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Sublime ingenium Græcus; Romanus habebat
Carmen grande sonans; Anglus utrumque tulit. Nil majus natura capit: clarare priores
Quæ potuere duos tertius unus habet.
EPILOGUE TO THE CARMEN SÆCULARE OF HORACE;
PERFORMED AT FREEMASONS' HALL.
QUÆ fausta Romæ dixit Horatius,
Imperium pelagi precantes.
Such strains as, mingled with the lyre,
May ye the varied blessings share
TRANSLATION OF A WELSH EPITAPH (IN HERBERT'S
TRAVELS) ON PRINCE MADOCK. INCLYTUS hic hæres magni requiescit Oeni,
Confessas tantum mente, manuque, patrem ; Servilem tuti cultum contempsit agelli,
Et petiit terras, per freta longa, novas.
RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABISSINIA.
The following incomparable tale was published in 1759; and the early familiarity with eastern manners, which Johnson derived from his translation of father Lobo's travels into Abissinia, may be presumed to have led him to fix his opening scene in that country; while Rassela Christos, the general of sultan Sequed, mentioned in that work, may have suggested the name of his speculative prince. Rasselas was written in the evenings of a single week, and sent to the press, in portions, with the amiable view of defraying the funeral expenses of the author's aged mother, and discharging her few remaining debts. The sum, however, which he received for it, does not seem large, to those who know its subsequent popularity. None of his works has been more widely circulated ; and the admiration, which it has attracted, in almost every country of Europe, proves, that, with all its depression and sadness, it does utter a voice, that meets with an assenting answer in the hearts of all who have tried life, and found its emptiness. Johnson's view of our lot on earth was always gloomy, and the circumstances, under which Rasselas was composed, were calculated to add a deepened tinge of melancholy to its speculations on human folly, misery, or malignity. Many of the subjects discussed, are known to have been those which had agitated Johnson's mind. Among them is the question, whether the departed ever revisit the places that knew them on earth, and how far they may take an interest in the welfare of those, over whom they watched, when here. We shall elsewhere have to contemplate the moralist, standing on the border of his mother's grave, and asking, with anxious agony, whether that dark bourn, once passed, terminated for ever the cares of maternity and love a. The frivolous and the proud, who think not, or acknowledge not, that there are secrets, in both matter and mind, of which their philosophy has not dreamed, may smile at what they may, in their derision, term such weak and idle inquiries. But on them, the most powerful minds that ever illuminated this world, have fastened, with an intense curiosity; and, owning their fears, or their ignorance, have not dared to disavow their belief b.
It is not to be denied, that Rasselas displays life, as one unvaried series of disappointments, and leaves the mind, at its close, in painful depression. This effect has been considered an evil, and regarded even as similar to that produced by the doctrines of Voltaire, Bolingbroke, and Rousseau, who combined every thing venerable on earth with ridicule, treated virtue and vice, with equal contemptuous indifference, and laid bare, with cruel mockery, the vanity of all mortal wishes, prospects, and pursuits. Their motive, for all this, we need not pause, in this place, to examine. But a distinction may be made between the melancholy of the heart, and the melancholy of the mind: while the latter is sceptical, sour, and misanthropic, the former is passionate, tender, and religious. Those who are under the influence of the one, become inactive, morose, or heedless : detecting the follies of the wisest and the frailties of the best, they scoff at the very name of virtue; they spurn, as visionary and weak, every attempt to meliorate man's condition, and from their conviction of the earthward tendency of his mind, they bound his destinies by this narrow world and its concerns. But those whose hearts are penetrated with a feeling for human infirmity and sorrow, are benevolent and active; considering man, as the victim of sin, and woe, and death, for a cause which reason cannot unfold, but which religion promises to terminate, they sooth the short-lived disappointments of life, by pointing to a loftier and more lasting state. Candide is the book of the one party, Rasselas of the other. They appeared nearly together; they exhibit the same picture of change, and misery, and crime. But the one demoralized a continent, and gave birth to lust, and rapine, and bloodshed; the other has blessed many a heart, and gladdened the vale of sorrow, with many a rill of pure and living water. Voltaire
a See Idler, No.41, and his letter to Mr. Elphinstone, on the death of his mother.
b Aristot. Ethic. Nich. lib. i. c. 10, 11. In Barrow's sermon on the being of God, proved from supernatural effects, Aristotle is called "the least credulous or fanciful of men.”
may be likened to the venomous toad of eastern allegory, which extracts a deadly poison from that sunbeam which bears health, and light, and life to all beside: the philosopher, in Rasselas, like some holy and aged man, who has well nigh run his course, in recounting the toils and perils of his pilgrimage, may sadden the young heart, and crush the fond hopes of inexperience; but, while he wounds, he presents the antidote and the balm, and tells, where promises will be realized, and hopes will no more be disappointed. We have ventured to detain our readers thus long from Rasselas itself, because, from its similar view of life with the sceptical school, many well-intentioned men have apprehended, its effects might be the same.
We have, therefore, attempted briefly to distinguish the sources whence these different writings have issued, and, we trust, we have pointed out their remoteness from each other. And we do not dwell on the subject, at greater length, because Johnson's writings, in various parts, will require our attention on this particular head. To be restless and weary of the dull details and incomplete enjoyments of life, is common to all lofty minds. Frederick of Prussia sought, in the bosom of a cold philosophy, to chill every generous impulse, and each warm aspiration after immortality; but he painfully felt, how inefficient was grandeur, or power, to fill the heart, and plaintively exclaimed to Maupertuis, “Que notre vie est peu de chose;" all is vanity. The philosophy of
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
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.” 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.