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The Ruins

Life Of Volney
By Count Daru
Constantine Francis Chassebeuf De Volney was born in 1757 at Craon, in that
intermediate condition of life, which is of all the happiest, since it is deprived only of
fortune's too dangerous favors, and can aspire to the social and intellectual advantages
reserved for a laudable ambition.
From his earliest youth, he devoted himself to the search after truth, without being
disheartened by the serious studies which alone can initiate us into her secrets. After
having become acquainted with the ancient languages, the natural sciences and history,
and being admitted into the society of the most eminent literary characters, he submitted,
at the age of twenty, to an illustrious academy, the solution of one of the most difficult
problems that the history of antiquity has left open for discussion. This attempt received
no encouragement from the learned men who were appointed his judges; and the author's
only appeal from their sentence was to his courage and his efforts.
Soon after, a small inheritance having fallen to his lot, the difficulty was how to spend it
(these are his own words.) He resolved to employ it in acquiring, by a long voyage, a new
fund of information, and determined to visit Egypt and Syria. But these countries could
not be explored to advantage without a knowledge of the language. Our young traveller
was not to be discouraged by this difficulty. Instead of learning Arabic in Europe, he
withdrew to a convent of Copts, until he had made himself master of an idiom that is
spoken by so many nations of the East. This resolution showed one of those undaunted
spirits that remain unshaken amid the trials of life.
Although, like other travellers, he might have amused us with an account of his hardships
and the perils surmounted by his courage, he overcame the temptation of interrupting his
narrative by personal adventures. He disdained the beaten track. He does not tell us the
road he took, the accidents he met with, or the impressions he received. He carefully
avoids appearing upon the stage; he is an inhabitant of the country, who has long and
well observed it, and who describes its physical, political, and moral state. The allusion
would be entire if an old Arab could be supposed to possess all the erudition, all the
European philosophy, which are found united and in their maturity in a traveller of
But though a master in all those artifices by which a narration is rendered interesting, the
young man is not to be discerned in the pomp of labored descriptions. Although
possessed of a lively and brilliant imagination, he is never found unwarily explaining by
conjectural systems the physical or moral phenomena he describes. In his observations he
unites prudence with science. With these two guides he judges with circumspection, and
sometimes confesses himself unable to account for the effects he has made known to us.