Persian Letters/Letter 110

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Persian Letters by Montesquieu, translated by John Davidson
Letter 110

Letter 110[edit]

Rica to * * *

The University of Paris is the first-born daughter of the kings of France, and very aged; for she is more than nine hundred years old; and so she dotes now and again.

I have been told that she had at one time a great dispute with some doctors about the letter Q,1 which they wanted to pronounce like K. The quarrel grew so warm that some of the disputants were despoiled of their substance. It became necessary for parliament to put an end to it; which it did by permitting, in a solemn decree, all the subjects of the king of France to pronounce that letter according to their fancy. It was very amusing to see the two most venerable institutions in Europe occupied in deciding the fate of a letter of the alphabet!

It seems, my dear * * *, that the ablest men grow stupid when they get together; and that, where you have the greatest number of wise men, there you have the least wisdom. Great bodies always pay so much attention to minor details, and idle customs, that essentials are never considered till afterwards. I have heard it said that a king of Arragon,2 having assembled the states of Arragon and Catalonia, the first sessions were spent in deciding in what language the deliberations should be held: the dispute was lively, and the states would have broken up a thousand times, if they had not hit upon the expedient of putting the question in the Catalonian tongue, and the reply in that of Arragon.

Paris, the 25th of the moon of Zilhage, 1718.