A reprint of the Library of Liberal Arts edition.
From the Introduction:
“The Persian Letters has a largely deserved reputation for wit, naughtiness, and negative criticism. Yet the jesting, the play on sex, and the occasionally embittered denunciations are, even in sum, but a minor part of the book. The burden of The Persian Letters is not to be found in Rica’s irreverent observations on popes and kings, or in the tangled story of Usbek’s frustrated wives and eunuchs, but instead in the essays and allegories, mostly attributed to Usbek, in which he attempts to straighten out his puzzled mind, and to suggest some principles by which a confused world might better be organized.”
Based on the 1758 edition, this translation strives for fidelity and retains Montesquieu’s paragraphing. George R. Healy’s Introduction discusses The Persian Letters as a kind of overture to the Enlightenment, a work of remarkable diversity designed more to explore a problem of great urgency for eighteenth century thought than to resolve it: that of discovering universals, or at least the pragmatic constants, amid the diversity of human culture and society, and of confronting the proposition that there are no values in human relationships except those imposed by force or agreed upon in self-interested conventions.
George R. Healy is Professor Emeritus of History, College of William and Mary.