Montesquieu

Rhedi to Usbek in Paris


I am now in Venice, my dear Usbek. If one has seen all the cities in the world, one is still sur­pri­sed on arri­ving at Venice : one will always be sur­pri­sed to see a city, towers, and mos­ques emerge from under­wa­ter, and to find a large popu­la­tion in a place where there should be only fish.

But this pro­fane city lacks the most pre­vious trea­sure on earth, which is to say, run­ning water : it is impos­si­ble to per­form a sin­gle legal ablu­tion here.1 It is an abo­mi­na­tion to our holy Prophet ; and he never looks down on it from hea­ven but in anger.2

Except for that, my dear Usbek, I would be char­med to live in a city where my mind impro­ves every day : I am lear­ning about the secrets of com­merce, the inte­rests of the prin­ces, the form of their govern­ment. I do not even neglect European super­sti­tions ; I am applying myself to medi­cine, phy­sics, and astro­nomy ; I am stu­dying the arts ; in short, I am coming out of the clouds that were cove­ring my eyes in the land of my birth.3

Venice this 16th day of the moon of Chalval 1712

Frequent ablutions are one of the fundamental requirements of Islam.

Venice had difficulty defending its possessions against the Turks : after the loss of Candia (Crete) in 1670, it recaptured the Peloponnese in 1699, only to lose it definitively in 1715.

A parallel between the experiences of Rhedi in Venice and of Usbek (who says in letter 1 that he left home for his own instruction) in Paris : see also Usbek’s letter 67 on Western science.