Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER CXLII.: Rica to Usbek, at * * *. - 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 CXLII.: Rica to Usbek, at * * *. - 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.
Rica to Usbek, at * * *.
I SEND you herewith a letter, which I received from a man of learning; you will think it somewhat extraordinary.
“About six months ago I succeeded to the fortune of a very rich uncle, who left me five or six hundred thousand livres, and a well furnished house. It is a pleasure to be possessed of wealth, when one knows how to make a good use of it. I have no ambition nor taste for pleasures; I am almost always shut up in a closet, where I lead the life of a studious man. It is in such a place as this, that a virtuoso, who loves venerable antiquity, is to be found. When my uncle expired, I would gladly have had him interred with the ceremonies observed by the Greeks and Romans, but I had neither antique mourning, urns, or lamps. But since that time, I have provided myself well with those precious rarities. I not long age sold my plate, to purchase an earthen lamp, that had been used by a stoic philosopher. I have disposed of all the pier-glasses with which my uncle had covered his apartments, to buy a little cracked looingglass, that formerly belonged to Virgil: I am highly delighted to see it reflect my face, instead of that of the swan of Mantua. This is not all; I have given an hundred louis d’ors for five or six pieces of copper coin, which were current a thousand years ago. I do not think I have now in my house, a single moveable, which was not made before the decline of the Roman empire. I have a little closet filled with manuscripts, as precious as dear: though by reading them I destroy my eye-sight, I had much rather use them than printed books, which are not so correct, and which are moreover in the hands of every body. Though I scarce ever stir out of my house, I am extremely solicitous to know all the ancient roads which were made in the time of the old Romans. There is one not far from my house, which was made by the orders of a proconsul of Gaul, twelve hundred years ago. When I go to my country-house, I always take care to pass it, though it is very inconvenient, and adds almost a league to my journey: but what provokes me, is, that in several places, they have fixed wooden posts, to show the distances of the neighbouring towns. I am quite in despair, to see these miserable erections, in the room of those military columns which were there before. I doubt not but I shall cause them to be replaced by my heirs, and shall be able to make a will of such a nature, as will induce them to do it. If you have got ever a Persian manuscript by you, Sir, I would be obliged to you for it; I will pay you your own price for it, and I will give you into the bargain some works of my own composing, which will convince you that I am not an useless member of the republic of letters. Amongst others, you will see a differtation, in which I prove, that the crown used in triumphs, was made of oak leaves, and not of laurel: you will be in raptures with another, in which I prove by learned conjectures, taken from the greatest Greek authors, that Cambyses was wounded in the left leg, and not in the right: another, in which I prove that a short forehead was a beauty highly esteemed by the Romans. I will send you moreover a volume in quarto, which contains an explanation of a verse of the sixth book of Virgil. It will be a few days before I can send you these; at present all I can do is to send you this fragment of an ancient Grecian mythologist, which has not hitherto appeared in print, and which I found in the dust of a library. I must take my leave of you, on account of an important affair that I have upon my hands; the business is to restore a beautiful passage of Pliny the naturalist, which the copyists of the fifth century have strangely disfigured.
I am, &c.
Fragment of an ancient Mythologist.
‘IN an island near the Orcades, a child was born who had Æolus for his sire, and for his mother a nymph of Caledonia. It is said of him, that he, without assistance, learned to reckon upon his fingers; and that even at four years of age, he distinguished metals so well, that his mother once offering him a tin ring instead of a gold one, he perceived the deceit, and threw it upon the ground. As soon as he was grown up, his father taught him to shut up the wind in buckets, which he afterwards sold to the travellers who passed that way: but as commerce was not much esteemed in his country, he quitted it, and began to roam the world, in company with the blind god of chance. In the course of his travels, he had learned, that gold glitters every where in Betica, he repaired thither with the utmost expedition. He was very ill received by Saturn, who reigned there at that time; but that god having left the earth, he took it into his head to go about the streets every where, crying continually with a hoarse voice, People of Betica, you think yourselves rich, because you are possessed of gold and silver: your error raises my contempt. Be ruled by me, quit the country of base metals; enter the empire of imagination, and I promise you riches, which will fill even you with astonishment. He immediately opened several of the buckets which he had brought with him, and he distributed his commodity to whoever was willing to take it. The next day he entered the same streets, and cried out, People of Betica, do you desire to be rich? Fancy to yourselves that I am extremely rich, and that you are so also: take it for granted every morning, that your wealth has been doubled during the night: then rise, and if you have creditors, go and pay them with the imaginary treasure, then bid them imagine in their turn. He appeared again in a few days after, and he spoke thus: People of Betica, I see very well that your imagination is not as lively as it was yesterday; let me regulate your imagination by mine: I will every day place before your eyes a scroll, which will be to you the source of great riches: it will contain but four words; but these words will be extremely significant; for they will determine the portions of your wives, the fortunes of your children, and the number of your servants. And as for you, said he, to such of the croud as were nearest to him; as to you, my dear children (I may call you by that name, for from me have you received a second birth) my scroll shall decide the grandeur of your magnificent equipages, the sumptuousness of your feasts, and the number and pay of your mistresses. A few days after he came into the public streets, quite out of breath, and in a violent passion cried out: People of Betica, I advised you to imagine, and I see that you do not follow my advice: well then, now I command you to do so. Thereupon he quitted them abruptly; but reflection made him soon come back. I hear, said he, that some of you are so detestable as to keep your gold and silver. For the silver it is no great matter, but gold, gold—ah! that makes me quite mad. I swear by my sacred buckets, that if they do not bring it to me, I will punish them severely. He then added, with the most persuasive air imaginable, do you think I ask you for these wretched metals in order to keep them? A proof of my candour is, that when you brought them to me a few days ago, I immediately returned you one half. The next day they saw him at a distance, they perceived that he endeavoured to insinuate himself into their favour, by smooth and complaisant discourse: People of Betica, I am informed that part of your treasure is in foreign countries; I intreat you to send for them, you will greatly oblige me, and I shall eternally acknowledge the favour. The son of Æolus happened then to speak to people, who were by no means in a merry mood; they could not however help laughing, which made him sneak off in great confusion. He was not however quite discouraged, he returned again, and ventured to make another petition. I know that you have precious stones; dispose of them in the name of Jupiter; nothing can possibly impoverish you more than keeping such baubles. Dispose of them by all means: if you cannot do it yourselves, I will procure you excellent agents. How you will wallow in riches, if you but follow my advice! I do assure you you shall have the richest treasures of my buckets. At last he mounted a scaffold, and with a more resolute voice spoke thus: People of Betica, I have compared the happy state in which you are at present, with that in which I found you upon my arrival in this country; you are now the most opulent people upon earth; but that I may make your good fortune compleat, permit me to ease you of one half of your wealth. Having uttered these words, the son of Æolus soared up into the air, and fled away upon rapid wings, leaving his auditors in a consternation not to be expressed, which occasioned his coming again the next day, when he delivered himself in these terms: I perceived yesterday, that my conversation displeased you highly. Well then, suppose all I said, unsaid. It is true, one half is too much. Let us have recourse to other expedients to attain the proposed end. Let us deposit all our riches in the same place; it will be easily done, for they will not take up much room. At that instant three parts of their wealth out of four vanished away.’
Paris, the 9th of the moon Chahban, 1720.
N. B. Mr. Law is alluded to in this satire, who was a goldsmith in Edinburgh, and many years a professed gamester; by Saturn is meant Lewis XIV.