Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter LXVI
Rica to ——
 
PEOPLE are very much devoted to the sciences here, but I question if they are very learned. He who, as a philosopher, doubts of all, dare deny nothing as a theologian: the inconsistent man is always well pleased with himself provided you agree with him.  1
  The passion of nearly every Frenchman, is to pass for a wit; and the passion of those who wish to be thought wits, is to write books.  2
  There never was such an erroneous idea: it seems to be a wise provision of nature that the follies of men should be short lived; but books interfere and immortalize them. A fool, not content with having bored all those who have lived with him, insists on tormenting generations to come; he would have his folly triumph over oblivion, which should have been as welcome to him as death; he wishes posterity to be informed of his existence, and he would have it remember forever that he was fool.  3
  Of all authors, there are none whom I despise more than compilers. They crowd from all quarters to pick up the shreds of other men’s works; these they fit into their own, as one would patch the turf of a lawn: they are not one whit superior to the compositor, whose typesetting may be called bookmaking if manual labor is all. I would have original books respected; and it seems to me a species of profanation, to take from them the matter of which they are composed, as if from a sanctuary, and exposed it to an undeserved contempt.  4
  When a man has nothing new to say, why can’t he be quiet? Why should one be troubled with these useless repetitions? But I will give you a new illustration. You are a man of ability! You come into my library; and you shift the books from the lower shelves to the upper ones, and from the upper to the lower: you have produced a masterpiece!  5
  I write you, … , because I am exasperated with a book which I have just laid down—a book so big that it seems to contain all science: but it has only split my head without putting anything into it. Farewell.

  PARIS, the 8th of the moon of Chahban, 1714.
  6
 
 
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