Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
Part 1 out of 3
Transcribed from the 1889 Cassell & Company edition by David Price,
RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA
CHAPTER I--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 Abyssinia.
Rasselas was the fourth son of the mighty Emperor in whose
dominions the father of waters begins his course--whose bounty
pours down the streams of plenty, and scatters over 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 Abyssinian royalty,
till the order of succession should call him to the throne.
The place which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined for
the residence of the Abyssinian 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 had 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
massive that no man, without the help of engines, could open or
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 more.
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 browse the shrubs, 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 all
the necessaries of life, and all delights and superfluities were
added at the annual visit which the Emperor paid his children, when
the iron gate was opened to the sound of music, and during eight
days every one that resided in the valley 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 showed their activity
before the princes, in hopes that they should pass their lives in
blissful captivity, to which those 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 scenes 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 massive stone, joined by 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
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 storeys by
private galleries, or by subterraneous passages from the lower
apartments. Many of the columns had unsuspected cavities, in which
a long race of monarchs had deposited their treasures. They then
closed up the opening with marble, which was never to be removed
but in the utmost exigences of the kingdom, and recorded their
accumulations in a book, which was itself concealed in a tower, not
entered but by the Emperor, attended by the prince who stood next
CHAPTER II--THE DISCONTENT OF RASSELAS IN THE HAPPY VALLEY.
Here the sons and daughters of Abyssinia 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 public life, and described
all beyond the mountains as regions of calamity, where discord was
always racing, 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 were the business of every hour, from the
dawn of morning to the close of the evening.
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 nature had excluded from this
seat of tranquillity as the sport of chance and the slaves of
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 the
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 music. 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 streams, 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 bushes. The 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 browsing 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 the 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 lutist 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 in me no power of perception which is not
glutted with its proper pleasure, yet I do not feel myself
delighted. Man surely has some latent sense for which this place
affords no gratification; or he has some desire 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, burdened 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 you 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 balanced peculiar sufferings with peculiar
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.
CHAPTER III--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 never be
suffered to forget these 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 pursuer 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 inquire 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 the Emperor of Abyssinia 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
"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 mountains, or to 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 pursue. 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 showed me what I never had
observed before. I have already enjoyed too much: give me
something to desire." The old man was surprised 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 happiness."
CHAPTER IV--THE PRINCE CONTINUES TO GRIEVE AND MUSE.
At this time the sound of music 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 borne 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. The 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 only enjoy by concealing it, he affected
to be busy in all the schemes of diversion, and endeavoured to make
others pleased with the state of which he himself was weary. But
pleasures can never 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. So strongly was the image
impressed upon his mind that he started up in the maid's defence,
and ran forward to seize the plunderer with all the eagerness of
real pursuit. 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
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 surmount?"
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 at
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 independent 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 passed:
who shall restore them?"
These sorrowful meditations fastened upon his mind; he passed 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
CHAPTER V--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 had once
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 researches he spent ten months. The time,
however, passed cheerfully away--in the morning he rose with new
hope; in the evening applauded his own diligence; and in the night
slept soundly 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
proposed to solace himself with the contemplation if he should
never be able to accomplish his flight--rejoicing that his
endeavours, though yet unsuccessful, had supplied him with a source
of inexhaustible inquiry. 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.
CHAPTER VI--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 mechanic 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
pavilion 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 rivulets that ran through it
gave a constant motion; and instruments of soft music were played
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 mechanic 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 inquire
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 man 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 matter through which we are
to pass. You will be necessarily up-borne by the air if you can
renew any impulse upon it faster than the air can recede from the
"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 domestic 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 shall float in the air without any tendency to fall; no care
will then be necessary but to move forward, 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 its
inhabitants rolling beneath him, and presenting to him
successively, by its 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 deserts; 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 passages, pass over to distant regions, and
examine the face of nature from one extremity of the earth to the
"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 tranquillity. I have been told that respiration is
difficult upon lofty mountains, yet from these precipices, though
so high as to produce great tenuity of 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 and
pursuit 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 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 clouds neither walls,
mountains, nor seas could afford security. A flight of northern
savages might hover in the wind and light with irresistible
violence upon the capital of a fruitful reason. 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 awhile 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 terror and vexation.
CHAPTER VII-- 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 rain continued longer and with more violence than had ever been
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 pasture, and both the wild beasts and the tame
retreated to the mountains.
This inundation confined all the princes to domestic 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.
CHAPTER VIII--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 music 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 public, 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 terror,
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 Africa 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 governors of
"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 Emperor, not the meanest of
my subjects should he 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 governor who
robbed the people that I may declare his crimes to the Emperor!"
"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 governor.
Oppression is, in the Abyssinian 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 Abyssinia."
"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 purposes 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 gratification;
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 lessons were ended I did not find them wiser or better than
"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 negotiate. I began with less than a fifth
part, and you see how diligence and parsimony have increased it.
This is your own, to waste or 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 be always equal with me who is equally
skilled in the art of growing rich.'
"We laid out 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 inextinguishable 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 fountain
of knowledge, to quench the thirst of curiosity.
"As I was supposed to trade without connection 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."
CHAPTER IX--THE HISTORY OF IMLAC (continued).
"When I first entered upon the world of waters, and lost sight of
land, I looked round about me in pleasing terror, and thinking my
soul enlarged by the boundless prospect, imagined that I could gaze
around me 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 awhile 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 valleys,
deserts 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 safely landed 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 expense, 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 without benefit to himself? I can
easily conceive that all are pleased with superiority; but your
ignorance was merely accidental, which, being neither your crime
nor your folly, could afford them no reason to applaud themselves;
and the knowledge which they had, and which you wanted, they might
as effectually have shown by warning as betraying you."
"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
Hindostan, 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 showed 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 Emperor as a man of uncommon knowledge.
The Emperor asked me many questions concerning my country and my
travels, and though I cannot now recollect anything that he uttered
above the power of a common man, he dismissed me astonished at his
wisdom and enamoured of his goodness.
"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
greatly reproached them with their practices on the road. They
heard me with cold indifference, and showed 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 wares.
"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 pastoral
and warlike, who lived without any settled habitation, whose wealth
is their flocks and herds, and who have carried on through ages an
hereditary war with mankind, though they neither covet nor envy
CHAPTER X--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 angelic nature. And yet it 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 greatly 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 refinement.
"I was desirous to add my name to this illustrious fraternity. 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 imitations. 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 terror whose interests and opinions I did not
Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw everything 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 enforcement 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 the
mountains, and yet cannot walk abroad without the sight of
something which I had never beheld before, or never heeded."
"This 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 of the verdure of the forest. He is
to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking
features as recall the original to every mind, and must neglect the
minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked and another
have neglected, for those characteristics 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 sprightliness of infancy to the
despondence of decrepitude. He must divest himself of the
prejudices of his age and 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 praise 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 superior to time and place.
"His labour is not yet at an end. He must know many languages and
many sciences, and, that his style may be worthy of his thoughts,
must by incessant practice familiarise to himself every delicacy of
speech and grace of harmony."
CHAPTER XI--IMLAC'S NARRATIVE (continued)--A HINT OF PILGRIMAGE.
Imlac now felt the enthusiastic fit, and was proceeding to
aggrandise his own profession, when then 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 all 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 anything 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 Asiatics and Africans invade their coast,
plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their natural
princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring us
"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 centre 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 ridiculous."
"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 journeys 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
"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 out 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 public inconveniences; they have roads cut
through the mountains, and bridges laid over their rivers. And, if
we descend to the privacies of life, their habitations are more
commodious and their possessions are more secure."
"They are surely happy," said the Prince, "who have all these
conveniences, 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 everywhere a state in which much
is to be endured and little to be enjoyed."
CHAPTER XII--THE STORY OF IMLAC (continued).
"I am not willing," said the Prince, "to suppose that happiness is
so parsimoniously distributed to mortals, nor can I 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
resentments; 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 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
pursue our journey."
"From Palestine," said Imlac, "I passed through many regions of
Asia; in the more civilised 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 Abyssinia.
I hastened into Egypt, and, notwithstanding my impatience, was
detained ten months in the contemplation of its ancient
magnificence and in inquiries 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; 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 domestic 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 confinement."
"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
Emperor invite others to partake of their felicity."
"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
"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 themselves.
"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 mountain 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
"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 mine 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
CHAPTER XIII--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 desire.
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 mechanics 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 coneys, 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 choose
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 day 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 a 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 ye 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 the prognostics 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
CHAPTER XIV--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 at 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 tranquillity, 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 no
inclination to refuse her request, and grieved that he had lost an
opportunity of showing his confidence by a voluntary communication.
It was, therefore, agreed that she should leave the valley with
them; and that in the meantime she should watch, lest any other
straggler should, by chance or curiosity, follow them to the
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 now open, and that nothing now remained but
to prepare for their departure.
CHAPTER XV--THE PRINCE AND PRINCESS LEAVE THE VALLEY, AND SEE MANY
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 clothes, 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 going.
They clambered through the cavity, and began to go down on the
other side. The Princess and her maid turned their eyes toward
every part, and seeing nothing to bound their prospect, considered
themselves 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 them.
Imlac smiled at their terrors, 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 some
milk and fruits before them. The Princess wondered 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 ate
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 and difficulty, and knowing that, though they might be missed,
they could not be pursued. 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 anything to conceal; yet the Prince, wherever
he came, expected to be obeyed, and the Princess was frighted
because those who came into her presence did not prostrate
themselves. 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 sea-coast.
The Prince and his sister, to whom everything 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
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.
CHAPTER XVI--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 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 shall see all the conditions of humanity, and enable
yourselves 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
streets, 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 time continued in her
chamber, where she was served by her favourite Pekuah, as in the
palace of the valley.
Imlac, who understood traffic, 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 acquaintances, and his generosity
made him courted by many dependants. 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 an 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 anything 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 now being 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
For some time he thought choice needless, because all appeared to
him really happy. Wherever he went he met gaiety 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 awhile 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 cheerful, 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 sprightliness of air and volatility
of fancy as might have suited beings of a higher order, formed to
inhabit serener regions, inaccessible to care or sorrow; yet,
believe me, Prince, was there 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
"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
the 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."
CHAPTER XVII--THE PRINCE ASSOCIATES WITH YOUNG MEN OF SPIRIT AND
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 cheerful
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 mature 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 some time to grow old, and to whom it will be the
most dreadful of all evils to count their past years by follies,
and to be reminded of their former luxuriance of health only by the
maladies which riot has produced."
They stared awhile in silence one upon another, and at last drove
him away by a general chorus of continued laughter.
The consciousness that his sentiments were just and his intention
kind was scarcely sufficient to support him against the horror of
derision. But he recovered his tranquillity and pursued his
CHAPTER XVIII--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 showed 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 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
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 privacies of
life, as the sun pursues alike his course through the calm or the
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
"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
sounds, and the inefficacy of polished periods and studied
CHAPTER XIX--A GLIMPSE OF PASTORAL LIFE.
He was still eager upon the same inquiry; 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 inquire whether that felicity which public 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 the 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 shepherds, by small
presents and familiar questions, to tell the 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 towards 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 rustic happiness;
but could not believe that all the accounts of primeval pleasures
were fabulous, and was in doubt whether life had anything that
could be justly preferred to the placid gratification 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 hands, fondle the lambs of her own ewe, and listen
without care, among brooks and breezes, to one of her maidens
reading in the shade.
CHAPTER XX--THE DANGER 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 ware 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 basins, 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 music, and saw youths and
virgins dancing in the grove; and going still farther beheld a
stately palace built upon a hill surrounded by 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 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 domestics 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
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 to find the
CHAPTER XXI--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 a mountain,
overshadowed with palm trees, at such a distance from the cataract
that nothing more was heard than a gentle uniform murmur, such as
composes 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 appropriated to different uses,
and often afforded lodging to travellers whom darkness or tempests
happened to overtake.
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 paper; 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
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
cheerful without levity, and pious without enthusiasm. He soon
gained the esteem of his guests, and the Princess repented her
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
all apparent evil."
"He will most certainly remove from evil," said the Prince, "who
shall devote himself to that solitude which you have recommended by
"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 preferments 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 pursuit 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 tempest-beaten
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 inquiry 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 to-morrow. The life of a solitary man will be certainly
miserable, but not certainly devout."
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 rapture.
CHAPTER XXII--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 he began. Some faults were almost general among
them: every one was pleased to hear the genius or knowledge of
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 a 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 public 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 no longer be 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 ratiocination. 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 encumbrance 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 things."
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.
CHAPTER XXIII--THE PRINCE AND HIS SISTER DIVIDE BETWEEN THEM THE
WORK OF OBSERVATION.
Rasselas returned home full of reflections, doubting 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
inquiries. 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 domestic 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 the 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
CHAPTER XXIV--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
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 his
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 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 Janissaries, and his successor had
other views or different favourites.
CHAPTER XXV--THE PRINCESS PURSUES HER INQUIRY WITH MORE DILIGENCE
The Princess in the meantime 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 cheerful; 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 not
fixed on sense or virtue, and therefore seldom ended but in
vexation. Their grief, however, like their joy, was transient;
everything 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
With these girls she played as with inoffensive animals, and found
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