Journal de Sçavans
pp 13-16

Date: 10 January 1695

Translated from the French

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[JS p13]

     Codex juris gentium diplomaticus; in quo tabulae authenticae actorum publicorum, tractatum, aliarumque rerum majoris momenti per Europam gestarum, pleraeque ineditae vel selectae, ipso verborum tenore expresse, ac temporam serie digeste continentur; a fine saeculi undecimi ad nostra usque tempora, aliquot tomis comprehensus; quem ex manusciptis praesertim Bibliothecae Augustae Guelfebytanae Codicibus & monumentis Regiorum aliorumque archivorum, ac propriis denique collectaneis edidit G. G. L. In fol. Hannoverae. 1693.

     The acts contained in this collection provide the most authentic proofs of facts that history has to offer, and often reveal the motives that the politician disguises with the utmost cunning. The conditions they impose serve as law to the peoples and princes who have voluntarily accepted them and are like so many limits that they were happy to put on their freedom and independence.
     There were a greater number passed by the emperors and the states of Germany than by the princes of any other nation and there are several which inform us of either a remarkable event, or the situation of a country, or the [JS p14] genealogy of a great house, or the temper of a language, so judiciously have they been chosen by Mr Leibniz, who gives them to us.
     It is only too true that several of these treatises have not been executed with a complete fidelity, and that the very people who signed them, forced to obey the necessity of the time, intended to flout them as soon as fortune presented them with a favourable occasion to do so. But neither their fickleness nor their bad faith prevent it from being useful to know how these treatises were agreed, and those who have preserved their articles have shone a great light on history.
     This is perhaps the most certain thing history has. Public history, which is conveyed to everyone, solemnly undertakes to advance nothing false, but does not dare to promise, as secret history does, not to conceal anything true.1 Self-interest and fear cause some writers to suppress some of what they know best. Others, by a long habit of making favourable judgements of the actions of grandees, do not produce any portrait of them which they do not exaggerate. Moreover, the heat of partisanship spreads vague and confused noises, which flow easily into accounts and memories because of excessive freedom. Thus most reports are mixed with circumstances that are either doubtful or supposed, and they are never more faithful than when they are supported by the authority of public acts.2 The paper and the parchment which are their trustees preserve them better than bronze and marble would, and transmit them more reliably to the most distant posterity.3
     Those who seek and study them, derive from them as from an abundant source the most certain knowledge of facts, and the maxims most necessary for the conduct of their lives, the exercise of their office, and the service of their country. There they learn about points of doctrine they would vainly seek elsewhere, about eras, names of countries, the institution of certain orders, the origin of coat of arms, the genius of several languages, and what is most important, the true notions of right. This is what Mr. Leibniz seems [JS p15] to have been principally concerned with when he gave the title of Codex of People's Rights to his work. He has not called it Pandect because it does not contain all the treatises which have been made by all the sovereigns of the world, nor does he call it Digest because it does not follow the order of subject matters. He has called it Codex in the same sense that the collection of the canons of the first councils is called Codex of the Ancient Church.4 This Codex of Mr. Leibniz has some relation to that of Justinian, and just as the latter contains the principal laws introduced by the individual right of the Romans, the former contains many of the conventions and regulations introduced by the common law of various peoples. It must be admitted, however, that this law has not been universally received by all the peoples of the Earth and it has not exercised equal authority over each of them at all times. The peoples of America govern themselves differently from those of Europe, and the latter have changed their thoughts and manners more than once. In their treatises they sometimes put clauses which are no longer of the style of the present century. The grandees of a kingdom intervened therein as if the mere obligation to their sovereign had not been a sufficient guarantee of its sincerity, and undertook - notwithstanding their oath of fidelity - to declare themselves against him in the event he failed to fulfill his promises.
     The pieces collected in this Codex wonderfully illuminate everything that concerns the law of the people, and this boils down to peoples, things, and acts. The peoples are those who do not depend on any other, and who from their leader have the power to make war and peace. The things are the subjects, their goods, fiefs, estates, merchandise, money, and everything that forms part of commerce. The acts are the valid provisions of right made with or without a judgement, as well as hostile actions. In this collection there are, I say, records which give a particular insight into all these things.
     There are many others which can be used to illustrate positive divine right, and to facilitate the understanding of sacred books and canons, and to reconcile the temporal power [JS p16] of princes with the ecclesiastical power of councils and popes. There are others which clearly show how far the power of the emperors of the West once stretched, which countries no longer belonging to them were formerly in their power, which princes and states had a part in their election, and what form this power took.
     The acts contained in the first volume were passed from the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth century. Those which have been passed since then are reserved for subsequent volumes.


1. Compare Leibniz: "There are thus two rules for [writing] history, but which cannot be equally observed in [writing] the one and the other kind of history: the rule of public history is to say nothing which is false, [whereas the rule] of secret history, on the other hand, is to omit nothing which is true." Leibniz (ed.), Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus, preface (unnumbered page); A IV 5, 52/R 168.
2. Compare Leibniz: "There are historians who habitually represent men as worse than they are in reality; and nonetheless the malignity of men and their hidden envy of the powerful confers authority on these writers, who recount the inventions of their brain, as if they themselves had been present. To this one can add national feelings, [which are] hostile to each other. Thus I note in general the French believe in many fables about Charles V and about the Ferdinands and the Philips which, I know not by what means, have crept into history through [excessive] freedom in composition... History is, then, quite unfaithful, unless one relies on the testimony of great men or on the text of public acts." Leibniz (ed.), Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus, preface (unnumbered page); A IV 5, 53/R 168-169.
3. Compare Leibniz: "Collections of public acts are thus the most trustworthy part of history, and they transmit to posterity, as do coins and inscriptions, the certainty of facts. The invention of printing, then, has made things such that one can put more trust in paper than in stone or metals. How many treaties and decrees of antiquity, indeed, though consigned to bronze plaques or stones, must be accounted lost? How few have been conserved in the Arundeliani or on other marble fragments? But simple paper, once printing was invented, is protected by the easiness with which it is multiplied." Leibniz (ed.), Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus, preface (unnumbered page); A IV 5, 53/R 169.
4. Compare Leibniz: "It is not entitled Pandect as it does not contain everything, nor is it entitled Digest because it follows the order not of subject matters but of times; instead it is entitled Codex, not as though I pretend to be Justinian but as we say Codex of the Canons of the Ancient Church, the Silver Codex of Ulfilas, the Codex of Ancient Laws, and the Codex of Pious Donations." Leibniz, "Excerpta ex Epistola 1. Martii 1693, data" in Leibniz (ed.), Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus, (unnumbered page); A IV 5, 30.

© Lloyd Strickland 2010. Revised 2018