Persian Letters/Footnotes

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John Davidson's Introduction[edit]


  1. Letter XXXV.


  1. Governor of Guienne, 1716-1719.
  2. See p. 7 [Montesquieu's introduction].
  3. So called because they wore a cap of the shape of a mortar, made of black velvet, ornamented with a gold band.


  1. Letter LXXVIII.
  2. Letter LXXXVI.
  3. Letter LXXV.
  4. Letter LXXXI.
  5. Letter CXV.
  6. Letters CIII., CIV.
  7. Letter CXXII.


  1. “Pensées.”


  1. His "tranquil chaos" was what Carlyle admired most in Tennyson.
  2. Garat, "Mémoires sur le Dix-huitième Siècle."
  3. Sayoux, "Le Dix-huitième Siècle à l'Etranger."
  4. Fr.Hardy, "Memoirs of Charlemont."


  1. Maupertuis, "Éloge de Montesquieu."
  2. Garat, "Mémoires sur le Dix-huitième Siècle."
  3. D'Alembert, "Éloge de Montesquieu."
  4. "Pensées."
  5. Laplace, "Pièces intéressantes et peu connues."
  6. Ibid.
  7. "Pensées."

Some Reflections on the Persian Letters[edit]

  1. These reflections first appeared as an introduction to the quarto edition of the "Persian Letters" (1754), and have always been ascribed to Montesquieu himself.
  2. A seraglio is a royal dwelling. Montesquieu used the world as if were synonymous with harem, the name of the portion of an oriental mansion in which the women are sequestered.
  3. Probably an allusion to Lord Lyttleton's "Letters of Selim," published in English in 1735, and shortly afterwards translated into French.
  4. A reference to the "Lettres Turques" of Sainte-Foix, which in the edition of 1740 appeared collectively with the "Persian Letters."
  5. At one time Montesquieu intended to remove what he called "certain juvenilia" from the "Persian Letters;" but the intention was never carried out.


  1. Some of these letters were added in the edition of 1754.
  2. This lady has been identified as the author's wife.


Volume 1[edit]

Letter 1[edit]

  1. Fatima, daughter of Mohammed, and wife of Ali--according to the Koran, one of the four perfect women.
  2. More correctly, Safar, the second month of the Arabian year.

Letter 3[edit]

  1. More correctly Muharram, the first month of the Persian year. Zachi's letter was, therefore, written about a month before the two that precede it.

Letter 5[edit]

  1. Rabi means "the spring" in Persian. Rabi-ul-awal, "the first (month) of spring," is the third of the Arabian year.

Letter 6[edit]

  1. The Persians generally belong to the sect of Shiites, who consider Abu Bekr, Omar, and Othman, the first three successors of Mohammed, as usurpers, and regard Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet as the first Iman, and equal to Mohammed. The Shiites also reject as unworthy of credit the Sonna, a collection of traditions which is the canon of the faith of the Sunites, the sect to which the Turks belong.

Letter 7[edit]

  1. In Persia the women are confined much more closely than among the Turks or Indians.--(M.)

Letter 8[edit]

  1. The two Gemmadis, or Gemalis, are the fifth and sixth months of the Persian year. Gemal-i-ul-awal is the first of these.

Letter 9[edit]

  1. This is the only letter to Ibbi, and there is only one from him, the XXXIX. He must not be confounded with Ibben, to whom many letters are addressed.
  2. Revers in the original. M. Laboulaye asserts that Montesquieu is the only writer who uses revers in the sense of revanche; but Littré gives examples of a similar use of the word in Molière and Bossuet.

Letter 10[edit]

  1. Montesquieu spells it “Mollaks.” In Persia the mollah is a devotee; in Turkey, a judge.

Letter 11[edit]

  1. “Essayer la mienne,” a Gascon provincialism for “user,” &c. the meaning is, therefore, as above, and not “to test mine.”
  2. Herodotus , Plutarch, Pomponius Mela, and Pliny the Elder, are the authorities for the Troglodites.
  3. Contradictions of assertions in Pomponius Mela.
  4. Gemal-i-ul-sani, the sixth month of the Persian year.

Letter 13[edit]

  1. In Montesquieu’s time it was not uncommon for parents of noble descent to compel their daughters to enter a convent in order that the eldest son might have greater means of display.

Letter 15[edit]

  1. Letter XV. is the first of those added in the edition of 1754.

Letter 16[edit]

  1. The three tombs are those of Fatima and two votaries of her family.
  2. Zufagar, or Zoulfegar, the name of a double-bladed sword given by Mohammed to Ali. It was treasured for many years in the palace of the califs, until one of the successors of Abdoullah II. broke it by accident while hunting. A representation of this sword still appears on the flag of the Turkish navy.
  3. The first twelve successors of Mohammed were the Imans, or holy men. To address any one as the "thirteenth Iman" is, therefore, a high compliment.
  4. In the original, "as one distinguishes at daybreak the white thread from the black." According to the Mussulmans, day begins when there is light enough to make this distinction.

Letter 18[edit]

  1. More correctly, Shaban, the eighth month of the Persian year.
  2. Mohammedan tradition.-(M.)

Letter 19[edit]

  1. That is to say, the new inventions of the European nations.
  2. These are, apparently, the Knights of Malta.-(M.)

Letter 20[edit]

  1. More correctly, Zilkaid, the eleventh month of the Persian year.

Letter 21[edit]

  1. According to the persians there are a hundred thousand prophets. (See letter XLI.)

Letter 22[edit]

  1. The second of those added in 1754.

Letter 23[edit]

  1. The Persian women wear four.---(M.)

Letter 24[edit]

  1. Louis XIV
  2. The French kings regarded money as a mere symbol, the value of which they could raise or lower at their pleasure. "Kings treat men as they do pieces of money; they give them what value they choose, and people are forced to accept them according to their currency, and not according to their true worth."--LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.
  3. An anachronism. The date of this letter is 1712, but the Bull Unigenitus, which, under the name of the "Constitution," troubled France during the greater part of the eighteenth century, was not issued til 1713.
  4. Louis XIV, submitted the more readily because he required the Pope's aid to terminate the theological quarrels which had become so insufferable to him.
  5. The Jansenists.
  6. The Jesuits.
  7. Rabi-ul-sani, the second month of spring, and fourth of the Persian year.

Letter 26[edit]

  1. More correctly, Rejab, the seventh month of the Persian year.

Letter 27[edit]

  1. Ispahan.--(M.)

Letter 28[edit]

  1. "Come on, and let us get a seat on the theatre.--On the theatre, replied my Siamese; you're joking. We are not going to perform, we come to look on.--No matter, I said, let us go and loll there. We shall see nothing, and hear badly; but it is the most expensive, and consequently the most honourable place."--DUFRESNY'S Amusements serieux et comiques, chap. V.
  2. More correctly, Shawal, the tenth month of the Persian year.

Letter 29[edit]

  1. Lent.
  2. Applied by Montesquieu's Persians to the friars, especially to the Jesuits.
  3. A Rosary.
  4. A scapulary.
  5. The pilgrmage to Saint James of Compostella.
  6. The Persians are the most tolerant of all the Mohammedans. -- (M.)

Letter 32[edit]

  1. The almshouse of the "Quinze-Vingts," founded at Paris, in 1254, by Saint Louis, on his return from Palestine, for three hundred knights whose eyes had been put out by the Saracens

Letter 34[edit]

  1. More correctly, Zil Haj, the last month of the Persian year.

Letter 35[edit]

  1. The full title of the book to which Usbek alludes is, “Polygamia triumphatrix, id est discursus politicus de polygamia, auctore Theophilo Aletheo, cum notis Athanasii Vincentii, omnibus antipolygamis, ubique locorum, terrarum, insularum, pagorum, urbium, modeste et pie opposita.” It was printed in Holland, probably in Amsterdam, although the name of a Swedish town appears on the title-page. Had it not suited Montesquieu’s purpose to refer to it, the very name of the book would now be unknown except to a few specialists, as it is dull and uninteresting.

Letter 36[edit]

  1. The Café Procope, a redezvous of the wits of the eighteenth century.
  2. The quarrel regarding the relative merits of the ancients and the moderns, in which Homer was the chief subject of dispute.
  3. The Latin of schools.
  4. The Sorbonne and the University.
  5. An allusion to a seminary of Irish priests instituted in 1677 by some refugees.

Letter 37[edit]

  1. Louis XIV. Was then seventy-five years old, and had reigned for seventy.
  2. When Louis XIV. Was in his sixteenth year, some courtiers discussed in his presence the absolute power of the Sultans, who dispose as they like of the goods and the lives of their subjects. “That is something like being a king,” said the young monarch. Marshal d’Estrées, alarmed at the tendency revealed in the remark, rejoined, “But, sire, several of these emperors have been strangled even in my time.”
  3. Barbezieux, son of Louvois, Louis’s youngest minister, held office at twenty-three, not eighteen; and he was dead in 1713.
  4. Madame de Maintenon.
  5. The Jansenists.
  6. At Versailles.
  7. The Shah of Persia.

Letter 38[edit]

  1. Herodotus, iv. 110-147

Letter 39[edit]

  1. A Hagi is a man who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.-(M.)

Letter 42[edit]

  1. A “sublime expression” which the reader is not spared.(See Introduction.)

Volume 2[edit]

Letter 45[edit]

  1. In this letter Montesquieu was probably thinking of a physician named Boudin, who imagined that he had rediscovered the secrets of the alchemists. Saint-Simon has an admirable description of this man.
  2. Nicholas Flamel, a citizen of Paris (1330-1418), was regarded as an alchemist by those who envied his great fortune. Raymond Lully, a Spanish savant (1235-1315), was considered, rightly or wrongly, one of the most famous alchemists.

Letter 46[edit]

  1. A Jew.--(M.)
  2. A Turk.--(M.)
  3. An Armenian.--(M.)

Letter 47[edit]

  1. Courouc (back! back!) is the cry of the eunuchs who accompany the women's litters.

Letter 48[edit]

  1. Montesquieu describes himself in this passage.

Letter 51[edit]

  1. These manners have changed. – (M.)
  2. Peter the Great.

Letter 55[edit]

  1. It was a rule of good society. "Most men understand that they should say very little about their wives; but few know that they should talk still less about themselves."--LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.

Letter 60[edit]

  1. Voltaire, in his article on the Jews in the “Philosophical Dictionary,” has reproduced this idea of Montesquieu’s without acknowledging it.
  1. Abu Bekr, father-in-law of Mohammed, was proclaimed Caliph on the death of the prophet, in 632. According to the Persians, this nomination was a usurpation of the rights of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed. (See Note, p. 20, Vol. i. [letter 6]).

Letter 63[edit]

  1. Drawing-room we would say to-day. In the eighteenth century it was in their elegant cabinets de toilette that ladies received visitors.

Letter 67[edit]

  1. Guebre, or infidel, the name applied to the fire-worshippers, descended from the immediate followers of Zoroaster. According to Dr. C. J. Wills, in his "Persia as It Is," there are only about 8000 Guebres left in Persia, and these are congregated at Yezd.
  2. A fabulous Cambyses, father of Hystaspes, or Gustaspes, King of Persia, under whom Zoroaster lived. Cambyses, under the name of Hohoraspes, and his son are referred to further on in this letter.
  3. The caste of hereditary priests under the Medes and Persians. Zoraster reformed their religious doctrines and ceremonies.
  4. The ancient Bactra. The Arch-mage resided there till the followers of Zoroaster were overcome by the Caliphs.
  5. A toman is equal to a little more than eighteen shillings.

Letter 69[edit]

  1. Zeuxis, when he painted Helen for the Agrigentines.
  2. This paragraph appeared first in the edition of 1754.

Letter 71[edit]

  1. Moses.-Deuteronomy, ch. 22., 5. 13-21.
  2. See Letter I., note 1.

Letter 72[edit]

  1. Decisionnaire in the original, a word invented by Montesquieu to describe a man who lays down the law upon everything.
  2. Tavernier (1605-1689) and Chardin (1643-1713), the Persian travelers from whose books Montesquieu derived his knowledge of Persia.

Letter 73[edit]

  1. The dictionary of the Academy.
  2. The dictionary of Furetière. The author was expelled from the Academy in 1685, because he was accused of having profited by the work of his fellow Academicians in the composition of the dictionary which bears his name.

Letter 75[edit]

  1. :
“All we have gained then by our unbelief 
Is a life of doubt diversified by faith, 
For one of faith diversified by doubt: 
We called the chessboard white, --we call it black.” 
  1. The French colonies.
  2. The Mohammedans had no wish to take Venice because they could not obtain water there suitable for their purifications. --(M.)

Letter 76[edit]

  1. Cent millions de têtes in some editions. Terres seems preferable, however, as it is an anticlimax to proceed from all men to a hundred millions.

Letter 77[edit]

  1. This letter was inserted in the edition of 1754 as a foil to that which precedes it.

Letter 78[edit]

  1. Madame d'Aulnoy has a similar eulogy of spectacles in her "Voyage d'Espagne."
  2. Jean de Castro.--(M.)
  3. The exhibition of the foot, according to Madame d'Aulnoy's "Voyage d'Espagne," was regarded in Spain as being "la dernière javeur."
  4. "Don Quixote."
  5. The Batuecas.--(M.) This is an invention of some wag whom Montesquieu seems to have taken seriously.

Letter 81[edit]

  1. This letter contains much that Montesquieu developed afterwards in his "Esprit des Lois"
  2. In 1622.

Letter 82[edit]

  1. The Huns.

Letter 86[edit]

  1. This letter is a bold and generous protest against the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
  2. The Parsees of Bombay are the descendants of the exiled Guebres.

Letter 87[edit]

  1. According to a law derived from the Romans, in the southern provinces of France daughters could compel their fathers to dower them. (See Letter 125.)

Letter 90[edit]

  1. This letter contains the germ of "principles of the three governments," a theory expounded by Montesquieu in the third book of "L'Esprit des Lois."

Letter 91[edit]

  1. By an edict of Louis XIV. duelists incurred the penalty of death.

Letter 92[edit]

  1. The fourth letter added in 1754.
  2. The business-agent of a Persian provincial minister, in order to defray the expenses of a visit to France, pretended to be an ambassador. He was allowed to play the part for the king’s amusement.

Letter 93[edit]

  1. Louis XIV. died at Versailles on the 1st of September, 1715, in the seventy-seventh year of his age and the sixty-third of his reign.
  2. The Duke of Orleans.
  3. By an edict of 16th September, 1715, ratified in Parliament, the Regent revoked those articles of the decrees of 1667 and 1673 which took from Parliament the right of remonstrance.

Letter 94[edit]

  1. A Mussulman living a conventual life.

Letter 102[edit]

  1. The Bull Unigenitus, directed against the Jansenists. (See Letter XXIV.)

Letter 103[edit]

  1. Philip-Augustus
  2. He who was called the "old man of the mountains."

Letter 105[edit]

  1. Charles I.
  2. The New Testament.

Letter 107[edit]

  1. Used by Montesquieu as inclusive of both the industrial and the fine arts

Letter 108[edit]

  1. Louis XV., born 15th February, 1710.

Letter 109[edit]

  1. The French journals of the eighteenth century contained nothing but notices of new books.

Letter 110[edit]

  1. He means the dispute with Ramus.-(M.) Dr. Ramus (Pierre de la Ramée), Professor in the College Royal, wished to say kiskis and kankam instead of quisquis and quanquam. He was assassinated on the third day of the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
  2. Philip III., King of Spain.

Letter 112[edit]

  1. The fifth of the letters added in 1754.
  2. Cardinal Mazarin, having occasion to use the phrase, “l’arrêt d’union,” before the parliamentary deputies, pronounced it, “l’arrêt d’ognon,” a slip of which the people made great fun.—(M.)

Letter 113[edit]

  1. Some countries were, in Montesquieu’s time, and are now, less populous than in their earlier history; but that the modern world contains fewer people than the antique one, is an assertion for which there is no proof.
  2. In one sense true, as Cæsar’s Gaul was covered with forests.

Letter 114[edit]

  1. Mercury.

Letter 120[edit]

  1. The heaven of the Chinese.

Letter 121[edit]

  1. By an edict of Henry II., in 1556.

Letter 122[edit]

  1. History proves the contrary.
  2. Montesquieu did not foresee the "Negro question."
  3. The author probably means the Isle of Bourbon.--(M.)
  4. Not the only one; there is the method by which England has retained India.

Letter 124[edit]

  1. Prince Eugene, who defeated the Turks at Peterwardein, took Belgrade in 1717, and concluded the advantageous peace of Passarowitz in 1718.

Letter 125[edit]

  1. The sixth of the letters added in 1754.

Letter 126[edit]

  1. Bonzes are the Buddhist priests of China, whom Montesquieu seems to have confounded with the Brahmins of India.

Letter 127[edit]

  1. By the Great Mogul is here meant the King of Spain. His ambassador is the Prince of Cellamare, who was arrested and sent across the frontier for conspiring against the Regent with the Duke and Duchess of Maine.
  2. The Duke of Maine.

Letter 128[edit]

  1. Charles XII of Sweden.
  2. Baron Gortz.

Letter 130[edit]

  1. The Tuileries.
  2. 1717.
  3. The Count of Lionne.
  4. That is, to publish.
  5. The Count of Lionne.

Letter 131[edit]

  1. This letter contains the gist of the "Esprit des Lois."

Letter 132[edit]

  1. The paper of the Bank having become worthless, the holders of bills had to pay their value in cash into the Treasury.
  2. The depreciated paper retained in law its nominal value, so that a debtor could ruin his creditor by paying him in bank-bills.

Letter 135[edit]

  1. Law, the banker.

Letter 137[edit]

  1. Like Pascal, Montesquieu despised poetry, although he liked plays. Voltaire, having been taken to task concerning his attacks on Montesquieu, replied, "He is guilty of lèse-poésie."
  1. M. Meyer, in his "Études de critique ancienne et moderne," detects here an allusion to Voltaire's "Henriade," the beginning of which was already circulating in manuscript. This is not impossible, as Montesquieu had no great regard for Voltaire.

Letter 138[edit]

  1. The Duke of Noailles.
  2. Law.
  3. Rue Quincampoix, at that time the rendezvous of stockbrokers.

Letter 139[edit]

  1. Ulrica-Eleonora, sister of Charles XII., elected Queen of Sweden by the people.
  2. Frederic of Hesse-Cassel.

Letter 140[edit]

  1. The Parliament, having opposed Law's system, was exiled to Pontoise by the Regent on the 21st of July, 1720.

Letter 142[edit]

  1. The scotch financier, Law, of whose system this allegory is a satire.
  2. France.
  3. Louis XIV.
  4. Le cours des actions, the price of shares.
  5. It had been decreed that all specie should be taken to the Bank.
  6. At the beginning of Law’s “system,” claims on the Bank were paid half in paper and half in cash.
  7. A royal order, issued 20th June, 1720.
  8. A decree of the 4th of July, 1720.
  9. A decree of the 15th September, 1720.

Letter 143[edit]

  1. “La Connaissance du Globe,” according to the early editors.
  2. Reverend pere Jesuite
  3. A Jesuit, born at Troyes. He was the confessor of Louis XIII., and was exiled by Richelieu.
  4. Ten Decrees (Arrets) of the Council, concerning the Bank and the Company of the Indies; or, according to the earlier editors, concerning the Bull and the Constitution of the Jesuits.
  5. Flechier, Bishop of Nimes (Monsieur de Nimes).
  6. The “Jeux Floraux,” established in 1324 by the magistrates of Toulouse to revive the decaying art of the troubadours.
  7. Louis Maimbourg, expelled from the company of Jesus in 1685 for having defended the libraries of the Gallican Church in his “traite historique de l’Englise de Rome.”
  8. “A marvel in chemistry, concerning a violent fermentation, accompanied with smoke, heat, and flame. Mingle an infusion of Quesnel9 with one of Lallemand;10 let fermentation proceed with much violence, energy, and noise, as the acids fight together, and eat their way into each others alkaline salts;11 the fiery spirits will thus evaporate. When fermentation is over, put the liquid in an alembic: you will get nothing out of it, and find nothing left in it, but a caput mortuum.-A Gentle Aperient. Take two papers of Molina as pain-killer; of Escobar, to keep the bowels open, take six pages; take of Vasquez, to keep the passage easy, one leaf; infuse in four pounds o f common water. When half has evaporated, strain and squeeze; and, while squeezing, dissolve in the mixture three leaves of Baun to act as detergent, and three of Tamburini 11 to wash away impurities. Make a clyster of the result.-A cure for chlorosis, vulgarly called the green-sickness, or hot fit of love. Take four plates from Aretinus; take of Thomas Sanchez’ work on Marriage, two leaves. Infuse them in five pounds of common water, and you will have a pleasant aperient.”
  9. A Jansenist, and Great opponent of the Jesuits.
  10. A Jesuit father.
  11. A pun in the original; “sales” meaning also “witticisms.”
  12. Molina, Escobar, Vasquez, Bauni, and Tamburini were Jesuits who replied to the attacks of the Jansenists. Their names are frequently mentioned in Pascal’s “Provincials.” The name of Escobar makes at least one appearance in English literature:

“Now, they prick pins at a tissue
Fine as a skein of the casuist Escobar’s
Worked on the bone of a lie.”

Browning’s Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha. Vol. III

Letter 144[edit]

  1. The seventh letter added in 1754.
  2. In the original “my dear Usbek,” which is evidently a mistake.

Letter 145[edit]

  1. The eighth letter added in 1754.

Letter 146[edit]

  1. Another satire on the "system" of Law.
  2. Paper money.
  3. A pen.
  4. That is, paid a debt in worthless paper.

Letter 153[edit]

  1. Expier in the original. It is used again by Montesquieu in this unusual sense in “L’Esprit des Lois.”

Letter 157[edit]

  1. The ninth letter added in 1754.

Letter 158[edit]

  1. The tenth of 1754.

Letter 160[edit]

  1. The eleventh and last of the letters added in 1754.