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YOUNG MEN OF SPIRIT
AND GAIETY (1).
YE who listen with credulity to the whispers of sancy, 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 enquiries of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.
Rasselas rose next day, and resolved to begin his experiments upon life. « Youth, » cried he, is the time of gladness : I will
join myself to the young men
only business is to gratify their desires , > and whose time is all spent in a succes» sion of enjoyments.
To such societies he was readily admitted, but a few days brought him back weary and disgusted. Their mirth was without images, their laughter without motive, their pleasures were gross and sensual,
(1) The three following chapters are extracted from The Prince of Abyssinia, by Samuel Johnson.
in which the mind had no part ; their conduct was at once wild and mean ; they laughed at order and at law, but the frown of power dejected, and the eye of wisdom abashed them.
The prince soon concluded, that he should never be happy in a course of life of which he was ashamed. He thought it unsuitable to a reasonable being to act without a plan, and to be sad or cheerful only by chance. « Happiness, said he , must be something » solid and permanent , without fear and a without uncertainty.. »
But his young companions had gained so much of his regard by their frankness and courtesy , that he could not leave them without warning and remonstrance. « My » friends, said he , I have seriously con
sidered our manners and our prospects , » and find that we have mistaken our own » interest. The first years of man must » make provision for the last. He that never » thinks never can be wise. Perpetual le
vity must end in ignorance; and intem» perance , though it may fire the spirits » for an hour, will make life short or mi» serable. Let us consider that youth is of » no long duration, and that in maturer age,
» cease ,
» when the enchantments of fancy shall
and phantoms of delight dance no » more about us, we shall have no com» forts but the esteem of wise men, and » the means of doing good. Let us , there» fore , stop, while to stop is in our power : » let us live as men who are some time to » grow old, and to whom it will be the » most dreadful of all evils: not to count » their past years but by follies, and to be » reminded of their former luxuriance of » health only by the maladies which riot » produced.
They stared a while in silence one upon another, and, at last , drove him away by a general chorus of continued laughter.
The consciousness that his sentiments were just , and his intention kind , was scarcely sufficient to support him against the horror of derision. But he recovered his tranquillity, and pursued his search.
As Rasselas was
one day walking in the street , he saw a spacious building which all were, by the open doors, invited to enter : he followed the stream of people, and found it a hall or school of declamation, in which professors read lectures to their auditory. He fixed his eye upon a sage raised above the rest, who discoursed with great energy on the government of the passions. His look was venerable , his action graceful, his pronunciation clear and his diction elegant. He shewed, with great strength of sentiment, and variety of illustration, that human nature is degraded and debased , when the lower faculties predominate over the higher; that when fancy , the parent of passion , usurps the dominion of the mind, nothing ensues but the natural effect of unlawful government, perturbation and confusion ; that she betrays the fortresses of the intellect to rebels, and excites her children to sedition against reason their lawful sovereign. He compared
reason to the sun , of which the light is constant, uniform, and lasting : and fancy to a meteor of bright but transitory lustre, irregular in its motion, and delusive in its direction.
He then communicated the various precepts given from time to time for the conquest of passions , and displayed the happiness of those who had obtained the important victory, after which man is no longer the slave of fear , nor the fool of hope ; is no more emasculated by tenderness, or depressed by grief ; but walks on calmly through the tumults or privacies of life., as the sun pursues alike his course through the calm or the stormy sky.
He enumerated many examples of heroes immoveable by pain or pleasure who looked with indifference on those modes or accidents to which the vulgar give the names of good and evil. He exhorted his hearers to lay aside their prejudices, and arm themselves against the shafts of malice or misfortune, by invulnerable patience ; concluding , that this state only was happiness, and that this happiness was in every one's rower. Rasselas listened to him with the vene