Montesquieu

Rica to Usbek in ***


A few days ago a man of my acquain­tance said to me : I have pro­mi­sed to intro­duce you into the impor­tant hou­ses in Paris ; I am taking you now to the house of a great lord, who is one of the men who repre­sents as well as any in the realm.1

What does that mean, mon­sieur ? Is he more poli­shed, more affa­ble than ano­ther ? It is not that, he said. Ah, I get it : at every moment he makes you feel his super­io­rity over eve­ryone who approa­ches him : if that is so, I hardly care to go ; I already acquiesce, and com­ple­tely concede it to him.

Nevertheless, I had to go along ; and I saw a lit­tle man so proud ; he took his snuff with such lof­ti­ness ; he blew his nose so piti­lessly ; he spat with such phlegm, he pet­ted his dogs in a man­ner so offen­sive to men, that I could not tire of mar­vel­ling at him. Oh, good Lord, I said inwardly, if while I was at the Persian court I repre­sen­ted like that, I was repre­sen­ting a great fool ! We would have had to be very ill-natu­red, Usbek, to go making a hun­dred lit­tle insults to peo­ple who came to our house every day to express their good will. They were quite aware that we were above them, and had they not been, our bene­vo­lence would have infor­med them of it each day. Having to do nothing to make them res­pect us, we did eve­ry­thing to make our­sel­ves lika­ble ; we acted fami­liarly with the least of them ; in the midst of gran­deurs, which always har­den, they found us sen­si­tive ; what they saw above them was only our hearts ; we stoo­ped to their needs. But when we nee­ded to sup­port the prince’s majesty in public cere­mo­nies ; when we nee­ded to make forei­gners res­pect the nation, or when we nee­ded in peri­lous situa­tions to moti­vate the sol­diers, we ascen­ded a hun­dred times higher than we had stoo­ped, we brought the pride back to our faces, and some­ti­mes peo­ple found that we repre­sen­ted rather well.

Paris this 10th day of the moon of Saphar 1715

“It is said of a person of dignified station, and who in the functions of his charge maintains a suitable gravity […] that ‘He is a man who represents well, who represents with dignity’ […]. It is also said of a man of quality, who has a grand manner, even though he has no particular function” (Académie, 1718).