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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 5
CONDITION OF MAN IN THE UNIVERSE
The Genius, after some moments of silence, resumed in these words:
I have told thee already, O friend of truth! that man vainly ascribes his misfortunes to
obscure and imaginary agents; in vain he seeks as the source of his evils mysterious and
remote causes. In the general order of the universe his condition is, doubtless, subject to
inconveniences, and his existence governed by superior powers; but those powers are
neither the decrees of a blind fatality, nor the caprices of whimsical and fantastic beings.
Like the world of which he forms a part, man is governed by natural laws, regular in their
course, uniform in their effects, immutable in their essence; and those laws,--the common
source of good and evil,--are not written among the distant stars, nor hidden in codes of
mystery; inherent in the nature of terrestrial beings, interwoven with their existence, at all
times and in all places, they are present to man; they act upon his senses, they warn his
understanding, and give to every action its reward or punishment. Let man then know
these laws! let him comprehend the nature of the elements which surround him, and also
his own nature, and he will know the regulators of his destiny; he will know the causes of
his evils and the remedies he should apply.
When the hidden power which animates the universe, formed the globe which man
inhabits, he implanted in the beings composing it, essential properties which became the
law of their individual motion, the bond of their reciprocal relations, the cause of the
harmony of the whole; he thereby established a regular order of causes and effects, of
principles and consequences, which, under an appearance of chance, governs the
universe, and maintains the equilibrium of the world. Thus, he gave to fire, motion and
activity; to air, elasticity; weight and density to matter; he made air lighter than water,
metal heavier than earth, wood less cohesive than steel; he decreed flame to ascend,
stones to fall, plants to vegetate; to man, who was to be exposed to the action of so many
different beings, and still to preserve his frail life, he gave the faculty of sensation. By
this faculty all action hurtful to his existence gives him a feeling of pain and evil, and all
which is salutary, of pleasure and happiness. By these sensations, man, sometimes
averted from that which wounds his senses, sometimes allured towards that which
soothes them, has been obliged to cherish and preserve his own life; thus, self-love, the
desire of happiness, aversion to pain, become the essential and primary laws imposed on
man by nature herself--the laws which the directing power, whatever it be, has
established for his government--and which laws, like those of motion in the physical
world, are the simple and fruitful principle of whatever happens in the moral world.
Such, then, is the condition of man: on one side, exposed to the action of the elements
which surround him, he is subject to many inevitable evils; and if, in this decree, nature
has been severe, on the other hand, just and even indulgent she has not only tempered the
evils with equivalent good, she has also enabled him to increase the good and alleviate
the evil. She seems to say:
 
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