« PreviousContinue »
The union of two actions in one event is in this drama eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critick will find excelled by this play. JOHNSON.
Of the incident of the bond, no English original has hitherto been pointed out, I find, however, the following in The Orator : handling a hundred severall Discourses, in form of Declamations : fome of the Arguments being drawne from Titus Livius and other ancient Writers, the rest of the Author's own intention : Part of which are of Matters happened in our Age. Written in French by Alexander Silvayn, and Englished by L. P. [i. e. Lazarus Pilot* ] London, printa ed by Adam Islip, 1596.-(This book is not mentioned by Ames.)
See p. 401.
« DECLAMATION 95. " Of a few', who would for his debt have a pound of the flesh of
a Chriftian. “ A Jew, unto whom a Christian merchant ought nine hundred crownes, would have summoned him for the same in Turkie: the merchant, because he would not be discredited, promised to pay the faid fumme within the tearme of three months, and if he paid it not, he was bound to give him a pound of the flesh of his bodie, The tearme being past some fifteene daies, the Jew refused to take his money, and demaunded the pound of flesh: the ordinarie judge of that place appointed him to cut a just pound of the Chriftian's fieth, and if he cut either more or lesse, then his own head hould be smitten off: the Jew appealed from this sentence, unto the chiefe judge, saying:
« Imposible is it to breake the credit of trafficke amongst men without great detriment to the commonwealth : wherefore no man cught to bind himselfe unto such covenants which hee cannot or will not accomplish, for by that means should no man feare to be deceaved, and credit being maintained, every man might be assured of his owne; but since deceit hath taken place, never wonder if obligations are made more rigorous and strict then they were wont, seeing that although the bonds are made never so strong, yet can no man be very certaine that he shall not be a loser. It seemeth at the first sight that it is a thing no less strange than cruel, to bind a man to pay a pound of the flesh of his bodie, for want of money : surely, in that it is a thing not usuall, it appeareth to be somewhat the more admirable; but there are divers others that are more cruell, which because they are in use seeme nothing terrible at all: as to binde all the bodie unto a most lothsome prison, or unto an intolerable llaverie, where not only the whole bodie but also all the
* Lazarus Pyos, (net Pilot) is Anthony Mundy, Ritson.
fences and spirits are tormented; the which is commonly practised, not only betwixt those which are either in sect or nation contrary, but also even amongst those that are of one sect and nation ; yea amongst Christians it hath been seene that the son hath imprisoned the father for monie. Likewise in the Roman commonwealth, so famous for lawes and armes, it was lawful for debt to imprison, beat, and afflict with torment the free citizens : how manie of them (do you thinke) would have thought themselves happie, if for a small debt they might have been excused with the paiment of a pounde of their fieth? who ought then to marvile if a Jew requireth so small a thing of a Christian, to discharge him of a good round fumme? A man may alke why I would not rather take silver of this man, then his flesh : I might alleage many reafons ; for I might say that none but my felfe can tell what the breach of his promise hath cost me, and what I have thereby paied for want of money unto my creditors, of that which I have lost in my credit: for the miserie of those men which efteem their reputation, is so great, that oftentimes they had rather endure any thing secretlie, then to have their discredit blazed abroad, because they would not be both shamed and harmed: neverthelesse, I doe freely confesse, that I had rather lose a pound of my Aesh then my credit should be in any fort cracked; I might also say, that I have need of this flesh to cure a friend of mine of a certaine maladie, which is otherwise incurable; or that I would have it to terrifie chereby the Christians for ever abusing the Jews once more hereafter : but I will onlie say, that by his obligation he oweth it me. It is lawfull to kill a soul. dier if he come unto the warres but an hour too late ; and also to hang a theefe though he steal never so little: is it then such a great matter to cause such a one to pay a pound of his flesh, that hath broken his promise manie times, or that putteth another in danger to lose both credit and reputation, yea and it may be life, and al for griefe ? were it not better for him to lose that I demand, then his foule, alreadie bound by his faith? Neither am I to take that which he oweth me, but he is to deliver it to me: and especiallie because no man knoweth better than he where the same may be spared to the leaft hurt of his person; for I might take it in such place as hee might thereby happen to lose his life: Whatte matter were it then if I should cut off his privie members, supposing that the same would altogether weigh a juft pound? or els his head, Thould I be suffered to cut it off, although it were with the danger of mine own life? I believe, I should not; because there were as little reason therein, as there could be in the ainends whereunto I should be bound: or els if I would cut off his nose, his lips, his cars, and pull out his eies, to make them altogether a pound, should I be suffered ? surely I think not, because the obligation dooth not specifie that I oughe either to choose, cut, or take the same, but that he ought to give me a pound of his feth. Of every thing that
is fold, he which delivereth the same is to make waight, and he which receiveth, taketh heed that it be juft: seeing then that nei. ther the obligation, custome, nor law doth bind me to cut, or weigh, much lesse unto the above mentioned fatisfaction, I refuse it all, and require that the fame which is due should be delivered unto me."
“ The Chriftian's Anf were. * It is no strange matter to here those dispute of equitie which are themselves most unjust; and such as have no faith at all, de. firous that others should observe the same inviolable ; the which were yet the more tolerable, if such men would be contented with reasonable things, or at least not altogether unreasonable: but what reason is there that one man should unto his own prejudice defire the hurt of another? as this Jew is content to lose nine hundred crownes to have a pound of my flesh ; whereby is manifestely feene the ancient and cruel hate which he beareth not only unto Chriftians, but unto all others which are not of his feet; yea, even unto the Turkes, who overkindly doe fuffer such vermine to dwell amongft them : seeing that this presumptuous wretch dare not onely doubt, but appeale from the judgement of a good and just judge, and afterwards he would by sophisticall reasons prove that his abi homination is equitie. Trulie I confesse that I have fuffered fifteen daies of the tearme to passe; yet who can tell whether he or I is the cause thereof? as for me, I think that by secret meanes he hath caused the monie to be delaied, which from fundry places ought to have come unto me before the tearm which I promised unto him ; otherwise, I would never have been so rafh as to bind myselfe so ftrialy : bat although he were not the cause of the fault, is it therefore faid, that he ought to be so impudent as to go about to prove it no Atrange matter that he fould be willing to be paied with man's flesh, which is a thing more natural for tigres, than men, the which also was never heard of? but this divell in shape of man, feeing me oppressed with neceffitie, propounded this caffed obli gation unto me. Whereas he alleageth the Romaines for an example, why doth he not as well tell on how for that crueltie in affieting debtors over grievously, the commonwealth was almost overthrowne, and that shortly after it was forbidden to imprifon men any more for debt ? To breake promise is, when a man sweareth or promiseth a thing, the which he hath no desire to performe, which yet upon an extreame necessity is fomewhat excusable: as for me I have promised, and accomplished my promise, yet not so foon as I would; and although I knew the danger wherein I was to satisfie the crueltie of this mischievous man with the price of my Aeth and blood, yet did I not fie away, but submitted my felfe unto the discretion of the judge who hath justly repressed his beastfiness. Wherein then have I falfified my promise? is it in that I
would not (like him) disobey the judgement of the judge? Behold I will present a part of my bodie unto him, that he may paie himfelfe, according to the contents of the judgement : where is then my promise broken? But it is no marvaile if this race be so obftinat and cruell against us; for they do it of fet purpose to offend our God whom they have crucified : and wherefore ? Because he was holie, as he is yet so reputed of this worthy Turkish nation. But what shall I say? Their own Bible is full of their rebellion against God, againft their priests, judges and leaders. What did not the very patriarchs themselves, from whom they have their beginning! They fold their brother, and had it not been for one amongit them, they had Nain him for verie envie. How many adulteries and abhominations were committed amongst them? How many marthers? Absalom did he not cause his brother to be murthered? Did he not persecute his father? Is it not for their iniquitie that God hath dispersed them, without leaving them one onlie foot of ground? If then, when they had newlie received their law from God, when they saw his wonderous works with their eies, and had yet their judges amongft them, they were so wicked, what may one hope of them now, when they have neither faith nor law, but their rapines and usuries? and that they believe they do a charitable work, when they do some great wrong unto one that is not a Jew? It may pleafe you then, most righteous judge, to consider all these circumftances, having pittie of him who doth wholly submit himfelfe upon your just clemencie: hoping thereby to be delivered from this monster's crueltie." FARMER,
Gregorio Leti, in his Life of Sixtus V. translated by Ellis Farneworth, 1754, has likewife this kind of story.
It was currently reported in Rome that Drake had taken and plundered S. Domingo in Hispaniola, and carried off an immense booty : this account came in a private letter to Paul Secchi, a very considerable merchant in the city, who had large concerns in those parts which he had insured. Upon the receiving this news he sent for the insurer Samson Ceneda, a Jew, and acquainted him with it. The Jew, whose intereft it was to have such a report thought false, gave many reasons why it could not possibly be true: and at laft worked himself up intó such a paffion, that he said, “ I'll lay you a pound of my flesh that it is a lie.”
Secchi, who was of a fiery hot temper, replied, “ If you like it, I'll lay you a thousand crowns against a pound of your flesh that it is true.” The Jew accepted the wager, and articles were immediately executed between them, the subitance of which was, “ That if Secchi won, he should himself cut the flesh with a sharp knife from whatever part of the Jew's body he pleased." Unfortunately for the Jew, the truth of the account was soon after confirmed, by other advices from the Weft-Indies, which threw him almost into
distraction; especially when he was informed that Secchi had solemnly sworn he would compel him to the exact literal performance of his contract, and was determined to cut a pound of fieth from that part of his body which it is not necessary to mention. Upon this he went to the governor of Rome, and begged he would interpose in the affair, and use his authority to prevail with Secchi to accept of a thousand pistoles as an equivalent for the pound of flesh: but the governor not daring to take upon him to determine a case of so uncommon a nature, made a report of it to the pope, who sent for them both, and having heard the articles read, and informed himself perfectly of the whole affair from their own mouths, said, “ When contracts are made, it is just they should be fulfilled, as we intend this shall. Take a knife, therefore, Secchi, and cut a pound of Aesh from any part you please of the Jew's body. We would advise you, however, to be very careful; for if you cut but a scruple or grain more or less than your due, you shall certainly be hanged. Go, and bring hither a knife, and a pair of scales, and let it be done in our presence.”
The merchant at these words, began to tremble like an aspinleaf, and throwing himself at his holiness's feet, with tears in his eyes protested, " It was far from his thoughts to infift upon the performance of the contract.”. And being alked by the pope what he demanded ; answered, “ Nothing, holy father, but your benediction, and that the articles may be torn in pieces.” Then turning to the Jew, he asked him, “ What he had to say, and whether he was content.” The Jew answered, “ That he thought himself extremely happy to come off at so easy a rate, and that he was perfectly content." " « But we are not content,” replied Sixtus, “nor is there fufficient satisfaction made to our laws. "We desire to know what authority you have to lay such wagers? The subjects of princes are the property of the state, and have no right to dispose of their bodies, nor any part of them, without the express consent of their sovereigns."
They were both immediately sent to prison, and the governor ordered to proceed against them with the utmost severity of the law, that others might be deterred by their example from laying any more such wagers.- [The governor interceding for them, and proposing a fine of a thousand crowns each, Sixtus ordered him to condemn them both to death, the Jew for selling his life, by consenting to have a pound of flesh cut from his body, which he said was direct suicide, and the merchant for premeditated murder, in making a contract with the other that he knew must be the occasion of his death.]
As Secchi was of a very good family, having many great friends and relations, and the Jew one of the most leading men in the synagogue, they both had recourse to petitions. Strong application was inade to cardinal Montalto, to intercede with his holiness at