Spirit of the Laws


Published in 1748, condemned by the Catholic Church in 1751, Montesquieu's masterpiece, De l'Esprit des lois (Spirit of the laws) marked a turning point in the European Age of Enlightenment. It announced the new critical understanding of acquired knowledge that was also reflected in Buffon's Histoire naturelle (Natural history) and Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia). The depth of the analysis and the skill of presentation resulted in Montesquieu’s work having considerable influence on political thought in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is divided into 31 books subdivided into short chapters, which are written in a clean and incisive style, with analytical passages interspersed with anecdotes and historical facts. Montesquieu replaced the traditional, purely political classification of laws with a more concrete conception, which he based on a typology of political orders (despotic, monarchical, and republican). He associated the principles of governance and the constitutions of countries with the physical, moral, economic, and geographic causes that influenced the creation and evolution of laws. Presented here is an incomplete manuscript of the penultimate version of the text prior to publication, from the hand of several secretaries, with notes and passages signed by Montesquieu. The division of chapters differs significantly from that in the original publication. The manuscript also includes several pages from a dozen different writings by Montesquieu, produced by the secretaries that he used during his frequent periods of near-total blindness.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

De l'Esprit des lois


Type of Item

Physical Description

Paper, 5 volumes : Calfskin binding ; 25 x 17 centimeters

Last updated: January 8, 2018