Montesquieu

Rica to the same


I retur­ned the next day to this library, where I found a com­ple­tely dif­fe­rent man from the one I had seen the first time. He was sim­ple of mien, his phy­sio­gnomy bright, and he was most approa­cha­ble. Once I had com­mu­ni­ca­ted to him my curio­sity, he under­took to satisfy it, and even as a forei­gner to ins­truct me.

Father, I said, what are those large volu­mes that fill this whole side of the library ? Those, he said, are the inter­pre­ters of Scripture. There are a great num­ber of them, I replied : the Scripture must have once been very obs­cure, and very clear now ; are there any doubts remai­ning ? Can there be contes­ted points ? Can there be, good Lord, can there be ! he replied. There are almost as many as there are lines. Oh ? I said. And what then have all these authors done ? These authors, he replied, have not sear­ched in the Scripture for what we must believe, but what they them­sel­ves believe ; they have not regar­ded it as a book in which were contai­ned the dog­mas they should receive, but as a work that could lend autho­rity to their own ideas. That is why they have cor­rup­ted all its mea­nings, and put all its pas­sa­ges to the tor­ture. It is a coun­try which men of all sects come in and more or less pillage ; it is a bat­tle­field where the enemy nations that encoun­ter each other wage many a strug­gle, where they attach each other, where they skir­mish in many ways.

Right near them you see the asce­tic or devo­tio­nal books ; then the much more use­ful books of mora­lity. The theo­lo­gi­cal ones are dou­bly inin­tel­li­gi­ble, both by the sub­ject mat­ter they treat, and by the man­ner of trea­ting it.1 The wri­tings of mys­tics, that is to say the pious, who have ten­der hearts. Oh, Father, I said, one moment, do not go so fast : tell me about these mys­tics. Monsieur, he said, devo­tion warms a heart dis­po­sed to affec­tion, and makes it send spi­rits to the brain, which like­wise warm it, whence arise ecs­ta­sies and rap­tu­res.2 This state is the deli­rium of devo­tion ; often it per­fects itself, or rather dege­ne­ra­tes, into quie­tism : you know that a quie­tist is nothing but a man who is mad, devout, and liber­tine.3

You see the casuists, who bring the secrets of the night into broad day­light,4 who form in their ima­gi­na­tion all the mons­ters that the demon of love can pro­duce, col­lect them, com­pare them, and make them the eter­nal object of their thoughts. Would that their hearts would not get invol­ved, and them­sel­ves become the accom­pli­ces of so many per­ver­sions so nai­vely des­cri­bed and so nakedly depic­ted.

You see, mon­sieur, that I think freely, and tell you all I am thin­king ; I am natu­rally can­did, and even more with you who are a forei­gner, who want to know things, and know them as they are. If I wished, I would tell you about all these things only admi­rin­gly ; I would cons­tantly be tel­ling you : that is divine, that is res­pec­ta­ble, it is some­thing won­der­ful ; and as a result one of two things would hap­pen : either I would fool you, or I would disho­nor myself in your mind.

We went no far­ther : because of some­thing that came up, the der­vich inter­rup­ted our conver­sa­tion until the next day.

Paris this 23rd day of the moon of Rhamazan 1719

As in the following letters, the classification follows a progression typical of the libraries and bookstores of the time.

This schema is approximately what one finds in Descartes’s Les Passions de l’âme.

A sect deriving from the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos, who died in Rome [in 1696] in the prisons of the Inquisition, which sought to induce in the soul a state of utter repose and inactivity.

A sect deriving from the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos, who died in Rome [in 1696] in the prisons of the Inquisition, which sought to induce in the soul a state of utter repose and inactivity.