Montesquieu

Zachi1 to Usbek in Tauris


We orde­red the head eunuch to take us to the coun­try. He will tell you that we encoun­te­red no dif­fi­culties. When we had to cross the river and leave our lit­ters, we each clim­bed into boxes as is the cus­tom ; two sla­ves bore us on their shoul­ders, and no one was able to see us.

Dear Usbek, how could I have lived, in your sera­glio in Isfahan, in those pre­mi­ses which, cons­tantly recal­ling my past plea­su­res to mind, every day exci­ted my desi­res more vio­lently ? I wan­de­red from one apart­ment to the next, ever see­king you and never fin­ding you, but encoun­te­ring eve­ryw­here a cruel memory of my past feli­city : now I would pic­ture myself in that place where I first I took you into my arms ; now where you deci­ded that famous quar­rel among your wives. Each of us clai­med to be super­ior to the others in beauty ; we came before you after exhaus­ting all that ima­gi­na­tion can fur­nish by way of embel­lish­ments and orna­ments : it plea­sed you to see the mira­cles of our art, you even admi­red how far the eager­ness to please you had impel­led us ; but you soon made those bor­ro­wed charms yield to more natu­ral gra­ces : you des­troyed all we had done ; we had to remove those orna­ments, which had got in your way, we had to let you see us in the sim­pli­city of nature. I had no sense of shame ; my only thought was for my glory. Fortunate Usbek, what charms were dis­played before your eyes ! We long wat­ched your eyes roam from one enchant­ment to the other ; your inde­ci­sive soul long hesi­ta­ted to choose. Each new grace sought your appro­val ; we were in a moment cove­red with your kis­ses ; your curious gaze rea­ched into the most secret pla­ces ; you made us strike in rapid suc­ces­sion a thou­sand dif­fe­rent poses : ever new com­mands, and ever-rene­wed com­pliance. I confess it, Usbek, a pas­sion even more lively than ambi­tion made me hope you would choose me. Little by lit­tle I found my way to your heart : you took me, you aban­do­ned me, you came back to me, and I mana­ged to hold onto you : the triumph was all mine, and the des­pair for my rivals. It see­med to us we were alone in the world ; nothing around us was any lon­ger wor­thy of our atten­tion. Would to hea­ven that my rivals had had the cou­rage to remain and wit­ness all the signs of love I recei­ved from you. If they had truly seen my ecs­ta­sies, they would have felt the dif­fe­rence bet­ween my love and theirs ; they would have seen that if they could rival my charms, they could not rival my sen­si­bi­lity…2 But where am I ? Where is this vain tale taking me ? To be unlo­ved is a mis­for­tune, but to be no lon­ger loved is an affront. You are lea­ving us, Usbek, to wan­der in unk­nown lands. Do you count for nothing the advan­tage of being loved ? Alas, you know not even what you are losing ! I utter sighs that are not heard ; my tears flow and you do not enjoy them. The sera­glio seems full of love, and your insen­si­ti­vity takes you ever far­ther away. Oh my dear Usbek, if only you knew how to be happy !3

The Fatmé sera­glio this 21st day of the moon of Maharram 1711.

The first of Usbek’s wives (see letter 19 : “Usbek to his wife Zachi”) to be named.

The word sensibilité is frequently synonymous with delicacy, but can also take on, as here, erotic connotations.

Zachi’s amorous complaint will take on a different meaning after Usbek’s confession in letter 6.