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- Nathan the Wise - 6/43 -


NATHAN.

That's not small.

HAFI.

'Tis larger than thou think'st; for every beggar Is of his household.

NATHAN.

He's so much their foe -

HAFI.

That he'd fain root them out--with food and raiment - Tho' he turn beggar in the enterprize.

NATHAN.

Bravo, I meant so.

HAFI.

And he's almost such. His treasury is every day, ere sun-set, Poorer than empty; and how high so e'er Flows in the morning tide, 'tis ebb by noon.

NATHAN.

Because it circulates through such canals As can be neither stopped, nor filled.

HAFI.

Thou hast it.

NATHAN.

I know it well.

HAFI.

Nathan, 'tis woeful doing When kings are vultures amid caresses: But when they're caresses amid the vultures 'Tis ten times worse.

NATHAN.

No, dervis, no, no, no.

HAFI.

Thou mayst well talk so. Now then, let me hear What wouldst thou give me to resign my office?

NATHAN.

What does it bring you in?

HAFI.

To me, not much; But thee, it might indeed enrich: for when, As often happens, money is at ebb, Thou couldst unlock thy sluices, make advances, And take in form of interest all thou wilt.

NATHAN.

And interest upon interest of the interest -

HAFI.

Certainly.

NATHAN.

Till my capital becomes All interest.

HAFI.

How--that does not take with thee? Then write a finis to our book of friendship; For I have reckoned on thee.

NATHAN.

How so, Hafi?

HAFI.

That thou wouldst help me to go thro' my office With credit, grant me open chest with thee - Dost shake thy head?

NATHAN.

Let's understand each other. Here's a distinction to be made. To you, To dervis Hafi, all I have is open; But to the defterdar of Saladin, To that Al-Hafi -

HAFI.

Spoken like thyself! Thou hast been ever no less kind than cautious. The two Al-Hafis thou distinguishest Shall soon be parted. See this coat of honour, Which Saladin bestowed--before 'tis worn To rags, and suited to a dervis' back, - Will in Jerusalem hang upon the hook; While I along the Ganges scorching strand, Amid my teachers shall be wandering barefoot.

NATHAN.

That's like you.

HAFI.

Or be playing chess among them.

NATHAN.

Your sovereign good.

HAFI.

What dost thou think seduced me. The wish of having not to beg in future - The pride of acting the rich man to beggars - Would these have metamorphosed a rich beggar So suddenly into a poor rich man?

NATHAN.

No, I think not.

HAFI.

A sillier, sillier weakness, For the first time my vanity was tempter, Flattered by Saladin's good-hearted notion -

NATHAN.

Which was?

HAFI.

That all a beggar's wants are only Known to a beggar: such alone can tell How to relieve them usefully and wisely. "Thy predecessor was too cold for me, (He said) and when he gave, he gave unkindly; Informed himself with too precautious strictness Concerning the receiver, not content To leant the want, unless he knew its cause, And measuring out by that his niggard bounty. Thou wilt not thus bestow. So harshly kind Shall Saladin not seem in thee. Thou art not Like the choked pipe, whence sullied and by spurts Flow the pure waters it absorbs in silence. Al-Hafi thinks and feels like me." So nicely The fowler whistled, that at last the quail Ran to his net. Cheated, and by a cheat -

NATHAN.

Tush! dervis, gently.

HAFI.

What! and is't not cheating, Thus to oppress mankind by hundred thousands, To squeeze, grind, plunder, butcher, and torment, And act philanthropy to individuals? - Not cheating--thus to ape from the Most High The bounty, which alike on mead and desert, Upon the just and the unrighteous, falls In sunshine or in showers, and not possess The never-empty hand of the Most High? - Not cheating -

NATHAN.

Cease!

HAFI.

Of my own cheating sure It is allowed to speak. Were it not cheating To look for the fair side of these impostures, In order, under colour of its fairness,


Nathan the Wise - 6/43

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