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131773 131773_1 131773_2 131773_3
[MONTESQUIEU, Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de.]

De l'Esprit des loix....

Ou du Rapport que les loix doivent avoir avec la constitution de chaque gouvernement, les moeurs, le climat, la religion, le commerce, &c. à quoi l'auteur a ajouté des recherches nouvelles sur les loix romaines touchant les successions, sur les loix françoises, & sur les loix féodales.

Availability: In stock

Published: Geneva chez Barrillot & Fils, [1748]

Stock Code: 131773

OR On display in 100 Fulham Road


First edition of this classic of social science, "one of the most remarkable works of the eighteenth century" (PMM). Montesquieu began work on his magnum opus in 1734, and took fifteen years to finish. The book is in six sections: the first dealing with law in general and the different forms of government, the second with the means of government, the third with climate and the effect on national character, the fourth and fifth with economic matters and religion, and the sixth with Roman, feudal and contemporary French law. Though not the most radical of Enlightenment texts - leaning overall to a liberal monarchy limited by institutions, law, and safeguards for personal liberty - Montesquieu's treatise established on a secular, rational basis the revolutionary idea of the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, a system eventually implemented by the Founding Fathers in the US Constitution. Indeed, Donald Lutz's study of citations by the Founding Fathers places Montesquieu as the second most cited thinker, behind only St. Paul, and ahead of Blackstone, Locke and Hume (Lutz, "European Works Read and Cited by the American Founding Generation," in A Preface to American Political Theory, 1992). Three of the other great political texts of the next hundred years - Blackstone's Commentaries, Hamilton's Federalist Papers, and Tocqueville's Democracy in America - are also all thoroughly imbued with Montesquieu's theories.
Several emendations were made to the text after some copies had been issued, including cancelling certain leaves which had risky statements on monarchy, on Richelieu, and on the government of the Netherlands. This copy has most of the cancels outlined by Tchemerzine, and has the errata leaves in the final state with 47 corrections. A counterfeit - and more common - edition was produced in Paris in 1749, but the present first edition can be distinguished by the spelling of "Barrillot" on the imprint.
From the library of Charles-Auguste Le Quien de La Neufville (1726-1805), with his stylish armorial bookplate to the front pastedown of vol. I. Le Quien was appointed Bishop of Dax in 1771 (with his mitre and crosier on the bookplate) and held the office until it was suppressed by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1791; he then became an émigré, returning after the Concordat of 1801, and was offered the Bishopric of Poitiers, which he refused because of his age and health. It is interesting to note that a bishop had De l'Esprit des loix in his library, despite the fact the book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1751.

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2 volumes, quarto (249 x 186 mm). Contemporary mottled calf, red morocco labels, spines gilt to compartments, gilt floral roll border to covers, marbled endpapers, red speckled edges.


Neat 18th-century notations to front free endpaper of vol. I. Lightly refurbished with gilt and colour retouched, very minor craquelure to calf with faint crease to spine of vol. II, some light toning and faint foxing to contents, a few instances of light staining and creasing; half-titles and errata present (the latter bound between vol. I sigs. c4 and A1). A very appealing copy.


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