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Title: Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
Author: Johnson, Samuel, 1709-1784
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia" ***

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Transcribed from the 1889 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                       CASSELL’S NATIONAL LIBRARY.

                                * * * * *

                           PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA

                                * * * * *


                          SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.

                       [Picture: Decorative image]

                       CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED:
                        LONDON, PARIS & MELBOURNE.


RASSELAS was written by Samuel Johnson in the year 1759, when his age was
fifty.  He had written his _London_ in 1738; his _Vanity of Human Wishes_
in 1740; his _Rambler_ between March, 1750, and March, 1752.  In 1755 his
_Dictionary_ had appeared, and Dublin, by giving him its honorary LL.D.,
had enabled his friends to call him “Doctor” Johnson.  His friends were
many, and his honour among men was great.  He owed them to his union of
intellectual power with unflinching probity.  But he had worked hard,
battling against the wolf without, and the black dog within—poverty and
hypochondria.  He was still poor, though his personal wants did not
exceed a hundred pounds a year.  His wife had been seven years dead, and
he missed her sorely.  His old mother, who lived to the age of ninety,
died poor in January of this year, 1759.  In her old age, Johnson had
sought to help her from his earnings.  At her death there were some
little debts, and there were costs of burial.  That he might earn enough
to pay them he wrote _Rasselas_.

_Rasselas_ was written in the evenings of one week, and sent to press
while being written.  Johnson earned by it a hundred pounds, with
twenty-five pounds more for a second edition.  It was published in March
or April; Johnson never read it after it had been published until more
than twenty years afterwards.  Then, finding it in a chaise with Boswell,
he took it up and read it eagerly.

This is one of Johnson’s letters to his mother, written after he knew
that her last illness had come upon her.  It is dated about ten days
before her death.  The “Miss” referred to in it was a faithful friend.
“Miss” was his home name for an affectionate step-daughter, Lucy Porter:—


    “The account which Miss gives me of your health pierces my heart.
    God comfort and preserve you, and save you, for the sake of Jesus

    “I would have Miss read to you from time to time the Passion of our
    Saviour; and sometimes the sentences in the Communion Service
    beginning—’Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and
    I will give you rest.’

    “I have just now read a physical book which inclines me to think that
    a strong infusion of the bark would do you good.  Do, dear mother,
    try it.

    “Pray, send me your blessing, and forgive all that I have done amiss
    to you.  And whatever you would have done, and what debts you would
    have paid first, or anything else that you would direct, let Miss put
    it down; I shall endeavour to obey you.

    “I have got twelve guineas to send you” [six were borrowed.  There
    was a note in Johnson’s Diary of six guineas repaid to Allen, the
    printer, who had lent them when he wanted to send money to his dying
    mother], “but unhappily am at a loss how to send it to-night.  If I
    cannot send it to-night, it will come by the next post.

    “Pray, do not omit anything mentioned in this letter.  God bless you
    for ever and ever.

                                                                    “I am,
                                                        “Your dutiful Son,
                                                            “SAM. JOHNSON.

    “_Jan._ 13, 1759.”

That is the personal side of the tale of _Rasselas_.  In that way Johnson
suddenly, on urgent pressure, carried out a design that had been in his
mind.  The success of Eastern tales, written as a form of moral essay, in
the _Rambler_ and _Adventurer_, upon suggestion, no doubt, of Addison’s
_Vision of Mirza_, had prompted him to express his view of life more
fully than in essay form by way of Oriental apologue; and his early work
on Father Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia, caused him to choose Abyssinia for
the land in which to lay his fable.

But Johnson’s _Rasselas_ has also a close relation to the time when it
was written, as Johnson himself had to the time in which he lived.  From
the beginning of the century—and especially, in England, since the
beginning of the reign of George the Second—there had been a growing
sense of the ills of life, associated in some minds with doubt whether
there could be a just God ruling this unhappy world.  Hard problems of
humanity pressed more and more on earnest minds.  The feeling expressed
in Johnson’s _Vanity of Human __Wishes_ had deepened everywhere by the
year 1759.  This has intense expression in _Rasselas_, where all the joys
of life, without active use of the energies of life, can give no joy; and
where all uses of the energies of men are for the attainment of ideals
worthless or delusive.  This life was to Johnson, and to almost all the
earnest thinkers of his time, unhappy in itself—a school-house where the
rod was ever active.  But in its unhappiness Johnson found no power that
could overthrow his faith.  To him this world was but a place of
education for the happiness that would be to the faithful in the world to
come.  There was a great dread for him in the question, Who shall be
found faithful?  But there was no doubt in his mind that the happiness of
man is to be found only beyond the grave.  This was a feeling spread
through Europe in the darkness gathering before the outburst of the storm
of the great French Revolution.  Even Gray, in his _Ode on a Distant
Prospect of Eton College_, regarded Eton boys at their sports as “little
victims,” unconscious of the doom of miseries awaiting them in life.
Thus Johnson’s _Rasselas_ is a book doubly typical.  We have in it the
spirit of the writer when it best expressed the spirit of his time.

                                                                     H. M.


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

Rasselas was the fourth son of the mighty Emperor in whose dominions the
father of waters begins his course—whose bounty pours down the streams of
plenty, and scatters over the world the harvests of Egypt.

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

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

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

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

The valley, wide and fruitful, supplied its inhabitants with all the
necessaries of life, and all delights and superfluities were added at the
annual visit which the Emperor paid his children, when the iron gate was
opened to the sound of music, and during eight days every one that
resided in the valley was required to propose whatever might contribute
to make seclusion pleasant, to fill up the vacancies of attention, and
lessen the tediousness of time.  Every desire was immediately granted.
All the artificers of pleasure were called to gladden the festivity; the
musicians exerted the power of harmony, and the dancers showed their
activity before the princes, in hopes that they should pass their lives
in blissful captivity, to which those only were admitted whose
performance was thought able to add novelty to luxury.  Such was the
appearance of security and delight which this retirement afforded, that
they to whom it was new always desired that it might be perpetual; and as
those on whom the iron gate had once closed were never suffered to
return, the effect of longer experience could not be known.  Thus every
year produced new scenes of delight, and new competitors for

The palace stood on an eminence, raised about thirty paces above the
surface of the lake.  It was divided into many squares or courts, built
with greater or less magnificence according to the rank of those for whom
they were designed.  The roofs were turned into arches of massive stone,
joined by a cement that grew harder by time, and the building stood from
century to century, deriding the solstitial rains and equinoctial
hurricanes, without need of reparation.

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


HERE the sons and daughters of Abyssinia lived only to know the soft
vicissitudes of pleasure and repose, attended by all that were skilful to
delight, and gratified with whatever the senses can enjoy.  They wandered
in gardens of fragrance, and slept in the fortresses of security.  Every
art was practised to make them pleased with their own condition.  The
sages who instructed them told them of nothing but the miseries of public
life, and described all beyond the mountains as regions of calamity,
where discord was always racing, and where man preyed upon man.  To
heighten their opinion of their own felicity, they were daily entertained
with songs, the subject of which was the Happy Valley.  Their appetites
were excited by frequent enumerations of different enjoyments, and
revelry and merriment were the business of every hour, from the dawn of
morning to the close of the evening.

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

Thus they rose in the morning and lay down at night, pleased with each
other and with themselves, all but Rasselas, who, in the twenty-sixth
year of his age, began to withdraw himself from the pastimes and
assemblies, and to delight in solitary walks and silent meditation.  He
often sat before tables covered with luxury, and forgot to taste the
dainties that were placed before him; he rose abruptly in the midst of
the song, and hastily retired beyond the sound of music.  His attendants
observed the change, and endeavoured to renew his love of pleasure.  He
neglected their officiousness, repulsed their invitations, and spent day
after day on the banks of rivulets sheltered with trees, where he
sometimes listened to the birds in the branches, sometimes observed the
fish playing in the streams, and anon cast his eyes upon the pastures and
mountains filled with animals, of which some were biting the herbage, and
some sleeping among the bushes.  The singularity of his humour made him
much observed.  One of the sages, in whose conversation he had formerly
delighted, followed him secretly, in hope of discovering the cause of his
disquiet.  Rasselas, who knew not that any one was near him, having for
some time fixed his eyes upon the goats that were browsing among the
rocks, began to compare their condition with his own.

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

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

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


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

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

“That I want nothing,” said the Prince, “or that I know not what I want,
is the cause of my complaint: if I had any known want, I should have a
certain wish; that wish would excite endeavour, and I should not then
repine to see the sun move so slowly towards the western mountains, or to
lament when the day breaks, and sleep will no longer hide me from myself.
When I see the kids and the lambs chasing one another, I fancy that I
should be happy if I had something to pursue.  But, possessing all that I
can want, I find one day and one hour exactly like another, except that
the latter is still more tedious than the former.  Let your experience
inform me how the day may now seem as short as in my childhood, while
nature was yet fresh, and every moment showed me what I never had
observed before.  I have already enjoyed too much: give me something to
desire.”  The old man was surprised at this new species of affliction,
and knew not what to reply, yet was unwilling to be silent.  “Sir,” said
he, “if you had seen the miseries of the world, you would know how to
value your present state.”  “Now,” said the Prince, “you have given me
something to desire.  I shall long to see the miseries of the world,
since the sight of them is necessary to happiness.”


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

The Prince, whose views were extended to a wider space, could not
speedily quiet his emotions.  He had been before terrified at the length
of life which nature promised him, because he considered that in a long
time much must be endured: he now rejoiced in his youth, because in many
years much might be done.  The first beam of hope that had been ever
darted into his mind rekindled youth in his cheeks, and doubled the
lustre of his eyes.  He was fired with the desire of doing something,
though he knew not yet, with distinctness, either end or means.  He was
now no longer gloomy and unsocial; but considering himself as master of a
secret stock of happiness, which he could only enjoy by concealing it, he
affected to be busy in all the schemes of diversion, and endeavoured to
make others pleased with the state of which he himself was weary.  But
pleasures can never be so multiplied or continued as not to leave much of
life unemployed; there were many hours, both of the night and day, which
he could spend without suspicion in solitary thought.  The load of life
was much lightened; he went eagerly into the assemblies, because he
supposed the frequency of his presence necessary to the success of his
purposes; he retired gladly to privacy, because he had now a subject of
thought.  His chief amusement was to picture to himself that world which
he had never seen, to place himself in various conditions, to be
entangled in imaginary difficulties, and to be engaged in wild
adventures; but, his benevolence always terminated his projects in the
relief of distress, the detection of fraud, the defeat of oppression, and
the diffusion of happiness.

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

One day, as he was sitting on a bank, he feigned to himself an orphan
virgin robbed of her little portion by a treacherous lover, and crying
after him for restitution.  So strongly was the image impressed upon his
mind that he started up in the maid’s defence, and ran forward to seize
the plunderer with all the eagerness of real pursuit.  Fear naturally
quickens the flight of guilt.  Rasselas could not catch the fugitive with
his utmost efforts; but, resolving to weary by perseverance him whom he
could not surpass in speed, he pressed on till the foot of the mountain
stopped his course.

Here he recollected himself, and smiled at his own useless impetuosity.
Then raising his eyes to the mountain, “This,” said he, “is the fatal
obstacle that hinders at once the enjoyment of pleasure and the exercise
of virtue.  How long is it that my hopes and wishes have flown beyond
this boundary of my life, which yet I never have attempted to surmount?”

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

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

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

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


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

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

In these fruitless researches he spent ten months.  The time, however,
passed cheerfully away—in the morning he rose with new hope; in the
evening applauded his own diligence; and in the night slept soundly after
his fatigue.  He met a thousand amusements, which beguiled his labour and
diversified his thoughts.  He discerned the various instincts of animals
and properties of plants, and found the place replete with wonders, of
which he proposed to solace himself with the contemplation if he should
never be able to accomplish his flight—rejoicing that his endeavours,
though yet unsuccessful, had supplied him with a source of inexhaustible
inquiry.  But his original curiosity was not yet abated; he resolved to
obtain some knowledge of the ways of men.  His wish still continued, but
his hope grew less.  He ceased to survey any longer the walls of his
prison, and spared to search by new toils for interstices which he knew
could not be found, yet determined to keep his design always in view, and
lay hold on any expedient that time should offer.


AMONG the artists that had been allured into the Happy Valley, to labour
for the accommodation and pleasure of its inhabitants, was a man eminent
for his knowledge of the mechanic powers, who had contrived many engines
both of use and recreation.  By a wheel which the stream turned he forced
the water into a tower, whence it was distributed to all the apartments
of the palace.  He erected a pavilion in the garden, around which he kept
the air always cool by artificial showers.  One of the groves,
appropriated to the ladies, was ventilated by fans, to which the rivulets
that ran through it gave a constant motion; and instruments of soft music
were played at proper distances, of which some played by the impulse of
the wind, and some by the power of the stream.

This artist was sometimes visited by Rasselas who was pleased with every
kind of knowledge, imagining that the time would come when all his
acquisitions should be of use to him in the open world.  He came one day
to amuse himself in his usual manner, and found the master busy in
building a sailing chariot.  He saw that the design was practicable upon
a level surface, and with expressions of great esteem solicited its
completion.  The workman was pleased to find himself so much regarded by
the Prince, and resolved to gain yet higher honours.  “Sir,” said he,
“you have seen but a small part of what the mechanic sciences can
perform.  I have been long of opinion that, instead of the tardy
conveyance of ships and chariots, man might use the swifter migration of
wings, that the fields of air are open to knowledge, and that only
ignorance and idleness need crawl upon the ground.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prince promised secrecy, and waited for the performance, not wholly
hopeless of success.  He visited the work from time to time, observed its
progress, and remarked many ingenious contrivances to facilitate motion
and unite levity with strength.  The artist was every day more certain
that he should leave vultures and eagles behind him, and the contagion of
his confidence seized upon the Prince.  In a year the wings were
finished; and on a morning appointed the maker appeared, furnished for
flight, on a little promontory; he waved his pinions awhile to gather
air, then leaped from his stand, and in an instant dropped into the lake.
His wings, which were of no use in the air, sustained him in the water;
and the Prince drew him to land half dead with terror and vexation.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“This,” said the Prince, “I do not understand; but I had rather hear thee
than dispute.  Continue thy narration.”

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

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

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

“This,” said the Prince, “I can in some measure conceive.  I repent that
I interrupted thee.”

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

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

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

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

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

THE HISTORY OF IMLAC (_continued_).

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

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

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

“Stop a moment,” said the Prince; “is there such depravity in man as that
he should injure another without benefit to himself?  I can easily
conceive that all are pleased with superiority; but your ignorance was
merely accidental, which, being neither your crime nor your folly, could
afford them no reason to applaud themselves; and the knowledge which they
had, and which you wanted, they might as effectually have shown by
warning as betraying you.”

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

“Proceed,” said the Prince; “I doubt not of the facts which you relate,
but imagine that you impute them to mistaken motives.”

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

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

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

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

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

“From Persia I passed into Arabia, where I saw a nation pastoral and
warlike, who lived without any settled habitation, whose wealth is their
flocks and herds, and who have carried on through ages an hereditary war
with mankind, though they neither covet nor envy their possessions.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“His labour is not yet at an end.  He must know many languages and many
sciences, and, that his style may be worthy of his thoughts, must by
incessant practice familiarise to himself every delicacy of speech and
grace of harmony.”


IMLAC now felt the enthusiastic fit, and was proceeding to aggrandise his
own profession, when then Prince cried out: “Enough! thou hast convinced
me that no human being can ever be a poet.  Proceed with thy narration.”

“To be a poet,” said Imlac, “is indeed very difficult.”

“So difficult,” returned the Prince, “that I will at present hear no more
of his labours.  Tell me whither you went when you had seen Persia.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are surely happy,” said the Prince, “who have all these
conveniences, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which
separated friends interchange their thoughts.”

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

THE STORY OF IMLAC (_continued_).

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

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

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

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

“I now expected the caresses of my kinsmen and the congratulations of my
friends, and was not without hope that my father, whatever value he had
set upon riches, would own with gladness and pride a son who was able to
add to the felicity and honour of the nation.  But I was soon convinced
that my thoughts were vain.  My father had been dead fourteen years,
having divided his wealth among my brothers, who were removed to some
other provinces.  Of my companions, the greater part was in the grave; of
the rest, some could with difficulty remember me, and some considered me
as one corrupted by foreign manners.

“A man used to vicissitudes is not easily dejected.  I forgot, after a
time, my disappointment, and endeavoured to recommend myself to the
nobles of the kingdom; they admitted me to their tables, heard my story,
and dismissed me.  I opened a school, and was prohibited to teach.  I
then resolved to sit down in the quiet of domestic life, and addressed a
lady that was fond of my conversation, but rejected my suit because my
father was a merchant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My dear Imlac,” said the Prince, “I will open to thee my whole heart.  I
have long meditated an escape from the Happy Valley.  I have examined the
mountain on every side, but find myself insuperably barred—teach me the
way to break my prison; thou shalt be the companion of my flight, the
guide of my rambles, the partner of my fortune, and my sole director in
the _choice of life_.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imlac procured instruments proper to hew stone and remove earth, and they
fell to their work on the next day with more eagerness than vigour.  They
were presently exhausted by their efforts, and sat down to pant upon the
grass.  The Prince for a moment appeared to be discouraged.  “Sir,” said
his companion, “practice will enable us to continue our labour for a
longer time.  Mark, however, how far we have advanced, and ye will find
that our toil will some time have an end.  Great works are performed not
by strength, but perseverance; yonder palace was raised by single stones,
yet you see its height and spaciousness.  He that shall walk with vigour
three hours a day, will pass in seven years a space equal to the
circumference of the globe.”

They returned to their work day after day, and in a short time found a
fissure in the rock, which enabled them to pass far with very little
obstruction.  This Rasselas considered as a good omen.  “Do not disturb
your mind,” said Imlac, “with other hopes or fears than reason may
suggest; if you are pleased with the prognostics of good, you will be
terrified likewise with tokens of evil, and your whole life will be a
prey to superstition.  Whatever facilitates our work is more than an
omen; it is a cause of success.  This is one of those pleasing surprises
which often happen to active resolution.  Many things difficult to design
prove easy to performance.”


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

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

The Prince, who loved Nekayah above his other sisters, had no inclination
to refuse her request, and grieved that he had lost an opportunity of
showing his confidence by a voluntary communication.  It was, therefore,
agreed that she should leave the valley with them; and that in the
meantime she should watch, lest any other straggler should, by chance or
curiosity, follow them to the mountain.

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

The Prince looked round with rapture, anticipated all the pleasures of
travel, and in thought was already transported beyond his father’s
dominions.  Imlac, though very joyful at his escape, had less expectation
of pleasure in the world, which he had before tried and of which he had
been weary.

Rasselas was so much delighted with a wider horizon, that he could not
soon be persuaded to return into the valley.  He informed his sister that
the way was now open, and that nothing now remained but to prepare for
their departure.


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

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

Imlac smiled at their terrors, and encouraged them to proceed.  But the
Princess continued irresolute till she had been imperceptibly drawn
forward too far to return.

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

They travelled forward by easy journeys, being all unaccustomed to toil
and difficulty, and knowing that, though they might be missed, they could
not be pursued.  In a few days they came into a more populous region,
where Imlac was diverted with the admiration which his companions
expressed at the diversity of manners, stations, and employments.  Their
dress was such as might not bring upon them the suspicion of having
anything to conceal; yet the Prince, wherever he came, expected to be
obeyed, and the Princess was frighted because those who came into her
presence did not prostrate themselves.  Imlac was forced to observe them
with great vigilance, lest they should betray their rank by their unusual
behaviour, and detained them several weeks in the first village to
accustom them to the sight of common mortals.

By degrees the royal wanderers were taught to understand that they had
for a time laid aside their dignity, and were to expect only such regard
as liberality and courtesy could procure.  And Imlac having by many
admonitions prepared them to endure the tumults of a port and the
ruggedness of the commercial race, brought them down to the sea-coast.

The Prince and his sister, to whom everything was new, were gratified
equally at all places, and therefore remained for some months at the port
without any inclination to pass further.  Imlac was content with their
stay, because he did not think it safe to expose them, unpractised in the
world, to the hazards of a foreign country.

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


AS they approached the city, which filled the strangers with
astonishment, “This,” said Imlac to the Prince, “is the place where
travellers and merchants assemble from all corners of the earth.  You
will here find men of every character and every occupation.  Commerce is
here honourable.  I will act as a merchant, and you shall live as
strangers who have no other end of travel than curiosity; it will soon be
observed that we are rich.  Our reputation will procure us access to all
whom we shall desire to know; you shall see all the conditions of
humanity, and enable yourselves at leisure to make your _choice of

They now entered the town, stunned by the noise and offended by the
crowds.  Instruction had not yet so prevailed over habit but that they
wondered to see themselves pass undistinguished along the streets, and
met by the lowest of the people without reverence or notice.  The
Princess could not at first bear the thought of being levelled with the
vulgar, and for some time continued in her chamber, where she was served
by her favourite Pekuah, as in the palace of the valley.

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

The Prince had by frequent lectures been taught the use and nature of
money; but the ladies could not for a long time comprehend what the
merchants did with small pieces of gold and silver, or why things of so
little use should be received as an equivalent to the necessaries of

They studied the language two years, while Imlac was preparing to set
before them the various ranks and conditions of mankind.  He grew
acquainted with all who had anything uncommon in their fortune or
conduct.  He frequented the voluptuous and the frugal, the idle and the
busy, the merchants and the men of learning.

The Prince now being able to converse with fluency, and having learned
the caution necessary to be observed in his intercourse with strangers,
began to accompany Imlac to places of resort, and to enter into all
assemblies, that he might make his _choice of life_.

For some time he thought choice needless, because all appeared to him
really happy.  Wherever he went he met gaiety and kindness, and heard the
song of joy or the laugh of carelessness.  He began to believe that the
world overflowed with universal plenty, and that nothing was withheld
either from want or merit; that every hand showered liberality and every
heart melted with benevolence: “And who then,” says he, “will be suffered
to be wretched?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Very few,” said the poet, “live by choice.  Every man is placed in the
present condition by causes which acted without his foresight, and with
which he did not always willingly co-operate, and therefore you will
rarely meet one who does not think the lot of his neighbour better than
his own.”

“I am pleased to think,” said the Prince, “that my birth has given me at
least one advantage over others by enabling me to determine for myself.
I have here the world before me.  I will review it at leisure: surely
happiness is somewhere to be found.”


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

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

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

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

They stared awhile in silence one upon another, and at last drove him
away by a general chorus of continued laughter.

The consciousness that his sentiments were just and his intention kind
was scarcely sufficient to support him against the horror of derision.
But he recovered his tranquillity and pursued his search.


AS he was one day walking in the street he saw a spacious building which
all were by the open doors invited to enter.  He followed the stream of
people, and found it a hall or school of declamation, in which professors
read lectures to their auditory.  He fixed his eye upon a sage raised
above the rest, who discoursed with great energy on the government of the
passions.  His look was venerable, his action graceful, his pronunciation
clear, and his diction elegant.  He showed with great strength of
sentiment and variety of illustration that human nature is degraded and
debased when the lower faculties predominate over the higher; that when
fancy, the parent of passion, usurps the dominion of the mind, nothing
ensues but the natural effect of unlawful government, perturbation, and
confusion; that she betrays the fortresses of the intellect to rebels,
and excites her children to sedition against their lawful sovereign.  He
compared reason to the sun, of which the light is constant, uniform, and
lasting; and fancy to a meteor, of bright but transitory lustre,
irregular in its motion and delusive in its direction.

He then communicated the various precepts given from time to time for the
conquest of passion, and displayed the happiness of those who had
obtained the important victory, after which man is no longer the slave of
fear nor the fool of hope; is no more emaciated by envy, inflamed by
anger, emasculated by tenderness, or depressed by grief; but walks on
calmly through the tumults or privacies of life, as the sun pursues alike
his course through the calm or the stormy sky.

He enumerated many examples of heroes immovable by pain or pleasure, who
looked with indifference on those modes or accidents to which the vulgar
give the names of good and evil.  He exhorted his hearers to lay aside
their prejudices, and arm themselves against the shafts of malice or
misfortune, by invulnerable patience: concluding that this state only was
happiness, and that this happiness was in every one’s power.

Rasselas listened to him with the veneration due to the instructions of a
superior being, and waiting for him at the door, humbly implored the
liberty of visiting so great a master of true wisdom.  The lecturer
hesitated a moment, when Rasselas put a purse of gold into his hand,
which he received with a mixture of joy and wonder.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


ON the next day they continued their journey till the heat compelled them
to look round for shelter.  At a small distance they saw a thick wood,
which they no sooner entered than they perceived that they were
approaching the habitations of men.  The shrubs were diligently cut away
to open walks where the shades ware darkest; the boughs of opposite trees
were artificially interwoven; seats of flowery turf were raised in vacant
spaces; and a rivulet that wantoned along the side of a winding path had
its banks sometimes opened into small basins, and its stream sometimes
obstructed by little mounds of stone heaped together to increase its

They passed slowly through the wood, delighted with such unexpected
accommodations, and entertained each other with conjecturing what or who
he could be that in those rude and unfrequented regions had leisure and
art for such harmless luxury.

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

He was skilful enough in appearances soon to discern that they were no
common guests, and spread his table with magnificence.  The eloquence of
Imlac caught his attention, and the lofty courtesy of the Princess
excited his respect.  When they offered to depart, he entreated their
stay, and was the next day more unwilling to dismiss them than before.
They were easily persuaded to stop, and civility grew up in time to
freedom and confidence.

The Prince now saw all the domestics cheerful and all the face of nature
smiling round the place, and could not forbear to hope that he should
find here what he was seeking; but when he was congratulating the master
upon his possessions he answered with a sigh, “My condition has indeed
the appearance of happiness, but appearances are delusive.  My prosperity
puts my life in danger; the Bassa of Egypt is my enemy, incensed only by
my wealth and popularity.  I have been hitherto protected against him by
the princes of the country; but as the favour of the great is uncertain I
know not how soon my defenders may be persuaded to share the plunder with
the Bassa.  I have sent my treasures into a distant country, and upon the
first alarm am prepared to follow them.  Then will my enemies riot in my
mansion, and enjoy the gardens which I have planted.”

They all joined in lamenting his danger and deprecating his exile; and
the Princess was so much disturbed with the tumult of grief and
indignation that she retired to her apartment.  They continued with their
kind inviter a few days longer, and then went to find the hermit.


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

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

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

They thanked him; and, entering, were pleased with the neatness and
regularity of the place.  The hermit set flesh and wine before them,
though he fed only upon fruits and water.  His discourse was cheerful
without levity, and pious without enthusiasm.  He soon gained the esteem
of his guests, and the Princess repented her hasty censure.

At last Imlac began thus: “I do not now wonder that your reputation is so
far extended: we have heard at Cairo of your wisdom, and came hither to
implore your direction for this young man and maiden in the _choice of

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

“He will most certainly remove from evil,” said the Prince, “who shall
devote himself to that solitude which you have recommended by your

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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 complaint.”

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

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


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 and feuds.

“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 consolations?”

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

“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.”


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 repress.”

“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 and servility.

“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

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

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


“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 others.

“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.”


“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

“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

“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 for ourselves?”

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

“Thus it is,” said Nekayah, “that philosophers are deceived.  There are a
thousand familiar disputes which reason never can decide; questions that
elude investigation, and make 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 day.

“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 partners.”

“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

“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.”


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 life.

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

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

“The things that are now before us,” said the Princess, “require
attention, and deserve it.  What have I to do with the heroes or the
monuments of ancient times—with times which 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

“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

“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

“I am willing,” said the Prince, “to see all that can deserve my search.”

“And I,” said the Princess, “shall rejoice to learn something of the
manners of antiquity.”

“The most pompous monument of Egyptian greatness, and one of the most
bulky works of manual industry,” said Imlac, “are the Pyramids: 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.”


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 nature.

When they came to the Great Pyramid they were astonished at the extent of
the base and the height of the top.  Imlac explained to them the
principles upon which the pyramidal form was chosen for a 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

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

“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.”


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!”


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

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.


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 lost.

Next day the Prince presented to the Bassa a memorial of the wrong which
he had suffered, and a petition for redress.  The Bassa threatened to
punish the robbers, but did not attempt to catch them; nor indeed could
any account or description be given by which he might direct the 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

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

“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

“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.”


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 another?

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

“Do not entangle your mind,” said Imlac, “by irrevocable determinations,
nor increase the 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 the rest.”

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

“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

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.


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.”


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 adventures.


“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 menacing.

“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 maids.

“In the morning, as I was sitting on the grass, the chief of the troop
came towards me.  I rose up to receive him, and he bowed with great
respect.  ‘Illustrious lady,’ said he, ‘my fortune is better than I had
presumed to hope: I am told by my women that I have a princess in my
camp.’  ‘Sir,’ answered I, ‘your women have deceived themselves and you;
I am not a princess, but an unhappy stranger who intended soon to have
left this country, in which I am now to be imprisoned for ever.’
‘Whoever or whencesoever you are,’ returned the Arab, ‘your dress and
that of your servants show your rank to be high and your wealth to be
great.  Why should you, who can so easily procure your 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 and gentleness.’

“‘How little,’ said I, ‘did I expect that yesterday it should have fallen
upon me!’

“’Misfortunes,’ answered the Arab, ‘should always be expected.  If the
eye of hostility could learn reverence or pity, excellence like yours had
been exempt from injury.  But the angels of affliction spread their toils
alike for the virtuous and the wicked, for the mighty and the mean.  Do
not be disconsolate; I am not one of the lawless and cruel rovers of the
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

“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

“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


“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

“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

“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

“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 exquisitely

“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

“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.


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

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

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

“Surely,” said the Princess, “this man is happy.”

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


“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?’”


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

“‘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 unremitted vigilance.’

“‘How long, sir,’ said I, ‘has this great office been in your hands?’

“‘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.’”


“‘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 contracted.


“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

“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 flocks.”

“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 brothers.”

“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.”


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.


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 seasons.

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 topic.

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

“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

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


“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 hopes.”

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 saw before.”

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

“Those men,” answered Imlac, “are less wretched in their silent convent
than the 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

“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 as himself.”

“Such,” said Pekuah, “has often been my wish, and I have heard the
Princess declare that she should not willingly die in a 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 corruption.”

“I know not,” said Rasselas, “what pleasure the sight of the catacombs
can afford; but, since nothing else is offered, I am resolved to view
them, and shall place this with 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


“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 performed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet let us not,” said the astronomer, “too arrogantly limit the
Creator’s power.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To me,” said the Princess, “the choice of life is become less important;
I hope hereafter to think only on the choice of eternity.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

  Printed by Cassell & Company, Limited, La Belle Sauvage, London, E.C.

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