This short work of fiction has been one of Johnson’s most popular and widely-read since its first, anonymous publication in 1759. It has been reprinted again and again over the last two and a half centuries. It seems a fair guess that over that time more people have read this book than have read any of Johnson’s other works, with the possible exception of the Dictionary of the English Language (1755); even there, very few will have read the Dictionary from cover to cover in the way that readers are invited to enjoy this short and very readable work. Originally called by Johnson “The Choice of Life,” it was first published as The Prince of Abissinia. Today, this book is better known as Rasselas; the evolution of the title is a story of its own, which will be discussed later in this introduction.

Johnson wrote the story in January 1759, in the span of about a week. The first reference to it that has survived is in a letter from Johnson on 20 January of that year to William Strahan, a bookseller in London with whom Johnson had worked many times. “When I was with you last night,” Johnson writes, “I told you of a thing which I was preparing for the press. The title will be The choice of Life or The History of — Prince of Abissinia.” Johnson wrote this book quickly because he needed money with particular urgency. His mother, Sarah Johnson, was 90 years old, and he had gotten word from Litchfield, his hometown and the place where his mother still lived, that she was dying. He hoped to see her before she died; he also knew that she had debts to square away, and also that he would have to pay for her funeral. He did not make it back to Litchfield in time; although he managed to send her some of money from the advance he got for “The Choice of Life,” Sarah Johnson died on January 22, 1759, before her son was able to get back to her.

If the story as it was eventually published seems a little pessimistic, that may have something to do with the circumstances of its composition and Johnson’s grief at the prospect of losing his mother. Johnson’s letters to his step-daughter Lucy Porter, who lived with Sarah Johnson, make clear that he was deeply saddened by his mother’s death, and that he also felt guilty for not being able to help her more. But The Prince of Abissinia also develops ideas and themes that Johnson had long meditated upon: the futility of most human desires, the danger of an unchecked imagination, the difficulty of finding one’s way in the world. Imlac’s arguments about art closely track arguments made by Johnson himself in his periodical series such as the Rambler and the Idler. At the same time, by writing a work of fiction, Johnson also gets a chance to put his ideas about how fiction ought to be written into practice; many readers have held up this work against Johnson’s essay Rambler #4, which draws a distinction between the “heroic romances” of the past, and the writings of “the present age,” which he praises for their realism and ability to convey moral truths. But The Prince of Abissinia is not really a novel but a thing apart, and critics have long struggled with exactly what genre to categorize it: a romance? an apologue? an Oriental tale? The original title page calls this simply a “tale,” and that seems significant itself; at a time when most works that we now call novels (Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, Tom Jones, etc.) took pains to claim that they were actually true accounts of the experiences of real people, The Prince of Abissinia makes no attempt to hide its artificiality. None of the characters come across as realistic in the ways that readers of nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels would come to expect, and that is not a flaw; Johnson has little interest in creating characters like that. The setting, in the north African region then called Abissinia and now known as Ethiopia, and then Cairo, is vaguely imagined at best. Rasselas, Imlac, Pekuah, and Nekayah are all mouthpieces for Johnson himself, vehicles for him to explore important moral, philosophical, and aesthetic questions.

On the title

How did Johnson’s original title “The Choice of Life” become The Prince of Abissinia? and how did it then become Rasselas, the name by which almost all readers and critics refer to it today? We cannot know the answer to the first question; titling the published book The Prince of Abissinia may have been Johnson’s decision, or perhaps it was the decision of the bookseller. In any case, there is an interesting discrepancy between the title page of the first edition and the half-title page. In the former, the book is called The Prince of Abissinia; in the latter, it is called The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Such a discrepancy would never pass a copy-editor today, but it reflects the comparative casualness with which eighteenth-century books were titled. All of the following London printings in the eighteenth century follow this pattern; the book was sold in England as The Prince of Abissinia for decades.

Title page of the first edition, published in April 1759.
Title page of the first edition, published in April 1759.
Prince of Abissinia half title
First page of text in the first, 1759 edition.

The first edition of this book to go by the title Rasselas was published in Philadelphia in 1766 by the bookseller Robert Bell, who had recently moved to the American colonies from his native Dublin. In the early nineteenth century, that title had become the norm, as this book found its place on the short shelf of classic works of fiction in English, most of them referred to by the name of their central character, whatever their full original title had been: Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, Tom Jones, Evelina, Emma, David Copperfield. This edition returns to the original 1759 title of The Prince of Abissinia, as the one that eighteenth-century readers would have been most familiar with. The original title, more than Rasselas, emphasizes the setting of the tale in Abissinia and Cairo. Like many eighteenth-century European writers, Johnson is using the East as a surface on which he can project a schematized and simplified version of his own culture. Johnson had long been interested in Abissinia as a real place; his first published book was a loose translation of the Portuguese Jesuit Jerome Lobo’s  A Voyage to Abissinia in 1735. Here, though, the “Oriental” setting is as imaginary as the characters, and while we have every reason to resist Johnson’s negation of the actual living cultures of the region, it seems worth preserving the fact that, for better or worse, the original title was designed to invoke that setting in the minds of its first readers.

About this edition

This text was edited by students in ENEC 4500/8500, Samuel Johnson, From Print to Digital Media, at the University of Virginia in Spring 2015: Brandon Allen, Malcolm Bare, Anna Bear, Rebecca Beauchamp, Corrigan Blanchfield, Vanessa Braganza, Sarah Bumpuss, Allyson Healey, Eric McDaniel, and Eric Moyer. Our text has been edited from the second edition, published in June 1759, three months after the first edition, printed in April of that year. The second edition contains a number of small corrections that most scholarly editors agree were probably made by Johnson himself, and most of the many editions that have come in the two and a half centuries since the book was originally published generally follow the second edition. We have corrected a small number of lingering typographical errors on our own, and have dropped the long “s.” Otherwise, we have stayed true to the original spelling and punctuation.



Printed for R. and J. DODSLEY,  in Pall-Mall;
and W. JOHNSTON, in Ludgate-Street.
Description of a palace in a valley.
YE who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and persue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the
promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied
by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.
Rasselas was the fourth son of the mighty emperour, in whose dominions
the Father of waters begins his course; whose bounty pours down the streams
of plenty, and scatters over half the world the harvests of Egypt.
According to the custom which has descended from age to age among the
monarchs of the torrid zone, Rasselas was confined in a private palace, with the other sons and daughters of Abissinian royalty, till the order succession should call him to the throne. The place, which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined for the resi-
dence of the Abissinian princes, was a
spacious valley in the kingdom of Am-
hara, surrounded on every side by moun-
tains, of which the summits overhang
the middle part. The only passage, by
which it could be entered, was a cavern
that passed under a rock, of which it has
long been disputed whether it was the
work of nature or of human industry.
The outlet of the cavern was concealed
by a thick wood, and the mouth which
opened into the valley was closed with gates
of iron, forged by the artificers of ancient
days, so massy that no man could with-
out the help of engines open or shut them.
From the mountains on every side, ri-
vulets 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
B 2 fowl
fowl whom nature has taught to dip the
wing in water. This lake discharged its
superfluities by a stream which entered a
dark cleft of the mountain on the northern
side, and fell with dreadful noise from
precipice to precipice till it was heard no
The sides of the mountains were co-
vered with trees, the banks of the brooks
were diversified with flowers; every blast
shook spices from the rocks, and every
month dropped fruits upon the ground.
All animals that bite the grass, or
brouse the shrub, whether wild or tame,
wandered in this extensive circuit, se-
cured from beasts of prey by the moun-
tains which confined them On one part
were flocks and herds feeding in the pas-
tures, on another all the beasts of chase
frisking in the lawns; the sprightly kid
was bounding on the rocks, the subtle
monkey frolicking in the trees, and the
solemn elephant reposing in the shade.
All the diversities of the world were
brought together, the blessings of nature
were collected, and its evils extracted
and excluded.
The valley; wide and fruitful, supplied
its inhabitants with the necessaries of
life, and all delights and superfluities were
added at the annual visit which the em-
perour paid his children, when the iron
gate was opened to the sound of musick;
and during eight days every one that re-
sided in the valley was required to pro-
pose whatever might contribute to make
seclusion pleasant, to fill up the vacan-
cies of attention, and lessen the tedious-
B 3 ness
ness of time. Every desire was im-
mediately granted. All the artificers of
pleasure were called to gladden the festi-
vity; the musicians exerted the power of
harmony, and the dancers shewed their
activity before the princes, in hope that
they should pass their lives in this blissful
captivity, to which these only were admit-
ted whose performance was thought able
to add novelty to luxury. Such was
the appearance of security and delight
which this retirement afforded, that they
to whom it was new always desired that it
might be perpetual; and as those, on
whom the iron gate had once closed,
were never suffered to return, the effect of
longer experience could not be known.
Thus every year produced new schemes
of delight, and new competitors for im-
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 mas-
sy stone joined by a cement that grew
harder by time, and the building stood
from century to century, deriding the sol-
stitial rains and equinocial 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 se-
crets of the place, was built as if sus-
picion herself had dictated the plan. To
every room there was an open and secret
passage, every square had a communica-
B 4 tion
tion with the rest, either from the upper
stories by private galleries, or by subterra-
nean passages from the lower apartments.
Many of the columns had unsuspected
cavities, in which a long race of mon-
archs had reposited their treasures. They
then closed up the opening with marble,
which was never to be removed but in the
utmost exigencies of the kingdom; and
recorded their accumulations in a book
which was itself concealed in a tower
not entered but by the emperour, at-
tended by the prince who stood next in
C H A P. II.
The discontent of Rasselas in the
happy valley.
HERE the sons and daughters of
Abissinia lived only to know the
soft vicissitudcs of pleasure and repose,
attended by all that were skilful to de-
light, and gratified with whatever the
senses can enjoy. They wandered in gar-
dens of fragrance, and slept in the for-
tresses of security. Every art was prac-
tised to make them pleased with their
own condition. The sages who instruc-
ted them, told them of nothing but the
miseries of publick life, and described all
beyond the mountains as regions of ca-
lamity, where discord was always rag-
ing, 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 ex-
cited by frequent enumerations of diffe-
rent enjoyments, and revelry and merri-
ment was the business of every hour from
the dawn of morning to the close of
These methods were generally success-
ful; few of the Princes had ever wished
to enlarge their bounds, but passed their
lives in full conviction that they had all
within their reach that art or nature could
bestow, and pitied those whom fate had
excluded from this feat of tranquility, as
the sport of chance, and the slaves of mi-
Thus they rose in the morning and
lay down at night, pleased with each
other and with themselves, all but Ras-
selas, who, in the twenty-sixth year
of his age, began to withdraw himself
from their pastimes and assemblies, and
to delight in solitary walks and silent me-
ditation. He often sat before tables co-
vered with luxury, and forgot to taste
the dainties that were placed before him:
he rose abruptly in the midst of the song,
and hastily retired beyond the sound of
musick. His attendants observed the
change and endeavoured to renew his love
of pleasure: he neglected their offici-
ousness, repulsed their invitations, and
spent day after day on the banks of ri-
vulets sheltered with trees, where he
sometimes listened to the birds in the
branches, sometimes observed the fish
playing in the stream, and anon cast his
eyes upon the pastures and mountains
filled with animals, of which some were
biting the herbage, and some sleeping
among the bushes.
This singularity of his humour made
him much observed. One of the Sages,
in whose conversation, he had formerly
delighted, followed him secretly, in hope
of discovering the cause of his disquiet.
Rasseas, who knew not that any one was
near him, having for some time fixed
his eyes upon the goats that were brous-
ing among the rocks, began to compare
their condition with his own.
“What,” said he, ” makes the diffe-
rence between man and all the rest of the
animal creation? Every beast that strays
beside me has the same corporal necessi-
ties with myself; he is hungry and crops
the grass, he is thirsty and drinks the
stream, his thirst and hunger are ap-
peased, he is satisfied and sleeps; he rises
again and is hungry, he is again fed and
is at reft. 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, satis-
fied with fulness. The intermediate
hours are tedious and gloomy; I long
again to be hungry that I may again
quicken my attention. The birds peck
the berries or the corn, and fly away to
the groves where they sit in seeming hap-
piness on the branches, and waste their
lives in tuning one unvaried series of
sounds. I likewise can call the lutanist
and the finger, but the sounds that pleased
me yesterday weary me to day, and will
grow yet more wearisome to morrow. I
can discover within me no power of per-
ception which is not glutted with its pro-
per pleasure, yet I do not feel myself de-
lighted. Man has surely some latent
sense for which this place affords no gra-
tification, or he has some desires distinct
from sense which must be satisfied before
he can be happy.”
After this he lifted up his head, and
seeing the moon rising, walked towards
the palace. As he passed through the
fields, and saw the animals around him,
” Ye, said he, are happy, and need not
envy me that walk thus among you, bur-
thened with myself; nor do I, ye gentle
beings, envy your felicity; for it is not
the felicity of man. I have many dis-
tresses from which ye are free; I fear
pain when I do not feel it; I sometimes
shrink at evils recollected, and some-
times start at evils anticipated: surely
the equity of providence has ballanced
peculiar sufferings with peculiar enjoy-
With observations like these the prince
amused himself as he returned, utering
them with a plaintive voice, yet with a
look that discovercd him to feel some
complacence in his own perspicacity, and
to receive some solace of the miseries of
life, from consciousnes of the delicacy
with which he felt, and the eloquence
with which he bewailed them. He min-
gled cheerfullv in the diversions of the
evening, and all rejoiced to find that his
heart was lightened.
The wants of him that wants
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 coun-
sel, and officiously sought an opportunity
of conference, which the prince, having
long considered him as one whose intellects
were exhausted, was not very willing to
afford: “Why, said he, does this man
thus intrude upon me; shall I be never
suffered to forget those lectures which
please only while they were new, and to
become new again must be forgotten?”
He then walked into the wood, and com-
posed himself to his usual meditations;
when before his thoughts had taken any
settled form, he perceived his persuer at
his side, and was at first prompted by his
impatience to go hastily away; but, be-
ing unwilling to offend a man whom he
had once reverenced and still loved, he
invited him to sit down with him on the
The old man, thus encouraged, be-
gan to lament the change which had been
lately observed in the prince, and to en-
quire why he so often retired from the
pleasures of the palace, to loneliness and
silence. “I fly from pleasure, said the
VOL. I. C prince,
prince, because pleasure has ceased to
please; I am lonely because I am mise-
rable, 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 hap-
py valley. I hope to convince you that
your complaints have no real cause. You
are here in full possession of all that the
emperour of Abissinia can bestow; here
is neither labour to be endured nor dan-
ger 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 moun-
tain, or lament when the day breaks and
sleep will no longer hide me from myself.
When I see the kids and the lambs cha-
sing one another, I fancy that I should be
happy if I had something to persue.
But, possessing all that I can want, I
find one day and one hour exactly like
another, except that the latter is still
more tedious than the former. Let your
experience inform me how the day may
now seem as short as in my childhood,
while nature was yet fresh, and every mo-
ment shewed me what I never had observed
before. I have already enjoyed too much;
give me something to desire.”
C 2 The
The old man was surprized at this new
species of affliction, and knew not what
to reply, yet was unwilling to be silent.
“Sir, said he, if you had seen the mi-
series of the world, you would know
how to value your present state.” “Now,
said the prince, you have given me some-
thing to desire; I shall long to see the
miseries of the world, since the sight of
them is necessary to happiness.”
C H A P. IV.
The prince continues to grieve
and muse.
AT this time the sound of musick
proclaimed the hour of repast,
and the conversation was concluded. The
old man went away sufficiently discon-
tented to find that his reasonings had
produced the only conclusion which they
were intended to prevent. But in the
decline of life shame and grief are of
short duration; whether it be that we
bear easily what we have born long, or
that, finding ourselves in age less regard-
ed, 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 extend-
ed to a wider space, could not speedily
quiet his emotions. He had been be-
fore terrified at the length of life which
nature promised him, because he consi-
dered that in a long time much must be
endured ; he now rejoiced in his youth,
C3 be-
because in many years much might be
This first beam of hope, that had
been ever darted into his mind, rekindled
youth in his cheeks, and doubled the
lustre of his eyes. He was fired with
the desire of doing something, though
he knew not yet with distinctness, either
end or means.
He was now no longer gloomy and
unsocial; but, confidering himself as
master of a secret stock of happiness,
which he could enjoy only by concealing
it, he affected to be busy in all schemes
of diversion, and endeavoured to make
others pleased with the state of which he
himself was weary. But pleasures ne-
ver can be so multiplied or continued,
as not to leave much of life unemployed;
there were many hours, both of the night
and day, which he could spend without
suspicion in solitary thought. The load
of life was much lightened: he went
eagerly into the assemblies, because he
supposed the frequency of his presence
necessary to the success of his purposes;
he retired gladly to privacy, because he
had now a subject of thought.
His chief amusement was to picture
to himself that world which he had never
seen; to place himself in various condi-
tions; to be entangled in imaginary dif-
ficulties, and to be engaged in wild ad-
ventures: but his benevolence always
terminated his projets in the relief of
distress, the detection of fraud, the de-
C 4 feat
feat of oppression, and the diffusion of
Thus passed twenty months of the life
of Rasselas. He busied himself so in-
tensely in visionary bustle, that he forgot
his real solitude; and, amidst hourly
preparations for the various incidents of
human affairs, neglected to confider by
what means he should mingle with man-
One day, as he was sitting on a bank,
he feigned to himself an orphan virgin
robbed of her little portion by a treach-
erous lover, and crying after him for
restitution and redress. So strongly was
the image impressed upon his mind, that
he started up in the maid’s defence, and
run forward to seize the plunderer with
all the eagerness of real persuit. Fear
naturally quickens the flight of guilt.
Rasselas could not catch the fugitive with
his utmost efforts; but, resolving to wea-
ry, by perseverance, him whom he could
not surpass in speed, he pressed on till
the foot of the mountain stopped his
Here he recollected himself, and smiled
at his own useless impetuosity. Then
raising his eyes to the mountain, ” This,
said he, is the fatal obstacle that hinders
at once the enjoyment of pleasure, and
the exercise of virtue. How long is it
that my hopes and wishes have flown
beyond this boundary of my life, which
yet I never have attempted to sur-
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 con-
sidered 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 esti-
mated as forty years, of which I have
mused away the four and twentieth part.
What I have lost was certain, for I have
certainly possessed it; but of twenty
months to come who can assure me ?”
The consciousness of his own folly
pierced him deeply, and he was long be-
fore he could be reconciled to himself.
”The rest of my time, said he, has
been lost by the crime or folly of my an-
cestors, 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 rea-
sonable felicity, have been squandered by
my own fault. I have lost that which
can never be restored: I have seen the
sun rise and set for twenty months, an
idle gazer on the light of heaven: In
this time the birds have left the nest of
their mother, and committed themselves
to the woods and to the skies: the
kid has forsaken the teat, and learned
by degrees to climb the rocks in quest of
independant sustenance. I only have
made no advances, but am still helpless
and ignorant. The moon by more than
twenty changes, admonished me of the
flux of life; the stream that rolled be-
fore my feet upbraided my inactivity. I
sat feasting on intellecual luxury, re-
gardless alike of the examples of the
earth, and the instructions of the pla-
nets. Twenty months are past, who
shall restore them!”
These sorrowful meditations fastened
upon his mind; he past four months
in resolving to lose no more time in idle
resolves, and was awakened to more
vigorous exertion by hearing a maid,
who had broken a porcelain cup, remark,
that what cannot be repaired is not to be
This was obvious; and Rasselas re-
proached himself that he had not disco-
vered it, having not known, or not con-
sidered, how many useful hints are ob-
tained by chance, and how often the
mind, hurried by her own ardour to dis-
tant 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.
The prince mediates his escape.
He now found that it would be very
difficult to effect that which it was
very easy to suppose effected. When he
looked round about him, he saw him-
self confined by the bars of nature which
had never yet been broken, and by the
gate, through which none that once had
passed it were ever able to return. He
was now impatient as an eagle in a
grate. He passed week after week in
clambering the mountains, to see if there
was any aperture which the bushes might
conceal, but found all the summits in-
accessible 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 sen-
tinels, and was by its position exposed
to the perpetual observation of all the in-
He then examined the cavern through
which the waters of the lake were dis-
charged; and, looking down at a time
when the sun shone strongly upon its
mouth, he discovered it to be full of bro-
ken rocks, which, though they permitted
the stream to flow through many narrow
passages, would stop any body of solid
bulk. He returned discouraged and de-
jected; but, having now known the bles-
sing of hope, resolved never to despair.
In these fruitless searches he spent ten
months. The time, however, passed
chearfully away : in the morning he rose
with new hope, in the evening applaud-
ed his own diligence, and in the night
slept sound after his fatigue. He met a
thousand amusements which beguiled his
labour, and diversified his thoughts.
He discerned the various instincts of ani-
mals, and properties of plants, and found
the place replete with wonders, of which
he purposed to solace himself with the
contemplation, if he should never be
able to accomplish his flight ; rejoicing
that his endeavours, though yet unsucess-
ful, had supplied him with a source of
inexhaustible enquiry.
But his original curiosity was not yet
abated; he resolved to obtain some know-
ledge 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.
A dissertation on the art of flying.
Among the artists that had
been allured into the happy val-
ley, to labour for the accommodation and
pleasure of its inhabitants, was a man
eminent for his knowledge of the me-
chanick powers, who had contrived ma-
ny engines both of use and recreation.
By a wheel, which the stream turned, he
forced the water into a tower, whence
it was distributed to all the apartments of
the palace. He erected a pavillion in the
garden, around which he kept the air
always cool by artificial showers. One
of the groves, appropriated to the ladies,
was ventilated by fans, to which the ri-
vulet that run through it gave a constant
motion; and instruments of soft musick
were placed at proper distances, of which
some played by the impulse of the wind,
and some by the power of the stream.
This artist was sometimes visited by
Rasselas, who was pleased with every
kind of knowledge, imagining that the
time would come when all his acquisitions
should be of use to him in the open world.
He came one day to amuse himself in his
usual manner, and found the master busy
in building a failing chariot: he saw
that the design was practicable upon a le-
vel surface, and with expressions of great
esteem solicited its completion. The
workman was pleased to find himself so
much regarded by the prince, and re-
solved to gain yet higher honours. “Sir,
said he, you have seen but a small part
of what the mechanick sciences can per-
form. 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 on-
ly 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 per-
formed, he was willing to fancy that he
could do more; yet resolved to enquire
further before he suffered hope to afflict
him by disappointment. “I am afraid,
said he to the artist, that your imagina-
tion prevails over your skill, and that
you now tell me rather what you wish
than what you know. Every animal has
his element assigned him; the birds have
the air, and man and beasts the earth.”
“So, replied the mechanist, fishes have
the water, in which yet beasts can swim
by nature, and men by art. He that can
swim needs not despair to fly: to swim is
to fly in a grosser fluid, and to fly is to
swim in a subtler. We are only to pro-
portion our power of resistance to the
different density of the matter through
which we are to pass. You will be ne-
cessarily upborn by the air, if you can
renew any impulse upon it, faster than the
air can recede from the pressure.”
“But the exercise of swimming, said
the prince, is very laborious; the strong-
est 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
“The labour of rising from the
ground, said the artist, will be great, as
we see it in the heavier domestick fowls;
but, as we mount higher, the earth’s attrac-
tion, and the body’s gravity, will be gra-
dually diminished, till we shall arrive at
a region where the man will float in
the air without any tendency to fall: no
care will then be necessary, but to move
forwards, which the gentlest impulse
will effect. You, Sir, whose curiosity
is so extensive, will easily conceive with
what pleasure a philosopher, furnished
with wings, and hovering in the sky, would
see the earth, and all it’s inhabitants, rol-
ling beneath him, and presenting to
him successively, by it’s diurnal motion,
all the countries within the same parallel.
How must it amuse the pendent specta-
tor to see the moving scene of land and
ocean, cities and desarts! To survey
with equal security the marts of trade,
and the fields of battle; mountains in-
fested by barbarians, and fruitful regions
gladdened by plenty, and lulled by
peace! How easily shall we then trace
the Nile through all his passage; pass
over to distant regions, and examine the
face of nature from one extremity of the
earth to the other!”
“All this, said the prince, is much to
be desired, but I am afraid that no man
will be able to breathe in these regions of
speculation and tranquility. I have been
told, that respiration is difficult upon
lofty mountains, yet from these preci-
pices, though so high as to produce great
tenuity of the air, it is very easy to fall:
therefore I suspect, that from any height,
where life can be supported, there may
be danger of too quick descent.”
“Nothing, replied the artist, will ever
be attempted, if all possible objections
must be first overcome. If you will fa-
vour 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 accomodated to the human
form. Upon this model I shall begin
my task to morrow, and in a year expect
to tower into the air beyond the malice or
persuit of man. But I will work only
on this condition, that the art shall not
be divulged, and that you shall not re-
quire me to make wings for any but
“Why, said Rasselas, should you en-
vy 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, 1 should with great alacrity
teach them all to fly. But what would
be the security of the good, if the bad
could at pleasure invade them from the
sky? Against an army sailing through
the clouds neither walls, nor mountains,
nor seas, could afford any security. A
flight of northern savages might hover
in the wind, and light at once with irre-
sistible violence, upon the capital of a
fruitful region that was rolling under
them. Even this valley, the retreat of
princes, the abode of happiness, might
be violated by the sudden descent of some
of the naked nations that swarm on the
coast of the southern sea.”
The prince promised secrecy, and wait-
ed for the performance, not wholly hope-
less 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 vul-
tures 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 ap-
peared furnished for flight on a little
promontory: he waved his pinions a
while to gather air, then leaped from
his stand, and in an instant dropped into
the lake. His wings, which were of no
use in the air, sustained him in the water,
and the prince drew him to land, half
dead with terrour and vexation.
The prince finds a man of learning.
The prince was not much afflicted
by this disaster, having suffered
himself to hope for a happier event, on-
ly because he had no other means of escape
in view. He still persisted in his design
to leave the happy valley by the first
His imagination was now at a stand;
he had no prospect of entering into the
world; and, notwithstanding all his en-
deavours to support himself, discontent
by degrees preyed upon him, and he be-
gan again to lose his thoughts in sadness
when the rainy season, which in these
countries is periodical, made it incon-
venient to wander in the woods.
The rain continued longer and with
more violence than had been ever known:
the clouds broke on the surrounding
mountains, and the torrents streamed in-
to the plain on every side, till the ca-
vern was too narrow to discharge the wa-
ter. The lake overflowed its banks, and
all the level of the valley was covered
with the inundation. The eminence, on
which the palace was built, and some
other spots of rising ground, were all that
the eye could now discover. The herds
and flocks left the pastures, and both
the wild beasts and the tame retreated to
the mountains.
This inundation confined all the prin-
ces to domestick amusements, and the
attention of Rasselas was particularly
seized by a poem, which Imlac re-
hearsed upon the various conditions of
humanity. He commanded the poet
to attend him in his apartment, and re-
cite 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 pi-
tied his ignorance, and loved his curio-
sity, 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 re-
new his pleasure.
As they were fitting 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 hap-
py valley. As he was going to begin
his narrative, Rasselas was called to a
concert, and obliged to restrain his curi-
osity till the evening.
The history of Imlac.
THE close of the day is, in the re-
gions of the torrid zone, the only
season of diversion and entertainment,
2 and
and it was therefore mid-night before the
musick ceased, and the princesses retired.
Rasselas then called for his companion and
required him to begin the story of his
” Sir, said Imlac, my history will
not be long: the life that is devoted
to knowledge pases silently away, and
is very little diversified by events. To
talk in publick, to think in solitude, to
read and to hear, to inquire, and answer
inquiries, is the business of a scholar.
He wanders about the world without
pomp or terrour, and is neither known
nor valued but by men like himself.
” I was born in the kingdom of Goi-
ama, at no great distance from the foun-
tain of the Nile. My father was a weal-
thy merchant, who traded between the
inland countries of Africk and the ports
of the red sea. He was honest, frugal
and diligent, but of mean sentiments,
and narrow comprehension: he desired
only to be rich, and to conceal his rich-
es, lest he should be spoiled by the go-
vernours 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 in-
justice permitted as well as done? If I
were emperour, not the meanest of my sub-
jects should be oppressed with impunity.
My blood boils when I am told that a
merchant durst not enjoy his honest gains
for fear of losing them by the rapacity
of power. Name the governour. who
robbed the people, that I may declare his
crimes to the emperour.”
” Sir, said Imlac, your ardour is
the natural effect of virtue animated
by youth: the time will come when you,
will acquit your father, and perhaps hear
with less impatience of the governour.
Oppression is, in the Abissinian dominions,
neither frequent nor tolerated; but no
form of government has been yet dis-
covered; by which cruelty can be whol-
ly 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 re-
main undone. He can never know all
VOL. I. E the
the crimes that are committed, and can
seldom punish all that he knows.”
” This, said the prince, I do not un-
derstand, but I had rather hear thee than
dispute. Continue thy narration.”
” My father, proceeded Imlac, origi-
nally 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 quick-
ness of apprehension, often declared his
hope that I should be some time the rich-
est man in Abissinia.”
“Why, said the prince, did thy fa-
ther desire the increase of his wealth,
when it was already greater than he durst
discover or enjoy? I am unwilling to
doubt thy veracity, yet inconsistencies
cannot both be true.”
” Inconsistencies, answered Imlac,
cannot both be right, but, imputed to
man, they may both be true. Yet di-
versity 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
“This, said the prince, I can in some
measure conceive. I repent that I inter-
rupted thee.”
” With this hope, proceeded Imlac,
he sent me to school; but when I
had once found the delight of knowledge,
E 2 and
and felt the pleasure of intelligence and
the pride of invention, I began silently
to despise riches, and determined to dis-
appoint the purpose of my father, whose
grossness of conception raised my pity.
I was twenty years old before his tender-
ness would expose me to the fatigue of
travel, in which time I had been instruc-
ted, by successive matters, in all the lite-
rature of my native country. As every
hour taught me something new, I lived
in a continual course of gratifications;
but, as I advanced towards manhood,
1 lost much of the reverence with which I
had been used to look on my instructors;.
because, when the lesson was ended, I did
not find them wiser or better than com-
mon men.
” At
“‘ At length my father resolved to ini-
tiate me in commerce, and, opening one
of his subterranean treasuries, counted
out ten thousand pieces of gold. This,
young man, said he, is the stock with
which you must negociate. I began with
less than the fifth part, and you see
how diligence and parsimony have in-
creased it. This is your own to waste
or to improve. If you squander it by ne-
gligence or caprice, you must wait for
my death before you will be rich : if, in
four years, you double your stock, we
will thenceforward let subordination
cease, and live together as friends and
partners; for he shall always be equal
with me, who is equally skilled in the art
of growing rich.
E3 ” We
” We laid our money upon camels,
concealed in bales of cheap goods, and
travelled to the shore of the red sea.
When I cast my eye on the expanse of
waters my heart bounded like that of a
prisoner escaped. I felt an unextinguish-
able curiosity kindle in my mind, and
resolved to snatch this opportunity of
seeing the manners of other nations,
and of learning sciences unknown in A-
” 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 de-
termined to gratify my predominant desire,
and by drinking at the fountains of know-
ledge, to quench the thirst of curiosity.
” As
” As I was supposed to trade without
connexion with my father, it was easy
for me to become acquainted with the
matter 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 wan-
dered, 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 inten-
The history of Imlac con-
WHEN I first entered upon the
world of waters, and lost sight
of land, I looked round about me with
pleasing terrour, and thinking my soul
enlarged by the boundless prospect, ima-
gined that I could gaze round for ever
without satiety; but, in a short time, I
grew weary of looking on barren uni-
formity, where I could only see again
what I had already seen. I then descend-
ed into the ship, and doubted for a while
whether all my future pleasures would not
end like this in disgust and disappoint-
ment. Yet, surely, said I, the ocean
and the land are very different; the only
variety of water is rest and motion, but
the earth has mountains and vallies, de-
sarts and cities : it is inhabited by men
of different customs and contrary opini-
ons ; 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 ne-
ver practiced, and sometimes by forming
schemes for my conduct in different situ-
ations, in not one of which I have been
ever placed.
“I was almost weary of my naval amuse-
ments when we landed safely at Surat. I
secured my money, and purchasing some
commodities for show, joined myself to
a caravan that was passing into the in-
land country. My companions, for some
reason or other, conjecturing that I was
rich, and, by my inquiries and admira-
tion, finding that I was ignorant, consi-
dered me as a novice whom they had a
right to cheat, and who was to learn at
the usual expence the art of fraud. They
exposed me to the theft of servants, and
the exaction of officers, and saw me
plundered upon false pretences, without
any advantage to themselves, but that
of rejoicing in the superiority of their
own knowledge.”
” Stop a moment, said the prince. Is
there such depravity in man, as that he
should injure another without benefit to
himself ? I can easily conceive that all are
pleased with superiority; but your igno-
rance 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 shewn by warn-
ing, as betraying you.”
“Pride, said Imlac, is seldom de-
licate, 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 mis-
taken motives.”
” In this company, said Imlac,
I arrived at Agra, the capital of Indos-
tan, 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 unwil-
ling to teach another what they had with
dificulty learned themselves; and some
shewed that the end of their studies was
to gain the dignity of instructing.
” To
“To the tutor of the young princes
I recommended myself so much, that I
was presented to the emperour as a man
of uncommon knowledge. The empe-
rour asked me many questions concern-
ing my country and my travels; and
though I cannot now recollect any thing
that he uttered above the power of a
common man, he dismissed me astonished
at his wisdom, and enamoured of his
” My credit was now so high, that
the merchants, with whom I had travel-
led, applied to me for recommendations
to the ladies of the court. I was sur-
prised at their confidence of solicitation,
and gently reproached them with their
practices on the road. They heard me
with cold indifference, and shewed no
tokens of shame or 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
” 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 charaters
and manners, and of tracing human na-
ture through all its variations.
“From Persia I passed into Arabia,
where I saw a nation at once pastoral
and warlike; who live without any set-
tled habitation; whose only wealth is
their flocks and herds; and who have
yet carried on, through all ages, an
hereditary war with all mankind, though
they neither covet nor envy their pos-
Imlac’s history continued. A dis-
sertation upon poetry.
WHEREVER I went, I found
that Poetry was considered as the
highest learning, and regarded with a ve-
neration somewhat approaching to that
which man would pay to the Angelick
Nature. And it yet fills me with won-
der, that, in almost all countries, the
most ancient poets are confidered as the
best: whether it be that every other
kind of knowledge is an acquisition
gradually attained, and poetry is a gift
conferred at once; or that the first
poetry of every nation surprised them as
a novelty, and retained the credit by con-
sent 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 occur-
rences for fiction, and left nothing to
those that followed them, but transcrip-
tion of the same events, and new combi-
nations 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
VOL.I. F re-
repeat by memory the volumes that are
suspended in the mosque of Mecca. But
I soon found that no man was ever great
by imitation. My desire of excellence
impelled me to transfer my attention to
nature and to life. Nature was to be
my subject, and men to be my auditors:
I could never describe what I had not
seen: I could not hope to move those
with delight or terrour, whose interests
and opinions I did not understand.
“Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw
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 pin-
nacles of the palace. Sometimes I wan-
dered 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 what-
ever is dreadful, must be familiar to his
imagination: he must be conversant with
all that is awfully vast or elegantly lit-
tle. The plants of the garden, the ani-
mals of the wood, the minerals of the
earth, and meteors of the sky, must all
concur to store his mind with inexhausti-
ble variety : for every idea is useful for
the inforcement or decoration of moral or
religious truth; and he, who knows most,
will have most power of diversifying his
scenes, and of gratifying his reader with
remote allusions and unexpected instruc-
F 2 “All
” All the appearances of nature I was
therefore careful to study, and every
country which I have surveyed has con-
tributed something to my poetical
“In so wide a survey, said the prince,
you must surely have left much unob-
served. I have lived, till now, within
the circuit of these mountains, and yet
cannot walk abroad without the sight of
something which I had never beheld be-
fore, or never heeded.”
” The business of a poet, said Im.
lac, is to examine, not the individual,
but the species; to remark general pro-
perties and large appearances: he does
not number the streaks of the tulip, or
describe the different shades in the ver-
dure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his
portraits of nature such prominent and
striking features, as recal the original to
every mind ; and must neglect the
minuter discriminations, which one may
have remarked, and another have neglec-
ted, for those characteristicks which are
alike obvious to vigilance and careles-
” But the knowledge of nature is on-
ly half the talk of a poet; he must be ac-
quainted like wife 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 influ-
F 3 ences
ences of climate or custom, from the sprite-
liness of infancy to the despondence of
decrepitude. He must divest himself of
the prejudices of his age or country ; he
must consider right and wrong in their
abstracted and invariable state ; he must
disregard present laws and opinions,
and rise to general and transcendental
truths, which will always be the fame:
he must therefore content himself with
the flow progress of his name; con-
temn the applause of his own time,
and commit his claims to the justice of pos-
terity. He must write as the interpreter
of nature, and the legislator of mankind,
and consider himself as presiding over
the thoughts and manners of future
generations ; as a being superiour to time
and place.
” His
“His labour is not yet at an end : he
must know many languages and many
sciences ; and, that his stile may be
worthy of his thoughts, must by inces-
sant practice, familiarize to himself every
delicacy of speech and grace of harmo-
Imlac’s narrative continued. A
hint on pilgrimage.
IMLAC now felt the enthusiastic fit,
and was proceeding to aggrandize his
own profession, when the prince cried
out, “Enough! Thou hast convinced
me, that no human being can ever be a
poet. Proceed with thy narration.”
“To be a poet, said Imlac, is indeed
very difficult.” ” So difficult, returned
the prince, that I will at present hear no
of his labours. Tell me whither
you went when you had seen Persia.”
“From Persia, said the poet, I tra-
veled 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 ir-
resistible, 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 sur-
round us, they appeared almost another
order of beings. In their countries it is
cificult to wish for any thing that may
not be obtained: a thousand arts, of
which we never heard, are continually
labouring for their convenience and plea-
sure; and whatever their own climate has
denied them is supplied by their com
“By what means, said the prince, are
the Europeans thus powerful? or why,
since they can so easily visit Asia and A-
frica for trade or conquest, cannot the
Asiaticks and Africans invade their coasts,
plant colonies in their ports, and give
laws to their natural princes? The fame
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 predomi-
nate over ignorance, as man governs the
other animals. But why their know-
ledge 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 min-
gle with this mighty confluence of na-
tions? 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 as-
sembles such numbers in that place, and
cannot but consider it as the center of
wisdom and piety, to which the best and
wisest men of every land must be conti-
nually resorting.”
” There are some nations, said Imlac,
that fend few visitants to Palestine; for,
many numerous and learned sects in
Europe, concur to censure pilgrimage
as superstitious, or deride it as ridicu-
“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 superstious, according to the princi-
ples upon which it is performed. Long
journies in search of truth are not com-
manded. 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 dis-
sipation 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 fame 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 reso-
lutions. 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 un-
common manner, is an opinion which
hourly experience will justify. He who
supposes that his vices may be more suc-
cessfully combated in Palestine, will,
perhaps, find himself mistaken, yet he
may go thither without folly: he who
thinks they will be more freely par-
doned, dishonours at once his reason and
“These, said the prince, are Euro-
pean distintions. 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 esti-
mate the comparative happiness of others.
Knowledge is certainly one of the means
of pleasure, as is confessed by the na-
tural desire which every mind feels of
increaring its ideas. Ignorance is mere
privation, by which nothing can be pro-
duced: it is a vacuity in which the foul
fits motionless and torpid for want of at-
traction; and, without knowing why, we
always rejoice when we learn, and grieve
when we forget. I am therefore inclined to
conclude, that, if nothing counteracts the
natural consequence of learning, we grow
more happy as our minds take a wider
“In enumerating the particular com-
forts of life we shall find many advan-
tages on the side of the Europeans. They
cure wounds and diseases with which we
languish and perish. We suffer incle-
mencies of weather which they can ob-
viate. They have engines for the despatch
of many laborious works, which we
must perform by manual industry.
There is such communication between.
distant places, that one friend can hardly
be said to be absent from another. Their
policy removes all publick inconvenien-
cies: they have roads cut through their
mountains, and bridges laid upon their
rivers. And, if we descend to the priva-
cies of life, their habitations are more
commodious, and their possessions are
more secure.'”
“They are surely happy, said the
prince, who have all these convenien-
cies, of which I envy none so much as
the facility with which separated friends
interchange their thoughts.”
“The Europeans, answered Imlac,
are less unhappy than we, but they are
not happy. Human life is every where
a state in which much is to be endured,
and little to be enjoyed.”
The story of Imlac continued.
I AM not yet willing, said the prince,
I to suppose that happiness is so par-
simoniously distributed to mortals; nor
can believe but that, if I had the choice
of life, I should be able to fill every day
with pleasure. I would injure no man,
and should provoke no resentment: I
would relieve every distress, and should
enjoy the benedictions of gratitude. I
would choose my friends among the wise,
and my wife among the virtuous; and
therefore should be, in no danger from
treachery, or unkindness. My children
should, by my care, be learned and pious,
and would repay to my age what their
childhood had received. What would
dare to molest him who might call on
every side to thousands enriched by
his bounty, or assisted by his power?
And why should not life glide quietly
away in the soft reciprocation of pro-
tection and reverence? All this may be
done without the help of European re-
finements, which appear by their effects
to be rather specious than useful. Let
us leave them and persue our journey.”
“From Palestine, said Imlac, I passed
through many regions of Asia; in the
more civilized kingdoms as a trader, and
among the Barbarians of the mountains
as a pilgrim. At last I began to long
for my native country, that I might re-
pose 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, fitting round me in its evening,
wondering at my tales, and listening to
my counsels.
“When this thought had taken pos-
session of my mind, I considered every
moment as wasted which did not bring
me nearer to Abissinia. I hastened into
Egypt, and, notwithstanding my impa-
tience, was detained ten months in the con-
templation of its ancient magnificence, and
in enquiries after the remains of its ancient
learning. I found in Cairo a mixture of
all nations; some brought thither by the
love of knowledge, some by the hope of
gain, and many by the desire of living
after their own manner without observa-
tion, and of lying hid in the obscurity of
multitudes: for, in a city, populous as
Cairo, it is possible to obtain at the fame
time the gratifications of society, and
the secrecy of solitude.
“From Cairo I travelled to Suez,
and embarked on the Red Sea, passing a-
long the coast till I arrived at the port
from which I had departed twenty years
before. Here I joined myself to a cara-
van 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 com-
panions the greater part was in the grave,
of the rest some could with difficulty re-
member me, and some considered me as
one corrupted by foreign manners.
“A man used to vicissitudes is not ea-
sily dejected. I forgot, after a time, my
disappointment, and endeavoured to re-
commend myself to the nobles of the
kingdom: they admitted me to their ta-
bles, heard my story, and dismissed me.
I opened a school, and was prohibited to
teach. I then resolved to sit down in the
quiet of domestick life, and addressed a
lady that was fond of my conversation,
but rejected my suit, because my father
was a 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 con-
dition? or, dost thou wish to be again
wandering and inquiring? All the in-
habitants of this valley celebrate their lot,
and, at the annual visit of the emperour,
invite others to partake of their feli-
“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 Im-
lac, 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 de-
spised 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 liber-
ty 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 soli-
citing admission to captivity, and wish
that it were lawful for me to warn them
of their danger.”
My dear Imlac, said the prince, I
will open to thee my whole heart. i
have long meditated an escape from the
happy valley. I have examined the
mountains on every side, but find myself
insuperably barred: teach me the way
to break my prison; thou shalt be the
companion of my flight, the guide of
my rambles, the partner of my fortune,
and my sole director in the choice of
“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
feats 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 evi-
dent, that thy former state was better than
this. Whatever be the consequence of
my experiment, I am resolved to judge
with my own eyes of the various condi-
tions of men, and then to make delibe-
rately my choice of life.”
“I am afraid, said Imlac, you are
hindered by stronger. restraints than my
persuasions yet, if your determination is
fixed, I do not counsel you to despair.
Few things are impossible to diligence
and skill.”
Rasselas discovers the means of
THE prince now dismissed his fa-
. vourite to rest, but the narrative
of wonders and novelties filled his
mind with perturbation. He revolved
all that he had heard, and prepared in-
numerable questions for the morning.
Much of his uneasiness was now re-
moved. 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 con-
verse 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
“Man is not weak, answered his com-
panion; knowledge is more than equiva-
lent to force. The master of mecha-
nicks laughs at strength. I can burst the
gate, but cannot do it secretly. Some
other expedient must be tried.”
As they were walking on the side of
the mountain, they observed that the
conies, which the rain had driven from
their burrows, had taken shelter among
the bushes, and formed holes behind
them, tending upwards in an oblique
line. “It has been the opinion of an-
tiquity, 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 promi-
The eyes of the prince, when he heard
this proposal, sparkled with joy. The
execution was easy, and the success cer-
No time was now lost. They hasten-
ed early in the morning to chuse a place
proper for their mine. They clam-
bered with great fatigue among crags
and brambles, and returned without hav-
ing discovered any part that favoured
their design. The second and the third
day were spent in the same manner, and
with the same frustration. But, on the
fourth, they found a small cavern, con-
cealed 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 la-
bour for a longer time; mark, however,
how far we have advanced, and you will
find that our toil will some time have an
end. Great works are performed, not
by strength, but perseverance: yonder
palace was raised by single stones, yet you
see its height and spaciousness. He that
shall walk with vigour three hours a day
will pass in seven years a space equal to
the circumference of the globe.”
They returned to their work day af-
ter day, and, in a short time, found a
fissure in the rock, which enabled them to
pass far with very little obstruction. This
Rasselas confidered as a good omen.
“Do not disturb your mind, said Imlac,
with other hopes or fears than reason
may suggest: if you are pleased with
prognosticks of good, you will be terri-
fied likewise with tokens of evil, and
your whole life will be a prey to super-
stition. 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 de-
sign prove easy to performance.”
Rasselas and Imlac receive an un-
expected visit.
THEY had now wrought their way
to the middle, and solaced their
toil with the approach of liberty, when
the prince, coming down to refresh him-
self with air, found his sister Nekayah
standing before the mouth of the cavity.
He started and stood confused, afraid to
tell his design, and yet hopeless to con-
ceal 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
VOL. I. H Imlac
Imlac directed your walk every day to-
wards the same point, but I did not sup-
pose 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 know-
ing what is done or suffered in the world,
Permit me to fly with you from this
tasteless tranquility, which will yet grow
more loathsome when you have left me.
You may deny me to accompany you,
but cannot hinder me from following.”
The prince, who loved Nekayah above
his other sisters, had no inclination to
refuse her request, and grieved that he
had lost an opportunity of shewing his
confidence by a voluntary communica-
tion. It was therefore agreed that she
should leave the valley with them; and
that, in the mean time, she should watch,
lest any other straggler should, by chance
or curiosity, follow them to the moun-
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,
H 2 though
though very joyful at his escape, had
less expectation of pleasure in the world,
which he had before tried, and of which
he had been weary.
Rasselas was so much delighted with
a wider horizon, that he could not soon
be persuaded to return into the valley.
He informed his sister that the way was
open, and that nothing now remained
but to prepare for their departure.
C H A P. XV.
The prince and princess leave the
valley, and see many wonders.
T H E prince and princess had jewels
sufficient to make them rich when-
ever they came into a place of commerce,
which, by Imlac’s direction, they hid in
their cloaths, and, on the night of the
next full moon, all left the valley. The
princess was followed only by a single fa-
vourite, 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
H 3 eyes
eyes towards every part, and, seeing no-
thing to bound their prospect, considered
themselves as in danger of being lost in
a dreary vacuity. They stopped and
trembled. “I am almost afraid, said the
princess, to begin a journey of which I
cannot perceive an end, and to venture
into this immense plain where I may be
approached on every side by men whom
I never saw.” The prince felt nearly the
same emotions, though he thought it
more manly to conceal them.
Imlac smiled at their terrours, and
encouraged them to proceed; but the
princess continued irresolute till she had
been imperceptibly drawn forward too
far to return.
In the morning they found some shep-
herds in the field, who set milk and fruits
before them. The princess wondered
that she did not see a palace ready for her
reception, and a table spread with deli-
cacies; but, being faint and hungry,
she drank the milk and eat the fruits,
and thought them of a higher flavour
than the products of the valley.
They travelled forward by easy jour-
neys, being all unaccustomed to toil or
difficulty, and knowing, that though
they might be missed, they could not
be persued. In a few days they came in-
to a more populous region, where Imlac
was diverted with the admiration which
his companions expressed at the diversity
of manners, stations and employments.
H 4 Their
Their dress was such as might not bring
upon them the suspicion of having any
thing to conceal, yet the prince, where.
ever he came, expected to be obeyed,
and the princess was frighted, because
those that came into her presence did not
prostrate themselves before her. Imlac
was forced to observe them with great
vigilance, lest they should betray their
rank by their unusual behaviour, and
detained them several weeks in the first
village to accustom them to the sight of
common mortals.
By degrees the royal wanderers were
taught to understand that they had for a
time laid aside their dignity, and were to
expect only such regard as liberality and
courtesy could procure. And Imlac, hav-
ing, by many admonitions, prepared them
5 to
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
every thing was new, were gratified
equally at all places, and therefore re-
mained for some months at the port
without any inclination to pass further.
Imlac was content with their stay, be-
cause he did not think it safe to ex-
pose them, unpracticed 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.
They enter Cairo, and find every
man happy.
AS they approached the city, which
filled the strangers with astonish-
ment, “This, said Imlac to the prince,
is the place where travellers and mer-
chants assemble from all the corners of
the earth. You will here find men of
every character, and every occupation.
Commerce is here honourable: I will act
as a merchant, and you shall live as
strangers, who have no other end of tra-
vel than curiosity; it will soon be observed
that we are rich; our reputation will
procure us access to all whom we shall
desire to know; you will see all the
conditions of humanity, and enable
yourself at leisure to make your choice of
They now entered the town, stunned
by the noise, and offended by the crowds.
Instruction had not yet so prevailed over
habit, but that they wondered to see
themselves pass undistinguished along the
street, and met by the lowest of the
people without reverence or notice. The
princess could not at first bear the
thought of being levelled with the- vul-
gar, and, for some days, continued in
her chamber, where she was served by
her favourite Pekuah as in the palace of
the valley.
Imlac, who understood traffick, sold
part of the jewels the next day, and hired
a house, which he adorned with such mag-
nificence, that he was immediately con-
sidered as a merchant of great wealth.
His politeness attracted many acquain-
tance, and his generosity made him
courted by many dependants. His ta-
ble was crowded by men of every na-
tion, who all admired his knowledge,
and solicited his favour. His compa-
nions, not being able to mix in the con-
versation, could make no discovery of
their ignorance or surprise, and were gra-
dually initiated in the world as they gain-
ed knowledge of the language.
The prince had, by frequent lectures,
been taught the use and nature of money;
but the ladies could not, for a long time,
comprehend what the merchants did with
small pieces of gold and silver, or why
things of so little use should be received
as equivalent to the necessaries of life.
They studied the language two years,
while Imlac was preparing to set before
them the various ranks and conditions
of mankind. He grew acquainted with all
who had any thing uncommon in their
fortune or conduct. He frequented the
voluptuous and the frugal, the idle and,
the busy, the merchants and the men
of learning.
The prince, being now able to con-
verse 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 need-
less, because all appeared to him equally
happy. Wherever he went he met gay-
ety and kindness, and heard the song of
joy, or the laugh of carelesness. He
began to believe that the world over-
flowed with universal plenty, and that
nothing was withheld either from want
or merit; that every hand showered li-
berality, and every heart melted with be-
nevolence: ” and who then, says he, will
be suffered to be wretched ?”
Imlac permitted the pleasing delusion,
and was unwilling to crush the hope of
inexperience; till one day, having sat a
while silent, ” I know not, said the
prince, what can be the reason that I
am more unhappy than any of our friends
I see them perpetually and unalterably
chearful, but feel my own mind restless
and uneasy. I am unsatisfied with those
pleasures which I seem most to court;
I live in the crowds of jollity, not so
much to enjoy company as to shun
myself, and am only loud and merry to
conceal my sadness.”
Every man, said Imlac, may, by
examining his own mind, guess what
passes in the minds of others: when you
feel that your own gaiety is counterfeit, it
may justly lead you to suspect that of your
companions not to be sincere. Envy is com-
monly reciprocal. We are long before we
are convinced that happiness is never to be
found, and each believes it possessed by o-
thers, to keep alive the hope of obtaining
it for himself. In the assembly, where you
passed the last night, there appeared such
spriteliness of air, and volatility of fancy,
as might have suited beings of an higher
order, formed to inhabit serener regions
inaccessible to care or sorrow: yet, be-
lieve me, prince, there was 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 ano-
ther, and wisdom surely directs us to take
the least evil in the choice of life.”
“The causes of good and evil, an-
swered Imlac, are so various and un-
certain, so often entangled with each
other, so diversified by various rela-
tions, and so much subject to accidents,
which cannot be foreseen, that he who
would fix his condition upon incon-
testable 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 like-
ly to make them happy.”
VOL. I. I “Very
“Very few, said the poet, live by
choice. Every man is placed in his pre-
sent condition by causes which acted with-
out 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 lei-
sure: surely happiness is somewhere to be
The prince associates with young
men of spirit and gaiety.
RASSELAS rose next day, and re-
solved 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 ad-
mitted, but a few days brought him
back weary and disgusted. Their mirth
was without images, their laughter with-
I 2 out
out 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 chear-
ful only by chance. ” Happiness, said
he, must be something solid and perma-
nent, without fear and without uncer-
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 consi-
dered 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. Perpe-
tual levity must end in ignorance; and
intemperance, though it may fire the spi-
rits for an hour, will make life short or
miserable. Let us consider that youth is
of no long duration, and that in maturer
age, when the enchantments of fancy
shall cease, and phantoms of delight
dance no more about us, we shall have no
comforts but the esteem of wise men,
and the means of doing good. Let us,
therefore, stop, while to stop is in our
power: let us live as men who are some-
time to grow old, and to whom it will
13 be
be the most dreadful of all evils not
to count their past years but by follies,
and to be reminded of their former luxuri-
ance of health only by the maladies which
riot has produced.”
They stared a while in silence one upon
another, and, at last, drove him away by
a general chorus of continued laughter.
The consciousness that his sentiments
were just, and his intentions kind, was
scarcely sufficient to support him against
the horrour of derision. But he reco-
vered his tranquility, and persued his
C H A P.
The prince finds a wife and happy
As he was one day walking in the-
street, he saw a spacious building
which all were, by the open doors, in-
vited 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 dif-
coursed with great energy on the govern-
ment of the passions. His look was vene-
rable, his action graceful, his pronunci-
ation clear, and his diction elegant. Ha
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 reason their
lawful sovereign. He compared reason
to the sun, of which the light is con-
stant, uniform, and lasting; and fancy
to a meteor, of bright but transitory
lutsre, irregular in its motion, and de-
lusive in it 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 en-
vy, inflamed by anger, emasculated by
tenderness, or depressed by grief; but.
walks on calmly through the tumults or
the privacies of life, as the sun persues
alike his course through the calm or
the stormy sky.
He enumerated many examples of he-
roes 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 ex-
horted his hearers to lay aside their pre-
judices, and arm themselves against the
shafts of malice or misfortune, by in-
vulnerable patience; concluding, that
this state only was happiness, and that
this happiness was in every one’s power.
Rasselas listened to him with the vene-
ration due to the instructions of a superi-
our 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 for-
titude, 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 mo-
rality: they discourse like angels, but
they live like men.”
Rasselas, who could not conceive how any
man could reason so forcibly without feel-
ing 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 friend-
ship is useless; what I suffer cannot be
remedied, what I have lost cannot be sup-
plied. My daughter, my only daugh-
ter, 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 wife 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 the forgot the precepts, said
Raffelas, which you so powerfully enfor-
ced? Has wisdom no strength to arm
the heart against calamity? Consider,
that external things are naturally vari-
able, but truth and reason are always the
fame.” “What comfort, said the mourn-
er, 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 re-
proof, went away convinced of the emp-
tiness of rhetorical found, and the inef-
ficacy of polished periods and studied sen-
A Glimpse of pastoral life.
He was still eager upon the fame en-
quiry; and, having heard of a
hermit, that lived near the lowest cata-
ract of the Nile, and filled the whole
country with the fame of his sanctity,
resolved to visit his retreat, and enquire
whether that felicity, which publick life
could not afford, was to be found in so-
litude; and whether a man, whose age
and virtue made him venerable, could
teach any peculiar art of shunning evils,
or enduring them.
Imlac and the princess agreed to ac-
company him, and, after the necessary
preparations, they began their journey.
Their way lay through fields, where
shepherds tended their flocks, and the
lambs were playing upon the pasture.
“This, said the poet, is the life which
has been often celebrated for its innocence
and quiet: let us pass the heat of the
day among the shepherds tents, and know
whether all our searches are not to termi-
nate in pastoral simplicity.”
The proposal pleased them, and they
induced the shepherds, by small presents
and familiar questions, to tell their opi-
nion of their own state: they were so
rude and ignorant, so little able to com-
pare the good with the evil of the
occupation, and so indistinct in their nar-
ratives and descriptions, that very little
could be learned from them. But it was
evident that their hearts were cankered
with discontent; that they considered
themselves as condemned to labour for
the luxury of the rich, and looked up
with stupid malevolence toward those
that were placed above them.
The princess pronounced with vehe-
mence, that she would never suffer these
envious savages to be her companions,
and that she should not soon be desirous of
seeing any more specimens of rustick
happiness; but could not believe that all
the accounts of primeval pleasures were
fabulous, and was yet in doubt whether
life had any thing that could be justly
preferred to the placid gratifications of
fidds and woods. She hoped that the
time would come, when with a few vir-
tuous and elegant companions, she should
gather flowers planted by her own hand,
fondle the lambs of her own ewe, and
listen, without care, among brooks and
breezes, to one of her maidens reading
in the shade.
The danger of prosperity.
On the next day they continued theit
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
theshades were darkest; the boughs of
opposite trees were artificially interwo-
ven; seats of flowery turf were raised in
vacant spaces, and a rivulet, that wan-
toned along the side of a winding path,
had its banks sometimes opened into
small basins, and its fiream sometimes
obstructed by little mounds of stone
heaped together to increase its mur-
They passed slowly through the wood,
delighted with such unexpected accom-
modations, and entertained each other
with conjecturing what, or who, he
could be, that in those rude and unfre-
quented regions, had leisure and art for
such harmless luxury.
As they advanced, they heard the
sound of musick, and saw youths and
virgins dancing in the grove; and, go-
ing still further, beheld a stately palace
built upon a hill surrounded with woods.
The laws of eastern hospitality allowed
them to enter, and the master welcomed
them like a man liberal and wealthy.
He was skilful enough in appearances
soon to discern that they were no com-
mon guests, and spread his table with
magnificence. The eloquence of Imlac
caught his attention, and the lofty cour-
tesy of the princess excited his respect.
When they offered to depart he entreat-
ed their stay, and was the next day still
more unwilling to dismiss them than be-
fore. They were easily persuaded to
stop, and civility grew up in time to
freedom and confidence.
The prince now saw all the domesticks
chearful, and all the face of nature smil-
ing round the place, and could not for-
bear to hope that he should find here
what he was seeking; but when he was
congratulating the master upon his pof-
sessions, 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 Baffa of Egypt is my enemy, in-
censed 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 Baffa. I have sent my treasures into
a distant country, and, upon the first a-
larm, am prepared to follow them.
then will my enemies riot in my man-
sion, and enjoy the gardens which I have
They all joined in lamenting his dan-
ger, and deprecating his exile; and the
princess was so much disturbed with the
tumult of grief and indignation, that
she retired to her apartment. They
continued with their kind inviter a few
days longer, and then went forward to
find the hermit.
The happiness of solitude. The
hermit’s history.
THEY came on the third day, by
the direction of the peasants, to
the hermit’s cell: it was a cavern in
the side of a mountain, over-shadowed
with palm-trees; at such a distance from
the cataract, that nothing more was
heard than a gentle uniform murmur,
such as composed the mind to pensive
meditation, especially when it was assist-
ed 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 tra-
vellers, whom darkness or tempests hap-
pened 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 papers,
on the other mechanical instruments of
various kinds. As they approached him
unregarded, the princess observed that
he had not the countenance of a man that
had found, or could teach, the way to
They saluted him with great respect,
which he repaid like a man not unac-
customed to the forms of courts. “My
children, said he, if you have lost, your
way, you shall be willingly supplied with
K 4 such
such conveniencies for the night as this
cavern will afford. I have all that na-
ture requires, and you will not expect
delicacies in a hermit’s cell.”
They thanked him, and, entering,
were pleased with the neatness and regu-
larity of the place. The hermit set flesh
and wine before them, though he fed
only upon fruits and water. His dis-
course was chearful without levity, and
pious without enthusiasm. He soon
gained the esteem of his guests, and
the princess repented of her hasty cen-
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 im-
plore your direction for this young man
and maiden in the choice of life”.
” To him that lives well, answered
the hermit, every form of life is good;
nor can I give any other rule for choice,
than to remove from all apparent evil.”
“He will remove most certainly from
evil, said the prince, who shall devote
himself to that solitude which you have
recommended by your example.”
” I have indeed lived fifteen years in
solitude, said the hermit, but have no
desire that my example should gain any
imitators. In my youth I professed arms,
and was raised by degrees to the highest
military rank. I have traversed wide
countries at the head of my troops, and
seen many battles and sieges. At last,
being disgusted by the 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 perfuit 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 de-
lighted 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 ex-
amining the plants which grow in the
valley, and the minerals which I collec-
ted from the rocks. But that enqui-
ry 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 vani-
ties of imagination, which hourly pre-
vail upon me, because I have no oppor-
tunities of relaxation or diversion. I am
sometimes ashamed to think that I could
not secure myself from vice, but by re-
tiring from the exercise of virtue, and
begin to suspect that I was rather im-
pelled by resentment, than led by devo-
tion, 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 ex-
ample 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 re-
solve to return into the world tomorrow,
The life of a solitary man will be certain-
ly miserable, but not certainly devout.”
They heard his resolution with sur-
prise, but, after a short pause, offered
to condut him to Cairo. He dug up a
considerable treasure which he had hid a-
mong the rocks, and accompanied them
to the city, on which, as he approached
it, he gazed with rapture.
The happiness of a life led ac-
cording to nature.
RASSELAS went often to an
assembly of learned men, who
met at stated times to unbend their
minds, and compare their opinions.
Their manners were somewhat coarse,
but their conversation was instructive,
and their disputations acute, though
sometimes too violent, and often conti-
nued till neither controvertist remember-
ed upon what question they began.
Some faults were almost general among
them: every one was desirous to dictate
to the rest, and every one was pleased to
hear the genius or knowledge of another
In this assembly Rasselas was relat-
ing 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 fol-
lowed. 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 a-
mong them, with great vehemence, pro-
nounced him an hypocrite. Some
talked of the right of society to the la-
bour of individuals, and considered re-
tirement as a desertion of duty. Others
readily allowed, that there was a time
when the claims of the publick were sa-
tisfied, 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 dis-
tance, imagination paints it as desirable.
But the time will surely come, when de-
sire will be no longer our torment, and no
man shall be wretched but by his own
” This, said a philosopher, who had
heard him with tokens of great im-
patience, 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
enquire 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 delu-
sions of hope, or importunities of de-
fire: he will receive and reject with equa-
bility of temper; and at or suffcr as the
reason of things shall alternately pre-
scribe. Other men may amuse them-
selves 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 ani-
mals, whose motions are regulated by
instinct; they obey their guide and are
happy. Let us therefore, at length,
cease to dispute, and learn to live; throw
away the incumbrance of precepts, which
thev who utter them with so much pride
and pomp do not understand, and carry
with us this simple and intelligible max-
itl, That deviation from nature is devi-
ation from happiness.”
VOL. I. L When
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 mo-
desty, as I, like all the rest of mankind,
am desirous of felicity, my closest atten-
tion has been fixed upon your discourse:
I doubt not the truth of a position which
a man so learned has so confidently ad-
vanced. 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 stu-
dies 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 un-
changeable scheme of universal felicity,
to co-operate with the general disposi
tion and tendency of the present system
of things.”
The prince soon found that this was
one of the sages whom he should under-
stand 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-ope-
rated with the present system.
The prince and his sister divide
between them the work of ob-
RASSELAS returned home full
of reflexions, doubtful how to di-
rect his future steps. Of the way to
happiness he found the learned and sim-
ple equally ignorant; but, as he was
yet young, he flattered himself that he
had time remaining for more experi-
ments, and further enquiries. He com-
municated to Imlac his observations and
his doubts, but was answered by him
with new doubts, and remarks that gave
him no comfort. He therefore discours-
ed 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 domestick
peace. Imlac favours not our search,
lest we should in time find him mista-
ken. 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
L 3 com
command and authority may be the su-
preme blessings, as they afford most op-
portunities of doing good: or, perhaps,
what this world can give may be found
in the modest habitations of middle for-
tune; too low for great designs, and too
high for penury and distress.”
The prince examines the happi-
ness of high stations.
RASSELAS applauded the design,
and appeared next day with a
splendid retinue at the court of the Bassa.
He was soon distinguished for his magni-
ficence, and admired, 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
L 4 of
of a single man, only to fill his particular
breads with incommunicable content.”
These thoughts were often in his
mind, and he found no solution of the
difficulty. But as presents and civilities
gained him more familiarity, he found
that almost every man who stood high in
employment hated all the reft, and was
hated by them, and that their lives were
a continual succession of plots and de-
testions, stratagems and escapes, fac-
tion and treachery. Many of those,
who surrounded the Bassa, were sent on-
ly to watch and report his conduct; every
tongue was muttering censure, and eve-
ry eye was searching for a fault.
At last the letters of revocation ar-
rived, the Bassa was carried in chains to
Constantinople, and his name was men-
tioned no more.
“What are we now to think of the
prerogatives of power, said Rasselas to
his sister; is it without any efficacy to
good? or, is the subordinate degree
only dangerous, and the supreme safe
and glorious? Is the Sultan the only
happy man in his dominions? or, is the
Sultan himself subject to the torments of
suspicion, and the dread of enemies?”
In a short time the second Bassa was
deposed. The Sultan, that had advanced
him, was murdered by the Janisaries,
and his successor had other views and
different favourites.
The princes persues her enquiry
with more diligence than suc-
THE princess, in the mean time,
insinuated herself into many fa-
milies; for there are few doors, through
which liberality, joined with good hu-
mour, cannot find its way. The daugh-
ters of many houses were airy and chear-
ful, but Nekayah had been too long ac-
customed 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 nar-
row, their wishes low, and their merri-
ment often artificial. Their pleasures,
poor as they were, could not be pre-
served pure, but were embittered by pet-
ty competitions and worthless emulation.
They were always jealous of the beauty
of each other; of a quality to which solici-
tude can add nothing, and from which de-
traction 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 af-
fection was seldom fixed on sense or vir-
tue, and therefore seldom ended but in
vexation. Their grief, however, like
their joy, was transient; every thing
floated in their mind unconnected with
the past or future, so that one de-
sire easily gave way to another, as a se-
cond 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 persuad-
ed the hearts that were swelling with sor-
row to discharge their secrets in her ear:
and those whom hope flattered, or pros-
perity delighted, often courted her to
partake their pleasures.
The princess and her brother common-
ly met in the evening in a private summer-
house on the bank of the Nile, and re-
lated to each other the occurrences of the
day. As they were fitting together, the
princess cast her eyes upon the river that
flowed before her. “Answer, said she,
great father of waters, thou that rollest
thy floods through eighty nations, to the
invocations of the daughter of thy na-
tive king, Tell me if thou waterest,
through all thy course, a single habita-
tion 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 fa-
miliarly into many families, where there
was the fairest show of prosperity and
peace, and know not one house that is
not haunted by some fury that destroys
its quiet.
“I did not seek ease among the poor,
because I concluded that there it could not
be found. But I saw many poor whom I
had supposed to live in affluence. Poverty
has, in large cities, very different ap-
pearances: it is often concealed in splen-
dour, and often in extravagance. It is
rhe care of a very great part of man-
kind to conceal their indigence from the
rest: they support themselves by tempo-
rary 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 com-
4 pelled
pelled them to admit my kindness, have
never been able to forgive their bene-
faitress. Many however, have been
sincerely grateful without the ostentation
of gratitude, or the hope of other fa-

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