Montesquieu

Usbek to the same in Isfahan


You have seen, my dear Mirza, how the Troglodytes peri­shed by their very mean­ness, and were the vic­tims of their own injus­ti­ces.1 Of so many fami­lies there remai­ned but two which esca­ped the nation’s ill for­tu­nes. There were in that land two most unu­sual men : they pos­ses­sed some huma­nity, they unders­tood jus­tice, they loved vir­tue ; as bound toge­ther by the upright­ness of their hearts as by the cor­rup­tion of the others’, they saw the gene­ral deso­la­tion, and felt it only through pity. This was the basis of a new union ; they labo­red with a com­mon devo­tion to the com­mon inte­rest. Their only dis­pu­tes were those to which a gentle and ten­der friend­ship gave rise ; and in the remo­test part of the coun­try, sepa­ra­ted from their com­pa­triots, unwor­thy of their pre­sence, they led a happy and tran­quil life ; the earth see­med to pro­duce by itself,2 tilled by these vir­tuous hands.

They loved their wives, and were ten­derly che­ri­shed by them. They did all they could to raise their chil­dren to vir­tue : they rela­ted cons­tantly to them the mis­for­tu­nes of their com­pa­triots, and held up to them such an affec­ting exam­ple. They espe­cially made them rea­lize that the inte­rest of indi­vi­duals is always found in the com­mon inte­rest ; that to sepa­rate one­self from it was akin to ruin ; that vir­tue is not some­thing we should find one­rous ; that we must not regard it as an unplea­sant exer­cise ; and that jus­tice for others is a cha­rity for us.

They soon had the conso­la­tion of vir­tuous fathers, which is to have chil­dren who are like them. The young peo­ple that grew up under their eyes increa­sed through solid mar­ria­ges : their num­ber increa­sed, and the union was ever the same ; and vir­tue, far from being dilu­ted by the mul­ti­tude, was for­ti­fied on the contrary by a lar­ger num­ber of exam­ples.

Who could des­cribe here how happy the Troglodytes were ? A peo­ple so just was cer­tain to be che­ri­shed by the gods. As soon as they ope­ned their eyes to know them, they lear­ned to fear them, and with reli­gion their beha­vior became more gentle where nature had left it too crude.

They ins­ti­tu­ted fes­ti­vals to honor the gods : the girls bede­cked with flo­wers, and the boys cele­bra­ted them with their dan­cing and with the har­mo­nies of rus­tic music ; then they made feasts, where joy was as pro­mi­nent as fru­ga­lity. It was in these assem­blies that naïve nature could speak ; that is where they lear­ned to give their hearts and receive them ; that is where vir­gi­nal timi­dity blu­shin­gly admit­ted to love, one soon confir­med by the fathers’ consent ; and that is where the affec­tio­nate mothers pre­su­med to fore­see a sweet and fai­th­ful union.

On went to the tem­ple to ask favors of the gods : not wealth and bur­den­some abun­dance ; such wishes were unwor­thy of the happy Troglodytes ; they were able to desire them only for their com­pa­triots : they were at the foot of the altars only to ask health for their fathers, the union of their bro­thers, the affec­tion of their wives, and the love and obe­dience of their chil­dren. Maidens came bea­ring the ten­der sacri­fice of their hearts, and asked of them no other mercy than that to be allo­wed to make a Troglodyte happy.

In the eve­ning when the herds were coming in from the prai­ries, and the weary oxen had brought in the wagon, they assem­bled ; and during a fru­gal repast they sang of the injus­ti­ces of the early Troglodytes and their mis­for­tu­nes ; of vir­tue ari­sing anew with a new peo­ple, and its feli­city ; next they sang of the great­ness of the gods, their bles­sings ever pre­sent to the men who invoke them, and their ines­ca­pa­ble wrath to those who do not fear them. Then they would des­cribe the delights of rus­tic life, and the hap­pi­ness of a condi­tion ever ador­ned with inno­cence ; soon they fell into a sleep which cares and wor­ries never inter­rup­ted.

Nature pro­vi­ded no less for their desi­res than for their needs. Covetousness was foreign in this happy land. When they gave each other gifts, the giver always felt the bet­ter off. The Troglodyte peo­ple thought of itself as a sin­gle family ; the flocks were almost always comin­gled ; the only trou­ble they ordi­na­rily avoi­ded was sor­ting them out.

Erzerum this 6th day of the moon of Gemmadi II, 1711

The corruption and anarchy of the Hebrew people are summarized in the refrain : “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

A Virgilian echo that admixes an allusion to the Georgiques (II, 458-460), exalting the tilling of the land, and that of the Bucolics (IV, 18 ss.) evoking the golden age when the earth produced by itself without requiring any labor.