Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


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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 happy.

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 rebellious.

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.

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