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The Ruins

Volney's Answer To Dr. Priestly*
* In 1797, Dr. Priestly published a pamphlet, entitled, "Observation on the increase of
infidelity, with animadversions upon the writings of several modern unbelievers, and
especially the Ruins of Mr. Volney." The motto to this tract was:
"Minds of little penetration rest naturally on the surface of things. They do not like to
pierce deep into them, for fear of labor and trouble; sometimes still more for fear of
This Letter is an answer from Volney, taken from the Anti-Jacobin Review of March and
April, 1799.
SIR.--I received in due time your pamphlet on the increase of infidelity, together with the
note without date which accompanied it.* My answer has been delayed by the incidents
of business, and even by ill health, which you will surely excuse: this delay has, besides,
no inconvenience in it. The question between us is not of a very urgent nature: the world
would not go on less well with or without my answer as with or without your book. I
might, indeed, have dispensed with returning you any answer at all; and I should have
been warranted in so doing, by the manner in which you have stated the debate, and by
the opinion pretty generally received that, on certain occasions, and with certain persons,
the most noble reply is silence. You seem to have been aware of this yourself,
considering the extreme precautions you have taken to deprive me of this resource; but as
according to our French customs, any answer is an act of civility, I am not willing to
concede the advantage of politeness--besides, although silence is sometimes very
significant, its eloquence is not understood by every one, and the public which has not
leisure to analyze disputes (often of little interest) has a reasonable right to require at least
some preliminary explanations; reserving to itself, should the discussion degenerate into
the recriminative clamors of an irritated self-love, to allow the right of silence to him in
whom it becomes the virtue of moderation.
* Dr. Priestly sent his pamphlet to Volney, desiring his answer to the strictures on his
opinions in his Ruins of Empires.
I have read, therefore, your animadversions on my Ruins, which you are pleased to class
among the writings of modern unbelievers, and since you absolutely insist on my
expressing my opinion before the public, I shall now fulfill this rather disagreeable task
with all possible brevity, for the sake of economizing the time of our readers. In the first
place, sir, it appears evidently, from your pamphlet, that your design is less to attack my
book than my personal and moral character; and in order that the public may pronounce
with accuracy on this point, I submit several passages fitted to throw light on the subject.
You say, in the preface of your discourses, p. 12, "There are, however, unbelievers more
ignorant than Mr. Paine, Mr. Volney, Lequino, and others in France say," &c.