[MONTESQUIEU, Charles de Secondat, Baron de.]

Two Chapters of A celebrated French Work, intitled, De L'Esprit des Loix, Translated into English.

One, Treating Of the Constitution of England; Another, Of the Character and Manners which result from this Constitution.

Edinburgh: printed for Mess. Hamilton and Balfour, 1750 Stock Code: 117453
£2,250.00

The earliest publication in English of part of the Spirit of the Laws

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Notes

First and only edition of this printing of two chapters of Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws relating to the British system of government, identified as the earliest publication in English of the Spirit of the Laws, preceding the publication of Thomas Nugent's translation by several months (Courtney, p. 31). Despite its importance as the first English translation of one of the great texts of the Enlightenment, this is a notably scarce work, with ESTC listing just six copies.

One of the central texts in the history of 18th-century thought, The Spirit of Laws was a huge influence both on English law, especially as mediated by William Blackstone, and on those who framed the American Constitution. However the influence of the English system of government upon Montesquieu must also be recognised. Montesquieu's central thesis, on the need for a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, was largely modelled on the British constitution. Moreover, despite being written at a time of hostility between France and England, Montesquieu presented both the French and English systems as being derived from a common gothic inheritance, with the implication that for France to replicate elements of British institutions would be a return to the nation's original principles.

There is some evidence that this an overlooked production, at least in part, of David Hume, with Mossner recording that "Later in 1749 sic, in some unknown manner, Hume helped to put through the press at Edinburgh a translation of two chapters of the Esprit des Loix, for which Montesquieu had supplied his final corrections" (Mossner, Life of David Hume, p. 229); Hugh Trevor-Roper also firmly put the pamphlet as being commissioned by Hume (Trevor-Roper, History and the Enlightenment, p. 5). Hume worked closely with Hamilton and Balfour for their French-language edition of Spirit of the Laws, corresponding with Montesquieu and inserting his corrections, which was published in November 1749 with a 1750 imprint. The present pamphlet was then published five months later in April 1750 (both publication dates are recorded in the November 1749 and April 1750 monthly issues of Scots Magazine). It is possible that Hume then commissioned this pamphlet in English translation, viewing Montesquieu's thoughts on the English constitution as worthy of wider dissemination. However, there is a lack of direct evidence for this, with neither Mossner nor Trevor-Roper backing up their claims. In his 2010 edition of Trevor-Roper's History and the Enlightenment, the editor John Robertson rejected Trevor-Roper's assertion that this was by Hume. It is not listed as such in the relevant bibliographies.

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Description

Octavo (187 x 119 mm), pp. 31. Disbound from a pamphlet volume, red speckled edges.

Condition

Title page a little foxed, a few pages lightly creased. A very good copy.

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