Samy Ben Messaoud


1 Montesquieu’s education ended on 12 August 1708 by the award of a law degree (licencié en droit). These juridical studies at the University of Bordeaux (1705-1708) – we shall return to them – preceded by a stay at the college of Juilly (1700-1705), situated north of Paris, constitute the itinerary of Montesquieu’s schooling. His younger brother, Joseph, known as M. de Martillac, was to follow the same one. For Jacques de Secondat, Montesquieu’s father, as for all of the Bordeaux elite, particularly the parlementary aristocracy, the college of Juilly, reputed for the quality of its teaching and the quality of its teachers, represented the best establishment for his children’s studies. The number of students from Bordeaux was, during Montesquieu’s stay at Juilly, constantly growing: 11 in 1700, 20 in 1704, or about 20% of the boarding students.

2 Studies with the Oratorians of Juilly were very costly. Those of “M. de La Brède”, Montesquieu’s student name, exceeded 2000 livres, a heavy financial sacrifice for Jacques de Secondat. His correspondence with Brother Jean Andrieux, bursar of the college of Juilly, here furnishes us precious information about the schooling costs of the young Montesquieu. Well dressed and fed, Charles de La Brède has an ideal environment for his studies. After studious days, he pursued various recreational activities: dance, excursions on horseback and hunting outings; so many pastimes never offered to the students of Jesuit colleges or the University of Paris. The boarding students at Juilly, divided into small groups, were taught in class by a professor who took them to the rhetoric class. Courses in mathematics, natural sciences, history and geography were given in the rooms, arranged according to the subject matter, by the college prefects or sub-prefects.

3 The Oratorian pedagogy, defined in the Ratio Studiorum a magistris et professoribus Congregationis Oratorii Domini Jesu observanda (1634), also took inspiration from the Entretiens sur les sciences (1683) of Bernard Lamy, a book much appreciated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. At Juilly, the respect for discipline was instilled without the aid of fear. The teachers, benevolent and paternal, inflicted on their pupils, unlike those of the young Voltaire at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand, neither corporal punishments nor public admonitions. This “liberal pedagogy” (expression of Gabriel Compayré) was specific to the Oratory.

4 The teaching of the Oratorians gave the French language a preponderant place. A pedagogical tool in the lower classes, French was also the language of communication of the regent with his disciples. The learning of Latin, considered a dead language, began only in the fourth form. In the Oratorian colleges, unlike those of the Jesuits, translation exercises into French were preferred to translation from French to Latin. When he entered the fourth form, Charles de La Brède possessed, as his Historia romana suggests, a course notebook which has been published in the Œuvres complètes (t. 8), rudiments of Latin. If the Jesuits’ Ratio studiorum accords a secondary role to history, the Oratorians offered their pupils a complete course in history: sacred history (sixth), Greek history (fifth), Roman history (fourth and third), French history (humanities). Until the end of the third form, the program of study consisted in the perfecting, following the treatises of Clénard (Catalogue, no. 1849) and Despautère, Greek and Latin. The teaching of classical letters (Vergil, Terence, Ovid, Cicero…) intensified in the second form. During humanities, the regent initiated his pupils to the techniques of commentary. These exercises, prélection, amplification and imitation, were complemented, in rhetoric class, by theoretical instruction. The teaching of oratorical art necessitated applied exercises. That of imitation was based on the discourses of Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Cicero. The learning of pronunciation was completed by a public theatrical performance, given at the end of the school year – it will be remembered that Montesquieu had written a tragedy in college, Britomare, of which he took the trouble of consigning extracts to this Pensées (no. 359). In philosophy, the regent completed the teachingt of the rhetorician with respect to argumentation. Hostile to the philosophy of Aristotle, the Oratorians taught that of Descartes (Catalogue, no. 1477). But above all it is the name of Malebranche (1638-1715) that is attached to them, whose influence was considerable: of this La Recherche de la vérité is evidence, but also the numerous texts in which Montesquieu, criticizing the philosopher, thereby reveals how influenced he has been by him – though we do not know exactly in what form the thought of Malebranche was known to him. Before leaving Juilly, Montesquieu had defended his thesis in the presence of Fathers Jean Gaichiès, his philosophy professor, and Pierre Malguiche, the college superior.

5 Montesquieu next pursued juridical studies at the University of Bordeaux. Located on the Rue Porte-Basse, the site of the law school, cramped and antiquated, hardly facilitated the students’ work. Danéhil, his professor of French law, neverless attested his assiduousness (Bordeaux, bibliothèque municipal, Ms. 2563/2). Bachelor of law on 29 July 1708, Montesquieu received his diploma as graduate (licencié) in civil and canon law on 12 August following. But was this success satisfactory, given the mediocrity of the instruction at the University of Bordeaux (Collectio juris, introduction, OC, t. 11 p. XVI)? It was perhaps in order to complement this education that Charles de La Brède, aided by the Oratorians at Juilly, left for Paris. This new study sojourn (1709-1713) closed out Montesquieu’s formative years, decisive for the shaping of his esthetic and literary tastes. A capital piece of evidence subsists, his reading notes on Roman law, on several points of French law, and several contemporary affairs, consigned to the Collectio juris.



Historia Romana, cahier de collège de la main de Montesquieu, ed. M. Mendel, Louvain, 1996.

Historia romana, ed. Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, OC, t. 8, 2003, p. 1-42.

Collectio juris, ed. Iris Cox and Andrew Lewis, OC, t. 11 et 12, 2005.


Charles Hamel, Histoire de l’abbaye et du Collège de Juilly, ornée d’une vue de la façade intérieure du collège, Paris, 1868.

A. de Lantenay (pseudonym of Louis Bertrand), L’Oratoire à Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 1886.

Statuts et règlements de l’ancienne université de Bordeaux, Henri Barckhausen ed., Libourne: Bouchon, 1886 (Map of the law college).

Dictionnaire de pédagogie, Ferdinand Buisson dir., Paris: Hachette, 1887, article “Oratoire” (Gabriel Comparyé).

P. Lallemand, Essai sur l’histoire de l’éducation dans l’ancien Oratoire de France, Paris, 1888.

Henri Roddier, “De la composition de L’Esprit des lois: Montesquieu et les oratoriens de l’Académie de Juilly”, RHLF 52 (1952), p. 439-450.

Dimitri Demnard, Dictionnaire d’histoire de l’enseignement, Paris, 1981. Article “Oratoriens”.

Jean Tarraube, Montesquieu auteur dramatique, Paris: Minard, 1982.

François Cadilhon, “Montesquieu et les élèves bordelais au collège de Juilly 1700-1710”, Revue française d’histoire du livre 46 (1985), p. 253-258.

Louis Desgraves, Chronologie critique de la vie et des œuvres de Montesquieu, Paris: Champion, 1998.

Samy Ben Messaoud, “La formation intellectuelle de Montesquieu: l’enseignement des oratoriens”, in Montesquieu. Les années de formation (1689-1720), Catherine Volpilhac-Auger dir., Cahiers Montesquieu 5, Naples: Liguori, 1999, p. 31-53.

Le Patrimoine de l’Éducation nationale, Danièle Alexandre-Bidon dir., Charenton-le-Pont, 1999 (estampe “Les pensionnaires de Juilly assistent à la chasse du duc de Chartres”, p. 246).