Persian Letters/Letter 134

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Letter 134[edit]

Rica to the Same

Yesterday I returned to the same library, and met a man very different from him whom I had seen the first time. His manner was simple, his countenance intelligent, and his address most courteous. As soon as he understood my desire, he set himself to satisfy it, and even, as I was a stranger, to instruct me.

“Good father,” said I, “what are those large volumes which fill all that side of the library?” “These,” said he, “are interpretations of the Scriptures.” “What a quantity there are!” rejoined I; “the Scriptures must have been very obscure formerly, and cannot fail to be very obvious now. Do any doubts remain? Are there any points left in dispute?” “Any, good heavens! any!” cried he; “there are almost as many as there are lines.” “Indeed!” said I; “then what have all these authors done?” “These authors,” he replied, “did not search the Scriptures for what ought to be believed, but for what they themselves believed; they did not regard the Scriptures as a work containing doctrines which they were bound to accept, but as a work which might sanction their own ideas; therefore it is that they have corrupted its meaning, and twisted every text. It is a country which all sects invade as if bent on pillage; it is a battlefield on which hostile nations encounter each other in endless engagements, attacking and skirmishing in every possible manner.

“Close to these you see books of asceticism and devotion; then books of morality, much more useful; theological tomes, doubly unintelligible, on account of the matter discussed, and the manner of treatment; and the works of the mystics, that is to say, of passionate-hearted devotees.” “Ah, my father!” said I, “stay a moment; tell me about these mystics.” “Sir,” said he, “devotion warms a heart inclined to passion, and the heat mounting to the brain, produces ecstasies and raptures. This is the delirium of devotion; often it develops, or rather degenerates into quietism; you must know that a quietist is nothing else than a madman, a devotee, and a libertine, all in one.

“There are the casuists, who expose the secrets of the night; who form in their fancy all the monsters which the demon of love can produce, collect them, compare them, and make them the everlasting subject of their thoughts; happy are they, if their hearts do not become accomplices in the many debaucheries they describe with such simplicity and directness!

“You see, sir, that I think freely, and tell you all I think. I am naturally artless, and more so with you who are a stranger, desirous of information, and to know things as they are. If I wished, I could speak of all this with admiration, and be for ever saying, ‘It is divine, it is worthy of all reverence, it is truly marvelous!’ And there would happen one of two things: either I would deceive you, or I would lower myself in your regard.”

There we stopped; some business called away the dervish, and interrupted our conversation till the morrow.

Paris, the 23rd of the moon of Rhamazan, 1719.