Persian Letters/Letter 59
Rica to Usbek, at ***
The other day I visited a house, where the company was of the most miscellaneous description. I found the conversation monopolized by two old women, who had laboured in vain all morning to rejuvenate themselves. “I must say,” remarked one of them, “that the men of to-day are very different from those we knew in our youth: they were refined, courteous, obliging; but now, I find their coarseness intolerable.” “All is altered,” said a man, who appeared to be crippled with gout. “Things are not as they used to be forty years ago. People are healthier; affairs went well; and everybody was cheerful; nobody asked for anything better than to dance and sing. Now, you won’t see a single cheerful face.” A moment after, the conversation turned to politics. “’Sdeath!” said an old lord; “the state is no longer governed. Where will you find now a minister like M. Colbert? I knew him well, M. Colbert; he was a friend of mine; he always made them pay me my pension before it was due: he was such a capital financier! Everybody was comfortable; but now I am ruined.” “Sir,” said an ecclesiastic, “you are speaking of the most wonderful period of our invincible monarch’s reign: could anything be more magnificent than what he then did to extirpate heresy?” “And does the abolition of dueling count for nothing?” asked a self-satisfied man who had not yet spoken. “A most judicious remark,” whispered some one in my ear. “That man is delighted with the dueling law; and he observes it so faithfully, that six months ago he took a sound drubbing, rather than violate it.”
It seems to me, Usbek, that our opinions are always influenced by a secret application to ourselves. I am not surprised that Negroes paint the devil with a complexion of dazzling whiteness, and their gods as black as coal; that the Venus of certain races has breasts that hang down to her thighs; and finally, that all idolaters have represented their gods in the likeness of men, and have ascribed to them all their own passions. It has been very well said, that if triangles were to make to themselves gods, they would give them three sides.
My dear Usbek, when I behold men, mere crawlers on this atom, the earth,, which is but a point in the universe, proposing themselves as exact models for Providence, I know not how to harmonise such extravagance with such littleness.
Paris, the 14th of the moon of Saphar, 1714.