Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter LI
Nargum, Persian Envoy in Muscovy, to Usbek, at Paris
THE NEWS has come from Ispahan, that you have left Persia, and are actually in Paris. Why was I left to learn these tidings from another than yourself?  1
  By order of the king of kings I have now been five years in this country, where I have concluded several important transactions.  2
  You know that the Czar is the only Christian prince whose interests are allied to those of Persia, because, like us, he is the enemy of the Turks.  3
  His empire is larger than ours, for the distance between Moscow and the extremities of his dominions on the Chinese frontier measures a thousand leagues.  4
  He is absolute master of the lives and goods of his subjects, who are all slaves, with the exception of four families. The vicar of the prophets, the king of kings, whose footstool is the sky, does not wield a scepter more puissant.  5
  In view of the frightful climate of this country, one would never think that exile could be a punishment for a Muscovite: nevertheless, when a man of consequence is disgraced, he is banished to Siberia.  6
  It is the law of our prophet which forbids us to drink wine, it is that of their prince which forbids the Muscovites.  7
  They receive their guests in a style very unlike the Persians. When a stranger enters a house, the husband presents his wife to him, and he kisses her: this is counted an act of courtesy to the husband.  8
  Although fathers, in arranging their daughters’ marriages, usually stipulate that the husband shall not whip them, yet you would hardly believe how dearly the Muscovite women like to be beaten; 1 they are unable to understand how they can possess their husband’s love, if he does not thrash them in proper style. If he is slack in this matter, it is an unpardonable indication of coldness. Here is a letter which a Muscovite wife recently wrote to her mother:—

          “MY DEAR MOTHER,—I am the most wretched woman in the world. I have left nothing undone to make my husband love me, and I have never been able to succeed. Yesterday, having a thousand things to attend to in the house, I went out and stayed away all day. I expected on my return that he would beat me severely, but he did not say a single word. My sister fares much better; her husband beats her every day; he knocks her down at once if she only looks at a man: they are very affectionate, and there is between them the best understanding in the world.
  “It is that which makes her so proud, but I will not allow her to triumph over me any longer. I am resolved to make my husband love me, whatever it may cost: I will so anger him that he will be forced to give me marks of his affection. No one shall say that I am not beaten, and that I am of no consequence in my own house. I will cry out with all my might at the least touch, so that people may think that all goes well; and if any of my neighbors shall come to my aid, I feel as if I would strangle them. I wish, my dear mother, you would point out to my husband how unworthily he treats me. My father is a gentleman, and behaved differently; indeed, if I remember rightly, when I was a little girl he used to love you too much. I embrace you, my dear mother.”
  The Muscovites may not leave their country, even in order to travel; and so, separated from other nations by the law of the land, they have become attached to their ancient customs, all the more warmly, that they do not think it possible to have others.  10
  But the reigning prince 2 wishes to change everything; he had a great quarrel with his subjects about their beards; the clergy and the monks defended their ignorance with equal obstinacy.  11
  He is bent on the improvement of the arts, and leaves nothing undone to spread throughout Europe and Asia the fame of his nation, till now forgotten, and hardly even known to itself.  12
  Restless, and always occupied, he wanders about his vast dominions, leaving everywhere tokens of his savage nature.  13
  Then he quits them, as if they were too small to contain him, and goes to Europe exploring other provinces and new kingdoms.  14
  I embrace you, my dear Usbek, and beg you to send me your news.

  MOSCOW, the 2nd of the moon of Chalval, 1713.
Note 1. These manners have changed.—(M.) [back]
Note 2. Peter the Great. [back]

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