OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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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.