Montesquieu

Rica to ***


The other day I went to see a house where about three hun­dred per­sons are rather poorly main­tai­ned1 ; I had soon done, for nei­ther the church nor the buil­dings are worth loo­king at.2 Those who are in this house were rather cheer­ful ; a num­ber of them were playing cards or other games unfa­mi­liar to me. As I was lea­ving, one of these men was also lea­ving, and after hea­ring me ask direc­tions to the Marais, which is the most dis­tant quar­ter of Paris3 : I am going there, he said to me, and I will take you there : fol­low me. He led me per­fectly, got me out of all the jams, and deftly saved me from car­ria­ges and cars. We were almost there when my curio­sity got the best of me : My good friend, said I, could I not know who you are ? I am a blind man, he ans­we­red. What ? said I ; you are blind ?4 Then why did not you ask that nice man who was playing cards with you to lead us ? He too is blind, he replied ; for four hun­dred years there have been three hun­dred of us blind per­sons in that house where you found me. But I must leave y ou : this is the street you were asking me for. I am going to join the crowd : I am going to this church where, I swear, I will embar­rass other peo­ple more than they will embar­rass me.5

Paris this 17th day of the moon of Chalval 1712

The Hôpital Royal des Quinze-Vingts, a hospice founded by St. Louis in 1254 for three hundred blind persons (hence the name, which means fifteen score), was situated in the Rue Saint-Honoré near the Palais-Royal.

Its state of dilapidation was to call for reconstruction beginning in 1748.

Le Marais, on the eastern edge of Paris, was an aristocratic quarter in the seventeenth century.

The philosophical problem of what the blind could know about the world had been treated by Locke (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690) and Berkeley (New Theory of Vision, 1709), and would return at the time when Diderot wrote his Letter sur les aveugles (1749) in the context of a broader debate over sensitivity and perception.

The “brothers and sisters” of the Quinze-Vingts had the right to beg in the churches.