Rica to Usbek, at * * *
DO you mean to spend your whole life in the country? At first I was to lose you only for a day or two, but now fifteen have passed since I last saw you. I know that you are living in a delightful house where the company suits you, where you can speculate at your ease: nothing more is required to make you forget the whole universe.
For myself, my life moves on pretty much as it did when we were together. I go into society and try to understand it; my thought loses gradually all that remained of its Asiatic cast, and conforms without effort to European manners. I am no longer amazed to find in one house half-a-dozen women with as many men; indeed, I begin to think it not altogether a bad idea.
This I will say: I knew nothing of women until I came here; I have learnt more about them in one month of Paris, than I could have done in thirty years of a seraglio.
With us, character is uniform, because it is constrained; we do not see people as they are, but as they are obliged to be; in that slavery of heart and mind, it is only fear that utters a dull routine of words, very different from the language of nature which expresses itself so variously.
Dissimulation, that art so practised and so necessary with us, is here unknown: they say everything, see everything, and hear everything; hearts are as open as faces; in manners, in virtue, even in vice, one detects always a certain artlessness.
In order to gratify women a talent is necessary different from that other gift which pleases them still more; it consists in a sort of playfulness of mind, which entertains them, as it seems to promise them every moment what one cannot perform except occasionally.
The gaiety of mind naturally adapted to the dressing-room1 seems to be forming the general character of the nation: they trifle in council, at the head of the army, with an ambassador. Professions appear ridiculous only in proportion to the professional gravity adopted: a doctor would be less absurd if his dress were more cheerful, and if, while killing his patients, he jested pleasantly.
Paris, the 10th of the first moon of Rebiab, 1714.
1. Drawing-room we would say to-day. In the eighteenth century it was in their elegant cabinets de toilette that ladies received visitors.