Baron de Montesquieu
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689 - 1755) was a French judge, historian, and philosopher. He is primarily known for his Persian Letters, Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, and Spirit of the Laws. He is considered an outlier during his time as he was apart of the French nobility and a vital part of the Age of Enlightenment.
Charles-Louis was born to a noble family on January 18th, 1689, near Bordeaux, France. His mother died giving birth to his younger brother, passing the baron of La Brède to Charles-Louis. Louis was first educated in his village, then sent away to the Collège de Juilly in 1700, and finally studied law at the University of Bordeaux, where he graduated in 1708. He was awarded a position as a lawyer, even though he knew he was destined to become a judge. Until then, Louis practiced law and with advice from his uncle, the current Baron de Montesquieu, he moved to Paris to gain legal experience. While in the city, he discovered a people exhausted by the power of King Louis XIV, and he found the Academy of Inscriptions and the Academy of Sciences. These fascinated Louis and made the young man wonder how the things he learned at the Academies could be applied to public utility. However, his time in Paris would be cut short when he was called back to Bordeaux due to his father's death in 1713. After a few years of taking on his father's responsibilities Louis’s uncle Jean-Baptiste, Baron de Montesquieu died and left his estates with the barony of Montesquieu to his nephew in 1716.
Baron de Montesquieu
Montesquieu inherited the office of deputy president in the Parliament of Bordeaux and would finally settle down and execute his judicial duties. While carrying out his judicial duties, Montesquieu would also advance his knowledge of natural science at the newly formed Academy of Bordeaux and married a wealthy protestant woman Jeanne de Lartigue, who bore him three children. After years of work, Montesquieu would anonymously publish his provocative and satirical Persian Letters in 1721. These letters followed the journey of two Persian travelers as they stayed in Paris. Although anonymous, the Persian Letters gained Montesquieu instant fame, allowing him to move through court circles in Paris and enjoy the Salons. In a few years, Montesquieu would sell his office and enter the Académie Française in 1728. With this new position, Montesquieu wanted to complete his education journey by going on the Grand Tour.
Montesquieu would spend years visiting Vienna, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Holland, and England. This time would be highly influential on him and would expand his mind greatly. Montesquieu met with a plethora of important individuals, was inducted into the Freemasons, and expanded his library with foreign works. When he arrived in France, he stayed in La Brède for two years working on several essays. In 1734, he published his Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans. This work did not meet the reader's expectations after the Persian Letters but was extremely innovative in its historical methodology, focusing on analysis and argument rather than narrative.
Montesquieu's Spirit of the Law and Death
After the publication of his Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans, Montesquieu rested and began to have failing eyesight. Once rested, he organized a system to synthesize his next major work. He began an extensive reading program, reading law, history, economics, geography, and political theory. He employed a plethora of secretaries using them as readers and copiers. And he kept a second library in Paris, for when he visited the city to socialize and visit the salons and Académie. After years of work and revising, Montesquieu would publish his De l’esprit des Loix, or Spirit of the Law in 1748. It consisted of two quarto volumes, comprising 31 books in 1,086 pages. The Spirit of the Law was an extensive study that classified different species of government, with what manners they govern, and the effects of different factors on the society in which that government exists such as religion, climate, and history. Although it was a dense work, the intellectual world and the public received it well and it became a cornerstone for studies of political economy. To answer any critics, he published a Defense of the Spirit of the Laws two years later. He was asked to write an essay on taste for the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert but died of a fever in Paris before its completion.
The Persian Letters
Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline
The Spirit of the Laws