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The Ruins; Or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature By C.-F. Volney Characters: 57148

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Q. Explain how the social virtues are derived from the law of nature. How is charity or the love of one's neighbor a precept and application of it?

A. By reason of equality and reciprocity; for when we injure another, we give him a right to injure us in return; thus, by attacking the existence of our neighbor, we endanger our own, from the effect of reciprocity; on the other hand, by doing good to others, we have room and right to expect an equivalent exchange; and such is the character of all social virtues, that they are useful to the man who practises them, by the right of reciprocity which they give him over those who are benefited by them.

Q. Charity is then nothing but justice?

A. No: it is only justice; with this slight difference, that strict justice confines itself to saying, "Do not to another the harm you would not wish he should do to you;" and that charity, or the love of one's neighbor, extends so far as to say, "Do to another the good which you would wish to receive from him." Thus when the gospel said, that this precept contained the whole of the law and the prophets, it announced nothing more than the precept of the law of nature.

Q. Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?

A. Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.

Q. Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one cheek, to hold out the other?

A. No; for it is, in the first place, contrary to the precept of loving our neighbor as ourselves, since thereby we should love, more than ourselves, him who makes an attack on our preservation. Secondly, such a precept in its literal sense, encourages the wicked to oppression and injustice. The law of nature has been more wise in prescribing a calculated proportion of courage and moderation, which induces us to forget a first or unpremediated injury, but which punishes every act tending to oppression.

Q. Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond the bounds of reason and measure?

A. No; for it is a sure way of leading them to ingratitude. Such is the force of sentiment and justice implanted in the heart of man, that he is not even grateful for benefits conferred without discretion. There is only one measure with them, and that is to be just.

Q. Is alms-giving a virtuous action?

A. Yes, when it is practised according to the rule first mentioned; without which it degenerates into imprudence and vice, inasmuch as it encourages laziness, which is hurtful to the beggar and to society; no one has a right to partake of the property and fruits of another's labor, without rendering an equivalent of his own industry.

Q. Does the law of nature consider as virtues faith and hope, which are often joined with charity?

A. No; for they are ideas without reality; and if any effects result from them, they turn rather to the profit of those who have not those ideas, than of those who have them; so that faith and hope may be called the virtues of dupes for the benefit of knaves.

Q. Does the law of nature prescribe probity?

A. Yes, for probity is nothing more than respect for one's own rights in those of another; a respect founded on a prudent and well combined calculation of our interests compared to those of others.

Q. But does not this calculation, which embraces the complicated interests and rights of the social state, require an enlightened understanding and knowledge, which make it a difficult science?

A. Yes, and a science so much the more delicate as the honest man pronounces in his own cause.

Q. Probity, then, shows an extension and justice in the mind?

A. Yes, for an honest man almost always neglects a present interest, in order not to destroy a future one; whereas the knave does the contrary, and loses a great future interest for a present smaller one.

Q. Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow mind?

A. Yes, and rogues may be defined ignorant and silly calculators; for they do not understand their true interest, and they pretend to cunning: nevertheless, their cunning only ends in making known what they are-in losing all confidence and esteem, and the good services resulting from them for their physical and social existence. They neither live in peace with others, nor with themselves; and incessantly menaced by their conscience and their enemies, they enjoy no other real happiness but that of not being hanged.

Q. Does the law of nature forbid robbery?

A. Yes, for the man who robs another gives him a right to rob him; from that moment there is no security in his property, nor in his means of preservation: thus in injuring others, he, by a counterblow, injures himself.

Q. Does it interdict even an inclination to rob?

A. Yes; for that inclination leads naturally to action, and it is for this reason that envy is considered a sin?

Q. How does it forbid murder?

A. By the most powerful motives of self-preservation; for, first, the man who attacks exposes himself to the risk of being killed, by the right of defence; secondly, if he kills, he gives to the relations and friends of the deceased, and to society at large, an equal right of killing him; so that his life is no longer in safety.

Q. How can we, by the law of nature, repair the evil we have done?

A. By rendering a proportionate good to those whom we have injured.

Q. Does it allow us to repair it by prayers, vows, offerings to God, fasting and mortifications?

A. No: for all those things are foreign to the action we wish to repair: they neither restore the ox to him from whom it has been stolen, honor to him whom we have deprived of it, nor life to him from whom it has been taken away; consequently they miss the end of justice; they are only perverse contracts by which a man sells to another goods which do not belong to him; they are a real depravation of morality, inasmuch as they embolden to commit crimes through the hope of expiating them; wherefore, they have been the real cause of all the evils by which the people among whom those expiatory practices were used, have been continually tormented.

Q. Does the law of nature order sincerity?

A. Yes; for lying, perfidy, and perjury create distrust, quarrels, hatred, revenge, and a crowd of evils among men, which tend to their common destruction; while sincerity and fidelity establish confidence, concord, and peace, besides the infinite good resulting from such a state of things to society.

Q. Does it prescribe mildness and modesty?

A. Yes; for harshness and obduracy, by alienating from us the hearts of other men, give them an inclination to hurt us; ostentation and vanity, by wounding their self-love and jealousy, occasion us to miss the end of a real utility.

Q. Does it prescribe humility as a virtue?

A. No; for it is a propensity in the human heart to despise secretly everything that presents to it the idea of weakness; and self-debasement encourages pride and oppression in others; the balance must be kept in equipoise.

Q. You have reckoned simplicity of manners among the social virtues; what do you understand by that word?

A. I mean the restricting our wants and desires to what is truly useful to the existence of the citizen and his family; that is to say, the man of simple manners has but few wants, and lives content with a little.

Q. How is this virtue prescribed to us?

A. By the numerous advantages which the practice of it procures to the individual and to society; for the man whose wants are few, is free at once from a crowd of cares, perplexities, and labors; he avoids many quarrels and contests arising from avidity and a desire of gain; he spares himself the anxiety of ambition, the inquietudes of possession, and the uneasiness of losses; finding superfluity everywhere, he is the real rich man; always content with what he has, he is happy at little expense; and other men, not fearing any competition from him, leave him in quiet, and are disposed to render him the services he should stand in need of. And if this virtue of simplicity extends to a whole people, they insure to themselves abundance; rich in everything they do not consume, they acquire immense means of exchange and commerce; they work, fabricate, and sell at a lower price than others, and attain to all kinds of prosperity, both at home and abroad.

Q. What is the vice contrary to this virtue?

A. It is cupidity and luxury.

Q. Is luxury a vice in the individual and in society?

A. Yes, and to that degree, that it may be said to include all the others; for the man who stands in need of many things, imposes thereby on himself all the anxiety, and submits to all the means just or unjust of acquiring them. Does he possess an enjoyment, he covets another; and in the bosom of superfluity, he is never rich; a commodious dwelling is not sufficient for him, he must have a beautiful hotel; not content with a plenteous table, he must have rare and costly viands: he must have splendid furniture, expensive clothes, a train of attendants, horses, carriages, women, theatrical representations and games. Now, to supply so many expenses, much money must be had; and he looks on every method of procuring it as good and even necessary; at first he borrows, afterwards he steals, robs, plunders, turns bankrupt, is at war with every one, ruins and is ruined.

Should a nation be involved in luxury, it occasions on a larger scale the same devastations; by reason that it consumes its entire produce, it finds itself poor even with abundance; it has nothing to sell to foreigners; its manufactures are carried on at a great expense, and are sold too dear; it becomes tributary for everything it imports; it attacks externally its consideration, power, strength, and means of defence and preservation, while internally it undermines and falls into the dissolution of its members. All its citizens being covetous of enjoyments, are engaged in a perpetual struggle to obtain them; all injure or are near injuring themselves; and hence arise those habits and actions of usurpation, which constitute what is denominated moral corruption, intestine war between citizen and citizen. From luxury arises avidity, from avidity, invasion by violence and perfidy; from luxury arises the iniquity of the judge, the venality of the witness, the improbity of the husband, the prostitution of the wife, the obduracy of parents, the ingratitude of children, the avarice of the master, the dishonesty of the servant, the dilapidation of the administrator, the perversity of the legislator, lying, perfidy, perjury, assassination, and all the disorders of the social state; so that it was with a profound sense of truth, that ancient moralists have laid the basis of the social virtues on simplicity of manners, restriction of wants, and contentment with a little; and a sure way of knowing the extent of a man's virtues and vices is, to find out if his expenses are proportionate to his fortune, and calculate, from his want of money, his probity, his integrity in fulfilling his engagements, his devotion to the public weal, and his sincere or pretended love of his country.

Q. What do you mean by the word country?

A. I mean the community of citizens who, united by fraternal sentiments, and reciprocal wants, make of their respective strength one common force, the reaction of which on each of them assumes the noble and beneficent character of paternity. In society, citizens form a bank of interest; in our country we form a family of endearing attachments; it is charity, the love of one's neighbor extended to a whole nation. Now as charity cannot be separated from justice, no member of the family can pretend to the enjoyment of its advantages, except in proportion to his labor; if he consumes more than it produces, he necessarily encroaches on his fellow-citizens; and it is only by consuming less than what he produces or possesses, that he can acquire the means of making sacrifices and being generous.

Q. What do you conclude from all this?

A. I conclude from it that all the social virtues are only the habitude of actions useful to society and to the individual who practices them; That they refer to the physical object of man's preservation; That nature having implanted in us the want of that preservation, has made a law to us of all its consequences, and a crime of everything that deviates from it; That we carry in us the seed of every virtue, and of every perfection; That it only requires to be developed; That we are only happy inasmuch as we observe the rules established by nature for the end of our preservation; And that all wisdom, all perfection, all law, all virtue, all philosophy, consist in the practice of these axioms founded on our own organization:

Preserve thyself; Instruct thyself; Moderate thyself; Live for thy fellow citizens, that they may live for thee.


* In 1797, Dr. Priestly published a pamphlet, entitled,

"Observation on the increase of infidelity, with

animadversions upon the writings of several modern

unbelievers, and especially the Ruins of Mr. Volney." The

motto to this tract was:

"Minds of little penetration rest naturally on the surface of things. They do not like to pierce deep into them, for fear of labor and trouble; sometimes still more for fear of truth."

This Letter is an answer from Volney, taken from the Anti-Jacobin Review of March and April, 1799.

SIR.-I received in due time your pamphlet on the increase of infidelity, together with the note without date which accompanied it.* My answer has been delayed by the incidents of business, and even by ill health, which you will surely excuse: this delay has, besides, no inconvenience in it. The question between us is not of a very urgent nature: the world would not go on less well with or without my answer as with or without your book. I might, indeed, have dispensed with returning you any answer at all; and I should have been warranted in so doing, by the manner in which you have stated the debate, and by the opinion pretty generally received that, on certain occasions, and with certain persons, the most noble reply is silence. You seem to have been aware of this yourself, considering the extreme precautions you have taken to deprive me of this resource; but as according to our French customs, any answer is an act of civility, I am not willing to concede the advantage of politeness-besides, although silence is sometimes very significant, its eloquence is not understood by every one, and the public which has not leisure to analyze disputes (often of little interest) has a reasonable right to require at least some preliminary explanations; reserving to itself, should the discussion degenerate into the recriminative clamors of an irritated self-love, to allow the right of silence to him in whom it becomes the virtue of moderation.

* Dr. Priestly sent his pamphlet to Volney, desiring his

answer to the strictures on his opinions in his Ruins of


I have read, therefore, your animadversions on my Ruins, which you are pleased to class among the writings of modern unbelievers, and since you absolutely insist on my expressing my opinion before the public, I shall now fulfill this rather disagreeable task with all possible brevity, for the sake of economizing the time of our readers. In the first place, sir, it appears evidently, from your pamphlet, that your design is less to attack my book than my personal and moral character; and in order that the public may pronounce with accuracy on this point, I submit several passages fitted to throw light on the subject.

You say, in the preface of your discourses, p. 12, "There are, however, unbelievers more ignorant than Mr. Paine, Mr. Volney, Lequino, and others in France say," &c.

Also in the preface of your present observations, p. 20. "I can truly say that in the writings of Hume, Mr. Gibbon, Voltaire, Mr. Volney-there is nothing of solid argument: all abound in gross mistakes and misrepresentations." Idem, p. 38-"Whereas had he (Mr. Volney) given attention to the history of the times in which Christianity was promulgated . . . he could have no more doubt . . . &c., it is as much in vain to argue with such a person as this, as with a Chinese or even a Hottentot."

Idem, p. 119-"Mr. Volney, if we may judge from his numerous quotations of ancient writers in all the learned languages, oriental as well as occidental, must be acquainted with all; for he makes no mention of any translation, and yet if we judge from this specimen of his knowledge of them, he cannot have the smallest tincture of that of the Hebrew or even of the Greek."

And, at last, after having published and posted me in your very title page, as an unbeliever and an infidel; after having pointed me out in your motto as one of those superficial spirits who know not how to find out, and are unwilling to encounter, truth; you add, p. 124, immediately after an article in which you speak of me under all these denominations-

"The progress of infidelity, in the present age, is attended with a circumstance which did not so frequently accompany it in any former period, at least, in England, which is, that unbelievers in revelation generally proceed to the disbelief of the being and providence of God so as to become properly Atheists." So that, according to you, I am a Chinese, a Hottentot, an unbeliever, an Atheist, an ignoramus, a man of no sincerity; whose writings are full of nothing but gross mistakes and misrepresentations. Now I ask you, sir, What has all this to do with the main question? What has my book in common with my person? And how can you hold any converse with a man of such bad connexions? In the second place, your invitation, or rather, your summons to me, to point out the mistakes which I think you have made with respect to my opinions, suggest to me several observations.

First. You suppose that the public attaches a high importance to your mistakes and to my opinions: but I cannot act upon a supposition. Am I not an unbeliever?

Secondly. You say, p. 18, that the public will expect it from me: Where are the powers by which you make the public speak and act? Is this also a revelation?

Thirdly. You require me to point out your mistakes. I do not know that I am under any such obligation: I have not reproached you with them; it is not, indeed, very correct to ascribe to me, by selection or indiscriminately, as you have done, all the opinions scattered through my book, since, having introduced many different persons, I was under the necessity of making them deliver different sentiments, according to their different characters. The part which belongs to me is that of a traveler, resting upon the ruins and meditating on the causes of the misfortunes of the human race. To be consistent with yourself you ought to have assigned to me that of the Hottentot or Samoyde savage, who argues with the Doctors, chap. xxiii, and I should have accepted it; you have preferred that of the erudite historian, chap. xxii, nor do I look upon this as a mistake; I discover on the contrary, an insidious design to engage me in a duel of self-love before the public, wherein you would excite the exclusive interest of the spectators by supporting the cause which they approve; while the task which you would impose on me, would only, in the event of success, be attended with sentiments of disapprobation. Such is your artful purpose, that, in attacking me as doubting the existence of Jesus, you might secure to yourself, by surprise, the favor of every Christian sect, although your own incredulity in his divine nature is not less subversive of Christianity than the profane opinion, which does not find in history the proof required by the English law to establish a fact: to say nothing of the extraordinary kind of pride assumed in the silent, but palpable, comparison of yourself to Paul and to Christ, by likening your labors to theirs as tending to the same object, p. 10, preface. Nevertheless, as the first impression of an attack always confers an advantage, you have some ground for expecting you may obtain the apostolic crown; unfortunately for your purpose I entertain no disposition to that of martrydom: and however glorious it might be to me to fall under the arm of him who has overcome Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire and even Frederick II., I find myself under the necessity of declining your theological challenge, for a number of substantial reasons.

1. Because, to religious quarrels there is no end, since the prejudices of infancy and education almost unavoidably exclude impartial reasoning, and besides, the vanity of the champions becomes committed by the very publicity of the contest, never to give up a first assertion, whence result a spirit of sectarism and faction.

2. Because no one has a right to ask of me an account of my religious opinions. Every inquisition of this kind is a pretension to sovereignty, a first step towards persecution; and the tolerant spirit of this country, which you invoke, has much less in view to engage men to speak, than to invite them to be silent.

3. Because, supposing I do hold the opinions you attribute to me, I wish not to engage my vanity so as never to retract, nor to deprive myself of the resource of a conversion on some future day after more ample information.

4. And because, reverend sir, if, in the support of your own thesis, you should happen to be discomfited before the Christian audience, it would be a dreadful scandal; and I will not be a cause for scandal, even for the sake of good.

5. Because in this metaphysical contest our arms are too unequal; you speaking in your mother tongue, which I scarcely lisp, might bring forth huge volumes, while I could hardly oppose pages; and the public, who would read neither production, might take the weight of the books for that of reasoning.

6. And because, being endowed with the gift of faith in a pretty sufficient quantity, you might swallow in a quarter of an hour more articles than my logic would digest in a week.

7. Because again, if you were to oblige me to attend your sermons, as you have compelled me to read your pamphlet, the congregation would never believe that a man powdered and adorned like any worldling, could be in the right against a man dressed out in a large hat, with straight hair,* and a mortified countenance, although the gospel, speaking of the pharisees of other times, who were unpowdered, says that when one fasts he must anoint his head and wash his face.**

* Dr. Priestly has discarded his wig since he went to

America, and wears his own hair. Editor A. J. Reveiw.

** St. Matthew, Chapter VI. verses 16 and 17.

8. Because, finally, a dispute to one having nothing else to do would be a gratification, while to me, who can employ my time better, it would be an absolute loss.

I shall not then, reverend sir, make you my confessor in matters of religion, but I will disclose to you my opinion, as a man of letters, on the composition of your book. Having in former days, read many works of theology, I was curious to learn whether by any chemical process you had discovered real beings in that world of invisibles. Unfortunately, I am obliged to declare to the public, which, according to your expression, p. 19, "hopes to be instructed, to be led into truth, and not into error by me," that I have not found in your book a single new argument, but the mere repetition of what is told over and over in thousands of volumes, the whole fruit of which has been to procure for their authors a cursory mention in the dictionary of heresies. You everywhere lay down that as proved which remains to be proved; with this peculiarity, that, as Gibbon says, firing away your double battery against those who believe too much, and those who believe too little, you hold out your own peculiar sensations, as to the precise criterion of truth; so that we must all be just of your size in order to pass the gate of that New Jerusalem which you are building. After this, your reputation as a divine might have become problematical with me; but recollecting the principle of the association of ideas so well developed by Locke, whom you hold in estimation, and whom, for that reason I am happy to cite to you, although to him I owe that pernicious use of my understanding which makes me disbelieve what I do not comprehend-I perceive why the public having originally attached the idea of talents to the name of Mr. Priestly, doctor in chemistry, continued by habit to associate it with the name of Mr. Priestly, doctor in divinity; which, however, is not the same thing: an association of ideas the more vicious as it is liable to be moved inversely.* Happily you have yourself raised a bar of separation between your admirers, by advising us in the first page of your preface, that your present book is especially destined for believers. To cooperate, however, with you, sir, in this judicious design, I must observe that it is necessary to retrench two passages, seeing they afford the greatest support to the arguments of unbelievers.

* Mr. Blair, doctor of divinity, and Mr. Black, doctor in

chemistry, met at the coffee house in Edinburg: a new

theological pamphlet written by doctor Priestly was thrown

upon the table, "Really," said Dr. Blair, "this man had

better confine himself to chemistry, for he is absolutely

ignorant in theology:"-"I beg your pardon," answered Dr.

Black, "he is in the right, he is a minister of the gospel,

he ought to adhere to his profession, for in truth he knows

nothing of chemistry."

You say, p. 15, "What is manifestly contrary to natural reason cannot be received by it;"-and p. 62, "With respect to intellect, men and brute animals are born in the same state, having the same external senses, which are the only inlets to all ideas, and consequently the source of all the knowledge and of all the mental habits they ever acquire."

Now if you admit, with Locke, and with us infidels, that every one has the right of rejecting whatever is contrary to his natural reason, and that all our ideas and all our knowledge are acquired only by the inlets of our external senses; What becomes of the system of revelation, and of that order of things in times past, which is so contradictory to that of the time present? unless we consider it as a dream of the human brain during the state of superstitious ignorance.

With these two single phrases, I could overturn the whole edifice of your faith. Dread not, however, sir, in me such overflowing zeal. For the same reason that I have not the frenzy of martyrdom, I have not that of making proselytes. It becomes those ardent, or rather acrimonious tempers, who mistake the violence of their sentiments for the enthusiasm of truth; the ambition of noise and rumor, for the love of glory; and for the love of their neighbor, the detestation of his opinions, and the secret desire of dominion.

As for me, who have not received from nature the turbulent qualities of an apostle, and never sustained in Europe the character of a dissenter, I am come to America neither to agitate the conscience of men, nor to form a sect, nor to establish a colony, in which, under the pretext of religion, I might erect a little empire to myself. I have never been seen evangelizing my ideas, either in temples or in public meetings. I have never likewise practiced that quackery of beneficence, by which a certain divine, imposing a tax upon the generosity of the public, procures for himself the honors of a more numerous audience, and the merit of distributing at his pleasure a bounty which costs him nothing, and for which he receives grateful thanks dexterously stolen from the original donors.

Either in the capacity of a stranger, or in that of a citizen, a sincere friend to peace, I carry into society neither the spirit of dissension, nor the desire of commotion; and because I respect in every one what I wish him to respect in me, the name of liberty is in my mind nothing else but the synonyma of justice.

As a man, whether from moderation or indolence, a spectator of the world rather than an actor in it, I am every day less tempted to take on me the management of the minds or bodies of men: it is sufficient for an individual to govern his own passions and caprices.

If by one of these caprices, I am induced to think it may be useful, someti

mes, to publish my reflections, I do it without obstinacy or pretension to that implicit faith, the ridicule of which you desire to impart to me, p. 123. My whole book of the Ruins which you treat so ungratefully, since you thought it amusing, p. 122, evidently bears this character. By means of the contrasted opinions I have scattered through it, it breathes that spirit of doubt and uncertainty which appears to me the best suited to the weakness of the human mind, and the most adapted to its improvement, inasmuch as it always leaves a door open to new truths; while the spirit of dogmatism and immovable belief, limiting our progress to a first received opinion, binds us at hazard, and without resource, to the yoke of error or falsehood, and occasions the most serious mischiefs to society; since by combining with the passions, it engenders fanaticism, which, sometimes misled and sometimes misleading, though always intolerant and despotic, attacks whatever is not of its own nature; drawing upon itself persecution when it is weak, and practising persecution when it is powerful; establishing a religion of terror, which annihilates the faculties, and vitiates the conscience: so that, whether under a political or a religious aspect, the spirit of doubt is friendly to all ideas of liberty, truth, or genius, while a spirit of confidence is connected with the ideas of tyranny, servility, and ignorance.

If, as is the fact, our own experience and that of others daily teaches us that what at one time appeared true, afterwards appeared demonstrably false, how can we connect with our judgments that blind and presumptuous confidence which pursues those of others with so much hatred?

No doubt it is reasonable, and even honest, to act according to our present feelings and conviction: but if these feelings and their causes do vary by the very nature of things, how dare we impose upon ourselves or others an invariable conviction? How, above all, dare we require this conviction in cases where there is really no sensation, as happens in purely speculative questions, in which no palpable fact can be presented?

Therefore, when opening the book of nature, (a more authentic one and more easy to be read than leaves of paper blackened over with Greek or Hebrew,) and when I reflected that the slightest change in the material world has not been in times past, nor is at present effected by the difference of so many religions and sects which have appeared and still exist on the globe, and that the course of the seasons, the path of the sun, the return of rain and drought, are the same for the inhabitants of each country, whether Christians, Mussulmans, Idolaters, Catholics, Protestants, etc., I am induced to believe that the universe is governed by laws of wisdom and justice, very different from those which human ignorance and intolerance would enact.

And as in living with men of very opposite religious persuasions, I have had occasion to remark that their manners were, nevertheless, very analogous; that is to say, among the different Christian sects, among the Mahometans, and even among those people who were of no sect, I have found men who practise all the virtues, public and private, and that too without affectation; while others, who were incessantly declaiming of God and religion, abandoned themselves to every vicious habit which their belief condemned, I thereby became convinced that Ethics, the doctrines of morality, are the only essential, as they are only demonstrable, part of religion. And as, by your own avowal, the only end of religion is to render men better, in order to add to their happiness, p. 62, I have concluded that there are but two great systems of religion in the world, that of good sense and beneficence, and that of malice and hypocrisy.

In closing this letter, I find myself embarrassed by the nature of the sentiment which I ought to express to you, for in declaring as you have done, p. 123, that you do not care for the contempt of such as me* (ignorant as you were of my opinion), you tell me plainly that you do not care for their esteem. I leave, therefore, to your discernment and taste to determine the sentiment most congenial to my situation and your desert.

* "And what does it do for me here, except, perhaps, expose

me to the contempt of such men as Mr. Volney, which,

however, I feel myself pretty well able to bear?" p. 124.

This language is the more surprising, as Dr. Priestly never

received anything from me but civilities. In the year 1791

I sent him a dissertation of mine on the Chronology of the

Ancients, in consequence of some charts which he had himself

published. His only answer was to abuse me in a pamphlet in

1792. After this first abuse, on meeting me here last

winter, he procured me an invitation to dine with his friend

Mr. Russell, at whose house he lodged; after having shown me

polite attention at that dinner, he abuses me in his new

pamphlet. After this second abuse he meets me in Spruce

Street, and takes me by the hand as a friend, and speaks of

me in a large company under that denomination. Now I ask

the public, what kind of a man is Dr. Priestly?


Philadelphia, March 10, 1797.

P. S. I do not accompany this public letter with a private note to Dr. Priestly, because communications of that nature carry an appearance of bravado, which, even in exercising the right of a necessary defence, appear to me imcompatible with decency and politeness.


(Compiled by the publisher from recognized authorities.)

The Zodiac is an imaginary girdle or belt in the celestial sphere, which extends about eight degrees on each side of the Ecliptic. It is divided into twelve portions, called the signs of the Zodiac, within which all the planets make their revolutions. The Zodiac is so called from the animals represented upon it, and is supposed to have originated in remote ages and in latitudes where the camel and elephant were comparatively unknown. This pictorial representation of the zodiac was probably the origin, as M. Dupuis suggests, of the Arabian and Egyptian adoration of animals and birds, and has led in the natural progress of events to the adoration of images by both Christians and pagans.

"The Signs of the Zodiac, (says Godfrey Higgins in The Anacalypsis) with the exception of the Scorpion, which was exchanged by Dan for the Eagle, were carried by the different tribes of the Israelites on their standards; and Taurus, Leo, Aquarius, and Scorpio or the Eagle-the four signs of Reuben, Judah, Ephriam, and Dan-were placed at the four corners, (the four cardinal points), of their encampment, evidently in allusion to the cardinal points of the sphere, the equinoxes and solstices, when the equinox was in Taurus. (See Parkhurst's Lexicon.) These coincidences prove that this religious system had its origin before the bull ceased to be an equinoctial sign, and prove also, that the religion of Moses was originally the same in its secret mysteries as that of the Heathen, or, if my reader likes it better, that the Heathen secret mysteries were the same as those of Moses."

The Ecliptic, a great circle of the sphere, (shown on the preceding map by two parallel lines), is supposed to be drawn through the middle of the Zodiac, cutting the Equator at two points, (called the Equinoctial points), at an angle with the equinoctial of 23 degrees 28 minutes, (the sun's greatest declination), and is the path which the earth is supposed to describe amidst the fixed stars in performing its annual circuit around the sun. It is called the Ecliptic because the eclipses of the sun and moon always occur under it.

The Signs are each the twelfth part of the Ecliptic or Zodiac, (30 degrees,) and are reckoned from the point of intersection of the ecliptic and equator at the vernal equinox. They are named respectively Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces. These names are borrowed from the constellations of the zodiac of the same denomination, which corresponded when these divisions were originally made; but in consequence of the precession, recession, or retrocession of the equinoxes, (about 50 1/10" yearly, at the rate of about 72 years to a degree, displacing an entire sign in about 2152 years, and making an entire revolution of the equinoctial in about 25,868 years), the positions of these constellations in the heavens no longer correspond with the divisions of the ecliptic of the same name, but are in advance of them. Thus, the constellation Aries is now in that part of the ecliptic called Taurus, and the stars of Taurus are in Gemini, those of Gemini in Cancer, and so on throughout the ecliptic.

The relative positions of the signs and constellations in the zodiac and ecliptic seem thus to have gradually changed with the revolving years; and the worship of the three constellations, Taurus, Aries, and Pisces, with which Christianity is so intimately connected, seems to have changed in a corresponding degree. The worship of the bull of Egypt-the celestial Taurus-has given place to that of the lamb of Palestine-the celestial Aries; and under the astronomical emblem Pisces-the twelfth sign of the zodiac-the dominant faith of to-day was appropriately taught by the twelve apostolic fishermen.

It is from one of these chosen fishermen, St. Peter, that the Pope of Rome claims to have derived his arbitrary power for binding and loosing on earth those who are to be bound and loosed in heaven. (Matt. xvi, 19.) The grave responsibility of wielding with justice and equity this tremendous power over the future destiny of mankind, seems never to have disconcerted any of the successors of St. Peter. They have all proved to be equally arrogant and intolerant, zealous for both temporal and spiritual domination, and merciless to those who have opposed their pretensions. The present incumbent of the papal chair, who modestly claims the attribute of infallibility, seems proud of his inherited title, The Great Fisherman! and hopes in the progress of time, with the assistance of his monks, bishops, and cardinals, to entangle all nations in his net of faith, and to dictate with unquestioned authority the religious worship of the entire human race.

As the precession of the equinoxes still continues as of yore, and as the masses still continue credulous and devout, they may in succeeding ages be again called upon to worship the god Apis, when the sign of Taurus shall again coincide in the zodiac and the ecliptic; and Aries, "the lamb of God," may again be offered in the "fullness of time" as a sacrifice for mankind, again be crucified, and again shed his redeeming blood to wash away the sins of a believing world.

M. Dupuis has satisfactorily shown in The History of all Religions that the twelve labors of the god and saviour Hercules were astronomical allegories-the history of the passage of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac-and these labors are so similar to the sufferings of Jesus, that the Rev. Mr. Parkhurst has been obliged, much against his inclination, to acknowledge that they "were types of what the real Saviour was to do and suffer." (Parkhurst, p.47.) An intimate connection, if not identity, is thus shown between ancient and modern belief-between the paganism of the past and the orthodoxy of the present.


ARIES, the Ram: (marked [symbol for ARIES])-A northern constellation, usually named as the first sign in the zodiac, into which, when the sun enters at the vernal equinox in March, the days and nights are of equal length. Aries has been regarded by the devout during many ages as the celestial representative, visible in the heavens, of "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world."

TAURUS, the Bull:(marked thus, [symbol for TAURUS])-The second sign in the zodiac, which by the Arabians is called Ataur. This constellation was worshipped for ages by the idolatrous Egyptians as the heavenly representative of their god Osiris; and derives its name, according to Grecian fable, from the bull into which Jupiter transformed himself in order to carry Europa over into Crete; but the constellation was probably so named by the Egyptians to designate that period of the year, (April), in which cows mostly bring forth their young.

"The Rev. Mr. Maurice in his work on the antiquities of India, has shown that the May-day festival and the May-pole of Great Britain with its garlands, etc., are the remains of an ancient festival of Egypt and India, and probably of Phoenicia, when these nations, in countries very distant, and from times very remote, have all, with one consent, celebrated the entrance of the sun into the sign of Taurus at the vernal equinox."

GEMINI, the Twins: (marked thus, [symbol for GEMINI])-A zodiacal constellation, visible in May, containing the two bright stars Castor and Pollux, the fabled sons of Leda and Jupiter, who during their lives had cleared the Hellespont and neighboring seas of pirates, and were therefore deemed the protectors of navigators and sailors.

CANCER, the Crab: (marked thus, [symbol for CANCER])-Is the fourth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters on the 21st day of June, and is thence called the summer solstice. According to Grecian fable, the crab was transported to heaven at the request of Juno, after it had been slain by Hercules during his battle with the serpent Python, but the evident design of the name is to represent the apparent backward motion of the sun in June, which is said to resemble the motions of a crab.

LEO, the Lion: ([symbol for LEO]).-Is the fifth sign in the zodiac, and contains one star of the first magnitude, called Regulus, or Cor Leonis-the Lion's Heart. The fervid heat of July, when the sun has attained its greatest power, is now symbolized in our almanacs by the figure of an enraged lion; and the feasts or sacrifices formerly celebrated among the ancients during this month, in honor of the sun, (which they also represented under the form of a lion,) were called Leonitica. The priests who performed the sacred rites were called Leones. This feast was sometimes called Mithriaca, because Mithra was the name of the sun among the Persians. The sacred writings abound with references to the "king of beasts;" among the most interesting of which is the story of the battle between the lion and Samson, the Jewish Herculus; while the most wonderful example of animal evolution on record is found in the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, where we are gravely informed that "the lion shall eat straw like the bullock."

VIRGO, Virgin Mother, Venus, Eve, Isis, &c.-([symbol for VIRGO]).-Is the sixth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters about the 21st of August. The myths and fables regarding the virgin which abound among all nations and all religions, are both various and voluminous, and we may add somewhat improbable. They all agree, however, in this, that the female, shown on the preceding diagram, holding in her right hand a branch of ripened fruit,-the apples of Paradise,-was intended to represent the reproductive powers of nature,-the abundance, satisfaction and contentment which mortals enjoy during the happy period of harvest.

LIBRA, the Balance.-The seventh sign of the zodiac, directly opposite to Aries, from which it is distant 180 degrees. It is marked thus [symbol for LIBRA], after the manner of a pair of scales; to denote, probably, that when the sun arrives at this part of the ecliptic, the days and nights are equal, as if weighed in a balance. Hence the period when the sun enters Libra, (about September 21st,) is called the Autumnal equinox. On the 25th of September was born John the Baptist, the forerunner of his cousin Jesus, who came to his exaltation of glory on the 25th of March, the Vernal equinox. "The equinoxes and solstices," says Higgins, "equally marked the births and deaths of John and Jesus." The one preceded and prepared the way for the other, who receded. One advanced, the other declined. Jesus ascended, John descended. Astrologically speaking, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John iii, 30.)

SCORPIO, the Scorpion.-The eighth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters on the 23d of October, is marked thus [symbol for SCORPIO]. Scorpio is fabled to have killed the great hunter Orion, and for that exploit to have been placed among the constellations. For this reason it is also said that when Scorpio rises Orion sets.

SAGITTARIUS, the Archer: (marked thus, [symbol for SAGITTARIUS]) is the ninth zodiacal sign, and corresponds with the month of November. This sign is represented like a centaur and was fabled to be Crotus, the son of Eupheme, the nurse of the Muses.

CAPRICORNUS, the Goat.([symbol for CAPRICORNUS])-The tenth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters the 21st of December, (the longest night in the year,) called the winter solstice. This sign is drawn to represent the horns of a goat, and is fabled to have been Pan, who in the war of the giants was taken to heaven in the shape of a goat. Others claim that it was the goat of Amalthaea, which fed Jupiter with her milk. Macrobius, who calls Cancer and Capricorn the gates of the sun, makes the latter sign to represent his motion, after the manner of a goat climbing the mountains.

AQUARIUS, the Water Bearer.-A constellation in the heavens so called, because during its rising there is usually an abundance of rain. It is the eleventh sign in the zodiac, reckoned from Aries, and is marked thus, [symbol for AQUARIUS]. It rises in January and sets in February, and is supposed by the poets to be Ganymede.

PISCES, the Fishes, [symbol for PISCES].-The twelfth sign of the zodiac, rises in February and is represented by two fishes tied together by the tails. These fishes are fabled by the Greeks to be those into which Venus and Cupid were changed to escape from the giant Typhon. This fable may not be true, but that wonderful miracles were once performed with two small fishes is stated in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, where it is said that 5000 hungry mortals were cheaply, if not sumptuously regaled with two small fishes and five loaves of bread; while a large surplus of this piscatory diet, larger indeed than the original stock, still remained intact.

In the vestibule or approaches to catholic churches is usually found a vase filled with water, (called Piscina,) and this water is considered holy. The Fish-days are observed as holy days, or fast days, in which Fish may be eaten and meat is forbidden; and learned writers have asserted that in the worship of Pisces may be found the true secret of the origin of the rite of baptism. The Fish-god Oannes, is said to have come out of the Erythraean Sea and taught the Babylonians all kinds of useful knowledge. Ionnes or Jonas went headlong into the sea and into a fish, and has kindly recorded for our instruction his remarkable adventures. The miraculous draughts of fishes in the apostolic age still excite the emulation of modern fishermen, who cannot even hope to rival the wonders that have been recorded. St. Peter is said to have secured ready money from the mouth of a fish that he caught with a hook and line in the sea of Galilee. (Matthew xvii, 27.) His success was justly rewarded, and to him was delegated the power of ruling the infant church. Pisces thus displaced Aries. The fisherman succeeded the shepherd. The precession of the equinoxes produced a new avatar; a new sign arose in the heavens; and a new saviour was born to save mankind.


SIRIUS, the Dog Star.-A bright star of the first magnitude in the mouth of the constellation Canis Major. This is the brightest star that appears in our firmament, and is supposed by some to be the nearest.

LEPUS.-One of the southern constellations, placed near Orion, according to Grecian fable, because it was one of the animals which he hunted.

ERIDANUS.-A winding southern constellation, near the Cetus, containing the bright star Achemar.

CETUS, the Whale.-A southern constellation, and one of the forty-eight old asterisms. It is fabled to have been the sea monster sent by Neptune to devour Andromeda, which was killed by Perseus.

CRATER, the Cup.-A southern constellation, near Hydra. This is supposed by Hyainus to be the cup which Apollo gave to the Corvus, or Raven.

CORVUS.-One of the old constellations in the southern hemisphere, near Sagittarius. This bird is fabled to have been translated to heaven by Apollo for discovering to him the infidelity of the nymph Coronis.

ARGO NAVIS, the Ship.-A constellation near to the Canis Major, and the name of the ship which carried Jason and his fifty-four companions to Colchis in quest of the golden fleece, and was said to have been translated into the heavens.

CANOPUS.-The name formerly given to a star in the second bend of Eridanus. A bright star of the first magnitude in the rudder of the ship Argo, which, according to Pliny, was visible at Alexandria in Egypt.

CENTAURUS.-One of the forty-eight old constellations in the southern hemisphere, represented in the form of half man and half horse, who was fabled by the Greeks to have been Chiron, the tutor of Achilles.

AVA, or ALTAR.-One of the old constellations, and fabled to have been that at which the giants entered into their conspiracy against the gods; wherefore Jupiter, in commemoration of the event, transplanted the altar into the heavens.

PEGASUS.-One of the forty-eight old constellations of the northern hemisphere, figured in the form of a flying horse.

DELPHINUS, or DOLPHIN.-A northern constellation, near Pegasus. The Dolphin is fabled to have been translated to heaven by Neptune.

AQUILA, the Eagle.-In the Arabic Altair, but in the Persian tables the Flying Vulture. This is one of the old constellations, situated near Delphinus in the northern hemisphere. According to Grecian fable, Aquila represented Ganymede or Hebe, who was transported to heaven and made cup-bearer to Jupiter.

SAGITTA-the Dart or Arrow, called by the Arabians Schahan. One of the old constellations in the northern hemisphere, near Aquila and Delphinus. It is fabled to have been the arrow with which Hercules slew the vulture that was devouring the liver of Prometheus who was, like Jesus, crucified for loving mankind.

CYGNUS, the Swan.-An old constellation in the milky-way, between Equus and the Dragon. This is fabled to be the swan into which Jupiter transformed himself in order to deceive the virtuous Leda, wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. The Grecian matron, like the Jewish virgin, thus became the mother of a God.

LYRA.-A northern constellation between Hercules and Cygnus, containing a white star of the first magnitude.

MILKY-WAY.-Galaxy, or Via Lactia.-A broad luminous path or circle encompassing the heavens, which is easily discernible by its white appearance, from which it derives its name. It is supposed to be the blended light of innumerable fixed stars, which are not distinguishable with ordinary telescopes.

HYDRA, the Serpent.-A southern constellation of great length, which is drawn to represent a serpent. The Hydra is fabled to have been placed in the heavens by Apollo, to frighten the Raven from drinking.

ORION, the hunter.-A constellation of the southern hemisphere with respect to the ecliptic, but half southern and half northern with respect to the equinoctial. It is placed near the feet of the bull, and is composed of seventeen stars in the form of a sword, which has given occasion to the poets to speak of Orion's sword. He was described by the Greeks as a "mighty hunter," who for his exploits was placed in the heavens by Jupiter, between the Canis and the Lepus. He is believed by many to have been the "mighty hunter" spoken of in the bible, under the name of Nimrod. (See Gen. x: 8, 9; 1 Chron. i: 10; Micha v: 6, Job ix, 9; Amos v, 8.)

PERSEUS.-This constellation is named from Perseus, the son of Jupiter by Danae, who was translated into the heavens by the assistance of Minerva, for having released Andromeda from her confinement on the rock to which she was chained. He is represented in the preceding illustration holding a drawn sword in his right hand and in his left the head of Medusa, the Gorgon, whose terrifying appearance changed all who beheld her into stone, and whom he had destroyed with the assistance of the wings he had borrowed from Mercury, the helmet from Pluto, the sword from Vulcan, and the shield from Minerva.

JOSEPH'S STABLE; AURIGA, the Wagoner:-A northern constellation between Perseus and Gemini, represented by the figure of an old man supporting a goat. He is said to have been taken to heaven by Jupiter after the invention of wagons.

URSA MAJOR, the Bear.-One of the prominent northern constellations, situated near the north pole. It contains the stars called the Dipper. Ursa Minor contains the pole-star, which is shown in the extremity of the tail of the bear.

ANDROMEDA.-A northern constellation, represented by a woman chained; as, according to Grecian fable, Andromeda, the daughter of Cassiopia, was bound to a rock by the Nereides, and afterwards released by Perseus. Minerva changed her into a constellation after her death, and placed her in the heavens.

DRACO OR DRAGON.-A northern constellation, supposed to represent the Dragon that guarded the Hesperian fruit, and was killed by Hercules. It is said that Juno took it up to heaven and placed it among the constellations.

BOOTIS, the Ox driver: so called because this constellation seems to follow the Great Bear as the driver follows his oxen. Bootis is represented as grasping in his right hand a sickle and in his left a club, and is fabled to have been Icarius, who was transported to heaven because he was a great cultivator of the vine; for when Bootes rises the works of ploughing and cultivation go forward.

CORONA BOREALIS. Northern Crown.-One of the old northern constellations, between Hercules and Bootes.

CORONA AUSTRALIS-Southern Crown.-One of the old constellations in the southern hemisphere, between Sagittarius and Scorpio. The Corona were fabled to be Menippe and Metioche, two daughters of Orion, who sacrificed themselves at the suggestion of an oracle, to protect Boeotia, their native country, from the ravages of a pestilence: it being the belief of idolatrous nations that an angry god could be propitiated by human sacrifices, and that the death of the innocent might atone for the sins of the guilty. The deities of Hades were astonished, it is said, at the patriotism and devotion of these Grecian maidens, who had so generously and uselessly sacrificed their lives. After their death two stars were seen to issue from the altars that still smoked with their blood, and these stars were placed in the heavens in the form of a crown or coronet.

CEPHEUS AND CASSIOPIA.-One of the old asterism in the northern hemisphere, near the pole. According to Grecian fables, Cassiopia and her husband Cepheus, king of Etheopia, were placed among the constellations to witness the punishment inflicted on their daughter, Andromeda.

TRIANGULARIUM.-A name for both one of the old and new constellations in the northern hemisphere, between Andromeda and Aries.

SERPENTARIUS, called Ophiucus, is a constellation in the northern hemisphere, between Scorpio and Hercules.

HERCULES, one of the old northern constellations. In Grecian mythology it was taught and believed that Hercules, the Theban, was born of a human mother and an immortal father, like other so-called saviours of mankind. His mother, the fair Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, having found favor in the eyes of the god Jupiter, soon fell an unwilling victim to his celestial wiles. The life of the infant Hercules, born of this unnatural union, was threatened by the jealous Juno, the same as the life of the infant Jesus was threatened by the tyrant Herod. Like Jesus, Hercules devoted his life to the benefit of the human race, and like Jesus he was also worshipped after his death as a God in heaven. He is shown in the astrological chart, enveloped in the skin of the lion he has slain, with his club upraised, and his foot placed threateningly above the head of the Dragon, as if about to fulfill the scriptural prophecy, that "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head."

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