Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CXX
Usbek to the Same
THE FERTILITY of a people depends sometimes on the most trifling circumstances in the world; so that often nothing more is necessary to increase its numbers than to give a new direction to its imagination.  1
  The Jews, always being exterminated, and always increasing again, have repaired their continual losses and destructions by the single hope, shared by all their families, that from one of them shall spring a powerful king who will be the master of the world.  2
  The ancient kings of Persia had such an immense number of subjects, simply because of that dogma of the Magian religion which declares that the deeds of men most acceptable to God are to beget a child, to till a field, and to plant a tree.  3
  If the population of China is so enormous, it is only the result of a certain way of thinking; for since children look upon their parents as gods, reverence them as such in this life, and honor them after death with sacrifices by means of which they believe that their souls, absorbed into Tyen, 1 recommence a new existence, each one is bent on increasing a family so dutiful in this life, and so necessary for the next.  4
  On the other hand, the Mohammedan countries become daily more deserted, because of a belief, all-hallowed as it is, which fails not of most baneful effects when it is deeply rooted in the mind. We look upon ourselves as travelers, who ought to think only of another country: useful and lasting works, care to make provision for our children, projects which look beyond our own short and fleeting lives, seem to us somewhat absurd. Easy minded as regards the present, and without anxiety for the future, we trouble neither to repair public buildings, to reclaim waste lands, nor to cultivate those which are suited for tillage; we live generally in a state of indifference, and allow Providence to do everything.  5
  It is a spirit of vanity which established in Europe the unjust law of primogeniture, so unfavorable to propagation in that it fastens the attention of the father upon one of his children, and turns his eyes from all the others, forcing him in order to make a substantial fortune for one to prevent the settlement of several; and lastly, in that it destroys equality among citizens, which constitutes all their wealth.

  PARIS, the 4th of the moon of Rhamazan, 1718.
Note 1. The heaven of the Chinese. [back]

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