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The Dramatic Works of G. E. Lessing Part 109

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Do not think I treat the people's voice contemptuously.

I have been wis.h.i.+ng long to know the man Whom it has called the Wise.

NATHAN.

What, if it named Him so in scorn? If wise means prudent only-- And prudent, one who knows his interest well?

SALADIN.



Who knows his real interest, you mean.

NATHAN.

Then, Sultan, selfish men were the most prudent, And wise, and prudent, then, would mean the same.

SALADIN.

You're proving what your speeches contradict.

You know the real interests of man: The people know them not--have never sought To know them. That alone can make man wise.

NATHAN.

Which every man conceives himself to be.

SALADIN.

A truce to modesty! To meet it ever, When we are seeking truth is wearisome (_springs up_).

So, let us to the point. Be candid, Jew, Be frank and honest.

NATHAN.

I will serve you, prince, And prove that I am worthy of your favour.

SALADIN.

How will you serve me?

NATHAN.

You shall have the best Of all I have, and at the cheapest rate.

SALADIN.

What mean you? Not your wares?--My sister, then, Shall make the bargain with you. (That's for the listener!) I am not versed in mercantile affairs, And with a merchant's craft I've nought to do.

NATHAN.

Doubtless you would inquire if I have marked Upon my route the movements of the foe?

Whether he's stirring? If I may presume----

SALADIN.

Neither was that my object. On that point I know enough. But hear me.

NATHAN.

I obey.

SALADIN.

It is another, a far different thing On which I seek for wisdom; and since you Are called the Wise, tell me which faith or law You deem the best.

NATHAN.

Sultan, I am a Jew.

SALADIN.

And I a Mussulman. The Christian stands Between us. Here are three religions, then, And of these three one only can be true.

A man like you remains not where his birth By accident has cast him; or if so, Conviction, choice, or ground of preference, Supports him. Let me, Nathan, hear from you, In confidence, the reasons of your choice, Which I have lacked the leisure to examine.

It may be, Nathan, that I am the first Sultan who has indulged this strange caprice, Which need not, therefore, make a Sultan blush.

Am I the first? Nay, speak; or if you seek A brief delay to shape your scattered thoughts, I yield it freely. (Has she overheard?

She will inform me if I've acted right.) Reflect then, Nathan, I shall soon return. (_Exit_.)

Scene VI.

NATHAN (_alone_).

Strange! how is this? What can the Sultan want?

I came prepared for cash--he asks for truth!

Truth! as if truth were cas.h.!.+ A coin disused-- Valued by weight! If so, 'twere well, indeed!

But coin quite new, not coin but for the die, To be flung down and on the counter told---- It is not that. Like gold tied up in bags, Will truth lie h.o.a.rded in the wise man's head, To be produced at need? Now, in this case, Which of us plays the Jew? He asks for truth.

Is truth what he requires? his aim, his end?

Or does he use it as a subtle snare?

That were too petty for his n.o.ble mind.

Yet what is e'er too petty for the great?

Did he not rush at once into the house, Whilst, as a friend, he would have paused or knocked?

I must beware. Yet to repel him now And act the stubborn Jew, is not the thing; And wholly to fling off the Jew, still less.

For if no Jew, he might with justice ask, Why not a Mussulman?--That thought may serve.-- Others than children may be quieted With tales well told. But see, he comes--he comes.

Scene VII.

Saladin, Nathan.

SALADIN.

(_Aside_) (The coast is clear)--I am not come too soon?

Have you reflected on this matter, Nathan?

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