Montesquieu

Rica to ***


They say that man is a social ani­mal. On that basis it seems to me that the Frenchman is more of a man than ano­ther, he is the man par excel­lence, for he seems to be made solely for society.

But I have obser­ved some among them who are not only socia­ble, but are them­sel­ves the uni­ver­sal society. They mul­ti­ply in every cor­ner, and popu­late in a moment the four quar­ters of a city ; a hun­dred men of this sort abound more than two thou­sand citi­zens ; to forei­gners’ eyes they could make up for the rava­ges of the pla­gue or famine. In schools they ask whe­ther a body can be at the same time in seve­ral pla­ces : they are a proof of the ques­tion the phi­lo­so­phers are deba­ting.

They are always hur­ried, because they have the impor­tant busi­ness of asking eve­ryone they see where they are going and whence they come.

You would never convince them that pro­priety does not require them to visit the public in retail every day, not coun­ting the visits they make who­le­sale in the pla­ces where peo­ple assem­ble ; but as the path to them is too abbre­via­ted, they are coun­ted as nothing in the rules of their cere­mo­nial.

They stress the doors of hou­ses more with their kno­cking than do the winds and tem­pests. If you went to check all of the por­ters’ lists, you would find their name every day man­gled in a thou­sand ways in Swiss cha­rac­ters.1 They spend their lives fol­lo­wing fune­ral pro­ces­sions, expres­sing condo­len­ces or congra­tu­la­tions for mar­ria­ges. The king never grants a bene­fice to any of his sub­jects but it costs them a coach to go express their joy to him.2 Finally they return home worn out to rest so they can resume their heavy duties the next day.

One of them died the other day of wea­ri­ness, and this epi­taph was pla­ced on his tomb : Here rests the man who has never res­ted. He has wal­ked to five hun­dred thirty burials. He has rejoi­ced at the birth of two thou­sand six hun­dred eighty babies. The annui­ties for which he has congra­tu­la­ted his friends in ever-varied terms come to two mil­lion six hun­dred thou­sand livres. The dis­tance he has cove­red on the pave­ment is nine thou­sand six hun­dred sta­dia ; the dis­tance he has cove­red in the coun­try is thirty-six.3 His conver­sa­tion was enter­tai­ning ; he had a ready reper­tory of three hun­dred sixty-five tales. He had moreo­ver pos­ses­sed since his youth one hun­dred eigh­teen apoph­thegms taken from the Ancients, which he uti­li­zed on brilliant occa­sions. Finally he died in his six­tieth year of age. I desist, tra­vel­ler ; for how could I ever tell you all that he did and all that he saw ?

Paris this 3rd day of the moon of Gemmadi II, 1715

The names of those who have called at the house in the owner’s absence were recorded by the Swiss “to whom the guard of the door was entrusted” : the term is attested in the Dictionnaire de l’Académie in 1718 (art. “Escrire”).

I.e., the cost of hiring a coach.

A stadium is about 250m (the Dictionnaire de Trévoux of 1704 gives twenty stadia as making up nearly a league, in other words about four kilometers).