Read The History Of Rasselas Prince Of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson Free Online
Book Title: The History Of Rasselas Prince Of Abissinia|
The author of the book: Samuel Johnson
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Reader ratings: 6.1
Edition: Oxford University Press
Date of issue: January 12th 1989
ISBN 13: 9780192817785
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 11.78 MB
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Written in one week to defray the cost of his mother's funeral, Johnson's moral tale is a superior example of the prose of its era, and its era—the Age of Enlightenment—is renowned for the quality of its prose. It is true that Candide—written in 1759, the same year as Rasselas--excels Johnson's work in both wit and humor, but then Voltaire's task was much easier. He merely wished to demolish another man's philosophy, whereas Johnson wished to persuade his readers how to be happy.
Being happy wasn't easy for Johnson. He suffered from poor eyesight, facial scarring from scrofula, intense irritability, OCD, Tourette's, and thoughts of suicide. He also was afflicted with severe depression in his youth, so profoundly that—as he once told a friend--“he was sometimes so languid and inefficient that he could not distinguish the hour upon the town-clock.” How did he withstand such obstacles? By keeping his fancies and wishes private, applying himself assiduously to the task at hand, and enjoying whatever happiness arose from his labors.
It should be no surprise that Johnson's personal method is similar to the moral of his tale. When Rasselas of Abyssinia becomes discontented with “The Happy Valley,” where his every whim is catered to, he departs, with his sister, her companion, and his tutor to explore the condition of the world. The four of them have many adventures, experiencing much pleasure and pain, but nothing offers them real satisfaction (except for the enduring promise of heaven). After discoursing on various philosophical topics, they conclude that the greatest wisdom would be to return from where they came, embracing their destiny in “The Happy Valley'.
As a sample of Johnson's measured, deliberate prose, I offer the following excerpt from a discourse on the relative merits of the monastic and secular life:
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, perhaps, 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 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 may 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 purpose to close his life in pious abstraction with a few associates serious as himself.”
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Read information about the authorSamuel Johnson was an English author. Beginning as a Grub Street journalist, he made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of one of the most celebrated biographies in English, James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. Boswell's Life, along with other biographies, documented Johnson's behaviour and mannerisms in such detail that they have informed the posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome (TS), a condition unknown to 18th-century physicians. He presented a tall and robust figure, but his odd gestures and tics were confusing to some on their first encounter with him.
Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and attended Pembroke College, Oxford for a year, before his lack of funds forced him to leave. After working as a teacher he moved to London, where he began to write essays for The Gentleman's Magazine. His early works include the biography The Life of Richard Savage and the poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes." Johnson was a devout and compassionate man, whose Christian morality permeated his works. Although he was a conservative Anglican, he respected those of other denominations who demonstrated a commitment to Christ's teachings.
After nine years of work, his Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, bringing him popularity and success; until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary, 150 years later, Johnson's was viewed as the preeminent British dictionary. In the following years, he published essays, an influential annotated edition of William Shakespeare's plays, and the well-read novel Rasselas. In 1763, he befriended James Boswell, with whom he later travelled to Scotland; Johnson's travel narrative A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland described the journey. Towards the end of his life, he produced the massive and influential Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, which includes biographies and evaluations of 17th- and 18th-century poets. After a series of illnesses, Johnson died on the evening of 13 December 1784; he was buried in Westminster Abbey. In the years following his death, Johnson began to be recognised as having had a lasting effect on literary criticism, and even as the only great critic of English literature.
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