HEINRICH HEINE: A PLEA

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
endure.

‘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
them.

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
life.

‘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
world.’

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.

THE STORY OF A STREET

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.

HEINRICH HEINE: A PLEA

‘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
publishers?’[13]

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_?

DANIEL DERONDA AND HIS JEWISH CRITICS

_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
book?

‘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
dispensations.

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’

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