"With us there is an uniformity of character, as it is all forced: we do not see people as they are, but as they are obliged to appear: in this state of slavery, both of body and mind, it is their fears only that speak, which have but one language, and that not of nature, which expresses herself so differently, and which appears under so many forms."

— Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755)


Date
1721, 1722
Metaphor
"With us there is an uniformity of character, as it is all forced: we do not see people as they are, but as they are obliged to appear: in this state of slavery, both of body and mind, it is their fears only that speak, which have but one language, and that not of nature, which expresses herself so differently, and which appears under so many forms."
Metaphor in Context
I, for my part, lead my life pretty nearly in the same manner, as when you saw me. I launch into the world, and endeavour to know it. My mind insensibly loses all that remained of the Asiatic, and easily conforms to European manners. I am no longer surprised at the sight of five or six women in one house, with as many men; and I begin to think it is not improper.

I may say I knew nothing of women till I came here: I have learned more of them here in a month, than I should have done in thirty years in a seraglio.

With us there is an uniformity of character, as it is all forced: we do not see people as they are, but as they are obliged to appear: in this state of slavery, both of body and mind, it is their fears only that speak, which have but one language, and that not of nature, which expresses herself so differently, and which appears under so many forms.

Dissimulation, an art among us universally practised, and so necessary, is unknown here: they speak every thing, see every thing, and hear every thing: the heart, like the face, is visible: in their manners, in their virtue, even in their vices, there is always something genuine and native to be perceived.

[Pour moi, je mène à peu près la même vie que tu m'as vu mener; je me répands dans le monde, et je cherche à le connoître: mon esprit perd insensiblement tout ce qui lui reste d'asiatique, et se plie sans effort aux mœurs européennes. Je ne suis plus si étonné de voir dans une maison cinq ou six femmes avec cinq ou six hommes; et je trouve que cela n'est pas mal imaginé.

Je le puis dire, je ne connois les femmes que depuis que je suis ici; j'en ai plus appris dans un mois que je n'aurois fait en trente ans dans un sérail.

Chez nous les caractères sont tous uniformes, parce qu'ils sont forcés: on ne voit pas les gens tels qu'ils sont, mais tels qu'on les oblige d'être; dans cette servitude du cœur et de l'esprit on n'entend parler que la crainte, qui n'a qu'un langage, et non pas la nature, qui s'exprime si différemment, et qui paroît sous tant de formes.

La dissimulation, cet art parmi nous si pratiqué et si nécessaire, est ici inconnue: tout parle, tout se voit, tout s'entend; le cœur se montre comme le visage; dans les mœurs, dans la vertu, dans le vice même, on aperçoit toujours quelque chose de naïf.]
(Letter LXIII, Rica to Usbek, at ***)
Categories
Provenance
Reading
Citation
The earliest English-language issue is Persian Letters, trans. John Ozell, 2 vols. (London: Printed for J. Tonson, 1722). <Link to ECCO>

12 entries in the ESTC for this title (1722, 1730, 1731, 1736, 1751, 1759, 1760, 1762, 1767, 1773, 1775). Searching The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu, 4 vols. (London: T. Evans, 1777) at Online Library of Liberty <Link to OLL>. French text from Project Gutenberg.

Date of Entry
03/11/2011

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.