Montesquieu

Rica to ***


People are very keen on the scien­ces here, but I do not know whe­ther they are very lear­ned. He who as phi­lo­so­pher has doubts about eve­ry­thing dares to deny nothing as theo­lo­gian ; this contra­dic­tory man is always satis­fied with him­self pro­vi­ded you agree about qua­li­ties.1

It is the rage for most Frenchmen to be witty,2 and the rage for those who want to be witty is to write books.

Yet there is nothing so ill-concei­ved. Nature see­med to have wisely pro­vi­ded that men’s fol­lies be tran­si­tory, and books immor­ta­lize them. A fool ought to be content to have bored all his acquain­tan­ces ; he also tries to tor­ment future races ; he wants his folly to triumph over the obli­vion he could have enjoyed like the tomb ; he wants pos­te­rity to be infor­med that he has lived, and know fore­ver that he was a fool.

Of all authors there are none I think less of than com­pi­lers, who search on every hand for frag­ments of others’ works which they stick onto their own, like sec­tions of grass on a ter­race ; they are not above those press­men who arrange let­ters which, com­bi­ned toge­ther, cons­ti­tute a book to which they have only lent a hand. I would like to see the ori­gi­nal books res­pec­ted, and it seems to me that it is a sort of pro­fa­na­tion to remove the pie­ces that com­pose them from the sanc­tuary where they are, to expose them to a contempt they do not deserve.

When a man has nothing new to say, why does he not keep his peace ? What use are these repe­ti­tions ? But I want to put things in a new order. You are an able man, in other words you come into my library and you put on the bot­tom the books that are on top, and on top those that are on the bot­tom : you have crea­ted a mas­ter­piece.

I am wri­ting to you on this sub­ject, ***, because I am exas­pe­ra­ted at a book I have just put down, which is so big it appea­red to contain all know­ledge ; but it bored me to death without tea­ching me any­thing at all. Adieu.

Paris this 8th day of the moon of Chahban 1714

Perhaps a general allusion to Cartesians.

See letters 52 and 61 on banter.