Persian Letters/Letter 125
1 Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice
What can be the motive of those immense gratuities which princes lavish upon their courtiers? Is it to attach them to themselves? They have gained them already as far as that is possible. And besides, should they gain some of their subjects by bribery, they would lose a great many others, impoverished by the very same means.
When I consider the situation of princes, always surrounded by greedy and insatiable men, I cannot but pity them; and I pity them still more, when they have not the strength to resist demands—always a task to those who need to ask for nothing.
I never hear talk of their liberality, of the favours and pensions which they grant, but I give myself up to a thousand reflections: a throng of ideas present themselves to my mind: it seems to me that I hear the following decree published:—
“The indefatigable courage of some of our subjects in suing for pensions, having taxed without intermission our royal magnificence, we have at length granted the multitude of requests presented to us, which hitherto have been the greatest anxiety of the throne. Some have represented to us that they have never failed since our accession to the crown to attend our levees; that we have always seen them in our progresses as motionless as posts; and that they have raised themselves on the highest shoulders to gaze at our serenity. We have even received several petitions on the part of some members of the fair sex, who have begged to draw attention to the notorious fact that they are very circumspect in their conversation: some very ancient dames have desired us, with shaking heads, to consider that they adorned the courts of the kings, our predecessors; and that if the generals of their armies have made the state formidable by their warlike deeds, they have made the court not less celebrated by their intrigues. And so, wishing to be bounteous to these suppliants, and to grant them all their desires, we have decreed what follows:—
“That every labourer, having five children, shall daily curtail by one fifth the bread which he gives them. We also admonish all fathers of families to decrease the share of each child in as just a proportion as possible.
“We expressly forbid all those who are engaged in the cultivation of their estates, or who rent them out in farms, to make any improvement in them of what kind soever.
“We decree that all persons engaged in base and mechanical trades, who have never attended a levee of Our Majesty, shall in future purchase clothes for themselves, their wives, and their children only once in four years: we further most strictly forbid them those little merry-makings which they have been accustomed to hold in their families on the principal festivals of the year.
“And, inasmuch as we are advised that the greater part of the citizens of our good towns are wholly occupied in providing establishments for their daughters, who have made themselves esteemed in our state only by a solemn and tedious modesty; we decree that their fathers shall delay their marriage until, having attained the age prescribed by the statutes, they can insist on being portioned. We forbid our magistrates to provide for the education of their children.”
Paris, the 1st of the moon of Chalval, 1718.