Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter XIX
Usbek to his friend Rustan, at Ispahan
WE stayed only eight days at Tocat. After a journey of thirty-five days, we are now at Smyrna.  1
  Between Tocat and Smyrna we did not see a single place worthy the name of town. I have marked with astonishment the weakness of the empire of the Osmanli: a diseased body, it is not supported by a plain and temperate diet, but by violent remedies, which exhaust and waste it away continually.  2
  The pashas, who obtain office only by purchase, bankrupt when they enter their provinces, ravage them like conquered countries. The insolent militia are governed only by their own caprices. The towns are dismantled, the cities deserted, the country desolate, agriculture and commerce entirely neglected.  3
  Impunity is the order of the day under this ruthless government. The Christians who till the land, and the Jews who collect the taxes, are exposed to a thousand outrages.  4
  Property in land is uncertain; and consequently the desire to increase its value has diminished: neither title nor possession is of any avail against the caprice of those in power.  5
  These barbarians have abandoned all the arts, even that of war. While the nations of Europe become more refined every day, these people remain in a state of primitive ignorance; and rarely think of employing new inventions 1 in war, until they have been used against them a thousand times.  6
  They have no experience of the sea, nor skill in naval affairs. They say that a mere handful of Christians, descending from a barren 2 rock, terrify the Ottomans, and shake their ascendancy.  7
  Although they are themselves unfit for commerce, it is with great reluctance that they allow the Europeans, always industrious and enterprising, to conduct their trade: they think they are conferring a favor on these strangers in permitting them to enrich themselves.  8
  Throughout the wide stretch of country which I have crossed, Smyrna is the only town which can be regarded as rich and powerful; and Smyrna owes its prosperity to the Europeans: it is no fault of the Turks that it is not like all the others.  9
  Here you have, my dear Rustan, a correct idea of this empire, which will be within two centuries the scene of some conqueror’s exploits.

  SMYRNA, the 2nd of the moon of Rhamazan, 3 1711.
Note 1. That is to say, the new inventions of the European nations. [back]
Note 2. These are, apparently, the Knights of Malta.—(M.) [back]
Note 3. More correctly, Ramazan, the ninth month of the Persian year; the Mohammedan Lent. [back]

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