To the Comte de Sarsfield
Hotel de Valois Ap. 24. 1780
I have both heard and read So exalted a character of the Eloquence and Integrity of Monsieur Malesherbes, that I have a Strong Curiosity to become acquainted, with his Writings.2 I am told there are Some of his Speeches and remonstrances when he was first president of the court of Aids, in print, and a discourse, pronounced at his Admission to the french Academy. I should esteem it a favour, if you would let me know, at what Booksellers I can find them.3 I am also informed, that there are others of his Discourses, as premier president, preserved in manuscript, but never printed. I wish to know if it is practicable to obtain the reading of them. I have heard his Eloquence compared to that of Demosthenes and his Justice to that of Aristides, and as it is rare, I think to find either of those qualities in such degrees, in this age of the World, and rarer still to find them both So remarkably united in any: you will pardon the trouble I give you, by making this Inquiry, on Account of its motive. I am, with great respect, sir, your most obedient servant
LbC (Adams Papers.)
1. Guy Claude, Comte de Sarsfield, was a French officer of Irish ancestry and a would be philosophe. He became JA’s friend and correspondent in 1778 (vol. 6:85), and remained so through the Adamses’ residence in London from 1785 to 1788. For a detailed sketch of Sarsfield, see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2: 381.
2. Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, celebrated jurist, succeeded his father as president of the cour des aides, a royal tax court, in 1750. Louis XV suspended the court in 1771 and banished Malesherbes to his estate because of the jurist’s famous remonstrances on behalf of the prorogued parlements. Louis XVI revived the court and upon his ascent to the throne in 1774, reinstated Malesherbes. The jurist’s advocacy of moderate constitutional reform led to his resignation from the court in 1775 and from the post of minister of the royal household in 1776. Officially out of favor, Malesherbes traveled extensively in Europe and avoided political entanglements until the King recalled him to be minister of state in 1787. Confronted with a rising tide of political radicalism hostile to the monarchy, Malesherbes resigned the following year. The former jurist defended Louis XVI at the King’s trial in 1792 and was himself condemned as a royalist and guillotined in 1794 (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’ à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ).
3. Malesherbes’ Remonstrances au roi au nom de la Cour des Aides en 1770, 1771, et 1774 were included in his Mémoires pour servir a l’histoire du droit public de la France, Bruxelles, 1779. His speech before the French Academy was preserved in the Discours prononcés dans l’Academie Française, le jeudi XVI février M.DCC.LXXV. à la réception de M. de Lamoignon de Malesherbes. . . ., Paris, 1775.