C. F. [Constantin Francois de] Volney
Part 6 out of 6
men, they find no solid establishment, they fall into poverty,
misery, and wretchedness, and thus drag on in sorrow their unhappy
Q. Does the law of nature extend so far as the scruples of desires
A. Yes; because, in the physical laws of the human body, thoughts
and desires inflame the senses, and soon provoke to action: now, by
another law of nature in the organization of our body, those
actions become mechanical wants which recur at certain periods of
days or of weeks, so that, at such a time, the want is renewed of
such an action and such a secretion; if this action and this
secretion be injurious to health, the habitude of them becomes
destructive of life itself. Thus thoughts and desires have a true
and natural importance.
Q. Should modesty be considered as a virtue?
A. Yes; because modesty, inasmuch as it is a shame of certain
actions, maintains the soul and body in all those habits useful to
good order, and to self-preservation. The modest woman is
esteemed, courted, and established, with advantages of fortune
which ensure her existence, and render it agreeable to her, while
the immodest and prostitute are despised, repulsed, and abandoned
to misery and infamy.
ON COURAGE AND ACTIVITY.
Q. Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of
A. Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious
and indispensable means of attending to our preservation and
welfare. The courageous and strong man repulses oppression,
defends his life, his liberty, and his property; by his labor he
procures himself an abundant subsistence, which he enjoys in
tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls into misfortunes, from
which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with
fortitude and resignation; and it is for this reason that the
ancient moralists have reckoned strength and courage among the four
Q. Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?
A. Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable
calamities. The weak or cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and
agonies; he undermines his health by the dread, oftentimes ill
founded, of attacks and dangers: and this dread which is an evil,
is not a remedy; it renders him, on the contrary, the slave of him
who wishes to oppress him; and by the servitude and debasement of
all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes his means of
existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and
caprice of another man.
Q. But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are
not courage and force, as well as many other virtues, in a great
measure the effect of our physical constitution and temperament?
A. Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are
transmitted by generation and blood, with the elements on which
they depend: the most reiterated and constant facts prove that in
the breed of animals of every kind, we see certain physical and
moral qualities, attached to the individuals of those species,
increase or decay according to the combinations and mixtures they
make with other breeds.
Q. But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those
qualities, is it a crime to be destitute of them?
A. No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the
ancients call an unlucky fatality; but even then we have it yet in
our power to acquire them; for, as soon as we know on what physical
elements such or such a quality is founded, we can promote its
growth, and hasten its developments, by a skillful management of
those elements; and in this consists the science of education,
which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades
individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to
change their nature and inclinations; for which reason it is of the
greatest importance to be acquainted with the laws of nature by
which those operations and changes are certainly and necessarily
Q. Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law
A. Because the man who works and employs his time usefully,
derives from it a thousand precious advantages to his existence.
If he is born poor, his labor furnishes him with subsistence; and
still more so, if he is sober, continent, and prudent, for he soon
acquires a competency, and enjoys the sweets of life; his very
labor gives him virtues; for, while he occupies his body and mind,
he is not affected with unruly desires, time does not lie heavy on
him, he contracts mild habits, he augments his strength and health,
and attains a peaceful and happy old age.
Q. Are idleness and sloth vices in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and the most pernicious of all vices, for they lead to all
the others. By idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, he forgets
even the science he had acquired, and falls into all the
misfortunes which accompany ignorance and folly; by idleness and
sloth man, devoured with disquietude, in order to dissipate it,
abandons himself to all the desires of his senses, which, becoming
every day more inordinate, render him intemperate, gluttonous,
lascivious, enervated, cowardly, vile, and contemptible. By the
certain effect of all those vices, he ruins his fortune, consumes
his health, and terminates his life in all the agonies of sickness
and of poverty.
Q. From what you say, one would think that poverty was a vice?
A. No, it is not a vice; but it is still less a virtue, for it is
by far more ready to injure than to be useful; it is even commonly
the result, or the beginning of vice, for the effect of all
individual vices is to lead to indigence, and to the privation of
the necessaries of life; and when a man is in want of necessaries,
he is tempted to procure them by vicious means, that is to say, by
means injurious to society. All the individual virtues tend, on
the contrary, to procure to a man an abundant subsistence; and when
he has more than he can consume, it is much easier for him to give
to others, and to practice the actions useful to society.
Q. Do you look upon opulence as a virtue?
A. No; but still less as a vice: it is the use alone of wealth
that can be called virtuous or vicious, according as it is
serviceable or prejudicial to man and to society. Wealth is an
instrument, the use and employment alone of which determine its
virtue or vice.
Q. Why is cleanliness included among the virtues?
A. Because it is, in reality, one of the most important among
them, on account of its powerful influence over the health and
preservation of the body. Cleanliness, as well in dress as in
residence, obviates the pernicious effects of the humidity, baneful
odors, and contagious exhalations, proceeding from all things
abandoned to putrefaction. Cleanliness, maintains free
transpiration; it renews the air, refreshes the blood, and disposes
even the mind to cheerfulness.
From this it appears that persons attentive to the cleanliness of
their bodies and habitations are, in general, more healthy, and
less subject to disease, than those who live in filth and
nastiness; and it is further remarked, that cleanliness carries
with it, throughout all the branches of domestic administration,
habits of order and arrangement, which are the chief means and
first elements of happiness.
Q. Uncleanliness or filthiness is, then, a real vice?
A. Yes, as real a one as drunkenness, or as idleness, from which
in a great measure it is derived. Uncleanliness is the second, and
often the first, cause of many inconveniences, and even of grievous
disorders; it is a fact in medicine, that it brings on the itch,
the scurf, tetters, leprosies, as much as the use of tainted or
sour aliments; that it favors the contagious influence of the
plague and malignant fevers, that it even produces them in
hospitals and prisons; that it occasions rheumatisms, by incrusting
the skin with dirt, and thereby preventing transpiration; without
reckoning the shameful inconvenience of being devoured by vermin--
the foul appendage of misery and depravity.
Most ancient legislators, therefore, considered cleanliness, which
they called purity, as one of the essential dogmas of their
religions. It was for this reason that they expelled from society,
and even punished corporeally those who were infected with
distempers produced by uncleanliness; that they instituted and
consecrated ceremonies of ablutions baths, baptisms, and of
purifications, even by fire and the aromatic fumes of incense,
myrrh, benjamin, etc., so that the entire system of pollutions, all
those rites of clean and unclean things, degenerated since into
abuses and prejudices, were only founded originally on the
judicious observation, which wise and learned men had made, of the
extreme influence that cleanliness in dress and abode exercises
over the health of the body, and by an immediate consequence over
that of the mind and moral faculties.
Thus all the individual virtues have for their object, more or less
direct, more or less near, the preservation of the man who
practises them and by the preservation of each man, they lead to
that of families and society, which are composed of the united sum
ON DOMESTIC VIRTUES.
Q. What do you mean be domestic virtues?
A. I mean the practice of actions useful to a family, supposed to
live in the same house.*
* Domestic is derived from the Latin word domus, a house.
Q. What are those virtues?
A. They are economy, paternal love, filial love, conjugal love,
fraternal love, and the accomplishment of the duties of master and
Q. What is economy?
A. It is, according to the most extensive meaning of the word, the
proper administration of every thing that concerns the existence of
the family or house; and as subsistence holds the first rank, the
word economy in confined to the employment of money for the wants
Q. Why is economy a virtue?
A. Because a man who makes no useless expenses acquires a
superabundancy, which is true wealth, and by means of which he
procures for himself and his family everything that is really
convenient and useful; without mentioning his securing thereby
resources against accidental and unforeseen losses, so that he and
his family enjoy an agreeable and undisturbed competency, which is
the basis of human felicity.
Q. Dissipation and prodigality, therefore, are vices?
A. Yes, for by them man, in the end, is deprived of the
necessaries of life; he falls into poverty and wretchedness; and
his very friends, fearing to be obliged to restore to him what he
has spent with or for them, avoid him as a debtor does his
creditor, and he remains abandoned by the whole world.
Q. What is paternal love?
A. It is the assiduous care taken by parents to make their
children contract the habit of every action useful to themselves
and to society.
Q. Why is paternal tenderness a virtue in parents?
A. Because parents, who rear their children in those habits,
procure for themselves, during the course of their lives,
enjoyments and helps that give a sensible satisfaction at every
instant, and which assure to them, when advanced in years, supports
and consolations against the wants and calamities of all kinds with
which old age is beset.
Q. Is paternal love a common virtue?
A. No; notwithstanding the ostentation made of it by parents, it
is a rare virtue. They do not love their children, they caress and
spoil them. In them they love only the agents of their will, the
instruments of their power, the trophies of their vanity, the
pastime of their idleness. It is not so much the welfare of their
children that they propose to themselves, as their submission and
obedience; and if among children so many are seen ungrateful for
benefits received, it is because there are among parents as many
despotic and ignorant benefactors.
Q. Why do you say that conjugal love is a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union resulting from the love of the
married, establish in the heart of the family a multitude of habits
useful to its prosperity and preservation. The united pair are
attached to, and seldom quit their home; they superintend each
particular direction of it; they attend to the education of their
children; they maintain the respect and fidelity of domestics; they
prevent all disorder and dissipation; and from the whole of their
good conduct, they live in ease and consideration; while married
persons who do not love one another, fill their house with quarrels
and troubles, create dissension between their children and the
servants, leaving both indiscriminately to all kinds of vicious
habits; every one in turn spoils, robs, and plunders the house; the
revenues are absorbed without profit; debts accumulate; the married
pair avoid each other, or contend in lawsuits; and the whole family
falls into disorder, ruin, disgrace and want.
Q. Is adultery an offence in the law of nature?
A. Yes; for it is attended with a number of habits injurious to
the married and to their families. The wife or husband, whose
affections are estranged, neglect their house, avoid it, and
deprive it, as much as they can, of its revenues or income, to
expend them with the object of their affections; hence arise
quarrels, scandal, lawsuits, the neglect of their children and
servants, and at last the plundering and ruin of the whole family;
without reckoning that the adulterous woman commits a most grievous
theft, in giving to her husband heirs of foreign blood, who deprive
his real children of their legitimate portion.
Q. What is filial love?
A. It is, on the side of children, the practice of those actions
useful to themselves and to their parents.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe filial love?
A. By three principal motives:
1. By sentiment; for the affectionate care of parents inspires,
from the most tender age, mild habits of attachment.
2. By justice; for children owe to their parents a return and
indemnity for the cares, and even for the expenses, they have
3. By personal interest; for, if they use them ill, they give to
their own children examples of revolt and ingratitude, which
authorize them, at a future day, to behave to themselves in a
Q. Are we to understand by filial love a passive and blind
A. No; but a reasonable submission, founded on the knowledge of
the mutual rights and duties of parents and children; rights and
duties, without the observance of which their mutual conduct is
nothing but disorder.
Q. Why is fraternal love a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union, which result from the love of
brothers, establish the strength, security, and conservation of the
family: brothers united defend themselves against all oppression,
they aid one another in their wants, they help one another in their
misfortunes, and thus secure their common existence; while brothers
disunited, abandoned each to his own personal strength, fall into
all the inconveniences attendant on an insulated state and
individual weakness. This is what a certain Scythian king
ingeniously expressed when, on his death-bed, calling his children
to him, he ordered them to break a bundle of arrows. The young
men, though strong, being unable to effect it, he took them in his
turn, and untieing them, broke each of the arrows separately with
his fingers. "Behold," said he, "the effects of union; united
together, you will be invincible; taken separately, you will be
broken like reeds."
Q. What are the reciprocal duties of masters and of servants?
A. They consist in the practice of the actions which are
respectively and justly useful to them; and here begin the
relations of society; for the rule and measure of those respective
actions is the equilibrium or equality between the service and the
recompense, between what the one returns and the other gives; which
is the fundamental basis of all society.
Thus all the domestic and individual virtues refer, more or less
mediately, but always with certitude, to the physical object of the
amelioration and preservation of man, and are thereby precepts
resulting from the fundamental law of nature in his formation.
THE SOCIAL VIRTUES; JUSTICE.
Q. What is society?
A. It is every reunion of men living together under the clauses of
an expressed or tacit contract, which has for its end their common
Q. Are the social virtues numerous?
A. Yes; they are in as great number as the kinds of actions useful
to society; but all may be reduced to one principle.
Q. What is that fundamental principle?
A. It is justice, which alone comprises all the virtues of
Q. Why do you say that justice is the fundamental and almost only
virtue of society?
A. Because it alone embraces the practice of all the actions
useful to it; and because all the other virtues, under the
denominations of charity, humanity, probity, love of one's country,
sincerity, generosity, simplicity of manners, and modesty, are only
varied forms and diversified applications of the axiom, "Do not to
another what you do not wish to be done to yourself," which is the
definition of justice.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe justice?
A. By three physical attributes, inherent in the organization of
Q. What are those attributes?
A. They are equality, liberty, and property.
Q. How is equality a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men, having equally eyes, hands, mouths, ears, and
the necessity of making use of them, in order to live, have, by
this reason alone, an equal right to life, and to the use of the
aliments which maintain it; they are all equal before God.
Q. Do you suppose that all men hear equally, see equally, feel
equally, have equal wants, and equal passions?
A. No; for it is evident, and daily demonstrated, that one is
short, and another long-sighted; that one eats much, another
little; that one has mild, another violent passions; in a word,
that one is weak in body and mind, while another is strong in both.
Q. They are, therefore, really unequal?
A. Yes, in the development of their means, but not in the nature
and essence of those means. They are made of the same stuff, but
not in the same dimensions; nor are the weight and value equal.
Our language possesses no one word capable of expressing the
identity of nature, and the diversity of its form and employment.
It is a proportional equality; and it is for this reason I have
said, equal before God, and in the order of nature.
Q. How is liberty a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men having senses sufficient for their
preservation--no one wanting the eye of another to see, his ear to
hear, his mouth to eat, his feet to walk--they are all, by this
very reason, constituted naturally independent and free; no man is
necessarily subjected to another, nor has he a right to dominate
Q. But if a man is born strong, has he a natural right to master
the weak man?
A. No; for it is neither a necessity for him, nor a convention
between them; it is an abusive extension of his strength; and here
an abuse is made of the word right, which in its true meaning
implies, justice or reciprocal faculty.
Q. How is property a physical attribute of man?
A. Inasmuch as all men being constituted equal or similar to one
another, and consequently independent and free, each is the
absolute master, the full proprietor of his body and of the produce
of his labor.
Q. How is justice derived from these three attributes?
A. In this, that men being equal and free, owing nothing to each
other, have no right to require anything from one another only
inasmuch as they return an equal value for it; or inasmuch as the
balance of what is given is in equilibrium with what is returned:
and it is this equality, this equilibrium which is called justice,
equity;* that is to say that equality and justice are but one and
the same word, the same law of nature, of which the social virtues
are only applications and derivatives.
* Aequitas, aequilibrium, aequalitas, are all of the same family.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIAL VIRTUES.
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
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
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
Q. Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow
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
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
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
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.
VOLNEY'S ANSWER TO DR. PRIESTLY.*
* 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 Empires.
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
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
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
If by one of these caprices, I am induced to think it may be
useful, sometimes, 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
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.
C. F. VOLNEY.
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
THE ZODIACAL SIGNS AND CONSTELLATIONS.
(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
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
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
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.
THE ZODIACAL SIGNS.
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
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
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 magiiitude, 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
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
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
LEPUS.--One of the southern constellations, placed near Orion,
according to Grecian fable, because it was one of the animals which
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
TRIANGULARIUM.--A name for both one of the old and new
constellations in the northern hemisphere, between Andromeda and
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."
Back to Full Books