Montesquieu

Usbek to his friend Nessir in Isfahan


At one day’s jour­ney from Erivan,1 we left Persia to enter lands of Turkish obe­dience ; twelve days later we rea­ched Erzerum, where we will stay for three or four months.

I must admit, Nessir, that I felt an inner pang when I lost sight of Persia, and found myself amidst per­fi­dous Osmanlins.2 By ente­ring into these pro­fane coun­tries, I felt as if I were beco­ming pro­fane myself.

I thought about my coun­try, my family, my friends ; my affec­tion was revi­ved ; I became uneasy and then quite anxious, and saw that for my peace of mind I had under­ta­ken too much.

But what trou­bles my heart the most is my wives : I can­not think about them without being consu­med with worry.

It is not, Nessir, that I love them ; my insen­si­ti­vity in this regard lea­ves me without desi­res. In the nume­rous sera­glio where I have lived, I have anti­ci­pa­ted love, and des­troyed it by love itself ; but from my very cold­ness there issues a sort of hid­den jea­lousy that devours me : I see a band of women left almost to them­sel­ves ; I have nothing but cowe­ring souls to vouch for them ; I could scar­cely feel secure if my sla­ves were loyal : what then if they are not ? What sad news of them might come to me in the dis­tant lands I am about to sur­vey ? This is an evil to which my friends can apply no remedy ; it is a place the sorry secrets of which they must not know. And what could they do about it ? Would I not a thou­sand times pre­fer unseen impu­nity to noto­rious chas­ti­se­ment ? I confide all my trou­bles to your heart, my dear Nassir ; that is the only conso­la­tion I have left in my pre­sent state.

Erzerum this 10th day of the moon of Rebiab II, 1711

Capital of Armenia, on the border between Turkey and Persia.

Another name for the Ottomans.