Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter III
Zachi to Usbek, at Tauris
 
WE instructed the chief of the eunuchs to take us into the country; he will inform you that we arrived there without accident. When we had to leave our litters in order to cross the river, we went, as usual, into boxes: two slaves carried us on their shoulders, and we were seen by nobody.  1
  Dear Usbek, how I can endure existence in your seraglio at Ispahan! It recalls everlastingly my past happiness, provoking daily my desires with renewed vehemence.  2
  I wander from room to room, always searching for you, and never finding you; mocked at my every turn by the cruel memory of my vanished bliss. Sometimes I behold you in that spot where I first received you in my arms; again I see you in the room where you decided that famous quarrel among your women. Each of us asserted a superiority in beauty. We came before you, after having exhausted our fancy in decking ourselves with jewelry and adornments. You noted with pleasure the marvels of our art; you were astonished at the height to which we had carried our desire to please you. But you soon made those borrowed graces give way to more natural charms; you destroyed the result of our labors: we were compelled to despoil ourselves of those ornaments, now become tiresome to you, and to appear before you in the simplicity of nature. For me, modesty counted as nothing; I thought only of conquest. Happy Usbek! what charms did you then behold. Long you wandered from enchantment to enchantment, unable to control your roving fancy; each new grace required your willing tribute; in an instant you covered us all with your kisses; your eager looks strayed into the recesses of our charms; you made us vary our attitudes a thousand times; and new commands brought forth new obedience. I avow it, Usbek, a passion stronger even than ambition filled me with a desire to please you. Gradually I saw myself become your heart’s mistress; you chose me, left me, returned to me, and I knew how to keep your love: my triumph was the despair of my rivals. You and I felt as if we were the sole inhabitants of the world: nothing but ourselves deserved a moment’s thought. Would to Heaven my rivals had been brave enough to witness all the proofs of love you gave me! Had they watched well my transports they would have felt the difference between their love and mine; it would have been plain to them that, though they might dispute the palm of beauty, they could not vie with me in tenderness.… But what is this? Where has this vain rehearsal led me? It is a misfortunate not to be loved, but to have love withdrawn from one is an outrage. You abandon us, Usbek, to wander in barbarous climes. What! do you count it as nothing to be loved? Alas! you do not even know what you lose! The sighs I heave there is none to hear; my falling tears are not by to pity. Your insensibility takes you further and further from the love that throbs for you in your seraglio. Ah! my beloved Usbek, if you only knew your happiness!

  THE SERAGLIO AT FATME, the 21st of the moon of Maharram, 1 1711.
  3
 
Note 1. More correctly Muharram, the first month of the Persian year. Zachi’s letter was, therefore, written about a month before the two that precede it. [back]
 
 
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