Montesquieu

Rica to Ibben in Smyrna


Among the peo­ples of Europe the first fif­teen minu­tes of mar­riage smooths out all the dif­fi­culties. The ulti­mate favors always bear the same date as the nup­tial bene­dic­tion ; the women do not act as do our Persian women, who dis­pute the ter­rain some­ti­mes for a period of months ; there is nothing so ple­nary. If they lose nothing, it is because they have nothing to lose ; but – the same of it all – the moment of their defeat is always known, and without consul­ting the stars, one can pre­dict the hour of their chil­dren’s birth with pre­ci­sion.

The French almost never talk about their wives, because they are afraid of tal­king about them in front of peo­ple who know them bet­ter than they do.

There are among them some very unhappy men whom no one com­forts : they are the jea­lous hus­bands ; there are some whom eve­ryone hates : they are the jea­lous hus­bands ; there are some whom all the men look down on : they are again the jea­lous hus­bands.

It is also true that there is no coun­try where they are so few as among the French : their pla­ci­dity is not based on the confi­dence they have in their wives but on the contrary on the poor opi­nion they have of them. All of the Asians’ sage pre­cau­tions – the veils that cover them, the pri­sons in which they are kept, the eunuchs’ vigi­lance – appear to them as means more likely to sti­mu­late the inge­nuity of the sex rather than frus­trate them. Here hus­bands gra­ciously accept their lot, and regard infi­de­li­ties as ins­tan­ces of an ines­ca­pa­ble fate. A hus­band who wan­ted alone to pos­sess his wife would be regar­ded as a public kill­joy and as a mad­man who wan­ted to bene­fit from the sun’s rays to the exclu­sion of other men.

Here, a man who loves his wife is a man who has not enough merit to get ano­ther one to love him, who abu­ses the neces­sity of the law to sup­ple­ment the attrac­tions he lacks, who invo­kes all his advan­ta­ges to the pre­ju­dice of an entire society, who arro­ga­tes to him­self what had been given him only tem­po­ra­rily, and who acts as much as is in him to over­turn a tacit conven­tion that makes both sexes happy. The title of hus­band with a pretty wife, which in Asia is so care­fully concea­led, is worn here without anxiety ; one feels in a posi­tion to create a diver­sion eve­ryw­here. A prince conso­les him­self for the loss of a fort by taking a dif­fe­rent one. Back when the Turks were taking Bagdad from us, were we not taking the for­tress of Candehar from the Mogul ?1

A man who in gene­ral suf­fers his wife’s infi­de­li­ties is not disap­pro­ved : on the contrary, he is prai­sed him for his pru­dence ; only par­ti­cu­lar ins­tan­ces are disho­no­ring.

It is not that there are no vir­tuous ladies, and one can say they are dis­tin­gui­shed. My coach­man always poin­ted them out to me, but they were always so ugly that it would take a saint not to hate vir­tue.

After what I have told you of the ways of this coun­try, you easily sur­mise that the French hardly make a point of cons­tancy ; they think it is as ridi­cu­lous to swear to a woman that you will love her fore­ver as it is to main­tain that you will be heal­thy or happy fore­ver. When they pro­mise a woman they will love her fore­ver, they assume she is pro­mi­sing on her part to be lovea­ble fore­ver ; and if she fails in her word, they no lon­ger think they are enga­ged by theirs.

Paris this 7th day of the moon of Zilcadé 1714

L’Espion turc describes the siege of Bagdad by the sultan Amurat IV. The city was taken on 15 August 1638, and Candahar retaken only in 1649.