Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER LXVII.: Ibben to Usbek, at Paris. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
Return to Title Page for Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
LETTER LXVII.: Ibben to Usbek, at Paris. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Ibben to Usbek, at Paris.
THERE are three ships arrived here, without bringing me any news of thee. Art thou sick? or dost thou take a pleasure in making me uneasy? If thou dost not love me in a country where thou art tied to nothing, what wouldst thou do in the middle of Persia, and in the bosom of thy family! But may be I deceive myself: thou art amiable enough to find friends every where; the heart is a citizen of every country; how can a well-formed mind hinder itself from entering into engagements? I confess to thee I respect old friendships, but I am not displeased at making new ones every where. In whatever country I have been, I have lived as though I was to pass my life there: I have had the same warm affection for virtuous people, the same compassion, or rather the same tenderness, for the unhappy; the same regard for those whom prosperity hath not blinded. This is my disposition, Usbek: wherever I shall meet with men, I shall chuse friends. There is a certain Guebree here, who, I think, after thee, enjoys the first place in my heart: he is probity itself. Some particular reasons have obliged him to retire to this city, where he lives at ease, with his wife, whom he loves, on the product of an honest traffic. His whole life is remarkable for generous actions; and though he seeks to be private, he hath more heroism in his soul, than in that of the greatest monarchs. I have talked a thousand times to him of thee, I shew him all thy letters; I observe they give him pleasure, and I already perceive that thou hast a friend who is unknown to thee. Thou wilt find here his chief adventures; though he wrote them with reluctance, he could refuse nothing to my friendship, and I intrust them to thine.
The History of Apheridon and Astarte.
I WAS born among the Guebres * , of a religion which is, perhaps, the most ancient in the world. I was so unhappy, that love came to me before reason. I was scarce six years of age when I could not live without my sister: my eyes were always fixed on her; and if she left me but a moment, she found them at her return bathed in tears: every day did not add more to my age than to my love. My father, astonished at so strong a sympathy, wished indeed to marry us together, according to the ancient custom of the Guebres, introduced by Cambyses, but the fear of the Mahometans, whose yoke we live under, restrains those of our nation from thinking of such holy alliances, which our religion rather commands than forbids, and which resemble so much the natural union constituted by nature. My father, seeing it would be dangerous to follow his inclination and mine, determined to extinguish a flame which he thought in its infancy, but which was at its height; he pretended to make a voyage, and took me with him, leaving my sister in the hands of one of his relations, for my mother had been dead two years. I will not tell you what my despair was at this separation: I embraced my sister, all bathed in teats, but I shed none; for grief had rendered me insensible. We arrived at Tefflis, and my father, having intrusted my education to one of our relations, left me there, and returned home. Some time after I learned, that, by the interest of one of his friends, he had got my sister into the king’s seraglio, where she attended a sultana. If I had been informed of her death, I could not have been more affected; for, besides that I had no hopes of seeing her again, her entering into the seraglio had made her a Mahometan; and she could no more, according to the prejudice of that religion, regard me but with horror. However, not being able to live longer at Tefflis, weary of myself and of life, I returned to Ispahan. My first words to my father were bitter; I reproached him with having put his daughter in a place, into which none can enter without changing their religion. “You have brought upon your family, said I to him, the wrath of heaven, and of the sun that lights you: you have done worse than if you had sullied the elements, since you have defiled the soul of your daughter, which is not less pure: I shall die of grief and love, but may my death be the only punishment that God may make you feel!” At these words I went out; and, during two years, I passed my life in looking at the walls of the seraglio, and considering the part where my sister might be; exposing myself a thousand times every day to be killed by the eunuchs, who keep their round about these dreadful apartments. At last my father died; and the sultana, whom my sister waited on, observing her beauty increased every day, became jealous of her, and married her to an eunuch, who passionately wished for her. By this means my sister left the seraglio, and took with her eunuch an house at Ispahan. I was above three months without an opportunity of speaking to her; the eunuch, the most jealous of all men, always putting me off with frivolous excuses. At last, I entered this seraglio, and was obliged to talk through a latticed window. The eyes of a lynx could not have discovered her, so hid was she with her dress and veils; and I only knew her by her voice. What was my emotion when I saw myself so near her, and so far from her! I restrained myself, for I was observed. As to her, it seemed to me that she shed some tears. Her husband offered to make some trifling excuses, but I treated him as the most contemptible of slaves. He was quite confounded, when he found I talked to my sister in a language unknown to him; this was the ancient Persic, which is our sacred language. “What, my sister, said I, is it true that you have renounced the religion of your fathers? I know that on entering the seraglio you must have made profession of Mahometism; but tell me, hath your heart consented like your mouth, to quit the religion which permits me to love you? And for whom have you quitted that religion which ought to be so dear to us? For a wretch yet marked with the chains he wore; who, if he was a man, would be the last of mankind.” “My brother, said she, this man of whom you speak is my husband: I must honour him, all unworthy as he appears to you; and I should also be the last of women, if—” “Ah, my sister! interrupted I, you are a Guebre; he is not your husband, nor can he be; if you was a believer, like your forefathers, you could not but regard him as a monster. Alas, said she, at what a distance does that religion shew itself to me! Scarce had I known its precepts, when I was obliged to renounce it. You must observe, that the language I speak is not very familiar to me, and that I take the utmost pains to express myself: but be assured, that the remembrance of our childhood always gives me pleasure; but, since that time, I have known only false joys; that there hath not passed a day of my life in which I have not thought of you; that you have a greater share in my marriage than you can believe; and that it had not been concluded but from a hope of seeing you again. But this day, which hath cost me so much, will yet cost me more! I see you are quite beside yourself; my husband foams with rage and jealousy: I shall see you no more; I, without doubt, speak to you for the last time of my life: if so, my brother, it will not be long.” At these words she wept; and finding herself incapable of talking, she left me, the most disconsolate of all men. Three or four days after, I desired to see my sister; the barbarous eunuch would indeed have hindered me; but, besides that these kind of husbands have not the same authority over their wives as others, he loved my sister so passionately, that he knew not how to refuse her any thing. I saw her again in the same place, and with the same veils, attended by two slaves, which made me have recourse to our own language. “My sister, said I, how comes it that I cannot see you, without finding myself in this terrible situation? These walls which keep you shut up, these bolts and iron gates, these miserable attendants who watch you, put me in a rage. How have you lost that sweet liberty which your ancestors enjoyed! Your mother, who was so chaste, did not give herself to her husband to guard her virtue, but her virtue itself was her guard: they both lived happy together in mutual confidence; and the simplicity of their manners was to them a treasure a thousand times more precious than that false splendor which you seem to enjoy in this sumptuous house. In losing your religion you have lost your liberty, your happiness, and that precious quality which constitutes the honour of your sex. But what is yet worse, is, that you are not the wife, for that you cannot be, but a slave to a slave, who hath been degraded of manhood. “Ah, my brother! said she, respect my husband, respect the religion I have embraced; according to which religion I cannot hear you, nor speak to you, without guilt.” “What, my sister! cried I, quite in a transport, do you then believe this religion to be true?” “Ah, said she, how well would it be for me if it was not! I have made too great a sacrifice to it, not to believe in it; and, if my doubts”—At these words she was silent. “Yes, your doubts, my sister, are well founded, whatever they are. What can you expect from a religion which renders you unhappy here in this world, and leaves you no hope of another? Consider, our religion is the most ancient in the whole world; that it hath always flourished in Persia, and hath no other origin but with that empire, whose beginning is not known; it was nothing but chance which introduced Mahometism there; that sect was established there, not by the power of persuasion, but by that of conquest. If our natural princes had not been weak, you would have seen the worship of the ancient Magi flourishing yet. Review those ages which are passed, every thing informs you of Magism, and nothing of the Mahometan sect, which, many thousand of years after, was but then in its infancy.” “But, said she, though my religion should be of a more modern date than yours, it is at least more pure, since it adores none but God; whereas you also adore the sun, the stars, fire, and even the elements.” “I see, my sister, that you have learned among the Mussulmans to calumniate our holy religion. We worship neither the stars nor the elements, and our fathers never worshipped them: they never raised temples to them, they never offered sacrifices to them. They only paid them a religious worship of an inferior kind, as to the works and manifestations of the divinity. But, my sister, in the name of him who enlightens us, receive this sacred book which I have brought you; it is a book of our legislator Zoroaster, peruse it without prejudice; receive in your heart the rays of light, which will enlighten you as you read it; remember your fathers, who for so long a time honoured the sun in the city of the Holy Balk; and lastly, do thou remember me, who hope neither for ease, happiness, nor life, but from your change.” There, quite transported, I quitted her, and left her alone to determine the most important affair that I could have in my life. I came there again two days after; I said nothing to her, waiting with silence the sentence of my life, or of my death. “Thou art beloved, my brother, said she to me, and by a Guebre. I have struggled a long time; but, Gods! what difficulties doth love remove! How relieved am I! I fear nothing now but loving you too much; I can fix no bounds to my love: but the excess is lawful. Ah, how well does this suit the state of my heart! But you who have known how to break the chains which my mind itself had forged, how will you break those that tie my hands? From this moment I give myself to thee; show by the readiness with which you receive me, how dear this present is to you. My brother, the first time that I embrace you, I believe I shall die in your arms.” I can never fully express the joy I felt at these words: I did believe, and actually saw myself, in a moment, the most happy of all mankind: I saw all the wishes which I had been five and twenty years of my life in forming, nearly accomplished, and all those uneasinesses vanished, which had rendered my life so burthensome. But when I had a little enjoyed these delightful thoughts, I found that I was not so near my happiness, as I had so hastily imagined within myself, though I had surmounted the greatest of all obstacles. The vigilance of her guardians was to be deceived: I did not dare to confide this secret of my life with any body; I had nobody but my sister, and she nobody but me, to consult: if my scheme failed, I ran the risque of being imprisoned; but I saw no pain more tormenting than that of miscarrying. We agreed that she should send to me for a cloak that her father had left her, and that I should put a file into it, to saw the lattice of her window, which opened to the street, and a rope-ladder to descend by, and after that not to visit her; but that I should walk every night under the window, to wait till she could execute her design. I passed fifteen whole nights without seeing any body, because she had not found a favourable opportunity. At length, the sixteenth night, I heard a saw at work: from time to time the work was discontinued, and in those intervals my fear was inexpressible. After an hour’s labour I saw her fasten the cord, she then put herself on it, and slided down into my arms. I thought no more of danger, and staid some time without moving from thence; I then conducted her out of the city, where I had a horse ready; I placed her behind me, and rode with all the haste possible, from a place which might have been very fatal to us. We reached, before day, the house of a Guebre, in a desert place, where he lived retired by the labour of his hands. Not thinking it proper to stay with him, by his advice we entered into a thick forest, and hid ourselves in the hollow of an old oak tree, till the noise of our flight should be over. We lived both together in this place, without being seen, continually repeating how we would always love one another, waiting an opportunity when some Guebre priest should perform the ceremony of our marriage, ordered by our sacred books. “My sister, said I to her, how holy is this union! Nature hath united us, our holy law will again unite us. At length a priest came to satisfy our impatient love; he performed, in the house of a peasant, the whole marriage ceremony: he blessed us, and wished us a thousand times all the vigour of Gustaspe, and the sanctity of Hohoraspe. Soon after we quitted Persia, where we were not in safety, and retired to Georgia. We lived there a year, every day more delighted with each other. But as my money was near expended, and as I feared the distress of my sister more than of myself, I left her, to seek some assistance from our relations. Never was there a parting so tender. But my journey was not only unprofitable, but fatal: for finding, on one hand, our whole estate confiscated, on the other, my relations in a manner incapable of assisting me, I brought away no more money than was sufficient for my journey back. But what was my despair at not finding my sister! Some days before my arrival, the Tartars had made an incursion into the town where she was; and, as they found she was beautiful, they took her, and sold her to some Jews, who were going into Turky, and left only a little girl, of whom she had been delivered a few months before. I followed these Jews, and got up to them three leagues off: my prayers, my tears, were in vain; they demanded of me thirty tomans for her, and would not abate one. After I had asked every body, implored the help of both Christian and Turkish priests, I applied to an Armenian merchant; sold both my daughter and myself to him, for five and thirty tomans. I went to the Jews, paid them thirty tomans, and carried the other five to my sister, whom I had not yet seen. “Thou art at liberty, my sister, said I to her, and I may embrace you; here are five tomans, which I bring you; I am sorry the sale of myself would fetch no more.” “What! cried she, are you sold?” “Yes, replied I.” “Ah, unhappy man, what hast thou done? Was I not miserable enough without your endeavouring to make me more so? Your liberty consoled me and your slavery will send me to the grave. Ah! my brother! how cruel is your love! and where is my daughter? I have not seen her” “I have sold her also, said I.” We both melted into tears, and were no more able to talk. I went afterwards to wait upon my master, and my sister got there almost as soon as myself: she fell down upon her knees before my master; “I ask slavery of you, said she, as others do liberty; take me, you may sell me at a higher price than my husband.” This then occasioned a struggle between us, which drew tears from my master. “Unhappy man! said she, did you think I would accept of my liberty at the expence of thine? Sir, behold here two unfortunate persons, who must die if you separate us. I offer myself to you, pay me, perhaps that money, and my services, may one day obtain from you what I dare not ask of you. It is your interest not to separate us; be assured that his life is at my disposal.” The Armenian, who was a good tempered man, was touched with our misfortunes. “Both of you serve me, said he, with fidelity and zeal, I promise you, that in a year you shall have your liberty. I see that neither of you merit the misfortunes of your condition. If, when at liberty, you should be as happy as you deserve to be, if fortune should smile upon you, I am certain you will recompence me for the loss I shall sustain.” We both embraced his knees, and went the voyage with him. We mutually assisted each other in the labours of servitude, and I was always delighted when I had done that work which belonged to my sister. The end of the year at length arrived; our master kept his word, and gave us our liberty. We returned to Tefflis; there I found an old friend of my father, who practised physic in that city with success. He lent me some money, with which I trafficked. Some affairs afterwards called me to Smyrna, where I settled. I have lived here six years, and I enjoy here the most delightful and most agreeable society in the world: unity reigns in my family, and I would not change my condition for that of all the kings in the world. I have been so happy as to find out the Armenian merchant, to whom I owe every thing, and I have rendered him some considerable services.
Smyrna, the 27th of the moon of the 1st Gemmadi, 1714.
[* ]A sect of fire-worshippers among the Persians. The curious reader may see a farther account of them in Prideaux’s Connection, and Calmet’s Dictionary.