I found myself recently in a company where I met am man very well satisfied with himself. In a quarter of an hour, he decided three questions in morals, four historical problems, and five points in physics. I have never seen so universal a decider1; his mind was not once troubled with the least doubt. We left science, and talked of the current news: he decided upon the current news. I wished to catch him, so I said to myself, “I must get to my strong point; I will betake me to my own country.” I spoke to him of Persia; but hardly had I opened my mouth, when he contradicted me twice, basing his objections upon the authority of Tavernier and Chardin 2 “Ah! Good heavens!” said I to myself, “what kind of man is this? He will know next all the streets in Ispahan better than I do!” I soon knew what part to play-to be silent, and let him talk; and he is still laying down the law.
Paris, the 8th of the moon of Zilcade, 1715.
Decisionnaire in the original, a word invented by Montesquieu to describe
a man who lays down the law upon everything.
2 Tavernier (1605-1689) and Chardin (1643-1713), the Persian travelers from whose books Montesquieu derived his knowledge of Persia.