OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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PREFACE OF THE AMERICAN EDITION.
- The copy from which this preface is reprinted was published in
Boston by Charles Gaylord, in 1833. It was given to the writer,
when a mere lad, by a lady--almost a stranger--who was traveling
through the little hamlet on the banks of the Hudson where he then
resided. This lady assured me that the book was of great value,
containing noble and sublime truths; and the only condition she
attached to the gift was, that I should read it carefully and
endeavor to understand its meaning. This I willingly promised and
faithfully performed; and all who have "climbed the heights," and
escaped from the thraldom of superstitious faith, will concede the
inestimable value of such a gift--rich with the peace and
consolation that the truth imparts.--Pub.
If books were to be judged of by their volume, the following would
have but little value; if appraised by their contents, it will
perhaps be reckoned among the most instructive.
In general, nothing is more important than a good elementary book;
but, also, nothing is more difficult to compose and even to read:
and why? Because, as every thing in it should be analysis and
definition, all should be expressed with truth and precision. If
truth and precision are wanting, the object has not been attained;
if they exist, its very force renders it abstract.
The first of these defects has been hitherto evident in all books
of morality. We find in them only a chaos of incoherent maxims,
precepts without causes, and actions without a motive. The pedants
of the human race have treated it like a little child: they have
prescribed to it good behavior by frightening it with spirits and
hobgoblins. Now that the growth of the human race is rapid, it is
time to speak reason to it; it is time to prove to men that the
springs of their improvement are to be found in their very
organization, in the interest of their passions, and in all that
composes their existence. It is time to demonstrate that morality
is a physical and geometrical science, subject to the rules and
calculations of the other mathematical sciences: and such is the
advantage of the system expounded in this book, that the basis of
morality being laid in it on the very nature of things, it is both
constant and immutable; whereas, in all other theological systems,
morality being built upon arbritary opinions, not demonstrable and
often absurd, it changes, decays, expires with them, and leaves men
in an absolute depravation. It is true that because our system is
founded on facts and not on reveries, it will with much greater
difficulty be extended and adopted: but it will derive strength
from this very struggle, and sooner or later the eternal religion
of Nature must overturn the transient religions of the human mind.
This book was published for the first time in 1793, under the title
of The French Citizen's Catechism. It was at first intended for a
national work, but as it may be equally well entitled the Catechism
of men of sense and honor, it is to be hoped that it will become a
book common to all Europe. It is possible that its brevity may
prevent it from attaining the object of a popular classical work,
but the author will be satisfied if he has at least the merit of
pointing out the way to make a better.
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