0363 | Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia | Samuel Johnson

0362 | Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia | Samuel Johnson

Context: Got another pineapple out of the garden while I was reading this. Lovely!


Now here’s a wee tale that reads like a novelist’s version of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. If you’re not familiar with that particular section of the Bible, I’d definitely suggest you check it out. It’s a piece of classic literature in its own right. But it is often criticised for being a bit laissez faire about life, as if there’s no real point in pursuing anything cos, ultimately, none of it really means anything.

So, Rasselas is this guy who lives in Happy Valley (no, not the Monty Python audio sketch). He has everything he needs and is (therefore?) deeply unhappy. He contrives a plan of escape which is as straightforward as it is unrealistic. Nevertheless, we needn’t argue about that literary device. The deed is done and he finds himself with his sister and a couple of servants out in the big wide world.

Once there, there’s a bit of culture-shock to get over and then they’re off on a journey to find something, anything that will satisfy them in life.

The short story is that they don’t find anything and then they head back to the valley.

The long story is that they visit all sorts of people and places and hear all sorts of wisdom and foolishness and basically discover that no one else is satisfied either and so it’s okay for them not to be and then they head back to the valley.

And if you think I’ve ruined the story for you now, you’ve missed the point. It isn’t about whether they get back to the valley or not. It’s about the philosophical discussions they have and I won’t be spoiling that for you by detailing them here. You can go and read them for yourself and a quick read it will be.


Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow, attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.


This far into the book, some of the plot might be revealed. If you want to see the quote, click show


“Inconsistencies,” answered Imlac, “cannot both be right; but, imputed to man, they may both be true.”

Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.

That you have been deprived on one pleasure is no very good reason for rejection of the rest.

“To me,” said the Princess, “the choice of life is become less important; I hope hereafter to think only on the choice of eternity.”


This might give the game away. If you want to see the last line, click show


0362 | Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia | Johnson | 58% | Okay

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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