Montesquieu
 

Supplementary Letter V

Usbek to ***1


The reign of the late king was so long that the end had cau­sed the begin­ning to be for­got­ten. It is fashio­na­ble today to be occu­pied only by the events that took place during his mino­rity, and memoirs of those times are the only thing peo­ple are now rea­ding.2

Here is the speech that one of the gene­rals of the city of Paris3 deli­ve­red in a war coun­cil, and I admit I do unders­tand much of it.

MESSIEURS, although our troops have been repel­led with los­ses, I think it will be easy for us to make up for this fai­lure. I have six stan­zas of a song all ready to be relea­sed, which, I am confi­dent, will put eve­ry­thing back into balance. I have cho­sen seve­ral very clear voi­ces, which, emer­ging from the cavity of cer­tain very power­ful lungs, will mar­ve­lously move the peo­ple. They are on a tune which has so far had a quite par­ti­cu­lar effect.

If that does not suf­fice, we will bring out a print that will show Mazarin han­ged.

Happily for us, he does not speak good French ; and he but­chers it so badly that it is not pos­si­ble for his affairs not to decline. We do not fail to call the atten­tion of the peo­ple to the ridi­cu­lous tone with which he speaks. A few days ago we iden­ti­fied a gram­ma­ti­cal mis­take so fla­grant that far­ces of it were acted out on every street cor­ner.4

I hope that before a week goes by, the peo­ple will make of Mazarin’s name a gene­ric word to express all beasts of bur­den, and those used for draught.

Since our defeat, our music has so furiously vexed him over ori­gi­nal sin5 that in order not to see his par­ti­sans redu­ced by half, he was obli­ged to dis­miss all of his pages.

So take heart ; get your cou­rage back, and be sure that we will make him go back over the moun­tains fol­lo­wed by our his­ses.

Paris this 4th day of the moon of Chahban 1718

This letter first appeared in edition B (1721).

Among others, those of La Rochefoucauld (1710), Cardinal de Retz (1718), and Mazarin’s Letters (1693).

Usbek refers to the coadjutor, Paul de Gondi (future Cardinal de Retz), one of the generals of Paris beseiged by the royal army, trying to minimize a defeat suffered by Antony during the first Fronde (January 1649). Gondi was one of the first to understand the interest of pamphlets (mazarinades) of all kinds.

Mazarin’s foreign origins was one of the favorite themes of what were called mazarinades. According to Retz, Mazarin spoke French poorly, perhaps with the intention of confusing his interlocutors.

This term could refer to any failing that prevents his achieving success (Furetière, 1690), but is also an allusion to his putative homosexuality (also referred to as the “Italian vice”).