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tious are often melancholy, and the melancholy almost always superstitious.
“But do not let the suggestions of timidity overpower your better reason : the danger of neglect can be but as the probability of the obligation, which, when you consider it with freedom, you find very little, and that little growing every day less. Open your heart to the influence of the light, which from time to time breaks in upon you : when scruples importune you, which you in your lucid moments know to be vain, do not stand to parley, but fly to business or to Pekuah, and keep this thought always prevalent, that you are only one atom of the mass of humanity, and have neither such virtue nor vice, as that you should be singled out for supernatural favours or afflictions.”
THE PRINCE ENTERS, AND BRINGS A NEW TOPICK.
“All this,” said the astronomer, “I have often thought, but my reason has been so long subjugated by an uncontrollable and overwhelming idea, that it durst not confide in its own decisions. I now see how fatally I betrayed my quiet, by suffering chimeras to prey upon me in secret; but melancholy shrinks from communication, and I never found a man before, to whom I could impart my troubles, though I had been certain of relief. I rejoice to find my own sentiments confirmed by yours, who are not easily deceived, and can have no motive or purpose to deceive. I hope that time and variety will dissipate the gloom that has so long surrounded me, and the latter part of
of my days will be spent in peace.”
“ Your learning and virtue,” said Imlac, “ may justly give you hopes."
Rasselas then entered with the princess and Pekuah, and inquired, whether they had contrived any new diversion for the next day? “Such,” said Nekayah, “is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing: when we have made
it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted ; let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before."
“ Variety,” said Rasselas," is so necessary to content, that even the Happy Valley disgusted me by the recurrence of its luxuries; yet I could not forbear to reproach myself with impatience, when I saw the monks of St. Anthony support, without complaint, a life not of uniform delight, but uniform hardship.'
“ Those men,” answered Imlac, “ are less wretched in their silent convent than the Abissinian princes in their prison of pleasure. Whatever is done by the monks is incited by an adequate and reasonable motive. Their labour supplies them with necessaries; it therefore cannot be omitted, and is certainly rewarded. Their devotion prepares them for another state, and reminds them of its approach, while it fits them for it. Their time is regularly distributed; one duty succeeds another, so that they are not left open to the distraction of unguided choice, nor lost in the shades of listless inactivity. There is a certain task to be performed at an appropriated hour; and their toils are cheerful, because they consider them as acts of piety, by which they are always advancing towards endless felicity.”
“Do you think,” said Nekayah, “that the monastick rule is a more holy and less imperfect state than any other? ? May not he equally hope for future happiness who converses openly with mankind, who succours the distressed by his charity, instructs the ignorant by his learning, and contributes by his industry to the general system of life; even though he should omit some of the mortifications which are practised in the cloister, and allow himself such harmless delights as his condition may place within his reach?"
“ This,” said Imlac, “ is a question which has long divided the wise, and perplexed the good. I am afraid to decide on either part. He that lives well in the world is better than he that lives well in a monastery. But, per
haps, every one is not able to stem the temptations of publick life; and if he cannot conquer, he may properly retreat. Some have little power to do good, and have likewise little strength to resist evil. Many are weary of their conflicts with adversity, and are willing to eject those passions which have long busied them in vain. And many are dismissed by age and diseases from the more laborious duties of society. In monasteries the weak and timorous
be happily sheltered, the weary may repose, and the penitent may meditate. Those retreats of prayer and contemplation have something so congenial to the mind of man, that
, perhaps, there is scarcely one that does not propose to close his life in pious abstraction with a few associates serious as himself.”.
“Such,” said Pekuah, “ has often been my wish, and I have heard the princess declare, that she should not willingly die in a crowd.”
“The liberty of using harmless pleasures,” proceeded Imlac, “ will not be disputed; but it is still to be examined what pleasures are harmless. The evil of any pleasure that Nekayah can image is not in the act itself, but in its consequences. Pleasure, in itself harmless, may become mischievous, by endearing to us a state which we know to be transient and probatory, and withdrawing our thoughts from that, of which every hour brings us nearer to the beginning, and of which no length of time will bring us to the end. Mortification is not virtuous in itself, nor has any other use, but that it disengages us from the allurements of
In the state of future perfection, to which we all aspire, there will be pleasure without danger, and security without restraint.”
The princess was silent, and Rasselas, turning to the astronomer, asked him, whether he could not delay her retreat, by shewing her something which she had not seen before.
“ Your curiosity,” said the sage,“ has been so general, and your pursuit of knowledge so vigorous, that novelties are not now very easily to be found : but what you can no
longer procure from the living may be given by the dead. Among the wonders of this country are the catacombs, or the ancient repositories, in which the bodies of the earliest generations were lodged, and where, by the virtue of the gums which embalmed them, they yet remain without corruption."
“ I know not,” said Rasselas, “what pleasure the sight of the catacombs can afford; but, since nothing else offers, I am resolved to view them, and shall place this with many other things which I have done, because I would do something."
They hired a guard of horsemen, and the next day visited the catacombs. When they were about to descend into the sepulchral caves, Pekuah,” said the princess, “we are now again invading the habitations of the dead; I know that you will stay behind ; let me find you safe when I return." “ No, I will not be left," answered Pekuah; I will go down between you and the prince.”
They then all descended, and roved with wonder through the labyrinth of subterraneous passages, where the bodies were laid in rows on either side.
IMLAC DISCOURSES ON THE NATURE OF THE SOUL.
“What reason,” said the prince, “can be given, why the Egyptians should thus expensively preserve those carcases which some nations consume with fire, others lay to mingle with the earth, and all agree to remove from their sight, as soon as decent rites can be performed ?"
“ The original of ancient customs,” said Imlac,“ is commonly unknown; for the practice often continues when the cause has ceased ; and concerning superstitious ceremonies it is vain to conjecture; for what reason did not dictate, reason cannot explain. I have long believed that the practice of embalming arose only from tenderness to the remains of relations or friends, and to this opinion I am more inclined, because it seems impossible that this care
should have been general : had all the dead been embalmed, their repositories must in time have been more spacious than the dwellings of the living. I suppose only the rich or honourable were secured from corruption, and the rest left to the course of nature.
“ But it is commonly supposed that the Egyptians believed the soul to live as long as the body continued undissolved, and therefore tried this method of eluding death.”
“Could the wise Egyptians,” said Nekayah, “ think so grossly of the soul? If the soul could once survive its separation, what could it afterwards receive or suffer from the body?”
“ The Egyptians would doubtless think erroneously," said the astronomer, “ in the darkness of heathenism, and the first dawn of philosophy. The nature of the soul is still disputed amidst all our opportunities of clearer knowledge: some yet say, that it may be material, who, nevertheless, believe it to be immortal.”
Some,” answered Imlac,“ have indeed said that the soul is material, but I can scarcely believe that any man has thought it, who knew how to think; for all the conclusions of reason enforce the immateriality of mind, and all the notices of sense and investigations of science concur to prove the unconsciousness of matter.
“It was never supposed that cogitation is inherent in matter, or that every particle is a thinking being. Yet, if any part of matter be devoid of thought, what part can we suppose to think? Matter can differ from matter only in form, density, bulk, motion, and direction of motion : to which of these, however varied or combined, can consciousness be annexed ? To be round or square, to be solid or fluid, to be great or little, to be moved slowly or swiftly one way or another, are modes of material existence, all equally alien from the nature of cogitation. If matter be once without thought, it can only be made to think by some new modification, but all the modifications which it can admit are equally unconnected with cogitative powers.”