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They saluted him with great respect, which he repaid like a man not unaccustomed to the forms of courts." My children,” said he, “ if you have lost your way, you shall be willingly supplied with such conveniencies for the night as this cavern will afford. I have all that nature requires, and you will not expect delicacies in a hermit's cell.”
They thanked him; and, entering, were pleased with the neatness and regularity of the place. The hermit set flesh and wine before them, though he fed only upon fruits and water. His discourse was cheerful withont levity, and pious without enthusiasm. He soon gained the esteem of his guests, and the princess repented her hasty censure.
At last Imlac begán thus : “I do not now wonder that your reputation is so far extended; we have heard at Cairo of your wisdom, and came hither to implore your direction for this young man and maiden in the choice of 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 all apparent evil.”
“ He will most certainly remove from evil,” said the prince, " who shall devote himself to that solitude which you have recommended by your 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 laste
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, haviug found the world full of snares, discord, and misery. I had once escaped from the pursuit of the enemy by the shelter of this cavern, and therefore chose it for my final residence. employed artificers to form it into
chambers, and stored it with all that I was likely to I want.
“ For some time after my retreat, I rejoiced like a tempest-beaten sailor at his entrance into harbour, being delighted with the sudden change of the noise and hurry of war to stillness and repose. When the pleasure of novelty went away, I employed my hours in examining the piants which grow in the valley, and the minerals which I collected from the rocks. But that inquiry is now grown tasteless and irksome. I have been for some time unsettled and distracted : my mind is disturbed with a thousand perplexities of doubt, and vanilies of imagination, which hourly prevail npon me, because I have no opportunities of relaxation or diversion. I am sometimes ashamed to think that I could not secure myself from vice, but by retiring from the exercise of virlue, and begin to-suspect that I was rather impelled by resentment, than led by devotion into solitude. My fancy riots in scenes of folly, and I lament that I have lost so much, and have gained so little. In solitude, if I escape the example of bad men, I want likewise the counsel and conversation of the good. I have been long comparing the evils with t he advantages of society, and re
solve to return into the world to-morrow. The life of a solitary man will be certainly miserable, but not certainly devout.”
They heard his resolution with surprise, but, after a short pause, offered to conduct him to Cairo. He dug up a considerable treasure which he had hid among the rocks, and accompanied them to the city, on which, as he approached it, he gazed with rapture.
The Happiness of a Life led according 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 continaed till neither controvertist remembered upon what question they began. Some faults were almost general among them: every one was pleased to hear the genius or knowledge of another depreciated.
In this assembly Rasselas was relating his interview with the hermit, and the wonder with which he heard him censure a course of life which he had so deliberately chosen, and so laudably followed. The senti.
ments of the hearers were various. Some were of opinion, that the folly of his choice had been justly punished by condemnation to perpetual perseverance. One of the youngest among them, with great vehemence, pronounced him an hypocrite. Some talked of the right of society to the labour of individuals, and considered retirement as a desertion of duty. Others readily allowed, that there was a time when the claims of the public were satisfied, and when a man might properly sequester himself, to review his life, and purify his heart.
One, who appeared more affected with the narrative than the rest, thought it likely, that the hermit would, in a few years, go back to his retreat, and per. haps, if shame did not restrain, or death intercept him, return once more from his retreat into the world. “ For the hope of happiness,” said he, “ is so strongly impressed, that the longest experience is not able to efface it. Of the present state, whatever it be, we feel, and are forced to confess, the misery, yet, when the same state is again at a distance, imagination paints it as desirable. But the time will surely come, when desire will no longer be our torment, and no man shall be wretched but by his own fault.” This,”
,” said a philosopher, who had heard him with tokens of great impatience, “ is the present condition of a wise man. The time is already come, when none are wretched but by their own fault. Nothing is more idle, than to inquire after happiness, which nature has kindly placed within our reach. The way to be happy is to live according to nature, in obedience to that
universal and unalterable law with which every heart is originally impressed; which is not written on it by precept, but engraven by destiny, not instilled by education, but infused at our nativity. He that lives according to nature will suffer nothing from the delusions of hope or importunities of desire; he will receive and reject with equability of temper; and act or suffer as the reason of things shall alternately prescribe. Other men may amuse themselves with subtle definitions, or intricate ratiocination. Let them learn to be wise by easier means : let them observe the hind of the forest, and the linnet of the grove: let them consider the life of animals, whose motions are regulated by instinct; they obey their guide, and are happy. Let us, therefore, at length, cease to dispute, and learn to live: throw away the incumbrance of precepts, which they who utter them with so much pride and pomp do not understand, and carry with us this simple and intelligible maxim, That deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.”
When he had spoken, he looked round him with a placid air, and enjoyed the consciousness of his own beneficence. “ Sir," said the prince with great modesty, as I, like all the rest of mankind, am desirous of felicity, my closest attention has been fixed upon your discourse; I doubt not the truth of a position which a man so learned has so confidently advanced. Let me only know what it is to live according to nature.”
“When I find young men so humble and so docile," said tủe philosopher, “I can deny them no informa