Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Rica to the Same
AT our next interview, my learned instructor took me into a separate room. “Here,” said he, “are the books of modern history. First of all, there are the historians of the Church, and of the Popes; books which I read for instruction, but which often produce in me an opposite effect.  1
  “There are the works of those who have written of the decline of the great Roman Empire, which was formed from the ruins of so many monarchies, and from the destruction of which there sprang as many again. An infinite number of barbarous nations, as unknown as the countries which they inhabited, suddenly appeared, overran the Roman empire, ravaged it, cut it to pieces, and founded all the kingdoms which you now see in Europe. These races were not altogether barbarians, because they were free; but they became so afterward, as the most part of them, having submitted to absolute power, lost that sweet freedom, so conformable to reason, to humanity, and to nature.  2
  “There you see the historians of the German empire, which is but a shadow of the Roman one; but which is, I believe, the only power on earth unweakened by faction, and I believe also, the only one which grows stronger from its losses, and which, tardy in profiting by success, becomes invincible in defeat.  3
  “Here are the historians of France, who show us to begin with the power of kings taking shape; then we see it perish twice, and reappear only to languish through many ages; but, insensibly gathering strength, and built up on all sides, it achieves its final stage: like those rivers which in their course lose their waters, or hide them under the earth; then reappearing again, swollen by the streams which flow into them, rapidly draw along with them all that opposes their passage.  4
  “There you see the Spanish nation issuing from some mountains; the Mohammedan princes overcome as gradually as they had conquered quickly: many kingdoms joined in one vast monarchy, which became almost the only one; until, overborne by its own greatness and its fictitious wealth, it lost its strength and even its reputation, preserving only its original pride.  5
  “These, again, are the historians of England. Here you may see liberty flaming up again and again from discord and sedition; the prince, always tottering upon an immovable throne; a nation impatient, but prudent in its rage; and which, mistress of the sea (a thing unheard of before), combines commerce with power.  6
  “Near by are the historians of that other queen of the sea, the Republic of Holland, so respected in Europe, and so feared in Asia, where its merchants behold many a king bow to the dust before them.  7
  “The historians of Italy show you a nation once mistress of the world, now the common slave; its princes disunited and weak, with no other attribute of sovereignty than an ineffectual policy.  8
  “There are the historians of the republics: of Switzerland, which is the type of liberty; of Venice, resourceless but for its own thrift; and of Genoa, superb only because of its buildings.  9
  “And here are those of the north—among others, of Poland, which makes such a bad use of its liberty and of the right it possesses of electing its kings, that it would seem to be its intention thereby to console its neighbors which have lost both the one and the other.”  10
  Thereupon we separated until next day.

  PARIS, the 2d of the moon of Chalval, 1719.
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