Persian Letters/Letter 33
Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice
Wine is so very dear in Paris, on account of the duties laid on it, that it seems as if there were an intention to fulfil the injunctions of the divine Koran, which prohibits the use of strong drink.
When I consider the disastrous effects of that liquor, I cannot help regarding it as the most baleful of nature’s gifts to men. If there is one good thing that has soiled the lives and the good fame of our monarchs, it has been intemperance; that is the chief and vilest source of their injustice and cruelty.
To the shame of these men it must be said, that, though the law prohibits them from using wine, they drink it to an excess which degrades them beneath the lowest of mankind. Here, however, the princes are allowed to use it, and no one has ever observed that it has caused them to do wrong. The human mind is inconsistency itself. In a drunken debauch, men break out madly against all precept; and the law, intended to make for our righteousness, often serves only to increase our guilt.
But, when I disapprove of the use of this liquor which deprives men of their reason, I do not also condemn those beverages which exhilarate the mind. The wisdom of the Orientals shows itself in their search for remedies against melancholy, which they prosecute with as much solicitude as in the case of the most dangerous maladies. When a misfortune happens to a European, his only resource is to read a philosopher called Seneca; but we Asiatics, more sensible, and better physicians in this matter, drink an infusion which cheers the heart and charms away the memory of its sufferings.
There is no greater affliction than those consolations which are drawn from the necessity of evil, the inefficacy of remedies, the inevitableness of destiny, the dispensations of Providence, and the wretched state of mankind generally. It is mockery to think of lightening misfortune, by remembering that we are born to misery; it is much wiser to raise the mind above these reflections, to treat man as a being capable of feeling, and not as a mere reasoner.
The soul, while united to the body, is a slave under a tyrant. If the blood moves sluggishly, if our spirits are not light enough, or high enough, we fall into dejection, and grow melancholy; but, if we drink what has the power to change the disposition of our body, our soul becomes capable of receiving delightful impressions, and experiences an inward joy as its machine recovers, so to speak, life and motion.
Paris the 25th of the moon of Zilcade, 1713.