BLTC Press Titles


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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois


Montaigne

by Thomas Carlyle

Excerpt:

* Vice-President. A mortier relates to the' species of cap worn by that officer.

The new President sustained the reputation which his predecessor had acquired. His colleagues showed what opinion they entertained of his address and integrity by charging him with the remonstrance, which they judged it proper to make, against the imposition of a new tax during the minority of Louis XV. in 1722. This delicate task he successfully accomplished.

But the attainment of professional honour was not the chief object of Montesquieu's ambition. Following the instinctive bent of genius, he was unwearied in acquiring general knowledge, and his vigorous mind seems at an early period to have conceived the germ of those ideas which he afterwards so brilliantly developed in his writings. Before the age of twenty he had studied, with higher views than those of a mere lawyer, the voluminous works which treat of Roman jurisprudence; his regular abstract of their contents was probably the ground-work of the Esprit des Lois. But though already cherishing the hope of fame, he felt no impatience to show himself before the world. It was not till the age of thirty-two that his first production, the Letires Persanes, was given to the public in 1721, without the author's name. If the Siamois of Dufreni, or the Espion Turc, suggested the plan of this work, its execution is entirely original.

"The delineation of Oriental manners," says d'Alembert, "real or supposed, of the pride and the dulness of Asiatic love, is but the smallest of the author's objects; it serves only, so to speak, as a pretext for his delicate satire of our customs, and for other important matters which he fathoms, though appearing but to glance at them."

The work was generally read and admired; but some censures bestowed upon the conduct of Louis XIV. caused it to be regarded with an evil eye at Court, and one or two sarcasms levelled at the Pope awakened the zeal of such as were rigidly devout, or found it convenient to seem so. The author was industriously represented as a man equally hostile to the interest of religion and the peace of society. Those calumnies reached the ear of Cardinal de Fleury, and when Montesquieu, sustained by the public opinion of his talents, applied for the place which M. Sacy's death had left vacant in the French Academy, that learned body was made to understand that His Majesty would never give his consent to the writer of the Lettres Persanes, because, though His Majesty had not read the work, persons in whom he placed confidence had shown him its poisonous tendency. Without feeling too much anxiety for literary distinction, Montesquieu perceived the fatal effect that such an accusation might produce upon his dearest interests. He waited upon Fleury, therefore, and signified that, although for particular reasons he had not acknowledged the Lettres Persanes, he was very far from wishing to disown that work, which appeared to contain nothing disgraceful to him, and which ought at least to be read before it was condemned. Struck by these remonstrances, the cardinal perused the work, the objections were removed, and France avoided the disgrace of forcing this great man to depart, as he had threatened, and seek among foreigners, who invited him, the security and respect which his own country seemed little inclined to grant.* The 24th of January 1728 is the date of his admission, and the inaugural discourse pronounced by him on that occasion appears to have been distinguished by that originality for which all his writings are remarkable.

A short time before this event, Montesquieu had quitted his judicial charge. Full of the important ideas which had long occupied his attention, he determined to renounce every engagement

* Voltaire represents this matter in another light. "He (Montesquieu) adopted a skilful artifice to regain the Minister's favour; in two or three days he prepared a new edition of his book, in which he retrenched or softened whatever might be condemned by a Cardinal and a Minister. M. de Montesquieu himself carried the work to Fleury, no great reader, who examined a part of it; this air of confidence, supported by the zeal of some persons in authority, quieted the Cardinal, and Montesquieu gained admission to the Academy." Ecrivains du Steele de Louis XIV. § Montesquieu. The authenticity of this statement, however, appears to rest solely on Voltaire's evidence, not altogether unexceptionable in the present case. D'Alembert's account is generally preferred.


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