Hail solitary ruins, holy sepulchres and silent walls! you I invoke; to you I address my
prayer. While your aspect averts, with secret terror, the vulgar regard, it excites in my
heart the charm of delicious sentiments--sublime contemplations. What useful lessons,
what affecting and profound reflections you suggest to him who knows how to consult
you! When the whole earth, in chains and silence bowed the neck before its tyrants, you
had already proclaimed the truths which they abhor; and confounding the dust of the king
with that of the meanest slave, had announced to man the sacred dogma of Equality.
Within your pale, in solitary adoration of Liberty, I saw her Genius arise from the
mansions of the dead; not such as she is painted by the impassioned multitude, armed
with fire and sword, but under the august aspect of Justice, poising in her hand the sacred
balance wherein are weighed the actions of men at the gates of eternity!
O Tombs! what virtues are yours! You appal the tyrant's heart, and poison with secret
alarm his impious joys. He flies, with coward step, your incorruptible aspect, and erects
afar his throne of insolence.* You punish the powerful oppressor; you wrest from avarice
and extortion their ill-gotten gold, and you avenge the feeble whom they have despoiled;
you compensate the miseries of the poor by the anxieties of the rich; you console the
wretched, by opening to him a last asylum from distress; and you give to the soul that just
equipoise of strength and sensibility which constitutes wisdom--the true science of life.
Aware that all must return to you, the wise man loadeth not himself with the burdens of
grandeur and of useless wealth: he restrains his desires within the limits of justice; yet,
knowing that he must run his destined course of life, he fills with employment all its
hours, and enjoys the comforts that fortune has allotted him. You thus impose on the
impetuous sallies of cupidity a salutary rein! you calm the feverish ardor of enjoyments
which disturb the senses; you free the soul from the fatiguing conflict of the passions;
elevate it above the paltry interests which torment the crowd; and surveying, from your
commanding position, the expanse of ages and nations, the mind is only accessible to the
great affections--to the solid ideas of virtue and of glory.
* The cathedral of St. Denis is the tomb of the kings of France; and it was because the
towers of that edifice are seen from the Castle of St. Germain, that Louis XIV. quitted
that admirable residence, and established a new one in the savage forests of Versailles.
(This note, like many others, has been omitted from the American editions. It seems
pertinent to the subject, and is explanatory of the text.--Pub.)
Ah! when the dream of life is over, what will then avail all its agitations, if not one trace
of utility remains behind?
O Ruins! to your school I will return! I will seek again the calm of your solitudes; and
there, far from the afflicting spectacle of the passions, I will cherish in remembrance the
love of man, I will employ myself on the means of effecting good for him, and build my
own happiness on the promotion of his.