Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter LXXVI
Usbek to his friend Ibben, at Smyrna
EUROPEAN law is dead against suicide. Those who kill themselves suffer, as it were, a second death: they are dragged with ignominy through the streets: their infamy is published, and their goods confiscated.  1
  It seems to me, Ibben, that this law is very unjust. When I am loaded with grief, misery, and contumely, why should I be hindered from putting an end to my sufferings, and cruelly deprived of a remedy which is in my hands?  2
  Why should I be forced to labor for a society to which I refuse to belong? why in spite of myself, should I be held to an agreement made without my consent? Society is founded upon mutual advantage; but, when it becomes burdensome to me, what hinders me from leaving it? Life was given me as a blessing; when it ceases to be so I can give it up: the cause ceasing, the effect ought also to cease.  3
  Will any prince require me to be his subject, if I reap none of the benefits of subjection? Can my fellow-citizens require our lots to be so unequal; theirs, usefulness—mine, despair? Will God, unlike other benefactors, condemn me to receive favors which are a burden to me?  4
  I am obliged to obey the laws while I live under them; but, if I cease to live, can they still bind me?  5
  “But,” some one may say, “you disturb the order of Providence. God has joined your soul to your body; in separating them, you oppose His designs and resist His will.”  6
  What force is there in this argument? Do I disturb the order of Providence, when I alter the qualities of matter, and square a ball which the first laws of motion, that is to say the laws of creation and preservation, made round? Certainly not; I only exercise a right which has been given me; and, in that sense, I can disturb, as my fancy dictates, the whole order of Nature, without any one being able to say that I oppose Providence.  7
  When my soul shall be separated from my body, will there be less order, less harmony, in the universe? Do you think that that new combination will be less perfect, and less dependent upon general laws; that the world would lose anything by it; that the works of God would be less great, or rather less immense?  8
  Do you think that my body, become a blade of grass, a worm, a grass-green turf, will be changed into a work of nature less worthy of her; and that my soul, freed from all its earthly trammels, will become less sublime?  9
  All these ideas, my dear Ibben, have their only source in our pride. We do not feel our littleness; and, however small we may be, we wish to count for something in the universe, to cut a figure there, and to be of some consequence in it. We imagine that the annihilation of such a perfect being would degrade all nature: and we cannot conceive that one man more or less in the world—what do I say?—that the whole world, that a hundred millions of worlds 1 like ours, can be more than one small frail atom, which God perceives only because His knowledge is all-embracing.

  PARIS, the 15th of the moon of Saphar, 1715.
Note 1. Cent millions de têtes in some editions. Terres seems preferable, however, as it is an anticlimax to proceed from all men to a hundred millions. [back]
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