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Robert Browning (1812–1889). A Blot in the ’Scutcheon.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act IV Scene I

Yes, it’s become the talk of all the town,

And make a stir that’s scarcely to your credit;

And I have met you, sir, most opportunely,

To tell you in a word my frank opinion.

Not to sift out this scandal to the bottom,

Suppose the worst for us—suppose Damis

Acted the traitor, and accused you falsely;

Should not a Christian pardon this offence,

And stifle in his heart all wish for vengeance?

Should you permit that, for your petty quarrel,

A son be driven from his father’s house?

I tell you yet again, and tell you frankly,

Everyone, high or low, is scandalised;

If you’ll take my advice, you’ll make it up,

And not push matters to extremities.

Make sacrifice to God of your resentment;

Restore the son to favour with his father.

Alas! So far as I’m concerned, how gladly

Would I do so! I bear him no ill will;

I pardon all, lay nothing to his charge,

And wish with all my heart that I might serve him;

But Heaven’s interests cannot allow it;

If he returns, then I must leave the house.

After his conduct, quite unparalleled,

All intercourse between us would bring scandal;

God knows what everyone’s first thought would be!

They would attribute it to merest scheming

On my part—say that conscious of my guilt

I feigned a Christian love for my accuser,

But feared him in my heart, and hoped to win him

And underhandedly secure his silence.

You try to put us off with specious phrases;

But all your arguments are too far-fetched.

Why take upon yourself the cause of Heaven?

Does Heaven need our help to punish sinners?

Leave to itself the care of its own vengeance,

And keep in mind the pardon it commands us;

Besides, think somewhat less of men’s opinions,

When you are following the will of Heaven.

Shall petty fear of what the world may think

Prevent the doing of a noble deed?

No!—let us always do as Heaven commands,

And not perplex our brains with further questions.

Already I have told you I forgive him;

And that is doing, sir, as Heaven commands.

But after this day’s scandal and affront

Heaven does not order me to live with him.

And does it order you to lend your ear

To what mere whim suggested to his father,

And to accept gift of his estates,

On which, in justice, you can make no claim?

No one who knows me, sir, can have the thought

That I am acting from a selfish motive.

The goods of this world have no charms for me;

I am not dazzled by their treacherous glamour;

And if I bring myself to take the gift

Which he insists on giving me, I do so,

To tell the truth, only because I fear

This whole estate may fall into bad hands,

And those to whom it comes may use it ill

And not employ it, as is my design,

For Heaven’s glory and my neighbours’ good.

Eh, sir, give up these conscientious scruples

That well may cause a rightful heir’s complaints.

Don’t take so much upon yourself, but let him

Possess what’s his, at his own risk and peril;

Consider, it were better he misused it,

Than you should be accused of robbing him.

I am astounded the unblushingly

You could allow such offers to be made!

Tell me—has true religion any maxim

That teaches us to rob the lawful heir?

If Heaven has made it quite impossible

Damis and you should live together here,

Were it not better you should quietly

And honourably withdraw, than let the son

Be driven out for your sake, dead against

All reason? ’T would be giving, sir, believe me,

Such an example of your probity…

Sir, it is half-past three; certain devotions

Recall me to my closet; you’ll forgive me

For leaving you so soon.