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The Dramatic Works of G. E. Lessing Part 110

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Speak! no one hears.

NATHAN.

Would all the world might hear!

SALADIN.

And are you of your cause so confident?



'Tis wise, indeed, of you to hide no truth, For truth to hazard all, even life and goods.

NATHAN.

Ay, when necessity and profit bid.

SALADIN.

I hope that henceforth I shall rightly bear One of my names, "Reformer of the world And of the law!"

NATHAN.

A n.o.ble t.i.tle, truly; But, Sultan, ere I quite explain myself, Permit me to relate a tale.

SALADIN.

Why not?

I ever was a friend of tales well told.

NATHAN.

Well told! Ah, Sultan! that's another thing.

SALADIN.

What! still so proudly modest? But begin.

NATHAN.

In days of yore, there dwelt in Eastern lands A man, who from a valued hand received A ring of priceless worth. An opal stone Shot from within an ever-changing hue, And held this virtue in its form concealed, To render him of G.o.d and man beloved, Who wore it in this fixed unchanging faith.

No wonder that its Eastern owner ne'er Withdrew it from his finger, and resolved That to his house the ring should be secured.

Therefore he thus bequeathed it: first to him Who was the most beloved of his sons, Ordaining then that he should leave the ring To the most dear among his children; then, That without heeding birth, the fav'rite son, In virtue of the ring alone, should still Be lord of all the house. You hear me, Sultan?

SALADIN.

I understand. Proceed.

NATHAN.

From son to son, The ring at length descended to a sire Who had three sons, alike obedient to him, And whom he loved with just and equal love.

The first, the second, and the third, in turn, According as they each apart received The overflowings of his heart, appeared Most worthy as his heir, to take the ring, Which, with good-natured weakness, he in turn Had promised privately to each; and thus Things lasted for a while. But death approached, The father now embarra.s.sed, could not bear To disappoint two sons, who trusted him.

What's to be done? In secret he commands The jeweller to come, that from the form Of the true ring, he may bespeak two more.

Nor cost nor pains are to be spared, to make The rings alike--quite like the true one. This The artist managed. When the rings were brought The father's eye could not distinguish which Had been the model. Overjoyed, he calls His sons, takes leave of each apart--bestows His blessing and his ring on each--and dies.

You hear me?

SALADIN (_who has turned away in perplexity_).

Ay! I hear. Conclude the tale.

NATHAN.

'Tis ended, Sultan! All that follows next May well be guessed. Scarce is the father dead, When with his ring, each separate son appears, And claims to be the lord of all the house.

Question arises, tumult and debate-- But all in vain--the true ring could no more Be then distinguished than----(_after a pause, in which he awaits the Sultan's reply_) the true faith now.

SALADIN.

Is that your answer to my question?

NATHAN.

No!

But it may serve as my apology.

I cannot venture to decide between Rings which the father had expressly made, To baffle those who would distinguish them.

SALADIN.

Rings, Nathan! Come, a truce to this! The creeds Which I have named have broad, distinctive marks, Differing in raiment, food, and drink!

NATHAN.

'Tis true!

But then they differ not in their foundation.

Are not all built on history alike, Traditional or written? History Must be received on trust. Is it not so?

In whom are we most likely to put trust?

In our own people? in those very men Whose blood we are? who, from our earliest youth Have proved their love for us, have ne'er deceived, Except in cases where 'twere better so?

Why should I credit my forefathers less Than you do yours? or can I ask of you To charge your ancestors with falsehood, that The praise of truth may be bestowed on mine?

And so of Christians.

SALADIN.

By our Prophet's faith, The man is right. I have no more to say.

NATHAN.

Now let us to our rings once more return.

We said the sons complained; each to the judge Swore from his father's hand immediately To have received the ring--as was the case-- In virtue of a promise, that he should One day enjoy the ring's prerogative.

In this they spoke the truth. Then each maintained It was not possible that to himself His father had been false. Each could not think His father guilty of an act so base.

Rather than that, reluctant as he was To judge his brethren, he must yet declare Some treach'rous act of falsehood had been done.

SALADIN.

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