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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 desirous 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 that I had not seen : I could not hope to move those with delight or terror, whose interests and opinions I did not understand.
Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw everything 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 of gratifying his reader with remote allusions and unexpected instruction.
“All the appearances of nature I was therefore careful to study, and every country which I have surveyed has contributed something to my poetical powers.”
“In so wide a survey,” said the prince, “you must surely have left much unobserved. I have lived, till now, within the
circuit of these mountains, and yet cannot walk abroad without the sight of something which I had never beheld before, or never heeded.”
“The business of a poet,” said Imlac, “is to examine, not the individual, but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances ; he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features, as recall the original to every mind ; and must neglect the minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked, and another have neglected, for those characteristics which are alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness.
But the knowledge of nature is only half the task of a poet ; he must be acquainted likewise with all the modes of life. Hj character requires that he estimate the happiness and misery of every condition ; observe the power of all the passions in all their combinations, and trace the changes of the human mind as they are modified by various institutions and accidental influences of climate or custom, from the sprightliness of infancy to the despondence of decrepitude. He must divest himself of the prejudices of his age or country; he must consider right and wrong in their abstracted and invariable state ; he must disregard present laws and opinions, and rise to general and transcendental truths, which will always be the same: he must therefore content himself with the slow progress of his name ; contemn the applause of his own time, and commit his claims to the justice of posterity. He must write as the interpreter of nature, and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations; as a being superior to time and place.
“His labour is not yet at an end: he must know many languages and many sciences; and, that his style may be worthy of his thoughts, must, by incessant practice, familiarise to himself every delicacy of speech and grace of harmony."
Imlac now felt the enthusiastic fit, and was proceeding to aggrandise his own profession, when the Prince cried out, “Enough! thou hast convinced me, that no human being can ever be a poet."
(From the Same.)
A LIFE 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 continued till neither controvertist remembered upon what question they began. Some faults were almost general among them : every one was desirous to dictate to the rest, and 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 sentiments 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 a 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 people 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, perhaps 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 be no longer 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 ratiocinations. 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 the philosopher, “I can deny them no information which my studies have enabled me to afford. To live according to nature, is to act always with due regard to the fitness arising from the relations and qualities of causes and effects; to concur with the great and unchangeable scheme of universal felicity; to co-operate with the general disposition and tendency of the present system of things."
The prince soon found that this was one of the sages whom he should understand less as he heard him longer. He therefore bowed and was silent, and the philosopher, supposing him satisfied, and the rest vanquished, rose up and departed with the air of a man that had co-operated with the present system.
(From the Same.)
THE LOSS OF A FRIEND
“SINCE Pekuah was taken from me ” said the princess, “ I have no pleasure to reject or to retain. She that has no one to love or trust has little to hope. She wants the radical principle of happiness. We may, perhaps, allow that what satisfaction this world can afford, must arise from the conjunction of wealth, knowledge, and goodness : wealth is nothing but as it is bestowed, and knowledge nothing but as it is communicated; they must therefore be imparted to others, and to whom could I now delight to impart them ? Goodness affords the only comfort which can be enjoyed without a partner, and goodness may be practised in retirement.”
“How far solitude may admit goodness or advance it, I shall not,” replied Imlac, “dispute at present. Remember the confession of the pious hermit. You will wish to return into the world when the image of your companion has left your thoughts.” “That time,” said Nekayah, “will never come. The generous frankness, the modest obsequiousness, and the faithful secrecy of my dear Pekuah, will always be more missed, as I shall live longer to see vice and folly.”
6. The state of a mind oppressed with a sudden calamity," said Imlac, “is like that of the fabulous inhabitants of the new created earth, who when the first night came upon them, supposed that day would never return. When the clouds of sorrow gather over us, we see nothing beyond them, nor can imagine how they will be dispelled : yet a new day succeeded to the night, and sorrow is never long without a dawn of ease. But they who restrain themselves from receiving comfort, do as the savages would have done, had they put out their eyes when it was dark. Our minds, like our bodies, are in continual flux ; something is hourly lost, and something acquired. To lose much at once is inconvenient to either, but while the vital powers remain uninjured, nature will find the means of reparation. Distance has the same effect on the mind as on the eye, and while we glide along the stream of time, whatever we leave behind us is always lessening, and that which we approach increasing in magnitude. Do not suffer life to stagnate ; it will grow muddy for want of motion : commit yourself again to the current of the world ; Pekuah will