The Spirit of Laws - Vol. 1

By Charles de Secondat Montesquieu; Thomas Nugent | Go to book overview

SPECIAL INTRODUCTION

MONTESQUIEU, Charles Louis Secondat de la Brède, was born at the Château de la Bride, near Bordeaux, in the month of January, 1689. He lived sixty-six years, and died on the tenth day of February, 1755. If we should omit his literary performances from the record of his life, and consider his existence apart from his books, the record would end here, and it might be said of him, as has been justly said of some royal personages, that he was born, he lived and he died. Not only was that life uneventful, but it was studiously shut off from the public eye. He shrank from those who would peer into his privacy, and reserved that part of himself for his family and his friends. He loved fame, that is, the honorable repute that grew out of the intellectual productions with which he enriched the world. Apart from these, as Horace, whom he resembled in many ways, has said of himself: "He sought the secret way and unfrequented path of life that steals away unknown."

That he was thoroughly a gentleman in the best sense of the word -- courteous, gentle, kindly and unassuming -- all who knew him testify: withal a genuine Gascon in the sparkle of his speech, in the southern brogue that he patriotically exaggerated, in his wit and effervescence, in all the qualities that he derived from the sunny atmosphere of his native Gascony and the ruddy wines that flowed so freely from the land that he dearly loved to the end.

Writers with an ingenious turn for the discovery of analogies have compared him to Voltaire, who was born but a few years after Montesquieu, and survived him many years. Voltaire was undoubtedly a man of rare genius and unequalled skill when it came to the work of destruction. To demolish ancient things was the task in which he excelled and which he delighted to perform. His bitterness against the social system of

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