Montesquieu
 

XIV.2 How different people are in the different climates

Cold air1 shrinks the extre­mi­ties of the exte­rior fibers of our bodies, and that increa­ses their com­pres­sion and favors the return of blood from the extre­mi­ties towards the heart. It decrea­ses the length of these same fibers2 ; the­reby fur­ther increa­sing their strength. Warm air on the contrary relaxes the extre­mi­ties of the fibers and leng­thens them ; it thus redu­ces their strength and com­pres­sion.

People the­re­fore have more vigor in cold cli­ma­tes. The action of the heart and the reac­tion of the extre­mi­ties of the fibers work bet­ter, the fluids are in bet­ter balance, the blood is more stron­gly pro­pel­led toward the heart, and reci­pro­cally the heart has more strength. This grea­ter force must pro­duce many effects : for exam­ple, more confi­dence in one­self, in other words more cou­rage ; more awa­re­ness of one’s super­io­rity, in other words less desire for ven­geance ; more sense of secu­rity, in other words more can­dor, fewer sus­pi­cions, less manoeu­ve­ring and guile. In short, it must make for very dif­fe­rent cha­rac­ters. Put a man in a warm, clo­sed space : he will suf­fer, for the rea­sons I have just sta­ted, consi­de­ra­ble heart fai­lure. If in this cir­cum­stance a stre­nuous act is pro­po­sed to him, I think he will be found quite indis­po­sed ; his pre­sent weak­ness will plant dis­cou­ra­ge­ment in his soul ; he will fear eve­ry­thing, because he will feel he can do nothing. The peo­ples of warm coun­tries are timid, as are the aged ; those of cold coun­tries are cou­ra­geous, as are the young. If we consi­der the last wars,3 which are the ones we have most rea­dily in view, and in which we can more easily see cer­tain slight effects imper­cep­ti­ble from afar, we will be quite aware that peo­ples of the north trans­por­ted into sou­thern coun­tries4 have not per­for­med such great feats there as their com­pa­triots who, figh­ting in their own cli­mate, bene­fit from their full cou­rage.

Because of the strength of the fibers of peo­ples of the north, the coar­ser jui­ces are extrac­ted from food. From this two things result : first, the parts of the chyle or lymph can with their large sur­face be more easily applied to the fibers and nou­rish them ; the other is that they are less able with their coar­se­ness to give a cer­tain subt­lety to the ner­vous juice. These peo­ples will the­re­fore have large bodies and limi­ted energy.

Each of the ner­ves which come from every direc­tion into the tis­sue of our skin makes a bundle of ner­ves ; ordi­na­rily it is not the entire nerve which is sti­mu­la­ted, but only an infi­ni­tely small part of it. In warm coun­tries, where the skin tis­sue is slack, the nerve endings are expan­ded and expo­sed to the smal­lest move­ment of the sligh­test objects. In cold coun­tries, the skin tis­sue is tight and the papillæ com­pres­sed, the small tufts are more or less para­ly­zed, and sen­sa­tion can reach the brain only when it is extre­mely strong and comes from the entire nerve. But it is on an infi­nite num­ber of small sen­sa­tions that ima­gi­na­tion, taste, sen­si­ti­vity, and energy depend.

I have obser­ved the outer tis­sue of a sheep’s ton­gue, in the spot where it appears to the naked eye cove­red with papillæ. With a micro­scope I have seen small hairs, or a sort of down, on these papillæ ; bet­ween the papillæ were pyra­mids that were sha­ped at their ends into some­thing like small paint­bru­shes. It seems quite likely that these pyra­mids are the prin­ci­pal organ of taste.

I had half of this ton­gue fro­zen, and found the papillæ consi­de­ra­bly redu­ced to the naked eye ; seve­ral rows of papillæ had even with­drawn into their sheaths. I exa­mi­ned its tis­sue with the micro­scope and no lon­ger saw any pyra­mids. As the ton­gue tha­wed, the papillæ see­med to the naked eye to rise up again, and in the micro­scope the small tufts began to reap­pear.

This obser­va­tion confirms what I have said : in cold coun­tries the nerve tufts are less expan­ded ; they with­draw into their sheaths, where they are shiel­ded from the action of exte­rior objects. The sen­sa­tions are the­re­fore les vivid.

In cold coun­tries, peo­ple will be lar­gely insen­si­tive to plea­su­res ; they will be more sen­si­tive in tem­pe­rate coun­tries, and extre­mely so in warm coun­tries. As we dis­tin­guish cli­ma­tes by degrees of lati­tude, they could be dis­tin­gui­shed, so to speak, by degrees of sen­si­ti­vity. I have seen the ope­ras of England and Italy : they are the same plays and the same actors, but the same music pro­du­ces such dif­fe­rent effects on the two nations, one being so calm and the other so exal­ted, that it seems inconcei­va­ble.

The same will be true for pain : it is pro­vo­ked in us by the ren­ding of some fiber in our body. The way the author of nature has made things, this pain is shar­per as the dis­tur­bance is grea­ter ; now it is evi­dent that the large bodies and coarse fibers of the peo­ples of the north are less sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­tur­bance than the deli­cate fibers of the peo­ples of warm coun­tries ; the mind is thus less sen­si­tive to pain. You have to flay a Muscovite to make him feel any­thing.

With this deli­cacy of peo­ple’s organs in warm coun­tries, the mind is supre­mely moved by any­thing rela­ted to the union of the two sexes ; eve­ry­thing leads to this objec­tive.

In nor­thern cli­ma­tes, even phy­si­cal love has scar­cely the power to make itself stron­gly felt ; in tem­pe­rate cli­ma­tes love accom­pa­nied by a thou­sand acces­so­ries beco­mes agreea­ble through things which at first seem to be the thing itself, and are not yet ; in war­mer cli­ma­tes love is loved for itself, it is the sole cause of hap­pi­ness : it is life.

In sou­thern coun­tries, a deli­cate and fee­ble yet sen­si­tive machine indul­ges in a love which in a sera­glio end­lessly sur­ges and ebbs, or else in a love which, lea­ving to women more inde­pen­dence, is expo­sed to a thou­sand per­tur­ba­tions. In nor­thern coun­tries a heal­thy and well-cons­ti­tu­ted but heavy machine finds its plea­su­res in wha­te­ver can qui­cken the spi­rits : hun­ting, tra­vel, war, wine. In nor­thern cli­ma­tes you will find peo­ples who have few vices, vir­tues enough, and much sin­ce­rity and can­dor. Moving in a sou­therly direc­tion, it is like lea­ving mora­lity itself behind ; more intense pas­sions will mul­ti­ply cri­mes ; eve­ryone will seek to seize over eve­ryone else all the advan­ta­ges that can favor those same pas­sions. In tem­pe­rate coun­tries you will see peo­ple inconsis­tent in their man­ners, and even in their vices and their vir­tues : the cli­mate there is not of suf­fi­ciently deter­mi­nate qua­lity to fix them.

The heat of the cli­mate can be so exces­sive that the body will utterly lack strength. At that point the exhaus­tion will even affect the spi­rit : no curio­sity, no noble enter­prise, no gene­rous fee­ling ; all incli­na­tions will be pas­sive, indo­lence will make for hap­pi­ness ; most punish­ments will be less dif­fi­cult to bear than action of the mind, and ser­vi­tude less unbea­ra­ble than the strength of mind that is requi­red for gover­ning one­self.

This even appears to the eye : in the cold, a person looks thinner.

We know that it shortens iron.

The wars for the succession of Spain.

Into Spain, for example.