Persian and Chinese Letters

Persian and Chinese Letters

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Persian and Chinese Letters

Persian and Chinese Letters

Read FREE!

Excerpt

Of all great French authors perhaps Montesquieu is the least known in this country. It is more than a hundred years since any work of his was translated into English, and no greater sign of the neglect which has befallen him could be instanced than the infrequency of the appearance of his name in our periodical and journalistic literature, at a time when our ideas of government are once more in the crucible. the greater fame of Voltaire and Rousseau, and the absorbing interest of the French Revolution, are the principal causes of this neglect; at the same time, had there been anything in the shape of a true biography of Montesquieu, a living picture of the man, the operation of these causes might have been in some degree obviated.

It was the custom under the ancien régime in the great law-families for the eldest son to compose a life of his father: a document designed to hide the actual man behind a mask of the domestic and legal virtues so effectually that his friends and colleagues should be unable to recognize him. Such a mémoire pour servir in the highest style of the art, Montesquieu’s son prepared and published in 1755. the eulogies of D’Alembert, Maupertuis, and the Chevalier de Solignac, founded, all of them, so far as they refer to Montesquieu’s life, upon this filial effigy, represent only a mask with the conventional air proper to a great and good man.

This lack of a truthful picture has, of course, had a bad effect on Montesquieu’s fame in France as well as in England. Least known, until recently, as regards his life, of all the great Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, he has had perhaps the most varied fortune of all writers of that or any other age. For about fifty years after his death, his reputation was unrivaled ; but from 1789 till 1814, the . . .

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