Montesquieu

Usbek to Rhedi in Venice


There are three kinds of estate in France : the Church, the Sword, and the Robe.1 Each has supreme dis­dain for the other two ; for exam­ple, a cer­tain per­son who ought to be dis­dai­ned because he is a fool is often dis­dai­ned only because he is a man of the robe.

Even the basest arti­sans quar­rel over the excel­lence of the art they have cho­sen : each one rai­ses him­self above one in a dif­fe­rent pro­fes­sion, pro­por­tio­nate to the notion he has concei­ved of the super­io­rity of his own.2

All men are a lot like that woman from the pro­vince of Erivan3 who, after recei­ving some favor from one of our monarchs, wished a thou­sand times in the bene­dic­tions she gave him that hea­ven might make him gover­nor of Erivan.

I read in some account that, a French ship having drop­ped anchor off the coast of Guinea, a few mem­bers of the crew wan­ted to go ashore to buy some sheep. They were taken to the king, who was dis­pen­sing jus­tice to his sub­jects under a tree ; he was on his throne, which is to say on a piece of wood, as proud as if he had been sit­ting on the throne of the Great Mogul ; he had three or four guards with woo­den pikes ; a para­sol sha­ped like a canopy kept him from the sun’s rays. All his orna­ments and those of his wife the queen consis­ted in their black skin and a few rings. This prince, even more vain than pathe­tic, asked these stran­gers whe­ther peo­ple tal­ked a lot about him in France4 : he thought his name must pas­sed from pole to pole, and unlike that conque­ror of whom it was said that he had redu­ced the whole earth to silence,5 this one thought that he should make the whole world talk.6

When the Khan of Tartary has dined, a herald cries that all the prin­ces of the earth may go dine if they so wish ; and that bar­ba­rian, who eats nothing but milk, has no house, and lives by pilla­ging, regards every king in the world as his slave, and insults them regu­larly twice a day.

Paris this 28th day of the moon of Rhegeb 1713

A metonymy for the magistracy. These are not the three orders of the realm recognized under the name états in dictionaries of the period. Usbek’s mistake is heavy with meaning : he leaves out the Tiers État (commoners) and makes the nobility more central than it is supposed to be ; but as he only calls them “kinds” of estate, the term might be used as synonym of station or rank.

A possible allusion to scene II of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, where the arms master, the music master, and the philosophy master each asserts his superiority.

See letter 6, note 1.

This curious presumption is attributed to the king of Bar, in Gambia, by François Froger in his Relation d’un voyage fait en 1695, 1696, et 1697, aux côtes d’Afrique, détroit de Magellan, Brézil, Cayenne, et Isles Antilles (Paris : Brunet, 1698), p. 34-35.

Alexander the Great : “and he went through to the ends of the earth, and took he spoils of many nations ; and the earth was quiet before him” (I Maccabées 1:3).

This aspiration is attributed to Louis XIV in letters 35 and 89.