Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter L
Rica to ——
I HAVE met some people to whom virtue was so natural that they were not even conscious of it; they applied themselves to their duty without any compulsion, and were led to it instinctively; far from making their own admirable qualities a subject of conversation, it seemed as if they were quite ignorant of their existence. Such people I love; not those men who seem to be astonished at their own virtue, and who look upon a good deed as a marvel the relation of which should excite wonder.  1
  If modesty is a necessary virtue in those to whom Heaven has given great talents, what is to be said of those insects who dare to exhibit a pride which would dishonor the greatest men?  2
  On every hand I meet people who talk constantly about themselves; their conversation is a mirror which reflects only their impertinent faces; they will tell you of the merest trifles that happen to them, and expect the interest they take in them to magnify their importance in your eyes; they have done everything, seen everything, said everything, thought everything; they are a pattern to all mankind, a subject of inexhaustible comparisons, a source of precedents which never dries up. Oh! how insipid is self-praise!  3
  Some days ago a man of this type worried us for two hours, about himself, his worth, his talents; but, since there is no such thing as perpetual motion, he had to cease. It was then our turn to talk, and we took it.  4
  A man, who seemed sufficiently splenetic, commenced to grumble at the tediousness of conversation. “What! are there none but fools, who describe their own character, and bring everything home to themselves?” “You are right,” replied our tattling friend, abruptly. “Nobody does as I do; I never praise myself; I have means, am well-born, spend freely, and my friends say that I have some wit; but I never talk of all that; if I have any good qualities, that which I set most store by, is my modesty.”  5
  I wondered at this malapert; and while he was talking very loud, I whispered, “Happy is he who has enough of vanity never to boast of his own qualities, who dreads the ridicule of his audience, and never hurts the pride of others by exalting himself!”

  PARIS, the 20th of the moon of Rhamazan, 1713.

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