Nathan the Wise (1 of 49)
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by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Translated by William Taylor of Norwich
"Introite nam et heic Dii sunt!"--APUD GELLIUM.
SALADIN, the Sultan.
SITTAH, his Sister.
NATHAN, a rich Jew.
RECHA, his adopted Daughter.
DAYA, a Christian Woman dwelling with the Jew a companion to Recha.
CONRADE, a young Templar.
HAFI, a Dervis.
ATHANASIOS, the Patriarch of Palestine.
BONAFIDES, a Friar.
An Emir, sundry Mamalukes, Slaves, &c.
The Scene is at Jerusalem.
SCENE--A Hall in Nathan's House.
NATHAN, in a travelling dress, DAYA meeting him.
'Tis he, 'tis Nathan! Thanks to the Almighty,
That you're at last returned.
Yes, Daya, thanks,
That I have reached Jerusalem in safety.
But wherefore this AT LAST? Did I intend,
Or was it possible to come back sooner?
As I was forced to travel, out and in,
'Tis a long hundred leagues to Babylon;
And to get in one's debts is no employment,
That speeds a traveller.
O Nathan, Nathan,
How miserable you had nigh become
During this little absence; for your house -
Well, 'twas on fire; I have already heard it.
God grant I may have heard the whole, that chanced!
'Twas on the point of burning to the ground.
Then we'd have built another, and a better.
True!--But thy Recha too was on the point
Of perishing amid the flames.
My Recha, saidst thou? She? I heard not that.
I then should not have needed any house.
Upon the point of perishing--perchance
She's gone?--Speak out then--out--torment me not
With this suspense.--Come, tell me, tell me all.
Were she no more, from me you would not hear it.
Why then alarm me?--Recha, O my Recha!
Your Recha? Yours?
What if I ever were
Doomed to unlearn to call this child, MY child,
Is all you own yours by an equal title?
Nought by a better. What I else enjoy
Nature and Fortune gave--this treasure, Virtue.
How dear you make me pay for all your goodness! -
If goodness, exercised with such a view,
Deserves the name. -
With such a view? With what?
My conscience -
Daya, let me tell you first -
I say, my conscience -
What a charming silk
I bought for you in Babylon! 'Tis rich,
Yet elegantly rich. I almost doubt
If I have brought a prettier for Recha.
And what of that--I tell you that my conscience
Will no be longer hushed.
And I have bracelets,
And earrings, and a necklace, which will charm you.
I chose them at Damascus.
That's your way:-
If you can but make presents--but make presents. -
Take you as freely as I give--and cease.
And cease?--Who questions, Nathan, but that you are
Honour and generosity in person; -
Yet I'm but a Jew.--That was your meaning.
You better know what was my meaning, Nathan.
Well, well, no more of this,
I shall be silent;
But what of sinful in the eye of heaven
Springs out of it--not I, not I could help;
It falls upon thy head.
So let it, Daya.
Where is she then? What stays her? Surely, surely,
You're not amusing me--And does she know
That I'm arrived?
That you yourself must speak to,
Terror still vibrates in her every nerve.
Her fancy mingles fire with all she thinks of.
Asleep, her soul seems busy; but awake,
Absent: now less than brute, now more than angel.
Poor thing! What are we mortals -
As she lay
This morning sleeping, all at once she started
And cried: "list, list! there come my father's camels!"
And then she drooped again upon her pillow
And I withdrew--when, lo! you really came.
Her thoughts have only been with you--and him.