Montesquieu

Rica to ***


I have seen peo­ple in whom vir­tue was so natu­ral that it was not even noti­cea­ble ; they adhe­red to their duty without ben­ding to it, and atten­ded to it as if by ins­tinct. Far from heigh­te­ning their rare qua­li­ties in their speech, they see­med not even to have heard of them. Those are the peo­ple I like : not those men who seem sur­pri­sed at their own vir­tue, and regard a good deed as a won­der which makes for a stri­king tale.

If modesty is a neces­sary vir­tue to those endo­wed by hea­ven with great talents, what can we say about those insects that dare to mani­fest a pride that would disho­nor the grea­test of men ?

I see peo­ple on all sides who are cons­tantly tal­king about them­sel­ves ; their conver­sa­tions are a mir­ror that always pre­sents their imper­ti­nent face ; they will tell you about the pet­tiest things that have hap­pe­ned to them, and they would have the inte­rest they take in them inflate them in your eyes. They have done eve­ry­thing, seen eve­ry­thing, said eve­ry­thing, thought eve­ry­thing ; they are a uni­ver­sal model, an inex­haus­ti­ble sub­ject of com­pa­ri­sons, a spring of exam­ples that never runs dry. Oh how insi­pid is praise, when it reflects back on where it came from !

A few days ago a man of this cha­rac­ter was overw­hel­ming us for two hours with him­self, his merit, and his talents ; but as there is no such thing as per­pe­tual motion, he cea­sed to speak ; the conver­sa­tion the­re­fore retur­ned to us, and we sei­zed it.

First a man who see­med rather annoyed com­plai­ned about the bore­dom pre­va­lent in conver­sa­tions : Always fools who por­tray them­sel­ves, and bring eve­ry­thing back to them­sel­ves ! Quite right, our wind­bag abruptly rejoi­ned ; you just have to do like me : I never praise myself : I am a man of means and good birth ; I spend ; my friends say I am cle­ver ; but I never talk about all that. If I have some good qua­li­ties, the one I most pride myself on is my modesty.

I mar­vel­led at the imper­ti­nent fel­low ; and while he was tal­king out loud, I was saying quietly : Happy is the man who has enough vanity never to speak well of him­self, who fears those who are lis­te­ning, and does not com­pro­mise his merit with the pride of others.

Paris this 20th day of the moon of Rhamazan 1713