Montesquieu

Rica to Usbek in ***


I think you want to spend your life in the coun­try. At first I only lost you for two or three days at a time, and I have not seen you for a fort­night. It is true that you are in a char­ming house, find a com­pany to your liking there, and that there you rea­son to your heart’s content : it takes no more than that to make you for­get the entire world.

As for me, I am lea­ding more or less the same life you saw me lea­ding. I cir­cu­late in society, and I seek to unders­tand it. My mind is gra­dually losing eve­ry­thing that was still Asian about it, and I com­ply without effort with European ways. I am no lon­ger so sur­pri­sed to see five or six women in one house with five or six men, and I find that that is not such a bad idea.

I can say this : I have only known women since I have been here. I have lear­ned more about them in a month than I would have in thirty years in a sera­glio.

In Persia per­so­nas are all uni­form, because they are for­ced ; you never see peo­ple as they are, but as they are obli­ged to be ; in that ser­vi­tude of heart and mind, you hear only fear spea­king, which has but one lan­guage, and not nature, which expres­ses her­self so variously, and comes in so many forms.

Dissimulation, that art so prac­ti­ced and so neces­sary to us, is unk­nown here : eve­ryone speaks, eve­ryone is seen, eve­ryone is heard ; the heart is as expo­sed as the face ; in the beha­vior, in vir­tue, and even in vice you always notice some­thing can­did.

Being attrac­tive to women takes a cer­tain talent dif­fe­rent from the one they like even bet­ter ; it consists in a sort of ban­ter in the spi­rit that amu­ses them in that it seems to pro­mise at every moment what one can deli­ver only at too-long inter­vals.

That ban­ter natu­rally made for the dres­sing table1 seems to have come to fashion the gene­ral per­sona of the nation. They ban­ter in the Council, they ban­ter at the head of the army, they ban­ter with an ambas­sa­dor. Professions only appear ridi­cule in pro­por­tion to the serious tone they use ; a phy­si­cian would no lon­ger be ridi­cu­lous if his clo­thing was less morose and if he killed his patients with ban­ter.

Paris this 10th day of the moon of Rebiab II, 1714

It was customary for aristocratic women to receive visitors at their dressing tables for light conversation.