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

Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

Hirsch’s Honesty

From “The Baths of Lucca,” in “Travel Pictures”

“I AM a man, doctor, who has no vanity, but if I cared to be vain of anything, it would be of this, that I am an honest man. I will tell you a noble trait of mine, and you will be astonished—I tell you, you will be astonished, so sure as I am an honest man.

“There lives a man in Hamburg, and he is a greengrocer, and his name is Klotz. And this man’s wife, Madame Klotz, could never bear to have her husband play in my lottery. So when he wanted to play, I never came with the lottery tickets to his house, but he would always tell me on the street, ‘I want to play on such and such a number, and here is the money for it, Hirsch.’ And I, when I got home, would put up the number for him, and write on the envelope, in German script: ‘On account of Christian Heinrich Klotz.’ And now listen and marvel:

“It was a beautiful spring day, and the trees at the exchange were green, and the breezy air was pleasant, and the sun shone in the sky, as I stood by the Bank of Hamburg. And behold, Klotz comes with his stout Madame Klotz, and greets me, and speaks of the beauty of God’s springtide, makes some patriotic remarks about the militia, and asks me how business is, and so in the course of conversation says to me, ‘Last night I dreamed that number 1,538 will win the first prize’; and at the same moment, while Madame Klotz was contemplating the town hall, he presses thirteen good, full-weighted louis d’or into my hand—I feel them there to this day—and, even before Madame Klotz turns round, says I, ‘All right, Klotz!’ Then, away I go, straight to the main lottery office, and get number 1,538, and put it in an envelope; and as soon as I get home, I write on the envelope, ‘On account of Christian Heinrich Klotz.’ And what does God do? A fortnight later, in order to put my honesty to the test, He lets the number 1,538 turn up and win fifty thousand Thaler. But what does Hirsch do—the identical Hirsch who stands before you now? This same Hirsch puts on a clean little white dickey and a clean white neckerchief, and takes a cab and gets the fifty thousand Thaler from the main office. As Klotz sees me coming, he asks, ‘Hirsch, why are you dressed up so to-day?’ I, however, answer not a word, but put the large surprise-package on the table, and say solemnly, ‘My dear friend, Christian Heinrich Klotz, number 1,538, which you had the kindness to play in my lottery, has had the good fortune to win fifty thousand Thaler. I have the honor of presenting you with the money in this bag, and I take the liberty of asking for a receipt.’ When Klotz heard that, he began to weep. When Madame Klotz heard the story, she wept, the red-headed servant-girl wept, the squinting clerk wept, the children wept. And I? A man of feeling like myself could not even weep at first; but I fell into a swoon, and only afterward the tears came out of my eyes like a river, and I wept for three hours.”

The voice of the little man shook as he related this, and solemnly he pulled a little parcel out of his pocket, unwound from it the faded pink ribbon, and showed me the signed acknowledgment of Christian Heinrich Klotz for the receipt of fifty thousand Thaler. “When I die,” said Hirsch, with a tear in his eye, “let them put this receipt into my grave, and when the time comes, on the Day of Judgment, for me to render an account of my actions, then will I step before the throne of the Almighty with this receipt in my hand. And when my bad angel begins to read the list of the bad deeds which I did in this world, and my good angel the list of my good deeds, I will say calmly, ‘Be silent. All I want to know is, Is this receipt genuine? Is this the handwriting of Christian Heinrich Klotz?’ Then comes a tiny angel a-flying, and says, ‘I know Klotz’s handwriting quite well,’ and he relates at the same time the story of the remarkable honesty which I once perpetrated. The Creator of eternity, however, the All-Knowing One Who Knows Everything, remembers the story, and praises me in the presence of sun and moon and stars, and immediately computes in His Head, that if all my evil deeds be subtracted from fifty thousand Thaler’s worth of honesty, there will yet remain a considerable balance in my favor, and so He says, ‘Hirsch, I appoint thee as an angel of the first rank, and thou mayest wear wings with white and red feathers!’”