Montesquieu

Rica to Usbek in ***


The other day I went to dine at the house of a man of the robe1 who had invi­ted me seve­ral times. After tal­king about many things, I said to him : Monsieur, I have the impres­sion that that your pro­fes­sion is very dif­fi­cult. Not as much as you ima­gine, he replied ; the way we go about it, it is just an amu­se­ment. But how ? Is your head not always full of other peo­ple’s busi­ness ? Are you not always occu­pied by things that are unin­te­res­ting ? You are right, these things are not inte­res­ting, for we take no inte­rest wha­te­ver in them, and that itself makes the pro­fes­sion not as one­rous as you say. When I saw him taking the mat­ter in so deta­ched a way, I conti­nued, and said to him : Monsieur, I have not seen your office. I should think not, for I have none. When I took this charge I nee­ded money to pay for my pro­vi­sions2 : I sold my library, and the book­sel­ler who took it, from a pro­di­gious num­ber of volu­mes, left me only my book of accounts. It is not that I miss them : we jud­ges do not puff our­sel­ves up with vain science ; what need do we have of all those volu­mes of laws ? Almost all the cases are hypo­the­ti­cal, and out­side the gene­ral rule. But could that not be, mon­sieur, because you force them out­side ? For after all, why would every peo­ple on earth have laws, if they did not have their appli­ca­tion ? And how can you apply them, if you do not know them ? If you know the Palace,3 added the magis­trate, you would not speak as you do : we have living books, which are the lawyers ; they work for us and their duty is to ins­truct us. And do they not some­ti­mes also make it their duty to deceive you ? I rejoi­ned. You would the­re­fore not be wrong to pro­tect your­self from their traps. They have wea­pons with which they attack your equity ; it would be good for you also to have some to defend it, and not to join in the bat­tle lightly clad among men armo­red to the teeth.

Paris this 13th day of the moon of Chahban 1714

A member of the judicial nobility.

Letters patent officially confirming purchase of a charge as justice at the Parlement. Montesquieu himself owned a position (président à mortier) in the Bordeaux parlement.

The Palais de justice, courthouse and seat of the Paris Parlement.