Montesquieu
 

Supplementary letter VI

Usbek to Rhedi in Venice1


What can be the motive of these immense libe­ra­li­ties that prin­ces sho­wer on their cour­tiers ? Are they trying to bind them ? They are already as behol­den to him as they can be. And moreo­ver, if they acquire some of their sub­jects by buying them, they must also, for the same rea­son, lose count­less others by impo­ve­ri­shing them.

When I think of the situa­tion of prin­ces, ever sur­roun­ded by greedy and insa­tia­ble men, I can only pity them ; and I pity them even more when they lack the strength to resist the always one­rous demands of those who are deman­ding nothing.

I never hear of their libe­ra­li­ties, of the favors and pen­sions they grant, without indul­ging myself in a thou­sand reflec­tions. A flock of thoughts comes to mind ; I seem to be hea­ring this edict pro­clai­med :

“The inde­fa­ti­ga­ble cou­rage of some of our sub­jects in see­king pen­sions having exer­ci­sed our royal magni­fi­cence without pause, we have finally yiel­ded to the mul­ti­tude of peti­tions which they have pre­sen­ted, the which have until now cau­sed the grea­test soli­ci­tude of our throne. They have main­tai­ned to us that they have not fai­led, since our acces­sion to the crown, to be pre­sent at our ari­sing ; that we have always seen them immo­bile, like miles­to­nes, along our pas­sage ; and that they have stood very high to see, over the highest shoul­ders, our serene high­ness.2 We have even recei­ved seve­ral peti­tions from some per­sons of the fair sex, who have entrea­ted us to be aware that it is public know­ledge how dif­fi­cult they are to main­tain ; some even very old-fashio­ned ones have beg­ged us, with sha­king heads, to be aware that they were once the orna­ment of the court of the kings our pre­de­ces­sors ; and that if the gene­rals of their armies have made the state fear­some by their mili­tary feats, they have not made the court less famous with their intri­gues. Thus, desi­ring to deal gene­rously with the sup­pliants, and grant them all their prayers, we have orde­red what fol­lows :

“That every labo­rer who has five chil­dren shall reduce each day by one-fifth the bread he gives them. We enjoin the pater­fa­mi­lias to make the reduc­tion to each of them as fair as is pos­si­ble.

“We expressly for­bid all those who apply them­sel­ves to culti­va­ting their inhe­ri­tance, or who have lea­sed them, from making any repairs of any kind wha­te­ver.

“We com­mand that all per­sons who prac­tice base and mecha­ni­cal labors, but have never been pre­sent at the ari­sing of our majesty, shall never more buy clo­thing for them­sel­ves, their wives, or their chil­dren, except every four years ; we for­bid them moreo­ver very strictly those small cele­bra­tions they were wont to hold in their fami­lies on the prin­ci­pal feast days of the year.

“And whe­reas we are infor­med that most of the bour­geois of our good cities are enti­rely occu­pied by making pro­vi­sion for the esta­blish­ment of their daugh­ters, the which have only made them­sel­ves wor­thy, in our state, by a sad and dreary modesty, we com­mand that they shall wait to marry them until, having attai­ned the sta­tu­tory age limit, they shall peti­tion to force them to do so.3 We for­bid our magis­tra­tes to pro­vide for the edu­ca­tion of their chil­dren.”

Paris this 1st day of the moon of Chalval 1718

First published in edition B (1721).

“A title which the Venitians give to their doge to distinguish him from the other dukes, with the idea that this title is higher than that of highness” (Richelet, 1680).

See letter 84, note 2 on the recourse of a girl to justice against her father to be married.