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“But the materialists,” said the astronomer, “urge that matter may have qualities with which we are unacquainted.”
“He who will determine," returned Imlac, “ against that which he knows, because there may be something which he knows not; he that can set hypothetical possibility against acknowledged certainty, is not to be admitted among reasonable beings. All that we know of matter is, that matter is inert, senseless, and lifeless; and if this conviction cannot be opposed but by referring us to something that we know not, we have all the evidence that human intellect can admit. If that which is known may be overruled by that which is unknown, no being not omniscient, can arrive at certainty."
“Yet let us not,” said the astronomer,“ too arrogantly limit the Creator's power.”
“It is no limitation of Omnipotence,” replied the poet, “ to suppose that one thing is not consistent with another, that the same proposition cannot be at once true and false, that the same number cannot be even and odd, that cogitation cannot be conferred on that which is created incapable of cogitation.”
“I know not,” said Nekayah, “any great use of this question. Does that immateriality, which, in my opinion, you have sufficiently proved, necessarily include eternal duration ?"
“Of immateriality,” said Imlac, “our ideas are negative, and therefore obscure. Immateriality seems to imply a natural power of perpetual duration, as a consequence of exemption from all causes of decay: whatever perishes is destroyed by the resolution of its contexture, and separation of its parts; nor can we conceive how that which has no parts, and therefore admits no solution, can be naturally corrupted or impaired.”
“I know not,” said Rasselas,“ how to conceive anything without extension; what is extended must have parts, and you allow, that whatever has parts may be destroyed.”
“Consider your own exceptions,” replied Imlac, “and
the difficulty will be less. You will find substance without extension. An ideal form is no less real than material bulk: yet an ideal form has no extension. It is no less certain, when you think on a pyramid, that your mind possesses the idea of a pyramid, than that the pyramid itself is standing. What space does the idea of a pyramid occupy more than the idea of a grain of corn? or how can either idea suffer laceration? As is the effect, such is the cause: as thought, such is the power that thinks; a power impassive and indiscerptible.”
“ But the Being,” said Nekayah," whom I fear to name, the Being which made the soul, can destroy it.”
“ He, surely, can destroy it,” answered Imlac, “since, however unperishable, it receives from a superiour nature its power of duration. That it will not perish by any inherent cause of decay, or principle of corruption, may shewn by philosophy; but philosophy can tell no more. That it will not be annihilated by Him that made it, we must humbly learn from higher authority.”
The whole assembly stood awhile silent and collected. “Let us return,” said Rasselas," from this scene of mortality. How gloomy would be these mansions of the dead to him who did not know that he should never die; that what now acts shall continue its agency, and what now thinks shall think on for ever. Those that lie here stretched before us, the wise and the powerful of ancient times, warn us to remember the shortness of our present state : they were, perhaps, snatched away while they were busy like us in the choice of life.”
“To me,” said the princess,“ the choice of life is become less important; I hope hereafter to think only on the choice of eternity
They then hastened out of the caverns, and under the protection of their guard returned to Cairo.
RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABISSINIA.
CHAP. XLIX. THE CONCLUSION, IN WHICH NOTHING IS CONCLUDED.
It was now the time of the inundations of the Nile; a few days after their visit to the catacombs, the river began to rise.
They were confined to their house. The whole region being under water gave them no invitation to any excursions, and, being well supplied with materials for talk, they diverted themselves with comparisons of the different forms of life which they had observed, and with various schemes of happiness, which each of them had formed.
Pekuah was never so much charmed with any place as the convent of St. Anthony, where the Arab restored her to the princess, and wished only to fill it with pious maidens, and to be made prioress of the order: she was weary of expectation and disgust, and would gladly be fixed in some unvariable state.
The princess thought, that of all sublunary things knowledge was the best : she desired first to learn all sciences, and then purposed to found a college of learned women, in which she would preside, that, by conversing with the old, and educating the young, she might divide her time between the acquisition and communication of wisdom, and raise up for the next age models of prudence, and patterns of piety.
The prince desired a little kingdom, in which he might administer justice in his own person, and see all the parts of government with his own eyes; but he could never fix the limits of his dominion, and was always adding to the number of his subjects.
Imlac and the astronomer were contented to be driven along the stream of life, without directing their course to any particular port.
Of these wishes that they had formed they well knew that none could be obtained. They deliberated awhile what was to be done, and resolved, when the inundation should cease, to return to Abissinia.
Son of Perseverance, whoever thou art, whose curiosity has led thee hither, read and be wise. He that now calls upon thee is Theodore, the Hermit of Teneriffe, who in the fifty-seventh year of his retreat left this instruction to mankind, lest his solitary hours should be spent in vain.
I was once wñat thou art now, a groveller on the earth, and a gazer at the Sky; I trafficked and heaped wealth together, I loved and was favoured, I wore the robe of honour and heard the musick of adulation: I was ambitious, and rose to greatness : I was unhappy, and retired. I sought for some time what I at length found here, a place where all real wants might be easily supplied, and where I might not be under the necessity of purchasing the assistance of men by the toleration of their follies. Here I saw fruits and herbs and water, and here determined to wait the hand of death, which I hope, when at last it comes, will fall lightly upon me.
Forty-eight years had I how passed in forgetfulness of all mortal cares, and without any inclination to wander farther than the necessity of procuring sustenance required; but as I stood one day beholding the rock that overhangs my cell, I found in myself a desire to climb it; and when I was on its top, was in the same manner determined to scale the next, till by degrees I conceived a wish to view
* Printed in the PRECEPTOR, 1743.
the summit of the mountain, at the foot of which I had so long resided. This motion of my thoughts I endeavoured to suppress, not because it appeared criminal, but because it was new; and all change not evidently for the better, alarms a mind taught by experience to distrust itself. I was often afraid that my heart was deceiving me, that my impatience of confinement arose from some earthly passion, and that my ardour to survey the works of nature was only a hidden longing to mingle once again in the scenes of life. I therefore endeavoured to settle my thoughts into their former state, but found their distraction every day greater. I was always reproaching myself with the want of happiness within my reach, and at last began to question whether it was not laziness rather than caution that restrained me from climbing to the summit of Teneriffe.
I rose therefore before the day, and began my journey up the steep of the mountain ; but I had not advanced far, old as I was and burdened with provisions, when the day began to shine upon me; the declivities grew more precipitous, and the sand slided from beneath my feet; at last, fainting with labour, I arrived at a small plain almost enclosed by rocks, and open only to the east.
I sat down to rest awhile, in full persuasion, that when I had recovered my strength I should proceed on my design; but when once I had tasted ease, I found many reasons against disturbing it. The branches spread a shade over my head, and the gales of spring wafted odours to my bosom.
As I sat thus, forming alternately excuses for delay, and resolutions to go forward, an irresistible heaviness suddenly surprised me; I laid my head upon the bank, and resigned myself to sleep: when methought I heard the sound as of the flight of eagles, and a being of more than human dignity stood before me. While I was deliberating how to address him, he took me by the hand with an air of kindness, and asked me solemnly, but without severity,“ Theodore, whither art thou going ?” “I am climbing,” answered I, “ to the top of the mountain, to enjoy a more extensive prospect of the works of nature.” “Attend first," said he,