Saturday, August 6, 2016

Montesquieu's Pensées

Montesquieu left a set of three bound handwritten notebooks.[1] The entirety of the notes was not not published during his lifetime, though some notesare marked as “put in the Romans” or “put in the Laws.” Others are marked as belonging to a certain context, like "this did not make it into the essay on the 'differences between talents' or "remarks on count Boulainvilliers’ 'History.'”

The notes appear to be in chronological order. They seem to start in the early 1720s and continue to the end of his life. I found the first three notes especially useful as indicating the nature of his note-taking. They are, he says,

[1] Some detached reflections or thoughts that I have not put in my works.
[2] These are ideas that I have not delved into deeply, and that I am putting aside in order to think about them as the occasion allows.
[3] I will be very careful not to answer for all the thoughts that are here. I have put most of them here only because I have not had time to reflect on them, but I will think about them when I make use of them.
In other words, his notes were conceived as working notes. They represent things he wrote down in order to think about some more in the future. They are noteworthy to him, but they are preliminary and might or might not be endorsed by him in future reflections.[2]

This kind of tentative taking note of ideas should be emulated. I believe that it has some similarities to Lichtenberg's Wastebooks.

1. An English translation them can be found here.
2. I became aware of Montesquieu's My Thoughts through Henning Ritter's Notizhefte (Bloomesbury Verlag, 2010). Henning says that he adopted Montesquieu's maxims of My Thoughts as his own.

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