Montesquieu

It is said in the law of the Burgundians that when the peo­ples set­tled in the Gauls, they recei­ved two-thirds of the lands and one-third of the serfs.1 Villeinage was the­re­fore esta­bli­shed in this part of Gaul before the Burgundians came.2

The law of the Burgundians, making rules cove­ring the two nations, for­mally dis­tin­gui­shes in both of them among the nobles, the free­born, and the serfs.3 Servitude was the­re­fore not some­thing par­ti­cu­lar to the Romans, nor were liberty and nobi­lity some­thing par­ti­cu­lar to the bar­ba­rians.

That same law says that if a freed Burgundian had not given a cer­tain sum to his mas­ter, nor recei­ved a third por­tion from a Roman, he was still held to belong to his mas­ter’s family.4 The Roman land­lord was the­re­fore free, since he did not belong to the family of ano­ther ; he was free, because his third por­tion was a sign of free­dom.

One has only to open the Salic and Ripuarian laws to see that the Romans no more lived in ser­vi­tude among the Franks than among the other conque­rors of Gaul.

The Count of Boulainvilliers got the cru­cial point of his sys­tem wrong5 : he has not pro­ven that the Franks made a gene­ral rule that pla­ced the Romans in a sort of ser­vi­tude.

As his work is writ­ten art­lessly, and as he speaks in it with the sim­pli­city, the frank­ness, and the can­dor of the old nobi­lity from which he had sprung, anyone can judge both the fine things he says and the errors into which he falls. Therefore I shall not exa­mine it : I shall say sim­ply that he had more wit than insight, and more insight than know­ledge ; but that know­ledge of his was not contemp­ti­ble, for he knew very well the broad stro­kes of our his­tory and our laws.

The Count of Boulainvilliers and the abbé Dubos have each built a sys­tem, one of which seems to be a cons­pi­racy against the third estate, and the other a cons­pi­racy against the nobi­lity. When the sun gave Phæton his cha­riot to drive, he said to him : “If you go too high, you will burn the celes­tial abode ; if you drop down too low, you will reduce the earth to ashes ; go nei­ther too far to the right : you would fall into the cons­tel­la­tion of the Serpent ; nor too far to the left : you would go into that of Ara : keep to the middle.”6

Tit. 54.

This is confirmed throughout the title of the code De agricolis et censitis et colonis.

Si dentem optimati Burgundioni vel Romano Nobili excusserit, tit. 26, §1, and Si Mediocribus Personis ingenuis tam Burgundionibus quam Romanis, ibid., §2.

Tit. 57

[Henri de Boulainvilliers, Histoire de l’ancien gouvernement de la France, 1727.]

Nec preme, nec summum molire per æthera currum.

Altius egressus, cœlestia tecta cremabis ;

Inferius, terras : medio tutissimus ibis.

Neu te dexterior tortum declinet ad Anguem,

Neve sinisterior pressam rota ducat ad Aram ;

Inter utrumque tene….. [Ovid, Metamorphoses, book II.