Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XII
Usbek to the Same, at Ispahan
 
YOU have seen, my dear Mirza, how the Troglodites perished in their sins, the victims of their own unrighteousness. Only two families escaped the doom which befell the nation.  1
  In that country there lived two very remarkable men, humane, just, lovers of virtue. United by their uprightness as much as by the corruption of their fellows, they regarded the general desolation with hearts from which pity expelled every other feeling; and their compassion united them in a new bond. Together they labored for their mutual benefit; no dissensions arose between them except such as may spring from the tenderest friendship. In a secluded part of the country, far removed from those who were unworthy of their companionship, they led a calm and happy life. The earth, glad to be tilled by such virtuous hands, seemed to yield her fruits of her own accord.  2
  They loved their wives, and were beloved most tenderly. Their utmost care was given to the virtuous training of their children. They kept before their young minds the misfortunes of their countrymen, and held them up as a most melancholy example. Above all, they led them to see that the interest of the individual was bound up in that of the community; that to isolate oneself was to court ruin; that the cost of virtue should never be counted, nor the practice of it regarded as troublesome; and that in acting justly by others, we bestow blessings on ourselves.  3
  They soon enjoyed the reward of virtuous parents, which consists in having children like themselves. Happy marriages increased the number of the young people who grew up under their guidance. Although the community increased, there was still but one interest; and virtue, instead of losing its force in the crowd, grew stronger by reason of more numerous examples.  4
  It is impossible to depict the happiness of these Troglodites! So upright a people could not fail to be the special objects of divine care. They were taught to reverence the gods with the first dawning of intellect; and religion refined manners that nature had left untutored.  5
  They established feasts in honor of the gods. Young men and maidens, decked with flowers, worshiped them with dances and rural minstrelsy. Banquets followed, in which they struck a happy mean between mirth and frugality. At these gatherings nature spoke its artless language; there the young folks learned how to make love’s bargain of hearts: trembling girls blushed to find on their lips a promise which the blessing of their parents soon ratified; tender mothers delighted themselves in forecasting happy marriages.  6
  When they visited the temple it was not to ask of the gods wealth and overflowing plenty; these fortunate Troglodites regarded such requests as unworthy of them; if they made them at all, it was not for themselves, but for their countrymen. They approached the altar only to pray for the health of their parents, for the unity of their brethren, for the love of their wives, the affection and obedience of their children. Thither the maidens came to offer up the sweet sacrifice of their hearts, asking in return only the right to make a Troglodite happy.  7
  In the evening, when the flocks had left the fields, and the weary oxen had returned from plowing, these people met together. During a frugal meal they sang of the crimes of the first Troglodites, and their sad fate; of the revival of virtue with a new race, and of its happiness. Then they celebrated the greatness of the gods, abounding in mercy to those who seek them, and visiting with inevitable judgments those who reverence them not. These would be followed by a description of the delights of a country life, and the happiness that springs from a state of innocence. Soon after they retired to rest, and their slumbers were unbroken by care or anxiety.  8
  The provision of nature was sufficient for both their pleasures and their wants. A covetous man was unknown in this happy country. When they made presents, the giver always felt himself more blessed than the receiver. The whole race looked upon themselves as one single family; their flocks were almost always intermixed, and the only trouble which they usually shirked was that of separating them.

  ERZEROUM, the 6th of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1711.
  9
 
 
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