“The next character in which I was destined to appear in the flesh was that of an avaricious Jew. I was born in Alexandria in Egypt. My name was Balthazar. Nothing very remarkable happened to me till the year of the memorable tumult in which the Jews of that city are reported in history to have massacred more Christians than at that time dwelt in it. Indeed, the truth is, they did maul the dogs pretty handsomely; but I myself was not present, for as all our people were ordered to be armed, I took that opportunity of selling two swords, which probably I might otherwise never have disposed of, they being extremely old and rusty; so that, having no weapon left, I did not care to venture abroad. Besides, though I really thought it an act meriting salvation to murder the Nazarenes, as the fact was to be committed at midnight, at which time, to avoid suspicion, we were all to sally from our own houses, I could not persuade myself to consume so much oil in sitting up to that hour: for these reasons therefore I remained at home that evening.
“I was at this time greatly enamored with one Hypatia, the daughter of a philosopher; a young lady of the greatest beauty and merit: indeed, she had every imaginable ornament both of mind and body. She seemed not to dislike my person; but there were two obstructions to our marriage, viz., my religion and her poverty: both which might probably have been got over, had not those dogs the Christians murdered her; and, what is worse, afterwards burned her body: worse, I say, because I lost by that means a jewel of some value, which I had presented to her, designing, if our nuptials did not take place, to demand it of her back again.
“Being thus disappointed in my love, I soon after left Alexandria and went to the imperial city, where I apprehended I should find a good market for jewels on the approaching marriage of the emperor with Athenais. I disguised myself as a beggar on this journey, for these reasons: first, as I imagined I should thus carry my jewels with greater safety; and, secondly, to lessen my expenses; which latter expedient succeeded so well, that I begged two oboli on my way more than my traveling cost me, my diet being chiefly roots, and my drink water.
“But perhaps, it had been better for me if I had been more lavish and more expeditious; for the ceremony was over before I reached Constantinople; so that I lost that glorious opportunity of disposing of my jewels with which many of our people were greatly enriched.
“The life of a miser is very little worth relating, as it is one constant scheme of getting or saving money. I shall therefore repeat to you some few only of my adventures, without regard to any order.
“A Roman Jew, who was a great lover of Falernian wine, and who indulged himself very freely with it, came to dine at my house; when, knowing he should meet with little wine, and that of the cheaper sort, sent me in half-a-dozen jars of Falernian. Can you believe I would not give this man his own wine? Sir, I adulterated it so that I made six jars of [them] three, which he and his friend drank; the other three I afterwards sold to the very person who originally sent them me, knowing he would give a better price than any other.
“A noble Roman came one day to my house in the country, which I had purchased, for half the value, of a distressed person. My neighbors paid him the compliment of some music, on which account, when he departed, he left a piece of gold with me to be distributed among them. I pocketed this money, and ordered them a small vessel of sour wine, which I could not have sold for above two drachms, and afterwards made them pay in work three times the value of it.
“As I was not entirely void of religion, though I pretended to infinitely more than I had, so I endeavored to reconcile my transactions to my conscience as well as possible. Thus I never invited any one to eat with me, but those on whose pockets I had some design. After our collation it was constantly my method to set down in a book I kept for that purpose, what I thought they owed me for their meal. Indeed, this was generally a hundred times as much as they could have dined elsewhere for; but, however, it was quid pro quo, if not ad valorem. Now, whenever the opportunity offered of imposing on them I considered it only as paying myself what they owed me: indeed, I did not always confine myself strictly to what I had set down, however extravagant that was; but I reconciled taking the overplus to myself as usance.
“But I was not only too cunning for others — I sometimes overreached myself. I have contracted distempers for want of food and warmth, which have put me to the expense of a physician; nay, I once very narrowly escaped death by taking bad drugs, only to save one seven-eighth per cent in the price.
“By these and such like means, in the midst of poverty and every kind of distress, I saw myself master of an immense fortune, the casting up and ruminating on which was my daily and only pleasure. This was, however, obstructed and embittered by two considerations, which against my will often invaded my thoughts. One, which would have been intolerable (but that indeed seldom troubled me), was, that I must one day leave my darling treasure.
“The other haunted me continually, viz., that my riches were no greater. However, I comforted myself against this reflection by an assurance that they would increase daily: on which head my hopes were so extensive that I may say with Virgil —
‘His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono.’
Indeed I am convinced that, had I possessed the whole globe of earth, save one single drachma, which I had been certain never to be master of — I am convinced, I say, that single drachma would have given me more uneasiness than all the rest could afford me pleasure.
“To say the truth, between my solicitude in contriving schemes to procure money and my extreme anxiety in preserving it, I never had one moment of ease while awake nor of quiet when in my sleep.
“In all the characters through which I have passed, I have never undergone half the misery I suffered in this; and, indeed, Minos seemed to be of the same opinion; for while I stood trembling and shaking in expectation of my sentence he bid me go back about my business, for that nobody was to be d — n’d in more worlds than one. And, indeed, I have since learned that the devil will not receive a miser.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50