Today, when reading Rasselas: The History of the Prince of Abyssinia (1759), I came across a fascinating little exchange between Imlac, a well-traveled poet, and the prince.
Imlac says to the prince: ”There is such communication between distant places that on friend can hardly be said to be absent from another.”
The prince then muses: ”They are surely happy,” said the prince, “who have all these conveniences, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which separated friends interchange their thoughts.”
“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.”
Intriguing, isn’t it, that Johnson’s relation of European affairs versus the isolated ones of the prince would strongly suggest social media to a modern reader? That Johnson also does not credit the free exchange of ideas to be a means for happiness makes me think about why I am on Facebook and twitter in the first place. There are a number of other lovely quotes from this work, including a great number on being a writer and the nature of knowledge vs. ignorance, but this one struck me as so well-timed despite the difference in time, place, and cultural mindset. The eternal relevance of good literature is truly astounding sometimes.