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C. F. Volney
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Part I, Chapter 15
THE NEW AGE
Scarcely had he finished these words, when a great tumult arose in the west; and turning
to that quarter, I perceived, at the extremity of the Mediterranean, in one of the nations of
Europe, a prodigious movement--such as when a violent sedition arises in a vast city--a
numberless people, rushing in all directions, pour through the streets and fluctuate like
waves in the public places. My ear, struck with the cries which resounded to the heavens,
distinguished these words:
What is this new prodigy? What cruel and mysterious scourge is this? We are a numerous
people and we want hands! We have an excellent soil, and we are in want of subsistence?
We are active and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes, and we
are told they are not sufficient! We are at peace without, and our persons and property are
not safe within. Who, then, is the secret enemy that devours us?
Some voices from the midst of the multitude replied:
Raise a discriminating standard; and let all those who maintain and nourish mankind by
useful labors gather round it; and you will discover the enemy that preys upon you.
The standard being raised, this nation divided itself at once into two bodies of unequal
magnitude and contrasted appearance. The one, innumerable, and almost total, exhibited
in the poverty of its clothing, in its emaciated appearance and sun-burnt faces, the marks
of misery and labor; the other, a little group, an insignificant faction, presented in its rich
attire embroidered with gold and silver, and in its sleek and ruddy faces, the signs of
leisure and abundance.
Considering these men more attentively, I found that the great body was composed of
farmers, artificers, merchants, all professions useful to society; and that the little group
was made up of priests of every order, of financiers, of nobles, of men in livery, of
commanders of armies; in a word, of the civil, military, and religious agents of
These two bodies being assembled face to face, and regarding each other with
astonishment, I saw indignation and rage arising in one side, and a sort of panic in the
other. And the large body said to the little one: Why are you separated from us? Are you
not of our number?
No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged class, who have our laws,
customs, and rights, peculiar to ourselves.
PEOPLE.--And what labor do you perform in our society?