OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES:
THE LAW OF NATURE,
C. F. VOLNEY,
COMTE ET PAIR DE FRANCE. COMMANDEUR DE LA LEGION D'HONNEUR, MEMBRE
DE L'ACADEMIE FRANCAISE, ET DE PLUSIEURS AUTRES SOCIETES SAVANTES.
DEPUTY TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF 1789, AND AUTHOR OF "TRAVELS IN
EGYPT AND SYRIA," "NEW RESEARCHES ON ANCIENT HISTORY," ETC.
TO WHICH IS ADDED
VOLNEY'S ANSWER TO DR. PRIESTLY, A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE BY COUNT
DARU, AND THE ZODIACAL SIGNS AND CONSTELLATIONS BY THE EDITOR.
I will cherish in remembrance the love of man, I will employ myself
on the means of effecting good for him, and build my own happiness
on the promotion of his.--Volney.
TWENTIETH CENTURY PUB. CO., 4 WARREN ST.
Having recently purchased a set of stereotyped plates of Volney's
Ruins, with a view of reprinting the same, I found, on examination,
that they were considerably worn by the many editions that had been
printed from them and that they greatly needed both repairs and
corrections. A careful estimate showed that the amount necessary
for this purpose would go far towards reproducing this standard
work in modern type and in an improved form. After due reflection
this course was at length decided upon, and all the more readily,
as by discarding the old plates and resetting the entire work, the
publisher was enabled to greatly enhance its value, by inserting
the translator's preface as it appeared in the original edition,
and also to restore many notes and other valuable material which
had been carelessly omitted in the American reprint.
An example of an important omission of this kind may be found on
the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth pages of this volume,
which may be appropriately referred to, in this connection. It is
there stated, in describing the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia, and
the ruins of Thebes, her opulent metropolis, that "There a people,
now forgotten, discovered, while others were yet barbarians, the
elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men, now rejected
from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the
study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems
which still govern the universe."
A voluminous note, in which standard authorities are cited, seems
to prove that this statement is substantially correct, and that we
are in reality indebted to the ancient Ethiopians, to the fervid
imagination of the persecuted and despised negro, for the various
religious systems now so highly revered by the different branches
of both the Semitic and Aryan races. This fact, which is so
frequently referred to in Mr. Volney's writings, may perhaps solve
the question as to the origin of all religions, and may even
suggest a solution to the secret so long concealed beneath the flat
nose, thick lips, and negro features of the Egyptian Sphinx. It
may also confirm the statement of Dioderus, that "the Ethiopians
conceive themselves as the inventors of divine worship, of
festivals, of solemn assemblies, of sacrifices, and of every other
That an imaginative and superstitious race of black men should have
invented and founded, in the dim obscurity of past ages, a system
of religious belief that still enthralls the minds and clouds the
intellects of the leading representatives of modern theology,--that
still clings to the thoughts, and tinges with its potential
influence the literature and faith of the civilized and cultured
nations of Europe and America, is indeed a strange illustration of
the mad caprice of destiny, of the insignificant and apparently
trivial causes that oft produce the most grave and momentous
The translation here given closely follows that published in Paris
by Levrault, Quai Malaquais, in 1802, which was under the direction
and careful supervision of the talented author; and whatever notes
Count Volney then thought necessary to insert in his work, are here
carefully reproduced without abridgment or modification.
The portrait, maps and illustrations are from a French edition of
Volney's complete works, published by Bossange Freres at No. 12 Rue
de Seine, Paris, in 1821,--one year after the death of Mr. Volney.
It is a presentation copy "on the part of Madame, the Countess de
Volney, and of the nephew of the author," and it may therefore be
taken for granted that Mr. Volney's portrait, as here given, is
correct, and was satisfactory to his family.
An explanation of the figures and diagrams shown on the map of the
Astrological Heaven of the Ancients has been added in the appendix
by the publisher.
New York, January 3, 1890.
OF THE ENGLISH EDITION PUBLISHED IN PARIS.
To offer the public a new translation of Volney's Ruins may require
some apology in the view of those who are acquainted with the work
only in the English version which already exists, and which has had
a general circulation. But those who are conversant with the book
in the author's own language, and have taken pains to compare it
with that version, must have been struck with the errors with which
the English performance abounds. They must have regretted the loss
of many original beauties, some of which go far in composing the
essential merits of the work.
The energy and dignity of the author's manner, the unaffected
elevation of his style, the conciseness, perspicuity and simplicity
of his diction, are everywhere suited to his subject, which is
solemn, novel, luminous, affecting,--a subject perhaps the most
universally interesting to the human race that has ever been
presented to their contemplation. It takes the most liberal and
comprehensive view of the social state of man, develops the sources
of his errors in the most perspicuous and convincing manner,
overturns his prejudices with the greatest delicacy and moderation,
sets the wrongs he has suffered, and the rights he ought to
cherish, in the clearest point of view, and lays before him the
true foundation of morals--his only means of happiness.
As the work has already become a classical one, even in English,
and as it must become and continue to be so regarded in all
languages in which it shall be faithfully rendered, we wish it to
suffer as little as possible from a change of country;--that as
much of the spirit of the original be transfused and preserved as
is consistent with the nature of translation.
How far we have succeeded in performing this service for the
English reader we must not pretend to determine. We believe,
however, that we have made an improved translation, and this
without claiming any particular merit on our part, since we have
had advantages which our predecessor had not. We have been aided
by his labors; and, what is of still more importance, our work has
been done under the inspection of the author, whose critical
knowledge of both languages has given us a great facility in
avoiding such errors as might arise from hurry or mistake.
Paris, November 1, 1802.
PREFACE OF THE LONDON EDITION.*
* Published by T. Allman, 42 Holborn Hill, London, 1851.
The plan of this publication was formed nearly ten years ago; and
allusions to it may be seen in the preface to Travels in Syria and
Egypt, as well as at the end of that work, (published in 1787).
The performance was in some forwardness when the events of 1788 in
France interrupted it. Persuaded that a development of the theory
of political truth could not sufficiently acquit a citizen of his
debt to society, the author wished to add practice; and that
particularly at a time when a single arm was of consequence in the
defence of the general cause.
The same desire of public benefit which induced him to suspend his
work, has since engaged him to resume it, and though it may not
possess the same merit as if it had appeared under the
circumstances that gave rise to it, yet he imagines that at a time
when new passions are bursting forth,--passions that must
communicate their activity to the religious opinions of men,--it is
of importance to disseminate such moral truths as are calculated to
operate as a curb and restraint. It is with this view he has
endeavored to give to these truths, hitherto treated as abstract, a
form likely to gain them a reception.
It was found impossible not to shock the violent prejudices of some
readers; but the work, so far from being the fruit of a disorderly
and perturbed spirit, has been dictated by a sincere love of order
After reading this performance it will be asked, how it was
possible in 1784 to have had an idea of what did not take place
till the year 1790? The solution is simple. In the original plan
the legislator was a fictitious and hypothetical being: in the
present, the author has substituted an existing legislator; and the
reality has only made the subject additionally interesting.
PREFACE OF THE AMERICAN EDITION.*
* The copy from which this preface is reprinted was published in
Boston by Charles Gaylord, in 1833. It was given to the writer,
when a mere lad, by a lady--almost a stranger--who was traveling
through the little hamlet on the banks of the Hudson where he then
resided. This lady assured me that the book was of great value,
containing noble and sublime truths; and the only condition she
attached to the gift was, that I should read it carefully and
endeavor to understand its meaning. This I willingly promised and
faithfully performed; and all who have "climbed the heights," and
escaped from the thraldom of superstitious faith, will concede the
inestimable value of such a gift--rich with the peace and
consolation that the truth imparts.--Pub.
If books were to be judged of by their volume, the following would
have but little value; if appraised by their contents, it will
perhaps be reckoned among the most instructive.
In general, nothing is more important than a good elementary book;
but, also, nothing is more difficult to compose and even to read:
and why? Because, as every thing in it should be analysis and
definition, all should be expressed with truth and precision. If
truth and precision are wanting, the object has not been attained;
if they exist, its very force renders it abstract.
The first of these defects has been hitherto evident in all books
of morality. We find in them only a chaos of incoherent maxims,
precepts without causes, and actions without a motive. The pedants
of the human race have treated it like a little child: they have
prescribed to it good behavior by frightening it with spirits and
hobgoblins. Now that the growth of the human race is rapid, it is
time to speak reason to it; it is time to prove to men that the
springs of their improvement are to be found in their very
organization, in the interest of their passions, and in all that
composes their existence. It is time to demonstrate that morality
is a physical and geometrical science, subject to the rules and
calculations of the other mathematical sciences: and such is the
advantage of the system expounded in this book, that the basis of
morality being laid in it on the very nature of things, it is both
constant and immutable; whereas, in all other theological systems,
morality being built upon arbritary opinions, not demonstrable and
often absurd, it changes, decays, expires with them, and leaves men
in an absolute depravation. It is true that because our system is
founded on facts and not on reveries, it will with much greater
difficulty be extended and adopted: but it will derive strength
from this very struggle, and sooner or later the eternal religion
of Nature must overturn the transient religions of the human mind.
This book was published for the first time in 1793, under the title
of The French Citizen's Catechism. It was at first intended for a
national work, but as it may be equally well entitled the Catechism
of men of sense and honor, it is to be hoped that it will become a
book common to all Europe. It is possible that its brevity may
prevent it from attaining the object of a popular classical work,
but the author will be satisfied if he has at least the merit of
pointing out the way to make a better.
Advertisement of the American Edition.
OR MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES.
The superior merits of this work are too well known to require
commendation; but as it is not generally known that there are in
circulation three English translations of it, varying materially in
regard to faithfulness and elegance of diction, the publisher of
the present edition inserts the following extracts for the
information of purchasers and readers:
First published in this Country by Dixon and Sickels.
Hail, solitary ruins! holy sepulchres, and silent walls! you I
invoke; to you I address my prayer. While your aspect averts, with
secret terror, the vulgar regard, it excites in my heart the charm
of delicious sentiments--sublime contemplations. What useful
lessons! what affecting and profound reflections you suggest to him
who knows how to consult you. When the whole earth, in chains and
silence, bowed the neck before its tyrants, you had already
proclaimed the truths which they abhor, and confounding the dust of
the king with that of the meanest slave, had announced to man the
sacred dogma of Equality! Within your pale, in solitary adoration
of Liberty, I saw her Genius arise from the mansions of the dead;
not such as she is painted by the impassioned multitude, armed with
fire and sword, but under the august aspect of justice, poising in
her hand the sacred balance, wherein are weighed the actions of men
at the gates of eternity.
O Tombs! what virtues are yours! you appal the tyrant's heart, and
poison with secret alarm his impious joys; he flies, with coward
step, your incorruptible aspect, and erects afar his throne of
Solitary ruins, sacred tombs, ye mouldering and silent walls, all
hail! To you I address my invocation. While the vulgar shrink
from your aspect with secret terror, my heart finds in the
contemplation a thousand delicious sentiments, a thousand admirable
recollections. Pregnant, I may truly call you, with useful
lessons, with pathetic and irresistible advice to the man who knows
how to consult you. A while ago the whole world bowed the neck in
silence before the tyrants that oppressed it; and yet in that
hopeless moment you already proclaimed the truths that tyrants hold
in abhorrence: mixing the dust of the proudest kings with that of
the meanest slaves, you called upon us to contemplate this example
of Equality. From your caverns, whither the musing and anxious
love of Liberty led me, I saw escape its venerable shade, and with
unexpected felicity, direct its flight and marshal my steps the way
to renovated France.
Tombs! what virtues and potency do you exhibit! Tyrants tremble at
your aspect--you poison with secret alarm their impious pleasures--
they turn from you with impatience, and, coward like, endeavor to
forget you amid the sumptuousness of their palaces.
Hail, ye solitary ruins, ye sacred tombs, and silent walls! 'Tis
your auspicious aid that I invoke; 'tis to you my soul, wrapt in
meditation, pours forth its prayers! What though the profane and
vulgar mind shrinks with dismay from your august and awe-inspiring
aspect; to me you unfold the sublimest charms of contemplation and
sentiment, and offer to my senses the luxury of a thousand
delicious and enchanting thoughts! How sumptuous the feast to a
being that has a taste to relish, and an understanding to consult
you! What rich and noble admonitions; what exquisite and pathetic
lessons do you read to a heart that is susceptible of exalted
feelings! When oppressed humanity bent in timid silence throughout
the globe beneath the galling yoke of slavery, it was you that
proclaimed aloud the birthright of those truths which tyrants
tremble at while they detect, and which, by sinking the loftiest
head of the proudest potentate, with all his boasted pageantry, to
the level of mortality with his meanest slave, confirmed and
ratified by your unerring testimony the sacred and immortal
doctrine of Equality.
Musing within the precincts of your inviting scenes of philosophic
solitude, whither the insatiate love of true-born Liberty had led
me, I beheld her Genius ascending, not in the spurious character
and habit of a blood-thirsty Fury, armed with daggers and
instruments of murder, and followed by a frantic and intoxicated
multitude, but under the placid and chaste aspect of Justice,
holding with a pure and unsullied hand the sacred scales in which
the actions of mortals are weighed on the brink of eternity.
The first translation was made and published in London soon after
the appearance of the work in French, and, by a late edition, is
still adopted without alteration. Mr. Volney, when in this country
in 1797, expressed his disapprobation of this translation, alleging
that the translator must have been overawed by the government or
clergy from rendering his ideas faithfully; and, accordingly, an
English gentleman, then in Philadelphia, volunteered to correct
this edition. But by his endeavors to give the true and full
meaning of the author with great precision, he has so overloaded
his composition with an exuberance of words, as in a great measure
to dissipate the simple elegance and sublimity of the original.
Mr. Volney, when he became better acquainted with the English
language, perceived this defect; and with the aid of our
countryman, Joel Barlow, made and published in Paris a new,
correct, and elegant translation, of which the present edition is a
faithful and correct copy.
Preface of London Edition
Preface of the American Edition
Advertisement of the American Edition
The Life of Volney
A List of Volney's Works
Chap. I. The Journey
II. The Reverie
III. The Apparition
IV. The Exposition
V. Condition of Man in the Universe
VI. The Primitive State of Man
VII. Principles of Society
VIII. Sources of the Evils of Societies
IX. Origin of Governments and Laws
X. General Causes of the Prosperity of Ancient States
XI. General Causes of the Revolutions and Ruin of Ancient States
XII. Lessons of Times Past repeated on the Present
XIII. Will the Human Race Improve
XIV. The Great Obstacle to Improvement
XV. The New Age
XVI. A Free and Legislative People
XVII. Universal Basis of all Right and all Law
XVIII. Consternation and Conspiracy of Tyrants
XIX. General Assembly of the Nations
XX. The Search of Truth
XXI. Problem of Religious Contradictions
XXII. Origin and Filiation of Religious Ideas
I. Origin of the Idea of God: Worship of the Elements
and of the Physical Powers of Nature
II. Second System. Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism
III. Third System. Worship of Symbols, or Idolatry
IV. Fourth System. Worship of two Principles, or Dualism
V. Moral and Mystical Worship, or System of a Future State
VI. Sixth System. The Animated World, or Worship of the
Universe under diverse Emblems
VII. Seventh System. Worship of the Soul of the World, that
is to say, the Element of Fire, Vital Principle
of the Universe
VIII. Eighth System. The World Machine: Worship of the Demi-
Ourgos, or Grand Artificer
IX. Religion of Moses, or Worship of the Soul of the World
X. Religion of Zoroaster
XI. Budsoism, or Religion of the Samaneans
XII. Brahmism, or Indian System
XIII. Christianity, or the Allegorical Worship of the Sun
under the cabalistic names of Chrish-en or Christ
and Yesus or Jesus
XXIII. All Religions have the same Object
XXIV. Solution of the Problem of Contradictions
THE LAW OF NATURE.
Chap. I. Of the Law of Nature
II. Characters of the Law of Nature
III. Principles of the Law of Nature relating to Man
IV. Basis of Morality: of Good, of Evil, of Sin, of Crime,
of Vice, and of Virtue
V. Of Individual Virtues
VI. On Temperance
VII. On Continence
VIII. On Courage and Activity
IX. On Cleanliness
X. On Domestic Virtues
XI. The Social Virtues; Justice
XII. Development of the Social Virtues
Volney's Answer to Dr. Priestly.
Appendix: The Zodiacal Signs and Constellations
LIFE OF VOLNEY.
BY COUNT DARU.
Constantine Francis Chassebeuf De Volney was born in 1757 at Craon,
in that intermediate condition of life, which is of all the
happiest, since it is deprived only of fortune's too dangerous
favors, and can aspire to the social and intellectual advantages
reserved for a laudable ambition.
From his earliest youth, he devoted himself to the search after
truth, without being disheartened by the serious studies which
alone can initiate us into her secrets. After having become
acquainted with the ancient languages, the natural sciences and
history, and being admitted into the society of the most eminent
literary characters, he submitted, at the age of twenty, to an
illustrious academy, the solution of one of the most difficult
problems that the history of antiquity has left open for
discussion. This attempt received no encouragement from the
learned men who were appointed his judges; and the author's only
appeal from their sentence was to his courage and his efforts.
Soon after, a small inheritance having fallen to his lot, the
difficulty was how to spend it (these are his own words.) He
resolved to employ it in acquiring, by a long voyage, a new fund of
information, and determined to visit Egypt and Syria. But these
countries could not be explored to advantage without a knowledge of
the language. Our young traveller was not to be discouraged by
this difficulty. Instead of learning Arabic in Europe, he withdrew
to a convent of Copts, until he had made himself master of an idiom
that is spoken by so many nations of the East. This resolution
showed one of those undaunted spirits that remain unshaken amid the
trials of life.
Although, like other travellers, he might have amused us with an
account of his hardships and the perils surmounted by his courage,
he overcame the temptation of interrupting his narrative by
personal adventures. He disdained the beaten track. He does not
tell us the road he took, the accidents he met with, or the
impressions he received. He carefully avoids appearing upon the
stage; he is an inhabitant of the country, who has long and well
observed it, and who describes its physical, political, and moral
state. The allusion would be entire if an old Arab could be
supposed to possess all the erudition, all the European philosophy,
which are found united and in their maturity in a traveller of
But though a master in all those artifices by which a narration is
rendered interesting, the young man is not to be discerned in the
pomp of labored descriptions. Although possessed of a lively and
brilliant imagination, he is never found unwarily explaining by
conjectural systems the physical or moral phenomena he describes.
In his observations he unites prudence with science. With these
two guides he judges with circumspection, and sometimes confesses
himself unable to account for the effects he has made known to us.
Thus his account has all the qualities that persuade--accuracy and
candor. And when, ten years later, a vast military enterprise
transported forty thousand travellers to the classic ground, which
he had trod unattended, unarmed and unprotected, they all
recognized a sure guide and an enlightened observer in the writer
who had, as it seemed, only preceded them to remove or point out a
part of the difficulties of the way.
The unanimous testimony of all parties proved the accuracy of his
account and the justness of his observations; and his Travels in
Egypt and Syria were, by universal suffrage, recommended to the
gratitude and the confidence of the public.
Before the work had undergone this trial it had obtained in the
learned world such a rapid and general success, that it found its
way into Russia. The empress, then (in 1787) upon the throne, sent
the author a medal, which he received with respect, as a mark of
esteem for his talents, and with gratitude, as a proof of the
approbation given to his principles. But when the empress declared
against France, Volney sent back the honorable present, saying: "If
I obtained it from her esteem, I can only preserve her esteem by
The revolution of 1789, which had drawn upon France the menaces of
Catharine, had opened to Volney a political career. As deputy in
the assembly of the states-general, the first words he uttered
there were in favor of the publicity of their deliberations. He
also supported the organization of the national guards, and that of
the communes and departments.
At the period when the question of the sale of the domain lands was
agitated (in 1790), he published an essay in which he lays down the
following principles: "The force of a State is in proportion to its
population; population is in proportion to plenty; plenty is in
proportion to tillage; and tillage, to personal and immediate
interest, that is to the spirit of property. Whence it follows,
that the nearer the cultivator approaches the passive condition of
a mercenary, the less industry and activity are to be expected from
him; and, on the other hand, the nearer he is to the condition of a
free and entire proprietor, the more extension he gives to his own
forces, to the produce of his lands, and the general prosperity of
The author draws this conclusion, that a State is so much the more
powerful as it includes a greater number of proprietors,--that is,
a greater division of property.
Conducted into Corsica by that spirit of observation which belongs
only to men whose information is varied and extensive, he perceived
at the first glance all that could be done for the improvement of
agriculture in that country: but he knew that, for a people firmly
attached to ancient customs, there can exist no other demonstration
or means of persuasion than example. He purchased a considerable
estate, and made experiments on those kinds of tillage that he
hoped to naturalize in that climate. The sugar-cane, cotton,
indigo and coffee soon demonstrated the success of his efforts.
This success drew upon him the notice of the government. He was
appointed director of agriculture and commerce in that island,
where, through ignorance, all new methods are introduced with such
It is impossible to calculate all the good that might have resulted
from this peaceable magistracy; and we know that neither
instruction, zeal, nor a persevering courage was wanting to him who
had undertaken it. Of this he had given convincing proofs. It was
in obedience to another sentiment, no less respectable, that he
voluntarily interrupted the course of his labors. When his fellow
citizens of Angers appointed him their deputy in the constituent
assembly, he resigned the employment he held under government, upon
the principle that no man can represent the nation and be dependent
for a salary upon those by whom it is administered.
Through respect for the independence of his legislative functions,
he had ceased to occupy the place he possessed in Corsica before
his election, but he had not ceased to be a benefactor of that
country. He returned thither after the session of the constituent
assembly. Invited into that island by the principal inhabitants,
who were anxious to put into practice his lessons, he spent there a
part of the years 1792 and 1793.
On his return he published a work entitled: An Account of the
Present State of Corsica. This was an act of courage; for it was
not a physical description, but a political review of the condition
of a population divided into several factions and distracted by
violent animosities. Volney unreservedly revealed the abuses,
solicited the interest of France in favor of the Corsicans, without
flattering them, and boldly denounced their defects and vices; so
that the philosopher obtained the only recompense he could expect
from his sincerity--he was accused by the Corsicans of heresy.
To prove that he had not merited this reproach, he published soon
after a short treatise entitled: The Law of Nature, or Physical
Principles of Morality.
He was soon exposed to a much more dangerous charge, and this, it
must be confessed, he did merit. This philosopher, this worthy
citizen, who in our first National assembly had seconded with his
wishes and his talents the establishment of an order of things
which he considered favorable to the happiness of his country, was
accused of not being sincerely attached to that liberty for which
he had contended; that is to say, of being averse to anarchy. An
imprisonment of ten months, which only ended after the 9th of
Thermidor, was a new trial reserved for his courage.
The moment at which he recovered his liberty, was when the horror
inspired by criminal excesses had recalled men to those noble
sentiments which fortunately are one of the first necessaries of
civilized life. They sought for consolations in study and
literature after so many misfortunes, and organized a plan of
It was in the first place necessary to insure the aptitude of those
to whom education should be confided; but as the systems were
various, the best methods and a unity of doctrine were to be
determined. It was not enough to interrogate the masters, they
were to be formed, new ones were to be created, and for that
purpose a school was opened in 1794, wherein the celebrity of the
professors promised new instruction even to the best informed.
This was not, as was objected, beginning the edifice at the roof,
but creating architects, who were to superintend all the arts
requisite for constructing the building.
The more difficult their functions were, the greater care was to be
taken in the choice of the professors; but France, though then
accused of being plunged in barbarism, possessed men of
transcendent talents, already enjoying the esteem of all Europe,
and we may be bold to say, that by their labors, our literary glory
had likewise extended its conquests. Their names were proclaimed
by the public voice, and Volney's was associated with those of the
men most illustrious in science and in literature.*
* Lagrange, Laplace, Berthollet, Garat, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre,
Daubenton, Hauy, Volney, Sicard, Monge, Thouin, La Harpe, Buache
This institution, however, did not answer the expectations that had
been formed of it, because the two thousand students that assembled
from all parts of France were not equally prepared to receive these
transcendent lessons, and because it had not been sufficiently
ascertained how far the theory of education should be kept distinct
from education itself.
Volney's Lectures on History, which were attended by an immense
concourse of auditors, became one of his chief claims to literary
glory. When forced to interrupt them, by the suppression of the
Normal school, he might have reasonably expected to enjoy in his
retirement that consideration which his recent functions had added
to his name. But, disgusted with the scenes he had witnessed in
his native land, he felt that passion revive within him which, in
his youth, had led him to visit Africa and Asia. America,
civilized within a century, and free only within a few years, fixed
his attention. There every thing was new,--the inhabitants, the
constitution, the earth itself. These were objects worthy of his
observation. When embarking for this voyage, however, he felt
emotions very different from those which formerly accompanied him
into Turkey. Then in the prime of life, he joyfully bid adieu to a
land where peace and plenty reigned, to travel amongst barbarians;
now, mature in years, but dismayed at the spectacle and experience
of injustice and persecution, it was with diffidence, as we learn
from himself, that he went to implore from a free people an asylum
for a sincere friend of that liberty that had been so profaned.
Our traveller had gone to seek for repose beyond the seas. He
there found himself exposed to aggression from a celebrated
philosopher, Dr. Priestley. Although the subject of this
discussion was confined to the investigation of some speculative
opinions, published by the French writer in his work entitled The
Ruins, the naturalist in this attack employed a degree of violence
which added nothing to the force of his arguments, and an acrimony
of expression not to be expected from a philosopher. M. Volney,
though accused of Hottentotism and ignorance, preserved in his
defence, all the advantages that the scurrility of his adversary
gave over him. He replied in English, and Priestley's countrymen
could only recognize the Frenchman in the refinement and politeness
of his answer.
Whilst M. Volney was travelling in America, there had been formed
in France a literary body which, under the name of Institute, had
attained in a very few years a distinguished rank amongst the
learned societies of Europe. The name of the illustrious traveller
was inscribed in it at its formation, and he acquired new rights to
the academical honors conferred on him during his absence, by the
publication of his observations On the Climate and Soil of the
These rights were further augmented by the historical and
physiological labors of the Academician. An examination and
justification of The Chronology of Herodotus, with numerous and
profound researches on The History of the most Ancient Nations,
occupied for a long time him who had observed their monuments and
traces in the countries they inhabited. The trial he had made of
the utility of the Oriental languages inspired him with an ardent
desire to propagate the knowledge of them; and to be propagated, he
felt how necessary it was to render it less difficult. In this
view he conceived the project of applying to the study of the
idioms of Asia, a part of the grammatical notions we possess
concerning the languages of Europe. It only appertains to those
conversant with their relations of dissimilitude or conformity to
appreciate the possibility of realizing this system. The author
has, however, already received the most flattering encouragement
and the most unequivocal appreciation, by the inscription of his
name amongst the members of the learned and illustrious society
founded by English commerce in the Indian peninsula.
M. Volney developed his system in three works,* which prove that
this idea of uniting nations separated by immense distances and
such various idioms, had never ceased to occupy him for twenty-five
years. Lest those essays, of the utility of which he was
persuaded, should be interrupted by his death, with the clay-cold
hand that corrected his last work, he drew up a will which
institutes a premium for the prosecution of his labors. Thus he
prolonged, beyond the term of a life entirely devoted to letters,
the glorious services he had rendered to them.
* On the Simplification of Oriental Languages, 1795.
The European Alphabet Applied to the Languages of Asia, 1819.
Hebrew Simplified, 1820.
This is not the place, nor does it belong to me to appreciate the
merit of the writings which render Volney's name illustrious. His
name had been inscribed in the list of the Senate, and afterwards
of the House of Peers. The philosopher who had travelled in the
four quarters of the world, and observed their social state, had
other titles to his admission into this body, than his literary
glory. His public life, his conduct in the constituent assembly,
his independent principles, the nobleness of his sentiments, the
wisdom and fixity of his opinions, had gained him the esteem of
those who can be depended upon, and with whom it is so agreeable to
discuss political interests.
Although no man had a better right to have an opinion, no one was
more tolerant for the opinions of others. In State assemblies as
well as in Academical meetings, the man whose counsels were so
wise, voted according to his conscience, which nothing could bias;
but the philosopher forgot his superiority to hear, to oppose with
moderation, and sometimes to doubt. The extent and variety of his
information, the force of his reason, the austerity of his manners,
and the noble simplicity of his character, had procured him
illustrious friends in both hemispheres; and now that this
erudition is extinct in the tomb,* we may be allowed at least to
predict that he was one of the very few whose memory shall never
* He died in Paris on the 20th of April, 1820.
A list of the Works Published by Count Volney.
TRAVELS IN EGYPT AND SYRIA during the years 1783, 1784, and 1785: 2
CHRONOLOGY OF THE TWELVE CENTURIES that preceded the entrance of
Xerxes into Greece.
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE TURKISH WAR, in 1788.
THE RUINS, or Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires--1791.
ACCOUNT OF THE PRESENT STATE OF CORSICA--1793.
THE LAW OF NATURE, or Physical Principles of Morality--1793.
ON THE SIMPLIFICATION OF ORIENTAL LANGUAGES--1795.
A LETTER TO DR. PRIESTLEY--1797.
LECTURES ON HISTORY, delivered at the Normal School in the year 3--
ON THE CLIMATE AND SOIL OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, to which
is added an account of Florida, of the French colony of Scioto, of
some Canadian Colonies, and of the Savages--1803.
REPORT MADE TO THE CELTIC ACADEMY ON THE RUSSIAN WORK OF PROFESSOR
PALLAS, entitled "A Comparative Vocabulary of all the Languages in
THE CHRONOLOGY OF HERODOTUS conformable with his Text--1808 and
NEW RESEARCHES ON ANCIENT HISTORY, 3 vols. 8vo.--1814
THE EUROPEAN ALPHABET Applied to the Languages of Asia--1819.
A HISTORY OF SAMUEL--1819.
Hail solitary ruins, holy sepulchres and silent walls! you I
invoke; to you I address my prayer. While your aspect averts, with
secret terror, the vulgar regard, it excites in my heart the charm
of delicious sentiments--sublime contemplations. What useful
lessons, what affecting and profound reflections you suggest to him
who knows how to consult you! When the whole earth, in chains and
silence bowed the neck before its tyrants, you had already
proclaimed the truths which they abhor; and confounding the dust of
the king with that of the meanest slave, had announced to man the
sacred dogma of Equality. Within your pale, in solitary adoration
of Liberty, I saw her Genius arise from the mansions of the dead;
not such as she is painted by the impassioned multitude, armed with
fire and sword, but under the august aspect of Justice, poising in
her hand the sacred balance wherein are weighed the actions of men
at the gates of eternity!
O Tombs! what virtues are yours! You appal the tyrant's heart, and
poison with secret alarm his impious joys. He flies, with coward
step, your incorruptible aspect, and erects afar his throne of
insolence.* You punish the powerful oppressor; you wrest from
avarice and extortion their ill-gotten gold, and you avenge the
feeble whom they have despoiled; you compensate the miseries of the
poor by the anxieties of the rich; you console the wretched, by
opening to him a last asylum from distress; and you give to the
soul that just equipoise of strength and sensibility which
constitutes wisdom--the true science of life. Aware that all must
return to you, the wise man loadeth not himself with the burdens of
grandeur and of useless wealth: he restrains his desires within the
limits of justice; yet, knowing that he must run his destined
course of life, he fills with employment all its hours, and enjoys
the comforts that fortune has allotted him. You thus impose on the
impetuous sallies of cupidity a salutary rein! you calm the
feverish ardor of enjoyments which disturb the senses; you free the
soul from the fatiguing conflict of the passions; elevate it above
the paltry interests which torment the crowd; and surveying, from
your commanding position, the expanse of ages and nations, the mind
is only accessible to the great affections--to the solid ideas of
virtue and of glory.
* The cathedral of St. Denis is the tomb of the kings of France;
and it was because the towers of that edifice are seen from the
Castle of St. Germain, that Louis XIV. quitted that admirable
residence, and established a new one in the savage forests of
(This note, like many others, has been omitted from the American
editions. It seems pertinent to the subject, and is explanatory of
Ah! when the dream of life is over, what will then avail all its
agitations, if not one trace of utility remains behind?
O Ruins! to your school I will return! I will seek again the calm
of your solitudes; and there, far from the afflicting spectacle of
the passions, I will cherish in remembrance the love of man, I will
employ myself on the means of effecting good for him, and build my
own happiness on the promotion of his.
THE RUINS OF EMPIRES.
In the eleventh year of the reign of Abd-ul-Hamid, son of Ahmid,
emperor of the Turks; when the Nogais-Tartars were driven from the
Crimea, and a Mussulman prince of the blood of Gengis-Kahn became
the vassal and guard of a Christian woman and queen,* I was
travelling in the Ottoman dominions, and through those provinces
which were anciently the kingdoms of Egypt and Syria.
* In the eleventh year of Abd-ul-Hamid, that is 1784 of the
Christian era, and 1198 of the Hegira. The emigration of the
Tartars took place in March, immediately on the manifesto of the
empress, declaring the Crimea to be incorporated with Russia. The
Mussulman prince of the blood of Gengis-khan was Chahin-Guerai.
Gengis-Khan was borne and served by the kings whom he conquered:
Chahin, on the contrary, after selling his country for a pension of
eighty thousand roubles, accepted the commission of captain of
guards to Catherine II. He afterwards returned home, and according
to custom was strangled by the Turks.
My whole attention bent on whatever concerns the happiness of man
in a social state, I visited cities, and studied the manners of
their inhabitants; entered palaces, and observed the conduct of
those who govern; wandered over fields, and examined the condition
of those who cultivated them: and nowhere perceiving aught but
robbery and devastation, tyranny and wretchedness, my heart was
oppressed with sorrow and indignation.
I saw daily on my road fields abandoned, villages deserted, and
cities in ruin. Often I met with ancient monuments, wrecks of
temples, palaces and fortresses, columns, aqueducts and tombs.
This spectacle led me to meditate on times past, and filled my mind
with contemplations the most serious and profound.
Arrived at the city of Hems, on the border of the Orontes, and
being in the neighborhood of Palmyra of the desert, I resolved to
visit its celebrated ruins. After three days journeying through
arid deserts, having traversed the Valley of Caves and Sepulchres,
on issuing into the plain, I was suddenly struck with a scene of
the most stupendous ruins--a countless multitude of superb columns,
stretching in avenues beyond the reach of sight. Among them were
magnificent edifices, some entire, others in ruins; the earth every
where strewed with fragments of cornices, capitals, shafts,
entablatures, pilasters, all of white marble, and of the most
exquisite workmanship. After a walk of three-quarters of an hour
along these ruins, I entered the enclosure of a vast edifice,
formerly a temple dedicated to the Sun; and accepting the
hospitality of some poor Arabian peasants, who had built their
hovels on the area of the temple, I determined to devote some days
to contemplate at leisure the beauty of these stupendous ruins.
Daily I visited the monuments which covered the plain; and one
evening, absorbed in reflection, I had advanced to the Valley of
Sepulchres. I ascended the heights which surround it from whence
the eye commands the whole group of ruins and the immensity of the
desert. The sun had sunk below the horizon: a red border of light
still marked his track behind the distant mountains of Syria; the
full-orbed moon was rising in the east, on a blue ground, over the
plains of the Euphrates; the sky was clear, the air calm and
serene; the dying lamp of day still softened the horrors of
approaching darkness; the refreshing night breezes attempered the
sultry emanations from the heated earth; the herdsmen had given
their camels to repose, the eye perceived no motion on the dusky
and uniform plain; profound silence rested on the desert; the
howlings only of the jackal,* and the solemn notes of the bird of
night, were heard at distant intervals. Darkness now increased,
and through the dusk could only be discerned the pale phantasms of
columns and walls. The solitude of the place, the tranquillity of
the hour, the majesty of the scene, impressed on my mind a
religious pensiveness. The aspect of a great city deserted, the
memory of times past, compared with its present state, all elevated
my mind to high contemplations. I sat on the shaft of a column, my
elbow reposing on my knee, and head reclining on my hand, my eyes
fixed, sometimes on the desert, sometimes on the ruins, and fell
into a profound reverie.
* An animal resembling a dog and a fox. It preys on other small
animals, and upon the bodies of the dead on the field of battle.
It is the Canis aureus of Linnaeus.
Here, said I, once flourished an opulent city; here was the seat of
a powerful empire. Yes! these places now so wild and desolate,
were once animated by a living multitude; a busy crowd thronged in
these streets, now so solitary. Within these walls, where now
reigns the silence of death, the noise of the arts, and the shouts
of joy and festivity incessantly resounded; these piles of marble
were regular palaces; these fallen columns adorned the majesty of
temples; these ruined galleries surrounded public places. Here
assembled a numerous people for the sacred duties of their
religion, and the anxious cares of their subsistence; here
industry, parent of enjoyments, collected the riches of all climes,
and the purple of Tyre was exchanged for the precious thread of
Serica;* the soft tissues of Cassimere for the sumptuous tapestry
of Lydia; the amber of the Baltic for the pearls and perfumes of
Arabia; the gold of Ophir for the tin of Thule.
* The precious thread of Serica.--That is, the silk originally
derived from the mountainous country where the great wall
terminates, and which appears to have been the cradle of the
Chinese empire. The tissues of Cassimere.--The shawls which
Ezekiel seems to have described under the appellation of Choud-
choud. The gold of Ophir.-- This country, which was one of the
twelve Arab cantons, and which has so much and so unsuccessfully
been sought for by the antiquarians, has left, however, some trace
of itself in Ofor, in the province of Oman, upon the Persian Gulf,
neighboring on one side to the Sabeans, who are celebrated by
Strabo for their abundance of gold, and on the other to Aula or
Hevila, where the pearl fishery was carried on. See the 27th
chapter of Ezekiel, which gives a very curious and extensive
picture of the commerce of Asia at that period.
And now behold what remains of this powerful city: a miserable
skeleton! What of its vast domination: a doubtful and obscure
remembrance! To the noisy concourse which thronged under these
porticoes, succeeds the solitude of death. The silence of the
grave is substituted for the busy hum of public places; the
affluence of a commercial city is changed into wretched poverty;
the palaces of kings have become a den of wild beasts; flocks
repose in the area of temples, and savage reptiles inhabit the
sanctuary of the gods. Ah! how has so much glory been eclipsed?
how have so many labors been annihilated? Do thus perish then the
works of men--thus vanish empires and nations?
And the history of former times revived in my mind; I remembered
those ancient ages when many illustrious nations inhabited these
countries; I figured to myself the Assyrian on the banks of the
Tygris, the Chaldean on the banks of the Euphrates, the Persian
reigning from the Indus to the Mediterranean. I enumerated the
kingdoms of Damascus and Idumea, of Jerusalem and Samaria, the
warlike states of the Philistines, and the commercial republics of
Phoenicia. This Syria, said I, now so depopulated, then contained
a hundred flourishing cities, and abounded with towns, villages,
and hamlets.* In all parts were seen cultivated fields, frequented
roads, and crowded habitations. Ah! whither have flown those ages
of life and abundance?--whither vanished those brilliant creations
of human industry? Where are those ramparts of Nineveh, those
walls of Babylon, those palaces of Persepolis, those temples of
Balbec and of Jerusalem? Where are those fleets of Tyre, those
dock-yards of Arad, those work-shops of Sidon, and that multitude
of sailors, of pilots, of merchants, and of soldiers? Where those
husbandmen, harvests, flocks, and all the creation of living beings
in which the face of the earth rejoiced? Alas! I have passed over
this desolate land! I have visited the palaces, once the scene of
so much splendor, and I beheld nothing but solitude and desolation.
I sought the ancient inhabitants and their works, and found nothing
but a trace, like the foot-prints of a traveller over the sand.
The temples are fallen, the palaces overthrown, the ports filled
up, the cities destroyed; and the earth, stripped of inhabitants,
has become a place of sepulchres. Great God! whence proceed such
fatal revolutions? What causes have so changed the fortunes of
these countries? Wherefore are so many cities destroyed? Why has
not this ancient population been reproduced and perpetuated?
* According to Josephus and Strabo, there were in Syria twelve
millions of souls, and the traces that remain of culture and
habitation confirm the calculation.
Thus absorbed in meditation, a crowd of new reflections continually
poured in upon my mind. Every thing, continued I, bewilders my
judgment, and fills my heart with trouble and uncertainty. When
these countries enjoyed what constitutes the glory and happiness of
man, they were inhabited by infidel nations: It was the Phoenician,
offering human sacrifices to Moloch, who gathered into his stores
the riches of all climates; it was the Chaldean, prostrate before
his serpent-god,* who subjugated opulent cities, laid waste the
palaces of kings, and despoiled the temples of the gods; it was the
Persian, worshipper of fire, who received the tribute of a hundred
nations; they were the inhabitants of this very city, adorers of
the sun and stars, who erected so many monuments of prosperity and
luxury. Numerous herds, fertile fields, abundant harvests--
whatsoever should be the reward of piety--was in the hands of these
idolaters. And now, when a people of saints and believers occupy
these fields, all is become sterility and solitude. The earth,
under these holy hands, produces only thorns and briers. Man
soweth in anguish, and reapeth tears and cares. War, famine,
pestilence, assail him by turns. And yet, are not these the
children of the prophets? The Mussulman, Christian, Jew, are they
not the elect children of God, loaded with favors and miracles?
Why, then, do these privileged races no longer enjoy the same
advantages? Why are these fields, sanctified by the blood of
martyrs, deprived of their ancient fertility? Why have those
blessings been banished hence, and transferred for so many ages to
other nations and different climes?
* The dragon Bell.
At these words, revolving in my mind the vicissitudes which have
transmitted the sceptre of the world to people so different in
religion and manners from those in ancient Asia to the most recent
of Europe, this name of a natal land revived in me the sentiment of
my country; and turning my eyes towards France, I began to reflect
on the situation in which I had left her.*
* In the year 1782, at the close of the American war.
I recalled her fields so richly cultivated, her roads so admirably
constructed, her cities inhabited by a countless people, her fleets
spread over every sea, her ports filled with the produce of both
the Indies: and then comparing the activity of her commerce, the
extent of her navigation, the magnificence of her buildings, the
arts and industry of her inhabitants, with what Egypt and Syria had
once possessed, I was gratified to find in modern Europe the
departed splendor of Asia; but the charm of my reverie was soon
dissolved by a last term of comparison. Reflecting that such had
once been the activity of the places I was then contemplating, who
knows, said I, but such may one day be the abandonment of our
countries? Who knows if on the banks of the Seine, the Thames, the
Zuyder-Zee, where now, in the tumult of so many enjoyments, the
heart and the eye suffice not for the multitude of sensations,--who
knows if some traveller, like myself, shall not one day sit on
their silent ruins, and weep in solitude over the ashes of their
inhabitants, and the memory of their former greatness.
At these words, my eyes filled with tears: and covering my head
with the fold of my mantle, I sank into gloomy meditations on all
human affairs. Ah! hapless man, said I in my grief, a blind
fatality sports with thy destiny!* A fatal necessity rules with
the hand of chance the lot of mortals! But no: it is the justice
of heaven fulfilling its decrees!--a God of mystery exercising his
incomprehensible judgments! Doubtless he has pronounced a secret
anathema against this land: blasting with maledictions the present,
for the sins of past generations. Oh! who shall dare to fathom the
depths of the Omnipotent?
* Fatality is the universal and rooted prejudice of the East. "It
was written," is there the answer to every thing. Hence result an
unconcern and apathy, the most powerful impediments to instruction
And sunk in profound melancholy, I remained motionless.
While thus absorbed, a sound struck my ear, like the agitation of a
flowing robe, or that of slow footsteps on dry and rustling grass.
Startled, I opened my mantle, and looking about with fear and
trembling, suddenly, on my left, by the glimmering light of the
moon, through the columns and ruins of a neighboring temple, I
thought I saw an apparition, pale, clothed in large and flowing
robes, such as spectres are painted rising from their tombs. I
shuddered: and while agitated and hesitating whether to fly or to
advance toward the object, a distinct voice, in solemn tones,
pronounced these words:
How long will man importune heaven with unjust complaint? How
long, with vain clamors, will he accuse Fate as the author of his
calamities? Will he forever shut his eyes to the light, and his
heart to the admonitions of truth and reason? The light of truth
meets him everywhere; yet he sees it not! The voice of reason
strikes his ear; and he hears it not! Unjust man! if for a moment
thou canst suspend the delusion which fascinates thy senses, if thy
heart can comprehend the language of reason, interrogate these
ruins! Read the lessons which they present to thee! And you,
evidences of twenty centuries, holy temples! venerable tombs! walls
once so glorious, appear in the cause of nature herself! Approach
the tribunal of sound reason, and bear testimony against unjust
accusations! Come and confound the declamations of a false wisdom
or hypocritical piety, and avenge the heavens and the earth of man
who calumniates them both!
What is that blind fatality, which without order and without law,
sports with the destiny of mortals? What is that unjust necessity,
which confounds the effect of actions, whether of wisdom or of
folly? In what consist the anathemas of heaven over this land?
Where is that divine malediction which perpetuates the abandonment
of these fields? Say, monuments of past ages! have the heavens
changed their laws and the earth its motion? Are the fires of the
sun extinct in the regions of space? Do the seas no longer emit
their vapors? Are the rains and the dews suspended in the air? Do
the mountains withhold their springs? Are the streams dried up?
And do the plants no longer bear fruit and seed? Answer,
generation of falsehood and iniquity, hath God deranged the
primitive and settled order of things which he himself assigned to
nature? Hath heaven denied to earth, and earth to its inhabitants,
the blessings they formerly dispensed? If nothing hath changed in
the creation, if the same means now exist which before existed, why
then are not the present what former generations were? Ah! it is
falsely that you accuse fate and heaven! it is unjustly that you
accuse God as the cause of your evils! Say, perverse and
hypocritical race! if these places are desolate, if these powerful
cities are reduced to solitude, is it God who has caused their
ruin? Is it his hand which has overthrown these walls, destroyed
these temples, mutilated these columns, or is it the hand of man?
Is it the arm of God which has carried the sword into your cities,
and fire into your fields, which has slaughtered the people, burned
the harvests, rooted up trees, and ravaged the pastures, or is it
the hand of man? And when, after the destruction of crops, famine
has ensued, is it the vengeance of God which has produced it, or
the mad fury of mortals? When, sinking under famine, the people
have fed on impure aliments, if pestilence ensues, is it the wrath
of God which sends it, or the folly of man? When war, famine and
pestilence, have swept away the inhabitants, if the earth remains a
desert, is it God who has depopulated it? Is it his rapacity which
robs the husbandman, ravages the fruitful fields, and wastes the
earth, or is it the rapacity of those who govern? Is it his pride
which excites murderous wars, or the pride of kings and their
ministers? Is it the venality of his decisions which overthrows
the fortunes of families, or the corruption of the organs of the
law? Are they his passions which, under a thousand forms, torment
individuals and nations, or are they the passions of man? And if,
in the anguish of their miseries, they see not the remedies, is it
the ignorance of God which is to blame, or their ignorance? Cease
then, mortals, to accuse the decrees of Fate, or the judgments of
the Divinity! If God is good, will he be the author of your
misery? If he is just, will he be the accomplice of your crimes?
No, the caprice of which man complains is not the caprice of fate;
the darkness that misleads his reason is not the darkness of God;
the source of his calamities is not in the distant heavens, it is
beside him on the earth; it is not concealed in the bosom of the
divinity; it dwells within himself, he bears it in his own heart.
Thou murmurest and sayest: What! have an infidel people then
enjoyed the blessings of heaven and earth? Are the holy people of
God less fortunate than the races of impiety? Deluded man! where
then is the contradiction which offends thee? Where is the
inconsistency which thou imputest to the justice of heaven? Take
into thine own hands the balance of rewards and punishments, of
causes and effects. Say: when these infidels observed the laws of
the heavens and the earth, when they regulated well-planned labors
by the order of the seasons and the course of the stars, should the
Almighty have disturbed the equilibrium of the universe to defeat
their prudence? When their hands cultivated these fields with toil
and care, should he have diverted the course of the rains,
suspended the refreshing dews, and planted crops of thorns? When,
to render these arid fields productive, their industry constructed
aqueducts, dug canals, and led the distant waters across the
desert, should he have dried up their sources in the mountains?
Should he have blasted the harvests which art had nourished, wasted
the plains which peace had peopled, overthrown cities which labor
had created, or disturbed the order established by the wisdom of
man? And what is that infidelity which founded empires by its
prudence, defended them by its valor, and strengthened them by its
justice--which built powerful cities, formed capacious ports,
drained pestilential marshes, covered the ocean with ships, the
earth with inhabitants; and, like the creative spirit, spread life
and motion throughout the world? If such be infidelity, what then
is the true faith? Doth sanctity consist in destruction? The God
who peoples the air with birds, the earth with animals, the waters
with fishes--the God who animates all nature--is he then a God of
ruins and tombs? Demands he devastation for homage, and
conflagration for sacrifice? Requires he groans for hymns,
murderers for votaries, a ravaged and desolate earth for his
temple? Behold then, holy and believing people, what are your
works! behold the fruits of your piety! You have massacred the
people, burned their cities, destroyed cultivation, reduced the
earth to a solitude; and you ask the reward of your works!
Miracles then must be performed! The people whom you extirpated
must be recalled to life, the walls rebuilt which you have
overthrown, the harvests reproduced which you have destroyed, the
waters regathered which you have dispersed; the laws, in fine, of
heaven and earth reversed; those laws, established by God himself,
in demonstration of his magnificence and wisdom; those eternal
laws, anterior to all codes, to all the prophets those immutable
laws, which neither the passions nor the ignorance of man can
pervert. But that passion which mistaketh, that ignorance which
observeth neither causes nor effects, hath said in its folly: "All
things flow from chance; a blind fatality poureth out good and evil
upon the earth; success is not to the prudent, nor felicity to the
wise;" or, assuming the language of hypocrisy, she hath said, "all
things are from God; he taketh pleasure in deceiving wisdom and
confounding reason." And Ignorance, applauding herself in her
malice, hath said, "thus will I place myself on a par with that
science which confounds me--thus will I excel that prudence which
fatigues and torments me." And Avarice hath added: "I will oppress
the weak, and devour the fruits of his labors; and I will say, it
is fate which hath so ordained." But I! I swear by the laws of
heaven and earth, and by the law which is written in the heart of
man, that the hypocrite shall be deceived in his cunning--the
oppressor in his rapacity! The sun shall change his course, before
folly shall prevail over wisdom and knowledge, or ignorance surpass
prudence, in the noble and sublime art of procuring to man his true
enjoyments, and of building his happiness on an enduring
Thus spoke the Phantom. Confused with this discourse, and my heart
agitated with different reflections, I remained long in silence.
At length, taking courage, I thus addressed him: Oh, Genius of
tombs and ruins! Thy presence, thy severity, hath disordered my
senses; but the justice of thy discourse restoreth confidence to my
soul. Pardon my ignorance. Alas, if man is blind, shall his
misfortune be also his crime? I may have mistaken the voice of
reason; but never, knowingly, have I rejected its authority. Ah!
if thou readest my heart, thou knowest with what enthusiasm it
seeketh truth. Is it not in its pursuit that thou seest me in this
sequestered spot? Alas! I have wandered over the earth, I have
visited cities and countries; and seeing everywhere misery and
desolation, a sense of the evils which afflict my fellow men hath
deeply oppressed my soul. I have said, with a sigh: is man then
born but for sorrow and anguish? And I have meditated upon human
misery that I might discover a remedy. I have said, I will
separate myself from the corruption of society; I will retire far
from palaces where the mind is depraved by satiety and from the
hovel where it is debased by misery. I will go into the desert and
dwell among ruins; I will interrogate ancient monuments on the
wisdom of past ages; I will invoke from the bosom of the tombs the
spirit which once in Asia gave splendor to states, and glory to
nations; I will ask of the ashes of legislators, by what secret
causes do empires rise and fall; from what sources spring the
Prosperity and misfortunes of nations, on what principles can the
Peace of Society, and the happiness of man be established?
I ceased, and with submissive look awaited the answer of the
Peace and happiness, said he, attend those who practice justice!
Since thy heart, O mortal, with sincerity seeketh truth; since
thine eyes can still recognize her through the mist of prejudice,
thy prayer shall not be in vain. I will unfold to thy view that
truth thou invokest; I will teach thy reason that knowledge thou
seekest; I will reveal to thee the science of ages and the wisdom
of the tombs.
Then approaching and laying his hand on my head, he said:
Rise, mortal, and extricate thy senses from the dust in which thou
Suddenly a celestial flame seemed to dissolve the bands which held
us to the earth; and, like a light vapor, borne on the wings of the
Genius, I felt myself wafted to the regions above. Thence, from
the aerial heights, looking down upon the earth, I perceived a
scene altogether new. Under my feet, floating in the void, a globe
like that of the moon, but smaller and less luminous, presented to
me one of its phases; and that phase* had the aspect of a disk
varigated with large spots, some white and nebulous, others brown,
green or gray, and while I strained my sight to distinguish what
they were, the Genius exclaimed:
* See Plate representing half the terrestrial globe, opposite page
Disciple of Truth, knowest thou that object?
O Genius, answered I, if I did not see the moon in another quarter
of the heavens, I should have supposed that to be her globe. It
has the appearance of that planet seen through the telescope during
the obscuration of an eclipse. These varigated spots might be
mistaken for seas and continents.
They are seas and continents, said he, and those of the very
hemisphere which you inhabit.
What! said I, is that the earth--the habitation of man?
Yes, replied he, that brown space which occupies irregularly a
great portion of the disk, and envelops it almost on every side, is
what you call the great ocean, which advancing from the south pole
towards the equator, forms first the great gulf of India and
Africa, then extends eastward across the Malay islands to the
confines of Tartary, while towards the west it encircles the
continents of Africa and of Europe, even to the north of Asia.
That square peninsula under our feet is the arid country of the
Arabs; the great continent on its left, almost as naked in its
interior, with a little verdure only towards its borders, is the
parched soil inhabited by black-men.* To the north, beyond a long,
narrow and irregular sea,** are the countries of Europe, rich in
meadows and cultivated fields. On its right, from the Caspian Sea,
extend the snowy and naked plains of Tartary. Returning in this
direction that white space is the vast and barren desert of Cobi,
which separates China from the rest of the world. You see that
empire in the furrowed plain which obliquely rounds itself off from
our sight. On yonder coasts, those ragged tongues of land and
scattered points are the peninsulas and islands of the Malays, the
wretched possessors of the spices and perfumes. That triangle
which advances so far into the sea, is the too famous peninsula of
India.*** You see the winding course of the Ganges, the rough
mountains of Thibet, the lovely valley of Cachemere, the briny
deserts of Persia, the banks of the Euphrates and Tygris, the deep
bed of the Jordan and the canals of the solitary Nile.
** The Mediterranean.
*** Of what real good has been the commerce of India to the mass of
the people? On the contrary, how great the evil occasioned by the
superstition of this country having been added the general
O Genius, said I, interrupting him, the sight of a mortal reaches
not to objects at such a distance. He touched my eyes, and
immediately they became piercing as those of an eagle; nevertheless
the rivers still appeared like waving lines, the mountains winding
furrows, and the cities little compartments like the squares of a
And the Genius proceeded to enumerate and point out the objects to
me: Those piles of ruins, said he, which you see in that narrow
valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the
pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia.* Behold the wrecks of
her metropolis, of Thebes with her hundred palaces,** the parent of
cities, and monument of the caprice of destiny. There a people,
now forgotten, discovered, while others were yet barbarians, the
elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected from
society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the
study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems
which still govern the universe. Lower down, those dusky points
are the pyramids whose masses have astonished you. Beyond that,
the coast, hemmed in between the sea and a narrow ridge of
mountains, was the habitation of the Phoenicians. These were the
famous cities of Tyre, of Sidon, of Ascalon, of Gaza, and of
Berytus. That thread of water with no outlet, is the river Jordan;
and those naked rocks were once the theatre of events that have
resounded throughout the world. Behold that desert of Horeb, and
that Mount Sinai; where, by means beyond vulgar reach, a genius,
profound and bold, established institutions which have weighed on
the whole human race. On that dry shore which borders it, you
perceive no longer any trace of splendor; yet there was an emporium
of riches. There were those famous Ports of Idumea, whence the
fleets of Phoenicia and Judea, coasting the Arabian peninsula, went
into the Persian gulf, to seek there the pearls of Hevila, the gold
of Saba and of Ophir. Yes, there on that coast of Oman and of
Barhain was the seat of that commerce of luxuries, which, by its
movements and revolutions, fixed the destinies of ancient
nations.*** Thither came the spices and precious stones of Ceylon,
the shawls of Cassimere, the diamonds of Golconda, the amber of
Maldivia, the musk of Thibet, the aloes of Cochin, the apes and
peacocks of the continent of India, the incense of Hadramaut, the
myrrh, the silver, the gold dust and ivory of Africa; thence
passing, sometimes by the Red Sea on the vessels of Egypt and
Syria, these luxuries nourished successively the wealth of Thebes,
of Sidon, of Memphis and of Jerusalem; sometimes, ascending the
Tygris and Euphrates, they awakened the activity of the Assyrians,
Medes, Chaldeans, and Persians; and that wealth, according to the
use or abuse of it, raised or reversed by turns their domination.
Hence sprung the magnificence of Persepolis, whose columns you
still perceive; of Ecbatana, whose sevenfold wall is destroyed; of
Babylon,**** now leveled with the earth; of Nineveh, of which
scarce the name remains; of Thapsacus, of Anatho, of Gerra, and of
desolated Palmyra. O names for ever glorious! fields of renown!
countries of never-dying memory! what sublime lessons doth your
aspect offer! what profound truths are written on the surface of
your soil! remembrances of times past, return into my mind! places,
witnesses of the life of man in so many different ages, retrace for
me the revolutions of his fortune! say, what were their springs and
secret causes! say, from what sources he derived success and
disgrace! unveil to himself the causes of his evils! correct him by
the spectacle of his errors! teach him the wisdom which belongeth
to him, and let the experience of past ages become a means of
instruction, and a germ of happiness to present and future
* In the new Encyclopedia 3rd vol. Antiquities is published a
memoir, respecting the chronology of the twelve ages anterior to
the passing of Xerxes into Greece, in which I conceive myself to
have proved that upper Egypt formerly composed a distinct kingdom
known to the Hebrews by the name of Kous and to which the
appellation of Ethiopia was specially given. This kingdom
preserved its independence to the time of Psammeticus; at which
period, being united to the Lower Egypt, it lost its name of
Ethiopia, which thenceforth was bestowed upon the nations of Nubia
and upon the different tribes of blacks, including Thebes, their
** The idea of a city with a hundred gates, in the common
acceptation of the word, is so absurd, that I am astonished the
equivoque has not before been felt.
It has ever been the custom of the East to call palaces and houses
of the great by the name of gates, because the principal luxury of
these buildings consists in the singular gate leading from the
street into the court, at the farthest extremity of which the
palace is situated. It is under the vestibule of this gate that
conversation is held with passengers, and a sort of audience and
hospitality given. All this was doubtless known to Homer; but
poets make no commentaries, and readers love the marvellous.
This city of Thebes, now Lougsor, reduced to the condition of a
miserable village, has left astonishing monuments of its
magnificence. Particulars of this may be seen in the plates of
Norden, in Pocock, and in the recent travels of Bruce. These
monuments give credibility to all that Homer has related of its
splendor, and lead us to infer its political power and external
Its geographical position was favorable to this twofold object.
For, on one side, the valley of the Nile, singularly fertile, must
have early occasioned a numerous population; and, on the other, the
Red Sea, giving communication with Arabia and India, and the Nile
with Abyssinia and the Mediterranean, Thebes was thus naturally
allied to the richest countries on the globe; an alliance that
procured it an activity so much the greater, as Lower Egypt, at
first a swamp, was nearly, if not totally, uninhabited. But when
at length this country had been drained by the canals and dikes
which Sesostris constructed, population was introduced there, and
wars arose which proved fatal to the power of Thebes. Commerce
then took another route, and descended to the point of the Red Sea,
to the canals of Sesostris (see Strabo), and wealth and activity
were transferred to Memphis. This is manifestly what Diodorus
means when he tells us (lib. i. sect. 2), that as soon as Memphis
was established and made a wholesome and delicious abode, kings
abandoned Thebes to fix themselves there. Thus Thebes continued to
decline, and Memphis to flourish, till the time of Alexander, who,
building Alexandria on the border of the sea, caused Memphis to
fall in its turn; so that prosperity and power seem to have
descended historically step by step along the Nile; whence it
results, both physically and historically, that the existence of
Thebes was prior to that of the other cities. The testimony of
writers is very positive in this respect. "The Thebans," says
Diodorus, "consider themselves as the most ancient people of the
earth, and assert, that with them originated philosophy and the
science of the stars. Their situation, it is true, is infinitely
favorable to astronomical observation, and they have a more
accurate division of time into mouths and years than other nations"
What Diodorus says of the Thebans, every author, and himself
elsewhere, repeat of the Ethiopians, which tends more firmly to
establish the identity of this place of which I have spoken. "The
Ethiopians conceive themselves," says he, lib. iii., "to be of
greater antiquity than any other nation: and it is probable that,
born under the sun's path, its warmth may have ripened them earlier
than other men. They suppose themselves also to be the inventors
of divine worship, of festivals, of solemn assemblies, of
sacrifices, and every other religious practice. They affirm that
the Egyptians are one of their colonies, and that the Delta, which
was formerly sea, became land by the conglomeration of the earth of
the higher country which was washed down by the Nile. They have,
like the Egyptians, two species of letters, hieroglyphics, and the
alphabet; but among the Egyptians the first was known only to the
priests, and by them transmitted from father to son, whereas both
species were common among the Ethiopians."
"The Ethiopians," says Lucian, page 985, "were the first who
invented the science of the stars, and gave names to the planets,
not at random and without meaning, but descriptive of the qualities
which they conceived them to possess; and it was from them that
this art passed, still in an imperfect state, to the Egyptians."
It would be easy to multiply citations upon this subject; from all
which it follows, that we have the strongest reasons to believe
that the country neighboring to the tropic was the cradle of the
sciences, and of consequence that the first learned nation was a
nation of Blacks; for it is incontrovertible, that, by the term
Ethiopians, the ancients meant to represent a people of black
complexion, thick lips, and woolly hair. I am therefore inclined
to believe, that the inhabitants of Lower Egypt were originally a
foreign colony imported from Syria and Arabia, a medley of
different tribes of savages, originally shepherds and fishermen,
who, by degrees formed themselves into a nation, and who, by nature
and descent, were enemies of the Thebans, by whom they were no
doubt despised and treated as barbarians.
I have suggested the same ideas in my Travels into Syria, founded
upon the black complexion of the Sphinx. I have since ascertained
that the antique images of Thebias have the same characteristic;
and Mr. Bruce has offered a multitude of analogous facts; but this
traveller, of whom I heard some mention at Cairo, has so interwoven
these facts with certain systematic opinions, that we should have
recourse to his narratives with caution.
It is singular that Africa, situated so near us, should be the
least known country on the earth. The English are at this moment
making explorations, the success of which ought to excite our
*** Ailah (Eloth), and Atsiom-Gaber (Hesien-Geber.) The name of
the first of these towns still subsists in its ruins, at the point
of the gulf of the Red Sea, and in the route which the pilgrims
take to Mecca. Hesion has at present no trace, any more than
Quolzoum and Faran: it was, however, the harbor for the fleets of
Solomon. The vessels of this prince conducted by the Tyrians,
sailed along the coast of Arabia to Ophir, in the Persian Gulf,
thus opening a communication with the merchants of India and
Ceylon. That this navigation was entirely of Tyrian invention,
appears both from the pilots and shipbuilders employed by the Jews,
and the names that were given to the trading islands, viz. Tyrus
and Aradus, now Barhain. The voyage was performed in two different
modes, either in canoes of osier and rushes, covered on the outside
with skins done over with pitch: (these vessels were unable to quit
the Red Sea, or so much as to leave the shore.) The second mode of
carrying on the trade was by means of vessels with decks of the
size of our river boats, which were able to pass the strait and to
weather the dangers of time ocean; but for this purpose it was
necessary to bring the wood from Mount Libanus and Cilicia, where
it is very fine and in great abundance. This wood was first
conveyed in floats from Tarsus to Phoenicia, for which reason the
vessels were called ships of Tarsus; from whence it has been
ridiculously inferred, that they went round the promontory of
Africa as far as Tortosa in Spain. From Phoenicia it was
transported on the backs of camels to the Red Sea, which practice
still continues, because the shores of this sea are absolutely
unprovided with wood even for fuel. These vessels spent a complete
year in their voyage, that is, sailed one year, sojourned another,
and did not return till the third. This tediousness was owing
first to their cruising from port to port, as they do at present;
secondly, to their being detained by the Monsoon currents; and
thirdly, because, according to the calculations of Pliny and
Strabo, it was the ordinary practice among the ancients to spend
three years in a voyage of twelve hundred leagues. Such a commerce
must have been very expensive, particularly as they were obliged to
carry with them their provisions, and even fresh water. For this
reason Solomon made himself master of Palmyra, which was at that
time inhabited, and was already the magazine and high road of
merchants by the way of the Euphrates. This conquest brought
Solomon much nearer to the country of gold and pearls. This
alternative of a route either by the Red Sea or by the river
Euphrates was to the ancients, what in later times has been the
alternative in a voyage to the Indies, either by crossing the
isthmus of Suez or doubling the cape of Good Hope. It appears that
till the time of Moses, this trade was carried on across the desert
of Syria and Thebais; that afterwards it fell into the hands of the
Phoenicians, who fixed its site upon the Red Sea; and that it was
mutual jealousy that induced the kings of Nineveh and Babylon to
undertake the destruction of Tyre and Jerusalem. I insist the more
upon these facts, because I have never seen any thing reasonable
upon the subject.
**** It appears that Babylon occupied on the eastern banks of the
Euphrates a space of ground six leagues in length. Throughout this
space bricks are found by means of which daily additions are made
to the town of Helle. Upon many of these are characters written
with a nail similar to those of Persepolis. I am indebted for
these facts to M. de Beauchamp, grand vicar of Babylon, a traveller
equally distinguished for his knowledge of astronomy and for his
CONDITION OF MAN IN THE UNIVERSE.
The Genius, after some moments of silence, resumed in these words:
I have told thee already, O friend of truth! that man vainly
ascribes his misfortunes to obscure and imaginary agents; in vain
he seeks as the source of his evils mysterious and remote causes.
In the general order of the universe his condition is, doubtless,
subject to inconveniences, and his existence governed by superior
powers; but those powers are neither the decrees of a blind
fatality, nor the caprices of whimsical and fantastic beings. Like
the world of which he forms a part, man is governed by natural
laws, regular in their course, uniform in their effects, immutable
in their essence; and those laws,--the common source of good and
evil,--are not written among the distant stars, nor hidden in codes
of mystery; inherent in the nature of terrestrial beings,
interwoven with their existence, at all times and in all places,
they are present to man; they act upon his senses, they warn his
understanding, and give to every action its reward or punishment.
Let man then know these laws! let him comprehend the nature of the
elements which surround him, and also his own nature, and he will
know the regulators of his destiny; he will know the causes of his
evils and the remedies he should apply.
When the hidden power which animates the universe, formed the globe
which man inhabits, he implanted in the beings composing it,
essential properties which became the law of their individual
motion, the bond of their reciprocal relations, the cause of the
harmony of the whole; he thereby established a regular order of
causes and effects, of principles and consequences, which, under an
appearance of chance, governs the universe, and maintains the
equilibrium of the world. Thus, he gave to fire, motion and
activity; to air, elasticity; weight and density to matter; he made
air lighter than water, metal heavier than earth, wood less
cohesive than steel; he decreed flame to ascend, stones to fall,
plants to vegetate; to man, who was to be exposed to the action of
so many different beings, and still to preserve his frail life, he
gave the faculty of sensation. By this faculty all action hurtful
to his existence gives him a feeling of pain and evil, and all
which is salutary, of pleasure and happiness. By these sensations,
man, sometimes averted from that which wounds his senses, sometimes
allured towards that which soothes them, has been obliged to
cherish and preserve his own life; thus, self-love, the desire of
happiness, aversion to pain, become the essential and primary laws
imposed on man by nature herself--the laws which the directing
power, whatever it be, has established for his government--and
which laws, like those of motion in the physical world, are the
simple and fruitful principle of whatever happens in the moral
Such, then, is the condition of man: on one side, exposed to the
action of the elements which surround him, he is subject to many
inevitable evils; and if, in this decree, nature has been severe,
on the other hand, just and even indulgent she has not only
tempered the evils with equivalent good, she has also enabled him
to increase the good and alleviate the evil. She seems to say:
"Feeble work of my hands, I owe thee nothing, and I give thee life;
the world wherein I placed thee was not made for thee, yet I give
thee the use of it; thou wilt find in it a mixture of good and
evil; it is for thee to distinguish them; for thee to guide thy
footsteps in a path containing thorns as well as roses. Be the
arbiter of thine own fate; I put thy destiny into thine own hands!"
Yes, man is made the architect of his own destiny; he, himself,
hath been the cause of the successes or reverses of his own
fortune; and if, on a review of all the pains with which he has
tormented his own life, he finds reason to weep over his own
weakness or imprudence yet, considering the beginnings from which
he sat out, and the height attained, he has, perhaps, still reason
to presume on his strength, and to pride himself on his genius.
THE PRIMITIVE STATE OF MAN.
Formed naked in body and in mind, man at first found himself
thrown, as it were by chance, on a rough and savage land: an
orphan, abandoned by the unknown power which had produced him, he
saw not by his side beings descended from heaven to warn him of
those wants which arise only from his senses, nor to instruct him
in those duties which spring only from his wants. Like to other
animals, without experience of the past, without foresight of the
future, he wandered in the bosom of the forest, guided only and
governed by the affections of his nature. By the pain of hunger,
he was led to seek food and provide for his subsistence; by the
inclemency of the air, he was urged to cover his body, and he made
him clothes; by the attraction of a powerful pleasure, he
approached a being like himself, and he perpetuated his kind.
Thus the impressions which he received from every object, awakening
his faculties, developed by degrees his understanding, and began to
instruct his profound ignorance: his wants excited industry,
dangers formed his courage; he learned to distinguish useful from
noxious plants, to combat the elements, to seize his prey, to
defend his life; and thus he alleviated its miseries.
Thus self-love, aversion to pain, the desire of happiness, were the
simple and powerful excitements which drew man from the savage and
barbarous condition in which nature had placed him. And now, when
his life is replete with enjoyments, when he may count each day by
the comforts it brings, he may applaud himself and say:
"It is I who have produced the comforts which surround me; it is I
who am the author of my own happiness; a safe dwelling, convenient
clothing, abundant and wholesome nourishment, smiling fields,
fertile hills, populous empires, all is my work; without me this
earth, given up to disorder, would have been but a filthy fen, a
wild wood, a dreary desert."
Yes, creative man, receive my homage! Thou hast measured the span
of the heavens, calculated the volume of the stars, arrested the
lightning in its clouds, subdued seas and storms, subjected all the
elements. Ah! how are so many sublime energies allied to so many
PRINCIPLES OF SOCIETY.
Wandering in the woods and on the banks of rivers in pursuit of
game and fish, the first men, beset with dangers, assailed by
enemies, tormented by hunger, by reptiles, by ravenous beasts, felt
their own individual weakness; and, urged by a common need of
safety, and a reciprocal sentiment of like evils, they united their
resources and their strength; and when one incurred a danger, many
aided and succored him; when one wanted subsistence, another shared
his food with him. Thus men associated to secure their existence,
to augment their powers, to protect their enjoyments; and self-love
thus became the principle of society.
Instructed afterwards by the experience of various and repeated
accidents, by the fatigues of a wandering life, by the distress of
frequent scarcity, men reasoned with themselves and said:
"Why consume our days in seeking scattered fruits from a
parsimonious soil? why exhaust ourselves in pursuing prey which
eludes us in the woods or waters? why not collect under our hands
the animals that nourish us? why not apply our cares in multiplying
and preserving them? We will feed on their increase, be clothed in
their skins, and live exempt from the fatigues of the day and
solicitude for the morrow."
And men, aiding one another, seized the nimble goat, the timid
sheep; they tamed the patient camel, the fierce bull, the impetuous
horse; and, applauding their own industry, they sat down in the joy
of their souls, and began to taste repose and comfort: and self-
love, the principle of all reasoning, became the incitement to
every art, and every enjoyment.
When, therefore, men could pass long days in leisure, and in
communication of their thoughts, they began to contemplate the
earth, the heavens, and their own existence as objects of curiosity
and reflection; they remarked the course of the seasons, the action
of the elements, the properties of fruits and plants; and applied
their thoughts to the multiplication of their enjoyments. And in
some countries, having observed that certain seeds contained a
wholesome nourishment in a small volume, convenient for
transportation and preservation, they imitated the process of
nature; they confided to the earth rice, barley, and corn, which
multiplied to the full measure of their hope; and having found the
means of obtaining within a small compass and without removal,
plentiful subsistence and durable stores, they established
themselves in fixed habitations; they built houses, villages, and
towns; formed societies and nations; and self-love produced all the
developments of genius and of power.
Thus by the aid of his own faculties, man has raised himself to the
astonishing height of his present fortune. Too happy if, observing
scrupulously the law of his being, he had faithfully fulfilled its
only and true object! But, by a fatal imprudence, sometimes
mistaking, sometimes transgressing its limits, he has launched
forth into a labyrinth of errors and misfortunes; and self-love,
sometimes unruly, sometimes blind, became a principle fruitful in
SOURCES OF THE EVILS OF SOCIETY.
In truth, scarcely were the faculties of men developed, when,
inveigled by objects which gratify the senses, they gave themselves
up to unbridled desires. The sweet sensations which nature had
attached to their real wants, to endear to them their existence, no
longer satisfied them. Not content with the abundance offered by
the earth or produced by industry, they wished to accumulate
enjoyments and coveted those possessed by their fellow men. The
strong man rose up against the feeble, to take from him the fruit
of his labor; the feeble invoked another feeble one to repel the
violence. Two strong ones then said:
"Why fatigue ourselves to produce enjoyments which we may find in
the hands of the weak? Let us join and despoil them; they shall
labor for us, and we will enjoy without labor."
And the strong associating for oppression and the weak for
resistance, men mutually afflicted each other; and a general and
fatal discord spread over the earth, in which the passions,
assuming a thousand new forms, have generated a continued chain of
Thus the same self-love which, moderate and prudent, was a
principle of happiness and perfection, becoming blind and
disordered, was transformed into a corrupting poison; and cupidity,
offspring and companion of ignorance, became the cause of all the
evils that have desolated the earth.
Yes, ignorance and cupidity! these are the twin sources of all the
torments of man! Biased by these into false ideas of happiness, he
has mistaken or broken the laws of nature in his own relation with
external objects; and injuring his own existence, has violated
individual morality; shutting through these his heart to
compassion, and his mind to justice, he has injured and afflicted
his equal, and violated social morality. From ignorance and
cupidity, man has armed against man, family against family, tribe
against tribe; and the earth is become a theatre of blood, of
discord, and of rapine. By ignorance and cupidity, a secret war,
fermenting in the bosom of every state, has separated citizen from
citizen; and the same society has divided itself into oppressors
and oppressed, into masters and slaves; by these, the heads of a
nation, sometimes insolent and audacious, have forged its chains
within its own bowels; and mercenary avarice has founded political
despotism. Sometimes, hypocritical and cunning, they have called
from heaven a lying power, and a sacrilegious yoke; and credulous
cupidity has founded religious despotism. By these have been
perverted the ideas of good and evil, just and unjust, vice and
virtue; and nations have wandered in a labyrinth of errors and
The cupidity of man and his ignorance,--these are the evil genii
which have wasted the earth! These are the decrees of fate which
have overthrown empires! These are the celestial anathemas which
have smitten these walls once so glorious, and converted the
splendor of a populous city into a solitude of mourning and of
ruins! But as in the bosom of man have sprung all the evils which
have afflicted his life, there he also is to seek and to find their
ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT AND LAWS.
In fact, it soon happened that men, fatigued with the evils they
reciprocally inflicted, began to sigh for peace; and reflecting on
their misfortunes and the causes of them, they said:
"We are mutually injuring each other by our passions; and, aiming
to grasp every thing, we hold nothing. What one seizes to-day,
another takes to-morrow, and our cupidity reacts upon ourselves.
Let us establish judges, who shall arbitrate our rights, and settle
our differences! When the strong shall rise against the weak, the
judge shall restrain him, and dispose of our force to suppress
violence; and the life and property of each shall be under the
guarantee and protection of all; and all shall enjoy the good
things of nature."
Conventions were thus formed in society, sometimes express,
sometimes tacit, which became the rule for the action of
individuals, the measure of their rights, the law of their
reciprocal relations; and persons were appointed to superintend
their observance, to whom the people confided the balance to weigh
rights, and the sword to punish transgressions.
Thus was established among individuals a happy equilibrium of force
and action, which constituted the common security. The name of
equity and of justice was recognized and revered over the earth;
every one, assured of enjoying in peace, the fruits of his toil,
pursued with energy the objects of his attention; and industry,
excited and maintained by the reality or the hope of enjoyment,
developed, all the riches of art and of nature. The fields were
covered with harvests, the valleys with flocks, the hills with
fruits, the sea with vessels, and man became happy and powerful on
the earth. Thus did his own wisdom repair the disorder which his
imprudence had occasioned; and that wisdom was only the effect of
his own organization. He respected the enjoyments of others in
order to secure his own; and cupidity found its corrective in the
enlightened love of self.
Thus the love of self, the moving principle of every individual,
becomes the necessary foundation of every association; and on the
observance of that law of our nature has depended the fate of
nations. Have the factitious and conventional laws tended to that
object and accomplished that aim? Every one, urged by a powerful
instinct, has displayed all the faculties of his being; and the sum
of individual felicities has constituted the general felicity.
Have these laws, on the contrary, restrained the effort of man
toward his own happiness? His heart, deprived of its exciting
principle, has languished in inactivity, and from the oppression of
individuals has resulted the weakness of the state.
As self-love, impetuous and improvident, is ever urging man against
his equal, and consequently tends to dissolve society, the art of
legislation and the merit of administrators consists in attempering
the conflict of individual cupidities, in maintaining an
equilibrium of powers, and securing to every one his happiness, in
order that, in the shock of society against society, all the
members may have a common interest in the preservation and defence
of the public welfare.
The internal splendor and prosperity of empires then, have had for
their efficient cause the equity of their laws and government; and
their respective external powers have been in proportion to the
number of persons interested, and their degree of interest in the
On the other hand, the multiplication of men, by complicating their
relations, having rendered the precise limitation of their rights
difficult, the perpetual play of the passions having produced
incidents not foreseen--their conventions having been vicious,
inadequate, or nugatory--in fine, the authors of the laws having
sometimes mistaken, sometimes disguised their objects; and their
ministers, instead of restraining the cupidity of others, having
given themselves up to their own; all these causes have introduced
disorder and trouble into societies; and the viciousness of laws
and the injustice of governments, flowing from cupidity and
ignorance, have become the causes of the misfortunes of nations,
and the subversion of states.
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES.
Such, O man who seekest wisdom, such have been the causes of
revolution in the ancient states of which thou contemplatest the
ruins! To whatever spot I direct my view, to whatever period my
thoughts recur, the same principles of growth or destruction, of
rise or fall, present themselves to my mind. Wherever a people is
powerful, or an empire prosperous, there the conventional laws are
conformable with the laws of nature--the government there procures
for its citizens a free use of their faculties, equal security for
their persons and property. If, on the contrary, an empire goes to
ruin, or dissolves, it is because its laws have been vicious, or
imperfect, or trodden under foot by a corrupt government. If the
laws and government, at first wise and just, become afterwards
depraved, it is because the alternation of good and evil is
inherent to the heart of man, to a change in his propensities, to
his progress in knowledge, to a combination of circumstances and
events; as is proved by the history of the species.
In the infancy of nations, when men yet lived in the forest,
subject to the same wants, endowed with the same faculties, all
were nearly equal in strength; and that equality was a circumstance
highly advantageous in the composition of society: as every
individual, thus feeling himself sufficiently independent of every
other, no one was the slave, none thought of being the master of
another. Man, then a novice, knew neither servitude nor tyranny;
furnished with resources sufficient for his existence, he thought
not of borrowing from others; owning nothing, requiring nothing, he
judged the rights of others by his own, and formed ideas of justice
sufficiently exact. Ignorant, moreover, in the art of enjoyments,
unable to produce more than his necessaries, possessing nothing
superfluous, cupidity remained dormant; or if excited, man,
attacked in his real wants, resisted it with energy, and the
foresight of such resistance ensured a happy balance.
Thus original equality, in default of compact, maintained freedom
of person, security of property, good manners, and order. Every
one labored by himself and for himself; and the mind of man, being
occupied, wandered not to culpable desires. He had few enjoyments,
but his wants were satisfied; and as indulgent nature had made them
less than his resources, the labor of his hands soon produced
abundance--abundance, population; the arts unfolded, culture
extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was
divided into different dominions.
The relations of man becoming complicated, the internal order of
societies became more difficult to maintain. Time and industry
having generated riches, cupidity became more active; and because
equality, practicable among individuals, could not subsist among
families, the natural equilibrium was broken; it became necessary
to supply it by a factitious equilibrium; to set up chiefs, to
establish laws; and in the primitive inexperience, it necessarily
happened that these laws, occasioned by cupidity, assumed its
character. But different circumstances concurred to correct the
disorder, and oblige governments to be just.
States, in fact, being weak at first, and having foreign enemies to
fear, the chiefs found it their interest not to oppress their
subjects; for, by lessening the confidence of the citizens in their
government, they would diminish their means of resistance--they
would facilitate foreign invasion, and by exercising arbitrary
power, have endangered their very existence.
In the interior, the firmness of the people repelled tyranny; men
had contracted too long habits of independence; they had too few
wants, and too much consciousness of their own strength.
States being of a moderate size, it was difficult to divide their
citizens so as to make use of some for the oppression of others.
Their communications were too easy, their interest too clear and
simple: besides, every one being a proprietor and cultivator, no
one needed to sell himself, and the despot could find no
If, then, dissensions arose, they were between family and family,
faction and faction, and they interested a great number. The
troubles, indeed, were warmer; but fears from abroad pacified
discord at home. If the oppression of a party prevailed, the earth
being still unoccupied, and man, still in a state of simplicity,
finding every where the same advantages, the oppressed party
emigrated, and carried elsewhere their independence.
The ancient states then enjoyed within themselves numerous means of
prosperity and power. Every one finding his own well-being in the
constitution of his country, took a lively interest in its
preservation. If a stranger attacked it, having to defend his own
field, his own house, he carried into combat all the passions of a
personal quarrel; and, devoted to his own interests, he was devoted
to his country.
As every action useful to the public attracted its esteem and
gratitude, every one became eager to be useful; and self-love
multiplied talents and civic virtues.
Every citizen contributing equally by his talents and person,
armies and funds were inexhaustible, and nations displayed
formidable masses of power.
The earth being free, and its possession secure and easy, every one
was a proprietor; and the division of property preserved morals,
and rendered luxury impossible.
Every one cultivating for himself, culture was more active, produce
more abundant; and individual riches became public wealth.
The abundance of produce rendering subsistence easy, population was
rapid and numerous, and states attained quickly the term of their
Productions increasing beyond consumption, the necessity of
commerce arose; and exchanges took place between people and people;
which augmented their activity and reciprocal advantages.
In fine, certain countries, at certain times, uniting the
advantages of good government with a position on the route of the
most active circulation, they became emporiums of flourishing
commerce and seats of powerful domination. And on the shores of
the Nile and Mediterranean, of the Tygris and Euphrates, the
accumulated riches of India and of Europe raised in successive
splendor a hundred different cities.
The people, growing rich, applied their superfluity to works of
common and public use; and this was in every state, the epoch of
those works whose grandeur astonishes the mind; of those wells of
Tyre, of those dykes of the Euphrates, of those subterranean
conduits of Media,* of those fortresses of the desert, of those
aqueducts of Palmyra, of those temples, of those porticoes. And
such labors might be immense, without oppressing the nations;
because they were the effect of an equal and common contribution of
the force of individuals animated and free.
* See respecting these monuments my Travels into Syria, vol. ii. p.
From the town or village of Samouat the course of the Euphrates is
accompanied with a double bank, which descends as far as its
junction with the Tygris, and from thence to the sea, being a
length of about a hundred leagues, French measure. The height of
these artificial banks is not uniform, but increases as you advance
from the sea; it may be estimated at from twelve to fifteen feet.
But for them, the inundation of the river would bury the country
around, which is flat, to an extent of twenty or twenty-five
leagues and even notwithstanding these banks, there has been in
modern times an overflow, which has covered the whole triangle
formed by the junction of this river to the Tygris, being a space
of country of one hundred and thirty square leagues. By the
stagnation of these waters an epidemical disease of the most fatal
nature was occasioned. It follows from hence, 1. That all the
flat country bordering upon these rivers, was originally a marsh;
2. That this marsh could not have been inhabited previously to the
construction of the banks in question; 3. That these banks could
not have been the work but of a population prior as to date; and
the elevation of Babylon, therefore, must have been posterior to
that of Nineveh, as I think I have chronologically demonstrated in
the memoir above cited. See Encyclopedia, vol. xiii, of
The modern Aderbidjan, which was a part of Medea, the mountains of
Koulderstan, and those of Diarbekr, abound with subterranean
canals, by means of which the ancient inhabitants conveyed water to
their parched soil in order to fertilize it. It was regarded as a
meritorious act and a religious duty prescribed by Zoroaster, who,
instead of preaching celibacy, mortifications, and other pretended
virtues of the monkish sort, repeats continually in the passages
that are preserved respecting him in the Sad-der and the Zend-
"That the action most pleasing to God is to plough and cultivate
the earth, to water it with running streams, to multiply vegetation
and living beings, to have numerous flocks, young and fruitful
virgins, a multitude of children," etc., etc.
Among the aqueducts of Palmyra it appears certain, that, besides
those which conducted water from the neighboring hills, there was
one which brought it even from the mountains of Syria. It is to be
traced a long way into the Desert where it escapes our search by
going under ground.
Thus ancient states prospered, because their social institutions
conformed to the true laws of nature; and because men, enjoying
liberty and security for their persons and their property, might
display all the extent of their faculties,--all the energies of
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES.
Cupidity had nevertheless excited among men a constant and
universal conflict, which incessantly prompting individuals and
societies to reciprocal invasions, occasioned successive
revolutions, and returning agitations.
And first, in the savage and barbarous state of the first men, this
audacious and fierce cupidity produced rapine, violence, and
murder, and retarded for a long time the progress of civilization.
When afterwards societies began to be formed, the effect of bad
habits, communicated to laws and governments, corrupted their
institutions and objects, and established arbitrary and factitious
rights, which depraved the ideas of justice, and the morality of
Thus one man being stronger than another, their inequality--an
accident of nature--was taken for her law;* and the strong being
able to take the life of the weak, and yet sparing him, arrogated
over his person an abusive right of property; and the slavery of
individuals prepared the way for the slavery of nations.
*Almost all the ancient philosophers and politicians have laid it
down as a principle that men are born unequal, that nature his
created some to be free, and others to be slaves. Expressions of
this kind are to be found in Aristotle, and even in Plato, called
the divine, doubtless in the same sense as the mythological
reveries which he promulgated. With all the people of antiquity,
the Gauls, the Romans, the Athenians, the right of the strongest
was the right of nations; and from the same principle are derived
all the political disorders and public national crimes that at
Because the head of a family could be absolute in his house, he
made his own affections and desires the rule of his conduct; he
gave or resumed his goods without equality, without justice; and
paternal despotism laid the foundation of despotism in government.*
* Upon this single expression it would be easy to write a long and
important chapter. We might prove in it, beyond contradiction,
that all the abuses of national governments, have sprung from those
of domestic government, from that government called patriarchal,
which superficial minds have extolled without having analyzed it.
Numberless facts demonstrate, that with every infant people, in
every savage and barbarous state, the father, the chief of the
family, is a despot, and a cruel and insolent despot. The wife is
his slave, the children his servants. This king sleeps or smokes
his pipe, while his wife and daughters perform all the drudgery of
the house, and even that of tillage and cultivation, as far as
occupations of this nature are practised in such societies; and no
sooner have the boys acquired strength then they are allowed to
beat the females and make them serve and wait upon them as they do
upon their fathers. Similar to this is the state of our own
uncivilized peasants. In proportion as civilization spreads, the
manners become milder, and the condition of the women improves,
till, by a contrary excess, they arrive at dominion, and then a
nation becomes effeminate and corrupt. It is remarkable that
parental authority is great in proportion as the government is
despotic. China, India, and Turkey are striking examples of this.
One would suppose that tyrants gave themselves accomplices and
interested subaltern despots to maintain their authority. In
opposition to this the Romans will be cited, but it remains to be
proved that the Romans were men truly free and their quick passage
from their republican despotism to their abject servility under the
emperors, gives room at least for considerable doubt as to that
In societies formed on such foundations, when time and labor had
developed riches, cupidity restrained by the laws, became more
artful, but not less active. Under the mask of union and civil
peace, it fomented in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in
which the citizens, divided into contending corps of orders,
classes, families, unremittingly struggled to appropriate to
themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability to plunder
every thing, and render every thing subservient to the dictates of
their passions; and this spirit of encroachment, disguised under
all possible forms, but always the same in its object and motives,
has never ceased to torment the nations.
Sometimes, opposing itself to all social compact, or breaking that
which already existed, it committed the inhabitants of a country to
the tumultuous shock of all their discords; and states thus
dissolved, and reduced to the condition of anarchy, were tormented
by the passions of all their members.
Sometimes a nation, jealous of its liberty, having appointed agents
to administer its government, these agents appropriated the powers
of which they had only the guardianship: they employed the public
treasures in corrupting elections, gaining partisans, in dividing
the people among themselves. By these means, from being temporary
they became perpetual; from elective, hereditary; and the state,
agitated by the intrigues of the ambitious, by largesses from the
rich and factious, by the venality of the poor and idle, by the
influence of orators, by the boldness of the wicked, and the
weakness of the virtuous, was convulsed with all the inconveniences
The chiefs of some countries, equal in strength and mutually
fearing each other, formed impious pacts, nefarious associations;
and, apportioning among themselves all power, rank, and honor,
unjustly arrogated privileges and immunities; erected themselves
into separate orders and distinct classes; reduced the people to
their control; and, under the name of aristocracy, the state was
tormented by the passions of the wealthy and the great.
Sacred impostors, in other countries, tending by other means to the
same object, abused the credulity of the ignorant. In the gloom of
their temples, behind the curtain of the altar, they made their
gods act and speak; gave forth oracles, worked miracles, ordered
sacrifices, levied offerings, prescribed endowments; and, under the
names of theocracy and of religion, the state became tormented by
the passions of the priests.
Sometimes a nation, weary of its dissensions or of its tyrants, to
lessen the sources of evil, submitted to a single master; but if it
limited his powers, his sole aim was to enlarge them; if it left
them indefinite, he abused the trust confided to him; and, under
the name of monarchy, the state was tormented by the passions of
kings and princes.
Then the factions, availing themselves of the general discontent,
flattered the people with the hope of a better master; dealt out
gifts and promises, deposed the despot to take his place; and their
contests for the succession, or its partition, tormented the state
with the disorders and devastations of civil war.
In fine, among these rivals, one more adroit, or more fortunate,
gained the ascendency, and concentrated all power within himself.
By a strange phenomenon, a single individual mastered millions of
his equals, against their will and without their consent; and the
art of tyranny sprung also from cupidity.
In fact, observing the spirit of egotism which incessantly divides
mankind, the ambitious man fomented it with dexterity, flattered
the vanity of one, excited the jealousy of another, favored the
avarice of this, inflamed the resentment of that, and irritated the
passions of all; then, placing in opposition their interests and
prejudices, he sowed divisions and hatreds, promised to the poor
the spoils of the rich, to the rich the subjection of the poor;
threatened one man by another, this class by that; and insulating
all by distrust, created his strength out of their weakness, and
imposed the yoke of opinion, which they mutually riveted on each
other. With the army he levied contributions, and with
contributions he disposed of the army: dealing out wealth and
office on these principles, he enchained a whole people in
indissoluble bonds, and they languished under the slow consumption
Thus the same principle, varying its action under every possible
form, was forever attenuating the consistence of states, and an
eternal circle of vicissitudes flowed from an eternal circle of
And this spirit of egotism and usurpation produced two effects
equally operative and fatal: the one a division and subdivision of
societies into their smallest fractions, inducing a debility which
facilitated their dissolution; the other, a preserving tendency to
concentrate power in a single hand,* which, engulfing successively
societies and states, was fatal to their peace and social
* It is remarkable that this has in all instances been the constant
progress of societies; beginning with a state of anarchy or
democracy, that is, with a great division of power they have passed
to aristocracy, and from aristocracy to monarchy. Does it not
hence follow that those who constitute states under the democratic
form, destine them to undergo all the intervening troubles between
that and monarchy; but it should at the same time be proved that
social experience is already exhausted for the human race, and that
this spontaneous movement is not solely the effect of ignorance.
Thus, as in a state, a party absorbed the nation, a family the
party, and an individual the family; so a movement of absorption
took place between state and state, and exhibited on a larger scale
in the political order, all the particular evils of the civil
order. Thus a state having subdued a state, held it in subjection
in the form of a province; and two provinces being joined together
formed a kingdom; two kingdoms being united by conquest, gave birth
to empires of gigantic size; and in this conglomeration, the
internal strength of states, instead of increasing, diminished; and
the condition of the people, instead of ameliorating, became daily
more abject and wretched, for causes derived from the nature of
Because, in proportion as states increased in extent, their
administration becoming more difficult and complicated, greater
energies of power were necessary to move such masses; and there was
no longer any proportion between the duties of sovereigns and their
ability to perform their duties:
Because despots, feeling their weakness, feared whatever might
develop the strength of nations, and studied only how to enfeeble
Because nations, divided by the prejudices of ignorance and hatred,
seconded the wickedness of their governments; and availing
themselves reciprocally of subordinate agents, aggravated their
Because, the balance between states being destroyed, the strong
more easily oppressed the weak.
Finally, because in proportion as states were concentrated, the
people, despoiled of their laws, of their usages, and of the
government of their choice, lost that spirit of personal
identification with their government, which had caused their
And despots, considering empires as their private domains and the
people as their property, gave themselves up to depredations, and
to all the licentiousness of the most arbitrary authority.
And all the strength and wealth of nations were diverted to private
expense and personal caprice; and kings, fatigued with
gratification, abandoned themselves to all the extravagancies of
factitious and depraved taste.* They must have gardens mounted on
arcades, rivers raised over mountains, fertile fields converted
into haunts for wild beasts; lakes scooped in dry lands, rocks
erected in lakes, palaces built of marble and porphyry, furniture
of gold and diamonds. Under the cloak of religion, their pride
founded temples, endowed indolent priests, built, for vain
skeletons, extravagant tombs, mausoleums and pyramids;** millions
of hands were employed in sterile labors; and the luxury of
princes, imitated by their parasites, and transmitted from grade to
grade to the lowest ranks, became a general source of corruption
* It is equally worthy of remark, that the conduct and manners of
princes and kings of every country and every age, are found to be
precisely the same at similar periods, whether of the formation or
dissolution of empires. History every where presents the same
pictures of luxury and folly; of parks, gardens, lakes, rocks,
palaces, furniture, excess of the table, wine, women, concluding
The absurd rock in the garden of Versailles has alone cost three
millions. I have sometimes calculated what might have been done
with the expense of the three pyramids of Gizah, and I have found
that it would easily have constructed from the Red Sea to
Alexandria, a canal one hundred and fifty feet wide and thirty
deep, completely covered in with cut stones and a parapet, together
with a fortified and commercial town, consisting of four hundred
houses, furnished with cisterns. What a difference in point of
utility between such a canal and these pyramids!
** The learned Dupuis could not be persuaded that the pyramids were
tombs; but besides the positive testimony of historians, read what
Diodorus says of the religious and superstitious importance every
Egyptian attached to building his dwelling eternal, b. 1.
During twenty years, says Herodotus, a hundred thousand men labored
every day to build the pyramid of the Egyptian Cheops. Supposing
only three hundred days a year, on account of the sabbath, there
will be 30 millions of days' work in a year, and 600 millions in
twenty years; at 15 sous a day, this makes 450 millions of francs
lost, without any further benefit. With this sum, if the king had
shut the isthmus of Suez by a strong wall, like that of China, the
destinies of Egypt might have been entirely changed. Foreign
invasions would have been prevented, and the Arabs of the desert
would neither have conquered nor harassed that country. Sterile
labors! how many millions lost in putting one stone upon another,
under the forms of temples and churches! Alchymists convert stones
into gold; but architects change gold into stone. Woe to the kings
(as well as subjects) who trust their purse to these two classes of
And in the insatiable thirst of enjoyment, the ordinary revenues no
longer sufficing, they were augmented; the cultivator, seeing his
labors increase without compensation, lost all courage; the
merchant, despoiled, was disgusted with industry; the multitude,
condemned to perpetual poverty, restrained their labor to simple
necessaries; and all productive industry vanished.
The surcharge of taxes rendering lands a burdensome possession, the
poor proprietor abandoned his field, or sold it to the powerful;
and fortune became concentrated in a few hands. All the laws and
institutions favoring this accumulation, the nation became divided
into a group of wealthy drones, and a multitude of mercenary poor;
the people were degraded with indigence, the great with satiety,
and the number of those interested in the preservation of the state
decreasing, its strength and existence became proportionally
On the other hand, emulation finding no object, science no
encouragement, the mind sunk into profound ignorance.
The administration being secret and mysterious, there existed no
means of reform or amelioration. The chiefs governing by force or
fraud, the people viewed them as a faction of public enemies; and
all harmony ceased between the governors and governed.
And these vices having enervated the states of the wealthy part of
Asia, the vagrant and indigent people of the adjacent deserts and
mountains coveted the enjoyments of the fertile plains; and, urged
by a cupidity common to all, attacked the polished empires, and
overturned the thrones of their despots. These revolutions were
rapid and easy; because the policy of tyrants had enfeebled the
subjects, razed the fortresses, destroyed the warriors; and because
the oppressed subjects remained without personal interest, and the
mercenary soldiers without courage.
And hordes of barbarians having reduced entire nations to slavery,
the empires, formed of conquerors and conquered, united in their
bosom two classes essentially opposite and hostile. All the
principles of society were dissolved: there was no longer any
common interest, no longer any public spirit; and there arose a
distinction of casts and races, which reduced to a regular system
the maintenance of disorder; and he who was born of this or that
blood, was born a slave or a tyrant--property or proprietor.
The oppressors being less numerous than the oppressed it was
necessary to perfect the science of oppression, in order to support
this false equilibrium. The art of governing became the art of
subjecting the many to the few. To enforce an obedience so
contrary to instinct, the severest punishments were established,
and the cruelty of the laws rendered manners atrocious. The
distinction of persons establishing in the state two codes, two
orders of criminal justice, two sets of laws, the people, placed
between the propensities of the heart and the oath uttered from the
mouth, had two consciences in contradiction with each other; and
the ideas of justice and injustice had no longer any foundation in
Under such a system, the people fell into dejection and despair;
and the accidents of nature were added to the other evils which
assailed them. Prostrated by so many calamities, they attributed
their causes to superior and hidden powers; and, because they had
tyrants on earth, they fancied others in heaven; and superstition
aggravated the misfortunes of nations.
Fatal doctrines and gloomy and misanthropic systems of religion
arose, which painted their gods, like their despots, wicked and
envious. To appease them, man offered up the sacrifice of all his
enjoyments. He environed himself in privations, and reversed the
order of nature. Conceiving his pleasures to be crimes, his
sufferings expiations, he endeavored to love pain, and to abjure
the love of self. He persecuted his senses, hated his life; and a
self-denying and anti-social morality plunged nations into the
apathy of death.
But provident nature having endowed the heart of man with hope
inexhaustible, when his desires of happiness were baffled on this
earth, he pursued it into another world. By a sweet illusion he
created for himself another country--an asylum where, far from
tyrants, he should recover the rights of nature, and thence
resulted new disorders. Smitten with an imaginary world, man
despised that of nature. For chimerical hopes, he neglected
realities. His life began to appear a troublesome journey--a
painful dream; his body a prison, the obstacle to his felicity; and
the earth, a place of exile and of pilgrimage, not worthy of
culture. Then a holy indolence spread over the political world;
the fields were deserted, empires depopulated, monuments neglected
and deserts multiplied; ignorance, superstition and fanaticism,
combining their operations, overwhelmed the earth with devastation
Thus agitated by their own passions, men, whether collectively or
individually taken, always greedy and improvident, passing from
slavery to tyranny, from pride to baseness, from presumption to
despondency, have made themselves the perpetual instruments of
their own misfortunes.
These, then, are the principles, simple and natural, which
regulated the destiny of ancient states. By this regular and
connected series of causes and effects, they rose or fell, in
proportion as the physical laws of the human heart were respected
or violated; and in the course of their successive changes, a
hundred different nations, a hundred different empires, by turns
humbled, elevated, conquered, overthrown, have repeated for the
earth their instructive lessons. Yet these lessons were lost for
the generations which have followed! The disorders in times past
have reappeared in the present age! The chiefs of the nations have
continued to walk in the paths of falsehood and tyranny!--the
people to wander in the darkness of superstition and ignorance!
Since then, continued the Genius, with renewed energy, since the
experience of past ages is lost for the living--since the errors of
progenitors have not instructed their descendants, the ancient
examples are about to reappear; the earth will see renewed the
tremendous scenes it has forgotten. New revolutions will agitate
nations and empires; powerful thrones will again be overturned, and
terrible catastrophes will again teach mankind that the laws of
nature and the precepts of wisdom and truth cannot be infringed
LESSONS OF TIMES PAST REPEATED ON THE PRESENT.
Thus spoke the Genius. Struck with the justice and coherence of
his discourse, assailed with a crowd of ideas, repugnant to my
habits yet convincing to my reason, I remained absorbed in profound
silence. At length, while with serious and pensive mien, I kept my
eyes fixed on Asia, suddenly in the north, on the shores of the
Black sea, and in the fields of the Crimea, clouds of smoke and
flame attracted my attention. They appeared to rise at the same
time from all parts of the peninsula; and passing by the isthmus
into the continent, they ran, as if driven by a westerly wind,
along the oozy lake of Azof, and disappeared in the grassy plains
of Couban; and following more attentively the course of these
clouds, I observed that they were preceded or followed by swarms of
moving creatures, which, like ants or grasshoppers disturbed by the
foot of a passenger, agitated themselves with vivacity. Sometimes
these swarms appeared to advance and rush against each other; and
numbers, after the concussion, remained motionless. While
disquieted at this spectacle, I strained my sight to distinguish
Do you see, said the Genius, those flames which spread over the
earth, and do you comprehend their causes and effects?
Oh! Genius, I answered, I see those columns of flame and smoke, and
something like insects, accompanying them; but, when I can scarcely
discern the great masses of cities and monuments, how should I
discover, such little creatures? I can just perceive that these
insects mimic battle, for they advance, retreat, attack and pursue.
It is no mimicry, said the Genius, these are real battles.
And what, said I, are those mad animalculae, which destroy each
other? Beings of a day! will they not perish soon enough?
Then the Genius, touching my sight and hearing, again directed my
eyes towards the same object. Look, said he, and listen!
Ah! wretches, cried I, oppressed with grief, these columns of
flame! these insects! oh! Genius, they are men. These are the
ravages of war! These torrents of flame rise from towns and
villages! I see the squadrons who kindle them, and who, sword in
hand overrun the country: they drive before them crowds of old men,
women, and children, fugitive and desolate: I perceive other
horsemen, who with shouldered lances, accompany and guide them. I
even recognize them to be Tartars by their led horses,* their
kalpacks, and tufts of hair: and, doubtless, they who pursue, in
triangular hats and green uniforms, are Muscovites. Ah! I now
comprehend, a war is kindled between the empire of the Czars and
that of the Sultans.
* A Tartar horseman has always two horses, of which he leads one in
hand. The Kalpeck is a bonnet made of the skin of a sheep or other
animal. The part of the head covered by this bonnet is shaved,
with the exception of a tuft, about the size of a crown piece, and
which is suffered to grow to the length of seven or eight inches,
precisely where our priests place their tonsure. It is by this
tuft of hair, worn by the majority of Mussulmen, that the angel of
the tomb is to take the elect and carry them into paradise.
Not yet, replied the Genius; this is only a preliminary. These
Tartars have been, and might still he troublesome neighbors. The
Muscovites are driving them off, finding their country would be a
convenient extension of their own limits; and as a prelude to
another revolution, the throne of the Guerais is destroyed.
And in fact, I saw the Russian standards floating over the Crimea:
and soon after their flag waving on the Euxine.
Meanwhile, at the cry of the flying Tartars, the Mussulman empire
was in commotion. They are driving off our brethren, cried the
children of Mahomet: the people of the prophet are outraged!
infidels occupy a consecrated land and profane the temples of
Islamism.* Let us arm; let us rush to combat, to avenge the glory
of God and our own cause.
* It is not in the power of the Sultan to cede to a foreign power a
province inhabited by true believers. The people, instigated by
the lawyers, would not fail to revolt. This is one reason which
has led those who know the Turks, to regard as chimerical the
ceding of Candia, Cyprus, and Egypt, projected by certain European
And a general movement of war took place in both empires. In every
part armed men assembled. Provisions, stores, and all the
murderous apparatus of battle were displayed. The temples of both
nations, besieged by an immense multitude, presented a spectacle
which fixed all my attention.
On one side, the Mussulmen gathered before their mosques, washed
their hands and feet, pared their nails, and combed their beards;
then spreading carpets upon the ground, and turning towards the
south, with their arms sometimes crossed and sometimes extended,
they made genuflexions and prostrations, and recollecting the
disasters of the late war, they exclaimed:
God of mercy and clemency! hast thou then abandoned thy faithful
people? Thou who hast promised to thy Prophet dominion over
nations, and stamped his religion by so many triumphs, dost thou
deliver thy true believers to the swords of infidels?
And the Imans and the Santons said to the people:
It is in chastisement of your sins. You eat pork; you drink wine;
you touch unclean things. God hath punished you. Do penance
therefore; purify; repeat the profession of faith;* fast from the
rising to the setting sun; give the tenth of your goods to the
mosques; go to Mecca; and God will render you victorious.
* There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.
And the people, recovering courage, uttered loud cries:
There is but one God, said they transported with fury, and Mahomet
is his prophet! Accursed be he who believeth not!
God of goodness, grant us to exterminate these Christians; it is
for thy glory we fight, and our death is a martyrdom for thy name.
And then, offering victims, they prepared for battle.
On the other side, the Russians, kneeling, said:
We render thanks to God, and celebrate his power. He hath
strengthened our arm to humble his enemies. Hear our prayers, thou
God of mercy! To please thee, we will pass three days without
eating either meat or eggs. Grant us to extirpate these impious
Mahometans, and to overturn their empire. To thee we will
consecrate the tenth of our spoil; to thee we will raise new
And the priests filled the churches with clouds of smoke, and said
to the people:
We pray for you, God accepteth our incense, and blesseth your arms.
Continue to fast and to fight; confess to us your secret sins; give
your wealth to the church; we will absolve you from your crimes,
and you shall die in a state of grace.
And they sprinkled water upon the people, dealt out to them, as
amulets and charms, small relics of the dead, and the people
breathed war and combat.
Struck with this contrast of the same passions, and grieving for
their fatal consequences, I was considering the difficulty with
which the common judge could yield to prayers so contradictory;
when the Genius, glowing with anger, spoke with vehemence:
What accents of madness strike my ear? What blind and perverse
delirium disorders the spirits of the nations? Sacrilegious
prayers rise not from the earth! and you, oh Heavens, reject their
homicidal vows and impious thanksgivings! Deluded mortals! is it
thus you revere the Divinity? Say then; how should he, whom you
style your common father, receive the homage of his children
murdering one another? Ye victors! with what eye should he view
your hands reeking in the blood he hath created? And, what do you
expect, oh vanquished, from useless groans? Hath God the heart of
a mortal, with passions ever changing? Is he, like you, agitated
with vengeance or compassion, with wrath or repentance? What base
conception of the most sublime of beings! According to them, it
would seem, that God whimsical and capricious, is angered or
appeased as a man: that he loves and hates alternately; that he
punishes or favors; that, weak or wicked, he broods over his
hatred; that, contradictory or perfidious, he lays snares to
entrap; that he punishes the evils he permits; that he foresees but
hinders not crimes; that, like a corrupt judge, he is bribed by
offerings; like an ignorant despot, he makes laws and revokes them;
that, like a savage tyrant, he grants or resumes favors without
reason, and can only be appeased by servility. Ah! now I know the
lying spirit of man! Contemplating the picture which he hath drawn
of the Divinity: No, said I, it is not God who hath made man after
the image of God; but man hath made God after the image of man; he
hath given him his own mind, clothed him with his own propensities;
ascribed to him his own judgments. And when in this medley he
finds the contradiction of his own principles, with hypocritical
humility, he imputes weakness to his reason, and names the
absurdities of his own mind the mysteries of God.
He hath said, God is immutable, yet he offers prayers to change
him; he hath pronounced him incomprehensible, yet he interprets him
Imposters have arisen on the earth who have called themselves the
confidants of God; and, erecting themselves into teachers of the
people, have opened the ways of falsehood and iniquity; they have
ascribed merit to practices indifferent or ridiculous; they have
supposed a virtue, in certain postures, in pronouncing certain
words, articulating certain names; they have transformed into a
crime the eating of certain meats, the drinking of certain liquors,
on one day rather than another. The Jew would rather die than
labor on the sabbath; the Persian would endure suffocation, before
he would blow the fire with his breath; the Indian places supreme
perfection in besmearing himself with cow-dung, and pronouncing
mysteriously the word Aum;* the Mussulman believes he has expiated
everything in washing his head and arms; and disputes, sword in
hand, whether the ablution should commence at the elbow, or finger
ends;** the Christian would think himself damned, if he ate flesh
instead of milk or butter. Oh sublime doctrines! Doctrines truly
from heaven! Oh perfect morals, and worthy of martyrdom or the
apostolate! I will cross the seas to teach these admirable laws to
the savage people--to distant nations; I will say unto them:
* This word is, in the religion of the Hindoos, a sacred emblem of
the Divinity. It is only to be pronounced in secret, without being
heard by any one. It is formed of three letters, of which the
first, a, signifies the principal of all, the creator, Brama; the
second, u, the conservator, Vichenou; and the last, m, the
destroyer, who puts an end to all, Chiven. It is pronounced like
the monosyllable om, and expresses the unity of those three Gods.
The idea is precisely that of the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the
** This is one of the grand points of schism between the partisans
of Omar and those of Ali. Suppose two Mahometans to meet on a
journey, and to accost each other with brotherly affection: the
hour of prayer arrives; one begins his ablution at his fingers, the
other at the elbow, and instantly they are mortal enemies. O
sublime importance of religious opinions! O profound philosophy of
the authors of them!
Children of nature, how long will you walk in the paths of
ignorance? how long will you mistake the true principles of
morality and religion? Come and learn its lessons from nations
truly pious and learned, in civilized countries. They will inform
you how, to gratify God, you must in certain months of the year,
languish the whole day with hunger and thirst; how you may shed
your neighbor's blood, and purify yourself from it by professions
of faith and methodical ablutions; how you may steal his property
and be absolved on sharing it with certain persons, who devote
themselves to its consumption.
Sovereign and invisible power of the universe! mysterious mover of
nature! universal soul of beings! thou who art unknown, yet revered
by mortals under so many names! being incomprehensible and
infinite! God, who in the immensity of the heavens directest the
movement of worlds, and peoplest the abyss of space with millions
of suns! say what do these human insects, which my sight no longer
discerns on the earth, appear in thy eyes? To thee, who art
guiding stars in their orbits, what are those wormlings writhing
themselves in the dust? Of what import to thy immensity, their
distinctions of parties and sects? And of what concern the
subtleties with which their folly torments itself?
And you, credulous men, show me the effect of your practices! In
so many centuries, during which you have been following or altering
them, what changes have your prescriptions wrought in the laws of
nature? Is the sun brighter? Is the course of the seasons varied?
Is the earth more fruitful, or its inhabitants more happy? If God
be good, can your penances please him? If infinite, can your
homage add to his glory? If his decrees have been formed on
foresight of every circumstance, can your prayers change them?
Answer, O inconsistent mortals!
Ye conquerors of the earth, who pretend you serve God! doth he need
your aid? If he wishes to punish, hath he not earthquakes,
volcanoes, and thunder? And cannot a merciful God correct without
Ye Mussulmans, if God chastiseth you for violating the five
precepts, how hath he raised up the Franks who ridicule them? If
he governeth the earth by the Koran, by what did he govern it
before the days of the prophet, when it was covered with so many
nations who drank wine, ate pork, and went not to Mecca, whom he
nevertheless permitted to raise powerful empires? How did he judge
the Sabeans of Nineveh and of Babylon; the Persian, worshipper of
fire; the Greek and Roman idolators; the ancient kingdoms of the
Nile; and your own ancestors, the Arabians and Tartars? How doth
he yet judge so many nations who deny, or know not your worship--
the numerous castes of Indians, the vast empire of the Chinese, the
sable race of Africa, the islanders of the ocean, the tribes of
Presumptuous and ignorant men, who arrogate the earth to
yourselves! if God were to gather all the generations past and
present, what would be, in their ocean, the sects calling
themselves universal, of Christians and Mussulmans? What would be
the judgments of his equal and common justice over the real
universality of mankind? Therein it is that your knowledge loseth
itself in incoherent systems; it is there that truth shines with
evidence; and there are manifested the powerful and simple laws of
nature and reason--laws of a common and general mover--of a God
impartial and just, who sheds rain on a country without asking who
is its prophet; who causeth his sun to shine alike on all the races
of men, on the white as on the black, on the Jew, on the Mussulman,
the Christian, and the Idolater; who reareth the harvest wherever
cultivated with diligence; who multiplieth every nation where
industry and order prevaileth; who prospereth every empire where
justice is practised, where the powerful are restrained, and the
poor protected by the laws; where the weak live in safety, and all
enjoy the rights given by nature and a compact formed in justice.
These are the principles by which people are judged! this the true
religion which regulates the destiny of empires, and which, O
Ottomans, hath governed yours! Interrogate your ancestors, ask of
them by what means they rose to greatness; when few, poor and
idolaters, they came from the deserts of Tartary and encamped in
these fertile countries; ask if it was by Islamism, till then
unknown to them, that they conquered the Greeks and the Arabs, or
was it by their courage, their prudence, moderation, spirit of
union--the true powers of the social state? Then the Sultan
himself dispensed justice, and maintained discipline. The
prevaricating judge, the extortionate governor, were punished, and
the multitude lived at ease. The cultivator was protected from the
rapine of the janissary, and the fields prospered; the highways
were safe, and commerce caused abundance. You were a band of
plunderers, but just among yourselves. You subdued nations, but
did not oppress them. Harassed by their own princes, they
preferred being your tributaries. What matters it, said the
Christian, whether my ruler breaks or adores images, if he renders
justice to me? God will judge his doctrines in the heavens above.
You were sober and hardy; your enemies timid and enervated; you
were expert in battle, your enemies unskillful; your leaders were
experienced, your soldiers warlike and disciplined. Booty excited
ardor, bravery was rewarded, cowardice and insubordination
punished, and all the springs of the human heart were in action.
Thus you vanquished a hundred nations, and of a mass of conquered
kingdoms compounded an immense empire.
But other customs have succeeded; and in the reverses attending
them, the laws of nature have still exerted their force. After
devouring your enemies, your cupidity, still insatiable, has
reacted on itself, and, concentrated in your own bowels, has
Having become rich, you have quarrelled for partition and
enjoyment, and disorder hath arisen in every class of society.
The Sultan, intoxicated with grandeur, has mistaken the object of
his functions; and all the vices of arbitrary power have been
developed. Meeting no obstacle to his appetites, he has become a
depraved being; weak and arrogant, he has kept the people at a
distance; and their voice has no longer instructed and guided him.
Ignorant, yet flattered, neglecting all instruction, all study, he
has fallen into imbecility; unfit for business, he has thrown its
burdens on hirelings, and they have deceived him. To satisfy their
own passions, they have stimulated and nourished his; they have
multiplied his wants, and his enormous luxury has consumed
everything. The frugal table, plain clothing, simple dwelling of
his ancestors no longer sufficed. To supply his pomp, earth and
sea have been exhausted. The rarest furs have been brought from
the poles; the most costly tissues from the equator. He has
devoured at a meal the tribute of a city, and in a day that of a
province. He has surrounded himself with an army of women,
eunuchs, and satellites. They have instilled into him that the
virtue of kings is to be liberal, and the munificence and treasures
of the people have been delivered into the hands of flatterers. In
imitation of their master, his servants must also have splendid
houses, the most exquisite furniture; carpets embroidered at great
cost, vases of gold and silver for the lowest uses, and all the
riches of the empire have been swallowed up in the Serai.
To supply this inordinate luxury, the slaves and women have sold
their influence, and venality has introduced a general depravation.
The favor of the sovereign has been sold to his vizier, and the
vizier has sold the empire. The law has been sold to the cadi, and
the cadi has made sale of justice. The altar has been sold to the
priest, and the priest has sold the kingdom of heaven. And gold
obtaining everything, they have sacrificed everything to obtain
gold. For gold, friend has betrayed friend, the child his parent,
the servant his master, the wife her honor, the merchant his
conscience; and good faith, morals, concord, and strength were
banished from the state.
The pacha, who had purchased the government of his province, farmed
it out to others, who exercised every extortion. He sold in turn
the collection of the taxes, the command of the troops, the
administration of the villages; and as every employ has been
transient, rapine, spread from rank to rank, has been greedy and
implacable. The revenue officer has fleeced the merchant, and
commerce was annihilated; the aga has plundered the husbandman, and
culture has degenerated. The laborer, deprived of his stock, has
been unable to sow; the tax was augmented, and he could not pay it;
the bastinado has been threatened, and he has borrowed. Money,
from want of security, being locked up from circulation, interest
was therefore enormous, and the usury of the rich has aggravated
the misery of the laborer.
When excessive droughts and accidents of seasons have blasted the
harvest, the government has admitted no delay, no indulgence for
the tax; and distress bearing hard on the village, a part of its
inhabitants have taken refuge in the cities; and their burdens
falling on those who remained, has completed their ruin, and
depopulated the country.
If driven to extremity by tyranny and outrage, the villages have
revolted, the pacha rejoices. He wages war on them, assails their
homes, pillages their property, carries off their stock; and when
the fields have become a desert, he exclaims:
"What care I? I leave these fields to-morrow."
The earth wanting laborers, the rain of heaven and overflowing of
torrents have stagnated in marshes; and their putrid exhalations in
a warm climate, have caused epidemics, plagues, and maladies of all
sorts, whence have flowed additional suffering, penury, and ruin.
Oh! who can enumerate all the calamities of tyrannical government?
Sometimes the pachas declare war against each other, and for their
personal quarrels the provinces of the same state are laid waste.
Sometimes, fearing their masters, they attempt independence, and
draw on their subjects the chastisement of their revolt. Sometimes
dreading their subjects, they invite and subsidize strangers, and
to insure their fidelity set no bounds to their depredations. Here
they persecute the rich and despoil them under false pretences;
there they suborn false witnesses, and impose penalties for
suppositious offences; everywhere they excite the hatred of
parties, encourage informations to obtain amercements, extort
property, seize persons; and when their short-sighted avarice has
accumulated into one mass all the riches of a country, the
government, by an execrable perfidy, under pretence of avenging its
oppressed people, takes to itself all their spoils, as if they were
the culprits, and uselessly sheds the blood of its agents for a
crime of which it is the accomplice.
Oh wretches, monarchs or ministers, who sport with the lives and
fortunes of the people! Is it you who gave breath to man, that you
dare take it from him? Do you give growth to the plants of the
earth, that you may waste them? Do you toil to furrow the field?
Do you endure the ardor of the sun, and the torment of thirst, to
reap the harvest or thrash the grain? Do you, like the shepherd,
watch through the dews of the night? Do you traverse deserts, like
the merchant? Ah! on beholding the pride and cruelty of the
powerful, I have been transported with indignation, and have said
in my wrath, will there never then arise on the earth men who will
avenge the people and punish tyrants? A handful of brigands devour
the multitude, and the multitude submits to be devoured! Oh!
degenerate people! Know you not your rights? All authority is
from you, all power is yours. Unlawfully do kings command you on
the authority of God and of their lance--Soldiers be still; if God
supports the Sultan he needs not your aid; if his sword suffices,
he needs not yours; let us see what he can do alone. The soldiers
grounded their arms; and behold these masters of the world, feeble
as the meanest of their subjects! People! know that those who
govern are your chiefs, not your masters; your agents, not your
owners; that they have no authority over you, but by you, and for
you; that your wealth is yours and they accountable for it; that,
kings or subjects, God has made all men equal, and no mortal has
the right to oppress his fellow-creatures.
But this nation and its chiefs have mistaken these holy truths.
They must abide then the consequences of their blindness. The
decree is past; the day approaches when this colossus of power
shall be crushed and crumbled under its own mass. Yes, I swear it,
by the ruins of so many empires destroyed. The empire of the
Crescent shall follow the fate of the despotism it has copied. A
nation of strangers shall drive the Sultan from his metropolis.
The throne of Orkhan shall be overturned. The last shoot of his
trunk shall be broken off; and the horde of Oguzians,* deprived of
their chief, shall disperse like that of the Nagois. In this
dissolution, the people of the empire, loosened from the yoke which
united them, shall resume their ancient distinctions, and a general
anarchy shall follow, as happened in the empire of the Sophis;**
until there shall arise among the Arabians, Armenians, or Greeks,
legislators who may compose new states.
* Before the Turks took the name of their chief, Othman I., they
bore that of Oguzians; and it was under this appellation that they
were driven out of Tartary by Gengis, and came from the borders of
Giboun to settle themselves in Anatolia.
** In Persia, after the death of Thamas-Koulikan, each province had
its chief, and for forty years these chiefs were in a constant
state of war. In this view the Turks do not say without reason:
"Ten years of a tyrant are less destructive than a single night of
Oh! if there were on earth men profound and bold! what elements for
grandeur and glory! But the hour of destiny has already come; the
cry of war strikes my ear; and the catastrophe begins. In vain the
Sultan leads forth his armies; his ignorant warriors are beaten and
dispersed. In vain he calls his subjects; their hearts are ice.
Is it not written? say they, what matters who is our master? We
cannot lose by the change.
In vain the true believers invoke heaven and the prophet. The
prophet is dead; and heaven without pity answers:
Cease to invoke me. You have caused your own misfortunes; cure
them yourselves. Nature has established laws; your part is to obey
them. Observe, reason, and profit by experience. It is the folly
of man which ruins him; let his wisdom save him. The people are
ignorant; let them gain instruction. Their chiefs are wicked; let
them correct and amend; for such is Nature's decree. Since the
evils of society spring from cupidity and ignorance, men will never
cease to be persecuted, till they become enlightened and wise; till
they practise justice, founded on a knowledge of their relations
and of the laws of their organization.*
* A singular moral phenomenon made its appearance in Europe in the
year 1788. A great nation, jealous of its liberty, contracted a
fondness for a nation the enemy of liberty; a nation friendly to
the arts, for a nation that detests them; a mild and tolerant
nation, for a persecuting and fanatic one; a social and gay nation,
for a nation whose characteristics are gloom and misanthropy; in a
word, the French were smitten with a passion for the Turks: they
were desirous of engaging in a war for them, and that at a time
when revolution in their own country was just at its commencement.
A man, who perceived the true nature of the situation, wrote a book
to dissuade them from the war: it was immediately pretended that he
was paid by the government, which in reality wished the war, and
which was upon the point of shutting him up in a state prison.
Another man wrote to recommend the war: he was applauded, and his
word taken for the science, the politeness, and importance of the
Turks. It is true that he believed in his own thesis, for he has
found among them people who cast a nativity, and alchymists who
ruined his fortune; as he found Martinists at Paris, who enabled
him to sup with Sesostris, and Magnetizers who concluded with
destroying his existence. Notwithstanding this, the Turks were
beaten by the Russians, and the man who then predicted the fall of
their empire, persists in the prediction. The result of this fall
will be a complete change of the political system, as far as it
relates to the coast of the Mediterranean. If, however, the French
become important in proportion as they become free, and if they
make use of the advantage they will obtain, their progress may
easily prove of the most honorable sort; inasmuch as, by the wise
decrees of fate, the true interest of mankind evermore accords with
their true morality.
WILL THE HUMAN RACE IMPROVE?
At these words, oppressed with the painful sentiment with which
their severity overwhelmed me: Woe to the nations! cried I, melting
in tears; woe to myself! Ah! now it is that I despair of the
happiness of man! Since his miseries proceed from his heart; since
the remedy is in his own power, woe for ever to his existence!
Who, indeed will ever be able to restrain the lust of wealth in the
strong and powerful? Who can enlighten the ignorance of the weak?
Who can teach the multitude to know their rights, and force their
chiefs to perform their duties? Thus the race of man is always
doomed to suffer! Thus the individual will not cease to oppress
the individual, a nation to attack a nation; and days of
prosperity, of glory, for these regions, shall never return. Alas!
conquerors will come; they will drive out the oppressors, and fix
themselves in their place; but, inheriting their power, they will
inherit their rapacity; and the earth will have changed tyrants,
without changing the tyranny.
Then, turning to the Genius, I exclaimed:
O Genius, despair hath settled on my soul. Knowing the nature of
man, the perversity of those who govern, and the debasement of the
governed--this knowledge hath disgusted me with life; and since
there is no choice but to be the accomplice or the victim of
oppression, what remains to the man of virtue but to mingle his
ashes with those of the tomb?
The Genius then gave me a look of severity, mingled with
compassion; and after a few moments of silence, he replied:
Virtue, then, consists in dying! The wicked man is indefatigable
in consummating his crime, and the just is discouraged from doing
good at the first obstacle he encounters! But such is the human
heart. A little success intoxicates man with confidence; a reverse
overturns and confounds him. Always given up to the sensation of
the moment, he seldom judges things from their nature, but from the
impulse of his passion.
Mortal, who despairest of the human race, on what profound
combination of facts hast thou established thy conclusion? Hast
thou scrutinized the organization of sentient beings, to determine
with precision whether the instinctive force which moves them on to
happiness is essentially weaker than that which repels them from
it? or, embracing in one glance the history of the species, and
judging the future by the past, hast thou shown that all
improvement is impossible? Say! hath human society, since its
origin, made no progress toward knowledge and a better state? Are
men still in their forests, destitute of everything, ignorant,
stupid and ferocious? Are all the nations still in that age when
nothing was seen upon the globe but brutal robbers and brutal
slaves? If at any time, in any place, individuals have
ameliorated, why shall not the whole mass ameliorate? If partial
societies have made improvements, what shall hinder the improvement
of society in general? And if the first obstacles are overcome,
why should the others be insurmountable?
Art thou disposed to think that the human race degenerates? Guard
against the illusion and paradoxes of the misanthrope. Man,
discontented with the present, imagines for the past a perfection
which never existed, and which only serves to cover his chagrin.
He praises the dead out of hatred to the living, and beats the
children with the bones of their ancestors.
To prove this pretended retrograde progress from perfection we must
contradict the testimony of reason and of fact; and if the facts of
history are in any measure uncertain, we must contradict the living
fact of the organization of man; we must prove that he is born with
the enlightened use of his senses; that, without experience, he can
distinguish aliment from poison; that the child is wiser than the
old man; that the blind walks with more safety than the clear-
sighted; that the civilized man is more miserable than the savage;
and, indeed, that there is no ascending scale in experience and
Believe, young man, the testimony of monuments, and the voice of
the tombs. Some countries have doubtless fallen from what they
were at certain epochs; but if we weigh the wisdom and happiness of
their inhabitants, even in those times, we shall find more of
splendor than of reality in their glory; we shall find, in the most
celebrated of ancient states, enormous vices and cruel abuses, the
true causes of their decay; we shall find in general that the
principles of government were atrocious; that insolent robberies,
barbarous wars and implacable hatreds were raging from nation to
nation;* that natural right was unknown; that morality was
perverted by senseless fanaticism and deplorable superstition; that
a dream, a vision, an oracle, were constantly the causes of vast
commotions. Perhaps the nations are not yet entirely cured of all
these evils; but their intensity at least is diminished, and the
experience of the past has not been wholly lost. For the last
three centuries, especially, knowledge has increased and been
extended; civilization, favored by happy circumstances, has made a
sensible progress; inconveniences and abuses have even turned to
its advantage; for if states have been too much extended by
conquest, the people, by uniting under the same yoke, have lost the
spirit of estrangement and division which made them all enemies one
to the other. If the powers of government have been more
concentrated, there has been more system and harmony in their
exercise. If wars have become more extensive in the mass, they are
less bloody in detail. If men have gone to battle with less
personality, less energy, their struggles have been less sanguinary
and less ferocious; they have been less free, but less turbulent;
more effeminate, but more pacific. Despotism itself has rendered
them some service; for if governments have been more absolute, they
have been more quiet and less tempestuous. If thrones have become
a property and hereditary, they have excited less dissensions, and
the people have suffered fewer convulsions; finally, if the
despots, jealous and mysterious, have interdicted all knowledge of
their administration, all concurrence in the management of public
affairs, the passions of men, drawn aside from politics, have fixed
upon the arts, and the sciences of nature; and the sphere of ideas
in every direction has been enlarged; man, devoted to abstract
studies, has better understood his place in the system of nature,
and his relations in society; principles have been better
discussed, final causes better explained, knowledge more extended,
individuals better instructed, manners more social, and life more
happy. The species at large, especially in certain countries, has
gained considerably; and this amelioration cannot but increase in
future, because its two principal obstacles, those even which, till
then, had rendered it slow and sometimes retrograde,--the
difficulty of transmitting ideas and of communicating them
rapidly,--have been at last removed.
* Read the history of the wars of Rome and Carthage, of Sparta and
Messina, of Athens and Syracuse, of the Hebrews and the
Phoenicians: yet these are the nations of which antiquity boasts as
being most polished!
Indeed, among the ancients, each canton, each city, being isolated
from all others by the difference of its language, the consequence
was favorable to ignorance and anarchy. There was no communication
of ideas, no participation of discoveries, no harmony of interests
or of wills, no unity of action or design; besides, the only means
of transmitting and of propagating ideas being that of speech,
fugitive and limited, and that of writing, tedious of execution,
expensive and scarce, the consequence was a hindrance of present
instruction, loss of experience from one generation to another,
instability, retrogression of knowledge, and a perpetuity of
confusion and childhood.
But in the modern world, especially in Europe, great nations having
allied themselves in language, and established vast communities of
opinions, the minds of men are assimilated, and their affections
extended; there is a sympathy of opinion and a unity of action;
then that gift of heavenly Genius, the holy art of printing, having
furnished the means of communicating in an instant the same idea to
millions of men, and of fixing it in a durable manner, beyond the
power of tyrants to arrest or annihilate, there arose a mass of
progressive instruction, an expanding atmosphere of science, which
assures to future ages a solid amelioration. This amelioration is
a necessary effect of the laws of nature; for, by the law of
sensibility, man as invincibly tends to render himself happy as the
flame to mount, the stone to descend, or the water to find its
level. His obstacle is his ignorance, which misleads him in the
means, and deceives him in causes and effects. He will enlighten
himself by experience; he will become right by dint of errors; he
will grow wise and good because it is his interest so to be. Ideas
being communicated through the nation, whole classes will gain
instruction; science will become a vulgar possession, and all men
will know what are the principles of individual happiness and of
public prosperity. They will know the relations they bear to
society, their duties and their rights; they will learn to guard
against the illusions of the lust of gain; they will perceive that
the science of morals is a physical science, composed, indeed, of
elements complicated in their operation, but simple and invariable
in their nature, since they are only the elements of the
organization of man. They will see the propriety of being moderate
and just, because in that is found the advantage and security of
each; they will perceive that the wish to enjoy at the expense of
another is a false calculation of ignorance, because it gives rise
to reprisal, hatred, and vengeance, and that dishonesty is the
never-failing offspring of folly.
Individuals will feel that private happiness is allied to public
The weak, that instead of dividing their interests, they ought to
unite them, because equality constitutes their force:
The rich, that the measure of enjoyment is bounded by the
constitution of the organs, and that lassitude follows satiety:
The poor, that the employment of time, and the peace of the heart,
compose the highest happiness of man. And public opinion, reaching
kings on their thrones, will force them to confine themselves to
the limits of regular authority.
Even chance itself, serving the cause of nations, will sometimes
give them feeble chiefs, who, through weakness, will suffer them to
become free; and sometimes enlightened chiefs, who, from a
principle of virtue, will free them.
And when nations, free and enlightened, shall become like great
individuals, the whole species will have the same facilities as
particular portions now have; the communication of knowledge will
extend from one to another, and thus reach the whole. By the law
of imitation, the example of one people will be followed by others,
who will adopt its spirit and its laws. Even despots, perceiving
that they can no longer maintain their authority without justice
and beneficence, will soften their sway from necessity, from
rivalship; and civilization will become universal.
There will be established among the several nations an equilibrium
of force, which, restraining them all within the bounds of the
respect due to their reciprocal rights, shall put an end to the
barbarous practice of war, and submit their disputes to civil
arbitration.* The human race will become one great society, one
individual family, governed by the same spirit, by common laws, and
enjoying all the happiness of which their nature is susceptible.
* What is a people? An individual of the society at large. What a
war? A duel between two individual people. In what manner ought a
society to act when two of its members fight? Interfere and
reconcile, or repress them. In the days of the Abbe de Saint
Pierre this was treated as a dream, but happily for the human race
it begins to be realized.
Doubtless this great work will be long accomplishing; because the
same movement must be given to an immense body; the same leaven
must assimilate an enormous mass of heterogeneous parts. But this
movement shall be effected; its presages are already to be seen.
Already the great society, assuming in its course the same
characters as partial societies have done, is evidently tending to
a like result. At first disconnected in all its parts, it saw its
members for a long time without cohesion; and this general solitude
of nations formed its first age of anarchy and childhood; divided
afterwards by chance into irregular sections, called states and
kingdoms, it has experienced the fatal effects of an extreme
inequality of wealth and rank; and the aristocracy of great empires
has formed its second age; then, these lordly states disputing for
preeminence, have exhibited the period of the shock of factions.
At present the contending parties, wearied with discord, feel the
want of laws, and sigh for the age of order and of peace. Let but
a virtuous chief arise! a just, a powerful people appear! and the
earth will raise them to supreme power. The world is waiting for a
legislative people; it wishes and demands it; and my heart attends
Then turning towards the west: Yes, continued he, a hollow sound
already strikes my ear; a cry of liberty, proceeding from far
distant shores, resounds on the ancient continent. At this cry, a
secret murmur against oppression is raised in a powerful nation; a
salutary inquietude alarms her respecting her situation; she
enquires what she is, and what she ought to be; while, surprised at
her own weakness, she interrogates her rights, her resources, and
what has been the conduct of her chiefs.
Yet another day--a little more reflection--and an immense agitation
will begin; a new-born age will open! an age of astonishment to
vulgar minds, of terror to tyrants, of freedom to a great nation,
and of hope to the human race!
THE GREAT OBSTACLE TO IMPROVEMENT.
The Genius ceased. But preoccupied with melancholy thoughts, my
mind resisted persuasion; fearing, however, to shock him by my
resistance, I remained silent. After a while, turning to me with a
look which pierced my soul, he said:
Thou art silent, and thy heart is agitated with thoughts which it
dares not utter.
At last, troubled and terrified, I replied:
O Genius, pardon my weakness. Doubtless thy mouth can utter
nothing but truth; but thy celestial intelligence can seize its
rays, where my gross faculties can discern nothing but clouds. I
confess it; conviction has not penetrated my soul, and I feared
that my doubts might offend thee.
And what is doubt, replied he, that it should be a crime? Can man
feel otherwise than as he is affected? If a truth be palpable, and
of importance in practice, let us pity him that misconceives it.
His punishment will arise from his blindness. If it be uncertain
or equivocal, how is he to find in it what it has not? To believe
without evidence or proof, is an act of ignorance and folly. The
credulous man loses himself in a labyrinth of contradictions; the
man of sense examines and discusses, that he may be consistent in
his opinions. The honest man will bear contradiction; because it
gives rise to evidence. Violence is the argument of falsehood; and
to impose a creed by authority is the act and indication of a
O Genius, said I, encouraged by these words, since my reason is
free, I strive in vain to entertain the flattering hope with which
you endeavor to console me. The sensible and virtuous soul is
easily caught with dreams of happiness; but a cruel reality
constantly awakens it to suffering and wretchedness. The more I
meditate on the nature of man, the more I examine the present state
of societies, the less possible it appears to realize a world of
wisdom and felicity. I cast my eye over the whole of our
hemisphere; I perceive in no place the germ, nor do I foresee the
instinctive energy of a happy revolution. All Asia lies buried in
profound darkness. The Chinese, governed by an insolent
despotism,* by strokes of the bamboo and the cast of lots,
restrained by an immutable code of gestures, and by the radical
vices of an ill-constructed language,** appear to be in their
abortive civilization nothing but a race of automatons. The
Indian, borne down by prejudices, and enchained in the sacred
fetters of his castes, vegetates in an incurable apathy. The
Tartar, wandering or fixed, always ignorant and ferocious, lives in
the savageness of his ancestors. The Arab, endowed with a happy
genius, loses its force and the fruits of his virtue in the anarchy
of his tribes and the jealousy of his families. The African,
degraded from the rank of man, seems irrevocably doomed to
servitude. In the North I see nothing but vilified serfs, herds of
men with which landlords stock their estates. Ignorance, tyranny,
and wretchedness have everywhere stupified the nations; and vicious
habits, depraving the natural senses, have destroyed the very
instinct of happiness and of truth.
* The emperor of China calls himself the son of heaven; that is, of
God: for in the opinion of the Chinese, the material of heaven, the
arbiter of fatality, is the Deity himself. "The emperor only shows
himself once in ten months, lest the people, accustomed to see him,
might lose their respect; for he holds it as a maxim that power can
only be supported by force, that the people have no idea of
justice, and are not to be governed but by coercion." Narrative of
two Mahometan travellers in 851 and 877, translated by the Abbe
Renaudot in 1718.
Notwithstanding what is asserted by the missionaries, this
situation has undergone no change. The bamboo still reigns in
China, and the son of heaven bastinades, for the most trivial
fault, the Mandarin, who in his turn bastinades the people. The
Jesuits may tell us that this is the best governed country in the
world, and its inhabitants the happiest of men: but a single letter
from Amyot has convinced me that China is a truly Turkish
government, and the account of Sonnerat confirms it. See Vol. II.
of Voyage aux Indes, in 4to.
** As long as the Chinese shall in writing make use of their
present characters, they can be expected to make no progress in
civilization. The necessary introductory step must be the giving
them an alphabet like our own, or of substituting in the room of
their language that of the Tartars. The improvement made in the
latter by M. de Lengles, is calculated to introduce this change.
See the Mantchou alphabet, the production of a mind truly learned
in the formation of language.
In some parts of Europe, indeed, reason has begun to dawn, but even
there, do nations partake of the knowledge of individuals? Are the
talents and genius of governors turned to the benefit of the
people? And those nations which call themselves polished, are they
not the same that for the last three centuries have filled the
earth with their injustice? Are they not those who, under the
pretext of commerce, have desolated India, depopulated a new
continent, and, at present, subject Africa to the most barbarous
slavery? Can liberty be born from the bosom of despots? and shall
justice be rendered by the hands of piracy and avarice? O Genius,
I have seen the civilized countries; and the mockery of their
wisdom has vanished before my sight. I saw wealth accumulated in
the hands of a few, and the multitude poor and destitute. I have
seen all rights, all powers concentered in certain classes, and the
mass of the people passive and dependent. I have seen families of
princes, but no families of the nation. I have seen government
interests, but no public interests or spirit. I have seen that all
the science of government was to oppress prudently; and the refined
servitude of polished nations appeared to me only the more
One obstacle above all has profoundly struck my mind. On looking
over the world, I have seen it divided into twenty different
systems of religion. Every nation has received, or formed,
opposite opinions; and every one ascribing to itself the exclusive
possession of the truth, must believe the other to be wrong. Now
if, as must be the fact in this discordance of opinion, the greater
part are in error, and are honest in it, then it follows that our
mind embraces falsehood as it does truth; and if so, how is it to
be enlightened? When prejudice has once seized the mind, how is it
to be dissipated? How shall we remove the bandage from our eyes,
when the first article in every creed, the first dogma in all
religion, is the absolute proscription of doubt, the interdiction
of examination, and the rejection of our own judgment? How is
truth to make herself known?--If she resorts to arguments and
proofs, the timid man stifles the voice of his own conscience; if
she invokes the authority of celestial powers, he opposes it with
another authority of the same origin, with which he is preoccupied;
and he treats all innovation as blasphemy. Thus man in his
blindness, has riveted his own chains, and surrendered himself
forever, without defence, to the sport of his ignorance and his
To dissolve such fatal chains, a miraculous concurrence of happy
events would be necessary. A whole nation, cured of the delirium
of superstition, must be inaccessible to the impulse of fanaticism.
Freed from the yoke of false doctrine, a whole people must impose
upon itself that of true morality and reason. This people should
be courageous and prudent, wise and docile. Each individual,
knowing his rights, should not transgress them. The poor should
know how to resist seduction, and the rich the allurements of
avarice. There should be found leaders disinterested and just, and
their tyrants should be seized with a spirit of madness and folly.
This people, recovering its rights, should feel its inability to
exercise them in person, and should name its representatives.
Creator of its magistrates, it should know at once to respect them
and to judge them. In the sudden reform of a whole nation,
accustomed to live by abuses, each individual displaced should bear
with patience his privations, and submit to a change of habits.
This nation should have the courage to conquer its liberty; the
power to defend it, the wisdom to establish it, and the generosity
to extend it to others. And can we ever expect the union of so
many circumstances? But suppose that chance in its infinite
combinations should produce them, shall I see those fortunate days.
Will not my ashes long ere then be mouldering in the tomb?
Here, sunk in sorrow, my oppressed heart no longer found utterance.
The Genius answered not, but I heard him whisper to himself:
Let us revive the hope of this man; for if he who loves his fellow
creatures be suffered to despair, what will become of nations? The
past is perhaps too discouraging; I must anticipate futurity, and
disclose to the eye of virtue the astonishing age that is ready to
begin; that, on viewing the object she desires, she may be animated
with new ardor, and redouble her efforts to attain it.
THE NEW AGE.
Scarcely had he finished these words, when a great tumult arose in
the west; and turning to that quarter, I perceived, at the
extremity of the Mediterranean, in one of the nations of Europe, a
prodigious movement--such as when a violent sedition arises in a
vast city--a numberless people, rushing in all directions, pour
through the streets and fluctuate like waves in the public places.
My ear, struck with the cries which resounded to the heavens,
distinguished these words:
What is this new prodigy? What cruel and mysterious scourge is
this? We are a numerous people and we want hands! We have an
excellent soil, and we are in want of subsistence? We are active
and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes,
and we are told they are not sufficient! We are at peace without,
and our persons and property are not safe within. Who, then, is
the secret enemy that devours us?
Some voices from the midst of the multitude replied:
Raise a discriminating standard; and let all those who maintain and
nourish mankind by useful labors gather round it; and you will
discover the enemy that preys upon you.
The standard being raised, this nation divided itself at once into
two bodies of unequal magnitude and contrasted appearance. The
one, innumerable, and almost total, exhibited in the poverty of its
clothing, in its emaciated appearance and sun-burnt faces, the
marks of misery and labor; the other, a little group, an
insignificant faction, presented in its rich attire embroidered
with gold and silver, and in its sleek and ruddy faces, the signs
of leisure and abundance.
Considering these men more attentively, I found that the great body
was composed of farmers, artificers, merchants, all professions
useful to society; and that the little group was made up of priests
of every order, of financiers, of nobles, of men in livery, of
commanders of armies; in a word, of the civil, military, and
religious agents of government.
These two bodies being assembled face to face, and regarding each
other with astonishment, I saw indignation and rage arising in one
side, and a sort of panic in the other. And the large body said to
the little one: Why are you separated from us? Are you not of our
No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged
class, who have our laws, customs, and rights, peculiar to
PEOPLE.--And what labor do you perform in our society?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--None; we are not made to work.
PEOPLE.--How, then, have you acquired these riches?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--By taking the pains to govern you.
PEOPLE.--What! is this what you call governing? We toil and you
enjoy! we produce and you dissipate! Wealth proceeds from us, and
you absorb it. Privileged men! class who are not the people; form
a nation apart, and govern yourselves.*
* This dialogue between the people and the indolent classes, is
applicable to every society; it contains the seeds of all the
political vices and disorders that prevail, and which may thus be
defined: Men who do nothing, and who devour the substance of
others; and men who arrogate to themselves particular rights and
exclusive privileges of wealth and indolence. Compare the Mamlouks
of Egypt, the nobility of Europe, the Nairs of India, the Emirs of
Arabia, the patricians of Rome, the Christian clergy, the Imans,
the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Lamas, etc., etc., and you will find
in all the same characteristic feature:--Men living in idleness at
the expense of those who labor.
Then the little group, deliberating on this new state of things,
some of the most honorable among them said: We must join the people
and partake of their labors and burdens, for they are men like us,
and our riches come from them; but others arrogantly exclaimed: It
would be a shame, an infamy, for us to mingle with the crowd; they
are born to serve us. Are we not men of another race--the noble
and pure descendants of the conquerors of this empire? This
multitude must be reminded of our rights and its own origin.
THE NOBLES.--People! know you not that our ancestors conquered this
land, and that your race was spared only on condition of serving
us? This is our social compact! this the government constituted by
custom and prescribed by time.
PEOPLE.--O conquerors, pure of blood! show us your genealogies! we
shall then see if what in an individual is robbery and plunder, can
be virtuous in a nation.
And forthwith, voices were heard in every quarter calling out the
nobles by their names; and relating their origin and parentage,
they told how the grandfather, great-grandfather, or even father,
born traders and mechanics, after acquiring wealth in every way,
had purchased their nobility for money: so that but very few
families were really of the original stock. See, said these
voices, see these purse-proud commoners who deny their parents! see
these plebian recruits who look upon themselves as illustrious
veterans! and peals of laughter were heard.
And the civil governors said: these people are mild, and naturally
servile; speak to them of the king and of the law, and they will
return to their duty. People! the king wills, the sovereign
PEOPLE.--The king can will nothing but the good of the people; the
sovereign can only ordain according to law.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The law commands you to be submissive.
PEOPLE.--The law is the general will; and we will a new order of
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--You are then a rebel people.
PEOPLE.--A nation cannot revolt; tyrants only are rebels.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The king is on our side; he commands you to
PEOPLE.--Kings are inseparable from their nations. Our king cannot
be with you; you possess only his phantom.
And the military governors came forward. The people are timorous,
said they; we must threaten them; they will submit only to force.
Soldiers, chastise this insolent multitude.
PEOPLE.--Soldiers, you are of our blood! Will you strike your
brothers, your relatives? If the people perish who will nourish
And the soldiers, grounding their arms, said to the chiefs:
We are likewise the people; show us the enemy!
Then the ecclesiastical governors said: There is but one resource
left. The people are superstitious; we must frighten them with the
names of God and religion.
Our dear brethren! our children! God has ordained us to govern
PEOPLE.--Show us your credentials from God!
PRIESTS.--You must have faith; reason leads astray.
PEOPLE.--Do you govern without reason?
PRIESTS.--God commands peace! Religion prescribes obedience.
PEOPLE.--Peace supposes justice. Obedience implies conviction of a
PRIESTS.--Suffering is the business of this world.
PEOPLE.--Show us the example.
PRIESTS.--Would you live without gods or kings?
PEOPLE.--We would live without oppressors.
PRIESTS.--You must have mediators, intercessors.
PEOPLE.--Mediators with God and with the king! courtiers and
priests, your services are too expensive: we will henceforth manage
our own affairs.
And the little group said: We are lost! the multitude are
And the people answered: You are safe; since we are enlightened we
will commit no violence; we only claim our rights. We feel
resentments, but we will forget them. We were slaves, we might
command; but we only wish to be free, and liberty is but justice.
A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE.
Considering that all public power was now suspended, and that the
habitual restraint of the people had suddenly ceased, I shuddered
with the apprehension that they would fall into the dissolution of
anarchy. But, taking their affairs into immediate deliberation,
It is not enough that we have freed ourselves from tyrants and
parasites; we must prevent their return. We are men, and
experience has abundantly taught us that every man is fond of
power, and wishes to enjoy it at the expense of others. It is
necessary, then, to guard against a propensity which is the source
of discord; we must establish certain rules of duty and of right.
But the knowledge of our rights, and the estimation of our duties,
are so abstract and difficult as to require all the time and all
the faculties of a man. Occupied in our own affairs, we have not
leisure for these studies; nor can we exercise these functions in
our own persons. Let us choose, then, among ourselves, such
persons as are capable of this employment. To them we will
delegate our powers to institute our government and laws. They
shall be the representatives of our wills and of our interests.
And in order to attain the fairest representation possible of our
wills and our interests, let it be numerous, and composed of men
Having made the election of a numerous body of delegates, the
people thus addressed them:
We have hitherto lived in a society formed by chance, without fixed
agreements, without free conventions, without a stipulation of
rights, without reciprocal engagements,--and a multitude of
disorders and evils have arisen from this precarious state. We are
now determined on forming a regular compact; and we have chosen you
to adjust the articles. Examine, then, with care what ought to be
its basis and its conditions; consider what is the end and the
principles of every association; recognize the rights which every
member brings, the powers which he delegates, and those which be
reserves to himself. Point out to us the rules of conduct--the
basis of just and equitable laws. Prepare for us a new system of
government; for we realize that the one which has hitherto guided
us is corrupt. Our fathers have wandered in the paths of
ignorance, and habit has taught us to follow in their footsteps.
Everything has been done by fraud, violence, and delusion; and the
true laws of morality and reason are still obscure. Clear up,
then, their chaos; trace out their connection; publish their code,
and we will adopt it.
And the people raised a large throne, in the form of a pyramid, and
seating on it the men they had chosen, said to them:
We raise you to-day above us, that you may better discover the
whole of our relations, and be above the reach of our passions.
But remember that you are our fellow-citizens; that the power we
confer on you is our own; that we deposit it with you, but not as a
property or a heritage; that you must be the first to obey the laws
you make; that to-morrow you redescend among us, and that you will
have acquired no other right but that of our esteem and gratitude.
And consider what a tribute of glory the world, which reveres so
many apostles of error, will bestow on the first assembly of
rational men, who shall have declared the unchangeable principles
of justice, and consecrated, in the face of tyrants, the rights of
UNIVERSAL BASIS OF ALL RIGHT AND ALL LAW.
The men chosen by the people to investigate the true principles of
morals and of reason then proceeded in the sacred object of their
mission; and, after a long examination, having discovered a
fundamental and universal principle, a legislator arose and said to
Here is the primordial basis, the physical origin of all justice
and of all right.
Whatever be the active power, the moving cause, that governs the
universe, since it has given to all men the same organs, the same
sensations, and the same wants, it has thereby declared that it has
given to all the same right to the use of its treasures, and that
all men are equal in the order of nature.
And, since this power has given to each man the necessary means of
preserving his own existence, it is evident that it has constituted
them all independent one of another; that it has created them free;
that no one is subject to another; that each one is absolute
proprietor of his own person.
Equality and liberty are, therefore, two essential attributes of
man, two laws of the Divinity, constitutional and unchangeable,
like the physical properties of matter.
Now, every individual being absolute master of his own person, it
follows that a full and free consent is a condition indispensable
to all contracts and all engagements.
Again, since each individual is equal to another, it follows that
the balance of what is received and of what is given, should be
strictly in equilibrium; so that the idea of justice, of equity,
necessarily imports that of equality.*
* The etymology of the words themselves trace out to us this
connection: equilibrium, equalitas, equitas, are all of one family,
and the physical idea of equality, in the scales of a balance, is
the source and type of all the rest.
Equality and liberty are therefore the physical and unalterable
basis of every union of men in society, and of course the necessary
and generating principle of every law and of every system of
* In the Declaration of Rights, there is an inversion of ideas in
the first article, liberty being placed before equality, from which
it in reality springs. This defect is not to be wondered at; the
science of the rights of man is a new science: it was invented
yesterday by the Americans, to-day the French are perfecting it,
but there yet remains a great deal to be done. In the ideas that
constitute it there is a genealogical order which, from us basis,
physical equality, to the minutest and most remote branches of
government, ought to proceed in an uninterrupted series of
A disregard of this basis has introduced in your nation, and in
every other, those disorders which have finally roused you. It is
by returning to this rule that you may reform them, and reorganize
a happy order of society.
But observe, this reorganization will occasion a violent shock in
your habits, your fortunes, and your prejudices. Vicious contracts
and abusive claims must be dissolved, unjust distinctions and ill
founded property renounced; you must indeed recur for a moment to a
state of nature. Consider whether you can consent to so many
Then, reflecting on the cupidity inherent in the heart of man, I
thought that this people would renounce all ideas of amelioration.
But, in a moment, a great number of men, advancing toward the
pyramid, made a solemn abjuration of all their distinctions and all
Establish for us, said they, the laws of equality and liberty; we
will possess nothing in future but on the title of justice.
Equality, liberty, justice,--these shall be our code, and shall be
written on our standards.
And the people immediately raised a great standard, inscribed with
these three words, in three different colors. They displayed it
over the pyramid of the legislators, and for the first time the
flag of universal justice floated on the face of the earth.
And the people raised before the pyramid a new altar, on which they
placed a golden balance, a sword, and a book with this inscription:
TO EQUAL LAW, WHICH JUDGES AND PROTECTS.
And having surrounded the pyramid and the altar with a vast
amphitheatre, all the people took their seats to hear the
publication of the law. And millions of men, raising at once their
hands to heaven, took the solemn oath to live equal, free, and
just; to respect their reciprocal properties and rights; to obey
the law and its regularly chosen representatives.
A spectacle so impressive and sublime, so replete with generous
emotions, moved me to tears; and addressing myself to the Genius, I
exclaimed: Let me now live, for in future I have everything to
CONSTERNATION AND CONSPIRACY OF TYRANTS.
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded
through the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment,
arose in different nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed
with desire, but wavering between hope and fear, between the
sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began to be in
motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the
sleep of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of
their thrones; while, on all sides, those clans of civil and
religious tyrants, who deceive kings and oppress the people, were
seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting their
perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of
liberty comes to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this
pernicious spirit of justice be propagated!
And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words!
If all men are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to
power? If all men are to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our
vassals, our property? If all are equal in the civil state, where
is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and what becomes of
nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need of
mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to
destroy a germ so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all
our cunning against this innovation. We must frighten the kings,
that they may join us in the cause. We must divide the people by
national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions, wars, and
conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation.
Let us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that
sacrilegious standard, overturn that throne of rebellion, and
stifle in its birth the flame of revolution.
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a
general combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and
seduction, they marched in hostile array against the free nation;
and, surrounding the altar and the pyramid of natural law, they
demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar,
this sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can
you suppose that truth has been first discovered to-day, and that
hitherto you have been walking in error? that those men, more
fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of wisdom? And you,
rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new leaders
are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith,
and overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the
wrath of heaven should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy
repentance to retrieve your error.
But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation
kept silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing
And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our
steps, why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from
our search? If guides, who teach mankind to see for themselves,
mislead and deceive them, what can be expected from those who
profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it
to us, and we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with
ardor, and have a great interest in finding it. We are men, and
liable to be deceived; but you are also men, and equally fallible.
Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race has wandered
for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many
prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions
which dispute for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the
proper and distinctive character of truth. Let us this day
terminate the long combat with error. Let us establish between it
and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the opinions of
men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the
nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate
of all systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on
the side of prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a
general and common mass of evidence give birth to a universal
concord of opinions and of hearts.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE NATIONS.
Thus spoke the legislator; and the multitude, seized with those
emotions which a reasonable proposition always inspires, expressed
its applause; while the tyrants, left without support, were
overwhelmed with confusion.
A scene of a new and astonishing nature then opened to my view.
All that the earth contains of people and of nations; men of every
race and of every region, converging from their various climates,
seemed to assemble in one allotted place; where, forming an immense
congress, distinguished in groups by the vast variety of their
dresses, features, and complexion, the numberless multitude
presented a most unusual and affecting sight.
On one side I saw the European, with his short close coat, pointed
triangular hat, smooth chin, and powdered hair; on the other side
the Asiatic, with a flowing robe, long beard, shaved head, and
round turban. Here stood the nations of Africa, with their ebony
skins, their woolly hair, their body girt with white and blue
tissues of bark, adorned with bracelets and necklaces of coral,
shells, and glass; there the tribes of the north, enveloped in
their leathern bags; the Laplander, with his pointed bonnet and his
snow-shoes; the Samoyede, with his feverish body and strong odor;
the Tongouse, with his horned cap, and carrying his idols pendant
from his neck; the Yakoute, with his freckled face; the Kalmuc,
with his flat nose and little retorted eyes. Farther distant were
the Chinese, attired in silk, with their hair hanging in tresses;
the Japanese, of mingled race; the Malays, with wide-spreading
ears, rings in their noses, and palm-leaf hats of vast
circumference;* and the tattooed races of the isles of the southern
ocean and of the continent of the antipodes.** The view of so many
varieties of the same species, of so many extravagant inventions of
the same understanding, and of so many modifications of the same
organization, affected me with a thousand feelings and a thousand
thoughts.*** I contemplated with astonishment this gradation of
color, which, passing from a bright carnation to a light brown, a
deeper brown, dusky, bronze, olive, leaden, copper, ends in the
black of ebony and of jet. And finding the Cassimerian, with his
rosy cheek, next to the sun-burnt Hindoo, and the Georgian by the
side of the Tartar, I reflected on the effects of climate hot or
cold, of soil high or low, marshy or dry, open or shaded. I
compared the dwarf of the pole with the giant of the temperate
zones, the slender body of the Arab with the ample chest of the
Hollander; the squat figure of the Samoyede with the elegant form
of the Greek and the Sclavonian; the greasy black wool of the Negro
with the bright silken locks of the Dane; the broad face of the
Kalmuc, his little angular eyes and flattened nose, with the oval
prominent visage, large blue eyes, and aquiline nose of the
Circassian and Abazan. I contrasted the brilliant calicoes of the
Indian, the well-wrought stuffs of the European, the rich furs of
the Siberian, with the tissues of bark, of osiers, leaves and
feathers of savage nations; and the blue figures of serpents,
flowers, and stars, with which they painted their bodies.
Sometimes the variegated appearance of this multitude reminded me
of the enamelled meadows of the Nile and the Euphrates, when, after
rains or inundations, millions of flowers are rising on every side.
Sometimes their murmurs and their motions called to mind the
numberless swarms of locusts which, issuing from the desert, cover
in the spring the plains of Hauran.
* This species of the palm-tree is called Latanier. Its leaf,
similar to a fan-mount, grows upon a stalk issuing directly from
the earth. A specimen may be seen in the botanic garden.
** The country of the Papons of New Guinea.
*** A hall of costumes in one of the galleries of the Louvre would,
in every point of view, be an interesting establishment. It would
furnish an admirable treat to the curiosity of a great number of
persons, excellent models to the artist, and useful subjects of
meditation to the physician, the philosopher and the legislator.
Picture to yourself a collection of the various faces and figures
of every country and nation, exhibiting accurately, color, features
and form; what a field for investigation and enquiry as to the
influence of climate, customs, food, etc. It might truly be called
the science of man! Buffon has attempted a chapter of this nature,
but it only serves to exhibit more strikingly our actual ignorance.
Such a collection is said to have been begun at St. Petersburg, but
it is also said at the same time to be as imperfect as the
vocabulary of the three hundred languages. The enterprise would be
worthy of the French nation.
At the sight of so many rational beings, considering on the one
hand the immensity of thoughts and sensations assembled in this
place, and on the other hand, reflecting on the opposition of so
many opinions, and the shock of so many passions of men so
capricious, I struggled between astonishment, admiration, and
secret dread--when the legislator commanded silence, and attracted
all my attention.
Inhabitants of earth! a free and powerful nation addresses you with
words of justice and peace, and she offers you the sure pledges of
her intentions in her own conviction and experience. Long
afflicted with the same evils as yourselves, we sought for their
source, and found them all derived from violence and injustice,
erected into law by the inexperience of past ages, and maintained
by the prejudices of the present. Then abolishing our artificial
and arbitrary institutions, and recurring to the origin of all
right and reason, we have found that there existed in the very
order of nature and in the physical constitution of man, eternal
and immutable laws, which only waited his observance to render him
O men! cast your eyes on the heavens that give you light, and on
the earth that gives you bread! Since they offer the same bounties
to you all--since from the power that gives them motion you have
all received the same life, the same organs, have you not likewise
all received the same right to enjoy its benefits? Has it not
hereby declared you all equal and free? What mortal shall dare
refuse to his fellow that which nature gives him?
O nations! let us banish all tyranny and all discord; let us form
but one society, one great family; and, since human nature has but
one constitution, let there exist in future but one law, that of
nature--but one code, that of reason--but one throne, that of
justice--but one altar, that of union.
He ceased; and an immense acclamation resounded to the skies. Ten
thousand benedictions announced the transports of the multitude;
and they made the earth re-echo JUSTICE, EQUALITY and UNION.
But different emotions soon succeeded; soon the doctors and the
chiefs of nations exciting a spirit of dispute, there was heard a
sullen murmur, which growing louder, and spreading from group to
group, became a vast disorder; and each nation setting up exclusive
pretensions, claimed a preference for its own code and opinion.
You are in error, said the parties, pointing one to the other. We
alone are in possession of reason and truth. We alone have the
true law, the real rule of right and justice, the only means of
happiness and perfection. All other men are either blind or
And great agitation prevailed.
Then the legislator, after enforcing silence, loudly exclaimed:
What, O people! is this passionate emotion? Whither will this
quarrel conduct you? What can you expect from this dissension?
The earth has been for ages a field of disputation, and you have
shed torrents of blood in your controversies. What have you gained
by so many battles and tears? When the strong has subjected the
weak to his opinion, has he thereby aided the cause of truth?
O nations! take counsel of your own wisdom. When among yourselves
disputes arise between families and individuals, how do you
reconcile them? Do you not give them arbitrators?
Yes, cried the whole multitude.
Do so then to the authors of your present dissensions. Order those
who call themselves your instructors, and who force their creeds
upon you, to discuss before you their reasons. Since they appeal
to your interests, inform yourselves how they support them.
And you, chiefs and governors of the people! before dragging the
masses into the quarrels resulting from your diverse opinions, let
the reasons for and against your views be given. Let us establish
one solemn controversy, one public scrutiny of truth--not before
the tribunal of a corruptible individual, or of a prejudiced party,
but in the grand forum of mankind--guarded by all their information
and all their interests. Let the natural sense of the whole human
race be our arbiter and judge.
THE SEARCH OF TRUTH.
The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued:
To proceed with order, and avoid all confusion, let a spacious
semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of peace and union;
let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its
proper distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its
chiefs and doctors place themselves around the standard, and their
followers form a column behind them.
The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there
instantly rose an innumerable multitude of standards, of all colors
and of every form, like what we see in a great commercial port,
when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and
streamers are floating from a forest of masts.
At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the
Genius and said:
I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems
of faith, and I then despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold
thousands of different sects, and how can I hope for concord?
But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be
Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out
to me their distinctive marks, and thus began to explain their
That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent,
a bandage, and a sabre, are the followers of the Arabian prophet.
To say there is a God, without knowing what he is; to believe the
words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the
desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with
water, and not abstain from blood; to fast all day, and eat all
night; to give alms of their own goods, and to plunder those of
others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet--
such are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear
them is a reprobate, stricken with anathema, and devoted to the
A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of
oppression and murder: he made them for all the world, but has
revealed them only to one man; he established them from all
eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These laws are
abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added
to them. This volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to
lead men to perfection and happiness; and yet every page was so
full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that
commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life-
time of its apostle. Its interpreters, differing in opinion,
divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains that Ali is
the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre.
This denies the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of
ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids pilgrimages, and allows
the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the transmigration of souls.
Thus they make up the number of seventy-two sects, whose banners
are before you.* In this contestation, every one attributing the
evidence of truth exclusively to himself, and taxing all others
with heresy and rebellion, turns against them its sanguinary zeal.
And their religion, which celebrates a mild and merciful God, the
common father of all men,--changed to a torch of discord, a signal
for war and murder, has not ceased for twelve hundred years to
deluge the earth in blood, and to ravage and desolate the ancient
hemisphere from centre to circumference.**
* The Mussulmen enumerate in common seventy-two sects, but I read,
while I resided among them, a work which gave an account of more
than eighty,--all equally wise and important.
** Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be
convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have
desolated Asia and Africa, since the days of Mahomet, has been the
apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Caesar has been supposed
to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to
make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious
Those men, distinguished by their enormous white turbans, their
broad sleeves, and their long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas,
and the Muftis; and near them are the Dervishes with pointed
bonnets, and the Santons with dishevelled hair. Behold with what
vehemence they recite their professions of faith! They are now
beginning a dispute about the greater and lesser impurities--about
the matter and the manner of ablutions,--about the attributes of
God and his perfections--about the Chaitan, and the good and wicked
angels,--about death, the resurrection, the interrogatory in the
tomb, the judgment, the passage of the narrow bridge not broader
than a hair, the balance of works, the pains of hell, and the joys
Next to these, that second more numerous group, with white banners
intersected with crosses, are the followers of Jesus.
Acknowledging the same God with the Mussulmans, founding their
belief on the same books, admitting, like them, a first man who
lost the human race by eating an apple, they hold them, however, in
a holy abhorrence; and, out of pure piety, they call each other
The great point of their dissension consists in this, that after
admitting a God one and indivisible the Christian divides him into
three persons, each of which he believes to be a complete and
entire God, without ceasing to constitute an identical whole, by
the indivisibility of the three. And he adds, that this being, who
fills the universe, has reduced himself to the body of a man; and
has assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without
ceasing to be immaterial, infinite, and eternal. The Mussulman who
does not comprehend these mysteries, rejects them as follies, and
the visions of a distempered brain; though he conceives perfectly
well the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet:
hence their implacable hatreds.
Again, the Christians, divided among themselves on many points,
have formed parties not less violent than the Mussulmans; and their
quarrels are so much the more obstinate, as the objects of them are
inaccessible to the senses and incapable of demonstration: their
opinions, therefore, have no other basis but the will and caprice
of the parties. Thus, while they agree that God is a being
incomprehensible and unknown, they dispute, nevertheless, about his
essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. While they agree
that his pretended transformation into man is an enigma above the
human understanding, they dispute on the junction or distinction of
his two wills and his two natures, on his change of substance, on
the real or fictitious presence, on the mode of incarnation, etc.
Hence those innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have
already perished, and three or four hundred others, which still
subsist, display those numberless banners which here distract your
The first in order, surrounded by a group in varied and fantastic
dress, that confused mixture of violet, red, white, black and
speckled garments--with heads shaved, or with tonsures, or with
short hair--with red hats, square bonnets, pointed mitres, or long
beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, uniting the
civil government to the priesthood, has erected the supremacy of
his city into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article
On his right you see the Greek pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship
of his metropolis, sets up equal pretensions, and supports them
against the Western church by the priority of that of the East. On
the left are the standards of two recent chiefs,* who, shaking off
a yoke that had become tyrannical, have raised altar against altar
in their reform, and wrested half of Europe from the pope. Behind
these are the subaltern sects, subdivided from the principal
divisions, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the
Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wicliffites,
the Osiandrians, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the
Contemplatives, the Quakers, the Weepers, and a hundred others,**
all of distinct parties, persecuting when strong, tolerant when
weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming each
an exclusive heaven in a religion of universal charity, dooming
each other to pains without end in a future state, and realizing in
this world the imaginary hell of the other.
* Luther and Calvin.
** Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Herseies par l'Abbe
Pluquet, in two volumes 8vo.: a work admirably calculated to
inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the
Lacedemonians taught the children temperance by showing to them the
After this group, observing a lonely standard of the color of
hyacinth, round which were assembled men clad in all the different
dresses of Europe and Asia:
At least, said I, to the Genius, we shall find unanimity here.
Yes, said he, at first sight and by a momentary accident. Dost
thou not know that system of worship?
Then, perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of the name of God,
and the palms which the Rabbins held in their hands:
True, said I, these are the children of Moses, dispersed even to
this day, abhorring every nation, and abhorred and persecuted by
Yes, he replied, and for this reason, that, having neither the time
nor liberty to dispute, they have the appearance of unanimity. But
no sooner will they come together, compare their principles, and
reason on their opinions, than they will separate as formerly, at
least into two principal sects;* one of which, taking advantage of
the silence of their legislator, and adhering to the literal sense
of his books, will deny everything that is not clearly expressed
therein; and on this principle will reject as profane inventions,
the immortality of the soul, its transmigration to places of pain
or pleasure, its resurrection, the final judgment, the good and bad
angels, the revolt of the evil Genius, and all the poetical belief
of a world to come. And this highly-favored people, whose
perfection consists in a slight mutilation of their persons,--this
atom of a people, which forms but a small wave in the ocean of
mankind, and which insists that God has made nothing but for them,
will by its schism reduce to one-half, its present trifling weight
in the scale of the universe.
* The Sadducees and Pharisees.
He then showed me a neighboring group, composed of men dressed in
white robes, wearing a veil over their mouths, and ranged around a
banner of the color of the morning sky, on which was painted a
globe cleft in two hemispheres, black and white: The same thing
will happen, said he, to these children of Zoroaster,* the obscure
remnant of a people once so powerful. At present, persecuted like
the Jews, and dispersed among all nations, they receive without
discussion the precepts of the representative of their prophet.
But as soon as the Mobed and the Destours** shall assemble, they
will renew the controversy about the good and the bad principle; on
the combats of Ormuzd, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of
darkness; on the direct and allegorical sense; on the good and evil
Genii; on the worship of fire and the elements; on impurities and
ablutions; on the resurrection of the soul and body, or only of the
soul;*** on the renovation of the present world, and on that which
is to take its place. And the Parses will divide into sects, so
much the more numerous, as their families will have contracted,
during their dispersion, the manners and opinions of different
* They are the Parses, better known by the opprobrious name of
Gaures or Guebres, another word for infidels. They are in Asia
what the Jews are in Europe. The name of their pope or high priest
** That is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of
this religion, Henry Lord Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costume
is a robe with a belt of four knots, and a veil over their mouth
for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.
*** The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions; one party
believing that both soul and body will rise, the other that it will
be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the
most solid of the two.
Next to these, remark those banners of an azure ground, painted
with monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, and
quadruple, with heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of
fishes and tortoises; these are the ensigns of the sects of India,
who find their gods in various animals, and the souls of their
fathers in reptiles and insects. These men support hospitals for
hawks, serpents, and rats, and they abhor their fellow creatures!
They purify themselves with the dung and urine of cows, and think
themselves defiled by the touch of a man! They wear a net over the
mouth, lest, in a fly, they should swallow a soul in a state of
penance,* and they can see a Pariah** perish with hunger! They
acknowledge the same gods, but they separate into hostile bands.
* According to the system of the Metempsychosis, a soul, to undergo
purification, passes into the body of some insect or animal. It is
of importance not to disturb this penance, as the work must in that
case begin afresh.
** This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because
they eat of what has enjoyed life.
The first standard, retired from the rest, bearing a figure with
four heads, is that of Brama, who, though the creator of the
universe, is without temples or followers; but, reduced to serve as
a pedestal to the Lingam,* he contents himself with a little water
which the Bramin throws every morning on his shoulder, reciting
meanwhile an idle canticle in his praise.
* See Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes, vol. 1.
The second, bearing a kite with a scarlet body and a white head, is
that of Vichenou, who, though preserver of the world, has passed
part of his life in wicked actions. You sometimes see him under
the hideous form of a boar or a lion, tearing human entrails, or
under that of a horse,* shortly to come armed with a sword to
destroy the human race, blot out the stars, annihilate the planets,
shake the earth, and force the great serpent to vomit a fire which
shall consume the spheres.
* These are the incarnations of Vichenou, or metamorphoses of the
sun. He is to come at the end of the world, that is, at the
expiration of the great period, in the form of a horse, like the
four horses of the Apocalypse.
The third is that of Chiven, God of destruction and desolation, who
has, however, for his emblem the symbol of generation. He is the
most wicked of the three, and he has the most followers. These
men, proud of his character, express in their devotions to him
their contempt for the other gods,* his equals and brothers; and,
in imitation of his inconsistencies, while they profess great
modesty and chastity, they publicly crown with flowers, and
sprinkle with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam.
* When a sectary of Chiven hears the name of Vichenou pronounced,
he stops his ears, runs, and purifies himself.
In the rear of these, approach the smaller standards of a multitude
of gods--male, female, and hermaphrodite. These are friends and
relations of the principal gods, who have passed their lives in
wars among themselves, and their followers imitate them. These
gods have need of nothing, and they are constantly receiving
presents; they are omnipotent and omnipresent, and a priest, by
muttering a few words, shuts them up in an idol or a pitcher, to
sell their favors for his own benefit.
Beyond these, that cloud of standards, which, on a yellow ground,
common to them all, bear various emblems, are those of the same
god, who reins under different names in the nations of the East.
The Chinese adores him in Fot,* the Japanese in Budso, the
Ceylonese in Bedhou, the people of Laos in Chekia, of Pegu in Phta,
of Siam in Sommona-Kodom, of Thibet in Budd and in La. Agreeing in
some points of his history, they all celebrate his life of
penitence, his mortifications, his fastings, his functions of
mediator and expiator, the enmity between him and another god, his
adversary, their battles, and his ascendency. But as they disagree
on the means of pleasing him, they dispute about rites and
ceremonies, and about the dogmas of interior doctrine and of public
doctrine. That Japanese Bonze, with a yellow robe and naked head,
preaches the eternity of souls, and their successive
transmigrations into various bodies; near him, the Sintoist denies
that souls can exist separate from the senses,** and maintains that
they are only the effect of the organs to which they belong, and
with which they must perish, as the sound of the flute perishes
with the flute. Near him, the Siamese, with his eyebrows shaved,
and a talipat screen*** in his hand, recommends alms, offerings,
and expiations, at the same time that he preaches blind necessity
and inexorable fate. The Chinese vo-chung sacrifices to the souls
of his ancestors; and next him, the follower of Confucius
interrogates his destiny in the cast of dice and the movement of
the stars.**** That child, surrounded by a swarm of priests in
yellow robes and hats, is the Grand Lama, in whom the god of Thibet
has just become incarnate.*5 But a rival has arisen who partakes
this benefit with him; and the Kalmouc on the banks of the Baikal,
has a God similar to the inhabitant of Lasa. And they agree, also,
in one important point--that god can inhabit only a human body.
They both laugh at the stupidity of the Indian who pays homage to
cow-dung, though they themselves consecrate the excrements of their
* The original name of this god is Baits, which in Hebrew signifies
an egg. The Arabs pronounce it Baidh, giving to the dh an emphatic
sound which makes it approach to dz. Kempfer, an acurate traveler,
writes it Budso, which must be pronounced Boudso, whence is derived
the name of Budsoist and of Bonze, applied to the priests. Clement
of Alexandria, in his Stromata, writes it Bedou, as it is
pronounced also by the Chingulais; and Saint Jerome, Boudda and
Boutta. At Thibet they call it Budd; and hence the name of the
country called Boud-tan and Ti-budd: it was in this province that
this system of religion was first inculcated in Upper Asia; La is a
corruption of Allah, the name of God in the Syriac language, from
which many of the eastern dialects appear to be derived. The
Chinese having neither b nor d, have supplied their place by f and
t, and have therefore said Fout.
** See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture
of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.
*** It is a leaf of the Latanier species of the palm-tree. Hence
the bonzes of Siam take the appellation of Talapoin. The use of
this screen is an exclusive privilege.
**** The sectaries of Confucius are no less addicted to astrology
than the bonzes. It is indeed the malady of every eastern nation.
*5 The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priest of La, is the same
person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the
name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan,
which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French
word prestre or pretre, priest. Thus the priest world, and the god
world are in the Persian idiom the same.
*6 In a recent expedition the English have found certain idols of
the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close
stool of the high priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier, who
is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and
undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to
observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound
philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted
by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow, the sacred relics, which
they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe,
the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the
substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who
devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.
After these, a crowd of other banners, which no man could number,
came forward into sight; and the genius exclaimed:
I should never finish the detail of all the systems of faith which
divide these nations. Here the hordes of Tartars adore, in the
forms of beasts, birds, and insects, the good and evil Genii; who,
under a principal, but indolent god, govern the universe. In their
idolatry they call to mind the ancient paganism of the West. You
observe the fantastical dress of the Chamans; who, under a robe of
leather, hung round with bells and rattles, idols of iron, claws of
birds, skins of snakes and heads of owls, invoke, with frantic
cries and factitious convulsions, the dead to deceive the living.
There, the black tribes of Africa exhibit the same opinions in the
worship of their fetiches. See the inhabitant of Juida worship god
in a great snake, which, unluckily, the swine delight to eat.* The
Teleutean attires his god in a coat of several colors, like a
Russian soldier.** The Kamchadale, observing that everything goes
wrong in his frozen country, considers god as an old ill-natured
man, smoking his pipe and hunting foxes and martins in his
* It frequently happens that the swine devour the very species of
serpents the negroes adore, which is a source of great desolation
in the country. President de Brosses has given us, in his History
of the Fetiche, a curious collection of absurdities of this nature.
** The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture
of all colors, particularly red and green; and as these constitute
the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this
description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in
a garment of every color. Eusebius Proep. Evang. p 115. The
Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the
God Egg and World.
*** Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des
Peuples, soumis a la Russie, and it will be found that the picture
is not overcharged.
But you may still behold a hundred savage nations who have none of
the ideas of civilized people respecting God, the soul, another
world, and a future life; who have formed no system of worship; and
who nevertheless enjoy the rich gifts of nature in the irreligion
in which she has created them.
PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS.
The various groups having taken their places, an unbounded silence
succeeded to the murmurs of the multitude; and the legislator said:
Chiefs and doctors of mankind! You remark how the nations, living
apart, have hitherto followed different paths, each believing its
own to be that of truth. If, however, truth is one, and opinions
are various, it is evident that some are in error. If, then, such
vast numbers of us are in the wrong, who shall dare to say, "I am
in the right?" Begin, therefore, by being indulgent in your
dissensions. Let us all seek truth as if no one possessed it. The
opinions which to this day have governed the world, originating
from chance, propagated in obscurity, admitted without discussion,
accredited by a love of novelty and imitation, have usurped their
empire in a clandestine manner. It is time, if they are well
founded, to give a solemn stamp to their certainty, and legitimize
their existence. Let us summon them this day to a general
scrutiny, let each propound his creed, let the whole assembly be
the judge, and let that alone be acknowledged as true which is so
for the whole human race.
Then, by order of position, the representative of the first
standard on the left was allowed to speak:
"You are not permitted to doubt," said their chief, "that our
doctrine is the only true and infallible one. FIRST, it is
revealed by God himself--"
"So is ours," cried all the other standards, "and you are not
permitted to doubt it."
"But at least," said the legislator, "you must prove it, for we
cannot believe what we do not know."
"Our doctrine is proved," replied the first standard, "by numerous
facts, by a multitude of miracles, by resurrections of the dead, by
rivers dried up, by mountains removed--"
"And we also have numberless miracles," cried all the others, and
each began to recount the most incredible things.
"THEIR miracles," said the first standard, "are imaginary, or the
fictions of the evil spirit, who has deluded them."
"They are yours," said the others, "that are imaginary;" and each
group, speaking of itself, cried out:
"None but ours are true, all the others are false."
The legislator then asked: "Have you living witnesses of the
"No," replied they all; "the facts are ancient, the witnesses are
dead, but their writings remain."
"Be it so," replied the legislator; "but if they contradict each
other, who shall reconcile them?"
"Just judge!" cried one of the standards, "the proof that our
witnesses have seen the truth is, that they died to confirm it; and
our faith is sealed by the blood of martyrs."
"And ours too," said the other standards; "we have thousands of
martyrs who have died in the most excruciating torments, without
ever denying the truth."
Then the Christians of every sect, the Mussulmans, the Indians, the
Japanese, recited endless legends of confessors, martyrs,
And one of these parties, having denied the martyrology of the
others: "Well," said they, "we will then die ourselves to prove the
truth of our belief."
And instantly a crowd of men, of every religion and of every sect,
presented themselves to suffer the torments of death. Many even
began to tear their arms, and to beat their heads and breasts,
without discovering any symptom of pain.
But the legislator, preventing them--"O men!" said he, "hear my
words with patience. If you die to prove that two and two make
four, will your death add any thing to this truth?"
"No!" answered all.
"And if you die to prove that they make five, will that make them
Again they all answered, "No."
"What, then, is your persuasion to prove, if it changes not the
existence of things? Truth is one--your persuasions are various;
many of you, therefore, are in error. Now, if man, as is evident,
can persuade himself of error, what is the persuasion of man to
"If error has its martyrs, what is the sure criterion of truth?
"If the evil spirit works miracles, what is the distinctive
character of God?
"Besides, why resort forever to incomplete and insufficient
miracles? Instead of changing the course of nature, why not rather
change opinions? Why murder and terrify men, instead of
instructing and correcting them?
"O credulous, but opinionated mortals! none of us know what was
done yesterday, what is doing to-day even under our eyes; and we
swear to what was done two thousand years ago!
"Oh, the weakness and yet the pride of men! The laws of nature are
unchangeable and profound--our minds are full of illusion and
frivolity--and yet we would comprehend every thing--determine every
thing! Forgetting that it is easier for the whole human race to be
in error, than to change the nature of the smallest atom."
"Well, then," said one of the doctors, "let us lay aside the
evidence of fact, since it is uncertain; let us come to argument--
to the proofs inherent in the doctrine."
Then came forward, with a look of confidence, an Iman of the law of
Mahomet; and, having advanced into the circle, turned towards
Mecca, and recited with great fervor his confession of faith.
"Praise be to God," said he, with a solemn and imposing voice, "the
light shines with full evidence, and the truth has no need of
examination." Then, showing the Koran, he exclaimed: "Here is the
light of truth in its proper essence. There is no doubt in this
book. It conducts with safety him who walks in darkness, and who
receives without discussion the divine word which descended on the
prophet, to save the simple and confound the wise. God has
established Mahomet his minister on earth; he has given him the
world, that he may subdue with the sword whoever shall refuse to
receive his law. Infidels dispute, and will not believe; their
obduracy comes from God, who has hardened their hearts to deliver
them to dreadful punishments."*
* This passage contains the sense and nearly the very words of the
first chapter of the Koran; and the reader will observe in general,
that, in the pictures that follow, the writer has endeavored to
give as accurately as possible the letter and spirit of the
opinions of each party.
At these words a violent murmur arose on all sides, and silenced
the speaker. "Who is this man," cried all the groups, "who thus
insults us without a cause? What right has he to impose his creed
on us as conqueror and tyrant? Has not God endowed us, as well as
him, with eyes, understanding, and reason? And have we not an
equal right to use them, in choosing what to believe and what to
reject? If he attacks us, shall we not defend ourselves? If he
likes to believe without examination, must we therefore not examine
before we believe?
"And what is this luminous doctrine that fears the light? What is
this apostle of a God of clemency, who preaches nothing but murder
and carnage? What is this God of justice, who punishes blindness
which he himself has made? If violence and persecution are the
arguments of truth, are gentleness and charity the signs of
A man then advancing from a neighboring group, said to the Iman:
"Admitting that Mahomet is the apostle of the best doctrine,--the
prophet of the true religion,--have the goodness at least to tell
us whether, in the practice of his doctrine, we are to follow his
son-in-law Ali, or his vicars Omar and Aboubekre?"*
* These are the two grand parties into which the Mussulmans are
divided. The Turks have embraced the second, the Persians the
At the sound of these names a terrible schism arose among the
Mussulmans themselves. The partisans of Ali and those of Omar,
calling out heretics and blasphemers, loaded each other with
execrations. The quarrel became so violent that neighboring groups
were obliged to interfere, to prevent their coming to blows. At
length, tranquillity being somewhat restored, the legislator said
to the Imans:
"See the consequences of your principles! If you yourselves were
to carry them into practice, you would destroy each other to the
last man. Is it not the first law of God that man should live?"
Then, addressing himself to the other groups, he continued:
"Doubtless this intolerant and exclusive spirit shocks every idea
of justice, and overturns the whole foundation of morals and
society; but before we totally reject this code of doctrine, is it
not proper to hear some of its dogmas? Let us not pronounce on the
forms, without having some knowledge of the substance."
The groups having consented, the Iman began to expound how God,
having sent to the nations lost in idolatry twenty-four thousand
prophets, had finally sent the last, the seal and perfection of
all, Mahomet; on whom be the salvation of peace: how, to prevent
the divine word from being any longer perverted by infidels, the
supreme goodness had itself written the pages of the Koran. Then,
explaining the particular dogmas of Islamism, the Iman unfolded how
the Koran, partaking of the divine nature, was uncreated and
eternal, like its author: how it had been sent leaf by leaf, in
twenty-four thousand nocturnal apparitions of the angel Gabriel:
how the angel announced himself by a gentle knocking, which threw
the prophet into a cold sweat: how in the vision of one night he
had travelled over ninety heavens, riding on the beast Borack, half
horse and half woman: how, endowed with the gift of miracles, he
walked in the sunshine without a shadow, turned dry trees to green,
filled wells and cisterns with water, and split in two the body of
the moon: how, by divine command, Mahomet had propagated, sword in
hand, the religion the most worthy of God by its sublimity, and the
most proper for men by the simplicity of its practice; since it
consisted in only eight or ten points:--To profess the unity of
God; to acknowledge Mahomet as his only prophet; to pray five times
a day; to fast one month in the year; to go to Mecca once in our
life; to pay the tenth of all we possess; to drink no wine; to eat
no pork; and to make war upon the infidels.* He taught that by
these means every Mussulman becoming himself an apostle and martyr,
should enjoy in this world many blessings; and at his death, his
soul, weighed in the balance of works, and absolved by the two
black angels, should pass the infernal pit on the bridge as narrow
as a hair and as sharp as the edge of a sword, and should finally
be received to a region of delight, which is watered with rivers of
milk and honey, and embalmed in all the perfumes of India and
Arabia; and where the celestial Houris--virgins always chaste--are
eternally crowning with repeated favors the elect of God, who
preserve an eternal youth.
* Whatever the advocates for the philosophy and civilization of the
Turks may assert, to make war upon infidels is considered by them
as an obligatory precept and an act of religion. See Reland de
At these words an involuntary smile was seen on all their lips; and
the various groups, reasoning on these articles of faith, exclaimed
with one voice:
"Is it possible that reasonable beings can admit such reveries?
Would you not think it a chapter from The Thousand and One Nights?"
A Samoyede advanced into the circle: "The paradise of Mahomet,"
said he, "appears to me very good; but one of the means of gaining
it is embarrassing: for if we must neither eat nor drink between
the rising and setting sun, as he has ordered, how are we to
practise that fast in my country, where the sun continues above the
horizon six months without setting?"
"That is impossible," cried all the Mussulman doctors, to support
the teaching of the prophet; but a hundred nations having attested
the fact, the infallibility of Mahomet could not but receive a
"It is singular," said an European, "that God should be constantly
revealing what takes place in heaven, without ever instructing us
what is doing on the earth."
"For my part," said an American," I find a great difficulty in the
pilgrimage. For suppose twenty-five years to a generation, and
only a hundred millions of males on the globe,--each being obliged
to go to Mecca once in his life,--there must be four millions a
year on the journey; and as it would be impracticable for them to
return the same year, the numbers would be doubled--that is, eight
millions: where would you find provisions, lodgings, water,
vessels, for this universal procession? Here must be miracles
"The proof," said a catholic doctor, "that the religion of Mahomet
is not revealed, is that the greater part of the ideas which serve
for its basis existed a long time before, and that it is only a
confused mixture of truths disfigured and taken from our holy
religion and from that of the Jews; which an ambitious man has made
to serve his projects of domination, and his worldly views. Look
through his book; you will see nothing there but the histories of
the Bible and the Gospel travestied into absurd fables--into a
tissue of vague and contradictory declamations, and ridiculous or
"Analyze the spirit of these precepts, and the conduct of their
apostle; you will find there an artful and audacious character,
which, to obtain its end, works ably it is true, on the passions of
the people it had to govern. It is speaking to simple men, and it
entertains them with miracles; they are ignorant and jealous, and
it flatters their vanity by despising science; they are poor and
rapacious, and it excites their cupidity by the hope of pillage;
having nothing at first to give them on earth, it tells them of
treasures in heaven; it teaches them to desire death as a supreme
good; it threatens cowards with hell; it rewards the brave with
paradise; it sustains the weak with the opinion of fatality; in
short, it produces the attachment it wants by all the allurements
of sense, and all the power of the passions.
"How different is the character of our religion! and how completely
does its empire, founded on the counteraction of the natural
temper, and the mortification of all our passions, prove its divine
origin! How forcibly does its mild and compassionate morality, its
affections altogether spiritual, attest its emanation from God!
Many of its doctrines, it is true, soar above the reach of the
understanding, and impose on reason a respectful silence; but this
more fully demonstrates its revelation, since the human mind could
never have imagined such mysteries."
Then, holding the Bible in one hand and the four Gospels in the
other, the doctor began to relate that, in the beginning, God,
after passing an eternity in idleness, took the resolution, without
any known cause, of making the world out of nothing; that having
created the whole universe in six days, he found himself fatigued
on the seventh; that having placed the first human pair in a garden
of delights, to make them completely happy, he forbade their
tasting a particular fruit which he placed within their reach; that
these first parents, having yielded to the temptation, all their
race (which were not yet born) had been condemned to bear the
penalty of a fault which they had not committed; that, after having
left the human race to damn themselves for four or five thousand
years, this God of mercy ordered a well beloved son, whom he had
engendered without a mother, and who was as old as himself, to go
and be put to death on the earth; and this for the salvation of
mankind; of whom much the greater portion, nevertheless, have ever
since continued in the way of perdition; that to remedy this new
difficulty, this same God, born of a virgin, having died and risen
from the dead, assumes a new existence every day, and in the form
of a piece of bread, multiplies himself by millions at the voice of
one of the basest of men. Then, passing on to the doctrine of the
sacraments, he was going to treat at large on the power of
absolution and reprobation, of the means of purging all sins by a
little water and a few words, when, uttering the words indulgence,
power of the pope, sufficient grace, and efficacious grace, he was
interrupted by a thousand cries.
"It is a horrible abuse," cried the Lutherans, "to pretend to remit
sins for money."
"The notion of the real presence," cried the Calvinists, "is
contrary to the text of the Gospel."
"The pope has no right to decide anything of himself," cried the
Jansenists; and thirty other sects rising up, and accusing each
other of heresies and errors, it was no longer possible to hear
Silence being at last restored, the Mussulmans observed to the
"Since you have rejected our doctrine as containing things
incredible, can you admit that of the Christians? Is not theirs
still more contrary to common sense and justice? A God, immaterial
and infinite, to become a man! to have a son as old as himself!
This god-man to become bread, to be eaten and digested! Have we
any thing equal to that? Have the Christians an exclusive right of
setting up a blind faith? And will you grant them privileges of
belief to our detriment?"
Some savage tribes then advanced: "What!" said they, "because a man
and woman ate an apple six thousand years ago, all the human race
are damned? And you call God just? What tyrant ever rendered
children responsible for the faults of their fathers? What man can
answer for the actions of another? Does not this overturn every
idea of justice and of reason?"
Others exclaimed: "Where are the proofs, the witnesses of these
pretended facts? Can we receive them without examining the
evidence? The least action in a court of justice requires two
witnesses; and we are ordered to believe all this on mere tradition
A Jewish Rabbin then addressing the assembly, said: "As to the
fundamental facts, we are sureties; but with regard to their form
and their application, the case is different, and the Christians
are here condemned by their own arguments. For they cannot deny
that we are the original source from which they are derived--the
primitive stock on which they are grafted; and hence the reasoning
is very short: Either our law is from God, and then theirs is a
heresy, since it differs from ours, or our law is not from God, and
then theirs falls at the same time."
"But you must make this distinction," replied the Christian: "Your
law is from God as typical and preparative, but not as final and
absolute: you are the image of which we are the substance."
"We know," replied the Rabbin, "that such are your pretensions; but
they are absolutely gratuitous and false. Your system turns
altogether on mystical meanings, visionary and allegorical
interpretations.* With violent distortions on the letter of our
books, you substitute the most chimerical ideas for the true ones,
and find in them whatever pleases you; as a roving imagination will
find figures in the clouds. Thus you have made a spiritual Messiah
of that which, in the spirit of our prophets, is only a temporal
king. You have made a redemption of the human race out of the
simple re-establishment of our nation. Your conception of the
Virgin is founded on a single phrase, of which you have changed the
meaning. Thus you make from our Scriptures whatever your fancy
dictates; you even find there your trinity; though there is not a
word that has the most distant allusion to such a thing; and it is
an invention of profane writers, admitted into your system with a
host of other opinions, of every religion and of every sect, during
the anarchy of the first three centuries of your era."
* When we read the Fathers of the church, and see upon what
arguments they have built the edifice of religion, we are
inexpressibly astonished with their credulity or their knavery: but
allegory was the rage of that period; the Pagans employed it to
explain the actions of their gods, and the Christians acted in the
same spirit when they employed it after their fashion.
At these words, the Christian doctors, crying sacrilege and
blasphemy, sprang forward in a transport of fury to fall upon the
Jew; and a troop of monks, in motley dresses of black and white,
advanced with a standard on which were painted pincers, gridirons,
lighted fagots, and the words Justice, Charity, Mercy.* "It is
necessary," said they, "to make an example of these impious
wretches, and burn them for the glory of God." They began even to
prepare the pile, when a Mussulman answered in a strain of irony:
"This, then, is that religion of peace, that meek and beneficent
system which you so much extol! This is that evangelical charity
which combats infidelity with persuasive mildness, and repays
injuries with patience! Ye hypocrites! It is thus that you
deceive mankind--thus that you propagate your accursed errors!
When you were weak, you preached liberty, toleration, peace; when
you are strong, you practise persecution and violence--"
* This description answers exactly to the banner of the Inquisition
of Spanish Jacobins.
And he was going to begin the history of the wars and slaughters of
Christianity, when the legislator, demanding silence, suspended
this scene of discord.
The monks, affecting a tone of meekness and humility, exclaimed:
"It is not ourselves that we would avenge; it is the cause of God;
it is the glory of God that we defend."
"And what right have you, more than we," said the Imans, "to
constitute yourselves the representatives of God? Have you
privileges that we have not? Are you not men like us?"
"To defend God," said another group, "to pretend to avenge him, is
to insult his wisdom and his power. Does he not know, better than
men, what befits his dignity?"
"Yes," replied the monks, "but his ways are secret."
"And it remains for you to prove," said the Rabbins, "that you have
the exclusive privilege of understanding them."
Then, proud of finding supporters to their cause, the Jews thought
that the books of Moses were going to be triumphant, when the Mobed
(high priest) of the Parses obtained leave to speak.
"We have heard," said he, "the account of the Jews and Christians
of the origin of the world; and, though greatly mutilated, we find
in it some facts which we admit. But we deny that they are to be
attributed to the legislator of the Hebrews. It was not he who
made known to men these sublime truths, these celestial events. It
was not to him that God revealed them, but to our holy prophet
Zoroaster: and the proof of this is in the very books that they
refer to. Examine with attention the laws, the ceremonies, the
precepts established by Moses in those books; you will not find the
slightest indication, either expressed or understood, of what
constitutes the basis of the Jewish and Christian theology. You
nowhere find the least trace of the immortality of the soul, or of
a future life, or of heaven, or of hell, or of the revolt of the
principal angel, author of the evils of the human race. These
ideas were not known to Moses, and the reason is very obvious: it
was not till four centuries afterwards that Zoroaster first
evangelized them in Asia.*
* See the Chronology of the Twelve Ages, in which I conceive myself
to have clearly proved that Moses lived about 1,400 years before
Jesus Christ, and Zoroaster about a thousand.
"Thus," continued the Mobed, turning to the Rabbins, "it was not
till after that epoch, that is to say, in the time of your first
kings, that these ideas began to appear in your writers; and then
their appearance was obscure and gradual, according to the progress
of the political relations between your ancestors and ours. It was
especially when, having been conquered by the kings of Nineveh and
Babylon and transported to the banks of the Tygris and the
Euphrates, where they resided for three successive generations,
that they imbibed manners and opinions which had been rejected as
contrary to their law. When our king Cyrus had delivered them from
slavery, their heart was won to us by gratitude; they became our
disciples and imitators; and they admitted our dogmas in the
revision of their books;* for your Genesis, in particular, was
never the work of Moses, but a compilation drawn up after the
return from the Babylonian captivity, in which are inserted the
Chaldean opinions of the origin of the world.
* In the first periods of the Christian church, not only the most
learned of those who have since been denominated heretics, but many
of the orthodox conceived Moses to have written neither the law nor
the Pentateuch, but that the work was a compilation made by the
elders of the people and the Seventy, who, after the death of
Moses, collected his scattered ordinances, and mixed with them
things that were extraneous; similar to what happened as to the
Koran of Mahomet. See Les Clementines, Homel. 2. sect. 51. and
Homel. 3. sect. 42.
Modern critics, more enlightened or more attentive than the
ancients, have found in Genesis in particular, marks of its having
been composed on the return from the captivity; but the principal
proofs have escaped them. These I mean to exhibit in an analysis
of the book of Genesis, in which I shall demonstrate that the tenth
chapter, among others, which treats of the pretended generations of
the man called Noah, is a real geographical picture of the world,
as it was known to the Hebrews at the epoch of the captivity, which
was bounded by Greece or Hellas at the West, mount Caucasus at the
North, Persia at the East, and Arabia and Upper Egypt at the South.
All the pretended personages from Adam to Abraham, or his father
Terah, are mythological beings, stars, constellations, countries.
Adam is Bootes: Noah is Osiris: Xisuthrus Janus, Saturn; that is to
say Capricorn, or the celestial Genius that opened the year. The
Alexandrian Chronicle says expressly, page 85, that Nimrod was
supposed by the Persians to be their first king, as having invented
the art of hunting, and that he was translated into heaven, where
he appears under the name of Orion.
"At first the pure followers of the law, opposing to the emigrants
the letter of the text and the absolute silence of the prophet,
endeavored to repel these innovations; but they ultimately
prevailed, and our doctrine, modified by your ideas, gave rise to a
"You expected a king to restore your political independence; we
announced a God to regenerate and save mankind. From this
combination of ideas, your Essenians laid the foundation of
Christianity: and whatever your pretensions may be, Jews,
Christians, Mussulmans, you are, in your system of spiritual
beings, only the blundering followers of Zoroaster."
The Mobed, then passing on to the details of his religion, quoting
from the Zadder and the Zendavesta, recounted, in the same order as
they are found in the book of Genesis, the creation of the world in
six gahans,* the formation of a first man and a first woman, in a
divine place, under the reign of perfect good; the introduction of
evil into the world by the great snake, emblem of Ahrimanes; the
revolt and battles of the Genius of evil and darkness against
Ormuzd, God of good and of light; the division of the angels into
white and black, or good and bad; their hierarchal orders,
cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, etc.; the end of the world
at the close of six thousand years; the coming of the lamb, the
regenerator of nature; the new world; the future life, and the
regions of happiness and misery; the passage of souls over the
bridge of the bottomless pit; the celebration of the mysteries of
Mithras; the unleavened bread which the initiated eat; the baptism
of new-born children; the unction of the dead; the confession of
sins; and, in a word, he recited so many things analagous to those
of the three preceding religions, that his discourse seemed like a
commentary or a continuation of the Koran or the Apocalypse.**
* Or periods, or in six gahan-bars, that is six periods of time.
These periods are what Zoroaster calls the thousands of God or of
light, meaning the six summer months. In the first, say the
Persians, God created (arranged in order) the heavens; in the
second the waters; in the third the earth; in the fourth trees; in
the fifth animals; and in the sixth man; corresponding with the
account in Genesis. For particulars see Hyde, ch. 9, and Henry
Lord, ch. 2, on the religion of the ancient Persians. It is
remarkable that the same tradition is found in the sacred books of
the Etrurians, which relate that the fabricator of all things had
comprised the duration of his work in a period of twelve thousand
years, which period was distributed to the twelve houses of the
sun. In the first thousand, God made heaven and earth; in the
second the firmament; in the third the sea and the waters; in the
fourth the sun, moon and stars; in the fifth the souls of animals,
birds, and reptiles; in the sixth man. See Suidas, at the word
Tyrrhena; which shows first the identity of their theological and
astrological opinions; and, secondly, the identity, or rather
confusion of ideas, between absolute and systematical creation;
that is, the periods assigned for renewing the face of nature,
which were at first the period of the year, and afterwards periods
of 60, of 600, of 25,000, of 36,000 and of 432,000 years.
** The modern Parses and the ancient Mithriacs, who are the same
sect, observe all the Christian sacraments, even the laying on of
hands in confirmation. The priest of Mithra, says Tertullian, (de
Proescriptione, ch. 40) promises absolution from sin on confession
and baptism; and, if I rightly remember, Mithra marks his soldiers
in the forehead, with the chrism called in the Egyptian Kouphi; he
celebrates the sacrifice of bread, which is the resurrection, and
presents the crown to his followers, menacing them at the same time
with the sword, etc.
In these mysteries they tried the courage of the initiated with a
thousand terrors, presenting fire to his face, a sword to his
breast, etc.; they also offered him a crown, which he refused,
saying, God is my crown: and this crown is to be seen in the
celestial sphere by the side of Bootes. The personages in these
mysteries were distinguished by the names of the animal
constellations. The ceremony of mass is nothing more than an
imitation of these mysteries and those of Eleusis. The
benediction, the Lord be with you, is a literal translation of the
formula of admission chou-k, am, p-ka. See Beausob. Hist. Du
Manicheisme, vol. ii.
But the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan doctors, crying out
against this recital, and treating the Parses as idolaters and
worshippers of fire, charged them with falsehood, interpolations,
falsification of facts; and there arose a violent dispute as to the
dates of the events, their order and succession, the origin of the
doctrines, their transmission from nation to nation, the
authenticity of the books on which they are founded, the epoch of
their composition, the character of their compilers, and the
validity of their testimony. And the various parties, pointing out
reciprocally to each other, the contradictions, improbabilities,
and forgeries, accused one another of having established their
belief on popular rumors, vague traditions, and absurd fables,
invented without discernment, and admitted without examination by
unknown, partial, or ignorant writers, at uncertain or unknown
A great murmur now arose from under the standards of the various
Indian sects; and the Bramins, protesting against the pretensions
of the Jews and the Parses, said:
"What are these new and almost unheard of nations, who arrogantly
set themselves up as the sources of the human race, and the
depositaries of its archives? To hear their calculations of five
or six thousand years, it would seem that the world was of
yesterday; whereas our monuments prove a duration of many thousands
of centuries. And for what reason are their books to be preferred
to ours? Are then the Vedes, the Chastres, and the Pourans
inferior to the Bibles, the Zendavestas, and the Zadders?* And is
not the testimony of our fathers and our gods as valid as that of
the fathers and the gods of the West? Ah! if it were permitted to
reveal our mysteries to profane men! if a sacred veil did not
justly conceal them from every eye!"
These are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos; they are sometimes
written Vedams, Pouranams, Chastrans, because the Hindoos, like the
Persians, are accustomed to give a nasal sound to the terminations
of their words, which we represent by the affixes on and an, and
the Portuguese by the affixes om and am. Many of these books have
been translated, thanks to the liberal spirit of Mr. Hastings, who
has founded at Calcutta a literary society, and a printing press.
At the same time, however, that we express our gratitude to this
society, we must be permitted to complain of its exclusive spirit;
the number of copies printed of each book being such as it is
impossible to purchase them even in England; they are wholly in the
hands of the East India proprietors. Scarcely even is the Asiatic
Miscellany known in Europe; and a man must be very learned in
oriental antiquity before he so much as hears of the Jones's, the
Wilkins's, and the Halhed's, etc. As to the sacred books of the
Hindoos, all that are yet in our hands are the Bhagvat Geeta, the
Ezour-Vedam, the Bagavadam, and certain fragments of the Chastres
printed at the end of the Bhagvat Geeta. These books are in
Indostan what the Old and New Testament are in Christendom, the
Koran in Turkey, the Zadder and the Zendavesta among the Parses,
etc. When I have taken an extensive survey of their contents, I
have sometimes asked myself, what would be the loss to the human
race if a new Omar condemned them to the flames; and, unable to
discover any mischief that would ensue, I call the imaginary chest
that contains them, the box of Pandora.
The Bramins stopping short at these words: "How can we admit your
doctrine," said the legislator, "if you will not make it known?
And how did its first authors propagate it, when, being alone
possessed of it, their own people were to them profane? Did heaven
reveal it to be kept a secret?"*
* The Vedas or Vedams are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos, as the
Bibles with us. They are three in number; the Rick Veda, the
Yadjour Veda, and the Sama Veda; they are so scarce in India, that
the English could with great difficulty find an original one, of
which a copy is deposited in the British Museum; they who reckon
four Vedas, include among them the Attar Veda, concerning
ceremonies, but which is lost. There are besides commentaries
named Upanishada, one of which was published by Anquetil du Peron,
and entitled Oupnekhat, a curious work. The date of these books is
more than twenty-five centuries prior to our era; their contents
prove that all the reveries of the Greek metaphysicians come from
India and Egypt. Since the year 1788, the learned men of England
are working in India a mine of literature totally unknown in
Europe, and which proves that the civilization of India ascends to
a very remote antiquity. After the Vedas come the Chastras
amounting to six. They treat of theology and the Sciences.
Afterwards eighteen Pouranas, treating of Mythology and History.
See the Bahgouet-guita, the Baga Vadam, and the Ezour-Vedam, etc.
But the Bramins persisting in their silence: "Let them have the
honor of the secret," said a European: "Their doctrine is now
divulged; we have their books, and I can give you the substance of
Then beginning with an abstract of the four Vedes, the eighteen
Pourans, and the five or six Chastres, he recounted how a being,
infinite, eternal, immaterial and round, after having passed an
eternity in self-contemplation, and determining at last to manifest
himself, separated the male and female faculties which were in him,
and performed an act of generation, of which the Lingam remains an
emblem; how that first act gave birth to three divine powers,
Brama, Bichen or Vichenou, and Chib or Chiven;* whose functions
were--the first to create, the second to preserve, and the third to
destroy, or change the form of the universe. Then, detailing the
history of their operations and adventures, he explained how Brama,
proud of having created the world and the eight bobouns, or spheres
of probation, thought himself superior to Chib, his equal; how his
pride brought on a battle between them, in which these celestial
globes were crushed like a basket of eggs; how Brama, vanquished in
this conflict, was reduced to serve as a pedestal to Chib,
metamorphosed into a Lingam; how Vichenou, the god mediator, has
taken at different times to preserve the world, nine mortal forms
of animals; how first, in shape of a fish, he saved from the
universal deluge a family who repeopled the earth; how afterwards,
in the form of a tortoise,** he drew from the sea of milk the
mountain Mandreguiri (the pole); then, becoming a boar, he tore the
belly of the giant Ereuniachessen, who was drowning the earth in
the abyss of Djole, from whence he drew it out with his tusks; how,
becoming incarnate in a black shepherd, and under the name of
Christ-en, he delivered the world of the enormous serpent Calengem,
and then crushed his head, after having been wounded by him in the
* These names are differently pronounced according to the different
dialects; thus they say Birmah, Bremma, Brouma. Bichen has been
turned into Vichen by the easy exchange of a B for a V, and into
Vichenou by means of a grammatical affix. In the same manner Chib,
which is synonymous with Satan, and signifies adversary, is
frequently written Chiba and Chiv-en; he is called also Rouder and
Routr-en, that is, the destroyer.
** This is the constellation testudo, or the lyre, which was at
first a tortoise, on account of its slow motion round the Pole;
then a lyre, because it is the shell of this reptile on which the
strings of the lyre are mounted. See an excellent memoir of M.
Dupuis sur l'Origine des Constellations.
Then, passing on to the history of the secondary Genii, he related
how the Eternal, to display his own glory, created various orders
of angels, whose business it was to sing his praises and to direct
the universe; how a part of these angels revolted under the
guidance of an ambitious chief, who strove to usurp the power of
God, and to govern all; how God plunged them into a world of
darkness, there to undergo the punishment for their crimes; how at
last, touched with compassion, he consented to release them, to
receive them into favor, after they should undergo a long series of
probations; how, after creating for this purpose fifteen orbits or
regions of planets, and peopling them with bodies, he ordered these
rebel angels to undergo in them eighty-seven transmigrations; he
then explained how souls, thus purified, returned to the first
source, to the ocean of life and animation from which they had
proceeded; and since all living creatures contain portions of this
universal soul, he taught how criminal it was to deprive them of
it. He was finally proceeding to explain the rites and ceremonies,
when, speaking of offerings and libations of milk and butter made
to gods of copper and wood, and then of purifications by the dung
and urine of cows, there arose a universal murmur, mixed with peals
of laughter, which interrupted the orator.
Each of the different groups began to reason on that religion:
"They are idolators," said the Mussulmans; "and should be
exterminated." "They are deranged in their intellect," said the
followers of Confucius; "we must try to cure them." "What
ridiculous gods," said others, "are these puppets, besmeared with
grease and smoke! Are gods to be washed like dirty children, from
whom you must brush away the flies, which, attracted by honey, are
fouling them with their excrements!"
But a Bramin exclaimed with indignation: "These are profound
mysteries,--emblems of truth, which you are not worthy to hear."
"And in what respect are you more worthy than we?" exclaimed a Lama
of Tibet. "Is it because you pretend to have issued from the head
of Brama, and the rest of the human race from the less noble parts
of his body? But to support the pride of your distinctions of
origin and castes, prove to us in the first place that you are
different from other men; establish, in the next place, as
historical facts, the allegories which you relate; show us, indeed,
that you are the authors of all this doctrine; for we will
demonstrate, if necessary, that you have only stolen and disfigured
it; that you are only the imitators of the ancient paganism of the
West; to which, by an ill assorted mixture, you have allied the
pure and spiritual doctrine of our gods--a doctrine totally
detached from the senses, and entirely unknown on earth till Beddou
taught it to the nations."*
* All the ancient opinions of the Egyptian and Grecian theologians
are to be found in India, and they appear to have been introduced,
by means of the commerce of Arabia and the vicinity of Persia, time
A number of groups having asked what was this doctrine, and who was
this god, of whom the greater part had never heard the name, the
Lama resumed and said:
"In the beginning, a sole-existent and self-existent God, having
passed an eternity in the contemplation of his own being, resolved
to manifest his perfections out of himself, and created the matter
of the world. The four elements being produced, but still in a
state of confusion, he breathed on the face of the waters, which
swelled like an immense bubble in form of an egg, which unfolding,
became the vault or orb of heaven, enclosing the world.* Having
made the earth, and the bodies of animals, this God, essence of
motion, imparted to them a part of his own being to animate them;
for this reason, the soul of everything that breathes being a
portion of the universal soul, no one of them can perish; they only
change their form and mould in passing successively into different
bodies. Of all these forms, the one most pleasing to God is that
of man, as most resembling his own perfections. When a man, by an
absolute disengagement from his senses, is wholly absorbed in self-
contemplation, he then discovers the divinity, and becomes himself
God. Of all the incarnations of this kind that God has hitherto
taken, the greatest and most solemn was that in which he appeared
thirty centuries ago in Kachemire, under the name of Fot or Beddou,
to preach the doctrines of self-denial and self-annihilation."
* This cosmogony of the Lamas, the Bonzes, and even the Bramins, as
Henry Lord asserts, is literally that of the ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians, says Porphyry, call Kneph, intelligence, or
efficient cause of the universe. They relate that this God vomited
an egg, from which was produced another God named Phtha or Vulcan,
(igneous principle or the sun) and they add, that this egg is the
world. Euseb. Proep. Evang. p. 115.
They represent, says the same author in another place, the God
Kneph, or efficient cause, under the form of a man in deep blue
(the color of the sky) having in his hand a sceptre, a belt round
his body, and a small bonnet royal of light feathers on his head,
to denote how very subtile and fugacious the idea of that being is.
Upon which I shall observe that Kneph in Hebrew signifies a wing, a
feather, and that this color of sky-blue is to be found in the
majority of the Indian Gods, and is, under the name of Narayan, one
of their most distinguishing epithets.
Then, pursuing the history of Fot, the Lama continued:
"He was born from the right flank of a virgin of royal blood, who
did not cease to be a virgin for having become a mother; that the
king of the country, uneasy at his birth, wished to destroy him,
and for this purpose ordered a massacre of all the males born at
that period, that being saved by shepherds, Beddou lived in the
desert till the age of thirty years, at which time he began his
mission to enlighten men and cast out devils; that he performed a
multitude of the most astonishing miracles; that he spent his life
in fasting and severe penitence, and at his death, bequeathed to
his disciples a book containing his doctrines."
And the Lama began to read:
"He that leaveth his father and mother to follow me," says Fot,
"becomes a perfect Samanean (a heavenly man).
"He that practices my precepts to the fourth degree of perfection,
acquires the faculty of flying in the air, of moving heaven and
earth, of prolonging or shortening his life (rising from the dead).
"The Samanean despises riches, and uses only what is strictly
necessary; he mortifies his body, silences his passions, desires
nothing, forms no attachments, meditates my doctrines without
ceasing, endures injuries with patience, and bears no malice to his
"Heaven and earth shall perish," says Fot: "despise therefore your
bodies, which are composed of the four perishable elements, and
think only of your immortal soul.
"Listen not to the flesh: fear and sorrow spring from the passions:
stifle the passions and you destroy fear and sorrow.
"Whoever dies without having embraced my religion," says Fot,
"returns among men, until he embraces it."
The Lama was going on with his reading, when the Christians
interrupted him, crying out that this was their own religion
adulterated--that Fot was no other than Jesus himself disfigured,
and that the Lamas were the Nestorians and the Manicheans disguised
* This is asserted by our missionaries, and among others by Georgi
in his unfinished work of the Thibetan alphabet: but if it can be
proved that the Manicheans were but plagiarists, and the ignorant
echo of a doctrine that existed fifteen hundred years before them,
what becomes of the declarations of Georgi? See upon this subject,
Beausob. Hist. du Manicheisme.
But the Lama, supported by the Chamans, Bonzes, Gonnis, Talapoins
of Siam, of Ceylon, of Japan, and of China, proved to the
Christians, even from their own authors, that the doctrine of the
Samaneans was known through the East more than a thousand years
before the Christian era; that their name was cited before the time
of Alexander, and that Boutta, or Beddou, was known before Jesus.*
* The eastern writers in general agree in placing the birth of
Beddou 1027 years before Jesus Christ, which makes him the
contemporary of Zoroaster, with whom, in my opinion, they confound
him. It is certain that his doctrine notoriously existed at that
epoch; it is found entire in that of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and the
Indian gymnosophists. But the gymnosophists are cited at the time
of Alexander as an ancient sect already divided into Brachmans and
Samaneans. See Bardesanes en Saint Jerome, Epitre a Jovien.
Pythagoras lived in the ninth century before Jesus Christ; See
chronology of the twelve ages; and Orpheus is of still greater
antiquity. If, as is the case, the doctrine of Pythagoras and that
of Orpheus are of Egyptian origin, that of Beddou goes back to the
common source; and in reality the Egyptian priests recite, that
Hermes as he was dying said: "I have hitherto lived an exile from
my country, to which I now return. Weep not for me, I ascend to
the celestial abode where each of you will follow in his turn:
there God is: this life is only death."--Chalcidius in Thinaeum.
Such was the profession of faith of the Samaneans, the sectaries of
Orpheus, and the Pythagoreans. Farther, Hermes is no other than
Beddou himself; for among the Indians, Chinese, Lamas, etc., the
planet Mercury and the corresponding day of the week (Wednesday)
bear the name of Beddou, and this accounts for his being placed in
the rank of mythological beings, and discovers the illusion of his
pretended existence as a man; since it is evident that Mercury was
not a human being, but the Genius or Decan, who, placed at the
summer solstice, opened the Egyptian year; hence his attributes
taken from the constellation Syrius, and his name of Anubis, as
well as that of Esculapius, having the figure of a man and the head
of a dog: hence his serpent, which is the Hydra, emblem of the Nile
(Hydor, humidity); and from this serpent he seems to have derived
his name of Hermes, as Remes (with a schin) in the oriental
languages, signifies serpent. Now Beddou and Hermes being the same
names, it is manifest of what antiquity is the system ascribed to
the former. As to the name of Samanean, it is precisely that of
Chaman, still preserved in Tartary, China, and India. The
interpretation given to it is, man of the woods, a hermit
mortifying the flesh, such being the characteristic of this sect;
but its literal meaning is, celestial (Samaoui) and explains the
system of those who are called by it.--The system is the same as
that of the sectaries of Orpheus, of the Essenians, of the ancient
Anchorets of Persia, and the whole eastern country. See Porphyry,
de Abstin. Animal.
These celestial and penitent men carried in India their insanity to
such an extreme as to wish not to touch the earth, and they
accordingly lived in cages suspended from the trees, where the
people, whose admiration was not less absurd, brought them
provisions. During the night there were frequent robberies, rapes
and murders, and it was at length discovered that they were
committed by those men, who, descending from their cages, thus
indemnified themselves for their restraint during the day. The
Bramins, their rivals, embraced the opportunity of exterminating
them; and from that time their name in India has been synonymous
with hypocrite. See Hist. de la Chine, in 5 vols. quarto, at the
note page 30; Hist. de Huns, 2 vols. and preface to the Ezour-
Then, retorting the pretensions of the Christians against
themselves: "Prove to us," said the Lama, "that you are not
Samaneans degenerated, and that the man you make the author of your
sect is not Fot himself disguised. Prove to us by historical facts
that he even existed at the epoch you pretend; for, it being
destitute of authentic testimony,* we absolutely deny it; and we
maintain that your very gospels are only the books of some
Mithriacs of Persia, and the Essenians of Syria, who were a branch
of reformed Samaneans."**
* There are absolutely no other monuments of the existence of Jesus
Christ as a human being, than a passage in Josephus (Antiq. Jud.
lib. 18, c.3,) a single phrase in Tacitus (Annal. lib. 15, c. 44),
and the Gospels. But the passage in Josephus is unanimously
acknowledged to be apocryphal, and to have been interpolated
towards the close of the third century, (See Trad. de joseph, par
M. Gillet); and that of Tacitus in so vague and so evidently taken
from the deposition of the Christians before the tribunals, that it
may be ranked in the class of evangelical records. It remains to
enquire of what authority are these records. "All the world
knows," says Faustus, who, though a Manichean, was one of the most
learned men of the third century, "All the world knows that the
gospels were neither written by Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, but
by certain unknown persons, who rightly judging that they should
not obtain belief respecting things which they had not seen, placed
at the head of their recitals the names of contemporary apostles."
See Beausob. vol. i. and Hist. des Apologistes de la Relig. Chret.
par Burigni, a sagacious writer, who has demonstrated the absolute
uncertainty of those foundations of the Christian religion; so that
the existence of Jesus is no better proved than that of Osiris and
Hercules, or that of Fot or Beddou, with whom, says M. de Guignes,
the Chinese continually confound him, for they never call Jesus by
any other name than Fot. Hist. de Huns.
** That is to say, from the pious romances formed out of the sacred
legends of the mysteries of Mithra, Ceres, Isis, etc., from whence
are equally derived the books of the Hindoos and the Bonzes. Our
missionaries have long remarked a striking resemblance between
those books and the gospels. M. Wilkins expressly mentions it in a
note in the Bhagvat Geeta. All agree that Krisna, Fot, and Jesus
have the same characteristic features: but religious prejudice has
stood in the way of drawing from this circumstance the proper and
natural inference. To time and reason must it be left to display
At these words, the Christians set up a general cry, and a new
dispute was about to begin; when a number of Chinese Chamans, and
Talapoins of Siam, came forward and said that they would settle the
whole controversy. And one of them speaking for the whole
exclaimed: "It is time to put an end to these frivolous contests by
drawing aside the veil from the interior doctrine that Fot himself
revealed to his disciples on his death bed.*
* The Budsoists have two doctrines, the one public and ostensible,
the other interior and secret, precisely like the Egyptian priests.
It may be asked, why this distinction? It is, that as the public
doctrine recommends offerings, expiations, endowments, etc., the
priests find their profit in preaching it to the people; whereas
the other, teaching the vanity of worldly things, and attended with
no lucre, it is thought proper to make it known only to adepts.
Can the teachers and followers of this religion be better classed
than under the heads of knavery and credulity?
"All these theological opinions," continued he, "are but chimeras.
All the stories of the nature of the gods, of their actions and
their lives, are but allegories and mythological emblems, under
which are enveloped ingenious ideas of morals, and the knowledge of
the operations of nature in the action of the elements and the
movement of the planets.
"The truth is, that all is reduced to nothing--that all is
illusion, appearance, dream; that the moral metempsychosis is only
the figurative sense of the physical metempsychosis, or the
successive movement of the elements of bodies which perish not, but
which, having composed one body, pass when that is dissolved, into
other mediums and form other combinations. The soul is but the
vital principle which results from the properties of matter, and
from the action of the elements in those bodies where they create a
spontaneous movement. To suppose that this product of the play of
the organs, born with them, matured with them, and which sleeps
with them, can subsist when they cease, is the romance of a
wandering imagination, perhaps agreeable enough, but really
God itself is nothing more than the moving principle, the occult
force inherent in all beings--the sum of their laws and properties--
the animating principle; in a word, the soul of the universe;
which on account of the infinite variety of its connections and its
operations, sometimes simple, sometimes multiple, sometimes active,
sometimes passive, has always presented to the human mind an
unsolvable enigma. All that man can comprehend with certainty is,
that matter does not perish; that it possesses essentially those
properties by which the world is held together like a living and
organized being; that the knowledge of these laws with respect to
man is what constitutes wisdom; that virtue and merit consist in
their observance; and evil, sin, and vice, in the ignorance and
violation of them; that happiness and misery result from these by
the same necessity which makes heavy bodies descend and light ones
rise, and by a fatality of causes and effects, whose chain extends
from the smallest atom to the greatest of the heavenly bodies."*
* These are the very expressions of La Loubre, in his description
of the kingdom of Siam and the theology of the Bronzes. Their
dogmas, compared with those of the ancient philosophers of Greece
and Italy, give a complete representation of the whole system of
the Stoics and Epicureans, mixed with astrological superstitious,
and some traits of Pythagorism.
At these words, a crowd of theologians of every sect cried out that
this doctrine was materialism, and that those who profess it were
impious atheists, enemies to God and man, who must be exterminated.
"Very well," replied the Chamans, "suppose we are in error, which
is not impossible, since the first attribute of the human mind is
to be subject to illusion; but what right have you to take away
from men like yourselves, the life which Heaven has given them? If
Heaven holds us guilty and in abhorrence, why does it impart to us
the same blessings as to you? And if it treats us with
forbearance, what authority have you to be less indulgent? Pious
men! who speak of God with so much certainty and confidence, be so
good as to tell us what it is; give us to comprehend what those
abstract and metaphysical beings are, which you call God and soul,
substance without matter, existence without body, life without
organs or sensation. If you know those beings by your senses or
their reflections, render them in like manner perceptible to us; or
if you speak of them on testimony and tradition, show us a uniform
account, and give a determinate basis to our creed."
There now arose among the theologians a great controversy
respecting God and his nature, his manner of acting, and of
manifesting himself; on the nature of the soul and its union with
the body; whether it exists before the organs, or only after they
are formed; on the future life, and the other world. And every
sect, every school, every individual, differing on all these
points, and each assigning plausible reasons, and respectable
though opposite authorities for his opinion, they fell into an
inextricable labyrinth of contradictions.
Then the legislator, having commanded silence and recalled the
dispute to its true object, said: "Chiefs and instructors of
nations; you came together in search of truth. At first, every one
of you, thinking he possessed it, demanded of the others an
implicit faith; but perceiving the contrariety of your opinions,
you found it necessary to submit them to a common rule of evidence,
and to bring them to one general term of comparison; and you agreed
that each should exhibit the proofs of his doctrine. You began by
alleging facts; but each religion and every sect, being equally
furnished with miracles and martyrs, each producing an equal number
of witnesses, and offering to support them by a voluntary death,
the balance on this first point, by right of parity, remained
"You then passed to the trial of reasoning; but the same arguments
applying equally to contrary positions--the same assertions,
equally gratuitous, being advanced and repelled with equal force,
and all having an equal right to refuse his assent, nothing was
demonstrated. What is more, the confrontation of your systems has
brought up more and extraordinary difficulties; for amid the
apparent or adventitious diversities, you have discovered a
fundamental resemblance, a common groundwork; and each of you
pretending to be the inventor, and first depositary, have taxed
each other with adulterations and plagiarisms; and thence arises a
difficult question concerning the transmission of religious ideas
from people to people.
"Finally, to complete your embarrassment: when you endeavored to
explain your doctrines to each other, they appeared confused and
foreign, even to their adherents; they were founded on ideas
inaccessible to your senses; you consequently had no means of
judging of them, and you confessed yourselves in this respect to be
only the echoes of your fathers. Hence follows this other
question: how came they to the knowledge of your fathers, who
themselves had no other means than you to conceive them? So that,
on the one hand, the succession of these ideas being unknown, and
on the other, their origin and existence being a mystery, all the
edifice of your religious opinions becomes a complicated problem of
metaphysics and history.
"Since, however, these opinions, extraordinary as they may be, must
have had some origin; since even the most abstract and fantastical
ideas have some physical model, it may be useful to recur to this
origin, and discover this model--in a word, to find out from what
source the human understanding has drawn these ideas, at present so
obscure, of God, of the soul, of all immaterial beings, which make
the basis of so many systems; to unfold the filiation which they
have followed, and the alterations which they have undergone in
their transmissions and ramifications. If, then, there are any
persons present who have made a study of these objects, let them
come forward, and endeavor, in the face of nations, to dissipate
the obscurity in which their opinions have so long remained."
ORIGIN AND FILIATION OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS.
At these words, a new group, formed in an instant by men from
various standards, but not distinguished by any, came forward into
the circle; and one of them spoke in the name of the whole:
"Delegates, friends of evidence and virtue! It is not surprising
that the subject in question should be enveloped in so many clouds,
since, besides its inherent difficulties, thought itself has always
been encumbered with superadded obstacles peculiar to this study,
where all free enquiry and discussion have been interdicted by the
intolerance of every system. But now that our views are permitted
to expand, we will expose to open day, and submit to the judgment
of nations, that which unprejudiced minds, after long researches,
have found to be the most reasonable; and we do this, not with the
pretension of imposing a new creed, but with the hope of provoking
new lights, and obtaining better information.
"Doctors and instructors of nations! You know what thick darkness
covers the nature, the origin, the history of the dogmas which you
teach. Imposed by authority, inculcated by education, and
maintained by example, they pass from age to age, and strengthen
their empire from habit and inattention. But if man, enlightened
by reflection and experience, brings to mature examination the
prejudices of his childhood, he soon discovers a multitude of
incongruities and contradictions which awaken his sagacity and
excite his reasoning powers.
"At first, remarking the diversity and opposition of the creeds
which divide the nations, he takes courage to question the
infallibility which each of them claims, and arming himself with
their reciprocal pretensions, he conceives that his senses and his
reason, derived immediately from God, are a law not less holy, a
guide not less sure, than the mediate and contradictory codes of
"If he then examines the texture of these codes themselves, he
observes that their laws, pretended to be divine, that is,
immutable and eternal, have arisen from circumstances of times,
places, and persons; that they have issued one from the other, in a
kind of genealogical order, borrowing from each other reciprocally
a common and similar fund of ideas, which every lawgiver modifies
according to his fancy.
If he ascends to the source of these ideas, he finds it involved in
the night of time, in the infancy of nations, even to the origin of
the world, to which they claim alliance; and there, placed in the
darkness of chaos, in the empire of fables and traditions, they
present themselves, accompanied with a state of things so full of
prodigies, that it seems to forbid all access to the judgment: but
this state itself excites a first effort of reason, which resolves
the difficulty; for if the prodigies, found in the theological
systems, have really existed--if, for instance, the metamorphoses,
the apparitions, the conversations with one or many gods, recorded
in the books of the Indians, the Hebrews, the Parses, are
historical events, he must agree that nature in those times was
totally different from what it is at present; that the present race
of men are quite another species from those who then existed; and,
therefore, he ought not to trouble his head about them.
"If, on the contrary, these miraculous events have really not
existed in the physical order of things, then he readily conceives
that they are creatures of the human intellect; and this faculty
being still capable of the most fantastical combinations, explains
at once the phenomenon of these monsters in history. It only
remains, then, to find how and wherefore they have been formed in
the imagination. Now, if we examine with care the subjects of
these intellectual creations, analyze the ideas which they combine
and associate, and carefully weigh all the circumstances which they
allege, we shall find that this first obscure and incredible state
of things is explained by the laws of nature. We find that these
stories of a fabulous kind have a figurative sense different from
the apparent one; that these events, pretended to be marvellous,
are simple and physical facts, which, being misconceived or
misrepresented, have been disfigured by accidental causes dependent
on the human mind, by the confusion of signs employed to represent
the ideas, the want of precision in words, permanence in language,
and perfection in writing; we find that these gods, for instance,
who display such singular characters in every system, are only the
physical agents of nature, the elements, the winds, the stars, and
the meteors, which have been personified by the necessary mechanism
of language and of the human understanding; that their lives, their
manners, their actions, are only their mechanical operations and
connections; and that all their pretended history is only the
description of these phenomena, formed by the first naturalists who
observed them, and misconceived by the vulgar who did not
understand them, or by succeeding generations who forgot them. In
a word, all the theological dogmas on the origin of the world, the
nature of God, the revelation of his laws, the manifestation of his
person, are known to be only the recital of astronomical facts,
only figurative and emblematical accounts of the motion of the
heavenly bodies. We are convinced that the very idea of a God,
that idea at present so obscure, is, in its first origin, nothing
but that of the physical powers of the universe, considered
sometimes as a plurality by reason of their agencies and phenomena,
sometimes as one simple and only being by reason of the
universality of the machine and the connection of its parts; so
that the being called God has been sometimes the wind, the fire,
the water, all the elements; sometimes the sun, the stars, the
planets, and their influence; sometimes the matter of the visible
world, the totality of the universe; sometimes abstract and
metaphysical qualities, such as space, duration, motion,
intelligence; and we everywhere see this conclusion, that the idea
of God has not been a miraculous revelation of invisible beings,
but a natural offspring of the human intellect--an operation of the
mind, whose progress it has followed and whose revolutions it has
undergone, in all the progress that has been made in the knowledge
of the physical world and its agents.
"It is then in vain that nations attribute their religion to
heavenly inspirations; it is in vain that their dogmas pretend to a
primeval state of supernatural events: the original barbarity of
the human race, attested by their own monuments,* belies these
assertions at once. But there is one constant and indubitable fact
which refutes beyond contradiction all these doubtful accounts of
past ages. From this position, that man acquires and receives no
ideas but through the medium of his senses,** it follows with
certainty that every notion which claims to itself any other origin
than that of sensation and experience, is the erroneous supposition
of a posterior reasoning: now, it is sufficient to cast an eye upon
the sacred systems of the origin of the world, and of the actions
of the gods, to discover in every idea, in every word, the
anticipation of an order of things which could not exist till a
long time after. Reason, strengthened by these contradictions,
rejecting everything that is not in the order of nature, and
admitting no historical facts but those founded on probabilities,
lays open its own system, and pronounces itself with assurance.
* It is the unanimous testimony of history, and even of legends,
that the first human beings were every where savages, and that it
was to civilize them, and teach them to make bread, that the Gods
** The rock on which all the ancients have split, and which has
occasioned all their errors, has been their supposing the idea of
God to be innate and co-eternal with the soul; and hence all the
reveries developed in Plato and Jamblicus. See the Timoeus, the
Phedon, and De Mysteriis Egyptiorum, sect. I, c. 3.
"Before one nation had received from another nation dogmas already
invented; before one generation had inherited ideas acquired by a
preceding generation, none of these complicated systems could have
existed in the world. The first men, being children of nature,
anterior to all events, ignorant of all science, were born without
any idea of the dogmas arising from scholastic disputes; of rites
founded on the practice of arts not then known; of precepts framed
after the development of passions; or of laws which suppose a
language, a state of society not then in being; or of God, whose
attributes all refer to physical objects, and his actions to a
despotic state of government; or of the soul, or of any of those
metaphysical beings, which we are told are not the objects of
sense, and for which, however, there can be no other means of
access to the understanding. To arrive at so many results, the
necessary circle of preceding facts must have been observed; slow
experience and repeated trials must have taught the rude man the
use of his organs; the accumulated knowledge of successive
generations must have invented and improved the means of living;
and the mind, freed from the cares of the first wants of nature,
must have raised itself to the complicated art of comparing ideas,
of digesting arguments, and seizing abstract similitudes.
I. Origin of the idea of God: Worship of the elements and of the
physical powers of nature.
"It was not till after having overcome these obstacles, and gone
through a long career in the night of history, that man, reflecting
on his condition, began to perceive that he was subjected to forces
superior to his own, and independent of his will. The sun
enlightened and warmed him, the fire burned him, the thunder
terrified him, the wind beat upon him, the water overwhelmed him.
All beings acted upon him powerfully and irresistibly. He
sustained this action for a long time, like a machine, without
enquiring the cause; but the moment he began his enquiries, he fell
into astonishment; and, passing from the surprise of his first
reflections to the reverie of curiosity, he began a chain of
"First, considering the action of the elements on him, he conceived
an idea of weakness and subjection on his part, and of power and
domination on theirs; and this idea of power was the primitive and
fundamental type of every idea of God.
"Secondly, the action of these natural existences excited in him
sensations of pleasure or pain, of good or evil; and by a natural
effect of his organization, he conceived for them love or aversion;
he desired or dreaded their presence; and fear or hope gave rise to
the first idea of religion.
"Then, judging everything by comparison, and remarking in these
beings a spontaneous movement like his own, he supposed this
movement directed by a will,--an intelligence of the nature of his
own; and hence, by induction, he formed a new reasoning. Having
experienced that certain practices towards his fellow creatures had
the effect to modify their affections and direct their conduct to
his advantage, he resorted to the same practices towards these
powerful beings of the universe. He reasoned thus with himself:
When my fellow creature, stronger than I, is disposed to do me
injury, I abase myself before him, and my prayer has the art to
calm him. I will pray to these powerful beings who strike me. I
will supplicate the intelligences of the winds, of the stars, of
the waters, and they will hear me. I will conjure them to avert
the evil and give me the good that is at their disposal; I will
move them by my tears, I will soften them by offerings, and I shall
"Thus simple man, in the infancy of his reason, spoke to the sun
and to the moon; he animated with his own understanding and
passions the great agents of nature; he thought by vain sounds, and
vain actions, to change their inflexible laws. Fatal error! He
prayed the stone to ascend, the water to mount above its level, the
mountains to remove, and substituting a fantastical world for the
real one, he peopled it with imaginary beings, to the terror of his
mind and the torment of his race.
"In this manner the ideas of God and religion have sprung, like all
others, from physical objects; they were produced in the mind of
man from his sensations, from his wants, from the circumstances of
his life, and the progressive state of his knowledge.
"Now, as the ideas of God had their first models in physical
agents, it followed that God was at first varied and manifold, like
the form under which he appeared to act. Every being was a Power,
a Genius; and the first men conceived the universe filled with
"Again the ideas of God have been created by the affections of the
human heart; they became necessarily divided into two classes,
according to the sensations of pleasure or pain, love or hatred,
which they inspired.
"The forces of nature, the gods and genii, were divided into
beneficent and malignant, good and evil powers; and hence the
universality of these two characters in all the systems of
"These ideas, analogous to the condition of their inventors, were
for a long time confused and ill-digested. Savage men, wandering
in the woods, beset with wants and destitute of resources, had not
the leisure to combine principles and draw conclusions; affected
with more evils than they found pleasures, their most habitual
sentiment was that of fear, their theology terror; their worship
was confined to a few salutations and offerings to beings whom they
conceived as greedy and ferocious as themselves. In their state of
equality and independence, no man offered himself as mediator
between men and gods as insubordinate and poor as himself. No one
having superfluities to give, there existed no parasite by the name
of priest, no tribute by the name of victim, no empire by the name
of altar. Their dogmas and their morals were the same thing, it
was only self-preservation; and religion, that arbitrary idea,
without influence on the mutual relations of men, was a vain homage
rendered to the visible powers of nature.
"Such was the necessary and original idea of God."
And the orator, addressing himself to the savage nations,
"We appeal to you, men who have received no foreign and factitious
ideas; tell us, have you ever gone beyond what I have described?
And you, learned doctors, we call you to witness; is not this the
unanimous testimony of all ancient monuments?*
* It clearly results, says Plutarch, from the verses of Orpheus and
the sacred books of the Egyptians and Phrygians, that the ancient
theology, not only of the Greeks, but of all nations, was nothing
more than a system of physics, a picture of the operations of
nature, wrapped up in mysterious allegories and enigmatical
symbols, in a manner that the ignorant multitude attended rather to
their apparent than to their hidden meaning, and even in what they
understood of the latter, supposed there to be something more deep
than what they perceived. Fragment of a work of Plutarch now lost,
quoted by Eusebius, Proepar. Evang. lib. 3, ch. 1, p. 83.
The majority of philosophers, says Porphyry, and among others
Haeremon (who lived in Egypt in the first age of Christianity),
imagine there never to have been any other world than the one we
see, and acknowledged no other Gods of all those recognized by the
Egyptians, than such as are commonly called planets, signs of the
Zodiac, and constellations; whose aspects, that is, rising and
setting, are supposed to influence the fortunes of men; to which
they add their divisions of the signs into decans and dispensers of
time, whom they style lords of the ascendant, whose names, virtues
in relieving distempers, rising, setting, and presages of future
events, are the subjects of almanacs (for be it observed, that the
Egyptian priests had almanacs the exact counterpart of Matthew
Lansberg's); for when the priests affirmed that the sun was the
architect of the universe, Chaeremon presently concludes that all
their narratives respecting Isis and Osiris, together with their
other sacred fables, referred in part to the planets, the phases of
the moon, and the revolution of the sun, and in part to the stars
of the daily and nightly hemispheres and the river Nile; in a word,
in all cases to physical and natural existences and never to such
as might be immaterial and incorporeal. . . .
All these philosophers believe that the acts of our will and the
motion of our bodies depend on those of the stars to which they are
subjected, and they refer every thing to the laws of physical
necessity, which they call destiny or Fatum, supposing a chain of
causes and effects which binds, by I know not what connection, all
beings together, from the meanest atom to the supremest power and
primary influence of the Gods; so that, whether in their temples or
in their idols, the only subject of worship is the power of
destiny. Porphyr. Epist. ad Janebonem.
II. Second system: Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism.
"But those same monuments present us likewise a system more
methodical and more complicated--that of the worship of all the
stars; adored sometimes in their proper forms, sometimes under
figurative emblems and symbols; and this worship was the effect of
the knowledge men had acquired in physics, and was derived
immediately from the first causes of the social state; that is,
from the necessities and arts of the first degree, which are among
the elements of society.
"Indeed, as soon as men began to unite in society, it became
necessary for them to multiply the means of subsistence, and
consequently to attend to agriculture: agriculture, to be carried
on with success, requires the observation and knowledge of the
heavens. It was necessary to know the periodical return of the
same operations of nature, and the same phenomena in the skies;
indeed to go so far as to ascertain the duration and succession of
the seasons and the months of the year. It was indispensable to
know, in the first place, the course of the sun, who, in his
zodiacal revolution, shows himself the supreme agent of the whole
creation; then, of the moon, who, by her phases and periods,
regulates and distributes time; then, of the stars, and even of the
planets, which by their appearance and disappearance on the horizon
and nocturnal hemisphere, marked the minutest divisions. Finally,
it was necessary to form a whole system of astronomy,* or a
calendar; and from these works there naturally followed a new
manner of considering these predominant and governing powers.
Having observed that the productions of the earth had a regular and
constant relation with the heavenly bodies; that the rise, growth,
and decline of each plant kept pace with the appearance, elevation,
and declination of the same star or the same group of stars; in
short, that the languor or activity of vegetation seemed to depend
on celestial influences, men drew from thence an idea of action, of
power, in those beings, superior to earthly bodies; and the stars,
dispensing plenty or scarcity, became powers, genii,** gods,
authors of good and evil.
* It continues to be repeated every day, on the indirect authority
of the book of Genesis, that astronomy was the invention of the
children of Noah. It has been gravely said, that while wandering
shepherds in the plains of Shinar, they employed their leisure in
composing a planetary system: as if shepherds had occasion to know
more than the polar star; and if necessity was not the sole motive
of every invention! If the ancient shepherds were so studious and
sagacious, how does it happen that the modern ones are so stupid,
ignorant, and inattentive? And it is a fact that the Arabs of the
desert know not so many as six constellations, and understand not a
word of astronomy.
** It appears that by the word genius, the ancients denoted a
quality, a generative power; for the following words, which are all
of one family, convey this meaning: generare, genos, genesis,
"As the state of society had already introduced a regular hierarchy
of ranks, employments and conditions, men, continuing to reason by
comparison, carried their new notions into their theology, and
formed a complicated system of divinities by gradation of rank, in
which the sun, as first god,* was a military chief or a political
king: the moon was his wife and queen; the planets were servants,
bearers of commands, messengers; and the multitude of stars were a
nation, an army of heroes, genii, whose office was to govern the
world under the orders of their chiefs. All the individuals had
names, functions, attributes, drawn from their relations and
influences; and even sexes, from the gender of their
* The Sabeans, ancient and modern, says Maimonides, acknowledge a
principal God, the maker and inhabitant of heaven; but on account
of his great distance they conceive him to be inaccessible; and in
imitation of the conduct of people towards their kings, they employ
as mediators with him, the planets and their angels, whom they call
princes and potentates, and whom they suppose to reside in those
luminous bodies as in palaces or tabernacles, etc. More-Nebuchim.
** According as the gender of the object was in the language of the
nation masculine or feminine, the Divinity who bore its name was
male or female. Thus the Cappadocians called the moon God, and the
sun Goddess: a circumstance which gives to the same beings a
perpetual variety in ancient mythology.
"And as the social state had introduced certain usages and
ceremonies, religion, keeping pace with the social state, adopted
similar ones; these ceremonies, at first simple and private, became
public and solemn; the offerings became rich and more numerous, and
the rites more methodical; they assigned certain places for the
assemblies, and began to have chapels and temples; they instituted
officers to administer them, and these became priests and pontiffs:
they established liturgies, and sanctified certain days, and
religion became a civil act, a political tie.
"But in this arrangement, religion did not change its first
principles; the idea of God was always that of physical beings,
operating good or evil, that is, impressing sensations of pleasure
or pain: the dogma was the knowledge of their laws, or their manner
of acting; virtue and sin, the observance or infraction of these
laws; and morality, in its native simplicity, was the judicious
practice of whatever contributes to the preservation of existence,
the well-being of one's self and his fellow creatures.*
* We may add, says Plutarch, that these Egyptian priests always
regarded the preservation of health as a point of the first
importance, and as indispensably necessary to the practice of piety
and the service of the gods. See his account of Isis and Osiris,
towards the end.
"Should it be asked at what epoch this system took its birth, we
shall answer on the testimony of the monuments of astronomy itself;
that its principles appear with certainty to have been established
about seventeen thousand years ago,* and if it be asked to what
people it is to be attributed, we shall answer that the same
monuments, supported by unanimous traditions, attribute it to the
first tribes of Egypt; and when reason finds in that country all
the circumstances which could lead to such a system; when it finds
there a zone of sky, bordering on the tropic, equally free from the
rains of the equator and the fogs of the North;** when it finds
there a central point of the sphere of the ancients, a salubrious
climate, a great, but manageable river, a soil fertile without art
or labor, inundated without morbid exhalations, and placed between
two seas which communicate with the richest countries, it conceives
that the inhabitant of the Nile, addicted to agriculture from the
nature of his soil, to geometry from the annual necessity of
measuring his lands, to commerce from the facility of
communications, to astronomy from the state of his sky, always open
to observation, must have been the first to pass from the savage to
the social state; and consequently to attain the physical and moral
sciences necessary to civilized life.
* The historical orator follows here the opinion of M. Dupuis, who,
in his learned memoirs concerning the Origin of the Constellations
and Origin of all Worship, has assigned many plausible reasons to
prove that Libra was formerly the sign of the vernal, and Aries of
the autumnal equinox; that is, that since the origin of the actual
astronomical system, the precession of the equinoxes has carried
forward by seven signs the primitive order of the zodiac. Now
estimating the precession at about seventy years and a half to a
degree, that is, 2,115 years to each sign; and observing that Aries
was in its fifteenth degree, 1,447 years before Christ, it follows
that the first degree of Libra could not have coincided with the
vernal equinox more lately than 15,194 years before Christ; now, if
you add 1790 years since Christ, it appears that 16,984 years have
elapsed since the origin of the Zodiac. The vernal equinox
coincided with the first degree of Aries, 2,504 years before
Christ, and with the first degree of Taurus 4,619 years before
Christ. Now it is to be observed, that the worship of the Bull is
the principal article in the theological creed of the Egyptians,
Persians, Japanese, etc.; from whence it clearly follows, that some
general revolution took place among these nations at that time.
The chronology of five or six thousand years in Genesis is little
agreeable to this hypothesis; but as the book of Genesis cannot
claim to be considered as a history farther back than Abraham, we
are at liberty to make what arrangements we please in the eternity
that preceded. See on this subject the analysis of Genesis, in the
first volume of New Researches on Ancient History; see also Origin
of Constellatians, by Dupuis, 1781; the Origin of Worship, in 3
vols. 1794, and the Chronological Zodiac, 1806.
** M. Balli, in placing the first astronomers at Selingenakoy, near
the Bailkal paid no attention to this twofold circumstance: it
equally argues against their being placed at Axoum on account of
the rains, and the Zimb fly of which Mr. Bruce speaks.
"It was, then, on the borders of the upper Nile, among a black race
of men, that was organized the complicated system of the worship of
the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth
and the labors of agriculture; and this first worship,
characterized by their adoration under their own forms and natural
attributes, was a simple proceeding of the human mind. But in a
short time, the multiplicity of the objects of their relations, and
their reciprocal influence, having complicated the ideas, and the
signs that represented them, there followed a confusion as singular
in its cause as pernicious in its effects.
III. Third system. Worship of Symbols, or Idolatry.
"As soon as this agricultural people began to observe the stars
with attention, they found it necessary to individualize or group
them; and to assign to each a proper name, in order to understand
each other in their designation. A great difficulty must have
presented itself in this business: First, the heavenly bodies,
similar in form, offered no distinguishing characteristics by which
to denominate them; and, secondly, the language in its infancy and
poverty, had no expressions for so many new and metaphysical ideas.
Necessity, the usual stimulus of genius, surmounted everything.
Having remarked that in the annual revolution, the renewal and
periodical appearance of terrestrial productions were constantly
associated with the rising and setting of certain stars, and to
their position as relative to the sun, the fundamental term of all
comparison, the mind by a natural operation connected in thought
these terrestrial and celestial objects, which were connected in
fact; and applying to them a common sign, it gave to the stars, and
their groups, the names of the terrestrial objects to which they
* "The ancients," says Maimonides, "directing all their attention
to agriculture, gave names to the stars derived from their
occupation during the year." More Neb. pars 3.
"Thus the Ethopian of Thebes named stars of inundation, or
Aquarius, those stars under which the Nile began to overflow;*
stars of the ox or the bull, those under which they began to plow;
stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven from the
desert by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile; stars of the
sheaf, or of the harvest virgin, those of the reaping season; stars
of the lamb, stars of the two kids, those under which these
precious animals were brought forth: and thus was resolved the
first part of the difficulty.
* This must have been June.
"Moreover, man having remarked in the beings which surrounded him
certain qualities distinctive and proper to each species, and
having thence derived a name by which to designate them, he found
in the same source an ingenious mode of generalizing his ideas; and
transferring the name already invented to every thing which bore
any resemblance or analogy, he enriched his language with a
perpetual round of metaphors.
"Thus the same Ethiopian having observed that the return of the
inundation always corresponded with the rising of a beautiful star
which appeared towards the source of the Nile, and seemed to warn
the husbandman against the coming waters, he compared this action
to that of the animal who, by his barking, gives notice of danger,
and he called this star the dog, the barker (Sirius). In the same
manner he named the stars of the crab, those where the sun, having
arrived at the tropic, retreated by a slow retrograde motion like
the crab or cancer. He named stars of the wild goat, or Capricorn,
those where the sun, having reached the highest point in his
annuary tract, rests at the summit of the horary gnomon, and
imitates the goat, who delights to climb the summit of the rocks.
He named stars of the balance, or libra, those where the days and
nights, being equal, seemed in equilibrium, like that instrument;
and stars of the scorpion, those where certain periodical winds
bring vapors, burning like the venom of the scorpion. In the same
manner he called by the name of rings and serpents the figured
traces of the orbits of the stars and the planets, and such was the
general mode of naming all the stars and even the planets, taken by
groups or as individuals, according to their relations with
husbandry and terrestrial objects, and according to the analogies
which each nation found between them and the objects of its
particular soil and climate.*
* The ancients had verbs from the substantives crab, goat,
tortoise, as the French have at present the verbs serpenter,
coquetter. The history of all languages is nearly the same.
"From this it appeared that abject and terrestrial beings became
associated with the superior and powerful inhabitants of heaven;
and this association became stronger every day by the mechanism of
language and the constitution of the human mind. Men would say by
a natural metaphor: The bull spreads over the earth the germs of
fecundity (in spring) he restores vegetation and plenty: the lamb
(or ram) delivers the skies from the maleficent powers of winter;
he saves the world from the serpent (emblem of the humid season)
and restores the empire of goodness (summer, joyful season): the
scorpion pours out his poison on the earth, and scatters diseases
and death. The same of all similar effects.
"This language, understood by every one, was attended at first with
no inconvenience; but in the course of time, when the calendar had
been regulated, the people, who had no longer any need of observing
the heavens, lost sight of the original meaning of these
expressions; and the allegories remaining in common use became a
fatal stumbling block to the understanding and to reason.
Habituated to associate to the symbols the ideas of their
archetypes, the mind at last confounded them: then the same
animals, whom fancy had transported to the skies, returned again to
the earth; but being thus returned, clothed in the livery of the
stars, they claimed the stellary attributes, and imposed on their
own authors. Then it was that the people, believing that they saw
their gods among them, could pray to them with more convenience:
they demanded from the ram of their flock the influences which
might be expected from the heavenly ram; they prayed the scorpion
not to pour out his venom upon nature; they revered the crab of the
sea, the scarabeus of the mud, the fish of the river; and by a
series of corrupt but inseparable analogies, they lost themselves
in a labyrinth of well connected absurdities.
"Such was the origin of that ancient whimsical worship of the
animals; such is the train of ideas by which the character of the
divinity became common to the vilest of brutes, and by which was
formed that theological system, extremely comprehensive,
complicated, and learned, which, rising on the borders of the Nile,
propagated from country to country by commerce, war, and conquest,
overspread the whole of the ancient world; and which, modified by
time, circumstances and prejudices, is still seen entire among a
hundred nations, and remains as the essential and secret basis of
the theology of those even who despise and reject it."
Some murmurs at these words being heard from various groups: "Yes!"
continued the orator, "hence arose, for instance, among you,
nations of Africa, the adoration of your fetiches, plants, animals,
pebbles, pieces of wood, before which your ancestors would not have
had the folly to bow, if they had not seen in them talismans
endowed with the virtue of the stars.*
* The ancient astrologers, says the most learned of the Jews
(Maimonides), having sacredly assigned to each planet a color, an
animal, a tree, a metal, a fruit, a plant, formed from them all a
figure or representation of the star, taking care to select for the
purpose a proper moment, a fortunate day, such as the conjunction
of the star, or some other favorable aspect. They conceived that
by their magic ceremonies they could introduce into those figures
or idols the influences of the superior beings after which they
were modeled. These were the idols that the Chaldean-Sabeans
adored; and in the performance of their worship they were obliged
to be dressed in the proper color. The astrologers, by their
practices, thus introduced idolatry, desirous of being regarded as
the dispensers of the favors of heaven; and as agriculture was the
sole employment of the ancients, they succeeded in persuading them
that the rain and other blessings of the seasons were at their
disposal. Thus the whole art of agriculture was exercised by rules
of astrology, and the priests made talismans or charms which were
to drive away locusts, flies, etc. See Maimonides, More Nebuchim,
pars 3, c. 29.
The priests of Egypt, Persia, India, etc., pretended to bind the
Gods to their idols, and to make them come from heaven at their
pleasure. They threatened the sun and moon, if they were
disobedient, to reveal the secret mysteries, to shake the skies,
etc., etc. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 198, and Jamblicus de
"Here, ye nations of Tartary, is the origin of your marmosets, and
of all that train of animals with which your chamans ornament their
magical robes. This is the origin of those figures of birds and of
snakes which savage nations imprint upon their skins with sacred
and mysterious ceremonies.
"Ye inhabitants of India! in vain you cover yourselves with the
veil of mystery: the hawk of your god Vichenou is but one of the
thousand emblems of the sun in Egypt; and your incarnations of a
god in the fish, the boar, the lion, the tortoise, and all his
monstrous adventures, are only the metamorphoses of the sun, who,
passing through the signs of the twelve animals (or the zodiac),
was supposed to assume their figures, and perform their
* These are the very words of Jamblicus de Symbolis Aegyptiorum, c.
2, sect. 7. The sun was the grand Proteus, the universal
"People of Japan, your bull, which breaks the mundane egg, is only
the bull of the zodiac, which in former times opened the seasons,
the age of creation, the vernal equinox. It is the same bull Apis
which Egypt adored, and which your ancestors, Jewish Rabbins,
worshipped in the golden calf. This is still your bull, followers
of Zoroaster, which, sacrificed in the symbolic mysteries of
Mithra, poured out his blood which fertilized the earth. And ye
Christians, your bull of the Apocalypse, with his wings, symbol of
the air, has no other origin; and your lamb of God, sacrificed,
like the bull of Mithra, for the salvation of the world, is only
the same sun, in the sign of the celestial ram, which, in a later
age, opening the equinox in his turn, was supposed to deliver the
world from evil, that is to say, from the constellation of the
serpent, from that great snake, the parent of winter, the emblem of
the Ahrimanes, or Satan of the Persians, your school masters. Yes,
in vain does your imprudent zeal consign idolaters to the torments
of the Tartarus which they invented; the whole basis of your system
is only the worship of the sun, with whose attributes you have
decorated your principal personage. It is the sun which, under the
name of Horus, was born, like your God, at the winter solstice, in
the arms of the celestial virgin, and who passed a childhood of
obscurity, indigence, and want, answering to the season of cold and
frost. It is he that, under the name of Osiris, persecuted by
Typhon and by the tyrants of the air, was put to death, shut up in
a dark tomb, emblem of the hemisphere of winter, and afterwards,
ascending from the inferior zone towards the zenith of heaven,
arose again from the dead triumphant over the giants and the angels
"Ye priests! who murmur at this relation, you wear his emblems all
over your bodies; your tonsure is the disk of the sun; your stole
is his zodiac;* your rosaries are symbols of the stars and planets.
Ye pontiffs and prelates! your mitre, your crozier, your mantle are
those of Osiris; and that cross whose mystery you extol without
comprehending it, is the cross of Serapis, traced by the hands of
Egyptian priests on the plan of the figurative world; which,
passing through the equinoxes and the tropics, became the emblem of
the future life and of the resurrection, because it touched the
gates of ivory and of horn, through which the soul passed to
* "The Arabs," says Herodotus, "shave their heads in a circle and
about the temples, in imitation of Bacchus (that is the sun), who
shaves himself is this manner." Jeremiah speaks also of this
custom. The tuft of hair which the Mahometans preserve, is taken
also from the sun, who was painted by the Egyptians at the winter
solstice, as having but a single hair upon his head. . . .
The robes of the goddess of Syria and of Diana of Ephesus, from
whence are borrowed the dress of the priests; have the twelve
animals of the zodiac painted on them. . . .
Rosaries are found upon all the Indian idols, constructed more than
four thousand years ago, and their use in the East has been
universal from time immemorial. . . .
The crozier is precisely the staff of Bootes or Osiris. (See
All the Lamas wear the mitre or cap in the shape of a cone, which
was an emblem of the sun.
At these words, the doctors of all the groups began to look at each
other with astonishment; but no one breaking silence, the orator
"Three principal causes concur to produce this confusion of ideas:
First, the figurative expressions under which an infant language
was obliged to describe the relations of objects; expressions
which, passing afterwards from a limited to a general sense, and
from a physical to a moral one, caused, by their ambiguities and
synonymes, a great number of mistakes.
"Thus, it being first said that the sun had surmounted, or
finished, twelve animals, it was thought afterwards that he had
killed them, fought them, conquered them; and of this was composed
the historical life of Hercules.*
* See the memoir of Dupuis on the Origin of the Constellations,
"It being said that he regulated the periods of rural labor, the
seed time and the harvest, that he distributed the seasons and
occupations, ran through the climates and ruled the earth, etc., he
was taken for a legislative king, a conquering warrior; and they
framed from this the history of Osiris, of Bacchus, and others of
"Having said that a planet entered into a sign, they made of this
conjunction a marriage, an adultery, an incest.* Having said that
the planet was hid or buried, when it came back to light, and
ascended to its exaltation, they said that it had died, risen
again, was carried into heaven, etc.
* These are the very words of Plutarch in his account of Isis and
Osiris. The Hebrews say, in speaking of the generations of the
Patriarchs, et ingressus est in eam. From this continual equivoke
of ancient language, proceeds every mistake.
"A second cause of confusion was the material figures themselves,
by which men first painted thoughts; and which, under the name of
hieroglyphics, or sacred characters, were the first invention of
the mind. Thus, to give warning of the inundation, and of the
necessity of guarding against it, they painted a boat, the ship
Argo; to express the wind, they painted the wing of a bird; to
designate the season, or the month, they painted the bird of
passage, the insect, or the animal which made its appearance at
that period; to describe the winter, they painted a hog or a
serpent, which delight in humid places, and the combination of
these figures carried the known sense of words and phrases.* But
as this sense could not be fixed with precision, as the number of
these figures and their combinations became excessive, and
overburdened the memory, the immediate consequence was confusion
and false interpretations. Genius afterwards having invented the
more simple art of applying signs to sounds, of which the number is
limited, and painting words, instead of thoughts, alphabetical
writing thus threw into disuetude hieroglyphical painting; and its
signification, falling daily into oblivion, gave rise to a
multitude of illusions, ambiguities, and errors.
* The reader will doubtless see with pleasure some examples of
"The Egyptians (says Hor-appolo) represent eternity by the figures
of the sun and moon. They designate the world by the blue serpent
with yellow scales (stars, it is the Chinese Dragon). If they were
desirous of expressing the year, they drew a picture of Isis, who
is also in their language called Sothis, or dog-star, one of the
first constellations, by the rising of which the year commences;
its inscription at Sais was, It is I that rise in the constellation
of the Dog.
"They also represent the year by a palm tree, and the month by one
of its branches, because it is the nature of this tree to produce a
branch every month. They farther represent it by the fourth part
of an acre of land." The whole acre divided into four denotes the
bissextile period of four years. The abbreviation of this figure
of a field in four divisions, is manifestly the letter ha or het,
the seventh in the Samaritan alphabet; and in general all the
letters of the alphabet are merely astronomical hieroglyphics; and
it is for this reason that the mode of writing is from right to
left, like the march of the stars.--"They denote a prophet by the
image of a dog, because the dog star (Anoubis) by its rising gives
notice of the inundation. Noubi, in Hebrew signifies prophet--They
represent inundation by a lion, because it takes place under that
sign: and hence, says Plutarch, the custom of placing at the gates
of temples figures of lions with water issuing from their mouths.--
They express the idea of God and destiny by a star. They also
represent God, says Porphyry, by a black stone, because his nature
is dark and obscure. All white things express the celestial and
luminous Gods: all circular ones the world, the moon, the sun, the
orbits; all semicircular ones, as bows and crescents are
descriptive of the moon. Fire and the Gods of Olympus they
represent by pyramids and obelisks (the name of the sun, Baal, is
found in this latter word): the sun by a cone (the mitre of
Osiris): the earth, by a cylinder (which revolves): the generative
power of the air by the phalus, and that of the earth by a
triangle, emblem of the female organ. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p.
"Clay, says Jamblicus de Symbolis, sect. 7, c. 2. denotes matter,
the generative and nutrimental power, every thing which receives
the warmth and fermentation of life."
"A man sitting upon the Lotos or Nenuphar, represents the moving
spirit (the sun) which, in like manner as that plant lives in the
water without any communication with clay, exists equally distinct
from matter, swimming in empty space, resting on itself: it is
round also in all its parts, like the leaves, the flowers, and the
fruit of the Lotos. (Brama has the eyes of the Lotos, says Chasler
Nesdirsen, to denote his intelligence: his eye swims over every
thing, like the flower of the Lotos on the waters.) A man at the
helm of a ship, adds Jamblicus, is descriptive of the sun which
governs all. And Porphyry tells us that the sun is also
represented by a man in a ship resting upon an amphibious crocodile
(emblem of air and water).
"At Elephantine they worshipped the figure of a man in a sitting
posture, painted blue, having the head of a ram, and the horns of a
goat which encompassed a disk; all which represented the sun and
moon's conjunction at the sign of the ram; the blue color denoting
the power of the moon, at the period of junction, to raise water
into the clouds. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 116.
"The hawk is an emblem of the sun and of light, on account of his
rapid flight and his soaring into the highest regions of the air
where light abounds.
A fish is the emblem of aversion, and the Hippopotamus of violence,
because it is said to kill its father and to ravish its mother.
Hence, says Plutarch, the emblematical inscription of the temple of
Sais, where we see painted on the vestibule, 1. A child, 2. An old
man, 3. A hawk, 4. A fish, 5. A hippopotamus: which signify, 1.
Entrance, into life, 2. Departure, 3. God, 4. Hates, 5. Injustice.
See Isis and Osiris.
"The Egyptians, adds he, represent the world by a Scarabeus,
because this insect pushes, in a direction contrary to that in
which it proceeds, a ball containing its eggs, just as the heaven
of the fixed stars causes the revolution of the sun, (the yolk of
an egg) in an opposite direction to its own.
"They represent the world also by the number five, being that of
the elements, which, says Diodorus, are earth, water, air, fire,
and ether, or spiritus. The Indians have the same number of
elements, and according to Macrobius's mystics, they are the
supreme God, or primum mobile, the intelligence, or mens, born of
him, the soul of the world which proceeds from him, the celestial
spheres, and all things terrestrial. Hence, adds Plutarch, the
analogy between the Greek pente, five, and pan all.
"The ass," says he again, "is the emblem of Typhon, because like
that animal he is of a reddish color. Now Typhon signifies
whatever is of a mirey or clayey nature; (and in Hebrew I find the
three words clay, red, and ass to be formed from the same root
hamr. Jamblicus has farther told us that clay was the emblem of
matter and he elsewhere adds, that all evil and corruption
proceeded from matter; which compared with the phrase of Macrobius,
all is perishable, liable to change in the celestial sphere, gives
us the theory, first physical, then moral, of the system of good
and evil of the ancients."
"Finally, a third cause of confusion was the civil organization of
ancient states. When the people began to apply themselves to
agriculture, the formation of a rural calendar, requiring a
continued series of astronomical observations, it became necessary
to appoint certain individuals charged with the functions of
watching the appearance and disappearance of certain stars, to
foretell the return of the inundation, of certain winds, of the
rainy season, the proper time to sow every kind of grain. These
men, on account of their service, were exempt from common labor,
and the society provided for their maintenance. With this
provision, and wholly employed in their observations, they soon
became acquainted with the great phenomena of nature, and even
learned to penetrate the secret of many of her operations. They
discovered the movement of the stars and planets, the coincidence
of their phases and returns with the productions of the earth and
the action of vegetation; the medicinal and nutritive properties of
plants and fruits; the action of the elements, and their reciprocal
affinities. Now, as there was no other method of communicating the
knowledge of these discoveries but the laborious one of oral
instruction, they transmitted it only to their relations and
friends, it followed therefore that all science and instruction
were confined to a few families, who, arrogating it to themselves
as an exclusive privilege, assumed a professional distinction, a
corporation spirit, fatal to the public welfare. This continued
succession of the same researches and the same labors, hastened, it
is true, the progress of knowledge; but by the mystery which
accompanied it, the people were daily plunged in deeper shades, and
became more superstitious and more enslaved. Seeing their fellow
mortals produce certain phenomena, announce, as at pleasure,
eclipses and comets, heal diseases, and handle venomous serpents,
they thought them in alliance with celestial powers; and, to obtain
the blessings and avert the evils which they expected from above,
they took them for mediators and interpreters; and thus became
established in the bosom of every state sacrilegious corporations
of hypocritical and deceitful men, who centered all powers in
themselves; and the priests, being at once astronomers,
theologians, naturalists, physicians, magicians, interpreters of
the gods, oracles of men, and rivals of kings, or their
accomplices, established, under the name of religion, an empire of
mystery and a monopoly of instruction, which to this day have
ruined every nation. . . ."
Here the priests of all the groups interrupted the orator, and with
loud cries accused him of impiety, irreligion, blasphemy; and
endeavored to cut short his discourse; but the legislator observing
that this was only an exposition of historical facts, which, if
false or forged, would be easily refuted; that hitherto the
declaration of every opinion had been free, and without this it
would be impossible to discover the truth, the orator proceeded:
"Now, from all these causes, and from the continual associations of
ill-assorted ideas, arose a mass of disorders in theology, in
morals, and in traditions; first, because the animals represented
the stars, the characters of the animals, their appetites, their
sympathies, their aversions, passed over to the gods, and were
supposed to be their actions; thus, the god Ichneumon made war
against the god Crocodile; the god Wolf liked to eat the god Sheep;
the god Ibis devoured the god Serpent; and the deity became a
strange, capricious, and ferocious being, whose idea deranged the
judgment of man, and corrupted his morals and his reason.
"Again, because in the spirit of their worship every family, every
nation, took for its special patron a star or a constellation, the
affections or antipathies of the symbolic animal were transferred
to its sectaries; and the partisans of the god Dog were enemies to
those of the god Wolf;* those who adored the god Ox had an
abhorrence to those who ate him; and religion became the source of
hatred and hostility,--the senseless cause of frenzy and
* These are properly the words of Plutarch, who relates that those
various worships were given by a king of Egypt to the different
towns to disunite and enslave them, and these kings had been taken
from the cast of priests. See Isis and Osiris.
"Besides, the names of those animal-stars having, for this same
reason of patronage, been conferred on countries, nations,
mountains, and rivers, these objects were taken for gods, and hence
followed a mixture of geographical, historical, and mythological
beings, which confounded all traditions.
"Finally, by the analogy of actions which were ascribed to them,
the god-stars, having been taken for men, for heroes, for kings,
kings and heroes took in their turn the actions of gods for models,
and by imitation became warriors, conquerors, proud, lascivious,
indolent, sanguinary; and religion consecrated the crimes of
despots, and perverted the principles of government.
IV. Fourth system. Worship of two Principles, or Dualism.
"In the mean time, the astronomical priests, enjoying peace and
abundance in their temples, made every day new progress in the
sciences, and the system of the world unfolding gradually to their
view, they raised successively various hypotheses as to its agents
and effects, which became so many theological systems.
"The voyages of the maritime nations and the caravans of the nomads
of Asia and Africa, having given them a knowledge of the earth from
the Fortunate Islands to Serica, and from the Baltic to the sources
of the Nile, the comparison of the phenomena of the various zones
taught them the rotundity of the earth, and gave birth to a new
theory. Having remarked that all the operations of nature during
the annual period were reducible to two principal ones, that of
producing and that of destroying; that on the greater part of the
globe these two operations were performed in the intervals of the
two equinoxes; that is to say, during the six months of summer
every thing was procreating and multiplying, and that during winter
everything languished and almost died; they supposed in Nature two
contrary powers, which were in a continual state of contention and
exertion; and considering the celestial sphere in this view, they
divided the images which they figured upon it into two halves or
hemispheres; so that the constellations which were on the summer
heaven formed a direct and superior empire; and those which were on
the winter heaven composed an antipode and inferior empire.
Therefore, as the constellations of summer accompanied the season
of long, warm, and unclouded days, and that of fruits and harvests,
they were considered as the powers of light, fecundity, and
creation; and, by a transition from a physical to a moral sense,
they became genii, angels of science, of beneficence, of purity and
virtue. And as the constellations of winter were connected with
long nights and polar fogs, they were the genii of darkness, of
destruction, of death; and by transition, angels of ignorance, of
wickedness, of sin and vice. By this arrangement the heaven was
divided into two domains, two factions; and the analogy of human
ideas already opened a vast field to the errors of imagination; but
the mistake and the illusion were determined, if not occasioned by
a particular circumstance. (Observe plate Astrological Heaven of
"In the projection of the celestial sphere, as traced by the
astronomical priests,* the zodiac and the constellations, disposed
in circular order, presented their halves in diametrical
opposition; the hemisphere of winter, antipode of that of summer,
was adverse, contrary, opposed to it. By a continual metaphor,
these words acquired a moral sense; and the adverse genii, or
angels, became revolted enemies.** From that moment all the
astronomical history of the constellations was changed into a
political history ; the heavens became a human state, where things
happened as on the earth. Now, as the earthly states, the greater
part despotic, had already their monarchs, and as the sun was
apparently the monarch of the skies, the summer hemisphere (empire
of light) and its constellations (a nation of white angels) had for
king an enlightened God, a creator intelligent and good. And as
every rebel faction must have its chief, the heaven of winter, the
subterranean empire of darkness and woe, and its stars, a nation of
black angels, giants and demons, had for their chief a malignant
genius, whose character was applied by different people to the
constellation which to them was the most remarkable. In Egypt it
was at first the Scorpion, first zodiacal sign after Libra, and for
a long time chief of the winter signs ; then it was the Bear, or
the polar Ass, called Typhon, that is to say, deluge,** on account
of the rains which deluge the earth during the dominion of that
star. At a later period,*** in Persia,**** it was the Serpent, who,
under the name of Abrimanes, formed the basis of the system of
Zoroaster; and it is the same, O Christians and Jews! that has
become your serpent of Eve (the celestial virgin,) and that of the
cross; in both cases it is the emblem of Satan, the enemy and great
adversary of the Ancient of Days, sung by Daniel.
* The ancient priests had three kinds of spheres, which it may be
useful to make known to the reader.
"We read in Eusebius," says Porphyry, "that Zoroaster was the first
who, having fixed upon a cavern pleasantly situated in the
mountains adjacent to Persia, formed the idea of consecrating it to
Mithra (the sun) creator and father of all things: that is to say,
having made in this cavern several geometrical divisions,
representing the seasons and the elements, he imitated on a small
scale the order and disposition of the universe by Mithra. After
Zoroaster, it became a custom to consecrate caverns for the
celebration of mysteries: so that in like manner as temples were
dedicated to the Gods, rural altars to heroes and terrestrial
deities, etc., subterranean abodes to infernal deities, so caverns
and grottoes were consecrated to the world, to the universe, and to
the nymphs: and from hence Pythagoras and Plato borrowed the idea
of calling the earth a cavern, a cave, de Antro Nympharum.
Such was the first projection of the sphere in relief; though the
Persians give the honor of the invention to Zoroaster, it is
doubtless due to the Egyptians; for we may suppose from this
projection being the most simple that it was the most ancient; the
caverns of Thebes, full of similar pictures, tend to strengthen
The following was the second projection: "The prophets or
hierophants," says Bishop Synnesius, "who had been initiated in the
mysteries, do not permit the common workmen to form idols or images
of the Gods; but they descend themselves into the sacred caves,
where they have concealed coffers containing certain spheres upon
which they construct those images secretly and without the
knowledge of the people, who despise simple and natural things and
wish for prodigies and fables." (Syn. in Calvit.) That is, the
ancient priests had armillary spheres like ours; and this passage,
which so well agrees with that of Chaeremon, gives us the key to
all their theological astrology.
Lastly, they had flat models of the nature of Plate V. with the
difference that they were of a very complicated nature, having
every fictitious division of decan and subdecan, with the
hieroglyphic signs of their influence. Kircher has given us a copy
of one of them in his Egyptian Oedipus, and Gybelin a figured
fragment in his book of the calendar (under the name of the
Egyptian Zodiac). The ancient Egyptians, says the astrologer
Julius Firmicus, (Astron. lib. ii. and lib. iv., c. 16), divide
each sign of the Zodiac into three sections; and each section was
under the direction of an imaginary being whom they called decan or
chief of ten; so that there were three decans a month, and thirty-
six a year. Now these decans, who were also called Gods (Theoi),
regulated the destinies of mankind--and they were placed
particularly in certain stars. They afterwards imagined in every
ten three other Gods, whom they called arbiters; so that there were
nine for every month, and these were farther divided into an
infinite number of powers. The Persians and Indians made their
spheres on similar plans; and if a picture thereof were to be drawn
from the description given by Scaliger at the end of Manilius, we
should find in it a complete explanation of their hieroglyphics,
for every article forms one.
** If it was for this reason the Persians always wrote the name of
Ahrimanes inverted thus: ['Ahrimanes' upside down and backwards].
*** Typhon, pronounced Touphon by the Greeks, is precisely the
touphan of the Arabs, which signifies deluge; and these deluges in
mythology are nothing more than winter and the rains, or the
overflowing of the Nile: as their pretended fires which are to
destroy the world, are simply the summer season. And it is for
this reason that Aristotle (De Meteor, lib. I. c. xiv), says, that
the winter of the great cyclic year is a deluge; and its summer a
conflagration. "The Egyptians," says Porphyry, "employ every year
a talisman in remembrance of the world: at the summer solstice they
mark their houses, flocks and trees with red, supposing that on
that day the whole world had been set on fire. It was also at the
same period that they celebrated the pyrric or fire dance." And
this illustrates the origin of purification by fire and by water;
for having denominated the tropic of Cancer the gate of heaven, and
the genial heat of celestial fire, and that of Capricorn the gate
of deluge or of water, it was imagined that the spirit or souls who
passed through these gates in their way to and from heaven, were
roasted or bathed: hence the baptism of Mithra; and the passage
through flames, observed throughout the East long before Moses.
**** That is when the ram became the equinoctial sign, or rather when
the alteration of the skies showed that it was no longer the bull.
"In Syria, it was the hog or wild boar, enemy of Adonis; because in
that country the functions of the Northern Bear were performed by
the animal whose inclination for mire and dirt was emblematic of
winter. And this is the reason, followers of Moses and Mahomet!
that you hold him in horror, in imitation of the priests of Memphis
and Balbec, who detested him as the murderer of their God, the sun.
This likewise, O Indians! is the type of your Chib-en; and it has
been likewise the Pluto of your brethren, the Romans and Greeks; in
like manner, your Brama, God the creator, is only the Persian
Ormuzd, and the Egyptian Osiris, whose very name expresses creative
power, producer of forms. And these gods received a worship
analogous to their attributes, real or imaginary; which worship was
divided into two branches, according to their characters. The good
god receives a worship of love and joy, from which are derived all
religious acts of gaiety, such as festivals, dances, banquets,
offerings of flowers, milk, honey, perfumes; in a word, everything
grateful to the senses and to the soul.* The evil god, on the
contrary, received a worship of fear and pain; whence originated
all religious acts of the gloomy sort,** tears, desolations,
mournings, self-denials, bloody offerings, and cruel sacrifices.
* All the ancient festivals respecting the return and exaltation of
the sun were of this description: hence the hilaria of the Roman
calendar at the period of the passage, Pascha, of the vernal
equinox. The dances were imitations of the march of the planets.
Those of the Dervises still represent it to this day.
** "Sacrifices of blood," says Porphyry, "were only offered to
Demons and evil Genii to avert their wrath. Demons are fond of
blood, humidity, stench." Apud. Euseb. Proep. Ev., p. 173.
"The Egyptians," says Plutarch, "only offer bloody victims to
Typhon. They sacrifice to him a red ox, and the animal immolated
is held in execration and loaded with all the sins of the people."
The goat of Moses. See Isis and Osiris.
Strabo says, speaking of Moses, and the Jews, "Circumcision and the
prohibition of certain kinds of meat sprung from superstition."
And I observe, respecting the ceremony of circumcision, that its
object was to take from the symbol of Osiris, (Phallus) the
pretended obstacle to fecundity: an obstacle which bore the seal of
Typhon, "whose nature," says Plutarch, "is made up of all that
hinders, opposes, causes obstruction."
"Hence arose that distinction of terrestrial beings into pure and
impure, sacred and abominable, according as their species were of
the number of the constellations of one of these two gods, and made
part of his domain; and this produced, on the one hand, the
superstitions concerning pollutions and purifications; and, on the
other, the pretended efficacious virtues of amulets and talismans.
"You conceive now," continued the orator, addressing himself to the
Persians, the Indians, the Jews, the Christians, the Mussulmans,
"you conceive the origin of those ideas of battles and rebellions,
which equally abound in all your mythologies. You see what is
meant by white and black angels, your cherubim and seraphim, with
heads of eagles, of lions, or of bulls; your deus, devils, demons,
with horns of goats and tails of serpents; your thrones and
dominions, ranged in seven orders or gradations, like the seven
spheres of the planets; all beings acting the same parts, and
endowed with the same attributes in your Vedas, Bibles, and Zend-
avestas, whether they have for chiefs Ormuzd or Brama, Typhon or
Chiven, Michael or Satan;--whether they appear under the form of
giants with a hundred arms and feet of serpents, or that of gods
metamorphosed into lions, storks, bulls or cats, as they are in the
sacred fables of the Greeks and Egyptians. You perceive the
successive filiation of these ideas, and how, in proportion to
their remoteness from their source, and as the minds of men became
refined, their gross forms have been polished, and rendered less
"But in the same manner as you have seen the system of two opposite
principles or gods arise from that of symbols, interwoven into its
texture, your attention shall now be called to a new system which
has grown out of this, and to which this has served in its turn as
the basis and support.
V. Moral and Mystical Worship, or System of a Future State.
"Indeed, when the vulgar heard speak of a new heaven and another
world, they soon gave a body to these fictions; they erected
therein a real theatre of action, and their notions of astronomy
and geography served to strengthen, if not to originate, this
"On the one hand, the Phoenician navigators who passed the pillars
of Hercules, to fetch the tin of Thule and the amber of the Baltic,
related that at the extremity of the world, the end of the ocean
(the Mediterranean), where the sun sets for the countries of Asia,
were the Fortunate Islands, the abode of eternal spring; and beyond
were the hyperborean regions, placed under the earth (relatively to
the tropics) where reigned an eternal night.* From these stories,
misunderstood, and no doubt confusedly related, the imagination of
the people composed the Elysian fields,** regions of delight,
placed in a world below, having their heaven, their sun, and their
stars; and Tartarus, a place of darkness, humidity, mire, and
frost. Now, as man, inquisitive of that which he knows not, and
desirous of protracting his existence, had already interrogated
himself concerning what was to become of him after his death, as he
had early reasoned on the principle of life which animates his
body, and which leaves it without deforming it, and as he had
imagined airy substances, phantoms, and shades, he fondly believed
that he should continue, in the subterranean world, that life which
it was too painful for him to lose; and these lower regions seemed
commodious for the reception of the beloved objects which he could
not willingly resign.
* Nights of six months duration.
** Aliz, in the Phoenician or Hebrew language signifies dancing and
"On the other hand, the astrological and geological priests told
such stories and made such descriptions of their heavens, as
accorded perfectly well with these fictions. Having, in their
metaphorical language, called the equinoxes and solstices the gates
of heaven, the entrance of the seasons, they explained these
terrestrial phenomena by saying, that through the gate of horn
(first the bull, afterwards the ram) and through the gate of
Cancer, descended the vivifying fires which give life to vegetation
in the spring, and the aqueous spirits which bring, at the
solstice, the inundation of the Nile; that through the gate of
ivory (Libra, formerly Sagittarius, or the bowman) and that of
Capricorn, or the urn, the emanations or influences of the heavens
returned to their source, and reascended to their origin; and the
Milky Way, which passed through the gates of the solstices, seemed
to be placed there to serve them as a road or vehicle.* Besides,
in their atlas, the celestial scene presented a river (the Nile,
designated by the windings of the hydra), a boat, (the ship Argo)
and the dog Sirius, both relative to this river, whose inundation
they foretold. These circumstances, added to the preceding, and
still further explaining them, increased their probability, and to
arrive at Tartarus or Elysium, souls were obliged to cross the
rivers Styx and Acheron in the boat of the ferryman Charon, and to
pass through the gates of horn or ivory, guarded by the dog
Cerberus. Finally, these inventions were applied to a civil use,
and thence received a further consistency.
*See Macrob. Som. Scrip. c. 12.
"Having remarked that in their burning climate the putrefaction of
dead bodies was a cause of pestilential diseases, the Egyptians, in
many of their towns, had adopted the practice of burying their dead
beyond the limits of the inhabited country, in the desert of the
West. To go there, it was necessary to pass the channels of the
river, and consequently to be received into a boat, and pay
something to the ferryman, without which the body, deprived of
sepulture, must have been the prey of wild beasts. This custom
suggested to the civil and religious legislators the means of a
powerful influence on manners; and, addressing uncultivated and
ferocious men with the motives of filial piety and a reverence for
the dead, they established, as a necessary condition, their
undergoing a previous trial, which should decide whether the
deceased merited to be admitted to the rank of the family in the
black city. Such an idea accorded too well with all the others,
not to be incorporated with them: the people soon adopted it; and
hell had its Minos and its Rhadamanthus, with the wand, the bench,
the ushers, and the urn, as in the earthly and civil state. It was
then that God became a moral and political being, a lawgiver to
men, and so much the more to be dreaded, as this supreme
legislator, this final judge, was inaccessible and invisible. Then
it was that this fabulous and mythological world, composed of such
odd materials and disjointed parts, became a place of punishments
and of rewards, where divine justice was supposed to correct what
was vicious and erroneous in the judgment of men. This spiritual
and mystical system acquired the more credit, as it took possession
of man by all his natural inclinations. The oppressed found in it
the hope of indemnity, and the consolation of future vengeance; the
oppressor, expecting by rich offerings to purchase his impunity,
formed out of the errors of the vulgar an additional weapon of
oppression; the chiefs of nations, the kings and priests, found in
this a new instrument of domination by the privilege which they
reserved to themselves of distributing the favors and punishments
of the great judge, according to the merit or demerit of actions,
which they took care to characterize as best suited their system.
"This, then, is the manner in which an invisible and imaginary
world has been introduced into the real and visible one; this is
the origin of those regions of pleasure and pain, of which you
Persians have made your regenerated earth, your city of
resurrection, placed under the equator, with this singular
attribute, that in it the blessed cast no shade.* Of these
materials, Jews and Christians, disciples of the Persians, have you
formed your New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, your paradise, your
heaven, copied in all its parts from the astrological heaven of
Hermes: and your hell, ye Mussulmans, your bottomless pit,
surmounted by a bridge, your balance for weighing souls and good
works, your last judgment by the angels Monkir and Nekir, are
likewise modeled from the mysterious ceremonies of the cave of
Mithras** and your heaven differs not in the least from that of
Osiris, of Ormuzd, and of Brama.
* There is on this subject a passage in Plutarch, so interesting
and explanatory of the whole of this system, that we shall cite it
entire. Having observed that the theory of good and evil had at
all times occupied the attention of philosophers and theologians,
he adds: "Many suppose there to be two gods of opposite
inclinations, one delighting in good, the other in evil; the first
of these is called particularly by the name of God, the second by
that of Genius or Demon. Zoroaster has denominated them Oromaze
and Ahrimanes, and has said that of whatever falls under the
cognizance of our senses, light is the best representation of the
one, and darkness and ignorance of the other. He adds, that Mithra
is an intermediate being, and it is for this reason the Persians
call Mithra the mediator or intermediator. Each of these Gods has
distinct plants and animals consecrated to him: for example, dogs,
birds and hedge-hogs belong to the good Genius, and all aquatic
animals to the evil one.
"The Persians also say, that Oromaze was born or formed out of the
purest light; Ahrimanes, on the contrary, out of the thickest
darkness: that Oromaze made six gods as good as himself, and
Ahrimanes opposed to them six wicked ones: that Oromaze afterwards
multiplied himself threefold (Hermes trismegistus) and removed to a
distance as remote from the sun as the sun is remote from the earth
that he there formed stars, and, among others, Sirius, which he
placed in the heavens as a guard and sentinel. He made also
twenty-four other Gods, which he inclosed in an egg; but Ahrimanes
created an equal number on his part, who broke the egg, and from
that moment good and evil were mixed (in the universe). But
Ahrimanes is one day to be conquered, and the earth to be made
equal and smooth, that all men may live happy.
"Theopompus adds, from the books of the Magi, that one of these
Gods reigns in turn every three thousand years during which the
other is kept in subjection; that they afterwards contend with
equal weapons during a similar portion of time, but that in the end
the evil Genius will fall (never to rise again). Then men will
become happy, and their bodies cast no shade. The God who mediates
all these things reclines at present in repose, waiting till he
shall be pleased to execute them." See Isis and Osiris.
There is an apparent allegory through the whole of this passage.
The egg is the fixed sphere, the world: the six Gods of Oromaze are
the six signs of summer, those of Ahrimanes the six signs of
winter. The forty-eight other Gods are the forty-eight
constellations of the ancient sphere, divided equally between
Ahrimanes and Oronmze. The office of Sirius, as guard and
sentinel, tells us that the origin of these ideas was Egyptian:
finally, the expression that the earth is to become equal and
smooth, and that the bodies of happy beings are to cast no shade,
proves that the equator was considered as their true paradise.
** In the caves which priests every where constructed, they
celebrated mysteries which consisted (says Origen against Celsus)
in imitating the motion of the stars, the planets and the heavens.
The initiated took the name of constellations, and assumed the
figures of animals. One was a lion, another a raven, and a third a
ram. Hence the use of masks in the first representation of the
drama. See Ant. Devoile, vol. iii., p. 244. "In the mysteries of
Ceres the chief in the procession called himself the creator; the
bearer of the torch was denominated the sun; the person nearest to
the altar, the moon; the herald or deacon, Mercury. In Egypt there
was a festival in which the men and women represented the year, the
age, the seasons, the different parts of the day, and they walked
in precession after Bacchus. Athen. lib. v., ch. 7. In the cave
of Mithra was a ladder with seven steps, representing the seven
spheres of the planets, by means of which souls ascended and
descended. This is precisely the ladder in Jacob's vision, which
shows that at that epoch a the whole system was formed. There is
in the French king's library a superb volume of pictures of the
Indian Gods, in which the ladder is represented with the souls of
men mounting it."
VI. Sixth System. The Animated World, or Worship of the Universe
under diverse Emblems.
"While the nations were wandering in the dark labyrinth of
mythology and fables, the physical priests, pursuing their studies
and enquiries into the order and disposition of the universe, came
to new conclusions, and formed new systems concerning powers and
"Long confined to simple appearances, they saw nothing in the
movement of the stars but an unknown play of luminous bodies
rolling round the earth, which they believed the central point of
all the spheres; but as soon as they discovered the rotundity of
our planet, the consequences of this first fact led them to new
considerations; and from induction to induction they rose to the
highest conceptions in astronomy and physics.
"Indeed, after having conceived this luminous idea, that the
terrestrial globe is a little circle inscribed in the greater
circle of the heavens, the theory of concentric circles came
naturally into their hypothesis, to determine the unknown circle of
the terrestrial globe by certain known portions of the celestial
circle; and the measurement of one or more degrees of the meridian
gave with precision the whole circumference. Then, taking for a
compass the known diameter of the earth, some fortunate genius
applied it with a bold hand to the boundless orbits of the heavens;
and man, the inhabitant of a grain of sand, embracing the infinite
distances of the stars, launches into the immensity of space and
the eternity of time: there he is presented with a new order of the
universe of which the atom-globe which he inhabited appeared no
longer to be the centre; this important post was reserved to the
enormous mass of the sun; and that body became the flaming pivot of
eight surrounding spheres, whose movements were henceforth
subjected to precise calculations.
"It was indeed a great effort for the human mind to have undertaken
to determine the disposition and order of the great engines of
nature; but not content with this first effort, it still endeavored
to develop the mechanism, and discover the origin and the
instinctive principle. Hence, engaged in the abstract and
metaphysical nature of motion and its first cause, of the inherent
or incidental properties of matter, its successive forms and its
extension, that is to say, of time and space unbounded, the
physical theologians lost themselves in a chaos of subtile
reasoning and scholastic controversy.*
* Consult the Ancient Astronomy of M. Bailly, and you will find our
assertions respecting the knowledge of the priests amply proved.
"In the first place, the action of the sun on terrestrial bodies,
teaching them to regard his substance as a pure and elementary
fire, they made it the focus and reservoir of an ocean of igneous
and luminous fluid, which, under the name of ether, filled the
universe and nourished all beings. Afterwards, having discovered,
by a physical and attentive analysis, this same fire, or another
perfectly resembling it, in the composition of all bodies, and
having perceived it to be the essential agent of that spontaneous
movement which is called life in animals and vegetation in plants,
they conceived the mechanism and harmony of the universe, as of a
homogeneous whole, of one identical body, whose parts, though
distant, had nevertheless an intimate relation;* and the world was
a living being, animated by the organic circulation of an igneous
and even electrical fluid,** which, by a term of comparison
borrowed first from men and animals, had the sun for a heart and a
* These are the very words of Jamblicus. De Myst. Egypt.
** The more I consider what the ancients understood by ether and
spirit, and what the Indians call akache, the stronger do I find
the analogy between it and the electrial fluid. A luminous fluid,
principle of warmth and motion, pervading the universe, forming the
matter of the stars, having small round particles, which insinuate
themselves into bodies, and fill them by dilating itself, be their
extent what it will. What can more strongly resemble electricity?
*** Natural philosophers, says Macrobius, call the sun the heart of
the world. Som. Scrip. c. 20. The Egyptians, says Plutarch, call
the East the face, the North the right side, and the South the left
side of the world, because there the heart is placed. They
continually compare the universe to a man; and hence the celebrated
microcosm of the Alchymists. We observe, by the bye, that the
Alchymists, Cabalists, Free-masons, Magnetisers, Martinists, and
every other such sort of visionaries, are but the mistaken
disciples of this ancient school: we say mistaken, because, in
spite of their pretensions, the thread of the occult science is
"From this time the physical theologians seem to have divided into
several classes; one class, grounding itself on these principles
resulting from observation; that nothing can be annihilated in the
world; that the elements are indestructible; that they change their
combinations but not their nature; that the life and death of
beings are but the different modifications of the same atoms; that
matter itself possesses properties which give rise to all its modes
of existence; that the world is eternal,* or unlimited in space and
duration; said that the whole universe was God; and, according to
them, God was a being, effect and cause, agent and patient, moving
principle and thing moved, having for laws the invariable
properties that constitute fatality; and this class conveyed their
idea by the emblem of Pan (the great whole); or of Jupiter, with a
forehead of stars, body of planets, and feet of animals; or of the
Orphic Egg,** whose yolk, suspended in the center of a liquid,
surrounded by a vault, represented the globe of the sun, swimming
in ether in the midst of the vault of heaven;*** sometimes by a
great round serpent, representing the heavens where they placed the
moving principle, and for that reason of an azure color, studded
with spots of gold, (the stars) devouring his tail--that is,
folding and unfolding himself eternally, like the revolutions of
the spheres; sometimes by that of a man, having his feet joined
together and tied, to signify immutable existence, wrapped in a
cloak of all colors, like the face of nature, and bearing on his
head a sphere of gold,**** emblem of the sphere of the stars; or by
that of another man, sometimes seated on the flower of the lotos
borne on the abyss of waters, sometimes lying on a pile of twelve
cushions, denoting the twelve celestial signs. And here, Indians,
Japanese, Siamese, Tibetans, and Chinese, is the theology, which,
founded by the Egyptians and transmitted to you, is preserved in
the pictures which you compose of Brama, of Beddou, of Somona-Kodom
of Omito. This, ye Jews and Christians, is likewise the opinion of
which you have preserved a part in your God moving on the face of
the waters, by an allusion to the wind*5 which, at the beginning of
the world, that is, the departure of the sun from the sign of
Cancer, announced the inundation of the Nile, and seemed to prepare
* See the Pythagorean, Ocellus Lacunus.
** Vide Oedip. Aegypt. Tome II., page 205.
*** This comparison of the sun with the yolk of an egg refers: 1.
To its round and yellow figure; 2. To its central situation; 3. To
the germ or principle of life contained in the yolk. May not the
oval form of the egg allude to the elipsis of the orbs? I am
inclined to this opinion. The word Orphic offers a farther
observation. Macrobius says (Som. Scrip. c. 14. and c. 20), that
the sun is the brain of the universe, and that it is from analogy
that the skull of a human being is round, like the planet, the seat
of intelligence. Now the word Oerph signifies in Hebrew the brain
and its seat (cervix): Orpheus, then, is the same as Bedou or
Baits; and the Bonzes are those very Orphics which Plutarch
represents as quacks, who ate no meat, vended talismans and little
stones, and deceived individuals, and even governments themselves.
See a learned memoir of Freret sur les Orphiques, Acad. des Inscrp.
vol. 25, in quarto.
**** See Porphyry in Eusebus. Proep. Evang., lib. 3, p. 115.
*5 The Northern or Etesian wind, which commences regularly at the
solstice, with the inundation.
VII. Seventh System. Worship of the SOUL of the WORLD, that is to
say, the Element of Fire, vital Principle of the Universe.
"But others, disgusted at the idea of a being at once effect and
cause, agent and patient, and uniting contrary natures in the same
nature, distinguished the moving principle from the thing moved;
and premising that matter in itself was inert they pretended that
its properties were communicated to it by a distinct agent, of
which itself was only the cover or the case. This agent was called
by some the igneous principle, known to be the author of all
motion; by others it was supposed to be the fluid called ether,
which was thought more active and subtile; and, as in animals the
vital and moving principle was called a soul, a spirit, and as they
reasoned constantly by comparisons, especially those drawn from
human beings, they gave to the moving principle of the universe the
name of soul, intelligence, spirit; and God was the vital spirit,
which extended through all beings and animated the vast body of the
world. And this class conveyed their idea sometimes by Youpiter,*
essence of motion and animation, principle of existence, or rather
existence itself; sometimes by Vulcan or Phtha, elementary
principle of fire; or by the altar of Vesta, placed in the center
of her temple like the sun in the heavens; sometimes by Kneph, a
human figure, dressed in dark blue, having in one hand a sceptre
and a girdle (the zodiac), with a cap of feathers to express the
fugacity of thought, and producing from his mouth the great egg.
* This is the true pronunciation of the Jupiter of the Latins. . . .
Existence itself. This is the signification of the word You.
"Now, as a consequence of this system, every being containing in
itself a portion of the igneous and etherial fluid, common and
universal mover, and this fluid soul of the world being God, it
followed that the souls of all beings were portions of God himself
partaking of all his attributes, that is, being a substance
indivisible, simple, and immortal; and hence the whole system of
the immortality of the soul, which at first was eternity.*
* In the system of the first spiritualists, the soul was not
created with, or at the same time as the body, in order to be
inserted in it: its existence was supposed to be anterior and from
all eternity. Such, in a few words, is the doctrine of Macrobius
on this head. Som. Seip. passim.
"There exists a luminous, igneous, subtile fluid, which under the
name of ether and spiritus, fills the universe. It is the
essential principle and agent of motion and life, it is the Deity.
When an earthly body is to be animated, a small round particle of
this fluid gravitates through the milky way towards the lunar
sphere; where, when it arrives, it unites with a grosser air, and
becomes fit to associate with matter: it then enters and entirely
fills the body, animates it, suffers, grows, increases, and
diminishes with it; lastly, when the body dies, and its gross
elements dissolve, this incorruptible particle takes its leave of
it, and returns to the grand ocean of ether, if not retained by its
union with the lunar air: it is this air or gas, which, retaining
the shape of the body, becomes a phantom or ghost, the perfect
representation of the deceased. The Greeks called this phantom the
image or idol of the soul; the Pythagoreans, its chariot, its
frame; and the Rabbinical school, its vessel, or boat. When a man
had conducted himself well in this world, his whole soul, that is
its chariot and ether, ascended to the moon, where a separation
took place: the chariot lived in the lunar Elysium, and the ether
returned to the fixed sphere, that is, to God: for the fixed
heaven, says Macrobius, was by many called by the name of God (c.
14). If a man had not lived virtuously, the soul remained on earth
to undergo purification, and was to wander to and fro, like the
ghosts of Homer, to whom this doctrine must have been known, since
he wrote after the time of Pherecydes and Pythagoras, who were its
promulgators in Greece. Herodotus upon this occasion says, that
the whole romance of the soul and its transmigrations was invented
by the Egyptians, and propagated in Greece by men, who pretended to
be its authors. I know their names, adds he, but shall not mention
them (lib. 2). Cicero, however, has positively informed us, that
it was Pherecydes, master of Pythagoras. Tuscul. lib. 1, sect. 16.
Now admitting that this system was at that period a novelty, it
accounts for Solomon's treating it as a fable, who lived 130 years
before Pherecydes. "Who knoweth," said he, "the spirit of a man
that it goeth upwards? I said in my heart concerning the estate of
the sons of men, that God might manifest them and that they might
see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the
sons of men, befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as
the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea they have all one breath, so
that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity."
Eccles. c. iii: v. 18.
And such had been the opinion of Moses, as a translator of
Herodotus (M. Archer of the Academy of Inscriptions) justly
observes in note 389 of the second book; where he says also that
the immortality of the soul was not introduced among the Hebrews
till their intercourse with the Assyrians. In other respects, the
whole Pythagorean system, properly analysed, appears to be merely a
system of physics badly understood.
"Hence, also its transmigrations, known by the name of
metempsychosis, that is, the passage of the vital principle from
one body to another; an idea which arose from the real
transmigration of the material elements. And behold, ye Indians,
ye Boudhists, ye Christians, ye Mussulmans! whence are derived all
your opinions on the spirituality of the soul; behold what was the
source of the dreams of Pythagoras and Plato, your masters, who
were themselves but the echoes of another, the last sect of
visionary philosophers, which we will proceed to examine.
VIII. Eighth system. The WORLD-MACHINE: Worship of the Demi-
Ourgos, or Grand Artificer.
"Hitherto the theologians, employing themselves in examining the
fine and subtile substances of ether or the generating fire, had
not, however, ceased to treat of beings palpable and perceptible to
the senses; and theology continued to be the theory of physical
powers, placed sometimes exclusively in the stars, and sometimes
disseminated through the universe; but at this period, certain
superficial minds, losing the chain of ideas which had directed
them in their profound studies, or ignorant of the facts on which
they were founded, distorted all the conclusions that flowed from
them by the introduction of a strange and novel chimera. They
pretended that this universe, these heavens, these stars, this sun,
differed in no respect from an ordinary machine; and applying to
this first hypothesis a comparison drawn from the works of art,
they raised an edifice of the most whimsical sophisms. A machine,
said they, does not make itself; it has had an anterior workman;
its very existence proves it. The world is a machine; therefore it
had an artificer.*
* All the arguments of the spiritualists are founded on this. See
Macrobius, at the end of the second book, and Plato, with the
comments of Marcilius Ficinus.
"Here, then, is the Demi-Ourgos or grand artificer, constituted God
autocratical and supreme. In vain the ancient philosophy objected
to this by saying that the artificer himself must have had parents
and progenitors; and that they only added another step to the
ladder by taking eternity from the world, and giving it to its
supposed author. The innovators, not content with this first
paradox, passed on to a second; and, applying to their artificer
the theory of the human understanding, they pretended that the
Demi-Ourgos had framed his machine on a plan already existing in
his understanding. Now, as their masters, the naturalists, had
placed in the regions of the fixed stars the great primum mobile,
under the name of intelligence and reason, so their mimics, the
spiritualists, seizing this idea, applied it to their Demi-Ourgos,
and making it a substance distinct and self-existent, they called
it mens or logos (reason or word). And, as they likewise admitted
the existence of the soul of the world, or solar principle, they
found themselves obliged to compose three grades of divine beings,
which were: first, the Demi-Ourgos, or working god; secondly, the
logos, word or reason; thirdly, the spirit or soul (of the world).*
And here, Christians! is the romance on which you have founded your
trinity; here is the system which, born a heretic in the temples of
Egypt, transported a pagan into the schools of Greece and Italy, is
now found to be good, catholic, and orthodox, by the conversion of
its partisans, the disciples of Pythagoras and Plato, to
* These are the real types of the Christian Trinity.
"It is thus that God, after having been, First, The visible and
various action of the meteors and the elements;
"Secondly, The combined powers of the stars, considered in their
relations to terrestrial beings;
Thirdly, These terrestrial beings themselves, by confounding the
symbols with their archetypes;
Fourthly, The double power of nature in its two principal
operations of producing and destroying;
"Fifthly, The animated world, with distinction of agent and
patient, of effect and cause;
"Sixthly, The solar principle, or the element of fire considered as
the only mover;
"Has thus become, finally, in the last resort, a chimerical and
abstract being, a scholastic subtilty, of substance without form, a
body without a figure, a very delirium of the mind, beyond the
power of reason to comprehend. But vainly does it seek in this
last transformation to elude the senses; the seal of its origin is
imprinted upon it too deep to be effaced; and its attributes, all
borrowed from the physical attributes of the universe, such as
immensity, eternity, indivisibility, incomprehensibility; or on the
moral affections of man, such as goodness, justice, majesty; its
names* even, all derived from the physical beings which were its
types, and especially from the sun, from the planets, and from the
world, constantly bring to mind, in spite of its corrupters,
indelible marks of its real nature.
* In our last analysis we found all the names of the Deity to be
derived from some material object in which it was supposed to
reside. We have given a considerable number of instances; let us
add one more relative to our word God. This is known to be the
Deus of the Latins, and the Theos of the Greeks. Now by the
confession of Plato (in Cratylo), of Macrobius (Saturn, lib. 1, c.
24,) and of Plutarch (Isis and Osiris) its root is thein, which
signifies to wander, like planein, that is to say, it is synonymous
with planets; because, add our authors, both the ancient Greeks and
Barbarians particularly worshipped the planets. I know that such
enquiries into etymologies have been much decried: but if, as is
the case, words are the representative signs of ideas, the
genealogy of the one becomes that of the other, and a good
etymological dictionary would be the most perfect history of the
human understanding. It would only be necessary in this enquiry to
observe certain precautions, which have hitherto been neglected,
and particularly to make an exact comparison of the value of the
letters of the different alphabets. But, to continue our subject,
we shall add, that in the Phoenician language, the word thah (with
ain) signifies also to wander, and appears to be the derivation of
thein. If we suppose Deus to be derived from the Greek Zeus, a
proper name of You-piter, having zaw, I live, for its root, its
sense will be precisely that of you, and will mean soul of the
world, igneous principle. (See note p. 143). Div-us, which only
signifies Genius, God of the second order, appears to me to come
from the oriental word div substituted for dib, wolf and chacal,
one of the emblems of the sun. At Thebes, says Macrobius, the sun
was painted under the form of a wolf or chacal, for there are no
wolves in Egypt. The reason of this emblem, doubtless, is that the
chacal, like the cock announces by its cries the sun's rising; and
this reason is confirmed by the analogy of the words lykos, wolf,
and lyke, light of the morning, whence comes lux.
Dius, which is to be understood also of the sun, must be derived
from dih, a hawk. "The Egyptians," says Porphyry (Euseb. Proecep.
Evang. p. 92,) "represent the sun under the emblem of a hawk,
because this bird soars to the highest regions of air where light
abounds." And in reality we continually see at Cairo large flights
of these birds, hovering in the air, from whence they descend not
but to stun us with their shrieks, which are like the monosyllable
dih: and here, as in the preceding example, we find an analogy
between the word dies, day, light, and dius, god, sun.
"Such is the chain of ideas which the human mind had already run
through at an epoch previous to the records of history; and since
their continuity proves that they were the produce of the same
series of studies and labors, we have every reason to place their
origin in Egypt, the cradle of their first elements. This progress
there may have been rapid; because the physical priests had no
other food, in the retirement of the temples, but the enigma of the
universe, always present to their minds; and because in the
political districts into which that country was for a long time
divided, every state had its college of priests, who, being by
turns auxiliaries or rivals, hastened by their disputes the
progress of science and discovery.*
* One of the proofs that all these systems were invented in Egypt,
is that this is the only country where we see a complete body of
doctrine formed from the remotest antiquity.
Clemens Alexandrinus has transmitted to us (Stromat. lib. 6,) a
curious detail of the forty-two volumes which were borne in the
procession of Isis. "The priest," says he, "or chanter, carries
one of the symbolic instruments of music, and two of the books of
Mercury; one containing hymns of the gods, the other the list of
kings. Next to him the horoscope (the regulator of time,) carries
a palm and a dial, symbols of astrology; he must know by heart the
four books of Mercury which treat of astrology: the first on the
order of the planets, the second on the risings of the sun and
moon, and the two last on the rising and aspect of the stars. Then
comes the sacred author, with feathers on his head (like Kneph) and
a book in his hand, together with ink, and a reed to write with,
(as is still the practice among the Arabs). He must be versed in
hieroglyphics, must understand the description of the universe, the
course of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, be acquainted with the
division of Egypt into thirty-six nomes, with the course of the
Nile, with instruments, measures, sacred ornaments, and sacred
places. Next comes the stole bearer, who carries the cubit of
justice, or measure of the Nile, and a cup for the libations; he
bears also in the procession ten volumes on the subject of
sacrifices, hymns, prayers, offerings, ceremonies, festivals.
Lastly arrives the prophet, bearing in his bosom a pitcher, so as
to be exposed to view; he is followed by persons carrying bread (as
at the marriage of Cana.) This prophet, as president of the
mysteries, learns ten other sacred volumes, which treat of the
laws, the gods, and the discipline of the priests. Now there are
in all forty-two volumes, thirty-six of which are studied and got
by heart by these personages, and the remaining six are set apart
to be consulted by the pastophores; they treat of medicine, the
construction of the human body (anatomy), diseases, remedies,
instruments, etc., etc."
We leave the reader to deduce all the consequences of an
Encyclopedia. It is ascribed to Mercury; but Jamblicus tells us
that each book, composed by priests, was dedicated to that god,
who, on account of his title of genius or decan opening the zodiac,
presided over every enterprise. He is the Janus of the Romans, and
the Guianesa of the Indians, and it is remarkable that Yanus and
Guianes are homonymous. In short it appears that these books are
the source of all that has been transmitted to us by the Greeks and
Latins in every science, even in alchymy, necromancy, etc. What is
most to be regretted in their loss is that part which related to
the principles of medicine and diet, in which the Egyptians appear
to have made a considerable progress, and to have delivered many
"There happened early on the borders of the Nile, what has since
been repeated in every country; as soon as a new system was formed
its novelty excited quarrels and schisms; then, gaining credit by
persecution itself, sometimes it effaced antecedent ideas,
sometimes it modified and incorporated them; then, by the
intervention of political revolutions, the aggregation of states
and the mixture of nations confused all opinions; and the filiation
of ideas being lost, theology fell into a chaos, and became a mere
logogriph of old traditions no longer understood. Religion, having
strayed from its object was now nothing more than a political
engine to conduct the credulous vulgar; and it was used for this
purpose, sometimes by men credulous themselves and dupes of their
own visions, and sometimes by bold and energetic spirits in pursuit
of great objects of ambition.
IX. Religion of Moses, or Worship of the Soul of the World (You-
"Such was the legislator of the Hebrews; who, wishing to separate
his nation from all others, and to form a distinct and solitary
empire, conceived the design of establishing its basis on religious
prejudices, and of raising around it a sacred rampart of opinions
and of rites. But in vain did he prescribe the worship of the
symbols which prevailed in lower Egypt and in Phoenicia;* for his
god was nevertheless an Egyptian god, invented by those priests of
whom Moses had been the disciple; and Yahouh,** betrayed by its
very name, essence (of beings), and by its symbol, the burning
bush, is only the soul of the world, the moving principle which the
Greeks soon after adopted under the same denomination in their you-
piter, regenerating being, and under that of Ei, existence,***
which the Thebans consecrated by the name of Kneph, which Sais
worshipped under the emblem of Isis veiled, with this inscription:
I am al that has been, all that is, and all that is to come, and no
mortal has raised my veil; which Pythagoras honored under the name
of Vesta, and which the stoic philosophy defined precisely by
calling it the principle of fire. In vain did Moses wish to blot
from his religion every thing which had relation to the stars; many
traits call them to mind in spite of all he has done. The seven
planetary luminaries of the great candlestick; the twelve stones,
or signs in the Urim of the high priests; the feast of the two
equinoxes, (entrances and gates of the two hemispheres); the
ceremony of the lamb, (the celestial ram then in his fifteenth
degree); lastly, the name even of Osiris preserved in his song,****
and the ark, or coffer, an imitation of the tomb in which that God
was laid, all remain as so many witnesses of the filiation of his
ideas, and of their extraction from the common source.
* "At a certain period," says Plutarch (de Iside) "all the
Egyptians have their animal gods painted. The Thebans are the only
people who do not employ painters, because they worship a god whose
form comes not under the senses, and cannot be represented." And
this is the god whom Moses, educated at Heliopolis, adopted; but
the idea was not of his invention.
** Such is the true pronunciation of the Jehovah of the moderns,
who violate, in this respect, every rule of criticism; since it is
evident that the ancients, particularly the eastern Syrians and
Phoenicians, were acquainted neither with the J nor the P which are
of Tartar origin. The subsisting usage of the Arabs, which we have
re-established here, is confirmed by Diodorus, who calls the god of
Moses Iaw, (lib. 1), and Iaw and Yahouh are manifestly the same
word: the identity continues in that of You-piter; but in order to
render it more complete, we shall demonstrate the signification to
be the same.
In Hebrew, that is to say, in one of the dialects of the common
language of lower Asia, Yahouh is the participle of the verb hih,
to exist, to be, and signifies existing: in other words, the
principle of life, the mover or even motion (the universal soul of
beings). Now what is Jupiter? Let us hear the Greeks and Latins
explain their theology. "The Egyptians," says Diodorus, after
Manatho, priest of Memphis, "in giving names to the five elements,
called spirit, or ether, You-piter, on account of the true meaning
of that word: for spirit is the source of life, author of the vital
principle in animals; and for this reason they considered him as
the father, the generator of beings." For the same reason Homer
says, father, and king of men and gods. (Diod. lib. 1, sect 1).
"Theologians," says Macrobius, "consider You-piter as the soul of
the world." Hence the words of Virgil: " Muses let us begin with
You-piter; the world is full of You-piter." (Somn. Scrip., ch.
17). And in the Saturnalia, he says, "Jupiter is the sun himself."
It was this also which made Virgil say, "The spirit nourishes the
life (of beings), and the soul diffused through the vast members
(of the universe), agitates the whole mass, and forms but one
"Ioupiter," says the ancient verses of the Orphic sect, which
originated in Egypt; verses collected by Onomacritus in the days of
Pisistratus, "Ioupiter, represented with the thunder in his hand,
is the beginning, origin, end, and middle of all things: a single
and universal power, he governs every thing; heaven, earth, fire,
water, the elements, day, and night. These are what constitute his
immense body: his eyes are the sun and moon: he is space and
eternity: in fine," adds Porphyry. "Jupiter is the world, the
universe, that which constitutes the essence and life of all
beings. Now," continues the same author, "as philosophers differed
in opinion respecting the nature and constituent parts of this god,
and as they could invent no figure that should represent all his
attributes, they painted him in the form of a man. He is in a
sitting posture, in allusion to his immutable essence; the upper
part of his body is uncovered, because it is in the upper regions
of the universe (the stars) that he most conspicuously displays
himself. He is covered from the waist downwards, because
respecting terrestrial things he is more secret and concealed. He
holds a scepter in his left hand, because on the left side is the
heart, and the heart is the seat of the understanding, which, (in
human beings) regulates every action." Euseb. Proeper. Evang., p
The following passage of the geographer and philosopher, Strabo,
removes every doubt as to the identity of the ideas of Moses and
those of the heathen theologians.
"Moses, who was one of the Egyptian priests, taught his followers
that it was an egregious error to represent the Deity under the
form of animals, as the Egyptians did, or in the shape of man, as
was the practice of the Greeks and Africans. That alone is the
Deity, said he, which constitutes heaven, earth, and every living
thing; that which we call the world, the sum of all things, nature;
and no reasonable person will think of representing such a being by
the image of any one of the objects around us. It is for this
reason, that, rejecting every species of images or idols, Moses
wished the Deity to be worshipped without emblems, and according to
his proper nature; and he accordingly ordered a temple worthy of
him to be erected, etc. Geograph. lib. 16, p. 1104, edition of
The theology of Moses has, then, differed in no respect from that
of his followers, that is to say, from that of the Stoics and
Epicureans, who consider the Deity as the soul of the world. This
philosophy appears to have taken birth, or to have been
disseminated when Abraham came into Egypt (200 years before Moses),
since he quitted his system of idols for that of the god Yahouh; so
that we may place its promulgation about the seventeenth or
eighteenth century before Christ; which corresponds with what we
have said before.
As to the history of Moses, Diodorus properly represents it when he
says, lib. 34 and 40, "That the Jews were driven out of Egypt at a
time of dearth, when the country was full of foreigners, and that
Moses, a man of extraordinary prudence seized this opportunity of
establishing his religion in the mountains of Judea." It will seem
paradoxical to assert, that the 600,000 armed men whom he conducted
thither ought to be reduced to 6,000; but I can confirm the
assertion by so many proofs drawn from the books themselves, that
it will be necessary to correct an error which appears to have
arisen from the mistake of the transcribers.
*** This was the monosyllable written on the gates of the temple of
Delphos. Plutarch has made it the subject of a dissertation.
**** These are the literal expressions of the book of Deuteronomy,
chap. XXXII. "The works of Tsour are perfect." Now Tsour has been
translated by the word creator; its proper signification is to give
forms, and this is one of the definitions of Osiris in Plutarch.
X. Religion of Zoroaster.
"Such also was Zoroaster; who, five centuries after Moses, and in
the time of David, revived and moralized among the Medes and
Bactrians, the whole Egyptian system of Osiris and Typhon, under
the names Ormuzd and Ahrimanes; who called the reign of summer,
virtue and good; the reign of winter, sin and evil; the renewal of
nature in spring, creation of the world; the conjunction of the
spheres at secular periods, resurrection; and the Tartarus and
Elysium of the astrologers and geographers were named future life,
hell and paradise. In a word, he did nothing but consecrate the
existing dreams of the mystical system.
XI. Budsoism, or Religion of the Samaneans.
"Such again are the propagators of the dismal doctrine of the
Samaneans; who, on the basis of the Metempsychosis, have erected
the misanthropic system of self-denial, and of privations; who,
laying it down as a principle that the body is only a prison where
the soul lives in an impure confinement, that life is only a dream,
an illusion, and the world only a passage to another country, to a
life without end, placed virtue and perfection in absolute
immobility, in the destruction of all sentiment, in the abnegation
of physical organs, in the annihilation of all our being; whence
resulted fasts, penances, macerations, solitude, contemplations,
and all the practices of the deplorable delirium of the Anchorites.
XII. Brahmism, or Indian System.
"And such, too, were the founders of the Indian System; who,
refining after Zoroaster on the two principles of creation and
destruction, introduced an intermediary principle, that of
preservation, and on their trinity in unity, of Brama, Chiven, and
Vichenou, accumulated the allegories of their ancient traditions,
and the alembicated subtilities of their metaphysics.
"These are the materials which existed in a scattered state for
many centuries in Asia; when a fortuitous concourse of events and
circumstances, on the borders of the Euphrates and the
Mediterranean, served to form them into new combinations.
XIII. Christianity, or the Allegorical Worship of the Sun, under
the cabalistical names of Chrish-en, or Christ, and Ye-sus or
"In constituting a separate nation, Moses strove in vain to defend
it against the invasion of foreign ideas. An invisible
inclination, founded on the affinity of their origin, had
constantly brought back the Hebrews towards the worship of the
neighboring nations; and the commercial and political relations
which necessarily existed between them, strengthened this
propensity from day to day. As long as the constitution of the
state remained entire, the coercive force of the government and the
laws opposed these innovations, and retarded their progress;
nevertheless the high places were full of idols; and the god Sun
had his chariot and horses painted in the palaces of the kings, and
even in the temples of Yahouh; but when the conquests of the
sultans of Nineveh and Babylon had dissolved the bands of civil
power, the people, left to themselves and solicited by their
conquerors, restrained no longer their inclination for profane
opinions, and they were publicly established in Judea. First, the
Assyrian colonies, which came and occupied the lands of the tribes,
filled the kingdom of Samaria with dogmas of the Magi, which very
soon penetrated into the kingdom of Judea. Afterwards, Jerusalem
being subjugated, the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Arabs, entering
this defenceless country, introduced their opinions; and the
religion of Moses was doubly mutilated. Besides the priests and
great men, being transported to Babylon and educated in the
sciences of the Chaldeans, imbibed, during a residence of seventy
years, the whole of their theology; and from that moment the dogmas
of the hostile Genius (Satan), the archangel Michael,* the ancient
of days (Ormuzd), the rebel angels, the battles in heaven, the
immortality of the soul, and the resurrection, all unknown to
Moses, or rejected by his total silence respecting them, were
introduced and naturalized among the Jews.
* "The names of the angels and of the months, such as Gabriel,
Michael, Yar, Nisan, etc., came from Babylon with the Jews:" says
expressly the Talmud of Jerusalem. See Beousob. Hist. du Manich.
Vol. II, p. 624, where he proves that the saints of the Almanac are
an imitation of the 365 angels of the Persians; and Jamblicus in
his Egyptian Mysteries, sect. 2, c. 3, speaks of angels,
archangels, seraphims, etc., like a true Christian.
"The emigrants returned to their country with these ideas; and
their innovation at first excited disputes between their partisans
the Pharisees, and their opponents the Saducees, who maintained the
ancient national worship; but the former, aided by the propensities
of the people and their habits already contracted, and supported by
the Persians, their deliverers and masters, gained the ascendant
over the latter; and the Sons of Moses consecrated the theology of
* "The whole philosophy of the gymnosophists," says Diogenes
Laertius on the authority of an ancient writer, "is derived from
that of the Magi, and many assert that of the Jews to have the same
origin." Lib. 1. c. 9. Megasthenes, an historian of repute in the
days of Seleucus Nicanor, and who wrote particularly upon India,
speaking of the philosophy of the ancients respecting natural
things, puts the Brachmans and the Jews precisely on the same
"A fortuitous analogy between two leading ideas was highly
favorable to this coalition, and became the basis of a last system,
not less surprising in the fortune it has had in the world, than in
the causes of its formation.
"After the Assyrians had destroyed the kingdom of Samaria, some
judicious men foresaw the same destiny for Jerusalem, which they
did not fail to predict and publish; and their predictions had the
particular turn of being terminated by prayers for a re-
establishment and regeneration, uttered in the form of prophecies.
The Hierophants, in their enthusiasm, had painted a king as a
deliverer, who was to re-establish the nation in its ancient glory;
the Hebrews were to become once more a powerful, a conquering
nation, and Jerusalem the capital of an empire extended over the
"Events having realized the first part of these predictions, the
ruin of Jerusalem, the people adhered to the second with a firmness
of belief in proportion to their misfortunes; and the afflicted
Jews expected, with the impatience of want and desire, this
victorious king and deliverer, who was to come and save the nation
of Moses, and restore the empire of David.
"On the other hand, the sacred and mythological traditions of
preceding times had spread through all Asia a dogma perfectly
analogous. The cry there was a great mediator, a final judge, a
future saviour, a king, god, conqueror and legislator, who was to
restore the golden age upon earth,* to deliver it from the dominion
of evil, and restore men to the empire of good, peace, and
happiness. The people seized and cherished these ideas with so
much the more avidity, as they found in them a consolation under
that deplorable state of suffering into which they had been plunged
by the devastations of successive conquests, and the barbarous
despotism of their governments. This conformity between the
oracles of different nations, and those of the prophets, excited
the attention of the Jews; and doubtless the prophets had the art
to compose their descriptions after the style and genius of the
sacred books employed in the Pagan mysteries. There was therefore
a general expectation in Judea of a great ambassador, a final
Saviour; when a singular circumstance determined the epoch of his
* This is the reason of the application of the many Pagan oracles
to Jesus, and particularly the fourth eclogue of Virgil, and the
Sybilline verses so celebrated among the ancients.
"It is found in the sacred books of the Persians and Chaldeans,
that the world, composed of a total revolution of twelve thousand,
was divided into two partial revolutions; one of which, the age and
reign of good, terminated in six thousand; the other, the age and
reign of evil, was to terminate in six thousand more.
"By these records, the first authors had understood the annual
revolution of the great celestial orb called the world, (a
revolution composed of twelve months or signs, divided each into a
thousand parts), and the two systematic periods, of winter and
summer, composed each of six thousand. These expressions, wholly
equivocal and badly explained, having received an absolute and
moral, instead of a physical and astrological sense, it happened
that the annual world was taken for the secular world, the thousand
of the zodiacal divisions, for a thousand of years; and supposing,
from the state of things, that they lived in the age of evil, they
inferred that it would end with the six thousand pretended years.*
* We have already seen this tradition current among the Tuscans; it
was disseminated through most nations, and shows us what we ought
to think of all the pretended creations and terminations of the
world, which are merely the beginnings and endings of astronomical
periods invented by astrologers. That of the year or solar
revolution, being the most simple and perceptible, served as a
model to the rest, and its comparison gave rise to the most
whimsical ideas. Of this description is the idea of the four ages
of the world among the Indians. Originally these four ages were
merely the four seasons; and as each season was under the supposed
influence of a planet, it bore the name of the metal appropriated
to that planet; thus spring was the age of the sun, or of gold;
summer the age of the moon, or of silver; autumn the age of Venus,
or of brass; and winter the age of Mars, or of iron. Afterwards
when astronomers invented the great year of 25 and 36 thousand
common years, which had for its object the bringing back all the
stars to one point of departure and a general conjunction, the
ambiguity of the terms introduced a similar ambiguity of ideas; and
the myriads of celestial signs and periods of duration which were
thus measured were easily converted into so many revolutions of the
sun. Thus the different periods of creation which have been so
great a source of difficulty and misapprehension to curious
enquirers, were in reality nothing more than hypothetical
calculations of astronomical periods. In the same manner the
creation of the world has been attributed to different seasons of
the year, just as these different seasons have served for the
fictitious period of these conjunctions; and of consequence has
been adopted by different nations for the commencement of an
ordinary year. Among the Egyptians this period fell upon the
summer solstice, which was the commencement of their year; and the
departure of the spheres, according to their conjectures, fell in
like manner upon the period when the sun enters cancer. Among the
Persians the year commenced at first in the spring, or when the sun
enters Aries; and from thence the first Christians were led to
suppose that God created the world in the spring: this opinion is
also favored by the book of Genesis; and it is farther remarkable,
that the world is not there said to be created by the God of Moses
(Yahouh), but by the Elohim or gods in the plural, that is by the
angels or genii, for so the word constantly means in the Hebrew
books. If we farther observe that the root of the word Elohim
signifies strong or powerful, and that the Egyptians called their
decans strong and powerful leaders, attributing to them the
creation of the world, we shall presently perceive that the book of
Genesis affirms neither more nor less than that the world was
created by the decans, by those very genii whom, according to
Sanchoniathon, Mercury excited against Saturn, and who were called
Elohim. It may be farther asked why the plural substantive Elohim
is made to agree with the singular verb bara (the Elohim creates).
The reason is that after the Babylonish captivity the unity of the
Supreme Being was the prevailing opinion of the Jews; it was
therefore thought proper to introduce a pious solecism in language,
which it is evident had no existence before Moses; thus in the
names of the children of Jacob many of them are compounded of a
plural verb, to which Elohim is the nominative case understood, as
Raouben (Reuben), they have looked upon me, and Samaonni (Simeon),
they have granted me my prayer; to wit, the Elohim. The reason of
this etymology is to be found in the religious creeds of the wives
of Jacob, whose gods were the taraphim of Laban, that is, the
angels of the Persians, and Egyptian decans.
"Now, according to calculations admitted by the Jews, they began to
reckon near six thousand years since the supposed creation of the
world.* This coincidence caused a fermentation in the public mind.
Nothing was thought of but the approaching end. They consulted the
hierophants and the mystical books, which differed as to the term;
the great mediator, the final judge, was expected and desired, to
put an end to so many calamities. This being was so much spoken
of, that some person finally was said to have seen him; and a first
rumor of this sort was sufficient to establish a general certainty.
Popular report became an established fact: the imaginary being was
realized; and all the circumstances of mythological tradition,
being assembled around this phantom, produced a regular history, of
which it was no longer permitted to doubt.
* According to the computation of the Seventy, the period elapsed
consisted of about 5,600 years, and this computation was
principally followed. It is well known how much, in the first ages
of the church, this opinion of the end of the world agitated the
minds of men. In the sequel, the general councils encouraged by
finding that the general conflagration did not come, pronounced the
expectation that prevailed heretical, and its believers were called
Millenarians; a circumstance curious enough, since it is evident
from the history of the gospels that Jesus Christ was a
Millenarian, and of consequence a heretic.
"These mythological traditions recounted that, in the beginning, a
woman and a man had by their fall introduced sin and misery into
the world. (Consult plate of the Astrological Heaven of the
"By this was denoted the astronomical fact, that the celestial
virgin and the herdsman (Bootes), by setting heliacally at the
autumnal equinox, delivered the world to the wintry constellations,
and seemed, on falling below the horizon, to introduce into the
world the genius of evil, Ahrimanes, represented by the
constellation of the Serpent.*
* "The Persians," says Chardin, "call the constellation of the
serpent Ophiucus, serpent of Eve: and this serpent Ophiucas or
Ophioneus plays a similar part in the theology of the Phoenicians,"
for Pherecydes, their disciple and the master of Pythagoras, said
"that Ophioneus Serpentinus had been chief of the rebels against
Jupiter." See Mars. Ficin. Apol. Socrat. p. m. 797, col. 2. I
shall add that ephah (with ain) signifies in Hebrew, serpent.
These traditions related that the woman had decoyed and seduced the
* In a physical sense to seduce, seducere, means only to attract,
to draw after us.
"And in fact, the virgin, setting first, seems to draw the herdsman
"That the woman tempted him by offering him fruit fair to the sight
and good to eat, which gave the knowledge of good and evil.
"And in fact, the Virgin holds in her hand a branch of fruit, which
she seems to offer to the Herdsman; and the branch, emblem of
autumn, placed in the picture of Mithra* between winter and summer,
seems to open the door and give knowledge, the key of good and
* See this picture in Hyde, page 111, edition of 1760.
That this couple had been driven from the celestial garden, and
that a cherub with a flaming sword had been placed at the gate to
"And in fact, when the virgin and the herdsman fall beneath the
horizon, Perseus rises on the other side;* and this Genius, with a
sword in his hand, seems to drive them from the summer heaven, the
garden and dominion of fruits and flowers.
* Rather the head of Medusa; that head of a woman once so
beautiful, which Perseus cut off and which beholds in his hand, is
only that of the virgin, whose head sinks below the horizon at the
very moment that Perseus rises; and the serpents which surround it
are Orphiucus and the Polar Dragon, who then occupy the zenith.
This shows us in what manner the ancients composed all their
figures and fables. They took such constellations as they found at
the same time on the circle of the horizon, and collecting the
different parts, they formed groups which served them as an almanac
in hieroglyphic characters. Such is the secret of all their
pictures, and the solution of all their mythological monsters. The
virgin is also Andromeda, delivered by Perseus from the whale that
pursues her (pro-sequitor).
That of this virgin should be born, spring up, an offspring, a
child, who should bruise the head of the serpent, and deliver the
world from sin.
"This denotes the son, which, at the moment of the winter solstice,
precisely when the Persian Magi drew the horoscope of the new year,
was placed on the bosom of the Virgin, rising heliacally in the
eastern horizon; on this account he was figured in their
astrological pictures under the form of a child suckled by a chaste
virgin,* and became afterwards, at the vernal equinox, the ram, or
the lamb, triumphant over the constellation of the Serpent, which
disappeared from the skies.
* Such was the picture of the Persian sphere, cited by Aben Ezra in
the Coelam Poeticum of Blaeu, p. 71. "The picture of the first
decan of the Virgin," says that writer. "represents a beautiful
virgin with flowing hair; sitting in a chair, with two ears of corn
in her hand, and suckling an infant, called Jesus by some nations,
and Christ in Greek."
In the library of the king of France is a manuscript in Arabic,
marked 1165, in which is a picture of the twelve signs; and that of
the Virgin represents a young woman with an infant by her side: the
whole scene indeed of the birth of Jesus is to be found in the
adjacent part of the heavens. The stable is the constellation of
the charioteer and the goat, formerly Capricorn: a constellation
called proesepe Jovis Heniochi, stable of Iou; and the word Iou is
found in the name Iou-seph (Joseph). At no great distance is the
ass of Typhon (the great she-bear), and the ox or bull, the ancient
attendants of the manger. Peter the porter, is Janus with his keys
and bald forehead: the twelve apostles are the genii of the twelve
months, etc. This Virgin has acted very different parts in the
various systems of mythology: she has been the Isis of the
Egyptians, who said of her in one of their inscriptions cited by
Julian, the fruit I have brought forth is the sun. The majority of
traits drawn by Plutarch apply to her, in the same manner as those
of Osiris apply to Bootes: also the seven principal stars of the
she-bear, called David's chariot, were called the chariot of Osiris
(See Kirker); and the crown that is situated behind, formed of ivy,
was called Chen-Osiris, the tree of Osiris. The Virgin has
likewise been Ceres, whose mysteries were the same with those of
Isis and Mithra; she has been the Diana of the Ephesians; the great
goddess of Syria, Cybele, drawn by lions; Minerva, the mother of
Bacchus; Astraea, a chaste virgin taken up into heaven at the end
of a golden age; Themis at whose feet is the balance that was put
in her hands; the Sybil of Virgil, who descends into hell, or sinks
below the hemisphere with a branch in her hand, etc.
That, in his infancy, this restorer of divine and celestial nature
would live abased, humble, obscure and indigent.
"And this, because the winter sun is abased below the horizon; and
that this first period of his four ages or seasons, is a time of
obscurity, scarcity, fasting, and want.
"That, being put to death by the wicked, he had risen gloriously;
that he had reascended from hell to heaven, where he would reign
"This is a sketch of the life of the sun; who, finishing his career
at the winter solstice, when Typhon and the rebel angels gain the
dominion, seems to be put to death by them; but who soon after is
born again, and rises* into the vault of heaven, where he reigns.
* Resurgere, to rise a second time, cannot signify to return to
life, but in a metaphorical sense; but we see continually mistakes
of this kind result from the ambiguous meaning of the words made
use of in ancient tradition.
"Finally, these traditions went so far as to mention even his
astrological and mythological names, and inform us that he was
called sometimes Chris, that is to say, preserver,* and from that,
ye Indians, you have made your god Chrish-en or Chrish-na; and, ye
Greek and Western Christians, your Chris-tos, son of Mary, is the
same; sometimes he is called Yes, by the union of three letters,
which by their numerical value form the number 608, one of the
solar periods.** And this, Europeans, is the name which, with the
Latin termination, is become your Yes-us or Jesus, the ancient and
cabalistic name attributed to young Bacchus, the clandestine son
(nocturnal) of the Virgin Minerva, who, in the history of his whole
life, and even of his death, brings to mind the history of the god
of the Christians, that is, of the star of day, of which they are
each of them the emblems."
* The Greeks used to express by X, or Spanish iota, the aspirated
ha of the Orientals, who said haris. In Hebrew heres signifies the
sun, but in Arabic the meaning of the radical word is, to guard, to
preserve, and of haris, guardian, preserver. It is the proper
epithet of Vichenou, which demonstrates at once the identity of the
Indian and Christian Trinities, and their common origin. It is
manifestly but one system, which divided into two branches, one
extending to the east, and the other to the west, assumed two
different forms: Its principal trunk is the Pythagorean system of
the soul of the world, or Iou-piter. The epithet piter, or father,
having been applied to the demi-ourgos of Plato, gave rise to an
ambiguity which caused an enquiry to be made respecting the son of
this father. In the opinion of the philosophers the son was
understanding, Nous and Logos, from which the Latins made their
Verbum. And thus we clearly perceive the origin of the eternal
father and of the Verbum his son, proceeding from him (Mens Ex Deo
nata, says Macrobius): the oenima or spiritus mundi, was the Holy
Ghost; and it is for this reason that Manes, Pasilides,
Valentinius, and other pretended heretics of the first ages, who
traced things to their source, said, that God the Father was the
supreme inaccessible light (that of the heaven, the primum mobile,
or the aplanes); the Son the secondary light resident in the sun,
and the Holy Ghost the atmosphere of the earth (See Beausob. vol.
II, p. 586): hence, among the Syrians, the representation of the
Holy Ghost by a dove, the bird of Venus Urania, that is of the air.
The Syrians (says Nigidius de Germaico) assert that a dove sat for
a certain number of days on the egg of a fish, and that from this
incubation Venus was born: Sextus Empiricus also observes (Inst.
Pyrrh. lib. 3, c. 23) that the Syrians abstain from eating doves;
which intimates to us a period commencing in the sign Pisces, in
the winter solstice. We may farther observe, that if Chris comes
from Harisch by a chin, it will signify artificer, an epithet
belonging to the sun. These variations, which must have
embarrassed the ancients, prove it to be the real type of Jesus, as
had been already remarked in the time of Tertullian. "Many, says
this writer, suppose with greater probability that the sun is our
God, and they refer us to the religion of the Persians." Apologet.
** See a curious ode to the sun, by Martianus Capella, translated
Here a great murmur having arisen among all the Christian groups,
the Lamas, the Mussulmans and the Indians called them to order, and
the orator went on to finish his discourse:
"You know at present," said he, "how the rest of this system was
composed in the chaos and anarchy of the three first centuries;
what a multitude of singular opinions divided the minds of men, and
armed them with an enthusiasm and a reciprocal obstinacy; because,
being equally founded on ancient tradition, they were equally
sacred. You know how the government, after three centuries, having
embraced one of these sects, made it the orthodox, that is to say,
the pre-dominant religion, to the exclusion of the rest; which,
being less in number, became heretics; you know how and by what
means of violence and seduction this religion was propagated,
extended, divided, and enfeebled; how, six hundred years after the
Christian innovation, another system was formed from it and from
that of the Jews; and how Mahomet found the means of composing a
political and theological empire at the expense of those of Moses
and the vicars of Jesus.
"Now, if you take a review of the whole history of the spirit of
all religion, you will see that in its origin it has had no other
author than the sensations and wants of man; that the idea of God
has had no other type and model than those of physical powers,
material beings, producing either good or evil, by impressions of
pleasure or pain on sensitive beings; that in the formation of all
these systems the spirit of religion has always followed the same
course, and been uniform in its proceedings; that in all of them
the dogma has never failed to represent, under the name of gods,
the operations of nature, and passions and prejudices of men; that
the moral of them all has had for its object the desire of
happiness and the aversion to pain; but that the people, and the
greater part of legislators, not knowing the route to be pursued,
have formed false, and therefore discordant, ideas of virtue and
vice of good and evil, that is to say, of what renders man happy or
miserable; that in every instance, the means and the causes of
propagating and establishing systems have exhibited the same scenes
of passion and the same events; everywhere disputes about words,
pretexts for zeal, revolutions and wars excited by the ambition of
princes, the knavery of apostles, the credulity of proselytes, the
ignorance of the vulgar, the exclusive cupidity and intolerant
arrogance of all. Indeed, you will see that the whole history of
the spirit of religion is only the history of the errors of the
human mind, which, placed in a world that it does not comprehend,
endeavors nevertheless to solve the enigma; and which, beholding
with astonishment this mysterious and visible prodigy, imagines
causes, supposes reasons, builds systems; then, finding one
defective, destroys it for another not less so; hates the error
that it abandons, misconceives the one that it embraces, rejects
the truth that it is seeking, composes chimeras of discordant
beings; and thus, while always dreaming of wisdom and happiness,
wanders blindly in a labyrinth of illusion and doubt."
ALL RELIGIONS HAVE THE SAME OBJECT.
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the
origin and succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse:
"It is an impious representation," said some, whose tendency is
nothing less than to overturn all belief, to destroy subordination
in the minds of men, and annihilate our ministry and power." "It
is a romance," said others, "a tissue of conjectures, composed with
art, but without foundation." The moderate and prudent men added:
"Supposing all this to be true, why reveal these mysteries?
Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a
necessary restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for
two thousand years; why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every
innovation, now began to increase; when a numerous group of the
common classes of people, and of untaught men of all countries and
of every nation, without prophets, without doctors, and without
doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the attention of the whole
assembly; and one of them, in the name of all, thus addressed the
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which
have occupied the present debate were unknown to us until this day.
Our understanding, confounded and amazed at so many statements,
some of them learned, others absurd and all incomprehensible,
remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only reflection has struck
us: on reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many contradictory
assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all these discussions to us?
What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand years
ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be
unknown to us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing
whether the world has existed six thousand, or twenty-five thousand
years? Whether it was made of nothing, or of something; by itself,
or by a maker, who in his turn would require another maker? What!
we are not sure of what happens near us, and shall we answer for
what happens in the sun, in the moon, or in imaginary regions of
space? We have forgotten our own infancy, and shall we know the
infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen?
who will certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our
existence, to answer yes or no to all these chimeras? Hitherto
neither our fathers nor ourselves have had the least knowledge or
notion of them, and we do not perceive that we have had on this
account either more or less of the sun, more or less of
subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we
lived as well without it as those who have taken so much trouble
concerning it? If this knowledge is superfluous, why should we
burden ourselves with it to-day?"
Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians:
"What!" said he, "is it necessary that we, poor and ignorant men,
whose every moment is scarcely sufficient for the cares of life,
and the labors of which you take the profit,--is it necessary for
us to learn the numberless histories that you have recounted, to
read the quantity of books that you have cited, and to study the
various languages in which they are composed! A thousand years of
life would not suffice--"
"It is not necessary," replied the doctors, "that you should
acquire all this science; we have it for you--"
"But even you," replied the simple men, "with all your science, you
are not agreed; of what advantage, then, is your science? Besides,
how can you answer for us? If the faith of one man is applicable
to many, what need have even you to believe? your fathers may have
believed for you; and this would be reasonable, since they have
seen for you.
"Farther, what is believing, if believing influences no action?
And what action is influenced by believing, for instance, that the
world is or is not eternal?"
"The latter would be offensive to God," said the doctors.
"How prove you that?" replied the simple men.
"In our books," answered the doctors.
"We do not understand them," returned the simple men.
"We understand them for you," said the doctors.
"That is the difficulty," replied the simple men. "By what right
do you constitute yourselves mediators between God and us?"
"By his orders," said the doctors.
"Where is the proof of these orders?" said the simple men.
"In our books," said the doctors.
"We understand them not," said the simple men; "and how came this
just God to give you this privilege over us? Why did this common
father oblige us to believe on a less degree of evidence than you?
He has spoken to you; be it so; he is infallible, and deceives you
not. But it is you who speak to us! And who shall assure us that
you are not in error yourselves, or that you will not lead us into
error? And if we should be deceived, how will that just God save
us contrary to law, or condemn us on a law which we have not
"He has given you the natural law," said the doctors.
"And what is the natural law?" replied the simple men. "If that
law is sufficient, why has he given any other? If it is not
sufficient, why did he make it imperfect?"
"His judgments are mysteries," said the doctors, "and his justice
is not like that of men."
"If his justice," replied the simple men, "is not like ours, by
what rule are we to judge of it? And, moreover, why all these
laws, and what is the object proposed by them?"
"To render you more happy," replied a doctor, "by rendering you
better and more virtuous. It is to teach man to enjoy his
benefits, and not injure his fellows, that God has manifested
himself by so many oracles and prodigies."
"In that case," said the simple men, "there is no necessity for so
many studies, nor of such a variety of arguments; only tell us
which is the religion that best answers the end which they all
Immediately, on this, every group, extolling its own morality above
that of all others, there arose among the different sects a new and
most violent dispute.
"It is we," said the Mussulmans, "who possess the most excellent
morals, who teach all the virtues useful to men and agreeable to
God. We profess justice, disinterestedness, resignation to
providence, charity to our brethren, alms-giving, and devotion; we
torment not the soul with superstitious fears; we live without
alarm, and die without remorse."
"How dare you speak of morals," answered the Christian priests,
"you, whose chief lived in licentiousness and preached impurity?
You, whose first precept is homicide and war? For this we appeal
to experience: for these twelve hundred years your fanatical zeal
has not ceased to spread commotion and carnage among the nations.
If Asia, so flourishing in former times, is now languishing in
barbarity and depopulation, it is in your doctrine that we find the
cause; in that doctrine, the enemy of all instruction, which
sanctifies ignorance, which consecrates the most absolute despotism
in the governors, imposes the most blind and passive obedience in
the people, that has stupefied the faculties of man, and brutalized
"It is not so with our sublime and celestial morals; it was they
which raised the world from its primitive barbarity, from the
senseless and cruel superstitions of idolatry, from human
sacrifices,* from the shameful orgies of pagan mysteries; they it
was that purified manners, proscribed incest and adultery, polished
savage nations, banished slavery, and introduced new and unknown
virtues, charity for men, their equality in the sight of God,
forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, the restraint of all the
passions, the contempt of worldly greatness, a life completely
spiritual and completely holy!"
* Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Proep. Evang. lib. I, p.
11,), who pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have
been neither wars, nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor
persons committing incest, nor savages destroying their parents,
etc. When we read these fathers of the church we are astonished at
their insincerity or infatuation.
"We admire," said the Mussulmans, "the ease with which you
reconcile that evangelical meekness, of which you are so
ostentatious, with the injuries and outrages with which you are
constantly galling your neighbors. When you criminate so severely
the great man whom we revere, we might fairly retort on the conduct
of him whom you adore; but we scorn such advantages, and confining
ourselves to the real object in question, we maintain that the
morals of your gospel have by no means that perfection which you
ascribe to them; it is not true that they have introduced into the
world new and unknown virtues: for example, the equality of men in
the sight of God,--that fraternity and that benevolence which
follow from it, were formal doctrines of the sect of the Hermatics
or Samaneans,* from whom you descend. As to the forgiveness of
injuries, the Pagans themselves had taught it; but in the extent
that you give it, far from being a virtue, it becomes an
immorality, a vice. Your so much boasted precept of turning one
cheek after the other, is not only contrary to every sentiment of
man, but is opposed to all ideas of justice. It emboldens the
wicked by impunity, debases the virtuous by servility, delivers up
the world to despotism and tyranny, and dissolves all society.
Such is the true spirit of your doctrines. Your gospels in their
precepts and their parables, never represent God but as a despot
without any rules of equity; a partial father treating a debauched
and prodigal son with more favor than his respectful and virtuous
children; a capricious master, who gives the same wages to workmen
who had wrought but one hour, as to those who had labored through
the whole day; one who prefers the last comers to the first. The
moral is everywhere misanthropic and antisocial; it disgusts men
with life and with society; and tends only to encourage hermitism
* The equality of mankind in a state of nature and in the eyes of
God was one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they
appear to be the only ancients that entertained this opinion.
"As to the manner in which you have practised these morals, we
appeal in our turn to the testimony of facts. We ask whether it is
this evangelical meekness which has excited your interminable wars
between your sects, your atrocious persecutions of pretended
heretics, your crusades against Arianism, Manicheism,
Protestantism, without speaking of your crusades against us, and of
those sacrilegious associations, still subsisting, of men who take
an oath to continue them?* We ask you whether it be gospel charity
which has made you exterminate whole nations in America, to
annihilate the empires of Mexico and Peru; which makes you continue
to dispeople Africa and sell its inhabitants like cattle,
notwithstanding your abolition of slavery; which makes you ravage
India and usurp its dominions; and whether it be the same charity
which, for three centuries past, has led you to harrass the
habitations of the people of three continents, of whom the most
prudent, the Chinese and Japanese, were constrained to drive you
off, that they might escape your chains and recover their internal
* The oath taken by the knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill,
or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the Priests
of the Molucca islands, and the coasts of Guinea, loading the
Christian doctors with reproaches: "Yes!" cried they, "these men
are robbers and hypocrites, who preach simplicity, to surprise
confidence; humility, to enslave with more ease; poverty, to
appropriate all riches to themselves. They promise another world,
the better to usurp the present; and while they speak to you of
tolerance and charity, they burn, in the name of God, the men who
do not worship him in their manner."
"Lying priests," retorted the missionaries, "it is you who abuse
the credulity of ignorant nations to subjugate them. It is you who
have made of your ministry an art of cheating and imposture; you
have converted religion into a traffic of cupidity and avarice.
You pretend to hold communications with spirits, and they give for
oracles nothing but your wills. You feign to read the stars, and
destiny decrees only your desires. You cause idols to speak, and
the gods are but the instruments of your passions. You have
invented sacrifices and libations, to collect for your own profit
the milk of flocks, and the flesh and fat of victims; and under the
cloak of piety you devour the offerings of the gods, who cannot
eat, and the substance of the people who are forced to labor."
"And you," replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, "you sell
to the credulous living, your vain prayers for the souls of the
dead. With your indulgences and your absolutions you have usurped
the power of God himself; and making a traffic of his favors and
pardons, you have put heaven at auction; and by your system of
expiations you have formed a tariff of crimes, which has perverted
* As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from
crimes and exemption from punishment by means of money or other
frivolous practices; as long as kings and great men shall suppose
that building temples or instituting foundations, will absolve them
from the guilt of oppression and homicide; as long as individuals
shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided they observe
fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction, it
is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue;
and it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern
philosopher has called the doctrine of expiations la verola des
"Add to this," said the Imans, "that these men have invented the
most insidious of all systems of wickedness,--the absurd and
impious obligation of recounting to them the most intimate secrets
of actions and of thoughts (confessions); so their insolent
curiosity has carried their inquisition even into the sanctuary of
the marriage bed,* and the inviolable recesses of the heart."
* Confession is a very ancient invention of the priests, who did
not fail to avail themselves of that means of governing. It was
practised in the Egyptian, Greek, Phrygian, Persian mysteries, etc.
Plutarch has transmitted us the remarkable answer of a Spartan whom
a priest wanted to confess. "Is it to you or to God I am to
confess?" "To God," answered the priest: "In that case," replied
the Spartan, "man, begone!" (Remarkable Savings of the
Lacedemonians.) The first Christians confessed their faults
publicly, like the Essenians. Afterwards, priests began to be
established, with power of absolution from the sin of idolatry. In
the time of Theodosius, a woman having publicly confessed an
intrigue with a deacon, bishop Necterius, and his successor
Chrysostom, granted communion without confession. It was not until
the seventh century that the abbots of convents exacted from monks
and nuns confession twice a year; and it was at a still later
period that bishops of Rome generalized it.
The Mussulmen, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at
the idea of confession; and say; How can an honest man think of
listening to the recital of the actions or the secret thoughts of a
woman? May we not also ask, on the other hand, how can an honest
woman consent to reveal them?
Thus by mutual reproaches the doctors of the different sects began
to reveal all the crimes of their ministry--all the vices of their
craft; and it was found that among all nations the spirit of the
priesthood, their system of conduct, their actions their morals,
were absolutely the same:
That they had everywhere formed secret associations and
corporations at enmity with the rest of society:*
* That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting
the rest of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the
people, let us hear one of the doctors of the church. "The
people," says Bishop Synnesius, in Calvit. page 315, "are desirous
of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise respecting them. The
case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt, and for this
reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed
their mysteries, out of the reach of the eye of the people." And
forgetting what he has before just said, he adds: "for had the
people been in the secret they might have been offended at the
deception played upon them. In the mean time how is it possible to
conduct one's self otherwise with the people so long as they are
people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a
philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a
"A little jargon," says Geogory Nazianzen to St. Jerome (Hieron.
ad. Nep.) "is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The
less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and
doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but
what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
"We endeavor," says Sanchoniaton, "to excite admiration by means of
the marvellous." (Proep. Evang. lib. 3.)
Such was the conduct of all the priests of antiquity, and is still
that of the Bramins and Lamas who are the exact counterpart of the
Egyptian priests. Such was the practice of the Jesuits, who
marched with hasty strides in the same career. It is useless to
point out the whole depravity of such a doctrine. In general every
association which has mystery for its basis, or an oath of secrecy,
is a league of robbers against society, a league divided in its
very bosom into knaves and dupes, or in other words agents and
instruments. It is thus we ought to judge of those modern clubs,
which, under the name of Illuminatists, Martinists,
Cagliostronists, and Mesmerites, infest Europe. These societies
are the follies and deceptions of the ancient Cabalists, Magicians,
Orphies, etc., "who," says Plutarch, "led into errors of
considerable magnitude, not only individuals, but kings and
That they had everywhere attributed to themselves prerogatives and
immunities, by means of which they lived exempt from the burdens of
That they everywhere avoided the toils of the laborer, the dangers
of the soldier, and the disappointments of the merchant:
That they lived everywhere in celibacy, to shun even the cares of a
That, under the cloak of poverty, they found everywhere the secret
of procuring wealth and all sorts of enjoyments:
That under the name of mendicity they raised taxes to a greater
amount than princes:
That in the form of gifts and offerings they had established fixed
and certain revenues exempt from charges:
That under pretence of retirement and devotion they lived in
idleness and licentiousness:
That they had made a virtue of alms-giving, to live quietly on the
labors of others:
That they had invented the ceremonies of worship, as a means of
attracting the reverence of the people, while they were playing the
parts of gods, of whom they styled themselves the interpreters and
mediators, to assume all their powers; that, with this design, they
had (according to the degree of ignorance or information of their
people) assumed by turns the character of astrologers, drawers of
horoscopes, fortune-tellers, magicians,* necromancers, quacks,
physicians, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at the
great object to govern for their own advantage:
* What is a magician, in the sense in which people understand the
word? A man who by words and gestures pretends to act on
supernatural beings, and compel them to descend at his call and
obey his orders. Such was the conduct of the ancient priests, and
such is still that of all priests in idolatrous nations; for which
reason we have given them the denomination of Magicians.
And when a Christian priest pretends to make God descend from
heaven, to fix him to a morsel of leaven, and render, by means of
this talisman, souls pure and in a state of grace, what is this but
a trick of magic? And where is the difference between a Chaman of
Tartary who invokes the Genii, or an Indian Bramin, who makes
Vichenou descend in a vessel of water to drive away evil spirits?
Yes, the identity of the spirit of priests in every age and country
is fully established! Every where it is the assumption of an
exclusive privilege, the pretended faculty of moving at will the
powers of nature; and this assumption is so direct a violation of
the right of equality, that whenever the people shall regain their
importance, they will forever abolish this sacrilegious kind of
nobility, which has been the type and parent stock of the other
species of nobility.
That sometimes they had exalted the power of kings and consecrated
their persons, to monopolize their favors, or participate their
That sometimes they had preached up the murder of tyrants
(reserving it to themselves to define tyranny), to avenge
themselves of their contempt or their disobedience:
And that they always stigmatised with impiety whatever crossed
their interests; that they hindered all public instruction, to
exercise the monopoly of science; that finally, at all times and in
all places, they had found the secret of living in peace in the
midst of the anarchy they created, in safety under the despotism
that they favored, in idleness amidst the industry they preached,
and in abundance while surrounded with scarcity; and all this by
carrying on the singular trade of selling words and gestures to
credulous people, who purchase them as commodities of the greatest
* A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of
the pope and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth
while to extend this idea to religions ceremonies in general, and
to confront column by column, the analogous or contrasting points
of faith and superstitious practices in all nations. There is one
more species of superstition which it would be equally salutary to
cure, blind veneration for the great; and for this purpose it would
be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private life of
kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and
accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among
kings and the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of
Berlin first appeared. What would be the alarm were the public put
in possession of the sequel of this work? Were the people fairly
acquainted with all the absurdities of this species of idol, they
would no longer be exposed to covet their specious pleasures of
which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace, and
hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their
Then the different nations, in a transport of fury, were going to
tear in pieces the men who had thus abused them; but the
legislator, arresting this movement of violence, addressed the
chiefs and doctors:
"What!" said he, "instructors of nations, is it thus that you have
And the terrified priests replied.
"O legislator! we are men. The people are so superstitious! they
have themselves encouraged these errors."*
* Consider in this view the Brabanters.
And the kings said:
"O legislator! the people are so servile and so ignorant! they
prostrated themselves before the yoke, which we scarcely dared to
* The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves
like cattle and drew the chariot of Leopold.
Then the legislator, turning to the people--"People!" said he,
"remember what you have just heard; they are two indelible truths.
Yes, you yourselves cause the evils of which you complain;
yourselves encourage the tyrants, by a base adulation of their
power, by an imprudent admiration of their false beneficence, by
servility in obedience, by licentiousness in liberty, and by a
credulous reception of every imposition. On whom shall you wreak
vengeance for the faults committed by your own ignorance and
And the people, struck with confusion, remained in mournful
SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS.
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he,
"we have heard the discussion of your opinions. The different
sentiments which divide you have given rise to many reflections,
and furnished several questions which we shall propose to you to
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to
which you are attached, we ask on what motives you found your
persuasion? Is it from a deliberate choice that you follow the
standard of one prophet rather than another? Before adopting this
doctrine, rather than that, did you first compare? did you
carefully examine them? Or have you received them only from the
chance of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are you
not born Christians on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on
those of the Euphrates, Idolaters on the Indus, just as you are
born fair in cold climates, and sable under the scorching sun of
Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your fortuitous
position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is it
that such a hazard should be a ground of conviction, an argument of
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and
arbitrary intolerance of your pretensions, we are frightened at the
consequences that flow from your own principles. Nations! who
reciprocally devote each other to the bolts of heavenly wrath,
suppose that the universal Being, whom you revere, should this
moment descend from heaven on this multitude; and, clothed with all
his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose that he
should say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going
to exercise upon you. Yes, of all the religious systems that
divide you, one alone shall this day be preferred; all the others,
all this multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be
condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough: among the
particular sects of the chosen system, one only can be favored; all
the others must be condemned: neither is this enough;--from this
little remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not
fulfilled the conditions enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what
a small number of elect have you limited your race! to what a
penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity of my goodness!
to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness and my
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so.
Nations! here is an urn in which all your names are placed: one
only is a prize: approach, and draw this tremendous lottery!" And
the nations, seized with terror cried: "No, no; we are all
brothers, all equal; we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute
on so many subjects, lend an attentive ear to one problem which you
exhibit, and which you ought to decide yourselves."
And the people, giving great attention, he lifted an arm towards
heaven, and, pointing to the sun, said:
"Nations, does that sun, which enlightens you, appear square or
"No," answered they with one voice, "it is round."
Then, taking the golden balance that was on the altar:
"This gold," said the legislator, "that you handle every day, is it
heavier than the same volume of copper?"
"Yes,' answered all the people, "gold is heavier than Copper."
Then, taking the sword:
"Is this iron," said the legislator, "softer than lead?"
"No," said the people.
"Is sugar sweet, and gall bitter?"
"Do you love pleasure and hate pain?"
"Thus, then, you are agreed in these points, and many others of the
"Now, tell us, is there a cavern in the centre of the earth, or
inhabitants in the moon?"
This question caused a universal murmur. Every one answered
differently--some yes, others no; one said it was probable, another
said it was an idle and ridiculous question; some, that it was
worth knowing. And the discord was universal.
After some time the legislator, having obtained silence, said:
"Explain to us, O Nations! this problem: we have put to you several
questions which you have answered with one voice, without
distinction of race or of sect: white men, black men, followers of
Mahomet and of Moses, worshippers of Boudha and of Jesus, all have
returned the same answer. We then proposed another question, and
you have all disagreed! Why this unanimity in one case, and this
discordance in the other?"
And the group of simple men and savages answered and said: "The
reason of this is plain. In the first case we see and feel the
objects, and we speak from sensation; in the second, they are
beyond the reach of our senses--we speak of them only from
"You have resolved the problem," said the legislator; "and your own
consent has established this first truth:
"That whenever objects can be examined and judged of by your
senses, you are agreed in opinion; and that you only differ when
the objects are absent and beyond your reach.
"From this first truth flows another equally clear and worthy of
notice. Since you agree on things which you know with certainty,
it follows that you disagree only on those which you know not with
certainty, and about which you are not sure; that is to say, you
dispute, you quarrel, you fight, for that which is uncertain, that
of which you doubt. O men! is this wisdom?
"Is it not, then, demonstrated that truth is not the object of your
contests? that it is not her cause which you defend, but that of
your affections, and your prejudices? that it is not the object, as
it really is in itself, that you would verify, but the object as
you would have it; that is to say, it is not the evidence of the
thing that you would enforce, but your own personal opinion, your
particular manner of seeing and judging? It is a power that you
wish to exercise, an interest that you wish to satisfy, a
prerogative that you arrogate to yourself; it is a contest of
vanity. Now, as each of you, on comparing himself to every other,
finds himself his equal and his fellow, he resists by a feeling of
the same right. And your disputes, your combats, your intolerance,
are the effect of this right which you deny each other, and of the
intimate conviction of your equality.
"Now, the only means of establishing harmony is to return to
nature, and to take for a guide and regulator the order of things
which she has founded; and then your accord will prove this other
"That real beings have in themselves an identical, constant and
uniform mode of existence; and that there is in your organs a like
mode of being affected by them.
"But at the same time, by reason of the mobility of these organs as
subject to your will, you may conceive different affections, and
find yourselves in different relations with the same objects; so
that you are to them like a mirror, capable of reflecting them
truly as they are, or of distorting and disfiguring them.
"Hence it follows, that whenever you perceive objects as they are,
you agree among yourselves, and with the objects; and this
similitude between your sensations and their manner of existence,
is what constitutes their truth with respect to you; and, on the
contrary, whenever you differ in opinion, your disagreement is a
proof that you do not represent them such as they are,--that you
"Hence, also, it follows, that the causes of your disagreement
exist not in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in your
manner of perceiving or judging.
"To establish, therefore, a uniformity of opinion, it is necessary
first to establish the certainty, completely verified, that the
portraits which the mind forms are perfectly like the originals;
that it reflects the objects correctly as they exist. Now, this
result cannot be obtained but in those cases where the objects can
be brought to the test, and submitted to the examination of the
senses. Everything which cannot be brought to this trial is, for
that reason alone, impossible to be determined; there exists no
rule, no term of comparison, no means of certainty, respecting it.
"From this we conclude, that, to live in harmony and peace, we must
agree never to decide on such subjects, and to attach to them no
importance; in a word, we must trace a line of distinction between
those that are capable of verification, and those that are not; and
separate by an inviolable barrier the world of fantastical beings
from the world of realities; that is to say, all civil effect must
be taken away from theological and religious opinions.
"This, O ye people of the earth! is the object proposed by a great
nation freed from her fetters and her prejudices; this is the work
which, under her eye and by her orders, we had undertaken, when
your kings and your priests came to interrupt it. O kings and
priests! you may suspend, yet for a while, the solemn publication
of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your power to
annihilate or to subvert them."
A general shout then arose from every part of the assembly; and the
nations universally, and with one voice, testified their assent to
the proposals of the delegates: "Resume," said they, "your holy and
sublime labors, and bring them to perfection. Investigate the laws
which nature, for our guidance, has implanted in our breasts, and
collect from them an authentic and immutable code; nor let this
code be any longer for one family only, but for us all without
exception. Be the legislators of the whole human race, as you are
the interpreters of nature herself. Show us the line of partition
between the world of chimeras and that of realities; and teach us,
after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of
evidence and truth!
Then the delegates, having resumed their enquiries into the
physical and constituent attributes of man, and examined the
motives and affections which govern him in his individual and
social state, unfolded in these words the laws on which nature
herself has founded his happiness.
THE LAW OF NATURE.
OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
Q. What is the law of nature?
A. It is the constant and regular order of events, by which God
governs the universe; an order which his wisdom presents to the
senses and reason of men, as an equal and common rule for their
actions, to guide them, without distinction of country or sect,
towards perfection and happiness.
Q. Give a clear definition of the word law.
A. The word law, taken literary, signifies lecture,* because
originally, ordinances and regulations were the lectures,
preferably to all others, made to the people, in order that they
might observe them, and not incur the penalties attached to their
infraction: whence follows the original custom explaining the true
The definition of law is, "An order or prohibition to act with the
express clause of a penalty attached to the infraction, or of a
recompense attached to the observance of that order."
* From the Latin word lex, lectio. Alcoran likewise signifies
lecture and is only a literal translation of the word law.
Q. Do such orders exist in nature?
Q. What does the word nature signify?
A. The word nature bears three different significations.
1. It signifies the universe, the material world: in this first
sense we say the beauties of nature, the riches of nature, that is
to say, the objects in the heavens and on the earth exposed to our
2. It signifies the power that animates, that moves the universe,
considering it as a distinct being, such as the soul is to the
body; in this second sense we say, "The intentions of nature, the
incomprehensible secrets of nature."
3. It signifies the partial operations of that power on each
being, or on each class of beings; and in this third sense we say,
"The nature of man is an enigma; every being acts according to its
Wherefore, as the actions of each being, or of each species of
beings, are subjected to constant and general rules, which cannot
be infringed without interrupting and troubling the general or
particular order, those rules of action and of motion are called
natural laws, or laws of nature.
Q. Give me examples of those laws.
A. It is a law of nature, that the sun illuminates successively
the surface of the terrestrial globe;--that its presence causes
both light and heat;--that heat acting upon water, produces
vapors;--that those vapors rising in clouds into the regions of the
air, dissolve into rain or snow, and renew incessantly the waters
of fountains and rivers.
It is a law of nature, that water flows downwards; that it
endeavors to find its level; that it is heavier than air; that all
bodies tend towards the earth; that flame ascends towards the
heavens;--that it disorganizes vegetables and animals; that air is
essential to the life of certain animals; that, in certain
circumstances, water suffocates and kills them; that certain juices
of plants, certain minerals attack their organs, and destroy their
life, and so on in a multitude of other instances.
Wherefore, as all those and similar facts are immutable, constant,
and regular, so many real orders result from them for man to
conform himself to, with the express clause of punishment attending
the infraction of them, or of welfare attending their observance.
So that if man pretends to see clear in darkness, if he goes in
contradiction to the course of the seasons, or the action of the
elements; if he pretends to remain under water without being
drowned, to touch fire without burning himself, to deprive himself
of air without being suffocated, to swallow poison without
destroying himself, he receives from each of those infractions of
the laws of nature a corporeal punishment proportionate to his
fault; but if on the contrary, he observes and practises each of
those laws according to the regular and exact relations they have
to him he preserves his existence, and renders it as happy as it
can be: and as the only and common end of all those laws,
considered relatively to mankind, is to preserve, and render them
happy, it has been agreed upon to reduce the idea to one simple
expression, and to call them collectively the law of nature.
CHARACTERS OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
Q. What are the characters of the law of nature?
A. There can be assigned ten principal ones.
Q. Which is the first?
A. To be inherent to the existence of things, and, consequently,
primitive and anterior to every other law: so that all those which
man has received, are only imitations of it, and their perfection
is ascertained by the resemblance they bear to this primordial
Q. Which is the second?
A. To be derived immediately from God, and presented by him to
each man, whereas all other laws are presented to us by men, who
may be either deceived or deceivers.
Q. Which is the third?
A. To be common to all times, and to all countries, that is to
say, one and universal.
Q. Is no other law universal?
A. No: for no other is agreeable or applicable to all the people
of the earth; they are all local and accidental, originating from
circumstances of places and of persons; so that if such a man had
not existed, or such an event happened, such a law would never have
Q. Which is the fourth character?
A. To be uniform and invariable.
Q. Is no other law uniform and invariable?
A. No: for what is good and virtue according to one, is evil and
vice according to another; and what one and the same law approves
of at one time, it often condemns at another.
Q. Which is the fifth character?
A. To be evident and palpable, because it consists entirely of
facts incessantly present to the senses, and to demonstration.
Q. Are not other laws evident?
A. No: for they are founded on past and doubtful facts, on
equivocal and suspicious testimonies, and on proofs inaccessible to
Q. Which is the sixth character?
A. To be reasonable, because its precepts and entire doctrine are
conformable to reason, and to the human understanding.
Q. Is no other law reasonable?
A. No: for all are in contradiction to the reason and the
understanding of men, and tyrannically impose on him a blind and
Q. Which is the seventh character?
A. To be just, because in that law, the penalties are
proportionate to the infractions.
Q. Are not other laws just?
A. No: for they often exceed bounds, either in rewarding deserts,
or in punishing delinquencies, and consider as meritorious or
criminal, null or indifferent actions.
Q. Which is the eighth character?
A. To be pacific and tolerant, because in the law of nature, all
men being brothers and equal in rights, it recommends to them only
peace and toleration, even for errors.
Q. Are not other laws pacific?
A. No: for all preach dissension, discord, and war, and divide
mankind by exclusive pretensions of truth and domination.
Q. Which is the ninth character?
A. To be equally beneficent to all men, in teaching them the true
means of becoming better and happier.
Q. Are not other laws beneficent likewise?
A. No: for none of them teach the real means of attaining
happiness; all are confined to pernicious or futile practices; and
this is evident from facts, since after so many laws, so many
religions, so many legislators and prophets, men are still as
unhappy and ignorant, as they were six thousand years ago.
Q. Which is the last character of the law of nature?
A. That it is alone sufficient to render men happier and better,
because it comprises all that is good and useful in other laws,
either civil or religious, that is to say, it constitutes
essentially the moral part of them; so that if other laws were
divested of it, they would be reduced to chimerical and imaginary
opinions devoid of any practical utility.
Q. Recapitulate all those characters.
A. We have said that the law of nature is,
1. Primitive; 6. Reasonable;
2. Immediate; 7. Just;
3. Universal; 8. Pacific;
4. Invariable; 9. Beneficent: and
5. Evident; 10. Alone sufficient.
And such is the power of all these attributes of perfection and
truth, that when in their disputes the theologians can agree upon
no article of belief, they recur to the law of nature, the neglect
of which, say they, forced God to send from time to time prophets
to proclaim new laws; as if God enacted laws for particular
circumstances, as men do; especially when the first subsists in
such force, that we may assert it to have been at all times and in
all countries the rule of conscience for every man of sense or
Q. If, as you say, it emanates immediately from God, does it teach
A. Yes, most positively: for, to any man whatever, who observes
with reflection the astonishing spectacle of the universe, the more
he meditates on the properties and attributes of each being, on the
admirable order and harmony of their motions, the more it is
demonstrated that there exists a supreme agent, a universal and
identic mover, designated by the appellation of God; and so true it
is that the law of nature suffices to elevate him to the knowledge
of God, that all which men have pretended to know by supernatural
means, has constantly turned out ridiculous and absurd, and that
they have ever been obliged to recur to the immutable conceptions
of natural reason.
Q. Then it is not true that the followers of the law of nature are
A. No; it is not true; on the contrary, they entertain stronger
and nobler ideas of the Divinity than most other men; for they do
not sully him with the foul ingredients of all the weaknesses and
passions entailed on humanity.
Q. What worship do they pay to him?
A. A worship wholly of action; the practice and observance of all
the rules which the supreme wisdom has imposed on the motion of
each being; eternal and unalterable rules, by which it maintains
the order and harmony of the universe, and which, in their
relations to man, constitute the law of nature.
Q. Was the law of nature known before this period:
A. It has been at all times spoken of: most legislators pretend to
adopt it as the basis of their laws; but they only quote some of
its precepts, and have only vague ideas of its totality.
A. Because, though simple in its basis, it forms in its
developements and consequences, a complicated whole which requires
an extensive knowledge of facts, joined to all the sagacity of
Q. Does not instinct alone teach the law of nature?
A. No; for by instinct is meant nothing more than that blind
sentiment by which we are actuated indiscriminately towards
everything that flatters the senses.
Q. Why, then, is it said that the law of nature is engraved in the
hearts of all men.
A. It is said for two reasons: first, because it has been
remarked, that there are acts and sentiments common to all men, and
this proceeds from their common organization; secondly, because the
first philosophers believed that men were born with ideas already
formed, which is now demonstrated to be erroneous.
Q. Philosophers, then, are fallible?
A. Yes, sometimes.
Q. Why so?
A. First, because they are men; secondly, because the ignorant
call all those who reason, right or wrong, philosophers; thirdly,
because those who reason on many subjects, and who are the first to
reason on them, are liable to be deceived.
Q. If the law of nature be not written, must it not become
arbitrary and ideal?
A. No: because it consists entirely in facts, the demonstration of
which can be incessantly renewed to the senses, and constitutes a
science as accurate and precise as geometry and mathematics; and it
is because the law of nature forms an exact science, that men, born
ignorant and living inattentive and heedless, have had hitherto
only a superficial knowledge of it.
PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF NATURE RELATING TO MAN.
Q. Explain the principles of the law of nature with relation to
A. They are simple; all of them are comprised in one fundamental
and single precept.
Q. What is that precept?
A. It is self-preservation.
Q. Is not happiness also a precept of the law of nature?
A. Yes: but as happiness is an accidental state, resulting only
from the development of man's faculties and his social system, it
is not the immediate and direct object of nature; it is in some
measure, a superfluity annexed to the necessary and fundamental
object of preservation.
Q. How does nature order man to preserve himself?
A. By two powerful and involuntary sensations, which it has
attached, as two guides, two guardian Geniuses to all his actions:
the one a sensation of pain, by which it admonishes him of, and
deters him from, everything that tends to destroy him; the other, a
sensation of pleasure, by which it attracts and carries him towards
everything that tends to his preservation and the development of
Q. Pleasure, then, is not an evil, a sin, as casuists pretend?
A. No, only inasmuch as it tends to destroy life and health which,
by the avowal of those same casuists, we derive from God himself.
Q. Is pleasure the principal object of our existence, as some
philosophers have asserted?
A. No; not more than pain; pleasure is an incitement to live as
pain is a repulsion from death.
Q. How do you prove this assertion?
A. By two palpable facts: One, that pleasure, when taken
immoderately, leads to destruction; for instance, a man who abuses
the pleasure of eating or drinking, attacks his health, and injures
his life. The other, that pain sometimes leads to self-
preservation; for instance, a man who permits a mortified member to
be cut off, suffers pain in order not to perish totally.
Q. But does not even this prove that our sensations can deceive us
respecting the end of our preservation?
A. Yes; they can momentarily.
Q. How do our sensations deceive us?
A. In two ways: by ignorance, and by passion.
Q. When do they deceive us by ignorance?
A. When we act without knowing the action and effect of objects on
our senses: for example, when a man touches nettles without knowing
their stinging quality, or when he swallows opium without knowing
its soporiferous effects.
Q. When do they deceive us by passion?
A. When, conscious of the pernicious action of objects, we abandon
ourselves, nevertheless, to the impetuosity of our desires and
appetites: for example, when a man who knows that wine intoxicates,
does nevertheless drink it to excess.
Q. What is the result?
A. That the ignorance in which we are born, and the unbridled
appetites to which we abandon ourselves, are contrary to our
preservation; that, therefore, the instruction of our minds and the
moderation of our passions are two obligations, two laws, which
spring directly from the first law of preservation.
Q. But being born ignorant, is not ignorance a law of nature?
A. No more than to remain in the naked and feeble state of
infancy. Far from being a law of nature, ignorance is an obstacle
to the practice of all its laws. It is the real original sin.
Q. Why, then, have there been moralists who have looked upon it as
a virtue and perfection?
A. Because, from a strange or perverted disposition, they
confounded the abuse of knowledge with knowledge itself; as if,
because men abuse the power of speech, their tongues should be cut
out; as if perfection and virtue consisted in the nullity, and not
in the proper development of our faculties.
Q. Instruction, then, is indispensable to man's existence?
A. Yes, so indispensable, that without it he is every instant
assailed and wounded by all that surrounds him; for if he does not
know the effects of fire, he burns himself; those of water he
drowns himself; those of opium, he poisons himself; if, in the
savage state, he does not know the wiles of animals, and the art of
seizing game, he perishes through hunger; if in the social state,
he does not know the course of the seasons, he can neither
cultivate the ground, nor procure nourishment; and so on, of all
his actions, respecting all his wants.
Q. But can man individually acquire this knowledge necessary to
his existence, and to the development of his faculties?
A. No; not without the assistance of his fellow men, and by living
Q. But is not society to man a state against nature?
A. No: it is on the contrary a necessity, a law that nature
imposed on him by the very act of his organization; for, first,
nature has so constituted man, that he cannot see his species of
another sex without feeling emotions and an attraction which induce
him to live in a family, which is already a state of society;
secondly, by endowing him with sensibility, she organized him so
that the sensations of others reflect within him, and excite
reciprocal sentiments of pleasure and of grief, which are
attractions, and indissoluble ties of society; thirdly, and
finally, the state of society, founded on the wants of man, is only
a further means of fulfilling the law of preservation: and to
pretend that this state is out of nature, because it is more
perfect, is the same as to say, that a bitter and wild fruit of the
forest, is no longer the production of nature, when rendered sweet
and delicious by cultivation in our gardens.
Q. Why, then, have philosophers called the savage state the state
A. Because, as I have told you, the vulgar have often given the
name of philosophers to whimsical geniuses, who, from moroseness,
from wounded vanity, or from a disgust to the vices of society,
have conceived chimerical ideas of the savage state, in
contradiction with their own system of a perfect man.
Q. What is the true meaning of the word philosopher?
A. The word philosopher signifies a lover of wisdom; and as wisdom
consists in the practice of the laws of nature, the true
philosopher is he who knows those laws, and conforms the whole
tenor of his conduct to them.
Q. What is man in the savage state?
A. A brutal, ignorant animal, a wicked and ferocious beast.
Q. Is he happy in that state?
A. No; for he only feels momentary sensations, which are
habitually of violent wants which he cannot satisfy, since he is
ignorant by nature, and weak by being isolated from his race.
Q. Is he free?
A. No; he is the most abject slave that exists; for his life
depends on everything that surrounds him: he is not free to eat
when hungry, to rest when tired, to warm himself when cold; he is
every instant in danger of perishing; wherefore nature offers but
fortuitous examples of such beings; and we see that all the efforts
of the human species, since its origin, sorely tends to emerge from
that violent state by the pressing necessity of self-preservation.
Q. But does not this necessity of preservation engender in
individuals egotism, that is to say self-love? and is not egotism
contrary to the social state?
A. No; for if by egotism you mean a propensity to hurt our
neighbor, it is no longer self-love, but the hatred of others.
Self-love, taken in its true sense, not only is not contrary to
society, but is its firmest support, by the necessity we lie under
of not injuring others, lest in return they should injure us.
Thus mans preservation, and the unfolding of his faculties,
directed towards this end, teach the true law of nature in the
production of the human being; and it is from this essential
principle that are derived, are referred, and in its scale are
weighed, all ideas of good and evil, of vice and virtue, of just
and unjust, of truth or error, of lawful or forbidden, on which is
founded the morality of individual, or of social man.
BASIS OF MORALITY; OF GOOD, OF EVIL, OF SIN, OF CRIME, OF VICE AND
Q. What is good, according to the law of nature?
A. It is everything that tends to preserve and perfect man.
Q. What is evil?
A. That which tends to man's destruction or deterioration.
Q. What is meant by physical good and evil, and by moral good and
A. By the word physical is understood, whatever acts immediately
on the body. Health is a physical good; and sickness a physical
evil. By moral, is meant what acts by consequences more or less
remote. Calumny is a moral evil; a fair reputation is a moral
good, because both one and the other occasion towards us, on the
part of other men, dispositions and habitudes,* which are useful or
hurtful to our preservation, and which attack or favor our means of
* It is from this word habitudes, (reiterated actions,) in Latin
mores, that the word moral, and all its family, are derived.
Q. Everything that tends to preserve, or to produce is therefore a
A. Yes; and it is for that reason that certain legislators have
classed among the works agreeable to the divinity, the cultivation
of a field and the fecundity of a woman.
Q. Whatever tends to cause death is, therefore, an evil?
A. Yes; and it is for that reason some legislators have extended
the idea of evil and of sin even to the killing of animals.
Q. The murdering of a man is, therefore, a crime in the law of
A. Yes, and the greatest that can be committed; for every other
evil can be repaired, but murder alone is irreparable.
Q. What is a sin in the law of nature?
A. Whatever tends to disturb the order established by nature for
the preservation and perfection of man and of society.
Q. Can intention be a merit or a crime?
A. No, for it is only an idea void of reality: but it is a
commencement of sin and evil, by the impulse it gives to action.
Q. What is virtue according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions useful to the individual and to
Q. What is meant by the word individual?
A. It means a man considered separately from every other.
Q. What is vice according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions prejudicial to the individual and
Q. Have not virtue and vice an object purely spiritual and
abstracted from the senses?
A. No; it is always to a physical end that they finally relate,
and that end is always to destroy or preserve the body.
Q. Have vice and virtue degrees of strength and intensity?
A. Yes: according to the importance of the faculties, which they
attack or which they favor; and according to the number of persons
in whom those faculties are favored or injured.
Q. Give me some examples?
A. The action of saving a man's life is more virtuous than that of
saving his property; the action of saving the lives of ten men,
than that of saving only the life of one, and an action useful to
the whole human race is more virtuous than an action that is only
useful to one single nation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe the practice of good and
virtue, and forbid that of evil and vice?
A. By the advantages resulting from the practice of good and
virtue for the preservation of our body, and by the losses which
result to our existence from the practice of evil and vice.
Q. Its precepts are then in action?
A. Yes: they are action itself, considered in its present effect
and in its future consequences.
Q. How do you divide the virtues?
A. We divide them in three classes, first, individual virtues, as
relative to man alone; secondly, domestic virtues, as relative to a
family; thirdly, social virtues, as relative to society.
OF INDIVIDUAL VIRTUES.
Q. Which are the individual virtues?
A. There are five principal ones, to wit: first, science, which
comprises prudence and wisdom; secondly, temperance, comprising
sobriety and chastity; thirdly, courage, or strength of body and
mind; fourthly, activity, that is to say, love of labor and
employment of time; fifthly, and finally, cleanliness, or purity of
body, as well in dress as in habitation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe science?
A. Because the man acquainted with the causes and effects of
things attends in a careful and sure manner to his preservation,
and to the development of his faculties. Science is to him the eye
and the light, which enable him to discern clearly and accurately
all the objects with which he is conversant, and hence by an
enlightened man is meant a learned and well-informed man. With
science and instruction a man never wants for resources and means
of subsistence; and upon this principle a philosopher, who had been
shipwrecked, said to his companions, that were inconsolable for the
loss of their wealth: "For my part, I carry all my wealth within
Q. Which is the vice contrary to science?
A. It is ignorance.
Q. How does the law of nature forbid ignorance?
A. By the grievous detriments resulting from it to our existence;
for the ignorant man who knows neither causes nor effects, commits
every instant errors most pernicious to himself and to others; he
resembles a blind man groping his way at random, and who, at every
step, jostles or is jostled by every one he meets.
Q. What difference is there between an ignorant and a silly man?
A. The same difference as between him who frankly avows his
blindness and the blind man who pretends to sight; silliness is the
reality of ignorance, to which is superadded the vanity of
Q. Are ignorance and silliness common?
A. Yes, very common; they are the usual and general distempers of
mankind: more than three thousand years ago the wisest of men said:
"The number of fools is infinite;" and the world has not changed.
Q. What is the reason of it?
A. Because much labor and time are necessary to acquire
instruction, and because men, born ignorant and indolent, find it
more convenient to remain blind, and pretend to see clear.
Q. What difference is there between a learned and a wise man?
A. The learned knows, and the wise man practices.
Q. What is prudence?
A. It is the anticipated perception, the foresight of the effects
and consequences of every action; by means of which foresight, man
avoids the dangers which threaten him, while he seizes on and
creates opportunities favorable to him: he thereby provides for his
present and future safety in a certain and secure manner, whereas
the imprudent man, who calculates neither his steps nor his
conduct, nor efforts, nor resistance, falls every instant into
difficulties and dangers, which sooner or later impair his
faculties and destroy his existence.
Q. When the Gospel says, "Happy are the poor of spirit," does it
mean the ignorant and imprudent?
A. No; for, at the same time that it recommends the simplicity of
doves, it adds the prudent cunning of serpents. By simplicity of
mind is meant uprightness, and the precept of the Gospel is that of
Q. What is temperance?
A. It is a regular use of our faculties, which makes us never
exceed in our sensations the end of nature to preserve us; it is
the moderation of the passions.
Q. Which is the vice contrary to temperance?
A. The disorder of the passions, the avidity of all kind of
enjoyments, in a word, cupidity.
Q. Which are the principal branches of temperance?
A. Sobriety, and continence or chastity.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe sobriety?
A. By its powerful influence over our health. The sober man
digests with comfort; he is not overpowered by the weight of
aliments; his ideas are clear and easy; he fulfills all his
functions properly; he conducts his business with intelligence; his
old age is exempt from infirmity; he does not spend his money in
remedies, and he enjoys, in mirth and gladness, the wealth which
chance and his own prudence have procured him. Thus, from one
virtue alone, generous nature derives innumerable recompenses.
Q. How does it prohibit gluttony?
A. By the numerous evils that are attached to it. The glutton,
oppressed with aliments, digests with anxiety; his head, troubled
by the fumes of indigestion, is incapable of conceiving clear and
distinct ideas; he abandons himself with violence to the disorderly
impulse of lust and anger, which impair his health; his body
becomes bloated, heavy, and unfit for labor; he endures painful and
expensive distempers; he seldom lives to be old; and his age is
replete with infirmities and sorrow.
Q. Should abstinence and fasting be considered as virtuous
A. Yes, when one has eaten too much; for then abstinence and
fasting are simple and efficacious remedies; but when the body is
in want of aliment, to refuse it any, and let it suffer from hunger
or thirst, is delirium and a real sin against the law of nature.
Q. How is drunkenness considered in the law of nature?
A. As a most vile and pernicious vice. The drunkard, deprived of
the sense and reason given us by God, profanes the donations of the
divinity: he debases himself to the condition of brutes; unable
even to guide his steps, he staggers and falls as if he were
epileptic; he hurts and even risks killing himself; his debility in
this state exposes him to the ridicule and contempt of every person
that sees him; he makes in his drunkenness, prejudicial and ruinous
bargains, and injures his fortune; he makes use of opprobrious
language, which creates him enemies and repentance; he fills his
house with trouble and sorrow, and ends by a premature death or by
a cacochymical old age.
Q. Does the law of nature interdict absolutely the use of wine?
A. No; it only forbids the abuse; but as the transition from the
use to the abuse is easy and prompt among the generality of men,
perhaps the legislators, who have proscribed the use of wine, have
rendered a service to humanity.
Q. Does the law of nature forbid the use of certain kinds of meat,
or of certain vegetables, on particular days, during certain
A. No; it absolutely forbids only whatever is injurious to health;
its precepts, in this respect, vary according to persons, and even
constitute a very delicate and important science for the quality,
the quantity, and the combination of aliments have the greatest
influence, not only over the momentary affections of the soul, but
even over its habitual disposition. A man is not the same when
fasting as after a meal, even if he were sober. A glass of
spirituous liquor, or a dish of coffee, gives degrees of vivacity,
of mobility, of disposition to anger, sadness, or gaiety; such a
meat, because it lies heavy on the stomach, engenders moroseness
and melancholy; such another, because it facilitates digestion,
creates sprightliness, and an inclination to oblige and to love.
The use of vegetables, because they have little nourishment,
enfeebles the body, and gives a disposition to repose, indolence,
and ease; the use of meat, because it is full of nourishment, and
of spirituous liquors, because they stimulate the nerves, creates
vivacity, uneasiness, and audacity. Now from those habitudes of
aliment result habits of constitution and of the organs, which form
afterwards different kinds of temperaments, each of which is
distinguished by a peculiar characteristic. And it is for this
reason that, in hot countries especially, legislators have made
laws respecting regimen or food. The ancients were taught by long
experience that the dietetic science constituted a considerable
part of morality; among the Egyptians, the ancient Persians, and
even among the Greeks, at the Areopagus, important affairs were
examined fasting; and it has been remarked that, among those
people, where public affairs were discussed during the heat of
meals, and the fumes of digestion, deliberations were hasty and
violent, and the results of them frequently unreasonable, and
productive of turbulence and confusion.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe continence?
A. Yes: because a moderate use of the most lively of pleasures is
not only useful, but indispensable, to the support of strength and
health: and because a simple calculation proves that, for some
minutes of privation, you increase the number of your days, both in
vigor of body and of mind.
Q. How does it forbid libertinism?
A. By the numerous evils which result from it to the physical and
the moral existence. He who carries it to an excess enervates and
pines away; he can no longer attend to study or labor; he contracts
idle and expensive habits, which destroy his means of existence,
his public consideration, and his credit; his intrigues occasion
continual embarrassment, cares, quarrels and lawsuits, without
mentioning the grievous deep-rooted distempers, and the loss of his
strength by an inward and slow poison; the stupid dullness of his
mind, by the exhaustion of the nervous system; and, in fine, a
premature and infirm old age.
Q. Does the law of nature look on that absolute chastity so
recommended in monastical institutions, as a virtue?
A. No: for that chastity is of no use either to the society that
witnesses, or the individual who practises it; it is even
prejudicial to both. First, it injures society by depriving it of
population, which is one of its principal sources of wealth and
power; and as bachelors confine all their views and affections to
the term of their lives, they have in general an egotism
unfavorable to the interests of society.
In the second place, it injures the individuals who practise it,
because it deprives them of a number of affections and relations
which are the springs of most domestic and social virtues; and
besides, it often happens, from circumstances of age, regimen, or
temperament, that absolute continence injures the constitution and
causes severe diseases, because it is contrary to the physical laws
on which nature has founded the system of the reproduction of
beings; and they who recommend so strongly chastity, even supposing
them to be sincere, are in contradiction with their own doctrine,
which consecrates the law of nature by the well known commandment:
increase and multiply.
Q. Why is chastity considered a greater virtue in women than in
A. Because a want of chastity in women is attended with
inconveniences much more serious and dangerous for them and for
society; for, without taking into account the pains and diseases
they have in common with men, they are further exposed to all the
disadvantages and perils that precede, attend, and follow child-
birth. When pregnant contrary to law, they become an object of
public scandal and contempt, and spend the remainder of their lives
in bitterness and misery. Moreover, all the expense of maintaining
and educating their fatherless children falls on them: which
expense impoverishes them, and is every way prejudicial to their
physical and moral existence. In this situation, deprived of the
freshness and health that constitute their charm, carrying with
them an extraneous and expensive burden, they are less prized by
men, they find no solid establishment, they fall into poverty,
misery, and wretchedness, and thus drag on in sorrow their unhappy
Q. Does the law of nature extend so far as the scruples of desires
A. Yes; because, in the physical laws of the human body, thoughts
and desires inflame the senses, and soon provoke to action: now, by
another law of nature in the organization of our body, those
actions become mechanical wants which recur at certain periods of
days or of weeks, so that, at such a time, the want is renewed of
such an action and such a secretion; if this action and this
secretion be injurious to health, the habitude of them becomes
destructive of life itself. Thus thoughts and desires have a true
and natural importance.
Q. Should modesty be considered as a virtue?
A. Yes; because modesty, inasmuch as it is a shame of certain
actions, maintains the soul and body in all those habits useful to
good order, and to self-preservation. The modest woman is
esteemed, courted, and established, with advantages of fortune
which ensure her existence, and render it agreeable to her, while
the immodest and prostitute are despised, repulsed, and abandoned
to misery and infamy.
ON COURAGE AND ACTIVITY.
Q. Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of
A. Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious
and indispensable means of attending to our preservation and
welfare. The courageous and strong man repulses oppression,
defends his life, his liberty, and his property; by his labor he
procures himself an abundant subsistence, which he enjoys in
tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls into misfortunes, from
which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with
fortitude and resignation; and it is for this reason that the
ancient moralists have reckoned strength and courage among the four
Q. Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?
A. Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable
calamities. The weak or cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and
agonies; he undermines his health by the dread, oftentimes ill
founded, of attacks and dangers: and this dread which is an evil,
is not a remedy; it renders him, on the contrary, the slave of him
who wishes to oppress him; and by the servitude and debasement of
all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes his means of
existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and
caprice of another man.
Q. But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are
not courage and force, as well as many other virtues, in a great
measure the effect of our physical constitution and temperament?
A. Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are
transmitted by generation and blood, with the elements on which
they depend: the most reiterated and constant facts prove that in
the breed of animals of every kind, we see certain physical and
moral qualities, attached to the individuals of those species,
increase or decay according to the combinations and mixtures they
make with other breeds.
Q. But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those
qualities, is it a crime to be destitute of them?
A. No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the
ancients call an unlucky fatality; but even then we have it yet in
our power to acquire them; for, as soon as we know on what physical
elements such or such a quality is founded, we can promote its
growth, and hasten its developments, by a skillful management of
those elements; and in this consists the science of education,
which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades
individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to
change their nature and inclinations; for which reason it is of the
greatest importance to be acquainted with the laws of nature by
which those operations and changes are certainly and necessarily
Q. Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law
A. Because the man who works and employs his time usefully,
derives from it a thousand precious advantages to his existence.
If he is born poor, his labor furnishes him with subsistence; and
still more so, if he is sober, continent, and prudent, for he soon
acquires a competency, and enjoys the sweets of life; his very
labor gives him virtues; for, while he occupies his body and mind,
he is not affected with unruly desires, time does not lie heavy on
him, he contracts mild habits, he augments his strength and health,
and attains a peaceful and happy old age.
Q. Are idleness and sloth vices in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and the most pernicious of all vices, for they lead to all
the others. By idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, he forgets
even the science he had acquired, and falls into all the
misfortunes which accompany ignorance and folly; by idleness and
sloth man, devoured with disquietude, in order to dissipate it,
abandons himself to all the desires of his senses, which, becoming
every day more inordinate, render him intemperate, gluttonous,
lascivious, enervated, cowardly, vile, and contemptible. By the
certain effect of all those vices, he ruins his fortune, consumes
his health, and terminates his life in all the agonies of sickness
and of poverty.
Q. From what you say, one would think that poverty was a vice?
A. No, it is not a vice; but it is still less a virtue, for it is
by far more ready to injure than to be useful; it is even commonly
the result, or the beginning of vice, for the effect of all
individual vices is to lead to indigence, and to the privation of
the necessaries of life; and when a man is in want of necessaries,
he is tempted to procure them by vicious means, that is to say, by
means injurious to society. All the individual virtues tend, on
the contrary, to procure to a man an abundant subsistence; and when
he has more than he can consume, it is much easier for him to give
to others, and to practice the actions useful to society.
Q. Do you look upon opulence as a virtue?
A. No; but still less as a vice: it is the use alone of wealth
that can be called virtuous or vicious, according as it is
serviceable or prejudicial to man and to society. Wealth is an
instrument, the use and employment alone of which determine its
virtue or vice.
Q. Why is cleanliness included among the virtues?
A. Because it is, in reality, one of the most important among
them, on account of its powerful influence over the health and
preservation of the body. Cleanliness, as well in dress as in
residence, obviates the pernicious effects of the humidity, baneful
odors, and contagious exhalations, proceeding from all things
abandoned to putrefaction. Cleanliness, maintains free
transpiration; it renews the air, refreshes the blood, and disposes
even the mind to cheerfulness.
From this it appears that persons attentive to the cleanliness of
their bodies and habitations are, in general, more healthy, and
less subject to disease, than those who live in filth and
nastiness; and it is further remarked, that cleanliness carries
with it, throughout all the branches of domestic administration,
habits of order and arrangement, which are the chief means and
first elements of happiness.
Q. Uncleanliness or filthiness is, then, a real vice?
A. Yes, as real a one as drunkenness, or as idleness, from which
in a great measure it is derived. Uncleanliness is the second, and
often the first, cause of many inconveniences, and even of grievous
disorders; it is a fact in medicine, that it brings on the itch,
the scurf, tetters, leprosies, as much as the use of tainted or
sour aliments; that it favors the contagious influence of the
plague and malignant fevers, that it even produces them in
hospitals and prisons; that it occasions rheumatisms, by incrusting
the skin with dirt, and thereby preventing transpiration; without
reckoning the shameful inconvenience of being devoured by vermin--
the foul appendage of misery and depravity.
Most ancient legislators, therefore, considered cleanliness, which
they called purity, as one of the essential dogmas of their
religions. It was for this reason that they expelled from society,
and even punished corporeally those who were infected with
distempers produced by uncleanliness; that they instituted and
consecrated ceremonies of ablutions baths, baptisms, and of
purifications, even by fire and the aromatic fumes of incense,
myrrh, benjamin, etc., so that the entire system of pollutions, all
those rites of clean and unclean things, degenerated since into
abuses and prejudices, were only founded originally on the
judicious observation, which wise and learned men had made, of the
extreme influence that cleanliness in dress and abode exercises
over the health of the body, and by an immediate consequence over
that of the mind and moral faculties.
Thus all the individual virtues have for their object, more or less
direct, more or less near, the preservation of the man who
practises them and by the preservation of each man, they lead to
that of families and society, which are composed of the united sum
ON DOMESTIC VIRTUES.
Q. What do you mean be domestic virtues?
A. I mean the practice of actions useful to a family, supposed to
live in the same house.*
* Domestic is derived from the Latin word domus, a house.
Q. What are those virtues?
A. They are economy, paternal love, filial love, conjugal love,
fraternal love, and the accomplishment of the duties of master and
Q. What is economy?
A. It is, according to the most extensive meaning of the word, the
proper administration of every thing that concerns the existence of
the family or house; and as subsistence holds the first rank, the
word economy in confined to the employment of money for the wants
Q. Why is economy a virtue?
A. Because a man who makes no useless expenses acquires a
superabundancy, which is true wealth, and by means of which he
procures for himself and his family everything that is really
convenient and useful; without mentioning his securing thereby
resources against accidental and unforeseen losses, so that he and
his family enjoy an agreeable and undisturbed competency, which is
the basis of human felicity.
Q. Dissipation and prodigality, therefore, are vices?
A. Yes, for by them man, in the end, is deprived of the
necessaries of life; he falls into poverty and wretchedness; and
his very friends, fearing to be obliged to restore to him what he
has spent with or for them, avoid him as a debtor does his
creditor, and he remains abandoned by the whole world.
Q. What is paternal love?
A. It is the assiduous care taken by parents to make their
children contract the habit of every action useful to themselves
and to society.
Q. Why is paternal tenderness a virtue in parents?
A. Because parents, who rear their children in those habits,
procure for themselves, during the course of their lives,
enjoyments and helps that give a sensible satisfaction at every
instant, and which assure to them, when advanced in years, supports
and consolations against the wants and calamities of all kinds with
which old age is beset.
Q. Is paternal love a common virtue?
A. No; notwithstanding the ostentation made of it by parents, it
is a rare virtue. They do not love their children, they caress and
spoil them. In them they love only the agents of their will, the
instruments of their power, the trophies of their vanity, the
pastime of their idleness. It is not so much the welfare of their
children that they propose to themselves, as their submission and
obedience; and if among children so many are seen ungrateful for
benefits received, it is because there are among parents as many
despotic and ignorant benefactors.
Q. Why do you say that conjugal love is a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union resulting from the love of the
married, establish in the heart of the family a multitude of habits
useful to its prosperity and preservation. The united pair are
attached to, and seldom quit their home; they superintend each
particular direction of it; they attend to the education of their
children; they maintain the respect and fidelity of domestics; they
prevent all disorder and dissipation; and from the whole of their
good conduct, they live in ease and consideration; while married
persons who do not love one another, fill their house with quarrels
and troubles, create dissension between their children and the
servants, leaving both indiscriminately to all kinds of vicious
habits; every one in turn spoils, robs, and plunders the house; the
revenues are absorbed without profit; debts accumulate; the married
pair avoid each other, or contend in lawsuits; and the whole family
falls into disorder, ruin, disgrace and want.
Q. Is adultery an offence in the law of nature?
A. Yes; for it is attended with a number of habits injurious to
the married and to their families. The wife or husband, whose
affections are estranged, neglect their house, avoid it, and
deprive it, as much as they can, of its revenues or income, to
expend them with the object of their affections; hence arise
quarrels, scandal, lawsuits, the neglect of their children and
servants, and at last the plundering and ruin of the whole family;
without reckoning that the adulterous woman commits a most grievous
theft, in giving to her husband heirs of foreign blood, who deprive
his real children of their legitimate portion.
Q. What is filial love?
A. It is, on the side of children, the practice of those actions
useful to themselves and to their parents.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe filial love?
A. By three principal motives:
1. By sentiment; for the affectionate care of parents inspires,
from the most tender age, mild habits of attachment.
2. By justice; for children owe to their parents a return and
indemnity for the cares, and even for the expenses, they have
3. By personal interest; for, if they use them ill, they give to
their own children examples of revolt and ingratitude, which
authorize them, at a future day, to behave to themselves in a
Q. Are we to understand by filial love a passive and blind
A. No; but a reasonable submission, founded on the knowledge of
the mutual rights and duties of parents and children; rights and
duties, without the observance of which their mutual conduct is
nothing but disorder.
Q. Why is fraternal love a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union, which result from the love of
brothers, establish the strength, security, and conservation of the
family: brothers united defend themselves against all oppression,
they aid one another in their wants, they help one another in their
misfortunes, and thus secure their common existence; while brothers
disunited, abandoned each to his own personal strength, fall into
all the inconveniences attendant on an insulated state and
individual weakness. This is what a certain Scythian king
ingeniously expressed when, on his death-bed, calling his children
to him, he ordered them to break a bundle of arrows. The young
men, though strong, being unable to effect it, he took them in his
turn, and untieing them, broke each of the arrows separately with
his fingers. "Behold," said he, "the effects of union; united
together, you will be invincible; taken separately, you will be
broken like reeds."
Q. What are the reciprocal duties of masters and of servants?
A. They consist in the practice of the actions which are
respectively and justly useful to them; and here begin the
relations of society; for the rule and measure of those respective
actions is the equilibrium or equality between the service and the
recompense, between what the one returns and the other gives; which
is the fundamental basis of all society.
Thus all the domestic and individual virtues refer, more or less
mediately, but always with certitude, to the physical object of the
amelioration and preservation of man, and are thereby precepts
resulting from the fundamental law of nature in his formation.
THE SOCIAL VIRTUES; JUSTICE.
Q. What is society?
A. It is every reunion of men living together under the clauses of
an expressed or tacit contract, which has for its end their common
Q. Are the social virtues numerous?
A. Yes; they are in as great number as the kinds of actions useful
to society; but all may be reduced to one principle.
Q. What is that fundamental principle?
A. It is justice, which alone comprises all the virtues of
Q. Why do you say that justice is the fundamental and almost only
virtue of society?
A. Because it alone embraces the practice of all the actions
useful to it; and because all the other virtues, under the
denominations of charity, humanity, probity, love of one's country,
sincerity, generosity, simplicity of manners, and modesty, are only
varied forms and diversified applications of the axiom, "Do not to
another what you do not wish to be done to yourself," which is the
definition of justice.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe justice?
A. By three physical attributes, inherent in the organization of
Q. What are those attributes?
A. They are equality, liberty, and property.
Q. How is equality a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men, having equally eyes, hands, mouths, ears, and
the necessity of making use of them, in order to live, have, by
this reason alone, an equal right to life, and to the use of the
aliments which maintain it; they are all equal before God.
Q. Do you suppose that all men hear equally, see equally, feel
equally, have equal wants, and equal passions?
A. No; for it is evident, and daily demonstrated, that one is
short, and another long-sighted; that one eats much, another
little; that one has mild, another violent passions; in a word,
that one is weak in body and mind, while another is strong in both.
Q. They are, therefore, really unequal?
A. Yes, in the development of their means, but not in the nature
and essence of those means. They are made of the same stuff, but
not in the same dimensions; nor are the weight and value equal.
Our language possesses no one word capable of expressing the
identity of nature, and the diversity of its form and employment.
It is a proportional equality; and it is for this reason I have
said, equal before God, and in the order of nature.
Q. How is liberty a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men having senses sufficient for their
preservation--no one wanting the eye of another to see, his ear to
hear, his mouth to eat, his feet to walk--they are all, by this
very reason, constituted naturally independent and free; no man is
necessarily subjected to another, nor has he a right to dominate
Q. But if a man is born strong, has he a natural right to master
the weak man?
A. No; for it is neither a necessity for him, nor a convention
between them; it is an abusive extension of his strength; and here
an abuse is made of the word right, which in its true meaning
implies, justice or reciprocal faculty.
Q. How is property a physical attribute of man?
A. Inasmuch as all men being constituted equal or similar to one
another, and consequently independent and free, each is the
absolute master, the full proprietor of his body and of the produce
of his labor.
Q. How is justice derived from these three attributes?
A. In this, that men being equal and free, owing nothing to each
other, have no right to require anything from one another only
inasmuch as they return an equal value for it; or inasmuch as the
balance of what is given is in equilibrium with what is returned:
and it is this equality, this equilibrium which is called justice,
equity;* that is to say that equality and justice are but one and
the same word, the same law of nature, of which the social virtues
are only applications and derivatives.
* Aequitas, aequilibrium, aequalitas, are all of the same family.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIAL VIRTUES.
Q. Explain how the social virtues are derived from the law of
nature. How is charity or the love of one's neighbor a precept and
application of it?
A. By reason of equality and reciprocity; for when we injure
another, we give him a right to injure us in return; thus, by
attacking the existence of our neighbor, we endanger our own, from
the effect of reciprocity; on the other hand, by doing good to
others, we have room and right to expect an equivalent exchange;
and such is the character of all social virtues, that they are
useful to the man who practises them, by the right of reciprocity
which they give him over those who are benefited by them.
Q. Charity is then nothing but justice?
A. No: it is only justice; with this slight difference, that
strict justice confines itself to saying, "Do not to another the
harm you would not wish he should do to you;" and that charity, or
the love of one's neighbor, extends so far as to say, "Do to
another the good which you would wish to receive from him." Thus
when the gospel said, that this precept contained the whole of the
law and the prophets, it announced nothing more than the precept of
the law of nature.
Q. Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?
A. Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.
Q. Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one
cheek, to hold out the other?
A. No; for it is, in the first place, contrary to the precept of
loving our neighbor as ourselves, since thereby we should love,
more than ourselves, him who makes an attack on our preservation.
Secondly, such a precept in its literal sense, encourages the
wicked to oppression and injustice. The law of nature has been
more wise in prescribing a calculated proportion of courage and
moderation, which induces us to forget a first or unpremediated
injury, but which punishes every act tending to oppression.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond
the bounds of reason and measure?
A. No; for it is a sure way of leading them to ingratitude. Such
is the force of sentiment and justice implanted in the heart of
man, that he is not even grateful for benefits conferred without
discretion. There is only one measure with them, and that is to be
Q. Is alms-giving a virtuous action?
A. Yes, when it is practised according to the rule first
mentioned; without which it degenerates into imprudence and vice,
inasmuch as it encourages laziness, which is hurtful to the beggar
and to society; no one has a right to partake of the property and
fruits of another's labor, without rendering an equivalent of his
Q. Does the law of nature consider as virtues faith and hope,
which are often joined with charity?
A. No; for they are ideas without reality; and if any effects
result from them, they turn rather to the profit of those who have
not those ideas, than of those who have them; so that faith and
hope may be called the virtues of dupes for the benefit of knaves.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe probity?
A. Yes, for probity is nothing more than respect for one's own
rights in those of another; a respect founded on a prudent and well
combined calculation of our interests compared to those of others.
Q. But does not this calculation, which embraces the complicated
interests and rights of the social state, require an enlightened
understanding and knowledge, which make it a difficult science?
A. Yes, and a science so much the more delicate as the honest man
pronounces in his own cause.
Q. Probity, then, shows an extension and justice in the mind?
A. Yes, for an honest man almost always neglects a present
interest, in order not to destroy a future one; whereas the knave
does the contrary, and loses a great future interest for a present
Q. Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow
A. Yes, and rogues may be defined ignorant and silly calculators;
for they do not understand their true interest, and they pretend to
cunning: nevertheless, their cunning only ends in making known what
they are--in losing all confidence and esteem, and the good
services resulting from them for their physical and social
existence. They neither live in peace with others, nor with
themselves; and incessantly menaced by their conscience and their
enemies, they enjoy no other real happiness but that of not being
Q. Does the law of nature forbid robbery?
A. Yes, for the man who robs another gives him a right to rob him;
from that moment there is no security in his property, nor in his
means of preservation: thus in injuring others, he, by a
counterblow, injures himself.
Q. Does it interdict even an inclination to rob?
A. Yes; for that inclination leads naturally to action, and it is
for this reason that envy is considered a sin?
Q. How does it forbid murder?
A. By the most powerful motives of self-preservation; for, first,
the man who attacks exposes himself to the risk of being killed, by
the right of defence; secondly, if he kills, he gives to the
relations and friends of the deceased, and to society at large, an
equal right of killing him; so that his life is no longer in
Q. How can we, by the law of nature, repair the evil we have done?
A. By rendering a proportionate good to those whom we have
Q. Does it allow us to repair it by prayers, vows, offerings to
God, fasting and mortifications?
A. No: for all those things are foreign to the action we wish to
repair: they neither restore the ox to him from whom it has been
stolen, honor to him whom we have deprived of it, nor life to him
from whom it has been taken away; consequently they miss the end of
justice; they are only perverse contracts by which a man sells to
another goods which do not belong to him; they are a real
depravation of morality, inasmuch as they embolden to commit crimes
through the hope of expiating them; wherefore, they have been the
real cause of all the evils by which the people among whom those
expiatory practices were used, have been continually tormented.
Q. Does the law of nature order sincerity?
A. Yes; for lying, perfidy, and perjury create distrust, quarrels,
hatred, revenge, and a crowd of evils among men, which tend to
their common destruction; while sincerity and fidelity establish
confidence, concord, and peace, besides the infinite good resulting
from such a state of things to society.
Q. Does it prescribe mildness and modesty?
A. Yes; for harshness and obduracy, by alienating from us the
hearts of other men, give them an inclination to hurt us;
ostentation and vanity, by wounding their self-love and jealousy,
occasion us to miss the end of a real utility.
Q. Does it prescribe humility as a virtue?
A. No; for it is a propensity in the human heart to despise
secretly everything that presents to it the idea of weakness; and
self-debasement encourages pride and oppression in others; the
balance must be kept in equipoise.
Q. You have reckoned simplicity of manners among the social
virtues; what do you understand by that word?
A. I mean the restricting our wants and desires to what is truly
useful to the existence of the citizen and his family; that is to
say, the man of simple manners has but few wants, and lives content
with a little.
Q. How is this virtue prescribed to us?
A. By the numerous advantages which the practice of it procures to
the individual and to society; for the man whose wants are few, is
free at once from a crowd of cares, perplexities, and labors; he
avoids many quarrels and contests arising from avidity and a desire
of gain; he spares himself the anxiety of ambition, the inquietudes
of possession, and the uneasiness of losses; finding superfluity
everywhere, he is the real rich man; always content with what he
has, he is happy at little expense; and other men, not fearing any
competition from him, leave him in quiet, and are disposed to
render him the services he should stand in need of. And if this
virtue of simplicity extends to a whole people, they insure to
themselves abundance; rich in everything they do not consume, they
acquire immense means of exchange and commerce; they work,
fabricate, and sell at a lower price than others, and attain to all
kinds of prosperity, both at home and abroad.
Q. What is the vice contrary to this virtue?
A. It is cupidity and luxury.
Q. Is luxury a vice in the individual and in society?
A. Yes, and to that degree, that it may be said to include all the
others; for the man who stands in need of many things, imposes
thereby on himself all the anxiety, and submits to all the means
just or unjust of acquiring them. Does he possess an enjoyment, he
covets another; and in the bosom of superfluity, he is never rich;
a commodious dwelling is not sufficient for him, he must have a
beautiful hotel; not content with a plenteous table, he must have
rare and costly viands: he must have splendid furniture, expensive
clothes, a train of attendants, horses, carriages, women,
theatrical representations and games. Now, to supply so many
expenses, much money must be had; and he looks on every method of
procuring it as good and even necessary; at first he borrows,
afterwards he steals, robs, plunders, turns bankrupt, is at war
with every one, ruins and is ruined.
Should a nation be involved in luxury, it occasions on a larger
scale the same devastations; by reason that it consumes its entire
produce, it finds itself poor even with abundance; it has nothing
to sell to foreigners; its manufactures are carried on at a great
expense, and are sold too dear; it becomes tributary for everything
it imports; it attacks externally its consideration, power,
strength, and means of defence and preservation, while internally
it undermines and falls into the dissolution of its members. All
its citizens being covetous of enjoyments, are engaged in a
perpetual struggle to obtain them; all injure or are near injuring
themselves; and hence arise those habits and actions of usurpation,
which constitute what is denominated moral corruption, intestine
war between citizen and citizen. From luxury arises avidity, from
avidity, invasion by violence and perfidy; from luxury arises the
iniquity of the judge, the venality of the witness, the improbity
of the husband, the prostitution of the wife, the obduracy of
parents, the ingratitude of children, the avarice of the master,
the dishonesty of the servant, the dilapidation of the
administrator, the perversity of the legislator, lying, perfidy,
perjury, assassination, and all the disorders of the social state;
so that it was with a profound sense of truth, that ancient
moralists have laid the basis of the social virtues on simplicity
of manners, restriction of wants, and contentment with a little;
and a sure way of knowing the extent of a man's virtues and vices
is, to find out if his expenses are proportionate to his fortune,
and calculate, from his want of money, his probity, his integrity
in fulfilling his engagements, his devotion to the public weal, and
his sincere or pretended love of his country.
Q. What do you mean by the word country?
A. I mean the community of citizens who, united by fraternal
sentiments, and reciprocal wants, make of their respective strength
one common force, the reaction of which on each of them assumes the
noble and beneficent character of paternity. In society, citizens
form a bank of interest; in our country we form a family of
endearing attachments; it is charity, the love of one's neighbor
extended to a whole nation. Now as charity cannot be separated
from justice, no member of the family can pretend to the enjoyment
of its advantages, except in proportion to his labor; if he
consumes more than it produces, he necessarily encroaches on his
fellow-citizens; and it is only by consuming less than what he
produces or possesses, that he can acquire the means of making
sacrifices and being generous.
Q. What do you conclude from all this?
A. I conclude from it that all the social virtues are only the
habitude of actions useful to society and to the individual who
practices them; That they refer to the physical object of man's
preservation; That nature having implanted in us the want of that
preservation, has made a law to us of all its consequences, and a
crime of everything that deviates from it; That we carry in us the
seed of every virtue, and of every perfection; That it only
requires to be developed; That we are only happy inasmuch as we
observe the rules established by nature for the end of our
preservation; And that all wisdom, all perfection, all law, all
virtue, all philosophy, consist in the practice of these axioms
founded on our own organization:
Preserve thyself; Instruct thyself; Moderate thyself;
Live for thy fellow citizens, that they may live for thee.
VOLNEY'S ANSWER TO DR. PRIESTLY.*
* In 1797, Dr. Priestly published a pamphlet, entitled,
"Observation on the increase of infidelity, with animadversions
upon the writings of several modern unbelievers, and especially the
Ruins of Mr. Volney." The motto to this tract was:
"Minds of little penetration rest naturally on the surface of
things. They do not like to pierce deep into them, for fear of
labor and trouble; sometimes still more for fear of truth."
This Letter is an answer from Volney, taken from the Anti-Jacobin
Review of March and April, 1799.
SIR.--I received in due time your pamphlet on the increase of
infidelity, together with the note without date which accompanied
it.* My answer has been delayed by the incidents of business, and
even by ill health, which you will surely excuse: this delay has,
besides, no inconvenience in it. The question between us is not of
a very urgent nature: the world would not go on less well with or
without my answer as with or without your book. I might, indeed,
have dispensed with returning you any answer at all; and I should
have been warranted in so doing, by the manner in which you have
stated the debate, and by the opinion pretty generally received
that, on certain occasions, and with certain persons, the most
noble reply is silence. You seem to have been aware of this
yourself, considering the extreme precautions you have taken to
deprive me of this resource; but as according to our French
customs, any answer is an act of civility, I am not willing to
concede the advantage of politeness--besides, although silence is
sometimes very significant, its eloquence is not understood by
every one, and the public which has not leisure to analyze disputes
(often of little interest) has a reasonable right to require at
least some preliminary explanations; reserving to itself, should
the discussion degenerate into the recriminative clamors of an
irritated self-love, to allow the right of silence to him in whom
it becomes the virtue of moderation.
* Dr. Priestly sent his pamphlet to Volney, desiring his answer to
the strictures on his opinions in his Ruins of Empires.
I have read, therefore, your animadversions on my Ruins, which you
are pleased to class among the writings of modern unbelievers, and
since you absolutely insist on my expressing my opinion before the
public, I shall now fulfill this rather disagreeable task with all
possible brevity, for the sake of economizing the time of our
readers. In the first place, sir, it appears evidently, from your
pamphlet, that your design is less to attack my book than my
personal and moral character; and in order that the public may
pronounce with accuracy on this point, I submit several passages
fitted to throw light on the subject.
You say, in the preface of your discourses, p. 12, "There are,
however, unbelievers more ignorant than Mr. Paine, Mr. Volney,
Lequino, and others in France say," &c.
Also in the preface of your present observations, p. 20. "I can
truly say that in the writings of Hume, Mr. Gibbon, Voltaire, Mr.
Volney--there is nothing of solid argument: all abound in gross
mistakes and misrepresentations." Idem, p. 38--"Whereas had he
(Mr. Volney) given attention to the history of the times in which
Christianity was promulgated . . . he could have no more doubt . . .
&c., it is as much in vain to argue with such a person as this,
as with a Chinese or even a Hottentot."
Idem, p. 119--"Mr. Volney, if we may judge from his numerous
quotations of ancient writers in all the learned languages,
oriental as well as occidental, must be acquainted with all; for he
makes no mention of any translation, and yet if we judge from this
specimen of his knowledge of them, he cannot have the smallest
tincture of that of the Hebrew or even of the Greek."
And, at last, after having published and posted me in your very
title page, as an unbeliever and an infidel; after having pointed
me out in your motto as one of those superficial spirits who know
not how to find out, and are unwilling to encounter, truth; you
add, p. 124, immediately after an article in which you speak of me
under all these denominations--
"The progress of infidelity, in the present age, is attended with a
circumstance which did not so frequently accompany it in any former
period, at least, in England, which is, that unbelievers in
revelation generally proceed to the disbelief of the being and
providence of God so as to become properly Atheists." So that,
according to you, I am a Chinese, a Hottentot, an unbeliever, an
Atheist, an ignoramus, a man of no sincerity; whose writings are
full of nothing but gross mistakes and misrepresentations. Now I
ask you, sir, What has all this to do with the main question? What
has my book in common with my person? And how can you hold any
converse with a man of such bad connexions? In the second place,
your invitation, or rather, your summons to me, to point out the
mistakes which I think you have made with respect to my opinions,
suggest to me several observations.
First. You suppose that the public attaches a high importance to
your mistakes and to my opinions: but I cannot act upon a
supposition. Am I not an unbeliever?
Secondly. You say, p. 18, that the public will expect it from me:
Where are the powers by which you make the public speak and act?
Is this also a revelation?
Thirdly. You require me to point out your mistakes. I do not know
that I am under any such obligation: I have not reproached you with
them; it is not, indeed, very correct to ascribe to me, by
selection or indiscriminately, as you have done, all the opinions
scattered through my book, since, having introduced many different
persons, I was under the necessity of making them deliver different
sentiments, according to their different characters. The part
which belongs to me is that of a traveler, resting upon the ruins
and meditating on the causes of the misfortunes of the human race.
To be consistent with yourself you ought to have assigned to me
that of the Hottentot or Samoyde savage, who argues with the
Doctors, chap. xxiii, and I should have accepted it; you have
preferred that of the erudite historian, chap. xxii, nor do I look
upon this as a mistake; I discover on the contrary, an insidious
design to engage me in a duel of self-love before the public,
wherein you would excite the exclusive interest of the spectators
by supporting the cause which they approve; while the task which
you would impose on me, would only, in the event of success, be
attended with sentiments of disapprobation. Such is your artful
purpose, that, in attacking me as doubting the existence of Jesus,
you might secure to yourself, by surprise, the favor of every
Christian sect, although your own incredulity in his divine nature
is not less subversive of Christianity than the profane opinion,
which does not find in history the proof required by the English
law to establish a fact: to say nothing of the extraordinary kind
of pride assumed in the silent, but palpable, comparison of
yourself to Paul and to Christ, by likening your labors to theirs
as tending to the same object, p. 10, preface. Nevertheless, as
the first impression of an attack always confers an advantage, you
have some ground for expecting you may obtain the apostolic crown;
unfortunately for your purpose I entertain no disposition to that
of martrydom: and however glorious it might be to me to fall under
the arm of him who has overcome Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire and even
Frederick II., I find myself under the necessity of declining your
theological challenge, for a number of substantial reasons.
1. Because, to religious quarrels there is no end, since the
prejudices of infancy and education almost unavoidably exclude
impartial reasoning, and besides, the vanity of the champions
becomes committed by the very publicity of the contest, never to
give up a first assertion, whence result a spirit of sectarism and
2. Because no one has a right to ask of me an account of my
religious opinions. Every inquisition of this kind is a pretension
to sovereignty, a first step towards persecution; and the tolerant
spirit of this country, which you invoke, has much less in view to
engage men to speak, than to invite them to be silent.
3. Because, supposing I do hold the opinions you attribute to me,
I wish not to engage my vanity so as never to retract, nor to
deprive myself of the resource of a conversion on some future day
after more ample information.
4. And because, reverend sir, if, in the support of your own
thesis, you should happen to be discomfited before the Christian
audience, it would be a dreadful scandal; and I will not be a cause
for scandal, even for the sake of good.
5. Because in this metaphysical contest our arms are too unequal;
you speaking in your mother tongue, which I scarcely lisp, might
bring forth huge volumes, while I could hardly oppose pages; and
the public, who would read neither production, might take the
weight of the books for that of reasoning.
6. And because, being endowed with the gift of faith in a pretty
sufficient quantity, you might swallow in a quarter of an hour more
articles than my logic would digest in a week.
7. Because again, if you were to oblige me to attend your sermons,
as you have compelled me to read your pamphlet, the congregation
would never believe that a man powdered and adorned like any
worldling, could be in the right against a man dressed out in a
large hat, with straight hair,* and a mortified countenance,
although the gospel, speaking of the pharisees of other times, who
were unpowdered, says that when one fasts he must anoint his head
and wash his face.**
* Dr. Priestly has discarded his wig since he went to America, and
wears his own hair. Editor A. J. Reveiw.
** St. Matthew, Chapter VI. verses 16 and 17.
8. Because, finally, a dispute to one having nothing else to do
would be a gratification, while to me, who can employ my time
better, it would be an absolute loss.
I shall not then, reverend sir, make you my confessor in matters of
religion, but I will disclose to you my opinion, as a man of
letters, on the composition of your book. Having in former days,
read many works of theology, I was curious to learn whether by any
chemical process you had discovered real beings in that world of
invisibles. Unfortunately, I am obliged to declare to the public,
which, according to your expression, p. 19, "hopes to be
instructed, to be led into truth, and not into error by me," that I
have not found in your book a single new argument, but the mere
repetition of what is told over and over in thousands of volumes,
the whole fruit of which has been to procure for their authors a
cursory mention in the dictionary of heresies. You everywhere lay
down that as proved which remains to be proved; with this
peculiarity, that, as Gibbon says, firing away your double battery
against those who believe too much, and those who believe too
little, you hold out your own peculiar sensations, as to the
precise criterion of truth; so that we must all be just of your
size in order to pass the gate of that New Jerusalem which you are
building. After this, your reputation as a divine might have
become problematical with me; but recollecting the principle of the
association of ideas so well developed by Locke, whom you hold in
estimation, and whom, for that reason I am happy to cite to you,
although to him I owe that pernicious use of my understanding which
makes me disbelieve what I do not comprehend--I perceive why the
public having originally attached the idea of talents to the name
of Mr. Priestly, doctor in chemistry, continued by habit to
associate it with the name of Mr. Priestly, doctor in divinity;
which, however, is not the same thing: an association of ideas the
more vicious as it is liable to be moved inversely.* Happily you
have yourself raised a bar of separation between your admirers, by
advising us in the first page of your preface, that your present
book is especially destined for believers. To cooperate, however,
with you, sir, in this judicious design, I must observe that it is
necessary to retrench two passages, seeing they afford the greatest
support to the arguments of unbelievers.
* Mr. Blair, doctor of divinity, and Mr. Black, doctor in
chemistry, met at the coffee house in Edinburg: a new theological
pamphlet written by doctor Priestly was thrown upon the table,
"Really," said Dr. Blair, "this man had better confine himself to
chemistry, for he is absolutely ignorant in theology:"--"I beg your
pardon," answered Dr. Black, "he is in the right, he is a minister
of the gospel, he ought to adhere to his profession, for in truth
he knows nothing of chemistry."
You say, p. 15, "What is manifestly contrary to natural reason
cannot be received by it;"--and p. 62, "With respect to intellect,
men and brute animals are born in the same state, having the same
external senses, which are the only inlets to all ideas, and
consequently the source of all the knowledge and of all the mental
habits they ever acquire."
Now if you admit, with Locke, and with us infidels, that every one
has the right of rejecting whatever is contrary to his natural
reason, and that all our ideas and all our knowledge are acquired
only by the inlets of our external senses; What becomes of the
system of revelation, and of that order of things in times past,
which is so contradictory to that of the time present? unless we
consider it as a dream of the human brain during the state of
With these two single phrases, I could overturn the whole edifice
of your faith. Dread not, however, sir, in me such overflowing
zeal. For the same reason that I have not the frenzy of martyrdom,
I have not that of making proselytes. It becomes those ardent, or
rather acrimonious tempers, who mistake the violence of their
sentiments for the enthusiasm of truth; the ambition of noise and
rumor, for the love of glory; and for the love of their neighbor,
the detestation of his opinions, and the secret desire of dominion.
As for me, who have not received from nature the turbulent
qualities of an apostle, and never sustained in Europe the
character of a dissenter, I am come to America neither to agitate
the conscience of men, nor to form a sect, nor to establish a
colony, in which, under the pretext of religion, I might erect a
little empire to myself. I have never been seen evangelizing my
ideas, either in temples or in public meetings. I have never
likewise practiced that quackery of beneficence, by which a certain
divine, imposing a tax upon the generosity of the public, procures
for himself the honors of a more numerous audience, and the merit
of distributing at his pleasure a bounty which costs him nothing,
and for which he receives grateful thanks dexterously stolen from
the original donors.
Either in the capacity of a stranger, or in that of a citizen, a
sincere friend to peace, I carry into society neither the spirit of
dissension, nor the desire of commotion; and because I respect in
every one what I wish him to respect in me, the name of liberty is
in my mind nothing else but the synonyma of justice.
As a man, whether from moderation or indolence, a spectator of the
world rather than an actor in it, I am every day less tempted to
take on me the management of the minds or bodies of men: it is
sufficient for an individual to govern his own passions and
If by one of these caprices, I am induced to think it may be
useful, sometimes, to publish my reflections, I do it without
obstinacy or pretension to that implicit faith, the ridicule of
which you desire to impart to me, p. 123. My whole book of the
Ruins which you treat so ungratefully, since you thought it
amusing, p. 122, evidently bears this character. By means of the
contrasted opinions I have scattered through it, it breathes that
spirit of doubt and uncertainty which appears to me the best suited
to the weakness of the human mind, and the most adapted to its
improvement, inasmuch as it always leaves a door open to new
truths; while the spirit of dogmatism and immovable belief,
limiting our progress to a first received opinion, binds us at
hazard, and without resource, to the yoke of error or falsehood,
and occasions the most serious mischiefs to society; since by
combining with the passions, it engenders fanaticism, which,
sometimes misled and sometimes misleading, though always intolerant
and despotic, attacks whatever is not of its own nature; drawing
upon itself persecution when it is weak, and practising persecution
when it is powerful; establishing a religion of terror, which
annihilates the faculties, and vitiates the conscience: so that,
whether under a political or a religious aspect, the spirit of
doubt is friendly to all ideas of liberty, truth, or genius, while
a spirit of confidence is connected with the ideas of tyranny,
servility, and ignorance.
If, as is the fact, our own experience and that of others daily
teaches us that what at one time appeared true, afterwards appeared
demonstrably false, how can we connect with our judgments that
blind and presumptuous confidence which pursues those of others
with so much hatred?
No doubt it is reasonable, and even honest, to act according to our
present feelings and conviction: but if these feelings and their
causes do vary by the very nature of things, how dare we impose
upon ourselves or others an invariable conviction? How, above all,
dare we require this conviction in cases where there is really no
sensation, as happens in purely speculative questions, in which no
palpable fact can be presented?
Therefore, when opening the book of nature, (a more authentic one
and more easy to be read than leaves of paper blackened over with
Greek or Hebrew,) and when I reflected that the slightest change in
the material world has not been in times past, nor is at present
effected by the difference of so many religions and sects which
have appeared and still exist on the globe, and that the course of
the seasons, the path of the sun, the return of rain and drought,
are the same for the inhabitants of each country, whether
Christians, Mussulmans, Idolaters, Catholics, Protestants, etc., I
am induced to believe that the universe is governed by laws of
wisdom and justice, very different from those which human ignorance
and intolerance would enact.
And as in living with men of very opposite religious persuasions, I
have had occasion to remark that their manners were, nevertheless,
very analogous; that is to say, among the different Christian
sects, among the Mahometans, and even among those people who were
of no sect, I have found men who practise all the virtues, public
and private, and that too without affectation; while others, who
were incessantly declaiming of God and religion, abandoned
themselves to every vicious habit which their belief condemned, I
thereby became convinced that Ethics, the doctrines of morality,
are the only essential, as they are only demonstrable, part of
religion. And as, by your own avowal, the only end of religion is
to render men better, in order to add to their happiness, p. 62, I
have concluded that there are but two great systems of religion in
the world, that of good sense and beneficence, and that of malice
In closing this letter, I find myself embarrassed by the nature of
the sentiment which I ought to express to you, for in declaring as
you have done, p. 123, that you do not care for the contempt of
such as me* (ignorant as you were of my opinion), you tell me
plainly that you do not care for their esteem. I leave, therefore,
to your discernment and taste to determine the sentiment most
congenial to my situation and your desert.
* "And what does it do for me here, except, perhaps, expose me to
the contempt of such men as Mr. Volney, which, however, I feel
myself pretty well able to bear?" p. 124. This language is the
more surprising, as Dr. Priestly never received anything from me
but civilities. In the year 1791 I sent him a dissertation of mine
on the Chronology of the Ancients, in consequence of some charts
which he had himself published. His only answer was to abuse me in
a pamphlet in 1792. After this first abuse, on meeting me here
last winter, he procured me an invitation to dine with his friend
Mr. Russell, at whose house he lodged; after having shown me polite
attention at that dinner, he abuses me in his new pamphlet. After
this second abuse he meets me in Spruce Street, and takes me by the
hand as a friend, and speaks of me in a large company under that
denomination. Now I ask the public, what kind of a man is Dr.
C. F. VOLNEY.
Philadelphia, March 10, 1797.
P. S. I do not accompany this public letter with a private note to
Dr. Priestly, because communications of that nature carry an
appearance of bravado, which, even in exercising the right of a
necessary defence, appear to me imcompatible with decency and
THE ZODIACAL SIGNS AND CONSTELLATIONS.
(Compiled by the publisher from recognized authorities.)
The Zodiac is an imaginary girdle or belt in the celestial sphere,
which extends about eight degrees on each side of the Ecliptic. It
is divided into twelve portions, called the signs of the Zodiac,
within which all the planets make their revolutions. The Zodiac is
so called from the animals represented upon it, and is supposed to
have originated in remote ages and in latitudes where the camel and
elephant were comparatively unknown. This pictorial representation
of the zodiac was probably the origin, as M. Dupuis suggests, of
the Arabian and Egyptian adoration of animals and birds, and has
led in the natural progress of events to the adoration of images by
both Christians and pagans.
"The Signs of the Zodiac, (says Godfrey Higgins in The Anacalypsis)
with the exception of the Scorpion, which was exchanged by Dan for
the Eagle, were carried by the different tribes of the Israelites
on their standards; and Taurus, Leo, Aquarius, and Scorpio or the
Eagle--the four signs of Reuben, Judah, Ephriam, and Dan--were
placed at the four corners, (the four cardinal points), of their
encampment, evidently in allusion to the cardinal points of the
sphere, the equinoxes and solstices, when the equinox was in
Taurus. (See Parkhurst's Lexicon.) These coincidences prove that
this religious system had its origin before the bull ceased to be
an equinoctial sign, and prove also, that the religion of Moses was
originally the same in its secret mysteries as that of the Heathen,
or, if my reader likes it better, that the Heathen secret mysteries
were the same as those of Moses."
The Ecliptic, a great circle of the sphere, (shown on the preceding
map by two parallel lines), is supposed to be drawn through the
middle of the Zodiac, cutting the Equator at two points, (called
the Equinoctial points), at an angle with the equinoctial of 23
degrees 28 minutes, (the sun's greatest declination), and is the
path which the earth is supposed to describe amidst the fixed stars
in performing its annual circuit around the sun. It is called the
Ecliptic because the eclipses of the sun and moon always occur
The Signs are each the twelfth part of the Ecliptic or Zodiac, (30
degrees,) and are reckoned from the point of intersection of the
ecliptic and equator at the vernal equinox. They are named
respectively Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra,
Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces. These names
are borrowed from the constellations of the zodiac of the same
denomination, which corresponded when these divisions were
originally made; but in consequence of the precession, recession,
or retrocession of the equinoxes, (about 50 1/10" yearly, at the
rate of about 72 years to a degree, displacing an entire sign in
about 2152 years, and making an entire revolution of the
equinoctial in about 25,868 years), the positions of these
constellations in the heavens no longer correspond with the
divisions of the ecliptic of the same name, but are in advance of
them. Thus, the constellation Aries is now in that part of the
ecliptic called Taurus, and the stars of Taurus are in Gemini,
those of Gemini in Cancer, and so on throughout the ecliptic.
The relative positions of the signs and constellations in the
zodiac and ecliptic seem thus to have gradually changed with the
revolving years; and the worship of the three constellations,
Taurus, Aries, and Pisces, with which Christianity is so intimately
connected, seems to have changed in a corresponding degree. The
worship of the bull of Egypt--the celestial Taurus--has given place
to that of the lamb of Palestine--the celestial Aries; and under
the astronomical emblem Pisces--the twelfth sign of the zodiac--the
dominant faith of to-day was appropriately taught by the twelve
It is from one of these chosen fishermen, St. Peter, that the Pope
of Rome claims to have derived his arbitrary power for binding and
loosing on earth those who are to be bound and loosed in heaven.
(Matt. xvi, 19.) The grave responsibility of wielding with justice
and equity this tremendous power over the future destiny of
mankind, seems never to have disconcerted any of the successors of
St. Peter. They have all proved to be equally arrogant and
intolerant, zealous for both temporal and spiritual domination, and
merciless to those who have opposed their pretensions. The present
incumbent of the papal chair, who modestly claims the attribute of
infallibility, seems proud of his inherited title, The Great
Fisherman! and hopes in the progress of time, with the assistance
of his monks, bishops, and cardinals, to entangle all nations in
his net of faith, and to dictate with unquestioned authority the
religious worship of the entire human race.
As the precession of the equinoxes still continues as of yore, and
as the masses still continue credulous and devout, they may in
succeeding ages be again called upon to worship the god Apis, when
the sign of Taurus shall again coincide in the zodiac and the
ecliptic; and Aries, "the lamb of God," may again be offered in the
"fullness of time" as a sacrifice for mankind, again be crucified,
and again shed his redeeming blood to wash away the sins of a
M. Dupuis has satisfactorily shown in The History of all Religions
that the twelve labors of the god and saviour Hercules were
astronomical allegories--the history of the passage of the sun
through the twelve signs of the zodiac--and these labors are so
similar to the sufferings of Jesus, that the Rev. Mr. Parkhurst has
been obliged, much against his inclination, to acknowledge that
they "were types of what the real Saviour was to do and suffer."
(Parkhurst, p.47.) An intimate connection, if not identity, is
thus shown between ancient and modern belief--between the paganism
of the past and the orthodoxy of the present.
THE ZODIACAL SIGNS.
ARIES, the Ram: (marked [symbol for ARIES])--A northern
constellation, usually named as the first sign in the zodiac, into
which, when the sun enters at the vernal equinox in March, the days
and nights are of equal length. Aries has been regarded by the
devout during many ages as the celestial representative, visible in
the heavens, of "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the
TAURUS, the Bull:(marked thus, [symbol for TAURUS])--The second
sign in the zodiac, which by the Arabians is called Ataur. This
constellation was worshipped for ages by the idolatrous Egyptians
as the heavenly representative of their god Osiris; and derives its
name, according to Grecian fable, from the bull into which Jupiter
transformed himself in order to carry Europa over into Crete; but
the constellation was probably so named by the Egyptians to
designate that period of the year, (April), in which cows mostly
bring forth their young.
"The Rev. Mr. Maurice in his work on the antiquities of India, has
shown that the May-day festival and the May-pole of Great Britain
with its garlands, etc., are the remains of an ancient festival of
Egypt and India, and probably of Phoenicia, when these nations, in
countries very distant, and from times very remote, have all, with
one consent, celebrated the entrance of the sun into the sign of
Taurus at the vernal equinox."
GEMINI, the Twins: (marked thus, [symbol for GEMINI])--A zodiacal
constellation, visible in May, containing the two bright stars
Castor and Pollux, the fabled sons of Leda and Jupiter, who during
their lives had cleared the Hellespont and neighboring seas of
pirates, and were therefore deemed the protectors of navigators and
CANCER, the Crab: (marked thus, [symbol for CANCER])--Is the fourth
sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters on the 21st day of June,
and is thence called the summer solstice. According to Grecian
fable, the crab was transported to heaven at the request of Juno,
after it had been slain by Hercules during his battle with the
serpent Python, but the evident design of the name is to represent
the apparent backward motion of the sun in June, which is said to
resemble the motions of a crab.
LEO, the Lion: ([symbol for LEO]).--Is the fifth sign in the
zodiac, and contains one star of the first magiiitude, called
Regulus, or Cor Leonis--the Lion's Heart. The fervid heat of July,
when the sun has attained its greatest power, is now symbolized in
our almanacs by the figure of an enraged lion; and the feasts or
sacrifices formerly celebrated among the ancients during this
month, in honor of the sun, (which they also represented under the
form of a lion,) were called Leonitica. The priests who performed
the sacred rites were called Leones. This feast was sometimes
called Mithriaca, because Mithra was the name of the sun among the
Persians. The sacred writings abound with references to the "king
of beasts;" among the most interesting of which is the story of the
battle between the lion and Samson, the Jewish Herculus; while the
most wonderful example of animal evolution on record is found in
the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, where we are gravely informed
that "the lion shall eat straw like the bullock."
VIRGO, Virgin Mother, Venus, Eve, Isis, &c.--([symbol for VIRGO]).--
Is the sixth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters about the
21st of August. The myths and fables regarding the virgin which
abound among all nations and all religions, are both various and
voluminous, and we may add somewhat improbable. They all agree,
however, in this, that the female, shown on the preceding diagram,
holding in her right hand a branch of ripened fruit,--the apples of
Paradise,--was intended to represent the reproductive powers of
nature,--the abundance, satisfaction and contentment which mortals
enjoy during the happy period of harvest.
LIBRA, the Balance.--The seventh sign of the zodiac, directly
opposite to Aries, from which it is distant 180 degrees. It is
marked thus [symbol for LIBRA], after the manner of a pair of
scales; to denote, probably, that when the sun arrives at this part
of the ecliptic, the days and nights are equal, as if weighed in a
balance. Hence the period when the sun enters Libra, (about
September 21st,) is called the Autumnal equinox. On the 25th of
September was born John the Baptist, the forerunner of his cousin
Jesus, who came to his exaltation of glory on the 25th of March,
the Vernal equinox. "The equinoxes and solstices," says Higgins,
"equally marked the births and deaths of John and Jesus." The one
preceded and prepared the way for the other, who receded. One
advanced, the other declined. Jesus ascended, John descended.
Astrologically speaking, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
(John iii, 30.)
SCORPIO, the Scorpion.--The eighth sign of the zodiac, which the
sun enters on the 23d of October, is marked thus [symbol for
SCORPIO]. Scorpio is fabled to have killed the great hunter Orion,
and for that exploit to have been placed among the constellations.
For this reason it is also said that when Scorpio rises Orion sets.
SAGITTARIUS, the Archer: (marked thus, [symbol for SAGITTARIUS]) is
the ninth zodiacal sign, and corresponds with the month of
November. This sign is represented like a centaur and was fabled
to be Crotus, the son of Eupheme, the nurse of the Muses.
CAPRICORNUS, the Goat.([symbol for CAPRICORNUS])--The tenth sign of
the zodiac, which the sun enters the 21st of December, (the longest
night in the year,) called the winter solstice. This sign is drawn
to represent the horns of a goat, and is fabled to have been Pan,
who in the war of the giants was taken to heaven in the shape of a
goat. Others claim that it was the goat of Amalthaea, which fed
Jupiter with her milk. Macrobius, who calls Cancer and Capricorn
the gates of the sun, makes the latter sign to represent his
motion, after the manner of a goat climbing the mountains.
AQUARIUS, the Water Bearer.--A constellation in the heavens so
called, because during its rising there is usually an abundance of
rain. It is the eleventh sign in the zodiac, reckoned from Aries,
and is marked thus, [symbol for AQUARIUS]. It rises in January and
sets in February, and is supposed by the poets to be Ganymede.
PISCES, the Fishes, [symbol for PISCES]).--The twelfth sign of the
zodiac, rises in February and is represented by two fishes tied
together by the tails. These fishes are fabled by the Greeks to be
those into which Venus and Cupid were changed to escape from the
giant Typhon. This fable may not be true, but that wonderful
miracles were once performed with two small fishes is stated in the
ninth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, where it is said that 5000
hungry mortals were cheaply, if not sumptuously regaled with two
small fishes and five loaves of bread; while a large surplus of
this piscatory diet, larger indeed than the original stock, still
In the vestibule or approaches to catholic churches is usually
found a vase filled with water, (called Piscina,) and this water is
considered holy. The Fish-days are observed as holy days, or fast
days, in which Fish may be eaten and meat is forbidden; and learned
writers have asserted that in the worship of Pisces may be found
the true secret of the origin of the rite of baptism. The Fish-god
Oannes, is said to have come out of the Erythraean Sea and taught
the Babylonians all kinds of useful knowledge. Ionnes or Jonas
went headlong into the sea and into a fish, and has kindly recorded
for our instruction his remarkable adventures. The miraculous
draughts of fishes in the apostolic age still excite the emulation
of modern fishermen, who cannot even hope to rival the wonders that
have been recorded. St. Peter is said to have secured ready money
from the mouth of a fish that he caught with a hook and line in the
sea of Galilee. (Matthew xvii, 27.) His success was justly
rewarded, and to him was delegated the power of ruling the infant
church. Pisces thus displaced Aries. The fisherman succeeded the
shepherd. The precession of the equinoxes produced a new avatar; a
new sign arose in the heavens; and a new saviour was born to save
SIRIUS, the Dog Star.--A bright star of the first magnitude in the
mouth of the constellation Canis Major. This is the brightest star
that appears in our firmament, and is supposed by some to be the
LEPUS.--One of the southern constellations, placed near Orion,
according to Grecian fable, because it was one of the animals which
ERIDANUS.--A winding southern constellation, near the Cetus,
containing the bright star Achemar.
CETUS, the Whale.--A southern constellation, and one of the forty-
eight old asterisms. It is fabled to have been the sea monster
sent by Neptune to devour Andromeda, which was killed by Perseus.
CRATER, the Cup.--A southern constellation, near Hydra. This is
supposed by Hyainus to be the cup which Apollo gave to the Corvus,
CORVUS.--One of the old constellations in the southern hemisphere,
near Sagittarius. This bird is fabled to have been translated to
heaven by Apollo for discovering to him the infidelity of the nymph
ARGO NAVIS, the Ship.--A constellation near to the Canis Major, and
the name of the ship which carried Jason and his fifty-four
companions to Colchis in quest of the golden fleece, and was said
to have been translated into the heavens.
CANOPUS.--The name formerly given to a star in the second bend of
Eridanus. A bright star of the first magnitude in the rudder of
the ship Argo, which, according to Pliny, was visible at Alexandria
CENTAURUS.--One of the forty-eight old constellations in the
southern hemisphere, represented in the form of half man and half
horse, who was fabled by the Greeks to have been Chiron, the tutor
AVA, or ALTAR.--One of the old constellations, and fabled to have
been that at which the giants entered into their conspiracy against
the gods; wherefore Jupiter, in commemoration of the event,
transplanted the altar into the heavens.
PEGASUS.--One of the forty-eight old constellations of the northern
hemisphere, figured in the form of a flying horse.
DELPHINUS, or DOLPHIN.--A northern constellation, near Pegasus.
The Dolphin is fabled to have been translated to heaven by Neptune.
AQUILA, the Eagle.--In the Arabic Altair, but in the Persian tables
the Flying Vulture. This is one of the old constellations,
situated near Delphinus in the northern hemisphere. According to
Grecian fable, Aquila represented Ganymede or Hebe, who was
transported to heaven and made cup-bearer to Jupiter.
SAGITTA--the Dart or Arrow, called by the Arabians Schahan. One of
the old constellations in the northern hemisphere, near Aquila and
Delphinus. It is fabled to have been the arrow with which Hercules
slew the vulture that was devouring the liver of Prometheus who
was, like Jesus, crucified for loving mankind.
CYGNUS, the Swan.--An old constellation in the milky-way, between
Equus and the Dragon. This is fabled to be the swan into which
Jupiter transformed himself in order to deceive the virtuous Leda,
wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. The Grecian matron, like the
Jewish virgin, thus became the mother of a God.
LYRA.--A northern constellation between Hercules and Cygnus,
containing a white star of the first magnitude.
MILKY-WAY.--Galaxy, or Via Lactia.--A broad luminous path or circle
encompassing the heavens, which is easily discernible by its white
appearance, from which it derives its name. It is supposed to be
the blended light of innumerable fixed stars, which are not
distinguishable with ordinary telescopes.
HYDRA, the Serpent.--A southern constellation of great length,
which is drawn to represent a serpent. The Hydra is fabled to have
been placed in the heavens by Apollo, to frighten the Raven from
ORION, the hunter.--A constellation of the southern hemisphere with
respect to the ecliptic, but half southern and half northern with
respect to the equinoctial. It is placed near the feet of the
bull, and is composed of seventeen stars in the form of a sword,
which has given occasion to the poets to speak of Orion's sword.
He was described by the Greeks as a "mighty hunter," who for his
exploits was placed in the heavens by Jupiter, between the Canis
and the Lepus. He is believed by many to have been the "mighty
hunter" spoken of in the bible, under the name of Nimrod. (See
Gen. x: 8, 9; 1 Chron. i: 10; Micha v: 6, Job ix, 9; Amos v, 8.)
PERSEUS.--This constellation is named from Perseus, the son of
Jupiter by Danae, who was translated into the heavens by the
assistance of Minerva, for having released Andromeda from her
confinement on the rock to which she was chained. He is
represented in the preceding illustration holding a drawn sword in
his right hand and in his left the head of Medusa, the Gorgon,
whose terrifying appearance changed all who beheld her into stone,
and whom he had destroyed with the assistance of the wings he had
borrowed from Mercury, the helmet from Pluto, the sword from
Vulcan, and the shield from Minerva.
JOSEPH'S STABLE; AURIGA, the Wagoner:--A northern constellation
between Perseus and Gemini, represented by the figure of an old man
supporting a goat. He is said to have been taken to heaven by
Jupiter after the invention of wagons.
URSA MAJOR, the Bear.--One of the prominent northern
constellations, situated near the north pole. It contains the
stars called the Dipper. Ursa Minor contains the pole-star, which
is shown in the extremity of the tail of the bear.
ANDROMEDA.--A northern constellation, represented by a woman
chained; as, according to Grecian fable, Andromeda, the daughter of
Cassiopia, was bound to a rock by the Nereides, and afterwards
released by Perseus. Minerva changed her into a constellation
after her death, and placed her in the heavens.
DRACO OR DRAGON.--A northern constellation, supposed to represent
the Dragon that guarded the Hesperian fruit, and was killed by
Hercules. It is said that Juno took it up to heaven and placed it
among the constellations.
BOOTIS, the Ox driver: so called because this constellation seems
to follow the Great Bear as the driver follows his oxen. Bootis is
represented as grasping in his right hand a sickle and in his left
a club, and is fabled to have been Icarius, who was transported to
heaven because he was a great cultivator of the vine; for when
Bootes rises the works of ploughing and cultivation go forward.
CORONA BOREALIS. Northern Crown.--One of the old northern
constellations, between Hercules and Bootes.
CORONA AUSTRALIS--Southern Crown.--One of the old constellations in
the southern hemisphere, between Sagittarius and Scorpio. The
Corona were fabled to be Menippe and Metioche, two daughters of
Orion, who sacrificed themselves at the suggestion of an oracle, to
protect Boeotia, their native country, from the ravages of a
pestilence: it being the belief of idolatrous nations that an angry
god could be propitiated by human sacrifices, and that the death of
the innocent might atone for the sins of the guilty. The deities
of Hades were astonished, it is said, at the patriotism and
devotion of these Grecian maidens, who had so generously and
uselessly sacrificed their lives. After their death two stars were
seen to issue from the altars that still smoked with their blood,
and these stars were placed in the heavens in the form of a crown
CEPHEUS AND CASSIOPIA.--One of the old asterism in the northern
hemisphere, near the pole. According to Grecian fables, Cassiopia
and her husband Cepheus, king of Etheopia, were placed among the
constellations to witness the punishment inflicted on their
TRIANGULARIUM.--A name for both one of the old and new
constellations in the northern hemisphere, between Andromeda and
SERPENTARIUS, called Ophiucus, is a constellation in the northern
hemisphere, between Scorpio and Hercules.
HERCULES, one of the old northern constellations. In Grecian
mythology it was taught and believed that Hercules, the Theban, was
born of a human mother and an immortal father, like other so-called
saviours of mankind. His mother, the fair Alcmena, wife of
Amphitryon, having found favor in the eyes of the god Jupiter, soon
fell an unwilling victim to his celestial wiles. The life of the
infant Hercules, born of this unnatural union, was threatened by
the jealous Juno, the same as the life of the infant Jesus was
threatened by the tyrant Herod. Like Jesus, Hercules devoted his
life to the benefit of the human race, and like Jesus he was also
worshipped after his death as a God in heaven. He is shown in the
astrological chart, enveloped in the skin of the lion he has slain,
with his club upraised, and his foot placed threateningly above the
head of the Dragon, as if about to fulfill the scriptural prophecy,
that "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head."