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MONTESQUIEU


537


MONTESQUIEU


and they had three children; but neither his profession nor his family seem to have claimed much of his at- tention. At the end of nine years he sold his office, and gave himself up entirely to study which hence- forth became his life's one and only passion. "Study ", he wrote afterwards, "has been my sovereign remedy against the worries of life. I have never had a care that an hour's reading could not dispel". As a mat- ter of fact the story of his life is but the chronicle of the preparation and composition of his books. His earliest productions were read before the Academy of Bordeaux, of which he became a member (1716). They deal with a variety of subjects, but mainly with scientific topics, history, and politics. For a time he thought of writing a "physical history of the Earth" for which he began collecting material (1719), but two years later was busy in a very different direc- tion, pubhshing the "Lettres persanes" (Amsterdam, 1721), so named because it pretended to be a corre- spondence between two Persian gentlemen travelling in Europe, and their friends in Asia, who sent them the gossip of their seraglio.

Under this fictitious guise the writer goes on to describe or rather satirize French, and especially Parisian manners between 1710 and 1720. The king, the absolute monarchy, the Parliament, the Academy, the University, are all very transparently ridiculed; but it was the Catholic religion, its dogmas, its prac- tices, its ministers from pope to monks that came in for his bitterest raillery. Because of its ideal of celi- bacy, the Catholic Church is accused of being a cause of depopulation, and because of its teaching concern- ing this world's goods, it is charged with weakening the prosperity of the nation, while its intolerant proselytism is a source of disturbance to the state. On the other hand Protestantism is held up as more favourable to material progress. Coming ostensi- bly from Mohammedans these criticisms may have seemed less shocking to thoughtless minds, but they were none the less one of the first and rudest attacks directed against the Church during the eighteenth century. In them, he showed himself as incapable of understanding the Church's dogmas as he was of appreciating her services to society. Though in later years he was to find a juster point of view, his witty criticisms in their lively setting of romance and sen- sualism, quite to the taste of that age, assured a great success for the "Lettres persanes". Eight editions were published within a year. Montesquieu had not signed his name to them, but the author was quickly discovered, and the public nominated him for the French Academy. He was elected in 1726, but owing to the scandal the "Lettres persanes" had caused, the king did not approve and an excuse was given that the author did not live in Paris, as the rules of the Academy required. Whereupon Montes- quieu took up his residence in Paris, and was elected once more, and admitted in 1728.

Side by side with their frivolous levity the "Lettres persanes" contain some profound observations on history and politics. They show even then Montes- quieu's meditation on the laws and customs of man- kind, from which was to result his later work, "I.'Es- prit des lois". As a preparation for this work he set out (1728) on a long series of travels through Europe, and visited Vienna, and Hungary, spent some time in Venice, Florence, Naples, Genoa, and Rome, where he was received by Cardinal de Polignac and Benedict XIII. In the suite of Lord Chesterfield he went to England where he remained eighteen months, and was the guest of Prime Minister Walpole, of Swift, and Pope. Wherever he went he made the acquaintance of statesmen, took copious notes of what he saw and heard, and read with avidity. After an absence of three years he returned to his family, his business, his vineyards and the farming of his estates at Chateau de la Brede. As a relaxation he paid occasional


visits to Paris, and mixed with literary men and their friends in the salons of Madame de Tencin, Madame Geoffrin, and Madame du DefTand. Yet he studiously avoided over familiarity with what was known as the philosophical set. Though his religious convictions were not deep, his serious and moderate turn of mind had nothing in common with the noisy and aggressive impiety of Voltaire and his friends.

Henceforth his great aim in life was to write the "Esprit des lois", and all his spare time in the studi- ous seclusion at La Brede was devoted to it. To be- gin with, ancient Rome gave him ample material for thought, but took up so much space in his work that in order not to mar the proportions of his book he pub- lished all that concerned it as i distinct work, "Les Considerations sur les causes de la grandeur et de la decadence des Romains" (Am- sterdam, 1734) In this book he shows successively the glorious prog ress and slow de cay which the Empire experi enced from the foundation of Rome to the cap- ture of Constan- tinople by the Turks. He doe.s not narrate events but supposing that they are alreadj known, he seeks to discover the links in the chain of events, and to point out the sourcesfrom which they sprang,

choosing preferably political causes, that is, institu- tions. By exhibiting them in their natural relation- ships he throws unexpected light on certain events of ancient history and those of more recent date. Bos- suet had already devoted two chapters of his "His- toire Universelle" to explaining "the sequence of changes at Rome". Montesquieu treats the same subject in a larger way and with closer correlation of facts. His point of view is that of the statesman rather than of the moralist, and every religious pre- occupation is left aside. Such indeed is his indiffer- ence that he has not a word about religion. This concession to the prejudices of his age was a mistake, as modem criticism has shown, especially in the works of Fustel de Coulanges, that religion played a greater part in the political conduct of the Romans than Montesquieu credited it with.

"Les Considerations" was but an advance chapter of "L'Esprit des lois" which Montesquieu published after twenty years of labour (2 vols., Geneva, 1748). In this second work the author studies human laws in their relationships with the government, climate, and general character of the country, its customs, and its religion. He undertakes, not to examine various laws and discover their meaning, but to point out their underlying principles and to lay down the conditions which must be verified if such laws are to work for the happiness of man in society. In his judgments and conclusions Montesquieu is careful to take into ac- count experience and tradition. He believes that laws can be enacted only for men in definitely known conditions of time and place. In so far he differs from the theorizers and Utopians of his day and of a later age, who had no hesitation in drafting laws for man in the abstract or for a humanity freed from all spatial and temporal determinations, and who took as the basis