Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CXXI
Usbek to the Same
 
COUNTRIES inhabited by savages are usually thinly peopled, on account of the dislike which they almost always have for toil and tillage. This unfortunate dislike is so strong, that when they invoke a curse against one of their enemies, they can wish him no greater evil than to be reduced to plow a field, believing that hunting and fishing are the only exercises worthy of them.  1
  But, as there are often years in which hunting and fishing are very unproductive, they are desolated by frequent famines; without considering that game and fish are never abundant enough in any country to support a numerous people, because animals always forsake thickly inhabited districts.  2
  Besides, savage hordes, each numbering two or three hundred people, separated from each other, and having interests as divided as those of two empires, cannot maintain themselves, because they have not the resources of great states, whose members are all in accord, and work together for each other’s good.  3
  There is another custom not less baneful than the first; the cruel habit which the women have of procuring abortion, in order that their pregnancy may not make them disagreeable to their husbands.  4
  There are dreadful laws against this crime, which are carried to excess. Every unmarried woman who does not declare her pregnancy before a magistrate is punished with death if her offspring dies: 1 shame and modesty, accidents even, are no excuses.

  PARIS, the 9th of the moon of Rhamazan, 1718.
  5
 
Note 1. By an edict of Henry II., in 1556. [back]
 
 
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