Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter LXII
Zelis to Usbek, at Paris
 
YOUR daughter having attained her seventh year, I have judged it time to remove her to the inner apartments of the seraglio, and not to wait till she should be ten to intrust her to the care of the black eunuchs. It is impossible to deprive a young girl too soon of the liberty of childhood, and to give her a holy upbringing within those walls sacred to modesty.  1
  For I am not of the opinion of those mothers who only sequester their daughters when they are about to bestow them in marriage, who sentence, rather than consecrate them, to the seraglio, and force them to embrace a manner of life which they ought to have taught them to love. Must we expect everything from the compulsion of reason, and leave nothing to the gentle influences of habit?  2
  We are in vain told of the state of subjection in which nature has placed us. It is not enough to make us realize this; we must be made to practice submission, in order that we may be upheld at that critical time when the passions begin to awaken, and that we may learn voluntary subordination.  3
  Were we only attached to you by duty, we might sometimes forget it; or if it were inclination alone that bound us, a more potent feeling might perhaps weaken it. But, when the laws bestow us on one man they withdraw us from all others, and place us as far from them as if a hundred thousand leagues intervened.  4
  Nature, diligent in the service of men, has been no niggard in her dowry of desire; to women also she has not been unkind, and has destined us to be the living instruments of the enjoyment of our masters; she has set us on fire with passion in order that they may live at ease; should they quit their insensibility, she has provided us to restore them to it, without our ever being able to taste the happiness of the condition into which we put them.  5
  Yet, Usbek, do not think that your situation is happier than mine; I have experienced here a thousand pleasures unknown to you. My imagination has labored without ceasing to make me conscious of their worth; I have lived, and you have only languished.  6
  Even in this prison where you keep me I am freer than you. You can only redouble your care in guarding me, that I may rejoice at your uneasiness; and your suspicions, your jealousy, your annoyance, are so many marks of your dependence.  7
  Continue, dear Usbek, to have me watched night and day; take no ordinary precautions; increase my happiness in assuring your own; and know, that I dread nothing except your indifference.

  THE SERAGLIO AT ISPAHAN, the 2nd of the first moon of Rebiab, 1714.
  8
 
 
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