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Why seek for vain and gloomy explanations of a feast so universal, so gay, and so well known? When I look well into antiquity, I do not find a single annual festival of a melancholy character; or, at least, if they begin with lamentations, they end in dancing and revelry. If tears are shed for Adoni or Adonai, whom we call Adonis, he is soon resuscitated, and rejoicing takes place. It is the same with the feasts of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. The Greeks, too, did as much for Ceres as for Proserpine. The death of the serpent Python was celebrated with gaiety. A feast day and a day of joy were one and the same thing. At the feasts of Bacchus this joy was only carried too far.
I do not find one general commemoration of an unfortunate event. The institutors of the feasts would have shown themselves to be devoid of common sense, if they had established at Athens a celebration of the battle lost at Cheronea, and at Rome another of the battle of Cannæ.
They perpetuated the remembrance of what might encourage men, and not of that which might fill them with cowardice or despair. This is so true, that fables were invented for the purpose of instituting feasts. Castor and Pollux did not fight for the Romans near Lake Regillus; but, at the end of three or four hundred years, some priests said so, and all the people danced. Hercules did not deliver Greece from a hydra with seven heads; but Hercules and his hydra were sung.
Festivals founded on Chimeras.
I do not know that there was, in all antiquity, a single festival founded on an established fact. It has been elsewhere remarked how extremely ridiculous those schoolmen appear, who say to you, with a magisterial air: Here is an ancient hymn in honour of Apollo, who visited Claros; therefore, Apollo went to Claros a chapel was erected to Perseus; therefore, he delivered Andromeda. Poor men! you should rather say, therefore, there was no Andromeda. Ja,
But what, then, will become of that learned antiquity which preceded the olympiads?-It will become what it is, an unknown time, a time lost, a time of allegories and lies, a time regarded with contempt by the wise, and profoundly discussed by blockheads, who like to float in a void, like Epicurus's atoms.
There were everywhere days of penance, days of expiation in the temples; but these days were never called by a name answering to that of feasts. Every feast-day was sacred to diversion: so true is this, that the Egyptian priests fasted on the eve, in order to eat the more on the morrow,-a custom which our monks have preserved. There were, no doubt, mournful ceremonies. It was not customary to dance the Greek brawl while interring or carrying to the funeral pile a son or a daughter; this was a public ceremony, but certainly not a feast.
On the Antiquity of Feasts, which, it has been asserted, were always mournful.
Men of ingenuity, profound searchers into antiquity, who would know how the earth was made a hundred thousand years ago, if genius could discover it, have asserted that mankind, reduced to a very small number in both continents, and still terrified at the innumerable revolutions which this sad globe had undergone, perpetuated the remembrance of their calamities by dismal and mournful commemorations.
Every feast," say they, "was a day of horror, instituted to remind men that their fathers had been destroyed by the fires of the volcanoes, by rocks falling from the mountains, by eruptions of the sea, by the teeth and claws of wild beasts, by war, pestilence, and famine."
Then we are not made as men were then. There was never so much rejoicing in London as after the plague and the burning of the whole city, in the reign. of Charles II. We made songs while the massacres of St. Bartholomew were still going on. Some pasquinades have been preserved, which were made the day
after the assassination of Coligni: there was printed in Paris, Passio Domini nostri Gaspardi Colignii secundum Bartholomæum.
It has a thousand times happened that the Sultan, who reigns at Constantinople, has made his eunuchs and odalisks dance in apartments stained with the blood of his brothers and his viziers.
What do the people of Paris do, on the very day that they are apprised of the loss of a battle and the death of a hundred brave officers? They run to the play and the opera.
What did they when the wife of Marshal D' Ancre was given up in the Grève to the barbarity of her persecutors? When Marshal De Marillaç was dragged to execution in a waggon, by virtue of a paper signed by robed lackies in Cardinal De Richelieu's anti-chamber? When a lieutenant-general of the army,* a foreigner, who had shed his blood for the state, condemned by the cries of his infuriated enemies, was led to the scaffold in a dung-cart, with a gag in his mouth? When a young man of nineteen, full of candour, courage, and modesty, but very imprudent, was carried to the most dreadful of punishments?† They sang vaudevilles.
Such is man, at least man on the banks of the Seine. Such has he been at all times, for the same reason that rabbits have always had hair, and larks feathers.
On the Origin of the Arts.
What! we would know the precise theology of Thoth, Zerdusht, or Sanchoniathon, although we know not who invented the shuttle. The first weaver, the first mason, the first smith, were undoubtedly great geniuses; yet no account has been made of them. And why? Because not one of them invented a perfect art. He who first hollowed the trunk of an oak for the purpose of crossing a river, did not build
* Count Lally.-T.
+ The Chevalier de la Barre.-T.
galleys; nor did they who piled up unhewn stones, and laid pieces of wood across them, dream of the pyramids. Every thing is done by degrees, and the glory belongs to no one.
All was done in the dark, until philosophers, aided by geometry, taught men to proceed with accuracy and safety.
It was left for Pythagoras, on his return from his travels, to show workmen the way to make an exact square.* He took three rules, one three, one four, and one five feet long, and with these he made a right angled triangle. Moreover, it was found that the side 5 furnished a square just equal to the two squares produced by the sides 4 and 3; a method of import ance in all regular works.
This is the famous theorem which he had brought from India, and which, we have elsewhere said,† was known in China long before, according to the relation of the emperor Cam-hi. Long before Plato, the Greeks made use of a single geometrical figure to double the square.
Archytas and Erastothenes invented a method of doubling the cube, which was impracticable by ordinary geometry, and which would have done honour to Archimedes.
This Archimedes found the method of calculating exactly the quantity of alloy mixed with gold; for gold had been worked for ages before the fraud of the workers could be discovered. Knavery existed long before mathematics. The pyramids, built with the square, and corresponding exactly with the four cardinal points, sufficiently show that geometry was known in Egypt from time immemorial ;—and yet it is proved that Egypt is quite a new country.
Without philosophy, we should be little above the animals, that dig or erect their habitations, prepare their food in them, take care of their little ones in their dwellings, and have besides the good fortune, which we have not, of being born ready-clothed.
* See Vitruvius, book ix.
+ Essai sur les Mœurs, &c. tom. i.
Vitruvius, who had travelled in Gaul and Spain, tells us, that in his time the houses were built of a sort of mortar, covered with thatch or oak shingles, and that the people did not make use of tiles. What was the time of Vitruvius? It was that of Augustus. The arts had scarcely yet reached the Spaniards, who had mines of gold and silver, or the Gauls, who had fought for ten years against Cæsar.
The same Vitruvius informs us, that in the opulent and ingenious town of Marseilles, which traded with so many nations, the roofs were only of a kind of clay mixed with straw.
He says, that the Phrygians dug themselves habitations in the ground: they stuck poles round the hollow, brought them together at top, and laid earth over them. The Hurons and the Algonquins are better lodged. This gives us no very lofty idea of Troy, built by the gods, and the palace of Priam:
Apparet domus intùs, et atria longa patescunt;
A mighty breach is made: the rooms concealed
The halls of audience, and of public state.-Dryden.
To be sure, the people are not lodged like kings; huts are to be seen near the Vatican and near Ver sailles.
Besides, industry rises and falls among nations by a thousand revolutions:
Et campos ubi Troja fuit.
Now waves the sheaf where Troy once stood.
We have our arts; the ancients had theirs. We could not make a galley with three benches of oars; but we can build ships with a hundred pieces of cannon.
We cannot raise obelisks a hundred feet high, in á single piece; but our meridians are more exact.
The byssus is unknown to us; but the stuffs of Lyons are more valuable.
The Capitol was worthy of admiration; the church of St. Peter is larger and more beautiful.
The Louvre is a master-piece when compared with the palace of Persepolis, the situation and ruins of