Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XIX.: GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XIX.: GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE. - 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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GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE.
Thus spoke the legislators of this free people; and the multitude, seized with the spirit of admiration, which every reasonable proposition never fails to inspire, shouted their applause, and the tyrants remained alone, overwhelmed with confusion.
A scene of a new and astonishing nature then presented itself to my view. All the people and nations of the globe, every race of men from every different climate, advancing on all sides, seemed to assemble in one inclosure, and form in distinct groupes an immense congress. The motley appearance of this innumerable crowd, occasioned by their diversity of dress, of features and of complexion, exhibited a most extraordinary and most attractive spectacle.
On one side I could distinguish the European with his short and close habit, his triangular hat, smooth chin, and powdered hair; and on the opposite side the Asiatic with a flowing robe, a long beard, a shaved head and circular turban. Here I observed the inhabitants of Africa, their skin of the colour of ebony, their hair woolly, their body girt with white and blue fish-skin, and adorned with bracelets and collars of corals, shells and glass-beads; there the northern tribes inveloped in bags of skin; the Laplander with his piked bonnet and his snow shoes; the Samoiede with glowing limbs and with a strong odour; the Tongouse with his bonnet shaped like a horn, and carrying his idols pendent from his neck; the Yakoute with his freckled skin; the Calmuc with flattened nose and with little eyes, forced as it were to have no correspondence with each other. Farther in the distance were the Chinese, attired in silk, and with their hair hanging in tresses; the Japanese of mingled race; the Malayans with spreading ears, with a ring in their nose, and with a vast hat of the leaves of the palm-tree(4) ; and the Tatoued inhabitants of the islands of the ocean and of the continent of the Antipodes* . The contemplation of one species thus infinitely varied, of one understanding thus modified with extravagance, of one organization assuming so contrary appearances, gave me a a very complicated sensation, and excited in me a thousand thoughts(5) . I contemplated with astonishment this gradation of colour, from a bright carnation to a brown scarcely less bright, a dark brown, a muddy brown, bronze, olive, leaden, copper, as far as to the black of ebony and jet. I observed the Cassimerean, with his rose-coloured cheek, next in vicinity to the sun-burnt Hindoo; the Georgian standing by the Tartar; and I reflected upon the effect of climate hot or cold, of soil mountainous or deep, marshy or dry, wooded or open. I compared the dwarf of the pole with the giant of the temperate zone; the lank Arab with the pot-bellied Hollander; the squat figure of the Samoiede with the tall and slender form of the Sclavonian and the Greek; the greasy and woolly head of the Negro with the shining locks of the Dane; the flat-faced Calmuc, with his eyes angle wise to each other and his nose crushed, to the oval and swelling visage, the large blue eyes, and the aquiline nose, of the Circassian and the Abassin. I contrasted the painted linens of India with the workmanlike cloths of Europe; the rich furs of Silesia; the various clothing of savage nations, skins of fishes, platting of reeds, interweaving of leaves and of feathers, together with the blue-stained figures of serpents, stars, and flowers, with which their skin is varied. Sometimes the general appearance of this multitude, reminded me of the enamelled meadows of the Nile and the Euphrates, when, after rains and inundations, millions of flowers unfold themselves on all sides; and sometimes it resembled, in murmuring sound and busy motion, the innumerable swarms of grashoppers which alight in the spring like a cloud upon the plains of Hauran.
At sight of so many living and percipient animals, I recollected, on one side, the immense multitude of thoughts and sensations which were crowded into this space; and on the other, reflected on the contest of so many opinions and prejudices, and the struggle of so many capricious passions; and I was struck with astonishment, admiration, and apprehension. . . . When the legislators, having enjoined silence, presently fixed my attention on themselves.
“Inhabitants of the earth, said they, a free and powerful nation addresses you in the name of justice and of peace, and offers as the sure pledge of its sincerity, its conviction and experience. We were for a long time tormented with the same evils as you; we have enquired into their origin, and we have found them to be derived from violence and injustice, which the inexperience of past ages established into laws, and the prejudices of the present generation have supported and cherished. Then, abolishing every factitious and arbitrary institution, and ascending to the source of reason and of right, we perceived that there existed in the order of the universe, and in the physical constitution of man, eternal and immutable laws, which waited only his observance to render him happy. O men of different climes, look to the heavens that give you light, to the earth that nourishes you! Since they present to you all the same gifts; since the Power that directs their motions has bestowed on you the same life, the same organs, the same wants, has it not also given you the same right to the use of its benefits! Has it not hereby declared you to be all equal and free? What mortal then shall dare refuse to his fellow-creature that which is granted him by nature? O nations! let us banish all tyranny and discord; let us form one society, one vast family; and since mankind are all constituted alike, let there henceforth exist but one law, that of nature; one code, that of reason; one throne, that of justice; one altar, that of union.”
They ceased: and the multitude rended the skies with applause and acclamation; and in their transports made the earth resound with the words equality, justice, union. But different feelings presently succeeded to this first emotion. The doctors and chiefs of the people exciting in them a spirit of disputation, there arose a kind of murmur, which, spreading from groupe to groupe, was converted into uproar, and from uproar into disorder of the first magnitude. Every nation assumed exclusive pretensions, and claimed the preference for its own opinions and code.
“You are in error,” said the parties pointing at each other; “we alone are in possession of reason and truth: ours is the true law, the genuine rule of justice and right, the sole means of happiness and perfection; all other men are either blind or rebellious.” And the agitation became extreme.
But the legislators having proclaimed silence: “People,” said they, “by what impulse of passion are you agitated? Where will this quarrel conduct you? What advantage do you expect from this dissension? For ages has the earth been a field of disputation, and torrents of blood have been shed to decide the controversy: what profit have you reaped from so many combats and tears? When the strong has subjected the weak to his opinion, has he thereby furthered the cause of evidence and truth? O nations, take council of your own wisdom! If disputes arise between families, or individuals, by what mode do you reconcile them! Do you not appoint arbitrators? Yes,” exclaimed the multitude unanimously. “Treat then the authors of your present dissensions in a similar manner. Command those who call themselves your instructors, and who impose on you their creed, to discuss in your presence the arguments on which it is founded. Since they appeal to your interests, understand in what manner your interests are treated by them. . . . And you, chiefs and doctors of the people, before you involve them in the discordance of your opinions, let the reasons for and against these opinions be fairly discussed. Let us establish a solemn controversy, a public investigation of truth, not before the tribunal of a frail individual, or a prejudiced party, but in presence of the united information and interests of mankind; and let the natural sense of the whole species be our arbitrator and judge.”
[* ]The country of the Papons, or New Guinea.
[Page 147. (4.)]A vast hat of the leaves of the palm-tree. 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.
[Page 148. (5.)]The contemplation of one species thus infinitely varied. A hall of costumas 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 men, 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 colour, features and form: what a field for investigation and enquiry as to the influence of climate, manners, aliment, &c.! It might truly be styled 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 it is said is begun at Petersburg, but it is said at the same time, to be as imperfect as the vocabulary of the 300 languages. The enterprize would be worthy of the French nation.