Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter LVIII
Rica to Rhedi, at Venice
MY dear Rhedi, there are in Paris a great many trades. Some good-natured creature will offer you for a little money the secret of making gold. Another promises you the love of the spirits of the air, if you will see no women for a small trifle of thirty years.  1
  Then you will meet with wizards so skillful, that they can tell you all your life, with the simple proviso of a quarter of an hour’s conversation with your servants.  2
  Adroit women turn virginity into a flower, which withers and blooms again every day, and is gathered for the hundredth time with more anguish than the first.  3
  There are other women as skillful, who, repairing by the force of their art all the ravages of time, know how to restore to a face beauty enough to strike one blind, and even to summon a woman from the very end of life’s journey back to its tender youthful opening.  4
  All these people live, or seek a livelihood, in this great city, the mother of invention.  5
  The incomes of citizens cannot be farmed: they consist only in skill and industry: each has his own, and makes the best of it.  6
  He who would wish to count the dervishes who run after the revenue of some mosque, might as well attempt to number the sands of the sea, or the slaves of our monarch.  7
  An infinite number of professors of languages, of arts, and of sciences, teach what they do not know; and their talent is not by any means despicable; for much less wit is required to exhibit one’s knowledge, than to teach what one knows nothing of.  8
  One cannot die here, except suddenly: death is left no other method of exercising his power; because, in every hole and corner, people are ready with infallible cures for every imaginable disease.  9
  All the shops are hung with invisible nets, in which the customers are snared. Sometimes, however, one gets off with a good bargain. A shopgirl will wheedle a man for a stricken hour, and all to make him buy a packet of toothpicks.  10
  Every one who goes from this city, leaves it a warier man than when he entered: by dint of throwing away his means on others, he learns how to keep it to himself—the only benefit a stranger carries away from this sorceress of a city.

  PARIS, the 10th of the moon of Saphar, 1714.

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