1We know from a book review by Jean-Jacques Bel, a friend of Montesquieu, in the Bibliothèque française of May-June 1726 (p. 58-64) [‣] , that this text was read in the absence of its author at a solemn session of the Bordeaux academy on 25 August 1725. The manuscript that has come down to us dates from the years 1734-1739, going by the hand of the secretary (E) who copied it.
2Montesquieu says much later, in his Pensées (no. 1655), that Mme de Lambert “did this work the honor of taking charge of it” and put “a new order” into it; he hopes that this revision, which had been published, will become an “eternal monument” of the friendship that bound him to her. We indeed find, in the Œuvres of Madame de Lambert (1747), a Discours sur la différence qu’il y a de la réputation à la considération [‘Discourse on the difference there is between reputation and consideration], published first in 1743 in a Recueil de pièces fugitives [‘Collection of ephemera’], where we find part of Montesquieu’s ideas reappear, put into an analytic order and expressed in more neutral, more abstract and rather flat.
3A series of moral observations, distributed into short paragraphs, lends to Montesquieu’s discourse a free cadence that makes it resemble the articles elaborated in the Pensées. “Consideration”, then “reputation”, are the occasion of delicate variations where generality of analysis is paired with the subtlety of comparison. The art of the moralist is deployed in the flexible manner of envisaging the subject in all its aspects, in the ingeniousness of formulations and concise and allusive expression. The entire discourse thus turns on the multiple coincidences in human relations, the game of passions (self-love, pride, envy above all), the social theatre where the individual constantly seeks others’ eyes and is dangerously exposed to them. The world is a career where it is difficult to begin well and end well”. It is remarkable that the only reference here (besides Florus, dear to Montesquieu), is Baltasar Gracián.
Bibliothèque Municipale de Bordeaux, 2101.
Deux Opuscules de Montesquieu, Bordeaux: Gounoulhou (1891), p. 43-69.
OC, t. VIII, p. 441-460 (ed. Sheila Mason).
Œuvres de Madame de Lambert, ed. Robert Granderoute, Paris: Champion, 1990, p. 335-344.