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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) (1622–1673)

Harpagon’s Method of Money-Lending

From “The Miser”


Clé.How now, you rascal! Where have you been hiding? Did I not give you orders to——

La Fl.Yes, sir, and I came here resolved to wait for you patiently; but your father, that unkindest of men, drove me into the street in spite of myself, and I nearly got a good drubbing into the bargain.

Clé.How is our affair progressing? Things seem worse than ever for us, and since I left you, I have discovered that my own father is my rival.

La Fl.Your father in love?

Clé.It appears so; and I found it very difficult to hide from him what I felt at such a discovery.

La Fl.He meddling with love! What the deuce is he thinking of? Does he mean to set everybody at defiance? And is love made for people of his build?

Clé.It is to punish me for my sins that this passion has entered his heart.

La Fl.But why do you hide your love from him?

Clé.That he may not suspect anything, and to make it more easy for me to fall back upon some device to prevent this marriage, if need be. What answer did you receive?

La Fl.Indeed, sir, borrowers are much to be pitied, and we must put up with strange things when, like you, we are forced to submit to the demands of usurers.

Clé.Then the affair won’t come off?

La Fl.Excuse me; M. Simon, the broker who was recommended to us, is a very active and zealous fellow, and says he has left no stone unturned to help you. He assures me that your looks alone have won his heart.

Clé.Shall I have the fifteen thousand francs which I want?

La Fl.Yes, but under certain trifling conditions, which you must accept if you wish the bargain to be concluded.

Clé.Did you speak to the man who is to lend the money?

La Fl.Oh! dear, no! Things are not done in that way. He is still more anxious than you to remain unknown. These things are greater mysteries than you think. His name is on no account to be divulged, and he is to be introduced to you to-day at a house designated by him, so that he may hear from yourself all about your position and your family; and I have not the least doubt that the mere name of your father will be sufficient to accomplish what you wish.

Clé.Particularly as my mother is dead, and they cannot deprive me of what I inherit from her.

La Fl.Well, here are some of the conditions which he has himself dictated to our go-between for you to take cognizance of, before anything is begun:

“Supposing that the lender is satisfied with all his securities, and that the borrower is of age and of a family whose property is ample, solid, secure, and free from all encumbrances, there shall be drawn up a good and correct bond before as honest a notary as it is possible to find, and who for this purpose shall be chosen by the lender, because he is the more concerned of the two that the bond shall be rightly executed.”

Clé.There is nothing to say against that.

La Fl.“The lender, not to burden his conscience with the least scruple, does not wish to lend his money at more than five and a half per cent.”

Clé.Five and a half per cent? By Jove, that’s honest! We have nothing to complain of.

La Fl.That’s true.

“But, as the said lender has not in hand the sum required, and as, in order to oblige the borrower, he is himself obliged to borrow from another at the rate of twenty per cent, it is but right that the said first borrower shall pay this interest, without detriment to the rest; since it is to oblige him that the said lender is himself forced to borrow.”

Clé.The deuce! What a Jew! What a Turk we have here! That is more than twenty-five per cent.

La Fl.That’s true; and it is the remark I made. It is for you to consider the matter before you act.

Clé.How can I consider? I want the money, and I must therefore accept everything.

La Fl.That is exactly what I answered.

Clé.Is there anything else?

La Fl.Only a small item.

“Of the fifteen thousand francs which are demanded, the lender will only be able to count down twelve thousand in hard cash; instead of the remaining three thousand, the borrower will have to take the chattels, clothing, and jewels contained in the following catalogue, and which the said lender has put in all good faith at the lowest possible figure.”

Clé.What is the meaning of that?

La Fl.I’ll go through the catalogue.

“Firstly: A four-post bedstead, with hangings of Hungary lace very elegantly trimmed with olive-colored cloth, and six chairs and a counterpane to match; the whole in very good condition, and lined with soft red and blue shot-silk. Item: The tester of good pale pink Aumale serge, with the small and the large fringes of silk.”

Clé.What does he want me to do with all this?

La Fl.Wait.

“Item: Tapestry hangings representing the loves of Gombaud and Macée. Item: A large walnut table with twelve columns or turned legs, which draws out at both ends, and is provided beneath with six stools.”

Clé.Hang it all! What am I to do with all this?

La Fl.Have patience.

“Item: Three large matchlocks inlaid with mother-of-pearl, with rests to correspond. Item: A brick furnace with two retorts and three receivers, very useful to those who have any taste for distilling.”

Clé.You will drive me crazy!

La Fl.A moment more!

“Item: A Bologna lute with all its strings, or nearly all. Item: A pigeon-hole table and a draft-board, and a game of Mother Goose, restored from the Greeks, most useful to pass the time when one has nothing to do. Item: A lizard’s skin, three feet and a half in length, stuffed with hay, a pleasing curiosity to hang from the ceiling of a room. The whole of the above-mentioned articles are really worth more than four thousand five hundred francs, and are reduced to three thousand through the considerateness of the lender.”

Clé.Let the plague choke him with his considerateness, wretch, cut-throat that he is! Did ever any one hear of such usury? Is he not satisfied with the outrageous interest he asks, that he must force me to take, instead of the three thousand francs, all the old rubbish which he picks up? I sha’n’t get two hundred crowns for all that, and yet I must bring myself to yield to all his wishes; for he is in a position to force me to accept everything, and he has me with a knife at my throat—the villain!

La Fl.I see you, sir, if you’ll forgive my saying so, on the high-road followed by Panurge to ruin—taking money in advance, buying dear, selling cheap, and cutting your hay while it is still grass.