Изображения страниц

him by extraordinary respect. He began gradually to delight in sublunary pleasures. He came early and departed late ; laboured to recommend himself by assiduity and compliance, excited their curiosity after new arts, that they might still want his assistance: and when they made any excursion of pleasure or inquiry, entreated to attend them.

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

« Of the various conditions which the world spreads before you, which you shall prefer,” said the sage,

“I am not able to instruct you. I can only tell that I have chosen wrong. I have passed my time in study without experience: in the attainment of sciences which can, for the most part, be but remotely useful to mankind. I have purchased knowledge at the expense of all the common comforts of life: I have missed the endearing elegance of female friendship, and the happy commerce of domestic tenderness. If I have obtained any prerogatives above other students, they have been accompanied with fear, disquiet, and scrupulosity; but even of these prerogatives, whatever they were, I have, since my thoughts have been diversified by more intercourse with the world, begun to question the reality. When I have been for a few days lost in pleasing dissipation, I am

always tempted to think that my inquiries have ended in error, and that I have suffered much and suffered it in vain."

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

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

The sage confessed to Imlac, that since he had mingled in the gay tumults of life, and divided his hours by a succession of amusements, he found the conviction of his authority over the skies fade gradually from his mind, and began to trust less to an opinion which he never could prove to others, and which he now found subject to variation, from causes in which reason had no part. “ If I am accidentally left alone for a few hours,” said he,“ my inveterate persuasion rushes upon my soul, and my thoughts are chained down by some irresistible violence, but they are soon disentangled by the Prince's conversation, and instantaneously released at the entrance of Pekuah. I am like a man habitually afraid of spectres, who is set at ease by a lamp, and wonders at the dread which

harassed him in the dark, yet, if his lamp be extinguished, feels again the terrors which he knows that when it is light he shall feel no more. But I am sometimes afraid, lest I indulge my quiet by criminal negligence, and voluntarily forget the great charge with which I am intrusted. If I favour myself in a known error, or am determined by my own case in a doubtful question of this importance, how dreadful is my crime!”

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

“ But do not let the suggestions of timidity overpower your better reason: the danger of neglect can be but as the probability of the obligation, which, when 'you consider it with freedom, you find very little, and that little growing every day less. Open your heart to the influence of the light, which, from time to time, breaks in upon you: when scruples importune you, which you in your lucid moments you know to be vain, do not stand to parley, but fly to business, or Pekuah;

and keep this thought always prevalent, that you are only one atom of the mass of humanity, and have neither such virtue nor vice, as that you should be singled out for supernatural favours or afflictions.”


The Prince enters and begins a new topic.

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

“ Your learning and virtues," said Imlac, “ may justly give you hopes.”

Rasselas then entered, with the Princess and Pekuah, and inquired whether they had contrived any


new diversion for the next day. “ Such," said Nekayah," is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted ; let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before.”

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

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

“ Do you think," said Nekayalı, “ that the monastic rule is a more holy and less imperfect state than any

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »