Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XII.: LESSONS TAUGHT BY ANCIENT, REPEATED IN MODERN TIMES. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XII.: LESSONS TAUGHT BY ANCIENT, REPEATED IN MODERN TIMES. - 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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LESSONS TAUGHT BY ANCIENT, REPEATED IN MODERN TIMES.
In this manner did the Genius address me. Struck with the reasonableness and coherence of his discourse, and a multiplicity of ideas crowding upon my mind, which, while they thwarted my habits, led my judgment at the same time captive, I remained absorbed in profound silence. Meanwhile, as in this sombre and thoughtful disposition I kept my eyes fixed upon Asia, clouds of smoke and of flames at the north, on the shores of the Black Sea, and in the fields of the Crimea, suddenly attracted my attention. They appeared to ascend at once from every part of the peninsula, and passing by the isthmus to the continent, they pursued their course, as if driven by an easterly wind, along the miry lake of Asoph, and were lost in the verdant plains of the Coban. Observing more attentively the course of these clouds, I perceived that they were preceded or followed by swarms of living beings, which, like ants disturbed by the foot of a passenger, were in lively action. Sometimes they seemed to move towards and rush against each other, and numbers after the concussion remained motionless. Disquieted at this spectacle, I was endeavouring to distinguish the objects, when the Genius said to me: Do you see those fires which spread over the earth, and are you acquainted with their causes and effects?—O Genius, I replied, I see columns of flame and smoke, and as it were insects that accompany them; but discerning with difficulty, as I do, the masses of towns and monuments, how can I distinguish such petty creatures? I can see nothing more than that these insects seem to carry on a sort of mock battles; they advance, they approach towards each other, they attack, they pursue.—It is no mockery, said the Genius, it is the thing itself.—And what name, replied I, shall we give to these foolish animalculæ that destroy each other? Do they live only for a day, and is this short life further abridged by violence and murder?—The Genius then once more touched my eyes and my ears. Listen, said he to me, and observe.—Immediately, turning my eyes in the same direction, alas! said I, transpierced with anguish, these columns of flame, these insects, O Genius! they are men, and the ravages of war! These torrents of flame ascend from towns and villages set on fire! I see the horsemen that light them. I see them sword in hand overrun the country. Old men, women, and children, in confused multitudes, fly before them. I see other horsemen, who, with their pikes upon their shoulders, accompany and direct them: I can even distinguish by their led horses, by their kalpacks, and by their tufts of hair(p) , that they are Tartars; and without doubt those who pursue them in triangular hats and green uniforms are Muscovites. I understand the whole: I perceive that the war has just broken out afresh between the empire of the Czars and the Sultans.—Not yet, replied the Genius; this is only the prelude. These Tartars have been, and would still be troublesome neighbours; the Muscovites are ridding themselves of them. Their country is an object of convenience to their less uncivilized enemies; it rounds and makes complete their dominions; and as the first step in the project that has been conceived, the throne of the Guerais is overturned.
In reality I saw the Russian flag hoisted over the Crimea, and their vessels scattered upon the Euxine.
Meanwhile, at the cries of the fugitive Tartars, the Mussulman empire was in commotion. “Our brethren,” exclaimed the children of Mahomet, “are driven from their habitations; the people of the prophet are outraged; infidels are in possession of a consecrated land(q) , and profane the temples of Islamism! Let us arm ourselves to avenge the glory of God and our own cause.”
A general preparation for war then took place in the two empires. Armed men, provisions, ammunition, and all the murderous accoutrements of battle, were every where assembled. My attention was particularly attracted by the immense crowds that in either nation thronged to the temples. On one side the Mussulmans, assembled before their mosques, washed their hands and feet, pared their nails, and combed their beard: then spreading carpets upon the ground, and turning themselves towards the south, with their arms sometimes crossed and sometimes extended, they performed their genuflections and prostrations. Recollecting the disasters they had experienced during the last war, they cried: “God of clemency and pity, hast thou then abandoned thy faithful people? Why dost thou, who has promised to thy prophet the dominion of nations, and signalized religion by so many triumphs, deliver up true believers to the sword of infidels?” And the Imans and the Santons said to the people: “It is the chastisement of your sins. You eat pork, you drink wine, you touch things that are unclean: God has punished you. Do penance; purify yourselves; say your creed* ; fast from the rising of the sun to its setting; give the tenth of your goods to the mosques; go to Mecca; and God will make your arms victorious.” Then, assuming courage, the people gave a general shout. “There is but one God,” said they in a transport of rage, “and Mahomet is his prophet! accursed be every one that believeth not! . . . . Indulgent God! grant us the favour to exterminate these Christians: it is for thy glory we fight, and by our death we are martyrs to thy name.”—And having offered sacrifices, they prepared themselves for battle.
On the other hand, the Russians on their knees exclaimed: “Let us give thanks to God, and celebrate his power: he has strengthened our arm to humble his enemies. Beneficent God! incline thine ear to our prayers. To please thee we will for three days eat neither meat nor eggs. Permit us to exterminate these impious Mahometans, and overthrow their empire, and we will give thee the tenth of the spoil, and erect new temples to thy honour.” The priests then filled the churches with smoke, and said to the people: “We pray for you, and God accepts our incense, and blesses your arms. Continue to fast and to fight; tell us the faults you have secretly committed; bestow your goods on the church; we will absolve you of your sins, and you shall die in a state of grace.” And they sprinkled water on the people, distributed among them little bones of departed saints to serve as amulets and talismans; and the people breathed nothing but war and destruction.
Struck with this contrasting picture of the same passions, and lamenting to myself their pernicious consequences, I was reflecting on the difficulty the common Judge would find in complying with such opposite demands, when the Genius, from an impulse of anger, vehemently exclaimed:
What madness is this which strikes my ear? What blind and fatal insanity possesses the human mind? Sacrilegious prayers, return to the earth from whence you came! Ye concave heavens, repel these murderous vows, these impious thanksgivings! Is it thus, O man, you worship the Divinity? And do you think that he, whom you call Father of all, can receive with complacence the homage of free-booters and murderers? Ye conquerors, with what sentiments does he behold your arms reeking with blood that he has created? Ye conquered, what hope can you place in useless moans? Is he a man that he should change, or the son of man that he should repent? Is he governed like you by vengeance and compassion, by rage and by weariness! Base idea, how much unworthy of the Being of Beings! Hear these men, and you would imagine that God is a Being capricious and mutable; that now he loves, and now he hates; that he chastises one, and indulges another; that hatred is engendered and nourished in his bosom; that he spreads snares for men, and delights in the fatal effects of imprudence; that he permits ill, and punishes it; that he foresees guilt, and acquiesces; that he is to be bought with gifts like a partial judge; that he reverses his edicts like an undiscerning despot; that he gives and revokes his favours because it is his will, and is to be appeased only by servility like a savage tyrant. I now completely understand what is the deceit of mankind, who have pretended that God made man in his own image, and who have really made God in theirs; who have ascribed to him their weakness, their errors, and their vices; and in the conclusion, surprised at the contradictory nature of their own assertions, have attempted to cloke it with hypocritical humility, and the pretended impotence of human reason, calling the delirium of their own understandings the sacred mysteries of heaven.
They have said, God is without variableness, and they pray to him to change. They have said that he is incomprehensible, and they have undertaken to be interpreters of his will.
A race of impostors has made its appearance upon the earth, who, pretending to be in the confidence of God, and taking upon themselves the office of instructing the people, have opened the flood-gates of falsehood and iniquity. They have affixed merit to actions which either are indifferent or absurd. They have dignified with the appellation of virtue the observance of certain postures, and the repetition of certain words and names. They have taught the impiety of eating certain meats on certain days rather than on others. It is thus the Jew would sooner die than work on the sabbath. It is thus the Persian would endure suffocation before he would blow the fire with his breath. It is thus the Indian places supreme perfection in smearing himself with cow-dung, and mysteriously pronouncing the word Aûm(r) . It is thus the Mussulman believes himself purified from all his sins by the ablution of his head and his arms; and disputes, sabre in hand, whether he ought to begin the ceremony at the elbow(s) or the points of his fingers. It is thus the Christian would believe himself damned, were he to eat the juice of animal food instead of milk or butter. What sublime and truly celestial doctrines! What purity of morals, and how worthy of apostleship and martyrdom! I will cross the seas to teach these admirable laws to savage people and distant nations. I will say to them: “Children of nature, how long will you wander in the paths of ignorance? How long will you be blind to the true principles of morality and religion? Visit civilized nations, and take lessons of pious and learned people. They will teach you, that, to please God, you must in certain months of the year faint all day with hunger and thirst. They will teach you how you may shed the blood of your neighbour, and purify yourselves from the stain, by repeating a profession of faith, and making a methodical ablution: how you may rob him of his goods, and be absolved from the guilt, by sharing them with certain persons whose profession it is to live in idleness upon the labour of others.”
Sovereign and mysterious Power of the Universe! secret Mover of Nature! universal Soul of every thing that lives! infinite and incomprehensible Being, whom, under so many forms, mortals have ignorantly worshipped! God, who in the immensity of the heavens dost guide revolving worlds, and people the abyss of space with millions of suns: say, what appearance do those human insects, which I can with difficulty distinguish upon the earth, make in thy eyes? When thou directest the stars in their orbits, what to thee are the worms that crawl in the dust? Of what importance to thy infinite greatness are their distinctions of sects and parties? And how art thou concerned with the subtleties engendered by their folly?
And you, credulous men, shew me the efficacy of your practices! During the many ages that you have observed or altered them, what change have your prescriptions wrought in the laws of nature? Has the sun shone with greater brilliance? Has the course of the seasons at all varied? Is the earth more fruitful, are the people more happy? If God be good, how can he be pleased with your penances? If he be infinite, what can your homage add to his glory? Inconsistent men, answer these questions!
Ye conquerors, who pretend by your arms to serve God, what need has he of your aid? If he wishes to punish, are not earthquakes, volcanoes, and the thunderbolt in his hand? And does a God of clemency know no other way of correcting but by extermination?
Ye Mussulmans, if your misfortunes were the chastisements of heaven for the violation of the five precepts, would prosperity be showered on the Franks who laugh at these things? If it is by the laws of the Koran that God judges the earth, what were the principles by which he governed the nations that existed before the prophet, the numerous people who drank wine, ate pork, and travelled not to Mecca, yet to whom it was given to raise powerful empires? By what laws did he judge the Sabeans of Nineveh and of Babylon; the Persian, who worshipped fire; the Greek and Romanidolaters; the ancient kingdoms of the Nile, and your own progenitors the Arabs and Tartars? How does he at present judge the various nations that are ignorant of your worship, the numerous casts of Indians, the vast empire of the Chinese, the swarthy tribes of Africa, the islanders of the Atlantic Ocean, the colonies of America!
Presumptuous and ignorant men, who arrogate to yourselves the whole earth, were God to summon at once all past and present generations, what proportion would those Christian and Mussulman sects, calling themselves universal, bear in the vast assemblage? What would be the judgment of his fair and impartial justice respecting the actual mass of mankind? It is in estimating the general system of his government that you wander among multiplied absurdities; and it is there that, in reality, truth presents itself in all its evidence. It is there that we trace the simple but powerful laws of nature and reason; the laws of the common mover, the general cause; of a God impartial and just, who, that he might send his rain upon a country, asks not who is its prophet; who causes his sun equally to shine on all tribes of men, whether distinguished by a fair or a sable complexion, on the Jew as on the Mussulman, on the Christian as on the Heathen; who multiplies the inhabitants of every country with whom order and industry reign; who gives prosperity to every empire where justice is observed, where the powerful is restrained, and the poor man protected by the laws; where the weak lives in safety, and where all enjoy the rights which they derive from nature and an equitable compact.
Such are the principles by which nations are judged! This is the true religion by which the fate of empires is regulated, and which, O Ottomans, has ever decided that of your own empire! Interrogate your ancestors; ask them by what means they rose to greatness, when, idolators, few in number and poor, they came from the deserts of Tartary to encamp in these fertile countries? Ask them if it was by islamism, at that period unknown to them, that they conquered the Greeks and Arabs; or by their courage, prudence, moderation, and unanimity, the true powers of the social state? Then the Sultan himself administered justice and maintained order: then the prevaricating judge and the rapacious governor were punished, and the multitude lived in ease: the cultivator was secure from the rapine of the janizary, and the fields were productive: the public roads were safe, and commerce flourished, It is true you were a league of robbers, but among yourselves you were just. You subjugated nations, but you did not oppress them. Vexed by their own princes they preferred being your tributaries. “Of what importance is it to me, said the Christian, whether my master be pleased with images or breaks them in pieces, provided he is just towards me? God will judge his doctrine in heaven.” You were temperate and hardy; your enemies soft and effeminate: you were skilled in the art of battle; they had forgotten its principles: you had experienced chiefs, warlike and disciplined troops; the hope of booty excited ardour; bravery was recompensed; disobedience and cowardice punished, and all the springs of the human heart were in action. You thus conquered a hundred nations, and out of the mass founded an immense empire.
But other manners succeeded. The laws of nature, however, did not less operate in your misfortunes than in your prosperity. You destroyed your enemies, and your grasping ambition, still in force, preyed upon yourselves. Having become rich, you commenced an internal contest respecting the division and the enjoyment of your riches, and disorder was generated through every class of your society. The Sultan, intoxicated with his greatness, misunderstood the object of his functions, and all the vices of arbitrary power presently unfolded themselves. Meeting with no obstacle to his desires, he became a depraved character. Weak, and arrogant at the same time, he spurned the people, and would no longer be influenced and directed by their voice. Ignorant, and yet flattered, he neglected all instruction, all study, and sunk into total incapacity. Become himself unqualified for the conduct of affairs, he committed the trust to hirelings, and these hirelings deceived him. To satisfy their own passions, they stimulated and increased his; they multiplied his wants, and his enormous luxury devoured every thing. He was no longer content with the frugal table, the modest attire, and the simple habitation of his ancestors: the earth and sea must be exhausted to satisfy his pride; scarce furs must be fetched from the pole, and costly tissues from the equator; he consumed at a meal the tribute of a city, and in a day the revenue of a province. He became infested with an army of women, eunuchs, and courtiers. He was told that the virtue of kings consisted in liberality; and the munificence and treasures of the people were delivered into the hands of parasites. In imitation of the master, the slaves were also desirous of having magnificent houses, furniture of exquisite workmanship, carpets richly embroidered, vases of gold and silver for the vilest uses; and all the wealth of the empire was swallowed up in the Seraï.
To supply this inordinate luxury the slaves and the women sold their influence; and venality introduced a general depravation. They sold the favour of the prince to the Visier, and the Visier sold the empire. They sold the law to the Cadi, and the Cadi sold justice. They sold the altar to the priest, and the priest sold heaven. And gold obtaining every thing, nothing was left unpractised to obtain gold. For gold, friend betrayed friend; the child his father; the servant his master; the wife her honour; the merchant his conscience; and there no longer existed in the state either good faith, manners, concord, or stability.
The Pacha, who purchased his office, presently had recourse to the system of farming it for a revenue, and exercising upon it every species of extortion. He sold the collection of the taxes, the command of the troops, the administration of the districts; and in proportion as every employment was temporary, rapine, diffusing itself from rank to rank, was rapid and precipitate. The exciseman oppressed the merchant by his exactions, and trade was annihilated. The Aga stript the husbandman, and cultivation was degraded. The labourer, robbed of his little capital, had not wherewith to sow his field: taxes nevertheless became due, and he was unable to pay them; he was threatened with corporal punishment, and driven to the expedient of a loan: specie, for want of security, was withdrawn from circulation; the interest of money became enormous, and usury aggravated the misery of the poor.
Inclement seasons, periods of dearth, had rendered the harvests abortive, but government would neither forgive nor postpone its demands. Distress began its career: a part of the inhabitants of the villages took refuge in the cities; the burthen upon those that remained became greater, their ruin was consummated, and the country depopulated.
Driven to the last extremity by tyranny and insult, certain villages broke out into rebellion. The Pacha considered the event as a subject of rejoicing; he made war upon them, took their houses by storm, ransacked their goods, and carried off their cattle. The soil became a desert, and he exclaimed: “What care I; I shall be removed from it to-morrow.”
Yet again, the want of cultivation led one step farther. Periodical rains or swelling tides overflowed the banks and covered the country with swamps: these swamps exhaled a putrid air, which spread chronical diseases, pestilence, and sickness of a thousand forms, and was followed by a still farther decrease of population, by penury and ruin.
Oh! who can enumerate all the evils of this tyrannical system of government!
Sometimes the Pachas make war of themselves, and to avenge their personal quarrels, provinces are laid waste. Sometimes, dreading their masters, they aim at independence, and draw upon their subjects the chastisement of their revolt. Sometimes, fearing these very subjects, they call to their aid and keep in pay foreign troops, and to be sure of them, they indulge them in every kind of robbery. In one place, they commence an action against a rich man, and plunder him upon false pretences. In another, they suborn witnesses, and impose a fine for an imaginary offence. On all occasions they excite the hatred of sects against each other, and encourage informations for the sake of increasing their own corrupt advantages. They extort from men their property; they attack their persons; and when their imprudent avarice has heaped into one mass the riches of a province, the supreme government, with execrable perfidy, pretending to avenge the oppressed inhabitants, draws to itself their spoil in the spoil of the culprit, and wantonly and vainly expiate in blood the crime of which it was itself the accomplice.
O iniquitous beings, sovereigns or ministers, who sport with the life and property of the people! was it you who gave breath to man, that you take it from him? Is it you who fertilize the earth, that you dissipate its fruits? Do you fatigue your arms with ploughing the field? Do you expose yourselves to the heat of the sun, and endure the torment of thirst in cutting down the harvest and binding it into sheaves? Do you watch like the shepherd in the nocturnal dew? Do you traverse deserts like the indefatigable merchant? Alas! when I have reflected on the cruelty and insolence of the powerful, my indignation has been roused, and I have said in my anger: What! will there never appear upon the earth a race of men who shall avenge the people and punish tyrants! A small number of robbers devour the multitude, and the multitude suffer themselves to be devoured! O degraded people, awake to the recognition of your rights! authority proceeds from you, yours is all the power. Vainly do kings command you in the name of God and by their lance: soldiers, obey not the summons. Since God supports the Sultan, your succour is useless; since the sword of heaven suffices him, he has no need of yours; let us see what he can do of himself. . . . The soldiers have laid down their arms; and lo, the masters of the world are as seeble as the meanest of their subjects! Ye people, know then that those who govern you are your chiefs and not your masters; your guardians appointed by yourselves, and not your proprietors; that your wealth is your own, and to you they are accountable for the administration of it; that kings or subjects, God has made all men equal, and no human being has a right to oppress his fellow-creature.
But this nation and its chiefs acknowledge not these sacred truths. . . . Be it so; they will suffer the consequences of their error. The decree is gone forth; the day approaches when this colossus of power shall be dashed to pieces, and fall crushed by its own weight. Yes, I swear by the ruins of so many demolished empires, that the crescent shall undergo the same fate as the states whose mode of government it has imitated! A foreign people shall drive the Sultans from their metropolis; the throne of Orkhan shall be subverted; the last shoot of his race shall be cut off; and the horde of the Oguzians(t) , deprived of their chief, shall be dispersed like that of the Nogaians. In this dissolution the subjects of the empire, freed from the yoke that held them together, will resume their ancient distinctions, and a general anarchy will take place, as happened in the empire of the Sophis(u) , till there shall arise among the Arabs, the Armenians, or the Greeks, legislators who shall form new states. Oh! were a sagacious and hardy race of men to be found, what materials of greatness and glory are here!....But the hour of destiny is arrived. The cry of war strikes my ear, and the catastrophe is about to commence. In vain the Sultan draws out his armies; his ignorant soldiers are beaten and scattered. In vain he calls upon his subjects: their hearts are callous; his subjects reply: “It is decreed; and what is it to us who is to be our master? we cannot lose by the change.” In vain these true believers invoke heaven and the prophet, the prophet is dead, and heaven without pity answers: “Cease to call upon me. You are the authors of your calamities, find yourselves their remedy. Nature has established laws, it becomes you to practise them. Examine and reflect upon the events that take place, and profit by experience. It is the folly of man that works his destruction; it is his wisdom that must save him. The people are ignorant; let them get understanding: their chiefs are depraved; let them correct their vices and amend their lives, for such is the decree of nature: Since the evils of society flow fromignoranceandinordinate desire,men will never cease to be tormented till they shall become intelligent and wise; till they shall practise the art of justice, founded on a knowledge of the various relations in which they stand, and the laws of their own organization* .”
[* ]There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.
[* ]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 characteristic 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 a 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 was taken in payment for the science, the politeness and importance of the Turks. It is true that he believed in his own thesis, for he had found among them people who cast a nativity, and alchemists who ruined his fortune; as he found Martinists at Paris, who enabled him to sup with Sesostris, and Magnetisers 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 honourable sort, inasmuch as, by the wise decrees of fate, the true interest of mankind evermore accords with their true morality.
[Page 79. (p).]By their led horses, &c. A Tartar horseman has always two horses, of which he leads one in hand. . . . The Kalpak 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 tust 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 Mussulmans, that the angel of the tomb is to take the elect and carry them into Paradise.
[Page 80. (q).]Infidels are in possession of a consecrated land. 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 potentates.
[Page 86. (r).]Pronouncing mysteriously the word Aûm. 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 principle 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 ôm, and expresses the unity of those three Gods. The idea is precisely that of the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the New Testament.
[Page id. (s).]Whether he ought to begin the ceremony at the elbow, &c. This is one of the grand points of schism between the partizans 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!
[Page 99. (t).]The horde of Oguzians. 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 Gihoun to settle themselves in Anatolia.
[Page 100. (u).]Ageneral anarchy take place, as happened in the empire of the Sophis. 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 lets destructive than a single night of anarchy.”