OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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In the eleventh year of the reign of Abd-ul-Hamid, son of Ahmid,
emperor of the Turks; when the Nogais-Tartars were driven from the
Crimea, and a Mussulman prince of the blood of Gengis-Kahn became
the vassal and guard of a Christian woman and queen,* I was
travelling in the Ottoman dominions, and through those provinces
which were anciently the kingdoms of Egypt and Syria.
- In the eleventh year of Abd-ul-Hamid, that is 1784 of the
Christian era, and 1198 of the Hegira. The emigration of the
Tartars took place in March, immediately on the manifesto of the
empress, declaring the Crimea to be incorporated with Russia. The
Mussulman prince of the blood of Gengis-khan was Chahin-Guerai.
Gengis-Khan was borne and served by the kings whom he conquered:
Chahin, on the contrary, after selling his country for a pension of
eighty thousand roubles, accepted the commission of captain of
guards to Catherine II. He afterwards returned home, and according
to custom was strangled by the Turks.
My whole attention bent on whatever concerns the happiness of man
in a social state, I visited cities, and studied the manners of
their inhabitants; entered palaces, and observed the conduct of
those who govern; wandered over fields, and examined the condition
of those who cultivated them: and nowhere perceiving aught but
robbery and devastation, tyranny and wretchedness, my heart was
oppressed with sorrow and indignation.
I saw daily on my road fields abandoned, villages deserted, and
cities in ruin. Often I met with ancient monuments, wrecks of
temples, palaces and fortresses, columns, aqueducts and tombs.
This spectacle led me to meditate on times past, and filled my mind
with contemplations the most serious and profound.
Arrived at the city of Hems, on the border of the Orontes, and
being in the neighborhood of Palmyra of the desert, I resolved to
visit its celebrated ruins. After three days journeying through
arid deserts, having traversed the Valley of Caves and Sepulchres,
on issuing into the plain, I was suddenly struck with a scene of
the most stupendous ruins--a countless multitude of superb columns,
stretching in avenues beyond the reach of sight. Among them were
magnificent edifices, some entire, others in ruins; the earth every
where strewed with fragments of cornices, capitals, shafts,
entablatures, pilasters, all of white marble, and of the most
exquisite workmanship. After a walk of three-quarters of an hour
along these ruins, I entered the enclosure of a vast edifice,
formerly a temple dedicated to the Sun; and accepting the
hospitality of some poor Arabian peasants, who had built their
hovels on the area of the temple, I determined to devote some days
to contemplate at leisure the beauty of these stupendous ruins.
Daily I visited the monuments which covered the plain; and one
evening, absorbed in reflection, I had advanced to the Valley of
Sepulchres. I ascended the heights which surround it from whence
the eye commands the whole group of ruins and the immensity of the
desert. The sun had sunk below the horizon: a red border of light
still marked his track behind the distant mountains of Syria; the
full-orbed moon was rising in the east, on a blue ground, over the
plains of the Euphrates; the sky was clear, the air calm and
serene; the dying lamp of day still softened the horrors of
approaching darkness; the refreshing night breezes attempered the
sultry emanations from the heated earth; the herdsmen had given
their camels to repose, the eye perceived no motion on the dusky
and uniform plain; profound silence rested on the desert; the
howlings only of the jackal,* and the solemn notes of the bird of
night, were heard at distant intervals. Darkness now increased,
and through the dusk could only be discerned the pale phantasms of
columns and walls. The solitude of the place, the tranquillity of
the hour, the majesty of the scene, impressed on my mind a
religious pensiveness. The aspect of a great city deserted, the
memory of times past, compared with its present state, all elevated
my mind to high contemplations. I sat on the shaft of a column, my
elbow reposing on my knee, and head reclining on my hand, my eyes
fixed, sometimes on the desert, sometimes on the ruins, and fell
into a profound reverie.
- An animal resembling a dog and a fox. It preys on other small
animals, and upon the bodies of the dead on the field of battle.
It is the Canis aureus of Linnaeus.