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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CXXXVIII
Rica to Ibben, at Smyrna
 
MINISTERS succeed and destroy each other here like the seasons; during three years I have seen the financial system change four times. To-day taxes are levied in Turkey and Persia, as they were levied by the founders of these empires; a state of affairs very different from that which exists here. It is true that we do not set about it so intelligently as the people of the west. We imagine that there is no more difference between the administration of the revenues of a prince and the fortune of a private person, than there is between counting a hundred thousand tomans and counting only a hundred; but the matter is very much more delicate and mysterious. It requires the greatest geniuses to work night and day, inventing endless new schemes with all the pains of travail; they must listen to the advice of a multitude of people, who, unasked, meddle in their affairs; they have to retire and live shut up in closets inaccessible to the great, and worshiped by the small; they must always have their heads full of important secrets, miraculous plans, and new systems; and, being absorbed in thought, it behooves them to be deprived of the use of speech, and sometimes even of the ability to be polite.  1
  No sooner had the late king died, than they thought of setting up a new administration. They felt that things were in a bad way; but knew not how to bring about a better state. They did not believe in the unlimited authority of the preceding ministers; they wished the power to be divided. For that purpose five or six councils were created, and that ministry was perhaps the wisest of all those which have governed France; it did not last long, and neither did the good which it brought to pass.  2
  France, at the death of the late king, was a body overcome by a thousand disorders: N——— 1 took the knife in hand, cut away the useless flesh, and applied some local remedies. But there always remained an internal disease. A stranger came who undertook its cure. 2 After many violent remedies, he imagined he had put it into good condition, whereas it had only become unhealthily stout.  3
  All who were rich six months ago are now paupers, and those who lacked bread are rolling in wealth. These two extremities never before approached so near. This foreigner has turned the state as an old-clothes man turns a coat; he causes that to appear uppermost which was under, and that which was above he places beneath. What unexpected fortunes, incredible even to those who made them! God creates men out of nothing, with no greater expedition. How many valets are now waited on by their fellows, and may to-morrow be served by their former masters!  4
  The oddest things happen as a result of all this. Lackeys, who made their fortune in the last reign, brag to-day of their birth: they avenge themselves upon those who have just doffed their livery in a certain street, 3 for all the contempt poured out upon themselves six months before; they cry with all their might, “The nobility is ruined! What a chaotic condition the state is in! What confusion of ranks! Only nameless people now make fortunes!” And these nameless ones, you may be sure, will take their revenge on those who come after them; in thirty years as people of quality they will make sufficient noise in the world.

  PARIS, the 1st of the moon of Zilcade, 1720.
  5
 
Note 1. The Duke of Noailles. [back]
Note 2. John Law. [back]
Note 3. Rue Quincampoix, at that time the rendezvous of stockbrokers. [back]
 
 
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