Montesquieu

Nargum, the envoyé from Persia to Muscovy,1 to Usbek in Paris


They have writ­ten to me from Isfahan that you had left Persia, and were at this moment in Paris. Why must I learn news of you from others than you ?

Orders from the king of kings2 have detai­ned me for the last five years in this coun­try, where I have conclu­ded seve­ral impor­tant nego­tia­tions.

You know that the czar is the only one of the Christian prin­ces whose inte­rests over­lap with those of Persia, because he like us is an enemy of the Turks.

His empire is grea­ter than ours, for it is two thou­sand lea­gues from Moscow to the las for­tress of his sta­tes facing China.

He is the abso­lute mas­ter of the lives and pro­perty of his sub­jects, who are all sla­ves, save four fami­lies. The lieu­te­nant of the pro­phets,3 the king of kings, who has hea­ven as his foots­tool,4 does not make a more for­mi­da­ble exer­cise of his power.

Seeing Muscovy’s ter­ri­ble cli­mate, you would never believe that it was a punish­ment to be exi­led ; yet as soon as a gran­dee falls from favor he is rele­ga­ted to Siberia.5

As the Law of our Prophet for­bids us to drink wine, that of the prince for­bids it to Muscovites.6

They have a man­ner of recei­ving their guests that is not at all Persian. As soon as a stran­ger enters the house, the hus­band intro­du­ces his wife to him ; the stran­ger kis­ses her, and that pas­ses for a cour­tesy to the hus­band.

Although fathers ordi­na­rily sti­pu­late in their daugh­ter’s mar­riage contract that the hus­band will not beat whip, still it is unbe­lie­va­ble how Muscovite women like to be bea­ten. They can­not unders­tand that they pos­sess their hus­band’s heart if he does not give them a pro­per bea­ting ; an oppo­site conduct on his part is an unfor­gi­va­ble sign of indif­fe­rence.7 Here is a let­ter that one of them wrote lately to her mother.

My dear Mother,

I am the most mise­ra­ble wife on earth. there is nothing I have not done to make my hus­band love me, and I have never been able to suc­ceed in that. Yesterday I had a thou­sand things to do at home ; I went out, and stayed out the whole day. I thought that when I came home he would beat me good and hard, but he did not say a sin­gle word. My sis­ter recei­ves very dif­fe­rent treat­ment : her hus­band rains blows on her every day ; she can­not look at a man but he sud­denly bat­ters her ; they love each other too, and get along admi­ra­bly.

That is what makes her so proud. But I will not long give her cause for scor­ning me : I am deter­mi­ned to make my hus­band love me, wha­te­ver it costs. I will make him so angry that he will have to give me some signs of friend­ship ; it shall not be said that I will not be bea­ten, and that I will live in the house without being taken account of. At the sligh­test nick he gives me, I will yell with all my strength so peo­ple will think he is really doing it, and I think if some neigh­bor came to my res­cue I would stran­gle him.8 I implore you, dear mother, to make my hus­band see that he is trea­ting me igno­bly. My father, who is such an upright man, did not behave that way, and I remem­ber that when I was a lit­tle girl, it some­ti­mes see­med to me that he loved you too much. I embrace you, my dear mother.

Muscovites can­not go out­side the empire, even to tra­vel9 : thus sepa­ra­ted from other nations by the laws of the land, they have pre­ser­ved their ancient cus­toms with all the more attach­ment that they did not believe it pos­si­ble that anyone could have others.

But the prince who rules at pre­sent10 tried to change eve­ry­thing : he has had great scuf­fles with them about their beards ; the clergy and the monks fought no less in favor of their igno­rance.11

He is endea­vo­ring to make the arts flou­rish, and neglects nothing to extend to Europe and Asia the glory of his nation, neglec­ted until now, and known almost solely to itself.

Restless and cons­tantly stir­ring, he roams through his vast sta­tes, lea­ving signs eve­ryw­here of his stern nature.

He lea­ves them as if they could not contain him, and goes in search of other pro­vin­ces and new realms in Europe.12

I embrace you, my dear Usbek ; send me news of your­self, I beg you.

Moscow this 2nd day of the moon of Chalval 1713

The term Russia was not yet in general usage ; in fact St. Petersburg had been the official capital since 1713.

A Biblical epithet (and therefore an example of the “Oriental sublime”), applied to several kings in the Old Testament, then to Jesus (I Timothy 6:15). In some edicts quoted by Chardin, the king of Persia is called the “king of the world.”

“[…] the right of government belongs to the prophets alone, and to their lieutenants or direct successors” (Chardin, VI, 3).

In a formal supplication to the grand vizier, the king is called “most high and most noble monarch, who has heaven as his footstool”(Chardin, III, 212). The titles chosen by Nargum recall the epithets of God in the Bible : “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1).

This fact was widely known at the time (see Perry, p. 74).

Mentioned earlier in letter 31. Peter I never forbade the use of wine or vodka, which was one of the principal sources of state income, but in several edicts had strictly regulated its sale.

L’Espion turc quotes the testimony of a man who has spent several years in Moscow : “He says that Russian women do not believe their husbands love them unless they beat them every day. They regard this correction as a sign of their husbands’ esteem and affection for them.” (Jean Paul Marana, L’Espion dans les cours des princes chrétiens, vol. III, letter I, p. 3.)

Perhaps an echo of Molière’s Le Médecin malgré lui where Martine turns on M. Robert, who tries to intervene, saying : “I want to be beaten” (“Il me plaît d’être battue,” I, 2).

So reports Olearius (vol. I, p. 180).

Peter I (1672-1725). After conquering Sweden he travelled twice to Europe, in 1697-1698 and 1717, when he was received at the French court by the regent.

To orthodox Russians, the beard was a mark of religious faith, and to cut it was a mortal sin. In 1698, Pierre I had caused great consternation by ordering his subjects to shave their beards.

The peace with Sweden concluded in 1721 was to permit Russia to keep its Baltic conquests. But in 1711 the ill-fated Pruth campaign had caused her to lose Azov and the lands taken from Turkey in the war of 1696.