The History of Rasselas


Author: Samuel Johnson
Title: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
Publish Date: 1759
Genre: Philosophical Fiction
Page Length: 192 pages


The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is a philosophical fiction by Samuel Johnson, published in 1759. The book presents a series of conversations between a group of characters, exploring the meaning of happiness, the purpose of life, and the place of human beings in the universe.

The book begins with the story of Rasselas, a young prince who lives a life of luxury and privilege, but who is plagued by a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction. He longs to know the secrets of the world beyond his palace walls, and to find a way of life that will bring him lasting happiness.

Rasselas discusses his concerns with his sister, Princess Nekayah, and they decide to escape their palace and seek answers to their questions. They are accompanied by Rasselas’s mentor, Imlac, and a poet named Pekuah.

The travelers encounter a variety of people who each have their own philosophy of life. They meet a man who has devoted his life to the study of insects, and who believes that the pursuit of knowledge is the key to happiness. They meet a hermit who has given up all worldly possessions and lives in isolation, believing that freedom from desire is the path to true contentment.

They also meet a group of philosophers who spend their days debating the big questions of life, but who are unable to find any answers. Rasselas becomes frustrated with their lack of progress, and decides to abandon their quest for enlightenment.

Returning to their palace, Rasselas and his companions realize that happiness cannot be found through material wealth or intellectual pursuits. Instead, they discover that true happiness comes from living a life of virtue, and from accepting the limitations of human existence.

Throughout the book, Johnson explores themes such as the meaning of happiness, the role of reason in human affairs, and the limits of human knowledge. He also takes aim at the prevailing ideas of his time, such as the belief in the superiority of European culture, and the idea that wealth and status are the keys to a good life.

The characters in the book are well-drawn and engaging, and their conversations are thought-provoking and insightful. Rasselas himself is a sympathetic character, and the reader is drawn into his quest for happiness and meaning.

Overall, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is a classic work of philosophical fiction that is still relevant today. It challenges readers to question their assumptions about what constitutes a good life, and to consider the deeper questions of human existence.