Montesquieu

The head black eunuch to Usbek in Paris


I am in a quan­dary I am una­ble to express to you, magni­fi­cent lord. The sera­glio is in fright­ful disor­der and chaos, war is raging among your wives, your eunuchs are divi­ded ; I hear nothing but pro­tests, grum­bling, and reproa­ches ; my admo­ni­tions are dis­coun­ted ; any­thing seems per­mit­ted in this time of licence, and I no lon­ger have but a vain title in the sera­glio.

There is not one of your wives who does not deem her­self above the others in birth, in beauty, in wealth, in her cle­ver­ness, in your love, and who does not avail her­self of some of those attri­bu­tes to obtain every pre­fe­rence. I am fore­ver losing the long­suf­fe­ring patience with which I have never­the­less had the mis­for­tune of pro­vo­king them all ; my pru­dence, even my indul­gence, a vir­tue so rare and so foreign to the posi­tion I occupy, have been futile.

Shall I reveal to you, magni­fi­cent lord, the cause of all these disor­ders ? It lies enti­rely in your heart and in the ten­der consi­de­ra­tions you have for them. If you did not hold back my hand ; if ins­tead of the path of admo­ni­tion, you allo­wed me that of punish­ments ; if, without let­ting your­self be moved by their pro­tests and tears, you sent them to weep in front of me, who never am never moved, I would soon get them used to the yoke they must wear, and I would wear down their impe­rious and inde­pen­dent humor.

Abducted at the age of fif­teen from dar­kest Africa, my home­land, I was first qui­ckly to a mas­ter who had more than twenty wives or concu­bi­nes. Having jud­ged from my grave and taci­turn demea­nor that I was sui­ta­ble for the sera­glio, he orde­red that I be made enti­rely so, and sub­jec­ted me to an ope­ra­tion that was pain­ful at first but was sub­se­quently to my bene­fit, because it brought me close to the ear and the confi­dence of my mas­ters. I ente­red that sera­glio, which was a new world to me ; the prin­ci­pal eunuch, the ster­nest man I have ever seen, gover­ned it with abso­lute domi­na­tion. There was no talk there of divi­sions or quar­rels. A heavy silence pre­vai­led throu­ghout ; all those women were in bed at the same hour from one end of the year to the other, and up at the same hour ; they ente­red the bath one by one, and exi­ted at the sligh­test signal from us ; the rest of the time they were almost always locked into their rooms. There was a rule, which was to force them to be very pro­perly atti­red, and he paid inex­pres­si­ble atten­tion to that ; the sligh­test to obey was mer­ci­lessly puni­shed. I am a slave, he would say, but I am the slave of a man who is your mas­ter and mine, and I am making use of the power he has given me over you : it is he who puni­shes you, and not I, who do no more than lend my hand. Those women never ente­red my mas­ter’s cham­ber without being cal­led ; they recei­ved that favor with joy, and when depri­ved of it made no com­plaint. In short I, who was the last of the blacks in that tran­quil sera­glio, was a thou­sand times more res­pec­ted than I am in yours, where I com­mand eve­ryone.

Once this great eunuch had seen my genius, he loo­ked toward me ; he spoke to my mas­ter about me as a man capa­ble of wor­king accor­ding to his views, and of suc­cee­ding him in the post he filled. He was not sur­pri­sed at my great youth ; he belie­ved that my atten­tion would stand me in stead of expe­rience. What shall I say ? I made such pro­gress in his confi­dence that he no lon­ger hesi­ta­ted to entrust to me with the keys of the omi­nous halls he had been guar­ding for so long. It was under this great mas­ter that I lear­ned the dif­fi­cult art of com­man­ding, and assi­mi­la­ted the maxims of an inflexi­ble govern­ment. Under him I stu­died women’s hearts ; he taught me to take advan­tage of their weak­nes­ses, and not be sur­pri­sed at their arro­gance. Often he even chose to have me test them, and take them to the last entrench­ment of obe­dience ; then he had them return gra­dually, and wan­ted me myself to appear for a while to bend. But you had to see him in those moments when he would find them very near des­pair bet­ween entrea­ties and reproa­ches ; he bore their tears without being moved. That, he would say in a conten­ted way, is how women must be gover­ned. Their num­ber does not concern me ; I would conduct in the same way all the wives of our great monarch. How can a man hope to cap­ture their hearts if his loyal eunuchs have not first sub­jec­ted their spi­rits ?

He had not just firm­ness, but also insight ; he read their thoughts and their dis­si­mu­la­tions. After stu­dying their ges­tu­res, their fei­gned expres­sion concea­led nothing from him. He knew all their most hid­den acts and their most secret words ; he used some to learn about the others, and cheer­fully rewar­ded every bit of infor­ma­tion. As they appro­ched their hus­band only when they were sum­mo­ned, the eunuch sent for who­me­ver he wished, and tur­ned his mas­ter’s eyes on those he had his sights on, and this dis­tinc­tion was the recom­pense for some secret revea­led. He had per­sua­ded his mas­ter that it was a ques­tion of good order to leave this choice to him, so as to give him grea­ter autho­rity. That, magni­fi­cent lord, is the way one gover­ned in a sera­glio which was, I think, the best run in Persia.

Give me a free hand ; let me make them obey me : a week will res­tore order in the bosom of chaos. That is what your glory demands and your secu­rity requi­res.

From your sera­glio in Isfahan, this 9th day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1714