The Apparition


image by: Sorin Furcoi


THE APPARITION

By Constantin-François Volney


"While thus absorbed, a sound struck my ear, like the agitation of a flowing robe, or that of slow footsteps on dry and rustling grass. Startled, I opened my mantle, and looking about with fear and trembling, suddenly, on my left, by the glimmering light of the moon, through the columns and ruins of a neighboring temple, I thought I saw an apparition, pale, clothed in large and flowing robes, such as spectres are painted rising from their tombs. I shuddered: and while agitated and hesitating whether to fly or to advance toward the object, a distinct voice, in solemn tones, pronounced these words:


How long will man importune heaven with unjust complaint? How long, with vain clamors, will he accuse Fate as the author of his calamities? Will he forever shut his eyes to the light, and his heart to the admonitions of truth and reason? The light of truth meets him everywhere; yet he sees it not! The voice of reason strikes his ear; and he hears it not! Unjust man! if for a moment thou canst suspend the delusion which fascinates thy senses, if thy heart can comprehend the language of reason, interrogate these ruins! Read the lessons which they present to thee! And you, evidences of twenty centuries, holy temples! venerable tombs! walls once so glorious, appear in the cause of nature herself! Approach the tribunal of sound reason, and bear testimony against unjust accusations! Come and confound the declamations of a false wisdom or hypocritical piety, and avenge the heavens and the earth of man who calumniates them both!


What is that blind fatality, which without order and without law, sports with the destiny of mortals? What is that unjust necessity, which confounds the effect of actions, whether of wisdom or of folly? In what consist the anathemas of heaven over this land? Where is that divine malediction which perpetuates the abandonment of these fields? Say, monuments of past ages! have the heavens changed their laws and the earth its motion? Are the fires of the sun extinct in the regions of space? Do the seas no longer emit their vapors? Are the rains and the dews suspended in the air? Do the mountains withhold their springs? Are the streams dried up? And do the plants no longer bear fruit and seed? Answer, generation of falsehood and iniquity, hath God deranged the primitive and settled order of things which he himself assigned to nature? Hath heaven denied to earth, and earth to its inhabitants, the blessings they formerly dispensed? If nothing hath changed in the creation, if the same means now exist which before existed, why then are not the present what former generations were? Ah! it is falsely that you accuse fate and heaven! it is unjustly that you accuse God as the cause of your evils! Say, perverse and hypocritical race! if these places are desolate, if these powerful cities are reduced to solitude, is it God who has caused their ruin? Is it his hand which has overthrown these walls, destroyed these temples, mutilated these columns, or is it the hand of man? Is it the arm of God which has carried the sword into your cities, and fire into your fields, which has slaughtered the people, burned the harvests, rooted up trees, and ravaged the pastures, or is it the hand of man? And when, after the destruction of crops, famine has ensued, is it the vengeance of God which has produced it, or the mad fury of mortals? When, sinking under famine, the people have fed on impure aliments, if pestilence ensues, is it the wrath of God which sends it, or the folly of man? When war, famine and pestilence, have swept away the inhabitants, if the earth remains a desert, is it God who has depopulated it? Is it his rapacity which robs the husbandman, ravages the fruitful fields, and wastes the earth, or is it the rapacity of those who govern? Is it his pride which excites murderous wars, or the pride of kings and their ministers? Is it the venality of his decisions which overthrows the fortunes of families, or the corruption of the organs of the law? Are they his passions which, under a thousand forms, torment individuals and nations, or are they the passions of man? And if, in the anguish of their miseries, they see not the remedies, is it the ignorance of God which is to blame, or their ignorance? Cease then, mortals, to accuse the decrees of Fate, or the judgments of the Divinity! If God is good, will he be the author of your misery? If he is just, will he be the accomplice of your crimes? No, the caprice of which man complains is not the caprice of fate; the darkness that misleads his reason is not the darkness of God; the source of his calamities is not in the distant heavens, it is beside him on the earth; it is not concealed in the bosom of the divinity; it dwells within himself, he bears it in his own heart.


Thou murmurest and sayest: What! have an infidel people then enjoyed the blessings of heaven and earth? Are the holy people of God less fortunate than the races of impiety? Deluded man! where then is the contradiction which offends thee? Where is the inconsistency which thou imputest to the justice of heaven? Take into thine own hands the balance of rewards and punishments, of causes and effects. Say: when these infidels observed the laws of the heavens and the earth, when they regulated well-planned labors by the order of the seasons and the course of the stars, should the Almighty have disturbed the equilibrium of the universe to defeat their prudence? When their hands cultivated these fields with toil and care, should he have diverted the course of the rains, suspended the refreshing dews, and planted crops of thorns? When, to render these arid fields productive, their industry constructed aqueducts, dug canals, and led the distant waters across the desert, should he have dried up their sources in the mountains? Should he have blasted the harvests which art had nourished, wasted the plains which peace had peopled, overthrown cities which labor had created, or disturbed the order established by the wisdom of man? And what is that infidelity which founded empires by its prudence, defended them by its valor, and strengthened them by its justice—which built powerful cities, formed capacious ports, drained pestilential marshes, covered the ocean with ships, the earth with inhabitants; and, like the creative spirit, spread life and motion throughout the world? If such be infidelity, what then is the true faith? Doth sanctity consist in destruction? The God who peoples the air with birds, the earth with animals, the waters with fishes—the God who animates all nature—is he then a God of ruins and tombs? Demands he devastation for homage, and conflagration for sacrifice? Requires he groans for hymns, murderers for votaries, a ravaged and desolate earth for his temple? Behold then, holy and believing people, what are your works! behold the fruits of your piety! You have massacred the people, burned their cities, destroyed cultivation, reduced the earth to a solitude; and you ask the reward of your works! Miracles then must be performed! The people whom you extirpated must be recalled to life, the walls rebuilt which you have overthrown, the harvests reproduced which you have destroyed, the waters regathered which you have dispersed; the laws, in fine, of heaven and earth reversed; those laws, established by God himself, in demonstration of his magnificence and wisdom; those eternal laws, anterior to all codes, to all the prophets those immutable laws, which neither the passions nor the ignorance of man can pervert. But that passion which mistaketh, that ignorance which observeth neither causes nor effects, hath said in its folly: "All things flow from chance; a blind fatality poureth out good and evil upon the earth; success is not to the prudent, nor felicity to the wise;" or, assuming the language of hypocrisy, she hath said, "all things are from God; he taketh pleasure in deceiving wisdom and confounding reason." And Ignorance, applauding herself in her malice, hath said, "thus will I place myself on a par with that science which confounds me—thus will I excel that prudence which fatigues and torments me." And Avarice hath added: "I will oppress the weak, and devour the fruits of his labors; and I will say, it is fate which hath so ordained." But I! I swear by the laws of heaven and earth, and by the law which is written in the heart of man, that the hypocrite shall be deceived in his cunning—the oppressor in his rapacity! The sun shall change his course, before folly shall prevail over wisdom and knowledge, or ignorance surpass prudence, in the noble and sublime art of procuring to man his true enjoyments, and of building his happiness on an enduring foundation."
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