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

WHETHER it is better to deprive women of their liberty or to permit it them, is a great question among men: it appears to me that there are good reasons for and against this practice. If the Europeans urge that there is a want of generosity in rendering those persons miserable whom we love, our Asiatics answer that it is meanness in men to renounce the empire which nature has given them over women. If they are told that a great number of women, shut up, are troublesome, they reply that ten women in subjection are less troublesome than one who is refractory.  1
  Another question among the learned is, whether the law of nature subjects the women to the men. No, said a gallant philosopher to me the other day, nature never dictated such a law. The empire we have over them is real tyranny, which they only suffer us to assume because they have more good-nature than we, and in consequence more humanity and reason. These advantages, which ought to have given them the superiority had we acted reasonably, have made them lose it because we have not the same advantages. But if it is true that the power we have over women is only tyrannical, it is no less so that they have over us a natural empire—that of beauty—which nothing can resist. Our power extends not to all countries; but that of beauty is universal. Wherefore then do we hear of this privilege? Is it because we are the strongest? But this is really injustice. We employ every kind of means to reduce their spirits. Their abilities would be equal with ours, if their education was the same. Let us examine them in those talents which education has not enfeebled, and we shall see if ours are as great. It must be acknowledged, though it is contrary to our custom, that among the most polite people the women have always had the authority over their husbands; it was established among the Egyptians in honor of Isis, and among the Babylonians in honor of Semiramis. It is said of the Romans that they commanded all nations, but obeyed their wives. I say nothing of the Sauromates, who were in perfect slavery to the sex: they were too barbarous to be brought for an example. Thou seest, my dear Ibben, that I have contracted the fashion of this country, where they are fond of defending extraordinary opinions, and reducing everything to a paradox. The prophet has determined the question, and settled the rights of each sex: the women, says he, must honor their husbands, and the men their wives; but the husbands are allowed one degree of honor more.  2
 
 
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