Montesquieu

The Principal Black Eunuque to Usbek


Ismaël,1 one of your black eunuchs, has just died, magni­fi­cent lord, and I can­not do other­wise than replace him. As eunuchs are extre­mely rare at pre­sent, I had thought of cal­ling on a black slave2 whom you have in the coun­try, but I have so far been una­ble to pre­vail on him to let us dedi­cate him to this employ. As I see that in the long run it is to his advan­tage, I tried the other day to be a lit­tle insis­tent, and in concert with the inten­dant of your gar­dens I orde­red that des­pite him he should be made ready to ren­der the ser­vi­ces that most flat­ter your heart, and live as I do in these omi­nous halls which he dares not even see. But he star­ted to scream as if we had tried to flay him, and mana­ged to escape from our hands and evade the fatal knife.3 I have just lear­ned that he means to write to you to beg for mercy, main­tai­ning that I concei­ved this design only out of an insa­tia­ble desire for ven­geance over cer­tain sharp sati­res he says he utte­red about me. However I swear to you by the hun­dred thou­sand pro­phets that I have acted only for the good of your ser­vice, the only thing I value, and beside which I consi­der nothing. I pros­trate myself at your feet.

From the Fatmé sera­glio this 7th day of the moon of Maharram 1713

Sole mention of this slave.

The castration of blacks was a total amputation, not merely removal of the testicles ; the operation was considered very dangerous and often fatal ; see letter 2, note 1.

This event, the message of which will be reinforced in letter 40, suggests that the author had heard of sordid cases in France in which the operation was not necessarily voluntary. Such was one of the crimes for which the infamous Deschauffours was executed in 1726 : see Maurice Lever, Les Bûchers de Sodome (Paris : Fayard, 1985), p. 356-360.