Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Rica to ——
MAN, they say, is a social animal. In this matter a Frenchman appears to me to be more of a man than any other; he is the man par excellence, for he seems to be intended solely for society.  1
  But I have noticed among them some who are not only sociable, but are themselves society itself. They multiply themselves at every corner; they people in an instant the four quarters of a city; a hundred such men make more appearance than two thousand citizens; a stranger would think that they might repair the ravages of plague and famine. It is debated in the schools whether a body can be in more than one place at once; they are a proof of that which philosophers call in question.  2
  They are always in a hurry, because they are engaged in the important business of asking every one they meet whither they are going, and whence they come.  3
  It can never be driven out of their heads that it is a part of good breeding to visit the public every day individually, without counting the wholesale visits which they make to places of general resort, which being much too brief a method is reckoned as nothing in the rules of their etiquette.  4
  Their knocking harasses the doors of the houses more than the winds and the storms. If one were to examine the lists of all the porters, their names would be found daily mutilated in a thousand different ways in Swiss writing. They pass their lives in going to funerals, in expressions of condolence, or in marriage congratulations. The king never confers a favor on any of his subjects, without putting these gentry to the expense of a carriage to go and express their delight. At last, tired out, they return home, and rest themselves to be able to resume next day their laborious functions.  5
  The other day one of them died of weariness; and they put this epitaph on his tomb: “Here rests one who never rested before. He assisted at five hundred and thirty funerals. He made merry at the births of two thousand six hundred and eighty children. He wished his friends joy, always varying the phrase, upon pensions amounting to two million six hundred thousand livres; in town he walked nine thousand six hundred furlongs, in the country thirty-six furlongs. His conversation was pleasing; he had a ready-made stock of three hundred and sixty-five stories; he was acquainted also from his youth with a hundred and eighteen apophthegms derived from the ancients, which he employed on special occasions. He died at last in the sixtieth year of his age. I say no more, stranger; for how could I ever have done telling you all that he did and all that he saw?”

  PARIS, the 3d of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1715.

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