Montesquieu

Rica to Rhedi in Venice


In Paris, my dear Rhedi, there are many tra­des. Here for a lit­tle sil­ver an obli­ging man comes and offers you the secret of making gold.1

Another pro­mi­ses you to make you sleep with aerial spi­rits,2 pro­vi­ded only that you have not seen seeing any women for only thirty years.

Next you will find sooth­sayers so skill­ful that they will tell you your entire life, pro­vi­ded they can spend just fif­teen minu­tes in conver­sa­tion with your ser­vants.

Skillful women make of vir­gi­nity a flo­wer that dies and is born anew every day, and is picked the hun­dredth time more pain­fully than the first.3

There are others who, repai­ring all the rava­ges of time by the power of their art, are able to res­tore fal­te­ring beauty to a face, and even recall a woman from the height of old age and bring her back to her ten­de­rest youth.

All these peo­ple are living or trying to live in a city that is the mother of inven­tion.4

The reve­nues of the citi­zens are not col­lec­ti­vi­zed here : the consist solely in wit and appli­ca­tion ; eve­ryone has his own, which he exploits as best he can.

He who would cal­cu­late all the men of the law5 who pur­sue the reve­nue of some mos­que would as soon have coun­ted the sands of the sea6 and the sla­ves of our monarch.

An infi­nite num­ber of lan­guage, arts, and scien­ces mas­ters teach what they do not know ; and this talent is very consi­de­ra­ble, for it does not take much wit to show what you know, but it takes an infi­nite amount to teach what you do not know.

Here one can only die sud­denly ; there is no way for death to exer­cise its domi­na­tion other­wise : for there are peo­ple in every cor­ner who have infal­li­ble reme­dies for all ima­gi­na­ble ill­nes­ses.7 All the shops are strung with invi­si­ble nets in which all the buyers get them­sel­ves caught ; never­the­less some­ti­mes one can get away chea­ply : a young mer­chant woman cajo­les a man for a whole hour to get him to buy a packet of too­th­picks.

There is no one who does not leave this city more cau­tious than he ente­red ; by dint of sha­ring one’s wealth with others, one learns to pre­serve it, the sole advan­tage of forei­gners in this enchan­ting city.

Paris this 10th day of the moon of Saphar 1714

See letter 43.

Doubtless a cabalist, basing his art on the theory of spirits (of four classes, corresponding to the four elements) ; coupling with a spirit requires renunciation of all carnal intercourse with women.

An allusion to the astringents utilized for this purpose.

“It is said proverbially that necessity is the mother of inventions ; that a man lives by invention, to say that he possesses nothing, or lives by artifice and swindles” (Furetière 1690).

That is, of sacred law (see letter 27 : “Bishops are men of the law”) : ecclesiastics seeking a stipend, for example.

A Biblical image : “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the seed of David my servant” (Jeremiah 33:22).

An allusion to innumerable hawkers of potions, remedies and snake oils.