Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


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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 world.

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.

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