Montesquieu
 

XIV.3 Contradiction in the characters of certain southern peoples

The Indians natu­rally lack cou­rage1 ; even the chil­dren of Europeans born in the Indies lose the cou­rage of their own cli­mate.2 But how can we reconcile this with their atro­cious acts, their cus­toms, their bar­ba­ric forms of peni­tence ? Men sub­ject them­sel­ves there to unbe­lie­va­ble suf­fe­rings, the women set fire to them­sel­ves : that is a lot of strength for so much weak­ness.

Nature, which has given those peo­ples a weak­ness that makes them timid, has also given them such a lively ima­gi­na­tion that eve­ry­thing impres­ses them to excess. That very organ deli­cacy that makes them fear death also ser­ves to make them dread a thou­sand things more than death ; it is the same sen­si­ti­vity that makes them flee all perils and yet defy them all.

As a good edu­ca­tion is more neces­sary to chil­dren than to those whose mind has rea­ched matu­rity, so the peo­ples of these cli­ma­tes have grea­ter need of a wise legis­la­tor than the peo­ples of our own. The more easily and stron­gly one is impres­sed, the more impor­tant it is that it be in the right way, that it not receive pre­ju­di­ces, and that it be led by rea­son.

In Roman times the peo­ples of the north of Europe lived without art, without edu­ca­tion, almost without laws, and yet by good sense alone atta­ched to the coarse fibers of those cli­mes, they held out with admi­ra­ble wis­dom against Roman might until the time when they emer­ged from their forests to des­troy it.

“A hundred European soldiers,” says Tavernier, “would have little trouble beating a thousand Indian soldiers.”

Even the Persians who settled in the Indies take on, in the third generation, Indian nonchalance and cowardice : see Bernier on the Mogol, vol. I, p. 282.