The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748)
Jean Jacques Burlamaqui
TO DR. MEAD.
TO intrude in this manner upon your time, so usefully employed in the duties of your profession, would expose me in some measure to blame, were it upon a less important occasion, than that of recommending the following work to your generous protection. The dignity of the subject, which, handled by other pens, has been thought worthy of being inscribed to the most illustrious personages of the last and present age, will plead, I hope, some excuse for an address, which is designed not so much to interrupt your occupations, as to avail itself of the sanction of your name in introducing this work to the public. And indeed a nobler subject I could not select for the favor of your acceptance, than that, which so nearly relates to the moral duties of life, and the foundation of human contentment and happiness; a subject moreover illustrated by one of the ablest masters of the present age, whose extraordinary ability and skill in curing the disorders of the mind, may be compared very aptly to yours in removing those of the body. One of the principal encouragements I had to this address is the near relation between the following work and those elevated sentiments, with which you have been always inspired. Such an admirable system of moral precepts, such noble maxims of true Christian policy, and such excellent rules for the government of our lives, cannot but be acceptable to a gentleman, who, in the whole tenor of his conduct, has been an illustrious example of those rules and maxims, which are here most judiciously established.
A very good opportunity this of entering upon the encomium of those virtues, which have so eminently distinguished you at the head of your profession; but the little value any commendation of mine would have, the apprehension I should be under of being suspected of adulation, and the danger I should incur of offending your modesty, obliges me to wave any attempt of this nature. However, I cannot help taking notice of that true magnificence, with which you have at all times contributed to the advancement of learning, and whereby you have justly acquired the title of patron and protector of letters. In fact, the extensive blessings, that fortune has bestowed upon you, have been employed, not as instruments of private luxury, but as means of promoting those arts, which have received an additional lustre, since they have shone so conspicuously in your person. Your friendship and correspondence have been courted by the greatest men of the present age; and your house, like that of Atticus, has been open to the learned of all orders and ranks, who unanimously respect you, not only as a supreme judge of learning and wit, but moreover as an arbiter elegantiarum, and master of finished urbanity. Your collection of valuable curiosities and books, wherein you have rivalled the magnificence of sovereigns, is the admiration and talk of all Europe, and will be a lasting monument of your love of literature. The polite reception you have always given to the learned of foreign nations has rendered your name so respectable abroad, that you are never mentioned but with expressions denoting the high idea they entertain of your singular munificence. These, Sir, are not particular sentiments of mine; they are the sentiments of the public, whose voice I utter; they are the sentiments of your learned friends abroad, which I have been desired to repeat to you upon a late occasion, together with their compliments of thanks for the marks, they have received of your great and disinterested civility. It is with pleasure I embrace this opportunity of executing my commission, and of declaring in this public manner the profound esteem, with which I have the honor of subscribing myself, Sir,
your most humble and obedient servant,
Gray’s Inn, June 4, 1748.
Translator to the Reader
THE author of the following work, M. J. J. Burlamaqui, is descended from one of those noble families of Lucca, which, on their embracing the Protestant religion, were obliged about two centuries ago to take shelter in Geneva. His father was counsellor and secretary of state; honors, which are frequently conferred in that city upon such, as acquit themselves worthily of a professorship in the academy, particularly that of law, the fittest without doubt to form able judges, magistrates, and statesmen. The son, on his return from his travels, was immediately nominated professor of this science, in which post he continued a considerable number of years, till the republic thought proper to remunerate his long and eminent services, by raising him to the same dignity, as his father. The great reputation, he acquired in his professorship, was less owing to his immense erudition, in which he equalled if not excelled all his predecessors, than to the quickness of his understanding, the clearness of his ideas, his sound and judicious views in the study of jurisprudence, and especially to the solidity of his Principles on natural law and civil government. With regard to the occasion of his publishing these Principles, he observes himself in the preface, that it was in some measure to comply with the importunity of his friends, but chiefly to prevent his reputation from being injured by a precipitate impression from any of those imperfect and surreptitious copies, which had been handed about by his pupils. The public indeed had flattered themselves a long time with the hopes of seeing a complete course of the law of nature and nations from this eminent hand; but his occupations and infirmity obliged him to frustrate their expectations. However, as a good introduction to this science was extremely wanted, he thought proper, till he could publish his larger work, to favor us with the following Principles, being convinced that in this as in every other branch of learning, the most essential part is the laying of a proper and solid foundation. In fact, we daily observe, that most errors in life proceed rather from wrong principles, than from ill-drawn consequences.
M. Burlamaqui is so modest, as to consider these principles as calculated only for young people, who are desirous of being initiated into the study of natural law; and yet we may venture to affirm it as a performance of general utility, but especially to such, as have had the misfortune of neglecting this science in their younger days. It is a performance, that must certainly be allowed to have the merit of an original undertaking, by our author’s ascending always to the first principles, by his illustrating and extending them, by his connecting them with each other, and by exhibiting them frequently in a new light. But his singular beauty consists in the alliance, he so carefully points out between ethics and jurisprudence, religion and politics, after the example of Plato and Tully, and the other illustrious masters of antiquity. In effect these sciences have the same basis, and tend to the same end; their business is to unravel the system of humanity, or the plan of providence with regard to man; and since the unity of this system is an unquestionable point, so soon as writers ascend to the principles, in order to view and contemplate the whole, it is impossible but they all should meet.
Our author’s method has nothing of the scholastic turn. Instead of starting new difficulties, he prevents them by the manner of laying his thesis; instead of disputing, he reconciles. Far from pursuing any idle or too subtle ideas, he follows nature step by step, and derives his arguments from sense and experience. His thoughts he unfolds with the greatest perspicuity and order; and his style is pure, clear, and agreeable, such as properly becomes a didactic work. In fine he has the honor of preserving the character of a Christian philosopher, inculcating the value we ought to set upon the light of revelation, a light, which so advantageously assists the feeble glimmerings of reason in the high and important concerns of our civil and religious duties.
THIS treatise on the Principles of Natural Law is an introduction to a larger work, or to a complete system of the law of nature and nations, which some time or other I proposed to publish. But having met with several obstructions in my attempt, through a variety of occupations, and principally from my indifferent state of health, I had almost lost sight of my original design. Being informed however, that some manuscript copies of the papers I had drawn up for my own private use, when, I gave lectures of jurisprudence, were multiplied and got into a number of hands, I began to apprehend, lest this work should be published against my will in a very imperfect and mangled condition. This induced me at length to yield to the solicitations of several of my friends, by communicating the following essay to the public. Dubious whether I shall ever be able to finish the work, I have endeavoured to give such an extent to these Principles, as may render them in some measure serviceable to such, as are desirous of being initiated into the knowledge of the law of nature. As for those, who are masters of this subject, the present work is not designed for them; my view will be sufficiently fulfilled, if it should prove of any utility to young beginners in the study of this important science.