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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 14
THE GREAT OBSTACLE TO IMPROVEMENT
The Genius ceased. But preoccupied with melancholy thoughts, my mind resisted
persuasion; fearing, however, to shock him by my resistance, I remained silent. After a
while, turning to me with a look which pierced my soul, he said:
Thou art silent, and thy heart is agitated with thoughts which it dares not utter.
At last, troubled and terrified, I replied:
O Genius, pardon my weakness. Doubtless thy mouth can utter nothing but truth; but thy
celestial intelligence can seize its rays, where my gross faculties can discern nothing but
clouds. I confess it; conviction has not penetrated my soul, and I feared that my doubts
might offend thee.
And what is doubt, replied he, that it should be a crime? Can man feel otherwise than as
he is affected? If a truth be palpable, and of importance in practice, let us pity him that
misconceives it. His punishment will arise from his blindness. If it be uncertain or
equivocal, how is he to find in it what it has not? To believe without evidence or proof, is
an act of ignorance and folly. The credulous man loses himself in a labyrinth of
contradictions; the man of sense examines and discusses, that he may be consistent in his
opinions. The honest man will bear contradiction; because it gives rise to evidence.
Violence is the argument of falsehood; and to impose a creed by authority is the act and
indication of a tyrant.
O Genius, said I, encouraged by these words, since my reason is free, I strive in vain to
entertain the flattering hope with which you endeavor to console me. The sensible and
virtuous soul is easily caught with dreams of happiness; but a cruel reality constantly
awakens it to suffering and wretchedness. The more I meditate on the nature of man, the
more I examine the present state of societies, the less possible it appears to realize a
world of wisdom and felicity. I cast my eye over the whole of our hemisphere; I perceive
in no place the germ, nor do I foresee the instinctive energy of a happy revolution. All
Asia lies buried in profound darkness. The Chinese, governed by an insolent despotism,*
by strokes of the bamboo and the cast of lots, restrained by an immutable code of
gestures, and by the radical vices of an ill-constructed language,** appear to be in their
abortive civilization nothing but a race of automatons. The Indian, borne down by
prejudices, and enchained in the sacred fetters of his castes, vegetates in an incurable
apathy. The Tartar, wandering or fixed, always ignorant and ferocious, lives in the
savageness of his ancestors. The Arab, endowed with a happy genius, loses its force and
the fruits of his virtue in the anarchy of his tribes and the jealousy of his families. The
African, degraded from the rank of man, seems irrevocably doomed to servitude. In the
North I see nothing but vilified serfs, herds of men with which landlords stock their
estates. Ignorance, tyranny, and wretchedness have everywhere stupified the nations; and
 
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