Montesquieu

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Montesquieu  (1904) 
by Courtenay Ilbert

THE ROMANES LECTURE

1904


Montesquieu




BY

SIR COURTENAY ILBERT

K.C.S.I., C.I.E



DELIVERED

IN THE SHELDONIAN THEATRE, OXFORD

JUNE 4, 1904




OXFORD

AT THE CLARENDON PRESS

1904


HENRY FROWDE, M.A.
PUBLISHER TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
LONDON, EDINBURGH
NEW YORK



MONTESQUIEU




When Sainte-Beuve sat down, in the year 1852, to write a causerie about Montesquieu, he gave as a reason for not having dealt with the subject before that Montesquieu belonged to the class of men whom one approaches with apprehension on account of the respect which they inspire, and of the kind of religious halo which has gathered round their names.

This was written more than fifty years ago, and the language reflects the glamour which still attached to Montesquieu's name during the first half of the nineteenth century. That glamour has now passed away. Not that Montesquieu has died, or is likely to die. But he is no longer the oracle of statesmen; his Spirit of Laws is no longer treated by framers of constitutions as a Bible of political philosophy, bearing with it the same kind of authority as that which Aristotle bore among the schoolmen. That authority ended when the greater part of the civilized world had been endowed with parliamentary and representative institutions framed more or less on the model which Montesquieu had described and had held up for imitation. The interest which attaches to him now is of a different order. It is literary and historical. He lives as one of the greatest of French writers, and his Considerations on the Greatness and Decay of the Romans are still read as a school classic by French boys and girls, much as the masterpieces of Burke are, or ought to be, read in English schools. To the student of political history he is known as the source of ideas which exercised an influence of incomparable importance in the framing of constitutions both for the old and for the new continent. And for the student of political science, his work marks a new departure in methods of observation and treatment. The Spirit of Laws has been called the greatest book of the eighteenth century: its publication was certainly one of the greatest events of that century.

If it were necessary for me to offer an apology for taking Montesquieu as my subject to-day I might plead, first, that no student of history or of political or legal science can afford to disregard one who has been claimed, on strong grounds, as a founder of the comparative method in its application to the study of Politics and of Law; next, that some recent publications[1] have thrown new and interesting light both on his character and on his methods of work; and lastly that one cannot return too often to the consideration of a really great man. Moreover, it may be suspected that, in this country at least, and at the present day, Montesquieu belongs to the numerous class of authors whom everybody is supposed to know but whom very few have read. It will, of course, be impossible for me to do more than touch on a few of the aspects of such a many-sided man.

Let me begin by reminding you of the leading dates and facts in Montesquieu's life, so far only as is necessary for the purpose of 'placing' him historically[2]. Charles Louis de Secondat was born in 1689, a year after the Revolution which ended the Stuart dynasty, five years before the birth of Voltaire, 100 years before the outbreak of the French Revolution. He died in 1755, four years after the publication of the first volume of the French Encyclopedia, the year before the Seven Years' War, five years before George III came to the throne, and seven years before Rousseau preached to the world, in the first chapter of his Social Contract, that man is born free and is everywhere in chains. His birthplace was the Chateau of La Brède, a thirteenth-century castle some ten miles from Bordeaux[3]. Thus he was a countryman of Montaigne,. with whom he had many affinities. His family was noble, and belonged to that more modern branch of the nobility which had acquired its fortunes from the exercise of judicial or financial functions, and which was known as the noblesse de la robe. Therefore he was a member of one of the two privileged classes which under the old régime owned between them some two-fifths of the soil of France, and were practically exempt from all the burdens of the state.

On his mother's death he was sent as a boy of seven to the Oratorian College at Juilly near Meaux, and remained there eleven years. He then studied law, and in 1714, at the age of twenty-five, was made counsellor of the Parlement of Bordeaux, that is to say member of the Supreme Court of the province of Guienne. In the next year he married a Protestant lady. The following year, 1716, made a great difference in his fortunes. His uncle died, and he succeeded to the barony of Montesquieu, to a considerable landed property, and above all, to the dignified and lucrative post of Président à Mortier, or Vice-President, of the Parlement of Bordeaux, a post which the uncle had acquired by purchase, and which the nephew retained until he parted with it to another purchaser in 1726. His judicial duties were such as to leave him a good deal of leisure. After the fashion of his time he dabbled in physical science. The papers which he read before the newly established Academy of Bordeaux were of no scientific value, but they influenced his subsequent political speculations, and supplied a sufficient excuse for his election during his English visit to a fellowship in our Royal Society[4]. His real interests lay neither in law nor in physics, but in the study of human nature. His first book, the Persian Letters, appeared in 1721. He resigned his judicial office in 1726, and became a member of the Académie française at the beginning of 1728. The next three years were spent in travel, and his travels ended with a stay of nearly two years in England. The Grandeur et décadence des Romains appeared in 1734, and the Esprit des lois in 1748. He died, as I have said, in 1755.

His personal appearance is known to us from the excellent medallion portrait by Dassier, executed in 1752. Aquiline features, an expression, subtle, kindly, humorous. He was always short-sighted, and towards the end of his life became almost entirely blind. 'You tell me that you are blind,' he writes to his old friend Madame du Deffand, in 1752: 'Don't you see we were both once upon a time, you and I, rebellious spirits, now condemned to darkness? Let us console ourselves by the thought that those who see clearly are not for that reason luminous[5].'

The three books to which Montesquieu owes his fame are the Persian Letters, the Considerations on the Greatness and Decay of the Romans, and the Spirit of Laws. Of these the first appeared during the Regency, that period of mad revel which followed the gloomy close of Louis XIV's reign. The second was published under the ministry of that aged and suspicious despot, Cardinal Fleury, when it was safer to speculate about ancient history than about contemporary politics or society. The last appeared under the rule of Madame de Pompadour, when the Encyclopaedists had begun that solvent work of theirs which prepared the way for the French Revolution. It should be added that all the three books were published anonymously, and printed in foreign countries, the first two at Amsterdam, the last at Geneva.

In order to trace the origin and development of Montesquieu's conceptions, and the course and tendency of his thoughts, the three books must be read consecutively, and must be supplemented by what we know of his studies and experiences during their preparation. For this knowledge very interesting additional materials have been supplied by the recent publication of the manuscripts which had for many years been preserved in the family archives of the Montesquieu family. They include the journals of travel which Sainte-Beuve said he would sooner have than the Spirit of Laws, and the three quarto volumes of Pensées in which Montesquieu stored materials for his published works.

The Persian Letters supply a clue to the plan of the Spirit of Laws, and contain the germs of many of the ideas which were subsequently developed in that book. They are the work of a young man. They profess to be written, and were probably composed or sketched, at different dates between 1711 and 1720[6], that is to say, during the last four years of Louis XIV's reign, and the first five years of the Regency, and they describe the impressions of three Persians who are supposed to be travelling in Europe at that time. There is an elder, Usbek, who is grave and sedate, a younger, Rica, who is gay and frivolous, and a third, Rhédi, who does not appear to have got further westward than Venice.

The device was not new, but it had never been employed with such brilliancy of style, with such fine irony, with such audacity, with such fertility of suggestion, with such subtlety of observation, with such profundity of thought. And it was admirably adapted for a writer who wished to let his mind play freely on men and manners, to compare and contrast the religious, political and social codes of different countries, to look at his manifold subject from different points of view, to suggest inferences and reflections, and to do all this without committing himself to or making himself responsible for any definite proposition. Any dangerous comment could be easily qualified by a note which explained that it merely represented the Mahommedan or the Persian point of view.

There were a great many dangerous passages. There was the famous letter about the Two Magicians, which nearly cost Montesquieu his election to the Academy.

'The king of France is the most powerful prince in Europe. He has no gold mines, like his neighbour the king of Spain, but he has greater riches because he draws them from an inexhaustible mine—the vanity of his subjects. He has undertaken and carried on great wars without funds except titles of honour to sell, and, through a prodigy of human pride, his troops have found themselves feared, his fortresses built, his fleets equipped. Moreover he is a great magician. His empire extends to the minds of his subjects: he makes them think as he wishes. If he has only one million crowns in his treasure chest and he wants two, he has merely to tell them that one crown is equal to two, and they believe it. If he has a difficult war to carry on and has no money, he has merely to put it into their heads that a piece of paper is money, and they are convinced at once. But this is no such marvel, for there is another still greater magician, who is called the Pope, and the things which he makes people believe are even more extraordinary.'

Then there was the description of the old king, with his minister of eighteen, and his mistress of eighty[7], surrounded by a swarm of invisible enemies, whom, in spite of his confidential dervishes, he could never discover. There were many references to religion, mostly irreverent, though not with the fierce and bitter irreverence of Voltaire. Usbek finds imperfect and tentative approximations to Mahommedanism in many of the Christian dogmas and rites, and ascribes to the finger of Providence the way in which the world is being thus prepared for general conversion to the creed of Islam. About diversities of ceremonial belief he has naturally much to say. 'The other day I was eating a rabbit at an inn. Three men who were near me made me tremble, for they all declared that I had committed a grievous sin, one because the animal was impure, and the second because it had been strangled, and the third because it was not a fish. I appealed to a Brahmin, who happened to be there and he said, 'They are all wrong, for doubtless you did not kill the animal yourself.' 'But I did.' 'Then your action is damnable and unpardonable. How did you know that your father's soul has not passed into that poor beast?'

Neither the burning question ofthe Bull Unigenitus[8], nor Law and his scheme, is left untouched.

He pursues a somewhat less dangerous path, though still a path paved with treacherous cinders, when he sketches, after La Bruyère's manner, contemporary social types, the 'grand seigneur' with his offensive manner of taking snuff and caressing his lapdog, the man 'of good fortunes,' the dogmatist, the director of consciences who distinguishes between grades of sin, and whose clients are not ambitious of front seats in Paradise, but wish to know how just to squeeze in. There are also national types, such as the Spaniard, whose gravity of character is manifested by his spectacles and his moustache, and who has little forms of politeness which would appear out of place in France. The captain never beats a soldier without asking his permission; the inquisitor makes his apology before burning a Jew. In a more serious vein is the description, so often quoted, of the ruin and desolation caused by the trampling of the Ottoman hoof. No law, no security of life or property: arts, learning, navigation, commerce, all in decay. 'In all this vast extent of territory which I have traversed,' says the Persian after his journey through Asia Minor, 'I have found but one city which has any wealth, and it is to the presence of Europeans that the wealth of Smyrna is due.'

The success of the Persian Letters was brilliant and instantaneous[9], and Montesquieu at once became a leading personage in Parisian society. He took lodgings in the most fashionable quarter[10], paid his devotions to Mlle de Clermont at Chantilly, was a favourite guest at the salon of the Marquise de Lambert, and through these influences obtained, though not without a struggle, a seat in the Academy. But he was dissatisfied with his reception there, and made up his mind to travel.

In the year 1728, when Montesquicu set out on his travels, the international politics of Europe were in a singularly confused and tangled position. Congress after congress, treaty after treaty, succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity and with little permanent effect. In Germany, Charles VI, the last male descendant of the Hapsburgs, had recently published his Pragmatic Sanction, was straining every nerve to secure the succession for his daughter Maria Theresa, and was wrangling with the 'Termagant of Spain' for the reversion of the Duchies of Modena and Parma. Frederick William of Prussia was recruiting his grenadiers, holding his tobacco parliaments, and negotiating his double marriage project. In Italy, the commercial republics of Venice and Genoa were sinking into decay, Piedmont was emerging as a military power, Florence was under the last of the Medici Grand Dukes. In England, Walpole had secured the confidence of the new king through the influence of his capable queen, and was doing his best, with the help of Cardinal Fleury, to maintain the peace of Europe.

Montesquieu started from Paris in April in the company of Lord Waldegrave, Marshal Berwick's nephew, who had recently been appointed ambassador to the imperial court at Vienna. He travelled through Austria and Hungary, thence went to Venice[11], visited in turn all the petty states into which Italy was then divided, spent several months at Florence, where he devoted himself mainly to art, and made even a longer stay at Rome, to which he returned after Naples. Of his last interview with the Pope a story is told, for which one could wish there were better evidence[12]. The Pope expressed a wish to do something for his distinguished visitor, and at last offered him for himself and his family a perpetual dispensation from fasting. The next day a papal official called with a bull of dispensation made out in due form, and an account of the customary fees. But the thrifty Gascon waved away the parchment. 'The Pope is an honest man,' he said; 'his word is enough for me, and I hope it will be enough for my Maker.'

After leaving Italy he visited Munich and Augsburg, travelled by Würtemberg and the Rhine countries to Bonn, the residence of the Elector and Archbishop of Cologne, had an interview with our king George II at Hanover, explored the Hartz country (on whose mines he wrote a paper), and thence went to the Low Countries. At the Hague he met Lord Chesterfield, who was then British Ambassador, and was on the point of taking leave for England, where he hoped to be made Secretary of State. Montesquieu sailed with him in his yacht on the last day of October 1729, and remained in England until some time in 1731.

A distinguished German historian[13], who takes a rather depreciatory view of Montesquieu, says that he travelled rather as a tourist than as a student. The journals of travels and copious notes which have been recently given to the world by the Montesquieu family do not bear out this statement. Probably no man ever started on his travels better equipped by reading and observation, or with a more definite notion of what he wanted to see, hear, and know, or had better opportunities for finding out what was most worth knowing.

Montesquieu had already travelled in imagination through the countries which he was to visit in the flesh. In one of the earlier Persian Letters, written long before Montesquieu left France, Rhédi describes his sojourn at Venice. 'My mind is forming itself every day. I am instructing myself about the secrets of commerce, the interests of princes, the forms of government. I do not neglect even European superstitions. I apply myself to medicine, physics, astronomy. I am studying the arts. In fact, I am emerging from the clouds that covered my eyes in the country of my birth.'

That was the programme sketched out in advance, and he had excellent opportunities for carrying it out. At Vienna he spent 'delightful moments[14]' with that great captain, Prince Eugene of Savoy. At Venice he had long conversations with two famous adventurers, the Comte de Bonneval, and the Scotchman, Law. At Rome he made the acquaintance of Cardinal Alberoni and the exiled Stuarts. At Modena he conversed with the great antiquarian, Muratori. In England Lord Chesterfield's introduction brought him at once into the best political and social circles. His English journals, if they ever existed, are lost, and for our knowledge of his English experiences we are mainly dependent on the scanty but witty Notes on England, which were first published in 1818, and on the numerous references to English books, persons and things which are scattered up and down his recently published Pensées. But we know that he attended some exciting debates in Parliament, and we know also how profoundly his study of English institutions influenced the Spirit of Laws.

On the preparation for that great work Montesquieu was engaged for the next seventeen years of his life. In 1734 appeared the Considerations on the Greatness and Decay of the Romans, which might be treated as a first instalment of its contents. Machiavelli had treated Roman history from the point of view of a practical statesman, and had used it as a storehouse of warnings and examples for the guidance of an Italian prince. 'Chance,' he said, 'leaves great room for prudence in shaping the course of events.' Bossuet wrote as a theologian, and sought for evidence of 'the secret judgements of God on the Roman empire.' Montesquieu wrote as a political philosopher, and tried to find in the history of a particular state the application of certain broad general principles. 'It is not fortune that rules the world. There are general causes, moral or physical, on which the rise, the stability, the fall of governments depend. If a state is ruined by the chance of a single battle, that is to say by a particular event, the possibility of its being so ruined arises from some general cause, and it is for these causes that the historian should seek.' In this short treatise Montesquieu's style perhaps reaches its highest level. He is not distracted by a multiplicity of topics; the greatness, dignity and unity of his subject give force, character, and continuity to his style. His sentences march like a Roman legion.

'The work of twenty years.' So Montesquieu describes the Spirit of Laws, counting in his three years of travel. And he describes also how the scheme of the book originated, and how it was developed. 'I began by observing men, and I believed that in their infinite diversity of laws and manners they were not exclusively led by their fancies. I laid down general principles, and I saw particular cases yield to them naturally. I saw the histories of all nations appear as the consequence of these principles, and each particular law bound with another law, or proceed from one more general.... I often began and often dropped the work: I followed my object without forming a plan. I was conscious of neither rule nor exceptions: but when I had discovered my principles, everything that I sought came to me. In the course of twenty years I saw my work begin, grow, advance, and finish.'

What, then, are the principles which after so long and painful a search, Montesquieu ultimately found? In brief, they are these. The world is governed, not by chance, nor by blind fate, but by reason. Of this reason, the laws and institutions of different countries are the particular expressions. Each law, each institution, is conditioned by the form of government under which it exists, and which it helps to constitute, and by its relations to such facts as the physical peculiarities of the country, its climate, its soil, its situation, its size; the occupations and mode of life of the inhabitants, and the degree of liberty which the constitution can endure; the religion of the people, their inclinations, number, wealth, trade, manners and customs; and finally by its relations to other laws and institutions, to the object of the legislator, to the order of things in which it is established, It is the sum total of these relations that constitutes the spirit of a law. The relativity of laws—that is Montesquieu's central doctrine. There is no one best form of state or constitution: no law is good or bad in the abstract. Every law, civil and political, must be considered in its relations to the environment, and by the adaptation to that environment its excellence must be judged. If you wish to know and understand the spirit of a law, its essence, its true and inner meaning, that on which its vitality and efficiency depend, you must examine it in its relations to all its antecedents and to all its surroundings. This is the theme which Montesquieu tries to develop and illustrate in the course of his book.

He begins with the relations of laws to different forms of government. There are three kinds of government—republics, with their two varieties of democracy and aristocracy, monarchies, and despotisms. The threefold division is, of course, as old as Plato and Aristotle, but the mode of distribution is new, and is not easily to be defended on scientific grounds. But the historical explanation of the distribution is quite simple. Montesquieu was thinking of the three main types of government with which he was familiar through study or observation. By a republic he meant the city states of the Greek and Roman world, and also such modern city states as Venice and Genoa. Monarchy was the limited monarchy of the West, which still preserved traditions of constitutional checks, but which was, in most countries, tending to become absolute. Despotism was the unbridled, capricious rule of the eastern world.

Each form of government has its peculiar principle or mainspring. The principle or mainspring of democracy is virtue (by which he practically meant 'public spirit'), of aristocracy moderation, of monarchy honour, of despotism fear. These are the principles which must be borne in mind in framing laws for each state. Having exhausted this branch of the subject, he goes on to consider laws in their relation to the military force, political liberty, taxation, church, soil, manners and customs, commerce, finance, religion. It is under the heading of political liberty that are to be found the first of the two famous chapters on the English constitution, and the famous arguments on the necessity for separating the three powers, legislative, executive and judicial.

Nothing is further from my purpose than to enter on a detailed analysis of the Spirit of Laws. Indeed, there are few books which it is less profitable to analyse. The spirit evaporates in the process. The value of the book consists, not in the general scheme of arrangement and argument, which is open to much criticism, but in the subtle observations and suggestions, the profound and brilliant reflections, with which it abounds. And the questions which are of most interest to us are, first, What was the cause of the rapid and enormous influence which the book exercised on political thought in all parts of the civilized world? and, secondly, What was the nature and what were the main effects of that influence?

But before passing to these questions I should like to touch on one or two points which must be borne in mind by all who read Montesquieu.

In the first place he was an aristocrat, a member of a privileged, exclusive, and fastidious class. He was no upstart of genius like Voltaire, who could be insulted with impunity by a sprig of nobility. He belonged to a good family and moved habitually in the best society.

His milieu and his point of view were different from those of typical bourgeois, such as Marais and Barbier. He was a country gentleman, and was fond of strolling about his vineyards, and talking to his tenants and labourers. 'I like talking to peasants,' he said; 'they are not learned enough to reason perversely.' But his attitude towards them was that of a great Whig nobleman or squire. Of their feelings and points of view he could know nothing. The third estate, which was nothing and was to be everything, was to him, for most purposes, an unknown world[15]. But, though he was not wholly free from the faults of his class and his time, he was a great gentleman, with a genuine public spirit, a genuine love of liberty, a genuine hatred of oppression, cruelty, intolerance, and injustice. Among the three great political thinkers of the day, Montesquieu stands for liberty, as Voltaire stands for efficiency, and Rousseau for equality[15]. If Lord Acton's projected History of Liberty had ever seen the light, Montesquieu would doubtless have been among its greatest heroes.

In the next place Montesquieu belonged to a hereditary caste—the caste which supplied the staff of judges and magistrates for France. Not that he wrote as a lawyer. For some fourteen years he was a member of the judicial bench known as the Parlement of Guienne, and in that capacity administered Roman law, such of the Royal Ordinances as extended to his province, and no less than ten different local customs. But he did not take much interest in the technical side of his professional work, and it may be doubted whether his judgements, if reported, would have carried more weight with his professional brethren than those of his distinguished predecessor on the same bench—Montaigne. Nor did he take any active part in the scientific work in which the great French lawyers of the eighteenth century were engaged. That work was digesting, expressing, and systematically arranging the principles of the customary law and the modernized Roman law, and thus collecting the materials and preparing the framework for the codes of the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The leaders in this work were the great Chancellor d'Aguesseau and Pothier. But Montesquieu does not, so far as I am aware, make any reference to Pothier or his school at Orleans, and his relations to d'Aguesseau were scanty and formal. Indeed, between the lively President and the grave Chancellor[16] there was little in common. If Montesquieu had lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century, he would not, we may feel sure, have got on with Lord Cairns. It was Voltaire, and not Montesquieu, that preached the duty of unifying French law, and Montesquieu's personal preference would probably have been for diversity rather than for uniformity. But Montesquieu was a great 'Parliamentarian' in the French sense of the word. He attached great political importance to the existence of a 'dépôt of law,' entrusted to the custody of an organized independent body, and he scandalized Voltaire by defending the system of purchasing judicial offices as the best practical security for judicial independence.

And lastly Montesquieu wrote with the Censor and the Index always before his eyes. Hence the allusive and hypothetical style, which in some of his imitators became a mannerism. This characteristic is nowhere better illustrated than in the chapter on the English constitution. It is headed 'Of the constitution of England,' but the text of the chapter consists of a number of 'ifs' and 'oughts.' Such and such an arrangement ought to exist. If such an arrangement were made it would lead to political liberty. It is not until the concluding paragraphs that the English are specifically mentioned, and then only in a guarded manner. 'It is not for me to examine whether the English actually enjoy this liberty or not. It is sufficient to say that it is established by their laws, and I seek no more.' In Montesquieu's time it was not always safe to dot your 'i's.' And that his nervousness was not unfounded is shown by the fact that, notwithstanding his precautions, his book found its way on to the Index, and remained for two years under the ban of the civil censor.

And now to come back to the main problem. How was it that a book with such obvious and glaring defects exercised an influence so enormous? The leading definitions are loose and vague; the treatment is unmethodical and uncritical; half the statements of fact are inaccurate; half the inferences are mere guesses. And yet it changed the thought of the world. What is the explanation of this paradox?

Much, no doubt, was due to charm of style. If you want to be read, still more if you want to be widely read, you must be readable. In Montesquieu's time, books on political and legal science were, as a rule, unreadable. But the Spirit of Laws was, and still is, an eminently readable book. No one before Montesquieu had dealt in so lively and brilliant a manner with the dry subject of laws and political institutions. The book reflects the personality of the writer. His personality is not obtruded in the foreground, like that of Montaigne, but it is always present in the background, and its presence gives a human interest to an abstract topic. You see the two sides of the author; the favourite guest of Parisian salons, and the solitary student, the desultory and omnivorous reader. He lived, we must remember, in an age when conversation was cultivated as a fine art. That untranslatable word 'esprit,' which was in the mouth of every eighteenth-century Frenchman, meant, in its narrowest and most special sense, the essence of good conversation[17]. Montesquieu had, like other Frenchmen of his time, thought much about the art of conversation, and had practised it in the best salons—where, however, he had the reputation of being more of a listener than a talker—and the rules that he laid down for good writing are practically the rules for good conversation. 'To write well,' he says somewhere, 'you must skip the connecting links, enough not to be a bore, not so much as to be unintelligible[18].' Hence his book is not so much a dissertation as a causerie. It rambles pleasantly and unmethodically from point to point, welcomes digressions, and often goes off at a tangent. You feel yourself in the presence of a learned, witty, and urbane talker, who does not wish to monopolize the talk, but desires to elicit that free, responsive play of thought which is essential to good conversation. 'I don't want to exhaust the subject,' he says, 'for who can say everything without being a deadly bore[19].' And again, 'My object is not to make you read; but to make you think[20].'

But Montesquieu is also a man of the closet, a man who spent long, solitary hours in his library at La Brède[21], filling note-books with copious extracts, and condensing his thoughts in maxims and reflections. And he is too often unable to resist the temptation of utilizing the contents of his notebooks without considering sufficiently whether they are relevant to or assist the progress of his argument. Indeed, he is essentially a 'fragmentary' thinker, sententious rather than continuous, and constitutionally reluctant, perhaps unable, to follow out persistently long trains of thought. But these peculiarities, though they detract from the scientific merit of his book, make it more readable. So also do the little asides by which he takes his readers into his confidence, as when he reminds himself that if he dwells too much on the absence of any need for virtue in a monarchy, he may be suspected of irony, or when he gives expression to the feelings of lassitude and discouragement which overtake him towards the end of his task.

Charm of style, then, counts for much in explaining Montesquieu's influence. But freshness and originality count for much more. The orthodox way of dealing with a subject of political or legal science was to start from general propositions laid down authoritatively, and derived either from Aristotle, or, more often, from the Roman jurists, and to deduce from them certain general conclusions. Bodin's great treatise on the Republic, to which Montesquieu was much indebted, especially for his theory on the influence of climate, was framed on these lines. But Montesquieu broke away from the old lines. His starting-point was different. He began at the other end. He started from the particular institutions, not from the general principles.

I have dwelt at length, perhaps at undue length, on the Persian Letters, not because, as has been inaccurately said, the Spirit of Laws is merely a continuation of the earlier work, but because the Montesquieu of the Spirit of Laws is still the Montesquieu of the Persian Letters, matured and ripened by twenty-seven years of study and experience, but in essentials still the same.

He began his literary career with no preoccupied theory or object, but as a detached and irresponsible critic and observer of man in his infinite diversity, the man ondoyant et divers of Montaigne. And he retained much of this irresponsibility and detachment to the last. It is true that after much search he found, or believed that he found, certain general laws, or principles, to which his observations could be attached, under which they could be grouped. But one often feels, in reading his opening chapters, that they are a sham façade, giving a deceptive appearance of unity to a complicated and irregular set of buildings, richly stored with miscellaneous objects of interest. His doctrine of the relativity of laws, which is the foundation of enlightened conservatism, and has been used in defence of much conservatism which is not enlightened, is not a sufficient foundation for a constructive system, but was an admirable starting-point for a man whose primary interest lay in observing and comparing different institutions and drawing inferences from their similarities and diversities. 'Any one who has eyes to see,' he wrote in his subsequent Defence of the Spirit of Laws, 'must see at a glance that the object of the work was the different laws, customs and usages of the peoples of the world.' A vast, an overwhelming subject, which the author failed to succeed in mastering and controlling, or bringing within a synthetic grasp. And owing to this failure the Spirit of Laws has been not unfairly described as being, not a great book, but the fragments of a great book[22]. What he did succeed in doing was in indicating the path by which alone effective and fruitful progress could be made either in jurisprudence or in the science of politics, the path through diversity to uniformity, through facts to principles. He refashioned political science and made it a science of observation, and by so doing he made the same new departure in political and legal science as Bacon had made before him in physical science. He closed the period of the schoolmen. He was not content to mumble the dry bones of Roman law. He turned men away from abstract and barren speculations to the study and comparison of concrete institutions. And it is in this sense that he may be claimed as one of the founders of the comparative method as applied to the moral and political sciences.

He began at the other end. This may seem a little thing. In reality it was a very great thing. The human mind is intensely conservative. For generations men go on working at the old subjects in the old ways. Then comes a man who, by some new thought, it may be by some new phrase, which becomes a catchword, like 'evolution,' takes his fellow men out of the old ruts, and opens up to them new regions of speculation and discovery. These are the men that change the world. And Montesquieu was one of these men.

He has been claimed on high authority[23], but with less accuracy, as the founder of the historical method, which is at least as old as Thucydides. That he appreciated the importance of this method is true. 'I could wish,' he says in one of his fragments[24], 'that there were better works on the laws of each country. To know modern times, one must know antiquity: each law must be followed in the spirit of all the ages.' But for its application he had neither the requisite knowledge nor the requisite capacity. Like his predecessors, he speculated about the state of nature. But for any knowledge of savage or uncivilized man, without which all speculations and theories as to the origin of society are idle, he was dependent on books of travel and accounts of missionaries, with no means of checking their accuracy. Of the Iroquois, who stood for the typical savage in the early eighteenth century, he had doubtless read in Lahortan and in The Relations of the Jesuits, but one is sometimes tempted to think that he knows no more about him than might have been picked up from some stray Bordeaux mariner who had navigated Canadian waters. In his account of early Roman history he follows implicitly Livy and Florus, and of Beaufort's critical investigation he does not seem to have heard. Nor is there any evidence of his having read or having been influenced by Vico, that solitary, mystical, suggestive Neapolitan thinker, who seemed to live out of due time, and whose significance was not appreciated until the following century. He had heard of the Scienza nuova at Venice, where the first edition was much in demand, and made a note of it as a book to be purchased at Naples, but there is nothing to show that the purchase was made[25]. And in the main his method of procedure is unhistorical. He takes more account of the surroundings of laws than of their antecedents. He sees laws of different periods all in the same plane. He conceives of the state as a condition of equilibrium which is to be maintained. He realizes the possibility of its decay, but the notions of progress and development, which are to figure so largely in Turgot and Condorcet, are foreign to his mind.

On the influence exercised by Montesquieu's great book, a substantial volume could be written. It was far-reaching and profound. It was felt in the course of political thought; it was felt in the methods of political science. It is almost true that Montesquieu invented the theory of the British constitution. At all events he was the chief contributor to what may be called the authorized version of the British constitution, the version to which currency was given by Blackstone[26] and Delolme, which was used by the framers of constitutions on the continent of America and on the continent of Europe, and which held the field until it was displaced by the Cabinet theory of Walter Bagehot. The question has often been asked how far Montesquieu really knew and understood the institutions which he described[27]. On this there are two things to be said. In the first place the British constitution which grew up out of the Revolution of 1688 was, when Montesquieu wrote, still in the making. The lines on which it was developed were not yet fixed; whether it would give preponderance to the King or to Parliament was still uncertain. In the next place Montesquieu wrote with a purpose. England was to him what Germany had been to Tacitus. It was a neighbouring country in which he found, or thought that he found, principles of liberty which had vanished from his own country, and for the restoration of which he hoped. And he sketched those principles like a great artist, with a bold and free sweep of the brush. He sought to render the spirit and characteristic features: for minute accuracies of topographical detail he cared as little as Turner cared in painting a landscape.

That a book thus conceived should be read with delight and admiration by Englishmen was not surprising[28]. Its practical influence was first exercised in English lands, not indeed in Old England, but in the New England which was growing up beyond the seas. When Washington talked about the Lycian republic we may be sure he was quoting directly, or indirectly, from the Spirit of Laws. From the same book Hamilton and Madison in the Federalist drew arguments for federation and for the division between legislative, executive, and judicial powers[29]. And later on, Thomas Jefferson, a statesman bred in a widely different school of thought, had a curious commentary on the Spirit of Laws prepared for him by a peer of France, who was a member of the French Institute and of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia[30].

In England the spirit of Montesquieu found its fullest and most glorious expression in Burke, both when in his earlier years he was protesting against monarchical infringements of the British constitution, and when in his later years he was denouncing the tyranny of the French Convention.

From the language used by Sir Henry Maine in the famous fourth chapter of his Ancient Law one might infer that in his own country Montesquieu's influence was at once eclipsed by that of Rousseau. But such an inference would be erroneous. Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau, different as were their methods and their aims, were all factors of the first importance in the French Revolution. 'Every enlightened Frenchman,' says M. Sorel, 'had in his library at the end of the eighteenth century a Montesquieu, a Voltaire, a Rousseau, and a Buffon[31].' The Spirit of Laws was a storehouse of argument for the publicists of 1789, and French writers of repute have maintained that the influence of Montesquieu counted for as much in the Declaration of Rights as the influence of Rousseau. It must be remembered that, though Montesquieu wrote as a monarchist, his heart was in the little republics of the Graeco-Roman world, and he is responsible for much of the pseudo-classicism which characterized political thought at the end of the eighteenth century. It is true that during the interval between 1789 and 1793 the influence of Montesquieu waned as that of Rousseau waxed. He was identified with the aristocrats and Anglophiles[32]; the Girondists were charged with studying him overmuch, and if Robespierre quoted him for his purpose, he quoted him with a significant difference. 'In times of revolution,' said Robespierre, 'the principle of popular government is both virtue and terror: virtue without which terror is fatal; terror without which virtue is powerless[33].' Napoleon had studied the Spirit of Laws, but a system which aimed at the preservation of political liberty by the separation of political powers did not commend itself to his mind[34]. Dormant under the Consulate and the Empire, the influence of Montesquieu arose to renewed and more powerful life at the Restoration, and was, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the inspiration of all constitutional monarchists, both in France and in other European countries.

The influence of Montesquieu on methods of study was as important, though not as immediate[35], as his influence on the course of political thought. Of the historical and comparative method, in their application to Law and Politics, he was, as has been justly remarked[36], rather a precursor than a founder. His apreciation of the historical method was imperfect, and his application of it defective. It was not until the expiration of a century after his death that the importance and significance of either the historical or the comparative method was fully realized. But in the meantime his central doctrine, that the true spirit and meaning of a law or constitution cannot be grasped without careful study of all its surroundings and all its antecedents, had sunk deeply into the minds of students, and prepared the way for and gave an enormous stimulus to those methods of study which are now recognized as indispensable to any scientific treatment either of Law or of Politics.

Within the last half-century societies for the study of Comparative Law and Comparative Legislation have come into existence in France, England, Germany and elsewhere[37], and have done, and are doing, work of the greatest interest and utility. Some of them approach their subject mainly from the point of view of the lawyer or the jurist, and devote their attention primarily to those branches and aspects of the subject which fall within the domain either of private or of criminal law. Others look primarily at the constitutional and administrative experiments which are being tried by the legislatures of different countries, and thus deal with their subject as a branch of political science. Their areas of study overlap each other, and the point of view is not quite the same. Within each area they have collected and compared a vast quantity of facts which form an indispensable preliminary to, and constitute the raw material for, a scientific treatment of the studies with which they are concerned. The task that remains for the scientific jurist and for the political philosopher is to elicit, in the spirit of Montesquieu, but with fuller knowledge, and with better critical methods, the inner meaning of the laws and institutions of different countries, and to trace the general lines on which they have developed in the past, and may be expected to develop in the future.

One might amuse oneself by speculating on the differences which Montesquieu would have observed, and on the general reflections which he might have made, if he had been called upon to pass in review the governments and legislation of the present day. He would have found in almost every part of the civilized world governments with representative legislatures and parliamentary institutions, all more or less on the English lines which he had admired and described, and all recognizing, though in greater or less degree, and in different forms, his principle of the separation between the three functions of government, legislative, executive, and judicial. And he would have found all these legislatures actively and continuously engaged in the work of legislation, and producing new laws with prodigious fertility and in bewildering variety.

Besides the legislatures of European and South American States, there are within the British Empire between sixty and seventy different legislatures, and in the United States forty-eight local legislatures, in addition to the central legislature consisting of Senate and Congress. And in the year 1901 these forty-eight United States legislatures enacted no less than 14,190 new laws. When Montesquieu wrote, the British Parliament was practically the only representative legislature in the world, and the only legislature which was continuously at work. And its output of legislation was comparatively modest. Let us take the record of the session of 1730, when Montesquieu was attending debates at St. Stephen's. There was no reference to legislation in the King's Speech. The Acts of the session were forty-eight, and of these twenty were local and four fiscal. There was an Act, which gave rise to some debate, for placing restrictions on loans by British subjects to foreign states, a measure which, as Sir Robert Walpole explained, arose out of a projected loan for the assistance of the Emperor Charles VI, whose diplomatic relations with George the Second were strained. The care of Parliament for trade and industry was minutely paternal. There was an Act for regulating the methods of burning bricks, and another for better regulating the coal trade. There was an Act for granting liberty to carry rice from His Majesty's Province of Carolina in America directly to any part of Europe southward of Cape Finisterre in ships built in and belonging to Great Britain and navigated according to law, and another Act for the importing of salt from Europe into the colony of New York with the view to the better curing of fish, 'whereby the trade of Great Britain and the inhabitants of the said colony would reap considerable benefit which would enable the said inhabitants to purchase more of the British manufacturers for their use than at present they are able.' And there was one of the numerous 'omnibus' Acts then allowed by Parliamentary procedure, dealing, within its four corners, with the price of bread, the relief of bankrupts, deeds and wills executed by Papists, and the settlement of paupers. And this is nearly all. The eighteenth-century statutes, except so far as they are purely local, consist chiefly of detailed regulations made by landowners sitting at Westminster for their own guidance as justices of the peace in the country. And the executive functions of the central government were at that time very limited. 'The Prince,' says Montesquieu, 'in his exercise of executive functions, makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies, keeps the peace, prevents invasions.' It was in fact to the maintenance of the internal peace that, apart from foreign relations and war, the duties of the central government were mainly confined. There was no Local Government Board, no Board of Education, no Board of Agriculture, and the duties of the Board of Trade were almost nominal. Nor, on the other hand, were there county councils, district councils, or parish councils. The municipalities were close, corrupt, irresponsible corporations, existing for the benefit of their members and not of the local public. There were no railways, and no limited companies. Gas and electricity had not been utilized. Parliament did not concern itself with educational or sanitary questions, and factory legislation was a thing of the distant future[38]. Thus almost all the materials for modern Parliamentary legislation were absent.

This then would have been one of the differences that Montesquieu would have noted—the prodigious increase in the extent and variety of legislation. And on investigating the causes of the difference he would have found the main cause to be this—that the world has been since his time absolutely transformed by the operation of physical science. What has physical science done for the world? It has done three things. It has increased the ease and speed of production. It has increased the ease and speed of locomotion. It has increased the ease and speed of communicating infomation and opinion[39]. And by so doing it has made for democracy, it has made for plutocracy, it has made for great states. It has made for democracy, both by enabling the popular will to act more speedily and effectively, and by the creation of wealth which levels distinctions based on social position. But it has also increased, to an extent unimaginable even in the days of Law's system and the South Sea Bubble, that power of great finance, which manufactures through its press what is called public opinion, pulls the strings of political puppets, and is the most subtle, ubiquitous, and potent of modern political forces.

Physical science has made great democratic states possible, and, great states, or agglomerations of states, necessary. For Montesquieu, as for Aristotle, a democracy meant a body of citizens who could meet together in one place for political discussion. The body must not be too large, for as Aristotle says, if it were, what herald could address them, unless he were a Stentor. But the modern statesman, to say nothing of the modern reporter who heralds a cricket match, can, without being a Stentor, speak to the Antipodes. And science has made great states necessary by increasing both the effectiveness and the cost of munitions of war. States agglomerate both for economy and for self-defence, and small isolated states exist only by sufferance.

Since Montesquieu's time both the area and the population of the civilized world have enormously increased. And yet for political purposes it has become a much smaller world, smaller, more compact, more accessible. And this has tended to greater uniformity of legislation and institutions.

The greater uniformity has been brought about mainly in three ways. First, by direct imitation. Man, as M. Tarde has reminded us, is an imitative animal. He imitates his forefathers: that is custom. He imitates his neighbours: that is fashion. He imitates himself: that is habit. And direct imitation plays a large part in institutions and legislation. English Parliamentary procedure has made the tour of the world. Guizot reminded a Committee of the House of Commons in 1848 that Mirabeau had based the rules of the National Assembly on a sketch of the proceedings of the House of Commons furnished to him by Étienne Dumont[40], and that when the Charter was granted by Louis XVIII in 1814, the same rules were adopted with some changes. Thomas Jefferson, when President of the United States, drew up for the use of Congress a manual consisting largely of extracts from English Parliamentary precedents, and Jefferson's Manual is still an authoritative work. Every colonial legislature conforms to the rules, forms, usages, and practices of the Commons House of Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, except so far as they have been locally modified. A very large proportion of Colonial enactments are directly copied from the English Statute-book, with minor local variations. And the practice of looking for and copying precedents supplied by other legislatures is steadily on the increase, not only within the British Empire, but in all parts of the civilized world. This, then, is one cause of uniformity.

In the next place the facility of intercourse, and especially the closeness of commercial relations between different countries, tends to a general assimilation of commercial usages. The diversity of laws which was found intolerable in France at the end of the eighteenth century, and in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, has long made itself felt as a serious and as a remediable nuisance in matters of commerce throughout the world, and in many parts of the domain of commercial law we have either attained to or are within measurable distance of that common code of laws which is the dream of comparative jurists.

And lastly, in a world compacted and refashioned by science, those causes of difference to which Montesquieu attached importance, and in some cases exaggerated importance, causes such as climate, race, geographical conditions, difference in forms and degrees of civilization, tend to become of less importance. Not that they have disappeared, or can be left out of account. Montesquieu took much interest in questions of political economy, and he would certainly have pointed out that fiscal arrangements which are well adapted to a state whose territories are continuous, are presumably less well adapted to a state whose component parts are sundered by oceans. The question of race is always with us, and the jealousies and antipathies of white, brown, yellow and black races present an insoluble problem to the legislator in almost every part of the globe. Nor are the legislative problems which, apart from race, arise from the contrast between different degrees and stages of civilization, less numerous, less difficult, or less interesting. Within the British Empire we have to legislate for the hill-tribes of India, for the fetish-worshippers of Western Africa, and for the savages of New Guinea, and a museum full of instruction and suggestions to the statesman and the jurist is to be found in the Regulations made by the Government of British India for its less advanced regions and in the Ordinances which have been passed for the West African Protectorates. Thus the causes of difference remain and are of importance. But on the whole the importance of the causes which make for difference tends to decrease, and the importance of the causes which make for uniformity tends to increase. Take up one of the annual summaries of the world's legislation which are published by the French and English Societies of Comparative Legislation. Your first impression will be one of bewilderment at the multiplicity and variety of the subjects dealt with. But if you read on, and still more if you extend your studies over a series of years, you will be struck with the large number of important subjects which recur with unfailing regularity in the legislation of each state in each year. Education, factory laws, mining laws, liquor traffic,—everywhere you will find the same problems being dealt with on lines of increasing similarity, though with a due recognition of the differences arising from diversities of race, character and local conditions. In the year 1902 the legislature of the Straits Settlements was imposing on little Malay children the duty of compulsory attendance at school, and the legislature of Sierra Leone was regulating Mohammedan education on Western lines, whatever that may mean. It is perhaps in the field of industrial legislation that this similarity of treatment and of trend is most remarkable. A quarter of a century ago the liability of employers for injuries to their workmen was in every civilized country regulated by rules derived directly or indirectly from the old Roman law. Since that time almost every legislature has been altering those rules, and has been altering them in the same direction. It has been recognized everywhere that the principle of basing liability on personal negligence is inadequate to meet the modern conditions of corporate employment, of employment by great companies, and the universal tendency has been towards placing the employer in the position of an insurer against accidents to his workmen, and of thus imposing on him a risk which he again meets by modern methods of insurance. Similar tendencies may be observed in other departments of industrial legislation, such as the further recognition of the right of workmen to combine, the regulation of the conditions of employment, especially in such organized employments as mines and factories, the restrictions on the employment of women and children, the requirement of precautions against risk to health and life, the formation of Government pension funds against sickness and old age, and the provisions for the settlement of labour disputes. In all these branches of legislation there is a general move in the same direction, though with differences of detail and at different rates of progress. In short, the whole civilized world appears to be advancing towards a common industrial code, as it is advancing towards a common commercial code.

Some hundred years after Montesquieu's death another brilliant book was written on the Spirit of Law[41]. Savigny had laid down the dogma that the law of each nation is the natural and necessary outgrowth of the national consciousness. Ihering reminded his readers that Rome had thrice conquered the world, first by arms, secondly by religion, and lastly by law; and that the general reception of Roman law, of which Savigny was the historian, was inconsistent with the dogma of the exclusively national character of law, of which Savigny was the prophet. As nations live commercially by the free interchange of commodities, so they live intellectually by the free interchange of ideas, and they are not the worse, but the better, for borrowing from each other such laws and institutions as are suitable to their needs. It is true, as Savigny taught, and as Montesquieu had indicated before him, that the laws of a nation can only be understood if they are studied as part of the national life and character. But it is also true that the object of the jurist is to discover the general principles which underlie different systems of law. Only he has now realized that those principles cannot be discovered except by a profound and scientific study of the legal institutions and the legal history of different nations, and by comparing with each other the laws of different countries and the different stages of legal development. It was in order to discover the true meaning of the legal rules derived from ancient Rome, as the main factor of European law, that Ihering undertook his inquiry into the Spirit of Roman Law. He who would measure the advance in the breadth and depth of comparative jurisprudence between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth century could not do better than compare Montesquieu's Sprit of Laws with Ihering's Spirit of Roman Law.

Montesquieu left two great legacies to the world. He formulated the theory of the British constitution which held the field for a century, and was the foundation of every constitutional government established during that period; and he gave a new direction to the study of legal and political science.

Montesquieu was one of the greatest of the apostles of liberty in modern times. Socially and politically, he belongs to the old régime, to the régime which in France passed away in 1789, which in England, where changes are less catastrophic, began to pass away in 1832. Scientifically also he belongs to a bygone age. His new ideas, his new methods, once so fresh, so attractive, so stimulating, have passed into and been merged in the common heritage of Western thought. But in his generation he succeeded, with a success beyond his most sanguine hopes, in doing what he tried to do—he made men think.


  1. The Collection Bordelaise referred to in note 2.
  2. The fullest life of Montesquieu is that by L. Vian, Histoire de Montesquieu, Paris, 1878. But it is inaccurate and uncritical, and has been severely criticized by M. Brunetière (Revue des deux Mondes, 1879). The best contemporary appreciation of Montesquieu is by the Marquis d'Argenson (Mémoires, p. 428, edition of 1825). The standard edition of Montesquieu is that by Laboulaye in 7 vols., Paris, 1873–9. This must now be supplemented by the 'Collection Bordelaise,' which contains further materials supplied by the Montesquieu family, and which includes Deux opuscules de Montesquieu, 1891: Mélanges inédits de Montesquieu, 1892: Voyages de Montesquieu, 2 vols., 1894: Pensées et fragments inédits, 2 vols., 1899, 1901. The literature on Montesquieu is very extensive. A list of books, articles, and éloges relating to him will be found in an appendix to Vian's Histoire. Among subsequent works the first place is taken by M. Sorel's Montesquieu in the series called Les grands écrivains français, a little book of which I can only speak with the most respectful admiration. Reference may also be made to Oncken, Zeitalter Friedrichs des Grossen, i. 80, 457: Taine, Ancien Régime, pp. 264, 278, 339: Janet, Histoire de la science politique, vol. ii: Faguet, Dix-huitième siècle: Faguet, La politique comparée de Montesquieu, Rousseau et Voltaire: Brunetière, Études critiques sur l'histoire de la littérature française, 4me série: Flint, The Philosophy of History, 262–79: Sir Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, i. 186: Henry Sidgwick, The Development of European Polity: Sir F. Pollock, History of the Science of Politics.
  3. Sixteen and a half miles by railway.
  4. He was elected February 12, 1729 (old style). Proposed by Dr. Teissier and recommended by M. Ste-Hyacynthe and the President (Sir Hans Sloane). He refers to his reception in a letter to Père Cerati, dated London, March 1, 1730 (new style). Among the documents of the Royal Society is the copy of a letter from Montesquieu to Sir Hans Sloane, dated Paris, August 4, 1734, and enclosing copies of his book on the Grandeur et décadence des Romains. The M. Ste-Hyacynthe, who figures as Montesquieu's backer, must have been the 'Thémiseul de Ste-Hyacinthe, the half-starved author of the Chef-d'œuvre d'un inconnu, who, after having served, if we may believe Voltaire, as a dragoon during the persecution of the French Protestants, had crossed over to England, there had been converted, had translated Robinson Crusoe, and, though always a destitute wanderer, had been nominated a member of the Royal Society of London' (Texte, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Cosmopolitan Spirit in Literature, translated by J. W. Matthews, p. 18). The English translation of this book embodies additions to, and corrections of, the original work.
  5. The Earl of Charlemont, who, as a young man, made a tour through the South of France, either in 1755, or in the latter part of 1754 (the dates are not quite clear), has left a delightful description of a visit which he and a friend paid to Montesquieu at La Brède. He found, instead of a 'grave, austere philosopher,' a 'gay, polite, sprightly Frenchman,' who took his visitors for a walk through his grounds, and being unable to find the key of a padlocked three-foot bar, solved the difficulty by taking a run and jumping over it.—Hardy, Memoirs of Earl of Charlemont, i. 60–73.
  6. The view that the composition of the Letters extended over several years is confirmed by internal evidence. The correspondence changes in character as it goes on. Compare for instance the apologue of the Troglodytes in Letters xii to xiv with the speculations as to the origin of republics in Letter cxxxi, or with the comparative view of the political development and characteristic features of different European states in Letters cxxxiii to cxxxvii. The Troglodytes are a community that perished through disregard of the rules of equity, but was restored to prosperity by two wise survivors who preached that justice to others is charity to ourselves. After the lapse of some generations their descendants, finding the yoke of republican virtue too hard, ask for a king, and are reproved for doing so. The apologue is interesting because it contains phrases which recur and ideas which are developed in the Spirit of Laws. But it is very youthful and abstract. Between the date of the Troglodyte letters and that of the later letters the writer had read much, observed much, and reflected much. Or compare again the story of the travellers and the rabbit with the later observations on the advantage of having more than one religion in a state and on the duty of respecting and tolerating each. The lively personal sketches become more rare: more space is devoted to the discussion of serious problems such as the causes and effects of the decrease of population in Europe since the flourishing days of the Roman Empire. The writer is no longer content with noting and criticizing: he begins to draw conclusions. In short, the feuilletonist is ripening into the philosophical historian and the political philosopher. But at this stage his political philosophy has perhaps not advanced beyond the point indicated by a passage in Letter lxxxi. 'I have often set myself to think which of all the different forms of government is the most conformable to reason, and it seems to me that the most perfect government is that which guides men in the manner most in accordance with their own natural tendencies and inclinations.'
  7. The references, of course exaggerated, were to Barbézieux and Mme de Maintenon.
  8. Horace Walpole complained once that he found life in England so dull that he must go to Paris and try and amuse himself with the Bull Unigenitus.
  9. 'Les Lettres Persanes eurent d'abord un débit si prodigieux que les libraires de Hollande mirent tout en usage pour en avoir des suites. Ils alloient tirer par la manche tous ceux qu'ils rencontroient; Monsieur, disoient-ils, faites-moi des Lettres Persanes.—Pensées, Collection Bordelaise, i. 46.
  10. Vian talks about his having joined the well-known Entresol Club. But d'Argenson's list of its members (Mémoires, p. 248, edition of 1825; i. 93, edition of 1859) does not contain his name.
  11. The well-known story, repeated by Vian, of the trick played by Lord Chesterfield on Montesquieu at Venice seems to be a fable (see the remarks in the preface to Montesquieu's Voyages in the Collection Bordelaise, i. p. xxiv). It may perhaps be traced to a gossipy letter written by Diderot to Mlle Voland on Sept. 5, 1762 (Diderot, Œuvres, xix. p. 127). We know from the Chesterfield Letters that when Montesquieu was at Venice (Aug. 16–Sep. 14, 1728) Chesterfield was writing to Mrs. Howard and Lord Townshend from the Hague.
  12. The story is told by Vian, but is doubted by the Editors of the Voyages (Pref. p. xxviii). Vian is responsible for much apocrypha. But apocryphal stories are of historical value as illustrating Montesquieu's reputation among his contemporaries.
  13. Oncken, Zeitalter Friedrichs des Grossen, i. 463.
  14. Letter to Abbé de Guasco of Oct. 4, 1752.
  15. 15.0 15.1 'On turning from Montesquieu to Rousseau we may fancy that we have been present at some Parisian salon, where an elegant philosopher has been presenting to fashionable hearers conclusions daintily arranged in sparkling epigrams and suited for embodiment in a thousand brilliant essays. Suddenly, there has entered a man stained with the filth of the streets, his utterance choked with passion,a savage menace lurking in every phrase, and announcing himself as the herald of a furious multitude, ready to tear to pieces all the beautiful theories and formulas which stand between them and their wants.'—Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, p. 191.
  16. See d'Argenson's sketch of d'Aguesseau: Mémoires (edition of 1825), p. 152.
  17. 'L'esprit de conversation est ce qu'on appelle de l'esprit parmi les Français. Il consiste à (sic) un dialogue ordinairement gai, dans lequel chacun, sans s'écouter beaucoup, parle et répond, et où tout se traite d'une manière coupée, prompte et vive.... Ce qu'on appelle esprit chez les Français n'est donc pas de l'esprit, mais un genre particulier de l'esprit.'—Montesquieu, Pensées (Collection Bordelaise), ii. 302, 303.
  18. Pensées, ii. 14.
  19. Esprit des lois, Preface.
  20. Ibid., book xi, ch. xx.
  21. A description of the contents of Montesquieu's library is given by Brunet in the Collection Migne: Troisième encyclopédie théologique, tome 24, col. 344.
  22. Brunetière, Études critiques, 4me série, p. 258. The Marquis d'Argenson, one of the most sagacious and prescient observers that the eighteenth century produced, was shown some portions of the Esprit des lois before the book was published, and his forecast of its character proved to be singularly accurate:—'On prétend qu'il (Montesquieu) se prépare enfin à publier son grand ouvrage sur les lois. J'en connais déjà quelques morceaux, qui, soutenus par la réputation de l'auteur, ne peuvent que l'augmenter. Mais je crains bien que l'ensemble n'y manque, et qu'il n'y ait plus de chapitres agréables à lire, plus d'idées ingénieuses et séduisantes, que de véritables et utiles instructions sur la façon dont on devrait rédiger les lois et les entendre. C'est pounant là le livre qu'il nous faudrait, et qui nous manque encore, quoiqu'on ait déjà tant écrit sur cette matière.

    'Nous avons de bons instituts de droit civil romain, nous en avons de psssables de droit français; mais nous n'en avons sbsolument point de droit public général et universel. Nous n'avons point l'esprit des lois, et je doute fort que mon ami, le président de Montesquieu, nous en donne un qui puisse servir de guide et de boussole à tous les législateurs du monde. Je lui connais tout l'esprit possible. Il a acquis les connaissances les plus vastes, tant dans ses voyages que dans ses retraites à la campagne. Mais je prédis encore une fois qu'il ne nous donnera pas le livre qui nous manque, quoique l'on doive trouver dans celui qu'il prépare beaucoup d'idées profondes, de pensées neuves, d'images frappantes, de saillies d'esprit et de génie, et une multitude de faits curieux, dont l'application suppose encore plus de goût que d'étude.'—Mémoires du Marquis d'Argenson (ed. 1825), pp. 430, 431. It is to be hoped that this passage has not, like others in the edition of 1825, been recast by the editor. As to the defects of this edition, see Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, vol. xii. And as to the later editions of d'Argenson, see Aubertin, L'esprit public au xviiie siècle, p. 194.

  23. By Sir Henry Maine, Sir Leslie Stephen, and others.
  24. Pensées, i. 195.
  25. See Voyages de Montesquieu, i. 65. The first edition of the Scienza nuova was published in 1725. Vico tells us in his autobiography that the Venetian ambassador at Naples had orders to buy up all available copies from the Neapolitan publisher, Felice Mosca. See 'Vita di G. B. Vico' in Opere di Vico, iv. p. 456 (ed. by G. Ferrari, Milan, 1876). It may be that when Montesquieu reached Naples he found that the edition had been sold out. The relations of Vico to Montesquieu are discussed by Prof. Flint in his little book on Vico.
  26. M. Sorel goes too far in saying that Blackstone 'procède de' Montesquieu. But the Spirit of Laws is expressly quoted in ch. ii, book i of the Commentaries, and its influence is clearly apparent throughout that chapter.
  27. How much was known in France of English institutions when Montesquieu published his Esprit des lois? Rapin's History of England published at the Hague in 1724, was probably the principal available authority. 'No book did more to make Europe acquainted with Great Britain' (Texte, J.-J. Rousseau, &c. (trans. by J. W. Matthews), p. 21). Much knowledge was disseminated by Huguenot refugees in England, and much could have been learnt from English political refugees, like Bolingbroke, in France. But the amount of information available in a literary form for French readers was probably not great. Voltaire's Lettres anglaises, based on his visit of 1726–9, were published in France in 1734.
  28. Nugent's English translation of the Spirit of Laws appears to have been published in 1750. See Montesquieu's letter to the translator of Oct. 18, 1750. A second edition, of which there is a copy in the British Museum, appeared in 1752, and several other editions followed.

    'My delight,' says Gibbon in his autobiography, 'was in the frequent perusal of Montesquieu, whose energy of style and boldness of hypothesis were powerful to awaken and stimulate the genius of the age.'

    There is a curious and characteristic rhapsody on Montesquieu in Bentham's Commonplace Book (Works by Bowring, x. p. 143). 'When the truths in a man's book, though many and important, are fewer than the errors; when his ideas, though the means of producing clear ones in other men, are found to be themselves not clear, that book must die: Montesquieu must therefore die: he must die, as his great countrymen, Descartes, had died before him: he must wither as the blade withers, when the corn is ripe: he must die, but let tears of gratitude and admiration bedew his grave. O Montesquieu! the British constitution, whose death thou prophesiedst, will live longer than thy work, yet not longer than thy fame. Not even the incense of [the illustrious Catherine] can preserve thee.

    'Locke—dry, cold, languid, wearisome, will live for ever. Montesquieu—rapid, brilliant, glorious, enchanting—will not outlive his century.

    'I know—I feel—I pity—and blush at the enjoyment of a liberty which the birthplace of that great writer (great with all his faults) [forbade him to enjoy].

    'I could make an immense book upon the defects of Montesquieu—I could make not a small one upon his excellences. It might be worth while to make both, if Montesquieu could live.'

  29. See Letters 9 (A. Hamilton) and 47 (Madison),and Bryce's American Commonweatlh, part i, ch. xxv.
  30. Destutt de Tracy. His curious commentary is really an attempt to rewrite the Spirit of Laws from the commentator's point of view.
  31. Sorel, Montesquieu, p. 149.
  32. Under the Terror Montesquieu's son was thrown into prison as a suspect, and his property was sequestrated. He died in 1795. Montesquieu's grandson, who had served under Washington in the United States, became an émigré, married an Irish lady, and settled down in Kent, where he died without issue in 1825. He left his MSS. and his French property to a cousin, descended from a daughter of the great Montesquieu.
  33. Sorel, p. 155.
  34. See the interesting letter of Sept. 19, 1797, written by Napoleon from Italy to Talleyrand, with a request that it might be shown to Sieyès. Napoleon, Correspondance, vol. iii. p. 313 (No. 2223).
  35. Un seul écrivain, Montesquieu, le mieux instruit, le plus sagace et le plus équilibré de tous les esprits du siècle, démêlait ces vérités, parce qu'il était à la fois érudit, observateur, historien et jurisconsulte. Mais il parlait comme un oracle, par sentences et en énigmes; il courait, comme sur des charbons ardents, toutes les fois qu'il touchait aux choses de son pays et de son temps. C'est pourquoi il demeurait respecté, mais isolé, et sa célébrité n'était point influence.'—Taine, Ancien Régime, p. 278. This statement of Taine must be read as applying to Montesquieu's influence on method, not to his influence on political thought.
  36. By Sir F. Pollock in his farewell lecture on the 'History of Comparative Jurisprudence' (Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, August, 1903).
  37. Société de Législation Comparée, founded 1869; Gesellschaft für vergleichende Rechts- und Stantswissenschaft, founded 1893; Internationale Vereinigung für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft und Volkswirthschaft, founded 1894; (English) Society of Comparative Legislation, founded 1894.
  38. I have ventured to repeat some expressions used in chapter x of my book on Legislative Methods and Forms.
  39. See Faguet's interesting essay, Que sera le xxme siècle, in Questions politiques (Paris, 1899).
  40. Evidence before Select Committee on Public Business, Q. 309. Dumont's own account (Souvenirs sur Mirabeau, p. 164) does not quite bear out Guizot's statement. According to Dumont, Romilly had made a sketch of English Parliamentary procedure, which Dumont translated for Mirabeau. Mirabeau laid this translation on the table by way of a proposal, but the Assembly declined to consider it: 'Nous ne sommes pas Anglais, et nous n'avons pas besoin des Anglais.' Romilly's own account of his sketch, and of its fate, is to the same effect. Memoirs, i. 101.
  41. The first edition of Ihering's Geist des römischen Rechts began to appear in 1852.