Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter LXIV
The Chief of the black Eunuchs to Usbek, at Paris
I CANNOT tell you, magnificent lord, how deeply perplexed I am. Appaling disorder and confusion prevail in the seraglio: war reigns among your wives; your eunuchs are divided; nothing is heard but murmurs, complaints, reproaches; my remonstrances are despised: everything seems to be permitted in this time of license, and I am nothing but a name in the seraglio.  1
  There is not one of your wives who does not deem herself superior to the others by her birth, her beauty, her wealth, her intellect, or her love; and who does not claim every preference on the score of the value she sets upon one or other of these titles to respect. I lose every moment that long-suffering patience, with which, nevertheless, I have had the misfortune to displease them all: my prudence, even my kindness, so rare and strange a virtue in the post which I occupy, have been useless.  2
  Is it your pleasure that I should disclose to you, magnificent lord, the cause of all these disorders? It is in your heart alone, in the tender affection which you have for them. If you did not withhold my hand; if, instead of remonstrating, you would allow me to punish; if, rather than suffer them to soften you by their complaints and tears, you would send them to weep before me, whom nothing can move, I would soon fashion them to the yoke they ought to bear, and weary out this proud and independent temper.  3
  Stolen, at the age of fifteen years, out of the heart of Africa, my native country, I was at first sold to a master, who had more than twenty wives, or concubines. Judging from my grave and taciturn air, that I would be an acquisition in the seraglio, he ordered that I should be prepared for it, and made me undergo an operation, painful at first, but fortunate in its results, because it has given me the ear and the confidence of my masters. I entered the seraglio, to me a new world. The first eunuch, the sternest man I ever knew, governed there with undisputed sway. Nothing was ever heard of divisions or of quarrels: profound silence reigned everywhere: all these women were put to bed at the same hour, and wakened at the same hour, from one year’s end to the other: they entered the bath in turn, and left it at the slightest sign made by us: the rest of the time they were almost always shut up in their rooms. He had one rule, which exacted the observance of the greatest neatness, and he was in this matter inexpressibly careful: the least refusal of obedience was punished without mercy. “I am,” said he, “a slave; but the slave of a man who is your master and mine; and I use the power which he has given me over you: it is he who chastises you, not I; I only lend my hand.” These women never entered my master’s chamber but when they were summoned; that favor they welcomed gladly, and saw themselves deprived of it without a murmur. As for myself, the least of the blacks in that peaceful seraglio, I was a thousand times more respected than I am in yours, where I command all.  4
  As soon as the chief eunuch had recognized my genius, he regarded me with favor, and spoke of me to his master as of one able to carry out his views, and to succeed him in the post which he filled: he was not afraid of my great youth, believing that my application would make up for my want of experience. Shall I tell you? I advanced so rapidly in his confidence that he went the length of intrusting me with the keys of those dreadful places, which he had guarded for so long a time. It was under this great master that I learned the difficult art of commanding, and that I was formed according to the maxims of an inflexible government: I studied under him the heart of women: he taught me to take advantage of their weaknesses, and not to be dismayed by their arrogance. Often he amused himself by watching me drive their obedience to the very last verge; he then made them return gradually, and required that I for some time should appear to yield. But he should have been seen at those times when, now beseeching, now reproaching, they were driven almost to despair: he beheld their tears unmoved, rejoicing in his triumph. “See,” said he, with a satisfied air, “how women must be governed: their number does not trouble me; I could manage in the same way all those of our great king. How can a man hope to win their hearts, if his faithful eunuchs have not begun by breaking their spirits?”  5
  He was not only a man of resolution, but also of penetration. He read their thoughts and their dissemblings: their studied gestures, their made-up looks, concealed nothing from him. He knew all their most hidden actions, their most secret words. He obtained information by making them tell on each other; and it was his pleasure to reward the most insignificant confidence. As they never approached their husband except when they were ordered, the eunuch summoned whom he liked, and directed the attention of his master to those whom he wished to please; and this distinction was the reward for the revelation of some secret. He had persuaded his master that it was of the first importance that the choice should be left to him, as it would give his authority much greater weight. That was the method of government, magnificent lord, in a seraglio, which was, I believe, the best regulated in all Persia.  6
  Give me a free hand, allow me to make myself obeyed, and eight days will see order take the place of confusion; this, your glory demands, and your safety requires.

  YOUR SERAGLIO AT ISPAHAN, the 9th of the first moon of Rebiab, 1714.
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