Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XLVIII.: Usbek * to Rhedi, at Venice. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
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LETTER XLVIII.: Usbek * to Rhedi, at Venice. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters) 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 3.
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Usbek* to Rhedi, at Venice.
THEY who love to inform themselves, are never idle. Though I have no business of consequence to take care of, I am nevertheless continually employed. I spend my life in examining things: I write down in the evening whatever I have remarked, what I have seen, and what I have heard in the day: every thing engages my attention, and every thing excites my wonder: I am like an infant, whose organs, as yet tender, are strongly affected by the slightest objects. Perhaps you will not believe we are agreeably received into all companies, and into all kinds of societies. I believe much of this is owing to the sprightliness and natural gaiety of Rica, which leads him to search through the whole world, and makes him equally searched after. Our foreign air no longer offends any body; we even take pleasure at the surprise our politeness occasions; for the French do not imagine that our climate produces men, yet it must be confessed, they are worthy the trouble of convincing them. I have passed some days at a country house near Paris, with a man of some consequence, who delighted in having company with him. He hath a very lovely wife, who hath, joined to a great share of modesty, a liveliness which the constant retired life of our Persian ladies deprives them of. As I was a stranger I had nothing better to employ me, than to observe the company who were continually coming there, and always affording me something new. I observed at first a man, whose simplicity pleased me, I attached myself to him, and he to me, insomuch that we were continually together. As we were one day conversing together, amidst a large circle, leaving the general conversation to themselves: “You find perhaps in me, said I to him, more curiosity than politeness, but pray allow me to ask you some questions; for I am tired with doing nothing, and of living among people, among whom I cannot mix. My mind hath been at work above these two days: there is not one of these men here, who hath not put me to the torture above two hundred times; and I should not be able to comprehend these people in a thousand years; they are more invisible to me than the wives of our great monarch.” “You have only to ask, said he to me, and I will acquaint you with all you wish to know, and the more willingly, because I believe you are a discreet man, and that you will not abuse my confidence.” “Who is that man, said I to him, who talks so much to us of the great entertainments he has given to great men, who is so familiar with your dukes, and who converses so frequently with your ministers, who I am informed are difficult of access? He certainly must be a man of quality; but his aspect is so mean, that he does not much honour to men of that rank; and besides I do not find he has any education. I am a foreigner, but it seems to me, that there is in general a certain politeness common to every nation; I find none of this in him: is it that your men of quality are worse educated than other men?” “This man, answered he laughing, is a farmer of the king’s revenues, he is as much above others in riches, as he is below all the world in birth. He would have the best table in Paris, could he persuade himself never to dine at home; he is very impertinent, as you see, but he excels in a cook, nor is he very ungrateful, for you have heard how he has praised him all day.” “And who is that big man in black, said I to him, who the lady hath placed next herself? how comes he to wear so grave a dress, with so gay an air, and so florid a countenance? He smiles graciously at every thing said to him, his apparel is more modest, but more formal, than that of your women.” “He is a preacher, and what is worse, a director. Notwithstanding his looks, he knows more than the husbands; he knows the weak side of the women, and they also know that he hath his weak side too.” “How, says I, he is always talking of something which he calls grace?” “No; not always, replied he; at the ear of a pretty woman he talks more freely of the fall of man; he thunders in public, but in private he is as gentle as a lamb.” “It seems to me, says I, that he is greatly distinguished, and highly respected. How comes it that he is so distinguished?” “He is a necessary man; he sweetens a retired life, petty councils, officious cares, set visits; he removes the head-ach better than any man in the world; he is excellent.” “But if I am not too troublesome to you, tell me who is that man over against us, so badly dressed, who makes so many faces, and speaks a language different from the rest, who hath not wit enough to talk, but talks that he may have wit? “He is a poet, replied he, a grotesque figure of the human kind. These kind of creatures, they say, are born what they are; it is true, and no less so that they will continue the same all their lives, that is to say, for the general part the most ridiculous of mankind; accordingly nobody spares them; contempt is liberally poured on them by all. Hunger hath driven him to this house, and he is here well received by both the master and mistress of the house, whose good nature and politeness do not permit them to descend to personal prejudices. He wrote an epithalamium when they were married, it is the best thing he ever did; for the marriage hath proved as happy as he predicted it would be. You will perhaps not believe, added he, possessed as you are of oriental prejudices, that there are among us happy marriages, and women whose virtue is their strict guard. The couple we are talking of enjoy an uninterrupted peace; they are beloved and esteemed by all the world. There is but one thing amiss; their good-nature makes them admit all kinds of people, which occasions their having bad company. Not that I dislike them, we must live with people as we find them; those who are called good company, are often such whose vices are more refined; and perhaps it is as with poisons, of which the most subtle are the most dangerous.” “And who is this old man, said I to him softly, who looks so morose? I took him at first for a foreigner; for besides that he is dressed different from the rest, he censures every thing done in France, and disapproves of your government.” “He is an old warrior, said he, who makes himself memorable to all his auditors, by the tedious relation of his exploits. He will not allow France hath gained any battle at which he was not present, or that any siege should be boasted of where he did not mount the trenches. He fancies himself of so much importance to our history, that he imagines it ended where he concluded his actions; he looks upon some wounds he received, as he would upon the dissolution of the monarchy; and different to those philosophers, who say that we enjoy only the present time, and that the past is nothing, he, on the contrary, enjoys only the past, and exists not but in the campaigns he hath made: he breathes in the times that are passed away, as heroes ought to live in those which are to come.” “But why, said I, did he quit the service?” “He did not quit it, replied he, but it quitted him; he is employed in a little garrison, where he will recount his adventures the remainder of his life, but he will get no further; the road of honour is shut up from him.” “And why? said I:” “We have a maxim in France, replied he, never to promote officers whose patience hath languished in subaltern offices; we regard them as persons whose understandings are straitened by a narrow sphere of action; and who, accustomed to little things, are become incapable of greater. We think that a man who at thirty hath not the qualifications of a general, will never have them; that he who has not that cast of eye, as to shew him at once a tract of several leagues in all its various situations, that presence of mind which enables him to improve all the advantages of a victory, and, in a defeat, to help himself by every possible resource, will never acquire these talents. Therefore we have high employments for great and elevated persons, to whom heaven has not only given the heart, but also the genius of heroism; and inferior stations for those whose talents are also inferior. Of this class are those who are grown old in an obscure warfare: at best they succeed only in doing what they have done all their lives; and we ought not to begin loading them at a time when they begin to be enfeebled.” A moment afterwards the spirit of curiosity re-seized me, and I said to him, “I promise to ask no further questions, if you will allow of this one more. Who is that big young man in his own hair, with so little wit, and so much impertinence? How comes he to talk louder than the rest, and seem so pleased that he is alive?” “He is a man of good fortune, replied he.”—As he said this, some company came in, others went away, and all got up; somebody came to speak to my companion, and I remained as ignorant as before. But a moment afterwards this young man happened to sit by me, and began talking to me: “It is fine weather, Sir, will you take a turn in the garden?” I answered him as civilly as possible, and we went out together. “I am come into the country to please the mistress of this house, with whom I am upon no bad terms. There is a certain woman in the world who will not be in the best humour; but what can be done? I visit the handsomest women in Paris; but I do not confine myself to one, and they have need to look sharp after me; for, between you and I, I am a sad fellow.” “Probably then, Sir, said I, you have some post, or employment, that prevents you from attending them more constantly.” “No, Sir, I have nothing else to do but to provoke an husband, or drive a father to despair: I love to alarm a woman who thinks she is secure of me, and reduce her within a finger’s breadth of losing me. Here is a set of us young fellows who in this manner divide all Paris, and make it take notice of the least step we take.” “By what I learn from you, said I, you make a greater noise than the most valiant warrior, and are more observed than a grave magistrate. You would not enjoy all these advantages if you were in Persia; you would be thought fitter to guard our women than to give them pleasure.” I began to grow warm, and I believe if I had talked a little more, I could not have helped affronting him.—What sayest thou of a country where these kind of wretches are tolerated, and where they suffer a man to live who employs himself in such a manner? Where infidelity, treason, rapes, persidy and injustice, conduce to render a man considerable. Where a man shall be esteemed because he has stole away a man’s daughter, or a wife from her husband, and troubled the happiest and most sacred societies? Happy the children of Hali, who protect their families from infamy and debauchery! The light of the day is not more pure than the fire which warms the hearts of our women; our daughters think not, without trembling, of the day that is to deprive them of that virtue which renders them like angels and incorporeal powers. O my dear native country, whom the sun honours with his first regards, thou art unsullied by those horrible crimes, which obliges this luminary to hide himself as soon as he approaches the black west!
Paris, the 5th of the moon of Rhamazan, 1713.
[* ]M. de Montesquien speaks of himself here in the person of Usbek.