Selection from _Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred_ by Mercier

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The Last Man, Edited by Steven E. Jones

From Mercier, L'An 2440,

trans. (as Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred)
by W. Hooper, 1772.

[from Epistle Dedicatory: "To the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred":]

AUGUST AND venerable Year! Thou who are to bring felicity upon the earth! thou, alas! that I have only in a dream beheld, when thou shalt rise from out the bosom of eternity, they shall enlighten them who will tread upon my ashes, and upon those of thirty generations, successively cut off, and plunged in the profound abyss of death. The kings that now sit upon the throne shall be no more; their posterity shall be no more. Then shalt thou judge the departed monarch, and the writer who lived in subjection to his power. The names of the friends, the defenders of humanity, shall live and be honoured, their glory shall be pure and radiant; but that vile herd of kings, who have been, in every sense, the tormentors of mankind, still more deeply plunged in oblivion than in the regions of death, can only escape from infamy by the favour of inanity. (pp. v-vi)

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SUDDENLY there came on an eclipse of the moon, which I had not foreseen. I was not even sensible of it till the darkness began to surround me. I could then discern a small, a shining space only that the shadow hastened to cover. A profound darkness stopped my steps; I could no longer discover any object; I lost the path; I turned a hundred times; the gate seemed to shun me; the clouds gathered; the winds whistled; I heard a distant thunder; it arrived with uproar on the wings of the lightning; my mind was confounded; I shivered; I stumbled over the scattered bones; terror precipitated my steps; I came to a tomb just opened to receive the dead; I fell in; the grave received me living; I found myself buried in the humid entrails of the earth; I seemed to hear the voice of all the dead that hailed my arrival; an icy trembling seized me; a cold sweat came over me; I sunk into a lethargic slumber. (Chpt. XXVI, pp. 221-22)

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I arrived at Versailles, and looked around for that superb palace, from whence issued the destiny of many nations. What was my surprise! I could perceive nothing but ruins, gaping walls, and mutilated statues; some porticos, half demolished, afforded a confused idea of its ancient magnificance. As I walked over these ruins, I saw an old man sitting upon the capital of a column. Alas! I said to him, what is become of this vast palace? "It is fallen." --How?-- "It was crushed by its own weight. A man in his impatient pride would have here forced nature. He hastily heaped buildings upon buildings; greedy of gratifying his capricious will, he harrassed his subjects; all the wealth of the nation was here swallowed up; here flowed a stream of tears to compose those reservoirs of which there are no traces. Behold all that remains of that colossus which a million of hands erected with so much painful labour. . . . O, may these ruins cry aloud to all sovereigns; that they who abuse a momentary power, only discover their weakness to future generations." At these words he shed a flood of tears, and turned his eyes to heaven with a mournful, repenting look. Why do you weep? I said. All the world is happy, and these ruins by no means declare any public calamity. He raised his voice and said: "Oh, how wretched is my fate! Know that I am Lewis XIV who [built] this rueful palace. The Divine Justice has again [illumined] the torch of my days, to make me contemplate more nearly my deplorable enterprize. How transient are the moments of pride! I must now and for ever weep. . . . " (Cpt. XVII, pp. 246-48)

Published @ RC

October 1997