Изображения страниц

other? May he not equally hope for future happiness who converses openly with mankind, who succours the distressed by his charity, instructs the iguorant by his learning, and contributes by his industry to the general system of life; even though he should omit some of the mortifications which are practised in the cloister, and allow himself such harmless delights as his condition may place within his reach ?”

This,” said Imlac, “ is a question which has long divided the wise and perplexed the-good. I am afraid to decide on either part. He that lives well in the world is better than he that lives well in a monastery. But, perhaps, every one is not able to stem the temptations of public life; and if he cannot conquer, he may properly retreat. Some have little power to do good, and have likewise little strength to resist evil. Many are weary of their conflicts with adversity, and are willing to eject those passions which have long busied them in vain. And many are dismissed by age and disease from the more laborious duties of society. In monasteries the weak and timorous may be happily sheltered, the weary may, repose, and the penitent may meditate. Those retreats of prayer and contemplation have something so congenial to the mivd of man, that, perhaps, there is scarcely one that does not purpose to close his life in pious abstraction, with a few associates serious as himself.”

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

“ The liberty of using harmless pleasures," pro. ceeded Imlac, “ will not be disputed; but it is still to be examined what pleasures are harmless. The evil of any pleasure that Nekayah can imagine is not in the act itself, but in its consequences. Pleasure, in itself harmless, may become mischievons, by endearing to us a state which we know to be transient and probationary, and withdrawing our thoughts from that of which every hour brings tis nearer to the beginning, and of which no length of time will bring us to the end. Mortification is not virtuous in itself, nor has any other use, but that it disengages us from the allurements of sense. In the state of future perfection, to which we all aspire, there will be pleasure without danger, and security without restraint.”

The Princess was silent, and Rasselas, turning to the astronomer, asked him whether he could not delay her retreat, by shewing her something that she had pot seen before.

“ Your curiosity,” said the sage,“ has been so general, and your pursuit of knowledge so vigorous, that noyelties are not now very easily to be found : but what you can no longer procure from the living, may be given by the dead. Among the wonders of this country are the catacombs, or the ancient repositories in which the bodies of the earliest generations were lodged, and where, by the virtue of the gums which embalmed them, they yet remain without corruption."

“ I know not,” said Rasselas, “ what pleasure the sight of the catacombs can afford; but, since nothing

[ocr errors]

else is offered, I am resolved to view them, and shall place this with many other things which I have done, because I would do something."

They hired a guard of horsemen, and the next day visited the catacombs. When they were about to descend into the sepulchral caves, “ Pekuah,” said the Princess, we are now again invading the habitations of the dead; I know that you will stay behind; let me find you safe when I return.”—“ No, I will not be left," answered Pekuah : “I will go down between you and the Prince.”

They then all descended, and roved with wonder through the labyrinth of subterraneous passages, where the bodies were laid in rows on either side.


Imlac discourses on the nature of the Soul.

66 What reason,” said the Prince, can be given, why the Egyptians should thus expensively preserve those carcases which some nations consume with fire, others lay to mingle with the earth, and all agree to remove from their sight, as soon as decent rites can be performed ?"

“ The original of ancient customs,” said Imlac,“ is commonly unknown; for the practice often continues

[ocr errors]

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

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

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

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

“ Some,” answered Imlac,“ have indeed said that the soul is material, but I can scarcely believe that any man bas thought it, who knew how to think ; for all the conclusions of reason enforce the immateriality


of mind, and all the notices of sense and investigations of science concur to prove the unconsciousness of matter.

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

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

“ He who will determine," returned Imlac “ against that which he knows, because there may be something which he knows not : he that can set hypothetical possibility against acknowiedged certainty, is not to be admitted among reasonable beings. All that we know of matter is, that matter is inert, senseless and lifeless; and if this conviction cannot be opposed but by referring us to something that we know not, we have all the evidence that the human intellect can admit. If that which is known may be overruled by that which

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »