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ment, not indeed to the extent of entirely approving them, but at least 80 far as to wish to modify and not to overturn them; he brought into politics a spirit determinate and practical; he founded it on the consideration of events and the recollections of history.
“ However, Montesquieu always preserved a part of the character which he had originally evinced in the Persian Letters. Although his fame rests upon titles serious and solid, he was perbaps more remarkable for the richness of his imagination than for the depth of his reflections. His works exhibit a mind full of life and animation, which study and meditation can with difficulty subdue. Whenever an idea can take the shape of an image, whenever a picture can be made out of the exposition of facts, Montesquieu yields to the temptation, and presents them to us under that aspect. His mind had an invincible inclinatiou to brilliant and poetic thoughts, while his occupations and circumstances compelled him to be chiefly conversant with matters of morals, politics, and government.” P. 59, 60.
“ This colouring is not always happily placed in the Esprit des Loir. One there sees Montesquieu frequently seduced by brilliant ideas; attaching remote relations to a common centre; ambitious of astonishing by new and striking assertions; in a word, studying to produce effect, not with a view to dazzle by a foolish charlatanisme, but because he felt himself seduced into giving his ideas this lively and rapid form. However, reason is rarely sacrificed. Truth is what Montesquieu is always in search of. He sincerely endeavours to arrive at it by the examination of facts, and by a long train of studies and researches. His imagination has had power enough to deceive him, but it was against his will. Often when an idea has been presented in a decisive manner which strikes at first sight, the author, satisfied with not having diminished its first effect, adds some restriction, and makes you see, that if he has not been willing to check the course of his thoughts, by infusing a doubt and noticing exceptions, he is bot, nevertheless, igoorant of the degree of certainty which belongs to his opinions, and that he does not place that absolute confidence in them which you might at first suppose. The march of genius is prompt and direct; general ideas almost entirely seize possession of its attention, and it easily persuades itself that others will know how to understand and qualify what is said, so as to render it true and applicable in each particular case.” P. 58–61.
This last passage, we are persuaded, contains the true explanation of some of the most remarkable peculiarities in Montesquieu's style of writing. Indeed, it is very curious to compare his great work on the Spirit of Laws, with some of the principal philosophical compositions of a neighbouring country; such, for instance, as the political disquisitions of Hume, Smith, Ferguson, and others. These are generally full, orderly, and well reasoned dissertations. The subject in hand is examined with great gravity; a series of facts and observations are drawn forth and marshalled with much skill and caution; the assumptions, the intermediate truths, the transitions, the digressions--all are managed with admirable prudence and propriety; the whole texture of the composition is woven with care; and the great results are at last announced with a decent pomp and a tolerable share of self-complacency. We read, assent, approve, admire; agree that the writer is very able; and take care not to let any body know that we thought him very tiresome. Now, in Montesquieu every thing is different. Art there is none; and of order very little. The subjects chosen as heads of thought are connected only by being allied to a common ancestor-mere collaterals, not succeeding by any regular devolutions. The paragraphs which compose the dissertations are, for the most part, independent of one another; each taking its chance alone, and leaving its neighbours to fight their own battles. The positions are short, brilliant, imperative: and the whole, instead of bearing any resemblance to an elaborate and finished dissertation, gives rather the idea of a man confident of great powers, and possessed of ample materials, who pronounces his dicta with authority, and expects his audience to qualify and apply them; who supplies thoughts, and leaves it to others, if they like the labour, to fill up the interstices.
Montesquieu has been accused of idleness by those who admire a more orderly system of composition. But to charge a writer with idleness, who gave twenty years to the prosecution of a single design, seems a little imprudent. If the Spirit of Laws had been expanded into essays, with the usual allowance for fine observations and flowing periods, it would have filled a library.
Another charge which has been made against the president is, that he has raked up all sorts of fables from the narratives of obscure travellers, and made them the foundations of important theories. It must be acknowledged that Montesquieu was a little fond of odd out-of-the-way reading; and he is apt to talk rather too much of Japan and the kingdom of Bantam, and the people of Meaco. But this fault, if it be one, is, in our estimation, far more venial than that of supposing, with most writers, that human nature is only to be studied in the history of the Roman and Greek republics. A comprehensive mind will naturally desire an extensive range; and if general inductions respecting the human race are to be attempted, men ought to be seen and considered under all the forms which they have presented, and every fact and institu. tion be contemplated, whether preserved in the monuments of ancient nations, or caught by the hasty glances of a wandering missionary.
It is impossible to recollect the performances of Montesquieu without being impressed with a powerful admiration of his genius and attainments. The Herculean vigour which was a match for so vast an undertaking as the Spirit of Laws; the anshaken per
severance which could prosecute its work for twenty years, united as they were to an imagination highly picturesque, present an image of such greatness, that little minds bow down before it; and even those of a firmer texture, and more sanguine complexion, are compelled to do it homage. The mind, too, which could throw a rapid and comprehensive glance over twelve centuries, and sketch, as it were upon a single canvass, the growth, the plenitude, and the declension of Roman greatness, must unquestionably have been possessed of uncommon elevation and energy. If authority could add any thing to a reputation which reposes on so substantial a basis, it would be sufficient to mention a writer capable of justly appreciating the merits of the French philosopher, both from the similarity of his pursuits and the extent of his own genius. Montesquieu has been twice mentioned by Mr. Burke in terms of the highest admiration; in the Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents, as the first writer of the age ; and in the Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old, as an authority so high, that even the glory of the British constitution is increased by his suffrage.
And yet we little beings must be indulged in our little criticism. Somebody at Paris said, that the work called L'Esprit des Loi: should have been entitled L'Esprit sur les Loix; and the remark is true as well as clever. After making every reasonable allowance for varieties in composition, and surrendering much of established usage to the despotism of genius, still it must be confessed that Montesquieu has in his great work indulged too freely the natural bias of his mind, and furnished rather a collection of desul. tory reflections, than the complete digest or discussion of a comprehensive subject. In part this may justly be imputed to the extent of his undertaking which rendered a sententious and somewhat authoritative manner almost unavoidable. But it must doubtless, in part, also be attributed to the poetical cast of his imagination, which could not tolerate the appearance of dulness, and delighted in brilliancy and effects
. The disadvantages incident to this fault are considerable. One of them is, that the very object of the writer, who intended to render his work attractive, is in some degree counteracted; for, among the generality of readers, more, perhaps, are fatigued by making a series of desperate leaps across the chasms which separate the different theorems, than by the labour of travelling through the diffuse expositions, and connecting details which abound in a different class of reasoners.
Nearly allied to, and, indeed, growing out of, the last defect, is another and more serious fault. Montesquieu's reflections, though remarkably original, and frequently profound, are at times hasty and inaccurate. He acquiesced too readily in his first thoughts. His mind was so constituted, that he rather caught the truth by a rapid and penetrating glance than discovered it through the mes dium of a close investigation. He was not accustoined to verify his impressions by a close and vigilant induction ; and though his intellect was of that vigorous and comprehensive character which made even his guesses valuable, it certainly is not always safe to acquiesce in his positions without examination. His work frequently furnishes rather excellent materials for thinking than the results of patient thought. Indeed, his carelesness, both in accepting facts and propounding conclusions, is sometimes perfectly surprising. " We are informed (says he, speaking of the proportion of the sexes born in different countries) that at Bantam there are ten girls to one boy;" and then he proceeds to reason upon this ridiculous assumption, only because a Mr. Kempfer had so af firmed of that which no conceivable affirmation could render credible. “ It would be an excellent law (he observes in another place) for all countries to ordain, that none but real money should be current.' This reflection was suggested by considering the inconveniences incident to a debased coin, or, as he terms it, ideal money. He seems wholly to have overlooked the prodigious saving of value, time, and labour, which is effected by a conventional currency, which has its foundation in no sort of fraud but in the wants and resources of mankind, and the advantages of which a great mind ought to have perceived even at so early a period in the history of the economy of nations. In the same spirit
, speaking of exchanges, he says, “ The relative abundance and scarcity of specie in different countries forms what is called the course of exchange." “ Exchange is a framing of the actual and momentary value of money," and “when a state has occasion to remit a sum of money into another country, it is indifferent in the nature of the thing whether specie be conveyed thither, or they take bills of exchange." Yet, certainly, Montesquieu had sagacity enough to discover, had he reflected, that the exchanges will depend, not merely, as he supposes, on the state of the currency in different countries, but on the state, also, of their mutual debts and credits; and, that even if their currency were fixed, there may be a manifest saving by remitting in bills instead of remitting in commodities or bullion. We mention these inaccuracies, not that we attach much importance to them, but for the sake of exhibiting the character of Montesquieu's genius. Powerful and intuitive glances into human nature will enable a great mind to appreciate with wonderful sagacity many branches of legislation, and many forms of political administration; but if a subject is in its nature scientific, a very different process is requisite. No man can determine a trajectory, or find a fluent, by a single coup d'auil. Now, political economy is in all its branches strictly scientific.
It is rather fatiguing to follow the errors of a great man, yet one other fault in Montesquieu's writings deserves to be noticed, because it is considerable, and has attracted a vast deal of attention and discussion. He is too systematic, and is, therefore, sometimes, like all system makers, paradoxical ; more especially in his observations respecting the influence of climate upon character he has exposed himself to much severe and just animadversion. We incline to think, however, that his opinions on this subject have been a little misunderstood, and that the remark which we have extracted from the work before us, “ that a powerful genius is apt to seize on general ideas, and to take it for granted that others will understand how to modify them,” is peculiarly applicable to this part of the Spirit of Laws. It is scarcely conceivable that a writer such as Montesquieu should have deliberately held, in its full extent, the theory which some passages in the fourteenth book of the Spirit of Laws appear to imply. Such a theory is contradicted not only by the history of nations, its natural enemy, but even by geography, its natural ally. Travel from Tuscany into the Campagna, cross the Faro of Messina from Calabria into Sicily, pass from Bordeaux to Burgos :-the heart of the stoutest believer in the despotism of physical causes would fail before he had completed three little tours of discovery. Large allowances, we are persuaded, must be made for what Montesquieu has left unsaid; yet, all allowances made, he still remains chargeable with great inaccuracy and much exaggeration in this part of his work. To determine on the nature and propriety of ławs by a metaphysical materialism; to introduce grave speculations on the action of the nerves, and experiments on the papilla of a sheep's tongue ; to resolve the liberties of England into the constitutional misery of its inhabitants ; to swallow greedily the falsehoods of Bernier respecting India, and then exclaim, “ Happy climate! which gives birth to purity of manners, and produces lenity of laws;"'--these are follies so considerable, that it required nothing less than the genius of Montesquieu to redeem them; nothing lower than his renown to shelter them from ridicule. How much superior, in this instance, is the poet* to the philosopher !
“ Can opener skies and suns of fiercer flame