Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CVIII
Rica to Ibben, at Smyrna
I HAVE seen the young king. 1 His life is very precious to his people: it is not less so to the whole of Europe. But kings are like gods; and as long as they live must be considered immortal. His face is majestic but pleasing; a good education in conjunction with a happy disposition, already give promise of a great prince.  1
  They say that one can never tell the character of the kings of the west until they have passed through the two great ordeals of selecting their mistress and their confessor. We shall shortly see the one and the other laboring to possess the mind of this one: and on that account he will become the subject of great contentions. For under a young prince these two powers are always rivals; but they are reconciled and leagued together under an old one. Under a young prince a dervish has a very difficult part to play; the king’s strength is his weakness; but the other triumphs alike in both his strength and his weakness.  2
  When I arrived in France, I found the late king altogether governed by women, although at his age I believe him to have been the one monarch in the world who had least need of them. I heard a woman say one day, “Something must be done for that young colonel; I know his worth; I will speak to the minister for him.” Another said, “It is surprising that that young abbé should have been overlooked; he must be made a bishop; he is well-born, and I can answer for his morals.” You must not however suppose that the women who talked in this way were favorites of the prince: they had perhaps not spoken twice to him all their lives; which is nevertheless a very easy thing to do with European princes. But there is not a single person employed in any way at the court, in Paris, or in the provinces, who is not acquainted with some woman through whose hands pass all the favors and sometimes all the wrongs which he may wish done. These women are all in each other’s secrets, and form a sort of republic, the members of which are always busy aiding and serving each other; it is like a state within a state; and any one at court, in Paris, or in the provinces, who sees the activity of the ministers, the magistrates, and the prelates, if he does not know the women who govern them, is like a man who sees a machine at work, but who is ignorant of the springs that move it.  3
  Do you think, Ibben, that a woman consents to be the mistress of a minister for love of him? What an idea! It is in order that she may lay before him every morning five or six petitions; and the goodness of these women appears in the zeal with which they serve an infinite number of unfortunate people, who obtain for them an income of a hundred thousands livres.  4
  They complain in Persia that the kingdom is governed by two or three women: it is much worse in France, where the women govern generally, and not only usurp all authority wholesale, but retail it among themselves.

  PARIS, the last day of the moon of Chalval, 1717.
Note 1. Louis XV., born 15th of February, 1710. [back]

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