Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

Rasselas is a story about a long search for happiness, kind of like an 18th century Eat, Pray, Love. I actually haven't read that one, but I'm guessing it leads the reader to a much different conclusion.

Samuel Johnson's take is that momentary happiness is the best we can hope for. Even the best case, in which we achieve all our hopes and aren't struck down by disease or accident, will lead only to satiety and lassitude. At that point, we'll then set our minds on some new goal or experience that we can work toward.

I do think that happiness tends to come from the side, sort of life's peripheral vision. It's not something you can aim for and then expect like a paycheck. In that sense, I agree with him.

Whether you agree with him or not, his thoughts are well worth reading.

Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed.

“For the hope of happiness,” said he, “is so strongly impressed that the longest experience is not able to efface it.  Of the present state, whatever it be, we feel and are forced to confess the misery; yet when the same state is again at a distance, imagination paints it as desirable." 

There are goods so opposed that we cannot seize both, but by too much prudence may pass between them at too great a distance to reach either.  This is often the fate of long consideration; he does nothing who endeavours to do more than is allowed to humanity. 

Keep this thought always prevalent, that you are only one atom of the mass of humanity, and have neither such virtue nor vice as that you should be singled out for supernatural favours or afflictions. 
At the end of the story, the wisest people give up purposefully looking for happiness.

Imlac and the astronomer were contented to be driven along the stream of life without directing their course to any particular port.


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