Contents Index

Ruins of Empire

Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791) by Constantin François Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney (1757-1820) is one of the geniunely radical documents produced in the early years of the French Revolution, a work that severely critiques all the reigning ideologies of the world -- whether political or theological -- and proposes their abolition. That the Creature should get his principal education into the institutions of modern culture from such a profoundly antiestablishment work must have a significant influence on his own subsequent distaste for human culture. But there is an ironic side to it as well, for Volney's attempt to create the blueprint for the new revolutionary man here falls on the ears of a uniquely revolutionary and wholly dispossessed individual. The first English translation of Les Ruines, published as The Ruins, or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires (London: Joseph Johnson, 1792) was done by Godwin's close friend James Marshall. Volney himself thought the translation too tame and in 1802 oversaw a new English version published in Paris, which was reprinted frequently and became the standard conduit for his ideas throughout the English-speaking world. Among those strongly effected by it was Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose Queen Mab shows considerable debt to its ideas.