صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

several difficult works in the construction of the highways and bridges in Champaigne, Lorraine, Burgundy, and other provinces of France. It was in the midft of this active and laborious employment, that he first conceived the design of enquiring into the ancient state of that earth, whose furface daily aff rded him proofs of the great variety of changes it must necessarily have undergone. « Il vit, (says this writer) la multitude dis fulftances diverses, que la terre récéle dans son sein, et qui attestent son ancienneté et la suite innombrable de ses revolutions sous l'aire qui l'eclaire; les climats changés, et les contrées qu’un soleil perpendiculaire brul.it autrefois, maintenant effleurées de ses rayons obliques et paljagers, et chargée de glaces éternelles ; il ramasa du bois, des pierris, des coquilles : il vit dans nos carrieres l'empreinte des plantes qui naissent sur la côte de l'inde ; la charrue retourner; dans nos champs, des éires dont les analogues sont cachés dans l'abîme des mers; i'homme couché au nord fur les os de l'ilephant, et se promenart ici sur la demeure des baleines ; il vit la nourriture d'un monde présent croillant sur la surface de cent mondes pofles : il considera l'ordre que les cruches de la terre gardoient entre elles : ordre tantôt fi regulier, tantôi si troublé, qu'ici le globe tout neuf semble fortir des mains d!! grund ouvrier ; la n'offrir qu'un cahas ancien qui chercha à se debrouiller ; ailleurs que les ruines d'un vefie édifice renversi, rei diftruit ct revverjë derechof, jans qu'à travers tant de bouleversemens fuccisifs, l'imagination néme puisje remonter au premier.'

It was from these observations, and his reflections on the great revolutions which must have happened in the natural history of the earth, that he was led to consider the influence which such numerous changes in the physical state of soils and climates muft neceiiarily have had over its inhabitants : hence arose a variety of conjectures in his mind concerning the primitive state of society, of religion, and of government. It was necessary, however, to verify these conjectures by comparing them with the facts recorded in history, or transmitted by tradition. To this end he applied himnlelf to the latin writers ;

first of all was obliged to learn their language, and even when he had obviared this difficulty, he found himself little the better ; the Latins were too ignorant and too modern. He betook himself, therefore, to the Greeks ; learned their language, and presently ran through their poets, philosophers and historians : but in these he was equally disappointed; the Greek write ers being full of fictions, falschoods and misrepresentations. He concluded, therefore, he might find greater satisfaction in his researches into the Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldean and Arabic write's; all which languages he undertook to learn, and soon made himself a competent master of them. Such was the resolution, labour and perseverance of our author, in compaffing his f2vourite point. How far the success of his attempts to decy

pher the Heathen mythology, and reconcile it to the history of natural causes, may have rewarded the trouble of such preparatory application, must be gathered from the work itself: of which we shall endeavour to give our readers a general idea of the contents and design.

• It is remarkable, (says Mr. Boulanger) that in turning over the histories both of ancient and modern times, we find almost every people upon earth poflefled of traditions, concerning some extraordinary changes which have formerly happened in nature. Some tell us of deluges and inundations, that swept away the greater part of mankind; others of devouring conflagrations, equally destructive of our species ; and some even of alterations in the course of the sun, and the planets. These traditions, however dubious in regard to particulars, give fufficient cause in general for a fufpicion, that there was a time when the face of things was very different from what it hath been for all known ages ; and that the physical revolutions of nature have given cause to as great variety of political revolutions in the state of society. The obscurity of these traditions, and the distance of time since the facts related are supposed to have happened, have rendered them very uninteresting to the generality of mankind. Nay so very indifferent are most persons with regard to such facts, that they not only call in question the reality, but even the posibility, of their having ever happened. What numbers, for instance, disbelieve entirely the relation of an universal deluge, an historical tenet which prevails only among the ignorant, who blindly adopt the traditions of their forefathers, or among those few of the learned who are accustomed to trace in nature itself, the evidence of its own history! The science of physics, is indeed become, with regard to the latter, as Fontenelle foresaw, à kind of theo'ogy; of whose principles and tenets they are the more tenacious, as here they seem to ground their faith on actual experience : and this will not easily admit of either scepticism or infidelity. We are not, however, to confound the naturalists with the populace. The latter believe, the former know. It is in their province therefore, to delineate the picture of those terrestrial revolutions, of which they every where meet with such undoubted proofs ; and to preserve their observations in the archives of the sciences, where they may serve as monuments of nature, to verify and correct historical relations : and may perhaps be themselves sometimes illustrated by tradition. This is the only method to discover that chain by which they are united, and to reconcile the precision of natural knowledge with the general bistory of facts.

The most ulesul part of history, (says this author) is not * dry and barren relation of particular manners, customs, and events; it is that which displays the general spirit of the times, or the circumstances which first established those customs and brought about such events. There must have been a motive for every established custom ; which motive must be simply deduced from mere opinions or from facts; nay even popular opinions themselves must be founded originally on facts. Every, custom therefore must have its particular history, or at least its particular fable ; as it must relate to some particular fact; and perhaps may have at the same tinic a secret connection with the general chain, that unites together all customs and all facts. The history of manners, therefore, joined to that of their motives, would only display a new method of writing the history of mankind. The difficulty of writing history in this method, Mr. Boulanger owns indeed to be extremely great ; but thinks it might be undertaken with success, if we recur no farther back than to a certain fact, whose verity is universally allowed. This fact he conceives to be the universal deluge; from the epoch of which he would set out, in tracing the natural and political history of mankind to the present times. • It is at the æra of the deluge, says he, that we must begin the history of society, and of all the nations now existing. If there be false and destructive religions in the world, we must recur to the deluge for their origin : if there be erroneous systems of government, we must trace their source in the food. In a word, it is to the deluge I impute all those numerous absurdities and incongruities in the manners, customs, and ceremonies, (moral, political, and religious) which prevail over the face of the earth : hinc prima mali labes.'

events;

As our author's plan is partly new, it will no doubt appear a little fingular ; but he says, it will seem exceptionable and paradoxical only to such as know not how to consider the globe we inhabit; or to those who cannot get rid of the prejudices acquired from the popular methods of writing and reading history:

With regard to the present work, Mr. Boulanger seems to have intended it as a kind of introduction to a general history of man in a state of society; in which he hath attempted to withdraw that veil of time, which, he says, at present obscures and hides the face of true history. He hath divided his tract into four books ; in the first of which he treats of the several inftitutions subsisting among different people, in commemoration of the general deluge. In the second, he treats of the funereal solemnity that prevailed in the ancient festivals ; of the feels of antiquity; and of the savage and erratic state «f the primitive societies, succeeding the deluge. Nothing can be more'mournful and deplorable, than the state in which mankind existed, according to our author, for many ages ; their

religious Teligious services and ceremonies, thuogh very numerous, being full of sighs, tears, and mortifications : all which, Mr. Boulanger imputes to the sorrowful remembrance that the deluge had left behind it. In this event, also, the ancient Pagans seem to have thought even the gods themselves to have been interested, and to have suffered by' it as well as man. Hence, says he, the reprehension of Zenophanes, recorded by Plutarch : when that philosopher observing the priests and the people in tears, he said to them, ' Wherefore do you weep, if those whom you adore are really Gods? or, if you thus bewail, them, why do you worship them as deities?' He observes, however, that the Gods of the ancient pagans were so little remov. ed in their ideas, above the condition of humanity, that it is no wonder they imagined even their deities affected by any confiderable revolution in the course of nature. It was for the same reason, doubtless, that they entertained the notion of the frequent intercourse of such deities with mankind, in the way of incarnation and personal appearance among them. A notion that encouraged numerous impostors, altho' the teneţs they inculcated were not always immoral, or detrimental to society *. The doctrine of the great Fo, in particular, he observes to have been very sublime ; as it teaches the annihilation of the man, in order to his being united to the deity. "Thou shalt abandon (said this pretended divinity) thy father and thy mother, to follow me: thou shalt forget thyself, and the gratification of thy own appetites, to pursue holiness in purity and perfection, and to arrive at eternal felicity.' But, notwithstanding the sublimity of the doctrines that were preached up by the sectaries of antiquity, it is confessed that their religious orders were over-run with vices and abuses, introduced, doubtless, by the ridiculous superstitions and fables, which were intermingled among the moral truths of their doctrines. This is the constant effect of mysteries, and an affectation of talking in a strain superior to humanity. When man is desirous of fathoming unknown depths, or to raise himself above his natural sphere, he is foon obliged to descend again, and is often precipitated into the opposite extreme. Human nature is a middle ftate, to which men of the greatest genius and abilities, ought to confine both their wishes and expectations.

It will admit of a doubt, however, whether doctrines that teach mankind to neglect themselves, to entertain a contempt for the things of this life, and to look upon it as a state of misery, be not among those whose natural tendency is detrimental to society. Perhaps human na. ture never displays fo' many virtues, as among those people who are taught to have a proper idea of their own dignity and importance in the creation, and who esteem their exillence here as no mean object in the fyftem of an all.wise and over-ruling Providence,

Among Among various absurd notions, which our author imputes to the mournful ftate of primitivé fociety, was their aversion to the propagation of their species : hence, he conceives, arose the feveral institutions in civilized countries, in favour of celibacy; and the laws enacted to punish the breach of it. To the same deftructive principles it is, that he attributes several' cuftoms, which have heretofore prevailed, and still prevail, in many of the savage nations. We are told by Strabo, that there were several societies of men in Thrace, who lived an austere life, without having any converse with women. The fame historian tells us, that it was the custom among the Celteberians, for the husband to take to his bed, when his wife was delivered of a child; a custom which Diodorus Siculus says, prevailed in the island of Corsica; and, as we are told by modern travelJers, still prevails among some favage nations in Tartary and in America. Mr. Boulanger endeavours to account for this whimfical custom on the foregoing principle. It feems, says he, that we ought to look upon this behaviour in the husband, as a kind of penance, founded on his penitence and forrow, for having occasioned the birth of a being of his own species. This conjecture, says he, seems to be not ill-founded, if we may credit what is advanced on this subject, in the 24th volume of the Lettres edifiantes, where it is said, that the husband observes, in this case, a very severe faft, abstaining both from meat and drink, till he be very confiderably emaciated. History affords us, he observes, still more cruel and extraordinary proofs of this averfion, in the primitive ages, to the propagation of our species*; which he conceives owes its prefervation to an involuntary desire implanted in our nature ; a propensity that hath proved sufficiently powerful to counteract the melancholy ideas entertained by men terrified at the past misfortunes of the world.

Mr.Boulanger conceives farther, that the custom of circumcifion, practised by so many various countries, and that of mutilation in use among the Hottentots, at first arose from the fame principle; but it is needless, says he, to hazard conjectures, when

In the island of Formosa, says he, no woman is permitted to be delivered of a live child, till Me be feven and thirty years of age; a priestess procuring abortions to those who are pregnant before they arrive at that age. To this example, he adds that of the women inhabiting the banks of the river Oronooko ; of whom father Gumilla relates, that all the exhortations of the millionaries could not eradicate the barbarous custom of murderirg their female children as soon as they were born; a custom which they attempled to justify by saying it was to prevent their fucere sufierings in life.- We ose apprehenfive the above authorities will be thought 100 falpicious, to serve as proper foundation for the argumenis which our author attempts to build on them.

« السابقةمتابعة »