Montesquieu

Rica to Ibben in Smyrna


Ministers come and go and des­troy each other here like the sea­sons ; in three years I have seen four chan­ges in the finan­cial sys­tem.1 Today in Persia and Turkey sub­si­dies are rai­sed in the same way the foun­ders of these monar­chies rai­sed them ; that is hardly the case here. It is true that we do not put so much wit into it as do the Occidentals ; we believe there is no more dif­fe­rence bet­ween the admi­nis­tra­tion of the prince’s reve­nues and those of an indi­vi­dual than there is bet­ween coun­ting a hun­dred thou­sand tomans or coun­ting a hun­dred. But here there is much more finesse and secrecy. Great geniu­ses must work night and day ; they must cons­tantly and pain­fully beget new pro­jects ; they must lis­ten to the opi­nions of innu­me­ra­ble per­sons who work for them without being asked ; they must with­draw and live in an office impe­ne­tra­ble by the great and sacred to the small ; they must ever have their heads filled with impor­tant secrets, mira­cu­lous desi­gns, and new sys­tems ; and, absor­bed in medi­ta­tions, they must be depri­ved not only of the use of speech, but even some­ti­mes of poli­te­ness. As soon as the late king had clo­sed his eyes, they began to esta­blish a new admi­nis­tra­tion. They could tell things were awry, but they did not know what to do to make them bet­ter. The unboun­ded autho­rity of the pre­vious mins­ters had not wor­ked well, so they tried divi­ding it : for this pur­pose they crea­ted six or seven coun­cils, and it is per­haps this minis­try which of all has gover­ned France with the most sense. It was short-lived, as was the good it pro­du­ced.2 France at the death of its late king was a body suf­fe­ring a thou­sand ills. N***3 took a blade in hand, cut away the excess flesh, and applied some topi­cal reme­dies. But there still remai­ned an inner vice to cure. A forei­gner4 came who under­took this cure. After many vio­lent reme­dies, he thought he had res­to­red its stout­ness, and had sim­ply made it bloa­ted. Everyone who was rich six months ago is pre­sently in poverty, and those who had no bread abound in riches. Never have these two extre­mes come so close. The forei­gner has tur­ned the state the way a used clo­thes dea­ler does with a suit : he makes visi­ble on top what was under­neath, and what was under­neath he turns over. What unho­ped-for for­tu­nes, unbe­lie­va­ble even to those who made them ! God does not more rapidly raise men from now­here. How many man­ser­vants being ser­ved by their com­ra­des, and per­haps tomor­row by their mas­ters ! All this often pro­du­ces things that are pas­sing strange. The foot­men who had made their for­tune under the pre­vious reign now boast of their birth ; they greet those who have just dof­fed their live­ries in a cer­tain street5 with all the contempt peo­ple had for them six months ago ; they cry with all their strength : The nobi­lity is rui­ned, what disor­der in the state ! What confu­sion in the ranks ! All we see is unk­nowns making a for­tune ! I pro­mise you that these will avenge them­sel­ves well on those who will come after them, and that in thirty years these men of qua­lity will be cla­mo­ring.

Paris this 1st day of the moon of Zilcadé 1720

These changes might relate to men (Noailles succeeded by d’Argenson and then Law) or to numerous new fiscal, financial and commercial policies in the period 1718-1720.

The seven counsels of the “polysynodie” (adjuncts of the council of the Regency), torn by inner strife, were suppressed in September 1718.

Duke Adrien Maurice de Noailles, president of the financial council from 1715 to 1718 ; see letters 80 and 95 and the notes.

The Scotsman John Law.

Rue Quincampoix, center of all the transactions and commotion.