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Title: Jewish Portraits
Author: Magnus, Lady Katie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           JEWISH PORTRAITS

                           JEWISH PORTRAITS


                              LADY MAGNUS

                               AUTHOR OF
                       SINCE BIBLE TIMES,’ ETC.

                 _Second Revised and Enlarged Edition_

                        Published by DAVID NUTT
                             in the STRAND

                        ‘THESE, TO HIS MEMORY’

                        FEBRUARY 7: JANUARY 11


The papers which form this volume have already appeared in the pages of
_Good Words_, _Macmillan’s Magazine_, _The National Review_, and _The
Spectator_, and are reprinted with the very kindly given permission of
the editors. The Frontispiece is reproduced through the kindness of the
proprietors of _Good Words_.

I fancy that there is enough of family likeness, and I hope there is
enough of friendly interest, in these Jewish portraits to justify their
re-appearance in a little gallery to themselves.




JEHUDAH HALEVI,                                                        1

THE STORY OF A STREET,                                                24

HEINRICH HEINE: A PLEA,                                               32

DANIEL DERONDA AND HIS JEWISH CRITICS,                                57

MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL,                                                  68

CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES,                                            90

MOSES MENDELSSOHN,                                                   109

THE NATIONAL IDEA IN JUDAISM,                                        147

THE STORY OF A FALSE PROPHET,                                        158

NOW AND THEN: A COMPOSITE SKETCH,                                    177




In the far-off days, when religion was not a habit, but an emotion,
there lived a little-known poet who solved the pathetic puzzle of how to
sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Minor poets of the period in
plenty had essayed a like task, leaving a literature the very headings
of which are strange to uninstructed ears. ‘_Piyutim_,’ ‘_Selichoth_’:
what meaning do these words convey to most of us? And yet they stand for
songs of exile, sung by patient generations of men who tell a monotonous
tale of mournful times--

    ‘When ancient griefs
     Are closely veiled
     In recent shrouds,’

as one of the anonymous host expresses it. For the writers were of the
race of the traditional Sweet Singer, and their lot was cast in those
picturesquely disappointing Middle Ages, too close to the chivalry of
the time to appreciate its charm. One pictures these comparatively
cultured pariahs, these gaberdined, degenerate descendants of seers and
prophets, looking out from their ghettoes on a world which, for all the
stir and bustle of barbaric life, was to them as desolate and as bare of
promise of safe resting-place as when the waters covered it, and only
the tops of the mountains appeared. One sees them now as victims, and
now as spectators, but never as actors in that strange show, yet always,
we fancy, realising the barbarism, and with that undoubting faith of
theirs in the ultimate dawning of a perfect day, seeming to regard the
long reign of brute force, of priestcraft, and of ignorance as phases of
misrule, which, like unto manifold others, should pass whilst they would

    ‘A race that has been tested
     And tried through fire and water,
     Is surely prized by Thee,’

cries out a typical bard, with, perhaps, a too-conscious tone of
martyrdom, and a decided tendency to clutch at the halo. The attitude is
altogether a trifle arrogant and stolid and defiant to superficial
criticism, but yet one for which a deeper insight will find excuses.
The complacency is not quite self-complacency, the pride is impersonal,
and so, though provoking, is pathetic too. Something of the old longing
which, with a sort of satisfied negation, claimed ‘honour and glory,’
‘not unto us,’ but unto ‘the Name,’ seems to find expression again in
the unrhymed and often unrhythmical compositions of these patient poets
of the _Selicha_. Their poetry, perhaps, goes some way towards
explaining their patience, for, undoubtedly, there is no doggedness like
that of men who at will, and by virtue of their own thoughts, can soar
above circumstances and surroundings. ‘Vulgar minds,’ says a
last-century poet, truly enough, ‘refuse or crouch beneath their load,’
and inevitably such will collapse under a pressure which the cultivated
will endure, and ‘bear without repining.’ The ills to which flesh is
heir will generally be best and most bravely borne by those to whom the
flesh is not all in all; as witness Heine, whose voice rose at its
sweetest, year after year, from his mattress grave. That there never was
a time in all their history when the lusts of the flesh were a whole and
satisfying ambition to the Jew, or when the needs of the body bounded
his desires, may account in some degree for that marvellous capacity for
suffering which the race has evinced.

These rugged _Piyutim_, for over a thousand years, come in from most
parts of the continent of Europe as a running commentary on its laws,
suggesting a new reading for the old significant connection between a
country’s lays and its legislation, and supplying an illustration to
Charles Kingsley’s dictum, that ‘the literature of a nation is its
autobiography.’ _Selicha_ (from the Hebrew, סְלִיחָה) means literally
forgiveness, and to forgive and to be forgiven is the burden and the
refrain of most of the so-called Penitential Poems (_Selichoth_), whose
theme is of sorrows and persecutions past telling, almost past praying
about. _Piyut_ (derived from the Greek ποιητἡς) in early Jewish writings
stood for the poet himself, and later on it was applied as a generic
name for his compositions. From the second to the eighth century there
is decidedly more suggestion of martyrdom than of minstrelsy in these
often unsigned and always unsingable sonnets of the synagogue, and
especially about the contributions from France, and subsequently from
Germany, to the liturgical literature of the Middle Ages, there is a far
too prevailing note of the swan’s song for cheerful reading. Happier in
their circumstances than the rest of their European co-religionists, the
Spanish writers sing, for the most part, in clearer and higher strains,
and it is they who towards the close of the tenth century, first add
something of the grace and charm of metrical versification to the
hitherto crude and rough style of composition which had sufficed. Even
about the prose of these Spanish authors there is many a light and happy
touch, and, not unseldom, in the voluminous and somewhat verbose
literature, we come across a short story (_midrash_) or a pithy saying,
with salt enough of wit or of pathos about it to make its preservation
through the ages quite comprehensible.

_Hep_, _Hep_, was the dominant note in the European concert, when at the
beginning of the twelfth century our poet was born. France, Italy,
Germany, Bohemia, and Greece had each been, at different times within
the hundred years which had just closed, the scene of terrible
persecutions. In Spain alone, under the mild sway of the Ommeyade
Kaliphs, there had been a tolerably long entr’acte in the ‘fifteen
hundred year tragedy’ that the Jewish race was enacting, and there, in
old Castille, whilst Alfonso VI. was king, Jehudah Halevi passed his
childhood. Although in 1085 Alfonso was already presiding over an
important confederation of Catholic States, yet at the beginning of the
twelfth century the Arab supremacy in Spain was still comparatively
unshaken, and its influence, social and political, over its Jewish
subjects was still paramount. Perhaps the one direction in which that
impressionable race was least perceptibly affected by its Arab
experiences was in its literature. And remembering how very distinctly
in the elder days of art the influence of Greek thought is traceable in
Jewish philosophy, it is strange to note with these authors of the
Middle Ages, who write as readily in Arabic as in Hebrew, that, though
the hand is the hand of Esau, the voice remains unmistakably the voice
of Jacob. Munk dwells on this remarkable distinction in the poetry of
the period, and with some natural preference perhaps, strives to account
for it in the wide divergence of the Hebrew and Arabic sources of
inspiration. The poetry of the Jews he roundly declares to be universal,
and that of the Arabs egotistic in its tendency; the sons of the desert
finding subjects for their Muse in traditions of national glory and in
dreams of material delight, whilst the descendants of prophets turn to
the records of their own ancestry, and find their themes in remorseful
memories, and in unselfish and unsensual hopes. With the Jewish poet,
past and future are alike uncoloured by personal desire, and even the
sins and sufferings of his race he enshrines in song. If it be good, as
a modern writer has declared it to be, that a nation should commemorate
its defeats, certainly no race has ever been richer in such subjects, or
has shown itself more willing, in ritual and rhyme, to take advantage of

Whilst the leaders of society, the licentious crusader and the celibate
monk, were stumbling so sorely in the shadow of the Cross, and whilst
the rank and file throughout Europe were steeped in deepest gloom of
densest ignorance and superstition, the lamp of learning, handed down
from generation to generation of despised Jews, was still being
carefully trimmed, and was burning at its brightest among the little
knot of philosophers and poets in Spain. Alcharisi, the commentator and
critic of the circle, gives, for his age, a curiously high standard of
the qualifications essential to the sometimes lightly bestowed title of
author. ‘A poet,’ he says, ‘(1) must be perfect in metre; (2) his
language of classic purity; (3) the subject of his poem worthy of the
poet’s best skill, and calculated to instruct and to elevate mankind;
(4) his style must be full of “lucidity” and free from every obscure or
foreign expression; (5) he must never sacrifice sense to sound; (6) he
must add infinite care and patience to his gift of genius, never
submitting crude work to the world; and (7) lastly, he must neither
parade all he knows nor offer the winnowings of his harvest.’

These seem sufficiently severe conditions even to nineteenth-century
judgment, but Jehudah Halevi, say his admirers and even his
contemporaries, fulfilled them all.

That a man should be judged by his peers gives a promise of sound and
honest testimony, and if such judgment be accepted as final, then does
Halevi hold high rank indeed among men and poets. One of the first
things that strike an intruder into this old-world literary circle is
the curious absence of those small rivalries and jealousies which we of
other times and manners look instinctively to find. Such records as
remain to us make certainly less amusing reading than some later
biographies and autobiographies afford, but, on the other hand, it has a
unique interest of its own, to come upon authentic traces of such
susceptible beings as authors, all living in the same set and with a
limited range both of subjects and of readers, who yet live together in
harmony, and interchange sonnets and epigrams curiously free from every
suggestion of envy, hatred, or uncharitableness. There is, in truth, a
wonderful freshness of sentiment about these gentle old scholars. They
say pretty things to and of each other in almost school-girl fashion.
‘I pitch my tent in thy heart,’ exclaims one as he sets out on a
journey. More poetically Halevi expresses a similar sentiment to a
friend of his (Ibn Giat):

    ‘If to the clouds thy boldness wings its flight,
     Within our hearts, thou ne’er art out of sight.’

Writes another (Moses Aben Ezra), and he was a philosopher and
grammarian to boot, one not to be lightly suspected of sentimentality,
‘Our hearts were as one: now parted from thee, my heart is divided into
two.’ Halevi was the absent friend in this instance, and he begins his
response as warmly:--

    ‘How can I rest when we are absent one from another?
     Were it not for the glad hope of thy return
     The day which tore thee from me
     Would tear me from all the world.’

Or the note changes: some disappointment or disillusion is hinted at,
and under its influence our tender-hearted poet complains to this same
sympathetic correspondent, ‘I was asked, Hast thou sown the seed of
friendship? My answer was, Alas, I did, but the seed did not thrive.’

It is altogether the strangest, soberest little picture of sweetness and
light, showing beneath the gaudy, tawdry phantasmagoria of the age. Rub
away the paint and varnish from the hurrying host of crusaders, from the
confused crowd of dreary, deluded rabble, and there they stand like a
‘restored’ group, these tuneful, unworldly sages, ‘toiling, rejoicing,
sorrowing,’ with Jehudah Halevi, poet and physician, as central figure.
For, loyal to the impulse which in times long past had turned Akiba into
a herdsman and had induced Hillel in his youth and poverty to ‘hire
himself out wherever he could find a job,’[1] which, in the time to
come, was to make of Maimonides a diamond-cutter, and of Spinoza an
optician, Halevi compounded simples as conscientiously as he composed
sonnets, and was more of doctor than of poet by profession. He was true
to those traditions and instincts of his race, which, through all the
ages, had recognised the dignity of labour and had inclined to use
literature as a staff rather than as a crutch. His prescriptions were
probably such as the Pharmacoœia of to-day might hardly approve, and the
spirit in which he prescribed, one must own, is perhaps also a little
out of date. Here is a grace just before physic which brings to one’s
mind the advice given by a famous divine of the muscular Christianity
school to his young friend at Oxford, ‘Work hard--as for your degree,
leave it to God.’

    ‘God grant that I may rise again,
     Nor perish by Thine anger slain.
     This draught that I myself combine,
     What is it? Only Thou dost know
     If well or ill, if swift or slow,
     Its parts shall work upon my pain.
     Ay, of these things, alone is Thine
     The knowledge. All my faith I place,
     Not in my craft, but in Thy grace.’[2](1)

Halevi’s character, however, was far enough removed from that which an
old author has defined as ‘pious and painefull.’ He ‘entered the courts
with gladness’: his religion being of a healthy, happy, natural sort,
free from all affectations, and with no taint either of worldliness or
of other-worldliness to be discerned in it. Perhaps our poet was not
entirely without that comfortable consciousness of his own powers and
capabilities which, in weaker natures, turns its seamy side to us as
conceit, nor altogether free from that impatience of ‘fools’ which seems
to be another of the temptations of the gifted. This rather ill-tempered
little extract which we are honest enough to append appears to indicate
as much:--

    ‘Lo! my light has pierced to the dark abyss,
     I have brought forth gems from the gloomy mine;
     Now the fools would see them! I ask you this:
     Shall I fling my pearls down before the swine?
     From the gathered cloud shall the raindrops flow
     To the barren land where no fruit can grow?’(1)

The little grumble is characteristic, but in actual fact no land was
‘barren’ to his hopeful, sunny temperament. In the ‘morning he sowed his
seed, and in the evening he withheld not his hand,’ and from his
‘gathered clouds,’ the raindrops fell rainbow-tinted. The love songs,
which a trustworthy edition tells us were written to his wife, are quite
as beautiful in their very different way as an impassioned elegy he
wrote when death claimed his friend, Aben Ezra, or as the famous ode he
composed on Jerusalem. Halevi wrote prose too, and a bulky volume in
Arabic is in existence, which sets forth the history of a certain Bulan,
king of the Khozars, who reigned, the antiquarians agree, about the
beginning of the eighth century, over a territory situate on the shores
of the Caspian Sea. This Bulan would seem to have been of a hesitating,
if not of a sceptical, turn of mind in religious matters. Honestly
anxious to be correct in his opinions, his anxiety becomes intensified
by means of a vision, and he finally summons representative followers of
Moses, of Jesus, and of Mahomet, to discuss in his presence the tenets
of their masters. These chosen doctors of divinity argue at great
length, and the Jewish Rabbi is said to have best succeeded in
satisfying the anxious scruples of the king. The same authorities tell
us that Bulan became an earnest convert to Judaism, and commenced in his
own person a Jewish dynasty which endured for more than two centuries.
Over these more or less historic facts Halevi casts the glamour of his
genius, and makes, at any rate, a very readable story out of them, which
incidentally throws some valuable side-lights on his own way of
regarding things. Unluckily, side-lights are all we possess, in place of
the electric illuminating fashion of the day. Those copious details,
which our grandchildren seem likely to inherit concerning all and sundry
of this generation, are wholly wanting to us, the earlier heirs of time.
Of Halevi, as of greater poets, who have lived even nearer to our own
age, history speaks neither loudly nor in chorus. Yet, for our
consolation, there is the reflection that the various and varying
records of ‘Thomas’s ideal John: never the real John, nor John’s John,
but often very unlike either,’ may, in truth, help us but little to a
right comprehension of the ‘real John, known only to His Maker.’ Once
get at a man’s ideals, it has been well said, and the rest is easy. And
thus though our facts are but few and fragmentary concerning the man of
whom one admirer quaintly says that, ‘created in the image of God’
could in his case stand for literal description, yet may we, by means of
his ideals, arrive perhaps at a juster conception of Halevi’s charming
personality than did we possess the very pen with which he wrote and the
desk at which he sat and the minutest and most authentic particulars as
to his wont of using both.

His ideal of religion was expressed in every practical detail of daily

    ‘When I remove from Thee, O God,
     I die whilst I live; but when
     I cleave to Thee, I live in death.’[3]

These three lines indicate the sentiment of Judaism, and might almost
serve as sufficient sample of Halevi’s simple creed, for, truth to tell,
the religion of the Jews does not concern itself greatly with the ideal,
being of a practical rather than of an emotional sort, rigid as to
practice, but tolerant over theories, and inquiring less as to a man’s
belief than as to his conduct. Work--steady, cheerful, untiring
work--was perhaps Halevi’s favourite form of praise. Still, being a
poet, he sings, and, like the birds, in divers strains, with happy,
unconscious effort. Only ‘For Thy songs, O God!’ he cries, ‘my heart is
a harp’; and truly enough, in some of these ancient Hebrew hymns, the
stately intensity of which it is impossible to reproduce, we seem to
hear clearly the human strings vibrate. The truest faith, the most
living hope, the widest charity, is breathed forth in them; and they
have naturally been enshrined by his fellow-believers in the most sacred
parts of their liturgy, quotations from which would here obviously be
out of place. Some dozen lines only shall be given, and these chosen in
illustration of the universality of the Jewish hope. ‘Where can I find
Thee, O God?’ the poet questions; and there is wonderfully little
suggestion of reserved places about the answer:--

    ‘Lord! where art Thou to be found?
     Hidden and high is Thy home.
     And where shall we find Thee not?
     Thy glory fills the world.
     Thou art found in my heart,
     And at the uttermost ends of the earth.
     A refuge for the near,
     For the far, a trust.

    ‘The universe cannot contain Thee;
     How then a temple’s shrine?
     Though Thou art raised above men
     On Thy high and lofty throne,
     Yet art Thou near unto them
     In their spirit and in their flesh.
     Who can say he has not seen Thee?
     When lo! the heavens and their host
     Tell of Thy fear, in silent testimony.

    ‘I sought to draw near to Thee.
     With my whole heart I sought Thee.
     And when I went out to meet Thee,
     To meet me, Thou wast ready on the road.
     In the wonders of Thy might
     And in Thy holiness I have beheld Thee.
     Who is there that should not fear Thee?
     The yoke of Thy kingdom is for ever and for all,
     Who is there that should not call upon Thee?
     Thou givest unto all their food.’

Concerning Halevi’s ideal of love and marriage we may speak at greater
length; and on these subjects one may remark that our poet’s ideal was
less individual than national. Mixing intimately among men who, as a
matter of course, bestowed their fickle favours on several wives, and
whose poetic notion of matrimony--on the prosaic we will not touch--was
a houri-peopled Paradise, it is perhaps to the credit of the Jews that
this was one of the Arabian customs which, with all their
susceptibility, they were very slow to adopt. Halevi, as is the general
faithful fashion of his race, all his life long loved one only, and
clave to her--a ‘dove of rarest worth, and sweet exceedingly,’ as in one
of his poems he declares her to be. The test of poetry, Goethe
somewhere says, is the substance which remains when the poetry is
reduced to prose. When the poetry has been yet further reduced by
successive processes of translation, the test becomes severe. We fancy,
though, that there is still some considerable residuum about Halevi’s
songs to his old-fashioned love--his Ophrah, as he calls her in some of
them. Here is one when they are likely to be parted for a while:--

    ‘So we must be divided; sweetest, stay,
       Once more, mine eyes would seek thy glance’s light.
     At night I shall recall thee: Thou, I pray,
       Be mindful of the days of our delight.
     Come to me in my dreams, I ask of thee,
     And even in my dreams be gentle unto me.

    ‘If thou shouldst send me greeting in the grave,
       The cold breath of the grave itself were sweet;
     Oh, take my life, my life, ’tis all I have,
       If it should make thee live, I do entreat.
     I think that I shall hear when I am dead,
     The rustle of thy gown, thy footsteps overhead.’(1)

And another, which reads like a marriage hymn:--

    ‘A dove of rarest worth
     And sweet exceedingly;
     Alas, why does she turn
     And fly so far from me?
     In my fond heart a tent,
     Should aye preparèd be.
     My poor heart she has caught
     With magic spells and wiles.
     I do not sigh for gold,
     But for her mouth that smiles;
     Her hue it is so bright,
     She half makes blind my sight,

     *       *       *       *       *

     The day at last is here
     Fill’d full of love’s sweet fire;
     The twain shall soon be one,
     Shall stay their fond desire.
     Ah! would my tribe could chance
     On such deliverance.’(1)

On a first reading, these last two lines strike one as oddly out of
place in a love poem. But as we look again, they seem to suggest, that
in a nature so full and wholesome as Halevi’s, love did not lead to a
selfish forgetfulness, nor marriage mean a joy which could hold by its
side no care for others. Rather to prove that love at its best does not
narrow the sympathies, but makes them widen and broaden out to enfold
the less fortunate under its happy, brooding wings. And though at the
crowning moment of his life Halevi could spare a tender thought for his
‘tribe,’ with very little right could the foolish, favourite epithet of
‘tribalism’ be flung at him, and with even less of justice at his race.
In truth, they were ‘patriots’ in the sorriest, sincerest sense--this
dispossessed people, who owned not an inch of the lands wherein they
wandered, from the east unto the west. It is prejudice or ignorance
maybe, but certainly it is not history, which sees the Jews as any but
the faithfullest of citizens to their adopted States; faithful, indeed,
often to the extent of forgetting, save in set and prayerful phrases,
the lost land of their fathers. Here is a typical national song of the
twelfth century, in which no faintest echo of regret or of longing for
other glories, other shrines, can be discerned:--

    ‘I found that words could ne’er express
     The half of all its loveliness;
     From place to place I wander’d wide,
     With amorous sight unsatisfied,
     Till last I reach’d all cities’ queen,
         Tolaitola[4] the fairest seen.

        *       *       *       *       *

     Her palaces that show so bright
     In splendour, shamed the starry height,
     Whilst temples in their glorious sheen
     Rivall’d the glories that had been;
     With earnest reverent spirit there,
     The pious soul breathes forth its prayer.’

The ‘earnest reverent spirit’ may be a little out of drawing now, but
that ‘fairest city seen’ of the Spanish poet,[5] might well stand for
the London or Paris of to-day in the well-satisfied, cosmopolitan
affections of an ordinary Englishman or Frenchman of the Jewish faith.
And which of us may blame this adaptability, this comfortable
inconstancy of content? Widows and widowers remarry, and childless
folks, it is said, grow quite foolishly fond of adopted kin. With
practical people the past is past, and to the prosperous nothing comes
more easy than forgetting. After all--

    ‘What can you do with people when they are dead?
     But if you are pious, sing a hymn and go;
     Or, if you are tender, heave a sigh and go,
     But go by all means, and permit the grass
     To keep its green fend ’twixt them and you.’[6]

In the long centuries since Jerusalem fell there has been time and to
spare for the green grass to wither into dusty weeds above those
desolate dead whose ‘place knows them no more.’ That Halevi with his
‘poetic heart,’ which is a something different from the most metrical of
poetic imaginations, cherished a closer ideal of patriotism than some of
his brethren may not be denied. ‘Israel among the nations,’ he writes,
‘is as the heart among the limbs.’ He was the loyalest of Spanish
subjects, yet Jerusalem was ever to him, in sober fact, ‘the city of the

In these learned latter days, the tiniest crumbs of tradition have been
so eagerly pounced upon by historians to analyse and argue over, that we
are almost left in doubt whether the very A B C of our own history may
still be writ in old English characters. The process which has bereft
the bogy uncle of our youthful belief of his hump, and all but
transformed the Bluebeard of the British throne into a model monarch,
has not spared to set its puzzling impress on the few details which have
come down to us concerning Halevi. Whether the love-poems, some eight
hundred in number, were all written to his wife, is now questioned;
whether 1086 or 1105 is the date of his birth, and if Toledo or Old
Castille be his birthplace, is contested. Whether he came to a peaceful
end, or was murdered by wandering Arabs, is left doubtful, since both
the year of his death[7] and the manner of it are stated in different
ways by different authorities, among whom it is hard to choose. Whether,
indeed, he ever visited the Holy City, whether he beheld it with ‘actual
sight or sight of faith,’ is greatly and gravely debated; but amidst all
this bewildering dust of doubt that the researches of wise commentators
have raised, the central fact of his life is left to us undisputed. The
realities they meddle with, but the ideals, happily, they leave to us
undimmed. All at least agree, that ‘she whom the Rabbi loved was a poor
woe-begone darling, a moving picture of desolation, and her name was
Jerusalem.’ There is a consensus of opinion among the critics that this
often-quoted saying of Heine’s was only a poetical way of putting a
literal and undoubted truth. On this subject, indeed, our poet has only
to speak for himself.

    ‘Oh! city of the world, most chastely fair;
     In the far west, behold I sigh for thee.
     And in my yearning love I do bethink me,
     Of bygone ages; of thy ruined fane,
     Thy vanish’d splendour of a vanish’d day.
     Oh! had I eagles’ wings I’d fly to thee,
     And with my falling tears make moist thine earth.
     I long for thee; what though indeed thy kings
     Have passed for ever; that where once uprose
     Sweet balsam-trees the serpent makes his nest.
     O that I might embrace thy dust, the sod
     Were sweet as honey to my fond desire!’(1)

Fifty translations cannot spoil the true ring in such fervid words as
these. And in a world so sadly full of ‘fond desires,’ destined to
remain for ever unfulfilled, it is pleasant to know that Halevi
accomplished his. He unquestionably travelled to Palestine; whether his
steps were stayed short of Jerusalem we know not, but he undoubtedly
reached the shores, and breathed ‘the air of that land which makes men
wise,’ as in loving hyperbole a more primitive patriot[8] expresses it.

And seeing how that ‘the Lord God doth like a printer who setteth the
letters backward,’[9] there is small cause, perchance, for grieving in
that the breath our poet drew in the land of his dreams was the breath
not of life but of death.


To the ear and eye that can find sermons in stones, streets, one would
fancy, must be brimful of suggestive stories. There might be differences
of course. From a stone of the polished pebble variety, for instance,
one could only predict smooth platitudes, and the romance in a block of
regulation stucco would possibly turn out a trifle prosaic. But the
right stone and the right street will always have an eloquence of their
own for the right listener or lounger, and certain crumbling old
tenements which were carted away as rubbish some few years ago in
Frankfort must have been rarely gifted in this line. ‘Words of fire,’
and ‘written in blood,’ would, in truth, have no parabolic meaning, if
the stones of that ancient _Judengasse_ suddenly took to story-telling.
A long record of sorrow, and wrong, and squalid romance, would be
unfolded, and, inasmuch as the sorrows have been healed and the wrongs
have been righted, it may not be uninteresting to look for a moment at
the picturesque truths that lie hidden under that squalid romance,
which, like a mist, hung for centuries over the Jews’ quarter.

The very first authentic record of the presence of Jews in Frankfort
comes to us in the account of a massacre of some hundred and eighty of
them in 1241. This persecution was probably epidemic rather than
indigenous in its nature, its germ distinctly traceable to those
conscientious and comprehensive attempts of Louis the Saint, in the
preceding year, to stamp out Judaism in his dominions. At any rate, for
German Jews, an era of protection began under Frederick Barbarossa, and
the Frankfort Jews among the rest, during the next hundred years,
enjoyed the ‘no history’ which to the Jewish nation, pre-eminently
amongst all others, must have been synonymous with happiness. But the
story begins again about the middle of the fourteenth century when the
Black Plague raged, and sanitary inspection, old style, took the form of
declaring the wells to be poisoned, and of advising the burning and
plunder of Jews by way of antidote. Jews were prolific, their hoards
portable, their houses slightly built, so the burnings and the massacres
and the liftings become intermittent and a little difficult to localise,
till about the year 1430, when Frederick III., egged on by his clergy,
made an order for all Jews in Frankfort to reside out of sight and sound
of the holy Cathedral. A site just without the ancient walls of the
town, and belonging to the council, was allotted to them, and here, at
their own expense, the Jews built their _Judengasse_.

The street contained originally some hundred and ninety-six houses, and
iron-sheeted gates, kept fast closed on Sundays and saint days, grew
gradually to be barred from inside as well as outside on the Ghetto. The
pleasures and the hopes which Jews might not share they came by slow
degrees to hate and to despise, and the men with the yellow badges on
their garments learnt to cringe and stoop under their load, and the
dark-eyed women with the blue stripes to their veils lifted them only to
look upon their children. Undeniably, by every outward test, the poor
pariahs of the Ghetto were degenerate, and their sad and sordid lives
must have looked both repellent and unpicturesque to the passer-by. But
it may be doubted whether the degeneracy went much deeper than the
costume. If the passer-by had passed in to one of these gabled
dwellings, when the degrading gaberdine and the disfiguring veil were
thrown aside, he would have come upon an interior of home life which
would have struck him as strangely incongruous with the surroundings.
Amid all the wretched physical squalor of the street he would have found
little mental and less spiritual destitution. If the law of the land bid
Jews shrink before men, the law of the Book bid them rejoice before God.
Both laws they obeyed to the letter. Beating vainly at closed doors,
they learnt to speak to the world with bated breath and whispered
humbleness, but ‘His courts’ they entered, as it was commanded them,
‘with thanksgiving,’ and ‘joyfully’ sang hymns to Him. And the ‘courts’
came to be comprehensive of application, and the ‘hymns’ to include much
literature. There was always a vivid domestic side to the religion of
the Jews, and the alchemy of home life went far to turn the dross of the
Ghetto into gold. Their Sabbath, in the picturesque phrase of their
prayer-book, was ‘a bride,’ and her welcome, week by week, was of a
right bridal sort. White cloths were spread and lamps lit in her honour.
The shabbiest dwellings put on something of a festive air, and for
‘_Shobbus_’ the poorest _haus-frau_ would manage to have ready at least
one extra dish and several best and bright-coloured garments for her
family. On the seventh day and on holy days the slouching pedlar and
hawker fathers, with their packs cast off, were priests and teachers
too, and every day the Ghetto children, for all their starved and
stunted growth, had unlimited diet from the _Judengasse_ stores of
family affection and free schooling. They were probably, however, at no
time very numerous, these Ghetto babies, for up to a quite comparatively
recent date (1832) Jewish love-affairs were strictly under State
control, and only fifteen couples a year were allowed to marry.

Ludwig Börne, or Löb Baruch as he is registered in the Frankfort
synagogue (1786), was a result of one of these eagerly sought
privileges, and it is easy to see how he came to write, ‘Because I was
born a slave I understand liberty; my birthplace was no longer than the
_Judengasse_, and beyond its locked gates a foreign country began for
me. Now, no town, no district, no province can content me. I can rest
only with all Germany for my fatherland.’ An eloquent expression enough
of the repressed patriotism which was, perforce, inarticulate for
centuries in the _Judengasse_ of Frankfort.

Prison as the street must have seemed to its tenants, there was at least
one occasion when its gates had the charms rather than the defects
appertaining to bolts and bars. In 1498, a harassed, ragged little crowd
from Nuremberg fled from their persecutors to find in our Frankfort
_Judengasse_ a safe city of refuge, and for a century or more the
Imperial coat-of-arms was gratefully emblazoned on the Ghetto gates as a
sign to the outer world that the Frankfort Jews, though imprisoned, were
protected. Yet we may fairly doubt if the feeling of security could have
been much more than skin-deep, since in 1711, when nearly the whole of
the street was burnt down, we find that some of the poor souls were so
afraid of insult and plunder, that many refused to open their doors to
would-be rescuers, and so, to prevent being pillaged, perished in the
flames. An oddly pathetic prose version of the famous Ingoldsby martyr,
who ‘could stand dying, but who couldn’t stand pinching.’

When, in 1808, Napoleon made Frankfort the capital of his new grand
duchy, the Ghetto gates were demolished, and many vexatious restrictions
were repealed. Such new hopes, however, as the Frankfort Jews may have
begun to indulge, fell with Napoleon’s downfall in 1815. Civil and
political disabilities were revived, and it was not till 1854 that the
last of these were erased from the statute-book.

The one house in that sad old street, the stirring sermons in whose
stones might be ‘good in everything,’ would be No. 148, the little
low-browed dwelling with the sign of the Rose and Star--a veritable
Rose of Dawn it has proved--which was purchased more than a hundred
years ago [in 1780] by Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the
great Rothschild house. Every one knows the fairy-like story of that old
house; how Meyer Amschel, intended by his parents to be a rabbi, as many
of his ancestors had been before him, chose for himself a different way
of helping his fellow-men; how he went into commerce, and made commerce,
even in the Ghetto, dignified and honourable, as he would have made
chimney-sweeping if he had adopted it; how he became agent to the
Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, how faithfully he discharged his stewardship,
and how his money took to itself snowball properties, and changed the
tiny _Judengasse_ tenement into gorgeous mansions. And the old stones
would tell, too, of how faithful were the old merchant prince and the
wife of his youth to early associations; how sons and daughters grew up
and married, and moved to more aristocratic neighbourhoods, but how
Meyer Amschel and his old wife clung to the shabby old home in the
Ghetto, and lived there all their lives, and till she died, nearly fifty
years ago.[10] The very iron bars of those windows would speak if they
could, saying never a word of their old bad uses, but telling only how
kind and wrinkled hands were stretched out through them day by day, and
year after year, dealing out bread to the hungry. No. 148 could
certainly tell the prettiest story in all the street, and preach the
most suggestive line in all the sermons carted away with those stones of
the Frankfort _Judengasse_. And it would be a story with a sequel. For
when all the other sad old houses were demolished, the walls and rafters
of No. 148 were carefully collected and numbered, and for a while
reverently laid aside. And now, re-erected, the house stands close by
its old site, serving as the centre or depôt for the dispensing of the
Rothschild charities in Frankfort. Fanciful folks might almost be
tempted to believe that stones with such experiences would be
sufficiently sentient to rejoice at the pretty sentiment which refused
to let them perish, and which, regarding them as relics, built them up
afresh, and consecrated them to new and noble uses.


    ‘That blackguard Heine.’--CARLYLE.
    ’“Who was Heine?” A wicked man.’
              CHARLES KINGSLEY.

There are some persons, some places, some things, which fall all too
easily into ready-made definitions. Labels lie temptingly to hand, and
specimens get duly docketed--‘rich as a Jew,’ perhaps, or ‘happy as a
king’--with a promptitude and a precision which is not a trifle
provoking to people of a nicely discriminative turn of mind. The amiable
optimism which insists on an inseparable union between a Jew and his
money, and discerns an alliterative link between kings and contentment,
or makes now and again a monopoly of the virtues by labelling them
‘Christian,’ has, we suspect, a good deal to do with the manufacture of
debatable definitions, and the ready fitting of slop-made judgments.
Scores of such shallow platitudes occur to one’s memory, some
mischievous, some monotonous, some simply meaningless, and many of the
most complacent have been tacked on to the telling of a life-story,
brimful of contradictions, and running counter to most of the
conventionalities. The story of one who was a Jew, and poor; a convert,
without the zeal; a model of resignation, and yet no Christian; a poet,
born under sternest conditions of prose, and with sad claims, by right
of race, to the scorn of scorn and hate of hate, which we have been told
is exclusively a poet’s appanage--surely a story hardly susceptible of
being summed up in an epithet. It is a life which has been told often,
in many languages, and in much detail; this small sketch will glance
only at such portions of it as seem to suggest the clue to a juster
reading and a kindlier conclusion.

It was in the last month of the last year of the eighteenth century, in
the little town of Düsseldorf in South Germany, that their eldest son
Heinrich, or Harry as he seems to have been called in the family circle,
was born unto Samson Heine, dealer in cloth, and Betty his wife. That
eighteenth century had been but a dreary one for the Jews of Europe. It
set in darkness on Heine’s cradle, and on his ‘mattress grave,’ some
fifty years later, the dawn of nineteenth century civilisation, for
them, had scarcely broken. ‘The heaviest burden that men can lay upon
us,’ wrote Spinoza, ‘is not that they persecute us with their hatred
and scorn, but it is by the planting of hatred and scorn in our souls.
That is what does not let us breathe freely or see clearly.’ This
subtlest effect of the poison of persecution seemed to have entered the
Jewish system. Warned off from the highroads of life, and shunned for
shambling along its bye-paths, the banned and persecuted race, looking
out on the world from their ghettoes, had grown to see most things in
false perspective. Self loomed large on their blank horizon, and gold
shone more golden in the gloom. God the Father, whose service demanded
such daily sacrifice, had lost something of that divinest attribute;
men, our brothers, could the words have borne any but a ‘tribal’ sound?
Still, in those dim, dream-peopled ghettoes, where visions of the
absent, the distant, and the past must have come to further perplex and
confuse the present, one actuality seems to have been grasped among the
shadows, one ideal attained amid all the grim realities of that most
miserable time. Home life and family affection had a sacredness for the
worst of these poor sordid Jews in a sense which, to the best of those
sottish little German potentates who so conscientiously despised them,
would have been unmeaning. Maidens were honourably wed, and wives
honoured and children cherished in those wretched Judenstrassen, where
‘the houses look as if they could tell sorrowful stories,’ after a
fashion quite unknown at any, save the most exceptional, of the numerous
coarse, corrupt, and ludicrously consequential little courts which were,
at that period, representative of German culture.

The marriage of Heine’s parents had been one of those faithful unions,
under superficially unequal conditions, for which Jews seem to have a
genius. It had been something of the old story, ‘she was beautiful, and
he fell in love’; she, pretty, piquant, cultivated, and the daughter of
a physician of some local standing; he, just a respectable member of a
respectable trading family, and ordinary all round, save for the
distinction of one rich relative, a banker brother at Hamburg.

Betty’s attractions, however, were all dangerous and undesirable
possessions in the eyes of a prudent Jewish parent of the period, and
Dr. von Geldern appears to have gladly given this charming daughter of
his into the safe ownership of her somewhat commonplace wooer, whose
chiefest faculty would seem to have been that of appreciation. It
proved, nevertheless, a sufficiently happy marriage, and Betty herself,
although possibly rather an acquiescent daughter than a responsive bride
in the preliminaries, developed into a faithful wife and a most devoted
mother, utilising her artistic tastes and her bright energy in the
education of her children, and finding full satisfaction for her warm
heart in their affection. Her eldest born was always passionately
attached to her, and in the days of his youth, as in the years that so
speedily ‘drew nigh with no pleasure in them,’ unto those latest of the
‘evil days’ when he lay so unconscionably long a-dying, and wrote long
playful letters to her full of tender deceit, telling of health and
wealth and friends, in place of pain and poverty and disease, through
all that bitter, brilliant life of his, Heinrich Heine’s relations with
his mother were altogether beautiful, and go far to refute the criticism
attributed, with I know not how much of truth, to Goethe, that ‘the poet
had every capacity save that for love!’ ‘In real love, as in perfect
music,’ says Bulwer Lytton in one of his novels, ‘there must be a
certain duration of time.’ Heine’s attachment to his mother was just
lifelong; his first love he never forgot, nor, indeed, wholly forgave,
and his devotion to his grisette wife not only preceded marriage, but
survived it. Poor Heine! was it his genius or his race, or something of
both, which conferred on him that fatal _pierre de touche_ as regards
reputation, ‘_il déplait invariablement à tous les imbeciles_’?

In the very early boyhood of Heine some light had broken in on the
thick darkness, social and political, which enveloped Jewish fortunes.
It was only a fitful gleam from the meteor-like course of the first
Napoleon, but during those few years when, as Heine puts it, ‘all
boundaries were dislocated,’ the Duchy of Berg, and its capital
Düsseldorf, in common with more important states, were created French,
and the Code Napoléon took the place for a while of that other,
unwritten, code in which Jews were pariahs, to be condemned without
evidence, and sentenced without appeal. Although the French occupation
of Berg lasted unluckily but a few years (1806 till 1813), it did
wonders in the way of individual civilisation, and Joachim Murat, during
his governorship, seems really to have succeeded in introducing
something of the ‘sweet pineapple odour of politeness,’ which Heine
later notes as a characteristic of French manners, into the boorish,
beerish little German principality. Although the time was all too short,
and the conscription too universal for much national improvement to
become evident, German burghers as well as German Jews had cause to
rejoice in the change of rule. We hear of no ‘noble’ privileges, no
licensed immunities nor immoralities during the term of the French
occupation, and some healthier amusements than Jew-baiting were provided
for the populace. With the departure of the French troops the clouds,
which needed the storm of the ’48 revolution to be effectually
dispersed, gathered again. Still the foreign government, short as it
was, had lasted long enough to make an impression for life on Heinrich
Heine, and its most immediate effect was in the school influences it
brought to bear upon him. Throughout all the States brought under French
control, public education, by the Imperial edict of 1808, was settled on
one broad system, and put under the general direction of the French
Minister of Instruction. In accordance with this decree some suitable
building in each selected district had to be utilised for class-rooms,
the students had to be put into uniform, the teachers to be Frenchmen,
and all subjects had to be taught through the medium of that language.
The lycée at Düsseldorf was set up in an ancient Franciscan convent, and
hither, at the age of ten, was Heine daily despatched. A bright little
auburn-haired lad, full of fun and mischief, and mother-taught up to
this date save for some small amount of Hebrew drilling which he seems
to have received at the hands of a neighbouring Jewish instructor of
youth, Harry had everything to learn, and discipline and the Latin
declensions were among the first and greatest of his difficulties. Poet
nature and boy nature were both strong in him, and it was so hard to
sit droning out long dull lists of words, which he was quite sure the
originators of them had never had to do, for ‘if the Romans had had
first to learn Latin,’ he ruminated, ‘they never would have had time to
conquer the world’--so impossible he found it to keep his eyes on the
page, whilst the very motes were dancing in the sunshine as it poured in
through the old convent window, which was set just too high in the wall
for a safe jump into freedom. One day the need of sympathy, and possibly
some unconscious association from the dim old cloister, proved
momentarily too strong for the impressionable little lad’s Jewish
instincts; he came across a crucifix in some forgotten niche of the
transformed convent; he looked up, he tells us, at the roughly carved
figure, and dropping on his knees, prayed an earnest heterodox prayer,
‘Oh, Thou poor once persecuted God, do help me, if possible, to keep the
irregular verbs in my head!’

‘Jewish instincts,’ we said, and they could have been scarcely more, for
neither at home, at school, nor in the streets was the atmosphere the
boy breathed favourable to the development of religious principles. The
Judaism of that age was, superficially, very much what the age had made
of it; and its followers and its persecutors alike combined to render
it mightily unattractive to susceptible natures. Samson Heine, stolid
and respectable, we may imagine doing his religious, as he did all his
other duties and avocations, in solemn routine fashion, laying heavy
honest hands on each prose detail, and letting every bit of poetry slip
through his fat fingers, whilst his bright eager wife, with her large
ideas and her small vanities, ruled her household, and read her
Rousseau, and, feeling the outer world shut from her by religion, and
the higher world barred from her by ritual, found the whole thing
cramping and unsatisfying to the last degree. ‘Happy is he whom his
mother teacheth’ runs an old Talmudic proverb; but among the
mother-taught lessons of his childhood, the best was missing to Heinrich
Heine--the real difference between ‘holy and profane’ he never rightly
learnt, and thus it came to pass that Jewish instincts--an ineradicable
and an inalienable, but alas! an incomplete inheritance of the sons of
Israel--were all that Judaism gave to this poet of Jewish race.

One lingers over these early influences, the right understanding of
which goes far to supply the key to some of the later puzzles. Oddly
enough, the clouds which by and by hid the blue are discernible from the
very first, and these early years give the silver lining to those
gathering clouds. In view of the dark days coming one at least rejoices
that Heine’s childhood was a happy one; at home the merry mischievous
boy was quite a hero to his two younger brothers, and a hero and a
companion both to his only sister, the Löttchen who was the occasion of
his earliest recorded composition. It is a favourite recollection of
this lady, who is living still,[11] how she, a blushing little maid of
ten, won a good deal of unmerited praise for a school theme, till a
trembling confession was extorted from her that the real author was her
brother Harry. His mother, too, was exceedingly proud of her handsome
eldest son, whose resemblance in many ways to her was the sweetest
flattery. And besides the adoring home circle Harry found a great ally
for playhours in an old French ex-drummer, who had marched to victory
with Napoleon’s legions, and who had plenty of tales to tell the
boy of the wonderful invincible Kaiser, whom one day--blest
never-to-be-forgotten vision--the boy actually saw ride through
Düsseldorf on his famous white steed (1810). Heine never quite lost the
glamour cast over him in his youth; France, Germany, Judea, each in a
sense his _patria_, was each, in the time to come, ‘loved both ways,’
each in turn mocked at bitterly enough when the mood was on him, but
always with France, the ‘poet of the nations’ as our own English poetess
calls her, the sympathies of this cosmopolitan poet were keenest--a
perhaps not unnatural state of feeling when we reflect how fact and
fiction both combined to produce it. The French occupation of the
principality had been a veritable deliverance to its inhabitants,
Christian and Jewish alike, and what boy, in his own person, led out of
bondage, would not have thrilled to such stories as the old drummer had
to tell of the real living hero of it all? And the boy in question, we
must bear in mind, was a poet _in posse_.

In school, in spite of the difficulties of irregular verbs, Harry seems
to have held his own, and to have soon attracted the especial attention
of the director. The chief selected for the lycée at Düsseldorf had
happened to be a Roman Catholic abbé of decidedly Voltairian views on
most subjects, and attracted by the boy and becoming acquainted with his
family, many a talk did Abbé Schallmayer have with Frau Heine over the
undoubted gifts and the delightful imperfections of her son. It may
possibly have been altogether simple interest in his bright young pupil,
or perhaps Frau Heine, pretty still, and charming always, was herself an
attraction to the schoolmaster, but certain it is, whether a private
taste for pretty women or a genuine pedagogic enthusiasm prompted his
frequent calls, our abbé was a constant visitor at Samson Heine’s, and
Harry and Harry’s future a never-failing theme for conversation. What
was the boy to be? There was no room for much speculation if he were to
remain a Jew--that path was narrow, if not straight, and admitted of
small range of choice along its level line of commerce.

Betty, we know, was no staunch Jewess, and had her small personal
ambitions to boot, so such opposition as there was to the abbé’s plainly
given counsel to make a Catholic of the boy, and give him his chance,
came probably from the stolid, steady-going father, to whom custom spoke
in echoes resonant enough to deaden the muffled tones of religion. No
question, however, of sentiment or sacrifice was permitted to
complicate, or elevate, the question; no sense of voluntary renunciation
was suggested to the boy; no choice between the life and good, and the
death and evil, between conscience and compromise, was presented to him.
On the broadly comprehensive grounds that Judaism and trade had been
good enough for the father, trade and Judaism must be good enough for
the son--the matter was decided.

But still before the lad’s prospects could be definitely settled, one
important personage remained to be consulted, the banker at Hamburg,
whose wealth had gained him somewhat of the position of a family fetich.
What Uncle Solomon would say to a scheme had no fictitious value about
it; for even were the oracle occasionally dumb, not seldom would its
speech be silver and its silence gold. A rich uncle is a very solemn
possession in an impecunious family, so Harry, and Harry’s poetry, and
Harry’s powers generally, had to be weighed in the Hamburg scales before
any standard value could be assigned to either one of them. For three
years the balance was held doubtful; the counting-house scales, accurate
as they usually were, could hardly adjust themselves to the conditions
of an unknown quantity, which ‘young Heine’ on an office stool must
certainly have proved to his bewildered relatives. One imagines him in
that correct and cramping atmosphere, fretting as he had done in the old
convent school-days against its weary routine, longing with all the
half-understood strength of his poet nature for the green hills and the
mountain lakes, and feeling absolutely stifled with all the solemn
interest shown over sordid matters. He tells us himself of some of his
‘calculations’ which would wander far afield, and leave the figures on
the paper, to concern themselves with the far more perplexing units
which passed the mirky office windows, as he complains, ‘at the same
hour, with the same mien, making the same motions, like the puppets in a
town house clock--reckoning, reckoning always on the basis, twice two
are four. Frightful should it ever suddenly occur to one of these people
that twice two are properly five, and that he therefore had
miscalculated his whole life and squandered it all away in a ghastly
error!’ Many a poem too, sorrowful or fantastic, as the mood took him,
was scribbled in office hours, and very probably on office paper, thence
to find a temporary home in the Hamburg _Watchman_. What could be done
with such a lad? By every office standard he must inevitably have been
found wanting, and one even feels a sort of sympathy with the prosaic
head of the house who had made his money by the exercise of such very
different talents, and whose notion of poetry corresponded very nearly
with Corporal Bunting’s notion of love, that it’s by no means ‘the great
thing in life boys and girls want to make it out to be--that one does
not eat it, nor drink it, and as for the rest, why, it’s bother.’ It
always was ‘bother’ to the banker: all through his prosperous life this
poet nephew of his, who had the prophetic impertinence to tell the old
man once that he owed him some gratitude for being born his uncle, and
for bearing his name, was an unsatisfactory riddle. Original genius of
the sort which could create a bank-book _ex nihilo_, the millionaire
could have appreciated, but originality which ran into such unproductive
channels as poetry-book making was quite beyond him, and that he never
read the young man’s verses it is needless to say. Even in his own
immediate family and for his first book poor Harry found no audience,
save his mother; and to the very end of his days Solomon Heine for the
life of him could see nothing in his nephew but a _dumme Junge_, who
never ‘got on,’ and who made a jest of most things, even of his wealthy
and respectable relatives.

It was scarcely the old man’s fault; one can only see to the limits of
one’s vision, and a poet’s soul was not well within Solomon Heine’s
range. According to his lights he was not ungenerous. That Harry had not
the making of a clerk in him, those three probationary years had proved
to demonstration, and in the determination at which the banker presently
arrived, of giving those indefinite talents which he only understood
enough to doubt, a chance of development by paying for a three years’
university course at Bonn, he seems to have come fully up to any
reasonable ideal of a rich uncle. It is just possible that a secondary
motive influenced his generosity, for Harry, besides scribbling, had
found a relief from office work by falling in love with one of the
banker’s daughters, who would seem not to have shared the family
distaste for poetry. The little idyl was of course out of the question
in so realistic a circle, and the young lady, to do her justice, seems
herself to have been speedily reconverted to the proper principles in
which she had been trained. No unfit pendant to the ‘Amy,
shallow-hearted’ with whom a more recent generation is more familiar,
this Cousin Amy of poor Heine’s married and ‘kept her carriage’ with all
due despatch, whilst he, at college, was essaying to mend his ‘heart
broken in two’ with all the styptics which are as old and, alas, as
hurtful as such fractures. Poetical exaggeration notwithstanding--and
besides her own especial love-elegy, Amalie Heine, under thin disguises,
is the heroine of very many of the love-poems--there is little room for
doubt, that if not so seriously injured as he thought, Heine’s heart did
nevertheless receive a wound, which ached for many and many a long day,
from this girl’s weak or wilful inconstancy. Heartache is, however,
nearly as much a matter-of-course episode in most young people’s lives
as measles, and the consequences of either malady are only very
exceptionally serious.

Heine’s youthful disappointment is of chief interest as having
indirectly led to what was really the determining event of his life.
When Amalie’s parents shrewdly determined on separation as the best
course to be pursued with the cousins, and the university plan had been
accepted by Harry, his future, which was to date from degree-taking,
came on for discussion. Except in an ‘other-worldly’ sense there was, in
truth, but a very limited ‘future’ possible to Jews of talent. The only
open profession was that of medicine, and for that, like the son of
Moses Mendelssohn, young Heine had a positive distaste. Commerce, that
first and final resource of the race, which had had to satisfy Joseph
Mendelssohn, like a good many others equally ill-fitted for it, was not
possible to Heine, for he had sufficiently shown, not only dislike, but
positive incapacity for business routine. The law suggested itself, as
affording an excellent arena for those ready powers of argument and
repartee which in the family circle were occasionally embarrassing, and
the profession of an advocate, with the vague ‘opportunities’ it
included, when pressed upon young Heine, was not unalluring to him. The
immediate future was probably what most occupied his thoughts; the
freedom of a university life, the flowing river in place of those
bustling streets, shelves full of books exchanged for those dreary
office ledgers, youthful comrades in the stead of solemnly irritated
old clerks. Whether the fact that conversion was a condition of most of
the delights, an inevitable preliminary of all the benefits of that
visionary future; whether the grim truth that ‘a certificate of baptism
was a necessary card of admission to European culture,’ was openly
debated and defended, or silently and shamefacedly slurred over in these
family councils, does not appear. No record remains to us but the fact
that the young student successfully passed his examination in May, 1825;
that he was admitted to his degree on July 20, and that between these
two dates--to be precise, on the 28th of June--he was baptized as a
Protestant with two clergymen for his sponsors. ‘Lest I be poor and deny
thee’ was Agur’s prayer, and a wise one; for shivering Poverty,
clutching at the drapery of Desire, makes unto herself many a fine,
mean, flimsy garment. With no gleam of conviction to cast a flickering
halo of enthusiasm over the act, and with no shadow of overwhelming
circumstance to somewhat veil it, Heine made his deliberate surrender of
conscience to expediency. It was full-grown apostasy, neither
conscientious conversion, nor childish drifting into another faith. ‘No
man’s soul is alone,’ Ruskin tells us in his uncompromising way,
‘Laocoon or Tobit, the serpent has it by the heart or the angel by the
hand.’ For the rest of his life Heine was in the grip of the serpent,
and that, it seems to us, was the secret of his perpetual unrest. Maimed
lives are common enough; blind or deaf, or minus a leg or an arm, or
plus innumerable bruises, one yet goes on living, and with the help of
time and philosophy sorrow of most sorts grows bearable. Hearts are
tough; but the soul is more sensitive to injuries, is, to many of us,
the veritable, vulnerable _tendo Achillis_ on which our mothers lay
their tender, detaining, unavailing hands. Heine sold his soul, and that
he never received the price must have perpetually renewed the memory of
the bargain. He, one of the ‘bodyguards of Jehovah,’ had suffered
himself to be bribed from his post. He never lost his sickening sense of
that humiliation; it may be read between the lines, alike of the most
brilliant of his prose, of the most tender of his poems, of the most
mocking of his often quoted jests.

    ‘They have told thee a-many stories,
       And much complaint have made;
     And yet my heart’s true anguish
       That never have they said.

    ‘They shook their heads protesting,
       They made a great to-do;
     They called me a wicked fellow,
       And thou believedst it true.

    ‘And yet the worst of all things,
       Of that they were not aware,
     The darkest and the saddest,
       That in my heart I bear.’[12]

And it was a burden he never laid down; it embittered his relationships
and jeopardised his friendships, and set him at variance with himself.
‘I get up in the night and look in the glass and curse myself,’ we find
him writing to one of his old Jewish fellow-workers in the New Jerusalem
movement (Moser), or checking himself in the course of a violent tirade
against converts, in which Börne had joined, to bitterly exclaim, ‘It is
ill talking of ropes in the house of one who has been hanged.’ Wherever
he treats of Jewish subjects, and the theme seems always to have had for
him the fascination which is said to tempt sinners to revisit the scene
of their sins, we seem to read remorse between the melodious, mocking
lines. Now it is Moses Lump who is laughed at in half tones of envy for
his ignorant, unbarterable belief in the virtue of unsnuffed candles;
now it is Jehudah Halevi, whose love for the mistress, the
_Herzensdame_, ‘whose name was Jerusalem,’ is sung with a sympathy and
an intensity impossible to one who had not felt a like passion, and was
not bitterly conscious of having forfeited the right to avow it. The
sense of his moral mercenary suicide, in truth, rarely left him. His
nature was too conscientious for the strain thus set upon it; his
‘wickedness’ and ‘blackguardism,’ such as they were, were often but
passionate efforts to throw his old man of the sea, his heavy burden of
self-reproach; and his jests sound not unseldom as so many
untranslatable cries. He had bargained away his birthright for the hope
of a mess of pottage, and the evil taste of the base contract clung to
the poor paralysed lips when ‘even kissing had no effect upon them.’ And
but a thin, unsatisfying, and terribly intermittent ‘mess,’ too, it
proved, and the share in it which his uncle, and his uncle’s heirs,
provided was very bitter in the eating. The story of his struggles, are
they not written in the chronicles of the immortals? and his ‘monument,’
is it not standing yet ‘in the new stone premises of his

His biographers--his niece, the Princessa della Rocca, among the
latest--have made every incident of Heine’s life as familiar as his own
books have made his genius to English readers, and Mr. Stigand,
following Herr Strodtman, has given us an exhaustive record of the
poet’s life at home and in exile; in the Germany which was so harsh and
in the France which was so tender with him; with the respectable German
relatives, who read his books at last and were none the wiser, and with
the unlettered French wife, who could not read a single word of them
all, and who yet understood her poet by virtue of the love which passeth
understanding, and was in this case entirely independent of it. This
sketch trenches on no such well-filled ground; it presumes to touch only
on the fault which gave to life and genius both that odd pathetic twist,
and to glance at the suffering, which, if there be any saving power in
anguish, might surely be held by the most self-righteous as some
atonement for the ‘blackguardism.’

    ‘Oh! not little when pain
     Is most quelling, and man
     Easily quelled, and the fine
     Temper of genius so soon
     Thrills at each smart, is the praise
     Not to have yielded to pain.’[14]

Seven years on the rack is no small test of the heroic temperament; to
lie sick and solitary, stretched on a ‘mattress grave,’ the back bent
and twisted, the legs paralysed, the hands powerless, and with the
senses of sight and taste fast failing. At any time within that seven
years Heine might well have gained the gold medal in capability of
suffering for which, in his whimsical way, he talked of competing,
should such a prize be offered at the Paris Exhibition.[15] And the long
days, with ‘no pleasure in them,’ were so drearily many; the silver cord
was so slowly loosed, the golden bowl seemed broken on the wheel. His
very friends grew tired. ‘One must love one’s friends with all their
failings, but it is a great failing to be ill,’ says Madame Sevigné,
and, as the years went by, more and more deserted grew the sick-chamber.
He never complained; his sweet, ungrudging nature found excuses for
desertion and content in loneliness, in the reflection that he was in
truth ‘unconscionably long a-dying.’ ‘Never have I seen,’ says Lady
Duff-Gordon, in her _Recollections of Heine_, and she herself was no
mean exemplar of bravely-borne pain, ‘never have I seen a man bear such
horrible pain and misery in so perfectly unaffected a manner. He neither
paraded his anguish, nor tried to conceal it, or to put on any stoical
airs. He was pleased to see tears in my eyes, and then at once set to
work to make me laugh heartily, which pleased him just as much.’

‘Don’t tell my wife,’ he exclaims one day, when a paroxysm that should
have been fatal was not, and the doctor expressed what he meant for a
reassuring belief, that it would not hasten the end. ‘Don’t tell my
wife’--we seem to hear that sad little jest, so infinitely sadder than a
moan, and our own eyes moisten. Perfectly upright geniuses, when
suffering from dyspepsia, have not always shown as much consideration
for their perfectly proper wives as does this ‘blackguard’ Heine, under
torture, for his. It is conceivable that under exceptional circumstances
a man may contrive to be a hero to his valet, but, unless he be truly
heroic, he will not be able to keep up the character to his wife. Heine
managed both. Madame Heine is still living,[16] and one may not say much
of a love that was truly strong as death, and that the many waters of
affliction could not quench. But the valet test, we may hint, was
fulfilled; for the old servant who helped to tend him in that terrible
illness lives still with Madame Heine, and cries ‘for company’ when the
widow’s talk falls, as it falls often, on the days of her youth and her
‘_pauvre Henri_.’ There are traditional records in plenty of his
cheerful courage, his patient unselfishness, his unfailing endurance of
well-nigh unendurable pain. ‘_Dieu me pardonnera_, _c’est son métier_,’
the dying lips part to say, still with that sweet, inseparable smile
playing about them. Shall man be more just than God? Shall we leave to
Him for ever the monopoly of His _métier_?


     _George Eliot and Judaism._ An attempt to appreciate _Daniel
     Deronda_. By Professor David KAUFMANN, of the Jewish Theological
     Seminary, Buda-Pesth. Translated from the German by J. W. FERRIER,
     1877. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.

The latest echo from the critical chorus which has greeted _Daniel
Deronda_ comes to us from Germany, in the form of a small book by Dr.
Kaufmann, professor in the recently instituted Jewish Theological
Seminary at Buda-Pesth. A certain prominence, which its very excellent
translation into English confers upon this work, seems to be due less to
any special or novel feature in its criticism than to the larger purpose
shadowed forth in the title, ‘George Eliot and Judaism.’ It is advowedly
‘an attempt to appreciate _Daniel Deronda_,’ and is valuable and
interesting to English society not as a critique on the plot or the
characters of the book--on which points it strikes us, in more than one
instance, as somewhat weak and one-sided--but as indicating from a
Jewish standpoint in how far and how truly modern Judaism is therein
represented. Unappreciative as the great mass of the reading public have
shown themselves to the latest of George Eliot’s novels, the work has
excited a considerable amount of curiosity and admiration on the ground
of the intimate knowledge its author has evinced of the inner lives and
of the little-read literature of the ‘Great Unknown of humanity.’ We
think Dr. Kaufmann goes too far when he says, ‘The majority of readers
view the world to which they are introduced in _Daniel Deronda_ as one
foreign, strange, and repulsive.... It is not only the Jew of flesh and
blood whom men encounter every day upon the streets that they hate, but
the Jew under whatever shape he may appear, and even the airy
productions of the poet’s fancy are denounced when they venture to take
that people as their subject’ (p. 92). We think this view concedes very
much too much to prejudice; but it is undoubtedly a fact that the first
serious attempt by a great writer to make Jews and Judaism the central
interest of a great work, has produced a certain sense of discord on the
public ear, and that criticism has for the most part run in the minor
key. Mr. Swinburne, perhaps, strikes the most distinctly jarring chord,
when, in his lately published ‘Note on Charlotte Brontë,’ he owns to
possessing ‘no ear for the melodies of a Jew’s harp,’ and, disclaiming
‘a taste for the dissection of dolls,’ ‘leaves Daniel Deronda to his
natural place over the rag-shop door’ (pp. 21, 22). Even an ear so
politely and elegantly owned defective might be able, it could be
imagined, to catch an echo from the ‘choir invisible’; and poetic
insight, one might almost venture to think, should be able to discern in
poetic aspirations, however unfamiliar and even alien to itself,
something different from bran. This arrow is too heavily tipped to fly
straight to the goal. There are numbers, however, of the like school
who, with more excuse than Mr. Algernon Swinburne, fail to ‘see
anything’ in _Daniel Deronda_, and a criticism we once overheard in the
Louvre occurs to us as pertinent to this point. The picture was
Correggio’s ‘Marriage of St. Katharine,’ and to an Englishman standing
near us it evidently did not fulfil preconceived conceptions of a
marriage ceremony. He looked at it long, and at last turned disappointed
away, audibly muttering, ‘Well, I can’t see anything in it.’ That was
evident, but the failure was not in the picture. Preconceived
conceptions count for much, whether the artist be a Correggio or a
George Eliot, and ignorance and prejudice are ill-fitting spectacles
wherewith to assist vision.

If it be an axiom that a man should be judged by his peers, we should
think that George Eliot would herself prefer that her work should be
weighed in the balance by those qualified to hold the scales, and should
by them, if at all, be pronounced ‘wanting.’ A book of which Judaism is
the acknowledged theme should appeal to Jews for judgment, and thus the
question becomes an interesting one to the outer world,--What do the
Jews themselves think of _Daniel Deronda_? Are the aspirations of
Mordecai regarded by them as the expression of a poet’s dream, or a
nation’s hope? What, in short, is the aspect of modern Judaism to the

‘Modern’ Judaism is itself, perhaps, a convenient rather than a correct
figure of speech. There are modern manners to which modern Jews
necessarily conform, and which have a tendency to tone down the outward
and special characteristics of Judaism, as of everything else, to a
general socially-undistinguishable level. But men are not necessarily
dumb because they do not speak much or loudly of such very personal
matters as their religious hopes and beliefs, more especially if in
these days they are so little in the fashion as to hold strong
convictions on such subjects. Our author distinctly formulates the
opinion that ‘men may give all due allegiance to a foreign State without
ceasing to belong to their own people’ (p. 21); and in the same sense as
we may conceive a man honestly fulfilling all dues as good husband and
good father to his living and lawful wife and children, and yet holding
tenderly in the unguessed-at depths of memory some long-ago-lost love,
so is it conceivable of many an unromantic-looking nineteenth century
Jew, who soberly performs all good citizen duties, that the unspoken
name of Jerusalem is still enshrined in like unguessed-at depths, as the
‘perfection of beauty,’ ‘the joy of the whole earth.’ Conventionalities
conduce to silence on such topics, and therefore it is to published
rather than to spoken Jewish criticisms we must turn in our inquiry, and
the little book under review certainly helps us to a definite answer.

And we may notice, as a significant fact, that while on the part of
general critics there has been some differing even in their adverse
judgments, and a more than partial failure to grasp the idea of the
book, there seems both here and abroad a grateful consensus of Jewish
opinion that not only has George Eliot truly depicted the externals of
Jewish _life_, which was a comparatively easy task, but has also
correctly represented Jewish thought and the ideas underlying Judaism.
Our author emphatically says, ‘_Daniel Deronda_ is a Jewish book, not
only in the sense that it treats of Jews, but also in the sense that it
is pre-eminently fitted for being understood and appreciated by Jews’
(p. 90); and again, ‘it will always be gratefully declared,’ he
concludes, ‘_that George Eliot has deserved right well of Judaism_’ (p.
95). Does this, then, mean that the ‘national’ idea is a rooted,
practical hope? Do English Jews, undistinguishable in the mass from
other Englishmen, really and truly hold the desire, like Mordecai, of
‘founding a new Jewish polity, grand, simple, just, like the old’?
(_Daniel Deronda_, Book IV.) Do they indeed design to devote their
‘wealth to redeem the soil from debauched and paupered conquerors,’ to
cleanse their fair land from ‘the hideous obloquy of Christian strife,
which the Turk gazes at as at the fighting of wild beasts to which he
has lent an arena’ (_ibidem_)? Was Daniel’s honeymoon-mission to the
East to have this practical result? The general Jewish verdict, as we
read it, scarcely concedes so much; it sees rather in the closing scene
of _Daniel Deronda_ the only weak spot in the book. Vague and visionary
as are all honeymoon anticipations, those of Daniel, their beauty and
unselfishness notwithstanding, strike Jewish readers as even more
unsubstantial, even less likely of realisation, than such imaginings in
general. Possibly, as in the old days of the Babylonian exile, ‘there be
some that dream’ of an actual restoration, of a Palestine which should
be the Switzerland of Asia Minor, which, crowned with ancient laurels,
might sit enthroned in peace and plenty,--

    ‘Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-Be.’

But save with such few and faithful dreamers, memory scarcely blossoms
into hope, and hope most certainly has not yet ripened into strong
desire. It may come; but at present we apprehend the majority of Jews
see the ‘future of Judaism’ not in the form of a centralised and
localised nationality, but rather in the destiny foreshadowed by our
author, in which ‘Israel will be greatest when she labours under every
zone,’ when ‘her children shall have spread themselves abroad, bearing
the ineradicable seeds of eternal truth’ (pp. 86, 87). This conception
of ‘nationality’ would point rather to a spiritual than to a temporal
sovereignty, to a supremacy of mind rather than of matter, and appears
to be in accord with the tone pervading both ancient and modern Jewish
literature, which exhibits Judaism as a perpetual living force,
maintained from within rather than from without, and destined
continually to influence religious thought, and to survive all

In his undefined mission to the East Deronda is, therefore, to that
extent perhaps, out of harmony with the general tone of modern Jewish
thought. We at least are constrained to think that more Jews of the
present day would be ready to follow Mordecai in imagination than
Deronda in person to Judæa. It is, nevertheless, in strict artistic
unity that, shut out for five-and-twenty years from actual practical
knowledge of his people, Deronda should represent the _ideal_ rather
than the _idea_ of Judaism. Mordecai, sketched as he is supposed to be
from the life, with his deep poetic yearnings, which are stayed on the
threshold of action, strikes us as a truer and more typical figure than
Deronda hastening to their fulfilment. And on the subject of these same
vague yearnings another point suggests itself. We have heard it said
that the religious belief of Mordecai centres rather in the destiny of
his race than in the Being who has appointed that destiny, and we have
heard it questioned whether the theism of Mordecai is sufficiently
defined to be fairly representative of Jewish thought, or if Judaism
indeed is also passing under that wave of Pantheism which, like the
waters of old, is threatening to submerge all ancient landmarks, and to
leave visible only ‘the tops of the mountains’ of revealed religion.
This seems a criticism based rather on negative than on positive
evidence, and derived possibly from the obvious leanings of George
Eliot’s other writings, and it is, perhaps, somewhat unfair to assume
that, even if, on this point, she does not sympathise with the Jews, she
has any intention of colouring her picture of modern Judaism with
intellectual prepossessions of her own. In the silence of Mordecai with
respect to his beliefs, he represents the great body of Jews, whose
religion finds expression rather in action than in formula, and who are
slow to indulge in theological speculations. Mordecai was true to Jewish
characteristics in the fact that his belief was concealed beneath his
hopes and aspirations, but had he in any degree shared the views of the
new school of sceptics, he could not have been the typical Jew, who sees
in the unity of his people a symbol of the unity of his God.

The pure theism of Judaism may be said to have its poles in the
anthropomorphic utterances of some of the Rabbinical writers, and in
the present pantheism of the extreme German school; but we should say
that the ordinary, the representative Jewish thought of the day lies
between these two extremes, and, in so far as it gives expression to any
belief on the subject, distinctly recognises a personal God presiding
over human destiny and natural laws. There may be here and there an
inquiring spirit that wanders so far afield that his attraction towards
his people is lost, and with it the influence his genius should exert;
but Jewish thought, if owning a somewhat nebulous conception of the
Deity, slowly progressing towards one fuller and grander, cannot be said
to be drifting towards Pantheism. Judaism, unlike many other faiths, has
not a history and a religious belief apart,--the one not only includes
and supplements, but is actually non-existent, ‘unthinkable,’ without
the other. Thus to have made an earnest Jew, with the strong racial
instinct of Mordecai, a weak theist, would have been an inartistic
conception, and Jewish criticism has not discovered this flaw in George
Eliot’s exceptional but faithful Jewish portraiture. Judging, then, from
such sources as are open to us, we are led to infer that the feeling of
nationality is still deeply rooted in the Jewish race, and that the
religious feeling from which it is inseparable perhaps gives it the
strength and depth to exist and to continue to exist without the
external props of ‘a local habitation and a name.’ Dr. Kaufmann,
therefore, very well expresses what appears to be the general conviction
of his co-religionists, when he suggests that ‘in the very circumstance
of dispersion may lie fulfilment’ (p. 87).



When the prophet of the Hebrews, some six-and-twenty hundred years ago,
thundered forth his stirring ‘Go through! go through the gates! prepare
a way, lift up a standard for the people!’ it may, without irreverence,
be doubted if he foresaw how literally his charge would be fulfilled by
one of his own race in the seventeenth century of the Christian era. The
story of how it was done may perhaps be worth retelling, since many
subjects of lesser moment have found more chroniclers.

It was in 1290 that gates, which in England had long been ominously
creaking on their hinges, were deliberately swung-to, and bolted and
barred by Church and State on the unhappy Jews, who on that bleak
November day stood shivering along the coast. ‘Thy waves and thy billows
have passed over me’ must have lost in tender allegory and gained some
added force of literalness that wintry afternoon. Scarce any of the
descendants of that exodus can have had share in the return. Of such of
the refugees as reached the opposite ports few found foothold, and fewer
still asylum. The most, and perhaps they were the most fortunate of the
fifteen thousand, were quick in gaining foreign graves. Those who made
for the nearest neighbouring shores of France, forgetful, or perhaps
ignorant, of the recent experiences of their French brethren under
Philip Augustus, lived on to earn a like knowledge for themselves, and
to undergo, a few years later, another expulsion under Philip the Fair.
Those who went farther fared worse, for over the German States the
Imperial eagle of Rome no longer brooded, now to protect and now to prey
on its victims; the struggle between the free cities and the
multitudinous petty princelings was working to its climax, and whether
at bitter strife, or whether pausing for a brief while to recruit their
powers, landgrave and burgher, on one subject, were always of one mind.
To plunder at need or to persecute at leisure, Jews were held to be
handy and fair game for either side.

Far northward or far southward that ragged English mob were hardly fit
to travel. Some remnant, perhaps, made effort to reach the
semi-barbarous settlements in Russia and Poland, but few can have been
sanguine enough to set out for distant Spain in hope of a welcome but
rarely accorded to such very poor relations. And even in the Peninsula
the security which Jews had hitherto experienced had by this date
received several severe shocks. Two centuries later and the tide of
civilisation had rolled definitely and drearily back on the soil which
Jews had largely helped to cultivate, and left it bare, and yet a little
longer, Portugal, become a province of Spain, had followed the cruel
fashions of its suzerain.

By the close of the sixteenth century a settlement of the dispossessed
Spanish and Portuguese Jews had been formed in Holland, and Amsterdam
was growing into a strange Dutch likeness of a new Jerusalem, for
Holland alone among the nations at this period gave a welcome to all
citizens in the spirit of Virgil’s famous line, ‘_Tros Rutulusve fuat,
nullo discrimine habebo_.’ And the refugees, who at this date claimed
the hospitality of the States, were of a sort to make the Dutch in love
with their own unfashionable virtue of religious tolerance. Under
Moorish sway, for centuries, commerce had been but one of the pursuits
open to the Jews and followed by the Jews of the Peninsula, and thus it
was a crowd, not of financiers and traders only or chiefly, but of
cultivated scholars, physicians, statesmen, and land-owners, whom
Catholic bigotry had exiled. The thin disguise of new Christians was
soon thrown off by these Jews, and they became to real Christians, to
such men as Vossius and Caspar Barlæus, who welcomed them and made
friends of them, a revelation of Judaism.

It was after the great _auto-da-fé_ of January 1605, that Joseph ben
Israel, with a host of other Jews, broken in health and broken in
fortune, left the land which bigotry and persecution had made hideous to
them, and joined the peaceful and prosperous settlement in Amsterdam.
The youngest of Ben Israel’s transplanted family was the year-old
Manasseh, who had been born in Lisbon a few months before their flight.
He seems to have been from the first a promising and intelligent lad,
and his tutor, one Isaac Uziel, who was a minister of the congregation,
and a somewhat famous mathematician and physician to boot, formed a high
opinion of the boy’s abilities. He did not, however, live to see them
verified; when Manasseh was but eighteen the Rabbi died, and his clever
pupil was thought worthy to be appointed to the vacated office. It was
an honoured and an honourable, but scarcely a lucrative, post to which
Manasseh thus succeeded, and the problem of living soon became further
complicated by an early marriage and a young family. Manasseh had to
cast about him for supplementary means of support, and he presently
found it in the establishment of a printing press. Whether the type gave
impetus to the pen, or whether the pen had inspired the idea of the
press, is hard to decide; but it is, at least, certain that before he
was twenty-five, Manasseh had found congenial work and plenty of it. He
taught and he preached, and both in the school-room and in the pulpit he
was useful and effective, but it was in his library that he felt really
happy and at home. Manasseh was a born scholar and an omnivorous reader,
bound to develop into a prolific, if not a profound, writer. The work
which first established his fame bears traces of this, and is, in point
of fact, less of a composition than a compilation. The first part of
this book, _The Conciliator_, was published in 1632, after five years’
labour had been expended on it, and it is computed to contain quotations
from, or references to, over 200 Hebrew, and 50 Latin and Greek authors.
Its object was to harmonise (_conciliador_) conflicting passages in the
Pentateuch, and it was written in Spanish, although it could have been
composed with equal facility in any one of half-a-dozen other languages,
for Manasseh was a most accomplished linguist.

Although not the first book which was issued from his press, for a
completely edited prayer-book and a Hebrew grammar had been published
in 1627, _The Conciliator_ was the first work that attracted the
attention of the learned world to the Amsterdam Rabbi. Manasseh had the
advantage of literary connections of his own, through his wife, who was
a great-granddaughter of Abarbanel--that same Isaac Abarbanel, the
scholar and patriot, who in 1490 headed the deputation to Ferdinand and
Isabella, which was so dramatically cut short by Torquemada.

Like _The Conciliator_, all Manasseh’s subsequent literary ventures met
with ready appreciation, but with more appreciation, it would seem, than
solid result, for his means appear to have been always insufficient for
his modest wants, and in 1640 we find him seriously contemplating
emigration to Brazil on a trading venture. Two members of his
congregation, which, as a body, does not seem to have acted liberally
towards him, came forward, however, at this crisis in his affairs, and
conferred a benefit all round by establishing a college and appointing
Manasseh the principal, with an adequate salary. This ready use of some
portion of their wealth has made the brothers Pereira more distinguished
than for its possession. Still, it must not be inferred that Manasseh
had been, up to this date, a friendless, if a somewhat impecunious,
student, only that, as is rather perhaps the wont of poor prophets in
their own country, his admirers had had to come from the outer before
they reached the inner circle. He had certainly achieved a European
celebrity in the Republic of letters before his friends at Amsterdam had
discovered much more than the fact that he printed very superior
prayer-books. He had won over, amongst others, the prejudiced author of
the _Law of Nations_, to own him, a Jew, for a familiar friend, before
some of the wealthier heads of his own congregation had claimed a like
privilege; and Grotius, then Swedish ambassador at Paris, was actually
writing to him, and proffering friendly services, at the very time that
the Amsterdam congregation were calmly receiving his enforced farewells.
There was something, perhaps, of irony in the situation, but Manasseh,
like Maimonides, had no littleness of disposition, no inflammable
self-love quick to take fire; he loved his people truly enough to
understand them and to make allowances, had even, perhaps, some humorous
perception of the national obtuseness to native talent when unarrayed in
purple and fine linen, or until duly recognised by the wearers of such.

Set free, by the liberality of Abraham and Isaac Pereira, from the
pressure of everyday cares, Manasseh again devoted himself to his books,
and turned out a succession of treatises. History, Philosophy,
Theology, he attacked them all in turn, and there is, perhaps, something
besides rapidity of execution which suggests an idea of manufacture in
most of these works. A treatise which he published about 1650, and which
attracted very wide notice, significantly illustrated his rather fatal
facility for ready writing. The treatise was entitled _The Hope of
Israel_, and sought to prove no less than that some aborigines in
America, whose very existence was doubtful, were lineal descendants of
the lost ten tribes. The Hope itself seems to have rested on no more
solid foundation than a traveller’s tale of savages met with in the
wilds, who included something that sounded like the עמש (Shemang[17]) in
their vernacular. The story was quickly translated into several
languages, but it was almost as quickly disproved, and Manasseh’s
deductions from it were subsequently rather roughly criticised. Truth to
say, the accumulated stores of his mind were ground down and sifted and
sown broadcast in somewhat careless and indigestible masses, and their
general character gives an uncomfortable impression of machine-work
rather than of hand-work. And the proportion of what he wrote was as
nothing compared to what he contemplated writing. Perhaps those
never-written books of his would have proved the most readable; he
might have shown us himself, his wise, tolerant, enthusiastic self, in
them. But instead, we possess, in his shelves on shelves of published
compilations of dead men’s minds, only duly labelled and catalogued
selections from learned mummies.

The dream of Manasseh was to compose a ‘Heroic History,’ a significant
title which shadows forth the worthy record he would have delighted in
compiling from Jewish annals. It is as well, perhaps, that the title is
all we have of the work, for he was too good an idealist to prove a good
historian. He cared too much, and he knew too much, to write a reliable
or a readable history of his people. To him, as to many of us, Robert
Browning’s words might be applied--

    ‘So you saw yourself as you wished you were--
         As you might have been, as you cannot be--
     Earth here rebuked by Olympus there,
         And grew content in your poor degree.’[18]

He, at any rate, had good reason to grow content in his degree, for he
was destined to make an epoch in the ‘Heroic History,’ instead of being,
as he ‘wished he were,’ the reciter, and probably the prosy reciter, of
several. Certain it is that, great scholar, successful preacher, and
voluminous writer as was Manasseh ben Israel, it was not till he was
fifty years old that he found his real vocation. He had felt at it for
years, his books were more or less blind gropings after it, his
friendships with the eminent and highly placed personages of his time
were all unconscious means to a conscious end, and his very character
was a factor in his gradually formed purpose. His whole life had been an
upholding of the ‘standard’; publicists who sneered at the ostentatious
rich Jew, priests who railed at the degraded poor Jew, were each bound
to recognise in Manasseh ben Israel a Jew of another type: one poor yet
self-respecting, sought after yet unostentatious, conservative yet
cosmopolitan, learned yet undogmatic. They might question if this
Amsterdam Rabbi were _sui generis_, but they were at least willing to
find out if he were in essentials what he claimed to be, fairly
representative of the fairly treated members of his race. So the ‘way
was prepared’ by the ‘standard’ being raised. Which, of the many
long-closed ‘gates,’ was to open for the people to pass through?

Manasseh looked around on Europe. He sought a safe and secure
resting-place for the tribe of wandering foot and weary heart, where, no
longer weary and wandering, they might cease to be ‘tribal.’ He sought
a place where ‘protection’ should not be given as a sordid bribe, nor
conferred as a fickle favour, but claimed as an inalienable right, and
shared in common with all law-abiding citizens. His thoughts turned for
a while on Sweden, and there was some correspondence to that end with
the young Queen Christina, but this failing, or falling through, his
hopes were almost at once definitely directed towards England. It was a
wise selection and a happy one, and the course of events, and the time
and the temper of the people, seemed all upon his side. The faithless
Stuart king had but lately expiated his hateful, harmful weakness on the
scaffold, and sentiment was far as yet from setting the nimbus of saint
and martyr on that handsome, treacherous head. The echoes of John
Hampden’s brave voice seemed still vibrating in the air, and Englishmen,
but freshly reminded of their rights, were growing keen and eager in the
scenting out of wrongs; quick to discover, and fierce to redress evils
which had long lain rooted and rotting, and unheeded. The pompous
_insouciance_ of the first Stuart king, the frivolous _insouciance_ of
the second, were now being resented in inevitable reaction. The court no
longer led the fashion; the people had come to the front and were
growing grimly, even grotesquely, in earnest. The very fashion of
speaking seems to have changed with the new need for strong, terse
expression. Men greeted each other with old-fashioned Bible greetings;
they named their children after those ‘great ones gone,’ or with even
quainter effect in some simple selected Bible phrase; the very tones of
the Prophets seemed to resound in Whitehall, and Englishmen to have
become, in a wide, unsensational sense, not men only of the sword, or of
the plough, but men of the Book, and that Book the Bible. Liberty of
conscience, equality before the law for all religious denominations, had
been the unconditional demand of that wonderful army of Independents,
and although the Catholics were the immediate cause and object of this
appeal, yet Manasseh, watching events from the calm standpoint of a
keenly interested onlooker, thought he discerned in the listening
attitude of the English Parliament, a favourable omen of the attention
he desired to claim for his clients, since it was not alone for
political, but for religious, rights that he meant to plead.

He did not, however, actually come to England till 1655, when the way
for personal intercession had been already prepared by correspondence
and petition. His _Hope of Israel_ had been forwarded to Cromwell so
early as 1650; petitions praying for the readmission of Jews to England
with full rights of worship, of burial, and of commerce secured to them,
had been laid before the Long and the Rump Parliament, and Manasseh had
now in hand, and approaching completion, a less elaborate and more
impassioned composition than usual, entitled, _Vindiciæ Judæorum_. A
powerful and unexpected advocate of Jewish claims presently came forward
in the person of Edward Nicholas, the clerk to the Council. This
large-minded and enlightened gentleman had the courage to publish an
elaborate appeal for, and defence of, the Jews, ‘the most honourable
people in the world,’ as he styled them, ‘a people chosen by God and
protected by God.’ The pamphlet was headed, _Apology for the Honourable
Nation of the Jews and all the Sons of Israel_, and Nicholas’s arguments
aroused no small amount of attention and discussion. It was even
whispered that Cromwell had had a share in the authorship; but if this
had been so, undoubtedly he who ‘stood bare, not cased in euphemistic
coat of mail,’ but who ‘grappled like a giant, face to face, heart to
heart, with the naked truth of things,’[19] would have unhesitatingly
avowed it. His was not the sort of nature to shirk responsibilities nor
to lack the courage of his opinions. There can be no doubt that, from
first to last, Cromwell was strongly in favour of Jewish claims being
allowed, but just as little doubt is there that there was never any
tinge or taint of ‘secret favouring’ about his sayings or his doings on
the subject. The part, and all things considered the very unpopular
part, he took in the subsequent debates, had, of course, to be accounted
for by minds not quick to understand such simple motive power as
justice, generosity, or sympathy, and both now and later the wildest
accusations were levelled against the Protector. That he was,
unsuspected, himself of Jewish descent, and had designs on the long
vacant Messiahship of his interesting kinsfolk, was not the most
malignant, though it was perhaps among the most absurd, of these tales.
‘The man is without a soul,’ writes Carlyle, ‘that can look into the
great soul of a man, radiant with the splendours of very heaven, and see
nothing there but the shadow of his own mean darkness.’[20] There must
have been, if this view be correct, a good many particularly
materialistic bodies going about at that epoch in English history when
the Protector of England took upon himself the unpopular burden of being
also the Protector of the Jews.

There had been some opposition on the part of the family to overcome,
some tender timid forebodings, which events subsequently justified, to
dispel, before Manasseh was free to set out for England; but in the late
autumn of 1655[21] we find him with two or three companions safely
settled in lodgings in the Strand. An address to the Protector was
personally presented by Manasseh, whilst a more detailed declaration to
the Commonwealth was simultaneously published. Very remarkable are both
these documents. Neither in the personal petition to Cromwell, nor in
the more elaborate argument addressed to the Parliament, is there the
slightest approach to the _ad misericordiam_ style. The whole case for
the Jews is stated with dignity, and pleaded without passion, and
throughout justice rather than favour forms the staple of the demand.
The ‘clemency’ and ‘high-mindedness’ of Cromwell are certainly taken for
granted, but equally is assumed the worthiness of the clients who appeal
to these qualities. Manasseh makes also a strong point of the ‘Profit,’
which the Jews are likely to prove to their hosts, naïvely recognising
the fact that ‘Profit is a most powerful motive which all the world
prefers above all other things’; and ‘therefore dealing with that point
first.’ He dwells on the ‘ability,’ and ‘industry,’ and ‘natural
instinct’ of the Jews for ‘merchandising,’ and for ‘contributing new
inventions,’ which extra aptitude, in a somewhat optimistic spirit, he
moralises, may have been given to them for their ‘protection in their
wanderings,’ since ‘wheresoever they go to dwell, there presently the
traficq begins to flourish.’

Read in the light of some recent literature, one or two of Manasseh’s
arguments might almost be termed prophetic. Far-sighted, however, and
wide-seeing as was our Amsterdam Rabbi, he could certainly not have
foretold that more than two hundred years later his race would be
taunted in the same breath for being a ‘wandering’ and ‘homeless tribe,’
and for remaining a ‘settled’ and ‘parasitic’ people in their adopted
countries; yet are not such ingenious, and ungenerous, and inconsistent
taunts answered by anticipation in the following paragraph?--

     ‘The love that men ordinarily bear to their own country, and the
     desire they have to end their lives where they had their beginning,
     is the cause that most strangers, having gotten riches where they
     are in a foreign land, are commonly taken in a desire to return to
     their native soil, and there peaceably to enjoy their estate; so
     that as they were a help to the places where they lived and
     negotiated while they remained there, so when they depart from
     thence, they carry all away and spoile them of their wealth;
     transporting all into their own native country: but with the Jews,
     the case is farre different, for where the Jews are once kindly
     receaved, they make a firm resolution never to depart from thence,
     seeing they have no proper place of their own; and so they are
     always with their goods in the cities where they live, a perpetual
     benefitt to all payments.’[22]

Manasseh goes on to quote Holy Writ, to show that to ‘seek for the
peace,’ and to ‘pray for the peace of the city whither ye are led
captive,’[23] was from remote times a loyal duty enjoined on Jews; and
so he makes perhaps another point against that thorough-going historian
of our day, who would have disposed of the People and the Book, the Jews
and the Old Testament together, in the course of a magazine article. To
prove that uncompromising loyalty has among the Jews the added force of
a religious obligation, Manasseh mentions the fact that the ruling
dynasty is always prayed for by upstanding congregations in every
Jewish place of worship, and he makes history give its evidence to show
that this is no mere lip loyalty, but that the obligation enjoined has
been over and over again faithfully fulfilled. He quotes numerous
instances in proof of this; beginning from the time, 900 years B.C.,
when the Jerusalem Jews, High Priest at their head, went forth to defy
Alexander, and to own staunch allegiance to discrowned Darius, till
those recent civil wars in Spain, when the Jews of Burgos manfully held
that city against the conqueror, Henry of Trastamare, in defence of
their conquered, but liege lord, Pedro.[24]

Of all the simply silly slanders from which his people had suffered,
such, for instance, as the kneading Passover biscuits with the blood of
Christian children, Manasseh disposes shortly, with brief and distinct
denial; pertinently reminding Englishmen, however, that like absurd
accusations crop up in the early history of the Church, when the ‘very
same ancient scandalls was cast of old upon the innocent Christians.’

With the more serious, because less absolutely untruthful, charge of
‘usury,’ Manasseh deals as boldly, urging even no extenuating plea, but
frankly admitting the practice to be ‘infamous.’ But characteristically,
he proceeds to express an opinion, that ‘inasmuch as no man is bound to
give his goods to another, so is he not bound to let it out but for his
own occasions and profit,’ ‘only,’ and this he adds emphatically--

     ‘It must be done with moderation, that the usury be not biting or
     exorbitant.... The sacred Scripture, which allows usury with him
     that is not of the same religion, forbids absolutely the robbing of
     all men, whatsoever religion they be of. In our law it is a greater
     sinne to rob or defraud a stranger, than if I did it to one of my
     owne profession; a Jew is bound to show his charity to all men; he
     hath a precept, not to abhorre an Idumean or an Egyptian; and yet
     another, that he shall love and protect a stranger that comes to
     live in his land. If, notwithstanding, there be some that do
     contrary to this, they do it not as Jewes simply, but as wicked

The Appeal made, as it could scarcely fail to do, a profound
impression--an impression which was helped not a little by the presence
and character of the pleader. And presently the whole question of the
return of the Jews to England was submitted to the nation for its

The clergy were dead against the measure, and, it is said, ‘raged like
fanatics against the Jews as an accursed nation.’ And then it was that
Cromwell, true to his highest convictions, stood up to speak in their
defence. On the ground of policy, he temperately urged the desirability
of adding thrifty, law-respecting, and enterprising citizens to the
national stock; and on the higher ground of duty, he passionately
pleaded the unpopular cause of religious and social toleration. He
deprecated the principle that, the claims of morality being satisfied,
any men or any body of men, on the score of race, of origin, or of
religion (‘tribal mark’ had not at that date been suggested), should be
excluded from full fellowship with other men. ‘I have never heard a man
speak so splendidly in my life,’ is the recorded opinion of one of the
audience, and it is a matter of intense regret that this famous speech
of Cromwell’s has not been preserved. Its eloquence, however, failed of
effect, so far as its whole and immediate object was concerned. The
gates were no more than shaken on their rusting hinges--not quite yet
were the people free to ‘go through.’

The decision of the Council of State was deferred, and some authorities
even allege that it was presently pronounced against the readmission of
the Jews to England. The known and avowed favour of the Protector
sufficed, nevertheless, to induce the few Jews who had come with, or in
the train of, Manasseh to remain, and others gradually, and by degrees,
and without any especial notice being taken of them, ventured to follow.
The creaking old gates were certainly ajar, and wider and wider they
opened, and fainter and fainter, from friction of unrestrained
intercourse, grew each dull rust and stain of prejudice, till that good
day, within living memories, when the barriers were definitely and
altogether flung down. And on their ruins a new and healthy human growth
sprang quickly up, ‘taking root downwards, and fruit upwards,’ spreading
wide enough in its vigorous luxuriance to cover up all the old bad past.
And by this time it has happily grown impervious to any wanton
unfriendly touch which would thrust its kindly shade aside and once
again lay those ugly ruins bare.

Manasseh, however, like so many of us, had to be content to sow seed
which he was destined never to see ripen. His petitions to the
Commonwealth were presented in 1655, his _Vindiciæ Judæorum_ was
completed and handed in some time in 1656, and in the early winter of
1657, on his journey homewards, he died. His mission had not fulfilled
itself in the complete triumphant way he had hoped, but ‘life fulfils
itself in many ways,’ and one part at any rate, perhaps the most
important part, of the Hebrew prophet’s charge, had been both poetically
and prosaically carried out by this seventeenth century Dutch Jew. He
had ‘lifted up a standard for his people.’



‘What have we reaped from all the wisdom sown of ages?’ asks Lord Lytton
in one of his earlier poems. A large query, even for so questioning an
age as this, an age which, discarding catechisms, and rejecting the
omniscient Mangnall’s Questions as a classic for its children, yet seems
to be more interrogative than of old, even if a thought less ready in
its responses. Possibly, we are all in too great a hurry nowadays, too
eager in search to be patient to find, for certain it is that the
world’s already large stock of hows and whys seems to get bigger every
day. We catch the echoes in poetry and in prose, in all sorts of tones
and from all sorts of people, and Lord Lytton’s question sounds only
like another of the hopeless Pilate series. His is such a large
interrogation too--all the wisdom sown of all the ages suggests such an
enormous crop! And then as to what ‘we,’ who have neither planted nor
watered, have ‘reaped’ from it! An answer, if it were attempted, might
certainly be found to hinge on the ‘we’ as well as on the ‘wisdom,’ for
whereas untaught instinct may ‘reap’ honey from a rose, trained reason
in gathering the flower may only succeed in running a thorn into the
finger. What has been the general effect of inherited wisdom on the
general world may, however, very well be left for a possible solution to
prize competitors to puzzle over. But to a tiny corner of the tremendous
subject it is just possible that we may find some sort of suggestive
reply; and from seed sown ages since, and garnered as harvest by men
whose place knows them no more, we may likely light on some shadowy
aftermath worth, perhaps, our reaping.

The gospel of duty to one’s neighbour, which, long languishing as a
creed, seems now reviving as a fashion, has always been, amongst that
race which taught ‘love thy neighbour as thyself,’ not only of the very
essence of religion, but an ordinary social form of it. It is ‘law’ in
the ‘family chronicle’ of the race, as Heine calls the Bible; it is
‘law’ and legend both in those curious national archives known as
Talmud. Foremost in the ranks of _livres incompris_ stand those
portentous volumes, the one work of the world which has suffered about
equally at the hands of the commentator and the executioner. Many years
ago Emmanuel Deutsch gave to the uninitiated a glimpse into that
wondrous agglomeration of fantastically followed facts, where
long-winded legend, or close-argued ‘law,’ starts some phrase or word
from Holy Writ as quarry, and pursues it by paths the most devious, the
most digressive imaginable to man. The work of many generations and of
many ‘masters’ in each generation, such a book is singularly susceptible
to an open style of reading and a liberal aptitude of quotation, and it
is no marvel that searchers in its pages, even reasonably honest ones,
should be able to find detached individual utterances to fit into almost
any one of their own preconceived dogmas concerning Talmud. On many
subjects, qualifications, contradictions, differences abound, and
instances of illegal law, of pseudo-science, of doubtful physics, may
each, with a little trouble, be disinterred from the depths of these
twelve huge volumes. But the ethics of the Talmud are, as a whole, of a
high order, and on one point there is such remarkable and entire
agreement, that it is here permissible to speak of what ‘the Talmud
says,’ meaning thereby a general tone and consensus of opinion, and not
the views of this or of that individual master. The subject on which
this unusual harmony prevails is the, in these days, much discussed one
of charity; and to discover something concerning so very ancient a mode
of dealing with it may not prove uninteresting.

The word which in these venerable folios is made to express the thing
is, in itself, significant. In the Hebrew Scriptures, though the
injunctions to charitable acts are many, an exact equivalent to our word
‘charity’ can hardly be said to exist. In only eight instances, and not
even then in its modern sense, does the Septuagint translate צדקה‎
(_tzedakah_) into its Greek equivalent, ἑλεημοσὑνη, which would become
in English ‘alms,’ or ‘charity.’ The nearest synonyms for ‘charity’ in
the Hebrew Scriptures are צדקה‎ (_tzedakah_), well translated as
‘righteousness’ in the Authorised Version, and חסד (_chesed_), which is
adequately rendered as ‘mercy, kindness, love.’ The Talmud, in its
exhaustive fashion, seems to accentuate the essential difference between
these two words. _Tzedakah_ is, to some extent, a class distinction; the
rights of the poor make occasion for the righteousness of the rich, and
the duties of _tzedakah_ find liberal and elaborate expression in a
strict and minute system of tithes and almsgiving.[25] The injunctions
of the Pentateuch concerning the poor are worked out by the Talmud into
the fullest detail of direction. The Levitical law, ‘When ye reap the
harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy
field’ (Levit. xiv. 9), gives occasion of itself to a considerable
quantity of literature. At length, it is enacted how, if brothers divide
a field between them, each has to give a ‘corner,’ and how, if a man
sell his field in several lots, each purchaser of each separate lot has
to leave unreaped his own proportionate ‘corner’ of the harvesting. And
not only to leave unreaped, but how, in cases where the ‘corner’ was of
a sort hard for the poor to gather, hanging high, as dates, or needing
light handling, as grapes, it became the duty of the owner to undertake
the ‘reaping’ thereof, and, himself, to make the rightful division; thus
guarding against injury to quickly perishable fruits from too eager
hands, or danger of a more serious sort to life or limbs, where ladders
had to be used by hungry and impatient folks. The exactest rules, too,
are formulated as to what constitutes a ‘field’ and what a ‘corner,’ as
to what produce is liable to the tax and in what measure. Very curious
it is to read long and gravely reasoned arguments as to why mushrooms
should be held exempt from the law of the corner, whilst onions must be
subject to it, or the weighty _pros_ and _cons_ over what may be fairly
considered a ‘fallen grape,’ or a ‘sheaf left through forgetfulness.’
Yet the principle underlying the whole is too clear for prolixity to
raise a smile, and the evident anxiety that no smallest loophole shall
be left for evading the obligations of property compels respect.

Little room for doubt on any disputed point of partition do these
exhaustive, and, occasionally, it must be owned, exhausting, masters
leave us, yet, when all is said, they are careful to add, ‘Whatever is
doubtful concerning the gifts of the poor belongeth to the poor.’ The
actual money value of this system of alms, the actual weight of ancient
ephah or omer, in modern lbs. and ozs. would convey little meaning.
Values fluctuate and measures vary, but ‘a tithe of thy increase,’ ‘a
corner of thy field,’ gives a tolerably safe index to the scale on which
_tzedakah_ was to be practised. Three times a day the poor might glean,
and to the question which some lover of system, old style or new, might
propound, ‘Why three times? Why not once, and get it over?’ an answer is
vouchsafed. ‘_Because there may be poor who are suckling children, and
thus stand in need of food in the early morning; there may be young
children who cannot be got ready early in the morning, nor come to the
field till it be mid-day; there may be aged folk who cannot come till
the time of evening prayer._’ Still, though plenty of sentiment in this
code, there is no trace of sentimentality; rather a tendency for each
back to bear its own burden, whether it be in the matter of give or
take. Rights are respected all round, and significant in this sense is
the rule that if a vineyard be sold by Gentile to Jew it must give up
its ‘small bunches’ of grapes to the poor; while if the transaction be
the other way, the Gentile purchaser is altogether exempt, and if Jew
and Gentile be partners, that part of the crop belonging to the Jew
alone is taxed. And equally clear is it that the poor, though cared for
and protected, are not to be petted. At this very three-times-a-day
gleaning, if one should keep a corner of his ‘corner’ to himself, hiding
his harvesting and defrauding his neighbour, justice is prompt: ‘_Let
him be forced to depart_,’ it is written, ‘_and what he may have
received let it be taken out of his hands._’ Neither is any preference
permitted to poverty of the plausible or of the picturesque sort: ‘_He
who refuseth to one and giveth to another, that man is a defrauder of
the poor_,’ it is gravely said.

In general charity, there are, it is true, certain rules of precedence
to be observed; kindred, for example, have, in all cases, the first
claim, and a child supporting his parents, or even a parent supporting
adult children, to the end that these may be ‘versed in the law, and
have good manners,’ is set high among followers of _tzedakah_. Then,
‘_The poor who are neighbours are to be regarded before all others; the
poor of one’s own family before the poor of one’s own city, and the poor
of one’s own city before the poor of another’s city._’ And this version
of ‘charity begins at home’ is worked out in another place into quite a
detailed table, so to speak, of professional precedence in the ranks of
recognised recipients. And, curiously enough, first among all the
distinctions to be observed comes this: ‘_If a man and woman solicit
relief, the woman shall be first attended to and then the man._’ An
explanation, perhaps a justification, of this mild forestalment of
women’s rights, is given in the further dictum that ‘Man is accustomed
to wander, and that woman is not,’ and ‘Her feelings of modesty being
more acute,’ it is fit that she should be ‘always fed and clothed before
the man.’ And if, in this ancient system, there be a recognised scale of
rights for receiving, so, equally, is there a graduated order of merit
in giving. Eight in number are these so-called ‘Degrees in Alms Deeds,’
the curious list gravely setting forth as ‘highest,’ and this, it would
seem, rather on the lines of ‘considering the poor’ than of mere giving,
that _tzedakah_ which ‘helpeth ... who is cast down,’ by means of gift
or loan, or timely procuring of employment, and ranging through ‘next’
and ‘next,’ till it announces, as eighth and least, the ‘any one who
giveth after much molestation.’ High in the list, too, are placed those
‘silent givers’ who ‘let not poor children of upright parents know from
whom they receive support,’ and even the man who ‘giveth less than his
means allow’ is lifted one degree above the lowest if he ‘give with a
kind countenance.’

The mode of relief grew, with circumstances, to change. The time came
when, to ‘the Hagars and Ishmaels of mankind,’ rules for gleaning and
for ‘fallen grapes’ would, perforce, be meaningless, and new means for
the carrying out of _tzedakah_ had to be devised. In Alms of the Chest,
קופה (_kupah_), and Alms of the Basket, תמחוי (_tamchui_), another
exhaustive system of relief was formulated. The _kupah_ would seem to
have been a poor-rate, levied on all ‘residents in towns of over thirty
days’ standing,’ and ‘Never,’ says Maimonides, ‘have we seen or heard of
any congregation of Israelites in which there has not been the Chest for
Alms, though, with regard to the Basket, it is the custom in some places
to have it, and not in others.’ These chests were placed in the Silent
Court of the Sanctuary, to the end that a class of givers who went by
the name of Fearers of Sin,[26] might deposit their alms in silence and
be relieved of responsibility. The contents of the Chest were collected
weekly and used for all ordinary objects of relief, the overplus being
devoted to special cases and special purposes. It is somewhat strange to
our modern notions to find that one among such purposes was that of
providing poor folks with the wherewith to marry. For not only is it
commanded concerning the ‘brother waxen poor,’ ‘_If he standeth in need
of garments, let him be clothed; or if of household things, let him be
supplied with them,’ but ‘if of a wife, let a wife be betrothed unto
him, and in case of a woman, let a husband be betrothed unto her._’ Does
this quaint provision recall Voltaire’s taunt that ‘Les juifs ont
toujours regardé comme leurs deux grands devoirs des enfants et de
l’argent’? Perhaps, and yet, Voltaire and even Malthus notwithstanding,
it is just possible that the last word has not been said on this
subject, and that in ‘improvident’ marriages and large families the new
creed of survival of the fittest may, after all, be best fulfilled.

Philosophers, we know, are not always consistent with themselves, and
if there be truth in another saying of Voltaire’s--‘Voyez les registres
affreux de vos greffes crimines, vous y trouvez cent garçons de pendus
ou de roués contre un père de famille’--then is there something
certainly to be said in favour of the Jewish system. But this by the
way, since statistics, it must be owned, are the most sensitive and
susceptible of the sciences. This ancient betrothing, moreover, was no
empty form, no bare affiancing of two paupers; but a serious and
substantial practice of raising a marriage portion for a couple unable
to marry without it. By Talmudic code, ‘marriages were not legitimately
complete till a settlement of some sort was made on the wife,’ who, it
may be here parenthetically remarked, was so far in advance of
comparatively modern legislation as to be entitled to have and to hold
in as complete and comprehensive a sense as her husband.

But whilst Alms of the Chest, though pretty various in its
application,[27] was intended only for the poor of the place in which
it was collected, Alms of the Basket was, to the extent of its
capabilities, for ‘the poor of the whole world.’ It consisted of a daily
house-to-house collection of food of all sorts, and occasionally of
money, which was again, day by day, distributed. This custom of
_tamchui_, suited to those primitive times, would seem to be very
similar to the practice of ‘common Boxes, and common gatherynges in
every City,’ which prevailed in England in the sixteenth century, and
which received legal sanction in Act of the 23rd of Henry VIII.--‘Item,
that 2 or 3 tymes in every weke 2 or 3 of every parysh shal appoynt
certaine of ye said pore people to collecte and gather broken meates and
fragments, and the refuse drynke of every householder, which shal be
distributed evenly amonge the pore people as they by theyre discrecyons
shal thynke good.’ Only the collectors and distributors of _kupah_ and
_tamchui_ were not ‘certaine of ye said pore people,’ but unpaid men of
high character, holding something of the position of magistrates in the
community. The duty of contributing in kind to _tamchui_ was
supplemented among the richer folks by a habit of entertaining the poor
as guests;[28] seats at their own tables, and beds in their houses being
frequently reserved for wayfarers, at least over Sabbath and

The curious union of sense and sentiment in the Talmudic code is shown
again in the regulations as to who may, and who may not, receive of
these gifts of the poor: ‘_He who has sufficient for two meals_,’ so
runs the law, ‘_may not take from tamchui; he who has sufficient for
fourteen may not take from kupah_.’ Yet might holders of property,
fallen on slack seasons, be saved from selling at a loss and helped to
hold on till better times, by being ‘meanwhile supported out of the
tithes of the poor.’ And if the house and goods of him in this temporary
need were grand, money help might be given to the applicant, and he
might keep all his smart personal belongings, yet superfluities, an odd
item or two of which are vouchsafed, must be sold, and replaced, if at
all, by a simpler sort. Still, with all this excessive care for those
who have come down in the world, and despite the dictum that ‘he who
withholdeth alms is “impious” and like unto an idolater,’ there is yet
no encouragement to dependence discernible in these precise and prolix
rules. ‘Let thy Sabbath be as an ordinary day, rather than become
dependent on thy fellow-men,’ it is clearly written, and told, too, in
detail, how ‘wise men,’ the most honoured, by the way, in the community,
to avoid ‘dependence on others,’ might become, without loss of caste or
respectability, ‘carriers of timber, workers in metal, and makers of
charcoal.’ Neither is there any contempt for wealth or any love of
poverty for its own sake to be seen in this people, who were taught to
‘rejoice before the Lord.’ In one place it is, in truth, gravely set
forth that ‘he who increaseth the number of his servants’ increaseth the
amount of sin in the world, but this somewhat ascetic-sounding statement
is clearly susceptible of a good deal of common-sense interpretation,
and when another Master tells us that ‘charity is the salt which keeps
wealth from corruption,’ a thought, perhaps, for the due preservation of
the wealth may be read between the lines.

On the whole, it looks as if these old-world Rabbis set to work at
laying down the law in much the spirit of Robert Browning’s Rabbi--

                ‘Let us not always say,
                Spite of this flesh to-day,
    I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole.
                As the bird wings and sings
                Let us cry, ‘All good things
    Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul.’

After this manner, at any rate, are set forth, and in this sense are
interpreted in the Talmud, the Biblical injunctions to _tzedakah_, to
that charity of alms-deeds which, as society is constituted, must, as we
said, be considered somewhat of a class distinction.

But for the charity which should be obligatory all round, and as easy of
fulfilment by the poor as by the rich, the Talmud chooses the other
synonym חסד (_chesed_), and coining from it the word _Gemiluth-chesed_,
which may be rendered ‘the doing of kindness,’ it works out a
supplementary and social system of charity--a system founded not on
‘rights,’ but on sympathy--dealing not in doles, but in deeds of
friendship and of fellowship, and demanding a giving of oneself rather
than of one’s stores. And greater than _tzedakah_, write the Rabbis, is
_Gemiluth-chesed_, justifying their dictum, as is their wont, by a
reference to Holy Writ. ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness
(_tzedakah_),’ says the prophet Hosea (Hos. x. 12); ‘reap in mercy
(_chesed_)’; and, inasmuch as reaping is better than sowing, mercy must
be better than righteousness. To ‘visit the sick,’ to promote peace in
families apt to fall out, to ‘relieve all persons, Jews or non-Jews, in
affliction’ (a comprehensive phrase), to ‘bury the dead,’ to ‘accompany
the bride,’ are among those ‘kindnesses’ which take rank as religious
duties, and one or two specimens may indicate the amount of careful
detail which make these injunctions practical, and the fine motive which
goes far towards spiritualising them.

Of the visiting of the sick, the Talmud speaks with a sort of awe. God’s
spirit, it says, dwells in the chamber of suffering and death, and
tendance therein is worship. Nursing was to be voluntary, and no charge
to be made for drugs; and so deeply did the habit of helping the
helpless in this true missionary spirit obtain among the Jews, that to
this day, and more especially in provincial places, the last offices for
the dead are rarely performed by hired hands. The ‘accompanying of the
bride’ is _Gemiluth-chesed_ in another form. To rejoice with one’s
neighbour’s joys is no less a duty in this un-Rochefoucauld-like code
than to grieve with his grief. A bride is to be greeted with songs and
flowers, and pleasant speeches, and, if poor, to be provided with pretty
ornaments and substantial gifts, but the pleasant speeches are in all
cases, and before all things, obligatory. In the discursive detail,
which is so strong a feature of these Talmudic rulings, it is asked:
‘But if the bride be old, or awkward, or positively plain, is she to be
greeted in the usual formula as “fair bride--graceful bride”?’ ‘Yes,’ is
the answer, for one is not bound to insist on uncomfortable facts, nor
to be obtrusively truthful; to be agreeable is one of the minor virtues.
Were there anything in the doctrine of metempsychosis, one would be
almost tempted to believe that this ancient unnamed Rabbi was speaking
over again in the person of one of our modern minor poets:

    ‘A truth that’s told with bad intent
     Beats all the lies you can invent.’[30]

The charity of courtesy is everywhere insisted upon, and so strongly,
that, on behalf of those sometimes ragged and unkempt Rabbis it might
perhaps be urged that politeness, the _politesse du cœur_, was their
Judaism _en papillote_. ‘Receive every one with pleasant looks,’ says
one sage,[31] whose practice was, perhaps, not always quite up to his
precepts; ‘where there is no reverence there is no wisdom,’ says
another; and as the distinguishing mark of a ‘clown,’ a third instances
that man--have we not all met him?--who rudely breaks in on another’s
speech, and is more glib than accurate or respectful in his own.

And as postscript to the ‘law’ obtaining on these cheery social forms of
‘charity’ a tombstone may perhaps be permitted to add its curious
crumbling bit of evidence. In the House of Life, as Jews name their
burial-grounds, at Prague, there stood--perhaps stands still--a stone,
erected to the memory, and recording the virtues, of a certain rich lady
who died in 1628. Her benefactions, many and minute, are set forth at
length, and amongst the rest, and before ‘she clothed the naked,’ comes
the item, ‘she ran like a bird to weddings.’ Through the mists of those
terrible stories, which make of Prague so miserable a memory to Jews,
the record of this long-ago dead woman gleams like a rainbow. One seems
to see the bright little figure, a trifle out of breath may be, the gay
plumage perhaps just a shade ruffled--somehow one does not fancy her a
very prim or tidy personage--running ‘like a bird to weddings.’ She
seems, the dear sympathetic soul, in an odd, suggestive sort of way, to
illustrate the charitable system of her race, and to show us that,
despite all differences of time and place and circumstances, the one
essential condition to any ‘charity’ that shall prove effectual remains
unchanged; that the solution of the hard problem, which may be worked
out in a hundred ways, is just sympathy, and is to be learnt, not in the
‘speaking from afar’ of rich to poor, but in the ‘laying of hands’ upon
them. The close fellowship of this ancient primitive system is perhaps
impossible in our more complex civilisation, but an approximation to it
is an ideal worth striving after. More intimate, more everyday communion
between West and East, more ‘Valentines’ at Hoxton are sorely needed.
Concert-giving, class-teaching, ‘visiting,’ are all helps of a sort, but
there are so many days in a poor man’s week, so many hours in his dull
day. Sweetness and light, like other and more prosaic products of
civilisation, need, it may be, to be ‘laid on’ in those miles of
monotonous streets, long breaks in continuity being fatal to results.


‘I wish, it is true, to shame the opprobrious sentiments commonly
entertained of a Jew, but it is by character and not by controversy that
I would do it.’[32] So wrote the subject of this memoir more than a
hundred years ago, and the sentence may well stand for the motto of his
life; for much as Moses Mendelssohn achieved by his ability, much more
did he by his conduct, and great as he was as a philosopher, far greater
was he as a man. Starting with every possible disadvantage--prejudice,
poverty, and deformity--he yet reached the goal of ‘honour, fame, and
troops of friends’ by simple force of character; and thus he remains for
all time an illustration of the happy optimistic theory that, even in
this world, success, in the best sense of the word, does come to those
who, also in the best sense of the word, deserve it.

The state of the Jews in Germany at the time of Mendelssohn’s birth was
deplorable. No longer actively hunted, they had arrived, at the early
part of the eighteenth century, at the comparatively desirable position
of being passively shunned or contemptuously ignored, and, under these
new conditions, they were narrowing fast to the narrow limits set them.
The love of religion and of race was as strong as ever, but the love had
grown sullen, and of that jealous, exclusive sort to which curse and
anathema are akin. What then loomed largest on their narrow horizon was
fear; and under that paralysing influence, progress or prominence of any
kind became a distinct evil, to be repressed at almost any personal
sacrifice. Safety for themselves and tolerance for their faith, lay, if
anywhere, in the neglect of the outside world. And so the poor pariahs
huddled in their close quarters, carrying on mean trades, or hawking
petty wares, and speaking, with bated breath, a dialect of their own,
half Jewish, half German, and as wholly degenerate from the grand old
Hebrew as were they themselves from those to whom it had been a living
tongue. Intellectual occupation was found in the study of the Law;
interest and entertainment in the endless discussion of its more
intricate passages; and excitement in the not infrequent excommunication
of the weaker or bolder brethren who ventured to differ from the
orthodox expounders. The culture of the Christian they hated, with a
hate born half of fear for its possible effects, half of repulsion at
its palpable evidences. The tree of knowledge seemed to them indeed, in
pathetic perversion of the early legend, a veritable tree of evil, which
should lose a second Eden to the wilful eaters thereof. Their Eden was
degenerate too; but the ‘voice heard in the evening’ still sounded in
their dulled and passionate ears, and, vibrating in the Ghetto instead
of the grove, it seemed to bid them shun the forbidden fruit of Gentile

In September 1729, under a very humble roof, in a very poor little
street in Dessau, was born the weakly boy who was destined to work such
wonderful changes in that weary state of things. Not much fit to hold
the magician’s wand seemed those frail baby hands, and less and less
likely altogether for the part, as the poor little body grew stunted and
deformed through the stress of over-much study and of something less
than enough of wholesome diet. There was no lack of affection in the
mean little Jewish home, but the parents could only give their children
of what they had, and of these scant possessions, mother-love and
Talmudical lore were the staple. And so we read of the small
five-year-old Moses being wrapped up by his mother in a large old shabby
cloak, on early, bleak winter mornings, and then so carried by the
father to the neighbouring ‘Talmud Torah’ school, where he was
nourished with dry Hebrew roots by way of breakfast. Often, indeed, was
the child fed on an even less satisfying diet, for long passages from
Scripture, long lists of precepts, to be learnt by heart, on all sorts
of subjects, was the approved method of instruction in these seminaries.
An extensive, if somewhat parrot-like, acquaintance at an astonishingly
early age with the Law and the Prophets, and the commentators on both,
was the ordinary result of this form of education; and, naturally
co-existent with it, was an equally astonishing and extensive ignorance
of all more everyday subjects. Contentedly enough, however, the learned,
illiterate peddling and hawking fathers left their little lads to this
puzzling, sharpening, deadening sort of schooling. Frau Mendel and her
husband may possibly have thought out the matter a little more fully,
for she seems to have been a wise and prudent as well as a loving
mother; and the father, we find, was quick to discern unusual talent in
the sickly little son whom he carried so carefully to the daily lesson.
He was himself a teacher, in a humble sort of way, and eked out his
small fees by transcribing on parchment from the Pentateuch. Thus, the
tone of the little household, if not refined, was at least not
altogether sordid; and when, presently, the little Moses was promoted
from the ordinary school to the higher class taught by the great
scholar, Rabbi Frankel, the question even presented itself whether it
might not be well, in this especial case, to abandon the patent,
practical advantages pertaining to the favoured pursuit of peddling, and
to let the boy give himself up to his beloved books, and, following in
his master’s footsteps, become perhaps, in his turn, a poorly paid, much
reverenced Rabbi.

It was a serious matter to decide. There was much to be said in favour
of the higher path; but the market for Rabbis, as for hawkers, was
somewhat overstocked, and the returns in the one instance were far
quicker and surer, and needed no long unearning apprenticeship. The
balance, on the whole, seemed scarcely to incline to the more dignified
profession; but the boy was so terribly in earnest in his desire to
learn, so desperately averse from the only other career, that his
wishes, by degrees, turned the scale; and it did not take very long to
convince the poor patient father that he must toil a little longer and a
little later, in order that his son might be free from the hated
necessity of hawking, and at liberty to pursue his unremunerative

From the very first, Moses made the most of his opportunities; and at
home and at school high hopes began soon to be formed of the diligent,
sweet-tempered, frail little lad. Frailer than ever, though, he seemed
to grow, and the body appeared literally to dwindle as the mind
expanded. Long years after, when the burden of increasing deformity had
come, by dint of use and wont and cheerful courage, to be to him a
burden lightly borne, he would set strangers at their ease by alluding
to it himself, and by playfully declaring his hump to be a legacy from
Maimonides. ‘Maimonides spoilt my figure,’ he would say, ‘and ruined my
digestion; but still,’ he would add more seriously, ‘I dote on him, for
although those long vigils with him weakened my body, they, at the same
time, strengthened my soul: they stunted my stature, but they developed
my mind.’ Early at morning and late at night would the boy be found
bending in happy abstraction over his shabby treasure, charmed into
unconsciousness of aches or hunger. The book, which had been lent to
him, was Maimonides’ _Guide to the Perplexed_; and this work, which
grown men find sufficiently deep study, was patiently puzzled out, and
enthusiastically read and re-read by the persevering little student who
was barely in his teens. It opened up whole vistas of new glories, which
his long steady climb up Talmudic stairs had prepared him to
appreciate. Here and there, in the course of those long, tedious
dissertations in the Talmud Torah class-room, the boy had caught
glimpses of something underlying, something beyond the quibbles of the
schools; but this, his first insight into the large and liberal mind of
Maimonides, was a revelation to him of the powers and of the
possibilities of Judaism. It revealed to him too, perchance, some latent
possibilities in himself, and suggested other problems of life which
asked solution. The pale cheeks glowed as he read, and the vague dreams
kindled into conscious aims: he too would live to become a Guide to the
Perplexed among his people!

Poor little lad! his brave resolves were soon to be put to a severe
test. In the early part of 1742, Rabbi Frankel accepted the Chief
Rabbinate of Berlin, and thus a summary stop was put to his pupil’s
further study. There is a pathetic story told of Moses Mendelssohn
standing, with streaming eyes, on a little hillock on the road by which
his beloved master passed out of Dessau, and of the kind-hearted Frankel
catching up the forlorn little figure, and soothing it with hopes of a
‘some day,’ when fortune should be kind, and he should follow ‘nach
Berlin.’ The ‘some day’ looked sadly problematical; that hard question
of bread and butter came to the fore whenever it was discussed. How was
the boy to live in Berlin? Even if the mind should be nourished for
naught, who was to feed the body? The hard-working father and mother had
found it no easy task hitherto to provide for that extra mouth; and now,
with Frankel gone, the occasion for their long self-denial seemed to
them to cease. In the sad straits of the family, the business of a
hawker began again to show in an attractive light to the poor parents,
and the pedlar’s pack was once more suggested with many a prudent,
loving, half-hearted argument on its behalf. But the boy was by this
time clear as to his vocation, so after a brief while of entreaty, the
tearful permission was gained, the parting blessing given, and with a
very slender wallet slung on his crooked shoulders, Moses Mendelssohn
set out for Berlin.

It was a long tramp of over thirty miles, and, towards the close of the
fifth day, it was a very footsore, tired little lad who presented
himself for admission at the Jews’ gate of the city. Rabbi Frankel was
touched, and puzzled too, when this penniless little student, whom he
had inspired with such difficult devotion, at last stood before him; but
quickly he made up his mind that, so far as in him lay, the uphill path
should be made smooth to those determined little feet. The pressing
question of bed and board was solved. Frankel gave him his Sabbath and
festival dinners, and another kind-hearted Jew, Bamberger by name, who
heard the boy’s story, supplied two everyday meals, and let him sleep in
an attic in his house. For the remaining four days? Well, he managed; a
groschen or two was often earned by little jobs of copying, and a loaf
so purchased, by dint of economy and imagination, was made into quite a
series of satisfying meals, and, in after-days, it was told how he
notched his loaves into accurate time measurements, lest appetite should
outrun purse. Fortunately poverty was no new experience for him; still,
poverty confronted alone, in a great city, must have seemed something
grimmer to the home-bred lad than that mother-interpreted poverty, which
he had hitherto known. But he met it full-face, bravely,
uncomplainingly, and, best of all, with unfailing good humour. And the
little alleviations which friends made in his hard lot were all received
in a spirit of the sincerest, charmingest gratitude. He never took a
kindness as ‘his due’; never thought, like so many embryo geniuses, that
his talents gave him right of toll on his richer brethren. ‘Because I
would drink at the well,’ he would say in his picturesque fashion, ‘am I
to expect every one to haste and fill my cup from their pitchers? No, I
must draw the water for myself, or I must go thirsty. I have no claim
save my desire to learn, and what is that to others?’ Thus he preserved
his self-respect and his independence.

He worked hard, and, first of all, he wisely sought to free himself from
all voluntary disabilities; there were enough and to spare of legally
imposed ones to keep him mindful of his Judaism. He felt strong enough
in faith to need no artificial shackles. He would be Jew, and yet
German--patriot, but no pariah. He would eschew vague dreams of
universalism, false ideas of tribalism. If Palestine had not been, he,
its product, could not be; but Palestine and its glories were of the
past and of the future; the present only was his, and he must shape his
life according to its conditions, which placed him, in the eighteenth
century, born of Jewish parents, in a German city. He was German by
birth, Jew by descent and by conviction; he would fulfil all the
obligations which country, race, and religion impose. But a German Jew,
who did not speak the language of his country? That, surely, was an
anomaly and must be set right. So he set himself strenuously to learn
German, and to make it his native language. Such secular study was by no
means an altogether safe proceeding. Ignorance, as we have seen, was
‘protected’ in those days by Jewish ecclesiastical authority. Free trade
in literature was sternly prohibited, and a German grammar, or a Latin
or a Greek one, had, in sober truth, to run a strict blockade. One
Jewish lad, it is recorded on very tolerable authority, was actually in
the year 1746 expelled the city of Berlin for no other offence than that
of being caught in the act of studying--one chronicle, indeed, says,
carrying--some such proscribed volume. Moses, however, was more
fortunate; he saved money enough to buy his books, or made friends
enough to borrow them; and, we may conclude, found nooks in which to
hide them, and hours in which to read them. He set himself, too, to gain
some knowledge of the Classics, and here he found a willing teacher in
one Kish, a medical student from Prague. Later on, another helper was
gained in a certain Israel Moses, a Polish schoolmaster, afterwards
known as Israel Samosc. This man was a fine mathematician, and a
first-rate Hebrew scholar; but as his attainments did not include the
German language, he made Euclid known to Moses through the medium of a
Hebrew translation. Moses, in return, imparted to Samosc his newly
acquired German, and learnt it, of course, more thoroughly through
teaching it. He must have possessed the art of making friends who were
able to take on themselves the office of teachers; for presently we find
him, in odd half-hours, studying French and English under a Dr. Aaron
Emrich.[33] He very early began to make translations of parts of the
Scripture into German, and these attempts indicate that, from the first,
his overpowering desire for self-culture sprang from no selfishness. He
wanted to open up the closed roads to place and honour, but not to tread
them alone, not to leave his burdened brethren on the bye-paths, whilst
he sped on rejoicing. He knew truly enough that ‘the light was sweet,’
and that ‘a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun.’ But he heeded, too,
the other part of the charge: he ‘remembered the days of darkness, which
were many.’ He remembered them always, heedfully, pitifully, patiently;
and to the weary eyes which would not look up or could not, he ever
strove to adjust the beautiful blessed light which he knew, and they,
poor souls, doubted, was good. He never thrust it, unshaded, into their
gloom: he never carried it off to illumine his own path.

Thus, the translations at which Moses Mendelssohn worked were no
transcripts from learned treatises which might have found a ready market
among the scholars of the day; but unpaid and unpaying work from the
liturgy and the Scriptures, done with the object that his people might
by degrees share his knowledge of the vernacular, and become gradually
and unconsciously familiar with the language of their country through
the only medium in which there was any likelihood of their studying it.
With that one set purpose always before him, of drawing his people with
him into the light, he presently formed the idea of issuing a serial in
Hebrew, which, under the title of _The Moral Preacher_, should introduce
short essays and transcripts on other than strictly Judaic or religious
subjects. One Bock was his coadjutor in this project, and two numbers of
the little work were published. The contents do not seem to have been
very alarming. To our modern notions of periodical literature, they
would probably be a trifle dull; but their mild philosophy and yet
milder science proved more than enough to arouse the orthodox fears of
the poor souls, who, ‘bound in affliction and iron,’ distrusted even the
gentle hand which was so eager to loose the fetters. There was a murmur
of doubt, of muttered dislike of ‘strange customs’; perhaps here and
there too, a threat concerning the pains and penalties which attached
to the introduction of such. At any rate, but two numbers of the poor
little reforming periodical appeared; and Moses, not angry at his
failure, not more than momentarily discouraged by it, accepted the
position and wasted no time nor temper in cavilling at it. He had learnt
to labour, he could learn to wait. And thus, in hard yet happy work,
passed away the seven years, from fourteen till twenty-one, which are
the seed-time of a man’s life. In 1750, when Moses was nearly of age, he
came into possession of what really proved an inheritance. A rich silk
manufacturer, named Bernhardt, who was a prominent member of the Berlin
synagogue, made a proposal to the learned young man, whose perseverance
had given reputation to his scholarship, to become resident tutor to his
children. The offer was gladly accepted, and it may be considered
Mendelssohn’s first step on the road to success. The first step to fame
had been taken when the boy had set out on his long tramp to Berlin.

Bernhardt was a kind and cultured man, and in his house Mendelssohn
found both congenial occupation and welcome leisure. He was teacher by
day, student by night, and author at odd half-hours. He turned to his
books with the greatest ardour; and we read of him studying Locke and
Plato in the original, for by this time English and Greek were both
added to his store of languages. His pupils, meanwhile, were never
neglected, nor in the pursuit of great ends were trifles ignored. In
more than one biography special emphasis is laid on his beautifully neat
handwriting, which, we are told, much excited his employer’s admiration.
This humble, but very useful, talent may possibly have been inherited,
with some other small-sounding virtues, from the poor father in Dessau,
to whom many a nice present was now frequently sent. At the end of three
or four years of tutorship, Bernhardt’s appreciation of the young man
took a very practical expression. He offered Moses Mendelssohn the
position of book-keeper in his factory, with some especial
responsibilities and emoluments attached to the office. It was a
splendid opening, although Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher, eagerly
and gratefully accepting such a post somehow jars on one’s
susceptibilities, and seems almost an instance of the round man pushed
into the square hole. It was, however, an assured position; it gave him
leisure, it gave him independence, and in due time wealth, for as years
went on he grew to be a manager, and finally a partner in the house. His
tastes had already drawn him into the outer literary circle of Berlin,
which at this time had its headquarters in a sort of club, which met to
play chess and to discuss politics and philosophy, and which numbered
Dr. Gompertz, the promising young scholar Abbt, and Nicolai, the
bookseller,[34] among its members. With these and other kindred spirits,
Mendelssohn soon found pleasant welcome; his talents and geniality
quickly overcoming any social prejudices, which, indeed, seldom flourish
in the republic of letters. And, early disadvantages notwithstanding, we
may conclude without much positive evidence on the subject, that
Mendelssohn possessed that valuable, indefinable gift, which culture,
wealth, and birth united occasionally fail to bestow--the gift of good
manners. He was free alike from conceit and dogmatism, the Scylla and
Charybdis to most young men of exceptional talent. He had the loyal
nature and the noble mind, which we are told on high authority is the
necessary root of the rare flower; and he had, too, the sympathetic,
unselfish feeling which we are wont to summarise shortly as a good
heart, and which is the first essential to good manners.

When Lessing came to Berlin, about 1745, his play of _Die Juden_ was
already published, and his reputation sufficiently established to make
him an honoured guest at these little literary gatherings. Something of
affinity in the wide, unconventional, independent natures of the two
men; something, it may be, of likeness in unlikeness in their early
struggles with fate, speedily attracted Lessing and Mendelssohn to each
other. The casual acquaintance soon ripened into an intimate and
lifelong friendship, which gave to Mendelssohn, the Jew, wider knowledge
and illimitable hopes of the outer, inhospitable world--which gave to
Lessing, the Christian, new belief in long-denied virtues; and which,
best of all, gave to humanity those ‘divine lessons of Nathan der
Weise,’ as Goethe calls them--for which character Mendelssohn sat, all
unconsciously, as model, and scarcely idealised model, to his friend. It
was, most certainly, a rarely happy friendship for both, and for the
world. Lessing was the godfather of Mendelssohn’s first book. The
subject was suggested in the course of conversation between them, and a
few days after Mendelssohn brought his manuscript to Lessing. He saw no
more of it till his friend handed him the proofs and a small sum for the
copyright; and it was in this way that the _Philosophische Gespräche_
was anonymously published in 1754. Later, the friends brought out
together a little book, entitled _Pope as a Metaphysician_, and this was
followed up with some philosophical essays (‘Briefe über die
Empfindungen’) which quickly ran through three editions, and Mendelssohn
became known as an author. A year or two later, he gained the prize
which the Royal Academy of Berlin offered for the best essay on the
problem ‘Are metaphysics susceptible of mathematical demonstration?’ for
which prize Kant was one of the competitors.

Lessing’s migration to Leipzig, and his temporary absences from the
capital in the capacity of tutor, made breaks, but no diminution, in the
friendship with Mendelssohn; and the _Literatur-Briefe_, a journal cast
in the form of correspondence on art, science, and literature, to which
Nicolai, Abbt, and other writers were occasional contributors, continued
its successful publication till the year 1765. A review in this journal
of one of the literary efforts of Frederick the Second gave rise to a
characteristic ebullition of what an old writer quaintly calls ‘the
German endemical distemper of Judæophobia.’ In this essay, Mendelssohn
had presumed to question some of the conclusions of the royal author;
and although the contents of the _Literatur-Briefe_ were generally
unsigned, the anonymity was in most cases but a superficial disguise.
The paper drew down upon Mendelssohn the denunciation of a too loyal
subject of Frederick’s, and he was summoned to Sans Souci to answer for
it. Frederick appears to have been more sensible than his thin-skinned
defender, and the interview passed off amicably enough. Indeed, a short
while after, we hear of a petition being prepared to secure to
Mendelssohn certain rights and privileges of dwelling unmolested in
whichever quarter of the city he might choose--a right which at that
time was granted to but few Jews, and at a goodly expenditure of both
capital and interest. Mendelssohn, loyal to his brethren, long and
stoutly refused to have any concession granted on the score of his
talents which he might not claim on the score of his manhood in common
with the meanest and most ignorant of his co-religionists. And there is
some little doubt whether the partial exemptions which Mendelssohn
subsequently obtained, were due to the petition, which suffered many
delays and vicissitudes in the course of presentation, or to the subtle
and silent force of public opinion.

Meanwhile Mendelssohn married, and the story of his wooing, as first
told by Berthold Auerbach, makes a pretty variation on the old theme. It
was, in this case, no short idyll of ‘she was beautiful and he fell in
love.’ To begin with, it was all prosaic enough. A certain Abraham
Gugenheim, a trader at Hamburg, caused it to be hinted to Mendelssohn
that he had a virtuous and blue-eyed but portionless daughter, named
Fromet, who had heard of the philosopher’s fame, and had read portions
of his books; and who, mutual friends considered, would make him a
careful and loving helpmate. So Mendelssohn, who was now thirty-two
years old, and desirous to ‘settle,’ went to the merchant’s house and
saw the prim German maiden, and talked with her; and was pleased enough
with her talk, or perhaps with the silent eloquence of the blue eyes, to
go next day to the father and to say he thought Fromet would suit him
for a wife. But to his surprise Gugenheim hesitated, and stiffness and
embarrassment seemed to have taken the place of the yesterday’s cordial
greeting; still, it was no objection on his part, he managed at last to
stammer out. For a minute Mendelssohn was hopelessly puzzled, but only
for a minute; then it flashed upon him, ‘It is she who objects!’ he
exclaimed; ‘then it must be my hump’; and the poor father of course
could only uncomfortably respond with apologetic platitudes about the
unaccountability of girls’ fancies. The humour as well as the pathos of
the situation touched Mendelssohn, for he had no vanity to be piqued,
and he instantly resolved to do his best to win this Senta-like maiden,
who, less fortunate than the Dutch heroine, had had her pretty dreams of
a hero dispelled, instead of accentuated by actual vision. Might he see
her once again, he asked. ‘To say farewell? Certainly!’ answered the
father, glad that his awkward mission was ending so amicably. So
Mendelssohn went again, and found Fromet with the blue eyes bent
steadily over her work; perhaps to hide a tear as much as to prevent a
glance, for Fromet, as the sequel shows, was a tender-hearted maiden,
and although she did not like to look at her deformed suitor, she did
not want to wound him. Then Mendelssohn began to talk, beautiful glowing
talk, and the spell which his writings had exercised began again to work
on the girl. From philosophy to love, in its impersonal form, is an easy
transition. She grew interested and self-forgetful. ‘And do _you_ think
that marriages are made in heaven?’ she eagerly questioned, as some
early quaint superstition on this most attractive of themes was vividly
touched upon by her visitor. ‘Surely,’ he replied; ‘and some old beliefs
on this head assert that all such contracts are settled in childhood.
Strange to say, a special legend attaches itself to my fortune in this
matter; and as our talk has led to this subject perhaps I may venture
to tell it to you. The twin spirit which fate allotted to me, I am told,
was fair, blue-eyed, and richly endowed with all spiritual charms; but,
alas! ill-luck had added to her physical gifts a hump. A chorus of
lamentation arose from the angels who minister in these matters. The
“pity of it” was so evident. The burden of such a deformity might well
outweigh all the other gifts of her beautiful youth, might render her
morose, self-conscious, unhappy. If the load now had been but laid on a
man! And the angels pondered, wondering, waiting to see if any would
volunteer to take the maiden’s burden from her. And I sprang up, and
prayed that it might be laid upon my shoulders. And it was settled so.’
There was a minute’s pause, and then, so the story goes, the work was
passionately thrown down, and the tender blue eyes were streaming, and
the rest we may imagine. The simple, loving heart was won, and Fromet
became his wife.

They had a modest little house with a pretty garden on the outskirts of
Berlin, where a good deal of hospitality went on in a quiet, friendly
way. The ornaments of their dwelling were, perhaps, a little
disproportionate in size and quantity to the rest of the surroundings;
but this was no matter of choice on the part of the newly married
couple, since one of the minor vexations imposed on Jews at this date
was the obligation laid on every bridegroom to treat himself to a large
quantity of china for the good of the manufactory. The tastes or the
wants of the purchaser were not consulted; and in this especial instance
twenty life-sized china apes were allotted to the bridegroom. We may
imagine poor Mendelssohn and his wife eyeing these apes often, somewhat
as Cinderella looked at her pumpkin when longing for the fairy’s
transforming wand. Possibilities of those big baboons changed into big
books may have tantalised Mendelssohn; whilst Fromet’s more prosaic mind
may have confined itself to china and yet have found an unlimited range
for wishing. However, the unchanged and unchanging apes notwithstanding,
Mendelssohn and his wife enjoyed very many years of quiet and contented
happiness, and by and by came children, four of them, and then those old
ungainly grievances were, it is likely, transformed into playfellows.

Parenthood, perhaps, is never quite easy, but it was a very difficult
duty, and a terribly divided one, for a cultivated man who a century ago
desired to bring up his children as good Jews and good citizens. Many a
time, it stands on record, when this patient, self-respecting,
unoffending scholar took his children for a walk coarse epithets and
insulting cries followed them through the streets. No resentment was
politic, no redress was possible. ‘Father, is it _wicked_ to be a Jew?’
his children would ask, as time after time the crowd hooted at them.
‘Father, is it _good_ to be a Jew?’ they grew to ask later on, when in
more serious walks of life they found all gates but the Jews’ gate
closed against them. Mendelssohn must have found such questions
increasingly difficult to answer or to parry. Their very talents, which
enlarged the boundaries, must have made his clever children rebel
against the limitations which were so cruelly imposed. His eldest son
Joseph early developed a strong scientific bias; how could this be
utilised? The only profession which he, as a Jew, might enter, was that
of medicine, and for that he had a decided distaste: perforce he was
sent to commercial pursuits, and his especial talent had to run to
waste, or, at best, to dilettantism. When this Joseph had sons of his
own, can we wonder very much that he cut the knot and saved his children
from a like experience, by bringing them up as Christians?

Mendelssohn himself, all his life through, was unswervingly loyal to his
faith. He took every disability accruing from it, as he took his own
especial one, as being, so far as he was concerned, inevitable, and thus
to be borne as patiently as might be. To him, most certainly, it would
never have occurred to slip from under a burden which had been laid upon
him to bear. Concerning Fromet’s influence on her children records are
silent, and we are driven to conjecture that the pretty significance of
her name was somewhat meaningless.[35] The story of her wooing suggests
susceptibility, perhaps, rather than strength of heart; and it may be
that as years went on the ‘blue eyes’ got into a habit of weeping only
over sorrows and wrongs which needed a less eloquent and a more helpful
mode of treatment.

If Mendelssohn’s wife had been able to show her children the home side
of Jewish life, its suggestive ceremonialism, its domestic
compensations--possibly her sons, almost certainly her daughters, would
have learnt the brave, sweet patience that was common to Jewish mothers.
But this takes us to the region of ‘might have been.’ Gentle,
tender-hearted Fromet, it is to be feared, failed in true piety, and,
the mother anchor missing, the children drifted from their moorings.

The leisure of the years succeeding his marriage was fully occupied by
Mendelssohn in literary pursuits. The whole of the Pentateuch was, by
degrees, translated into pure German, and simultaneous editions were
published in German and in Hebrew characters. This great gift to his
people was followed by a metrical translation of the Psalms; a work
which took him ten years, during which time he always carried about with
him a Hebrew Psalter, interleaved with blank pages. In 1783 he published
his _Jerusalem_,[36] a sort of Church and State survey of the Jewish
religion. The first and larger part of it dwells on the distinction
between Judaism, as a State religion, and Judaism as the ‘inheritance’
of a dispersed nationality. He essays to prove the essential differences
between civil and religious government, and to demonstrate that penal
enactments, which in the one case were just and defensible, were, in the
changed circumstances of the other, harmful, and, in point of fact,
unjudicial. The work was, in effect, a masterly effort on Mendelssohn’s
part to exorcise the ‘cursing spirit’ which, engendered partly by
long-suffered persecution, and partly by long association with the
strict discipline of the Catholic Church, had taken a firm grip on
Jewish ecclesiastical authority, and was constantly expressing itself in
bitter anathema and morose excommunication. The second part of the book
is mainly concerned with a vindication of the Jewish character and a
plea for toleration. Scholarly and temperate as is the tone of this
work throughout, it yet evoked a good deal of rough criticism from the
so-called orthodox in both religious camps--from those well-meaning,
purblind persons of the sort who, Lessing declares, see only one road,
and strenuously deny the possible existence of any other.

In 1777, Frederic the Second desired to judge for himself whether Jewish
ecclesiastical authority clashed at any point with the State or
municipal law of the land. A digest of the Jewish Code on the general
questions, and more especially on the subject of property and
inheritance, was decreed to be prepared in German, and to Mendelssohn
was intrusted the task. He had the assistance of the Chief Rabbi of
Berlin, and the result of these labours was published in 1778, under the
title of _Ritual Laws of the Jews_. Another Jewish philosophical work
(published in 1785) was _Morning Hours_.[37] This was a volume of essays
on the evidences of the existence of the Deity and of conclusions
concerning His attributes deduced from the contemplation of His works.
Originally these essays had been given in the form of familiar lectures
on natural philosophy by Mendelssohn to his children and to one or two
of their friends (including the two Humboldts) in his own house, every
morning. In the same category of more distinctively Jewish books we may
place a translation of Manasseh Ben Israel’s famous _Vindiciæ Judæorum_,
which he published, with a very eloquent preface, so early as 1781, just
at the time when Dohm’s generous work on the condition of the Jews as
citizens of the State had made its auspicious appearance. Although this
is one of Mendelssohn’s minor efforts, the preface contains many a
beautiful passage. His gratitude to Dohm is so deep and yet so
dignified; his defence of his people is so wide, and his belief in
humanity so sincere; and the whole is withal so short, that it makes
most pleasant reading. One small quotation may perhaps be permitted, as
pertinent to some recent discussions on Jewish subjects. ‘It is,’ says
he, ‘objected by some that the Jews are both too indolent for
agriculture and too proud for mechanical trades; that if the
restrictions were removed they would uniformly select the arts and
sciences, as less laborious and more profitable, and soon engross all
light, genteel, and learned professions. But those who thus argue
conclude from the _present_ state of things how they will be in the
_future_, which is not a fair mode of reasoning. What should induce a
Jew to waste his time in learning to manage the plough, the trowel, the
plane, etc., while he knows he can make no practical use of them? But
put them in his hand and suffer him to follow the bent of his
inclinations as freely as other subjects of the State, and the result
will not long be doubtful. Men of genius and talent will, of course,
embrace the learned professions; those of inferior capacity will turn
their minds to mechanical pursuits; the rustic will cultivate the land;
each will contribute, according to his station in life, his quota to the
aggregate of productive labour.’

As he says in some other place of himself, nature never intended him,
either physically or morally, for a wrestler; and this little essay,
where there is no strain of argument or scope for deep erudition, is yet
no unworthy specimen of the great philosopher’s powers. Poetic attempts
too, and mostly on religious subjects, occasionally varied his
counting-house duties and his more serious labours; but although he
truly possessed, if ever man did, what Landor calls ‘the poetic heart,’
yet it is in his prose, rather than in his poetry, that we mostly see
its evidences. The book which is justly claimed as his greatest, and
which first gave him his title to be considered a wide and deep-thinking
philosopher, is his _Phædon_.[38] The idea of such a work had long been
germinating in him, and the death of his dear friend Abbt, with whom he
had had many a fruitful discussion on the subject, turned his thoughts
more fixedly on the hopes which make sorrows bearable, and the work was
published in the year following Abbt’s death.

The first part is a very pure and classical German rendering of the
original Greek form of Plato, and the remainder an eloquent summary of
all that religion, reason, and experience urge in support of a belief in
immortality. It is cast in the form of conversation between Socrates and
his friends--a choice in composition which caused a Jewish critic (M.
David Friedländer) to liken Moses Mendelssohn to Moses the lawgiver.
‘For Moses spake, and _Socrates_ was to him as a mouth’ (Ex. iv. 15). In
less than two years _Phædon_ ran through three German editions, and it
was speedily translated into English, French, Dutch, Italian, Danish,
and Hebrew. Then, at one stride, came fame; and great scholars, great
potentates, and even the heads of his own community, sought his society.
But fame was ever of incomparably less value to Mendelssohn than
friendship, and any sort of notoriety he honestly hated. Thus, when his
celebrity brought upon him a polemical discussion, the publicity which
ensued, notwithstanding that the personal honour in which he was held
was thereby enhanced, so thoroughly upset his nerves that the result was
a severe and protracted illness. It came about in this wise: Lavater,
the French pastor, in 1769, had translated Bonnet’s _Evidences of
Christianity_ into German; he published it with the following dedication
to Moses Mendelssohn:--

     ‘DEAR SIR,--I think I cannot give you a stronger proof of my
     admiration of your excellent writings, and of your still more
     excellent character, that of an Israelite in whom there is no
     guile; nor offer you a better requital for the great gratification
     which I, some years ago, enjoyed in your interesting society, than
     by dedicating to you the ablest philosophical inquiry into the
     evidences of Christianity that I am acquainted with.

     ‘I am fully conscious of your profound judgment, steadfast love of
     truth, literary independence, enthusiasm for philosophy in general,
     and esteem for Bonnet’s works in particular. The amiable discretion
     with which, notwithstanding your contrariety to the Christian
     religion, you delivered your opinion on it, is still fresh in my
     memory. And so indelible and important is the impression which your
     truly philosophical respect for the moral character of its Founder
     made on me, in one of the happiest moments of my existence, that I
     venture to beseech you--nay, before the God of Truth, your and my
     Creator and Father, I beseech and conjure you--to read this work, I
     will not say with philosophical impartiality, which I am confident
     will be the case, but for the purpose of publicly refuting it, in
     case you should find the main arguments, in support of the facts of
     Christianity, untenable; or should you find them conclusive, with
     the determination of doing what policy, love of truth, and probity
     demand--what Socrates would doubtless have done had he read the
     work and found it unanswerable.

     ‘May God still cause much truth and virtue to be disseminated by
     your means, and make you experience the happiness my whole heart
     wishes you.

                                               JOHANN CASPAR LAVATER.

     ‘ZURICH, _25th of August 1769_.’

It was a most unpleasant position for Mendelssohn. Plain speaking was
not so much the fashion then as now, and defence might more easily be
read as defiance. At that time the position of the Jews in all the
European States was most precarious, and outspoken utterances might not
only alienate the timid followers whom Mendelssohn hoped to enlighten,
but probably offend the powerful outsiders whom he was beginning to
influence. No man has any possible right to demand of another a public
confession of faith; the conversation to which Lavater alluded as some
justification for his request had been a private one, and the reference
to it, moreover, was not altogether accurate. And Mendelssohn hated
controversy, and held a very earnest conviction that no good cause,
certainly no religious one, is ever much forwarded by it. Should he be
silent, refuse to reply, and let judgment go by default? Comfort and
expediency both pleaded in favour of this course, but truth was mightier
and prevailed. Like unto the three who would not be ‘careful’ of their
answer even under the ordeal of fire, he soon decided to testify plainly
and without undue thought of consequences. Mendelssohn was not the sort
to serve God with special reservations as to Rimmon. Definitely he
answered his too zealous questioner in a document which is so entirely
full of dignity and of reason that it is difficult to make quotations
from it.[39] ‘Certain inquiries,’ he writes, ‘we finish once for all in
our lives.’ ... ‘And I herewith declare in the presence of the God of
truth, your and my Creator, by whom you have conjured me in your
dedication, that I will adhere to my principles so long as my entire
soul does not assume another nature.’ And then, emphasising the position
that it is by character and not by controversy that _he_ would have Jews
shame their traducers, he goes fully and boldly into the whole question.
He shows with a delicate touch of humour that Judaism, in being no
proselytising faith, has a claim to be let alone. ‘I am so fortunate as
to count amongst my friends many a worthy man who is not of my faith.
Never yet has my heart whispered, Alas! for this good man’s soul. He who
believes that no salvation is to be found out of the pale of his own
church, must often feel such sighs arise in his bosom.’ ‘Suppose there
were among my contemporaries a Confucius or a Solon, I could
consistently with my religious principles love and admire the great man,
but I should never hit on the idea of converting a Confucius or a Solon.
What should I convert him for? As he does not belong to the congregation
of Jacob, my religious laws were not made for him, and on doctrines we
should soon come to an understanding. Do I think there is a chance of
his being saved? I certainly believe that he who leads mankind on to
virtue in this world cannot be damned in the next.’ ‘We believe ... that
those who regulate their lives according to the religion of nature and
of reason are called virtuous men of other nations, and are, equally
with our patriarchs, the children of eternal salvation.’ ‘Whoever is not
born conformable to our laws has no occasion to live according to them.
We alone consider ourselves bound to acknowledge their authority, and
this can give no offence to our neighbours.’ He refuses to criticise
Bonnet’s work in detail on the ground that in his opinion ‘Jews should
be scrupulous in abstaining from reflections on the predominant
religion’; but nevertheless, whilst repeating his ‘so earnest wish to
have no more to do with religious controversy,’ the honesty of the man
asserts itself in boldly adding, ‘I give you at the same time to
understand that I could, very easily, bring forward something in
refutation of M. Bonnet’s work.’

Mendelssohn’s reply brought speedily, as it could scarcely fail to do,
an ample and sincere apology from Lavater, a ‘retracting’ of the
challenge, an earnest entreaty to forgive what had been ‘importunate and
improper’ in the dedicator, and an expression of ‘sincerest respect’ and
‘tenderest affection’ for his correspondent. Mendelssohn’s was a nature
to have more sympathy with the errors incidental to too much, than to
too little zeal, and the apology was accepted as generously as it was
offered. And here ended, so far as the principals were concerned, this
somewhat unique specimen of a literary squabble. A crowd of lesser
writers, unfortunately, hastened to make capital out of it; and a
bewildering mist of nondescript and pedantic compositions soon darkened
the literary firmament, obscuring and vulgarising the whole subject.
They took ‘sides’ and gave ‘views’ of the controversy; but Mendelssohn
answered none and read as few as possible of these publications. Still
the strain and worry told on his sensitive and peace-loving nature, and
he did not readily recover his old elasticity of temperament.

In 1778 Lessing’s wife died, and his friend’s trouble touched deep
chords both of sympathy and of memory in Mendelssohn. Yet more cruelly
were they jarred when, two years later, Lessing himself followed, and an
uninterrupted friendship of over thirty years was thus dissolved.
Lessing and Mendelssohn had been to each other the sober realisation of
the beautiful ideal embodied in the drama of _Nathan der Weise_. ‘What
to you makes me seem Christian makes of you the Jew to me,’ each could
most truly say to the other. They helped the world to see it too, and to
recognise the Divine truth that ‘to be to the best thou knowest ever
true is all the creed.’

The death of his friend was a terrible blow to Mendelssohn. ‘After
wrinkles come,’ says Mr. Lowell, in likening ancient friendships to
slow-growing trees, ‘few plant, but water dead ones with vain tears.’ In
this case, the actual pain of loss was greatly aggravated by some
publications which appeared shortly after Lessing’s death, impugning his
sincerity and religious feeling. Germany, as Goethe once bitterly
remarked, ‘needs time to be thankful.’ In the first year or two
following Lessing’s death it was, perhaps, too early to expect gratitude
from his country for the lustre his talents had shed on it. Some of the
pamphlets would make it seem that it was too early even for decency.
Mendelssohn vigorously took up the cudgels for his dead friend; too
vigorously, perhaps, since Kant remarked that ‘it is Mendelssohn’s
fault, if Jacobi (the most notorious of the assailants) should now
consider himself a philosopher.’ To Mendelssohn’s warmhearted, generous
nature it would, however, have been impossible to remain silent when one
whom he knew to be tolerant, earnest, and sincere in the fullest sense
of those words of highest praise, was accused of ‘covert Spinozism’; a
charge which again was broadly rendered, by these wretched, ignorant
interpreters of a language they failed to understand, as atheism and

But this was his last literary work. It shows no sign of decaying
powers; it is full of pathos, of wit, of clear close reasoning, and of
brilliant satire; yet nevertheless it was his monument as well as his
friend’s. He took the manuscript to his publisher in the last day of the
year 1785; and in the first week of the New Year 1786, still only
fifty-six years old, he quietly and painlessly died. That last work
seems to make a beautiful and fitting end to his life; a life which
truly adds a worthy stanza to what Herder calls ‘the greatest poem of
all time--the history of the Jews.’


Once find a man’s ideals, it has been well said, and the rest is easy;
and undoubtedly to get at any true notion of character, one must
discover these. They may be covered close with conventionalities, or
jealously hidden, like buried treasures, from unsympathetic eyes; but
the patient search is well worth while, since it is his ideals--and not
his words nor his deeds, which a thousand circumstances influence and
decide--which show us the real man as known to his Maker. And true as
this is of the individual, it is true in a deeper and larger sense of
the nations, and most true of all of that people with whom for centuries
speech was impolitic and action impossible. With articulate expression
so long denied to them, the national ideals must be always to the
student of history the truest revelation of Judaism; and it is curious
and interesting to trace their development, and to recognise the crown
and apex of them all in battlefield and in ‘Vineyard,’ in Ghetto and in
mart, unchanged among the changes, and practically the same as in the
days of the desert. The germ was set in the wilderness, when, amid the
thunders and lightnings of Sinai, a crowd of frightened, freshly rescued
slaves were made ‘witnesses’ to a living God, and guardians of a ‘Law’
which demonstrated His existence. Very new and strange, and but dimly
understanded of the people it must all have been. ‘The lights of sunset
and of sunrise mixed.’ The fierce vivid glow under which they had bent
and basked in Egypt had scarcely faded, when they were bid look up in
the grey dawn of the desert to receive their trust. There was worthy
stuff in the descendants of the man who had left father and friends and
easy, sensuous idolatry to follow after an ideal of righteousness; and
they who had but just escaped from the bondage of centuries, rose to the
occasion. They accepted their mission; ‘All that the Lord has spoken
will we do,’ came up a responsive cry from ‘all the people answering
together,’ and in that supreme moment the ill-fed and so recently
ill-treated groups were transformed into a nation. ‘I will make of thee
a great people’; ‘Through thee shall all families of the earth be
blessed’; the meaning of such predictions was borne in upon them in one
bewildering flash, and in that flash the national idea of Judaism found
its dawn; they, the despised and the downtrodden, were to become
trustees of civilisation.

As the glow died down, however, a very rudimentary sort of civilisation
the wilderness must have presented to these builders of the temples and
the treasure cities by the Nile, and to the vigorous, resourceful Hebrew
women. As day after day, and year after year, the cloud moved onward,
darkening the road which it directed, as they gathered the manna and
longed for the fleshpots, it could have been only the few and finer
spirits among those listless groups who were able to discern that a
civilisation based upon the Decalogue, shorn though it was of all
present pleasantness and ease, had a promise about it that was lacking
to a culture, ‘learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.’ It was life
reduced to its elements; Sinai and Pisgah stood so far apart, and such
long level stretches of dull sand lay between the heights. One imagines
the women, skilled like their men-folk in all manner of cunning
workmanship, eagerly, generously ransacking their stores of purple and
fine linen to decorate the Tabernacle, and spinning and embroidering
with a desperately delighted sense of recovered refinements, which, as
much perhaps as their fervour of religious enthusiasm, led them to bring
their gifts till restrained ‘from bringing.’ The trust was accepted
though in the wilderness, but grudgingly, with many a faint-hearted
protest, and to some minds, in some moods, slavery must have seemed less
insistent in its demands than trusteeship.

The conquest of Canaan was the next experience, and as sinfulness and
idolatry were relentlessly washed away in rivers of blood, one doubts if
the impressionable descendants of Jacob, to whom it was given to
overcome, might not perchance have preferred to endure. But such choice
was not given to them; the trust had to be realised before it could be
transmitted, and its value tested by its cost. With Palestine at last in
possession of the chosen people, this civilisation of which they were
the guardians by slow degrees became manifest. Samuel lived it, and
David sang it, and Isaiah preached it, and the nation clung to it,
individual men and women, stumbling and failing often, but dying each,
when need came, a hundred deaths in its defence; perhaps finding it on
occasion less difficult to die for an idea than to live up to it.

The securities were shifted, the terms of the trusteeship changed when
the people of the Land became the people of the Book. The civilisation
which they guarded grew narrower in its issues and more limited in its
outlook, till, as the years rolled into the centuries, it was hard to
recognise the ‘witnesses’ of God in the hunted outcasts of man. Yet to
the student of history, who reads the hieroglyph of the Egyptian into
the postcard of to-day, it is not difficult to see the civilisation of
Sinai shining under the folds of the gaberdine or of the _san benito_.
It was taught in the schools and it was lived in the homes, and the
Ghetto could not altogether degrade it, nor the Holy Office effectually
disguise it. Jews sank sometimes to the lower level of the sad lives
they led, but Judaism remained unconquerably buoyant. Judaism, as they
believed in it, was a Personal Force making for righteousness, a Law
which knew no change, the Promise of a period when the earth should be
filled with the knowledge of the Lord; and the ‘witnesses’ stuck to this
their trust, through good repute and through evil repute, with a simple
doggedness which disarms all superficial criticism. The glamour of the
cause, through which a Barcochba could loom heroic to an Akiba, the
utter absence of self-consciousness or of self-seeking, which made Judas
in his fight for freedom pin the Lord’s name on his flag, and which,
with the kingdom lost, made the scrolls of the Law the spoil with which
Ben Zaccai retreated--this was at the root of the national idea, and its
impersonality gives the secret of its strength, ‘Not unto us, O Lord,
not unto us, but unto Thy name!’ This vivid sense of being the trustees
of civilisation was wholly dissociated from any feeling of conceit
either in the leaders or in the rank and file of the Jewish nation. It
is curious indeed to realise how so intense a conviction of the survival
of the fittest could be held in so intensely unmodernised a spirit.

The idea of their trusteeship was a sheet anchor to the Jews as the
waves and the billows passed over them. In the fifteen hundred years’
tragedy of their history there have been no _entr’actes_ of frenzied
stampede or of revolutionary, revengeful conspiracy. A resolute
endurance, which, characteristically enough, rarely approaches
asceticism, marks the depth and strength and buoyancy of the national
idea. Trustees of civilisation might not sigh nor sing in solitudes; nor
with the feeling so keen that ‘a thousand years in Thy sight are but as
a day,’ was it worth while to plot or plan against the oppressors of the
moment. Time was on their side, and ‘that which shapes it to some
perfect end.’ And this attitude explains, possibly, some unattractive
phases of it, since however honestly the individual consciousness may be
absorbed in a national conscience, yet the individual will generally, in
some way, manage to express himself, and the self is not always quite
up to the ideal, nor indeed is it always in harmony with those who would
interpret it. When a David dances before the Ark it needs other than a
daughter of Saul to understand him. There have been Jews in David’s
case, their enthusiasm mocked at; and there have been Jews indifferent
to their trust, and Jews who have betrayed it, and Jews too, and these
not a few, who have pushed it into prominence with undue display. The
infinite changes of circumstance and surrounding in Jewish fortunes no
less than differences in individual character have induced a
considerable divergence in the practical politics of the national idea.
The persecuted have been exclusive over it, and the prosperous careless;
it has been vulgarised by superstition, and ignored by indifferentism,
till modern ‘rational’ thinkers now and again question whether Palestine
be indeed the goal of Jewish separateness, and make it a matter for
academic discussion whether ‘Jews’ mean a sect of cosmopolitan citizens
with religious customs more or less in common, or a people whose
religion has a national origin and a national purpose in its
observances. With questioners such as these, Revelation, possibly, would
not be admitted as sound evidence in reply, else the promise, ‘Ye shall
be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,’ would, one might
think, show a design that ritual by itself does not fulfil. It was no
sect with ‘tribal’ customs, but a ‘nation’ and a ‘kingdom’ who were to
be ‘holy to the Lord.’ But though texts may be inadmissible with those
who prefer their sermons in stones, yet the records of the ages are
little less impartial and unimpassioned than the records of the rocks,
and doubters might find an answer in the insistent tones of history when
she tells of the results of occasional unnatural divorce between
religion and nationality among Jews.

There were times not a few, whilst their own judges ruled, and whilst
their own kings reigned in Palestine, when, with a firm grip on the
land, but a loose hold on the law, Israel was well-nigh lost and
absorbed in the idolatrous peoples by whom it was surrounded; when the
race, which was ceasing to worship at the national altars, was in danger
of ceasing to exist as a nation. Exile taught them to value by loss what
was possession. ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’
was the passionate cry in Babylon. Was it perchance the feeling that the
land was ‘strange,’ which gave that new fervour to the songs, choking
off utterance and finding adequate expression only in the Return? Did
Judas, the Maccabee, understand something of this as he led his
patriotic, ‘zealous’ troops to victory? Did Mendelssohn forget it when,
nineteen hundred years later, he emancipated his people from the results
of worse than Syrian oppression, at the cost of so many, his own
children among the rest, shaking off memories and duties as lightly as
they shook off restraints? Over and over again, in the wonderful history
of the Jews, does religion without nationality prove itself as
impossible as nationality without religion to serve for a sustaining
force in Judaism. The people who, while ‘the city of palm-trees’ was yet
their own, could set up strange gods in the groves, were not one whit
more false to their faith, nor more harmful to their people, than those
later representatives of the opposite type, Hellenists, as history calls
them, who built a temple, and read the law and observed the precepts,
whilst their very priests changed their good Jewish names for
Greek-sounding ones in contemptuous and contemptible depreciation of
their Jewish nationality. One inclines, perhaps, to accentuate the facts
of history and to moralise over the might-have-beens where these fit
into a theory; but so much as this at least seems indisputable--that
those who would dissociate the national from the religious, or the
religious from the national element in Judaism attempt the impossible.
The ideal of the Jews must always be ‘from Zion shall come forth
instruction, and the Word of God from Jerusalem’; and to this
end--‘that all people of the earth may know Thy name, as do thy people
Israel.’ This is the goal of Jewish separateness. The separateness may
have been part of the Divine plan, as distinctive practices and customs
are due in the first place to the Divine command; but they are also and
none the less a means of strengthening the national character of the
Jews. Jewish religion neither ‘happens’ to have a national origin, nor
does Jewish nationality ‘happen’ to have religious customs. The Jewish
nation has become a nation and has been preserved as a nation for the
distinct purpose of religion. This, as we read it, is the lesson of
history. And this too is its consolation. The faithful few who see the
fulfilment of history and of prophecy in a restored and localised
nationality--a Jerusalem reinstated as the joy of the whole earth; the
careless many who, in comfortable complacency, are well content to await
it indefinitely, in dispersion; the loyal many, who believe that a
political restoration would be a retrogressive step, narrowing and
embarrassing the wider issues; the children of light and the children of
the world, the spiritual and the _spirituel_ element in Israel, alike,
if unequally, have each their share in spreading the civilisation of
Sinai, as surely as ‘fire and hail and snow and mist and stormy wind’
all ‘fulfil His word.’ The seed that was sown in the sands of the desert
has germinated through the ages, and its fruition is foretold. The
promise to the Patriarch, ‘I will make of thee a great nation,’
foreshadowed that his descendants were to be trustees, ‘through them
shall all families of the earth be blessed.’ There are those who would
read into this national idea a taint of arrogance or of exclusiveness,
as there are some scientifically-minded folks, a trifle slow perhaps, to
apply their own favoured dogma of evolution, who can see in the Exodus
only a capriciously selected band of slaves, led forth to serve a tribal
deity. But the history of the Jews, which is inseparable from the
religion of the Jews, rebukes those who would thus halt mid-way and
stumble over the evidences. It lifts the veil, it flashes the light on
dark places, it unriddles the weary puzzle of the travailing ages,
leaving only indifferentism unsolvable, as it shows clear how the Lord,
the Spirit of all flesh, the universal Father, brought Israel out of
Egypt and gave them name and place to be His witnesses, and the means He
chose whereby ‘all families of the earth should be blessed.’


Each age has its illusions--illusions which succeeding ages with a
recovered sense of sanity are often apt to record as the most
incomprehensible of crazes. ‘That poor will-o’-the-wisp mistaken for a
shining light! Oh, purblind race of miserable men!’ is the quick,
contemptuous comment of a later, clearer-sighted generation. But one may
question if such comment be always just. May not the narrow vision, too
unseeing to be deceived, betoken a yet more hopeless sort of blindness
than the wide-eyed gaze which, fixed on stars, blunders into quagmires?
‘Where there is no vision,’ it is written, ‘the people perish’; and
though stars may prove mirage and quagmires clinging mud, yet a long
rank of shabby, shadowy heroes, who, more or less wittingly, have had
the hard fate to lead a multitude to destruction, seems to suggest that
such deluded multitudes are no dumb, driven cattle, but, capable of
being led astray, have also the faculty of being led into the light. And
if this, to our consolation, be the teaching of history anent those
whom it impartially dubs impostors, then wasted loves and wasted beliefs
lose something of their hopeless sadness, and in the transfiguration
even failures and false prophets are seen to have a place and use.

No more typical instance could be found of the heights and depths of a
people’s power of illusion--and that people one which in its modern
development might be lightly held proof against most illusions--than the
suggestive career of a Messiah of the seventeenth century supplies to
us. Undying hope, it has been said, is the secret of vision. When hope
is dead the vision perchance takes unto itself the awful condition of
death, corruption, for thus only could it have come to pass that that
same people, which had given an Isaiah to the world, under the stress of
inexorable and inevitable circumstance brought forth a Sabbathai Zevi.

‘Of all mortal woes,’ so declared the weeping Persian to Thersander at
the banquet, ‘the greatest is this: with many thoughts and wise, to have
no power.’ Under the crushing burden of that mortal woe the Jewish race
had rested restlessly for over sixteen weary centuries. Power had passed
from the dispossessed people with the fall of their garrisoned Temple,
and under dispersion and persecution their ‘many thoughts and wise’ had
grown dumb, or shrill, or cruelly inarticulate. The kingdom of priests
and the kinsmen of the Maccabees had dwindled to a community of pedants
and pedlars. Into the schools of the prophets had crept the casuistries
and subtleties of the Kabbalists; and descendants of those who had been
skilful in all manner of workmanship now haggled over wares which they
lacked skill or energy to produce. East and west the doom of Herodotus
was drearily apparent, and to an onlooker it must have seemed incredible
that these poor pariahs, content to be contemned, were of the same race
which had sung the Lord’s songs and had fought the Lord’s battles. In
the seventeenth century the fires of the Inquisition were still
smouldering, and Jewish victims of the Holy Office, naked and charred,
or swathed and unrecognisable, were fleeing hither and thither from its
flames, across the inhospitable continent of Europe. Nearer to the old
scenes was no nearer to happiness; the farthest removed indeed from any
present realisation of ancient prosperity seemed those wanderers who had
turned their tired, sad faces to the East. The land on which Moses had
looked from Pisgah; for which, remembering Zion, the exiles in Babylon
had wept; for which a later generation, as unaided as undaunted, had
fought and died--this land, their heritage, had passed utterly from the
possession of the Jews. ‘Thou waterest its ridges: Thou settlest the
furrows thereof.’ Seemingly out of that ownership too the land had
passed, for His ridges had run red with blood, and in His furrows the
Romans had sown salt. From the very first century after Christ, Jews had
been grudged a foothold in Judæa, and from the date of the Crusades any
dwelling-place in their own land was definitely denied to the outcast
race. A new meaning had been read into that ancient phrase, ‘the joy of
the whole earth.’ The Holy City had come, in cruel, narrow limitation,
to mean to its conquerors the Holy Sepulchre, all other of its memories
‘but a dream and a forgetting.’ And now, although the fervour of the
Crusades had died away, and the stone stood at the mouth of the
Sepulchre as undisturbed and almost as unheeded of the outside world as
when the two Marys kept their lonely vigil, yet enough still of all that
terribly wasted wealth of enthusiasm survived to make the Holy Land
difficult even of approach to its former rulers. Through all those
centuries, for over sixteen hundred slow, sad, stormy years, this
powerless people had borne their weary burden, ‘the greatest of all
mortal woes.’ Occasionally, for a moment as it were, the passions of
repulsed patriotism and of pent-up humanity would break bounds, and
seek expression in a form which scholars could scarce interpret or
priests control. With their law grudged to them and their land denied,
‘their many thoughts and wise,’ under cruel restraint, were dwindling
into impotent dreams or flashing out in wild unlikeness of wisdom.

It was in the summer of the year 1666 that some such incomprehensible
craze seemed to possess the ancient city of Smyrna. The sleepy stillness
of the narrow streets was jarred by a thousand confused and unaccustomed
sounds. The slow, smooth current of Eastern life seemed of a sudden
stirred into a whirl of excited eddies. Men and women in swift-changing
groups were sobbing, praying, laughing in a breath, their quick
gesticulations in curious contrast with their sober, shabby garments,
and their patient, pathetic eyes. And strangest thing of all, it was on
a prophet in his own country, in the very city of his birth, that this
extraordinary enthusiasm of greeting was being expended, and the name of
the prophet was Sabbathai, son of Mordecai. Mordecai Zevi, the father,
had dwelt among these townsfolk of Smyrna, dealing in money and dying of
gout, and Sabbathai Zevi, the son, had been brought up among them, and
not so many years since had been banished by them. In that passionately
absorbed crowd there must have been many a middle-aged man old enough to
remember how this turbulent son of the commonplace old broker had been
sent forth from the city, and the gates shut on him in anger and
contempt; and some there surely must have been who knew of his
subsequent career. But if it were so, there were none sane enough to
deduce a moral. It was in the character of Messiah and Deliverer that
Sabbathai had come back to Smyrna, and long-dead hope, quickened into
life at the very words, was strong enough to strangle a whole host of
resistant memories, though, in truth, there was a great deal to forget.
It had been at the instance of the religious authorities of the place,
whose susceptibilities were shocked by the utterance of opinions
advanced enough to provoke a tumult in the synagogue, that the young man
had been expelled from the city. To young and ardent spirits in that
crowd it is possible that this early experience of Sabbathai bore a very
colourable imitation of martyrdom, and the life in exile that followed
it may have appealed to their imaginations as the most fitting of
preparations for a prophet. But then unfortunately Sabbathai’s life in
exile had not been that of a hermit, nor altogether of a sort to fit
into any exalted theories. Authentic news had certainly come of him as
a traveller in the Morea and in Syria, and rumours had been rife
concerning travelling companions. Three successive marriages, it was
said, had taken place, followed in each instance by unedifying quarrels
and divorce. Of the ladies little was known; but it came to be generally
affirmed, on what, if sifted, perhaps amounted to insufficient evidence,
that each wife was more marvellously handsome than her predecessor. And
then, for a while, these lingering distorted sounds from the outside
world had died out in the sordid stillness of their lives, to rise again
suddenly, after long interval, in startling echoes. The wildest of
rumours was all at once in the air, heralding this much-married,
banished disputant of the synagogue, this turbulent, troublesome
Sabbathai, as Messiah of the Jews. What he had done, what he would do,
what he could do, was repeated from mouth to mouth with an ever-growing
exactness of exaggeration which modern methods of transmitting news
could hardly surpass. One soberly circumstantial tale was of a ship
cruising off the north coast of Scotland (of all places in the world!),
with sail and cordage of purest silk, her ensign the Twelve Tribes, and
her crew, consistently enough, speaking Hebrew. A larger and certainly
more geographically minded contingent of converts was said to be
marching across the deserts of Arabia to proclaim the millennium. This
host was identified as the lost Ten Tribes, and Sabbathai, mounted on a
celestial lion with a bridle of serpents, was, or was shortly to be--for
the reports were sometimes a little conflicting--at the head of this
imposing multitude, and about to inaugurate a new and glorious Temple,
which, all ready built and beautified, would straightway descend from
heaven, and in which the services were likely to become popular, since
all fasts were forthwith to be changed into festivals.

The rumours, it must be confessed, were all of a terribly materialistic
sort, and one wonders somewhat sadly over Sabbathai’s proclamation,
questioning if the promise of ‘dominion over the nations,’ or the
permission ‘to do every day what is usual for you to do only on new
moons,’ roused most of the long-repressed human nature in those weary
pariahs, the ‘nation of the Jews,’ to whom it was roundly addressed. All
the cities of Turkey, an old chronicler tells us, ‘were full of
expectation.’ Business in many places was altogether suspended. The
belief in a reign of miracle was extended to daily needs, and trust in
such needs being somehow supplied was esteemed as an essential test of
general faith in the new order of things. So none laboured, but all
prayed, and purified themselves, and performed strange penances. The
rich people grew profuse and penitent, and poverty, always honourable
among Jews, came in those strange days to be fashionable.

And now, so heralded, and in truth so advertised, for what a
bill-posting agency would do for similar worthies in this generation a
certain Nathan Benjamin of Jerusalem seems to have done in clumsier
fashion for Sabbathai, their hero was among them. Nathan, it is to be
feared, was less of a convert than a colleague of our prophet, but to
tear-dimmed eyes which saw visions, to starved hearts which by reason of
sorrow judged in hunger and in weakness, prophet and partner both loomed
heroic. It is curious, when one thinks of it, that the same race which
had been critical over a Moses should have been credulous over a
Sabbathai Zevi. Is it a possible explanation that the art of making
bricks without straw, however difficult of acquirement, being at any
rate of the nature of healthy, outdoor employment, was less depressing
in its results on character than the cumulative effect of centuries of
Ghetto-bounded toil? Something, too, may be allowed for the fact that
the Promised Land lay then in prospect and now in retrospect.
Altogether, perhaps, it may be urged in this instance that the idol
does not quite give an accurate measure of the worshipper. A Deliverer
was at their doors, a Deliverer from worse than Egyptian bondage; that
was all that this poor deluded people could stop to think, and out they
rushed in ludicrous, reverent welcome of a light that was not dawn. With
a fine appreciation of effect, Sabbathai gently put aside the rich
embroidered cloths that were spread beneath his feet; and this subtle
indication of humility, and of a desire to tread the dusty paths with
his brethren, gained him many a wavering adherent. For there were
waverers. Even amidst all the enthusiasm, there was now and then an
awkward question asked, for these shabby traders of Smyrna were all of
them more or less learned in the Law and the Prophets, and though their
tired hearts could accept this blustering, unideal presentment of the
Prince of Peace, yet their minds and memories made occasional protest
concerning dates and circumstances. And presently one Samuel Pennia, a
man of some local reputation, took heart of grace, and preached and
proclaimed with a hundred most obvious arguments that Sabbathai had no
smallest claim to the titles he was arrogantly assuming. Law and logic
too were on Pennia’s side; and yet, strange and incomprehensible as it
seems to sober retrospect, he failed to convince even himself. After
discussions innumerable and of the stormiest sort, Pennia began to doubt
and to hesitate, and finally he and all his family became strenuous and,
there is no reason to doubt, honest supporters of Sabbathai. Still the
tumults which had been provoked, though they could not rouse the
multitude to a doubt of their Deliverer, did awake in them a desire that
he should deign to demonstrate his power to unbelievers, and a cry,
comic or pathetic as we take it, broke forth for a miracle--a
simultaneous prayer for something, anything, supernatural. It was
embarrassing; and Sabbathai, one old chronicler gravely remarks, was
‘horribly puzzled for a miracle.’ But in a moment the cynical humour of
the man came to his help, and where the true prophet, in honest
humility, might have hesitated, with ‘Lord, I cannot speak; I am a
child,’ on his lips, our charlatan was ready and self-possessed and
equal to the occasion. With solemn gait and rapt gaze, which, as a
contemporary record expresses it, he had ‘starcht on,’ Sabbathai stood
for some seconds silent; then, suddenly throwing up his hands to heaven,
‘Behold!’ he exclaimed in thrilling accents, ‘see you not yon pillar of
fire?’ And the expectant crowd turned, and in their eager, almost
hysterical, excitement many believed they saw, and many, who did not
see, doubted their sight and not the vision. Those who looked and looked
in vain were silent, hardly daring to own that to their unworthy eyes
the blessed assurance had been denied. So Sabbathai returned to his home
in triumph. No further miracles were asked or needed, and doubters in
his Messiahship were henceforth accounted by the synagogue as heretics
and infidels and fit subjects for excommunication. In his character of
prophet no religious ceremonial was henceforth considered complete
without the presence of Sabbathai, and in his character of prince and
leader unlimited wealth was at his command. Here, however, came in the
one redeeming point. Sabbathai’s ambition had no taint of avarice about
it. He took of no man’s gold and of no woman’s jewels, though both were
laid unstintingly at his feet. And then, suddenly, at this period of his
greatest success, subtly appreciating, it may be, the wisdom of taking
fortune at the flood, Sabbathai announced his intention of leaving
Smyrna, and the month of January, 1667, saw him embark in a small
coasting-vessel bound for Constantinople. Here a reception altogether
unexpected and unprophesied was awaiting him. There had been great
weeping and lamentation among the disciples he left, and there was
proportionately great rejoicing among the larger community his
presence was to favour, for, by virtue of the curious system of
intercommunication which has always prevailed among the dispersed race,
the news of Sabbathai’s movements and intentions spread quickly and in
ever-widening circles. It reached at length some ears which had not been
reckoned upon, and penetrated to a brain which had preserved its
balance. The Sultan of Turkey, Mahomet IV., heard of this expected
visitor to his capital, and when, after nine-and-thirty days of stormy
passage, the sea-sick prophet was entering the port, the first thing he
saw was two State barges, fully manned, putting out to meet him. It may
be hoped that he was too sea-sick to indulge in any audible predictions,
or to put in sonorous words any bright dream born of that brief glimpse
of a brother potentate hastening to greet his spiritual sovereign. For
any such prophecy would have been all too rudely and too quickly
falsified. It was as prisoner, not as prophet, that Sabbathai was to
enter Constantinople, and a dungeon, not a palace, was his destination.
The Sultan had indeed heard of the worse than mid-summer madness that
had seized on his Jewish subjects throughout the Turkish Empire, and he
proceeded to stay the plague with a prompt high-handedness which a
Grand Vizier out of _The Arabian Nights_ could hardly have excelled. For
two long months Sabbathai was kept a close prisoner in uncomfortable
quarters in Constantinople, and was from thence transferred to a cell in
the Castle of Abydos. Of the effects of this imperial reception on the
prophet himself we shall judge in the sequel, but its effects on his
followers were, strange to say, not at all depressing. To these faithful
deluded folks their hero behind prison bars gained only a halo of
martyrdom. Was it not fitting that the Servant of Israel should be
‘acquainted with grief’? The dangerous sentiment of pity added itself to
the passion of love and faith, and pilgrims from all parts--Poland,
Venice, Amsterdam--hurried to the city as if it were a shrine. Sabbathai
took up the _rôle_, and by gentle proclamation bestowed the blessings
and the promises which had been hitherto showered down in set speeches.
And so the madness grew, till a sordid element crept into it, and at
first, curiously enough, this also increased it. In the crowd, thus
attracted to the neighbourhood, the Turks saw an opportunity for making
money. The price of lodging and provision for the pilgrims was
constantly raised, and by degrees a sight of Sabbathai or a word from
him came to be quite a source of income to his guards. The necessary
element of secrecy about such transactions acted, both directly and
indirectly, as fuel to the flames. The Jews in the spread of the faith
and in their immunity from persecution saw Divine interposition, while
the Turks naturally favoured Sabbathai’s pretensions, and continued to
raise their prices to each new batch of believers. But complaints were
bound in time to reach headquarters. The overcrowding and excitement was
a danger to the Turkish inhabitants of Constantinople, and among the
Jews themselves Sabbathai’s success begat at length a more disturbing
element than doubt. A rival Messiah came forward in a certain Nehemiah
Cohen, a learned rabbi from Poland. A sort of twin Messiahship seems
first to have suggested itself to these worthies. Nehemiah, under the
title of Ben Ephraim, was to fulfil the probationary part of the
prophecies on the subject, and Sabbathai, as Ben David, to take the
triumphant close and climax. So much was agreed upon, when Sabbathai,
who was still a prisoner, became a little apprehensive of a possible
change of parts by Nehemiah, who was at large. Disputes ensued, and
ended in an appeal by Sabbathai to the community. A renewed vote of
confidence in their native hero was recorded, and Nehemiah’s claims to
a partnership were altogether and summarily rejected. His own
pretensions thus disallowed, Nehemiah at once turned round and hastened
to denounce the insincerity of the whole affair to such of the Turkish
officials as would listen to him. He was backed up by a very few of the
wise men of his own community who had managed to keep their honest
doubts in spite of the general madness; and presently by much effort a
messenger was despatched to Adrianople, where Mahomet IV. was holding
his Court, with full particulars of Sabbathai’s latest doings. The
Sultan listened to the story, and was literally and ludicrously true to
the strictest traditional ideal of what one may call the sack and
bowstring system, and there is no doubt that, in this instance,
substantial justice was secured by it.

Without excuse or ceremonial of any sort, without farewell from the
friends he left or greetings from the curious throng which awaited him,
Sabbathai was hurried into Adrianople, and within an hour of his
arrival, deposited, limp and apprehensive, in the presence-chamber. The
giant’s robe seemed to be slipping visibly from his shaking shoulders
as, sternly desired to give an account of himself, he, the glib
cosmopolitan prophet, begged for an interpreter. Without comment on
this sudden and surprising failure in the gift of tongues the request
was granted; and patiently, silently, Court and Sultan stroked their
beards and listened to the marvellous tale which was unfolded. Were they
doubtful, or convinced? Was he after all to triumph? It almost seemed so
as the story ended, and the expectant hush was broken by the Sultan
quietly requesting a miracle. Wild thoughts of a lucky stroke of
legerdemain, which should recover all, must have instantly occurred to
this other-world adventurer. But no audaciously summoned pillar of fire
would here have served his turn; the astute Sultan meant to choose his
own miracle.

‘Thou shalt not be afraid ... of the arrow that flieth by day. A
thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand, but
it shall not come nigh unto thee.’ In the most literal and most liberal
meaning the pseudo-prophet was requested to interpret these words of his
national poet. He was to strip, said the Sultan, and to let the archers
shoot at him, and thus make manifest in his own flesh his confidence in
his own assumptions.

Not for one moment did Sabbathai hesitate. A man’s behaviour at a
supreme crisis in his life is not determined by the sudden need. It is
not to a single, sudden trumpet-call that character responds, but to
the tone set by daily uncounted matin and evensong. Sabbathai was as
incapable of the heroic death as of the heroic life. It had been all a
game to him; the people’s passionate enthusiasm, that pitiful power of
theirs for seeing visions, were just points in the game--points in his
favour. And now the game was lost; he was cool enough to realise this at
a glance, and to seize upon the one move which he might yet make to his
own advantage. With a startling burst of calculated candour he owned to
it all, that he was no prophet, no Saviour, no willing ‘witness’ even;
only a historical Jew, and very much at the Sultan’s service.

Mahomet smiled. The tragedy of the situation was for the Jews; the
comedy, and it must have been irresistible, was his. Then after due
pause he gravely proceeded, that insomuch as Sabbathai’s pretensions to
Palestine were an infringement on Turkish vested rights in that
province, the repentant prophet must give an earnest of his recovered
loyalty as a Turkish subject by turning Turk and abjuring Judaism
altogether. And cheerfully enough Sabbathai assented, audaciously adding
that such a change had been long desired by him, and that he eagerly and
respectfully welcomed this opportunity of making his first profession
of faith as a Mahometan in the presence of Mahomet’s namesake and
temporal representative.

And thus the scene, at which one knows not whether to laugh or cry, was
over; and when the curtain rises again it is on the merest and most
exasperating commonplace--on Sabbathai, fat and turbaned, living and
dying as a respectable Turk. For the actors behind the scenes, there was
never any call, neither to hail a Saviour nor to mourn a martyr. For
them, this puzzling bit of passion-play was just a mirage in the
wilderness of their lives; and for many and many a weary year foolish
and faithful folk debated whether it was mirage or reality. For his
dupes survived him, this sorry impostor of the seventeenth century; and
their illusion, hoping all things, believing all things, withered into
delusion and died hard. Such faculty perhaps, for all its drawbacks,
gives staying-power to man or nation. It is where there is no vision
that the people perish.



‘The old order changeth, giving place to new,’ and many and bewildering
have been such changes since the daughters of Zelophehad trooped down
before the elders of Israel to plead for women’s rights. The claim of
those five fatherless, husbandless sisters to ‘have a possession among
the brethren of our father’ has been brought, and has been answered
since in a thousand different ways, but the chivalrous spirit in which
it was met then seems, in a subtle sort of way, to symbolise the
attitude of Israel to unprotected womanhood, and to suggest the type of
character which ensured such ready and respectful consideration. It is
curious and interesting in these modern days to take up what Heine
called the ‘family chronicle of the Jews,’ and to find, as in a long
gallery of family portraits, the type repeating itself through every
variety of ‘treatment’ and costume. Clear and distinct they stand out,
the long line of our Jewish maids and matrons, not ‘faultily faultless’
by any means, yet presenting in their vigorous lovableness a delightful
continuity of wholesome womanhood, an unbroken line of fit claimants for
fitting woman’s rights.

Foremost among all heroines of all love tales comes, of course, she
whose long wooing seemed ‘but as a few days’ to her young lover, so
strong and so steadfast was the worship she won. To the young, that
maiden ‘by the well’s mouth’ will stand always for favourite text and
familiar illustration, but to older folks the sad-eyed _mater dolorosa_
of the Old Testament is to the full as interesting and as suggestive an
ideal. One pictures her with sackcloth for sole couch and covering
spread upon the bare rocks, selfless and tireless, through the heat of
early harvest days till chill autumn rains ‘dropped upon them,’ scaring
‘the birds of the air and the beasts of the field’ from her unburied
dead. And then, as corrective to the pathos of Rizpah and the romance of
Rachel, the sweet, homely figure of Ruth is at hand to suggest a whole
volume of virtues of the comfortable, everyday sort; the one character,
perhaps, in all story who ever addressed an impassioned outburst of
affection to her mother-in-law, and then lived up to it. But the
solitariness of the circumstance notwithstanding, and for all the fact
that she was a Moabitess born, Ruth, in the practical nature of her good
qualities, is a typical Jewish heroine. For what strikes one most in the
record of these long ago dead women is that there is so much sense in
their sentiment, so much backbone to their gentleness and
simple-mindedness. They do little things in a great way instead of
attacking great things feebly. Their womanhood in its entire naturalness
belongs to no especial school, fits in to no especial groove of thought.
The same peg serves for a Solomon or a Wordsworth, for an aphorism or a
sonnet. The woman whose ‘price was above rubies,’ and she who was

            ‘Not too great or good
    For human nature’s daily food,’

might either have stood for the other’s likeness; and if the test of
poetry be, as Goethe says, the substance which remains when the poetry
is reduced to prose, the test of an ideal woman may be perhaps how she
would translate into reality. The ‘family chronicle’ stands the test,
and a dozen instances of it at once occur to memory. Michal, with her
husband in danger, does not wait to weep nor to exclaim, but, strong of
heart as of hand, helps him to escape, and, ready of resource, by her
quick, deft arrangement of the bedchamber, gains time to baffle his
pursuers. Hannah, for all her holy enthusiasm, is mindful of the bodily
needs of her embryo prophet, and as she comes with her husband to offer
the ‘yearly sacrifice’ at Shiloh, brings with her the ‘little coat’
which she has made for the boy, and which, we may be quite sure, she has
remembered to make a little bigger each time. Nor less, in her
far-sighted scheming for her favourite son, is Rebekah heedless of
‘human nature’s daily food.’ For all her concentration of thought on
great issues she remembers to make ready ‘the savoury meat such as his
father loved’ before she sends Jacob to the critical interview. It is
altogether with something of a shock that we ponder on that curious
development. The scheming, unscrupulous wife seems quite other than the
simple country maiden with her quick assent to the grave young husband
whom she was able to ‘comfort after his mother’s death.’ Was that
pretty, frank ‘I will go’ of hers only unconventional, one wonders, or
perhaps just a trifle unfeeling, foreshadowing in the young girl, so
ready to leave her home, a rather rootless state of affections, an
Undine-like indifference to old ties? That touch of the carefully
prepared dinner at any rate makes us smile as we sigh, putting us _fin
de siècle_ folks, as it does, in touch with tent life, and keeping the
traditions of home influence unaltered through the ages.

In Lord Burleigh’s _Precepts to his Son for the Well-Ordering of a Mans
Life_, occurs the direction, ‘Thou wilt find to thy great grief there is
nothing more fulsome than a she-fool.’ It is an axiom almost as pregnant
of meaning as its author’s famous nod, and seems to suggest as possible
that the proverbial harmony of the Jewish domestic circle may be in a
measure due to its comparative immunity from she-fools. The women of
Israel, _pur sang_, it is certain, are rarely noisy or assertive, and
have at all times been more ready to realise their responsibilities than
their ‘rights.’ In their woman’s kingdom, comprehending its limits and
not wasting its opportunities, they have been content to reign and not
to govern, and neither exceptional power nor exceptional intellect have
affected this position. The pretty young Queen of Persia, we read, for
all her new dignities, ‘did the commandment of Mordecai as when she was
brought up with him,’ and Miriam with her timbrel and Deborah under her
palm-tree might have been unconscious illustrative anachronisms of a
very profound saying, so well content were they to ‘make their country’s
songs’ and to leave it to Moses to ‘make the laws.’ The one-man rule has
been always fully and freely acknowledged in Israel, and in the ideal
sketch as in the real portraits of its womankind, her ‘husband,’ her
‘children,’ her ‘clothing,’ and the ‘ways of her household’ are supreme
features. ‘To do a man,’ one man, ‘good and not evil all the days of his
life,’ may seem to modern maidens a somewhat limited ambition, but it is
just to remember that to this typical woman comes full permission to
indulge in her ‘own works’ and encouragement ‘to speak with merchants
from afar,’ a habit this, one ventures to think, which would open up
even to Girton and Newnham graduates extended powers of conversation and
correspondence in their own and foreign languages. And, withal, that
pretty saying of an elderly and prosaic Rabbi, ‘I do not call my wife,
wife, but home,’ has poetry and practicality too, to recommend it. For
in so far as there is truth in the dictum, that ‘men will be always what
women please, that if we want men to be great and good, we must teach
women what greatness and goodness are,’ there really seems a good deal
to be said for the old-fashioned type we have been considering, and
certainly some comfort to be found in the fact that against the _ewig
weibliche_ time itself is powerless. Realities may shift and vary, but
ideals for the most part stand fast, and thus, despite all superficial
differences, in essentials the situation is unchanged between those
daughters of the desert and our daughters of to-day. Now, as then, the
claim is allowed to a rightful ‘possession among their brethren.’

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty at the Edinburgh
University Press


 [1] Talmud, Yoma 356.

 [2] The extracts marked thus (1) were done into verse from the German
 of Geiger, by the late Amy Levy.

 [3] From Atonement Service.

 [4] Hebrew for Toledo.

 [5] Alcharisi.

 [6] E. B. Browning.

 [7] No authority gives it later than 1140.

 [8] Rabbi Seira.

 [9] ‘The Lord God doth like a printer who setteth the letters
 backward; we see and feel well His setting, but the print we shall see
 yonder in the life to come.’--Luther’s _Table Talk_.

 [10] Gütle Rothschild, née Schnapper, died May 7, 1849. Her eldest
 son, Amschel Meyer Rothschild, was born June 12, 1773, died December
 6, 1855.

 [11] Written in 1882.

 [12] The translation is by the late Amy Levy.

 [13] Messrs. Campe and Hoffmann erected their new offices during the
 publication (not too well paid) of the poet’s works.

 [14] Matthew Arnold, _Heinrich Heine_.

 [15] The Exhibition of 1855.

 [16] Written in 1882.

 [17] Short declaration of belief in Unity (Deut. vi. 4).

 [18] ‘Old Pictures from Florence.’

 [19] _On Heroes_: Lect. vi., ‘The Hero as King,’ p. 342.

 [20] _Cromwell_, vol. ii. p. 359.

 [21] Some chroniclers fix it so early as 1653.

 [22] From ‘Declaration to the Commonwealth of England.’

 [23] Jeremiah xxix. 7.

 [24] In 1369.

 [25] Maimonides, in his well-known digest of Talmudic laws relating to
 the poor, uniformly employs _tzedakah_ in the sense of ‘alms.’

 [26] חטא יךאי (_yeree chet_). These ultra-sensitive folks seem to
 have feared that in direct relief they might be imposed on and so
 indirectly become encouragers of wrong-doing, or unnecessarily hurt
 the feelings of the poor by too rigid inquiries.

 [27] We read, in mediæval times, of the existence of wide ‘extensions’
 of this system of relief. In a curious old book, published in the
 seventeenth century, by a certain Rabbi Elijah ha Cohen ben Abraham,
 of Smyrna, we find a list drawn up of Jewish charities to which, as
 he says, ‘all pious Jews contribute.’ These modes of satisfying ‘the
 hungry soul’ are over seventy in number, and of the most various
 kinds. They include the lending of money and the lending of books,
 the payment of dowries and the payment of burial charges, doctors’
 fees for the sick, legal fees for the unjustly accused, ransom for
 captives, ornaments for bribes, and wet nurses for orphans.

 [28] Spanish Jews often had their coffins made from the wood of the
 tables at which they had sat with their unfashionable guests.

 [29] This custom had survived into quite modern times--to cite only
 the well-known case of Mendelssohn, who, coming as a penniless
 student to Berlin, received his Sabbath meals in the house of one
 co-religionist, and the privilege of an attic chamber under the roof
 of another.

 [30] William Blake.

 [31] Shimei.

 [32] In the correspondence with Lavater.

 [33] Better known to scholars as Dr. Aaron Solomon Gompertz.

 [34] Later, the noted publisher of that name.

 [35] Fromet was the affectionate diminutive of _Fromm_--pious. Pet
 names of this sort were common at that time; we often come across a
 Gütle or Schönste or the like.

 [36] _Jerusalem, oder über religiöse Macht und Judenthum._

 [37] _Morgenstunden, oder Vorlesungen über das Daseyn Gottes._

 [38] _Phædon, oder über die Unsterblichkeit der Seele._

 [39] The whole correspondence can be read in _Memoirs of Moses
 Mendelssohn_, by M. Samuels, published in 1827.

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