Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
Part 2 out of 3
them proud of her countenance and weary of her company.
But her purpose was to examine more deeply, and her affability
easily persuaded the hearts that were swelling with sorrow to
discharge their secrets in her ear, and those whom hope flattered
or prosperity delighted often courted her to partake their
The Princess and her brother commonly met in the evening in a
private summerhouse on the banks of the Nile, and related to each
other the occurrences of the day. As they were sitting together
the Princess cast her eyes upon the river that flowed before her.
"Answer," said she, "great father of waters, thou that rollest thy
goods through eighty nations, to the invocations of the daughter of
thy native king. Tell me if thou waterest through all thy course a
single habitation from which thou dost not hear the murmurs of
"You are then," said Rasselas, "not more successful in private
houses than I have been in Courts." "I have, since the last
partition of our provinces," said the Princess, "enabled myself to
enter familiarly into many families, where there was the fairest
show of prosperity and peace, and know not one house that is not
haunted by some fury that destroys their quiet.
"I did not seek ease among the poor, because I concluded that there
it could not be found. But I saw many poor whom I had supposed to
live in affluence. Poverty has in large cities very different
appearances. It is often concealed in splendour and often in
extravagance. It is the care of a very great part of mankind to
conceal their indigence from the rest. They support themselves by
temporary expedients, and every day is lost in contriving for the
"This, however, was an evil which, though frequent, I saw with less
pain, because I could relieve it. Yet some have refused my
bounties; more offended with my quickness to detect their wants
than pleased with my readiness to succour them; and others, whose
exigencies compelled them to admit my kindness, have never been
able to forgive their benefactress. Many, however, have been
sincerely grateful without the ostentation of gratitude or the hope
of other favours."
CHAPTER XXVI--THE PRINCESS CONTINUES HER REMARKS UPON PRIVATE LIFE.
Nekayah, perceiving her brother's attention fixed, proceeded in her
"In families where there is or is not poverty there is commonly
discord. If a kingdom be, as Imlac tells us, a great family, a
family likewise is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed
to revolutions. An unpractised observer expects the love of
parents and children to be constant and equal. But this kindness
seldom continues beyond the years of infancy; in a short time the
children become rivals to their parents. Benefits are allowed by
reproaches, and gratitude debased by envy.
"Parents and children seldom act in concert; each child endeavours
to appropriate the esteem or the fondness of the parents; and the
parents, with yet less temptation, betray each other to their
children. Thus, some place their confidence in the father and some
in the mother, and by degrees the house is filled with artifices
"The opinions of children and parents, of the young and the old,
are naturally opposite, by the contrary effects of hope and
despondency, of expectation and experience, without crime or folly
on either side. The colours of life in youth and age appear
different, as the face of Nature in spring and winter. And how can
children credit the assertions of parents which their own eyes show
them to be false?
"Few parents act in such a manner as much to enforce their maxims
by the credit of their lives. The old man trusts wholly to slow
contrivance and gradual progression; the youth expects to force his
way by genius, vigour, and precipitance. The old man pays regard
to riches, and the youth reverences virtue. The old man deifies
prudence; the youth commits himself to magnanimity and chance. The
young man, who intends no ill, believes that none is intended, and
therefore acts with openness and candour; but his father; having
suffered the injuries of fraud, is impelled to suspect and too
often allured to practise it. Age looks with anger on the temerity
of youth, and youth with contempt on the scrupulosity of age. Thus
parents and children for the greatest part live on to love less and
less; and if those whom Nature has thus closely united are the
torments of each other, where shall we look for tenderness and
"Surely," said the Prince, "you must have been unfortunate in your
choice of acquaintance. I am unwilling to believe that the most
tender of all relations is thus impeded in its effects by natural
"Domestic discord," answered she, "is not inevitably and fatally
necessary, but yet it is not easily avoided. We seldom see that a
whole family is virtuous; the good and the evil cannot well agree,
and the evil can yet less agree with one another. Even the
virtuous fall sometimes to variance, when their virtues are of
different kinds and tending to extremes. In general, those parents
have most reverence who most deserve it, for he that lives well
cannot be despised.
"Many other evils infest private life. Some are the slaves of
servants whom they have trusted with their affairs. Some are kept
in continual anxiety by the caprice of rich relations, whom they
cannot please and dare not offend. Some husbands are imperious and
some wives perverse, and, as it is always more easy to do evil than
good, though the wisdom or virtue of one can very rarely make many
happy, the folly or vice of one makes many miserable."
"If such be the general effect of marriage," said the Prince, "I
shall for the future think it dangerous to connect my interest with
that of another, lest I should be unhappy by my partner's fault."
"I have met," said the Princess, "with many who live single for
that reason, but I never found that their prudence ought to raise
envy. They dream away their time without friendship, without
fondness, and are driven to rid themselves of the day, for which
they have no use, by childish amusements or vicious delights. They
act as beings under the constant sense of some known inferiority
that fills their minds with rancour and their tongues with censure.
They are peevish at home and malevolent abroad, and, as the outlaws
of human nature, make it their business and their pleasure to
disturb that society which debars them from its privileges. To
live without feeling or exciting sympathy, to be fortunate without
adding to the felicity of others, or afflicted without tasting the
balm of pity, is a state more gloomy than solitude; it is not
retreat but exclusion from mankind. Marriage has many pains, but
celibacy has no pleasures."
"What then is to be done?" said Rasselas. "The more we inquire the
less we can resolve. Surely he is most likely to please himself
that has no other inclination to regard."
CHAPTER XXVII--DISQUISITION UPON GREATNESS.
The conversation had a short pause. The Prince, having considered
his sister's observation, told her that she had surveyed life with
prejudice and supposed misery where she did not find it. "Your
narrative," says he, "throws yet a darker gloom upon the prospects
of futurity. The predictions of Imlac were but faint sketches of
the evils painted by Nekayah. I have been lately convinced that
quiet is not the daughter of grandeur or of power; that her
presence is not to be bought by wealth nor enforced by conquest.
It is evident that as any man acts in a wider compass he must be
more exposed to opposition from enmity or miscarriage from chance.
Whoever has many to please or to govern must use the ministry of
many agents, some of whom will be wicked and some ignorant, by some
he will be misled and by others betrayed. If he gratifies one he
will offend another; those that are not favoured will think
themselves injured, and since favours can be conferred but upon few
the greater number will be always discontented."
"The discontent," said the Princess, "which is thus unreasonable, I
hope that I shall always have spirit to despise and you power to
"Discontent," answered Rasselas, "will not always be without reason
under the most just and vigilant administration of public affairs.
None, however attentive, can always discover that merit which
indigence or faction may happen to obscure, and none, however
powerful, can always reward it. Yet he that sees inferior desert
advanced above him will naturally impute that preference to
partiality or caprice, and indeed it can scarcely be hoped that any
man, however magnanimous by Nature or exalted by condition, will be
able to persist for ever in fixed and inexorable justice of
distribution; he will sometimes indulge his own affections and
sometimes those of his favourites; he will permit some to please
him who can never serve him; he will discover in those whom he
loves qualities which in reality they do not possess, and to those
from whom he receives pleasure he will in his turn endeavour to
give it. Thus will recommendations sometimes prevail which were
purchased by money or by the more destructive bribery of flattery
"He that hath much to do will do something wrong, and of that wrong
must suffer the consequences, and if it were possible that he
should always act rightly, yet, when such numbers are to judge of
his conduct, the bad will censure and obstruct him by malevolence
and the good sometimes by mistake.
"The highest stations cannot therefore hope to be the abodes of
happiness, which I would willingly believe to have fled from
thrones and palaces to seats of humble privacy and placid
obscurity. For what can hinder the satisfaction or intercept the
expectations of him whose abilities are adequate to his
employments, who sees with his own eyes the whole circuit of his
influence, who chooses by his own knowledge all whom he trusts, and
whom none are tempted to deceive by hope or fear? Surely he has
nothing to do but to love and to be loved; to be virtuous and to be
"Whether perfect happiness would be procured by perfect goodness,"
said Nekayah, "this world will never afford an opportunity of
deciding. But this, at least, may be maintained, that we do not
always find visible happiness in proportion to visible virtue. All
natural and almost all political evils are incident alike to the
bad and good; they are confounded in the misery of a famine, and
not much distinguished in the fury of a faction; they sink together
in a tempest and are driven together from their country by
invaders. All that virtue can afford is quietness of conscience
and a steady prospect of a happier state; this may enable us to
endure calamity with patience, but remember that patience must
CHAPTER XXVIII--RASSELAS AND NEKAYAH CONTINUE THEIR CONVERSATION.
"Dear Princess," said Rasselas, "you fall into the common errors of
exaggeratory declamation, by producing in a familiar disquisition
examples of national calamities and scenes of extensive misery
which are found in books rather than in the world, and which, as
they are horrid, are ordained to be rare. Let us not imagine evils
which we do not feel, nor injure life by misrepresentations. I
cannot bear that querulous eloquence which threatens every city
with a siege like that of Jerusalem, that makes famine attend on
every flight of locust, and suspends pestilence on the wing of
every blast that issues from the south.
"On necessary and inevitable evils which overwhelm kingdoms at once
all disputation is vain; when they happen they must be endured.
But it is evident that these bursts of universal distress are more
dreaded than felt; thousands and tens of thousands flourish in
youth and wither in age, without the knowledge of any other than
domestic evils, and share the same pleasures and vexations, whether
their kings are mild or cruel, whether the armies of their country
pursue their enemies or retreat before them. While Courts are
disturbed with intestine competitions and ambassadors are
negotiating in foreign countries, the smith still plies his anvil
and the husbandman drives his plough forward; the necessaries of
life are required and obtained, and the successive business of the
season continues to make its wonted revolutions.
"Let us cease to consider what perhaps may never happen, and what,
when it shall happen, will laugh at human speculation. We will not
endeavour to modify the motions of the elements or to fix the
destiny of kingdoms. It is our business to consider what beings
like us may perform, each labouring for his own happiness by
promoting within his circle, however narrow, the happiness of
"Marriage is evidently the dictate of Nature; men and women were
made to be the companions of each other, and therefore I cannot be
persuaded but that marriage is one of the means of happiness."
"I know not," said the Princess, "whether marriage be more than one
of the innumerable modes of human misery. When I see and reckon
the various forms of connubial infelicity, the unexpected causes of
lasting discord, the diversities of temper, the oppositions of
opinion, the rude collisions of contrary desire where both are
urged by violent impulses, the obstinate contest of disagreeing
virtues where both are supported by consciousness of good
intention, I am sometimes disposed to think, with the severer
casuists of most nations, that marriage is rather permitted than
approved, and that none, but by the instigation of a passion too
much indulged, entangle themselves with indissoluble compact."
"You seem to forget," replied Rasselas, "that you have, even now
represented celibacy as less happy than marriage. Both conditions
may be bad, but they cannot both be worse. Thus it happens, when
wrong opinions are entertained, that they mutually destroy each
other and leave the mind open to truth."
"I did not expect," answered, the Princess, "to hear that imputed
to falsehood which is the consequence only of frailty. To the
mind, as to the eye, it is difficult to compare with exactness
objects vast in their extent and various in their parts. When we
see or conceive the whole at once, we readily note the
discriminations and decide the preference, but of two systems, of
which neither can be surveyed by any human being in its full
compass of magnitude and multiplicity of complication, where is the
wonder that, judging of the whole by parts, I am alternately
affected by one and the other as either presses on my memory or
fancy? We differ from ourselves just as we differ from each other
when we see only part of the question, as in the multifarious
relations of politics and morality, but when we perceive the whole
at once, as in numerical computations, all agree in one judgment,
and none ever varies in his opinion."
"Let us not add," said the Prince, "to the other evils of life the
bitterness of controversy, nor endeavour to vie with each other in
subtilties of argument. We are employed in a search of which both
are equally to enjoy the success or suffer by the miscarriage; it
is therefore fit that we assist each other. You surely conclude
too hastily from the infelicity of marriage against its
institution; will not the misery of life prove equally that life
cannot be the gift of Heaven? The world must be peopled by
marriage or peopled without it."
"How the world is to be peopled," returned Nekayah, "is not my care
and need not be yours. I see no danger that the present generation
should omit to leave successors behind them; we are not now
inquiring for the world, but for ourselves."
CHAPTER XXIX--THE DEBATE ON MARRIAGE (continued).
"The good of the whole," says Rasselas, "is the same with the good
of all its parts. If marriage be best for mankind, it must be
evidently best for individuals; or a permanent and necessary duty
must be the cause of evil, and some must be inevitably sacrificed
to the convenience of others. In the estimate which you have made
of the two states, it appears that the incommodities of a single
life are in a great measure necessary and certain, but those of the
conjugal state accidental and avoidable. I cannot forbear to
flatter myself that prudence and benevolence will make marriage
happy. The general folly of mankind is the cause of general
complaint. What can be expected but disappointment and repentance
from a choice made in the immaturity of youth, in the ardour of
desire, without judgment, without foresight, without inquiry after
conformity of opinions, similarity of manners, rectitude of
judgment, or purity of sentiment?
"Such is the common process of marriage. A youth and maiden,
meeting by chance or brought together by artifice, exchange
glances, reciprocate civilities, go home and dream of one another.
Having little to divert attention or diversify thought, they find
themselves uneasy when they are apart, and therefore conclude that
they shall be happy together. They marry, and discover what
nothing but voluntary blindness before had concealed; they wear out
life in altercations, and charge Nature with cruelty.
"From those early marriages proceeds likewise the rivalry of
parents and children: the son is eager to enjoy the world before
the father is willing to forsake it, and there is hardly room at
once for two generations. The daughter begins to bloom before the
mother can be content to fade, and neither can forbear to wish for
the absence of the other.
"Surely all these evils may be avoided by that deliberation and
delay which prudence prescribes to irrevocable choice. In the
variety and jollity of youthful pleasures, life may be well enough
supported without the help of a partner. Longer time will increase
experience, and wider views will allow better opportunities of
inquiry and selection; one advantage at least will be certain, the
parents will be visibly older than their children."
"What reason cannot collect," and Nekayah, "and what experiment has
not yet taught, can be known only from the report of others. I
have been told that late marriages are not eminently happy. This
is a question too important to be neglected; and I have often
proposed it to those whose accuracy of remark and comprehensiveness
of knowledge made their suffrages worthy of regard. They have
generally determined that it is dangerous for a man and woman to
suspend their fate upon each other at a time when opinions are
fixed and habits are established, when friendships have been
contracted on both sides, when life has been planned into method,
and the mind has long enjoyed the contemplation of its own
"It is scarcely possible that two travelling through the world
under the conduct of chance should have been both directed to the
same path, and it will not often happen that either will quit the
track which custom has made pleasing. When the desultory levity of
youth has settled into regularity, it is soon succeeded by pride
ashamed to yield, or obstinacy delighting to contend. And even
though mutual esteem produces mutual desire to please, time itself,
as it modifies unchangeably the external mien, determines likewise
the direction of the passions, and gives an inflexible rigidity to
the manners. Long customs are not easily broken; he that attempts
to change the course of his own life very often labours in vain,
and how shall we do that for others which we are seldom able to do
"But surely," interposed the Prince, "you suppose the chief motive
of choice forgotten or neglected. Whenever I shall seek a wife, it
shall be my first question whether she be willing to be led by
"Thus it is," said Nekayah, "that philosophers are deceived. There
are a thousand familiar disputes which reason never can decide;
questions that elude investigation, and make logic ridiculous;
cases where something must be done, and where little can be said.
Consider the state of mankind, and inquire how few can be supposed
to act upon any occasions, whether small or great, with all the
reasons of action present to their minds. Wretched would be the
pair, above all names of wretchedness, who should be doomed to
adjust by reason every morning all the minute details of a domestic
"Those who marry at an advanced age will probably escape the
encroachments of their children, but in the diminution of this
advantage they will be likely to leave them, ignorant and helpless,
to a guardian's mercy; or if that should not happen, they must at
least go out of the world before they see those whom they love best
either wise or great.
"From their children, if they have less to fear, they have less
also to hope; and they lose without equivalent the joys of early
love, and the convenience of uniting with manners pliant and minds
susceptible of new impressions, which might wear away their
dissimilitudes by long cohabitation, as soft bodies by continual
attrition conform their surfaces to each other.
"I believe it will be found that those who marry late are best
pleased with their children, and those who marry early with their
"The union of these two affections," said Rasselas, "would produce
all that could be wished. Perhaps there is a time when marriage
might unite them--a time neither too early for the father nor too
late for the husband."
"Every hour," answered the Princess, "confirms my prejudice in
favour of the position so often uttered by the mouth of Imlac, that
'Nature sets her gifts on the right hand and on the left.' Those
conditions which flatter hope and attract desire are so constituted
that as we approach one we recede from another. There are goods so
opposed that we cannot seize both, but by too much prudence may
pass between them at too great a distance to reach either. This is
often the fate of long consideration; he does nothing who
endeavours to do more than is allowed to humanity. Flatter not
yourself with contrarieties of pleasure. Of the blessings set
before you make your choice, and be content. No man can taste the
fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers
of the spring; no man can at the same time fill his cup from the
source and from the mouth of the Nile."
CHAPTER XXX--IMLAC ENTERS, AND CHANGES THE CONVERSATION.
Here Imlac entered, and interrupted them. "Imlac," said Rasselas,
"I have been taking from the Princess the dismal history of private
life, and am almost discouraged from further search."
"It seems to me," said Imlac, "that while you are making the choice
of life you neglect to live. You wander about a single city,
which, however large and diversified, can now afford few novelties,
and forget that you are in a country famous among the earliest
monarchies for the power and wisdom of its inhabitants--a country
where the sciences first dawned that illuminate the world, and
beyond which the arts cannot be traced of civil society or domestic
"The old Egyptians have left behind them monuments of industry and
power before which all European magnificence is confessed to fade
away. The ruins of their architecture are the schools of modern
builders; and from the wonders which time has spared we may
conjecture, though uncertainly, what it has destroyed."
"My curiosity," said Rasselas, "does not very strongly lead me to
survey piles of stone or mounds of earth. My business is with man.
I came hither not to measure fragments of temples or trace choked
aqueducts, but to look upon the various scenes of the present
"The things that are now before us," said the Princess, "require
attention, and deserve it. What have I to do with the heroes or
the monuments of ancient times--with times which can never return,
and heroes whose form of life was different from all that the
present condition of mankind requires or allows?"
"To know anything," returned the poet, "we must know its effects;
to see men, we must see their works, that we may learn what reason
has dictated or passion has excited, and find what are the most
powerful motives of action. To judge rightly of the present, we
must oppose it to the past; for all judgment is comparative, and of
the future nothing can be known. The truth is that no mind is much
employed upon the present; recollection and anticipation fill up
almost all our moments. Our passions are joy and grief, love and
hatred, hope and fear. Of joy and grief, the past is the object,
and the future of hope and fear; even love and hatred respect the
past, for the cause must have been before the effect.
"The present state of things is the consequence of the former; and
it is natural to inquire what were the sources of the good that we
enjoy, or the evils that we suffer. If we act only for ourselves,
to neglect the study of history is not prudent. If we are
entrusted with the care of others, it is not just. Ignorance, when
it is voluntary, is criminal; and he may properly be charged with
evil who refused to learn how he might prevent it.
"There is no part of history so generally useful as that which
relates to the progress of the human mind, the gradual improvement
of reason, the successive advances of science, the vicissitudes of
learning and ignorance (which are the light and darkness of
thinking beings), the extinction and resuscitation of arts, and the
revolutions of the intellectual world. If accounts of battles and
invasions are peculiarly the business of princes, the useful or
elegant arts are not to be neglected; those who have kingdoms to
govern have understandings to cultivate.
"Example is always more efficacious than precept. A soldier is
formed in war, and a painter must copy pictures. In this,
contemplative life has the advantage. Great actions are seldom
seen, but the labours of art are always at hand for those who
desire to know what art has been able to perform.
"When the eye or the imagination is struck with any uncommon work,
the next transition of an active mind is to the means by which it
was performed. Here begins the true use of such contemplation. We
enlarge our comprehension by new ideas, and perhaps recover some
art lost to mankind, or learn what is less perfectly known in our
own country. At least we compare our own with former times, and
either rejoice at our improvements, or, what is the first motion
towards good, discover our defects."
"I am willing," said the Prince, "to see all that can deserve my
"And I," said the Princess, "shall rejoice to learn something of
the manners of antiquity."
"The most pompous monument of Egyptian greatness, and one of the
most bulky works of manual industry," said Imlac, "are the
Pyramids: fabrics raised before the time of history, and of which
the earliest narratives afford us only uncertain traditions. Of
these the greatest is still standing, very little injured by time."
"Let us visit them to-morrow," said Nekayah. "I have often heard
of the Pyramids, and shall not rest till I have seen them, within
and without, with my own eyes."
CHAPTER XXXI--THEY VISIT THE PYRAMIDS.
The resolution being thus taken, they set out the next day. They
laid tents upon their camels, being resolved to stay among the
Pyramids till their curiosity was fully satisfied. They travelled
gently, turned aside to everything remarkable, stopped from time to
time and conversed with the inhabitants, and observed the various
appearances of towns ruined and inhabited, of wild and cultivated
When they came to the Great Pyramid they were astonished at the
extent of the base and the height of the top. Imlac explained to
them the principles upon which the pyramidal form was chosen for a
fabric intended to co-extend its duration with that of the world:
he showed that its gradual diminution gave it such stability as
defeated all the common attacks of the elements, and could scarcely
be overthrown by earthquakes themselves, the least resistible of
natural violence. A concussion that should shatter the pyramid
would threaten the dissolution of the continent.
They measured all its dimensions, and pitched their tents at its
foot. Next day they prepared to enter its interior apartments, and
having hired the common guides, climbed up to the first passage;
when the favourite of the Princess, looking into the cavity,
stepped back and trembled. "Pekuah," said the Princess, "of what
art thou afraid?"
"Of the narrow entrance," answered the lady, "and of the dreadful
gloom. I dare not enter a place which must surely be inhabited by
unquiet souls. The original possessors of these dreadful vaults
will start up before us, and perhaps shut us in for ever." She
spoke, and threw her arms round the neck of her mistress.
"If all your fear be of apparitions," said the Prince, "I will
promise you safety. There is no danger from the dead: he that is
once buried will be seen no more."
"That the dead are seen no more," said Imlac, "I will not undertake
to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all
ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned,
among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed.
This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is
diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those that
never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which
nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by
single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence, and
some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.
"Yet I do not mean to add new terrors to those which have already
seized upon Pekuah. There can be no reason why spectres should
haunt the Pyramid more than other places, or why they should have
power or will to hurt innocence and purity. Our entrance is no
violation of their privileges: we can take nothing from them; how,
then, can we offend them?"
"My dear Pekuah," said the Princess, "I will always go before you,
and Imlac shall follow you. Remember that you are the companion of
the Princess of Abyssinia."
"If the Princess is pleased that her servant should die," returned
the lady, "let her command some death less dreadful than enclosure
in this horrid cavern. You know I dare not disobey you--I must go
if you command me; but if I once enter, I never shall come back."
The Princess saw that her fear was too strong for expostulation or
reproof, and, embracing her, told her that she should stay in the
tent till their return. Pekuah was not yet satisfied, but
entreated the Princess not to pursue so dreadful a purpose as that
of entering the recesses of the Pyramids. "Though I cannot teach
courage," said Nekayah, "I must not learn cowardice, nor leave at
last undone what I came hither only to do."
CHAPTER XXXII--THEY ENTER THE PYRAMID.
Pekuah descended to the tents, and the rest entered the Pyramid.
They passed through the galleries, surveyed the vaults of marble,
and examined the chest in which the body of the founder is supposed
to have been deposited. They then sat down in one of the most
spacious chambers to rest awhile before they attempted to return.
"We have now," said Imlac, "gratified our minds with an exact view
of the greatest work of man, except the wall of China.
"Of the wall it is very easy to assign the motive. It secured a
wealthy and timorous nation from the incursions of barbarians,
whose unskilfulness in the arts made it easier for them to supply
their wants by rapine than by industry, and who from time to time
poured in upon the inhabitants of peaceful commerce as vultures
descend upon domestic fowl. Their celerity and fierceness made the
wall necessary, and their ignorance made it efficacious.
"But for the Pyramids, no reason has ever been given adequate to
the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers
proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures
might have been reposited at far less expense with equal security.
It seems to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger
of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be
always appeased by some employment. Those who have already all
that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires. He that has built
for use till use is supplied must begin to build for vanity, and
extend his plan to the utmost power of human performance that he
may not be soon reduced to form another wish.
"I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the
insufficiency of human enjoyments. A king whose power is
unlimited, and whose treasures surmount all real and imaginary
wants, is compelled to solace, by the erection of a pyramid, the
satiety of dominion and tastelessness of pleasures, and to amuse
the tediousness of declining life by seeing thousands labouring
without end, and one stone, for no purpose, laid upon another.
Whoever thou art that, not content with a moderate condition,
imaginest happiness in royal magnificence, and dreamest that
command or riches can feed the appetite of novelty with perpetual
gratifications, survey the Pyramids, and confess thy folly!"
CHAPTER XXXIII--THE PRINCESS MEETS WITH AN UNEXPECTED MISFORTUNE.
They rose up, and returned through the cavity at which they had
entered; and the Princess prepared for her favourite a long
narrative of dark labyrinths and costly rooms, and of the different
impressions which the varieties of the way had made upon her. But
when they came to their train, they found every one silent and
dejected: the men discovered shame and fear in their countenances,
and the women were weeping in their tents.
What had happened they did not try to conjecture, but immediately
inquired. "You had scarcely entered into the Pyramid," said one of
the attendants, "when a troop of Arabs rushed upon us: we were too
few to resist them, and too slow to escape. They were about to
search the tents, set us on our camels, and drive us along before
them, when the approach of some Turkish horsemen put them to
flight: but they seized the Lady Pekuah with her two maids, and
carried them away: the Turks are now pursuing them by our
instigation, but I fear they will not be able to overtake them."
The Princess was overpowered with surprise and grief. Rasselas, in
the first heat of his resentment, ordered his servants to follow
him, and prepared to pursue the robbers with his sabre in his hand.
"Sir," said Imlac, "what can you hope from violence or valour? The
Arabs are mounted on horses trained to battle and retreat; we have
only beasts of burden. By leaving our present station we may lose
the Princess, but cannot hope to regain Pekuah."
In a short time the Turks returned, having not been able to reach
the enemy. The Princess burst out into new lamentations, and
Rasselas could scarcely forbear to reproach them with cowardice;
but Imlac was of opinion that the escape of the Arabs was no
addition to their misfortune, for perhaps they would have killed
their captives rather than have resigned them.
CHAPTER XXXIV--THEY RETURN TO CAIRO WITHOUT PEKUAH.
There was nothing to be hoped from longer stay. They returned to
Cairo, repenting of their curiosity, censuring the negligence of
the government, lamenting their own rashness, which had neglected
to procure a guard, imagining many expedients by which the loss of
Pekuah might have been prevented, and resolving to do something for
her recovery, though none could find anything proper to be done.
Nekayah retired to her chamber, where her women attempted to
comfort her by telling her that all had their troubles, and that
Lady Pekuah had enjoyed much happiness in the world for a long
time, and might reasonably expect a change of fortune. They hoped
that some good would befall her wheresoever she was, and that their
mistress would find another friend who might supply her place.
The Princess made them no answer; and they continued the form of
condolence, not much grieved in their hearts that the favourite was
Next day the Prince presented to the Bassa a memorial of the wrong
which he had suffered, and a petition for redress. The Bassa
threatened to punish the robbers, but did not attempt to catch
them; nor indeed could any account or description be given by which
he might direct the pursuit.
It soon appeared that nothing would be done by authority.
Governors being accustomed to hear of more crimes than they can
punish, and more wrongs than they can redress, set themselves at
ease by indiscriminate negligence, and presently forget the request
when they lose sight of the petitioner.
Imlac then endeavoured to gain some intelligence by private agents.
He found many who pretended to an exact knowledge of all the haunts
of the Arabs, and to regular correspondence with their chiefs, and
who readily undertook the recovery of Pekuah. Of these, some were
furnished with money for their journey, and came back no more; some
were liberally paid for accounts which a few days discovered to be
false. But the Princess would not suffer any means, however
improbable, to be left untried. While she was doing something, she
kept her hope alive. As one expedient failed, another was
suggested; when one messenger returned unsuccessful, another was
despatched to a different quarter.
Two months had now passed, and of Pekuah nothing had been heard;
the hopes which they had endeavoured to raise in each other grew
more languid; and the Princess, when she saw nothing more to be
tried, sunk down inconsolable in hopeless dejection. A thousand
times she reproached herself with the easy compliance by which she
permitted her favourite to stay behind her. "Had not my fondness,"
said she, "lessened my authority, Pekuah had not dared to talk of
her terrors. She ought to have feared me more than spectres. A
severe look would have overpowered her; a peremptory command would
have compelled obedience. Why did foolish indulgence prevail upon
me? Why did I not speak, and refuse to hear?"
"Great Princess," said Imlac, "do not reproach yourself for your
virtue, or consider that as blameable by which evil has
accidentally been caused. Your tenderness for the timidity of
Pekuah was generous and kind. When we act according to our duty,
we commit the events to Him by whose laws our actions are governed,
and who will suffer none to be finally punished for obedience.
When, in prospect of some good, whether natural or moral, we break
the rules prescribed us, we withdraw from the direction of superior
wisdom, and take all consequences upon ourselves. Man cannot so
far know the connection of causes and events as that he may venture
to do wrong in order to do right. When we pursue our end by lawful
means, we may always console our miscarriage by the hope of future
recompense. When we consult only our own policy, and attempt to
find a nearer way to good by over-leaping the settled boundaries of
right and wrong, we cannot be happy even by success, because we
cannot escape the consciousness of our fault; but if we miscarry,
the disappointment is irremediably embittered. How comfortless is
the sorrow of him who feels at once the pangs of guilt and the
vexation of calamity which guilt has brought upon him!
"Consider, Princess, what would have been your condition if the
Lady Pekuah had entreated to accompany you, and, being compelled to
stay in the tents, had been carried away; or how would you have
borne the thought if you had forced her into the Pyramid, and she
had died before you in agonies of terror?"
"Had either happened," said Nekayah, "I could not have endured life
till now; I should have been tortured to madness by the remembrance
of such cruelty, or must have pined away in abhorrence of myself."
"This, at least," said Imlac, "is the present reward of virtuous
conduct, that no unlucky consequence can oblige us to repent it."
CHAPTER XXXV--THE PRINCESS LANGUISHES FOR WANT OF PEKUAH.
Nekayah, being thus reconciled to herself, found that no evil is
insupportable but that which is accompanied with consciousness of
wrong. She was from that time delivered from the violence of
tempestuous sorrow, and sunk into silent pensiveness and gloomy
tranquillity. She sat from morning to evening recollecting all
that had been done or said by her Pekuah, treasured up with care
every trifle on which Pekuah had set an accidental value, and which
might recall to mind any little incident or careless conversation.
The sentiments of her whom she now expected to see no more were
treasured in her memory as rules of life, and she deliberated to no
other end than to conjecture on any occasion what would have been
the opinion and counsel of Pekuah.
The women by whom she was attended knew nothing of her real
condition, and therefore she could not talk to them but with
caution and reserve. She began to remit her curiosity, having no
great desire to collect notions which she had no convenience of
uttering. Rasselas endeavoured first to comfort and afterwards to
divert her; he hired musicians, to whom she seemed to listen, but
did not hear them; and procured masters to instruct her in various
arts, whose lectures, when they visited her again, were again to be
repeated. She had lost her taste of pleasure and her ambition of
excellence; and her mind, though forced into short excursions,
always recurred to the image of her friend.
Imlac was every morning earnestly enjoined to renew his inquiries,
and was asked every night whether he had yet heard of Pekuah; till,
not being able to return the Princess the answer that she desired,
he was less and less willing to come into her presence. She
observed his backwardness, and commanded him to attend her. "You
are not," said she, "to confound impatience with resentment, or to
suppose that I charge you with negligence because I repine at your
unsuccessfulness. I do not much wonder at your absence. I know
that the unhappy are never pleasing, and that all naturally avoid
the contagion of misery. To hear complaints is wearisome alike to
the wretched and the happy; for who would cloud by adventitious
grief the short gleams of gaiety which life allows us, or who that
is struggling under his own evils will add to them the miseries of
"The time is at hand when none shall be disturbed any longer by the
sighs of Nekayah: my search after happiness is now at an end. I
am resolved to retire from the world, with all its flatteries and
deceits, and will hide myself in solitude, without any other care
than to compose my thoughts and regulate my hours by a constant
succession of innocent occupations, till, with a mind purified from
earthly desires, I shall enter into that state to which all are
hastening, and in which I hope again to enjoy the friendship of
"Do not entangle your mind," said Imlac, "by irrevocable
determinations, nor increase the burden of life by a voluntary
accumulation of misery. The weariness of retirement will continue
to increase when the loss of Pekuah is forgot. That you have been
deprived of one pleasure is no very good reason for rejection of
"Since Pekuah was taken from me," said the Princess, "I have no
pleasure to reject or to retain. She that has no one to love or
trust has little to hope. She wants the radical principle of
happiness. We may perhaps allow that what satisfaction this world
can afford must arise from the conjunction of wealth, knowledge,
and goodness. Wealth is nothing but as it is bestowed, and
knowledge nothing but as it is communicated. They must therefore
be imparted to others, and to whom could I now delight to impart
them? Goodness affords the only comfort which can be enjoyed
without a partner, and goodness may be practised in retirement."
"How far solitude may admit goodness or advance it, I shall not,"
replied Imlac, "dispute at present. Remember the confession of the
pious hermit. You will wish to return into the world when the
image of your companion has left your thoughts."
"That time," said Nekayah, "will never come. The generous
frankness, the modest obsequiousness, and the faithful secrecy of
my dear Pekuah will always be more missed as I shall live longer to
see vice and folly."
"The state of a mind oppressed with a sudden calamity," said Imlac,
"is like that of the fabulous inhabitants of the new-created earth,
who, when the first night came upon them, supposed that day would
never return. When the clouds of sorrow gather over us, we see
nothing beyond them, nor can imagine how they will be dispelled;
yet a new day succeeded to the night, and sorrow is never long
without a dawn of ease. But they who restrain themselves from
receiving comfort do as the savages would have done had they put
out their eyes when it was dark. Our minds, like our bodies, are
in continual flux; something is hourly lost, and something
acquired. To lose much at once is inconvenient to either, but
while the vital power remains uninjured, nature will find the means
of reparation. Distance has the same effect on the mind as on the
eye; and while we glide along the stream of time, whatever we leave
behind us is always lessening, and that which we approach
increasing in magnitude. Do not suffer life to stagnate: it will
grow muddy for want of motion; commit yourself again to the current
of the world; Pekuah will vanish by degrees; you will meet in your
way some other favourite, or learn to diffuse yourself in general
"At least," said the Prince, "do not despair before all remedies
have been tried. The inquiry after the unfortunate lady is still
continued, and shall be carried on with yet greater diligence, on
condition that you will promise to wait a year for the event,
without any unalterable resolution."
Nekayah thought this a reasonable demand, and made the promise to
her brother, who had been obliged by Imlac to require it. Imlac
had, indeed, no great hope of regaining Pekuah; but he supposed
that if he could secure the interval of a year, the Princess would
be then in no danger of a cloister.
CHAPTER XXXVI--PEKUAH IS STILL REMEMBERED. THE PROGRESS OF SORROW.
Nekayah, seeing that nothing was omitted for the recovery of her
favourite, and having by her promise set her intention of
retirement at a distance, began imperceptibly to return to common
cares and common pleasures. She rejoiced without her own consent
at the suspension of her sorrows, and sometimes caught herself with
indignation in the act of turning away her mind from the
remembrance of her whom yet she resolved never to forget.
She then appointed a certain hour of the day for meditation on the
merits and fondness of Pekuah, and for some weeks retired
constantly at the time fixed, and returned with her eyes swollen
and her countenance clouded. By degrees she grew less scrupulous,
and suffered any important and pressing avocation to delay the
tribute of daily tears. She then yielded to less occasions, and
sometimes forgot what she was indeed afraid to remember, and at
last wholly released herself from the duty of periodical
Her real love of Pekuah was not yet diminished. A thousand
occurrences brought her back to memory, and a thousand wants, which
nothing but the confidence of friendship can supply, made her
frequently regretted. She therefore solicited Imlac never to
desist from inquiry, and to leave no art of intelligence untried,
that at least she might have the comfort of knowing that she did
not suffer by negligence or sluggishness. "Yet what," said she,
"is to be expected from our pursuit of happiness, when we find the
state of life to be such that happiness itself is the cause of
misery? Why should we endeavour to attain that of which the
possession cannot be secured? I shall henceforward fear to yield
my heart to excellence, however bright, or to fondness, however
tender, lest I should lose again what I have lost in Pekuah."
CHAPTER XXXVII--THE PRINCESS HEARS NEWS OF PEKUAH.
In seven mouths one of the messengers who had been sent away upon
the day when the promise was drawn from the Princess, returned,
after many unsuccessful rambles, from the borders of Nubia, with an
account that Pekuah was in the hands of an Arab chief, who
possessed a castle or fortress on the extremity of Egypt. The
Arab, whose revenue was plunder, was willing to restore her, with
her two attendants, for two hundred ounces of gold.
The price was no subject of debate. The Princess was in ecstasies
when she heard that her favourite was alive, and might so cheaply
be ransomed. She could not think of delaying for a moment Pekuah's
happiness or her own, but entreated her brother to send back the
messenger with the sum required. Imlac, being consulted, was not
very confident of the veracity of the relater, and was still more
doubtful of the Arab's faith, who might, if he were too liberally
trusted, detain at once the money and the captives. He thought it
dangerous to put themselves in the power of the Arab by going into
his district; and could not expect that the rover would so much
expose himself as to come into the lower country, where he might be
seized by the forces of the Bassa.
It is difficult to negotiate where neither will trust. But Imlac,
after some deliberation, directed the messenger to propose that
Pekuah should be conducted by ten horsemen to the monastery of St.
Anthony, which is situated in the deserts of Upper Egypt, where she
should be met by the same number, and her ransom should be paid.
That no time might be lost, as they expected that the proposal
would not be refused, they immediately began their journey to the
monastery; and when they arrived, Imlac went forward with the
former messenger to the Arab's fortress. Rasselas was desirous to
go with them; but neither his sister nor Imlac would consent. The
Arab, according to the custom of his nation, observed the laws of
hospitality with great exactness to those who put themselves into
his power, and in a few days brought Pekuah, with her maids, by
easy journeys, to the place appointed, where, receiving the
stipulated price, he restored her, with great respect, to liberty
and her friends, and undertook to conduct them back towards Cairo
beyond all danger of robbery or violence.
The Princess and her favourite embraced each other with transport
too violent to be expressed, and went out together to pour the
tears of tenderness in secret, and exchange professions of kindness
and gratitude. After a few hours they returned into the refectory
of the convent, where, in the presence of the prior and his
brethren, the Prince required of Pekuah the history of her
CHAPTER XXXVIII--THE ADVENTURES OF THE LADY PEKUAH.
"At what time and in what manner I was forced away," said Pekuah,
"your servants have told you. The suddenness of the event struck
me with surprise, and I was at first rather stupefied than agitated
with any passion of either fear or sorrow. My confusion was
increased by the speed and tumult of our flight, while we were
followed by the Turks, who, as it seemed, soon despaired to
overtake us, or were afraid of those whom they made a show of
"When the Arabs saw themselves out of danger, they slackened their
course; and as I was less harassed by external violence, I began to
feel more uneasiness in my mind. After some time we stopped near a
spring shaded with trees, in a pleasant meadow, where we were set
upon the ground, and offered such refreshments as our masters were
partaking. I was suffered to sit with my maids apart from the
rest, and none attempted to comfort or insult us. Here I first
began to feel the full weight of my misery. The girls sat weeping
in silence, and from time to time looked on me for succour. I knew
not to what condition we were doomed, nor could conjecture where
would be the place of our captivity, or whence to draw any hope of
deliverance. I was in the hands of robbers and savages, and had no
reason to suppose that their pity was more than their justice, or
that they would forbear the gratification of any ardour of desire
or caprice of cruelty. I, however, kissed my maids, and
endeavoured to pacify them by remarking that we were yet treated
with decency, and that since we were now carried beyond pursuit,
there was no danger of violence to our lives.
"When we were to be set again on horseback, my maids clung round
me, and refused to be parted; but I commanded them not to irritate
those who had us in their power. We travelled the remaining part
of the day through an unfrequented and pathless country, and came
by moonlight to the side of a hill, where the rest of the troop was
stationed. Their tents were pitched and their fires kindled, and
our chief was welcomed as a man much beloved by his dependents.
"We were received into a large tent, where we found women who had
attended their husbands in the expedition. They set before us the
supper which they had provided, and I ate it rather to encourage my
maids than to comply with any appetite of my own. When the meat
was taken away, they spread the carpets for repose. I was weary,
and hoped to find in sleep that remission of distress which nature
seldom denies. Ordering myself, therefore, to be undressed, I
observed that the women looked very earnestly upon me, not
expecting, I suppose, to see me so submissively attended. When my
upper vest was taken off, they were apparently struck with the
splendour of my clothes, and one of them timorously laid her hand
upon the embroidery. She then went out, and in a short time came
back with another woman, who seemed to be of higher rank and
greater authority. She did, at her entrance, the usual act of
reverence, and, taking me by the hand placed me in a smaller tent,
spread with finer carpets, where I spent the night quietly with my
"In the morning, as I was sitting on the grass, the chief of the
troop came towards me. I rose up to receive him, and he bowed with
great respect. 'Illustrious lady,' said he, 'my fortune is better
than I had presumed to hope: I am told by my women that I have a
princess in my camp.' 'Sir,' answered I, 'your women have deceived
themselves and you; I am not a princess, but an unhappy stranger
who intended soon to have left this country, in which I am now to
be imprisoned for ever.' 'Whoever or whencesoever you are,'
returned the Arab, 'your dress and that of your servants show your
rank to be high and your wealth to be great. Why should you, who
can so easily procure your ransom, think yourself in danger of
perpetual captivity? The purpose of my incursions is to increase
my riches, or, more property, to gather tribute. The sons of
Ishmael are the natural and hereditary lords of this part of the
continent, which is usurped by late invaders and low-born tyrants,
from whom we are compelled to take by the sword what is denied to
justice. The violence of war admits no distinction: the lance
that is lifted at guilt and power will sometimes fall on innocence
"'How little,' said I, 'did I expect that yesterday it should have
fallen upon me!'
"'Misfortunes,' answered the Arab, 'should always be expected. If
the eye of hostility could learn reverence or pity, excellence like
yours had been exempt from injury. But the angels of affliction
spread their toils alike for the virtuous and the wicked, for the
mighty and the mean. Do not be disconsolate; I am not one of the
lawless and cruel rovers of the desert; I know the rules of civil
life; I will fix your ransom, give a passport to your messenger,
and perform my stipulation with nice punctuality.'
"You will easily believe that I was pleased with his courtesy, and
finding that his predominant passion was desire for money, I began
now to think my danger less, for I knew that no sum would be
thought too great for the release of Pekuah. I told him that he
should have no reason to charge me with ingratitude if I was used
with kindness, and that any ransom which could be expected for a
maid of common rank would be paid, but that he must not persist to
rate me as a princess. He said he would consider what he should
demand, and then, smiling, bowed and retired.
"Soon after the women came about me, each contending to be more
officious than the other, and my maids themselves were served with
reverence. We travelled onward by short journeys. On the fourth
day the chief told me that my ransom must be two hundred ounces of
gold, which I not only promised him, but told him that I would add
fifty more if I and my maids were honourably treated.
"I never knew the power of gold before. From that time I was the
leader of the troop. The march of every day was longer or shorter
as I commanded, and the tents were pitched where I chose to rest.
We now had camels and other conveniences for travel; my own women
were always at my side, and I amused myself with observing the
manners of the vagrant nations, and with viewing remains of ancient
edifices, with which these deserted countries appear to have been
in some distant age lavishly embellished.
"The chief of the band was a man far from illiterate: he was able
to travel by the stars or the compass, and had marked in his
erratic expeditions such places as are most worthy the notice of a
passenger. He observed to me that buildings are always best
preserved in places little frequented and difficult of access; for
when once a country declines from its primitive splendour, the more
inhabitants are left, the quicker ruin will be made. Walls supply
stones more easily than quarries; and palaces and temples will be
demolished to make stables of granite and cottages of porphyry.'"
CHAPTER XXXIX--THE ADVENTURES OF PEKUAH (continued).
"We wandered about in this manner for some weeks, either, as our
chief pretended, for my gratification, or, as I rather suspected,
for some convenience of his own. I endeavoured to appear contented
where sullenness and resentment would have been of no use, and that
endeavour conduced much to the calmness of my mind; but my heart
was always with Nekayah, and the troubles of the night much
overbalanced the amusements of the day. My women, who threw all
their cares upon their mistress, set their minds at ease from the
time when they saw me treated with respect, and gave themselves up
to the incidental alleviations of our fatigue without solicitude or
sorrow. I was pleased with their pleasure, and animated with their
confidence. My condition had lost much of its terror, since I
found that the Arab ranged the country merely to get riches.
Avarice is a uniform and tractable vice: other intellectual
distempers are different in different constitutions of mind; that
which soothes the pride of one will offend the pride of another;
but to the favour of the covetous there is a ready way--bring
money, and nothing is denied.
"At last we came to the dwelling of our chief; a strong and
spacious house, built with stone in an island of the Nile, which
lies, as I was told, under the tropic. 'Lady,' said the Arab, 'you
shall rest after your journey a few weeks in this place, where you
are to consider yourself as Sovereign. My occupation is war: I
have therefore chosen this obscure residence, from which I can
issue unexpected, and to which I can retire unpursued. You may now
repose in security: here are few pleasures, but here is no
danger.' He then led me into the inner apartments, and seating me
on the richest couch, bowed to the ground.
"His women, who considered me as a rival, looked on me with
malignity; but being soon informed that I was a great lady detained
only for my ransom, they began to vie with each other in
obsequiousness and reverence.
"Being again comforted with new assurances of speedy liberty, I was
for some days diverted from impatience by the novelty of the place.
The turrets overlooked the country to a great distance, and
afforded a view of many windings of the stream. In the day I
wandered from one place to another, as the course of the sun varied
the splendour of the prospect, and saw many things which I had
never seen before. The crocodiles and river-horses are common in
this unpeopled region; and I often looked upon them with terror,
though I knew they could not hurt me. For some time I expected to
see mermaids and tritons, which, as Imlac has told me, the European
travellers have stationed in the Nile; but no such beings ever
appeared, and the Arab, when I inquired after them, laughed at my
"At night the Arab always attended me to a tower set apart for
celestial observations, where he endeavoured to teach me the names
and courses of the stars. I had no great inclination to this
study; but an appearance of attention was necessary to please my
instructor, who valued himself for his skill, and in a little while
I found some employment requisite to beguile the tediousness of
time, which was to be passed always amidst the same objects. I was
weary of looking in the morning on things from which I had turned
away weary in the evening: I therefore was at last willing to
observe the stars rather than do nothing, but could not always
compose my thoughts, and was very often thinking on Nekayah when
others imagined me contemplating the sky. Soon after, the Arab
went upon another expedition, and then my only pleasure was to talk
with my maids about the accident by which we were carried away, and
the happiness we should all enjoy at the end of our captivity."
"There were women in your Arab's fortress," said the Princess; "why
did you not make them your companions, enjoy their conversation,
and partake their diversions? In a place where they found business
or amusement, why should you alone sit corroded with idle
melancholy? or why could not you bear for a few months that
condition to which they were condemned for life?"
"The diversions of the women," answered Pekuah, "were only childish
play, by which the mind accustomed to stronger operations could not
be kept busy. I could do all which they delighted in doing by
powers merely sensitive, while my intellectual faculties were flown
to Cairo. They ran from room to room, as a bird hops from wire to
wire in his cage. They danced for the sake of motion, as lambs
frisk in a meadow. One sometimes pretended to be hurt that the
rest might be alarmed, or hid herself that another might seek her.
Part of their time passed in watching the progress of light bodies
that floated on the river, and part in marking the various forms
into which clouds broke in the sky.
"Their business was only needlework, in which I and my maids
sometimes helped them; but you know that the mind will easily
straggle from the fingers, nor will you suspect that captivity and
absence from Nekayah could receive solace from silken flowers.
"Nor was much satisfaction to be hoped from their conversation:
for of what could they be expected to talk? They had seen nothing,
for they had lived from early youth in that narrow spot: of what
they had not seen they could have no knowledge, for they could not
read. They had no idea but of the few things that were within
their view, and had hardly names for anything but their clothes and
their food. As I bore a superior character, I was often called to
terminate their quarrels, which I decided as equitably as I could.
If it could have amused me to hear the complaints of each against
the rest, I might have been often detained by long stories; but the
motives of their animosity were so small that I could not listen
without interrupting the tale."
"How," said Rasselas, "can the Arab, whom you represented as a man
of more than common accomplishments, take any pleasure in his
seraglio, when it is filled only with women like these? Are they
"They do not," said Pekuah, "want that unaffecting and ignoble
beauty which may subsist without sprightliness or sublimity,
without energy of thought or dignity of virtue. But to a man like
the Arab such beauty was only a flower casually plucked and
carelessly thrown away. Whatever pleasures he might find among
them, they were not those of friendship or society. When they were
playing about him he looked on them with inattentive superiority;
when they vied for his regard he sometimes turned away disgusted.
As they had no knowledge, their talk could take nothing from the
tediousness of life; as they had no choice, their fondness, or
appearance of fondness, excited in him neither pride nor gratitude.
He was not exalted in his own esteem by the smiles of a woman who
saw no other man, nor was much obliged by that regard of which he
could never know the sincerity, and which he might often perceive
to be exerted not so much to delight him as to pain a rival. That
which he gave, and they received, as love, was only a careless
distribution of superfluous time, such love as man can bestow upon
that which he despises, such as has neither hope nor fear, neither
joy nor sorrow."
"You have reason, lady, to think yourself happy," said Imlac, "that
you have been thus easily dismissed. How could a mind, hungry for
knowledge, be willing, in an intellectual famine, to lose such a
banquet as Pekuah's conversation?"
"I am inclined to believe," answered Pekuah, "that he was for some
time in suspense; for, notwithstanding his promise, whenever I
proposed to despatch a messenger to Cairo he found some excuse for
delay. While I was detained in his house he made many incursions
into the neighbouring countries, and perhaps he would have refused
to discharge me had his plunder been equal to his wishes. He
returned always courteous, related his adventures, delighted to
hear my observations, and endeavoured to advance my acquaintance
with the stars. When I importuned him to send away my letters, he
soothed me with professions of honour and sincerity; and when I
could be no longer decently denied, put his troop again in motion,
and left me to govern in his absence. I was much afflicted by this
studied procrastination, and was sometimes afraid that I should be
forgotten; that you would leave Cairo, and I must end my days in an
island of the Nile.
"I grew at last hopeless and dejected, and cared so little to
entertain him, that he for a while more frequently talked with my
maids. That he should fall in love with them or with me, might
have been equally fatal, and I was not much pleased with the
growing friendship. My anxiety was not long, for, as I recovered
some degree of cheerfulness, he returned to me, and I could not
forbear to despise my former uneasiness.
"He still delayed to send for my ransom, and would perhaps never
have determined had not your agent found his way to him. The gold,
which he would not fetch, he could not reject when it was offered.
He hastened to prepare for our journey hither, like a man delivered
from the pain of an intestine conflict. I took leave of my
companions in the house, who dismissed me with cold indifference."
Nekayah having heard her favourite's relation, rose and embraced
her, and Rasselas gave her a hundred ounces of gold, which she
presented to the Arab for the fifty that were promised.
CHAPTER XL--THE HISTORY OF A MAN OF LEARNING.
They returned to Cairo, and were so well pleased at finding
themselves together that none of them went much abroad. The Prince
began to love learning, and one day declared to Imlac that he
intended to devote himself to science and pass the rest of his days
in literary solitude.
"Before you make your final choice," answered Imlac, "you ought to
examine its hazards, and converse with some of those who are grown
old in the company of themselves. I have just left the observatory
of one of the most learned astronomers in the world, who has spent
forty years in unwearied attention to the motion and appearances of
the celestial bodies, and has drawn out his soul in endless
calculations. He admits a few friends once a month to hear his
deductions and enjoy his discoveries. I was introduced as a man of
knowledge worthy of his notice. Men of various ideas and fluent
conversation are commonly welcome to those whose thoughts have been
long fixed upon a single point, and who find the images of other
things stealing away. I delighted him with my remarks. He smiled
at the narrative of my travels, and was glad to forget the
constellations and descend for a moment into the lower world.
"On the next day of vacation I renewed my visit, and was so
fortunate as to please him again. He relaxed from that time the
severity of his rule, and permitted me to enter at my own choice.
I found him always busy, and always glad to be relieved. As each
knew much which the other was desirous of learning, we exchanged
our notions with great delight. I perceived that I had every day
more of his confidence, and always found new cause of admiration in
the profundity of his mind. His comprehension is vast, his memory
capacious and retentive, his discourse is methodical, and his
"His integrity and benevolence are equal to his learning. His
deepest researches and most favourite studies are willingly
interrupted for any opportunity of doing good by his counsel or his
riches. To his closest retreat, at his most busy moments, all are
admitted that want his assistance; 'For though I exclude idleness
and pleasure, I will never,' says he, 'bar my doors against
charity. To man is permitted the contemplation of the skies, but
the practice of virtue is commanded.'"
"Surely," said the Princess, "this man is happy."
"I visited him," said Imlac, "with more and more frequency, and was
every time more enamoured of his conversation; he was sublime
without haughtiness, courteous without formality, and communicative
without ostentation. I was at first, great Princess, of your
opinion, thought him the happiest of mankind, and often
congratulated him on the blessing that he enjoyed. He seemed to
hear nothing with indifference but the praises of his condition, to
which he always returned a general answer, and diverted the
conversation to some other topic.
"Amidst this willingness to be pleased and labour to please, I had
quickly reason to imagine that some painful sentiment pressed upon
his mind. He often looked up earnestly towards the sun, and let
his voice fall in the midst of his discourse. He would sometimes,
when we were alone, gaze upon me in silence with the air of a man
who longed to speak what he was yet resolved to suppress. He would
often send for me with vehement injunction of haste, though when I
came to him he had nothing extraordinary to say; and sometimes,
when I was leaving him, would call me back, pause a few moments,
and then dismiss me."
CHAPTER XLI--THE ASTRONOMER DISCOVERS THE CAUSE OF HIS UNEASINESS.
"At last the time came when the secret burst his reserve. We were
sitting together last night in the turret of his house watching the
immersion of a satellite of Jupiter. A sudden tempest clouded the
sky and disappointed our observation. We sat awhile silent in the
dark, and then he addressed himself to me in these words: 'Imlac,
I have long considered thy friendship as the greatest blessing of
my life. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and
knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. I have
found in thee all the qualities requisite for trust--benevolence,
experience, and fortitude. I have long discharged an office which
I must soon quit at the call of Nature, and shall rejoice in the
hour of imbecility and pain to devolve it upon thee.'
"I thought myself honoured by this testimony, and protested that
whatever could conduce to his happiness would add likewise to mine.
"'Hear, Imlac, what thou wilt not without difficulty credit. I
have possessed for five years the regulation of the weather and the
distribution of the seasons. The sun has listened to my dictates,
and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction; the clouds at my
call have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my
command. I have restrained the rage of the dog-star, and mitigated
the fervours of the crab. The winds alone, of all the elemental
powers, have hitherto refused my authority, and multitudes have
perished by equinoctial tempests which I found myself unable to
prohibit or restrain. I have administered this great office with
exact justice, and made to the different nations of the earth an
impartial dividend of rain and sunshine. What must have been the
misery of half the globe if I had limited the clouds to particular
regions, or confined the sun to either side of the equator?'"
CHAPTER XLII--THE OPINION OF THE ASTRONOMER IS EXPLAINED AND
"I suppose he discovered in me, through the obscurity of the room,
some tokens of amazement and doubt, for after a short pause he
"'Not to be easily credited will neither surprise nor offend me,
for I am probably the first of human beings to whom this trust has
been imparted. Nor do I know whether to deem this distinction a
reward or punishment. Since I have possessed it I have been far
less happy than before, and nothing but the consciousness of good
intention could have enabled me to support the weariness of
"'How long, sir,' said I, 'has this great office been in your
"'About ten years ago,' said he, 'my daily observations of the
changes of the sky led me to consider whether, if I had the power
of the seasons, I could confer greater plenty upon the inhabitants
of the earth. This contemplation fastened on my mind, and I sat
days and nights in imaginary dominion, pouring upon this country
and that the showers of fertility, and seconding every fall of rain
with a due proportion of sunshine. I had yet only the will to do
good, and did not imagine that I should ever have the power.
"'One day as I was looking on the fields withering with heat, I
felt in my mind a sudden wish that I could send rain on the
southern mountains, and raise the Nile to an inundation. In the
hurry of my imagination I commanded rain to fall; and by comparing
the time of my command with that of the inundation, I found that
the clouds had listened to my lips.'
"'Might not some other cause,' said I, 'produce this concurrence?
The Nile does not always rise on the same day.'
"'Do not believe,' said he, with impatience, 'that such objections
could escape me. I reasoned long against my own conviction, and
laboured against truth with the utmost obstinacy. I sometimes
suspected myself of madness, and should not have dared to impart
this secret but to a man like you, capable of distinguishing the
wonderful from the impossible, and the incredible from the false.'
"'Why, sir,' said I, 'do you call that incredible which you know,
or think you know, to be true?'
"'Because,' said he, 'I cannot prove it by any external evidence;
and I know too well the laws of demonstration to think that my
conviction ought to influence another, who cannot, like me, be
conscious of its force. I therefore shall not attempt to gain
credit by disputation. It is sufficient that I feel this power
that I have long possessed, and every day exerted it. But the life
of man is short; the infirmities of age increase upon me, and the
time will soon come when the regulator of the year must mingle with
the dust. The care of appointing a successor has long disturbed
me; the night and the day have been spent in comparisons of all the
characters which have come to my knowledge, and I have yet found
none so worthy as thyself.'"
CHAPTER XLIII--THE ASTRONOMER LEAVES IMLAC HIS DIRECTIONS.
"'Hear, therefore, what I shall impart with attention, such as the
welfare of a world requires. If the task of a king be considered
as difficult, who has the care only of a few millions, to whom he
cannot do much good or harm, what must be the anxiety of him on
whom depends the action of the elements and the great gifts of
light and heat? Hear me, therefore, with attention.
"'I have diligently considered the position of the earth and sun,
and formed innumerable schemes, in which I changed their situation.
I have sometimes turned aside the axis of the earth, and sometimes
varied the ecliptic of the sun, but I have found it impossible to
make a disposition by which the world may be advantaged; what one
region gains another loses by an imaginable alteration, even
without considering the distant parts of the solar system with
which we are acquainted. Do not, therefore, in thy administration
of the year, indulge thy pride by innovation; do not please thyself
with thinking that thou canst make thyself renowned to all future
ages by disordering the seasons. The memory of mischief is no
desirable fame. Much less will it become thee to let kindness or
interest prevail. Never rob other countries of rain to pour it on
thine own. For us the Nile is sufficient.'
"I promised that when I possessed the power I would use it with
inflexible integrity; and he dismissed me, pressing my hand. 'My
heart,' said he, 'will be now at rest, and my benevolence will no
more destroy my quiet; I have found a man of wisdom and virtue, to
whom I can cheerfully bequeath the inheritance of the sun.'"
The Prince heard this narration with very serious regard; but the
Princess smiled, and Pekuah convulsed herself with laughter.
"Ladies," said Imlac, "to mock the heaviest of human afflictions is
neither charitable nor wise. Few can attain this man's knowledge
and few practise his virtues, but all may suffer his calamity. Of
the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and
alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason."
The Princess was recollected, and the favourite was abashed.
Rasselas, more deeply affected, inquired of Imlac whether he
thought such maladies of the mind frequent, and how they were
CHAPTER XLIV--THE DANGEROUS PREVALENCE OF IMAGINATION.
"Disorders of intellect," answered Imlac, "happen much more often
than superficial observers will easily believe. Perhaps if we
speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state.
There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes predominate
over his reason who can regulate his attention wholly by his will,
and whose ideas will come and go at his command. No man will be
found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannise, and
force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability.
All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity, but while
this power is such as we can control and repress it is not visible
to others, nor considered as any deprivation of the mental
faculties; it is not pronounced madness but when it becomes
ungovernable, and apparently influences speech or action.
"To indulge the power of fiction and send imagination out upon the
wing is often the sport of those who delight too much in silent
speculation. When we are alone we are not always busy; the labour
of excogitation is too violent to last long; the ardour of inquiry
will sometimes give way to idleness or satiety. He who has nothing
external that can divert him must find pleasure in his own
thoughts, and must conceive himself what he is not; for who is
pleased with what he is? He then expatiates in boundless futurity,
and culls from all imaginable conditions that which for the present
moment he should most desire, amuses his desires with impossible
enjoyments, and confers upon his pride unattainable dominion. The
mind dances from scene to scene, unites all pleasures in all
combinations, and riots in delights which Nature and fortune, with
all their bounty, cannot bestow.
"In time some particular train of ideas fixes the attention; all
other intellectual gratifications are rejected; the mind, in
weariness or leisure, recurs constantly to the favourite
conception, and feasts on the luscious falsehood whenever she is
offended with the bitterness of truth. By degrees the reign of
fancy is confirmed; she grows first imperious and in time despotic.
Then fictions begin to operate as realities, false opinions fasten
upon the mind, and life passes in dreams of rapture or of anguish.
"This, sir, is one of the dangers of solitude, which the hermit has
confessed not always to promote goodness, and the astronomer's
misery has proved to be not always propitious to wisdom."
"I will no more," said the favourite, "imagine myself the Queen of
Abyssinia. I have often spent the hours which the Princess gave to
my own disposal in adjusting ceremonies and regulating the Court; I
have repressed the pride of the powerful and granted the petitions
of the poor; I have built new palaces in more happy situations,
planted groves upon the tops of mountains, and have exulted in the
beneficence of royalty, till, when the Princess entered, I had
almost forgotten to bow down before her."
"And I," said the Princess, "will not allow myself any more to play
the shepherdess in my waking dreams. I have often soothed my
thoughts with the quiet and innocence of pastoral employments, till
I have in my chamber heard the winds whistle and the sheep bleat;
sometimes freed the lamb entangled in the thicket, and sometimes
with my crook encountered the wolf. I have a dress like that of
the village maids, which I put on to help my imagination, and a
pipe on which I play softly, and suppose myself followed by my
"I will confess," said the Prince, "an indulgence of fantastic
delight more dangerous than yours. I have frequently endeavoured
to imagine the possibility of a perfect government, by which all
wrong should be restrained, all vice reformed, and all the subjects
preserved in tranquillity and innocence. This thought produced
innumerable schemes of reformation, and dictated many useful
regulations and salutary effects. This has been the sport and
sometimes the labour of my solitude, and I start when I think with
how little anguish I once supposed the death of my father and my
"Such," said Imlac, "are the effects of visionary schemes. When we
first form them, we know them to be absurd, but familiarise them by
degrees, and in time lose sight of their folly."
CHAPTER XLV--THEY DISCOURSE WITH AN OLD MAN.
The evening was now far past, and they rose to return home. As
they walked along the banks of the Nile, delighted with the beams
of the moon quivering on the water, they saw at a small distance an
old man whom the Prince had often heard in the assembly of the
sages. "Yonder," said he, "is one whose years have calmed his
passions, but not clouded his reason. Let us close the
disquisitions of the night by inquiring what are his sentiments of
his own state, that we may know whether youth alone is to struggle
with vexation, and whether any better hope remains for the latter
part of life."
Here the sage approached and saluted them. They invited him to
join their walk, and prattled awhile as acquaintance that had
unexpectedly met one another. The old man was cheerful and
talkative, and the way seemed short in his company. He was pleased
to find himself not disregarded, accompanied them to their house,
and, at the Prince's request, entered with them. They placed him
in the seat of honour, and set wine and conserves before him.
"Sir," said the Princess, "an evening walk must give to a man of
learning like you pleasures which ignorance and youth can hardly
conceive. You know the qualities and the causes of all that you
behold--the laws by which the river flows, the periods in which the
planets perform their revolutions. Everything must supply you with
contemplation, and renew the consciousness of your own dignity."
"Lady," answered he, "let the gay and the vigorous expect pleasure
in their excursions: it is enough that age can attain ease. To me
the world has lost its novelty. I look round, and see what I
remember to have seen in happier days. I rest against a tree, and
consider that in the same shade I once disputed upon the annual
overflow of the Nile with a friend who is now silent in the grave.
I cast my eyes upwards, fix them on the changing moon, and think
with pain on the vicissitudes of life. I have ceased to take much
delight in physical truth; for what have I to do with those things
which I am soon to leave?"
"You may at least recreate yourself," said Imlac, "with the
recollection of an honourable and useful life, and enjoy the praise
which all agree to give you."
"Praise," said the sage with a sigh, "is to an old man an empty
sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation
of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I have
outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much
importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth
is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest
of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far
extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is
little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be
hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they may yet take
away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now be useless,
and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls
to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time
squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I
leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts
unfinished. My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore
I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts
from hopes and cares which, though reason knows them to be vain,
still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with
serene humility, that hour which nature cannot long delay, and hope
to possess in a better state that happiness which here I could not
find, and that virtue which here I have not attained."
He arose and went away, leaving his audience not much elated with
the hope of long life. The Prince consoled himself with remarking
that it was not reasonable to be disappointed by this account; for
age had never been considered as the season of felicity, and if it
was possible to be easy in decline and weakness, it was likely that
the days of vigour and alacrity might be happy; that the noon of
life might be bright, if the evening could be calm.
The Princess suspected that age was querulous and malignant, and
delighted to repress the expectations of those who had newly
entered the world. She had seen the possessors of estates look
with envy on their heirs, and known many who enjoyed pleasures no
longer than they could confine it to themselves.
Pekuah conjectured that the man was older than he appeared, and was
willing to impute his complaints to delirious dejection; or else
supposed that he had been unfortunate, and was therefore
discontented. "For nothing," said she, "is more common than to
call our own condition the condition of life."
Imlac, who had no desire to see them depressed, smiled at the
comforts which they could so readily procure to themselves; and
remembered that at the same age he was equally confident of
unmingled prosperity, and equally fertile of consolatory
expedients. He forbore to force upon them unwelcome knowledge,
which time itself would too soon impress. The Princess and her
lady retired; the madness of the astronomer hung upon their minds;
and they desired Imlac to enter upon his office, and delay next
morning the rising of the sun.
CHAPTER XLVI--THE PRINCESS AND PEKUAH VISIT THE ASTRONOMER.
The Princess and Pekuah, having talked in private of Imlac's
astronomer, thought his character at once so amiable and so strange
that they could not be satisfied without a nearer knowledge, and
Imlac was requested to find the means of bringing them together.
This was somewhat difficult. The philosopher had never received
any visits from women, though he lived in a city that had in it
many Europeans, who followed the manners of their own countries,
and many from other parts of the world, that lived there with
European liberty. The ladies would not be refused, and several
schemes were proposed for the accomplishment of their design. It
was proposed to introduce them as strangers in distress, to whom
the sage was always accessible; but after some deliberation it
appeared that by this artifice no acquaintance could be formed, for
their conversation would be short, and they could not decently
importune him often. "This," said Rasselas, "is true; but I have
yet a stronger objection against the misrepresentation of your
state. I have always considered it as treason against the great
republic of human nature to make any man's virtues the means of
deceiving him, whether on great or little occasions. All imposture
weakens confidence and chills benevolence. When the sage finds
that you are not what you seemed, he will feel the resentment
natural to a man who, conscious of great abilities, discovers that
he has been tricked by understandings meaner than his own, and
perhaps the distrust which he can never afterwards wholly lay aside
may stop the voice of counsel and close the hand of charity; and
where will you find the power of restoring his benefactions to
mankind, or his peace to himself?"
To this no reply was attempted, and Imlac began to hope that their
curiosity would subside; but next day Pekuah told him she had now
found an honest pretence for a visit to the astronomer, for she
would solicit permission to continue under him the studies in which
she had been initiated by the Arab, and the Princess might go with
her, either as a fellow-student, or because a woman could not
decently come alone. "I am afraid," said Imlac, "that he will soon
be weary of your company. Men advanced far in knowledge do not
love to repeat the elements of their art, and I am not certain that
even of the elements, as he will deliver them, connected with
inferences and mingled with reflections, you are a very capable
auditress." "That," said Pekuah, "must be my care. I ask of you
only to take me thither. My knowledge is perhaps more than you
imagine it, and by concurring always with his opinions I shall make
him think it greater than it is."
The astronomer, in pursuance of this resolution, was told that a
foreign lady, travelling in search of knowledge, had heard of his
reputation, and was desirous to become his scholar. The
uncommonness of the proposal raised at once his surprise and
curiosity, and when after a short deliberation he consented to
admit her, he could not stay without impatience till the next day.
The ladies dressed themselves magnificently, and were attended by
Imlac to the astronomer, who was pleased to see himself approached
with respect by persons of so splendid an appearance. In the
exchange of the first civilities he was timorous and bashful; but
when the talk became regular, he recollected his powers, and
justified the character which Imlac had given. Inquiring of Pekuah
what could have turned her inclination towards astronomy, he
received from her a history of her adventure at the Pyramid, and of
the time passed in the Arab's island. She told her tale with ease
and elegance, and her conversation took possession of his heart.
The discourse was then turned to astronomy. Pekuah displayed what
she knew. He looked upon her as a prodigy of genius, and entreated
her not to desist from a study which she had so happily begun.
They came again and again, and were every time more welcome than
before. The sage endeavoured to amuse them, that they might
prolong their visits, for he found his thoughts grow brighter in
their company; the clouds of solitude vanished by degrees as he
forced himself to entertain them, and he grieved when he was left,
at their departure, to his old employment of regulating the
The Princess and her favourite had now watched his lips for several
months, and could not catch a single word from which they could
judge whether he continued or not in the opinion of his
preternatural commission. They often contrived to bring him to an
open declaration; but he easily eluded all their attacks, and, on
which side soever they pressed him, escaped from them to some other
As their familiarity increased, they invited him often to the house
of Imlac, where they distinguished him by extraordinary respect.
He began gradually to delight in sublunary pleasures. He came
early and departed late; laboured to recommend himself by assiduity
and compliance; excited their curiosity after new arts, that they
might still want his assistance; and when they made any excursion
of pleasure or inquiry, entreated to attend them.
By long experience of his integrity and wisdom, the Prince and his
sister were convinced that he might be trusted without danger; and
lest he should draw any false hopes from the civilities which he
received, discovered to him their condition, with the motives of
their journey, and required his opinion on the choice of life.
"Of the various conditions which the world spreads before you which
you shall prefer," said the sage, "I am not able to instruct you.
I can only tell that I have chosen wrong. I have passed my time in
study without experience--in the attainment of sciences which can
for the most part be but remotely useful to mankind. I have
purchased knowledge at the expense of all the common comforts of
life; I have missed the endearing elegance of female friendship,
and the happy commerce of domestic tenderness. If I have obtained
any prerogatives above other students, they have been accompanied
with fear, disquiet, and scrupulosity; but even of these
prerogatives, whatever they were, I have, since my thoughts have
been diversified by more intercourse with the world, begun to
question the reality. When I have been for a few days lost in
pleasing dissipation, I am always tempted to think that my
inquiries have ended in error, and that I have suffered much, and
suffered it in vain."
Imlac was delighted to find that the sage's understanding was
breaking through its mists, and resolved to detain him from the
planets till he should forget his task of ruling them, and reason
should recover its original influence.
From this time the astronomer was received into familiar
friendship, and partook of all their projects and pleasures; his
respect kept him attentive, and the activity of Rasselas did not
leave much time unengaged. Something was always to be done; the
day was spent in making observations, which furnished talk for the
evening, and the evening was closed with a scheme for the morrow.
The sage confessed to Imlac that since he had mingled in the gay
tumults of life, and divided his hours by a succession of
amusements, he found the conviction of his authority over the skies
fade gradually from his mind, and began to trust less to an opinion
which he never could prove to others, and which he now found
subject to variation, from causes in which reason had no part. "If
I am accidentally left alone for a few hours," said he, "my
inveterate persuasion rushes upon my soul, and my thoughts are
chained down by some irresistible violence; but they are soon
disentangled by the Prince's conversation, and instantaneously
released at the entrance of Pekuah. I am like a man habitually
afraid of spectres, who is set at ease by a lamp, and wonders at
the dread which harassed him in the dark; yet, if his lamp be
extinguished, feels again the terrors which he knows that when it
is light he shall feel no more. But I am sometimes afraid, lest I
indulge my quiet by criminal negligence, and voluntarily forget the
great charge with which I am entrusted. If I favour myself in a
known error, or am determined by my own ease in a doubtful question
of this importance, how dreadful is my crime!"
"No disease of the imagination," answered Imlac, "is so difficult
of cure as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt; fancy
and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so often shift
their places, that the illusions of one are not distinguished from
the dictates of the other. If fancy presents images not moral or
religious, the mind drives them away when they give it pain; but
when melancholy notions take the form of duty, they lay hold on the
faculties without opposition, because we are afraid to exclude or
banish them. For this reason the superstitious are often
melancholy, and the melancholy almost always superstitious.
"But do not let the suggestions of timidity overpower your better
reason; the danger of neglect can be but as the probability of the
obligation, which, when you consider it with freedom, you find very
little, and that little growing every day less. Open your heart to
the influence of the light, which from time to time breaks in upon
you; when scruples importune you, which you in your lucid moments
know to be vain, do not stand to parley, but fly to business or to
Pekuah; and keep this thought always prevalent, that you are only
one atom of the mass of humanity, and have neither such virtue nor
vice as that you should be singled out for supernatural favours or
CHAPTER XLVII--THE PRINCE ENTERS, AND BRINGS A NEW TOPIC.
"All this," said the astronomer, "I have often thought; but my
reason has been so long subjugated by an uncontrollable and
overwhelming idea, that it durst not confide in its own decisions.
I now see how fatally I betrayed my quiet, by suffering chimeras to
prey upon me in secret; but melancholy shrinks from communication,
and I never found a man before to whom I could impart my troubles,
though I had been certain of relief. I rejoice to find my own
sentiments confirmed by yours, who are not easily deceived, and can
have no motive or purpose to deceive. I hope that time and variety
will dissipate the gloom that has so long surrounded me, and the
latter part of my days will be spent in peace."
"Your learning and virtue," said Imlac, "may justly give you
Rasselas then entered, with the Princess and Pekuah, and inquired
whether they had contrived any new diversion for the next day.
"Such," said Nekayah, "is the state of life, that none are happy
but by the anticipation of change; the change itself is nothing;
when we have made it the next wish is to change again. The world
is not yet exhausted: let me see something to-morrow which I never
"Variety," said Rasselas, "is so necessary to content, that even
the Happy Valley disgusted me by the recurrence of its luxuries;
yet I could not forbear to reproach myself with impatience when I
saw the monks of St. Anthony support, without complaint, a life,
not of uniform delight, but uniform hardship."
"Those men," answered Imlac, "are less wretched in their silent
convent than the Abyssinian princes in their prison of pleasure.
Whatever is done by the monks is incited by an adequate and
reasonable motive. Their labour supplies them with necessaries; it
therefore cannot be omitted, and is certainly rewarded. Their
devotion prepares them for another state, and reminds them of its
approach while it fits them for it. Their time is regularly
distributed; one duty succeeds another, so that they are not left
open to the distraction of unguided choice, nor lost in the shades
of listless inactivity. There is a certain task to be performed at
an appropriated hour, and their toils are cheerful, because they
consider them as acts of piety by which they are always advancing
towards endless felicity."
"Do you think," said Nekayah, "that the monastic rule is a more
holy and less imperfect state than any other? May not he equally
hope for future happiness who converses openly with mankind, who
succours the distressed by his charity, instructs the ignorant by
his learning, and contributes by his industry to the general system
of life, even though he should omit some of the mortifications
which are practised in the cloister, and allow himself such
harmless delights as his condition may place within his reach?"
"This," said Imlac, "is a question which has long divided the wise
and perplexed the good. I am afraid to decide on either part. He
that lives well in the world is better than he that lives well in a
monastery. But perhaps everyone is not able to stem the
temptations of public life, and if he cannot conquer he may
properly retreat. Some have little power to do good, and have
likewise little strength to resist evil. Many are weary of the
conflicts with adversity, and are willing to eject those passions
which have long busied them in vain. And many are dismissed by age
and diseases from the more laborious duties of society. In
monasteries the weak and timorous may be happily sheltered, the
weary may repose, and the penitent may meditate. Those retreats of
prayer and contemplation have something so congenial to the mind of
man, that perhaps there is scarcely one that does not purpose to
close his life in pious abstraction, with a few associates serious
"Such," said Pekuah, "has often been my wish, and I have heard the
Princess declare that she should not willingly die in a crowd."
"The liberty of using harmless pleasures," proceeded Imlac, "will
not be disputed, but it is still to be examined what pleasures are
harmless. The evil of any pleasure that Nekayah can image is not
in the act itself but in its consequences. Pleasure in itself
harmless may become mischievous by endearing to us a state which we
know to be transient and probatory, and withdrawing our thoughts
from that of which every hour brings us nearer to the beginning,
and of which no length of time will bring us to the end.
Mortification is not virtuous in itself, nor has any other use but
that it disengages us from the allurements of sense. In the state
of future perfection to which we all aspire there will be pleasure
without danger and security without restraint."
The Princess was silent, and Rasselas, turning to the astronomer,
asked him whether he could not delay her retreat by showing her
something which she had not seen before.
"Your curiosity," said the sage, "has been so general, and your
pursuit of knowledge so vigorous, that novelties are not now very
easily to be found; but what you can no longer procure from the
living may be given by the dead. Among the wonders of this country
are the catacombs, or the ancient repositories in which the bodies
of the earliest generations were lodged, and where, by the virtue
of the gums which embalmed them, they yet remain without
"I know not," said Rasselas, "what pleasure the sight of the
catacombs can afford; but, since nothing else is offered, I am
resolved to view them, and shall place this with my other things
which I have done because I would do something."
They hired a guard of horsemen, and the next day visited the
catacombs. When they were about to descend into the sepulchral
caves, "Pekuah," said the Princess, "we are now again invading the
habitations of the dead; I know that you will stay behind. Let me
find you safe when I return." "No, I will not be left," answered
Pekuah, "I will go down between you and the Prince."
They then all descended, and roved with wonder through the
labyrinth of subterraneous passages, where the bodies were laid in
rows on either side.
CHAPTER XLVIII--IMLAC DISCOURSES ON THE NATURE OF THE SOUL.
"What reason," said the Prince, "can be given why the Egyptians
should thus expensively preserve those carcases which some nations
consume with fire, others lay to mingle with the earth, and all
agree to remove from their sight as soon as decent rites can be
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