Don Juan By Lord Byron Canto XII


Of all the barbarous middle ages, that
  Which is most barbarous is the middle age
Of man; it is — I really scarce know what;
  But when we hover between fool and sage,
And don't know justly what we would be at —
  A period something like a printed page,
Black letter upon foolscap, while our hair
Grows grizzled, and we are not what we were; —

Too old for youth, — too young, at thirty-five,
  To herd with boys, or hoard with good threescore, —
I wonder people should be left alive;
  But since they are, that epoch is a bore:
Love lingers still, although 't were late to wive;
  And as for other love, the illusion 's o'er;
And money, that most pure imagination,
Gleams only through the dawn of its creation.

O Gold! Why call we misers miserable?
  Theirs is the pleasure that can never pall;
Theirs is the best bower anchor, the chain cable
  Which holds fast other pleasures great and small.
Ye who but see the saving man at table,
  And scorn his temperate board, as none at all,
And wonder how the wealthy can be sparing,
Know not what visions spring from each cheese-paring.

Love or lust makes man sick, and wine much sicker;
  Ambition rends, and gaming gains a loss;
But making money, slowly first, then quicker,
  And adding still a little through each cross
(Which will come over things), beats love or liquor,
  The gamester's counter, or the statesman's dross.
O Gold! I still prefer thee unto paper,
Which makes bank credit like a bank of vapour.

Who hold the balance of the world? Who reign
  O'er congress, whether royalist or liberal?
Who rouse the shirtless patriots of Spain?
  (That make old Europe's journals squeak and gibber all.)
Who keep the world, both old and new, in pain
  Or pleasure? Who make politics run glibber all?
The shade of Buonaparte's noble daring?-
Jew Rothschild, and his fellow-Christian, Baring.

Those, and the truly liberal Lafitte,
  Are the true lords of Europe. Every loan
Is not a merely speculative hit,
  But seats a nation or upsets a throne.
Republics also get involved a bit;
  Columbia's stock hath holders not unknown
On 'Change; and even thy silver soil, Peru,
Must get itself discounted by a Jew.

Why call the miser miserable? as
  I said before: the frugal life is his,
Which in a saint or cynic ever was
  The theme of praise: a hermit would not miss
Canonization for the self-same cause,
  And wherefore blame gaunt wealth's austerities?
Because, you 'll say, nought calls for such a trial; —
Then there 's more merit in his self-denial.

He is your only poet; — passion, pure
  And sparkling on from heap to heap, displays,
Possess'd, the ore, of which mere hopes allure
  Nations athwart the deep: the golden rays
Flash up in ingots from the mine obscure;
  On him the diamond pours its brilliant blaze,
While the mild emerald's beam shades down the dies
Of other stones, to soothe the miser's eyes.

The lands on either side are his; the ship
  From Ceylon, Inde, or far Cathay, unloads
For him the fragrant produce of each trip;
  Beneath his cars of Ceres groan the roads,
And the vine blushes like Aurora's lip;
  His very cellars might be kings' abodes;
While he, despising every sensual call,
Commands — the intellectual lord of all.

Perhaps he hath great projects in his mind,
  To build a college, or to found a race,
A hospital, a church, — and leave behind
  Some dome surmounted by his meagre face:
Perhaps he fain would liberate mankind
  Even with the very ore which makes them base;
Perhaps he would be wealthiest of his nation,
Or revel in the joys of calculation.

But whether all, or each, or none of these
  May be the hoarder's principle of action,
The fool will call such mania a disease: —
  What is his own? Go — look at each transaction,
Wars, revels, loves — do these bring men more ease
  Than the mere plodding through each 'vulgar fraction'?
Or do they benefit mankind? Lean miser!
Let spendthrifts' heirs enquire of yours — who 's wiser?

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After Don Juan escapes from Constantinople, he is embroiled in the battle of