Montesquieu

The first ver­sion of Thomas Nugent’s trans­la­tion in 1750 was based on the ori­gi­nal 1748 edi­tion,1 sup­ple­men­ted by lists of cor­rec­tions for­war­ded to him in 1749 while the trans­la­tion was in pro­gress. Later on, Nugent incor­po­ra­ted addi­tions to sub­se­quent French edi­tions without spe­ci­fying which ones, nor for that mat­ter did sub­se­quent publi­shers usually spe­cify which of the pre­vious edi­tions of Nugent they were copying. To my know­ledge, no one has ever sor­ted out exactly what varia­tions exist in the innu­me­ra­ble reprints of Nugent edi­tions. The trans­la­tors of the Cambridge edi­tion (1989), for want of a cri­ti­cal edi­tion, used the 1758 edi­tion (Amsterdam : Arkstée et Merkus, t. I–II) as pre­sen­ted in the edi­tion of Œuvres com­plè­tes by André Masson (Paris : Nagel, 1950, vol. I).

The ori­gi­nal 1748 edi­tion of L’Esprit des lois is an unre­lia­ble text, not to men­tion that Montesquieu made some addi­tions and cor­rec­tions which were incor­po­ra­ted into the edi­tion of 1750.2 A let­ter by Montesquieu to Grosley on 8 April 1750 iden­ti­fies Huart’s 3-volume edi­tion as “l’édition la plus exacte”. The pos­thu­mous edi­tions of 1757 (?) and 17583 for the first edi­tion of the col­lec­ted Œuvres de M. de Montesquieu inclu­ded many more, but also many cor­rec­tions made by the edi­tors which can­not be authen­ti­ca­ted. The major addenda of these edi­tions are annexed to this text. This trans­la­tion is based on a cri­ti­cal ver­sion of the 1750 text as esta­bli­shed for the Société Montesquieu by Caroline Verdier, Pierre Rétat and Catherine Volpilhac-Auger.

The Spirit of Law is a work of his­tory as well as theory, and the author obser­ves scru­pu­lous stan­dards of docu­men­ta­tion. Montesquieu read very broadly in ancient and medie­val his­tory. The Greek authors he read mostly in Latin trans­la­tion, and his mas­tery of Latin gave him access to a mil­len­nium and a half of legal com­pen­dia, capi­tu­la­ries, edicts, canons and char­ters of many peo­ples. Many of these notes can be rea­dily cla­ri­fied with the on-line search engi­nes pre­sently avai­la­ble. An abbre­via­ted table of Montesquieu’s com­mo­nest refe­ren­ces is appen­ded.

For trans­la­tions of Montesquieu’s nume­rous quo­ta­tions from Latin, I am most gra­te­ful for many sug­ges­tions from Catherine Volpilhac-Auger. Translations from Tacitus have been based on that of Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, avai­la­ble on line. For the many pas­sa­ges of medie­val law in the later books, I have fre­quently loo­ked to gui­dance from the authors of the Cohler, Miller, and Stone trans­la­tion.

Geneva : Barrillot et fils, n.d. [1748], 2 vols. : Arsenal, RESERVE 4-J-147. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark :/12148/b…

Genève : Barrillot & Fils, 1750 (= Paris, 1750, Huart et Moreau).

I have ignored the edition labelled as published in 1757 since its text is all but identical to that of 1758.