- Familiar Letters. By President De Montesquieu.
- Letter I.: To Father Cerati * of the Congregation of the Orators of Saint Philip At Rome.
- Letter II.: To the Same.
- Letter III.: To Monsieur L’abbé Venuti * , At Clerac.
- Letter IV.: To the Abbé Nicolini * , At Florence.
- Letter V.: To Mr. Cerati, At Pisa.
- Letter VI.: To Abbé Venuti At Clerac.
- Letter VII.: To Abbé De Guasco, At Turin.
- Letter VIII.: To the Count of Guasco, Colonel of Foot.
- Letter IX.: To the Abbé De Guasco.
- Letter X.: To the Same.
- Letter XI.: To the Same.
- Letter XII.: To the Countess De Pontac.
- Letter XIII.: To Mr. Cerati.
- Letter XIV.: To Abbé De Guasco At Clerac.
- Letter XV.: To the Same.
- Letter XVI.: To the Same.
- Letter XVII.: To the Same.
- Letter XVIII.: To the Same.
- Letter XIX.: To the Same Abbé De Guasco.
- Letter XX.: To the Same.
- Letter XXI.: To Mr. Cerati.
- Letter XXII.: To Abbé De Guasco, At Aix.
- Letter XXIII.
- Letter XXIV.: To the Same.
- Letter XXV.: To the Same.
- Letter XXVI.: To the Same.
- Letter XXVII.: To Mr. Cerati.
- Letter XXVIII.: To Prince Charles Edward.
- Letter XXIX.: To the Grand Prior Solar, Ambassador From Malta, At Rome.
- Letter XXX.: To the Abbé and Count De Guasco, At Paris.
- Letter XXXI.: To Mr. Cerati.
- Letter XXXII.: To Abbé Venuti.
- Letter XXXIII.: To the Abbé Count De Guasco.
- Letter XXXIV.: To the Abbé Venuti, At Bourdeaux.
- Letter XXXV.: To Mr. Cerati.
- Letter XXXVI.: To Abbé Venuti.
- Letter XXXVII.: To Abbé Venuti.
- Letter XXXVIII: To the Abbé Count De Guasco.
- Letter XXXIX.: To Abbé De Guasco.
- Letter Xl.: to the Same.
- Letter Xli.: to the Same.
- Letter Xlii.: to the Same, At Bourdeaux.
- Letter Xliii.: to the Same.
- Letter Xliv.: to the Same Abbé De Guasco.
- Letter Xlv.: to the Same At Vienna.
- Letter Xlvi.: to the Same Abbé De Guasco At Vienna.
- Letter Xlvii.: to the Same, At Verona.
- Letter Xlviii.: to the Same.
- Letter Xlix.: to the Same, At Naples.
- Letter L.: to the Same.
- Letter Li.: to Mr. Cerati.
- Letter Lii.: to the Abbé Marquis Nicolini.
- Letter Liii.: to Abbé Count De Guasco.
- Letter Liv.: to the Same.
- Letter Lv.: to the Auditor Bertolini, At Florence.
- Letter Lvi.: to Abbé Count De Guasco.
- Letter Lvii.: a Billet to the Same.
- Letter Lviii.: to the Grand Prior Solar, At Turin.
- Letter Lix.: the Fragment of a Letter From M. De Montesquieu, to the King of Poland, Duke of Lorraine, to Solicit His Majesty For a Place In the Academy of Nantz.
- Letter Lx.: Fragment of the King of Poland’s Answer, to the Foregoing Letter.
- Letter Lxi.: to M. De Solignac, Secretary to the Literary Society At Nantz.
- Letter Lxii.: From M. De Montesquieu. to the Author of a Short View of the Philosophical Works of Lord Bolingbroke.
- Letter Lxiii.: to the Dutchess of Aiguillon.
- Letter Lxiv.: From the Dutchess of Aiguillon, to Abbé De Guasco.
- Letter Lxv.: an Article Taken From a Letter of Baron Secondat De Montesquieu, to the Abbé Count De Guasco.
- Letter Lxvi.: Article of a Letter to the Same.
- Miscellaneous Pieces of M. De Secondat, Baron De Montesquieu.
- An Oration Pronounced the 24th of January, 1728. By President Montesquieu: When He Was Received Into the French Academy, In the Room of the Late M. De Sacy.
- An Essay Upon Taste, In Subjects of Nature, and of Art.
- Of the Pleasures of the Soul.
- Of the Mental Faculties * .
- Of Curiosity.
- Of the Pleasures of Order.
- Of the Pleasures of Variety.
- Of the Pleasures of Symmetry.
- Of Contrasts.
- Of the Pleasures of Surprize.
- Of Different Causes That Produce Sensation.
- Of Sensibility.
- Of Delicacy.
- Of the Je Ne Scais Quoi.
- The Progression of Surprize.
- Of Beauties Which Result From an Embarrassment of the Soul.
- The Temple of Gnidus.
- The Preface.
- Canto I.
- Canto II.
- Canto III.
- Canto IV.
- Canto V.
- Canto VI.
- Canto VII.
- Cupid Distressed.
- The Analysis of the Spirit of Laws. By M. D’alembert.
- A Defence of the Spirit of Laws. to Which Are Added, Some Explanations.
- Part I.
- Part II.
- The General Idea.
- Of the Counsels of Religion.
- Of Polygamy.
- On Climate.
- Of Toleration.
- Of Celibacy.
- A Particular Error Committed By the Critic.
- Of Marriage.
- Of Usury.
- “of Maritime Usury.
- Part III.: Some Explanations of the Spirit of Laws.
A DEFENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF LAWS.
To which are added, SOME EXPLANATIONS.
THIS Defence is divided into three parts. In the first are answered the general reproaches that have been cast on the Author of the Spirit of Laws. In the second, a reply is made to particular reproaches: And the third contains reflexions on the manner in which he has been treated. The Public will soon be acquainted with the state of the case; and to its judgment the Author refers.
THOUGH the Spirit of Laws is intirely a work relating to politics and civil law, the Author has had frequent occasion, in the course of that work, to mention the Christian religion. He has done it in such a manner, as fully to shew its dignity; and though he has had no view of endeavouring to prove it to be true, he has sought to render it beloved.
However, in two periodical pieces that have successively followed each other , the most dreadful imputations have been cast upon him. The inquiry is no less, than whether the author be a Spinosist and a Deist: And though these accusations are in their own nature contradictory, the critic incessantly returns from one to the other.
Both being incompatible cannot render him more guilty than one alone; but both may render him more odious.
He is a Spinosist, who in the first article of his book has distinguished between the material world and spiritual intelligences.
He is a Spinosist, who in the second article has attacked Atheism. “Those who assert, that a blind fatality produced the various effects we behold in this world, are guilty of a very great absurdity: For can any thing be more absurd, than to pretend that a blind fatality could produce intelligent beings.”
He is a Spinosist who continues to say, “God is related to the universe as creator and preserver ; the laws by which he has created all things, are those by which he preserves them. He acts according to these rules because he knows them: He knows them, because he has made them: And he made them because they are relative to his wisdom and power.”
He is a Spinosist who has added: “As we see that the world, though formed by the motion of matter, and void of understanding, continues to subsist, &c. ”
He is a Spinosist who has shewn, against Hobbre and Spinosa, That “before laws were made, the were relations of possible justice .”
He is a Spinosist who, in the beginning of the second chapter has said: “The law which, imprinting in our minds the idea of a Creator, inclines us to him, is the first, in its importance, of natural laws.”
He is a Spinosist who has attacked with all his power a paradox asserted by Bayle, “That it is better to be an atheist than an idolater;” a paradox from which the atheists draw the most dangerous consequences.
What do they alledge after such express passages? Natural equity demands that the degree of proof should be proportionable to the greatness of the accusation.
The Author falls at the very first step. “The Laws, in their most general signification, says he, are the necessary relations derived from the nature of things.” The laws of relations—What can he mean by this? The Author has not however deviated from the ordinary definition of Laws without design. What end had he then in view? This it is. According to the new system, there is, between all beings which form what Pope calls the universal whole, a chain so necessary, that the least disorder will produce confusion even up to the throne of the First Cause. This has made Pope say, that things can be no otherwise than they are, and that whatever is, is right. This being considered, we understand the signification of this new language, that the laws are the necessary relations derived from the nature of things. To which it is added, in this sense, “All beings have their Laws; the Deity has his Laws; the material world its Laws; the intelligencies superior to man their Laws; the beasts their Laws; man his Laws.”
Darkness itself is not more obscure than this passage. The Critic has heard that Spinosa maintained, that the universe is governed by a blind and necessary principle; and there needed no more. As soon as he found the word necessary, this must be Spinosism. The Author has asserted, that the Laws are necessary relations: here therefore is Spinosism, because here is the term necessary. And what appears surprising is, that the Author, in the opinion of the Critic, is found to be a Spinosist by this article, though it expressly opposes such dangerous systems. The Author was attempting to overthrow Hobbes’s system; a system the most terrible, it making all the virtues and vices depend on human establishments: and by endeavouring to prove, that all mankind are born in a state of war, and that the first natural Law, is that all should make war against all, he, like Spinosa, overthrows both all religion, and all morality. In answer to this, the Author has established, in the first place, that there were laws of justice and equity before the establishment of positive Laws: he has proved, that all beings have Laws; that, even before their creation, they had possible Laws; that God himself has Laws, that is, Laws which he himself has made. He has proved, that the assertion, That man is born in a state of war, is false . He has shewn, that a state of war did not commence till after the establishment of societies, and on this subject has advanced very clear principles. Whence it evidently follows: That the Author has attacked the errors of Hobbes, and the consequences of those of Spinosa; and that hence it has happened, that so little has he been understood, that his objections against Spinosism have been taken for the opinions of Spinosa. Before a person enters into a dispute, he ought to begin with making himself master of the state of the question; and with knowing whether he whom he attacks is a friend or an enemy.
The Critic continues: On which the Author cites Plutarch, who says, that Law is the Queen of Gods and men. But is it from a Pagan, &c?
It is true, the Author has quoted Plutarch, who says, that Law is the Queen of Gods and men.
The Author has said, That “the creation, which seems to be an arbitrary act, supposes Laws as invariable as the fatality of the atheists.” From these words the Critic concludes, that the Author admits the fatality of the atheists.
A little before he has destroyed this fatality, by saying, “Those who assert that a blind fatality produced the various effects we behold in the world, are guilty of a very great absurdity: for can any thing be more absurd than to pretend, that a blind fatality can produce intelligent beings.” Moreover, in the passage censured, the Author cannot be made to speak of any other subject but that he is treating of. He is not treating of causes, nor does he compare causes: but he treats of effects, and compares effects. The whole article, that which precedes it, and that which follows, shew that he is here only treating of the rules of motion, which the Author asserts are established by God. He says, that these rules are invariable; and all natural philosophy says so too. They are invariable, because God has resolved that they should be so, and because he has determined to preserve the world. He says neither more nor less than this.
I must always maintain, that the Critic never understands the sense of things, and that he applies his attention only to words. When the Author says, That the creation, which seems to be an arbitrary act, supposes rules as invariable as the fatality of the atheists, it cannot be understood as if he had said, the creation was as necessary an act as the fatality of the atheists, since he had already shewn the absurdity of that fatality. Moreover, the two members of a comparison ought to have a relation to each other: therefore it is absolutely necessary that the sentence should run thus: The creation, which seems at first to have produced Laws of variable motion, has those as invariable as the fatality of the atheists. The Critic, once more, has neither seen, nor does see, any thing but words.
THERE is then no Spinosism in The Spirit of Laws. Let us pass to another accusation; and see if it be true, That the Author does not acknowledge the truth of revealed religion. The Author, at the end of the first chapter, speaking of man as a finite being, subject to ignorance and error, has said: “Such a being might every instant forget his Creator; God has therefore reminded him of his duty by the Laws of religion.”
He has said, in the first chapter of the twenty-fourth book: “I shall examine the several religions in the world, in relation only to the good they produce in civil society, whether I speak of that which has its root in heaven, or of those which spring from the earth.
“A person of the least degree of impartiality must see, that I have never pretended to make the interests of religion submit to those of a political nature, but rather to unite them: now in order to unite, it is necessary that we should know them. The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would without doubt have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political Laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.”
And in the second chapter of the same book: “A Prince who loves and fears religion is a lion, who stoops to the hand that strokes, or the voice that appeases him. He who fears and hates religion, is like the savage beast, that growls, and bites the chain which prevents his flying on the passenger. He who has no religion at all, is that terrible animal, who perceives his liberty only when he tears in pieces and devours.”
In the third chapter of the same book: “While the Mahometan Princes incessantly give or receive death, the religion of the Christians renders their Princes less timid, and consequently less cruel. The Prince confides in his subjects; and the subjects in the Prince. How admirable the religion which, while it seems only to have in view the felicity of the other life, constitutes the happiness of this!”
In the fourth chapter of the same book: “From the characters of the Christian and Mahometan religions we ought, without any further examination, to embrace the one, and reject the other.” To proceed:
In the sixth chapter: “Mr. Bayle, after having abused all religions, endeavours to sully Christianity: he boldly asserts, that true Christians cannot form a government of any duration. Why not? Citizens of this profession, being infinitely enlightened, with respect to the various duties of life, and having the warmest zeal to fulfil them, must be perfectly sensible of the rights of natural defence. The more they believed themselves indebted to religion, the more they would think due to their country. The principles of Christianity, deeply engraven on the heart, would be infinitely more powerful than the false honour of monarchies, the human virtues of republics, or the servile fear of despotic states.
“It is astonishing, that this great man should not be able to distinguish between the orders for the establishment of Christianity, and Christianity itself; and that he should be liable to be charged with not knowing the spirit of his own religion. When the legislator, instead of laws, has given counsels, this is because he knew, that if these counsels were ordained as laws, they would be contrary to the spirit of the laws themselves.”
In the tenth chapter: “Could I for a moment cease to think that I am a Christian, I should not be able to hinder myself from ranking the destruction of the sect of Zeno among the misfortunes that have befallen the human race, &c. Laying aside for a moment revealed truths, let us search through all nature, and we shall not find a nobler object than the Antoninuses, &c.”
In the thirteenth chapter: “The Pagan religion indeed, that prohibited only some of the grosser crimes, that stopped the hand, but meddled not with the heart, might have crimes that were inexpiable: but a religion which bridles all the passions; which is not more jealous of actions, than of thoughts and desires; which holds us not by a few chains, but by an infinite number of threads; which, laying human justice aside, establishes another kind of justice; which is so ordered as to lead us continually from repentance to love, and from love to repentance; which puts between the judge and the criminal a great mediator; between the just and the mediator a great judge: a religion like this ought not to have crimes in themselves inexpiable. But though it gives fear and hope to all, it makes us sufficiently sensible, that there is no crime in its own nature inexpiable, though a whole criminal life may be so; that it is extremely dangerous to affront mercy by new crimes and new expiations; that an uneasiness on account of ancient debts, from which we are never free, ought to make us afraid of contracting new ones, of filling up the measure, and going to that point where paternal goodness is limited.”
In the conclusion of the nineteenth chapter, the Author, after having shewn an abuse that has arisen in several Pagan religions with respect to their opinion of the state of souls in another life, says: “It is not enough for religion to establish a doctrine; it must also direct its influence. This the Christian religion performs in the most admirable manner, particularly with regard to the doctrines of which we have been speaking. It makes us hope for a state that is the object of our belief; not for a state we have already experienced or known. Thus every article, even the resurrection of the body, leads us to spiritual ideas.”
And at the conclusion of the twenty-sixth chapter: “It follows from hence, that it is almost always proper for a religion to have particular doctrines, and a general worship. In Laws concerning the practice of religious worship, there ought to be but few particulars: for instance, they should command mortification in general, and not a certain kind of mortification. Christianity is full of good sense: abstinence is of divine institution; but a particular kind of abstinence is ordained by a political Law, and therefore may be changed.”
In the last chapter of the twenty-fifth book: “But it does not follow, that a religion brought from a far distant country, and quite different in climate, laws, manners, and customs, will have all the success to which its holiness ought to intitle it.”
In the third chapter of the twenty-fourth book: “It is the Christian religion that, in spite of the empire and the influence of the climate, has hindered despotic power from being established in Æthiopia, and has carried into the midst of Africa the manners and Laws of Europe, &c. Not far from thence may be seen the Mahometan shutting up the children of the King of Sennao; at whose death the council sends to murder them, in favour of the Prince who mounts the throne.
“Let us set before our eyes, on the one hand, the continual massacres of the Kings and Generals of the Greeks and Romans; and, on the other, the destruction of people and cities by the commanders Thimur and Gengis-Kan, who ravaged Asia; and we shall see that we owe to Christianity, in government, a certain political Law, and, in war, a certain Law of nations; benefits which human nature can never sufficiently acknowledge.” The Reader is desired to peruse the whole chapter.
In the eighth chapter of the twenty-fourth book: “In a country so unfortunate as to have a religion which God has not revealed, it is always necessary that it should be agreeable to morality, because even a false religion is the best security we can have of the probity of men.”
These passages are very explicit. We here see a writer, who not only believes the Christian religion, but who loves it. What has the Critic said to prove the contrary? Let it be once more observed, that the proofs ought to be proportionable to the accusation: and as that accusation is not of a frivolous nature, neither ought the proofs to be so. But as these proofs are always given in a pretty extraordinary form, they being a mixture of half proof and half abuse, and in a manner concealed in the train of a very vague discourse; I am going to search for them.
The Author has praised the Stoics, who admitted a blind fatality, a necessary chain, &c. . This is the foundation of natural religion.
Suppose for a moment that this false manner of reasoning is just. Has the Author praised the natural philosophy and metaphysics of the Stoics? He has praised their morals; he has said, that the people obtained great advantages from them: he has said this, and he has said no more.—I am mistaken; he has said more: for, in the first page of the book, he has attacked the fatality of the Stoics: he did not then praise it, when he praised the Stoics.
The Author has praised Bayle in calling him a great man .
I will here too suppose for a moment, that in general this manner of reasoning is just: but, at least, it is not so in this case. It is true, the Author has called Bayle a great man; but he has censured his opinions. If he has censured them, he does not admit them: and since he has attacked his opinions, he does not call him a great man on their account. Every body knows, that Bayle had a great capacity; of which he has made an ill use: but that capacity which he misused, he had. The Author has, therefore, attacked his sophisms, and complained of his errors. I do not love the men who overthrow the laws of their country; but I should find it difficult to believe, that Cæsar and Cromwell were men of mean capacities. I am not fond of conquerors; but it would not be an easy matter to persuade me, that Alexander and Gengis-Kan were men of a common genius. It would not, indeed, have required any great abilities in the Author to have called Bayle an abominable man: but whether he owes this disposition to nature, or whether it is an effect of his education, it appears that he is not fond of using abusive language. I have reason to believe that, was he to take up the pen, he would not treat in that manner even those who have endeavoured to do him one of the greatest injuries that one man can do to another, by labouring to render him odious to all those who do not know him, and suspected by all who do.
Besides, I have remarked, that the declamations of angry men make little impression on those who are not themselves angry. Most readers are men of moderation, who seldom take a book but in cool blood. Reasonable men love reason; and if the Author had uttered against Bayle a thousand abusive expressions, it would not have followed from thence, that Bayle had reasoned either well, or ill: all that could have been concluded from it would have been, that the Author knew how to be abusive.
Is drawn from the Author’s not having treated, in his first chapter, of original sin .
I ask every sensible man, whether that chapter be a treatise on theology? Had the Author treated of original sin, he might in the same manner have been charged with not having mentioned the redemption of mankind; and thus they might have proceeded, from article to article, to infinity.
Is drawn from the Author’s having begun his work in a very different manner from Mr. Domat; who has first treated of revelation.
It is true Mr. Domat has begun his work in a different manner from the Author, and has first treated of revelation.
The Author has followed Pope’s system in his Essay on Man.
Throughout the whole work he has not one word of Pope’s system.
The Author says, That the law which prescribes to Man his duty towards God, is the most important; but be denies that it is the first; he pretends, that the first Law of nature is peace; that men begin with being afraid of each other, &c. But every child knows, that the first Law is to love God; and that the second is to love his neighbour.
These are the Author’s words: “The Law which, imprinting in our minds the idea of a Creator, inclines us to him, is the first of the natural laws in its importance, though not in its order. Man, in a state of nature, would have the power of knowing before he had acquired knowledge. It is evident that his first ideas would be far from being of a speculative nature; he would think of the preservation of his being before he would investigate its origin. Such a man would at first feel nothing in himself but impotency. His fears and apprehensions would be excessive; as appears from instances (were there any necessity of proving it) of savages found in forests, ever trembling, and flying from every shadow .” The Author has then said, that the Law which, imprinting in us the idea of a Creator, inclines us to him, is the first of the natural Laws. It is not unlawful for him, any more than for other philosophers and writers on the Law of nature, to consider man under various situations. He has therefore taken the liberty to suppose a man as if dropped from the clouds, lest to himself, and without education, before the establishment of society. Well, the Author has said, that the first, the most important, and consequently the capital Law of nature, would be for him, as well as for all other men, to be inclined towards his Creator. It is also allowable for the Author to enquire what would be the first impression made on this man, and to examine the order in which these impressions would be traced in his brain: And he has believed, that he would have sensations before he made reflexions; that the first, in the order of time, would be fear; afterwards the want of food, &c. The Author has said, that the law which, impressing on our minds the idea of a Creator, leads us to him, is the first of the natural Laws: the Critic says, that the first Law of nature is to love God: they are therefore only divided by abuse.
Is drawn from the first chapter of the first book; where the Author having said that man is a limited being, has added: “Such a being might every instant forget his Creator: God has therefore reminded him of his duty by the laws of religion.” Now, says the Critic, What is the religion to which the Author here alludes? He doubtless speaks of natural religion; he then only believes natural religion.
Let us suppose again, that this manner of reasoning is just; and that when the Author speaks only of the religion of nature, we may conclude from thence that he only believes in that religion, and that he excludes revealed religion: Yet, in this place I maintain, that he has spoken of revealed religion, and not of the religion of nature; for if he had meant the religion of nature, he must have been an ideot. It would have been as if he had said: Such a being might easily forget his Creator, that is, the religion of nature; God has therefore reminded him of his duty by the Laws of natural religion: so that God had given him the religion of nature, to perfect him in the religion of nature. Thus, to prepare himself for casting invectives on the Author, he begins by taking from his words their most evident sense, in order to give them the most evident absurdity; and to obtain the advantage over him, he deprives him of common sense.
The Author speaking of man, has said: “Such a being might every instant forget his creator; God has therefore reminded him of his duty by the Laws of religion: such a being is liable every moment to forget himself; philosophy has provided against this by the Laws of morality: formed to live in society, he might forget his fellow creatures; legislators have therefore, by political and civil Laws, confined him to his duty .” Therefore, says the Critic, according to the Author, the government is divided between God, the philosophers, and the legislators, &c. Where have the philosophers learned the Laws of morality? Where have legislators seen what they ought to prescribe, in order to govern societies with equity?
It is very easy to reply to this. They have taken it from revelation, if they have been so happy as to be favoured with it: otherwise, they have taken it from that Law which, impressing on our minds the idea of a Creator, leads us towards him. Has the Author of the Spirit of Laws said with Virgil, Cæsar shares the empire with Jupiter? Has not God, the governor of the universe, given to certain men greater intellectual abilities, and to others greater power? You would maintain that the Author has said, that because God has been pleased to ordain that men should be governed by men, he is not willing that they should obey him, and that he has divested himself of the authority he had over them, &c. To such absurdities are those reduced, who are extremely weak at reasoning, but have great strength at declamation.
The Critic continues: It is also observable that the Author, who finds that God cannot govern free beings as well as others, because, being free, they are allowed the liberty of acting for themselves (I shall observe by the way, that the Author does not make use of the expression, God cannot) remedies this disorder no otherwise than by the Law, which shews men what they ought to do, but gives them not the power to do it. Thus, according to the Author’s system, God has created beings whose irregularities he can neither hinder nor repair. Blind mortal! who does not see that God does what he requires from them, and that they can do nothing but what he pleases.
The Critic had before reproached the Author with not having mentioned original sin. He again returns to the charge, and censures him for not having spoken of grace. It is an unhappy thing to have to do with a man who censures all the articles of a book, and has only one predominant idea. He is not unlike the curate of the village, to whom some astronomers shewing the moon through a telescope, he could see nothing but a steeple.
The Author of The Spirit of Laws thought he ought to begin with giving some idea of Laws in general, and of the Law of nature and nations. The subject was immense; and yet he has included it in two chapters: he was therefore obliged to omit a great number of things that belonged to his subject; and with much better reason has he omitted those which had no relation to it.
The Author has said, that in England self-murder is the effect of a disease, and that they can no more punish it than they can punish the effects of madness. A follower of the religion of nature cannot forget that England is the cradle of his sect. He wipes a spunge over all the crimes he perceives there.
The Author does not know, that England is the cradle of the religion of nature. But he knows, that England is not his cradle, on account of his having mentioned a physical effect, which he himself observed in England. His sentiments of religion are no more like those of the English, than those of an Englishman, who treats of the physical effects that have happened in France, are like those of a Frenchman. The Author of The Spirit of Laws is not a follower of natural religion; but he would be glad to have his Critic a follower of natural logic.
I believe I have already made the terrible arms used by the Critic drop from his hand: and I am now going to give an idea of his exordium; which is such, that I am afraid my mentioning it here will be thought to be done by way of derision.
He says at first, and these are his words: That the book of the Spirit of Laws is one of those irregular productions, that were never so numerous till after the arrival of the bull Unigenitus. Is it not enough to make one laugh, to suppose that the arrival of The Spirit of Laws is caused by the arrival of the constitution Unigenitus? The bull Unigenitus is not the occasional cause of the book of The Spirit of Laws; but the bull Unigenitus, and the book of The Spirit of Laws, have been the occasional causes of the Critic’s having made so shrewd a remark.
The Critic continues: The Author says that he has often begun, and as often laid aside his work. However, when he threw his first productions into the fire, he was less distant from the truth, than when he began to be satisfied with his labours. How does he know that? He adds: If the Author had been willing to follow a beaten path, his work would have cost him less pains. How again does he know that? He afterwards pronounces this oracle: It does not require much penetration to perceive, that The Spirit of Laws is founded on the system of natural religion. It has been shewn in the letters against Pope’s Essay on Man, that the system of natural religion is connected with that of Spinosa: this is enough to inspire a Christian with horror at the new book of which we are here giving an account.
I reply, that this is not only enough, but even too much. But I have just proved, that the Author’s system is not that of the religion of nature; and supposing that natural religion is connected with Spinosa’s system, the Author’s system is not that of Spinosa, since it is not that of the religion of nature.
He would then inspire us with horror, before he has proved that we ought to be filled with horror.
These are the two forms of reasoning diffused through the two pieces I have undertaken to answer. The Author of the Spirit of Laws is a follower of natural religion: we must then explain what he says there by the principles of natural religion: therefore, if what he says there is founded on the principles of natural religion, he is a follower of natural religion.
The other form of reasoning is this: The Author of the Spirit of Laws is a follower of the religion of nature: what he then says in his book in favour of revelation is only to conceal his being a follower of the religion of nature: therefore, if he thus conceals himself, he is a follower of the religion of nature.
Before I conclude this first part, I shall be tempted to make an objection to him that has made so many. He has so terrified our ears with the phrase, follower of the religion of nature, that I, who defend the Author, scarcely dare to pronounce the word. I will however take courage. Do not these two pieces require more explication than that I defend? Does he do well, when he is treating of natural religion and revelation, to throw himself perpetually on one side, and to cause all traces of the other to be intirely lost? Does he do well never to distinguish those who acknowledge only the religion of nature, from those who acknowledge both natural and revealed religion? Does he do well to be frightened whenever the Author considers man in a state of nature, and when he explains any thing on the principles of natural religion? Does he do well to confound the religion of nature with atheism? Have I not always heard, that all of us have the religion of nature? Have I not heard, that Christianity is the perfection of natural religion? Have I not heard, that people make use of arguments drawn from the religion of nature, in proof of a revelation, against the Deists; and that we employ the same natural religion, to prove the existence of God against the atheists? He says that the Stoics were the followers of natural religion: and I, that they were atheists ; since they believed that the universe was governed by a blind fatality, and that, from natural religion, we ought to oppose the opinion of the Stoics. He says, that the system of natural religion is connected with that of Spinosa : and I, that they are contradictory, and that it is by natural religion we overthrow Spinosa’s system. I say, that to confound the religion of nature with atheism, is to confound the proof with the thing we would prove, and the objection against the error with the error itself; and that it is to deprive us of the powerful arms of which we are possessed against that error. God forbid that I should impute any ill design to the Critic, or take advantage of the consequences that might be drawn from his principles. Though he has treated the Author with very little indulgence, I would shew some to him. I only say, that the metaphysical ideas in his brain are very confused; that he has not the least power of separating them; that he is incapable of forming a good judgment, because among the various things he might see, he never sees but one. In this I have no design of making him reproaches, but merely of destroying those he has made.
THE GENERAL IDEA.
I HAVE already cleared the Author of The Spirit of Laws from the two general reproaches that have been cast upon him: but there are still some particular imputations, to which it is necessary for me to reply. But to throw the greater light on what I have said, and on what will be hereafter added, I shall explain what has given room, or served as a pretence for making invectives.
Men of the best sense in the several countries of Europe, men of the greatest learning, and most distinguished for their wisdom, have considered The Spirit of Laws as an useful work: they have thought that the morals, in which it abounds, are pure; that the principles it contains are just, and that it is proper to form worthy members of society; that the Author there destroys pernicious opinions, and encourages those that are good.
On the other hand, here is a man who treats it as a dangerous book, and makes it the subject of the most outrageous invectives. This requires some explications.
So far from having understood the particular passages on which he has spent his criticism, he has not even discovered what is the subject of which the Author treats. Thus vainly beating the air, and fighting against the wind, he has gained triumphs of the same kind: he has wrote a good criticism on the book he had in his head; but has not wrote a critique on that of the Author. But how was it possible for him thus to mistake both the subject and design of a book placed before his eyes? Persons of sense see at the first glance, that the objects of this work are the Laws, the various customs, and manners, of all the nations on earth. It may be said, that the subject is of prodigious extent, as it comprehends all the institutions received among mankind; as these institutions are distinguished by the Author, who examines those that are most agreeable to society in general, and to each society in particular; and as he searches into their origin, discovers their physical and moral causes; examines those which have any intrinsic goodness, and those that have none; of two pernicious practices, he enquires which is most, and which least pernicious; and treats of those that in some respects may have a good effect, and a bad one in others. He has imagined that these researches would be useful, because judgment and good sense consist in knowing the shades of things.
Now in a subject of such extent, it became necessary to treat of religion: for there being but one true religion, and an infinite number of others that are false; one religion sent from heaven, and an infinity of others that had their birth on this globe: he could regard the false religions only as human institutions; and therefore was obliged to examine them, as well as all the other institutions of human origin. But as to the Christian religion, he had nothing to do but to pay it his adorations as being divine. He did not think himself obliged to treat of that religion: because he considered it, as in its own nature not subject to his examination, so that when he has mentioned it, it has never been done to introduce it into the plan of his work, but only to pay it the tribute of respect and love due to it from all Christians; and that in the comparisons he might draw between that religion and the others, he might make it triumph over them all. This is visible throughout the whole work: but the Author has particularly explained himself at the beginning of book xxiv. the first of the two books that treat of religion. He begins thus: “As amidst the several degrees of darkness, we may form a judgment of those which are the least thick, and, among precipices, which are the least deep; so we may search among false religions for those that are most conformable to the welfare of the society; for those which, though they have not the effect of leading men to the felicity of the other life, may contribute most to their happiness in this.
“I shall therefore only examine the several religions in the world, in relation to the good they produce in civil society; whether I speak of that which has its root in heaven, or of those which spring from the earth.”
The Author therefore, regarding human religions only as human institutions, was in the right to treat of them, because they necessarily entered into his plan. He did not go out of his way to seek for them; but they came in search of him. And as to the Christian religion, he has only mentioned it occasionally; because, in its own nature, it could not be modified, mitigated, and corrected, and therefore did not enter into the plan he had proposed.
What has he done then to give so full a scope to declamation, and to open so wide a door to invective? The Author has been considered as if, after the example of M. Abbadie, he had resolved to write a treatise on the Christian religion; he has been attacked, as if his two books on religion were two treatises on Christian divinity. He has been charged, as if speaking of any religion whatsoever that had no relation to the Christian, it had been his business to examine it according to the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. He has been judged, as if he had undertaken, in his two books, to form an establishment in behalf of the Christians, and to preach the doctrines of Christianity to Mahometans and Idolaters. Whenever he has mentioned religion in general, whenever he has used the word religion, it is said, This is the Christian religion. Whenever he has compared the religious rites of any nation whatsoever, and has said, that some of these rites were more conformable to the political government of the country, than others; it is said, You then approve them, and abandon the Christian faith. When he has mentioned any people who have not embraced Christianity, or who lived before the coming of Christ, it is said, You then do not acknowledge the Christian moral. When he has examined, in a political writer, any custom whatsoever, it is said, Was this the doctrine of Christianity you ought to have inculcated? You say, that you are a Civilian; and I will make you a Divine in spite of yourself. You in some places say some very fine things in favour of the Christian religion; but you only say them to conceal yourself: for I know your heart, and read your thoughts. It is true, I do not understand your book; it is of no consequence whether I have penetrated rightly, or not, into the view with which it was written: but I dive to the bottom of your thoughts. I do not know a word you say: but I understand very well what you think. Let us enter now into the subject.
OF THE COUNSELS OF RELIGION.
The Author, in the book on religion, has attacked the errors of Bayle. These are his words : “Mr. Bayle, after having abused all religions, endeavours to sully Christianity. He boldly asserts, that true Christians cannot form a government of any duration. Why not? Citizens of this profession, being infinitely enlightened with respect to the various duties of life, and having the warmest zeal to fulfil them, must be perfectly sensible of the rights of natural desence. The more they believed themselves indebted to religion, the more they would think due to their country. The principles of Christianity, deeply engraven on the heart, would be infinitely more powerful than the false honour of monarchies, the humane virtues of republics, or the servile fear of despotic states.
“It is astonishing that this great man should not be able to distinguish between the orders for the establishment of Christianity, and Christianity itself: and that he should be liable to be charged with not knowing the spirit of his own religion. When the legislator instead of Laws gave counsels, it was because he knew, that if those counsels were ordained as Laws, they would be contrary to the spirit of the Laws themselves.”
What has the Critic done to deprive the Author of the honour of having thus attacked one of Bayle’s errors? He has taken the following chapter, which has nothing to do with Bayle . “Human Laws made to direct the will, it is there said, ought to give precepts, and not counsels: religion, which is formed to influence the heart, ought to give many counsels, and few precepts.” Whence it is concluded, that the Author considers all the precepts of the Gospel only as counsels. He in return, might also say, that he who made this criticism considers all the counsels of the gospel as precepts: but this is not his manner of reasoning, and still less is it his manner of acting. Let us come to the point. It will here be proper to lengthen out a little what the Author has represented in a manner extremely concise. Mr. Bayle had maintained, that a society of Christians could not subsist; and alledged as the reason the order of the Gospel, When thou art smote on one cheek, turn the other also; the command to leave the world to retire into desarts, &c. The Author says, that Bayle took for precepts what were only counsels; for general rules what were only particular ones. In this the Author has defended religion. But what has this occasioned? It is laid down as the first article of his creed, that all the books of the Gospel contain only counsels.
Other articles have likewise furnished commodious subjects of declamation. Polygamy afforded an excellent one. The Author has wrote a chapter expresly upon it; in which he has censured it. It is as follows:
“Of Polygamy considered in itself.
“With regard to polygamy in general, independently of the circumstances that may render it tolerated, it is not of the least service to mankind, nor to either of the two sexes, whether it be that which abuses, or that which is abused. Neither is it of service to the children; for one of its greatest inconveniences is, that the father and mother cannot have the same affection for their offspring; a father cannot love twenty children with the same tenderness that a mother can love two. It is much worse when a wife has many husbands; for then paternal love is only held by this opinion, that a father may believe if he will, or that others may believe, that certain children belong to him.
“May I not say that a plurality of wives leads to that passion which nature disallows? for one depravation always draws on another, &c.
“Besides, the possession of many wives does not always prevent their entertaining desires for those of others. It is with lust as with avarice, where the thirst is increased by the acquisition of treasures.
“In the reign of Justinian, many philosophers, displeased with the restraints of Christianity, retired into Persia, What there struck them most, says Agathias, was that polygamy was permitted amongst men who did not even abstain from adultery.”
The Author has then maintained, that polygamy is in its own nature, and considered in itself, pernicious. It was necessary to overlook this chapter; and therefore no notice is taken of it. The Author has, besides, made a philosophical examination, in what country, in what climate, and in what circumstances, its effects are least pernicious; he compares climate with climate, and country with country; and has found those where its effects are less prejudicial than in others: because, according to the accounts that have been published, the number of men and women not being equal in all countries, it is evident that, if there are places where the women are much more numerous than the men, polygamy, though bad in itself, is less so there than in other countries. The Author has discussed this point in the fourth chapter of the same book. But the title of this chapter consisting of these words, That the Law of Polygamy is an affair that depends on calculations, the Critic has seized hold of this title. However, as the title of a chapter relates to the chapter itself, and can say neither more nor less than the chapter, let us see it.
“According to the calculations made in several parts of Europe, there are here born more boys than girls: on the contrary, the accounts we have of Asia inform us, there are born in that part of the world more girls than boys. The Law which in Europe allows only one wife, and that in Asia which permits many, have then a certain relation to the climate.
“In the cold climates in Asia there are born, as in Europe, more males than females; and from hence, say the Lamas, is derived the reason of that Law which, amongst them, permits a woman to have many husbands.
“But it is difficult for me to believe, that there are many countries where the disproportion can be great enough for any exigency to justify the introducing either the Law in favour of many wives, or that of many husbands. This would only imply that a majority of women, or even a majority of men, is more conformable to nature in certain countries, than in others.
“I confess that, if what history tells us be true, that at Bantam there are ten women to one man, this must be a case particularly favourable to polygamy.
“In all this I only give their reasons, but do not justify their customs.”
Let us now return to the title: Polygamy is an affair of calculation. Yes, it is, when we would know if it be more or less pernicious in certain climates, in certain countries, and in certain circumstances, than in others. It is not an affair of calculation, when we are to determine whether it be good or bad in itself.
It is not an affair of calculation, when we reason on its nature; it may be an affair of calculation, when we combine its effects. In short, it is never an affair of calculation, when we examine the end of marriage; and it is much less so, when we consider marriage as established, or confirmed, by Jesus Christ.
I shall here add, that what has happened by mere accident, is of great service to the Author. He doubtless did not foresee, that the Critic would overlook a whole chapter expressed in the plainest terms, in order to give an equivocal sense to another; and yet he had the happiness to conclude this other with these words: “In all this, I only give their reasons; but do not justify their customs.”
The Author had just said, that he did not believe that there could be climates where the number of the women could so greatly exceed that of the men, or the number of the men that of the women, as to justify polygamy in any country; and has added, “This would only imply that a majority of women, or even of men, is more conformable to nature, in certain countries, than in others .” The Critic has seized the word, is more conformable to nature, in order to charge the Author with approving polygamy. But if I say, that I had rather have a fever than the scurvy, Will that be a declaration that I am fond of a fever; or only that the scurvy is less disagreeable to me than a fever?
Here follows, word for word, a very extraordinary objection.
The polygamy of one woman who has many husbands, is a monstrous disorder, which was never permitted in any case, and which the Author does not at all distinguish from the polygamy of a man who has several wives . This language, from a sectary of natural religion, needs no comment.
I beg that attention may be paid to the connexion of the Critic’s ideas. According to him it follows that, as the Author is a sectary of the religion of nature, he did not mention what he had no business to mention; or that the Author has not mentioned what he had no business to mention, because he is a follower of natural religion. These two methods of reasoning are of the same kind, and the consequences drawn from them are equally found in the premisses. The usual manner is to criticise upon what a person writes; but here the criticism is bestowed upon what he does not write.
I say this, supposing with the Critic that the Author has not distinguished the polygamy of a woman who has several husbands from that of a husband who has several wives: but if the Author has distinguished them, what will he say? And what will he say, if the Author has shewn, that the abuse in the first case is much the greatest? I desire the reader to peruse the sixth chapter of book xvi. repeated above. The Critic has treated him with invectives for keeping silence with respect to this article; nothing remains but to make them for not keeping silence.
But here is what I cannot comprehend. The Critic says, in the second of his pieces, page 166. The Author has told us, that religion ought to permit polygamy in hot countries, and not in those that are cold. But the Author has no where said this. This is a question that does not turn upon the false reasoning of the Critic against the Author, but on a matter of fact: and as the Author has never said, that religion ought to permit polygamy in hot, and not in cold countries, the imputation is in its own nature both false and cruel; and therefore I desire the Critic to pass judgment on himself.
This is not the only passage of which the Author has had reason to complain: for, in page 163. of the first piece, the Critic says: The fourth chapter has for its title, That the Law of polygamy is an affair of calculation: that is, in places where there are born more boys than girls, as in Europe, we ought to have but one wife; and in those where there are born more girls than boys, polygamy ought to be introduced. Thus when the Author explains customs, or gives the reasons of their being founded, those reasons are turned into maxims, and, what is more barbarous still, into maxims of religion: and as he has mentioned an infinite number of customs and practices, throughout all the countries upon earth, he may, by a parity of reason, be charged with all the errors, and even all the abominations of the universe. The Critic says, at the end of his first piece, that God has given him some zeal; to which I reply, that God has not given him this.
What the Author has said on the effects of different Climates is also another excellent topic of rhetoric. But all effects whatsoever have their causes: the climate and the other physical causes produce an infinite number of effects; and if the Author had said otherwise, he would have been considered as extremely stupid. The question is reduced to this: Whether, in countries placed at a great distance from each other, or whether in different climates, there are the marks of a national spirit. Now that there are such differences, is established by almost the universal consent of writers. As the impressions of this national spirit have a considerable influence on the dispositions of the heart, it cannot be at all questioned that certain dispositions of heart are more frequent in one country than another; and in proof of this, we have also the testimony of an infinite number of writers in all times and places. As these things are merely human, the Author has treated them in that light. He might indeed have added to them many questions debated in the schools, with respect to the humane and christian virtues; but it is not usual to croud these questions into books of natural philosophy, politics, and civil law. In a word, the climate may be the physical cause of producing various dispositions of mind; these dispositions may have an influence on human actions: but how does this give a shock to the throne of him who has created, or to the merits of him who has bought us?
If the Author has inquired what the magistrates of various countries might do, in order to conduct their several nations in a manner most proper, and most suitable to their respective characters, what harm has he done in this?
One may also reason on the local customs of religion. The Author had no business to consider them as either good or bad: he has only said, that there are climates where certain religious customs were more easily received, that is, the people in those climates were more easily accustomed to them, than the people in others. Of this it would be unnecessary to give examples; there are an hundred thousand.
I am very sensible, that religion is, in its own nature, independent of any physical effects whatsoever: that what is good in one country is good in another: and that it cannot be bad in one country, without being bad in all. But, as it is practised by men, and for men, there are places where a particular religion is more easily practised, either in part, or in the whole, in one certain country than in others, and in certain circumstances than in others. And whoever asserts the contrary must divest himself of common sense.
The Author has remarked, that the climate of the Indies has produced there a certain sweetness of manners. But, says the Critic, The women there burn themselves at the death of their husbands. There is but little philosophy in this objection. Is the Critic ignorant of the contradictions of the human mind, and how readily it can separate things the most closely united, and unite those that are the most widely separated. See the Author’s reflexions on this subject in book xiv. chap. 3.
All the Author has said on toleration relates to this proposition in book xxv. chap. 9. “We are here politicians, and not divines: but the divines themselves must allow, that there is a great difference between tolerating, and approving a religion.
When legislators have believed it their duty to permit the exercise of many religions, they are also under the obligation of inforcing a toleration amongst these religions themselves.” The reader is desired to peruse the whole chapter.
A great outcry has been raised against the Author for having added in the next chapter: “This is then a fundamental principle of the political Laws of religion, That when a state is at liberty to receive or reject a new religion, it ought to be rejected; when it is received, it ought to be tolerated.”
It is here objected to the Author, that he is going to inform idolatrous Princes, that they ought to shut Christianity out of their states. Really it is a secret that it was ever whispered to the King of Cochin-China. As this argument has furnished matter for much declamation, I shall give two answers. The first is, That the Author has excepted it by name in his book on religion. He has said in book xxiv. chap. 1. “The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would doubtless have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political Laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.” If then the Christian religion is the first and principal good, and political and civil Laws the second, there are no political or civil Laws in a state that can or ought to hinder the entrance of the Christian religion.
My second answer is, That the religion sent from heaven is not established by the same methods as the religions of the earth. Read the history of the church, and you will see the wonders of the Christian religion. Has she resolved to enter a country?—she knows how to open its gates, and all instruments are proper for that purpose: sometimes God makes use of a few fishermen; at others, he places an Emperor on the throne, and makes him bend his neck under the yoke of the gospel. Is Christianity concealed in caverns, and subterraneous abodes? stay a moment, and you will see the Imperial Majesty speak in her behalf. She, whenever she pleases, crosses the seas, rivers, and mountains; and no obstacles here below can stop her progress. Place repugnance in the mind; she will make it fly before her: establish customs, form habits, publish edicts, make Laws; she will triumph over the climate, the laws that result from it, and the legislators who made them. God, according to decrees concealed from us, extends or contracts the limits of his religion as he pleases.
We are told: That this is as if you went to the Kings of the East, and told them they ought not to receive the Christian religion among them. How carnal is it to talk in this manner! Is the Messiah a man like Herod? It seems as if Jesus Christ was considered as a King who conceals his stratagems and intelligences. Let us do ourselves justice: Is the manner in which we conduct ourselves in human affairs so pure, as to allow us to think of employing it in the conversion of nations?
We now come to the article of celibacy. All that the Author has said of it relates to this proposition, which is found in book xxv. chap. 4. “I shall not here treat of the consequences of the Law of celibacy: it is evident it may become hurtful, in proportion as the body of the clergy may be too numerous; and, in consequence of this, that of the laity too small.” It is evident, that the Author here speaks only of the greater or less extension that ought to be allowed to celibacy, with respect to the greater or less number of those who embrace it: and, as the Author says in another place, that Law of perfection cannot be made for all mankind. Besides, we know, that the Law of celibacy, as it now subsists, is only a law of discipline. The Spirit of Laws has no where considered the nature of celibacy, or the degree of its goodness; and that is not a subject that ought to enter at all into a book of political and civil Laws. The Critic, however, would never allow the Author to treat his own subject: he is continually for having him treat of his; and because he is always a divine, he will not suffer him, even in a book of Laws, to be a civilian. However we shall soon see that, with respect to celibacy, he is of the same opinion as the divines; that is, that he acknowledges its goodness. It must be observed, that in book xxiii. where he treats of Laws in relation to the number of inhabitants, the Author has given a theory of what the political and civil Laws of different people have done in this respect. He has shewn, by examining the histories of the several nations of the earth, that there have been particular circumstances in which these Laws were more necessary, than others, people who had more need of them, and certain times when these people had still more need of them: and, as it is thought that the Romans were the wisest people upon earth, and that they had more need of these Laws to repair their losses, he has collected with great exactness the Laws they made for that purpose; he has pointed out, with great precision, in what circumstances they were made, and in what other circumstances they were taken away. There is no divinity in all this; and there is no need of any. The Author has however thought proper to add a little. These are his words: “God forbid that I should here speak against celibacy, as adopted by religion: but who can be silent, when this is built on libertinism; when the two sexes corrupting each other even by the natural sensations themselves, fly from an union which ought to render them better, to live in that which always renders them worse.
“It is a rule drawn from nature, that the more the number of marriages is diminished, the more corrupt those are rendered that are entered into that state. The fewer married people there are, the less fidelity is there in marriage; as, when there are more thieves, there are more thefts .”
The Author has not then disapproved the celibacy practised, on a religous motive; and no complaint can be raised against him for censuring the celibacy introduced by libertinism. He is offended, that a prodigious number of rich and voluptuous men fly the yoke of marriage, that they may the more conveniently pursue the gratification of their licentious appetites. They give themselves up to delight and voluptuous pleasure, and leave trouble and care to the miserable. We cannot, I say, complain that he has censured these. But the Critic, after having cited what the Author has said, pronounces these words: We here perceive the malignity of the Author, who would throw upon the Christian religion the disorders it detests. It might look illnatured, were I to accuse the Critic of not being willing to understand the Author: I shall therefore only say, that he has not understood him; and that he has made him say against religion, what he said against libertinism. He ought to be very sorry for it.
A PARTICULAR ERROR COMMITTED BY THE CRITIC.
One would be ready to believe, that the Critic has sworn never to form a right judgment of the state of the question, and never to understand a single passage he attacks. The whole second chapter of the twenty-fifth book turns upon the motives, more or less powerful, by which manking are attached to the preservation of their religion. Here the Critic finds another chapter which contains the motives that oblige men to change their religion. The first subject implies a passive state; the second a state of action: but applying to one subject what the Author has said on the other, he indulges himself in false reasoning intirely at his ease.
The Author has said, in the second chapter of the twenty-fifth book, “We are extremely addicted to idolatry; and yet have no great inclination to the religion of idolaters. We are not very fond of spiritual ideas; and yet are most attached to those religions that teach us to adore a spiritual being. This proceeds from the satisfaction we find in ourselves at having been so intelligent as to chuse a religion that raises the Deity from that baseness in which he had been placed by others.” The Author had certainly no other motive, than to explain why the Jews and Mahometans are as invincibly attached to their religion as we ourselves, though they have not the advantages with which we are possessed: and that they are, we know from experience: but the Critic understands it otherwise: Mens passing from idolatry to the belief of one God is here, says he, attributed to pride . But no mention is made, either here, or through the whole chapter, of passing from one religion to another: and if a Christian feels a high satisfaction, arising from the idea of the glory and grandeur of the Divine Majesty, and this is what he calls pride, it is a very good pride.
Here is another uncommon objection. The Author has two chapters in the twenty-third book; one intitled “Of Men and Animals with respect to the Propagation of their Species;” and the other, “Of Marriage.” In the first he has these words: “The females of brutes have an almost constant fecundity; but, in the human species, the manner of thinking, the character, the passions, the humour, the caprice, the idea of preserving beauty, the pain of child-bearing, and the fatigue of a too-numerous family, obstruct propagation a thousand different ways.” And in the other he says, “The natural obligation of the father to provide for his children has established marriage; which makes known the person who ought to fulfil this obligation.”
Upon this the Critic says, A Christian would refer the institution of marriage to God himself, who gave a companion to Adam, and united the first man to the first woman by an indissoluble bond, before they had children to provide for: but the Author avoids whatever is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. He might reply, that he is a Christian; but not a natural: that he venerates these truths; but did not chuse to insert at random, and without propriety, all the truths that are the objects of his faith. The Emperor Justinian was a Christian, as was also his compilator: yet in their books of Laws, which are still taught to youth in the schools, they define marriage, the union of one man and woman, who form a society of individual life . It never entered into the head of any person, to reproach them for not having here mentioned revelation.
We are now come to the subject of usury. I am afraid the reader will be tired with hearing me repeat, that the Critic never understands the point in question, and never takes the sense of the passages he censures. He says, that here the Author finds nothing unjust in maritime usury: these are his words. Indeed The Spirit of Laws has a very sad interpreter. The Author has treated of maritime usury in the twentieth chapter of the twenty-second book: he must therefore have said in that chapter, that maritime usury is just. Let us see what he says.
“OF MARITIME USURY.
“The greatness of maritime usury is founded on two things: the danger of the sea, which makes it proper that those who expose their specie, should not do it without considerable advantage; and the ease with which the borrower, by the means of commerce, speedily accomplishes a variety of great affairs. But usury, with respect to landsmen, being founded on neither of these two reasons, is either prohibited by the legislators, or, what is more rational, reduced to proper bounds.”
I ask every sensible man, whether the Author has here determined that maritime usury is just; or whether he has simply said, that the greatness of maritime usury is less repugnant to natural equity, than the greatness of Usury at land. The Critic is acquainted with none but positive and absolute qualities, and does not know the meaning of those terms, more or less. If one was to tell him that a mulatto woman was not so black as a negro, this would signify, according to him, that she is as white as snow: if one was to tell him that she was blacker than an European, he would then think she was as black as a coal. But to proceed.
In the twenty-second book of The Spirit of Laws there are four chapters on usury. In the two first, which are the nineteenth and that the reader has just perused, the Author examines usury in the relation it bears to the commerce of different nations, and the several governments of the world; and to this these two chapters solely relate. The two following only explain the variations of usury among the Romans. But here the Author is suddenly raised to be a casuist, a canonist, and divine; for no other reason but because the Critic is a casuist, a canonist, and divine, or that he is two of the three, or one of the three, or, perhaps at bottom, none of the three. The Author is sensible, that the consideration of lending at interest, as connected with Christianity, is a subject attended with endless distinctions and limitations. He is sensible that the civilians, and a multitude of courts of justice, do not always agree with the casuists and canonists; that some of these admit certain limitations of the general principle of never asking interest, and others admit still greater. Though all these questions had belonged to his subject, which they do not, how would he have been able to have treated of them? We find it difficult to know thoroughly what we have well studied; but much more difficult is it to know what we have never studied at all. However, those very chapters that are employed against him, sufficiently prove, that he is only an historian and civilian. Let us read chap. 19 .
“Specie is the sign of value. It is evident, that he who has occasion for this sign ought to pay for the use of it, as well as for every thing else that he has occasion for. All the difference is, that other things may be either hired or bought; whilst money, which is the price of things, can only be hired, and not bought.
“To lend money without interest, is certainly an action laudable and extremely good; but this is perhaps only a counsel of religion, and not a civil law.
“In order that trade may be successfully carried on, it is necessary that a price be fixed on the use of specie; but this price should be very inconsiderable. If it be too high, the merchant, who finds that it will cost him more in interest than he can gain by commerce, will undertake nothing. If there is no consideration to be paid for the use of specie, no body will lend it; and here too the merchant will undertake nothing.
“I am mistaken when I say that nobody will lend; the affairs of society must ever make it necessary. Usury will be established, but with all the disorders with which it has been constantly attended.
“The Laws of Mahomet confound usury with lending upon interest. Usury increases in Mahometan countries, in proportion to the severity of the prohibition. The lender indemnifies himself for the danger he undergoes of suffering the penalty.
“In those eastern countries the greatest part of the people are secure of nothing. There is hardly any connexion between the actual possession of a sum, and the hope of receiving it again after having lent it. Usury then must be raised in proportion to the danger of insolvency.”
Afterwards comes the chapter on maritime usury mentioned above; and the twenty-first chapter, which treats of lending by contract, and of usury amongst the Romans, which is as follows:
“Besides the loans made for the advantage of commerce, there is still a kind of lending by a civil contract, from whence results interest or usury.
“As the people of Rome daily increased in power, the magistrates sought to insinuate themselves into their favour by enacting such Laws as were most agreeable to them. They retrenched capitals; first lowered, and at length prohibited interest; and took away the power of confining the debtor’s body. In fine, the abolition of debts was contended for, whenever a tribune was disposed to render himself popular.
“These continual changes, whether made by the Laws, or by the plebiscita, naturalized usury at Rome: for the creditors seeing the people their debtor, their legislator, and their judge, had no longer any confidence in agreements with them. The people, like a debtor who has lost his credit, could only tempt them to lend by allowing an exorbitant interest; for if the Laws did not from time to time remedy the evil, the complaints of the people became continual, and constantly intimidated the creditors. This was the cause that all honest means of borrowing and lending were abolished at Rome, and that the most monstrous usury, constantly blasted by the thunders of the state, and constantly revived, became established in that city.
“Cicero tells us, that in his time interest at Rome was at thirty-four per cent. and in the provinces at forty-eight. This evil was a consequence of the severity of the Laws against usury. Laws excessively good are the source of excessive evil. The borrower found himself under the necessity of paying for the interest of the money, and for the danger the creditor underwent of suffering the penalty of the Law.”
The Author has then treated of interest only in relation to the commerce of various nations, and to the civil Laws of the Romans; and this is so true, that he has distinguished, in the second paragraph of the nineteenth chapter, the establishments of the religious, from those of the political legislators. Had he mentioned by name the Christian religion, he would have treated the subject in other terms, and have pointed out what that religion ordains, and what it counsels; he would, with the divines, have distinguished, the several cases; he would have laid down all the limitations set by the Christian religion to that general Law, sometimes established among the Romans, and always among the Mahometans, That we ought, in no case, and in no circumstance, to receive interest for money. The Author had not this subject to treat of; but that a general, unlimited, indistinct defence of it, without any restrictions, made the Mahometans lose their commerce, and was near destroying the Roman republic: whence it follows, that the Christians, on account of their not living under these rigid Laws, still enjoy their commerce, and there is not found in their states that monstrous usury required by the Mahometans, and that was formerly extorted by the Romans.
The Author has employed the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters in examining what were the Laws of the Romans on the subject of lending by contracts, in the different times of their republic. But here his Critic quits for a moment the banks of theology, to turn to the side of erudition. But we shall soon see, that he is also deceived in his erudition, and that he cannot even for once understand the state of the question he endeavours to examine. Let us read a passage in the twenty-second chapter .
“Tacitus says, that the Law of the Twelve Tables fixed the interest at one per cent. per annum. It is evident that he was mistaken, and that he took another Law, of which I am going to speak, for the Law of the Twelve Tables. If this had been regulated in the Law of the Twelve Tables, why did they not make use of its authority in the disputes which afterwards arose between the creditors and debtors? We find not any vestige of this Law upon lending at interest; and, let us have but ever so little knowledge of the history of Rome, we shall see that a Law like this could never be the work of the Decemvirs.” And a little after the Author adds: “In the year of Rome 398, the Tribunes Duellius and Menenius caused a Law to be passed, which reduced interest to one per cent. per annum. It is this Law which Tacitus confounds with the Law of the Twelve Tables; and this was the first ever made by the Romans to fix the rate of interest,” &c.
Here the Author says, that Tacitus is mistaken in saying that the Law of the Twelve Tables had fixed the rate of interest among the Romans. He has said, that Tacitus has taken for the Law of the Twelve Tables, a Law made by Duellius and Menenius about eighty-five years after the Law of the Twelve Tables; and that this Law was the first that fixed the rate of interest at Rome. What does the Critic say to this? He replies, that Tacitus was not mistaken, but spoke of usury at one per cent. per mensem, and not of usury at one cent. per annum. But the question is not here of the rate of usury; it is to know, whether the Law of the Twelve Tables has made any regulation whatsoever in relation to usury. The Author says, that Tacitus is mistaken in saying that the Decemvirs had made a regulation in the Law of the Twelve Tables, to fix the rate of usury; and upon this the Critic says, he was not mistaken, because he spoke of usury at one per cent. by the month, and not at one per cent. for a year. I had reason then for saying that the Critic did not know the state of the question.
It now remains to inquire, whether the Law mentioned by Tacitus, whatever it is, fixes usury, according to the Author, at one per cent. by the year, or, according to the Critic, at one per cent. for the month. Prudence required that he should not enter into a dispute with the Author on the Roman Laws, without knowing them; that he should not deny a fact with which he was unacquainted, and of which he was ignorant of the means of obtaining information. The question is, what Tacitus meant by these words, unciarium fœnus . He needed but to have opened the dictionaries, and he would have found in that of Calvinus or Kahl , that it was one per cent. by the year, and not by the month. Had he consulted the learned Salmasius, he would have told him the same thing .
- Testis mearum centimanus Gyas
While the Romans had no laws that fixed the rate of usury, the most common custom was for the usurer to take twelve ounces of copper for the loan of an hundred ounces; that is, twelve per cent. per annum: and an as being the value of twelve ounces of copper, the usurer received annually an as for an hundred ounces. It being frequently necessary to reckon usury by the month, the interest for six months was called semis, or the half of the as; the usury for four months was named triens, or the third of the as; the usury for three months was called quadrans, or the fourth of the as; and, in short, the usury for one month was called unciaria, or the twelfth of the as: so that as they raised an ounce every month on every hundred ounces lent, this usury by the ounce, or one per cent. per mensem, was called centesimal usury. The Critic had acquired the knowledge of this signification of the centesimal usury, but has applied it very ill.
We see, that all this was nothing more than a method or form of regulating the accounts between debtor and creditor in relation to usury, on a supposition that it was at twelve per cent. per annum, which was the common and usual rate; but if a person borrowed at eighteen per cent. per annum, they made use of the same method, only increasing one third of the interest for each month; so that the unciarium fænus was then an ounce and a half per month.
When the Romans made Laws on usury, they did not concern themselves about this method, which had been used, and was so still, between the debtors and creditors, for the division of the time, and the convenience of paying their interest. The legislator had a public regulation to make; the business here was not to divide usury by the month, but to fix it; and this was done by the year. They, however, continued to make use of the terms derived from the division of the as, without applying the same ideas to them. Thus the unciarium fænus signified one per cent. per annum; the usury ex quadrante signified three per cent. per annum; the usury ex triente, four per cent. per annum; the usury semis, six per cent. per annum. And if the usury unciaria had signified one per cent. per mensem, the Law which fixed the ex quadrante, ex triente, ex semisse, would have established usury at three per cent. at four per cent. at six per cent. by the month; which would have been absurd, because the Laws made to suppress usury would have been more cruel than the usurers.
The Critic has then confounded the species of things. But I ought here to give his very words, in order that the reader may be fully convinced, that the confidence with which he writes ought not to impose on any one. Tacitus, says he , is not mistaken; he speaks of interest at one per cent. by the month, and the Author has imagined that he speaks of one per cent. per annum. Every body knows, that the hundredth part was paid to the usurer every month. Ought a man, who has written two quarto volumes on the laws, to be ignorant of this?
Whether this man was, or was not ignorant of the centesimal, is of no consequence: but he was not ignorant of it, since he has mentioned it in three places. But how has he mentioned it, and where has he spoken of it ? I may defy the Critic to guess, as he cannot find the words and expressions he is acquainted with.
The question here is not, whether the Author is, or is not a man of learning, but to defend his altars . However, it was necessary to shew the public, that the Critic has assumed so decisive a tone on things about which he was intirely ignorant, and had so little doubt that he did not even open a dictionary to confirm his opinion; that, tho’ ignorant himself, he accuses others of not having his own errors, and therefore can no longer merit the least confidence with respect to his other accusations. Would not one have been apt to believe, that the haughty and insolent manner he assumes must have proceeded from his never being in the wrong? that when he chafes and blusters, this is a proof of his not being in an error? that when he anathematizes the Author with his phrases of impious mortal and follower of natural religion, we may still believe that he is not mistaken? Who would have thought that it is necessary to keep a guard over ourselves, to prevent our receiving those impressions that put his spirits in motion, and give impetuosity to his style? that in his two pieces it is highly proper to separate his reasons from his abuse, and that afterwards setting aside those reasons that are bad, nothing will remain.
The Author, in the chapters on lending at interest, and of usury among the Romans; a subject doubtless the most important in their history, since it is so closely connected with the constitution of Rome, that a thousand times it was near subverting it; after treating of the Laws they made from despair; of those dictated by prudence; of such regulations as were only temporary; and of those that were designed to last for ever, says at the end of the twenty-second chapter, “In the year of Rome 398, the tribunes Duellius and Menenius caused a Law to be passed, which reduced interest to one per cent. per annum.—Ten years after this usury was reduced one half, and in the end it was intirely abolished.
“It fared with this Law as with all those in which the legislator carries things to excess; an infinite number of ways were found to elude it. They enacted, therefore, many others to confirm, correct, and temper it. Sometimes they quitted the Laws, to follow the common practice; at others, the common practice to follow the Laws; but in this case custom easily prevailed. When a man wanted to borrow, he found an obstacle in the very Law made in his favour; this Law must be evaded by the person it was made to succour, and by him it was made to condemn. Sempronius Asellus the Prætor, having permitted the debtors to act in conformity to the Laws, was slain by the creditors, for attempting to revive the memory of a severity that could no longer be supported.
“Under Sylla, Lucius Valerius Flaccus made a Law which suffered interest to be at three per cent. per annum. This Law, the most moderate, the most equitable ever made on this account by the Romans, is disapproved by Paterculus. But if this Law was necessary for the advantage of the republic, if it was of service to every individual, if it formed an easy communication between the debtor and creditor, it could not be unjust.
“He pays least, says Ulpian, who pays latest. This decides the question, whether interest be lawful, that is, whether the creditor can sell time, and the debtor buy it.”
Let us see how the Critic reasons on this last passage, which refers only to the Law of Flaccus, and to the political dispositions of the Romans. The Author, says he, on resuming all he had said on usury, maintains that a creditor is permitted to sell time. The Critic here seems to insinuate, that the Author had been writing a treatise on theology, or Canon Law, and that he had at length resumed it; tho’ it is evident that he is only treating of the political regulations of the Romans; of a Law of Flaccus, and the opinion of Paterculus: so that this Law of Flaccus, Paterculus’s opinion, the reflexion of Ulpian, and that of the Author, are closely connected, and cannot be separated from each other.
I have still many things to say; but I chuse rather to refer the reader to the pieces themselves. Believe me, my dear Piso, they have formed a work which, like the dreams of the sick, exhibit nothing but vain phantoms .
WE have seen in the two first parts, all that results from so many bitter criticisms is, That the Author of The Spirit of Laws has not performed his work according to the plan and views of his Critics; and that if his Critics had wrote a work on the same subject, they would have thrown in a great many things which they know. It also follows from thence, that they are divines, and that the Author is a civilian; that they think themselves qualified to do his business, and that he has not the presumption to believe himself fit for theirs. In fine, it follows from thence, that, instead of attacking him with such acrimony, they had better have made themselves sensible of the value of what he has said in favour of religion, which he has with equal ardour respected and defended. I shall now make some reflexions.
That manner of reasoning is not good, which, being employed against any good book whatsoever, may make it appear as bad as any bad book whatsoever; and which, being used against any bad book whatsoever, may make it appear as good as any good book whatsoever.
That manner of reasoning is not just, which, to the subject in debate, calls in others that have no relation to it, and confounds the several sciences, and the ideas belonging to each.
We ought not to dispute, on a work wrote on any of the sciences, with reasons that may attack the science itself.
When a person writes a criticism on a work, and on a work of considerable extent and importance, he ought to endeavour to procure a particular knowledge of the science which is the subject of that work, and carefully to read the approved authors who have already wrote upon it; in order to see, whether the Author has deviated from the usual received manner of treating the subject.
When an Author explains himself by word of mouth, or by his writings, which are the images of those words, it is contrary to reason to quit the exterior signs of his thoughts, to run in search of his thoughts themselves; because none but himself is capable of knowing his thoughts. It is much worse, when his thoughts are good, and bad ones are attributed to him.
When a person writes against an Author, and becomes exasperated against him, he ought to prove the character he gives him by what he says, and not what he says by the character he gives him.
When we see that an author’s intention is in general good, we shall be seldomer mistaken if, in certain places which we think equivocal, we judge according to the general intention, than if we allow him a particular bad intention.
In books wrote for amusement, three or four pages give an idea of the style, and the charms of the work: but, in books of reasoning, we retain nothing if we do not retain the whole chain.
As it is very difficult to write a good work, and very easy to write a critique upon it, because the Author has all his defiles to guard, and the Critic has only one of them to force; the latter ought not to fail: but if it happens that he has continually failed, he must be inexcusable.
Besides, as the Critic may be chargeable with an ostentation of his superiority over others, and as the usual effect of the criticism is giving some delicious moments to human pride; those who give themselves up to it deserve to be treated with strict justice, but very seldom with indulgence.
And as, of all the different kinds of writing, it is that in which it is most difficult to shew a good temper, we ought to take care not to increase, by the bitterness of words, this unhappiness in the subject.
When we write on grand and noble subjects, it is not sufficient for us to consult our zeal; we ought also to consult our abilities, and if heaven has not blessed us with great talents, we may supply the want of them by distrust of ourselves, exactness, labour, and reflexion.
The art of finding, in what has naturally a good sense, all the bad senses which a person by false reasoning is capable of giving it, is of no use to mankind; and those who practise it are like the ravens that fly from living bodies, and hover on all sides in search of carcases.
A like manner of criticising produces two grand inconveniencies. The first is, That it hurts the mind of the reader, by exhibiting a mixture of truth and falshood, of good and evil: he is accustomed to seek for a bad sense in things that have naturally a good one; whence he is easily led to the disposition of searching for a good sense in things that have naturally a bad one: it thus make him lose the faculty of reasoning justly, and throws him into all the subtilties of a false logic. The second inconvenience is, That, in rendering, by this manner of reasoning, good books suspected, we have no arms left with which we can attack those that are bad: so that the public has no rule whereby to distinguish them. If those are treated as Spinosists and Deists who are not, what shall be said to those who are?
Though we ought readily to think, that those who write against us on subjects in which all mankind are interested, are prompted to do this only by the impulses of Christian charity; yet, as it is the nature of that virtue rarely to conceal itself, as it will shine in spite of ourselves, and sparkle and blaze on all sides, if it happens that, in two pieces wrote one after another against the same person, no trace can be found of that amiable virtue, that it does not appear in any phrase, in any turn, in any word, or expression, he who has written such works must have just cause to fear that he was not led to it by Christian charity.
And as virtues merely human are, in us, the effect of what is called a good disposition; if it be impossible to discover any vestige of this good disposition, the public may conclude from thence, that these pieces are not even the effect of the human virtues.
In the judgment of mankind, it is easier to see the actions, than to be convinced of the sincerity of the motives; and it is more easy to believe, that the action of uttering atrocious abuse is an evil, than it is to be persuaded, that the motive which prompted to it is good.
When a man is fixed in a state intended to render religion respected, and which religion itself renders respectable, and attacks before the men of the world one of that body, it is essentially necessary that he should maintain, by his manner of acting, the superiority of his character. The world is very corrupt: but there are certain passions found there that are kept under great restraint: because there are others more favoured that forbid their appearance. Consider the men of the world in their behaviour to each other; there is nothing so timid; pride durst not reveal its secrets, and, in the regard it has for others, it quits itself only to gain new strength. Christianity gives us the habit of subduing this pride; the world gives us the habit of concealing it. With the little virtue we have, what would become of us, if our whole souls were set at liberty, and if we were not attentive to the least word, to the least signs, the least gestures? Now when men, venerable and respectable by their characters, shew passions which the men of the world durst not suffer to break out to public view, these begin to think themselves better than they really are; and this is a great evil.
We men of the world are also so weak, that we ought to be treated with the utmost care and precaution. Therefore when a priest lets us see all the external marks of violent passions, what would he have us think of what passes within his breast? Can he hope that we, rash as we are in judging, will not judge accordingly?
It is observable that, in the conversations and disputes of men of a harsh and obstinate temper, as they strive not to inform and assist each other, but to obtain a victory, they fly from truth, not in proportion to the greatness or littleness of their minds, but according to the greater or less caprice and inflexibility of their dispositions. The contrary happens to those to whom nature or education has given candour and ingenuity. As their disputes are mutual succours, they have the same object in view; they think differently only that they may think alike, and find and acknowledge the force of truth in proportion to the strength of evidence: this is the reward of a good disposition.
When a man writes on religious subjects, he ought not to depend so much on the credulity of those who read, as to say things contrary to good sense; because, by increasing his credit with those who have more piety than understanding, he loses his credit with others who have more understanding than piety.
And as religion best defends itself, it suffers greater prejudice by being badly defended, than if it was not defended at all.
If it should happen that a man, after having lost his readers, should attack a person of some reputation, and thus obtain the means of being read; one might suspect that, under the pretence of sacrificing this victim to religion, he sacrificed him to his own self-love.
The manner of criticising of which we are treating, is the only thing in the world most capable of limiting the extent, and diminishing, if I may use the term, the sum-total of national genius. Theology has its bounds and its forms; because, the truths it teaches being known, men are not allowed to deviate from them. Here then genius cannot take her flight, she being in a manner circumscribed in a circle. But, to pretend to place the same inclosure about those who treat of human sciences, is mocking the world. The principles of geometry are very true; but if we apply them to things of taste, we shall make reason itself talk unreasonably. Nothing stifles knowledge more, than covering every thing with a doctor’s robe; and the men who would be for ever teaching, are great hindrances to learning. There is no genius that is not contracted by being inveloped by a million of vain scruples. Have you the best intention in the world, they will force you yourself to doubt of it. You can no longer employ your endeavour to speak or write with propriety, when you are perplexed with the fear of expressing yourself ill; and when, instead of pursuing your thought, you are only busied about chusing such terms as may escape the subtilty of the critics. They come to put a biggin on your head, each saying at every word, Take care of falling; you would speak like yourself, but I would have you speak like me. Do you endeavour to soar aloft? They stop you by pulling your sleeve. Have you life and strength? They deprive you of it in an instant. Do you rise a little? they take their rule, and, lifting up their heads, call you to come down that they may measure you. Do you run your course? They would have you examine all the stones the ants have thrown up in your way. No science nor literature is proof against this pedantry. The present age has formed academies; but they would make us re-enter the schools of the darker ages. Descartes, however, may give assurance to those who, with a genius infinitely beneath his, have the same good intentions. That great man was incessantly charged with atheism; and yet there are not now employed against the Atheists stronger arguments than his.
We ought to regard criticisms as personal only, in the cases where those who made them have been willing to render them so. It is certainly very allowable to criticise the works presented to the public; because it would be ridiculous for those who are willing to inlighten others, to be averse to be inlightened themselves. Those who give us information are the companions of our labours. If the Critic and the Author are both in search of truth, they have the same interest; for truth is a blessing designed for allmankind: they are then confederates, and not enemies.
It is with great pleasure that I now lay down the pen. I should have continued to have kept silence, if, in keeping it, many persons had not concluded that I had been reduced to it.
SOME EXPLANATIONS OF THE SPIRIT OF LAWS.
SOME persons have made this objection: In The Spirit of Laws, honour or fear, and not virtue, is represented as the principle upon which certain governments are founded, and virtue is represented as the principle of only a few others: whence it follows, that the christian virtues are not required in most governments.
To this it is answered, that the Author has placed this note in the fifth chapter of the third book: “I speak here of political virtue, which is a moral virtue as directed to the general advantage; very little of private moral virtue, and not at all of that virtue which has a relation to revealed truths.” In the following chapter is another note that refers to this, and to the second and third chapters of the fifth book. This virtue the Author has defined the love of our country; and the love of our country he has defined the love of equality and frugality. The whole fifth book rests on these principles. When a writer has defined a word in his work, when he has given, if I may use the expression, his dictionary, ought not his words to be understood according to the signification he has given them?
The word Virtue, like most of the words in all languages, is taken in several acceptations: sometimes it signifies the christian virtues; sometimes the pagan virtues; and often, a certain christian virtue, or a particular pagan virtue; it likewise sometimes signifies fortitude; and in some languages it means a certain capacity for an art, or for certain arts. It is what precedes, or what follows the word, that fixes its signification: but here the Author has done more—he has several times given his definition. This objection has therefore been only made on account of the work being read with too much rapidity.
THE Author has said in the third chapter of the second book, “The best aristocracy is that in which the part of the people who have no share in the legislature is so small and inconsiderable, that the governing party have no interest in oppressing them. Thus, when Antipater made a Law at Athens, that whosoever was not worth two thousand drachms should be excluded from the right of suffrage , he formed by this means the best aristocracy possible; because this was so small a sum, that it excluded very few, and not one of any rank or consideration in the city. Aristocratical families ought therefore, as much as possible, to level themselves in appearance with the people. The more an aristocracy borders on democracy, the nearer it approaches to perfection; and it is the more imperfect, in proportion as it draws towards monarchy.”
In a letter inserted in the Journal de Travaux for the month of April 1749, this quotation is objected against the Author. The writer says, that he has open before him the place quoted, and there finds, that there were only nine thousand persons who had the sum prescribed by Antipater; and that there were twenty-two thousand who wanted it: whence it is concluded that the Author has misapplied his quotations, the small number having the sum required, and the large number being excluded for the want of it.
It were to be wished, that he who has made this critical remark had paid greater attention to what both the Author and Diodorus have said.
1. There were not twenty-two thousand who wanted this sum in Antipater’s republic. The twenty-two thousand persons mentioned by Diodorus were sent away and established in Thrace; and there only remained to form this republic, the nine thousand citizens who had the sum, and those of the lower people who would not set out for Thrace. The reader may consult Diodorus.
2. Though there had remained twenty-two thousand persons at Athens, who wanted the above sum, the objection would not be the less unjust. The words great and small are relative. Nine thousand Sovereigns in a state are an immense number; and twenty-two thousand subjects in the same state, is a number extremely small.
- Credite, Pisones, isti tabulæ fore librum
- Persimilem, cujus, velut ægri somnia, vanæ
- Fingentur species.
- Horat,de Arte Poetica.