This simplicity was the great charm of the man, as it is that of the writer. He never lectures the reader, he talks with him; “he makes him assist him in his composition.” In Paris he was, as in the country, as in his books, even-tempered, simple, and pleasantly merry. In the very heat of conversation he never lost his equanimity. Simple, profound, sublime, he charmed, instructed, without offence: was even more marvelous in conversation than in his works:1 “and always that same energy when his hatred of despotism lighted his face.”2 Without bitterness, without satire, full of wit and brilliant sallies, no one could tell a better story, promptly, vividly, without premeditation.3 And he was always more willing to listen than to talk; he learnt as much from conversation as from books. The Duchess de Chaulnes said of him, “That man makes his book in society: he remembers everything that is said to him, and only talks with those who have something to tell him worth remembering.: Such a man requires the company of the best brains to bring him out; with commonplace people he will be commonplace: and yet he could find wit in those who were called dull.4 It was possible, however, to bore him. On one occasion, when disputing with some portentous councilor who got warm and cried, “M. le Président, if it is not as I say, I will give you my head, “ he replied, coolly, “I accept; little gifts are the cement of friendship.”5 A certain young lady, un peu galante, annoyed him with a torrent of questions one evening. His opportunity came when she asked him in what happiness consisted. “Happiness,” he replied, “means for queens, fertility; for maidens, sterility; and for those who are near you, deafness.”6 Still he delighted in the company and conversation of women, and in his younger days did not object be in their best graces. He tells that he attached himself to such as he thought loved him, and detached himself as soon as he thought they didn’t:7 the manners of the Regency being somewhat different from ours.
Maupertuis, "Éloge de Montesquieu."
2 Garat, "Mémoires sur le Dix-huitième Siècle."
3 D'Alembert, "Éloge de Montesquieu."
5 Laplace, "Pièces intéressantes et peu connues."