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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CXXVIII
Rica to Ibben, at Smyrna
 
YOU have heard much talk of the famous king of Sweden: 1 while he was visiting the trenches, with an engineer as his sole companion, during the siege of a town in a kingdom called Norway, he received a wound in the head, of which he died. His prime minister 2 was immediately arrested, and the assembled states condemned him to lose his head.  1
  He was accused of a very grave crime; that of having slandered the nation, and of having caused the king to lose confidence in it: an offense which, in my judgment, deserves a thousand deaths.  2
  For, in short, if it is a villainous action to blacken the character of the meanest of his subjects in the eyes of a prince, what must it be to traduce an entire nation, and to withdraw from it the good will of him whom providence has set over it for its welfare.  3
  I would have men talk with kings, as the angels talked with our holy Prophet.  4
  You know that, in the sacred banquets, when the king of kings descends from the most sublime throne in the world to converse with his slaves, I laid a severe injunction on myself to restrain an unruly tongue: no one ever heard escape from me a single word which could be disagreeable to the meanest of his subjects. When it behooved me to cease to be sober, I never ceased to be a gentleman; and in that test of our fidelity I risked my life, but never my virtue.  5
  I know not how it happens, but the wickedest king is hardly ever so bad as his minister; if he commits a vile action, it has nearly always been suggested to him: thus the ambition of princes is never so dangerous as the baseness of their advisers. But can you understand how a man who was yesterday made minister, and may perhaps to-morrow be disgraced, can become in a moment his own enemy, the enemy of his family, of his country, and of the people who are yet to be born of those he is about to oppress?  6
  A prince has passions; the minister works on them: it is in that way that he manages his ministry: that is his only aim, nor does he desire another. The courtiers mislead him by their applause; and he flatters him more dangerously by his advice, by the designs with which he inspires him, and by the maxims which he proposes to him.

  PARIS, the 25th of the moon of Saphar, 1719.
  7
 
Note 1. Charles XII. of Sweden. [back]
Note 2. Baron Gortz. [back]
 
 
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