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Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

{Rasselas, chapter 1}

Description of a palace in a valley

Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue
with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will
perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the
present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history
of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.

Rasselas was the fourth son of the mighty emperour, in whose
dominions the Father of waters begins his course; whose bounty
pours down the streams of plenty, and scatters over half the
world the harvests of Egypt.

According to the custom which has descended from age to age among
the monarchs of the torrid zone, Rasselas was confined in a
private palace, with the other sons and daughters of Abissinian
royalty, till the order of succession should call him to the

The place, which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined
for the residence of the Abissinian princes, was a spacious
valley in the kingdom of Amhara, surrounded on every side by
mountains, of which the summits overhang the middle part. The
only passage, by which it could be entered, was a cavern that
passed under a rock, of which it has long been disputed whether
it was the work of nature or of human industry. The outlet of the
cavern was concealed by a thick wood, and the mouth which opened
into the valley was closed with gates of iron, forged by the
artificers of ancient days, so massy that no man could, without
the help of engines, open or shut them.

From the mountains on every side, rivulets descended that filled
all the valley with verdure and fertility, and formed a lake in
the middle inhabited by fish of every species, and frequented by
every fowl whom nature has taught to dip the wing in water. This
lake discharged its superfluities by a stream which entered a
dark cleft of the mountain on the northern side, and fell with
dreadful noise from precipice to precipice till it was heard no

The sides of the mountains were covered with trees, the banks of
the brooks were diversified with flowers; every blast shook
spices from the rocks, and every month dropped fruits upon the
ground. All animals that bite the grass, or brouse the shrub,
whether wild or tame, wandered in this extensive circuit, secured
from beasts of prey by the mountains which confined them. On one
part were flocks and herds feeding in the pastures, on another
all the beasts of chase frisking in the lawns; the sprightly kid
was bounding on the rocks, the subtle monkey frolicking in the
trees, and the solemn elephant reposing in the shade. All the
diversities of the world were brought together, the blessings of
nature were collected, and its evils extracted and excluded.

The valley, wide and fruitful, supplied its inhabitants with the
necessaries of life, and all delights and superfluities were
added at the annual visit which the emperour paid his children,
when the iron gate was opened to the sound of musick; and during
eight days every one that resided in the alley was required to
propose whatever might contribute to make seclusion pleasant, to
fill up the vacancies of attention, and lessen the tediousness of
time. Every desire was immediately granted. All the artificers of
pleasure were called to gladden the festivity; the musicians
exerted the power of harmony, and the dancers shewed their
activity before the princes, in hope that they should pass their
lives in this blissful captivity to which these only were
admitted whose performance was thought able to add novelty to
luxury. Such was the appearance of security and delight which
this retirement afforded, that they to whom it was new always
desired that it might be perpetual; and as those, on whom the
iron gate had once closed, were never suffered to return, the
effect of longer experience could not be known. Thus every year
produced new schemes of delight, and new competitors for
imprisonment. The palace stood on an eminence raised about thirty
paces above the surface of the lake. It was divided into many
squares or courts, built with greater or less magnificence
according to the rank of those for whom they were designed. The
roofs were turned into arches of massy stone joined with a cement
that grew harder by time, and the building stood from century to
century, deriding the solstitial rains and equinoctial
hurricanes, without need of reparation.

This house, which was so large as to be fully known to none
but some ancient officers who successively inherited
the secrets of the place, was built as if suspicion herself
had dictated the plan. To every room there was an open and
secret passage, every square had a communication with the
rest, either from the upper stories by private galleries, or
by subterranean passages from the lower apartments. Many of
the columns had unsuspected cavities, in which a long race
of monarchs had reposited their treasures. They then closed
up the opening with marble, which was never to be removed
but in the utmost exigencies of the kingdom; and recorded
their accumulations in a book which was itself concealed in
a tower not entered but by the emperour, attended by the
prince who stood next in succession.

{Rasselas, chapter 2}

The discontent of Rasselas in the happy valley

Here the sons and daughters of Abissinia lived only to know the
soft vicissitudes of pleasure and repose, attended by all that
were skilful to delight, and gratified with whatever the senses
can enjoy. They wandered in gardens of fragrance, and slept in
the fortresses of security. Every art was practised to make them
pleased with their own condition. The sages who instructed them,
told them of nothing but the miseries of publick life, and
described all beyond the mountains as regions of calamity, where
discord was always raging, and where man preyed upon man.

To heighten their opinion of their own felicity, they were daily
entertained with songs, the subject of which was the happy
valley. Their appetites were excited by frequent enumerations of
different enjoyments, and revelry and merriment was the business
of every hour from the dawn of morning to the close of even.

These methods were generally successful; few of the Princes had
ever wished to enlarge their bounds, but passed their lives in
full conviction that they had all within their reach that art or
nature could bestow, and pitied those whom fate had excluded from
this seat of tranquility, as the sport of chance, and the slaves
of misery.

Thus they rose in the morning, and lay down at night, pleased
with each other and with themselves, all but Rasselas, who, in
the twenty-sixth year of his age, began to withdraw himself from
their pastimes and assemblies, and to delight in solitary walks
and silent meditation. He often sat before tables covered with
luxury, and forgot to taste the dainties that were placed before
him: he rose abruptly in the midst of the song, and hastily
retired beyond the sound of musick. His attendants observed the
change and endeavoured to renew his love of pleasure: he
neglected their officiousness, repulsed their invitations, and
spent day after day on the banks of rivulets sheltered with
trees, where he sometimes listened to the birds in the branches,
sometimes observed the fish playing in the stream, and anon cast
his eyes upon the pastures and mountains filled with animals, of
which some were biting the herbage, and some sleeping among the

This singularity of his humour made him much observed. One of the
Sages, in whose conversation he had formerly delighted, followed
him secretly, in hope of discovering the cause of his disquiet.
Rasselas, who knew not that any one was near him, having for some
time fixed his eyes upon the goats that were brousing among the
rocks, began to compare their condition with his own.

"What," said he, "makes the difference between man and all the
rest of the animal creation? Every beast that-strays beside me
has the same corporal necessities with myself; he is hungry and
crops the grass, he is thirsty and drinks the stream, his thirst
and hunger are appeased, he is satisfied and sleeps; he rises
again and is hungry, he is again fed and is at rest. I am hungry
and thirsty like him, but when thirst and hunger cease I am not
at rest; I am, like him, pained with want, but am not, like him,
satisfied with fulness. The intermediate hours are tedious and
gloomy; I long again to be hungry that I may again quicken my
attention. The birds peck the berries or the corn, and fly away
to the groves where they sit in seeming happiness on the
branches, and waste their lives in tuning one unvaried series of
sounds. I likewise can call the lutanist and the singer, but the
sounds that pleased me yesterday weary me to day, and will grow
yet more wearisome to morrow. I can discover within me no power
of perception which is not glutted with its proper pleasure, yet
I do not feel myself delighted. Man has surely some latent sense
for which this place affords no gratification, or he has some
desires distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can
be happy."

After this he lifted up his head, and seeing the moon rising,
walked towards the palace. As he passed through the fields, and
saw the animals around him, "Ye, said he, are happy, and need not
envy me that walk thus among you, burthened with myself; nor do
I, ye gentle beings, envy your felicity; for it is not the
felicity of man. I have many distresses from which ye are free; I
fear pain when I do not feel it; I sometimes shrink at evils
recollected, and sometimes start at evils anticipated: surely the
equity of providence has ballanced peculiar sufferings with
peculiar enjoyments."

With observations like these the prince amused himself as he
returned, uttering them with a plaintive voice, yet with a look
that discovered him to feel some complacence in his own
perspicacity, and to receive some solace of the miseries of life,
from consciousness of the delicacy with which he felt, and the
eloquence with which he bewailed them. He mingled cheerfully in
the diversions of the evening, and all rejoiced to find that his
heart was lightened.

{Rasselas, chapter 3}

The wants of him that wants nothing

ON the next day his old instructor, imagining that he had now
made himself acquainted with his disease of mind, was in hope of
curing it by counsel, and officiously sought an opportunity of
conference, which the prince, having long considered him as one
whose intellects were exhausted, was not very willing to afford:
"Why, said he, does this man thus intrude upon me; shall I be
never suffered to forget those lectures which pleased only while
they were new, and to become new again must be forgotten?" He
then walked into the wood, and composed himself to his usual
meditations; when, before his thoughts had taken any settled
form, he perceived his persuer at his side, and was at first
prompted by his impatience to go hastily away; but, being
unwilling to offend a man whom he had once reverenced and still
loved, he invited him to sit down with him on the bank.

The old man, thus encouraged, began to lament the change which
had been lately observed in the prince, and to enquire why he so
often retired from the pleasures of the palace, to loneliness and
silence. "I fly from pleasure, said the prince, because pleasure
has ceased to please; I am lonely because I am miserable, and am
unwilling to cloud with my presence the happiness of others."
"You, Sir, said the sage, are the first who has complained of
misery in the happy valley. I hope to convince you that your
complaints have no real cause. You are here in full possession of
all that the emperour of Abissinia can bestow; here is neither
labour to be endured nor danger to be dreaded, yet here is all
that labour or danger can procure or purchase. Look round and
tell me which of your wants is without supply: if you want
nothing, how are you unhappy?"

"That I want nothing, said the prince, or that I know not what I
want, is the cause of my complaint; if I had any known want,
I should have a certain wish; that wish would excite endeavour,
and I should not then repine to see the sun move so slowly
towards the western mountain, or lament when the day breaks and
sleep will no longer hide me from myself. When I see the kids and
the lambs chasing one another, I fancy that I should be happy if
I had something to persue. But, possessing all that I can want, I
find one day and one hour exactly like another, except that the
latter is still more tedious than the former. Let your experience
inform me how the day may now seem as short as in my childhood,
while nature was yet fresh, and every moment shewed me what I
never had observed before. I have already enjoyed too much; give
me something to desire."

The old man was surprized at this new species of affliction, and
knew not what to reply, yet was unwilling to be silent. "Sir,
said he, if you had seen the miseries of the world, you would
know how to value your present state." "Now, said the prince, you
have given me something to desire; I shall long to see the
miseries of the world, since the sight of them is necessary to

{Rasselas, chapter 4}

The prince continues to grieve and muse

At this time the sound of musick proclaimed the hour of repast,
and the conversation was concluded. The old man went away
sufficiently discontented to find that his reasonings had
produced the only conclusion which they were intended to prevent.
But in the decline of life shame and grief are of short duration;
whether it be that we bear easily what we have born long, or
that, finding ourselves in age less regarded, we less regard
others; or, that we look with slight regard upon afflictions, to
which we know that the hand of death is about to put an end.

The prince, whose views were extended to a wider space, could not
speedily quiet his emotions. He had been before terrified at the
length of life which nature promised him, because he considered
that in a long time much must be endured; he now rejoiced in his
youth, because in many years much might be done.

This first beam of hope, that had been ever darted into his mind,
rekindled youth in his cheeks, and doubled the lustre of his
eyes. He was fired with the desire of doing something, though he
knew not yet with distinctness, either end or means.

He was now no longer gloomy and unsocial; but, considering
himself as master of a secret stock of happiness, which he could
enjoy only by concealing it, he affected to be busy in all
schemes of diversion, and endeavoured to make others pleased with
the state of which he himself was weary. But pleasures never can
be so multiplied or continued, as not to leave much of life
unemployed; there were many hours, both of the night and day,
which he could spend without suspicion in solitary thought. The
load of life was much lightened: he went eagerly into the
assemblies, because he supposed the frequency of his presence
necessary to the success of his purposes; he retired gladly to
privacy, because he had now a subject of thought.

His chief amusement was to picture to himself that world which
he had never seen; to place himself in various conditions;
to be entangled in imaginary difficulties, and to be engaged in
wild adventures: but his benevolence always terminated his
projects in the relief of distress, the detection of fraud, the
defeat of oppression, and the diffusion of happiness.

Thus passed twenty months of the life of Rasselas. He busied
himself so intensely in visionary bustle, that he forgot his real
solitude; and, amidst hourly preparations for the various
incidents of human affairs, neglected to consider by what means
he should mingle with mankind.

One day, as he was sitting on a bank, he feigned to himself an
orphan virgin robbed of her little portion by a treacherous
lover, and crying after him for restitution and redress, So
strongly was the image impressed upon his mind, that he started
up in the maid's defence, and run forward to seize the plunderer
with all the eagerness of real persuit. Fear naturally quickens
the flight of guilt. Rasselas could not catch the fugitive with
his utmost efforts; but, resolving to weary, by perseverance, him
whom he could not surpass in speed, he pressed on till the foot
of the mountain stopped his course. Here he recollected himself,
and smiled at his own useless impetuosity. Then raising his eyes
to the mountain, "This, said he, is the fatal obstacle that
hinders at once the enjoyment of pleasure, and the exercise of
virtue. How long is it that my hopes and wishes have flown beyond
this boundary of my life, which yet I never have attempted to

Struck with this reflection, he sat down to muse, and remembered,
that since he first resolved to escape from his confinement, the
sun had passed twice over him in his annual course. He now felt a
degree of regret with which he had never been before acquainted.
He considered how much might have been done in the time which had
passed, and left nothing real behind it. He compared twenty
months with the life of man. "In life, said he, is not to be
counted the ignorance of infancy, or imbecility of age. We are
long before we are able to think, and we soon cease from the
power of acting. The true period of human existence may be
reasonably estimated as forty years, of which I have mused away
the four and twentieth part. What I have lost was certain, for I
have certainly possessed it; but of twenty months to come who can
assure me?"

The consciousness of his own folly pierced him deeply, and he was
long before he could be reconciled to himself "The rest of my
time, said he, has been lost by the crime or folly of my
ancestors, and the absurd institutions of my country; I remember
it with disgust, yet without remorse: but the months that have
passed since new light darted into my soul, since I formed a
scheme of reasonable felicity, have been squandered by my own
fault. I have lost that which can never be restored: I have seen
the sun rise and set for twenty months, an idle gazer on the
light of heaven: In this time the birds have left the nest of
their mother, and committed themselves to the woods and to the
skies: the kid has forsaken the teat, and learned by degrees to
climb the rocks in quest of independant sustenance. I only
have made no advances, but am still helpless and ignorant. The
moon by more than twenty changes, admonished me of the flux of
life; the stream that rolled before my feet upbraided my
inactivity. I sat feasting on intellectual luxury, regardless
alike of the examples of the earth, and the instructions of the
planets. Twenty months are past, who shall restore them!"

These sorrowful meditations fastened upon his mind; he past four
months in resolving to lose no more time in idle resolves, and
was awakened to more vigorous exertion by hearing a maid, who had
broken a porcelain cup, remark, that what cannot be repaired is
not to be regretted.

This was obvious; and Rasselas reproached himself that he had not
discovered it, having not known, or not considered, how many
useful hints are obtained by chance, and how often the mind,
hurried by her own ardour to distant views, neglects the truths
that lie open before her. He, for a few hours, regretted his
regret, and from that time bent his whole mind upon the means of
escaping from the valley of happiness.

{Rasselas, chapter 5}

The prince meditates his escape

He now found that it would be very difficult to effect that which
it was very easy to suppose effected. When he looked round
about him, he saw himself confined by the bars of nature which
had never yet been broken, and by the gate, through which none
that once had passed it were ever able to return. He was now
impatient as an eagle in a grate. He passed week after week in
clambering the mountains, to see if there was any aperture which
the bushes might conceal, but found all the summits inaccessible
by their prominence. The iron gate he despaired to open; for it
was not only secured with all the power of art, but was always
watched by successive sentinels, and was by its position exposed
to the perpetual observation of all the inhabitants.

He then examined the cavern through which the waters of the lake
were discharged; and, looking down at a time when the sun shone
strongly upon its mouth, he discovered it to be full of broken
rocks, which, though they permitted the stream to flow through
many narrow passages, would stop any body of solid bulk. He
returned discouraged and dejected; but, having now known the
blessing of hope, resolved never to despair.

In these fruitless searches he spent ten months. The time,
however, passed chearfully away: in the morning he rose with new
hope, in the evening applauded his own diligence, and in the
night slept sound after his fatigue. He met a thousand amusements
which beguiled his labour, and diversified his thoughts. He
discerned the various instincts of animals, and properties of
plants, and found the place replete with wonders, of which he
purposed to solace himself with the contemplation, if he should
never be able to accomplish his flight; rejoicing that his
endeavours, though yet unsucessful, had supplied him with a
source of inexhaustible enquiry.

But his original curiosity was not yet abated; he resolved to
obtain some knowledge of the ways of men. His wish still
continued, but his hope grew less. He ceased to survey any longer
the walls of his prison, and spared to search by new toils for
interstices which he knew could not be found, yet determined to
keep his design always in view, and lay hold on any expedient
that time should offer.

{Rasselas, chapter 6}

A dissertation on the art of flying

AMONG the artists that had been allured into the happy valley, to
labour for the accommodation and pleasure of its inhabitants, was
a man eminent for his knowledge of the mechanick powers, who had
contrived many engines both of use and recreation. By a wheel,
which the stream turned, he forced the water into a tower, whence
it was distributed to all the apartments of the palace. He
erected a pavillion in the garden, around which he kept the air
always cool by artificial showers. One of the groves,
appropriated to the ladies, was ventilated by fans, to which the
rivulet that run through it gave a constant motion; and
instruments of soft musick were placed at proper distances, of
which some played by the impulse of the wind, and some by the
power of the stream. This artist was sometimes visited by
Rasselas, who was pleased with every kind of knowledge, imagining
that the time would come when all his acquisitions should be of
use to him in the open world. He came one day to amuse himself in
his usual manner, and found the master busy in building a sailing
chariot: he saw that the design was practicable upon a level
surface, and with expressions of great esteem solicited its
completion. The workman was pleased to find himself so much
regarded by the prince, and resolved to gain yet higher honours.
"Sir, said he, you have seen but a small part of what the
mechanick sciences can perform. I have been long of opinion,
that, instead of the tardy conveyance of ships and chariots, man
might use the swifter migration of wings; that the fields of air
are open to knowledge, and that only ignorance and idleness need
crawl upon the ground."

This hint rekindled the prince's desire of passing the mountains;
having seen what the mechanist had already performed, he was
willing to fancy that he could do more; yet resolved to enquire
further before he suffered hope to afflict him by disappointment.
"I am afraid, said he to the artist, that your imagination
prevails over your skill, and that you now tell me rather what
you wish than what you know. Every animal has his element
assigned him; the birds have the air, and man and beasts the
earth." "So, replied the mechanist, fishes have the water, in
which yet beasts can swim by nature, and men by art. He that can
swim needs not despair to fly: to swim is to fly in a grosser
fluid, and to fly is to swim in a subtler. We are only to
proportion our power of resistance to the different density of
the matter through which we are to pass. You will be necessarily
upborn by the air, if you can renew any impulse upon it, faster
than the air can recede from the pressure."

"But the exercise of swimming, said the prince, is very
laborious; the strongest limbs are soon wearied; I am afraid the
act of flying will be yet more violent, and wings will be of no
great use, unless we can fly further than we can swim."

"The labour of rising from the ground, said the artist, will be
great, as we see it in the heavier domestick fowls; but, as we
mount higher, the earth's attraction, and the body's gravity,
will be gradually diminished, till we shall arrive at a region
where the man will float in the air without any tendency to fall:
no care will then be necessary, but to move forwards, which the
gentlest impulse will effect. You, Sir, whose curiosity is
so extensive, will easily conceive with what pleasure a
philosopher, furnished with wings, and hovering in the sky, would
see the earth, and all it's inhabitants, rolling beneath him, and
presenting to him successively, by it's diurnal motion, all the
countries within the same parallel. How must it amuse the pendent
spectator to see the moving scene of land and ocean, cities and
desarts! To survey with equal security the marts of trade, and
the fields of battle; mountains infested by barbarians, and
fruitful regions gladdened by plenty, and lulled by peace! How
easily shall we then trace the Nile through all his passage; pass
over to distant regions, and examine the face of nature from one
extremity of the earth to the other!"

"All this, said the prince, is much to be desired, but I am
afraid that no man will be able to breathe in these regions of
speculation and tranquility. I have been told, that respiration
is difficult upon lofty mountains, yet from these precipices,
though so high as to produce great tenuity of the air, it is very
easy to fall: therefore I suspect, that from any height, where
life can be supported, there may be danger of too quick descent."

"Nothing, replied the artist, will ever be attempted, if all
possible objections must be first overcome. If you will favour my
project I will try the first flight at my own hazard. I have
considered the structure of all volant animals, and find the
folding continuity of the bat's wings most easily accommodated to
the human form. Upon this model I shall begin my task to morrow,
and in a year expect to tower into the air beyond the malice or
persuit of man. But I will work only on this condition, that the
art shall not be divulged, and that you shall not require me to
make wings for any but ourselves."

"Why, said Rasselas, should you envy others so great an
advantage? All skill ought to be exerted for universal good every
man has owed much to others, and ought to repay the kindness that
he has received."

"If men were all virtuous, returned the artist, I should with
great alacrity teach them all to fly. But what would be the
security of the good, if the bad could at pleasure invade them
from the sky? Against an army sailing through the cloud neither
walls, nor mountains, nor seas, could afford any security. A
flight of northern savages might hover in the wind, and light at
once with irresistible violence upon the capital of a fruitful
region that was rolling under them. Even this valley, the retreat
of princes, the abode of happiness, might be violated by the
sudden descent of some of the naked nations that swarm on the
coast of the southern sea."

The prince promised secrecy, and waited for the performance, not
wholly hopeless of success. He visited the work from time to
time, observed its progress, and remarked many ingenious
contrivances to facilitate motion, and unite levity with
strength. The artist was every day more certain that he should
leave vultures and eagles behind him, and the contagion of his
confidence seized upon the prince.

In a year the wings were finished, and, on a morning appointed,
the maker appeared furnished for flight on a little promontory:
he waved his pinions a while to gather air, then leaped from his
stand, and in an instant dropped into the lake. His wings, which
were of no use in the air, sustained him in the water, and the
prince drew him to land, half dead with terrour and vexation.

{Rasselas, chapter 7}

The prince finds a man of learning

THE prince was not much afflicted by this disaster, having
suffered himself to hope for a happier event, only because he had
no other means of escape in view. He still persisted in his
design to leave the happy valley by the first opportunity.

His imagination was now at a stand; he had no prospect of
entering into the world; and, notwithstanding all his endeavours
to support himself, discontent by degrees preyed upon him, and he
began again to lose his thoughts in sadness, when the rainy
season, which in these countries is periodical, made it
inconvenient to wander in the woods.

The rain continued longer and with more violence than had been
ever known: the clouds broke on the surrounding mountains, and
the torrents streamed into the plain on every side, till the
cavern was too narrow to discharge the water. The lake overflowed
its banks, and all the level of the valley was covered with the
inundation. The eminence, on which the palace was built, and some
other spots of rising ground, were all that the eye could
now discover. The herds and flocks left the pastures, and both
the wild beasts and the tame retreated to the mountains.

This inundation confined all the princes to domestick amusements,
and the attention of Rasselas was particularly seized by a poem,
which Imlac rehearsed upon the various conditions of humanity. He
commanded the poet to attend him in his apartment, and recite his
verses a second time; then entering into familiar talk, he
thought himself happy in having found a man who knew the world so
well, and could so skilfully paint the scenes of life. He asked a
thousand questions about things, to which, though common to all
other mortals, his confinement from childhood had kept him a
stranger. The poet pitied his ignorance, and loved his curiosity,
and entertained him from day to day with novelty and instruction,
so that the prince regretted the necessity of sleep, and longed
till the morning should renew his pleasure.

As they were sitting together, the prince commanded Imlac to
relate his history, and to tell by what accident he was forced,
or by what motive induced, to close his life in the happy valley.
As he was going to begin his narrative, Rasselas was called to a
concert, and obliged to restrain his curiosity till the evening.

{Rasselas, chapter 8}

The history of Imlac

THE close of the day is, in the regions of the torrid zone, the
only season of diversion and entertainment, and it was therefore
midnight before the musick ceased, and the princesses retired.
Rasselas then called for his companion and required him to begin
the story of his life.

"Sir, said Imlac, my history will not be long: the life that is
devoted to knowledge passes silently away, and is very little
diversified by events. To talk in publick, to think in solitude,
to read and to hear, to inquire, and answer inquiries, is the
business of a scholar. He wanders about the world without pomp or
terrour, and is neither known nor valued but by men like himself.

"I was born in the kingdom of Goiama, at no great distance from
the fountain of the Nile. My father was a wealthy merchant, who
traded between the inland countries of Africk and the ports of
the red sea. He was honest, frugal and diligent, but of mean
sentiments, and narrow comprehension: he desired only to be rich,
and to conceal his riches, lest he should be spoiled by the
governours of the province."

"Surely, said the prince, my father must be negligent of his
charge, if any man in his dominions dares take that which belongs
to another. Does he not know that kings are accountable for
injustice permitted as well as done? If I were emperour, not the
meanest of my subjects should be oppressed with impunity. My
blood boils when I am told that a merchant durst not enjoy his
honest gains for fear of losing them by the rapacity of power.
Name the governour who robbed the people, that I may declare his
crimes to the emperour."

"Sir, said Imlac, your ardour is the natural effect of virtue
animated by youth: the time will come when you will acquit your
father, and perhaps hear with less impatience of the governour.
Oppression is, in the Abissinian dominions, neither frequent nor
tolerated; but no form of government has been yet discovered, by
which cruelty can be wholly prevented. Subordination supposes
power on one part and subjection on the other; and if power be in
the hands of men, it will sometimes be abused. The vigilance of
the supreme magistrate may do much, but much will still remain
undone. He can never know all the crimes that are committed, and
can seldom punish all that he knows."

"This, said the prince, I do not understand, but I had rather
hear thee than dispute. Continue thy narration."

"My father, proceeded Imlac, originally intended that I should
have no other education, than such as might qualify me for
commerce; and discovering in me great strength of memory, and
quickness of apprehension, often declared his hope that I should
be some time the richest man in Abissinia."

"Why, said the prince, did thy father desire the increase of his
wealth, when it was already greater than he durst discover or
enjoy? I am unwilling to doubt thy veracity, yet inconsistencies
cannot both be true."

"Inconsistencies, answered Imlac, cannot both be right, but,
imputed to man, they may both be true. Yet diversity is not
inconsistency. My father might expect a time of greater security.
However, some desire is necessary to keep life in motion, and he,
whose real wants are supplied, must admit those of fancy."

"This, said the prince, I can in some measure conceive. I repent
that I interrupted thee."

"With this hope, proceeded Imlac, he sent me to school; but when
I had once found the delight of knowledge, and felt the pleasure
of intelligence and the pride of invention, I began silently to
despise riches, and determined to disappoint the purpose of my
father, whose grossness of conception raised my pity. I was
twenty years old before his tenderness would expose me to the
fatigue of travel, in which time I had been instructed, by
successive masters, in all the literature of my native country.
As every hour taught me something new, I lived in a continual
course of gratifications; but, as I advanced towards manhood, I
lost much of the reverence with which I had been used to look on
my instructors; because, when the lesson was ended, I did
not find them wiser or better than common men.

"At length my father resolved to initiate me in commerce, and,
opening one of his subterranean treasuries, counted out ten
thousand pieces of gold. This, young man, said he, is the stock
with which you must negociate. I began with less than the fifth
part, and you see how diligence and parsimony have increased it.
This is your own to waste or to improve. If you squander it by
negligence or caprice, you must wait for my death before you will
be rich: if, in four years, you double your stock, we will
thenceforward let subordination cease, and live together as
friends and partners; for he shall always be equal with me, who
is equally skilled in the art of growing rich.

"We laid our money upon camels, concealed in bales of cheap
goods, and travelled to the shore of the red sea. When I cast my
eye on the expanse of waters my heart bounded like that of a
prisoner escaped. I felt an unextinguishable curiosity kindle in
my mind, and resolved to snatch this opportunity of seeing the
manners of other nations, and of learning sciences unknown in

"I remembered that my father had obliged me to the improvement of
my stock, not by a promise which I ought not to violate, but by a
penalty which I was at liberty to incur; and therefore determined
to gratify my predominant desire, and by drinking at the
fountains of knowledge, to quench the thirst of curiosity.

"As I was supposed to trade without connexion with my father, it
was easy for me to become acquainted with the master of a ship,
and procure a passage to some other country. I had no motives of
choice to regulate my voyage; it was sufficient for me that,
wherever I wandered, I should see a country which I had not
seen before. I therefore entered a ship bound for Surat, having
left a letter for my father declaring my intention.

{Rasselas, chapter 9}

The history of Imlac continued

"When I first entered upon the world of waters, and lost sight of
land, I looked round about me with pleasing terrour, and thinking
my soul enlarged by the boundless prospect, imagined that I could
gaze round for ever without satiety; but, in a short time, I grew
weary of looking on barren uniformity, where I could only see
again what I had already seen. I then descended into the ship,
and doubted for a while whether all my future pleasures would not
end like this in disgust and disappointment. Yet, surely, said I,
the ocean and the land are very different; the only variety of
water is rest and motion, but the earth has mountains and
vallies, desarts and cities: it is inhabited by men of different
customs and contrary opinions; and I may hope to find variety in
life, though I should miss it in nature.

"With this thought I quieted my mind; and amused myself during
the voyage, sometimes by learning from the sailors the art of
navigation, which I have never practised, and sometimes by
forming schemes for my conduct in different situations, in not
one of which I have been ever placed.

"I was almost weary of my naval amusements when we landed safely
at Surat. I secured my money, and purchasing some
commodities for show, joined myself to a caravan that was passing
into the inland country. My companions, for some reason or other,
conjecturing that I was rich, and, by my inquiries and
admiration, finding that I was ignorant, considered me as a
novice whom they had a right to cheat, and who was to learn at
the usual expence the art of fraud. They exposed me to the theft
of servants, and the exaction of officers, and saw me plundered
upon false pretences, without any advantage to themselves, but
that of rejoicing in the superiority of their own knowledge."

"Stop a moment, said the prince. Is there such depravity in man,
as that he should injure another win by warning, as betraying

"Pride, said Imlac, is seldom delicate, it will please itself
with very mean advantages; and envy feels not its own happiness,
but when it may be compared with the misery of others. They were
my enemies because they grieved to think me rich, and my
oppressors because they delighted to find me weak."

"Proceed, said the prince: I doubt not of the facts which you
relate, but imagine that you impute them to mistaken motives."

"In this company, said Imlac, I arrived at Agra, the capital of
Indostan, the city in which the great Mogul commonly
resides. I applied myself to the language of the country, and in
a few months was able to converse with the learned men; some of
whom I found morose and reserved, and others easy and
communicative; some were unwilling to teach another what they had
with difficulty learned themselves; and some shewed that the end
of their studies was to gain the dignity of instructing.

"To the tutor of the young princes I recommended myself so much,
that I was presented to the emperour as a man of uncommon
knowledge. The emperour asked me many questions concerning my
country and my travels; and though I cannot now recollect any
thing that he uttered above the power of a common man, he
dismissed me astonished at his wisdom, and enamoured of his

"My credit was now so high, that the merchants, with whom I had
travelled, applied to me for recommendations to the ladies of the
court. I was surprised at their confidence of solicitation, and
gently reproached them with their practices on the road. They
heard me with cold indifference, and shewed no tokens of shame or

"They then urged their request with the offer of a bribe; but
what I would not do for kindness I would not do for money; and
refused them, not because they had injured me, but because I
would not enable them to injure others; for I knew they would
have made use of my credit to cheat those who should buy their

"Having resided at Agra till there was no more to be learned, I
travelled into Persia, where I saw many remains of ancient
magnificence, and observed many new accommodations of life. The
Persians are a nation eminently social, and their assemblies
afforded me daily opportunities of remarking characters and
manners, and of tracing human nature through all its variations.

"From Persia I passed into Arabia, where I saw a nation at once
pastoral and warlike; who live without any settled habitation;
whose only wealth is their flocks and herds; and who have yet
carried on, through all ages, an hereditary war with all mankind,
though they neither covet nor envy their possessions.

{Rasselas, chapter 10}

Imlac's history continued. A dissertation upon poetry

"WHEREVER I went, I found that poetry was considered as the
highest learning, and regarded with a veneration somewhat
approaching to that which man would pay to the Angelick Nature.
And it yet fills me with wonder, that, in almost all countries,
the most ancient poets are considered as the best: whether it be
that every other kind of knowledge is an acquisition gradually
attained, and poetry is a gift conferred at once; or that the
first poetry of every nation surprised them as a novelty, and
retained the credit by consent which it received by accident at
first: or whether, as the province of poetry is to describe
Nature and passion, which are always the same, the first writers
took possession of the most striking objects for description, and
the most probable occurrences for fiction, and left nothing to
those that followed them, but transcription of the same events,
and new combinations of the same images. Whatever be the reason,
it is commonly observed that the early writers are in possession
of nature, and their followers of art: that the first excel in
strength and invention, and the latter in elegance and

"I was desirous to add my name to this illustrious fraterity. I
read all the poets of Persia and Arabia, and was able to repeat
by memory the volumes that are suspended in the mosque of Mecca.
But I soon found that no man was ever great by imitation. My
desire of excellence impelled me to transfer my attention to
nature and to life. Nature was to be my subject, and men to be my
auditors: I could never describe what I had not seen: I could not
hope to move those with delight or terrour, whose interests and
opinions I did not understand.

"Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw every thing with a new
purpose; my sphere of attention was suddenly magnified: no
kind of knowledge was to be overlooked. I ranged mountains and
deserts for images and resemblances, and pictured upon my mind
every tree of the forest and flower of the valley. I observed
with equal care the crags of the rock and the pinnacles of the
palace. Sometimes I wandered along the mazes of the rivulet, and
sometimes watched the changes of the summer clouds. To a poet
nothing can be useless. Whatever is beautiful, and whatever is
dreadful, must be familiar to his imagination: he must be
conversant with all that is awfully vast or elegantly little. The
plants of the garden, the animals of the wood, the minerals of
the earth, and meteors of the sky, must all concur to store his
mind with inexhaustible variety: for every idea is useful
for the inforcement or decoration of moral or religious truth;
and he, who knows most, will have most power of diversifying his
scenes, and of gratifying his reader with remote allusions and
unexpected instruction.

"All the appearances of nature I was therefore careful to study,
and every country which I have surveyed has contributed something
to my poetical powers."

"In so wide a survey, said the prince, you must surely have left
much unobserved. I have lived, till now, within the circuit of
these mountains, and yet cannot walk abroad without the sight of
something which I had never beheld before, or never heeded."

"The business of a poet, said Imlac, is to examine, not the
individual, but the species; to remark general properties and
large appearances: he does not number the streaks of the tulip,
or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest. He
is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and
striking features, as recal the original to every mind; and must
neglect the minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked,
and another have neglected, for those characteristicks which are
alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness.

"But the knowledge of nature is only half the task of a poet; he
must be acquainted likewise with all the modes of life. His
character requires that he estimate the happiness and misery of
every condition; observe the power of all the passions in all
their combinations, and trace the changes of the human mind as
they are modified by various institutions and accidental
influences of climate or custom, from the spriteliness of infancy
to the despondence of decrepitude. He must divest himself of the
prejudices of his age or country; he must consider right and
wrong in their abstracted and invariable state; he must disregard
present laws and opinions, and rise to general and transcendental
truths, which will always be the same: he must therefore
content himself with the slow progress of his name; contemn the
applause of his own time, and commit his claims to the justice of
posterity. He must write as the interpreter of nature, and the
legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the
thoughts and manners of future generations; as a being superiour
to time and place.

"His labour is not yet at an end: he must know many languages and
many sciences; and, that his stile may be worthy of his thoughts,
must, by incessant practice, familiarize to himself every
delicacy of speech and grace of harmony."

{Rasselas, chapter 11}

Imlac's narrative continued. A hint on pilgrimage

IMLAC now felt the enthusiastic fit, and was proceeding to
aggrandize his own profession, when the prince cried out,
"Enough! Thou hast convinced me, that no human being can ever be
a poet. Proceed with thy narration."

"To be a poet, said Imlac, is indeed very difficult." "So
difficult, returned the prince, that I will at present hear no
more of his labours. Tell me whither you went when you had seen

"From Persia, said the poet, I travelled through Syria, and for
three years resided in Palestine, where I conversed with great
numbers of the northern and western nations of Europe; the
nations which are now in possession of all power and knowledge;
whose armies are irresistible, and whose fleets command the
remotest parts of the globe. When I compared these men with the
natives of our own kingdom, and those that surround us, they
appeared almost another order of beings. In their countries it is
difficult to wish for any thing that may not be obtained: a
thousand arts, of which we never heard, are continually labouring
for their convenience and pleasure; and whatever their own
climate has denied them is supplied by their commerce."

"By what means, said the prince, are the Europeans thus powerful?
or why, since they can so easily visit Asia and Africa for trade
or conquest, cannot the Asiaticks and Africans invade their
coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their
natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring
us thither."

"They are more powerful, Sir, than we, answered Imlac, because
they are wiser; knowledge will always predominate over ignorance,
as man governs the other animals. But why their knowledge is more
than ours, I know not what reason can be given, but the
unsearchable will of the Supreme Being."

"When, said the prince with a sigh, shall I be able to visit
Palestine, and mingle with this mighty confluence of nations?
Till that happy moment shall arrive, let me fill up the time with
such representations as thou canst give me. I am not ignorant of
the motive that assembles such numbers in that place, and cannot
but consider it as the center of wisdom and piety, to which the
best and wisest men of every land must be continually resorting."

"There are some nations, said Imlac, that send few visitants to
Palestine; for many numerous and learned sects in Europe,. concur
to censure pilgrimage as superstitious, or deride it as

"You know, said the prince, how little my life has made me
acquainted with diversity of opinions: it will be too long to
hear the arguments on both sides; you, that have considered them,
tell me the result."

"Pilgrimage, said Imlac, like many other acts of piety, may
be reasonable or superstitious, according to the principles upon
which it is performed. Long journies in search of truth are not
commanded. Truth, such as is necessary to the regulation of life,
is always found where it is honestly sought. Change of place is
no natural cause of the increase of piety, for it inevitably
produces dissipation of mind. Yet, since men go every day to view
the fields where great actions have been performed, and return
with stronger impressions of the event, curiosity of the same
kind may naturally dispose us to view that country whence our
religion had its beginning; and I believe no man surveys those
awful scenes without some confirmation of holy resolutions. That
the Supreme Being may be more easily propitiated in one place
than in another, is the dream of idle superstition; but that some
places may operate upon our own minds in an uncommon manner, is
an opinion which hourly experience will justify. He who supposes
that his vices may be more successfully combated in Palestine,
will, perhaps, find himself mistaken, yet he may go thither
without folly: he who thinks they will be more freely pardoned,
dishonours at once his reason and religion."

"These, said the prince, are European distinctions. I will
consider them another time. What have you found to be the effect
of knowledge? Are those nations happier than we?"

"There is so much infelicity, said the poet, in the world, that
scarce any man has leisure from his own distresses to estimate
the comparative happiness of others. Knowledge is certainly one
of the means of pleasure, as is confessed by the natural desire
which every mind feels of increasing its ideas. Ignorance is mere
privation, by which nothing can be produced: it is a vacuity in
which the soul sits motionless and" torpid for want of
attraction; and, without knowing why, we always rejoice when we
learn, and grieve when we forget. I am therefore inclined to
conclude, that, if nothing counteracts the natural consequence of
learning, we grow more happy as our minds take a wider range.

"In enumerating the particular comforts of life we shall find
many advantages on the side of the Europeans. They cure wounds
and diseases with which we languish and perish. We suffer
inclemencies of weather which they can obviate. They have engines
for the despatch of many laborious works, which we must perform
by manual industry. There is such communication between distant
places, that one friend can hardly be said to be absent from
another. Their policy removes all publick inconveniencies: they
have roads cut through their mountains, and bridges laid upon
their rivers. And, if we descend to the privacies of life, their
habitations are more commodious, and their possessions are more

"They are surely happy, said the prince, who have all these
conveniencies, of which I envy none so much as the facility with
which separated friends interchange their thoughts.

"The Europeans, answered Imlac, are less unhappy than we, but
they are not happy. Human life is every where a state in which
much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed."

{Rasselas, chapter 12}

The story of Imlac continued

"I AM not yet willing, said the prince, to suppose that happiness
is so parsimoniously distributed to mortals; nor can believe but
that, if I had the choice of life, I should be able to fill every
day with pleasure. I would injure no man, and should provoke no
resentment: I would relieve every distress, and should enjoy the
benedictions of gratitude. I would choose my friends among the
wise, and my wife among the virtuous; and therefore should be in
no danger from treachery, or unkindness. My children should, by
my care, be learned and pious, and would repay to my age what
their childhood had received. What would dare to molest him who
might call on every side to thousands enriched by his bounty, or
assisted by his power? And why should not life glide quietly
away in the soft reciprocation of protection and reverence? All
this may be done without the help of European refinements, which
appear by their effects to be rather specious than useful. Let us
leave them and persue our journey."

"From Palestine, said Imlac, I passed through many regions of
Asia; in the more civilized kingdoms as a trader, and among the
Barbarians of the mountains as a pilgrim. At last I began to long
for my native country, that I might repose after my travels, and
fatigues, in the places where I had spent my earliest years, and
gladden my old companions with the recital of my adventures.
Often did I figure to myself those, with whom I had sported away
the gay hours of dawning life, sitting round me in its evening,
wondering at my tales, and listening to my counsels.

"When this thought had taken possession of my mind, I considered
every moment as wasted which did not bring me nearer to
Abissinia. I hastened into Egypt, and, notwithstanding my
impatience, was detained ten months in the contemplation of its
ancient magnificence, and in enquiries after the remains of its
ancient learning. I found in Cairo a mixture of all nations;
some brought thither by the love of knowledge, some by the hope
of gain, and many by the desire of living after their own manner
without observation, and of lying hid in the obscurity of
multitudes: for, in a city, populous as Cairo, it is possible to
obtain at the same time the gratifications of society, and the
secrecy of solitude.

"From Cairo I travelled to Suez, and embarked on the Red sea,
passing along the coast till I arrived at the port from which I
had departed twenty years before. Here I joined myself to a
caravan and re-entered my native country.

"I now expected the caresses of my kinsmen, and the
congratulations of my friends, and was not without hope that my
father, whatever value he had set upon riches, would own with
gladness and pride a son who was able to add to the felicity and
honour of the nation. But I was soon convinced that my thoughts
were vain. My father had been dead fourteen years, having divided
his wealth among my brothers, who were removed to some other
provinces. Of my companions the greater part was in the grave, of
the rest some could with difficulty remember me, and some
considered me as one corrupted by foreign manners.
"A man used to vicissitudes is not easily dejected. I forgot,
after a time, my disappointment, and endeavoured to recommend
myself to the nobles of the kingdom: they admitted me to their
tables, heard my story, and dismissed me. I opened a school, and
was prohibited to teach. I then resolved to sit down in the quiet
of domestick life, and addressed a lady that was fond of my
conversation, but rejected my suit, because my father was a

"Wearied at last with solicitation and repulses, I resolved to
hide myself for ever from the world, and depend no longer on the
opinion or caprice of others. I waited for the time when the gate
of the happy valley should open, that I might bid farewell to
hope and fear: the day came; my performance was distinguished
with favour, and I resigned myself with joy to perpetual

"Hast thou here found happiness at last? said Rasselas. Tell me
without reserve; art thou content with thy condition? or, dost
thou wish to be again wandering and inquiring? All the
inhabitants of this valley celebrate their lot, and, at the
annual visit of the emperour, invite others to partake of their

"Great prince, said Imlac, I shall speak the truth: I know not
one of all your attendants who does not lament the hour when he
entered this retreat. I am less unhappy than the rest, because I
have a mind replete with images, which I can vary and combine at
pleasure. I can amuse my solitude by the renovation of the
knowledge which begins to fade from my memory, and by
recollection of the accidents of my past life. Yet all this ends
in the sorrowful consideration, that my acquirements are now
useless, and that none of my pleasures can be again enjoyed. The
rest, whose minds have no impression but of the present moment,
are either corroded by malignant passions, or sit stupid in the
gloom of perpetual vacancy."

"What passions can infest those, said the prince, who have no
rivals? We are in a place where impotence precludes malice, and
where all envy is repressed by community of enjoyments."

"There may be community, said Imlac, of material possessions, but
there can never be community of love or of esteem. It must happen
that one will please more than another; he that knows himself
despised will always be envious; and still more envious and
malevolent, if he is condemned to live in the presence of those
who despise him. The invitations, by which they allure others
to a state which they feel to be wretched, proceed from the
natural malignity of hopeless misery. They are weary of
themselves, and of each other, and expect to find relief in new
companions. They envy the liberty which their folly has
forfeited, and would gladly see all mankind imprisoned like

"From this crime, however, I am wholly free. No man can say that
he is wretched by my persuasion. I look with pity on the crowds
who are annually soliciting admission to captivity, and wish that
it were lawful for me to warn them of their danger."

"My dear Imlac, said the prince, I will open to thee my whole
heart. I have long meditated an escape from the happy valley. I
have examined the mountains on every side, but find myself
insuperably barred: teach me the way to break my prison;
thou shalt be the companion of my flight, the guide of my
rambles, the partner of my fortune, and my sole director in the
choice of life."

"Sir, answered the poet, your escape will be difficult, and,
perhaps, you may soon repent your curiosity. The world, which you
figure to yourself smooth and quiet as the lake in the valley,
you will find a sea foaming with tempests, and boiling with
whirlpools: you will be sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of
violence, and sometimes dashed against the rocks of treachery.
Amidst wrongs and frauds, competitions and anxieties, you will
wish a thousand times for these seats of quiet, and willingly
quit hope to be free from fear."

"Do not seek to deter me from my purpose, said the prince: I am
impatient to see what thou hast seen; and, since thou art thyself
weary of the valley, it is evident, that thy former state was
better than this. Whatever be the consequence of my experiment, I
am resolved to judge with my own eyes of the various conditions
of men, and then to make deliberately my choice of life."

"I am afraid, said Imlac, you are hindered by stronger restraints
than my persuasions; yet, if your determination is fixed, I do
not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to
diligence and skill."

{Rasselas, chapter 13}

Rasselas discovers the means of escape

THE prince now dismissed his favourite to rest, but the narrative
of wonders and novelties filled his mind with perturbation.
He revolved all that he had heard, and prepared innumerable
questions for the morning.

Much of his uneasiness was now removed. He had a friend to whom
he could impart his thoughts, and whose experience could assist
him in his designs. His heart was no longer condemned to swell
with silent vexation. He thought that even. the happy valley
might be endured with such a companion, and that, if they could
range the world together, he should have nothing further to

In a few days the water was discharged, and the ground dried. The
prince and Imlac then walked out together to converse without the
notice of the rest. The prince, whose thoughts were always on the
wing, as he passed by the gate, said, with a countenance of
sorrow, "Why art thou so strong, and why is man so weak?"

"Man is not weak, answered his companion; knowledge is more than
equivalent to force. The master of mechanicks laughs at strength.
I can burst the gate, but cannot do it secretly. Some other
expedient must be tried."

As they were walking on the side of the mountain, they observed
that the conies, which the rain had driven from their burrows,
had taken shelter among the bushes, and formed holes behind them,
tending upwards in an oblique line. "It has been the opinion of
antiquity, said Imlac, that human reason borrowed many arts from
the instinct of animals; let us, therefore, not think ourselves
degraded by learning from the coney. We may escape by
piercing the mountain in the same direction. We will begin where
the summit hangs over the middle part, and labour upward till we
shall issue out beyond the prominence."

The eyes of the prince, when he heard this proposal, sparkled
with joy. The execution was easy, and the success certain.

No time was now lost. They hastened early in the morning to chuse
a place proper for their mine. They clambered with great fatigue
among crags and brambles, and returned without having discovered
any part that favoured their design. The second and the third day
were spent in the same manner, and with the same frustration.
But, on the fourth, they found a small cavern, concealed by a
thicket, where they resolved to make their experiment.

Imlac procured instruments proper to hew stone and remove earth
and they fell to their work on the next day with more eagerness
than vigour. They were presently exhausted by their efforts, and
sat down to pant upon the grass. The prince, for the moment,
appeared to be discouraged. "Sir, said his companion, practice
will enable us to continue our labour for a longer time; mark,
however, how far we have advanced, and you will find that our
toil will some time have an end. Great works are performed, not
by strength but perseverance: yonder palace was raised by single
stones, yet you see its height and spaciousness. He that shall
walk with vigour three hours a day will pass in seven years a
space equal to the circumference of the globe." They returned to
their work day after day, and, in a short time, found a fissure
in the rock, which enabled them to pass far with very little
obstruction. This Rasselas considered as a good omen. "Do not
disturb your mind, said Imlac, with other hopes or fears than
reason may suggest: if you are pleased with prognosticks of good,
you will be terrified likewise with tokens of evil, and your
whole life will be a prey to superstition. Whatever facilitates
our work is more than an omen, it is a cause of success. This is
one of those pleasing surprises which often happen to active
resolution. Many things difficult to design prove easy to

{Rasselas, chapter 14}

Rasselas and Imlac receive an unexpected visit

THEY had now wrought their way to the middle, and solaced their
toil with the approach of liberty, when the prince, coming down
to refresh himself with air, found his sister Nekayah standing
before the mouth of the cavity. He started and stood confused,
afraid to tell his design, and yet hopeless to conceal it. A
few moments determined him to repose on her fidelity, and secure
her secrecy by a declaration without reserve.

"Do not imagine, said the princess, that I came hither as a spy:
I had long observed from my window, that you and Imlac directed
your walk every day towards the same point, but I did not suppose
you had any better reason for the preference than a cooler shade,
or more fragrant bank; nor followed you with any other design
than to partake of your conversation. Since then not suspicion
but fondness has detected you, let me not lose the advantage of
my discovery. I am equally weary of confinement with yourself,
and not less desirous of knowing what is done or suffered in the
world. Permit me to fly with you from this tasteless tranquility,
which will yet grow more loathsome when you have left me. You may
deny me to accompany you, but cannot hinder me from following."

The prince, who loved Nekayah above his other sisters, had lost
an opportunity of shewing his confidence by a voluntary
communication. It was therefore agreed that she should leave the
valley with them; and that, in the mean time, she should watch,
lest any other straggler should, by chance or curiosity, follow
them to the mountain.

At length their labour was at an end; they saw light beyond the
prominence, and, issuing to the top of the mountain, beheld the
Nile, yet a narrow current, wandering beneath them.

The prince looked round with rapture, anticipated all the
pleasures of travel, and in thought was already transported
beyond his father's dominions. Imlac, though very joyful at his
escape, had less expectation of pleasure in the world, which he
had before tried, and of which he had been weary. Rasselas was so
much delighted with a wider horizon, that he could not soon
be persuaded to return into the valley. He informed his sister
that the way was open, and that nothing now remained but to
prepare for their departure.

{Rasselas, chapter 15}

The prince and princess leave the valley, and see many wonders

THE prince and princess had jewels sufficient to make them rich
whenever they came into a place of commerce, which, by Imlac's
direction, they hid in their cloaths, and, on the night of the
next full moon, all left the valley. The princess was followed
only by a single favourite, who did not know whither she was

They clambered through the cavity, and began to go down towards
every part, and, seeing nothing to bound their prospect,
considered themselves as in danger of being lost in a dreary
vacuity. They stopped and trembled. "I am almost afraid, said the
princess, to begin a journey of which I cannot perceive an end,
and to venture into this immense plain where I may be approached
on every side by men whom I never saw." The prince felt nearly
the same emotions, though he thought it more manly to conceal

Imlac smiled at their terrours, and encouraged them to proceed;
but the princess continued irresolute till she had been
imperceptibly drawn forward too far to return.

In the morning they found some shepherds in the field, who set
milk and fruits before them. The princess wonered that she
did not see a palace ready for her reception, and a table spread
with delicacies; but, being faint and hungry, she drank the milk
and eat the fruits, and thought them of a higher flavour than the
products of the valley.

They travelled forward by easy journeys, being all unaccustomed
to toil or difficulty, and knowing, that though they might be
missed, they could not be persued. In a few days they came into a
more populous region, where Imlac was diverted with the
admiration which his companions expressed at the diversity of
manners, stations and employments.

Their dress was such as might not bring upon them the suspicion
of having any thing to conceal, yet the prince, wherever he came,
expected to be obeyed, and the princess was frighted, because
those that came into her presence did not prostrate themselves
before her. Imlac was forced to observe them with great
vigilance, lest they should betray their rank by their unusual
behaviour, and detained them several weeks in the first village
to accustom them to the sight of common mortals.

By degrees the royal wanderers were taught to understand that
they had for a time laid aside their dignity, and were to expect
only such regard as liberality and courtesy could procure. And
Imlac, having, by many admonitions, prepared them to endure the
tumults of a port, and the ruggedness of the commercial race,
brought them down to the seacoast. The prince and his sister, to
whom every thing was new, were gratified equally at all places,
and therefore remained for some months at the port without
any inclination to pass further. Imlac was content with their
stay, because he did not think it safe to expose them,
unpractised in the world, to the hazards of a foreign country.

At last he began to fear lest they should be discovered, and
proposed to fix a day for their departure. They had no
pretensions to judge for themselves, and referred the whole
scheme to his direction. He therefore took passage in a ship to
Suez; and, when the time came, with great difficulty prevailed on
the princess to enter the vessel. They had a quick and prosperous
voyage, and from Suez travelled by land to Cairo.

{Rasselas, chapter 16}

They enter Cairo, and find every man happy

As they approached the city, which filled the strangers with
astonishment, "This, said Imlac to the prince, is the place where
travellers and merchants assemble from all the corners of the
earth. You will here find men of every character, and every
occupation. Commerce is here honourable: I will act as a
merchant, and you shall live as strangers, who have no other end
of travel than curiosity; it will soon be observed that we are
rich; our reputation will procure us access to all whom we shall
desire to know; you will see all the conditions of humanity, and
enable yourself at leisure to make your choice of life."
They now entered the town, stunned by the noise, and offended by
the crowds. Instruction had not yet so prevailed over habit but
that they wondered to see themselves pass undistinguished along
the street, and met by the lowest of the people without reverence
or notice. The princess could not at first bear the thought of
being levelled with the vulgar, and, for some days, continued in
her chamber, where she was served by her favourite Pekuah as in
the palace of the valley.

Imlac, who understood traffick, sold part of the jewels the next
day, and hired a house, which he adorned with such magnificence,
that he was immediately considered as a merchant of great wealth.
His politeness attracted many acquaintance, and his generosity
made him courted by many dependants. His table was crowded by men
of every nation, who all admired his knowledge, and solicited his
favour. His companions, not being able to mix in the
conversation, could make no discovery of their ignorance or
surprise, and were gradually initiated in the world as they
gained knowledge of the language.

The prince had, by frequent lectures, been taught the use and
nature of money; but the ladies could not, for a long time,
comprehend what the merchants did with small pieces of gold
and silver, or why things of so little use should be received as
equivalent to the necessaries of life. They studied the language
two years, while Imlac was preparing to set before them the
various ranks and conditions of mankind. He grew acquainted with
all who had any thing uncommon in their fortune or conduct. He
frequented the voluptuous and the frugal, the idle and the busy,
the merchants and the men of learning. The prince, being now able
to converse with fluency, and having learned the caution
necessary to be observed in his intercourse with strangers, began
to accompany Imlac to places of resort, and to enter into all
assemblies, that he might make his choice of life. For some time
he thought choice needless, because all appeared to him equally
happy. Wherever he went he met gayety and kindness, and heard the
song of joy, or the laugh of carelessness He began to believe
that the world overflowed with universal plenty, and that nothing
was withheld either from want or merit; that every hand showered
liberality, and every heart melted with benevolence: "and who
then, says he, will be suffered to be wretched?"

Imlac permitted the pleasing delusion, and was unwilling to crush
the hope of inexperience; till one day, having sat a while
silent, "I know not, said the prince, what can be the reason that
I am more unhappy than any of our friends. I see them perpetually
and unalterably chearful, but feel my own mind restless and
uneasy. I am unsatisfied with those pleasures which I seem most
to court; I live in the crowds of jollity, not so much to
enjoy company as to shun myself, and am only loud and merry to
conceal my sadness."

"Every man, said Imlac, may, by examining his own mind, guess
what passes in the minds of others: when you feel that your own
gaiety is counterfeit, it may justly lead you to suspect that of
your companions not to be sincere. Envy is commonly reciprocal.
We are long before we are convinced that happiness is never to be
found, and each believes it possessed by others, to keep alive
the hope of obtaining it for himself. In the assembly, where you
passed the last night, there appeared such spriteliness of air,
and volatility of fancy as might have suited beings of an higher
order, formed to inhabit serener regions inaccessible to care or
sorrow: yet believe me, prince, there was not one who did not
dread the moment when solitude should deliver him to the tyranny
of reflection."

"This, said the prince, may be true of others, since it is true
of me; yet, whatever be the general infelicity of man, one
condition is more happy than another, and wisdom surely directs
us to take the least evil in the choice of life."

"The causes of good and evil, answered Imlac, are so various and
uncertain, so often entangled with each other, so diversified by
various relations, and so much subject to accidents which cannot
be foreseen, that he who would fix his condition upon
incontestable reasons of preference, must live and die inquiring
and deliberating."

"But surely, said Rasselas, the wise men, to whom we listen with
reverence and wonder, chose that mode of life for themselves
which they thought most likely to make them happy."

"Very few, said the poet, live by choice. Every man is placed in
his present condition by causes which acted without his
foresight, and with which he did not always willingly co-operate;
and therefore you will rarely meet one who does not think the lot
of his neighbour better than his own."
"I am pleased to think, said the prince, that my birth has given
me at least one advantage over others, by enabling me to
determine for myself. I have here the world before me; I will
review it at leisure: surely happiness is somewhere to be found."

{Rasselas, chapter 17}

The prince associates with young men of spirit and gaiety

RASSELAS rose next day, and resolved to begin his experiments
upon life."Youth, cried he, is the time of gladness: I will join
myself to the young men, whose only business is to gratify their
desires, and whose time is all spent in a succession of

To such societies he was readily admitted, but a few days brought
him back weary and disgusted. Their mirth was without images,
their laughter without motive; their pleasures were gross and
sensual, in which the mind had no part; their conduct was at once
wild and mean; they laughed at order and at law, but the
frown of power dejected, and the eye of wisdom abashed them.

The prince soon concluded, that he should never be happy in a
course of life of which he was ashamed. He thought it unsuitable
to a reasonable being to act without a plan, and to be sad or
chearful only by chance. "Happiness, said he, must be something
solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty.

But his young companions had gained so much of his regard by
their frankness and courtesy, that he could not leave them
without warning and remonstrance. "My friends, said he, I have
seriously considered our manners and our prospects, and find that
we have mistaken our own interest. The first years of man must
make provision for the last. He that never thinks never can be
wise. Perpetual levity must end in ignorance; and intemperance,
though it may fire the spirits for an hour, will make life short
or miserable. Let us consider that youth is of no long duration,
and that in maturer age, when the enchantments of fancy shall
cease, and phantoms of delight dance no more about us, we shall
have no comforts but the esteem of wise men, and the means of
doing good. Let us, therefore, stop, while to stop is in our
power: let us live as men who are sometime to grow old, and to
whom it will be the most dreadful of all evils not to count their
past years but by follies, and to be reminded of their former
luxuriance of health only by the maladies which riot has
produced." They stared a while in silence one upon another, and,
at last, drove him away by a general chorus of continued

The consciousness that his sentiments were just, and his
intentions kind, was scarcely sufficient to support him against
the horrour of derision. But he recovered his tranquility, and
persued his search.

{Rasselas, chapter 18}

The prince finds a wise and happy man

As he was one day walking in the street, he saw a spacious
building which all were, by the open doors, invited to enter: he
followed the stream of people, and found it a hall or school of
declamation, in which professors read lectures to their auditory.
He fixed his eye upon a sage raised above the rest, who
discoursed with great energy on the government of the passions.
His look was venerable, his action graceful, his
pronunciation clear, and his diction elegant. He shewed, with
great strength of sentiment, and variety of illustration, that
human nature is degraded and debased, when the lower faculties
predominate over the higher; that when fancy, the parent of
passion, usurps the dominion of the mind, nothing ensues but the
natural effect of unlawful government, perturbation and
confusion; that she betrays the fortresses of the intellect to
rebels, and excites her children to sedition against reason their
lawful sovereign. He compared reason to the sun, of which the
light is constant, uniform, and lasting; and fancy to a meteor,
of bright but transitory lustre, irregular in its motion, and
delusive in its direction.
He then communicated the various precepts given from time to time
for the conquest of passion, and displayed the happiness of those
who had obtained the important victory, after which man is no
longer the slave of fear, nor the fool of hope; is no more
emaciated by envy, inflamed by anger, emasculated by tenderness,
or depressed by grief; but walks on calmly through the tumults or
the privacies of life, as the sun persues alike his course
through the calm or the stormy sky.

He enumerated many examples of heroes immovable by pain or
pleasure, who looked with indifference on those modes or
accidents to which the vulgar give the names of good and evil. He
exhorted his hearers to lay aside their prejudices, and arm
themselves against the shafts of malice or misfortune, by
invulnerable patience; concluding, that this state only was
happiness, and that this happiness was in every one's power.
Rasselas listened to him with the veneration due to the
instructions of a superior being, and, waiting for him at the
door, humbly implored the liberty of visiting so great a master
of true wisdom. The lecturer hesitated a moment, when Rasselas
put a purse of gold into his hand, which he received with a
mixture of joy and wonder.

"I have found, said the prince, at his return to Imlac, a man who
can teach all that is necessary to be known, who, from the
unshaken throne of rational fortitude, looks down on the scenes
of life changing beneath him. He speaks, and attention watches
his lips. He reasons, and conviction closes his periods. This man
shall be my future guide: I will learn his doctrines, and imitate
his life."

"Be not too hasty, said Imlac, to trust, or to admire, the
teachers of morality: they discourse like angels, but they live
like men.

Rasselas, who could not conceive how any man could reason so
forcibly without feeling the cogency of his own arguments, paid
his visit in a few days, and was denied admission. He had now
learned the power of money, and made his way by a piece of gold
to the inner apartment, where he found the philosopher in a room
half darkened, with his eyes misty, and his face pale. "Sir,
said he, you are come at a time when all human friendship is
useless; what I suffer cannot be remedied, what I have lost
cannot be supplied. My daughter my only daughter, from whose
tenderness I expected all the comforts of my age, died last night
of a fever. My views, my purposes, my hopes are at an end: I am
now a lonely being disunited from society."

"Sir, said the prince, mortality is an event by which a wise man
can never be surprised: we know that death is always near, and it
should therefore always be expected." "Young man, answered the
philosopher, you speak like one that has never felt the pangs of
separation." "Have you then forgot the precepts, said Rasselas,
which you so powerfully enforced? Has wisdom no strength to arm
the heart against calamity? Consider, that external things are
naturally variable, but truth and reason are always the same."
"What comfort, said the mourner, can truth and reason afford
me? of what effect are they now, but to tell me, that my daughter
will not be restored?"

The prince, whose humanity would not suffer him to insult misery
with reproof, went away convinced of the emptiness of rhetorical
sound, and the inefficacy of polished periods and studied

{Rasselas, chapter 19}

A Glimpse of pastoral life

HE was still eager upon the same enquiry; and, having heard of a
hermit, that lived near the lowest cataract of the Nile, and
filled the whole country with the fame of his sanctity, resolved
to visit his retreat, and enquire whether that felicity, which
publick life could not afford, was to be found in solitude; and
whether a man, whose age and virtue made him venerable, could
teach any peculiar art of shunning evils, or enduring them.

Imlac and the princess agreed to accompany him, and, after the
necessary preparations, they began their journey. Their way lay
through fields, where shepherds tended their flocks, and the
lambs were playing upon the pasture. "This, said the poet, is the
life which has been often celebrated for its innocence and quiet:
let us pass the heat of the day among the shepherds tents, and
know whether all our searches are not to terminate in pastoral

The proposal pleased them, and they induced the sheperds, by
small presents and familiar questions, to tell their opinion of
their own state: they were so rude and ignorant, so little able
to compare the good with the evil of the occupation, and so
indistinct in their narratives and descriptions, that very little
could be learned from them. But it was evident that their hearts
were cankered with discontent; that they considered themselves as
condemned to labour for the luxury of the rich, and looked up
with stupid malevolence toward those that were placed above them.

The princess pronounced with vehemence, that she would never
suffer these envious savages to be her companions, and that she
should not soon be desirous of seeing any more specimens of
rustick happiness; but could not believe that all the accounts of
primeval pleasures were fabulous, and was yet in doubt whether
life had any thing that could be justly preferred to the placid
gratifications of fields and woods. She hoped that the time would
come, when with a few virtuous and elegant companions, she should
gather flowers planted by her own hand, fondle the lambs of her
own ewe, and listen, without care, among brooks and breezes, to
one of her maidens reading in the shade.

{Rasselas, chapter 20}

The dangers of prosperity.

ON the next day they continued their journey, till the heat
compelled them to look round for shelter. At a small distance
they saw a thick wood, which they no sooner entered than they
perceived that they were approaching the habitations of men. The
shrubs were diligently cut away to open walks where the shades
were darkest; the boughs of opposite trees were artificially
interwoven; seats of flowery turf were raised in vacant spaces,
and a rivulet, that wantoned along the side of a winding path,
had its banks sometimes opened into small basons, and its stream
sometimes obstructed by little mounds of stone heaped together to
increase its murmurs. They passed slowly through the wood,
delighted with such unexpected accommodations, and entertained
each other with conjecturing what, or who, he could be, that, in
those rude and unfrequented regions, had leisure and art for such
harmless luxury.

As they advanced, they heard the sound of musick, and saw youths
and virgins dancing in the grove; and, going still further,
beheld a stately palace built upon a hill surrounded with woods.
The laws of eastern hospitality allowed them to enter, and the
master welcomed them like a man liberal and wealthy.

He was skilful enough in appearances soon to discern that they
were no common guests, and spread his table with magnificence.
The eloquence of Imlac caught his attention, and the lofty
courtesy of the princess excited his respect. When they offered
to depart he entreated their stay, and was the next day still
more unwilling to dismiss them than before. They were easily
persuaded to stop, and civility grew up in time to freedom and
confidence. The prince now saw all the domesticks cheerful, and
all the face of nature smiling round the place, and could not
forbear to hope that he should find here what he was seeking; but
when he was congratulating the master upon his possessions, he
answered with a sigh, "My condition has indeed the appearance of
happiness, but appearances are delusive. My prosperity puts my
life in danger; the Bassa of Egypt is my enemy, incensed only by
my wealth and popularity. I have been hitherto protected against
him by the princes of the country; but, as the favour of the
great is uncertain, I know not how soon my defenders may be
persuaded to share the plunder with the Bassa. I have sent my
treasures into a distant country, and, upon the first alarm, am
prepared to follow them. Then will my enemies riot in my mansion,
and enjoy the gardens which I have planted."
They all joined in lamenting his danger, and deprecating his
exile; and the princess was so much disturbed with the tumult of
grief and indignation, that she retired to her apartment. They
continued with their kind inviter a few days longer, and then
went forward to find the hermit.

{Rasselas, chapter 21}

The happiness of solitude. The hermit's history

THEY came on the third day, by the direction of the peasants, to
the Hermit's cell: it was a cavern in the side of the mountain,
over-shadowed with palm-trees; at such a distance from the
cataract, that nothing more was heard than a gentle uniform
murmur, such as composed the mind to pensive meditation,
especially when it was assisted by the wind whistling among the
branches. The first rude essay of nature had been so much
improved by human labour, that the cave contained several
apartments, appropiated to different uses, and often afforded
lodging to travellers, whom darkness or tempests happened to

The Hermit sat on a bench at the door, to enjoy the coolness of
the evening. On one side lay a book with pens and papers, on the
other mechanical instruments of various kinds. As they
approached him unregarded, the princess observed that he had not
the countenance of a man that had found, or could teach, the way
to happiness.

They saluted him with great respect, which he repaid like a man
not unaccustomed to the forms of courts, "My children, said he,
if you have lost your way, you shall be willingly supplied with
such conveniences for the night as this cavern will afford. I
have all that nature requires, and you will not expect delicacies
in a Hermit's cell."

They thanked him, and entering, were pleased with the neatness
and regularity of the place. The Hermit set flesh and wine before
them, though he fed only upon fruits and water. His discourse was
chearful without levity, and pious without enthusiasm. He soon
gained the esteem of his guests, and the princess repented of her
hasty censure. At last Imlac began thus:"I do not now wonder that
your reputation is so far extended; we have heard at Cairo of
your wisdom, and came hither to implore your direction for this
young man and maiden in the choice of life."

"To him that lives well, answered the hermit, every form of life
is good; nor can I give any other rule for choice, than to remove
from all apparent evil."

"He will remove most certainly from evil, said the prince, who
shall devote himself to that solitude which you have recommended
by your example."

"I have indeed lived fifteen years in solitude, said the hermit,
but have no desire that my example should gain any imitators. In
my youth I professed arms, and was raised by degrees to the
highest military rank. I have traversed wide countries at the
head of my troops, and seen many battles and sieges. At last,
being disgusted by the preferent of a younger officer, and
feeling that my vigour was beginning to decay, I resolved to
close my life in peace, having found the world full of snares,
discord, and misery. I had once escaped from the persuit of the
enemy by the shelter of this cavern, and therefore chose it for
my final residence. I employed artificers to form it into
chambers, and stored it with all that I was likely to want.

"For some time after my retreat, I rejoiced like a tempestbeaten
sailor at his entrance into the harbour, being delighted with the
sudden change of the noise and hurry of war, to stillness and
repose. When the pleasure of novelty went away, I employed my
hours in examining the plants which grow in the valley, and the
minerals which I collected from the rocks. But that enquiry is
now grown tasteless and irksome. I have been for some time
unsettled and distracted: my mind is disturbed with a thousand
perplexities of doubt, and vanities of imagination, which hourly
prevail upon me, because I have no opportunities of relaxation or
diversion. I am sometimes ashamed to think that I could not
secure myself from vice, but by retiring from the exercise of
virtue, and begin to suspect that I was rather impelled by
resentment, than led by devotion, into solitude. My fancy
riots in scenes of folly, and I lament that I have lost so much,
and have gained so little. In solitude, if I escape the example
of bad men, I want likewise the counsel and conversation of the
good. I have been long comparing the evils with the advantages of
society, and resolve to return into the world tomorrow. The life
of a solitary man will be certainly miserable, but not certainly

They heard his resolution with surprise, but, after a short
pause, offered to conduct him to Cairo. He dug up a considerable
treasure which he had hid among the rocks, and accompanied them
to the city, on which, as he approached it, he gazed with

{Rasselas, chapter 22}

The happiness of a life led according to nature

RASSELAS went often to an assembly of learned men, who met at
stated times to unbend their minds, and compare their opinions.
Their manners were somewhat coarse, but their conversation was
instructive, and their disputations acute, though sometimes too
violent, and often continued till neither controvertist
remembered upon what question they began. Some faults were almost
general among them: every one was desirous to dictate to the
rest, and every one was pleased to hear the genius or knowledge
of another depreciated.

In this assembly Rasselas was relating his interview with the
hermit, and the wonder with which he heard him censure a course
of life which he had so deliberately chosen, and so laudably
followed. The sentiments of the hearers were various. Some were
of opinion, that the folly of his choice had been justly punished
by condemnation to perpetual perseverance. One of the youngest
among them, with great vehemence, pronounced him an hypocrite.
Some talked of the right of society to the labour of individuals,
and considered retirement as a desertion of duty. Others
readily allowed, that there was a time when the claims of the
publick were satisfied, and when a man might properly sequester
himself, to review his life, and purify his heart.

One, who appeared more affected with the narrative than the rest,
thought it likely, that the hermit would, in a few years, go back
to his retreat, and, perhaps, if shame did not restrain, or death
intercept him, return once more from his retreat into the world:
"For the hope of happiness, said he, is so strongly impressed,
that the longest experience is not able to efface it. Of the
present state, whatever it be, we feel, and are forced to
confess, the misery, yet, when the same state is again at a
distance, imagination paints it as desirable. But the time will
surely come, when desire will be no longer our torment, and no
man shall be wretched but by his own fault."

"This, said a philosopher, who had heard him with tokens of great
impatience, is the present condition of a wise man. The time is
already come, when none are wretched but by their own fault.
Nothing is more idle, than to inquire after happiness, which
nature has kindly placed within our reach. The way to be happy is
to live according to nature, in obedience to that universal and
unalterable law with which every heart is originally impressed;
which is not written on it by precept, but engraven by destiny,
not instilled by education but infused at our nativity. He that
lives according to nature will suffer nothing from the delusions
of hope, or importunities of desire: he will receive and reject
with equability of temper; and act or suffer as the reason of
things shall alternately prescribe. Other men may amuse
themselves with subtle definitions, or intricate raciocination.
Let them learn to be wise by easier means: let them observe the
hind of the forest, and the linnet of the grove: let them
consider the life of animals, whose motions are regulated by
instinct; they obey their guide and are happy. Let us therefore,
at length, cease to dispute, and learn to live; throw away the
incumbrance of precepts, which they who utter them with so much
pride and pomp do not understand, and carry with us this simple
and intelligible maxim, That deviation from nature is deviation
from happiness."

When he had spoken, he looked round him with a placid air, and
enjoyed the consciousness of his own beneficence.

"Sir, said the prince, with great modesty, as I, like all the
rest of mankind, am desirous of felicity, my closest attention
has been fixed upon your discourse: I doubt not the truth of a
position which a man so learned has so confidently advanced. Let
me only know what it is to live according to nature."

"When I find young men so humble and so docile, said the
philosopher, I can deny them no information which my studies have
enabled me to afford. To live according to nature, is to act
always with due regard to the fitness arising from the relations
and qualities of causes and effects; to concur with the great and
unchangeable scheme of universal felicity; to co-operate with the
general disposition and tendency of the present system of

The prince soon found that this was one of the sages whom he
should understand less as he heard him longer. He therefore bowed
and was silent, and the philosopher, supposing him satisfied, and
the rest vanquished, rose up and departed with the air of a
man that had co-operated with the present system.

{Rasselas, chapter 23}

The prince and his sister divide between them the work of

RASSELAS returned home full of reflexions, doubtful how to direct
his future steps. Of the way to happiness he found the learned
and simple equally ignorant; but, as he was yet young, he
flattered himself that he had time remaining for more
experiments, and further enquiries. He communicated to Imlac his
observations and his doubts, but was answered by him with new
doubts, and remarks that gave him no comfort. He therefore
discoursed more frequently and freely with his sister, who had
yet the same hope with himself, and always assisted him to give
some reason why, though he had been hitherto frustrated, he might
succeed at last.

"We have hitherto, said she, known but little of the world: we
have never yet been either great or mean. In our own country,
though we had royalty, we had no power, and in this we have not
yet seen the private recesses of domestick peace. Imlac favours
not our search, lest we should in time find him mistaken. We will
divide the task between us: you shall try what is to be found in
the splendour of courts, and I will range the shades of humbler
life. Perhaps command and authority may be the supreme blessings,
as they afford most opportunities of doing good: or,
perhaps, what this world can give may be found in the modest
habitations of middle fortune; too low for great designs, and too
high for penury and distress."

{Rasselas, chapter 24}

The prince examines the happiness of high stations

RASSELAS applauded the design, and appeared next day with a
splendid retinue at the court of the Bassa. He was soon
distinguished for his magnificence, and admitted, as a prince
whose curiosity had brought him from distant countries, to an
intimacy with the great officers, and frequent conversation with
the Bassa himself.

He was at first inclined to believe, that the man must be pleased
with his own condition, whom all approached with reverence, and
heard with obedience, and who had the power to extend his edicts
to a whole kingdom. "There can be no pleasure, said he, equal to
that of feeling at once the joy of thousands all made happy by
wise administration. Yet, since, by the law of subordination,
this sublime delight can be in one nation but the lot of one, it
is surely reasonable to think that there is some satisfaction
more popular and accessible, and that millions can hardly be
subjected to the will of a single man, only to fill his
particular breast with incommunicable content."

These thoughts were often in his mind, and he found no solution
of the difficulty. But as presents and civilities gained him more
familiarity, he found that almost every man who stood high in
employment hated all the rest, and was hated by them, and
that their lives were a continual succession of plots and
detections, stratagems and escapes, faction and treachery, Many
of those, who surrounded the Bassa, were sent only to watch and
report his conduct; every tongue was muttering censure and every
eye was searching for a fault.

At last the letters of revocation arrived, the Bassa was carried
in chains to Constantinople, and his name was mentioned no more.

"What are we now to think of the prerogatives of power, said
Rasselas to his sister; is it without any efficacy to good? or,
is the subordinate degree only dangerous, and the supreme safe
and glorious? Is the Sultan the only happy man in his dominions?
or, is the Sultan himself subject to the torments of suspicion,
and the dread of enemies?"

In a short time the second Bassa was deposed. The Sultan, that
had advanced him, was murdered by the Janisaries, and his
successor had other views and different favourites.

{Rasselas, chapter 25}

The princess persues her enquiry with more diligence than success

THE princess, in the mean time, insinuated herself into many
families; for there are few doors, through which liberality,
joined with good humour, cannot find its way. The daughters of
many houses were airy and chearful, but Nekayah had been too long
accustomed to the conversation of Imlac and her brother to be
much pleased with childish levity and prattle which had no
meaning. She found their thoughts narrow, their wishes low, and
their merriment often artificial. Their pleasures, poor as they
were, could not be preserved pure, but were embittered by petty
competitions and worthless emulation. They were always jealous of
the beauty of each other; of a quality to which solicitude can
add nothing, and from which detraction can take nothing away.
Many were in love with triflers like themselves, and many fancied
that they were in love when in truth they were only idle. Their
affection was seldom fixed on sense or virtue, and therefore
seldom ended but in vexation. Their grief, however, like their
joy, was transient; every thing floated in their mind unconnected
with the past or future, so that one desire easily gave way to
another, as a second stone cast into the water effaces and
confounds the circles of the first.

With these girls she played as with inoffensive animals, and
found them proud of her countenance, and weary of her company.

But her purpose was to examine more deeply, and her affability
easily persuaded the hearts that were swelling with sorrow to
discharge their secrets in her ear: and those whom hope
flattered, or prosperity delighted, often courted her to partake
their pleasures.

The princess and her brother commonly met in the evening in a
private summer-house on the bank of the Nile, and related to each
other the occurrences of the day. As they were sitting together,
the princess cast her eyes upon the river that flowed before her.
"Answer, said she, great father of waters, thou that rollest thy
floods through eighty nations, to the invocations of the daughter
of thy native king. Tell me if thou waterest, through all thy
course, a single habitation from which thou dost not hear the
murmurs of complaint?"

"You are then, said Rasselas, not more successful in private
houses than I have been in courts." "I have, since the last
partition of our provinces, said the princess, enabled myself to
enter familiarly into many families, where there was the fairest
show of prosperity and peace, and know not one house that is not
haunted by some fury that destroys its quiet.

"I did not seek ease among the poor, because I concluded that
there it could not be found. But I saw many poor whom I had
supposed to live in affluence. Poverty has, in large cities, very
different appearances: it is often concealed in splendour, and
often in extravagance. It is the care of a very great part of
mankind to conceal their indigence from the rest: they
support themselves by temporary expedients, and every day is lost
in contriving for the morrow.

"This, however, was an evil, which, though frequent, I saw with
less pain, because I could relieve it. Yet some have refused my
bounties; more offended with my quickness to detect their wants,
than pleased with my readiness to succour them: and others, whose
exigencies compelled them to admit my kindness, have never been
able to forgive their benefactress. Many, however, have been
sincerely grateful without the ostentation of gratitude, or the
hope of other favours."

{Rasselas, chapter 26}

The princess continues her remarks upon private life

NEKAYAH perceiving her brother's attention fixed, proceeded in
her narrative.

"In families, where there is or is not poverty, there is commonly
discord: if a kingdom be, as Imlac tells us, a great family, a
family likewise is a little kingdom, torn with factions and
exposed to revolutions. An unpractised observer, expects the love
of parents and children to be constant and equal; but this
kindness seldom continues beyond the years of infancy: in a short
time the children become rivals to their parents. Benefits are
allayed by reproaches, and gratitude debased by envy.

"Parents and children seldom act in concert: each child
endeavours to appropriate the esteem or fondness of the parents,
and the parents, with yet less temptation, betray each other to
their children; thus some place their confidence in the father,
and some in the mother, and, by degrees, the house is filled with
artifices and feuds.

"The opinions of children and parents, of the young and the old,
are naturally opposite, by the contrary effects of hope and
despondence, of expectation and experience, without crime or
folly on either side. The colours of life in youth and age appear
different, as the face of nature in spring and winter. And how
can children credit the assertions of parents, which their own
eyes show them to be false?

"Few parents act in such a manner as much to enforce their maxims
by the credit of their lives. The old man trusts wholly to slow
contrivance and gradual progression: the youth expects to force
his way by genius, vigour, and precipitance. The old man pays
regard to riches, and the youth reverences virtue. The old man
deifies prudence: the youth commits himself to magnanimity
and chance. The young man, who intends no ill, believes that none
is intended, and therefore acts with openness and candour: but
his father, having suffered the injuries of fraud, is impelled to
suspect, and too often allured to practice it. Age looks with
anger on the temerity of youth, and youth with contempt on the
scrupulosity of age. Thus parents and children, for the greatest
part, live on to love less and less: and, if those whom nature
has thus closely united are the torments of each other, where
shall we look for tenderness and consolation?"

"Surely, said the prince, you must have been unfortunate in your
choice of acquaintance: I am unwilling to believe, that the most
tender of all relations is thus impeded in its, effects by
natural necessity."

"Domestick discord, answered she, is not inevitably and fatally
necessary; but yet is not easily avoided. We seldom see that a
whole family is virtuous: the good and evil cannot well
agree; and the evil can yet less agree with one another: even the
virtuous fall sometimes to variance, when their virtues are of
different kinds and tending to extremes. In general, those
parents have most reverence who most deserve it: for he that
lives well cannot be despised.

"Many other evils infest private life. Some are the slaves of
servants whom they have trusted with their affairs. Some are kept
in continual anxiety to the caprice of rich relations, whom they
cannot please, and dare not offend. Some husbands are imperious,
and some wives perverse: and, as it is always more easy to do
evil than good, though the wisdom or virtue of one can very
rarely make many happy, the folly or vice of one may often make
many miserable."

"If such be the general effect of marriage, said the prince, I
shall, for the future, think it dangerous to connect my interest
with that of another, lest I should be unhappy by my partner's

"I have met, said the princess, with many who live single for
that reason; but I never found that their prudence ought to raise
envy. They dream away their time without friendship, without
fondness, and are driven to rid themselves of the day, for which
they have no use, by childish amusements, or vicious delights.
They act as beings under the constant sense of some known
inferiority, that fills their minds with rancour, and their
tongues with censure. They are peevish at home, and malevolent
abroad; and, as the out-laws of human nature, make it their
business and their pleasure to disturb that society which debars
them from its privileges. To live without feeling or exciting
sympathy, to be fortunate without adding to the felicity of
others, or afflicted without tasting the balm of pity, is a state
more gloomy than solitude: it is not retreat but exclusion
from mankind. Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no

"What then is to be done? said Rasselas; the more we enquire, the
less we can resolve. Surely he is most likely to please himself
that has no other inclination to regard."

{Rasselas, chapter 27}

Disquisition upon greatness

THE conversation had a short pause. The prince having considered
his sister's observations, told her, that she had surveyed life
with prejudice, and supposed misery where she did not find it.
"Your narrative, says he, throws yet a darker gloom upon the
prospects of futurity: the predictions of Imlac were but faint
sketches of the evils painted by Nekayah. I have been lately
convinced that quiet is not the daughter of grandeur, or of
power: that her presence is not to be bought by wealth, nor
enforced by conquest. It is evident, that as any man acts in a
wider compass, he must be more exposed to opposition from enmity
or miscarriage from chance; whoever has many to please or to
govern, must use the ministry of many agents, some of whom
will be wicked, and some ignorant; by some he will be misled, and
by others betrayed. If he gratifies one he will offend another:
those that are not favoured will think themselves injured; and,
since favours can be conferred but upon few, the greater number
will be always discontented."

"The discontent, said the princess, which is thus unreasonable, I
hope that I shall always have spirit to despise, and you, power
to repress.

"Discontent, answered Rasselas, will not always be without reason
under the most just or vigilant administration of publick
affairs. None however attentive, can always discover that merit
which indigence or faction may happen to obscure; and none,
however powerful, can always reward it. Yet, he that sees
inferiour desert advanced above him, will naturally impute that
preference to partiality or caprice; and, indeed, it can scarcely
be hoped that any man, however magnanimous by nature, or exalted
by condition, will be able to persist for ever in fixed and
inexorable justice of distribution: he will sometimes indulge his
own affections, and sometimes those of his favourites; he will
permit some to please him who can never serve him; he will
discover in those whom he loves qualities which in reality they
do not possess; and to those, from whom he receives pleasure, he
will in his turn endeavour to give it. Thus will recommendations
sometimes prevail which were purchased by money, or by the
more destructive bribery of flattery and servility.

"He that has much to do will do something wrong, and of that
wrong must suffer the consequences; and, if it were possible that
he should always act rightly, yet when such numbers are to judge
of his conduct, the bad will censure and obstruct him by
malevolence, and the good sometimes by mistake.

"The highest stations cannot therefore hope to be the abodes of
happiness, which I would willingly believe to have fled from
thrones and palaces to seats of humble privacy and placid
obscurity. For what can hinder the satisfaction, or intercept the
expectations, of him whose abilities are adequate to his
employments, who sees with his own eyes the whole circuit of his
influence, who chooses by his own knowledge all whom he trusts,
and whom none are tempted to deceive by hope or fear? Surely he
has nothing to do but to love and to be loved, to be virtuous and
to be happy."

"Whether perfect happiness would be procured by perfect goodness,
said Nekayah, this world will never afford an opportunity of
deciding. But this, at least, may be maintained, that we do not
always find visible happiness in proportion to visible virtue.
All natural and almost all political evils, are incident alike to
the bad and good: they are confounded in the misery of a
famine, and not much distinguished in the fury of a faction; they
sink together in a tempest, and are driven together from their
country by invaders. All that virtue can afford is quietness of
conscience, a steady prospect of a happier state; this may enable
us to endure calamity with patience; but remember that patience
must suppose pain."

{Rasselas, chapter 28}

Rasselas and Nekayah continue their conversation

"DEAR princess, said Rasselas, you fall into the common errours
of exaggeratory declamation, by producing, in a familiar
disquisition, examples of national calamities, and scenes of
extensive misery, which are found in books rather than in the
world, and which, as they are horrid, are ordained to be rare.
Let us not imagine evils which we do not feel, nor injure life by
misrepresentations. I cannot bear that querulous eloquence which
threatens every city with a siege like that of Jerusalem, that
makes famine attend on every flight of locusts, and suspends
pestilence on the wing of every blast that issues from the south.

"On necessary and inevitable evils, which overwhelm kingdoms at
once, all disputation is vain: when they happen they must be
endured. But it is evident, that these bursts of universal
distress are more dreaded than felt: thousands and ten thousands
flourish in youth, and wither in age, without the knowledge of
any other than domestick evils, and share the same pleasures and
vexations whether their kings are mild or cruel, whether the
armies of their country persue their enemies, or retreat before
them. While courts are disturbed with intestine competitions, and
ambassadours are negotiating in foreign countries, the smith
still plies his anvil, and the husbandman drives his plow
forward; the necessaries of life are required and obtained, and
the successive business of the seasons continues to make its
wonted revolutions.

"Let us cease to consider what, perhaps, may never happen, and
what, when it shall happen, will laugh at human speculation. We
will not endeavour to modify the motions of the elements, or to
fix the destiny of kingdoms. It is our business to consider what
beings like us may perform; each labouring for his own happiness,
by promoting within his circle, however narrow, the happiness of

"Marriage is evidently the dictate of nature; men and women were
made to be companions of each other, and therefore I cannot
be persuaded but that marriage is one of the means of happiness."

"I know not, said the princess, whether marriage be more than one
of the innumerable modes of human misery. When I see and reckon
the various forms of connubial infelicity, the unexpected causes
of lasting discord, the diversities of temper, the oppositions of
opinion, the rude collisions of contrary desire where both are
urged by violent impulses, the obstinate contests of disagreeing
virtues, where both are supported by consciousness of good
intention, I am sometimes disposed to think with the severer
casuists of most nations, that marriage is rather permitted than
approved, and that none, but by the instigation of a passion too
much indulged, entangle themselves with indissoluble compacts."
You seem to forget, replied Rasselas, that you have, even now,
represented celibacy as less happy than marriage. Both conditions
may be bad, but they cannot both be worst. Thus it happens when
wrong opinions are entertained, that they mutually destroy each
other, and leave the mind open to truth."

"I did not expect, answered the princess, to hear that
imputed to falshood which is the consequence only of frailty. To
the mind, as to the eye, it is difficult to compare with
exactness objects vast in their extent, and various in their
parts. Where we see or conceive the whole at once we readily note
the discriminations and decide the preference: but of two
systems, of which neither can be surveyed by any human being in
its full compass of magnitude and multiplicity of complication,
where is the wonder, that judging of the whole by parts, I am
alternately affected by one and the other as either presses on my
memory or fancy? We differ from ourselves just as we differ from
each other, when we see only part of the question, as in the
multifarious relations of politicks and morality: but when we
percieve the whole at once, as in numerical computations, all
agree in one judgment, and none ever varies his opinion."

"Let us not add, said the prince, to the other evils of life, the
bitterness of controversy, nor endeavour to vie with each other
in subtilties of argument. We are employed in a search, of which
both are equally to enjoy the success, or suffer by the
miscarriage. It is therefore fit that we assist each other. You
surely conclude too hastily from the infelicity of marriage
against its institution; will not the misery of life prove
equally that life cannot be the gift of heaven? The world must be
peopled my marriage, or peopled without it.

"How the world is to be peopled, returned Nekayah, is not my
care, and needs not be yours. I see no danger that the present
generation should omit to leave successors behind them: we are
not now enquiring for the world, but for ourselves."

{Rasselas, chapter 29}

The debate on marriage continued

"THE good of the whole, says Rasselas, is the same with the good
of all its parts. If marriage be best for mankind it must be
evidently best for individuals, or a permanent and necessary duty
must be the cause of evil, and some must be inevitably sacrificed
to the convenience of others. In the estimate which you have made
of the two states, it appears that the incommodities of a single
life are, in a great measure, necessary and certain, but those of
the conjugal state accidental and avoidable.

"I cannot forbear to flatter myself that prudence and benevolence
will make marriage happy. The general folly of mankind is
the cause of general complaint. What can be expected but
disappointment and repentance from a choice made in the
immaturity of youth, in the ardour of desire, without judgment
without foresight, without an enquiry after conformity of
opinions, similarity of manners, rectitude of judgment, or purity
of sentiment.

"Such is the common process of marriage. A youth and maiden
meeting by chance, or brought together by artifice, exchange
glances, reciprocate civilities, go home, and dream of one
another. Having little to divert attention, or diversify thought,
they find themselves uneasy when they are apart, and therefore
conclude that they shall be happy together. They marry, and
discover what nothing but voluntary blindness had before
concealed; they wear out life in altercations, and charge nature
with cruelty.

"From those early marriages proceeds likewise the rivalry of
parents and children: the son is eager to enjoy the world before
the father is willing to forsake it, and there is hardly room at
once for two generations. The daughter begins to bloom before the
mother can be content to fade, and neither can forbear to wish
for the absence of the other.
"Surely all these evils may be avoided by that deliberation and
delay which prudence prescribes to irrevocable choice. In the
variety and jollity of youthful pleasures life may be well enough
supported without the help of a partner. Longer time will
increase experience, and wider views will allow better
opportunities of enquiry and selection: one advantage, at least,
will be certain; the parents will be visibly older than their

"What reason cannot collect, said Nekayah, and what experiment
has not yet taught, can be known only from the report of others.
I have been told that late marriages are not eminently happy.
This is a question too important to be neglected, and I have
often proposed it to those, whose accuracy of remark, and
comprehensiveness of knowledge, made their suffrages worthy of
regard. They have generally determined, that it is dangerous for
a man and woman to suspend their fate upon each other, at a time
when opinions are fixed, and habits are established; when
friendships have been contracted on both sides, when life has
been planned into method, and the mind has long enjoyed the
contemplation of its own prospects. It is scarcely possible that
two travelling through the world under the conduct of chance,
should have been both directed to the same path, and it will not
often happen that either will quit the track which custom has
made pleasing. When the desultory levity of youth has settled
into regularity, it is soon succeeded by pride ashamed to yield,
or obstinacy delighting to contend. And even though mutual esteem
produces mutual desire to please, time itself, as it modifies
unchangeably the external mien, determines likewise the direction
of the passions, and gives an inflexible rigidity to the manners.
Long customs are not easily broken: he that attempts to
change the course of his own life, very often labours in vain;
and how shall we do that for others which we are seldom able to
do for ourselves?"

"But surely, interposed the prince, you suppose the chief motive
of choice forgotten or neglected. Whenever I shall seek a wife,
it shall be my first question, whether she be willing to be led
by reason?"

"Thus it is, said Nekayah, that philosophers are deceived. There
are a thousand familiar disputes which reason never can decide;
questions that elude investigation, and make logick ridiculous;
cases where something must be done, and where little can be said.
Consider the state of mankind, and enquire how few can be
supposed to act upon any occasions, whether small or great, with
all the reasons of action present to their minds. Wretched would
be the pair above all names of wretchedness, who should be doomed
to adjust by reason every morning all the minute detail of a
domestick day.

"Those who marry at an advanced age, will probably escape the
encroachments of their children; but, in diminution of this
advantage, they will be likely to leave them, ignorant and
helpless, to a guardian's mercy: or, if that should not happen,
they must at least go out of the world before they see those whom
they love best either wise or great.

"From their children, if they have less to fear, they have less
also to hope, and they lose, without equivalent the joys of early
love and the convenience of uniting with manners pliant, and
minds susceptible of new impressions, which might wear away their
dissimilitudes by long cohabitation, as soft bodies, by continual
attrition, conform their surfaces to each other.

"I believe it will be found that those who marry late are best
pleased with their children, and those who marry early with their

"The union of these two affections, said Rasselas, would produce
all that could be wished. Perhaps there is a time when marriage
might unite them, a time neither too early for the father, nor
too late for the husband."

"Every hour, answered the princess, confirms my prejudice in
favour of the position so often uttered by the mouth of Imlac,
"That nature sets her gifts on the right hand and on the left.
"Those conditions, which flatter hope and attract desire, are so
constituted, that, as we approach one, we recede from another.
There are goods so opposed that we cannot seize both, but, by too
much prudence, may pass between them as too great a distance to
reach either. This is often the fate of long consideration; he
does nothing who endeavours to do more than is allowed to
humanity. Flatter not yourself with contrarieties of pleasure. Of
the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content. No
man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his
scent with the flowers of the spring: no man can, at the same
time, fill his cup from the source and from the mouth of the

{Rasselas, chapter 30}

Imlac enters, and changes the conversation

HERE Imlac entered, and interrupted them. "Imlac, said Rasselas,
I have been taking from the princess the dismal history of
private life, and am almost discouraged from further search."

"It seems to me, said Imlac, that while you are making the choice
of life, you neglect to live. You wander about a single city,
which, however large and diversified, can now afford few
novelties, and forget that you are in a country, famous among the
earliest monarchies for the power and wisdom of its inhabitants;
a country where the sciences first dawned that illuminate the
world, and beyond which the arts cannot be traced of civil
society or domestick life.

"The old Egyptians have left behind them monuments of industry
and power before which all European magnificence is confessed to
fade away. The ruins of their architecture are the schools of
modern builders, and from the wonders which time has spared we
may conjecture, though uncertainly, what it has destroyed."

"My curiosity, said Rasselas, does not very strongly lead me to
survey piles of stone, or mounds of earth; my business is with
man. I came hither not to measure fragments of temples, or trace
choakcd aqueducts, but to look upon the various scenes of the
present world."

"The things that are now before us, said the princess, require
attention, and deserve it. What have I to do with the
heroes or the monuments of ancient times? with times which never
can return, and heroes, whose form of life was different from all
that the present condition of mankind requires or allows."

"To know any thing, returned the poet, we must know its effects;
to see men we must see their works, that we may learn what reason
has dictated, or passion has incited, and find what are the most
powerful motives of action. To judge rightly of the present we
must oppose it to the past; for all judgment is comparative, and
of the future nothing can be known. The truth is, that no mind is
much employed upon the present: recollection and anticipation
fill up almost all our moments. Our passions are joy and grief,
love and hatred, hope and fear. Of joy and grief the past is the
object, and the future of hope and fear; even love and hatred
respect the past, for the cause must have been before the effect.

"The present state of things is the consequence of the former,
and it is natural to inquire what were the sources of the good
that we enjoy, or of the evil that we suffer. If we act only for
ourselves, to neglect the study of history is not prudent:
if we are entrusted with the care of others, it is not just.
Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal; and he may properly
be charged with evil who refused to learn how he might prevent

"There is no part of history so generally useful as that which
relates the progress of the human mind, the gradual improvement
of reason, the successive advances of science, the vicissitudes
of learning and ignorance, which are the light and darkness of
thinking beings, the extinction and resuscitation of arts, and
all the revolutions of the intellectual world. If accounts of
battles and invasions are peculiarly the business of princes, the
useful or elegant arts are not to be neglected; those who have
kingdoms to govern, have understandings to cultivate.

"Example is always more efficacious than precept. A soldier is
formed in war, and a painter must copy pictures. In this,
contemplative life has the advantage: great actions are seldom
seen, but the labours of art are always at hand for those who
desire to know what art has been able to perform. When the eye or
the imagination is struck with any uncommon work the next
transition of an active mind is to the means by which it was
performed. Here begins the true use of such contemplation;
we enlarge our comprehension by new ideas, and perhaps recover
some art lost to mankind, or learn what is less perfectly known
in our own country. At least we compare our own with former
times, and either rejoice at our improvements, or, what is the
first motion towards good, discover our defects."

"I am willing, said the prince, to see all that can deserve my
search." "And I, said the princess, shall rejoice to learn
something of the manners of antiquity."

"The most pompous monument of Egyptian greatness, and one of the
most bulky works of manual industry, said Imlac, are the
pyramids; fabricks raised before the time of history, and of
which the earliest narratives afford us only uncertain
traditions. Of these the greatest is still standing, very little
injured by time."

"Let us visit them to morrow, said Nekayah. I have often heard of
the pyramids, and shall not rest, till I have seen them within
and without with my own eyes."

{Rasselas, chapter 31}

They visit the pyramids.

THE resolution being thus taken, they set out the next day. They
laid tents upon their camels, being resolved to stay among the
pyramids till their curiosity was fully satisfied. They travelled
gently, turned aside to every thing remarkable, stopped from time
to time and conversed with the inhabitants, and observed the
various appearances of towns ruined and inhabited, of wild and
cultivated nature.

When they came to the Great Pyramid they were astonished at
the extent of the base, and the height of the top. Imlac
explained to them the principles upon which the pyramidal form
was chosen for a fabrick intended to co-extend its duration with
that of the world: he showed that its gradual diminution gave it
such stability, as defeated all the common attacks of the
elements, and could scarcely be overthrown by earthquakes
themselves, the least resistible of natural violence. A
concussion that should shatter the pyramid would threaten the
dissolution of the continent.

They measured all its dimensions, and pitched their tents at its
foot. Next day they prepared to enter its interiour apartments,
and having hired the common guides climbed up to the first
passage, when the favourite of the princess, looking into the
cavity, stepped back and trembled. "Pekuah, said the princess, of
what art thou afraid?" "Of the narrow entrance, answered the
lady, and of the dreadful gloom. I dare not enter a place which
must surely be inhabited by unquiet souls. The original
possessors of these dreadful vaults will start up before us, and,
perhaps, shut us in for ever." She spoke, and threw her arms
round the neck of her mistress.

"If all your fear be of apparitions, said the prince, I will
promise you safety: there is no danger from the dead; he that is
once buried will be seen no more."

"That the dead are seen no more, said Imlac, I will not undertake
to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all
ages, and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned,
among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed.
This opinion, which, perhaps, prevails as far as human nature is
diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those, that
never heard of one another, would not have agreed in a tale which
nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by
single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence, and
some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.

"Yet I do not mean to add new terrours to those which have
already seized upon Pekuah. There can be no reason why spectres
should haunt the pyramid more than other places, or why they
should have power or will to hurt innocence and purity. Our
entrance is no violation of their priviledges; we can take
nothing from them, how then can we offend them?"

"My dear Pekuah, said the princess, I will always go before
you, and Imlac shall follow you. Remember that you are the
companion of the princess of Abissinia."

"If the princess is pleased that her servant should die, returned
the lady, let her command some death less dreadful than enclosure
in this horrid cavern. You know I dare not disobey you: I must go
if you command me; but, if I once enter, I never shall come

The princess saw that her fear was too strong for expostulation
or reproof, and embracing her, told her that she should stay in
the tent till their return. Pekuah was yet not satisfied, but
entreated the princess not to persue so dreadful a purpose, as
that of entering the recesses of the pyramid. "Though I cannot
teach courage, said Nekayah, I must not learn cowardise; nor
leave at last undone what I came hither only to do."

{Rasselas, chapter 32}

They enter the Pyramid

PEKUAH descended to the tents and the rest entered the pyramid:
they passed through the galleries, surveyed the vaults of marble,
and examined the chest in which the body of the founder is
supposed to have been reposited. They then sat down in one of the
most spacious chambers to rest a while before they attempted to

"We have now, said Imlac, gratified our minds with an exact view
of the greatest work of man, except the wall of China.

"Of the wall it is very easy to assign the motives. It secured a
wealthy and timorous nation from the incursions of Barbarians,
whose unskilfulness in arts made it easier for them to supply
their wants by rapine than by industry, and who from time to time
poured in upon the habitations of peaceful commerce, as vultures
descend upon domestick fowl. Their celerity and fierceness made
the wall necessary, and their ignorance made it efficacious.

"But for the pyramids no reason has ever been given adequate to
the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers
proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and
treasures might have been reposited at far less expence with
equal security. It seems to have been erected only in compliance
with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon
life, and must be always appeased by some employment. Those who
have already all that they can enjoy, must enlarge their desires.
He that has built for use, till use is supplied, must begin to
build for vanity, and extend his plan to the utmost power of
human performance, that he may not be soon reduced to form
another wish.

"I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the
insufficiency of human enjoyments. A king, whose power is
unlimited, and whose treasures surmount all real and imaginary
wants, is compelled to solace, by the erection of a pyramid, the
satiety of dominion and tastelesness of pleasures, and to amuse
the tediousness of declining life, by seeing thousands labouring
without end, and one stone, for no purpose, laid upon another.
Whoever thou art, that, not content with a moderate condition,
imaginest happiness in royal magnificence, and dreamest that
command or riches can feed the appetite of novelty with perpetual
gratifications, survey the pyramids, and confess thy folly!"

{Rasselas, chapter 33}

The princess meets with an unexpected misfortune

THEY rose up, and returned through the cavity at which they had
entered, and the princess prepared for her favourite a long
narrative of dark labyrinths, and costly rooms, and of the
different impressions which the varieties of the way had made
upon her. But, when they came to their train, they found every
one silent and dejected: the men discovered shame and fear in
their countenances, and the women were weeping in the tents.

What had happened they did not try to conjecture, but immediately
enquired. "You had scarcely entered into the pyramid, said
one of the attendants, when a troop of Arabs rushed upon us: we
were too few to resist them, and too slow to escape. They were
about to search the tents, set us on our camels, and drive us
along before them, when the approach of some Turkish horsemen put
them to flight; but they seized the lady Pekuah with her two
maids, and carried them away: the Turks are now persuing them by
our instigation, but I fear they will not be able to overtake
them." The princess was overpowered with surprise and grief.
Rasselas, in the first heat of his resentment, ordered his
servants to follow him, and prepared to persue the robbers with
his sabre in his hand. "Sir, said Imlac, what can you hope from
violence or valour? the Arabs are mounted on horses trained to
battle and retreat; we have only beasts of burden. By leaving our
present station we may lose the princess, but cannot hope to
regain Pekuah."

In a short time the Turks returned, having not been able to reach
the enemy. The princess burst out into new lamentations, and
Rasselas could scarcely forbear to reproach them with cowardice;
but Imlac was of opinion, that the escape of the Arabs was no
addition to their misfortune, for, perhaps, they would have
killed their captives rather than have resigned them.

{Rasselas, chapter 34}

They return to Cairo without Pekuah

THERE was nothing to be hoped from longer stay. They returned to
Cairo repenting of their curiosity, censuring the negligence of
the government, lamenting their own rashness which had neglected
to procure a guard, imagining many expedients by which the loss
of Pekuah might have been prevented, and resolving to do
something for her recovery, though none could find any thing
proper to be done.

Nekayah retired to her chamber, where her women attempted to
comfort her, by telling her that all had their troubles, and that
lady Pekuah had enjoyed much happiness in the world for a long
time, and might reasonably expect a change of fortune. They hoped
that some good would befal her wheresoever she was, and that
their mistress would find another friend who might supply her

The princess made them no answer, and they continued the form of
condolence, not much grieved in their hearts that the favourite
was lost.

Next day the prince presented to the Bassa a memorial of the
wrong which he had suffered, and a petition for redress. The
Bassa threatened to punish the robbers, but did not attempt to
catch them, nor, indeed, could any account or description be
given by which he might direct the persuit. It soon appeared that
nothing would be done by authority. Governors, being accustomed
to hear of more crimes than they can punish, and more wrongs than
they can redress, set themselves at ease by indiscriminate
negligence, and presently forget the request when they lose sight
of the petitioner. Imlac then endeavoured to gain some
intelligence by private agents. He found many who pretended to an
exact knowledge of all the haunts of the Arabs, and to regular
correspondence with their chiefs, and who readily undertook the
recovery of Pekuah. Of these, some were furnished with money for
their journey, and came back no more; some were liberally paid
for accounts which a few days discovered to be false. But
the princess would not suffer any means, however improbable, to
be left untried. While she was doing something she kept her hope
alive. As one expedient failed, another was suggested; when one
messenger returned unsuccessful, another was despatched to a
different quarter.

Two months had now passed, and of Pekuah nothing had been heard;
the hopes which they had endeavoured to raise in each other grew
more languid, and the princess, when she saw nothing more to be
tried, sunk down inconsolable in hopeless dejection. A thousand
times she reproached herself with the easy compliancc by which
she permitted her favourite to stay behind her. "Had not my
fondness, said she, lessened my authority, Pekuah had not dared
to talk of her terrours. She ought to have feared me more than
spectres. A severe look would have overpowered her; a peremptory
command would have compelled obedience. Why did foolish
indulgence prevail upon me? Why did I not speak and refuse to

"Great princess, said Imlac, do not reproach yourself for your
virtue, or consider that as blameable by which evil has
accidentally been caused. Your tenderness for the timidity of
Pekuah was generous and kind. When we act according to our duty,
we commit the event to him by whose laws our actions are
governed, and who will suffer none to be finally punished for
obedience. When, in prospect of some good, whether natural or
moral, we break the rules prescribed us, we withdraw from the
direction of superiour wisdom, and take all consequences upon
ourselves. Man cannot so far know the connexion of causes and
events, as that he may venture to do wrong in order to do right.
When we persue our end by lawful means, we may always
console our miscarriage by the hope of future recompense. When we
consult only our own policy, and attempt to find a nearer way to
good, by overleaping the settled boundaries of right and wrong,
we cannot be happy even by success, because we cannot escape the
consciousness of our fault; but, if we miscarry, the
disappointment is irremediably embittered. How comfortless is the
sorrow of him; who feels at once the pangs of guilt, and the
vexation of calamity which guilt has brought upon him?

"Consider, princess, what would have been your condition, if the
lady Pekuah had entreated to accompany you, and, being compelled
to stay in the tents, had been carried away; or how would you
have born the thought, if you had forced her into the pyramid,
and she had died before you in agonies of terrour."

"Had either happened, said Nekayah, I could not have endured life
till now: I should have been tortured to madness by the
remembrance of such cruelty, or must have pined away in
abhorrence of myself.

"This at least, said Imlac, is the present reward of virtuous
conduct, that no unlucky consequence can oblige us to repent it."

{Rasselas, chapter 35}

The princess languishes for want of Pekuah

NEKAYAH, being thus reconciled to herself, found that no evil is
insupportable but that which is accompanied with consciousness of
wrong. She was, from that time, delivered from the violence of
tempestuous sorrow, and sunk into silent pensiveness and
gloomy tranquillity. She sat from morning to evening recollecting
all that had been done or said by her Pekuah, treasured up with
care every trifle on which Pekuah had set an accidental value,
and which might recal to mind any little incident or careless
conversation. The sentiments of her, whom she now expected to see
no more, were treasured in her memory as rules of life, and she
deliberated to no other end than to conjecture on any occasion
what would have been the opinion and counsel of Pekuah.

The women, by whom she was attended, knew nothing of her real
condition, and therefore she could not talk to them but with
caution and reserve. She began to remit her curiosity, having no
great care to collect notions which she had no convenience of
uttering. Rasselas endeavoured first to comfort and afterwards to
divert her; he hired musicians, to whom she seemed to listen, but
did not hear them, and procured masters to instruct her in
various arts, whose lectures, when they visited her again, were
again to be repeated. She had lost her taste of pleasure and her
ambition of excellence. And her mind, though forced into short
excursions, always recurred to the image of her friend.

Imlac was every morning earnestly enjoined to renew his
enquiries, and was asked every night whether he had yet heard of
Pekuah, till not being able to return the princess the answer
that she desired, he was less and less willing to come into her
presence. She observed his backwardness, and commanded him to
attend her. "You are not, said she, to confound impatience with
resentment, or to suppose that I charge you with negligence,
because I repine at your unsuccessfulness. I do not much wonder
at your absence; I know that the unhappy are never pleasing, and
that all naturally avoid the contagion of misery. To hear
complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy; for
who would cloud by adventitious grief the short gleams of gaiety
which life allows us? or who, that is struggling under his own
evils, will add to them the miseries of another?

"The time is at hand, when none shall be disturbed any longer by
the sighs of Nekayah: my search after happiness is now at an end.
I am resolved to retire from the world with all its flatteries
and deceits, and will hide myself in solitude, without any other
care than to compose my thoughts, and regulate my hours by a
constant succession of innocent occupations, till, with a mind
purified from all earthly desires, I shall enter into that state,
to which all are hastening, and in which I hope again to enjoy
the friendship of Pekuah."

"Do not entangle your mind, said Imlac, by irrevocable
determinations, nor increase the burthen of life by a voluntary
accumulation of misery: the weariness of retirement will continue
or increase when the loss of Pekuah is forgotten. That you have
been deprived of one pleasure is no very good reason for
rejection of the rest."

"Since Pekuah was taken from me, said the princess, I have no
pleasure to reject or to retain. She that has no one to love or
trust has little to hope. She wants the radical principle of
happiness. We may, perhaps, allow that what satisfaction this
world can afford, must arise from the conjunction of wealth,
knowledge and goodness: wealth is nothing but as it is bestowed,
and knowledge nothing but as it is communicated: they must
therefore be imparted to others, and to whom could I now delight
to impart them? Goodness affords the only comfort which can be
enjoyed without a partner, and goodness may be practised in

"How far solitude may admit goodness, or advance it, I shall not,
replied Imlac, dispute at present. Remember the confession of the
pious hermit. You will wish to return into the world, when the
image of your companion has left your thoughts." "That time, said
Nekayah, will never come. The generous frankness, the modest
obsequiousness, and the faithful secrecy of my dear Pekuah, will
always be more missed, as I shall live longer to see vice and

"The state of a mind oppressed with a sudden calamity, said
Imlac, is like that of the fabulous inhabitants of the new
created earth, who, when the first night came upon them,
supposed that day never would return. When the clouds of sorrow
gather over us, we see nothing beyond them, nor can imagine how
they will be dispelled: yet a new day succeeded to the night, and
sorrow is never long without a dawn of ease. But they who
restrain themselves from receiving comfort, do as the savages
would have done, had they put out their eyes when it was dark.
Our minds, like our bodies, are in continual flux; something is
hourly lost, and something acquired. To lose much at once is
inconvenient to either, but while the vital powers remain
uninjured, nature will find the means of reparation. Distance has
the same effect on the mind as on the eye, and while we glide
along the stream of time, whatever we leave behind us is always
lessening, and that which we approach increasing in magnitude. Do
not suffer life to stagnate; it will grow muddy for want of
motion: commit yourself again to the current of the world; Pekuah
will vanish by degrees; you will meet in your way some other
favourite, or learn to diffuse yourself in general conversation."

"At least, said the prince, do not despair before all remedies
have been tried: the enquiry after the unfortunate lady is still
continued, and shall be carried on with yet greater diligence, on
condition that you will promise to wait a year for the event,
without any unalterable resolution."

Nekayah thought this a reasonable demand, and made the
promise to her brother, who had been advised by Imlac to require
it. Imlac had, indeed, no great hope of regaining Pekuah, but he
supposed, that if he could secure the interval of a year, the
princess would be then in no danger of a cloister.

{Rasselas, chapter 36}

Pekuah is still remembered. The progress of sorrow

NEKAYAH, seeing that nothing was omitted for the recovery of her
favourite, and having, by her promise, set her intention of
retirement at a distance, began imperceptibly to return to common
cares and common pleasures. She rejoiced without her own consent
at the suspension of her sorrows, and sometimes caught herself
with indignation in the act of turning away her mind from the
remembrance of her, whom yet she resolved never to forget.

She then appointed a certain hour of the day for meditation on
the merits and fondness of Pekuah, and for some weeks retired
constantly at the time fixed, and returned with her eyes swollen
and her countenance clouded. By degrees she grew less scrupulous,
and suffered any important and pressing avocation to delay the
tribute of daily tears. She then yielded to less occasions;
sometimes forgot what she was indeed afraid to remember,
and, at last, wholly released herself from the duty of periodical

Her real love of Pekuah was yet not diminished. A thousand
occurrences brought her back to memory, and a thousand wants,
which nothing but the confidence of friendship can supply, made
her frequently regretted. She, therefore, solicited Imlac never
to desist from enquiry, and to leave no art of intelligence
untried, that, at least, she might have the comfort of knowing
that she did not suffer by negligence or sluggishness. "Yet what,
said she, is to be expected from our persuit of happiness, when
we find the state of life to be such, that happiness itself is
the cause of misery? Why should we endeavour to attain that, of
which the possession cannot be secured? I shall henceforward fear
to yield my heart to excellence, however bright, or to fondness,
however tender, lest I should lose again what I have lost in

{Rasselas, chapter 37}

The Princess hears news of Pekuah

IN seven months, one of the messengers, who had been sent away
upon the day when the promise was drawn from the princess,
returned, after many unsuccessful rambles, from the borders of
Nubia, with an account that Pekuah was in the hands of an Arab
chief, who possessed a castle or fortress on the extremity of
Egypt. The Arab, whose revenue was plunder, was willing to
restore her, with her two attendants, for two hundred ounces of

The price was no subject of debate. The princess was in extasies
when she heard that her favourite was alive, and might so cheaply
be ransomed. She could not think of delaying for a moment
Pekuah's happiness or her own, but entreated her brother to send
back the messenger with the sum required. Imlac, being consulted,
was not very confident of the veracity of the relator, and was
still more doubtful of the Arab's faith, who might, if he were
too liberally trusted, detain at once the money and the captives.
He thought it dangerous to put themselves in the power of the
Arab, by going into his district, and could not expect that the
Rover would so much expose himself as to come into the lower
country, where he might be seized by the forces of the Bassa. It
is difficult to negotiate where neither will trust. But Imlac,
after some deliberation, directed the messenger to propose that
Pekuah should be conducted by ten horsemen to the monastery of
St. Anthony, which is situated in the deserts of Upper-Egypt,
where she should be met by the same number, and her ransome
should be paid.

That no time might be lost, as they expected that the proposal
would not be refused, they immediately began their journey to the
monastery; and, when they arrived, Imlac went forward with the
former messenger to the Arab's fortress. Rasselas was desirous to
go with them, but neither his sister nor Imlac would consent. The
Arab, according to the custom of his nation, observed the laws of
hospitality with great exactness to those who put themselves into
his power, and, in a few days, brought Pekuah with her maids, by
easy journeys, to their place appointed, where receiving the
stipulated price, he restored her with great respect to liberty
and her friends, and undertook to conduct them back towards Cairo
beyond all danger of robbery or violence.

The princess and her favourite embraced each other with transport
too violent to be expressed, and went out together to pour the
tears of tenderness in secret, and exchange professions of
kindness and gratitude. After a few hours they returned into the
refectory of the convent, where, in the presence of the prior and
his brethren, the prince required of Pekuah the history of her

{Rasselas, chapter 38}

The adventures of the lady Pekuah

"Ah what time, and in what manner, I was forced away, said
Pekuah, your servants have told you. The suddenness of the event
struck me with surprise, and I was at first rather stupified than
agitated with any passion of either fear or sorrow. My confusion
was encreased by the speed and tumult of our flight while we were
followed by the Turks, who, as it seemed, soon despaired to
overtake us, or were afraid of those whom they made a shew of

"When the Arabs saw themselves out of danger they slackened their
course, and, as I was less harassed by external violence, I began
to feel more uneasiness in my mind. After some time we stopped
near a spring shaded with trees in a pleasant meadow, where we
were set upon the ground, and offered such refreshments as our
masters were partaking. I was suffered to sit with my maids apart
from the rest, and none attempted to comfort or insult us. Here I
first began to feel the full weight of my misery. The girls sat
weeping in silence, and from time to time looked on me for
succour. I knew not to what condition we were doomed, nor could
conjecture where would be the place of our captivity, or whence
to draw any hope of deliverance. I was in the hands of robbers
and savages, and had no reason to suppose that their pity was
more than their justice, or that they would forbear the
gratification of any ardour of desire, or caprice of cruelty. I,
however, kissed my maids, and endeavoured to pacify them by
remarking, that we were yet treated with decency, and that, since
we were now carried beyond persuit, there was no danger of
violence to our lives.

"When we were to be set again on horseback, my maids clung round
me, and refused to be parted, but I commanded them not to
irritate those who had us in their power. We travelled the
remaining part of the day through an unfrequented and pathless
country, and came by moonlight to the side of a hill, where the
rest of the troop was stationed. Their tents were pitched, and
their fires kindled, and our chief was welcomed as a man much
beloved by his dependants.

"We were received into a large tent, where we found women who had
attended their husbands in the expedition. They set before us the
supper which they had provided, and I eat it rather to encourage
my maids than to comply with any appetite of my own. When the
meat was taken away they spread the carpets for repose. I was
weary, and hoped to find in sleep that remission of distress
which nature seldom denies. Ordering myself therefore to be
undrest, I observed that the women looked very earnestly upon me,
not expecting, I suppose, to see me so submissively attended.
When my upper vest was taken off, they were apparently struck
with the splendour of my cloaths, and one of them timorously laid
her hand upon the embroidery. She then went out, and, in a short
time, came back with another woman, who seemed to be of higher
rank, and greater authority. She did, at her entrance, the usual
act of reverence, and, taking me by the hand, placed me in a
smaller tent, spread with finer carpets, where I spent the night
quietly with my maids.

"In the morning, as I was sitting on the grass, the chief of the
troop came towards me. I rose up to receive him, and he bowed
with great respect. "Illustrious lady, said he, my fortune is
better than I had presumed to hope; I am told by my women, that I
have a princess in my camp." Sir, answered I, your women have
deceived themselves and you; I am not a princess, but an unhappy
stranger who intended soon to have left this country, in which I
am now to be imprisoned for ever. "Whoever, or whencesoever, you
are, returned the Arab, your dress, and that of your servants,
show your rank to be high, and your wealth to be great. Why
should you, who can so easily procure your ransome, think
yourself in danger of perpetual captivity? The purpose of my
incursions is to encrease my riches, or more properly to gather
tribute. The sons of Ishmael are the natural and hereditary lords
of this part of the continent, which is usurped by late invaders,
and low-born tyrants, from whom we are compelled to take by the
sword what is denied to justice. The violence of war admits no
distinction; the lance that is lifted at guilt and power will
sometimes fall on innocence and gentleness."

"How little, said I, did I expect that yesterday it should have
fallen upon me."

"Misfortunes, answered the Arab, should always be expected. If
the eye of hostility could learn reverence or pity, excellence
like yours had been exempt from injury. But the angels of
affliction spread their toils alike for the virtuous and the
wicked, for the mighty and the mean. Do not be disconsolate; I am
not one of the lawless and cruel rovers of the desart; I know the
rules of civil life: I will fix your ransome, give a passport to
your messenger, and perform my stipulation with nice

"You will easily believe that I was pleased with his courtesy;
and finding that his predominant passion was desire of money, I
began now to think my danger less, for I knew that no sum would
be thought too great for the release of Pekuah. I told him that
he should have no reason to charge me with ingratitude, if I was
used with kindness, and that any ransome, which could be expected
for a maid of common rank, would be paid, but that he must not
persist to rate me as a princess. He said, he would consider what
he should demand, and then, smiling, bowed and retired.

"Soon after the women came about me, each contending to be more
officious than the other, and my maids themselves were served
with reverence. We travelled onward by short journeys. On the
fourth day the chief told me, that my ransome must be two hundred
ounces of gold, which I not only promised him, but told him, that
I would add fifty more, if I and my maids were honourably

"I never knew the power of gold before. From that time I was the
leader of the troop. The march of every day was longer or shorter
as I commanded, and the tents were pitched where I chose to rest.
We now had camels and other conveniencies for travel, my own
women were always at my side, and I amused myself with observing
the manners of the vagrant nations, and with viewing remains of
ancient edifices with which these deserted countries appear to
have been, in some distant age, lavishly embellished.

"The chief of the band was a man far from illiterate: he was able
to travel by the stars or the compass, and had marked in his
erratick expeditions such places as are most worthy the notice of
a passenger. He observed to me, that buildings are always best
preserved in places little frequented, and difficult of access:
for, when once a country declines from its primitive splendour,
the more inhabitants are left, the quicker ruin will be made.
Walls supply stones more easily than quarries, and palaces
and temples will be demolished to make stables of granate, and
cottages of porphyry.

{Rasselas, chapter 39}

The adventures of Pekuah continued

"WE wandered about in this manner for some weeks, whether, as our
chief pretended, for my gratification, or, as I rather suspected,
for some convenience of his own. I endeavoured to appear
contented where sullenness and resentment would have been of no
use, and that endeavour conduced much to the calmness of my mind;
but my heart was always with Nekayah, and the troubles of the
night much overbalanced the amusements of the day. My women, who
threw all their cares upon their mistress, set their minds at
ease from the time when they saw me treated with respect, and
gave themselves up to the incidental alleviations of our fatigue
without solicitude or sorrow. I was pleased with their pleasure,
and animated with their confidence. My condition had lost much of
its terrour, since I found that the Arab ranged the country
merely to get riches. Avarice is an uniform and tractable vice:
other intellectual distempers are different in different
constitutions of mind; that which sooths the pride of one will
offend the pride of another; but to the favour of the covetous
there is a ready way, bring money and nothing is denied.

"At last we came to the dwelling of our chief, a strong and
spacious house built with stone in an island of the Nile, which
lies, as I was told, under the tropick. "Lady, said the Arab, you
shall rest after your journey a few weeks in this place,
where you are to consider yourself as sovereign. My occupation is
war: I have therefore chosen this obscure residence, from which I
can issue unexpected, and to which I can retire unpursued. You
may now repose in security: here are few pleasures, but here is
no danger." He then led me into the inner apartments, and seating
me on the richest couch, bowed to the ground. His women, who
considered me as a rival, looked on me with malignity; but being
soon informed that I was a great lady detained only for my
ransome, they began to vie with each other in obsequiousness and

"Being again comforted with new assurances of speedy liberty, I
was for some days diverted from impatience by the novelty of the
place. The turrets overlooked the country to a great distance,
and afforded a view of many windings of the stream. In the day I
wandered from one place to another as the course of the sun
varied the splendour of the prospect, and saw many things which I
had never seen before. The crocodiles and river-horses are common
in this unpeopled region, and I often looked upon them with
terrour, though I knew that they could not hurt me. For some time
I expected to see mermaids and tritons, which, as Imlac has told
me, the European travellers have stationed in the Nile, but no
such beings ever appeared, and the Arab, when I enquired after
them, laughed at my credulity.

"At night the Arab always attended me to a tower set apart for
celestial observations, where he endeavoured to teach me the
names and courses of the stars. I had no great inclination to
this study, but an appearance of attention was necessary to
please my instructor, who valued himself for his skill, and, in a
little while, I found some employment requisite to beguile the
tediousness of time, which was to be passed always amidst the
same objects. I was weary of looking in the morning on things
from which I had turned away weary in the evening: I therefore
was at last willing to observe the stars rather than do nothing,
but could not always compose my thoughts, and was very often
thinking on Nekayah when others imagined me contemplating the
sky. Soon after the Arab went upon another expedition, and then
my only pleasure was to talk with my maids about the accident by
which we were carried away, and the happiness that we should all
enjoy at the end of our captivity."

"There were women in your Arab's fortress, said the princess, why
did you not make them your companions, enjoy their conversation,
and partake their diversions? In a place where they found
business or amusement, why should you alone sit corroded with
idle melancholy? or why should not you bear for a few months that
condition to which they were condemned for life?"

"The diversions of the women, answered Pekuah, were only childish
play, by which the mind accustomed to stronger operations could
not be kept busy. I could do all which they delighted in doing by
powers merely sensitive, while my intellectual faculties were
flown to Cairo. They ran from room to room as a bird hops from
wire to wire in his cage. They danced for the sake of motion, as
lambs frisk in a meadow. One sometimes pretended to be hurt that
the rest might be alarmed, or hid herself that another might seek
her. Part of their time passed in watching the progress of light
bodies that floated on the river, and part in marking the various
forms into which clouds broke in the sky.

"Their business was only needlework, in which I and my maids
sometimes helped them; but you know that the mind will easily
straggle from the fingers, nor will you suspect that captivity
and absence from Nekayah could receive solace from silken

"Nor was much satisfaction to be hoped from their conversation:
for of what could they be expected to talk? They had seen
nothing; for they had lived from early youth in that narrow spot:
of what they had not seen they could have no knowledge, for they
could not read. They had no ideas but of the few things that were
within their view, and had hardly names for any thing but their
cloaths and their food. As I bore a superiour character, I was
often called to terminate their quarrels, which I decided as
equitably as I could. If it could have amused me to hear the
complaints of each against the rest, I might have been often
detained by long stories, but the motives of their animosity were
so small that I could not listen without intercepting the tale."

"How, said Rasselas, can the Arab, whom you represented as a man
of more than common accomplishments, take any pleasure in his
seraglio, when it is filled only with women like these. Are they
exquisitely beautiful?"

"They do not, said Pekuah, want that unaffecting and ignoble
beauty which may subsist without spriteliness or sublimity,
without energy of thought or dignity of virtue. But to a man like
the Arab such beauty was only a flower casually plucked and
carelessly thrown away. Whatever pleasures he might find among
them, they were not those of friendship or society. When they
were playing about him he looked on them with inattentive
superiority: when they vied for his regard he sometimes turned
away disgusted. As they had no knowledge, their talk could take
nothing from the tediousness of life: as they had no choice,
their fondness, or appearance of fondness, excited in him neither
pride nor gratitude; he was not exalted in his own esteem by the
smiles of a woman who saw no other man, nor was much obliged by
that regard, of which he could never know the sincerity, and
which he might often perceive to be exerted not so much to
delight him as to pain a rival. That which he gave, and they
received, as love, was only a careless distribution of
superfluous time, such love as man can bestow upon that which he
despises, such as has neither hope nor fear, neither joy nor

"You have reason lady to think yourself happy, said Imlac, that
you have been thus easily dismissed. How could a mind, hungry for
knowledge, be willing, in an intellectual famine, to lose such a
banquet as Pekuah's conversation?"

"I am inclined to believe, answered Pekuah, that he was for some
time in suspense; notwithstanding his promise, whenever I
proposed to dispatch a messenger to Cairo, he found some excuse
for delay. While I was detained in his house he made many
incursions into the neighbouring countries, and, perhaps, he
would have refused to discharge me, had his plunder been equal to
his wishes. He returned always courteous, related his adventures,
delighted to hear my observations, and endeavoured to
advance my acquaintance with the stars. When I importuned him to
send away my letters, he soothed me with professions of honour
and sincerity; and, when I could be no longer decently denied,
put his troop again in motion, and left me to govern in his
absence. I was much afflicted by this studied procrastination,
and was sometimes afraid that I should be forgotten; that you
would leave Cairo, and I must end my days in an island of the

"I grew at last hopeless and dejected, and cared so little to
entertain him, that he for a while more frequently talked with my
maids. That he should fall in love with them, or with me, might
have been equally fatal, and I was not much pleased with the
growing friendship. My anxiety was not long; for, as I recovered
some degree of chearfulness, he returned to me, and I could not
forbear to despise my former uneasiness.

"He still delayed to send for my ransome, and would, perhaps,
never have determined, had not your agent found his way to him.
The gold, which he would not fetch, he could not reject when it
was offered. He hastened to prepare for our journey hither, like
a man delivered from the pain of an intestine conflict. I took
leave of my companions in the house, who dismissed me with cold

Nekayah, having heard her favourite's relation, rose and embraced
her, and Rasselas gave her an hundred ounces of gold, which she
presented to the Arab for the fifty that were promised.

{Rasselas, chapter 40}

The history of a man of learning

THEY returned to Cairo, and were so well pleased at finding
themselves together, that none of them went much abroad. The
prince began to love learning, and one day declared to Imlac,
that he intended to devote himself to science, and pass the rest
of his days in literary solitude.

"Before you make your final choice, answered Imlac, you ought to
examine its hazards, and converse with some of those who are
grown old in the company of themselves. I have just left the
observatory of one of the most learned astronomers in the world,
who has spent forty years in unwearied attention to the motions
and appearances of the celestial bodies, and has drawn out his
soul in endless calculations. He admits a few friends once a
month to hear his deductions and enjoy his discoveries. I was
introduced as a man of knowledge worthy of his notice. Men of
various ideas and fluent conversation are commonly welcome to
those whose thoughts have been long fixed upon a single point,
and who find the images of other things stealing away. I
delighted him with my remarks, he smiled at the narrative of my
travels, and was glad to forget the constellations, and descend
for a moment into the lower world.

"On the next day of vacation I renewed my visit, and was so
fortunate as to please him again. He relaxed from that time the
severity of his rule, and permitted me to enter at my own choice.
I found him always busy, and always glad to be relieved. As each
knew much which the other was desirous of learning, we exchanged
our notions with great delight. I perceived that I had every day
more of his confidence, and always found new cause of admiration
in the profundity of his mind. His comprehension is vast, his
memory capacious and retentive, his discourse is methodical, and
his expression clear.

"His integrity and benevolence are equal to his learning. His
deepest researches and most favourite studies are willingly
interrupted for any opportunity of doing good by his counsel or
his riches. To his closest retreat at his most busy moments, all
are admitted that want his assistance: "For though I exclude
idleness and pleasure I will never, says he, bar my doors against
charity. To man is permitted the contemplation of the skies, but
the practice of virtue is commanded.

"Surely, said the princess, this man is happy."

"I visited him, said Imlac, with more and more frequency and was
every time more enamoured of his conversation: he was sublime
without haughtiness, courteous without formality, and
communicative without ostentation. I was at first, great
princess, of your opinion, thought him the happiest of mankind,
and often congratulated him on the blessing that he enjoyed. He
seemed to hear nothing with indifference but the praises of his
condition, to which he always returned a general answer, and
diverted the conversation to some other topick.

"Amidst this willingness to be pleased, and labour to please, I
had quickly reason to imagine that some painful sentiment pressed
upon his mind. He often looked up earnestly towards the sun, and
let his voice fall in the midst of his discourse. He would
sometimes, when we were alone, gaze upon me in silence with the
air of a man who longed to speak what he was yet resolved to
suppress. He would often send for me with vehement injunctions of
haste, though, when I came to him, he had nothing extraordinary
to say. And sometimes, when I was leaving him, would call me
back, pause a few moments and then dismiss me.

{Rasselas, chapter 41}

The astronomer discovers the cause of his uneasiness

"AT last the time came when the secret burst his reserve. We were
sitting together last night in the turret of his house, watching
the emersion of a satellite of Jupiter. A sudden tempest clouded
the sky, and disappointed our observation. We sat a while silent
in the dark, and then he addressed himself to me in these words:
"Imlac, I have long considered thy friendship as the greatest
blessing of my life. Integrity without knowledge is weak and
useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and
dreadful. I have found in thee all the qualities requisite for
trust, benevolence, experience, and fortitude. I have long
discharged an office which I must soon quit at the call of
nature, and shall rejoice in the hour of imbecility and pain to
devolve it upon thee."

"I thought myself honoured by this testimony, and protested that
whatever could conduce to his happiness would add likewise to

"Hear, Imlac, what thou wilt not without difficulty credit. I
have possessed for five years the regulation of weather, and the
distribution of the seasons: the sun has listened to my
dictates, and passed from tropick to tropick by my direction; the
clouds, at my call, have poured their waters, and the Nile has
overflowed at my command; I have restrained the rage of the
dog-star, and mitigated the fervours of the crab. The winds
alone, of all the elemental powers, have hitherto refused my
authority, and multitudes have perished by equinoctial tempests
which I found myself unable to prohibit or restrain. I have
administered this great office with exact justice, and made to
the different nations of the earth an impartial dividend of rain
and sunshine. What must have been the misery of half the globe,
if I had limited the clouds to particular regions, or confined
the sun to either side of the equator?"

{Rasselas, chapter 42}

The opinion of the astronomer is explained and justified

"I SUPPOSE he discovered in me, through the obscurity of the
room, some tokens of amazement and doubt, for, after a short
pause, he proceeded thus:

"Not to be easily credited will neither surprise nor offend me;
for I am, probably, the first of human beings to whom this trust
has been imparted. Nor do I know whether to deem this distinction
as reward or punishment; since I have possessed it I have been
far less happy than before, and nothing but the consciousness of
good intention could have enabled me to support the weariness of
unremitted vigilance."

"How long, Sir, said I, has this great office been in your

"About ten years ago, said he, my daily observations of the
changes of the sky led me to consider, whether, if I had the
power of the seasons, I could confer greater plenty upon the
inhabitants of the earth. This contemplation fastened on my mind,
and I sat days and nights in imaginary dominion, pouring upon
this country and that the showers of fertility, and seconding
every fall of rain with a due proportion of sunshine. I had yet
only the will to do good, and did not imagine that I should ever
have the power.

"One day as I was looking on the fields withering with heat, I
felt in my mind a sudden wish that I could send rain on the
southern mountains, and raise the Nile to an inundation. In the
hurry of my imagination I commanded rain to fall, and, by
comparing the time of my command, with that of the inundation, I
found that the clouds had listened to my lips."

"Might not some other cause, said I, produce this concurrence?
the Nile does not always rise on the same day."

"Do not believe, said he with impatience, that such objections
could escape me: I reasoned long against my own conviction,
and laboured against truth with the utmost obstinacy. I
sometimes suspected myself of madness, and should not have
dared to impart this secret but to a man like you, capable
of distinguishing the wonderful from the impossible, and the
incredible from the false."

"Why, Sir, said I, do you call that incredible, which you know,
or think you know, to be true?"

"Because, said he, I cannot prove it by any external evidence;
and I know too well the laws of demonstration to think that my
conviction ought to influence another, who cannot, like me, be
conscious of its force. I, therefore, shall not attempt to gain
credit by disputation. It is sufficient that I feel this power,
that I have long possessed, and every day exerted it. But the
life of man is short, the infirmities of age increase upon me,
and the time will soon come when the regulator of the year must
mingle with the dust. The care of appointing a successor has long
disturbed me; the night and the day have been spent in
comparisons of all the characters which have come to my
knowledge, and I have yet found none so worthy as thyself.

{Rasselas, chapter 43}

The astronomer leaves Imlac his directions

"HEAR therefore, what I shall impart, with attention, such
as the welfare of a world requires. If the task of a king be
considered as difficult, who has the care only of a few millions,
to whom he cannot do much good or harm, what must be the anxiety
of him, on whom depend the action of the elements, and the great
gifts of light and heat"--Hear me therefore with attention.

"I have diligently considered the position of the earth and sun,
and formed innumerable schemes in which I changed their
situation. I have sometimes turned aside the axis of the earth,
and sometimes varied the ecliptick of the sun: but I have found
it impossible to make a disposition by which the world may be
advantaged; what one region gains, another loses by any
imaginable alteration, even without considering the distant parts
of the solar system with which we are unacquainted. Do not,
therefore, in thy administration of the year, indulge thy pride
by innovation; do not please thyself with thinking that thou
canst make thyself renowned to all future ages, by disordering
the seasons. The memory of mischief is no desirable fame. Much
less will it become thee to let kindness or interest prevail.
Never rob other countries of rain to pour it on thine own. For us
the Nile is sufficient.

"I promised that when I possessed the power, I would use it
with inflexible integrity, and he dismissed me, pressing my
hand. My heart, said he, will be now at rest, and my
benevolence will no more destroy my quiet: I have found a man of
wisdom and virtue, to whom I can chearfully bequeath the
inheritance of the sun."

The prince heard this narration with very serious regard, but the
princess smiled, and Pekuah convulsed herself with laughter. "
Ladies, said Imlac, to mock the heaviest of human afflictions is
neither charitable nor wise. Few can attain this man's knowledge,
and few practise his virtues; but all may suffer his calamity. Of
the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and
alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason."

The princess was recollected, and the favourite was abashed.
Rasselas, more deeply affected, enquired of Imlac, whether
he thought such maladies of the mind frequent, and how they were

{Rasselas, chapter 44}

The dangerous prevalence of imagination

"DISORDERS of intellect, answered Imlac, happen much more often
than superficial observers will easily believe. Perhaps, if we
speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right
state. There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes
predominate over his reason, who can regulate his attention
wholly by his will, and whose ideas will come and go at his
command. No man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not
sometimes tyrannise, and force him to hope or fear beyond the
limits of sober probability. All power of fancy over reason is a
degree of insanity; but while this power is such as we can
controll and repress, it is not visible to others, nor considered
as any depravation of the mental faculties: it is not pronounced
madness but when it comes ungovernable, and apparently influences
speech or action.

"To indulge the power of fiction, and send imagination out upon
the wing, is often the sport of those who delight too much in
silent speculation. When we are alone we are not always busy; the
labour of excogitation is too violent to last long; the ardour of
enquiry will sometimes give way to idleness or satiety. He who
has nothing external that can divert him, must find pleasure in
his own thoughts, and must conceive himself what he is not;
for who is pleased with what he is? He then expatiates in
boundless futurity, and culls from all imaginable conditions that
which for the present moment he should most desire, amuses his
desires with impossible enjoyments, and confers upon his pride
unattainable dominion. The mind dances from scene to scene,
unites all pleasures in all combinations, and riots in delights
which nature and fortune, with all their bounty, cannot bestow.

In time some particular train of ideas fixes the attention, all
other intellectual gratifications are rejected, the mind, in
weariness or leisure, recurs constantly to the favourite
conception, and feasts on the luscious falsehood whenever she is
offended with the bitterness of truth. By degrees the reign of
fancy is confirmed; she grows first imperious, and in time
despotick. Then fictions begin to operate as realities, false
opinions fasten upon the mind, and life passes in dreams of
rapture or of anguish.

"This, Sir, is one of the dangers of solitude, which the hermit
has confessed not always to promote goodness, and the
astronomer's misery has proved to be not always propitious to

"I will no more, said the favourite, imagine myself the queen of
Abissinia. I have often spent the hours, which the princess gave
to my own disposal, in adjusting ceremonies and regulating the
court; I have repressed the pride of the powerful, and granted
the petitions of the poor; I have built new palaces in more happy
situations, planted groves upon the tops of mountains, and have
exulted in the beneficence of royalty, till, when the princess
entered, I had almost forgotten to bow down before her."

"And I, said the princess, will not allow myself any more to play
the shepherdess in my waking dreams. I have often soothed my
thoughts with the quiet and innocence of pastoral employments,
till I have in my chamber heard the winds whistle, and the sheep
bleat; sometimes freed the lamb entangled in the thicket, and
sometimes with my crook encountered the wolf. I have a dress like
that of the village maids, which I put on to help my imagination,
and a pipe on which I play softly, and suppose myself followed by
my flocks."

"I will confess, said the prince, an indulgence of fantastick
delight more dangerous than yours. I have frequently endeavoured
to image the possibility of a perfect government, by which all
wrong should be restrained, all vice reformed, and all the
subjects preserved in tranquility and innocence. This thought
produced innumerable schemes of reformation, and dictated many
useful regulations and salutary edicts. This has been the sport
and sometimes the labour of my solitude; and I start, when I
think with how little anguish I once supposed the death of my
father and my brothers."

"Such, says Imlac, are the effects of visionary schemes: when we
first form them we know them to be absurd, but familiarise them
by degrees, and in time lose sight of their folly."

{Rasselas, chapter 45}

They discourse with an old man

THE evening was now far past, and they rose to return home. As
they walked along the bank of the Nile, delighted with the beams
of the moon quivering on the water, they saw at a small distance
an old man, whom the prince had often heard in the assembly of
the sages."Yonder, said he, is one whose years have calmed his
passions, but not clouded his reason: let us close the
disquisitions of the night, by enquiring what are his sentiment's
of his own state, that we may know whether youth alone is to
struggle with vexation, and whether any better hope remains for
the latter part of life." Here the sage approached and saluted
them. They invited him to join their walk, and prattled a while
as acquaintance that had unexpectedly met one another. The old
man was chearful and talkative, and the way seemed short in his
company. He was pleased to find himself not disregarded,
accompanied them to their house, and, at the prince's request,
entered with them. They placed him in the seat of honour, and set
wine and conserves before him. "Sir, said the princess, an
evening walk must give to a man of learning, like you, pleasures
which ignorance and youth can hardly conceive. You know the
qualities and the causes of all that you behold, the laws
by which the river flows, the periods in which the planets
perform their revolutions. Every thing must supply you with
contemplation, and renew the consciousness of your own dignity."

"Lady, answered he, let the gay and the vigorous expect pleasure
in their excursions, it is enough that age can obtain ease. To me
the world has lost its novelty: I look round, and see what I
remember to have seen in happier days. I rest against a tree, and
consider, that in the same shade I once disputed upon the annual
overflow of the Nile with a friend who is now silent in the
grave. I cast my eyes upwards, fix them on the changing moon, and
think with pain on the vicissitudes of life. I have ceased to
take much delight in physical truth; for what have I to do with
those things which I am soon to leave?"

"You may at least recreate yourself, said Imlac, with the
recollection of an honourable and useful life, and enjoy the
praise which all agree to give you."

"Praise, said the sage, with a sigh, is to an old man an empty
sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation
of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I
have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of
much importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself.
Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the
earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is
far extended: but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude,
there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet
less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they
may yet take away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now
be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of
life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected,
much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and
vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great
attempts unfinished. My mind is burthened with no heavy crime,
and therefore I compose myself to tranquility; endeavour to
abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares, which, though reason
knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of
the heart; expect, with serene humility, that hour which nature
cannot long delay; and hope to possess in a better state that
happiness which here I could not find, and that virtue which here
I have not attained."

He rose and went away, leaving his audience not much elated
with the hope of long life. The prince consoled himself with
remarking, that it was not reasonable to be disappointed by this
account; for age had never been considered as the season of
felicity, and, if it was possible to be easy in decline and
weakness, it was likely that the days of vigour and alacrity
might be happy: that the moon of life might be bright, if the
evening could be calm.

The princess suspected that age was querulous and malignant, and
delighted to repress the expectations of those who had newly
entered the world. She had seen the possessors of , estates look
with envy on their heirs, and known many who enjoy pleasure no
longer than they can confine it to themselves.

Pekuah conjectured, that the man was older than he appeared, and
was willing to impute his complaints to delirious dejection; or
else supposed that he had been unfortunate, and was therefore
discontented: "For nothing, said she, is more common than to call
our own condition, the condition of life."

Imlac, who had no desire to see them depressed, smiled at the
comforts which they could so readily procure to themselves, and
remembered, that at the same age, he was equally confident of
unmingled prosperity, and equally fertile of consolatory
expedients. He forbore to force upon them unwelcome knowledge,
which time itself would too soon impress. The princess and her
lady retired; the madness of the astronomer hung upon their
minds, and they desired Imlac to enter upon his office, and delay
next morning the rising of the sun.

{Rasselas, chapter 46}

The princess and Pekuah visit the astronomer

THE princess and Pekuah having talked in private of Imlac's
astronomer, thought his character at once so amiable and so
strange, that they could not be satisfied without a nearer
knowledge, and Imlac was requested to find the means of bringing
them together. This was somewhat difficult; the philosopher had
never received any visits from women, though he lived in a city
that had in it many Europeans who followed the manners of their
own countries, and many from other parts of the world that lived
there with European liberty. The ladies would not be refused, and
several schemes were proposed for the accomplishment of their
design. It was proposed to introduce them as strangers in
distress, to whom the sage was always accessible; but, after some
deliberation, it appeared, that by this artifice, no acquaintance
could be formed, for their conversation would be short, and they
could not decently importune him often." This, said Rasselas, is
true; but I have yet a stronger objection against the
misrepresentation of your state. I have always considered it as
treason against the great republick of human nature, to make any
man's virtues the means of deceiving him, whether on great or
little occasions. All imposture weakens confidence and chills
benevolence. When the sage finds that you are not what you
seemed, he will feel the resentment natural to a man who,
conscious of great abilities, discovers that he has been tricked
by understandings meaner than his own, and, perhaps, the
distrust, which he can never afterwards wholly lay aside, may
stop the voice of counsel, and close the hand of charity; and
where will you find the power of restoring his benefactions to
mankind, or his peace to himself?"

To this no reply was attempted, and Imlac began to hope that
their curiosity would subside; but, next day, Pekuah told him,
she had now found an honest pretence for a visit to the
astronomer, for she would solicite permission to continue under
him the studies in which she had been initiated by the Arab, and
the princess might go with her either as a fellowstudent, or
because a woman could not decently come alone. I am afraid, said
Imlac, that he will be soon weary of your company: men advanced
far in knowledge do not love to repeat the elements of their art,
and I am not certain that even of the elements, as he will
deliver them connected with inferences, and mingled with
reflections, you are a very capable auditress." "That, said
Pekuah, must be my care: I ask of you only to take me thither. My
knowledge is, perhaps, more than you imagine it, and by
concurring always with his opinions I shall make him think it
greater than it is."

The astronomer, in pursuance of this resolution, was told, that a
foreign lady, travelling in search of knowledge, had heard of his
reputation, and was desirous to become his scholar. The
uncommonness of the proposal raised at once his surprize and
curiosity, and when, after a short deliberation, he consented to
admit her, he could not stay without impatience till the next

The ladies dressed themselves magnificently, and were attended by
Imlac to the astronomer, who was pleased to see himself
approached with respect by persons of so splendid an appearance.
In the exchange of the first civilities he was timorous and
bashful; but when the talk became regular, he recollected his
powers, and justified the character which Imlac had given.
Enquiring of Pekuah what could have turned her inclination
towards astronomy, he received from her a history of her
adventure at the pyramid, and of the time passed in the Arab's
island. She told her tale with ease and elegance, and her
conversation took possession of his heart. The discourse was then
turned to astronomy: Pekuah displayed what she knew: he looked
upon her as a prodigy of genius, and intreated her not to desist
from a study which she had so happily begun.

They came again and again, and were every time more welcome than
before. The sage endeavoured to amuse them, that they might
prolong their visits, for he found his thoughts grow brighter in
their company; the clouds of solicitude vanished by degrees, as
he forced himself to entertain them, and he grieved when he was
left at their departure to his old employment of regulating the

The princess and her favourite had now watched his lips for
several months, and could not catch a single word from which they
could judge whether he continued, or not, in the opinion of his
preternatural commission. They often contrived to bring him to an
open declaration, but he easily eluded all their attacks, and on
which side soever they pressed him escaped from them to some
other topick.

As their familiarity increased they invited him often to the
house of Imlac, where they distinguished him by extraordinary
respect. He began gradually to delight in sublunary pleasures. He
came early and departed late; laboured to recommend himself by
assiduity and compliance; excited their curiosity after new arts,
that they might still want his assistance; and when they made any
excursion of pleasure or enquiry, entreated to attend them.

By long experience of his integrity and wisdom, the prince and
his sister were convinced that he might be trusted without
danger; and lest he should draw any false hopes from the
civilities which he received, discovered to him their
condition with the motives of their journey, and required his
opinion on the choice of life.

"Of the various conditions which the world spreads before you,
which you shall prefer, said the sage, I am not able to instruct
you. I can only tell that I have chosen wrong. I have passed my
time in study without experience; in the attainment of sciences
which can, for the most part, be but remotely useful to mankind.
I have purchased knowledge at the expence of all the common
comforts of life: I have missed the endearing elegance of female
friendship, and the happy commerce of domestick tenderness. If I
have obtained any prerogatives above other students, they have
been accompanied with fear, disquiet, and scrupulosity; but even
of these prerogatives, whatever they were, I have, since my
thoughts have been diversified by more intercourse with the
world, begun to question the reality. When I have been for a few
days lost in pleasing dissipation, I am always tempted to think
that my enquiries have ended in errour, and that I have suffered
much, and suffered it in vain."

Imlac was delighted to find that the sage's understanding was
breaking through its mists, and resolved to detain him from the
planets till he should forget his task of ruling them, and reason
should recover its original influence.

From this time the astronomer was received into familiar
friendship, and partook of all their projects and pleasures: his
respect kept him attentive, and the activity of Rasselas did not
leave much time unengaged. Something was always to be done; the
day was spent in making observations which furnished talk for the
evening, and the evening was closed with a scheme for the morrow.

The sage confessed to Imlac, that since he had mingled in the gay
tumults of life, and divided his hours by a succession of
amusements, he found the conviction of his authority over the
skies fade gradually from his mind, and began to trust less to an
opinion which he never could prove to others, and which he now
found subject to variation from causes in which reason had no
part. "If I am accidentally left alone for a few hours, said he,
my inveterate persuasion rushes upon my soul, and my thoughts are

chained down by some irresistible violence, but they are soon
disentangled by the prince's conversation, and instantaneously
released at the entrance of Pekuah. I am like a man habitually
afraid of spectres, who is set at ease by a lamp, and wonders at
the dread which harrassed him in the dark, yet, if his lamp be
extinguished, feels again the terrours which he knows that when
it is light he shall feel no more. But I am sometimes afraid lest
I indulge my quiet by criminal negligence, and voluntarily forget
the great charge with which I am intrusted. If I favour myself in
a known errour, or am determined by my own ease in a doubtful
question of this importance, how dreadful is my crime!"

"No disease of the imagination, answered Imlac, is so difficult
of cure, as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt:
fancy and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so
often shift their places, that the illusions of one are not
distinguished from the dictates of the other. If fancy presents
images not moral or religious, the mind drives them away when
they give it pain, but when melancholick notions take the form of
duty, they lay hold on the faculties without opposition, because
we are afraid to exclude or banish them. For this reason the
superstitious are often melancholy, and the melancholy almost
always superstitious.

"But do not let the suggestions of timidity overpower your better
reason: the danger of neglect can be but as the probability of
the obligation, which when you consider it with freedom, you find
very little, and that little growing every day less. Open your
heart to the influence of the light which, from time to time,
breaks in upon you: when scruples importune you, which you
in your lucid moments know to be vain do not stand to parley but
fly to business or to Pekuah, and keep this thought always
prevalent, that you are only one atom of the mass of humanity,
and have neither such virtue nor vice, as that you should be
singled out for supernatural favours or afflictions."

{Rasselas, chapter 47}

The prince enters and brings a new topick

"ALL this, said the astronomer, I have often thought, but my
reason has been so long subjugated by an uncontrolable and
overwhelming idea, that it durst not confide in its own
decisions. I now see how fatally I betrayed my quiet, by
suffering chimeras to prey upon me in secret; but melancholy
shrinks from communication, and I never found a man before, to
whom I could impart my troubles, though I had been certain of
relief. I rejoice to find my own sentiments confirmed by yours,
who are not easily deceived, and can have no motive or purpose to
deceive. I hope that time and variety will dissipate the
gloom that has so long surrounded me, and the latter part of my
days will be spent in peace."

"Your learning and virtue, said Imlac, may justly give you

Rasselas then entered with the princess and Pekuah, and enquired
whether they had contrived any new diversion for the next day. "
Such, said Nekayah, is the state of life, that none are happy but
by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when
we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is
not yet exhausted; let me see something to morrow which I never
saw before."

"Variety, said Rasselas, is so necessary to content, that even
the happy valley disgusted me by the recurrence of its luxuries;
yet I could not forbear to reproach myself with impatience, when
I saw the monks of St. Anthony support without complaint, a life,
not of uniform delight, but uniform hardship."

"Those men, answered Imlac, are less wretched in their silent
convent than the Abissinian princes in their prison of pleasure.
Whatever is done by the monks is incited by an adequate and
reasonable motive. Their labour supplies them with necessaries;
it therefore cannot be omitted, and is certainly rewarded. Their
devotion prepares them for another state, and reminds them of its
approach, while it fits them for it. Their time is regularly
distributed; one duty succeeds another, so that they are
not left open to the distraction of unguided choice, nor lost in
the shades of listless inactivity, There is a certain task to be
performed at an appropriated hour; and their toils are cheerful,
because they consider them as acts of piety, by which they are
always advancing towards endless felicity."

"Do you think, said Nekayah, that the monastick rule is a more
holy and less imperfect state than any other? May not he equally
hope for future happiness who converses openly with mankind, who
succours the distressed by his charity, instructs the ignorant by
his learning, and contributes by his industry to the general
system of life; even though he should omit some of the
mortifications which are practised in the cloister, and allow
himself such harmless delights as his condition may place within
his reach?"

"This, said Imlac, is a question which has long divided the wise,
and perplexed the good. I am afraid to decide on either part. He
that lives well in the world is better than he that lives well in
a monastery. But, perhaps, every one is not able to stem the
temptations of publick life; and, if he cannot conquer, he may
properly retreat. Some have little power to do good, and
have likewise little strength to resist evil. Many weary of their
conflicts with adversity, and are willing to eject those passions
which have long busied them in vain. And many are dismissed by
age and diseases from the more laborious duties of society. In
monasteries the weak and timorous may be happily sheltered, the
weary may repose, and the penitent may meditate. Those retreats
of prayer and contemplation have something so congenial to the
mind of man that, perhaps, there is scarcely one that does not
purpose to close his life in pious abstraction with a few
associates serious as himself."

"Such, said Pekuah, has often been my wish, and I have heard the
princess declare, that she should not willingly die in a croud."

"The liberty of using harmless pleasures, proceeded Imlac, will
not be disputed; but it is still to be examined what pleasures
are harmless. The evil of any pleasure that Nekayah can image is
not in the act itself, but in its consequences. Pleasure, in
itself harmless, may become mischievous, by endearing to us a
state which we know to be transient and probatory, and
withdrawing our thoughts from that, of which every hour brings us
nearer to the beginning, and of which no length of time will
bring us to the end. Mortification is not virtuous in itself, nor
has any other use, but that it disengages us from the allurements
of sense. In the state of future perfection, to which we all
aspire, there will be pleasure without danger, and security
without restraint."

The princess was silent, and Rasselas, turning to the astronomer,
asked him, whether he could not delay her retreat, by shewing her
something which she had not seen before.

"Your curiosity, said the sage, has been so general, and your
pursuit of knowledge so vigorous, that novelties are not now very
easily to be found: but what you can no longer procure from the
living may be given by the dead. Among the wonders of this
country are the catacombs, or the ancient repositories, in which
the bodies of the earliest generations were lodged, and where, by
the virtue of the gums which embalmed them, they yet remain
without corruption."

"I know not, said Rasselas, what pleasure the sight of the
catacombs can afford; but, since nothing else is offered, I
am resolved to view them, and shall place this with many other
things which I have done, because I would do something."

They hired a guard of horsemen, and the next day visited the
catacombs. When they were about to descend into the sepulchral
caves, "Pekuah, said the princess, we are now again invading the
habitations of the dead; I know that you will stay behind; let me
find you safe when I return." "No, I will not be left, answered
Pekuah; I will go down between you and the prince."

They then all descended, and roved with wonder through the
labyrinth of subterraneous passages, where the bodies were laid
in rows on either side.

{Rasselas, chapter 48}

Imlac discourses on the nature of the soul

"WHAT reason, said the prince, can be given, why the Egyptians
should thus expensively preserve those carcasses which some
nations consume with fire, others lay to mingle with the earth,
and all agree to remove from their sight, as soon as decent rites
can be performed?"

"The original of ancient customs, said Imlac, is commonly
unknown; for the practice often continues when the cause has
ceased; and concerning superstitious ceremonies it is vain to
conjecture; for what reason did not dictate reason cannot
explain. I have long believed that the practice of embalming
arose only from tenderness to the remains of relations or
friends, and to this opinion I am more inclined, because it seems
impossible that this care should have been general: had all the
dead been embalmed, their repositories must in time have been
more spacious than the dwellings of the living. I suppose only
the rich or honourable were secured from corruption, and the rest
left to the course of nature.

"But it is commonly supposed that the Egyptians believed the soul
to live as long as the body continued undissolved and therefore
tried this method of eluding death."

"Could the wise Egyptians, said Nekayah, think so grossly of the
soul? If the soul could once survive its separation, what could
it afterwards receive or suffer from the body?"

"The Egyptians would doubtless think erroneously, said the
astronomer, in the darkness of heathenism, and the first dawn of
philosophy. The nature of the soul is still disputed amidst all
our opportunities of clearer knowledge: some yet say that it may
be material, who, nevertheless, believe it to be immortal."

"Some, answered Imlac, have indeed said that the soul is
material, but I can scarcely believe that any man has thought it,
who knew how to think; for all the conclusions of reason enforce
the immateriality of mind, and all the notices of sense and
investigations of science concur to prove the unconsciousness of

"It was never supposed that cogitation is inherent in matter, or
that every particle is a thinking being. Yet, if any part of
matter be devoid of thought, what part can we suppose to think?
Matter can differ from matter only in form, density, bulk,
motion, and direction of motion: to which of these, however
varied or combined, can consciousness be annexed? To be round or
square, to be solid or fluid, to be great or little, to be moved
slowly or swiftly one way or another, are modes of material
existence, all equally alien from the nature of cogitation. If
matter be once without thought, it can only be made to think by
some new modification, but all the modifications which it can
admit are equally unconnected with cogitative powers."

"But the materialists, said the astronomer, urge that matter may
have qualities with which we are unacquainted."

"He who will determine, returned Imlac, against that which he
knows, because there may be something which he knows not; he that
can set hypothetical possibility against acknowledged certainty,
is not to be admitted among reasonable beings. All that we know
of matter is, that matter is inert, senseless and lifeless; and
if this conviction cannot be opposed but by referring us to
something that we know not, we have all the evidence that human
intellect can admit. If that which is known may be
over-ruled by that which is unknown, no being, not omniscient,
can arrive at certainty."

"Yet let us not, said the astronomer, too arrogantly limit the
Creator's power."

"It is no limitation of omnipotence, replied the poet, to suppose
that one thing is not consistent with another, that the same
proposition cannot be at once true and false, that the same
number cannot be even and odd, that cogitation cannot be
conferred on that which is created incapable of cogitation."

"I know not, said Nekayah, any great use of this question. Does
that immateriality, which, in my opinion, you have sufficiently
proved, necessarily include eternal duration?

"Of immateriality, said Imlac, our ideas are negative, and
therefore obscure. Immateriality seems to imply a natural power
of perpetual duration as a consequence of exemption from all
causes of decay: whatever perishes, is destroyed by the solution
of its contexture, and separation of its parts; nor can we
conceive how that which has no parts, and therefore admits no
solution, can be naturally corrupted or impaired."

"I know not, said Rasselas, how to conceive any thing without
extension: what is extended must have parts, and you allow, that
whatever has parts may be destroyed."

"Consider your own conceptions, replied Imlac, and the difficulty
will be less. You will find substance without extension. An ideal
form is no less real than material bulk: yet an ideal form has no
extension. It is no less certain, when you think on a pyramid,
that your mind possesses the idea of a pyramid, than that the
pyramid itself is standing. What space does the idea of a pyramid
occupy more than the idea of a grain of corn? or how can either
idea suffer laceration? As is the effect such is the cause; as
thought is, such is the power that thinks; a power impassive and

"But the Being, said Nekayah, whom I fear to name, the Being
which made the soul, can destroy it."

"He, surely, can destroy it, answered Imlac, since, however
unperishable, it receives from a superiour nature its power of
duration. That it will not perish by any inherent cause of decay,
or principle of corruption, may be shown by philosophy; but
philosophy can tell no more. That it will not be annihilated by
him that made it, we must humbly learn from higher authority."

The whole assembly stood a while silent and collected. "Let us
return, said Rasselas, from this scene of mortality. How gloomy
would be these mansions of the dead to him who did not know that
he shall never die; that what now acts shall continue its agency,
and what now thinks shall think on for ever. Those that lie here
stretched before us, the wise and the powerful of antient times,
warn us to remember the shortness of our present state; they
were, perhaps, snatched away while they were busy, like us, in
the choice of life."

"To me, said the princess, the choice of life is become less
important; I hope hereafter to think only on the choice of

They then hastened out of the caverns, and, under the protection
of their guard, returned to Cairo.

{Rasselas, chapter 49}

The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded

IT was now the time of the inundation of the Nile: a few days
after their visit to the catacombs, the river began to rise.

They were confined to their house. The whole region being under
water gave them no invitation to any excursions, and, being well
supplied with materials for talk, they diverted themselves with
comparisons of the different forms of life which they had
observed, and with various schemes of happiness which each of
them had formed.

Pekuah was never so much charmed with any place as the convent of
St. Anthony, where the Arab restored her to the princess, and
wished only to fill it with pious maidens, and to be made
prioress of the order: she was weary of expectation and disgust,
and would gladly be fixed in some unvariable state.

"The princess thought, that of all sublunary things, knowledge
was the best: She desired first to learn all sciences, and then
purposed to found a college of learned women, in which she would
preside, that, by conversing with the old, and educating the
young, she might divide her time between the acquisition and
communication of wisdom, and raise up for the next age models of
prudence, and patterns of piety.

The prince desired a little kingdom, in which he might administer
justice in his own person, and see all the parts of government
with his own eyes; but he could never fix the limits of his
dominion, and was always adding to the number of his subjects.

Imlac and the astronomer were contented to be driven along the
stream of life without directing their course to any particular

Of these wishes that they had formed they well knew that none
could be obtained. They deliberated a while what was to be done,
and resolved, when the inundation should cease, to return to

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