Persian Letters/Letter 74

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Letter 74[edit]

Usbek to Rica, at ***

Some days ago a man of my acquaintance said to me, “I promised to introduce you to the best houses in Paris. I will take you now to that of a great lord who supports his rank as well as any man in France.”

“What do you mean by that, sir? Is he more refined, more polite than others?” “No,” said he. “Ah! I understand: he makes his superiority felt on all occasions by those who approach him. If that is it, I shall have nothing to do with him; I give up the whole case, and accept my inferiority.”

I had, however, to go; and I saw a little man, supercilious to a degree. He took a pinch of snuff with such a haughty air, he blew his nose so mercilessly, he spat with such indifference, and caressed his dogs in a style so offensive to the onlookers, that I could not but marvel at him. “Ah! Sweet Heaven!” said I to myself; “if, when I was at the court of Persia, I behaved in this way, I behaved like a great fool!” We would have been the very inferior creatures, Rica, had we offered a hundred little insults to those people who waited upon us daily in token of their goodwill. They knew well that we were above them; and if they had not, our favors would have made them daily conscious of it. There being no need to secure their respect, we did our utmost to win their affection: we were accessible to the humblest; in the midst of our greatness, usually so hardening, they found we had feelings; only our hearts appeared to belong to a higher order; we descended to their wants. But, when it was necessary to support the dignity of our sovereign in public ceremonies, to make the nation worthy of respect in the eyes of strangers; and lastly, when, in times of danger, we required to animate our soldiers, our bearing became more lofty a hundred times than it had been before lowly; we resumed our haughty looks; and not seldom we were found to play our part at least adequately.

Paris, the 10th of the moon of Saphar, 1715.