Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CI
Rica to the Same
I TOLD you the other day of the extraordinary inconstancy of the French in their fashions. Yet it is inconceivable to what an extent they are infatuated about them; everything is swayed by them: fashion is the rule by which they judge what is done in other nations; whatever is foreign always seems to them ridiculous. I confess that I hardly know how to reconcile this bigoted devotion to their customs with the inconstancy which changes them every day.  1
  When I say that they despise everything foreign, I mean only trifles; for in important matters they are so diffident as almost to degrade themselves. They confess with the greatest good will that the other nations are wiser, if you grant that they are better dressed; they are willing to submit themselves to the laws of a rival nation, provided French wig makers may decide, like legislators, the form of foreign perukes. Nothing seems to them more glorious than to see the taste of their cooks reigning from north to south, and the decrees of their tire-women obeyed in every boudoir of Europe.  2
  With these noble advantages, what does it matter to them that their wisdom comes from others, and that they have derived from their neighbors everything relating to political and civil government?  3
  Who would imagine that the most ancient and powerful kingdom in Europe has been governed for ten centuries by laws which were not made for it? If the French had been conquered, it would not be difficult to understand, but they are the conquerors.  4
  They have abandoned the old laws made by their first kings in the general assemblies of the nations; and, singularly enough, the Roman laws which have been substituted, were partly made and partly digested by emperors contemporary with their own legislators.  5
  And, to make the borrowing complete, and in order that all their wisdom might come from others, they have adopted all the constitutions of the Popes, and have made them a new part of their law: a new kind of slavery.  6
  Latterly, it is true, they have drawn up some provincial statutes and by-laws; but they are nearly all taken from the Roman law.  7
  So great is the multitude of adopted, and, so to speak, naturalized laws, that it oppresses alike justice and judges. But these volumes of law are nothing in comparison with the appalling army of glossers, commentators, and compilers, a tribe as feeble by the inferiority of their minds, as they are strong by their immense numbers.  8
  This is not all: these foreign laws have introduced formalities so excessive as to be a disgrace to human reason. It would be very difficult to decide whether pedantry has been more hurtful in jurisprudence or in medicine; whether it has played more mischief under the cloak of a lawyer, or the broad brim of a physician; and whether the one has ruined more people than the other has killed.

  PARIS, the 17th of the moon of Saphar, 1717.

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