Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 894
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, (a.k.a., The Prince of Abyssinia: A Tale; most often referred to as Rasselas) is a 1795 allegorical fable, or an apologue about happiness, written by English writer Samuel Johnson. Because of its similar thematic representation, it is often compared to Voltaire’s Candid, however, it is by no means a satire.
“Happiness," said he, "must be something solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty.”
The book is also considered a theodicy, as Johnson, being a devoted Christian, tries to explain why God allows evil and sin to be present on earth.
“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 commonly reciprocal.”
“Pride,” said Imlac, “is seldom delicate; 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.”
“Of the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason.”
The plot revolves around Rasselas, the Prince of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia), who is next in line for the throne of a beautiful place called the Happy Valley. However, Rasselas desperately wants to escape and go on a quest to find the true meaning of happiness. Alongside his sister Nekayah, her servant Pekuah and his good friend, the wise poet Imlac, Rasselas manages to escape by digging a tunnel under the valley. He travels around, mainly in Egypt, encountering a few adventures, and meeting numerous people of various professions. Failing to find the answer to his deeply philosophical question, however, Rasselas returns home to Abyssinia.
“I am not willing,” said the Prince, “to suppose that happiness is so parsimoniously distributed to mortals, nor can I 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 resentments; 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.”
“I have already enjoyed too much; give me something to desire.”
Many critiques and analysts also classify Rasselas as a philosophical romance, as it explores themes of love, human nature, morality, and marriage.
“Such is the common process of marriage. A youth and maiden exchange meeting by chance, or brought together by artifice, exchange glances, reciprocate civilities, go home, and dream of one another. Having little to divert attention, or diversify thought, they find themselves uneasy when they are apart, and therefore conclude that they shall be happy together. They marry, and discover what nothing but voluntary blindness had before concealed; they wear out life in altercations, and charge nature with cruelty.”
“We differ from ourselves just as we differ from each other when we see only part of the question, as in the multifarious relations of politics and morality, but when we perceive the whole at once, as in numerical computations, all...
(The entire section contains 894 words.)
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