• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Samuel Johnson - Rasselas: Prince Of Abyssinia - Preface To Podcast

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

I’ll be reading tonight an excerpt from Samuel Johnson’s great work, “Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia”.

Outside his immortal “Rambler”, “Adventurer”, and “Idler”, distinct from his idiosyncratic dictionary, superior to his eloquent prose and biting commentary, and comparable to his vastly perceptive and eloquent critical reviews, is Johnson’s longest work, “Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia”.

Though we relish this thoughtful and didactic piece of literature, we should acknowledge the melancholic circumstances in which it was conceived. Johnson, at the time fifty years of age, published the work with the expectation that it might fund his dear mother’s funeral expenses. Thus is there a solemn practicality of purpose undergirding what was, and continues to be, a delightfully philosophical jaunt.

The excerpt on which I’m focused delves into the history, and reveals the wisdom, of the sage-like Imlac—the poet-philosopher by whom the young Rasselas’ journey is to be guided. Let us, for an hour, profit from his wisdom as well.

‘The Europeans,’ answered Imlac, ‘are less unhappy than we, but they are not happy. Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed’. Alas, is this not the divine punishment for our original transgression?—the terrible consequence of our old, Edenic sin? Were our first parents not warned against tasting of the fruit with which that tempting tree was laden? Were they not then told, having eaten it, and having satisfied both hunger and curiosity in a single bite, to expect sorrow, pain, and a joyless life of toil? That much is to be endured, and little enjoyed, thus strikes us as no revelation. Still, we delight in Samuel Johnson embellishing this ancient theme. Let us follow the wisdom of Imlac, Johnson’s brilliant creation, as he guides us toward understanding, happiness, poetry, and love.

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