Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter CXVI
Usbek to the Same
THE ROMANS did not have fewer slaves than we; they had indeed more, but they made a better use of them.  1
  Far from preventing by violent measures the multiplication of their slaves, they, on the contrary, favored it to the best of their ability; they united them in marriages, of a kind, as much as they could; by this means they filled their houses with servants of both sexes and all ages; and the state with a countless people.  2
  Children which in time became the wealth of a master were born around him without number; he alone was responsible for their upbringing and education; the fathers, freed from that burden, followed only the inclination of nature, and multiplied without the fear of too large a family.  3
  I have told you that among us all the slaves are employed in guarding our wives, and in nothing else; that with regard to the state they are in a perpetual lethargy; with the result that industry and agriculture are necessarily confined to a few freemen and heads of families, who apply themselves as little as possible.  4
  It was not thus among the Romans. The republic made use of this nation of slaves to its own great benefit. Each had his own savings, which he owned on conditions imposed by his master; and this hoard he employed in whatever direction his talent lay. One became a banker; another trafficked in cargoes; this one took to retail dealing; that one applied himself to some industry, or took to farming and cultivated the soil; there was not one of them who did not give himself with all his might to increase his savings, securing for himself in the meantime comfort in his present slavery, and the hope of future liberty; this made a diligent people and encouraged arts and industry.  5
  These slaves, enriched by their thrift and toil, bought their freedom and became citizens. The republic was continually built up, and received into its bosom new families, in proportion as the old ones decayed.  6
  In my future letters I shall perhaps take the opportunity to prove to you that the more men there are in a state, the more prosperous is its commerce; I shall prove as easily, that as commerce flourishes, men increase; these two things necessarily aid and abet each other.  7
  Since that is so, how much must this enormous number of slaves, always busy, have grown and increased? Industry and plenty produced them; and they on their side produce plenty and industry.

  PARIS, the 16th of the moon of Chahban, 1718.

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