1Montesquieu had the works of Saint-Évremond (Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, 1614-1703) at La Brède he owned his Œuvres mêlées in two editions, 1689, one volume in-quarto, and 1697, five volumes in-12 (Catalogue, nos. 2329-2330) and especially he must have studied his Réflexions sur les divers génies du peuple romain dans les divers temps de la République [‘Reflections on the various geniuses of the Roman people in varioius times of the Republic’] (composed in the late 1660s) at the time when he was writing his Romains.
2Does Montesquieu owes something to the author of these Réflexions? Saint-Évremond begins, as would Montesquieu, with the royal period, but he is persuaded that much legend is mixed into the narratives of the early centuries of Rome. If Brutus is not even named in Romans, Saint-Évremond takes time to comment on the act of the dispenser of justice who had his children killed because they had conspired for the re-establishment of the Tarquins. Nor does another famous Roman from the good times of the Republic, Fabricius, appear in Montesquieu, whereas Saint-Évremond sees in him the “genius” of the Rome before its corruption. It is not in Saint-Évremond, far from it, that Montesquieu could find the elements of the indictment he pronounces in his chapter 6 against Roman foreign policy. If Hannibal is for both men an admirable and exceptional personage, they differ in their appreciation of Augustus. Saint-Évremond sees in him a man thanks to whom Rome was able for a half-century to know peace under an “agreeable subjugation”, after a long period of civil wars that had the made the Romans weary of the Republic. For Montesquieu, Octavius (who was to become Augustus) was above all a “clever tyrant” who put into place a system of government that was to engender the bloody despotism of his successors.
3Thus we see that Montesquieu’s Rome owes little to that of Saint-Évremond. One feature however links them: no long, fastidious narratives, a spry, concise text, a taste for formulas, even if in this domain Montesquieu is incontestably far superior to Saint-Évremond.
Patrick Andrivet, “L’Auguste de Saint-Évremond et l’Octave de Montesquieu”, in Storia e ragione, ed. Alberto Postigliola, Napoli, 1987, p. 139-158.
Patrick Andrivet, Saint-Évremond et l’histoire romaine, Orléans: Paradigme, 1998.
Patrick Andrivet, “Rome enfin que je hais…”? Une étude sur les différentes vues de Montesquieu concernant les anciens Romains, Orléans: Paradigme, 2012.