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Ex nihilo, nihil ; in nihilum nil
Hence ancient fools are superstition's prey. And a hundred other lines which charm all nations,the immortal productions of a mind which believed itself to be mortal.
Not only are these Latin verses sold in the Rue St. Jacques and on the Quai des Augustins; but you fearlessly purchase the translations made into all the patois derived from the Latin tongue ;-translations decorated with learned notes, which elucidate the doctrine of materialism, collect all the proofs against the Divinity, and would annihilate it, if it could be destroyed. You find this book, bound in morocco, in the fine library of a great and devout prince, of a cardinal, of a chancellor, of an archbishop, of a roundcapped president: but the eighteen first books of De Thou were condemned as soon as they appeared. A poor Gallic philosopher ventures to publish, in his own private name, that if men had been born without fingers, they would never have been able to work tapestry; and immediately another Gaul, who, for his money has obtained a robe of office, requires that the book and the author be burned.
Why are scenic exhibitions anathematized by certain persons who call themselves of the first order in the
state, seeing that such exhibitions* are necessary to all the orders of the state, and that the laws of the state uphold them with equal splendour and regularity?
Why do we abandon to contempt, debasement, oppression, and rapine, the great mass of those laborious and harmless men who cultivate the earth every day of the year, that we may eat of all its fruits ? And why, on the contrary, do we pay respect, attention, and court to the useless and often very wicked man who lives only by their labour, and is rich only by their misery?
Why, during so many ages, among so many men who sow the corn with which we are fed, has there been no one to discover that ridiculous error which teaches that the grain must rot in order to germinate, and die to spring up again--an error which has led to many impertinent assertions, to many false comparisons, and to many ridiculous opinions ?
Why, since the fruits of the earth are so necessary for the preservation of men and animals, do we find so many years, and so many centuries, in which these fruits are absolutely wanting ?
Why is the earth covered with poisons in the half of Africa and of America ?
Why is there no tract of land where there are not more insects than men?
Why does a little whitish and offensive secretion form a being which will have hard bones, desires, and thoughts? and why shall those beings be constantly persecuting one another?
Why does there exist so much evil, everything being formed by a God whom all Theists agree in calling good?
Why, since we are always complaining of our ills, are we constantly employed in redoubling them?
Why, since we are so miserable, has it been imagined that to die is an evil,—when it is clear that not to have been, before our birth, was no evil?
* Well put against a'pompous procession-loving and ceremonial church. This constant enmity of one set of performers against the other is amusing in the history of both professions.-T.
Why does it rain every day into the sea, while so many desarts demand rain, yet are constantly arid ?
Why and how have we dreams in our sleep, if we have no soul? and if we have one, how is it that these dreams are always so incoherent and so extravagant?
Why do the heavens revolve from east to west, rather than the contrary way?
Why do we exist? why does anything exist?
We are told, that human nature is essentially perverse; that man is born a child of the devil, and wicked. Nothing can be more injudicious; for thou, my friend, who preachest to me that all the world is born perverse, warnest me that thou art born such also, and that I must mistrust thee as I would a fox or a crocodile. Oh, no! sayst thou; I am regenerated; I am neither an heretic nor an infidel; you may trust in me. But the rest of mankind, which are either heretic or what thou' callest infidel, will be an assemblage of monsters, and every time that thou speakest to a Lutheran or a Turk, thou mayst be sure that they will rob and murder thee, for they are children of the devil, they are born wicked; the one is not regenerated, the other is degenerated. It would be much more reasonable, much more noble, to say to men,-You are all born good; see how dreadful it is to corrupt the purity of your being. All mankind should be dealt with as are all men individually. If a canon leads a scandalous life, we say to him,-Is it possible that you would dishonour the dignity of canon? We remind a lawyer, that he has the honour of being counsellor to the king, and that he should set an example. We say to a soldier, to encourage him,-Remember that thou art of the regiment of Champagne. We should say to every individual,-Remember thy dignity as a man.
And indeed, notwithstanding the contrary theory, we always return to that; for what else signifies the expression so frequently used in all nations,—Be yourself again? If we are born of the devil, if our origin
was criminal, if our blood was formed of an infernal liquor, this expression, Be yourself again, would signify,-Consult, follow your diabolical nature; be an impostor, thief, and assassin ; it is the law of your nature.
Man is not born wicked; he becomes so, as he becomes sick. Physicians present themselves and say to him,-You are born sick. It is very certain that these doctors, whatever they may say or do, will not cure him, if the malady is inherent in his nature; besides these reasoners are often very ailing themselves.
Assemble all the children of the universe ; you will see in them only innocence, mildness, and fear; if they were born wicked, mischievous, and cruel, they would show some signs of it, as little serpents try to bite, and little tigers to tear. But nature not having given to men more offensive arms than to pigeons and rabbits, she cannot have given an instinct leading them to destroy.
Man therefore is not born bad; why therefore are several infected with the plague of wickedness? It is, that those who are at their head being taken with the malady, communicate it to the rest of men
: as a woman attacked with the distemper which Christopher Columbus brought from America, spreads the venom from one end of Europe to the other.
The first ambitious man corrupted the earth. You will tell me, that this first monster has sowed the seed of pride, rapine, fraud, and cruelty, which is in all
I confess, that in general most of our brethren can acquire these qualities; but has everybody the putrid fever, the stone and gravel, because everybody is exposed to it?
There are whole nations which are not wicked: the Philadelphians, the Banians, have never killed any
The Chinese, the people of Tonquin, Lao, Siam, and eyen Japan, for more than an hundred years have not been acquainted with war. years we scarcely see one of those great crimes which astonish human nature in the cities of Rome, Venice,
Paris, London, and Amsterdam; towns in which cupidity, the mother of all crimes, is extreme.
If men were essentially wicked,-if they were all born submissive to a being as mischievous as unfortunate, who, to revenge himself for his punishment, inspired them with all his passions, -we should every morning see husbands assassinated by their wives, and fathers by their children; as at break of day we see fowls strangled by a weasel who comes to suck their blood.
If there be a thousand millions of men on the earth, that is much; that gives about five hundred millions of women, who sew, spin, nourish their little ones, keep their houses or cabins in order, and slander their neighbours a little. I see not what great harm these poor innocents do on earth. Of this number of inhabitants of the globe there are at least two hundred millions of children, who certainly neither kill nor steal, and about as many old people and invalids, who have not the power of doing so. There will remain at most an hundred millions of robust young people capa. ble of crime. Of this hundred millions there are ninety continually occupied in forcing the earth, by prodigious labour, to furnish them with food and clothing; these have scarcely time. In the ten remaining millions will be comprised idle people and good company, who would enjoy themselves at their ease; men of talent occupied in their professions; magistrates, priests, visibly interested in leading a pure life, at least in appearance. Therefore, of truly wicked people, there will only remain a few politicians, either secular or regular, who will always trouble the world, and some thousand vagabonds who hire their services to these politicians. Now there is never a million of these ferocious beasts employed at once, and in this number I reckon highwaymen.
You have therefore on the earth, in the most stormy times, only one man in a thousand whom we can call wicked, and he is not always so.
There is therefore infinitely less wickedness on the earth than we are told and believe there is. There is still too much, no doubt; we see misfortunes and hor