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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Usbek at Paris, to Ibben at Smyrna
By Montesquieu (1689–1755)
 
From the ‘Persian Letters

THE WOMEN of Persia are finer than those of France, but those of this country are prettier. It is difficult not to love the first, and not to be pleased with the latter; the one are more delicate and modest, and the others more gay and airy. What in Persia renders the blood so pure is the regular life the women observe: they neither game nor sit up late, they drink no wine, and do not expose themselves to the open air. It must be allowed that the seraglio is better adapted for health than for pleasure: it is a dull, uniform kind of life, where everything turns upon subjection and duty; their very pleasures are grave, and their pastimes solemn, and they seldom taste them but as so many tokens of authority and dependence. The men themselves in Persia are not so gay as the French; there is not that freedom of mind, and that appearance of content, which I meet with here in persons of all estates and ranks. It is still worse in Turkey, where there are families in which, from father to son, not one of them ever laughed from the foundation of the monarchy. The gravity of the Asiatics arises from the little conversation there is among them, who never see each other but when obliged by ceremony. Friendship, that sweet engagement of the heart, which constitutes here the pleasure of life, is there almost unknown. They retire within their own house, where they constantly find the same company; insomuch that each family may be considered as living in an island detached from all others. Discoursing one time on this subject with a person of this country, he said to me:—
          “That which gives me most offense among all your customs is the necessity you are under of living with slaves, whose minds and inclinations always savor of the meanness of their condition. Those sentiments of virtue which you have in you from nature are enfeebled and destroyed by these base wretches who surround you from your infancy. For, in short, divest yourself of prejudice, and what can you expect from an education received from such a wretch, who places his whole merit in being a jailer to the wives of another man, and takes a pride in the vilest employment in society? who is despicable for that very fidelity which is his only virtue, to which he is prompted by envy, jealousy, and despair; who, inflamed with a desire of revenging himself on both sexes, of which he is an outcast, submits to the tyranny of the stronger sex provided he may distress the weaker; a wretch who, deriving from his imperfection, ugliness, and deformity, the whole lustre of his condition, is valued only because he is unworthy to be so; who, in short, riveted forever to the gate where he is placed, and harder than the hinges and bolts which secure it, boasts of having spent a life of fifty years in so ignoble a station, where, commissioned by his master’s jealousy, he exercises all his cruelties.”
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