Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CVI
Rhedi to Usbek, at Paris
IN one of your letters you said much to me about the arts and sciences cultivated in the west. You are inclined to regard me as a barbarian; but I am not certain that the profit derived from them recompenses men for the bad use to which they are put every day. I have heard it said that the invention of bombs alone has deprived all the nations of Europe of freedom. The princes being no longer able to trust the guardianship of towns to the citizens, who would surrender them at the first bomb, have made it a pretext for keeping large bodies of regular troops, whom they have since used to oppress their subjects.  1
  You know that since the invention of gunpowder no place is impregnable; that is to say, Usbek, that there is no longer upon the earth a refuge from injustice and violence.  2
  I dread always lest they should at last discover some secret which will furnish them with a briefer method of destroying men, by killing them off wholesale in tribes and nations.  3
  You have read the historians: think of them seriously; almost all monarchies have been founded upon ignorance of the arts, and have been destroyed by their over-cultivation. The ancient empire of Persia may furnish us with an example at our own doors.  4
  I have not been long in Europe; yet I have heard sensible people talk of the ravages of alchemy. It seems to be a fourth plague, which ruins men, destroying them one by one, but continually; while war, pestilence, and famine destroy them in the mass, but at intervals.  5
  Of what advantage has the invention of the mariner’s compass been to us, and the discovery of so many nations who have given us more diseases than wealth? Gold and silver have been established by a general agreement as the means of purchasing all goods, and as a pledge of their value, because these metals are rare, and useless for any other purpose: of what consequence was it to us, then, that they should become more common, and that to mark the value of any commodity, we should have two or three signs in place of one? This was only more inconvenient.  6
  But, on the other hand, this invention has been hurtful to the countries of the New World. Entire nations have been destroyed; and those who have escaped death have been reduced to a slavery so dreadful, that the description of it makes even a Mussulman shudder.  7
  Happy in their ignorance are the children of Mohammed! Their amiable simplicity, so dear to our holy Prophet, perpetually recalls to me the artlessness of the olden time, and the peace which reigned in the hearts of our first fathers.

  VENICE, the 5th of the moon of Rhamazan, 1717.

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