A note on the text

The first version of Thomas Nugent’s translation in 1750 was based on the original 1748 edition, supplemented by lists of corrections forwarded to him in 1749 while the translation was in progress. Later on, Nugent incorporated additions to subsequent French editions without specifying which ones, nor for that matter did subsequent publishers usually specify which of the previous editions of Nugent they were copying. To my knowledge, no one has ever sorted out exactly what variations exist in the innumerable reprints of Nugent editions. The translators of the Cambridge edition (1989), for want of a critical edition, used the 1758 edition (Amsterdam: Arkstée et Merkus, t. I–II) as presented in the edition of Œuvres complètes by André Masson (Paris: Nagel, 1950, vol. I).

The original 1748 edition of L’Esprit des lois is an unreliable text, not to mention that Montesquieu made many additions and corrections which were incorporated into the edition of 1750. A letter by Montesquieu to Grosley on 8 April 1750 identifies Huart’s 3–volume edition as “l’édition la plus exacte”. The posthumous editions of 1757 (?) and 1758 included many more additions, but they were produced by Montesquieu’s son and his secretary, and we have no guarantee that they were specified by the author himself.

This translation is based on a critical version of the 1750 text as established for the Société Montesquieu by Caroline Verdier, Pierre Rétat and Catherine Volpilhac-Auger.

The Spirit of Law

A new English translation project for L’Esprit des lois

I am undertaking a new English translation of Montesquieu’s “Esprit des lois” in an open format. Progressive samples of the ongoing translation will be posted and interested parties are invited to critique the draft, post queries or comments, including suggesting other possibilities for particular passages. The reference text will remain under my control but participation is encouraged either on-line or through e-mails directly to me at pstewart@duke.edu