18th of June, 2013
Volney visited the United States from 1795-98. Sometime during this period, he and Thomas Jefferson entered into a secret arrangement whereby Jefferson agreed to translate Volney’s Ruins of Empires into English. Jefferson, then serving as Vice President under John Adams, appreciated the book’s central theme—empires rise if government allows Enlightened Self-Interest to flourish. This theme, Jefferson believed, represented an excellent summary of the Enlightenment-based principles upon which the United States was founded. However Jefferson also insisted that his translation be published only for certain readers due to the book’s controversial religious content. Jefferson, who was preparing to make a bid for the presidency of the United States in 1800, was worried his Federalist opponents would attack him as an atheist if it were known he translated Volney’s supposedly heretical book.From Wikipedia. So where is this book? Project Gutenberg has a copy. A quote from the publisher’s preface:
A voluminous note, in which standard authorities are cited, seems to prove that this statement is substantially correct, and that we are in reality indebted to the ancient Ethiopians, to the fervid imagination of the persecuted and despised negro, for the various religious systems now so highly revered by the different branches of both the Semitic and Aryan races. This fact, which is so frequently referred to in Mr. Volney's writings, may perhaps solve the question as to the origin of all religions, and may even suggest a solution to the secret so long concealed beneath the flat nose, thick lips, and negro features of the Egyptian Sphinx. It may also confirm the statement of Dioderus, that "the Ethiopians conceive themselves as the inventors of divine worship, of festivals, of solemn assemblies, of sacrifices, and of every other religious practice."Nothing new, of course.
That an imaginative and superstitious race of black men should have invented and founded, in the dim obscurity of past ages, a system of religious belief that still enthralls the minds and clouds the intellects of the leading representatives of modern theology,—that still clings to the thoughts, and tinges with its potential influence the literature and faith of the civilized and cultured nations of Europe and America, is indeed a strange illustration of the mad caprice of destiny, of the insignificant and apparently trivial causes that oft produce the most grave and momentous results.
The translation here given closely follows that published in Paris by Levrault, Quai Malaquais, in 1802, which was under the direction and careful supervision of the talented author; and whatever notes Count Volney then thought necessary to insert in his work, are here carefully reproduced without abridgment or modification.