Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter LXIII
Rica to Usbek, at ——
 
DO you mean to spend your whole life in the country? At first I was to lose you only for a day or two, but now fifteen have passed since I last saw you. I know that you are living in a delightful house where the company suits you, where you can speculate at your ease: nothing more is required to make you forget the whole universe.  1
  For myself, my life moves on pretty much as it did when we were together. I go into society and try to understand it; my thought loses gradually all that remained of its Asiatic cast, and conforms without effort to European manners. I am no longer amazed to find in one house half a dozen women with as many men; indeed, I begin to think it not altogether a bad idea.  2
  This I will say: I knew nothing of women until I came here; I have learned more about them in one month of Paris, than I could have done in thirty years of a seraglio.  3
  With us, character is uniform, because it is constrained; we do not see people as they are, but as they are obliged to be; in that slavery of heart and mind, it is only fear that utters a dull routine of words, very different from the language of nature which expresses itself so variously.  4
  Dissimulation, that art so practiced and so necessary with us, is here unknown; they say everything, see everything, and hear everything; hearts are as open as faces; in manners, in virtue, even in vice, one detects always a certain artlessness.  5
  In order to gratify women a talent is necessary different from that other gift which pleases them still more; it consists in a sort of playfulness of mind, which entertains them, as it seems to promise them every moment what one cannot perform except occasionally.  6
  The gayety of mind naturally adapted to the dressing-room 1 seems to be forming the general character of the nation: they trifle in council, at the head of the army, with an ambassador. Professions appear ridiculous only in proportion to the professional gravity adopted: a doctor would be less absurd if his dress were more cheerful, and if, while killing his patients, he jested pleasantly.

  PARIS, the 10th of the first moon of Rebiab, 1714.
  7
 
Note 1. Drawing-room we would say to-day. In the eighteenth century it was in their elegant cabinets de toilette that ladies received visitors. [back]
 
 
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