Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
First published 1759
I've added a picture and a TOC.
Those who liked Vathek may well also like Dr Johnson's 'Rasselas'. Both novels have some orientalism. To my mind, Rasselas has the most beautiful prose and a restrained melancholy.
Don't be put off by the fact that there are 49 chapters. Most of them are very short - the work is only 180 pages in the Reader's small font.
(taken from Wikipedia)
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, often abbreviated to Rasselas, is a novella by Samuel Johnson. He wrote the piece in January 1759 to help support his seriously ill mother, although the money he made was ultimately spent on her funeral (she had died whilst Johnson was writing).
Johnson was influenced by the vogue for exotic locations. He had translated A Voyage to Abyssinia by Jeronimo Lobo in 1735 and used it as the basis for what was described as a "philosophical romance".
While the story is thematically similar to Candide by Voltaire - both concern young men traveling in the company of honored teachers, encountering and examining human suffering in an attempt to determine the root of happiness - their root concerns are distinctly different. While Voltaire was very directly satirizing the widely-read philosophical work by Gottfried Leibniz, particularly the Theodicee, in which Leibniz asserts that the world, no matter how we may perceive it, is necessarily the "best of all possible worlds," Rasselas is an outgrowth of Johnson's struggle with depression, particularly at the time of his mother's death. The question Rasselas confronts most directly is whether or not humanity is essentially capable of attaining happiness. Writing as a devout Christian as well, Johnson makes through his characters no blanket attacks on the viability of a religious response to this question (Voltaire does so), and while the story is in places light and humorous, it is not a piece of satire.
The plot concerns Rasselas, son of the King of Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia), who leaves his home in company with his sister, Nekayah, and a philosopher, Imlac, to seek adventure. His observation of other kinds of people eventually leads to the conclusion that there is no easy path to happiness, and he returns to Abissinia along with his companions. One of the more famous quotations from this story is of the character Imlac:
"That the dead are seen no more ... I will not undertake to maintain, against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears"
23 November 2009
New version uploaded.
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