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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CXV
Usbek to the Same
 
YOU ask from what cause the earth is less populous than it was formerly; if you give the question good heed you will see that this great difference is the result of a moral change.  1
  Things are much altered since the Christians and Mohammedan religions divided the Roman world; these two religions have not been nearly so favorable to the propagation of the species as that of those masters of the world.  2
  In it, polygamy was prohibited; and in that respect it had a great advantage over the Mohammedan religion; and it had another, and no less considerable advantage over Christianity in that it permitted divorce.  3
  I find nothing so inconsistent as that plurality of wives permitted by the holy Koran, and the command to satisfy them in the same book. “Visit your wives,” said the Prophet, “because you are as necessary to them as their garments, and they, as necessary to you as yours.” Here is a precept which renders the life of a true Mussulman very laborious. He who has the four wives established by law, and only as many more concubines or slaves, must he not be weighed down by so many garments?  4
  “Your wives are your tilth,” the Prophet says again; “devote yourselves therefore to your labor, work for the good of your soul; and one day you will have your reward.”  5
  I look upon a good Mussulman as an athlete, destined to strive without respite, but who, soon weakened and overcome by his first toils, languishes even in the field of victory, and finds himself, so to speak, buried under his own triumphs.  6
  Nature always works tardily, and, as it were, thriftily; her operations are never violent; even in her productions she requires temperance; she never works but by rule and measure; if she be hurried she soon falls into decline, and employs all her remaining strength in self-preservation, losing entirely her productive faculty and productive power.  7
  It is to this state of debility that we are always reduced by the great number of our wives, fitter to exhaust us than to satisfy us. It is quite common among us to see a man in a very large seraglio with but few children; the children themselves are for the most part weak and unhealthy, and share the languor of their father.  8
  This is not all: these women, forced to be continent, require people to guard them, who must necessarily be eunuchs; religion, jealousy, reason itself permit the approach of no others; there must be many of these guards, both to maintain peace within doors amid the endless quarrels of the women, and to prevent attempts from without. So that a man who has ten wives or concubines, must have as many eunuchs to guard them. But what a loss for society in this great number of men practically dead from their birth! What depopulation must be the result!  9
  The female slaves, kept in the seraglio to attend along with the eunuchs on this great number of women, almost always grow old there in a sorrowful virginity; as long as they are there they cannot marry; and their mistresses, once accustomed to them, hardly ever dismiss them.  10
  You see how many persons of both sexes one man employs in his pleasures, causing them to die to the state, and making them useless for the propagation of the species.  11
  Constantinople and Ispahan are the capitals of the two greatest empires of the world; every interest should converge toward them, and people, attracted in a thousand ways, should come to them from all quarters. And yet these cities are themselves decaying, and will soon be destroyed, if their rulers do not cause to repair thither almost every century whole nations to repeople them. I will discuss this subject further in another letter.

  PARIS, the 13th of the moon of Chahban, 1718.
  12
 
 
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