Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER CXLIII.: Rica to Nathaniel Levi, a Jewish Physician at Leghorn. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
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LETTER CXLIII.: Rica to Nathaniel Levi, a Jewish Physician at Leghorn. - 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 Nathaniel Levi, a Jewish Physician at Leghorn.
YOU ask my opinion concerning the virtue of charms, and the power of talismans; why do you apply to me upon this occasion? you are a Jew, and I am a Mahometan, consequently we must both be extremely superstitious. I always carry with me above a thousand passages of the holy Koran: I tie to my arms a paper, upon which are written the names of above two hundred dervises: those of Hali, of Fatme, and all the personages renowned for their sanctity, are concealed in my clothes in above twenty places. However, I cannot entirely disapprove of the opinion of those who will not admit of this virtue annexed to certain words. It is much more difficult for us to answer their arguments, than for them to oppose our experience. I carry all these sacred scrolls about me, merely through habit, and in order to conform to a received custom: I am of opinion, that if they have not a greater virtue than rings and other ornaments of dress, they cannot possibly be inferior to them in this respect. But you put entire confidence in a few mysterious letters; and, without that defence, you would be under continual apprehensions. Men are indeed unhappy! they constantly float between fallacious hopes and absurd fears: and, instead of adhering to the dictates of reason, they either form to themselves monsters that intimidate them, or phantoms that seduce and mislead them. What effect do you think the placing of a few letters can produce? What evil can result from their being put into disorder? What influence have they over the winds, to calm tempests; over gun powder to resist its force; or over what physicians call peccant humour, or the morbific cause of diseases, to cure them? What is most extraordinary, is, that those who puzzle their brains to account for certain events, by occult virtues, are obliged to take equal pains to avoid seeing the true cause. You will tell me, that certain enchantments have caused a battle to be won: but for my part, I cannot help telling you, that you must be blind not to see in the situation of the field, the number, or courage, of the soldiers, or the experience of the generals, causes capable of producing this effect, whose real cause you wilfully shut your eyes to. I will grant you for a moment, that there may be enchantments; grant me for a moment that there are none, for that is possible. It will not follow from your concession, that two armies may not engage: will you then maintain, that in that case neither of the two can be victorious? Do you think their fate will continue doubtful, till an invisible power comes to decide it? That all their blows will be ineffectual, all their conduct vain, and all their courage fruitless? Do you think that death, rendered present in a thousand different ways, cannot produce those panics, which you find it so difficult to account for? Do you think, that there may not be one coward in an army of two hundred thousand men? Do you think that the terror which may seize this one, may not excite terror in another? That the second, who quits a third, will not make him quit a fourth? Even that would be sufficient to throw a whole army into despair; and the more numerous the army, the more quickly it spreads. All the world knows, and all the world is sensible, that men, like all other creatures, who are directed by nature to preserve their being, are passionately fond of life; this is a truth generally known; how then can it be asked, how they can be afraid of losing it upon a particular occasion? Though the sacred books of all nations abound with accounts of such panics, or supernatural terrors, I think there cannot be a more ridiculous notion; for before we should admit that an effect which may be produced by an hundred thousand natural causes, is supernatural, one should before have examined, whether none of these causes has operated; which is impossible. I shall say no more to you upon this subject, Nathaniel; in my opinion it does not deserve to be treated in so serious a manner.
Paris, the 20th of the moon Chahban, 1720.
P. S. As I was just concluding, I heard cried about the streets, a letter from a country physician, to a physician at Paris; (for here the greatest trifles are printed, published, and bought). I thought I should do well to send it to you, because it has some relation to the subject we have been upon * .
A Letter from a Country Physician, to a Physician at Paris.
‘THERE was formerly a sick person in our town, who never once slept for thirty-five days together. His physician prescribed him opium; but he would never consent to take it; and whilst he held the cup, he was as little inclined to take it as ever. At last he said to his physician, Sir, I beg you will give me quarter till to-morrow: I know a man who does not practise physic, and yet he has an infinity of remedies against want of sleep. Give me leave to send for him; and if I do not sleep to-night, I will send for you again to-morrow. The physician being gone, the sick man ordered his curtains to be drawn, and said to his footman, Go to Mr. Anis, and tell him, I should be glad to see him. Mr. Anis came. My dear Mr. Anis, I am in a dying condition, I cannot sleep; have you not in your shop the C. of G. or some book of devotion, composed by some reverend father, which still lies upon your hands? for the remedies that have been the longest kept are generally the best. Sir, answered the bookseller, I have in my shop the Holy Court of father Caussin, at your service; I will send it to you directly, and I hope you will find yourself the better for it. If you have a mind for the works of the reverend father Rodriguez, a Portuguese Jesuit, they are very much at your service. But take my advice, and stick to father Caussin. I hope that, with the assistance of God, one period of father Caussin will do you more good than a whole leaf of the C. of G. Having spoke thus, Mr. Anis went out, in order to search his shop for the remedy. He soon returned with the Holy Court, after having caused the dust to be rubbed off; the patient’s son, a school-boy, began to read: he was the first to feel the effects of it; at the second page he could scarce pronounce with an articulate voice, and all present began to feel themselves drowsy: a few moments after they all began to snore, except the sick man, who, after having long continued to listen to it awake, at last was overpowered by sleep himself. Early in the morning the physician arrived. Well, said he, has my opium been taken? To this question he received no answer; but the wife, the daughter, and the child, in transports of joy, showed him father Caussin’s work. He asked what it was; they answered, O bless father Caussin, his book well deserves to be bound. Who would have said it? who would have thought it? It is a perfect miracle. See here, Sir, see father Caussin’s treatise; it was this that made my father sleep. Hereupon they informed him of all that had happened * . The physician was a subtle man, greatly attached to the mysteries of the Cabala, and who had much faith in the power of words and spirits: this struck him so, that, upon mature deliberation, he resolved to change his method of practice. This is a very extraordinary effect, said he, this experiment is worth carrying further. Why may not a spirit have power to communicate to its works the qualities which it is itself possessed of? Do not we see this happen every day? At least the experiment is very well worth trying. I am tired of apothecaries; their syrups, their juleps, and all their galenical drugs, destroy the sick, and quite ruin their health. Let us change the method of practice; let us try the virtue of spirits. With this view, he drew up a new system of pharmacy, as you will see by the account which I shall give of the new remedies which he made use of.’
‘Take three leaves of Aristotle’s logic in Greek, two leaves of one of the most crabbed theological treatises; as for instance, that of the subtile Scotus; four of Paracelsus, one of Avicenna; six of Avenoes; three of Porphyry; as many of Plotinus, as many of Jamblicus. Mix them all together, and let them stand for four-and-twenty hours; then take four doses of them at a time.’
A more violent Purgative.
‘Take ten A * * * of C * * *, concerning the B and the C of the J * *; cause them to be distilled in balnea marina; put a drop of the sharp humour which it produces, in a glass of water to deaden it; then drink off the whole with confidence.’
‘Take six harangues; the first dozen of funeral orations that comes to hand; with this one restriction however, that you do not make use of those of M. de N.; a collection of new operas, fifty romances, and thirty sets of new memoirs; put all these ingredients into a large glass bottle, with a big belly and a little neck; leave it to settle during two days; then cause it to be distilled by a fire of ashes; and if all this should prove ineffectual,
Another more powerful Vomit.
‘Take a leaf of marble paper, which has served as a cover to a collection of the pieces of J. F. let it be infused during the space of three minutes; cause a spoonful of that infusion to be made hot, and drink it up.’
A very simple Remedy for an Asthma.
‘Read all the works of the reverend father Maimbourg, heretofore Jesuit; but take care not to stop till the conclusion of each period; and you will find a freedom of breathing return by degrees, without being under any necessity of repeating the remedy.’
A Preservative from the Itch, Scabs, and other cutaneous Disorders.
‘Take three categories of Aristotle, thre prædicables of three different degrees in the metaphysical scale, one distinction, six verses of Chapelain, one phrase extracted from the letters of the Abbe de St. Cyran: write the whole upon a bit of paper, fold it up, tie it to a ribband, and carry it about your neck.’
Miraculum Chymicum de violentâ fermentatione, cum fumo, igne et flammâ.
‘Misce Quesnellianam infusionem, cum infusione Lallemanianâ; fiat fermentatio cum magnâ vi, impetu, et tonitru, acidis pugnantibus, et invicem penetrantibus alcalinos sales fiet evaporatio ardentium spirituum. Pone liquorem fermentatum in alembica; nihil indè extrahes, et nihil invenies, nisi caput mortuum.’
‘Recipe Molinæ anodini chartas duas; Escobaris relaxativi paginas sex; Vasquii emolientis folium unum: infunde in aquæ communis, lib. iiij. Ad consumptionem dimidiæ partis colentur et exprimantur; et, in expressione, dissolve Bauni detersivi et Tamburini abluentis, folia iii.’
In chlorosin, quam vulgus pallidos-colores, aut febrim-amatoriam, appellat.
‘Recipe Aretini figuras iiij. R. Thomæ Sanchii de matrimonio folio ij. infundantur in æque communis libras quinque.’
Fiat ptisana aperiens.
‘These drugs our physician applied with extraordinary success; he would not, as he said, for fear of destroying his patients, employ remedies very hard to come at: as for instance, a dedication which had never made any body yawn; too short a preface; a bishop’s order, wrote by himself, and the work of a janesenist, either despised by a janesenist, or much admired by a jesuit. It was his opinion, that these remedies were calculated for nothing, but to promote quackery, which he professed to hold in the utmost abhorrence.’
[* ]A former edition had here as follows: ‘There are many things in it which I do not understand; but you, who are a physician, must be acquainted with the language of your brethren.’
[* ]See the last note.