Kant And The Robbers
John Kant was Professor and Doctor of Divinity at Cracow. He was a pious man, with a spirit peculiarly gentle and guileless, and he at times would have preferred to suffer injustice rather than exercise it. For many years he had conscientiously followed his duties as spiritual teacher of the place to which he had been appointed by God. His head was covered with the snow of age, when he was seized with an ardent desire to revisit the scenes of his youth in his native country, Silesia. The journey appeared fraught with peril to one of his advanced age; but he set his affairs in order, and started on his way, commending himself to the care of God. He rode slowly along, attired in his black robe, with long beard and hair, according to the fashion of the time. Then he pursued his way through the gloomy woods of Poland, which scarcely a sunbeam could pierce; but there was a light in his soul, for God’s spirit irradiated it.
One evening as he was thus journeying along, holding communion with God, and taking no heed of objects beside him, on reaching an opening in the thick forest, a tramping noise was suddenly heard, and he was instantly surrounded by figures, some on horseback and some on foot. Knives and swords glittered in the moonlight, and the pious man saw that he was at the mercy of a band of robbers. Scarcely conscious of what passed, he alighted from his horse, and offered his property to the gang. He gave them a purse filled with silver coins, unclasped the chain from his neck, took the gold lace from his cap, drew a ring from his finger and took from his pocket his book of prayer, which was clasped with silver. Not till he had yielded all he possessed, and seen his horse led away, did Kant intercede for his life.
“Have you given us all?” cried the robber, threateningly. Have you any more money?”
In his alarm and terror, the trembling doctor answered that he had given them every coin in his possession, and on receiving this assurance, he was allowed to proceed on his journey.
Quickly he hastened onward, rejoicing at his escape, when suddenly his hand felt something hard in the hem of his robe. It was his gold, which, having been stitched within the lining of his dress, had thus escaped discovery. The good man, in his alarm, had forgotten the secret store. His heart, therefore, again beat with joy; for the money would bear him home to his friends and kindred; and he saw rest and shelter in prospect, instead of a long and painful wandering, and the necessity of begging his way. But his conscience was a peculiarly tender one, and he suddenly stopped to listen to its voice. It cried in disturbed tones: “Tell not a lie! Tell not a lie.” These words burned in his heart. Joy, kindred, home, were all forgotten. Some writers on moral philosophy have held that promises made under such circumstances are not binding, and few men certainly would have been troubled with such scruples on that occasion. But Kant did not stop to reason. He hastily retraced his steps, and entering into the midst of the robbers, who were still in the same place, said meekly:--
“I have told you what is not true: but it was unintentional—fear and anxiety confused me; therefore, pardon me.”
With these words, he held forth the glittering gold; but, to his surprise, not one of the robbers would take it! A strange feeling was at work in their hearts. They could not laugh at the pious man. “Thou shalt not steal,” said a voice within them. All were deeply moved. Then, as if seized by a sudden impulse, one brought back his purse; another restored the book of prayer; while still another led his horse toward him, and helped him to remount it. Then they unitedly entreated his blessing; and solemnly giving it, the good old man continued his way, lifting up his heart in gratitude to God, who brought him in safety to the end of his journey.
The Youth’s Instructor August 11,