Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CIV
Usbek to the Same
HERE you have as nearly as I can, continuing the subject of my last letter, what a sensible European said to me recently.  1
  “The worst course which the princes of Asia could have adopted, is to shut themselves up as they do. They desire to render themselves more venerable; but it is royalty which they cause to be respected, and not the king; they attach the minds of their subjects to a certain throne, and not to a certain person.  2
  “When the power that governs is invisible it is always the same to the people. Although ten kings, known only by name, should have their throats cut one after the other, the public are sensible of no difference: it is as if they were governed by a succession of spirits.  3
  “If the detestable murderer of our great king, Henry IV., had assassinated one of the kings of Ind, master of the royal seal, and of an immense treasure which would seem to have been amassed for him, he would peacefully have seized the reins of power, without its entering into any one’s mind to inquire after the king, his relations, and children.  4
  “We are astonished that there is hardly ever any change in the government of eastern princes: how could it be otherwise, when we bear in mind their terrible tyranny?  5
  “Changes cannot be effected except by the prince or by the people: but there the princes take care to alter nothing, because, possessed of such absolute power, they have all they can have: were they to make any change it could only be to their own injury.  6
  “As to the subjects, should one of them form any design, he cannot execute it upon the state; it would be necessary to overturn at one blow a most formidable and unchanging power; for this he lacks time and means: but he has only to attack the source of that power, for which all he needs is an arm and a moment of time.  7
  “The murderer mounts the throne, as the monarch leaves it and falls expiring at his feet.  8
  “In Europe a malcontent thinks of carrying on a secret correspondence, of going over to the enemy, of seizing some town, or of exciting foolish complaints among the people. A malcontent in Asia goes straight to the prince, amazes, strikes, overthrows: he obliterates all memory of his existence: in one moment slave and master, usurper and lawful sovereign.  9
  “Unfortunate is the king who has only one head! In guarding it with all his power he only shows the first upstart where to strike.”

  PARIS, the 17th of the second moon of Rebiab, 1717.

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