Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER CXLI.: Rica to the Same. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
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LETTER CXLI.: Rica to the Same. - 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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Rica to the Same.
AT the end of the week I will pay you a visit: How agreeably shall I pass my time with you! I was introduced some days ago to a certain court lady, who had a fancy to see my foreign figure. I thought her beautiful, worthy the affection of our monarch, and of a distinguished rank in the sacred place where his heart reposes. She proposed me many questions concerning the manners of the Persians, and the sort of life led by the women of Persia. It appeared to me that the seraglio was not to her taste, and that it gave her great disgust to think that a man should be shared by ten or twelve women. She could not think of the happiness of the men without envy, nor of the wretched condition of the women without the utmost compassion. As she loves reading in general, but chiefly poems and romances, she was desirous to hear some account of ours. The account I gave her doubled her curiosity: she begged the favour of me to translate a fragment of one of those I had brought with me. I did so, and sent her a few days after an oriental tale; perhaps you will not be displeased to see it in disguise. “In the time of Cheick ali Can, there was in Persia a woman named Zulima: she had the sacred Koran quite by heart; no dervise could understand the traditions of the holy prophets better than she; the Arabian doctors never said any thing so mysterious, but she could easily comprehend it, and to such knowledge she joined a certain chearfulness of temper, which put it out of the power of those she conversed with to guess whether she intended to instruct or please them. One day whilst she was with her companions in one of the apartments of the seraglio, one of them asked her what her sentiments were concerning a life to come; and whether she believed that ancient tradition of our doctors, that paradise was made only for the men. It is the general opinion, said she; they have done all that they could to degrade and villify our sex. There is even a nation dispersed all over Persia, called the Jewish, that maintain by the authority of their sacred books, that women have no souls. These injurious opinions take their rise entirely from the pride of men, who would willingly preserve their superiority over our sex, even after death, and do not consider, that at the last great day, all the creatures will appear as nothing before God, and that one shall have no prerogative over another, but that which it has acquired by superior virtue. God will be unbounded in his recompenses: and as the men who have lived a virtuous life, and made a good use of their power over us upon earth, will be admitted into a paradise filled with celestial and ravishing beauties; beauties so brilliant, that if a mortal could get a sight of them, he would immediately put an end to his life, through impatience to enjoy them; in like manner, virtuous women will enter a delightful abode, where they will be glutted with the most exquisite enjoyments of all sorts, with men of a divine nature, who will be subjected to their command: each of them will possess a seraglio, in which they will be shut up; and have eunuchs, much more faithful than ours, to guard them. I have read, continued she, in an Arabian author, that a man named Ibrahim, was of a temper most insupportably jealous. He had twelve women of the greatest beauty, whom he treated with a brutality unparalleled: he would not trust even his eunuchs, or the walls of his seraglio; he generally kept them under lock and key in their respective apartments, so that they could neither see nor speak to each other; for even an innocent friendship roused his jealousy: all his actions discovered a tincture of his natural brutality: his mouth never pronounced an obliging word, and his most trifling gestures never failed to aggravate the bitterness of their slavery. One day, when he had assembled them all in an apartment of his seraglio, one of them, more bold than the rest, reproached him with his ill-nature. Those who take such pains to make themselves feared, said she, are, generally speaking, successful only in making themselves hated. We are so very unhappy, that we cannot possibly avoid wishing for a change of condition: others would, in my situation, wish your death, I only wish for my own; and, as I cannot hope to be separated from you, except by death, it will notwithstanding be a great happiness to me to be separated from you. This discourse, which should have given him some compunction, made him on the contrary fly into a furious passion; he drew his poignard, and plunged it into her breast. ‘My dear companions, said she, with a dying voice, if heaven has compassion for my virtue, your sufferings will be revenged.’ Having uttered these words, she left this unhappy world, and passed immediately into that blessed abode, where such women as have lived virtuous lives, enjoy a never-fading happiness. The first sight that presented itself to her eyes, was a beautiful meadow, whose verdure was set off by an enamel of flowers, whose variegated colours vied with each other in loveliness; a stream, whose waters were more clear than chrystal, ran there in a variety of meanders. She then entered into delightful groves, where nothing was heard but the harmonious songs of tuneful birds. The finest gardens imaginable then offered themselves to her view: nature had bestowed upon them all its lustre with its simplicity. At last she came to a magnificent palace, which was prepared for her, and filled with men of a divine nature, destined to be subservient to her pleasures. Two of them immediately advanced, in order to undress her: others conducted her to a bath, and persumed her with the most delicious essences: they then presented her with clothes, much more rich than her own: after which they led her into a spacious hall, where she found a fire made of odoriferous wood, and a table covered with viands of the most exquisite flavour. All things seemed to concur to fill her senses with rapture; she heard on one side musick, so much the more divine, as it was more tender; on the other she saw dances performed by those divine men, whose sole occupation was to please her, and yet such a variety of pleasure was intended only to conduct her, by insensible degrees, to pleasures infinitely greater. They then conducted her to her apartment; having again undressed her, they then put her into a bed extremely rich, where two divine men immediately received her in their arms. She was then completely happy, her ecstacy surpassed even her desires. ‘I am quite transported, said she to them, I should think myself dying if I was not sure of my immortality. It is too much, leave me; I sink through the excess of pleasure. Yes, you again restore a calm to my senses; I am beginning to revive and come to myself. Why have they taken away the slambeaux? Why am I not permitted still to contemplate your divine charms? Why am I not allowed to see?—But why do I talk of seeing? You make me once more enter into my former transports. Gods, how delightful this darkness is! What, shall I be immortal, and immortal in your company! I shall—but no—I beg a moment’s rest, for I see you are but little disposed to ask it.’ After reiterated commands, she was at last obeyed, but it was not till she appeared to desire it in good earnest. She then gave way to soft repose, and slumbered in their arms. Two moments of sleep restored her wasted strength: twice they embraced her, and thus the flame of love was rekindled. She opened her eyes, and said, ‘I am quite uneasy to find myself neglected thus, I fear you have ceased to love me.’ This was a doubt in which she was unwilling to remain long: and indeed she soon received convincing proofs of her mistake. ‘I am conscious of my error, exclaimed she, excuse me, I now see I may depend upon you. You do not utter a single word, but your actions prove your love more strongly than it is in the power of words to do. Yes, yes, I own it, no love could ever equal yours. But how you vie with each other in endeavouring to convince me! ah, if you vie with each other, if you join ambition to the pleasure of defeating me, I am lost; you will both be conquerors, and I the only vanquished party; but the victory shall cost you dear, that you may depend upon.’ Their pleasures were not discontinued till day appeared; her faithful and amiable domestics entered her apartment, and caused the two young men to rise, they were thereupon re-conducted to the places wherein they were kept for her pleasures. She then arose, and made her appearance at that court by which she was idolized, in the charms of a simple dishabille, and then richly attired in the most sumptuous ornaments. The past night had added new lustre to her beauties; it had enlivened her complexion, and given a stronger expression to her graces. The whole day was divided between dances, concerts, festivals, sports, and other amusements of that kind; and it was observed, that Anais often stept aside, and flew to the embraces of her two lovers; after having a short interview with them, she returned to the company she had quitted, always with a countenance more lively than before. But about evening the company lost sight of her entirely: she went and shut herself up in the seraglio, where she was desirous, as she said, of cultivating her acquaintance with these immortal captives, who were to live with her for ever. She therefore visited the most retired and the most delightful apartments of these places, where she reckoned fifty slaves of a most extraordinary beauty: she wandered all day from apartment to apartment, receiving every where a different homage, but one that was always of the same nature. It was thus the immortal Anais passed her days, sometimes in all the dissipation and gaiety of pleasure, and sometimes in solitary pleasures, admired by a brillant assembly, or adored by an ardent lover: she often quitted an inchanted palace, to repair to a rural grotto: flowers seemed to spring under her feet, and pleasures offered themselves to her in crowds. She had been above eight days in this happy place, in the hurry of a constant round of pleasure, and without having ever made a single reflection; she had enjoyed her felicity without knowing it, and without having one of those moments of tranquility in which the soul settles with itself, if I may be allowed the expression, and attends to its own report in the silence of the passions. Happy souls have pleasures so lively, that they can seldom enjoy that freedom of mind: wherefore being invincibly attached to present objects, they lose all memory of things past, and have no longer the least concern about what they have loved, or known, in the other world. But Anais, whose mind was of a truly philosophical turn, had passed almost her whole life in meditation: she had carried her reflections a great deal further than could be expected from a woman left to herself. The close retirement in which her husband had left her, had deprived her of every other advantage. It was that strength of mind which had made her despise the fear that filled the souls of her companions with consternation, as well as death, by which her sufferings were to be terminated, and her felicity to commence. She therefore by degrees quitted the intoxication of pleasure, and retired to an apartment in her palace. She gave herself up to pleasing reflections upon her past condition, and her present happiness; she could not help compassionating the misery of her companions. We are always affected with ills which we have partaken of. Anais did not stop within the limits of simple compassion: such was her tenderness for these unfortunate creatures, that she found herself inclined to assist them in their distress. She ordered one of the young men that was with her, to assume the form of her husband, to enter his seraglio, to make himself master of it, and to turn the former possessor out of doors, and to remain there in his place, till such time as she should think proper to recal him. Her orders were quickly put in execution; he cut the air with rapid wings, and quickly arrived at the door of Ibrahim’s seraglio: Ibrahim happened not to be there. The young man knocked, every door flew open to him, the eunuchs fell at his feet. He flew to the apartments where the women of Ibrahim were shut up; he had as he passed stolen the keys from this monster of jealousy; to him he found means to render himself invisible. He entered, and at first surprised them by his mild and affable air, but soon after surprised them much more by his ardour, and by his reiterated warm embraces. They were all equally astonished at this event, and they would have taken it for a dream, had there been less reality in it. Whilst this extraordinary scene was played in the seraglio, Ibrahim knocked at it, told his name, and made a terrible outcry and disturbance. After having surmounted a great many difficulties, he entered, and threw the eunuchs into a most terrible fright. He walked on with great rapidity, but he started back with great astonishment, when he beheld the counterfeit Ibrahim, his perfect image, taking all the liberties of master of the seraglio. He calls out for help; he calls upon the eunuchs to assist him in killing the impostor; but he was not obeyed. He has now but one refuge left, and that a weak one; he refers it to the judgment of his wives. In the course of one hour the counterfeit Ibrahim had corrupted all the judges. The other was ignominiously dragged out of the seraglio, and would inevitably have suffered death, if his rival had not given positive orders that his life should be spared. In a word, the new Ibrahim remaining master of the field of battle, gave every day new proofs that he was worthy of such a preference, and signalized himself by feats unheard of before in the seraglio. You are not like Ibrahim, said the women. Say rather, answered the triumphant Ibrahim, that that impostor is not like me; what must be done to deserve your favours, if what I do is insufficient? “Ah, we shall take care how we doubt,” answered the women, “if you are not the true Ibrahim, it is enough for us that you have so well deserved to be so; you show yourself more Ibrahim in one day than he did in ten years.” “You promise then,” returned he, “to declare in my favour, and against that impostor.” “Doubt not of that,” answered they all with one unanimous voice; “we swear to be eternally faithful to you; we have been too long imposed upon; the villain did not suspect our virtue, all his suspicions were occasioned by his own impotence: we now see plainly that men are not made alike, it is you doubtless they resemble: if you but knew how much you make us hate him!” “Ah,” replied the counterseit Ibrahim, “I will often give you fresh reasons to hate him, you do not yet know how great an injury he has done you.” “We judge of his injustice by the greatness of your revenge,” answered they. “You are in the right,” answered the divine man; “I have proportioned the expiation to the crime; I am glad you like my manner of punishing.” “But,” said the women, “if that impostor should return, what shall we do?” “I believe it would be a hard matter for him to deceive you,” answered he; “in the station which I hold with you, no man can support himself by artifice: besides, I will send him so far off, that you will never hear more of him. I then will take upon myself the care of your happiness. I will not be jealous; I know how to secure your affections, without laying you under any restraint; I have not so bad an opinion of my merit, to think that you will not be faithful to me: if your virtue is not secure with me, with whom can it be secure?” The conversation lasted a long time between him and the women, who, more struck with the difference of the two Ibrahims, than with their resemblance, were not in the least solicitous to have so many mysteries cleared up. At last the husband, quite desperate, came again to disturb their repose: he found his whole family in joy, and his women more unwilling to believe him than ever. It was become now no place for a jealous man; he went away in a rage; the very next moment the counterfeit Ibraham followed him, seized him, hurried him through the air, and left him at the distance of two thousand leagues from thence. Gods, how disconsolate were the women in the absence of their dear Ibrahim! Their eunuchs had already resumed their natural severity, the whole family was in tears, they thought sometimes that all that had happened to them was but a dream; they looked often upon each other, and recalled to their memories the most minute circumstances of these strange adventures. At length the divine Ibrahim returned more amiable than ever; it appeared to the women that he had not been in the least fatigued by his journey. The new master observed a conduct so opposite to that of the old one, that all the neighbours were surprised at it. He dismissed all the eunuchs, made his house accessible to every body: He would not even suffer the women to use veils. It was something extraordinary to see them at feasts amongst the men, and as free as they. Ibrahim thought, and with reason, that such citizens as he, were not bound to observe the customs of the country. Yet he spared no expence; he with the utmost profusion squandered the wealth of the jealous man, who returning three years after from the remote countries to which he had been carried, found nothing at home but his women, and thirty-six children.
Paris, the 26th of the moon Gemmadi, 1720.