Montesquieu
 

Supplementary letter VII

Usbek to Rica1


I found a few days back, in a coun­try house where I had gone, two scho­lars who enjoy great cele­brity here. Their cha­rac­ter see­med to me admi­ra­ble. The first man’s conver­sa­tion, pro­perly esti­ma­ted, came down to this : What I have said is true, because I have said it. The second’s conver­sa­tion had a dif­fe­rent tenor : What I have not said is not true, because I have not said it.

I rather liked the first one : for I care not a whit whe­ther a man be obs­ti­nate ; but for him to be imper­ti­nent, I do care a good deal. The first defends his opi­nions, which are his ; the second attacks the opi­nions of others, and they belong to eve­ryone.

Oh, my dear Usbek, how ill vanity ser­ves those who have a stron­ger dose of it than what is neces­sary for the pre­ser­va­tion of nature !2 Those peo­ple want to be admi­red by dint of being disa­greea­ble. They seek to be super­ior, and they are not even equal.

Modest men, come let me embrace you. You make the plea­sant­ness and charm of life. You think you have nothing, and I tell you that you have eve­ry­thing. You think you put no one to shame ; and you put eve­ryone to shame. And when I com­pare you in my mind with those cate­go­ri­cal men I see eve­ryw­here, I cast them down from their tri­bu­nal, and place them at your feet.

Paris this 22nd day of the moon of Chahban 1720

First published in edition D, 1758.

An allusion to the theory that self-love is not only natural but an integral aspect of the organism’s self-preservation, one which is not only innocent but necessary. This is one of the essential ideas of Malebranche, notably in his Traité de morale (1684).