Montesquieu

Rica to Ibben in Smyrna


The women of Persia are more beau­ti­ful than those of France, but those of France are pret­tier. It is impos­si­ble not to love the for­mer, and not to enjoy the com­pany of the lat­ter ; the ones are more ten­der and more modest ; the others more cheer­ful and more light-hear­ted.

What makes the blood so fair in Persia is the orde­red life that women lead there ; they nei­ther gam­ble nor stay up late ; they drink no wine, and almost never expose them­sel­ves to the air. It must be admit­ted that the sera­glio is bet­ter sui­ted to health than to plea­su­res. It is a consis­tent life, which does not itch ; eve­ry­thing there shows the effects of subor­di­na­tion and duty ; even plea­su­res there are grave and joys aus­tere, and they are almost never indul­ged except as signs of autho­rity and depen­dency.

Even the men do not have in Persia the same cheer­ful­ness as the French ; they do not mani­fest the free­dom of spi­rit and conten­ted air that I find here in all the esta­tes and all sta­tions.

It is much worse in Turkey, where you could find fami­lies in which, gene­ra­tion after gene­ra­tion, no one has lau­ghed since the foun­ding of the monar­chy.

This gra­vity of Asians comes from the pau­city of inter­course bet­ween them ; they see each other only when they are for­ced to by cere­mony. There friend­ship, that gentle enga­ge­ment of the heart which here gives such plea­sure in life, is almost unk­nown to them ; they with­draw into their hou­ses, where they always find a com­pany awai­ting them, in such a way that each family is, so to speak, iso­la­ted from the others.

One day when I was dis­cus­sing this with a man of this coun­try, he said to me : What I find most sur­pri­sing about your ways is that you are obli­ged to live with sla­ves, whose heart and mind is ever mar­ked by the abjec­tion of their sta­tion ; those cowardly per­sons wea­ken in you the sen­ti­ments of vir­tue which one recei­ves from nature, and ruin them from the time of your child­hood which they enve­lop.

For – shed your pre­ju­di­ces – what can you expect from an edu­ca­tion which you receive from a wretch1 whose honor consists in guar­ding someone else’s wives, and boasts of the basest employ that exists among humans ; who is contemp­ti­ble even by his fide­lity, which is his only vir­tue, since he comes to it by envy, jea­lousy, and des­pair ; who, eager to take ven­geance on both sexes, of which he is the reject, is willing to be tyran­ni­zed by the stron­ger, pro­vi­ded he can afflict the wea­ker ; who, deri­ving from his own imper­fec­tion, his ugli­ness, and his defor­mity all the brilliance of his sta­tion, is estee­med only because he is unwor­thy of it ; who, in short, fore­ver sha­ck­led to the door where he is atta­ched, har­der than the hin­ges and bolts that hold it, boasts of living fifty years in this unwor­thy post where, res­pon­si­ble for his mas­ter’s jea­lousy, he has exer­ci­sed all his base­ness.

Paris this 14th day of the moon of Zilhagé 1713

See Chardin : “The eunuchs in the great houses are also the children’s tutors and governors. […] The king’s sons […] have no other regents nor other masters” (II, 284).