Charles Montesquieu Bibliography

Discors sur Cicéron 1709
According to Montesquieu, Cicero had made Greek ideas “available to all men, like reason itself”; he had been “the first of the Romans to take philosophy out of the hands of the scholars and detach it from the encumbrance of a foreign language”.

“What a pleasure it is to see him passing in review all the sects in his book De natura deorum, shaming all the philosophers and marking each prejudice with some stigma! Sometimes he battles against these monsters, sometimes he toys with philosophy. The champions he introduces destroy one another; one is confounded by a second, who finds himself beaten in his turn. All these systems fade, one before the other, and in the mind of the reader nothing remains but contempt for the philosophers and admiration for the critic.”
Lettres persanes 1721
The Lettres persanes enjoyed great success and an English translation, with the title Persian Letters, appeared in 1722. The book launched the genre of ‘innocent’ or ‘naive’ commentary on the ways of a nation, or nations seen through the eyes of an ignorant but observant foreigner. Montesquieu gives a satirical protrait of French society through the eyes of two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica; he mocks the reign of Louis XIV, discusses, through the allegorical story of the Troglodytes, Hobbes’s theory of the state of nature, compares Islam and Christianity, reflects the controversy about the papal bull Unigentus, and satirizes Roman Catholic doctrine. The works’s anonymity was soon dispelled and Montesquieu became famous.

The Lettres allude to a range of ideas which were to become more widespread as the century wore on: the supremacy of morality over religion, religion as a social phenomenon and reduced to the light of reason, the iniquity of absolutism, and a sketch for a philosophy of history.
Le Temple de Gnide 1725
An essay in eroticism published by Montesquieu for his friends at court.
La Monarchie universelle en Europe 1734
A short treatise which was immediately withdrawn so that only Montesquieu’s own copy is still extant.
Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence. (Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans, by the author of the Persian Letters, etc., trans. 1734) 1734
Although scholars at the time frowned on Montesquieu’s disregard for archaeology the Considérations is noteworthy for its comments on the history of Rome and the question of historical causation. Drawing on Malebranche and Italian writers, Montesquieu drew a distinction between cause and occasion in order to reconcile free will and historical determinism.
De l’esprit des lois, ou du rapport que les lois doivent avoir avec la constitution de chaque gouvernement, les moeurs, le climat, la religion, le commerce, etc 1748
“The corruption of every government begins almost always with the corruption of its principles”.

By 1743, when the text of L’Esprit des lois was virtually complete, Montesquieu begin the first of two detailed revisions, which lasted until December 1746. A Geneven publisher, J. Barrillot, was selected, further corrections were made, several new chapters written and in November 1748 the work was printed in November in two quarto volumes, comprising 31 books in 1,086 pages. In 1750 it was published in English, in 2 volumes, as The Spirit of Laws, Translated (by Thomas Nugent) . . . with Corrections and Additions Communicated by the Author. It appeared in twenty-two French editions by 1751, ten English editions by 1773 and appeared in Dutch, Polish and Italian in the 1770’s, in German in 1789 and Russian in 1801. Soon after publication a number of articles and pamphlets appeared denouncing Montesquieu; he was attacked in the Sorbonne and in the general assembly of the French clergy, and in Rome, despite the interventions of the French ambassador, Montesquieu’s enemies were successful, and the work was placed on the Index in 1751.

Horace Walpole, who read De l’esprit des lois as soon as it became generally available in January 1750, called it “the best book that ever was written - at least I never learned half so much from all I ever read”. (Letter to Horace Mann, 10 January 1750) “In what book in the world is there half so much wit, sentiment, delicacy, humanity?” (Letter to the same, 25 February 1750)

In “A,B,C,” in his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire writes that the De l’esprit des lois was “full of admirable things” because Montesquieu “reminds men that they are free; he shows manking the rights it has lost in most of the world; he combats superstition, he inspires good morals.”

Montesquieu’s main legacy was his theory of constitutional monarchy, with a separation of powers according to the English model, and the theory concerning the effect of climate on the character of peoples.
Défence de l’Esprit des loix à laquelle on a joint quelques éclaircissements 1750
Essai sur le Goût 1757
The article ‘Goût’ appeared in the Encyclopédia, two years after Montesquieu’s death, but its origins go back to the 1720’s when Montesquieu was concerned with aesthetic ideas of Dubos. According to Montesquieu, “the sources of the beautiful, the good, the agreeable” are “in us”. Taste, which is subjective, is the “measure” of the pleasures that men experience. “Our manner of being is wholly arbitrary; we could have been made as we were, or differently. But if we had been made differently, we would see differently; one organ more or less in our machine would have given us another kind of eloquence, another poetry; a different structure of the same organs would have produced still another poetry: for instance, if the constitution of our organs had made us capable of longer attention, all the rules which proportion the disposition of the subject to the measure of attention would disappear.”