Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Rica to Ibben, at Smyrna
ALTHOUGH the French are great talkers, there is nevertheless among them a sort of silent dervishes, called Carthusians. They are said to cut out their tongues on entering the convent; and it is much to be desired that all other dervishes would deprive themselves in the same way of that which their profession renders useless to them.  1
  Talking of these taciturn people reminds me that there are others who excel them in taciturnity, and who have a very remarkable gift. These are they who know how to talk without saying anything; and who carry on a conversation for two whole hours without its being possible to discover their meaning, to rehearse their talk, or to remember a word of what they have said.  2
  This class of people are adored by the women; but not so much as some others who have received from nature the charming gift of smiling at the proper time, that is to say, every moment; and who receive with delighted approbation everything the ladies say.  3
  But these people carry wit to its highest pitch; for they can detect subtlety in everything, and perceive a thousand little ingenious touches in the merest commonplaces.  4
  I know others of them who are fortunate enough to be able to introduce into conversation inanimate things, and to make a long story about an embroidered coat, a white peruke, a snuffbox, a cane, a pair of gloves. It is well to begin in the street to make oneself heard by the noise of a coach and a thundering rap at the door: such a prologue paves the way for the rest of the discourse; and when the exordium is good, it secures toleration for all the nonsense which follows, but which, fortunately, arrives too late to be detected.  5
  I assure you that these little gifts, which with us are of no account, are of great advantage here to those who are happy enough to possess them; and that a sensible man has no chance of shining where they are displayed.

  PARIS, the 6th of the second moon of Rebiab, 1715.

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