Montesquieu

Usbek to Ibben in Smyrna


The king of France is old.1 Our his­to­ries have no exam­ples of a monarch who had rei­gned for so long. They say he has an extra­or­di­nary talent for making peo­ple obey him ; he governs his family, his court, and his state with the same genius. He has often been heard to say that of all the govern­ments in the world, that of the Turks or of our august sul­tan2 would be most to his liking, such high regard does he have for orien­tal poli­tics.

I have stu­died his cha­rac­ter and found contra­dic­tions in it which I am una­ble to resolve. For exam­ple, he has a minis­ter who is only eigh­teen, and a mis­tress of eighty.3 He loves his reli­gion, and can­not abide those who say it must be strictly obser­ved. Although he flees the tumult of the cities, and com­mu­ni­ca­tes lit­tle, eve­ry­thing he does mor­ning to eve­ning is to make peo­ple talk about him ; he likes tro­phies and vic­to­ries, but he is as fear­ful of seeing a good gene­ral lea­ding his troops as he would have rea­son to fear him lea­ding an enemy army. He is, I think, the only per­son who ever was both bles­sed with more wealth than a prince could hope for, and strug­gling under a poverty that an indi­vi­dual would be una­ble to bear.

He likes to gra­tify those who serve him ; but he pays just as libe­rally the assi­dui­ties, or rather the idle­ness, of his cour­tiers, as the hard cam­pai­gns of his cap­tains. Often he pre­fers a man who dis­ro­bes him, or who hands him his nap­kin when he sits down to eat, to ano­ther who cap­tu­res cities or wins bat­tles for him. He does not believe that sove­reign gran­deur should be ham­pe­red in the dis­tri­bu­tion of favors ; and without exa­mi­ning whe­ther the man he sho­wers with gifts is a man of merit, he thinks that his choice will make him so : thus he has been known to give a small annuity to a man who had fled two lea­gues, and a impor­tant govern­ment to ano­ther who had fled four.

He is magni­fi­cent, espe­cially in his cons­truc­tions : there are more sta­tues in the gar­dens of his palace than citi­zens in a large city.4 His guard is as strong as that of the prince before whom all thro­nes are over­thrown5 ; his armies are as nume­rous, his resour­ces as great, and his finan­ces as inex­haus­ti­ble.6

Paris this 7th day of the moon of Maharram 1713

In 1713, Louis XIV, born in 1638, had reigned for seventy years.

The term is Turkish, but Montesquieu like the dictionaries of the time does not distinguish it from shah.

Madame de Maintenon was born in 1635 ; Barbezieux, the son of Louvois, had been appointed secretary of state at seventeen, in 1685, and put in charge of the war department on his father’s death in 1691. The case had been repeated with Michel II Chamillart, marquis de Cany (1689-1716), who in 1707 was appointed secretary to his father, minister of war from 1701 to 1709, and secretary of state at eighteen in 1708.

The expenses incurred in the construction and decoration of Versailles were often criticized.

The king of Persia.

See letter 22 and notes.