Montesquieu

Rica to Ibben in Smyrna


Although the French talk a lot, there is never­the­less among them a kind of taci­turn der­vich who are cal­led Carthusians : it is said they cut off their ton­gues when they enter the convent, and it would be most desi­ra­ble for all other der­vi­shes simi­larly to take away eve­ry­thing their pro­fes­sion ren­ders use­less to them.

On the sub­ject of taci­turn peo­ple, there are some far more sin­gu­lar than those, and who have a very extra­or­di­nary talent. It is those who know how to talk without saying any­thing, and who occupy a conver­sa­tion for two hours’ time without it being pos­si­ble to divine their thought, to pla­gia­rize them, or to remem­ber a word of what they have said.

These sorts of peo­ple are ado­red by women ; yet they are not ado­red as much as others, who have recei­ved from nature the amia­ble talent of smi­ling appro­pria­tely, which is to say at every moment, and who bes­tow the grace of joyous appro­ba­tion on eve­ry­thing they say.

But they are at the height of wit when they can detect deli­cacy in eve­ry­thing, and find a thou­sand inge­nious lit­tle subt­le­ties in the com­mo­nest things.

I know others who have done very well by intro­du­cing ina­ni­mate objects into conver­sa­tions and have their bro­ca­ded suit speak, and their blond wig, their snuff­box, their cane and glo­ves. It is good to start from the street making peo­ple lis­ten by the noise of the car­riage and the kno­cker that pounds the door hea­vily ; this pre­face anti­ci­pa­tes the rest of the dis­course ; and when the exor­dium is ele­gant, it makes bea­ra­ble all the idio­cies that fol­low it, but which for­tu­na­tely arrive too late.1

I pro­mise you that these petty talents which have no impor­tance in Persia here well serve those who are for­tu­nate enough to pos­sess them, and that a man of good sense is no stan­dout among these sorts of peo­ple.

Paris this 6th day of the moon of Rebiab II, 1715

See the portrait of Theodectes in La Bruyère (Les Caractères, “De la société et de la conversation”, 12).