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Tales From Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb
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Timon Of Athens
Timon, a lord of Athens, in the enjoyment of a princely fortune, affected a humor of
liberality which knew no limits. His almost infinite wealth could not flow in so fast but
he poured it out faster upon all sorts and degrees of people. Not the poor only tasted of
his bounty, but great lords did not disdain to rank themselves among his dependents and
followers. His table was resorted to by all the luxurious feasters, and his house was open
to all comers and goers at Athens. His large wealth combined with his free and prodigal
nature to subdue all hearts to his love; men of all minds and dispositions tendered their
services to Lord Timon, from the glass-faced flatterer whose face reflects as in a mirror
the present humor of his patron, to the rough and unbending cynic who, affecting a
contempt of men's persons and an indifference to worldly things, yet could not stand out
against the gracious manners and munificent soul of Lord Timon, but would come
(against his nature) to partake of his royal entertainments and return most rich in his own
estimation if he had received a nod or a salutation from Timon.
If a poet had composed a work which wanted a recommendatory introduction to the
world, he had no more to do but to dedicate it to Lord Timon, and the poem was sure of
sale, besides a present purse from the patron, and daily access to his house and table. If a
painter had a picture to dispose of he had only to take it to Lord Timon and pretend to
consult his taste as to the merits of it; nothing more was wanting to persuade the liberal-
hearted lord to buy it. If a jeweler had a stone of price, or a mercer rich, costly stuffs,
which for their costliness lay upon his hands, Lord Timon's house was a ready mart
always open, where they might get off their wares or their jewelry at any price, and the
good-natured lord would thank them into the bargain, as if they had done him a piece of
courtesy in letting him have the refusal of such precious commodities. So that by this
means his house was thronged with superfluous purchases, of no use but to swell uneasy
and ostentatious pomp; and his person was still more inconveniently beset with a crowd
of these idle visitors, lying poets, painters, sharking tradesmen, lords, ladies, needy
courtiers, and expectants, who continually filled his lobbies, raining their fulsome
flatteries in whispers in his ears, sacrificing to him with adulation as to a God, making
sacred the very stirrup by which he mounted his horse, and seeming as though they drank
the free air but through his permission and bounty.
Some of these daily dependents were young men of birth who (their means not answering
to their extravagance) had been put in prison by creditors and redeemed thence by Lord
Timon; these young prodigals thenceforward fastened upon his lordship, as if by common
sympathy he were necessarily endeared to all such spendthrifts and loose livers, who, not
being able to follow him in his wealth, found it easier to copy him in prodigality and
copious spending of what was their own. One of these flesh-flies was Ventidius, for
whose debts, unjustly contracted, Timon but lately had paid down the sum of five talents.
But among this confluence, this great flood of visitors, none were more conspicuous than
the makers of presents and givers of gifts. It was fortunate for these men if Timon took a