Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. II.: MEDITATIONS. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. II.: MEDITATIONS. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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Here, said I to myself, an opulent city once flourished; this was the seat of a powerful empire. Yes, these places, now so desert, a living multitude formerly animated, and an active crowd circulated in the streets which at present are so solitary. Within those walls, where a mournful silence reigns, the noise of the arts and the shouts of joy and festivity continually resounded. These heaps of marble formed regular palaces, these prostrate pillars were the majestic ornaments of temples, these ruinous galleries present the outlines of public places. There a numerous people assembled for the respectable duties of its worship, or the anxious cares of its subsistence: there industry, the fruitful inventor of sources of enjoyment, collected together the riches of every climate, and the purple of Tyre was exchanged for the precious thread of Serica; the soft tissues of Cassimere for the sumptuous carpets of Lydia; the amber of the Baltic for the pearls and perfumes of Arabia; the gold of Ophit for the pewter of Thule(a) . . . .
And now a mournful skeleton is all that subsists of this opulent city, and nothing remains of its powerful government but a vain and obscure remembrance! To the tumultuous throng which crowded under these porticos, the solitude of death has succeeded. The silence of the tomb is substituted for the hum of public places. The opulence of a commercial city is changed into hideous poverty. The palaces of kings are become the receptacle of deer, and unclean reptiles inhabit the sanctuary of the Gods. . . .What glory is here eclipsed, and how many labours are annihilated! . . . Thus perish the works of men, and thus do nations and empires vanish away!
The history of past times strongly presented itself to my thoughts. I called to mind those distant ages when twenty celebrated nations inhabited the country around me. I pictured to myself the Assyrian on the banks of the Tygris, the Chaldean on those of the Euphrates, the Persian whose power extended from the Indus to the Mediterranean. I enumerated the kingdoms of Damascus and Idumea; of Jerusalem and Samaria; and the warlike states of the Philistines; and the commercial republics of Phenicia. This Syria, said I to myself, now almost depopulated, then contained a hundred flourishing cities, and abounded with towns, villages, and hamlets(b) . Every where one might have seen cultivated fields, frequented roads, and crowded habitations. Ah! what are become of those ages of abundance and of life? What are become of so many productions of the hand of man? 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 dockyards of Arad, those work-shops of Sidon, and that multitude of mariners, pilots, merchants, and soldiers? Where those husbandmen, those harvests, that picture of animated nature of which the earth seemed proud? Alas! I have traversed this desolate country, I have visited the places that were the theatre of so much splendour, and I have nothing beheld but solitude and desertion! I looked for those ancient people and their works, and all I could find was a faint trace, like to what the foot of a passenger leaves on the sand. The temples are thrown down, the palaces demolished, the ports filled up, the towns destroyed, and the earth, stript of inhabitants, seems a dreary burying-place, ....Great God! from whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population re-produced and perpetuated?
Thus absorbed in contemplation, new ideas continually presented themselves to my thoughts. Every thing, continued I, misleads my judgment, and fills my heart with trouble and uncertainty. When these countries enjoyed what constitutes the glory and felicity of mankind, they were an unbelieving people who inhabited them: it was the Phenician, offering human sacrifices to Moloch, who brought together within his walls the riches of every climate; it was the Chaldean, prostrating himself before a serpent* , who subjugated opulent cities, and laid waste the palaces of kings and the temples of the Gods; it was the Persian, the worshipper of fire, who collected the tributes of a hundred nations; they were the inhabitants of this very city, adorers of the sun and stars, who erected so many monuments of affluence and luxury. Numerous flocks, fertile fields, abundant harvests, every thing that should have been the reward of piety, was in the hands of idolaters: and now that a believing and holy people occupy the countries, nothing is to be seen but solitude and sterility. The earth under these blessed hands produces only briars and wormwood. Man sows in anguish, and reaps vexation and cares; war, famine, and pestilence, assault him in turn. Yet, are not these the children of the prophets? This Christian, this Mussulman, this Jew, are they not the elect of Heaven, loaded with gifts and miracles? Why then is this race, beloved of the Divinity, deprived of the favours which were formerly showered upon the Heathen? Why do these lands, consecrated by the blood of the martyrs, no longer boast their former temperature and fertility? Why have those favours been banished as it were, and transferred for so many ages to other nations and different climes?
And here, pursuing the course of vicissitudes which have in turn transmitted the sceptre of the world to people so various in manners and religion, from those of ancient Asia down to the more recent ones of Europe, my native country, designated by this name, was awakened in my mind, and turning my eyes towards it, all my thoughts fixed upon the situation in which I had left it* .
I recollected its fields so richly cultivated, its roads so admirably executed, its towns inhabited by an immense multitude, its ships scattered over every ocean, its ports filled with the produce of either India; and comparing the activity of its commerce, the extent of its navigation, the magnificence of its buildings, the arts and industry of its inhabitants, with all that Egypt and Syria could formerly boast of a similar nature, I pleased myself with the idea that I had found in modern Europe the past splendour of Asia: But the charm of my reverie was presently dissolved by the last step in the comparison. Reflecting that if the places before me had once exhibited this animated picture: who, said I to myself, can assure me that their present desolation will not one day be the lot of our own country? who knows but that hereafter some traveller like myself will sit down upon the banks of the Seine, the Thames, or the Zuyder sea, where now, in the tumult of enjoyment, the heart and the eyes are too slow to take in the multitude of sensations; who knows but he will sit down solitary amid silent ruins, and weep a people inurned, and their greatness changed into an empty name?
The idea brought tears into my eyes; and covering my head with the flap of my garment, I gave myself up to the most gloomy meditations on human affairs. Unhappy man! said I in my grief, a blind fatality plays with thy destiny(c) ! a fatal necessity rules by chance the lot of mortals! But, no: they are the decrees of celestial justice that are accomplishing! A mysterious God exercises his incomprehensible judgments! he has doubtless pronounced a secret malediction against the earth; he has struck with a curse the present race of men, in revenge of past generations. Oh! who shall dare to fathom the depths of the Divinity?
And I remained immoveable, plunged in profound melancholy.
[* ]The dragon Bel.
[* ]In the year 1782, at the close of the American war.
[Page 7. (a).]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 antiquaries, has left however some trace of itself in Ofor, in the province of Oman, upon the Persian Gulph, neighbouring on one side to the Sabeans, who are celebrated by Strabo for their plenty 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.
[Page 8. (b).]This Syria contained a hundred flourishing cities. 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.
[Page 12. (c).]A blind fatality. This 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 civilization.