OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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LESSONS OF TIMES PAST REPEATED ON THE PRESENT.
Thus spoke the Genius. Struck with the justice and coherence of
his discourse, assailed with a crowd of ideas, repugnant to my
habits yet convincing to my reason, I remained absorbed in profound
silence. At length, while with serious and pensive mien, I kept my
eyes fixed on Asia, suddenly in the north, on the shores of the
Black sea, and in the fields of the Crimea, clouds of smoke and
flame attracted my attention. They appeared to rise at the same
time from all parts of the peninsula; and passing by the isthmus
into the continent, they ran, as if driven by a westerly wind,
along the oozy lake of Azof, and disappeared in the grassy plains
of Couban; and following more attentively the course of these
clouds, I observed that they were preceded or followed by swarms of
moving creatures, which, like ants or grasshoppers disturbed by the
foot of a passenger, agitated themselves with vivacity. Sometimes
these swarms appeared to advance and rush against each other; and
numbers, after the concussion, remained motionless. While
disquieted at this spectacle, I strained my sight to distinguish
Do you see, said the Genius, those flames which spread over the
earth, and do you comprehend their causes and effects?
Oh! Genius, I answered, I see those columns of flame and smoke, and
something like insects, accompanying them; but, when I can scarcely
discern the great masses of cities and monuments, how should I
discover, such little creatures? I can just perceive that these
insects mimic battle, for they advance, retreat, attack and pursue.
It is no mimicry, said the Genius, these are real battles.
And what, said I, are those mad animalculae, which destroy each
other? Beings of a day! will they not perish soon enough?
Then the Genius, touching my sight and hearing, again directed my
eyes towards the same object. Look, said he, and listen!
Ah! wretches, cried I, oppressed with grief, these columns of
flame! these insects! oh! Genius, they are men. These are the
ravages of war! These torrents of flame rise from towns and
villages! I see the squadrons who kindle them, and who, sword in
hand overrun the country: they drive before them crowds of old men,
women, and children, fugitive and desolate: I perceive other
horsemen, who with shouldered lances, accompany and guide them. I
even recognize them to be Tartars by their led horses,* their
kalpacks, and tufts of hair: and, doubtless, they who pursue, in
triangular hats and green uniforms, are Muscovites. Ah! I now
comprehend, a war is kindled between the empire of the Czars and
that of the Sultans.
- A Tartar horseman has always two horses, of which he leads one in
hand. The Kalpeck 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 tuft, 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 Mussulmen, that the angel of
the tomb is to take the elect and carry them into paradise.
Not yet, replied the Genius; this is only a preliminary. These
Tartars have been, and might still he troublesome neighbors. The
Muscovites are driving them off, finding their country would be a
convenient extension of their own limits; and as a prelude to
another revolution, the throne of the Guerais is destroyed.
And in fact, I saw the Russian standards floating over the Crimea:
and soon after their flag waving on the Euxine.
Meanwhile, at the cry of the flying Tartars, the Mussulman empire
was in commotion. They are driving off our brethren, cried the
children of Mahomet: the people of the prophet are outraged!
infidels occupy a consecrated land and profane the temples of
Islamism.* Let us arm; let us rush to combat, to avenge the glory
of God and our own cause.
- 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
And a general movement of war took place in both empires. In every
part armed men assembled. Provisions, stores, and all the
murderous apparatus of battle were displayed. The temples of both
nations, besieged by an immense multitude, presented a spectacle
which fixed all my attention.
On one side, the Mussulmen gathered before their mosques, washed
their hands and feet, pared their nails, and combed their beards;
then spreading carpets upon the ground, and turning towards the
south, with their arms sometimes crossed and sometimes extended,
they made genuflexions and prostrations, and recollecting the
disasters of the late war, they exclaimed:
God of mercy and clemency! hast thou then abandoned thy faithful
people? Thou who hast promised to thy Prophet dominion over
nations, and stamped his religion by so many triumphs, dost thou
deliver thy true believers to the swords of infidels?
And the Imans and the Santons said to the people:
It is in chastisement of your sins. You eat pork; you drink wine;
you touch unclean things. God hath punished you. Do penance
therefore; purify; repeat the profession of faith;* fast from the
rising to the setting sun; give the tenth of your goods to the
mosques; go to Mecca; and God will render you victorious.
- There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.
And the people, recovering courage, uttered loud cries:
There is but one God, said they transported with fury, and Mahomet
is his prophet! Accursed be he who believeth not!
God of goodness, grant us to exterminate these Christians; it is
for thy glory we fight, and our death is a martyrdom for thy name.
And then, offering victims, they prepared for battle.
On the other side, the Russians, kneeling, said:
We render thanks to God, and celebrate his power. He hath
strengthened our arm to humble his enemies. Hear our prayers, thou
God of mercy! To please thee, we will pass three days without
eating either meat or eggs. Grant us to extirpate these impious
Mahometans, and to overturn their empire. To thee we will
consecrate the tenth of our spoil; to thee we will raise new
And the priests filled the churches with clouds of smoke, and said
to the people:
We pray for you, God accepteth our incense, and blesseth your arms.
Continue to fast and to fight; confess to us your secret sins; give
your wealth to the church; we will absolve you from your crimes,
and you shall die in a state of grace.
And they sprinkled water upon the people, dealt out to them, as
amulets and charms, small relics of the dead, and the people
breathed war and combat.
Struck with this contrast of the same passions, and grieving for
their fatal consequences, I was considering the difficulty with
which the common judge could yield to prayers so contradictory;
when the Genius, glowing with anger, spoke with vehemence:
What accents of madness strike my ear? What blind and perverse
delirium disorders the spirits of the nations? Sacrilegious
prayers rise not from the earth! and you, oh Heavens, reject their
homicidal vows and impious thanksgivings! Deluded mortals! is it
thus you revere the Divinity? Say then; how should he, whom you
style your common father, receive the homage of his children
murdering one another? Ye victors! with what eye should he view
your hands reeking in the blood he hath created? And, what do you
expect, oh vanquished, from useless groans? Hath God the heart of
a mortal, with passions ever changing? Is he, like you, agitated
with vengeance or compassion, with wrath or repentance? What base
conception of the most sublime of beings! According to them, it
would seem, that God whimsical and capricious, is angered or
appeased as a man: that he loves and hates alternately; that he
punishes or favors; that, weak or wicked, he broods over his
hatred; that, contradictory or perfidious, he lays snares to
entrap; that he punishes the evils he permits; that he foresees but
hinders not crimes; that, like a corrupt judge, he is bribed by
offerings; like an ignorant despot, he makes laws and revokes them;
that, like a savage tyrant, he grants or resumes favors without
reason, and can only be appeased by servility. Ah! now I know the
lying spirit of man! Contemplating the picture which he hath drawn
of the Divinity: No, said I, it is not God who hath made man after
the image of God; but man hath made God after the image of man; he
hath given him his own mind, clothed him with his own propensities;
ascribed to him his own judgments. And when in this medley he
finds the contradiction of his own principles, with hypocritical
humility, he imputes weakness to his reason, and names the
absurdities of his own mind the mysteries of God.
He hath said, God is immutable, yet he offers prayers to change
him; he hath pronounced him incomprehensible, yet he interprets him
Imposters have arisen on the earth who have called themselves the
confidants of God; and, erecting themselves into teachers of the
people, have opened the ways of falsehood and iniquity; they have
ascribed merit to practices indifferent or ridiculous; they have
supposed a virtue, in certain postures, in pronouncing certain
words, articulating certain names; they have transformed into a
crime the eating of certain meats, the drinking of certain liquors,
on one day rather than another. The Jew would rather die than
labor on the sabbath; the Persian would endure suffocation, before
he would blow the fire with his breath; the Indian places supreme
perfection in besmearing himself with cow-dung, and pronouncing
mysteriously the word Aum;* the Mussulman believes he has expiated
everything in washing his head and arms; and disputes, sword in
hand, whether the ablution should commence at the elbow, or finger
ends; the Christian would think himself damned, if he ate flesh
instead of milk or butter. Oh sublime doctrines! Doctrines truly
from heaven! Oh perfect morals, and worthy of martyrdom or the
apostolate! I will cross the seas to teach these admirable laws to
the savage people--to distant nations; I will say unto them:
- 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 principal 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 om, and expresses the unity of those three Gods.
The idea is precisely that of the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the
This is one of the grand points of schism between the partisans
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!
Children of nature, how long will you walk in the paths of
ignorance? how long will you mistake the true principles of
morality and religion? Come and learn its lessons from nations
truly pious and learned, in civilized countries. They will inform
you how, to gratify God, you must in certain months of the year,
languish the whole day with hunger and thirst; how you may shed
your neighbor's blood, and purify yourself from it by professions
of faith and methodical ablutions; how you may steal his property
and be absolved on sharing it with certain persons, who devote
themselves to its consumption.
Sovereign and invisible power of the universe! mysterious mover of
nature! universal soul of beings! thou who art unknown, yet revered
by mortals under so many names! being incomprehensible and
infinite! God, who in the immensity of the heavens directest the
movement of worlds, and peoplest the abyss of space with millions
of suns! say what do these human insects, which my sight no longer
discerns on the earth, appear in thy eyes? To thee, who art
guiding stars in their orbits, what are those wormlings writhing
themselves in the dust? Of what import to thy immensity, their
distinctions of parties and sects? And of what concern the
subtleties with which their folly torments itself?
And you, credulous men, show me the effect of your practices! In
so many centuries, during which you have been following or altering
them, what changes have your prescriptions wrought in the laws of
nature? Is the sun brighter? Is the course of the seasons varied?
Is the earth more fruitful, or its inhabitants more happy? If God
be good, can your penances please him? If infinite, can your
homage add to his glory? If his decrees have been formed on
foresight of every circumstance, can your prayers change them?
Answer, O inconsistent mortals!
Ye conquerors of the earth, who pretend you serve God! doth he need
your aid? If he wishes to punish, hath he not earthquakes,
volcanoes, and thunder? And cannot a merciful God correct without
Ye Mussulmans, if God chastiseth you for violating the five
precepts, how hath he raised up the Franks who ridicule them? If
he governeth the earth by the Koran, by what did he govern it
before the days of the prophet, when it was covered with so many
nations who drank wine, ate pork, and went not to Mecca, whom he
nevertheless permitted to raise powerful empires? How did he judge
the Sabeans of Nineveh and of Babylon; the Persian, worshipper of
fire; the Greek and Roman idolators; the ancient kingdoms of the
Nile; and your own ancestors, the Arabians and Tartars? How doth
he yet judge so many nations who deny, or know not your worship--
the numerous castes of Indians, the vast empire of the Chinese, the
sable race of Africa, the islanders of the ocean, the tribes of
Presumptuous and ignorant men, who arrogate the earth to
yourselves! if God were to gather all the generations past and
present, what would be, in their ocean, the sects calling
themselves universal, of Christians and Mussulmans? What would be
the judgments of his equal and common justice over the real
universality of mankind? Therein it is that your knowledge loseth
itself in incoherent systems; it is there that truth shines with
evidence; and there are manifested the powerful and simple laws of
nature and reason--laws of a common and general mover--of a God
impartial and just, who sheds rain on a country without asking who
is its prophet; who causeth his sun to shine alike on all the races
of men, on the white as on the black, on the Jew, on the Mussulman,
the Christian, and the Idolater; who reareth the harvest wherever
cultivated with diligence; who multiplieth every nation where
industry and order prevaileth; who prospereth every empire where
justice is practised, where the powerful are restrained, and the
poor protected by the laws; where the weak live in safety, and all
enjoy the rights given by nature and a compact formed in justice.
These are the principles by which people are judged! this the true
religion which regulates the destiny of empires, and which, O
Ottomans, hath governed yours! Interrogate your ancestors, ask of
them by what means they rose to greatness; when few, poor and
idolaters, they came from the deserts of Tartary and encamped in
these fertile countries; ask if it was by Islamism, till then
unknown to them, that they conquered the Greeks and the Arabs, or
was it by their courage, their prudence, moderation, spirit of
union--the true powers of the social state? Then the Sultan
himself dispensed justice, and maintained discipline. The
prevaricating judge, the extortionate governor, were punished, and
the multitude lived at ease. The cultivator was protected from the
rapine of the janissary, and the fields prospered; the highways
were safe, and commerce caused abundance. You were a band of
plunderers, but just among yourselves. You subdued nations, but
did not oppress them. Harassed by their own princes, they
preferred being your tributaries. What matters it, said the
Christian, whether my ruler breaks or adores images, if he renders
justice to me? God will judge his doctrines in the heavens above.
You were sober and hardy; your enemies timid and enervated; you
were expert in battle, your enemies unskillful; your leaders were
experienced, your soldiers warlike and disciplined. Booty excited
ardor, bravery was rewarded, cowardice and insubordination
punished, and all the springs of the human heart were in action.
Thus you vanquished a hundred nations, and of a mass of conquered
kingdoms compounded an immense empire.
But other customs have succeeded; and in the reverses attending
them, the laws of nature have still exerted their force. After
devouring your enemies, your cupidity, still insatiable, has
reacted on itself, and, concentrated in your own bowels, has
Having become rich, you have quarrelled for partition and
enjoyment, and disorder hath arisen in every class of society.
The Sultan, intoxicated with grandeur, has mistaken the object of
his functions; and all the vices of arbitrary power have been
developed. Meeting no obstacle to his appetites, he has become a
depraved being; weak and arrogant, he has kept the people at a
distance; and their voice has no longer instructed and guided him.
Ignorant, yet flattered, neglecting all instruction, all study, he
has fallen into imbecility; unfit for business, he has thrown its
burdens on hirelings, and they have deceived him. To satisfy their
own passions, they have stimulated and nourished his; they have
multiplied his wants, and his enormous luxury has consumed
everything. The frugal table, plain clothing, simple dwelling of
his ancestors no longer sufficed. To supply his pomp, earth and
sea have been exhausted. The rarest furs have been brought from
the poles; the most costly tissues from the equator. He has
devoured at a meal the tribute of a city, and in a day that of a
province. He has surrounded himself with an army of women,
eunuchs, and satellites. They have instilled into him that the
virtue of kings is to be liberal, and the munificence and treasures
of the people have been delivered into the hands of flatterers. In
imitation of their master, his servants must also have splendid
houses, the most exquisite furniture; carpets embroidered at great
cost, vases of gold and silver for the lowest uses, and all the
riches of the empire have been swallowed up in the Serai.
To supply this inordinate luxury, the slaves and women have sold
their influence, and venality has introduced a general depravation.
The favor of the sovereign has been sold to his vizier, and the
vizier has sold the empire. The law has been sold to the cadi, and
the cadi has made sale of justice. The altar has been sold to the
priest, and the priest has sold the kingdom of heaven. And gold
obtaining everything, they have sacrificed everything to obtain
gold. For gold, friend has betrayed friend, the child his parent,
the servant his master, the wife her honor, the merchant his
conscience; and good faith, morals, concord, and strength were
banished from the state.
The pacha, who had purchased the government of his province, farmed
it out to others, who exercised every extortion. He sold in turn
the collection of the taxes, the command of the troops, the
administration of the villages; and as every employ has been
transient, rapine, spread from rank to rank, has been greedy and
implacable. The revenue officer has fleeced the merchant, and
commerce was annihilated; the aga has plundered the husbandman, and
culture has degenerated. The laborer, deprived of his stock, has
been unable to sow; the tax was augmented, and he could not pay it;
the bastinado has been threatened, and he has borrowed. Money,
from want of security, being locked up from circulation, interest
was therefore enormous, and the usury of the rich has aggravated
the misery of the laborer.
When excessive droughts and accidents of seasons have blasted the
harvest, the government has admitted no delay, no indulgence for
the tax; and distress bearing hard on the village, a part of its
inhabitants have taken refuge in the cities; and their burdens
falling on those who remained, has completed their ruin, and
depopulated the country.
If driven to extremity by tyranny and outrage, the villages have
revolted, the pacha rejoices. He wages war on them, assails their
homes, pillages their property, carries off their stock; and when
the fields have become a desert, he exclaims:
"What care I? I leave these fields to-morrow."
The earth wanting laborers, the rain of heaven and overflowing of
torrents have stagnated in marshes; and their putrid exhalations in
a warm climate, have caused epidemics, plagues, and maladies of all
sorts, whence have flowed additional suffering, penury, and ruin.
Oh! who can enumerate all the calamities of tyrannical government?
Sometimes the pachas declare war against each other, and for their
personal quarrels the provinces of the same state are laid waste.
Sometimes, fearing their masters, they attempt independence, and
draw on their subjects the chastisement of their revolt. Sometimes
dreading their subjects, they invite and subsidize strangers, and
to insure their fidelity set no bounds to their depredations. Here
they persecute the rich and despoil them under false pretences;
there they suborn false witnesses, and impose penalties for
suppositious offences; everywhere they excite the hatred of
parties, encourage informations to obtain amercements, extort
property, seize persons; and when their short-sighted avarice has
accumulated into one mass all the riches of a country, the
government, by an execrable perfidy, under pretence of avenging its
oppressed people, takes to itself all their spoils, as if they were
the culprits, and uselessly sheds the blood of its agents for a
crime of which it is the accomplice.
Oh wretches, monarchs or ministers, who sport with the lives and
fortunes of the people! Is it you who gave breath to man, that you
dare take it from him? Do you give growth to the plants of the
earth, that you may waste them? Do you toil to furrow the field?
Do you endure the ardor of the sun, and the torment of thirst, to
reap the harvest or thrash the grain? Do you, like the shepherd,
watch through the dews of the night? Do you traverse deserts, like
the merchant? Ah! on beholding the pride and cruelty of the
powerful, I have been transported with indignation, and have said
in my wrath, will there never then arise on the earth men who will
avenge the people and punish tyrants? A handful of brigands devour
the multitude, and the multitude submits to be devoured! Oh!
degenerate people! Know you not your rights? All authority is
from you, all power is yours. Unlawfully do kings command you on
the authority of God and of their lance--Soldiers be still; if God
supports the Sultan he needs not your aid; if his sword suffices,
he needs not yours; let us see what he can do alone. The soldiers
grounded their arms; and behold these masters of the world, feeble
as the meanest of their subjects! People! know that those who
govern are your chiefs, not your masters; your agents, not your
owners; that they have no authority over you, but by you, and for
you; that your wealth is yours and they accountable for it; that,
kings or subjects, God has made all men equal, and no mortal has
the right to oppress his fellow-creatures.
But this nation and its chiefs have mistaken these holy truths.
They must abide then the consequences of their blindness. The
decree is past; the day approaches when this colossus of power
shall be crushed and crumbled under its own mass. Yes, I swear it,
by the ruins of so many empires destroyed. The empire of the
Crescent shall follow the fate of the despotism it has copied. A
nation of strangers shall drive the Sultan from his metropolis.
The throne of Orkhan shall be overturned. The last shoot of his
trunk shall be broken off; and the horde of Oguzians,* deprived of
their chief, shall disperse like that of the Nagois. In this
dissolution, the people of the empire, loosened from the yoke which
united them, shall resume their ancient distinctions, and a general
anarchy shall follow, as happened in the empire of the Sophis;
until there shall arise among the Arabians, Armenians, or Greeks,
legislators who may compose new states.
- 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
Giboun to settle themselves in Anatolia.
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 less destructive than a single night of
Oh! if there were on earth men profound and bold! what elements for
grandeur and glory! But the hour of destiny has already come; the
cry of war strikes my ear; and the catastrophe begins. In vain the
Sultan leads forth his armies; his ignorant warriors are beaten and
dispersed. In vain he calls his subjects; their hearts are ice.
Is it not written? say they, what matters who is our master? We
cannot lose by the change.
In vain the true believers invoke heaven and the prophet. The
prophet is dead; and heaven without pity answers:
Cease to invoke me. You have caused your own misfortunes; cure
them yourselves. Nature has established laws; your part is to obey
them. Observe, reason, and profit by experience. It is the folly
of man which ruins him; let his wisdom save him. The people are
ignorant; let them gain instruction. Their chiefs are wicked; let
them correct and amend; for such is Nature's decree. Since the
evils of society spring from cupidity and ignorance, men will never
cease to be persecuted, till they become enlightened and wise; till
they practise justice, founded on a knowledge of their relations
and of the laws of their organization.*
- 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 characteristics 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 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 taken for the science, the politeness, and importance of the
Turks. It is true that he believed in his own thesis, for he has
found among them people who cast a nativity, and alchymists who
ruined his fortune; as he found Martinists at Paris, who enabled
him to sup with Sesostris, and Magnetizers 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 honorable sort; inasmuch as, by the wise
decrees of fate, the true interest of mankind evermore accords with
their true morality.