On the spirit of law, or on the relation which laws must have with the constitution of each government, its behavior, climat, religion, commerce, etc. To which the author has added new research on the Roman laws bearing on successions, on French laws, and on feudal laws.

A new edi­tion, cor­rec­ted by the author, to which is added a table of contents and a geo­gra­phic map to assist with unders­tan­ding of the arti­cles rela­ting to com­merce.

...Prolem fine matre crea­tam. Ovid

Geneva : Barrillot & Son MDCCL


If, among the count­less things to be found in this work, there were one which, coun­ter to my expec­ta­tion, could cause offense, at least there is none that was pla­ced there with ill intent. Naturally I am not nega­ti­vely dis­po­sed. Plato than­ked hea­ven that he was born in the time of Socrates, and I that I was born under the govern­ment where I live, and for wan­ting me to obey those it has given me to love.

I ask one favor which I fear will not be gran­ted : it is that the labor of twenty years labor not be jud­ged on the rea­ding of a moment ; that the whole book be appro­ved or condem­ned, and not just a few sen­ten­ces. If you would seek the author’s design, it can be truly dis­co­ve­red only in the design of the work.

I have first stu­died men, and belie­ved that in this infi­nite diver­sity of laws and ways, they were not being gui­ded solely by their whims.

I have laid down the prin­ci­ples, and I have seen par­ti­cu­lar cases confor­ming to them as if unpromp­ted ; I have seen the his­to­ries of all nations as sim­ply the conse­quen­ces of these prin­ci­ples, and each par­ti­cu­lar law lin­ked to ano­ther one, or depen­dent on ano­ther more gene­ral law.

When I have been recal­led to Antiquity, I have sought to adopt its spi­rit, so as to avoid regar­ding really dif­fe­rent cases as simi­lar, and fai­ling to see the dif­fe­ren­ces of those that appear alike.

I have deri­ved my prin­ci­ples not from my pre­ju­di­ces, but from the nature of the phe­no­mena.

There are many truths here which you will find per­sua­sive only after you have seen the chain that links them to other things. The more you reflect on the details, the more you will accept the cer­tainty of the prin­ci­ples. Nor have I given all these details, for who could say eve­ry­thing without appal­ling tedium ?

You will not find here the sort of wit­ti­cisms that seem to typify the wri­tings of today. If you take the long view of things, the wit­ti­cisms disap­pear ; usually they arise only because the mind takes off in one direc­tion and aban­dons all the others.

I do not write to cen­sure what is esta­bli­shed in any par­ti­cu­lar coun­try. Every nation will find the rea­sons for its maxims here ; and you will natu­rally draw from them the conclu­sion that no one is in a posi­tion to pro­pose chan­ges except those gif­ted enough to grasp the whole of a state’s cons­ti­tu­tion at once.

It is not indif­fe­rent that the peo­ple should be enligh­te­ned. The pre­ju­di­ces of magis­tra­tes began as the pre­ju­di­ces of the nation. In a time of igno­rance no one has any doubt, even while doing the grea­test harm ; in an enligh­te­ned time, we trem­bles even while doing the finest of deeds. We rea­lize the for­mer abu­ses, and see how to cor­rect them ; but in addi­tion we see the abu­ses of the cor­rec­tion itself. We leave the harm alone if we fear the worst ; we lea­ves the good alone if we are unsure about what is bet­ter. We look at the parts only to judge the whole toge­ther ; we exa­mine all the cau­ses to see the results.

If I could contrive to pro­vide eve­ryone with new rea­sons for embra­cing their duties, their prince, their coun­try, and their laws, for fee­ling their hap­pi­ness bet­ter in every coun­try and under every govern­ment, in every posi­tion they may occupy, I should think myself the hap­piest of mor­tals.

If I could contrive things so that those who com­mand would increase their know­ledge about what they must pres­cribe, and those who obey would take new plea­sure in their obe­dience, I should think myself the hap­piest of mor­tals.

I would think myself the hap­piest of mor­tals if I could cause men to cure them­sel­ves of their pre­ju­di­ces. I am cal­ling pre­ju­di­ces here not what makes us una­ware of cer­tain things, but what makes us una­ware of our­sel­ves.

It is by see­king to ins­truct men that one can prac­tice the gene­ral vir­tue that inclu­des the love of all. Man, that flexi­ble being, confor­ming in society to the thoughts and impres­sions of others, is equally capa­ble of kno­wing his own nature when it is shown to him, and losing all sense of it when it is concea­led from him.

I have begun this work many times and aban­do­ned it many times ; a thou­sand times I have cast to the winds the pages I had writ­ten2 ; every day I felt my pater­nal hands fall limp3 : I was fol­lo­wing my objec­tive without for­mu­la­ting a plan ; I knew nei­ther the rules nor the excep­tions ; I would find truth only to lose it again. But when I dis­co­ve­red my prin­ci­ples, eve­ry­thing I was loo­king for came to me ; and over the course of twenty years I have seen my work begin, grow, pro­gress, and conclude.

If this book is wel­co­med, I will owe it lar­gely to the majesty of my sub­ject ; yet I do not think I have enti­rely wan­ted for genius. When I have seen what so many great men in France, England, and Germany have writ­ten before me, I have been in awe, but have not lost cou­rage : I have said with Correggio, and I too am a pain­ter.4

[In the 1758 edition, this preface is preceded by an author’s foreword which will be found in Annex 1.]

ludibria ventis [’the whim of the wind’] (Vergil, Aeneid, VI, 75)].

Bis patriæ cecidere manus… [’Twice the father’s hands fell away’ (Ibid., VI, 33)].

Ed io anche son pittore.