Montesquieu

The prin­ci­pal eunuch to Usbek in Paris


Many yel­low women from the king­dom of Visapour1 have arri­ved here ; I have bought one for your bro­ther the gover­nor of Mazendaran,2 who a month ago sent me his sublime com­mand and a hun­dred tomans.3

I am all the bet­ter judge of women that they do not take me aback, and that my eyes are not trou­bled by the move­ments of the heart.

I have never seen a beauty so clas­sic and so per­fect ; her spark­ling eyes bring her coun­te­nance alive and heigh­ten a bloom that could eclipse all the charms of Circassia.4

The prin­ci­pal eunuch of an Isfahan mer­chant was nego­tia­ting her price with me ; but she dis­dain­fully avoi­ded his eyes and see­med to seek mine, as if she wan­ted to tell me that an abject mer­chant was not wor­thy of her, and that she was fated for a more illus­trious spouse.

I confess that I expe­rience a inner joy when I think of the charms of this lovely per­son ; I can pic­ture her ente­ring your bro­ther’s sera­glio ; I like to anti­ci­pate the sur­prise of all those women, the impe­rious pain of some, the silent but more pain­ful afflic­tion of others, the male­vo­lent conso­la­tion of those who have no hope remai­ning, and the thwar­ted ambi­tion of those who do.

I go from one end of the realm to the other to change the com­plec­tion of an entire sera­glio. What pas­sions am I going to stir ! What fears and pains do I pre­pare !

Nevertheless in the midst of inner tur­moil, the exte­rior will not be less tran­quil. Great revo­lu­tions will be buried in the heart ; wor­ries will be sti­fled, and joys contai­ned ; obe­dience will be no less exact, and the rules no less inflexi­ble. Sweetness, always for­ced to appear, will emerge from the very depths of des­pair.

We observe that the more women we have under our watch, the fewer pro­blems they cause us. A grea­ter neces­sity to please, less faci­lity of get­ting toge­ther, more exam­ples of sub­mis­sion : all these create chains for them. Some are cons­tantly atten­tive to what the others are about ; it seems as if, in concert with us, they strive to make them­sel­ves more depen­dent ; they do prac­ti­cally half of our func­tion, and open our eyes when we close them. Nay, they cons­tantly incite the mas­ter against their rivals, and do not see how like they are to the ones who are puni­shed.

But all this, magni­fi­cent lord, all this is nothing without the mas­ter’s pre­sence. What can we do with this vain phan­tom of an autho­rity which is never enti­rely trans­fer­red ? We repre­sent but weakly the half of your­self ; we can show them only a hate­ful rigor. But you, you tem­per fear with expec­ta­tions, more abso­lute when you caress than you are when you threa­ten.

Return the­re­fore, magni­fi­cent lord, return to these halls to fill them with the signs of your domi­na­tion. Come assuage des­pe­rate pas­sions ; come and sup­press every pre­text for fai­lure ; come appease love, which is grum­bling, and make even duty plea­sant ; finally, come relieve your loyal eunuchs from a bur­den that beco­mes hea­vier by the day.

The Isfahan sera­glio this 8th day of the moon of Zilhagé 1716

“VISAPOR, or VISAPOUR, a kingdom in Decan toward the western coasts of the peninsula of the Indus, on this side of the Gulf of Bengala” (Collier 1701), today’s Bijapur.

“Province of Persia, near the Caspian Sea, with a city of the same name” (Moreri 1707).

Gold coin of Persia : see letter 65.

See letter 77. According to Tavernier, the women of Visapour were swarthy.