Montesquieu

Usbek to Zelis


I pity Soliman all the more that the harm is irre­me­dia­ble, and that all his son-in-law has done is make use of the liberty of the law.1 I find that law very harsh thus to expose a family’s honor to the whims of a mad­man. It is futile to say that we have relia­ble indi­ces for ascer­tai­ning the truth : that is an old error which in our society we no lon­ger believe in, and our phy­si­cians give invin­ci­ble rea­sons for the uncer­tainty of those proofs.2 Even the Christians regard them as ima­gi­nary, although they are clearly esta­bli­shed by their sacred books, and their ancient legis­la­tor3 made the inno­cence or condem­na­tion of all vir­gins sub­ject to it.

I am plea­sed to learn of the care you take for the edu­ca­tion of yours. God grant her hus­band will find her as lovely and as pure as Fatima4 ; that she have ten eunuchs to guard her ; that she will be the honor and orna­ment of the sera­glio for which she is des­ti­ned ; that she will have nothing over her head but gil­ded panels and walk only on ele­gant rugs. And my grea­test wish of all, may my eyes see her in all her glory !

Paris this 5th day of the moon of Chalval 1714

An elliptical formula for “the liberty which the law allows.”

In cases of defamation, an inquiry could be conducted to verify the virginity of the future wife. It was performed by matrons who examined the genitals of the suspected person. Since the end of the sixteenth century such “visits” were the object of an intense polemic. Certain physicians, as Usbek suggests, but also some jurists, contested the reliability of such an examination and argued for its abolition. Such practices were deplored also because they offended feminine modesty.

Moses, the presumed author of the Pentateuch : see Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

On Fatima’s purity, see letter 1.