Montesquieu

Usbek to Nessir in Isfahan


Happy the man who, kno­wing all the value of an easy, tran­quil life, rests his heart in the midst of his family, and knows no other land than the one where he was born !1

I live in a bar­ba­ric clime, pre­sent to all who annoy me, absent from all who inte­rest me ; an omi­nous sor­row sei­zes me ; I am fal­ling into ter­ri­ble dejec­tion. I feel as if I am beco­ming nothing, and become myself again only when an omi­nous jea­lousy fla­res up and foments fear, sus­pi­cion, loa­thing, and regret in my soul.

You know me, Nessir, you have always seen into my heart as into your own : you would pity me if you knew my deplo­ra­ble state. I some­ti­mes wait six full months for news of the sera­glio2 ; I count the minute that go by ; my impa­tience always leng­thens them for me ; and when the moment so awai­ted is about to arrive, a sud­den rever­sal occurs in my heart ; my hand trem­bles to open a fate­ful let­ter ; that anxiety which was tor­tu­ring me I now find the hap­piest state I can be in ; and I fear to lose it by a blow more cruel for me than a thou­sand deaths.3

But wha­te­ver rea­son I had for lea­ving my coun­try, although I owe my life to my depar­ture, I can no lon­ger, Nessir, remain in this awful exile. Would I not die all the same a prey to my trou­bles ? I have urged Rica a thou­sand times to leave this foreign land, but he objects to all my reso­lu­tions : he atta­ches me here with a thou­sand pre­texts ; he seems to have for­got­ten his home­land, or rather he seems to have for­got­ten me, so insen­si­tive is he to my dis­plea­su­res.

Wretched man that I am ! I wish to see my father­land again, per­haps to be even more wret­ched ! And what shall I do there ? I am going to return my head to my ene­mies.4 That is not all ; I shall enter the sera­glio : there I must ask for an account of the fatal time of my absence. And if I find some guilty, what shall become of me ? And if the thought alone overw­helms me from so far, what will it be like when my pre­sence makes it more vivid ? What will it be like if I must see, if I must hear what I dare not ima­gine without shud­de­ring ? What will it be like, in short, if the punish­ments I shall myself pro­nounce are ever­las­ting signs of my disar­ray and my des­pair ?

I shall go lock myself within walls more awful for me than for the women who are kept there ; I shall take with me all my sus­pi­cions. Their blan­dish­ments will conceal none of them from me : in my bed, in their arms, I will enjoy nothing but my appre­hen­sions ; in a time so ill-sui­ted to reflec­tions, my jea­lousy will manage to make some. Scum unwor­thy of the human race, abject sla­ves whose heart has been clo­sed fore­ver to all sen­ti­ments of love, you would no lon­ger bemoan your condi­tion if you knew the unhap­pi­ness of mine.

Paris this 4th day of the moon of Chahban 17195

It was seen at the outset that Usbek had not freely chosen to travel abroad (letter 8), but until now he has seemed satisfied with his decision.

See letter 141, note 3. The dates of certain letters that answer each other (for example letters 40 and 41 : six months and eight days) confirm this remark.

A melancholic, even tragic note in opposition to the refusal of violence manifested by Usbek in letter 6. The most urgent letters (140 and 142), have received no reply.

The inverse complement of the phrase in letter 8 : “I departed, thus depriving my enemies of a victim.” Although Usbek here seems resigned to returning to Persia, nothing ever confirms that he does so : see the following note, letter 138, note 5, and letter 150, note 1.

This is Usbek’s last letter in the novel’s sequential (but not chronological) order, letter 138 and Supplementary Letter 8 being well posterior to it.