Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

could afford any security. A flight of northern savages might hover in the wind, and light, at once, with irresistible violence, upon the capital of a fruitful region, that was rolling under them. Even this valley, the retreat of princes, the abode of happiness, might be violated by the sudden descent of some of the naked nations, that swarm on the coast of the southern sea.”

The prince promised secrecy, and waited for the performance, not wholly hopeless of success. He visited the work, from time to time, observed its progress, and remarked many ingenious contrivances, to facilitate motion, and unite levity with strength. The artist was every day more certain, that he should leave vultures and eagles behind him, and the contagion of his confidence seized upon the prince.

In a year the wings were finished, and, on a morning appointed, the maker appeared, furnished for flight, on a little promontory: he waved his pinions awhile, to gather air, then leaped from his stand, and, in an instant, dropped into the lake. His wings, which were of no use in the air, sustained him in the water, and the prince drew him to land, half dead with terrour and vexation.a

CHAP. VII.

THE PRINCE FINDS A MAN OF LEARNING.

The prince was not much afflicted by this disaster, haying suffered himself to hope for a happier event, only because he had no other means of escape in view. He still persisted in his design to leave the happy valley by the first opportunity.

His imagination was now at a stand; he had no prospect of entering into the world; and, notwithstanding all his endeavours to support himself, discontent, by degrees, preyed upon him, and he began again to lose his thoughts in sadness, when the rainy season, which, in these countries, is periodical, made it inconvenient to wander in the woods,

a See Rambler, No. 199, and note.

The rain continued longer, and with more violence, than had been ever known : the clouds broke on the surrounding mountains, and the torrents streamed into the plain on every side, till the cavern was too narrow to discharge the water. The lake overflowed its banks, and all the level of the valley was covered with the inundation. The eminence, on which the palace was built, and some other spots of rising ground, were all that the eye could now discover. The herds and flocks left the pastures, and both the wild beasts and the tame retreated to the mountains.

This inundation confined all the princes to domestick amusements, and the attention of Rasselas was particularly seized by a poem, which Imlac rehearsed, upon the various conditions of humanity. He commanded the poet to attend him in his apartment, and recite his verses a second time; then entering into familiar talk, he thought himself happy in having found a man who knew the world so well, and could so skilfully paint the scenes of life. He asked a thousand questions about things, to which, though common to all other mortals, his confinement, from childhood, had kept him a stranger. The poet pitied his ignorance, and loved his curiosity, and entertained him, from day to day, with novelty and instruction, so that the prince regretted the necessity of sleep, and longed till the morning should renew his pleasure.

As they were sitting together, the prince commanded Imlac to relate his history, and to tell by what accident he was forced, or by what motive induced, to close his life in the happy valley. As he was going to begin his narrative, Rasselas was called to a concert, and obliged to restrain his curiosity till the evening.

CHAP. VIII.

THE HISTORY OF IMLAC.

The close of the day is, in the regions of the torrid zone, the only season of diversion and entertainment, and it was, therefore, midnight before the musick ceased, and the princesses retired. Rasselas then called for his companion, and required him to begin the story of his life.

“Sir,” said Imlac, “my history will not be long; the life, that is devoted to knowledge, passes silently away, and is very

little diversified by events. To talk in publick, to think in solitude, to read and hear, to inquire, and answer inquiries, is the business of a scholar. He wanders about the world without pomp or terrour, and is neither known nor valued but by men like himself.

“ I was born in the kingdom of Goiama, at no great distance from the fountain of the Nile. My father was a wealthy merchant, who traded between the inland countries of Africk and the ports of the Red sea. He was honest, frugal, and diligent, but of mean sentiments, and narrow comprehension ; he desired only to be rich, and to conceal his riches, lest he should be spoiled by the governours of the province.”

Surely," said the prince, “ my father must be negligent of his charge, if any man, in his dominions, dares take that which belongs to another. Does he not know, that kings are accountable for injustice permitted, as well as done? If I were emperour, not the meanest of my subjects should be oppressed with impunity. My blood boils, when I am told that a merchant durst not enjoy his honest gains, for fear of losing them by the rapacity of power. Name the governour, who robbed the people, that I may declare his crimes to the emperour."

“Sir," said Imlac, “ your ardour is the natural effect of virtue animated by youth : the time will come, when you will acquit your father, and, perhaps, hear with less impatience of the governour. Oppression is, in the Abissinian dominions, neither frequent nor tolerated ; but no form of government has been yet discovered, by which cruelty can be wholly prevented. Subordination supposes power on one part, and subjection on the other; and if power be in the hands of men, it will, sometimes, be abused. The vigilance of the supreme magistrate may do much, but dence of solicitation, and gently reproached them with their practices on the road. They heard me with cold indifference, and showed no tokens of shame or sorrow.

They then urged their request with the offer of a bribe; but what I would not do for kindness, I would not do for money; and refused them, not because they had injured me, but because I would not enable them to injure others ; for I knew they would have made use of my credit to cheat those who should buy their wares.

Having resided at Agra till there was no more to be learned, I travelled into Persia, where I saw many remains of ancient magnificence, and observed many new accommodations of life. The Persians are a nation eminently social, and their assemblies afforded me daily opportunities of remarking characters and manners, and of tracing human nature through all its variations.

“ From Persia I passed into Arabia, where I saw a nation at once pastoral and warlike; who live without any settled habitation; whose only wealth is their flocks and herds; and who have yet carried on, through all ages, an hereditary war with all mankind, though they neither covet nor envy their possessions."

CHAP. X.

IMLAC'S HISTORY CONTINUED. A DISSERTATION

UPON POETRY.

“ Wherever I went, I found that poetry was considered as the highest learning, and regarded with a reneration, somewhat approaching to that which man would pay to the angelick nature. And yet it fills me with wonder, that, in almost all countries, the most ancient poets are considered as the best: whether it be that every other kind of knowledge is an acquisition gradually attained, and poetry is a gift conferred at once; or that the first poetry of every nation surprised them as a novelty, and retained the credit by consent, which it received by accident at first: or whether, as the province of poetry is to describe nature and passion, which are always the same, the first writers took possession of the most striking objects for description, and the most probable occurrences for fiction, and left nothing to those that followed them, but transcription of the same events, and new combinations of the same images. Whatever be the reason, it is commonly observed, that the early writers are in possession of nature, and their followers of art: that the first excel in strength and invention, and the latter in elegance and refinement.

" I was desirons to add my name to this illustrious fraternity. I read all the poets of Persia and Arabia, and was able to repeat, by memory, the volumes that are suspended in the mosque of Mecca. But I soon found, that no man was ever great by imitation. My desire of excellence impelled me to transfer my attention to nature and to life. Nature was to be my subject, and men to be my auditors : I could never describe what I had not seen; I could not hope to move those with delight or terrour, whose interest and opinions I did not understand.

Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw every thing with a new purpose; my sphere of attention was suddenly magnified: no kind of knowledge was to be overlooked. I ranged mountains and deserts for images and resemblances, and pictured upon my mind every tree of the forest and flower of the valley. I observed, with equal care, the crags of the rock and the pinnacles of the palace. Sometimes I wandered along the mazes of the rivulet, and sometimes watched the changes of the summer clouds. To a poet, nothing can be useless. Whatever is beautiful, and whatever is dreadful, must be familiar to his imagination: he must be conversant with all that is awfully vast, or elegantly little. The plants of the garden, the animals of the wood, the minerals of the earth, and meteors of the sky, must all concur to store his mind with inexhaustible variety ; for every idea is useful for the enforcement or decoration of moral or religious truth; and he, who knows most, will have most power of diversifying his scenes, and

« ElőzőTovább »