In Chapter 1 of The History of Rasselas, "the musicians exerted the power of harmony" (p. 406) over the inhabitants of the Happy Valley. Samuel Johnson's use of the word "power" is interesting in this context. He presents the musicians as controlling the Abissinian princes and princesses through the use of music. The musician's power is the power to entertain and to divert his listeners. In this way, he can control their thoughts and keep them from being discontent and desiring a change of scenery, as Rasselas does. Johnson's language also makes the Abissinian royalty seem like puppets that are easily manipulated with song and dance. It makes me wonder how princes whose thoughts are so easily led by superficial diversions can properly govern an entire country. The fact that the musicians have power over the princes reveals the royalty's weakness and the weakness of the Happy Valley as a whole.
Moreover, Rasselas comments, "I can discover within me no power of perception which is not glutted with its proper pleasure" (p. 408). This illustrates the power of the Happy Valley to completely inundate the princes with frivolities and render them purposeless and powerless. However, since every want and desire of the princes is satisfied and every command they utter is fulfilled, they gain a false sense of power and believe they are in control, and are thus happy. This false sense of power is only detrimental to the princes, for when one prince emerges from the Happy Valley as ruler of a kingdom, he is likely to abuse his power, since he has not fully explored its use while confined in the Valley.
Additionally, as Imlac later comments, "Those who have already all that they can enjoy, must enlarge their desires" (p. 428). As a result, new diversions must constantly be invented for the Abissinian royalty, since they are often temporarily satiated, but are soon eager to further exercise the power of entertainment. Imlac's comment originally concerns the Pyramids, but applies just as well to the Happy Valley. As he says, the Pyramids are "a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments" (p. 428). The power of the king allows his needs, then his desires to be fulfilled. He then turns to more frivolous pastimes, such as undertaking the Pyramids. It is interesting that such structures are marveled at and considered symbols of the greatness of the Egyptians, when in fact they are really symbols of their weakness.
Curiously, Imlac also applauds power. He lauds the poet with the most knowledge as having the most power of words and phrases. In fact, he believes the poet must know everything. I believe he is then insinuating that the fully knowledgeable poet is all-powerful. The poet who knows all has power over nature, human life, and language. However, even this power, though Imlac does not discuss it, is abused. Perhaps since Imlac is a poet, he is inclined to think well of the power of his kind. Imlac further connects power and knowledge when commenting on the Europeans, who "are more powerful… because they are wiser" (p. 415). The difference between the two types of knowledgeable power discussed by Imlac is in their uses. Poets usually use their power to write beautiful poetry, while people, such as the Europeans, use their power to repress others.
In this way, Imlac's sometimes disparagement of power and sometimes praise of it is a curious problem. It could be said that Imlac praises power, but attacks the abuses of it, which are caused by human weakness. Interestingly, he idealizes poets and seems to think that they are not subject to human weakness. Imlac also values the power gained by knowledge and hard work more than the power gained through succession or trickery, like the merchants who took advantage of Imlac's naivete.
Furthermore, Imlac relates the mind to power in his discussion of imagination. He describes the conflicting powers of fantasy and reason and believes that even a temporary victory of fantasy over reason is insanity. Upon Imlac's observations about imagination, Rasselas, Pekuah, and Nekayah all admit their dreams and swear that they will no longer entertain them. However, Imlac shows no such weakness; he seems perfect and all-powerful in capacities of reason. Again, this