Montesquieu

The great eunuch to Usbek in Paris


Things have rea­ched a state that can­not be main­tai­ned : your wives have ima­gi­ned that your depar­ture left them com­plete impu­nity. Horrible things are hap­pe­ning here ; I myself trem­ble at the cruel account I must give you.

Zelis, on her way to the mos­que a few days ago, let her veil drop and appea­red with her face almost unco­ve­red before eve­ry­body.

I have found Zachi in bed with one of her sla­ves,1 a thing so for­bid­den by the laws of the sera­glio.

I have by the grea­test chance in the world inter­cep­ted a let­ter,2 which I am sen­ding to you ; I have never been able to dis­co­ver to whom it was addres­sed.

Yesterday eve­ning a young boy was found3 in the gar­den of the sera­glio, and esca­ped over the walls.

Add to that the things I have not lear­ned about, for surely you are betrayed. I await your orders, and until the happy moment when I receive them, I am going to be in a mor­tal situa­tion. But if you do not place all your wives under my dis­cre­tion,4 I ans­wer for none of them, and will every day have equally sad news to send to you.

The Isfahan sera­glio this 1st day of the moon of Regeb 17175

Zachi was earlier reproached (letter 19) – just as Zephis before her (letter 4) – for her “familiarities” with the slave Zelide.

Its content will never be known ; the episode nevertheless serves to reinforce the impression that the seraglio is permeable.

The “false information” of letter 9 has become a reality.

“It is said, in terms of war, that a stronghold surrenders à discretion, to say, at the mercy of the victor” (Furetière, 1690).

This letter brings us suddenly backwards in time : chronologically, it should have borne the number 101 ; and the last letter of the novel (150) would have been numbered 134. The twelve final letters of the collection, containing the condensed story of the final calamity of the seraglio, make up an ensemble of exceptional coherency : on the one side in Paris with Usbek, on the other in Isfahan with the guardians and inhabitants of the seraglio. Since letter 63 – that is to say, chronologically between 1714 and 1720 – there is not a single letter of Usbek relating to the seraglio. All the letters between 126 and 137 are from Rica, which means that for over a year (from 4 October 1719 to 11 November 1720) Usbek has remained completely silent, which can be explained by the letters he has received in the meantime (but which the reader has not seen until this final cascade). At the time when Usbek writes his letter 119 of 1 November 1718 on the misfortunes of the “children of the Prophet”, he has perhaps already received this one (1 September 1717) which tells him, in sum, that the situation in the seraglio is all but beyond repair.