they had not even a sense of the
greatness and dignity of their work: they amused them-
selves by framing childish institutions, well devised indeed
to please small minds, but discrediting their authors with
people of sense.
    They hung themselves into useless details; and gave their
attention to individual interests: the sign of a narrow gen-
ius, which grasps things piecemeal and cannot take a gen-
eral view.
    Some of them have been so affected as to employ an-
other language than the vernacular---a ridiculous thing in
a framer of laws; for how can they be obeyed if they are
not known?
    They have often abolished needlessly those which were
already established---that is to say, they have plunged
nations into the confusion which always accompanies
change.
    It is true that, by reason of some extravagance spring-
ing rather from the nature than from the mind of man, it
is sometimes necessary to change certain laws.  But the
case is rare; and when it happens it requires the most
delicate handling; much solemnity ought  to be observed,
and endless precautions taken, in order to lead the people
to the natural conclusion that the laws are most sacred,
since so many formalities are necessary to their abroga-
tion.
    Often they have made them too subtle, following logical
instead of natural equity.  As a consequence such laws
have been found too severe; and a spirit of justice re-
quired that they should be set aside; but the cure was as
bad as the disease.  Whatever the laws may be, obedience
to them is necessary; they are to be regarded as the pub-
lic conscience,  with which all  private consciences ought to
be in conformity.
    It must, however, be admitted that some legislators in
their attention to one matter have shown sufficient wisdom;
and that is, in giving fathers so much power over their
children: nothing is a better lightener of the magistrate's
labors, nothing tends more to keep the courts of justice
empty, in short, nothing is more conducive to tranquillity
in a state, for morality always makes better citizens than
law.
    Of all powers it is that which is least abused; it is the
most sacred of all magistracies---the only one which does
not spring from a contract, which, indeed, precedes all
contracts.
    It has been noticed that families are best ruled in those
countries where there is a large paternal discretion in mat-
ters of reward and punishment; fathers represent the Cre-
ator of the universe, who, although able to lead men by
His love, does not refrain from binding them to Himself
still more closely by motives of hope and fear.
    I cannot finish this letter without pointing out the ca-
pricious turn of mind of the French.  It is said that they
have retained many things in the Roman laws which are
useless, and even worse than useless; from them, however,
they have not derived the paternal power, which they have
established as a source of all lawful authority.

    PARIS, the 18th of the moon of
                    Saphar, 1715.



 

                      LETTER LXXXIII

                       RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA
 

ALTHOUGH the French are great talkers, there is never-
theless among them a sort of silent dervishes, called
Carthusians.  They are said to cut out their tongues
on entering the convent; and it is much to be desired that
all other dervishes would deprive themselves in the same
way of that which their profession renders useless to them.
Talking of these taciturn people reminds me that there
are others who excel them in taciturnity, and who have a
very remarkable gift.  These are they who know how to
talk without saying anything; and who carry on a conver-
sation for two whole hours without it being possible to
discover their meaning, to rehearse their talk, or to re-
member a word of what they have said.
    This class of people are adored by the women; but not
so much as some others who have received from nature
the charming gift of smiling at the proper time, that is to
say, every moment; and who receive with delighted appro-
bation everything the ladies say.
    But these people carry wit to its highest pitch; for they
can detect subtlety in everything, and perceive a thousand
little ingenious touches in the merest commonplaces.
    I know others of them who are fortunate enough to be
able to introduce into conversation inanimate things, and to
make a long story about an embroidered coat, a white
peruke, a snuffbox, a cane, a pair of gloves.  It is well to
begin in the street to make oneself heard by the noise of
a coach and a thundering rap at the door: such a prologue
paves the way for the rest of the discourse; and when the
exordium is good, it secures toleration for all the nonsense
which follows, but which, fortunately, arrives too late to
be detected.
    I assure you that these little gifts, which with us are of
no account, are of great advantage here to those who are
happy enough to possess them; and that a sensible man
has no chance of shining where they are displayed.

    PARIS, the 10th of the first moon of
                       Rebiab, 1714.



 

                      LETTER LXXXVII

                                    RICA TO ***
 

IT SEEMS that every member of a family in this country
controls his own actions.  The authority exercised
by a husband over his wife, a father over his chil-
dren, a master over his slaves, is merely nominal.  The
law interferes in all differences; and you may be certain
that it is always the jealous husband, the sorrowing father,
the exasperated master.
    The other day I visited the place where justice is ad-
ministered.  Before getting there, I had to run the gauntlet
of a crowd of young shopwomen who press you to buy in
a most seductive manner.  At first, the sight is sufficiently
amusing; but it becomes dismal when one enters the great
halls, where all the people wear dresses even more solemn
than their faces.  At last one comes to the sacred place
where all the secrets of families are revealed and the most
hidden actions brought to light.
    Here a modest girl comes to confess the torments of a
virginity too long preserved, her struggles and her painful
resistance; she is so little proud of her victory that she is
always on the verge of accepting defeat; and, in order that
her father may no longer be ignorant of her wants, she
exposes them to everybody.
    Then some shameless woman appears to publish the in-
juries she has done her husband, as a reason for a separa-
tion.
    With equal modesty another comes to declare that she is
tired of wearing the title, without enjoying the rights of a
wife; she reveals the hidden mysteries of the marriage
night; she wishes to be examined by the most skillful ex-
perts, and prays for a decision re-establishing her in all the
rights of virginity.  Some even dare to challenge their hus-
bands, and demand from them a public contest which the
presence of witnesses renders so difficult; a test as disgrace-
ful for the wife who passes it, as for the husband who fails
to stand it.
    A great number of young women, ravished or seduced,
represent the men as being much worse than they are.
This court resounds with love; nothing is talked of but en-
raged fathers, deluded daughters, faithless lovers, afflicted
husbands.
    According to the law which here holds sway, every in-
fant born in wedlock is considered the husband's; should
he have good reasons to believe it not his, the law believes
it for him, and relieves him of his scruples, and of the
necessity for inquiry.
    In this tribunal judgment goes by the majority; but it
is said that experience teaches that it would be wiser to
follow the decision of the minority; which is natural
enough, for there are very few just minds, and plenty of
ill-balanced ones, as all the world knows.

    PARIS, the 1st of the second moon of
                      Gemmadi, 1715.


                        LETTER C

                   RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA
 

THE caprices of fashion among the French are amazing.
they have forgotten how they were dressed this sum-
mer; they know as little how they will be dressed in
the winter; but, above all, you would never believe how
much it costs a husband to dress his wife in the fashion.
Where is the use of my giving you a full description of
their dress and ornaments!  A new fashion would destroy
all my labor as it does that of the dressmakers; and before
you could receive my letter all would be changed.
A woman who leaves Paris to spend six months in the
country, returns from it as out of date as if she had been
forgotten for thirty years.  The son does not know the
portrait of his mother, so strange does the dress in which
she was painted appear to him; he imagines that it repre-
sents some American, or that the painter wished to express
a fancy of his own.
    Sometimes the headdresses grow gradually to a great
height, until a revolution brings them down suddenly.
They grew so lofty once that a woman's face seemed to he
in the centre of her anatomy; at another time it was the
feet that occupied that place, the heels forming a pedestal
which raised them into the air.  Would you believe it?
Architects have often been obliged to raise, to lower, or to
widen their doors, according to the change in the women's
dresses; and the rules of their art have had to yield to
such caprices.  Sometimes one sees upon a face immense
quantity of patches, which are all gone next day.  For-
merly women had figures and teeth; now these are of no
consequence.  In this changeable nation, whatever ill-natured
wags may say, the daughters are differently made from the
mothers.
    As with their fashions, so is it with their customs and
style of living:  French manners change with the age of
the king.  The monarch could even succeed in making his
people solemn if he chose to try.  He impresses his own
characteristics upon the court, the court upon the city,
and the city on the provinces. The soul of the sovereign
is a mold in which all the others are formed.

    PARIS, the 8th of the moon of
                    Saphar, 1717.


                       LETTER CI

                         RICA TO THE SAME
 

I TOLD you the other day of the extraordinary incon-
stancy of the French in their fashions.  Yet it is in-
conceivable to what an extent they are infatuated about
them; everything is swayed by them: fashion is the rule
by which they judge what is done in other nations; what-
ever is foreign always seems to them ridiculous.  I confess
that I hardly know how to reconcile this bigoted devotion
to their customs with the inconstancy which changes them
every day.
    When I say that they despise everything foreign, I mean
only trifles; for in important matters they are so diffident
as almost to degrade themselves.  They confess with the
greatest good will that the other nations are wiser, if you
grant that they are better dressed; they are willing to sub-
mit themselves to the laws of a rival nation, provided
French wig makers may decide, like legislators, the form of
foreign perukes.  Nothing seems to them more glorious
than to see the taste of their cooks reigning from north to
south, and the decrees of their tire-women obeyed in every
boudoir of Europe....


                       LETTER CVIII

                    RICA TO IBBEN, AT SMYRNA
 

I HAVE seen the young king.*  His life is very precious
to his people: it is not less so to the whole of Europe.
But kings are like gods; and as long as they live
must be considered immortal.  His face is majestic but
pleasing; a good education in conjunction with a happy
disposition, already give promise of a great prince.
They say that one can never tell the character of the
kings of the west until they have passed through the two
great ordeals of selecting their mistress and their confessor.
We shall shortly see the one and the other laboring to
possess the mind of this one: and on that account he will
become the subject of great contentions.  For under a
young prince these two powers are always rivals; but
they are reconciled and leagued together under an old one.
Under a young prince a dervish has a very difficult
part to play; the king's strength is his weakness; but
the other triumphs alike in both his strength and his
weakness.

     * Louis XV, born 15th of February, 1710.

    When I arrived in France, I found the late king alto-
gether governed by women, although at his age I believe
him to have been the one monarch in the world who had
least need of them.   I heard a woman say one day, "Some-
thing must be done for that young colonel; I know his
worth; I will speak to the minister for him."  Another
said,  "It is surprising that that young abbé should have
been overlooked; he must be made a bishop; he is well-
born, and I can answer for his morals."  You must not
however suppose that the women who talked in this way
were favorites of the prince: they had perhaps not spoken
twice to him all their lives; which is nevertheless a very
easy thing to do with European princes.   But there is not
a single person employed in any way at the court, in Paris,
or in the provinces, who is not acquainted with some wo-
man through whose hands pass all the favors and sometimes
all the wrongs which he may wish done.  These women are
all in each other's secrets, and form a sort of republic, the
members of which are always busy aiding and serving each
other; it is like a state within a state; and any one at
court, in Paris, or in the provinces, who sees the activity
of the ministers, the magistrates, and the prelates, if he
does not know the women who govern them, is like a man
who sees a machine at work, but who is ignorant of the
springs that move it.
    Do you think, Ibben, that a woman consents to be the
mistress of a minister for love of him?  What an idea!  It
is in order that she may lay before him every morning five
or six petitions; and the goodness of these women appears
in the zeal with which they serve an infinite number of
unfortunate people, who obtain for them an income of a
hundred thousand livres.
    They complain in Persia that the kingdom is governed by
two or three women: it is much worse in France, where
the women govern generally, and not only usurp all author-
ity wholesale, but retail it among themselves.

    PARIS, the last day of the moon of
                    Chalval, 1717.


                        LETTER CXI

                                 RICA TO ***

THE rôle of a fine lady is much more serious than one
would imagine.  Nothing could be more important
than what takes place in the morning at her toilet
among her servants: a general of an army devotes no more
attention to the disposition of his right or of his reserve
corps, than she gives to placing a patch which may fail,
but from which she hopes or foresees success.
    What mental worry, what care, to be continually recon-
ciling the interests of two rivals; to appear neutral to
both, while she is giving herself to each of them; and to
act the part of peacemaker in all the strife she makes be-
tween them!
    How she is occupied with the success and the renewal of
pleasure parties, and in the prevention of all accidents that
might interrupt them!
    And with it all, the greatest trouble is taken, not to
amuse oneself, but to appear to be amused.  Bore them as
much as you like, they will forgive you, so long as it is
understood that they have been very merry.
    Some days ago I was at a supper given by some ladies
in the country. All the way they kept saying, " We must
at least enjoy ourselves immensely."
    We happened to he very ill paired, and were conse-
quently very dull.  "I must confess," said one of these
ladies, " that we are very merry; there is not in Paris to-
day a party so gay as ours."  As the wearisomeness of it
all began to overpower me, a lady rallied me, and said,
"Well, are we not getting on charmingly?"  "Yes,"  I re-
plied, yawning; "I believe I shall split my sides laughing."
Melancholy, however, invaded all our thoughts; and as for
me, I felt myself fall from yawn to yawn into a lethargic
sleep, which put an end to all my mirth.

    PARIS, the 11th of the moon of
                  Maharram, 1718.


The above text, with slight modification, was taken from
Persian and Chinese Letters, translated and introduced
by John Davidson, published by M. Walter Dunne,
Washington and London, 1901.