Montesquieu

Solim to Usbek in Paris


If I remai­ned silent any lon­ger, I would be as bla­me­wor­thy as all these cri­mi­nals you have in your sera­glio.

I was the confi­dant of the great eunuch, the most loyal of your sla­ves. When he saw he was near his end, he sent for me, and spoke these words to me : I die, but my only regret in depar­ting life is that my fai­ling eyes have found the wives of my mas­ter repre­hen­si­ble. May hea­ven be able to pro­tect him from all the mis­for­tu­nes I fore­see ; may my threa­te­ning shade come when I am gone to warn these trai­tors of their duty, and again inti­mi­date them ! Here are the keys to these fear­some halls : take them to the oldest of the blacks ; but if after my death he wants vigi­lance, think to alert your mas­ter. As he ended these words, he expi­red in my arms.

I do not know what he wrote to you some time before his death about the conduct of your wives1 ; there is a let­ter in the sera­glio that would have borne ter­ror with it had it been ope­ned.2 The one you have writ­ten since was inter­cep­ted three lea­gues from here ; I do not know what it is, that eve­ry­thing is tur­ning badly.

Meanwhile your wives no lon­ger reco­gnize any res­traint ; since the great eunuch’s death, it seems they can be allo­wed to do any­thing. Roxane alone has remai­ned duti­ful3 and pre­ser­ves some modesty. We see mora­lity cor­rup­ting by the day. We no lon­ger find on your wives’ faces that proud, aus­tere vir­tue that once pre­vai­led there. A new joy abroad in these halls is an infal­li­ble sign, accor­ding to me, of some new satis­fac­tion. In the smal­lest things I notice liber­ties pre­viously unk­nown. There even rei­gns among your sla­ves a cer­tain indo­lence for their duty and the obser­vance of rules that sur­pri­ses me ; they no lon­ger have that ardent zeal for your ser­vice that see­med to ani­mate the entire sera­glio.

Your wives have been for a week in the coun­try,4 to one of your most aban­do­ned hou­ses. It is said that they had subor­ned the slave who tends them, and that one day before they arri­ved, he had had two men concea­led in a stone recess which is in the walls of the main room, from which they emer­ged in the eve­ning after we were with­drawn. The old eunuch who is pre­sently in charge of us is an imbe­cile who is made to believe any­thing one wants.

I am agi­ta­ted by a ven­ge­ful wrath against so many betrayals ; and if hea­ven wished, for the good of your ser­vice, for you to judge me capa­ble of gover­ning, I pro­mise you that if your wives were not vir­tuous, at least they would be fai­th­ful.

The Isfahan sera­glio this 6th day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1719

See letter 139.

Letter 140. Narsit, in letter 141, says he has put that letter away while awaiting Usbek’s orders ; it is clear from letter 144 that he has not himself read it. Nearly eighteen months have been lost since the first call to action in letter 139.

See letter 3.

See letter 3.