Usbek to Ibben at Smyrna
King of France is old.1
We have no examples in our histories of such a long reign as his.
It is said that he possesses in a very high degree the faculty of making
himself obeyed: he governs with equal ability his family, his court, and
his kingdom: he has often been heard to say, that, of all existing governments,
that of the Turks, or that of our august Sultan, pleased him best: such
is his high opinion of Oriental statecraft.2
I have studied his character, and I have found certain contradictions which I cannot reconcile. For example, he has a minister who is only eighteen years old,3 and a mistress who is fourscore;4 he loves his religion, and yet he cannot abide those who assert that it ought to be strictly observed;5 although he flies from the noise of cities, and is inclined to be reticent, from morning till night he is engaged in getting himself talked about; he is fond of trophies and victories, but he has a great a dread of seeing a good general at the head of his own troops, as at the head of an army of his enemies. It has never I believe happened to any one by himself, to be burdened with more wealth than even a prince could hope for, and yet at the same time steeped in such poverty as a private person could ill brook.
He delights to reward those who serve him; but he pays as liberally the assiduous indolence of his courtiers, as the labours in the field of his captains; often the man who undresses him, or who hands him his serviette at table, is preferred before him who has taken cities and gained battles; he does not believe that the greatness of a monarch is compatible with restriction in the distribution of favours; and, without examining into the merit of a man, he will heap benefits upon him, believing that his selection makes the recipient worthy; accordingly he has been known to bestow a small pension upon a man who had run off two leagues from the enemy, and a good government on another who had gone four.
Above all, he is magnificent in his buildings; there are more statues in his palace gardens6 than there are citizens in a large town. His bodyguard is as strong as that of the prince before whom all the thrones of the earth tremble;7 his armies are as numerous, his resources as great, and his finances as inexhaustible.
Paris, the 7th of the moon of Maharram, 1713.
1 Louis XIV. Was then seventy-five years old, and had reigned for seventy.
2 When Louis XIV. Was in his sixteenth year, some courtiers discussed in his presence the absolute power of the Sultans, who dispose as they like of the goods and the lives of their subjects. “That is something like being a king,” said the young monarch. Marshal d’Estrées, alarmed at the tendency revealed in the remark, rejoined, “But, sire, several of these emperors have been strangled even in my time.”
3 Barbezieux, son of Louvois, Louis’s youngest minister, held office at twenty-three, not eighteen; and he was dead in 1713.
4 Madame de Maintenon.
5 The Jansenists.
6 At Versailles.
7 The Shah of Persia.