Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XIV
Usbek to the Same
 
AS their numbers increased every day, the Troglodites thought it behooved them to elect a king. They judged it wise to confer the crown upon the justest man among them; and their thoughts turned to one, venerable by reason of his age and his long career of virtue. He, however, had refused to attend the meeting, and withdrew to his house, oppressed with grief.  1
  When deputies were sent to him to announce his election, “The gods forbid,” cried he, “that I should wrong the Troglodites by permitting them to believe that there is no man among them more just than I! You offer me the crown; and if you insist upon it absolutely, I cannot but take it. Remember, however, that I shall die of sorrow, having known the Troglodites freemen, to behold them subjected to a ruler.” Having said this, he burst into a torrent of tears. “Unhappy day!” he exclaimed. “Why have I lived to see it?” Then he upbraided them. “I see,” he cried, “O Troglodites, what moves you to this; uprightness becomes a burden to you. In your present condition, having no head, you are constrained in your own despite to be virtuous; otherwise your very existence would be at stake, and you would relapse into the wretched state of your ancestors. But this seems to you too heavy a yoke; you would rather become the subjects of a king, and submit to laws of his framing—laws less exacting than your present customs. You know that then you would be able to satisfy your ambition, and while away the time in slothful luxury; and that, provided you avoided the graver crimes, there would be no necessity for virtue.” He ceased speaking for a little, and his tears fell faster than ever. “And what do you expect of me? How can I lay commands upon a Troglodite? Would one act more nobly because I ordered him? You forget that a Troglodite without any command does what is right from natural inclination?  2
  “O Troglodites, my days are nearly done, my blood is frozen in my veins, I shall soon join your blessed ancestors; why would you have me carry them the sad news that you have submitted to another law than that of virtue?”

  ERZEROUM, the 10th of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1711.
  3
 
 
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