Montesquieu

The prin­ci­pal eunuch to Ibbi1 in Erzerum


You fol­low your for­mer mas­ter in his tra­vels ; you sur­vey pro­vin­ces and realms. Worries could make no impres­sion on you : each moment reveals new things to you ; eve­ry­thing you see is a diver­sion to you and makes you pass time una­wa­res.

Such is not my case. I, locked up in a hor­ri­ble pri­son, am cons­tantly sur­roun­ded by the same objects and devou­red by the same anxie­ties ; I groan under the weight of the cares and wor­ries of fifty years, and in the course of a long life I can­not say I have known a pea­ce­ful day or a tran­quil moment.

When my first mas­ter had concei­ved the cruel design of entrus­ting his wives to me, and obli­ged me with enti­ce­ments sup­por­ted by a thou­sand threats to sepa­rate myself from myself fore­ver,2 I, weary of ser­ving in the most arduous func­tions, figu­red I was sacri­fi­cing my pas­sions to my tran­quillity and my for­tune. What a fool I was ! My preoc­cu­pied mind made me see the com­pen­sa­tion, and not the loss ; I hoped I would be deli­ve­red from the temp­ta­tions of love by the ina­bi­lity to satisfy it. Alas, they extin­gui­shed in me the effect of the pas­sions, without extin­gui­shing their cause ; and far from being relie­ved of them, I found myself sur­roun­ded by objects that cons­tantly pro­vo­ked them. I ente­red the sera­glio where eve­ryone made me feel regret for what I had lost : I felt arou­sed at every moment ; a thou­sand natu­ral gra­ces see­med to expo­sed them­sel­ves in my pre­sence me only to demo­ra­lize me ; to make mat­ters worse, I had a satis­fied man cons­tantly before me. In that uns­ta­ble time I never escor­ted a wife to my mas­ter’s bed, I never undres­sed her, without retur­ning to my room with a heart full of rage, and ter­ri­ble des­pair in my soul.

That is how I spent my mise­ra­ble youth ; I had no other confi­dant than myself. Burdened with vexa­tions and rue­ful­ness, I had to sti­fle them ; and these very wives whom I was temp­ted to look upon with such affec­tio­nate eyes I could only ima­gine loo­king back at me sternly : I was doo­med if they had read me : what advan­tage would they not have take of that ?

I remem­ber that one day when I was put­ting a wife into the bath, I felt so exci­ted that I utterly lost my wits and dared to put my hand in a dan­ge­rous place. My first thought was that that day was my last, yet I was for­tu­nate enough to avoid a thou­sand deaths ; but the beauty to whom I had betrayed my weak­ness made me pay dearly for her silence : I enti­rely lost my autho­rity over her ; and she has since for­ced me into conni­van­ces that have a thou­sand times put my life at risk.

Finally the ardors of youth pas­sed ; I am old, and find myself in this res­pect in a tran­quil state. I look on women with indif­fe­rence, and I return all their contempt, and all the tor­ments they have made me suf­fer. I always remem­ber that I was born to com­mand them, and I feel like I become a man again on those occa­sions when I still com­mand them. I have hated them since I star­ted consi­de­ring them dis­pas­sio­na­tely, and my rea­son has allo­wed me to see all their weak­nes­ses. Although I guard them for ano­ther, the plea­sure of making them obey me gives me an inner joy ; when I deprive them of eve­ry­thing, it seems to me it is for me, and I always get an unseen satis­fac­tion from it. I am in the sera­glio as in a small empire, and my ambi­tion, the only pas­sion I have left, gets some satis­fac­tion. I see with plea­sure that eve­ry­thing has to do with me, and that I am neces­sary at every moment ; I willin­gly assume the hatred of all these women, which affirms me in my post. Nor is it an ingrate they are dea­ling with : they find I have anti­ci­pa­ted all their most inno­cent plea­su­res ; I always appear to them as an unsha­kea­ble bar­rier ; they make plans, and I qui­ckly put a stop to them. I have refu­sals at the ready ; I bristle with scru­ples ; the only words ever on my lips are duty, vir­tue, shame, and modesty. I drive them to des­pair by spea­king fore­ver about the weak­ness of their sex, and the mas­ter’s autho­rity, then I pro­test I am obli­ged to be so strict, and seem to want to make them unders­tand that my only motive is their own inte­rest, and my great attach­ment to them.

Not that I in turn do not have an infi­nite num­ber of contra­rie­ties, and that every day these vin­dic­tive women do not seek to exceed those I give them. They have awe­some tur­na­bouts : there is some­thing bet­ween us like an ebb and flow of domi­na­tion and sub­mis­sion. They always see that I get the most humi­lia­ting tasks ; they affect a contempt without paral­lel ; and without regard for my age, they make me get up ten times a night for the sligh­test tri­fle ; I am cons­tantly delu­ged with orders and com­mands, tasks, and whim­sies ; they seem to take turns kee­ping me occu­pied, and their fan­ta­sies come in suc­ces­sion. Often they take plea­sure in making me work har­der. They have me plied with false infor­ma­tion ; some­ti­mes someone comes to tell me that a young man has been seen about the walls, ano­ther time that a noise has been heard, or that a let­ter is to be pas­sed. All this cons­ter­na­tes me, and they laugh at my cons­ter­na­tion ; they are deligh­ted to see me thus tor­ment myself. Another time they attach me out­side their doors, chai­ning me there night and day. They are very good at fei­gning ill­nes­ses, faints, and frights ; they have no shor­tage of pre­texts to lead me to the point they wish. I owe them on these occa­sions a blind obe­dience and bound­less indul­gence : a refu­sal in the mouth of a man like me would be some­thing unheard-of, and if I hesi­ta­ted to obey them, they would be entit­led to punish me. I would as soon lose my life, my dear Ibbi, as stoop to that humi­lia­tion.

This is not all : I am never sure for an ins­tant of being in favor with my mas­ter ; they are just so many ene­mies in his heart, whose only thought is to undo me. They have moments with him when I am not heard, moments when nothing is refu­sed, moments when I am always in the wrong. It is angry women I lead to my mas­ter’s bed : do you think they are wor­king there on my behalf, and that my side is the stron­gest ? I have eve­ry­thing to fear from their tears, their sighs, their cares­ses, and even their plea­su­res : they are in the arena of their triumphs ; their charms become dread­ful for me ; pre­sent ser­vi­ces erase in a moment all my past ser­vi­ces, and there is no way I can depend on a mas­ter who is no lon­ger him­self.

How often have I gone to bed in favor, only to arise dis­gra­ced ? The day when I was so igno­mi­niously whip­ped throu­ghout the sera­glio, what had I done ? I left a wife in my mas­ter’s arms ; once his desi­res were infla­med, she shed a tor­rent of tears ; she com­plai­ned, and so cali­bra­ted her com­plaints that they grew in pro­por­tion to the love she was arou­sing. How could I stand up to such a cri­ti­cal moment ? I was undone when I expec­ted it the least ; I was the vic­tim of an amo­rous deal and a treaty that sighs had made. Such, dear Ibbi, is the cruel state in which I have always lived.

How for­tu­nate you are ! your atten­tions are limi­ted solely to the per­son of Usbek ; you can easily please him, and keep your­self in his favor until the last day of your life.

The Isfahan sera­glio this last day of the moon of Saphar 1711

The only letter to this individual, who is author of none. The principal eunuch and the principal black eunuch addressed in letter 2 are one and the same.

On the implications of this expression, see note to letter 40.