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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

50. European Diversity Through the Foreign Gaze

Texte intégral

1Following the model of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Spaniard José Cadalso (1741–1782)i imagines Moroccan visitors in Spain, telling their correspondents about their discoveries as a way of allowing his readers to see their daily life in a new light and teaching them a form of cultural relativity.

Letter I

Gazel to Ben-Beley

2I have managed to stay in Spain following the departure of our Ambassador, as I have wanted to for some time, and as I frequently mentioned in our correspondence during his stay in Madrid. My intention was to travel with purpose, and this is not always possible when travelling in the retinue of great men, particularly Asians or Africans. Let’s put it this way: they fail to see beyond the surface of the ground they walk on; their pomp, their lack of history or tradition in studying matters that merit investigation, the number of servants they have, their ignorance of languages, the suspicions they must surely harbour about the countries in which they travel: these and other reasons prevent them from experiencing many things that the less conspicuous, lone traveller can.

3I find myself donning the clothes of these Christians, invited into their homes, with a command of their language, and having formed a close friendship with a Christian named Nuño Núñez, a man who has suffered many twists of fate, and practised many professions and lifestyles. He now finds himself isolated from the world, and, as he would say, trapped inside himself. Time flies when I am with him, because he strives to teach me about anything I ask. He does this with such sincerity that sometimes he says to me: ‘I do not understand this’, and other times he says ‘I do not wish to understand this’. Thanks to this opportunity I intend to examine not only the court, but all the provinces of the Peninsula. I will observe the customs of these people, noting what they share with other European countries and what is particular to them. I will attempt to rid myself of the many prejudices we Moors hold against Christians, especially against the Spanish. I will take note of everything that surprises me, to be addressed with Nuño, and later relay the good judgement I have formed on the matter to you. […]

Letter II

From the same to the same

4I am still not able to answer your renewed request to pass on the observations which I am making in the capital of this vast monarchy. Do you know how many things are necessary to form a true idea of the country in which one is travelling? It is true that as I have made several trips through Europe, I am better able to so than other Africans or, to put it more correctly, there are fewer obstacles; even so, I have noted such differences between Europeans, that knowing one of the countries in this part of the world is not sufficient to judge the other States. The Europeans do not seem to be neighbours though externally they seem uniform in terms of cuisine, theatres, walks, armies and luxury: their laws, vices, virtues and government are extremely different and so too, as a matter of consequence, are the customs specific to each Nation.

5José Cadalso, Moroccan Letters (1789).

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