Montesquieu

Rica to the same


I retur­ned at the appoin­ted time, and my man led me pre­ci­sely to the place where we had par­ted com­pany. Here, he said, are the gram­ma­rians, the glos­sers, and the com­men­ta­tors.1 Father, I said, can all these peo­ple not get by without com­mon sense ? Yes, he said, they can, and it does not even show ; their wri­tings are not the worse for it, which is very conve­nient for them. That is true, I said, and I know many phi­lo­so­phers who would do well to apply them­sel­ves to such kinds of science.

Here, he conti­nued, are the ora­tors, who have the talent of per­sua­ding inde­pen­dently of the rea­sons2 ; and the geo­me­ters, who oblige a man to be per­sua­ded des­pite him­self, and convince him with tyranny.3

Here are the books of meta­phy­sics, which deal with such great inte­rests, and in which infi­nity is eve­ryw­here encoun­te­red ; the books of phy­sics, which find no more to mar­vel at in the eco­nomy of the vast uni­verse than in our crafts­men’s sim­plest machine.

The books of medi­cine, those monu­ments of the fra­gi­lity of nature and the power of art, which make one trem­ble when they dis­cuss even the sligh­test ill­nes­ses, so greatly do they make death pre­sent to us, but which place us in com­plete secu­rity when they speak of the vir­tue of reme­dies as if we had become immor­tal.

Right near them are books of ana­tomy, which contain much less the des­crip­tion of the parts of the human body than the bar­ba­rous names they have been given, some­thing which heals nei­ther the patient nor his ill­ness, nei­ther the phy­si­cian nor his igno­rance.

Here is che­mis­try,4 which some­ti­mes lives in the poo­rhouse, and some­ti­mes in the madhouse,5 as homes equally appro­priate to it.

Here are the books of science, or rather of occult igno­rance : such are those which contain some sort of devilry, exe­cra­ble accor­ding to most peo­ple, piti­ful accor­ding to me. Such are also the books of judi­cial astro­logy.6 What is that, Father ? Books on judi­cial astro­logy ? I replied hea­tedly. It is those we most esteem in Persia : they deter­mine all the actions of our lives, and deter­mine us in all our under­ta­kings ; the astro­lo­gers are pro­perly our direc­tors.7 They do more : they enter into the govern­ment of the state. If that is so, he said to me, you live under a yoke far more harsh than that of rea­son ; that is truly the stran­gest of all domi­nions. I quite pity a family, and even more a nation, that allows itself be so domi­na­ted by the pla­nets. We use astro­logy, I replied, as you use alge­bra : each nation has its science by which it regu­la­tes its poli­tics ; all the astro­lo­gers toge­ther have never com­mit­ted as many foo­lish things in our Persia as a sin­gle one of your alge­brists has here. Do you think the com­bi­na­tion of the hea­venly bodies is less sure a rule than the fine rea­so­ning of your sys­tem-maker ?8 If we coun­ted votes on that in France and in Persia, it would be a fine occa­sion of vic­tory for astro­logy. You would see the mathe­ma­ti­cians well humi­li­ta­ted ; what overw­hel­ming corol­lary could we draw against them ?

Our dis­pute was inter­rup­ted, and we had to sepa­rate.

Paris this 26th day of the moon of Rhamazan 1719

Particularly Biblical commentators.

This reflects a radical definition of rhetoric, precisely the one for which Socrates reproached the sophists in the Gorgias.

Authoritatively.

Although chemistry and alchemy were still conflated, the first had a very broad meaning : “The art that teaches how to dissolve mixed natural bodies, reduce them separately to the pure principles of which they were composed and combine them to make exalted bodies” (Richelet 1680).

On the Petites Maisons, see letter 75, note 16 ; cf. the portrait of the alchemist in letter 43.

That which makes predictions based on the movements of heavenly bodies.

In other words, the Persian equivalents of directors of conscience.

John Law, whose financial scheme was called the “system.” The term “algebrist” is used here less in the sense of mathematical expert than, sarcastically, as one who cultivates astrological or numerical knowledge.