« PreviousContinue »
PRINTED AT WORCESTER,
Booksellers throughout the United States.
P R E F A C E.
IF, amidħ the infinite number of fubjects contained in this book, there is any thing, which, contrary to my expectation, may possibly offend. I can at least assure the public, that it was not inserted with an ill intention : For I am not naturally of a captious témper. Plato thanked Heaven, that he was born in the same age with Socrates : And, for my part; I give thanks to God, that I was born a subject of that government under which I live ; and that it is his pleasure I should obey those whom he has made me love.
I beg one favor of my readers, which I fear will not be granted me; this is, that they will not judge by a few hours reading, of the labor of twenty years ; that they will approve or condemn the book entire, and not a few particular phrases. If they would search into the design of the author, they can do it no other way so completely, as by searching into the design of the work.
I have first of all considered mankind ; and the result of my thoughts has been, that, amidst fuch an infinite diversity of laws and manners, they were not solely conducted by the caprice of fancy.
I have laid down the first principles, and have found that the particular cases apply naturally to them; that the histories of all nations are only consequences of them; and that every particular law is connected with another law, or depends on some other of a more general extent.
When I have been obliged to look back into antiquity, I have endeavored to allume the spirit of the ancients, left I should consider those things as alike, which are really different; and left I should miss the difference of those which appear to be alike,
I have not drawn my principles from my prejudices, but from the nature of things.
Here a great many truths will not appear, till we have seen the chain which connects them with others. The more we enter into particulars, the more we shall perceive the certainty of the princi- . ples on which they are founded. I have not even given all thelo particulars, for who could mention them all without a most insup. portable fatigue ?
The reader will not here meet with any of those bold Aights, which seem to characterize the works of the present age. When things are examined with ever fo Ymall a degree of extent, the fallies of imagination must vanish ; these generally arise from the mind's collecting all its powers to view only one side of the subject, while it leaves the other unobserved,
I write not to censure any thing established in any country whatfoever. Every nation will here find the reasons on which its max is are founded ; and this will be the natural inference, that to
propose alterations, belongs only to those who are so happy as to be born with a geniøs capable of penetrating into the entire constitution of a state.
It is not a matter of indifference, that the minds of the people be enlightened. The prejudices of the magiftrate have arisen from national prejudice. In a time of ignorance they have committed even the greatest evils without the feast scruple; but in an enlightened age, they even tremble while conferring the greatest blessings. They perceive the ancient abuses ; they see how they must be reformed; but they are sensible also of the abuses of the reformation. They let the evil continue, if they fear a worse ; they are content with a lesser good, if they doubt of a greater. They examine into the parts, to judge of them in connexion; and they examine all the causes to discover their different effects.
Could I but fireceed so as to afford new reasons to every man to love his duty, his prince, his country, his laws; new reasons to renier him more sensible in every nation and government of the blessings he enjoys; I should think myself the moit happy of mortals.
Could I but succeed so as to persuade those who command, to increase their knowledge in what they ought to prescribe ; and those who obey, to find a new pleasure resulting from their obedidience ; I fhould think myself the most happy of mortals.
The most happy of mortals I should think myself, could I cona tribute to make mankind recover from their prejudices. By prejudices I here mean, not that which renders men ignorant of some particular things, but whatever renders them ignorant of themselves.
It is in endeavoring to inftruct mankind, that we are best able to practice that general virtue, which comprehends the love of all. Man, that Hexible being, conforming in society to the thoughts and imprellions of others, is equally capable of knowing his own nature, whenever it is laid open to his view ; and of losing the very sense of it, when this idea is banished from his mind.
Often have I begun, and as often have I Jaid aside this undertaking. I have a thousand times given the leaves I have written to the *winds : I every day felt my paternal hands fall. t I have followed my object without any fixed plan': I have known neither rules nor exceptions; I have found the truth, only to lose it again. But when I had once discovered my first principles, every thing I lought for appeared; and in the courfe of twenty years, I have teen my work begun, growing up, advancing to maturity, and finished.
If this work meets with success, I fall owe it chiefly. to the grandeur and majesty of the subject. However, I do not think that i have been totally deficient in point of genius. When I have seery. what so many great men both in France and Germany have wrote Þefore me, I have been lost in admiration ; but I have not lost my courage : I have said with Corregio, And I also um a painter. I
* Ludibria ventis. + Bis patriæ cecidere manos.
3. Ed io anche fon pittore,
AUTHOR'S LIFE AND WRITINGS.*
M. MONTESQUIEU was born in the year 1689, in the Chateau
de la Brede, within three leagues of Bourdeaux, of an ancient and noble family. He applied himself, almost from his infancy, to the itudy of civil law. The first product of his early genius was a work, in which he' undertook ti» prove, that the idolatry of most part of the Pagans did not deserve cterial punishment. But this book his prudence thought fit to suppress. In 1714, he was made counsellor of the parliament of Bourdeaux ; and in 1916, pretir dent a mortier. In this year he was also created a member of the new founded academy of the same city. In 1725, he opened the parliament with a speech, the depth and eloquence of which were convincing proofs of his great abilities as an orator. The year following he quitted his charge ; which, ire fo excellent a magistraţe, would have been inexcusable, if, in ceasing to exea cute the law, he had not put it in his power to render the law itself more per feet.
In 1728, he offered himself a candidate for a feat in the Academie Francois : to which his Lettres Perfannes (published in 1721) seemed to give him a sufficient title ; yet fome, rather too bold, strokes in that work, together with the circumspection of that society, rendered the matter dubious. Cardinal Fleury, alarmed with what he had heard concerning these letters, wrote, to let the academy know, that the King would not have them admit the author, unless he thought proper to disavow the book. Montesquieu declared that he had never owned himself to be the author of it; but that he should never dilu avow it. The cardinal read the Lettres Perjannes, found them more agreeable than dangerous, and Montesquieu was admitted.
When he left France, he accompanied his intimate friend, Lord Waldgrave, in his embassy to Vienna ; and, after seeing allo Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and Holland, he ended his tour in Greatbritain ; where, meditating upon the fpring of that government, in which, says M. Maupertuis, so many seemingly incongruous advantages are united, he found all the materịals that were wants ing to complete the great works which lay wrapt in his imagination.
No sooner was he returned to France, than he retired to La Brede ; where, for the fpace of two whole years, seeing nothing but books and trees, he wrote his considerations on the causes of the grandeur and decline of the Roman Empire, which was published in 1733. To this work he designed to have added a book on the English government; but this most excellent treatise has fince found a more proper place in his Esprit des Loix, with which he obliged" the world in the year 1748. The preceding works of M. Montesquieu may 3 3
be * Extra&, from Eloge de M. de Montesquieu, par M. de Maupertuis, late President of this Royal Academy af Berlin,