Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XCIX
Usbek to Ibben, at Smyrna
 
THERE is no country in the world where fortune is more inconstant than in this. Every ten years a revolution happens which plunges the wealthy into misery, and raises the poor on rapid wings to the summit of affluence. The one is astonished at his poverty; the other at his riches. The new-made rich man admires the wisdom of providence; the pauper, the mischance of a blind fate.  1
  Those who gather the taxes swim in wealth; and there are few Tantaluses among them. It is the extremity of misery, however, that drives them into this employment. They are despised like dirt while they are poor; when they become rich, they are sufficiently respected, as they neglect nothing to acquire esteem.  2
  They are at present in a dreadful situation. They are about to establish a chamber of justice, so called because it is to strip them of all their wealth. They can neither transfer, nor hide their effects; for they are compelled to render an exact account, upon pain of death; thus they have to pass through a very narrow strait, I mean between their lives and their money. To fill up the cup of their misfortune, there is a minister, remarkable for his wit, who honors them with his jokes, and makes fun of all the deliberations of the council. It is not every day that ministers are to be found disposed to make the people laugh; and they ought to be much beholden to him for having undertaken to do so.  3
  The body of footmen is more respectable in France than anywhere else; it is a nursery of great lords; it fills up the vacancies in other ranks. The members of it take the places of the unfortunate great, of ruined magistrates, of gentlemen killed in the fury of war; and when they are unable to find supply among themselves, they re-establish all the great families by means of their daughters, which are like a kind of manure enriching barren and mountainous soil.  4
  I find, Ibben, the ways of providence in the distribution of wealth admirable. If riches had been granted only to good people, they would not have been sufficiently distinguished from virtue, and their insignificance would not have been fully recognized. But when we consider who are the people most loaded with them, by dint of despising the rich, we come to despise riches.

  PARIS, the 26th of the moon of Maharram, 1717.
  5
 
 
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