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Rasselas, however, though it pronounces on the unsatisfactory nature of all human enjoyments, and though its perusal may check the worldling in his mirth, and bring down the mighty in his pride, does not, with the philosophic conqueror, sullenly despair, but gently sooths the mourner, by the prospect of a final recompense and repose. Its pages inculcate the same lesson, as those of the Rambler, but "the precept, which is tedious in a formal essay, may acquire attractions in a tale, and the sober charms of truth be divested of their austerity by the graces of innocent fiction c." We may observe, in conclusion, that the abrupt termination of Rasselas, so left, according to sir John Hawkins, by its author, to admit of continuation, and its unbroken gloom, induced Miss E. Cornelia Knight to present to the public a tale, entitled Dinarbas, to exhibit the fairer view of life.
• See Drake's Speculator, 1790, No. 1.
RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABISSINIA.
DESCRIPTION OF A PALACE IN A VALLEY.
YE, who listen, with credulity, to the whispers of fancy, and pursue, with eagerness, the phantoms of hope; who expect, that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, prince of 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 of succession should call him to the throne.
The place, which the wisdom, or policy, of antiquity had destined for the residence of the Abissinan princes, was a spacious valley in the kingdom of Amhara, surrounded, on every side, by mountains, of which the summits overhang the middle part. The only passage, by which it could be entered, was a cavern that passed under a rock, of which it has been long 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, without the help of engines, open or shut them.
From the mountains, on every side, rivulets descended, that filled all the valley with verdure and fertility, and formed a lake in the middle, inhabited by fish of every species, and frequented by every fowl, whom nature has taught to dip the wing in water. This lake discharged its superfluities by a stream, which entered a dark cleft of the mountain, on the northern side, and fell, with dreadful noise, from precipice to precipice, till it was heard no
The sides of the mountains were covered with trees; the banks of the brooks were diversified with flowers; every blast shook spices from the rocks; and every month dropped fruits upon the ground. All animals that bite the grass, or browse the shrub, whether wild or tame, wandered in this extensive circuit, secured from beasts of prey, by the mountains which confined them. On one part, were flocks and herds feeding in the pastures; on another, all the beasts of chase frisking in the lawns; the sprightly kid was bounding on the rocks, the subtle monkey frolicking in the trees, and the solemn elephant reposing in the shade. All the diversities of the world were brought together, the blessings of nature were collected, and its evils extracted and excluded.
The valley, wide and fruitful, supplied its inhabitants with the necessaries of life; and all delights and superfluities were added, at the annual visit which the emperour paid his children, when the iron gate was opened to the sound of musick; and during eight days every one, that resided in the valley, was required to propose whatever might contribute to make seclusion pleasant, to fill up the vacancies of attention, and lessen the tediousness of time. Every desire was immediately granted. All the artificers of pleasure were called to gladden the festivity; the musi cians exerted the power of harmony, and the dancers showed their activity before the princes, in hope that they should pass their lives in this blissful captivity, to which
those only were admitted, whose performance was thought able to add novelty to luxury. Such was the appearance of security and delight, which this retirement afforded, that they, to whom it was new, always desired, that it might be perpetual; and, as those, on whom the iron gate had once closed, were never suffered to return, the effect of long experience could not be known. Thus every year produced new schemes of delight, and new competitors for imprisonment.
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 massy stone, joined by a cement that grew harder by time, and the building stood, from century to century, deriding the solstitial rains and equinoctial hurricanes, without need of reparation.
This house, which was so large, as to be fully known to none, but some ancient officers, who successively inherited the secrets of the place, was built, as if suspicion herself had dictated the plan. To every room there was an open and secret passage, every square had a communication with the rest, either from the upper stories, by private galleries, or, by subterranean passages, from the lower apartments. Many of the columns had unsuspected cavities, in which a long race of monarchs 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, attended by the prince, who stood next in succession.
THE DISCONTENT OF RASSELAS IN THE HAPPY
HERE the sons and daughters of Abissinia, lived only to know the soft vicissitudes of pleasure and repose, attended
by all that were skilful to delight, and gratified with whatever the senses can enjoy. They wandered in gardens of fragrance, and slept in the fortresses of security. Every art was practised, to make them pleased with their own condition. The sages, who instructed them, told them of nothing but the miseries of publick life, and described all beyond the mountains, as regions of calamity, where discord was always raging, and where man preyed upon man.
To heighten their opinion of their own felicity, they were daily entertained with songs, the subject of which was the happy valley. Their appetites were excited, by frequent enumerations of different enjoyments, and revelry and merriment was the business of every hour, from the dawn of morning, to the close of even.
These methods were, generally, successful; few of the princes had ever wished to enlarge their bounds, but passed their lives in full conviction, that they had all within their reach that art or nature could bestow, and pitied those, whom fate had excluded from this seat of tranquillity, as the sport of chance, and the slaves of misery.
Thus, they rose in the morning, and lay down at night, pleased with each other and with themselves, all but Rasselas, who, in the twenty-sixth year of his age, began to withdraw himself from their pastimes and assemblies, and to delight in solitary walks, and silent meditation. He often sat before tables, covered with luxury, and forgot to taste the dainties that were placed before him he rose abruptly in the midst of the song, and hastily retired beyond the sound of musick. His attendants observed the change, and endeavoured to renew his love of pleasure: he neglected their officiousness, repulsed their invitations, and spent day after day, on the banks of rivulets, sheltered with trees; where he sometimes listened to the birds in the branches, sometimes observed the fish playing in the 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 ob