Charles-Louis Montesquieu and Social Anthropology #6


Continuation of the previous part…

After three years of international travel and two years of hermitage at La Brède spent on writing The Considerations, Montesquieu returns to Parisian life, and for the next fourteen years spends there more time than at south-west.

He periodically appears at the Court, where his sponsor now is Mademoiselle de Charolais, sister of Mademoiselle de Clermont, who was the romantic muse of Montesquieu in Paris in 20’s. Another interest of Montesquieu in Paris were the Academy, membership at which meant acquaintance with most literati of the time and the opportunity to dive in the intrigues of the membership elections, especially when he was elected directeur in 1739.

Now, after his travels, Montesquieu associates with foreign visitors at larger scale. British Ambassadors, the old friend Waldegrave, Sir Luke Schaub, and Willem van Keppel, 2nd Earl Albemarle; Danish envoys, representatives of Netherlands, Turkey, Genoa, Portugal and Russia are mentioned in Montesquieu’s correspondence and notebooks. Many private individuals from abroad come to visit La Brède.

Visits from England were particularly numerous, but Montesquieu hosted also quite exotic guests.  Among them was Stanislas Konarski, the leading figure in Polish Enlightenment and the great admirer of The Considerations; Stephen Evodius Assemani, titular Archbishop of Apamea in Syria, who brought Montesquieu loads of information about the Church in China and Ethiopia; the Moldovan Prince Antiochus Cantemir, who translated The Persian Latter into Russia, started to compile a Russian-French dictionary, and who was the primary source of the information about Russia for Montesquieu.

Montesquieu frequently travels between Paris and Bordeaux where the Academy of Bordeaux, intellectual circles of the southwest, family members and international visitors to La Brède awaited and claimed him.

Now Montesquieu was the undisputed head of the family, and La Brède was the family headquarters, which were run by Madame de Montesquieu, who was the faithful custodian of the estates when her husband was out in Paris or abroad.

The estates of Montesquieu family included some of the richest wine-producing lands of France. Those times five main grape varieties were cultivated in Bordeaux: Graves, Palu, Entre-deux-mers, Langon, and Preignac. The best were red Graves, sometimes selling as much as 1500 livres per cask. Montesquieu had one isolated and humble property of Rochemorin, approached by the worst roads in the world, which produced red Graves. The white Graves, which were species of La Brède, and Preignac, which Madame de Montesquieu held a property with, were fetching 200 livres per cask. More modest was the white wine of Entre-deux-mers, the most common growth in Gascony, which was selling no more than 90 livres a cask.

In 1747, after the death of the D’Albessard, who was the purchaser for a life of the Montesquieu’s President title, Montesquieu offered this title to his son Jean-Baptiste, and after he refused to accept the offer, preoccupied with another career, Montesquieu himself was pondering upon whether to resume his duties in Parlement, but finally he sold it again to Le Berthon, who was the premier prèsident of the Parlement and who wanted to surrender his current title to his son, and keep the Montesquieu’s prèsident a mortier title for himself. This purchase gave Montesquieu 130’000 livres within 8 years.

It was estimated Montesquieu enjoyed a yearly income of 60’000 livres at the end of his life. Which was a quite decent income, thought Voltaire could claim no less than 200’000 livres of the yearly income.

Business routines didn’t stop Montesquieu from participating in social life of Bordeaux, which were centering around the salon of Madame Duplesy, the most learned, the gayest, and the most sparkling hostess of Bordeaux. Another city which society played a big role in life of Montesquieu was Clairac, the river port seventy plus miles up the river Lot, where his wife’s family was prominent.

It was cosmopolitan town with vigorous intellectual life. Though, a largely protestant town it was a seat of a mitred abbot, head of the abbey founded by Henry IV in commemoration of his conversion to Catholicism. In 1738 Filippo Venuti was nominated the abbot in Clariac. Venuti family, a noble family from the southern Tuscany, renown for archeological achievements of its members, was personally known to Montesquieu, who acquainted himself with Marcello Venuti during his travels to Italy. The youngest brother Filippo, though have chosen the ecclesiastic career, was much disappointed in it, seeing mostly lies in mouths of priests in Rome, and preferring to rather participate in the activities of his brothers, joining them in founding Academia Etrusca in their home town Cortona. When Filippo was sent by his Chapter to Clairac, he found for his joy Roman ruins just within boundaries of his jurisdiction.

Montesquieu was happy to repay his debt to Marcello, who introduced him to Academy of Cortona, by helping Filippo being elected to the Academy of Bordeaux. Since then the academic career of Filippo was much more successful than his progress in the Church. When his brethren in the Capter turned against Filippo, Montesquieu came to his rescue again, arranging the acceptance of Venuti as a librarian in the Academy.

This influence of Montesquieu in the Academy of Bordeaux was rightfully earned – the Academy was his strongest loyalty despite his membership in the older and more famous Parisian body. Montesquieu continued to present his papers in the Academy of Bordeaux after return from his travels, and even after publication of The Spirit of the Laws.

After the work on The Considerations was finished, Montesquieu rested for couple of months, and then started to look around for the subject worth to turn his activity to. He revived his interest to experiments in natural science, for some time he was thinking to start working on the history of France, but soon, getting bored by there mere enumeration of the historic events, Montesquieu turned his sight to a greater work. A wider and broader view on history started to take concrete shapes in his mind. For last number of years he was cherished an idea of writing a new grandiose historical, political and legal theory. He collected quite a lot of unpublished material over the years to found his ideas well on. By the end of 1734 the final decision to concentrate all his energies on writing The Spirit of the Laws was made.

To be continued…

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