The Natural Environment, Society and Government
Unfortunately, there are only a few surviving fragments concerning one of the most interesting areas of enquiry opened up by the young Montesquieu. In the Nouveau Mercure dated 1 January 1719 – and, soon afterwards, in the Journal des Savants – we find the prospectus of a Projet d’une histoire physique de la terre ancienne et moderne. We know from indirect sources that the thirty-year-old academic and member of parliament for Bordeaux devoted a lot of time and energy to this project, only to consign all his work to the flames, for reasons which are still unknown. The prospectus was an appeal to the international scientific community to embark on a clearly outlined and collective naturalistic-geographical project. The aim was to cover the history of the earth’s geological and climatic development as well as the history of the changes and transformations brought about by human activity, with a careful balance between the two factors.