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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

He had published his Lettres persanes


myself," he would say, "is

that there are very few positions in the commonwealth for which I should be really fit. As for my office of president, I have my heart in the right place, I comprehend sufficiently well the questions in themselves; but as to the procedure I did not understand anything about it. I paid attention to it, nevertheless; but what disgusted me most was to see fools with that very talent which, so to speak, shunned me." He resolved to deliver himself from the yoke which was intolerable to him, and resigned his office; but by this time the world knew his name, in spite of the care he had taken at first to conceal it. In 1721, when he still had his seat on the fleurs-de-lis, he had published his _Lettres persanes,_ an imaginary trip of two exiled Parsees, freely criticising Paris and France. The book appeared under the Regency, and bears the imprint of it in the licentiousness of the descriptions and the witty irreverence of the criticisms. Sometimes, however, the future gravity of Montesquieu's genius reveals itself amidst the shrewd or biting judgments. It is in the _Lettres persanes_ that he seeks to set up the notion of justice above the idea of God himself. "Though there were no God," he says, "we should still be bound to love justice, that is to say, make every effort to be like that Being of whom we have so grand an idea, and who, if He existed, would of necessity be just." Holy Scripture, before Montesquieu, had affirmed more simply and more powerfully the unchangeable
idea of justice in every soul of man. "He who is judge of all the earth, shall not He do right?." Abraham had said when interceding with God for the righteous shut up in Sodom.

The success of the _Lettres persanes_ was great; Montesquieu had said what many people thought without daring to express it; the doubt which was nascent in his mind, and which he could only withstand by an effort of will, the excessive freedom of the tone and of the style scared the authorities, however; when he wanted to get into the French Academy, in the place of M. de Sacy, Cardinal Fleury opposed it formally. It was only on the 24th of January, 1728, that Montesquieu, recently elected, delivered his reception speech. He at once set out on some long travels; he went through Germany, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and ended by settling in England for two years. The sight of political liberty had charmed him. "Ambassadors know no more about England than a six months' infant," he wrote in his journal; "when people see the devil to pay in the periodical publications, they believe that there is going to be a revolution next day; but all that is required is to remember that in England as elsewhere, the people are dissatisfied with the ministers and write what is only thought elsewhere. England is the freest country in the world; I do not except any republic." He returned to France so smitten with the parliamentary or moderate form of government, as he called it, that he seemed sometimes to forget the prudent maxim of the _Lettres persanes_. "It is true," said the Parsee Usbeck, "that, in consequence of a whimsicality (_bizarrerie_) which springs rather from the nature than from the mind of man, it is sometimes necessary to change certain laws; but the case is rare, and, when it occurs, it should not be touched save with a trembling hand."


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