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Imperfect Sympathies

Jews and Judaism in British Romantic

Literature and Culture

Judith W. Page
© Judith W. Page, 2004
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Page, Judith W. 1951–
Imperfect sympathies : British romanticism, Jews, and Judaism /
Judith W. Page.
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0–312–29570–7 (alk. paper)
1. English literature—19th century—History and criticism.
2. Jews in literature. 3. Judaism and literature—Great Britain—
History—19th century. 4. English literature—Jewish authors—
History and criticism. 5. Jews—Great Britain—Intellectual
life—19th century. 6. Romanticism—Great Britain.
7. Sympathy in literature. 8. Judaism in literature. I. Title.

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For my parents
for Bill, Rebekah, and Hannah
“But for those first affection s . . .”
“And who, Rebecca,” replied the Grand Master, “will lay lance in rest for
a sorceress? Who will be the champion of a Jewess?”
“God will raise me a champion,” said Rebecca. “It cannot be that in
merry England, the hospitable, the generous, the free, where so many are
ready to peril their lives for honour, there will not be found one to fight
for justice.”
—Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (423–24)

“And a stranger shall you not oppress,” says Exodus 23, verse 8, “for you
know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of
Egypt.” There stands the parable; there stands the sacred metaphor of
belonging, one heart to another. Without the metaphor of memory and
history, we cannot imagine the life of the Other. We cannot imagine what
it is to be someone else. Metaphor is the reciprocal agent, the universal-
izing force: it makes possible the power to envision the stranger’s heart.
—Cynthia Ozick, “Metaphor and Memory” (279)

Modern cultural morality is well summed up by Wordsworth when he

defines genius as “widening the sphere of human sensibility for the
delight, honor and benefit of human nature.” This doctrine, linking
genius to the sympathetic imagination, sees the progress of humanity in
terms of an ability to feel for others, a progress facilitated by a faculty that
can acknowledge—represent from the inside—situations different from
one’s own. Allowing into serious public representation an eighteenth-
century “underclass”—a mad mother, an infanticide, an idiot boy, a
homeless woman, a destitute shepherd, an old and disabled servant—
constitutes an advance in realism based on that widening sensibility.
—Geoffrey H. Hartman, “The Sympathy Paradox:
Poetry, Feeling, and Modern Cultural Morality” (141)
C on t e n t s

Illustrations vi
Acknowledgments vii
Preface xi

1. Introduction: Jews and the Romantic Culture of Sympathy 1

2. Blessing and Curse: Imaginary Jews and Romantic Texts 21
3. Reinventing Shylock: Romanticism and the
Representation of Shakespeare’s Jew 53
4. Hyman Hurwitz’s Hebrew Tales (1826): Redeeming
the Talmudic Garden 81
5. Judith Montefiore’s Private Journal (1827): Jerusalem
and Jewish Memory 105
6. Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington (1817): Jews,
Storytelling, and the Challenge of Moral Education 133
7. “Nor yet redeemed from scorn”: Wordsworth and the Jews 159
8. “The Historical Moment”: Jewish Scholars and Romanticism 179

Notes 207
Bibliography 231
Index 249

2.1 Robert Cruikshank, New Scene from an Old Farce of The Jew
and the Doctor. March 1828. Courtesy of the Library of
the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. 24
2.2 Anon. Devotion in Duke’s Place, or Contractors returning
thanks for a Loan. 1818. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish
Theological Seminary of America. 32
2.3 Thomas Rowlandson, Family Quarrels or The Jew and The
Gentile. 1803. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish
Theological Seminary of America. 45
3.1 Sketch of Edmund Kean as Shylock, by George Hayter.
Courtesy of a private collection. 58
5.1 Mount of Olives and Jerusalem, by William Bartlett,
1830s/1840s. 111
5.2 “Lady Montefiore when young, copied from an oil painting
in the Montefiore College, Ramsgate.” Copied from Diaries
of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore. 124

I have such a long list of debts that I hardly know where to begin. My
greatest intellectual debt is to the scholars who have written the books
and asked the questions that have made my work possible. I hope that
my argument and my bibliography reflect my gratitude to so many
scholars and critics.
Closer to home, David Leverenz and Elise Smith read and
commented on the entire manuscript, providing me with such expert
editorial advice that I should be embarrassed by the mistakes that
remain. Leah Hochman enriched my knowledge of Judaism and moder-
nity through her own work and her generous conversations with me. As
editor and mentor, Marilyn Gaull has been a continuing source of
advice and support, for which I am most grateful. My student assistant,
Traci Klass, bore with my lapses in word processing and helped bring
order to a wildly formatted manuscript.
As always, my greatest debt is to my family. My husband Bill has
been my first reader and my invaluable supporter for more years than
either of us would care to acknowledge. For this project, he was also my
first source for all questions pertaining to Judaism, and a tireless respon-
dent to my ideas, day or night. I cannot adequately thank him for all
that he is and does, so I will leave it at that. In addition to the life-long
support of my parents, my mother, Mollie Marcus Wallick, read and
commented on the manuscript at various stages. I always benefited from
her acuity, and always welcomed her enthusiasm. I dedicate this book to
my parents, my husband, and my daughters Rebekah and Hannah, with
love and gratitude, knowing full well that they have kept me grounded
and whole.
The following friends and colleagues commented on parts of the
manuscript, or talked with me about the project, or shared their ideas
at some stage of my work: Richard Brantley, Luisa Calé, James
Chandler, Patricia Craddock, Michael Galchinsky, Pamela Gilbert, Bruce
Graver, Anthony Harding, Elizabeth Helsinger, Leah Hochman, Anne
Mellor, Greg Miller, Melvyn New, Meri-Jane Rochelson, Cynthia
viii / acknowledgments

Scheinberg, Mark Schoenfield, Sheila Spector, Trysh Travis, and Astrid

Wind. I thank Harold Bloom, Morris Dickstein, Geoffrey Hartman,
and Lawrence Lipking for personal correspondence, particularly
Geoffrey Hartman for a series of generous responses to a stranger. While
I was still at Millsaps College, members of the Works in Progress Group
commented on my nascent ideas on Romanticism and Judaism: I espe-
cially thank Michael Galchinsky, Paula Garrett, Anne MacMaster,
Robert McElvaine, Steven Smith, Elise Smith, and Sandy Zale for early
conversations and friendly debates. I am indebted to audiences at vari-
ous meetings of NASSR, MLA, and NCS, as well as audiences at
Millsaps College and the Universities of Florida and Oxford. My
students in Jewish Studies and English at the University of Florida have
also shaped my thinking on Romanticism and Judaism.
Several institutions made my work possible. I thank the Oxford
Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies for awarding me a Skirball
Fellowship for the spring of 2003, which gave me the time and resources
to complete this book. I am grateful to the Centre and to my remark-
able colleagues there for their collegiality and warmth during my five-
month stay. I am also indebted to Ken Wald and the Center for Jewish
Studies at the University of Florida for supporting this project and to the
Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for
granting me leave in 2003. Finally, Millsaps College supported travel to
London at the earliest stages of my research, even before I knew that I
was working on a book. At Millsaps, I always depended on the generous
assistance of Buddie Louise Hetrick.
I have had the privilege of working at many libraries and especially
thank the librarians at the Bodleian and the Jewish Studies Library at
University College, London for support in the United Kingdom. Robert
Singerman, librarian of the Price Library of Judaica at the University of
Florida, has always had a lead if not an outright answer, and John Van
Hook of Library West, University of Florida, has been a great help and
source of information. Tom Henderson, director of the Millsaps College
library, helped me track down some difficult sources in the early stages
of this project.
I gratefully acknowledge permissions from Victorian Literature and
Culture and Cambridge University Press to reprint a version of “Judith
Montefiore’s Private Journal (1827): Jerusalem and Jewish Memory”
(1999), 125–41, in chapter 5; and from the Journal of English and
Germanic Philology to reprint a version of “ ‘Nor yet redeem’d from
scorn’: Wordsworth and the Jews” (October 2000), 437–54, in chapter 7.
acknowledgments / ix

Thanks also to The Wordsworth Circle, for allowing me to reprint a

version of “Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington: From Shylock to Shadowy
Peddlers” (Winter 2001), 9–13, in chapter 7; and a version of “ ‘Hath
not a Jew eyes?’: Edmund Kean and the Sympathetic Shylock” (Spring
2003), 116–19, in chapter 3; and to Palgrave for “Hyman Hurwitz’s
Hebrew Tales (1826): Restoring the Talmudic Garden,” British
Romanticism and the Jews: History, Culture, Literature, ed. Sheila A.
Spector (2002), 197–213, in chapter 4.
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Like many long projects, this one began with a short question: What did
William Wordsworth think of Jews? I first posed this question when I
discovered that Wordsworth’s daughter Dora Wordsworth had written
in her unpublished 1828 travel journal about an encounter with Jews
that inspired Wordsworth to write his poem “A Jewish Family.” My
initial interest centered on the differences between Dora’s vision of this
family and William’s rendition in his poem. My curiosity soon led me
to realize that I knew little about this aspect of Wordsworth’s thinking
and even less about the attitudes of his contemporaries. Nor did my
immediate research yield much insight, for with the exception of some
work on Ivanhoe and some older studies on stereotyping in literature,
there was very little on the subject of Romanticism and Judaism, even
though there were some compelling studies of Judaism and literature in
later and earlier periods.
As I began to think about the representation of Jews in canonical
writers of the period, I discovered the mostly unpublished writings of
Judith Montefiore, an observant Jew, who was the wife of the philan-
thropist Moses Montefiore and the first Anglo-Jewish woman to record
a visit to what is now Israel. So, I began researching the representation
of Jews in Romantic literature and previously neglected or little known
Jewish writers of the period at the same time, modeling my project on
the familiar feminist critique: reinterpretation and discovery. What had
been a blank page for me began to take shape as a book that not only
posed the question about Wordsworth and his contemporaries but also
sought to uncover unconventional and noncanonical Jewish writers.
At the same time, I taught a new course in Romanticism and Judaism
in the spring of 2001. The process of putting together a 450-page course
pack and planning a course for students in English and Jewish Studies
at the University of Florida also moved this project along. My students
in this first class and subsequent ones helped me think through many of
the issues and questions as we worked our way through The Merchant
of Venice and moved forward into the late eighteenth and early
preface / xii

nineteenth centuries, Shakespeare’s play and Shylock serving as a

cultural touchstone. The students were surprised to learn about the
history and culture of the Jews in England, since for most of them
Jewish history and anti-Semitism began with a shadowy awareness of the
Holocaust and ended with neo-Nazis. Nor had they thought much
about the connection between Christianity and anti-Semitism.
This book, then, responds to my questions about Romanticism and
Judaism and tells a larger audience the story that my students have
found compelling. There are several fine studies of Jewish subjects in
earlier and later British literature, including James Shapiro’s Shakespeare
and the Jews at one end and Anthony Julius’ T. S. Eliot and Anti-
Semitism at the other. Over the last fifteen or so years, beginning with
Anne Mellor’s Romanticism and Feminism (1988), works of feminist crit-
icism have reinterpreted the period and introduced readers to a signifi-
cant and ever-developing group of women writers. My 1994 book,
Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women, added one perspective to this
reinterpretation. Scholars have also mapped the intersections of
Romanticism with African slaves, Native Americans, and Gypsies. Since
I began this project, Sheila A. Spector’s groundbreaking edition of essays
by various scholars, British Romanticism and the Jews, has appeared. As
these essays demonstrate, the intersection of Romanticism and Judaism
is centrally important to the period because the increasing visibility of
Jews in British culture coincides with the revolutionary movements and
the political struggles that frame the period, including the larger ques-
tions of citizenship, nationhood, and modernity. Spector argues in her
introduction that the essays demonstrate the significant interrelation-
ships between the “two cultures”—mainstream British culture and the
Jewish community. My book develops this position and also argues that
Jews and Judaism test the efficacy of the Romantic faith in the sympa-
thetic imagination and its implied ideal of an inclusive community. I see
sympathy, a fundamental ideal of Romantic aesthetics, ethics, and poli-
tics, as central to understanding the place of Jews in Romanticism.
Where Jews “fit” in the multicultural mix of Britain in part depended on
how sympathetically—or not—Britons viewed and represented them.
As Spector’s collection makes clear, Jews played various roles in the
shaping of Britain during the period. Todd Endelman’s The Jews of
Georgian England, 1714–1830 (1979) has demonstrated the active life
of Jews in Georgian England, particularly the colorful history of
peddlers, prize fighters, thespians, honest men, and thieves. In Jewish
Enlightenment in a New Key (2001), David Ruderman argues that in the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Jews in Britain had a
xiii / preface

Haskalah or Enlightenment, and that a lively discourse developed

among literate Jews and with non-Jews as well. I argue that Jewish voices
contributed more to the literary culture than the representation of Jews
in texts by non-Jews might indicate.
By studying Romanticism and Judaism in this context of history and
culture, I want to appeal to students and scholars with an interdiscipli-
nary bent. I read the literature closely, with attention to aesthetic detail,
but I also ask questions that depend on various contexts of Judaism—its
history as a religion and a cultural identity. Although grounded in litera-
ture, I approach this work with an interdisciplinary curiosity. This inter-
disciplinarity reveals several paradoxes: for instance, while many writers
attempt to bring their sympathetic imaginations to the portrayal of Jews,
the work of popular culture and religious and literary traditions relent-
lessly reinforces negative stereotypes and breathes new life into the most
vicious ones. A fascinating cultural dissonance results from this contra-
diction. I have tried to be alert to many such paradoxes in the study of
British Romanticism and Judaism. This book, in fact, encompasses not
just the representation of Jews in Romantic literature, but also the self-
presentation of Jews in writing and other cultural activities, as well as the
way in which an awareness of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness in the period
helps to shape the discipline of Romanticism as we know it today.
I completed this book during a stay at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew
and Jewish Studies in Yarnton, an ancient village about four or five miles
from the steeples of Oxford and its world of colleges. In preparing for
this visit, I reread Jan Morris’s Oxford, as well as several other books on
the city, the university, and the region. Two passages from the end of
Morris’ book, first written in 1965, resonated with me:
The Oxford Jews are buried nowadays in Wolvercote cemetery and they
have a modern synagogue in Nelson Street, on the edge of Jericho [a
section of the city]. Though its architecture is engagingly modest, a
service can still evocatively suggest the old separateness of Jewishness, its
shuttered pride and oriental origins. On a Saturday morning the streets
of Jericho are usually cheerfully animated . . . .
Through all this homely activity the Jews pass in their dark suits; and
through the doors of the synagogue they go, bowing to their friends and
murmuring Sabbath greetings: and there inside the grand irrepressible
rites of Judaism are performed, the ancient chants are chanted once more,
the scrolls gravely processed, and hunched beside the prayer-desk, like
officers pondering a tricky navigational problem, the courteous young
men worry their way through the sacred texts. (236)

What struck me was how outdated the descriptions were, how unlike
my own experience of visiting that synagogue. The descriptions seem to
preface / xiv

derive from received notions of Jewish mysteries and exotic origins

rather than a living sense of Jewish life: the old separateness, the strange
manner of prayer, and so on. Having completed my own study, I believe
this description could have been written by a well-meaning gentile a
century and a half earlier. My book provides some explanation of why
this might be, as well as alternate models for understanding Jewish expe-
rience in the Romantic period and beyond.
I have organized this book in order to highlight theoretical issues,
historical realities, and literary manifestations. Chapter 1 introduces the
cultural and literary implications of the concept of sympathy. Chapter 2
complicates the discussion by looking at the way a variety of texts repre-
sent Jews and Judaism, while chapter 3 focuses on the particular issue of
the representation of Shakespeare’s Shylock. In chapters 4 and 5, I intro-
duce two very different Jewish writers of the period, Hyman Hurwitz
and Judith Montefiore, to consider the ways in which Jews negotiated
their own identities. Chapters 6 and 7 return the focus to better-known,
non-Jewish authors, Maria Edgeworth and William Wordsworth, both
of whom represent Jews and Judaism and formulate ideas on sympathy.
Finally, in chapter 8, I bring my story into the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries, teasing out the connections between Romanticism and
Jewish scholars and critics.

A Note on Terminology
I have used “anti-Semitism” as a general term to refer to hostility toward
Jews, although I am aware that the term itself is an anachronism for the
Romantic period. The Encyclopedia Judaica explains that the term was
“coined in 1879 . . . by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to designate
the then-current anti-Jewish campaigns in Europe. ‘Anti-Semitism’
soon came into general use as a term denoting all forms of hostility
manifested toward Jews throughout history” (3: 87). I follow this
common practice in referring to derogatory and demeaning attitudes
toward Jews and Jewish culture, even before 1879. When I refer specif-
ically to hostility to the Jewish religion, particularly in relationship to
Christianity, I use the term “anti-Judaism.”
C h ap t e r 1
Introduction: Jews and the
Romantic Culture of Sympathy

His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and
sometimes felt a wish to console him: but when I looked upon him, when
I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my
feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred. I tried to stifle these
sensations: I thought, that as I could not sympathize with him, I had no
right to withhold from him the small portion of happiness which was yet
in my power to bestow.
—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein (2:9, 119)

The other day I was floored by a Jew. He passed me several times, crying
for old clothes, in the most nasal and extraordinary tone that I ever heard.
At last, I was so provoked that I said to him, “Pray, why can’t you say ‘old
clothes’ in a plain way, as I do now?” The Jew stopped and looking very
gravely at me, said in a clear and even fine accent, “Sir, I can say ‘old
clothes’ as well as you can; but if you had to say it ten times a minute, for
an hour together, you would say ogh clo as I do now”; and so he marched
off. I was so confounded with the justice of his retort, that I followed and
gave him a shilling, the only one I had.
—Coleridge, Table Talk, July 7, 18301

In these passages, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Samuel Taylor
Coleridge stage scenes (one fictional, the other real) that reveal an
outsider eliciting sympathy by appealing to the spectator’s sense of right
or justice. Readers see Shelley’s monster through the eyes of Victor
Frankenstein, who struggles with the conflict between his failed sympa-
thy and his sense of the monster’s right to happiness. As readers of
Shelley’s fable know, Frankenstein’s failure to sympathize with “the filthy
mass” he has created leads to disaster for all involved. Frankenstein
creates a monster in more ways than one. Coleridge’s sympathy leads
him to a trivial act, but also to a more significant awareness about the
2 / imperfect sympathies

Jews around him. Coleridge’s confession, in fact, nicely sums up a whole

constellation of issues and responses relating to Jews in Romanticism,
and warrants a closer look.
Coleridge’s anecdote tells readers much about the response to Jewish
difference in England, even among the more enlightened. At first, the
scene appears to be about a complete lack of sympathy for the repeti-
tious and drudging work of the old-clothes man and contempt for his
foreign dialect, his inability to speak English clearly. But Coleridge
records something more interesting; he turns his anecdote into a lesson
in sympathy and justice. Coleridge has underestimated the old-clothes
man’s similarity to himself in language, understandably a deeply signifi-
cant issue to a poet. Yet he also discovers the man’s consciousness of his
situation, a crucial step toward fellow feeling. In turn, by acknowledg-
ing the man’s humanity, Coleridge learns from his encounter with a
particular Jew and tells a paradigmatic anecdote of the way that sympa-
thy depends on acknowledging the humanity of the Other. For the
moment at least, a sympathetic connection overcomes disgust or
ambivalence. Furthermore, the episode epitomizes the structure of a
sympathetic encounter: Coleridge comes face to face with his own fail-
ure to penetrate a veneer of strangeness, and succeeds in putting himself
in the place of the Jew he encounters. In Coleridge’s words, “he marched
off, I followed” in an effort to offer charity. Coleridge gives the man his
last shilling, thus turning his own mockery and even the potentially
commercial encounter into a spontaneous act of generosity. The Jewish
man has won his sympathy not by playing up to Coleridge but by chal-
lenging him. The greater symmetry in their relationship leads Coleridge
to thoughts of “the justice of his retort.”2
Much of the writing on Jews in the Romantic period touches either
directly or obliquely on the practical implications of the theory of the
sympathetic imagination, which Percy Shelley famously describes:

The great secret of morals is Love; or a going out of our own nature, and
an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought,
action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine
intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of
another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must
become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination;
and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.3

Percy Shelley’s idealized vision of sympathy does not even raise the issue
that Mary Shelley cannot completely resolve: How does one sympathize
with figures viewed as foreign or portrayed as unattractive? What are the
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 3

limits of sympathy? Does the very Otherness of the Jewish object

complicate the workings of the sympathetic imagination? My argument
here is that although sympathy for various outcasts and others is a wide-
ranging cultural ideal in the period (1770–1830), ideas about Jews and
Judaism do not enter British texts free of impediments—an author’s
own prejudices, cultural stereotypes, political ideologies, or the failure of
imagination. The texts that reveal these impediments or limitations are
often rich documents in the struggle between the sympathetic ideal and
the reality of Jewish experience in Britain. The result of this conflict is
often an imperfect sympathy and a text that cannot quite contain its
own representations.4
This book focuses on what happens when the object of the specta-
tor’s gaze is a Jew, or when the spectator himself or herself is Jewish or
sees from a Jewish perspective. These perspectives are relevant both
within the world of Romantic texts and in regard to modern critical
practices in reading them: any study of sympathy has to encompass the
affective responses of readers past and present. In what follows, I take
my cues from the Romantics themselves, for instance, from Hazlitt, who
poses the question of sympathy for Jews directly, or from Lamb, who
approaches it more obliquely and negatively. I argue that the Romantics
expand the notion of sympathy inherited from earlier writers by empha-
sizing the positive moral, ethical, and transformative value of sympa-
thetic identification with another. Furthermore, in its most extreme
manifestation, politically radical Romantics such as Hazlitt move the
ideal of sympathy past imaginative identification and even ethical
imperative into the realm of political advocacy—for example, for the
emancipation of the Jews. Hazlitt’s work concretely reminds the reader
of the connection between the culture of sympathy and “the spirit of the
age,” rooted in revolutionary political change in America and Europe.
But revolutions in politics and culture do not necessarily develop evenly,
and the culture of sympathy is no exception.
I argue that the “cultural revolution” of sympathy and sentiment in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries influenced the multi-
ple representations of Jews.5 I propose that Jews, or representations of
Jews, presented particular challenges to the ideal of sympathy so valued
in the period; the case of the Jews also represents the limitations of the
ideal of sympathy. This ideal encouraged writers to work through the
“problem” of extending sympathy in the face of prejudice, disgust, and
misunderstanding.6 In fact, of all the racial, religious, or ethnic Others
who enter into this dynamics of sympathy, Jews occupy a unique posi-
tion because they were particularly difficult to pin down: they were
4 / imperfect sympathies

mostly poor but they were also rich, they were foreign-looking but they
also simulated British gentility, they spoke English but not always the
King’s English. Jews were difficult to categorize and to place within
certain boundaries, unlike distant, colonized Others.7 If Romanticism
tended to romanticize the outcast, Jews made the process more difficult
because they were outcasts who were making inroads into the culture.
Jews were also in a strange position in relation to class sympathies.
Since most Jews were poor, one might think that the lower classes would
show sympathy for and solidarity with them. But popular representa-
tions of Jews and religious ideology militated against such sympathetic
bonds, and instead reinforced the suspicions associated with Otherness.
Likewise, the better-educated and more privileged Britons often
resented Jews both for their poverty and for their aspirations. When it
came to Jews, there was no hard and fast rule governing class allegiances.

The Culture of Sympathy

Following David Hume, Adam Smith presents the most comprehensive
early statement on the ideal of sympathy. Smith does not glorify the
imagination or make it the cornerstone of his aesthetics (as Percy Shelley
and Hazlitt will do), but he is careful to argue that the imagination plays
a crucial role in the process of sympathy, moving the spectator beyond
the senses and mediating between the empirical and projected worlds.
As Walter Jackson Bate explained in From Classic to Romantic, the
“yoking of empiricism and intuitionalism . . . was especially assumed by
critics who emphasized the importance of sympathetic participation”
(137). In perhaps the best-known passage from Theory of Moral
Sentiments (1757), Smith argues that

Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our
ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did,
and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagi-
nation only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.
Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by represent-
ing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. (9)

According to Smith, the imagination carries the spectator beyond his

own person by representing the situation of the observed. Smith’s situa-
tional psychology entails literary or theatrical mimesis.8
Smith presents his susceptible spectator as self-aware: “we must
become impartial spectators of our own character and conduct. We
must endeavor to view them with the eyes of other people, viewing them
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 5

with those very eyes with which we, in imagination only, were endeavoring
to view them” (114). In the process of sympathetic identification, the
spectator must imagine himself as the object of another spectator’s gaze.
As James Chandler has explained, “Smith outlines a form of subjectiv-
ity in which we are always at once potential spectators sympathetic with
the positions of others and potential agents aware that we may or may
not gain sympathy from those who observe what we do.”9 Likewise,
Michael Bell has recently described Smith’s impartial spectator as a kind
of “internal monitor” (44) that creates the self as the object of the impar-
tial observation of the other.10 Bell’s insight demonstrates that Smith’s
theory has less to do with “individual feeling” than with “an imagined
arena in which the subjectivities of all human others, and of the self,
are reconstructed in a manner which has to be both emotional and
judgemental [sic]” (44).11
Smith also introduces the aesthetics of sympathy, arguing that it is
easier to sympathize with a beautiful object. He privileges those
moments and situations in which a beautiful or diminutive object easily
wins the sympathy of the more privileged and powerful (male) viewer.
Following this line of thought, Percy Shelley says the sympathetic imag-
ination is based on “an identification of ourselves with the beautiful
which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own” (my emphasis,
517).12 In line with this aesthetic bias, the beautiful Rebecca in Ivanhoe
garners more sympathy than her father Isaac.
Both Smith and Hume distinguish between the more challenging
task of sympathy for the unattractive or alien and what in Hume’s words
(quoted by Nathaniel Brown) is the “easy sympathy” deriving from
“relation, acquaintance, and resemblance” (35). In other words, both
Hume and Smith recognize that it is easiest to sympathize with one’s
own kind or with a situation that one can imagine inhabiting. Jews did
not fit readily into these categories. If it was easy to sympathize with
likeness, it was particularly hard to be moved by the plight of human
objects who inspired disgust, resentment, or consternation. James
Beattie argued in Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783) that “we
sympathize with what we know; and the wider our knowledge and expe-
rience, the wider is the scope of our sympathy and the juster and more
accurate it is in perceiving the character and significance of its object”
(quoted in Bate, 136).13
Some writers who advocate sympathy define the term more broadly
than compassion or fellow feeling. Even Smith, although he is most
interested in sympathy as projection, reflection, and fellow feeling, does
distinguish: “Pity and compassion are words appropriated to signify our
6 / imperfect sympathies

fellow-feeling with the sorrow of others. Sympathy, though its meaning

was, perhaps, originally the same, may now, however, without much
impropriety, be made use of to denote our fellow-feeling with any
passion whatever” (10). Smith’s stylistic awkwardness here betrays
uneasiness about the extension of sympathy to passions other than pity
and compassion.
Maria Edgeworth also warns against unbridled sympathy on the
grounds that a person might sympathize with base passions: “A person
governed by sympathy alone must be influenced by the bad as well as
the good passions of others . . . .” (266).14 This passage from the chapter
“Of Sympathy and Sensibility” from Practical Education (1798), like all
of Edgeworth’s theorizing, arises in the context of pedagogy. Edgeworth
cautions that the road of unbridled sympathy, without the restraint of
reason, leads to excess and not wisdom: “The point of excess must be
marked: sympathy must be regulated by education and consequently
the methods directing sensibility to useful and amiable purposes must
be anxiously studied, by all who wish with either for the happiness or
virtue of their pupils” (269). Still, Edgeworth firmly argues her position
that both the head and the heart must be cultivated in a balanced way.
Edgeworth’s depiction of Jews and anti-Semitism is closely linked to
her understanding of the cultivation of sympathy and balancing the
passions in education. In Harrington (1817), Edgeworth demonstrates
the dangers of unbridled passions, which lead to ethnic and religious
hatred. Likewise, the judicious cultivation of sympathy and fellow feel-
ing contributes to the restoration of justice and order in this novel.
Aware of the aesthetics of sympathy, Edgeworth also cautions educators
that appearances bear a strong influence:

Children should not be taught to confine their benevolence to those

animals which are thought beautiful: the fear and disgust which we
express at the sight of certain unfortunate animals whom we are pleased
to call ugly and shocking, are observed by children, and these associations
lead to cruelty. If we do not prejudice our pupils by foolish exclamations,
if they do not from sympathy catch our absurd antipathies, their benev-
olence toward the animal world will not be illiberally confined to
favourite lapdogs, and singing birds. (283)

Although Edgeworth describes the feeling for animals, there is a power-

ful if unexpressed comparison to human relationships. Once again, it is
easy to feel sympathy for the beautiful—for lapdogs and singing birds;
but it is much harder to have compassion for bedraggled creatures (such
as Mary Shelley’s monster, a “filthy mass”) who are in greatest need of
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 7

compassion. Edgeworth urges educators to teach children the value of

benevolence for the “ugly and shocking,” for those creatures who make
projection difficult. She also directly cautions against “antipathies,”
active demonstrations of disgust that separate the observer from the
object observed. This passage in Practical Education has a direct bearing
on the representation of Jews in Harrington, as well as on works of
fiction such as Shelley’s Frankenstein, which explores the consequences
of antipathy and the failure of benevolence.
Wordsworth is less concerned with the ways that sympathy can lead
to base passions and more with the aesthetic and moral implications of
sympathy as fellow feeling. In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads he clearly
links sympathy with pleasure, the basis of his aesthetics: “We have no
sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure” (1802 Preface 1:140).
Wordsworth furthermore argues that the most important literary plea-
sure is that
which the mind derives from the perception of similitude and dissimili-
tude. From this principle the direction of the sexual appetite, and all the
passions connected with it take their origin: It is the life of our ordinary
conversation; and upon the accuracy with which similitude in dissi-
militude, and dissimilitude in similitude are perceived, depend our taste
and moral feelings. (1800 Preface 1:148)
This symbiosis of similitude and dissimilitude bridges the gap between
the easy sympathy of likeness and the more difficult sympathy for what
is different. Although Wordsworth does not make explicit the social
implications of his aesthetics, other parts of the Preface relate aesthetic
degeneracy (“sickly and stupid German tragedies,” “novels in verse”) to
moral decline (“reducing the mind to all but savage torpor”) (128).
Wordsworth implies that the pleasure of perceiving the relationship
between similitude and dissimilitude is inherent in the mind and should
make new combinations easy to assimilate. The human mind, according
to Wordsworth, is wired to appreciate difference within certain limits of
likeness. In other words, there has to be a basis for identification and
openness to what is new. Implicit in this formulation is the notion that,
contrary to what earlier theorists had argued, the addition of something
different from the self may actually inspire the subject to grow, to culti-
vate sympathy for those, like Jews, who were aliens in British culture.
The dynamics of similitude and difference is also the basis of Joanna
Baillie’s understanding of sympathy, which predates Wordsworth’s 1800
Preface by two years. In her Introductory Discourse to a Series of Plays
(1798), Baillie argues, “but for this ‘sympathetic curiosity’ towards others
of our kind which is so strongly implanted within us, the attention
8 / imperfect sympathies

we pay to the dress and the manners of men would dwindle into an
employment as insipid, as examining the varieties of plants and miner-
als, is to one who understands not natural history” (69). For Baillie,
readers or spectators of drama are attracted to the objects before them
both because they identify with their plight and because they are
intrigued or interested in the representation of a person other than
themselves or a passion they themselves have not experienced. Her defi-
nition, like Wordsworth’s, honors the dynamic tension inherent in the
act of sympathetic identification. Ballie’s understanding of dramatic
sympathy also foreshadows Hazlitt’s later argument about Shylock and
the dynamics of sympathy in The Merchant of Venice.
In a letter to John Wilson ( June 7, 1802) regarding “The Idiot Boy,”
Wordsworth articulates the ethics of sympathy. Feeling sympathy
extends and challenges the reader’s capacity to respond to difference:

A Friend of mine, knowing that some persons had a dislike to the poem
such as you have expressed advised me to add a stanza describing the
person of the Boy [so a]s entirely to separate him in the imaginations of
my Readers from [that] class of idiots who are disgusting in their persons,
but the narration [in] the poem is so rapid and impassioned that I could
not find a place [in] which to insert the stanza without checking the
progress of it, and [so lea]ving a deadness upon the feeling. This poem
has, I know, frequently produced [the s]ame effect as it did upon you and
your Friends but there are many [peo]ple also to whom it affords exquis-
ite delight, and who indeed, prefer [it] to any other of my Poems. This
proves that the feelings there delineated [are] such as all men may sympa-
thize with. This is enough for my purpose. [It] is not enough for me as a
poet, to delineate merely such feelings as all men do sympathise [sic] with
but, it is also highly desirable to add to these others, such as all men may
sympathize, and such as there is reason to believe they would be better
and more moral beings if they did sympathize with. (357–58)

Wordsworth’s position here is different from Percy Shelley’s in the

Defence, which is focused on perceptions of the beautiful, but closer to
that of Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. What men do sympathize with is
too easy—pretty lapdogs and singing birds. However, it is the poet’s
responsibility to focus the reader’s imagination on the possibilities of
sympathy—on the difficult cases. By doing so, in theory, the poet has
made readers “better and more moral beings.” In other words, it is not
just that Wordsworth could not “insert the stanza” without disturbing
the metrical and narrative movement of the poem: he also challenges the
reader to sympathize despite imagining the boy in a “class of idiots who
are disgusting in their persons.” For Wordsworth, aesthetic pleasure
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 9

should contribute to the moral effect, just as in works such as

Shakespeare’s tragedies aesthetic pleasure mitigates the pain and makes
spectatorship and catharsis possible. But aesthetic pleasure should not
necessarily be easy for the perceiver, as Wordsworth’s contempt for what
he regards as the cheap pleasure of popular entertainment demonstrates.
Wordsworth held to this ideal of sympathy and pleasure, even
though his poetry was often criticized for being “namby-pamby”15 or
committed to sympathizing with unworthy topics. Wordsworth’s
contemporaries and later generations have also found it ironic that
Wordsworth espoused this ideal of sympathizing with idiot boys and
forsaken women when his poetry often unwittingly records the failure
of sympathetic identification. Hazlitt, Keats, Shelley, and others all
commented on Wordsworth’s egotism, on his inability to enter into the
inner life of a character or go out of himself. Hazlitt, for instance, saw
The Excursion as a huge psychodrama, with each character representing
Wordsworth;16 Keats famously labeled Wordsworth a poet of the
“egotistical sublime” as opposed to one who has “Negative Capability”;17
Shelley, as James Chandler has recently argued, made the failure of
imaginative sympathy the cornerstone of his satire against Wordsworth
in Peter Bell the Third (1819):

He has as much imagination

As a pint-pot—he could never
Fancy another situation
From which to dart his contemplation
Than that wherein he stood. (298–302)18

This criticism of Wordsworth, however witty and just, should not

obscure the fact that the cultivation of the sympathetic imagination was
central to his self-conception of the power of his poetry. Wordsworth’s
poem on “A Jewish Family” reveals both his desire to engage with the
family, to feel for their plight, and his inability to do so fully.
Furthermore, I believe that this gap between theoretical sympathy and
imperfect representation generally marks Wordsworth’s textual encoun-
ters with Others in his poetry, with women,19 and with the numerous
solitary figures who people his poetry but remain enigmas: the
discharged soldier in The Prelude, the old Cumberland beggar, the
African woman in the 1802 sonnet. These and other vexed literary
encounters in both country and city and at sea lead Wordsworth back
to Nature or a purified Imagination of Nature in memory as the easier
object of sympathetic love. I would modify Geoffrey Hartman’s influ-
ential thesis in Wordsworth’s Poetry that Wordsworth turns away from
10 / imperfect sympathies

Imagination (apocalyptic insight) to Nature. His turn to Nature is more

a response to the failure of human connection. As Hazlitt comments
in “On the Living Poets”: “He tolerates only what he himself creates; he
sympathizes only with what can enter into no competition with him,
with ‘the bare trees and mountains bare, and in the grass and in the
green field.’ He sees nothing but himself and the universe.” (Howe, 5:
163). Hazlitt implies that it is easier to sympathize with green fields than
human objects.

The Case of the Jews

In a series of books including Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the
Hidden Language of the Jews, The Jew’s Body, and Inscribing the Other,
Sander Gilman has theorized and documented the Otherness of “the
Jew” in the West, with particular attention to Germany. Although I
agree with other recent scholars that anti-Semitism cannot constitute
the whole story about the Jews in England,20 Gilman’s anatomy of anti-
Semitism helps to explain why images of Jews resisted sympathetic
responses. If, as the stereotypes held, Jews were ugly and alien, they were
not easy or deserving objects for fellow feeling:

Eighteenth-century aestheticians refused to ascribe a sense of beauty to

any group believed to be marginal. Whether black or Jew, the outsider
was perceived as inherently unable to sense, and therefore to produce, the
beautiful. The sense of the beautiful became one of the major touch-
stones distinguishing the civilized from the barbaric. (Self-Hatred, 119)

Like Mary Shelley’s creature, Jews were “monstrous” and “filthy,” diffi-
cult to integrate into civilized society: “The smell of the Jews, the foetor
judäicus, is the medieval mephitic odor always associated with the
Other” (Self-Hatred, 174). Even when one considers the gendered differ-
ences in the representation of Jews, the outcome is not more positive, or
at least it remains complicated. Jewish men, often associated with bodily
ugliness and excess, as well as unsavory commercial dealings and strange,
imperfect language, appear more negative than Jewish women, who are
more often represented as mysterious, exotic beauties. Instead of inspir-
ing sympathy and fellow feeling, though, they are often erotic objects,
as is Rebecca in Ivanhoe or Berenice in Harrington, as if they come to
embody the danger that Mary Wollstonecraft was aware of in represen-
tations of female beauty. They are more often objects of desire and
conversion than disinterested love: they may enter civilized society only
if they cease to be or to be thought of as Jews.
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 11

Even in the majority of cases where non-Jewish authors want to repre-

sent Jews sympathetically in order to inspire sympathy in their audience or
readers, they cannot fully escape the negative images that haunt the
history of the West. In the “Dedicatory Epistle to the Rev. Dr. Dryasdust,
F. A. S.” in Ivanhoe, Scott’s fictional author Laurence Templeton
explains the way he has used language, sentiments, and manners of the
medieval past and how he has “translated” those manners for his readers,

Our ancestors were not more distinct from us, surely, than Jews are from
Christians; they had “eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections,
passions”; were “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, warmed and cooled by the same winter and
summer,” as ourselves. The tenor, therefore, of their affections and feel-
ing must have borne the same general proportions to our own. (529)

Templeton uses Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech, not to elaborate
directly on the contextual meaning of the speech, but to draw his own
connections between past and present. But he also implies that he
endorses the logic and justice of the speech in accepting the likeness of
Jews and Christians.
The allusion to the speech prepares the reader for more extensive
connections between Ivanhoe and The Merchant—allusions, parallels,
commentary—as scholars, such as Michael Ragussis and Michael
Galchinsky, have demonstrated.21 But I question just how fully Scott
critiques medieval anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe; in the above passage for
instance, Scott through Templeton implies that the feelings and affec-
tions of “our” ancestors (medieval Britons) are translatable to “our own”
(contemporary Britons). If this is the case, then the anti-Semitism that
Scott presents is not just a distant and outdated set of stories and stereo-
types, but an outlook connected to contemporary “affections.”
Two passages that focus on Isaac bear out this point. Scott’s initial
description of Isaac centers on the question of likeness and of Jewish

His features, keen and regular, with an aquiline nose, and piercing black
eyes; his high and wrinkled forehead, and long grey hair and beard,
would have been considered as handsome, had they not been the marks
of a physiognomy peculiar to a race which, during those dark ages, was
alike detested by the credulous and prejudiced vulgar, and persecuted by
the greedy and rapacious nobility, and who, perhaps owing to that very
hatred and persecution, had adopted a national character in which there
was much, to say the least, mean and unamiable. (50)
12 / imperfect sympathies

The narrative voice appears to be a modern liberal who recognizes that

the prejudices of the dark ages created the idea of Jewish ugliness from the
“marks” of the Jews. In another context, Isaac would have been handsome,
and hence loveable, literally amiable. The narrator does not stop there:
he seems to say that if the Jews were unattractive to medieval Britons, it
is because the persecution that they had suffered made them that way.
But if one looks closely at the last clause, the message is less sympathetic,
for the narrator says the Jews “had adopted a national character in which
there was much, to say the least, mean and unamiable.” In other words,
he could say more, but holds back. Nevertheless, the hint of restraint
makes the reader wonder what sordid details or dirty secrets about the
Jews he has up his sleeve.
The second passage, I think, gets to the heart of Scott’s own anxiety
about Jews, and one of the images of Jews most threatening to contem-
porary society:

The little ready money which was in the country was chiefly in possession
of this persecuted people, and the nobility hesitated not to follow the
example of their sovereign in wringing it from them by every species of
oppression, and even personal torture. Yet the passive courage inspired by
the love of gain induced the Jews to dare the various evils to which they
were subjected, in consideration of the immense profits which they were
enabled to realize in a country naturally so wealthy as England. In spite of
every kind of discouragement, and even of the special court of taxations
already mentioned, called the Jews’ Exchequer, erected for the very
purpose of despoiling and distressing them, the Jews increased, multiplied,
and accumulated huge sums, which they transferred from one hand to
another by means of bills of exchange—an invention for which commerce
is said to be indebted to them, and which enabled them to transfer their
wealth from land to land, that, when threatened with oppression in one
country, their treasure might be secured in another. (70)

Scott goes on to comment on “the obstinacy and avarice of the Jews,”

but it is mostly more of the same. If this passage were isolated, one
might read it in the context of Hume’s approving description of avarice
as an “obstinate passion,” on which Albert Hirschman comments in The
Passions and the Interests (54).22 But Scott’s language betrays a more crit-
ical position regarding Isaac’s immoderate love of gain, more akin to
critiques by “the sentimental school of English and Scottish moral
philosophers,” which Hirschman summarizes in this way:

Obviously, then, money-making does not fit into the intermediate

category of “self-passion”: when pursued in moderation, it is promoted
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 13

all the way to a “natural affection,” which achieves both private and
public good, while it is demoted to an “unnatural affection,” which
achieves neither, when it is indulged to excess. (64, 65)

The only thing that redeems Isaac somewhat from this description is the
way that he responds to the news of Rebecca’s captivity, showing in this
regard that his natural affections revise Shylock’s infamous debate
regarding his daughter or his ducats: “reduce me to ruin and to beggary,
if thou wilt—nay, pierce me with thy poniard, broil me on that furnace;
but spare my daughter, deliver her in safety and honour” (233). Front-
de-Boeuf responds, “I thought your race had loved nothing save their
money-bags” (233).23
Setting aside the issue of Scott’s historical accuracy or his relation to
eighteenth-century philosophers, important subjects but not central here,
the twists and turns of language in the passage from Ivanhoe make it hard
to sympathize with Jewish oppression or torture. The emphasis is on
“passive courage inspired by love of gain”—not active courage that
Rebecca, as a potentially redeemable female, will demonstrate inspired by
the love of her faith. Scott’s word choice even parodies Genesis, with the
Jews fruitfully multiplying “huge sums”—a genealogy of bills of exchange
transferred from land to land, generation to generation. Furthermore, the
paragraph serves as a mini-myth of the medieval wandering Jews giving
birth to the wandering commercial Jews of the early nineteenth century,
and to the very system of capitalism itself. Because Jews are so avaricious
and obstinate (a code word for the Jews’ resistance to Christianity), both
Jews and their system of paper money are suspect. Scott’s personal writ-
ings amply demonstrate that his suspicions about Jews were related to his
own financial woes. A sampling of those comments includes:

One does not naturally or easily combine with their habits and pursuits
any great liberality of principle although certainly it may and I believe
does exist in individual instances. They are money-makers and money
brokers by profession and it is a trade which narrows the mind. (Letters
of Sir Walter Scott to Joanna Baillie, July 24, 1817, 4:478)24
If your London Shylock wants a pound of flesh, it will fall to James
B[allantyne]’s lot to find it, for my proposed noble surety never had an
ounce, and John B[allantyne] as little, and I have dwindled sadly under
the tirrits and frights. (Letters of Sir Walter Scott to Archibald Constable,
August 24, 1813, 3:327)
After all it is hard that the vagabond Stock-jobbing Jews should for their
purposes make such a shake of credit as now exists in London and menace
the credit of men trading on sure funds . . . . It is just like a set of
14 / imperfect sympathies

pickpockets who raise a mob in which honest folks are knocked down
and plundered that they may pillage safely in the midst of the confusion
they have excited. ( Journal 25, November 1815)

Scott’s personal writing, which includes the various code words for
Jewish financial deceit on all levels of society, including London
Shylocks, vagabond Stock-jobbing Jews, and pickpockets, reinforces
the anxiety of the narrative voice in Ivanhoe: honest folks should not
trust these connivers, although there may be decent ones now and then.
This kind of description, oddly enough, plays right into the hands of
Marx and his analysis of “the Jewish question.”25 What Marxist and
other varieties of anti-Semitism do not appreciate is that restrictive
conditions forced Jews into money lending and haggling; then, Jews
became scapegoats for the very thing they were forced to do within
commercial, capitalist society.
In a much more genteel way than Marx, of course, Scott distrusts the
power of Jewish wealth to influence the state and to change the tenor of
the social interchange. Jewish greed and love of money for its own sake
taints the commercial enterprise because it is rapacious and excessive. This
notion of commerce reconnects to the issue of sympathy not in terms of
Marx’s critique but on the other side of the political spectrum. James
Chandler makes the case for commercial society’s interest in sympathy.
Going back to Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations as well as
Theory of Moral Sentiments, Chandler argues that the eighteenth-century
notion of commerce depends on the “open-hearted intercourse”
(“Moving Accidents,” 141) of sympathy, on a system in which people
sympathize with others because they also have an interest in the
economic success of others. Or, Hirschman argues that the “origin of the
epithet doux [in Montesquieu] is probably found in the ‘noncommer-
cial’ meaning of commerce: besides trade the word long denoted
animated and repeated conversation and other forms of polite social
intercourse and dealings among persons (frequently between persons of
the opposite sex)” (61).
How does this analysis relate to Jews? The success of commercial
society depends on fair and free trade in the marketplace, and the liter-
ature and culture of 1770–1830 are filled with representations of Jews
who do not fit this model of commercial exchange. Jewish merchants
and financiers always appear self-interested, avaricious, and cheating,
still tainted by medieval usury and shady dealing. They are Shylocks
who neither feel nor inspire sympathy. This attitude underpins Scott’s
treatment of Isaac, even though the narrator acknowledges the tyranny
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 15

against the Jews and the oppression they suffer and distinguishes Isaac
from Shylock in his relationship with his daughter.
Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey provides an earlier example of the asso-
ciation among Jews, cheating, and the commerce of sympathy. The
narrator-sentimental traveler Yorick arrives in Calais and reports this
exchange with a landlord, Dessein:

It must needs be a hostile kind of a world, when the buyer (if it be but
of a sorry post-chaise) cannot go further with the seller thereof into the
street to terminate the difference betwixt them, but he instantly falls into
the same frame of mind and views his conventionist with the same sort
of eye, as if he was going along with them to Hyde-park corner to fight
a duel. For my own part, being but a poor sword’s man, and no way a
match for Monsieur Dessein, I felt the rotation of all the movements
within me, to which the situation is incident—I looked at Monsieur
Dessein through and through—ey’d him as he walked in profile—then,
en face—he look’d like a Jew—then a Turk—disliked his wig—cursed
him by my gods—wished him at the devil . . . (46).

Chandler comments on this passage and the paragraph following, in

which a beautiful lady intervenes and calms Yorick’s base passions,
concluding that “The movement of this passage leads Yorick from
commercial conflict, back through the sentiments of a precommercial
mode of conflict resolution (the duel), and around again to the commer-
cial reckoning of the worth of the anger thus kindled as against its costs
and risks” (“Moving Accidents,” 149–50).
Chandler does not comment on the two images of “infidels” that
appear in this passage: Jew and Turk. But these allusions are important
because they serve as obstacles to sympathy—the shady Dessein look’d
like a Jew in a world where looking like a Jew translates into a doomed
exchange. It is significant, too, that the resemblance of the Jew comes
first and then ushers in the even more foreign Turk, as if the Jew opens
the transaction to other unsavory elements. Yorick cannot feel for either
of these imagined figures, so the exchange is on the brink of collapse.
Once again, the image of the Jew is a force of disruption and discord on
the sentimental and commercial journey, but one that turns out—in this
case, at least—to be a mere bump in the road.26

Representing Jews, Jews Representing

Non-Jewish writers, the vast majority of British writers of the Romantic
period, faced a major problem in writing about Jews: they, with a few
16 / imperfect sympathies

exceptions, did not know any Jews personally, had never observed
Jewish practice in a Jewish home, did not read seriously Jewish texts
such as the Talmud or Jewish versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, for
them still an Old Testament, and thus did not understand Judaism or
Jewish culture in a deep way. As a result, even in those cases in which
authors set out to present “good Jews” with the feelings and affections
of other Britons, they misrepresent Jewish practice (Edgeworth, Scott),
idealize characters (Wordsworth), use Jewish themes to explore their
own alienation (Byron), or simply reverse stereotypes (Cumberland).
Despite the texts’ attempts to assimilate the Jews they represent, they do
not easily fit. As Michael Galchinsky has argued in The Origin of the
Modern Jewish Woman Writer regarding the Victorian novel, the stranger
or foreigner in the text often alters the forms of the genre. In the litera-
ture I consider, characters represent different attitudes about Jews and
their place in British society, and the presence of “the Jew” in the text or
representation does indeed modify the bounds of the genre. For Hazlitt,
for instance, The Merchant of Venice is the tragedy of Shylock, not the
comedy of the magical world of Belmont triumphing over a Jewish
scoundrel from Venice. Hazlitt, then, reclassifies the play in generic
Jewish writers faced a different problem, whether writing for a
private audience, as in the case of Judith Montefiore’s journals, or for the
larger British public, including Jewish readers. Although the number of
Jewish writers is limited in this early period, both writers whom I study
strive to present Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish texts in a way that
elicits sympathetic responses. Even Hurwitz, who presents a strong,
rational refutation of Talmudic critics, includes stories that reinforce the
basis of Judaism in compassion, fellow feeling, and sympathy for all
creatures. In appealing to the fellow feeling of Christian readers,
Hurwitz demonstrates that Jewish teaching is based on acts of loving-
kindness. Hurwitz repeatedly argues that Jewish teaching is compatible
with the values and culture of the British reading public.
In chapter 2, I explore the way that religious, political, and popular
culture often converged in the representation of Jews, using three differ-
ent works to set out a range of responses, arranged chronologically:
Cumberland’s awkward attempt to win sympathy theatrically in the
sentimental comedy The Jew; Lamb’s more honestly revelatory study of
why sympathy is difficult in the essay “Imperfect Sympathies;” and
Hazlitt’s passionate, even heroic, argument for political emancipation,
his last essay, “The Emancipation of the Jews.” In chapter 3, I continue
the emphasis on Hazlitt by arguing that his writings on Edmund Kean’s
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 17

interpretation of Shylock, in which Hazlitt found great sympathy in the

Jew’s plight, changed Shylock forever and challenged the generic bound-
aries of Shakespeare’s play. Furthermore, the figure of Shylock became
a touchstone for attitudes toward Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth
Chapters 4 and 5, on Montefiore and Hurwitz respectively, place two
Jewish writers in the context of the dominant culture’s discourses about
Jews. I have deliberately given these chapters a central position. These
two writers directly present Jewish subjects and the Jewish religion from
a Jewish position. Although not canonical and in the case of Montefiore
not even self-defined as an “author,” both of these writers explored the
possibilities of different genres and found ways to express their Judaism
to audiences. Montefiore turns an ordinary travel journal into a spiritual
pilgrimage, more akin, say, to the Autobiography of Margery Kempe than
to a picturesque travel narrative. Hurwitz, on the other hand, reinvents
the anthology—part polemical essay, part collection of stories suitable to
children—in order to represent Judaism to the British world.
Chapters 6 and 7 return to Edgeworth and Wordsworth to explore
the way that well known non-Jewish writers imagine Jews. In the case of
Edgeworth, her “Jewish novel” Harrington was a direct response to crit-
icism that she not only failed to represent Jews sympathetically but that
she also portrayed Jews in a way that could inflame prejudices.
Edgeworth tries to atone for these literary sins, but in the end does not
resolve the problems that she sets out. Although Wordsworth is less
direct, his poem, “A Jewish Family,” is an attempt to respond to critics
of his translation and publication of Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale. The
“Jewish Family” falters not because Wordsworth cannot resolve the
narrative, but because he cannot fully imagine the family outside of his
own Christian narrative. This poem paradoxically represents both
Wordsworth’s sympathy for his Jewish subjects and his ambivalence
about Judaism as a living religion.
Chapter 8, my final chapter, extends the question of Romantic
sympathy to twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholars. In particular,
I ask why many of the prominent voices in mid- to late-twentieth-century
theory and criticism of the Romantics have been Jewish: M. H. Abrams,
Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman. My response centers on what
Hartman calls “the historical moment” in which Jewish scholars entered
the profession, particularly in America: the post–World War II, post-
Holocaust world. Romanticism represented an opening for them in an
academy dominated at the time by the more Christian, New Critical
emphasis on either earlier literary periods or modernist poets. In
18 / imperfect sympathies

addition to this historical convergence in the 1950s, the Romantics

spoke to Jewish scholars of loss but also of possibilities for hope, of the
failures and the potential of sympathetic identification with others, and
of the power of biblical prophecy. These scholars do not focus on repre-
sentations of Jews (either positive or negative) or on Jewish writers, but
they reveal the affinities between the ideals of the great Romantics and
Judaism. Although my emphasis on affinities may appear naïve at a time
when other scholars have called for critiquing the “Romantic ideology,”
or reading “against the grain,” or becoming a “resisting reader,” this
earlier generation of critics remind readers that there is also something
to be said for acknowledging shared values. Perhaps Adam Smith was
wise, after all, in seeing that the sympathetic exchange was not naïve,
but in fact involved the spectator in a self-conscious attempt to under-
stand another position or point of view.
To summarize: non-Jewish writers of the period represent a range of
responses to Jews, from positive attempts to present Jewish subjects in the
most sympathetic light to confessions of why the sympathetic ideal was
imperfectly realized regarding Jewish subjects to (more rarely) outright
hostility. They engage this subject in the context of debates and events of
the age, including the meaning of extending rights to racial, religious,
and ethnic Others and thereby extending the meaning of British identity
and the imagined community of the British nation. Demonstrating the
sympathetic imagination at its best, a writer such as Hazlitt challenges
Britons to endorse a more generous concept of British identity.
A note, too, on the two Jewish writers on whom I focus: these writers
are in dialogue with the dominant culture and its texts. To borrow
Jonathan Freedman’s reference to Alain Finkeilkraut’s imaginary Jew: these
Jewish writers’ understanding of themselves “is always connected to a non-
Jewish imaginary that itself was partially imagined by Jews” (Freedman,
29). But neither Hurwitz nor Montefiore fell directly into the trap that the
dominant culture sets for Jews, according to Sander Gilman’s definitions:

Self-hatred results from outsiders’ acceptance of the mirage of themselves

generated by their reference group—that group in society which they see
as defining them—as reality . . . . This illusion contains an inherent, polar
opposition. On the one hand is the liberal fantasy that anyone is welcome
to share in the power of the reference group if he abides by the rules that
define that group. But these rules are the very definition of the Other.
The Other comprises precisely those who are not permitted to share
power within the society. Thus outsiders hear an answer from their
fantasy: Become like us—abandon your difference—and you may be one
with us. On the other hand is the hidden qualification of the internalized
jews and the romantic culture of sympathy / 19

reference group, the conservative curse: The more you are like me, the
more I know the true value of my power, which you wish to share, and
the more I am aware that you are but a shoddy counterfeit, an outsider.
(Self-Hatred, 1–2)

If there is evidence of the kind of self-loathing that Gilman describes, it

is much more subtle. Perhaps a fear of this “mirage” explains
Montefiore’s super-refined record of her journey: there are no hints of
personal discord other than her insistence to push on in the face of
obstacles or a brief criticism of the lack of seriousness in some Jewish
women in the synagogue. The lady-like (and later Lady) Montefiore
keeps the demons at bay. Hurwitz also maintains a genteel demeanor,
introducing absurd anti-Jewish comments only to refute them and
project a rational persona above mythology and superstition. According
to Gilman’s analysis, though, the genteel and rational personae are liter-
ary equivalents to Jews dressing up like ladies and gentlemen, a move
that does not guarantee acceptance.
Neither Hurwitz nor Montefiore makes the kind of bargain that
Galchinsky writes about with regard to Victorian novelists: trading in
some of the manifestations of their Jewishness for their ticket into the
nation or their place in British literature. In fact the Montefiores became
more observant Jews as they entered the higher levels of British society;
and Hurwitz made Hebrew literature and teaching the focus of his life’s
work. Perhaps the compromises occur when more Jewish writers, such
as Grace Aguilar and Amy Levy, appeal to a wider audience in the
Victorian period. But more akin to David Levi at the end of the
eighteenth century, Hurwitz writes directly in response to the dominant
voices that have defined the Jews according to their readings of Jewish
texts and their fantasies about Judaism. His responsive work resembles
what Mary Louise Pratt calls “autoethnographic texts” within the
“contact zone” of cultures in nineteenth-century Britain: “if ethno-
graphic texts are those in which European metropolitan subjects represent
to themselves their others . . . autoethnographic texts are representations
that the so-defined others construct in response to or in dialogue with
those texts . . . ” (608).27 Hurwitz includes the disruptive voices of anti-
Semitism in his text only to expose them as ridiculous foils to his good
sense and deep learning.
In his Defence, Percy Shelley wrote, “we must put ourselves in the
place [my emphasis] of another.” For British Jews, there were obstacles
to this kind of sympathetic mobility. Because of this difficulty, spatial
concepts—boundaries, perspectives, travel—are all important in these
20 / imperfect sympathies

texts both metaphorically and literally as writers chart this new territory.
Hence, Montefiore’s journey is literally to Jerusalem, but it is also to a
deeper understanding of Judaism itself, whereas Wordsworth travels to
the Rhineland and finds a Jewish family who reveal more to the reader
than to the poet. In addition, visual metaphors are also crucial because
so much depends on how the agent perceives the object. And, from the
Jewish writer’s perspective, there must be a balance between refusing the
“mirage” of the dominant culture and understanding that fantasy as a
strategy of self-defense—a sort of reversal of Burns’ “O wad some Power
the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” from “To a Louse.” It
seems to me that Jews in Britain knew all too well the way others saw
them—witness Coleridge’s old-clothes man—but they were struggling
to construct an image and to find a place for themselves in spite of the
scorn, ambivalence, or “love” of other Britons. My book sets out to tell
a version of that story as it unfolds in literary representation.
C h ap t e r 2
Blessing and Curse: Imaginary
Jews and Romantic Texts

When all these things befall you—the blessing and the curse that I have
set before you—and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to
which the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord
your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your
heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day, then the Lord your
God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring
you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has
scattered you.
—Deuteronomy 30: 1–3 (Tanakh)

You can’t recognize a Jew when you see one? It’s part and parcel of his
secretive nature. He’s not easily defined? It’s because he pursues unspeakable
goals. And, “if he is scattered all over the world,” it’s because all the world
must belong to him.
—Alain Finkielkraut, The Imaginary Jew (165)

Recent work on Jewish identity and representation in late-eighteenth
and early-nineteenth-century Britain has emphasized the dominant
culture’s ambivalence, repeatedly manifested in terms of contradictory
images, representations, and sayings about Jews and Judaism. As Bryan
Cheyette and others have argued, part of the difficulty of Jewish repre-
sentation involves the fact that Jews are border figures, the Other within
British culture: they are hard to place and categorize.1 In the culture as a
whole, for instance, anti-Semitic caricatures and philo-Semitic conver-
sionist discourse flourish in an atmosphere of growing religious tolera-
tion. On a more specific level, even writers who consciously set out to
present Jews in a positive light often reveal their own prejudice and
ambivalence about Jews, or the idea of “the Jew.” The ambivalence, so
characteristic of Romantic representations of Jews and Jewishness,
22 / imperfect sympathies

exposes the limitations of the theoretical construct of the sympathetic

imagination, which guides much of the aesthetic and ethical discourse
of Romanticism. In this chapter (and when considering Wordsworth
and Edgeworth separately in later chapters) I examine this ambivalence
in specific texts as manifestations of the contradictory ways in which the
culture imagines Jews.
But first, why is sympathetic identification with Jews so difficult in
British culture? What are the sources of ambivalence? An obvious
answer is the persistence of anti-Semitism as an ideology, as its great
and continuing “success” in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries
demonstrates. But the riddle of anti-Semitism is both too massive in its
historical and geographical scope to be useful here—and paradoxically
too limiting conceptually to have explanatory power for the intersection
of Judaism and Romanticism in Britain. This chapter attempts not to
answer the question, “Why the Jews?” but rather a cluster of questions
about attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, modes of representation and
rhetoric, and, as far as possible, Jewish perspectives on their own lives
in Britain.
I have divided this chapter into four sections after this introduction,
the first of which surveys the way that popular media presented Jews in
this period. My survey includes representations of Jews in visual and
verbal satire, most of which focus on the qualities that make sympa-
thetic commerce more difficult: the Jew as the greedy commercial cheat.
An extension of Hirschman’s analysis in The Passions and the Interests
would see Jews as scapegoats for emerging capitalist energies. Condemn
the Jews in other words for the “sins” of capitalists in general. To this
condemnation of Jews and money, I add the question of religious prej-
udice, which, despite a greater tolerance in the society at large, was
still an important obstacle to Jews in Britain and a source of resentment
and satire. In order to reveal this element, I look at a selection of popu-
lar sermons as well as the inclusion of negative religious comments in
some literary reviews. Although satirical stereotypes do not make up the
whole story, old stereotypes seem to have a life of their own even as they
change and adapt themselves to the changing times, as Scott’s inability
to let go of medieval stereotypes in the narrative presence of Ivanhoe
Once I have surveyed these representations of Jews in popular satir-
ical and religious culture, I will focus in more detail on three works
representing three different popular genres—theatrical comedy (The
Jew), informal essay (“Imperfect Sympathies”), and political discourse
(“Emancipation of the Jews”). In each case, I consider the ways that
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 23

the author presents “the Jewish question” in terms of a particular

genre—and Jews and Judaism are significantly questions—and in rela-
tion to the cultural ideal of sympathy. Also, I begin with The Jew, a play
first performed in 1794, and end with Hazlitt’s essay of 1831, signifi-
cant moments in the history and discourse of rights in Britain.

Bad Jews and Worse Christians: Satire, Sermons,

and Reviews
Historians have documented the differences within the relatively small
Jewish population of Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries.2 While there were great families involved in finance and busi-
ness, most Jews were poor and plied some form of trade on the streets,
in their shabby clothes hawking everything from rags to oranges. Some
Britons held Jews in contempt, therefore, both for being too powerful in
financial circles (the Goldsmids and Rothschilds) and for being poor
and intrusive peddlers. A graphic satire by Robert Cruickshank, older
brother of George, referencing Thomas Dibdin’s (1771–1841) play The
Jew and the Doctor (1798), imagines the Jewish philanthropist trans-
formed into a corpulent, Yiddish-accented Nathan Meyer Rothschild
dressed as an old-clothes man (see figure 2.1). Cruickshank thereby
conflates the two despised images of Jews: financier and ragman. Here,
as in numerous instances, language marks the foreignness or difference
of the Jew, in particular his inability to speak the King’s English whether
he is a Rothschild or a ragman: “you know fat I do for you—you give
me de monish for dat fiddle.”3 The negative images of Jews portrayed
in graphic satire form an explicit example of the ways popular culture
corrected and contained the slow but steady removal of disabilities. In
this case satire undermines sympathy; it checks the development of the
sympathetic imagination because it feeds anxieties about power and
difference and seems to deny the efficacy of community, which sympa-
thy holds out as the utopian ideal.4
The same attitudes toward Jews pervade popular entertainment, as
evidenced by The Universal Songster; or Museum of Mirth (1827), a
three-volume collection that contains “Ancient and Modern Songs in
the English Language.” Many of the songs are actually collected from
popular theatre, as are most of the dozen or so entries on Jews. The
songs pertaining to Jews form a gallery of rogues and buffoons. They are
almost all satirical, whereas the songs on other themes and subjects run
the gamut from satirical to saccharin. Furthermore, in contrast to the
images of apparently rich and powerful Jews who sometimes appear in
24 / imperfect sympathies

Figure 2.1 Robert Cruikshank, New Scene from an Old Farce of The Jew and
The Doctor. March 1828. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America.

graphic satire, the Jews in The Universal Songster are lower class, and
if they speak, they certainly do not speak the King’s English, but rather
they mangle their English with Yiddish pronunciation. Consider,
for instance, an air taken from The Plymouth Jew about a Jewish thief or
“fisherman” who hooks his fish—i.e., cheats sailors—in the port:

I casts my net so vell,

Vat vas just my fader’s vay, too:
Ven I can make a clear-
Ing out vell of all their pouches,
My boat pushed off, who cares
‘Bout their “tam arl cheating Smouches!” (8)

Just about all the “Smouches”5 or Jews that one encounters in The
Universal Songster are cheats, or at the very least obsessed with profit.
They are also lascivious, as the air from Betty Martin and My Eye: or
Enoch Moss’ Dissertation on Woman demonstrates:

Vomans, vonce she cuts your mutton,

You vill never be at a loss,
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 25

She’ll (though you be quite a glutton)

Find more as ‘nough of caper-sauce.

Just in case the reader doesn’t get what the song is really about, the
editors have added italics to confirm the double entendre. An air from
Mr. Abrahams, the Jew Pedler; or Curing the Simple without Cutting!
seems to be the most far-reaching satire. This tells the story of a “merry
Jew peddler” who “bamboozles” his clients in numerous ways, as he
proudly enumerates: he repairs jewelry on the cheap (“I mends a crack
as [a] quack cures a cancer”); seduces women (“I am a prime jeweler in
de vomen’s vay, vat likes a bit of humbug, or it vo’nt do at arl mit ‘em . . .
I’m a proper vorking jeweler mit de vomens verever I pe; sure to cheat
‘em, von vay or toder”); and sells fake remedies for this and that:

In ma business I knows every trick

Vat’s belong to arl sorts of Jew-pedlarcals,
Makes and sells vat make vell people sick,
Mock rhubarb and other medicals. (204)

This song plays into several of the rumors about Jews, all of the charges
linked by the common denominator of the Jew as cheat, the deceiver.
Although not all of the images are as sinister as this Abrahams, the more
benign Jews tend toward the ridiculous. “Smouchey Abrahams” in The
Jolly Jew, for instance, recites this refrain:

Clo, Clo, old or new,

In singing, I am merry, too:
Clo, Clo, old or new,
I’m called the Jolly Jew. (279)

As numerous commentators have noted and as I elaborate here, the

image of the old-clothes man became one of the most prominent images
of the Jew in popular culture. Although most of the images are satirical,
some defenses of the Jewish old-clothes men crop up in various collec-
tions on the cries of London, designed to teach children about the
different occupations of street people: old-clothes men, fish mongers,
chimney sweeps, fruit peddlers, to name a few. For instance, one entry
includes under a crude print of an old-clothes man in London Melodies,
or Cries of the Seasons, for 1812, the following:

With the dawn, active Moses commences his trade,

And to clear out your wardrobe will offer his aid;
26 / imperfect sympathies

Who would throw away clothes, be they ever so old,

When they learn e’en the worst they possess may be sold.
But beware of a bargain, though tempting the bait,
Or perchance you may learn to repent when too late;
For if we may credit what’s said of the Jew,
He understands bargains much better than you.
However, we should not give ear to report,
Or make our friend Moses a subject of sport;
Like us, he endeavors to gain what he can,
And remember, the Jew, as the Christian, is Man. (17)

As if the moral were not clear enough, in a prose explanation of the trade
in old clothes on the next page, the writer explains that Jews were the
chief agents in this trade and that “prejudice, no doubt, exceeds truth in
this instance, as in most others, and it is most probable we should not
meet with more honesty in the Protestant, than is often to be found in
the censured Jew” (18).
Despite this moralizing, satirical images were more common. Even a
Jewish love song of sorts in an air from The Jew (a farce not to be
confused with Cumberland’s play of the same name) dramatizes an old-
clothes man who uses the tricks of his trade to “purchase” favors
“cheaply” from his love:

‘Twas the top of the morning, so pleasant and clear,

I vash crying old closhes, ven my love did appear;
Her sweet tawny beauties vash tempting to view,
Says I, pretty Mistress Solomons, how vash you do?
I vash cheaply then purchase a smile from my dear,
And vash whisper my wishes quite loud to her ear;
Says I, pretty Mistress Solomons, we both are undone,
If old Rabbi Abrahams don’t make us two one.
The bargain vash struck without more delay,
And pretty Mistress Solomons vash made Mordecai;
All Duke’s Place resounded with laughter and glee,
And pretty little smouches soon danced on our knee. (374–75)

The satire of this song is all the more effective because the song is a kind
of nursery rhyme, with pastoral imagery reminiscent of Blake’s Songs of
Innocence (“pleasant and clear” morning, “laughter and glee”) incongru-
ously mixed with the debased language of commerce (“The bargain vash
struck”) and the allusion to Duke’s Place. And of course the song
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 27

suggests that Jews are mating and multiplying with “pretty little
smouches.” The song implies that Jews conduct all of their business—
including love and sex—as if it were a commercial transaction that had
better yield a profit. What should be a purely sympathetic exchange
becomes a parody of itself.
Even more far-reaching than the satirical images of Jews in prints and
popular songs is the message that Christians received from the pulpits of
their churches. Although Endelman has recently argued in The Jews of
Britain, 1656–2000, that “The most frequent and widespread expres-
sions of anti-Jewish sentiment were couched in secular rather than reli-
gious language” (70), blaming Jews for “unrestrained, morally
unfettered economic individualism” (71), there is also evidence that reli-
gious language was a powerful force in shaping the image of Jews and
Judaism in literature and culture. Melvyn New states, “From that repet-
itive position of authority [the Sunday pulpit], it was pointed out in the
annual retelling of the life and teachings of Jesus, year after year, that
Christianity’s . . . essence [,] is in its superiority to the Pharisaic religion
of the Jews, the religion of Law which is already and always the great
enemy of the religion of the Spirit that is Christianity” (294–95). New
explains that this attitude pervades the various denominations as the
common, foundational principal—from the Anglicans to various
Dissenters. He argues, “If one wants to understand anti-Semitism in the
eighteenth century, one must read not only weak-minded rabble-
rousing politicians, journalists, and madmen, but the age’s best preach-
ers and theologians—Tillotson and Clarke, South and Law, Butler and
Warburton, Whitefield and Wesley” (295). Furthermore, since, as others
have noted, printed forms of popular sermons were readily available and
freely appropriated (and some of the preachers were itinerant) the voices
of these famous preachers reached well beyond a given location.6
New’s thesis fits in well with Robert Ryan’s recent persuasive argu-
ment in The Romantic Reformation that in the Romantic period there
was a conscious effort to influence the religious life of the time—that
religion mediated between culture and politics (4) and that the move-
ment for religious and hence political emancipation and the Evangelical
revival (18) were pivotal. Ryan does not address the place of the Jews in
the reformation, but commentary about and even by Jews became part
of the debate, as David Ruderman’s work demonstrates.7 And, as Ryan
points out, the scholarly emphasis (such as formulated by M. H. Abrams
in Natural Supernaturalism) on the internal and secular transformation
of biblical myths in Romantic poetry should not obscure the actual
religious debates and assumptions of the period (8).
28 / imperfect sympathies

In The Borough (1810), the good Reverend George Crabbe expounds

on the problem with Jews from a theological point of view:

Jews are with us, but far unlike to those,

Who, led by David, warr’d with Israel’s Foes;
Unlike to those whom his imperial Son
Taught Truths divine—the Preacher Solomon:
Nor War nor Wisdom yield our Jews delight,
They will not study, and they dare not fight. (210–15)

Crabbe adapts the common view that English Jews are a far cry from
their biblical forebears, excluding them from the secular ways of distin-
guishing themselves as Englishmen. His charges are suspect from
numerous points of view, prominent of which is the exclusion of Jews
from higher education in Britain.8
But Crabbe’s The Borough is a mere footnote in this story. In addition
to the famous Joseph Priestley–David Levi debate of the late eighteenth
century, in which Levi, a self-taught Jew, responded in print to
Priestley’s misrepresentations about Jews and Judaism,9 one could
simply scan Cecil Roth’s Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica (1937) to see
that the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews
constantly sponsored publications and that Jews and their supporters
responded to these conversionist incursions with publications in defense
of Judaism. Tobias Goodman’s “address to the . . . London Society for
Promoting Christianity among the Jews; in which . . . their attempt to
overturn the Jewish system of worship proved to be unwarrantable
and contrary to divine revelation” (1809; 264) was one of many such
responses. Two of Roth’s entries are most telling. First, Roth states,
“After the establishment of the London Society for Promoting
Christianity amongst [sic] the Jews, 1795–1808, the volume of conver-
sionist propaganda increased to such an extent that it has proved impos-
sible to include a complete bibliography of it here” (287). Second, he
includes an entry under the pseudonym P. P. Paquin: “Jewish conver-
sion: a poetical farce, got up with great effect under the direction of a
Society for making bad Jews worse Christians. Dedicated to His Royal
Highness the Duke of Kent, with whose approbation it has been
recently played, and will be repeated this Friday, May 6th, 1814” (265).
Both of these entries indicate that the conversionist writing, based on the
philo-Semitic belief that Christianity must ultimately supersede Judaism
and that the conversion of the Jews would help bring about millennial
hopes, was pervasive in the religious culture since the seventeenth
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 29

century.10 The second example, furthermore, attests that the genre was
so pervasive and identifiable that it was susceptible to humor and parody
(a Society for making bad Jews worse Christians). Furthermore, the exis-
tence of the debate itself indicates a certain level of intellectual life and
facility with the language among some British Jews, despite the substan-
dard language of satirized Jewish figures.
The primary message regarding Jews, even in the context of a call to
love and devotion, was that the religion of the Jews was of the dead letter
while Christianity was of the spirit: or another way to put it, one was
devoted to Law and the other Love. This interpretation is based on a
misreading of Judaism and the whole concept of Law or Torah, but it
became (and for some still is) a useful distortion of Judaism, which
could then be easily dismissed without being studied. I do not claim
here to offer a study of the sermons of the eighteenth and early nine-
teenth century. Rather, I examine two of the most influential works,
long-read and reprinted, William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and
Holy Life (1728) and The Spirit of Love (1752–54), to demonstrate the
point. Although neither of these works is an anti-Semitic diatribe,
certain assumptions about Jews pervade the texts. For instance, in
A Serious Call, Law asks,

If there is nothing in my life and conversation that shows me to be different

from Jews and heathens, if I use the world and worldly enjoyments as the
generality of people now do and as all ages have done, why should I think
that I am amongst those few who are walking in the narrow way to the
heavens? (66)

In this passage, the congruity of Jews and heathens does the trick—guilt
by association. In The Spirit of Love, references to the Jews consistently
reinforce Jewish guilt in the crucifixion (“Jews brought him to the
cross,” 361); Jewish obstinacy (“You do in reality what those Jews did
when they said, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us,’ ” 362); and
Jewish faithlessness (“The unbelieving Jews . . . ,” 378).
It is a very short leap from The Spirit of Love to William Blake’s anti-
Judaism, evident in angry eruptions in his poetry, letters, and annota-
tions, most notoriously in his Annotations to Watson. Blake’s idea of Jews
and Judaism feeds on the false dichotomy between Law and Love, in
Blake’s mythology, Reason and Imagination. Both Karen Shabetai and
Michael Galchinsky argue that Blake’s anti-Jewish sentiment is founded
on religious (theological) reasons rather than racial principles.11 Blake’s
Christian orthodoxy lays the foundation for his anti-Judaic stance.
30 / imperfect sympathies

Shabetai sees Blake’s hostility to Jews as one of several hostilities,

to Deists, for instance. Galchinsky, I think, makes the more subtle
point that for Blake Jews and the Judaic become figures for all of the
systems of belief that Blake scorns: Deists, Catholics, Rationalists.
Blake turns Jews into a kind of mythic category, a superset of all that he
Byron’s relationship to Jews reveals another side of the story.
Although modern criticism assumes that the proto-Zionism and roman-
ticized nationalism of Hebrew Melodies and Byron’s identification with
the outcast bespeak an affinity between Byron and Judaism, Byron’s own
attitude is actually more conflicted, even negative.12 Whereas Blake’s
anti-Judaism is theologically based, Byron harbors a deep distrust of
what he perceives to be Jewish influence, money, and power. Like Scott,
his personal financial situation influenced his attitude. Byron was angry
about his own personal debts to Jewish lenders and resented being held
responsible. N. I. Matar documents this anger, as well as the many
instances in Byron’s poetry that include hostile comments about Jews,
particularly regarding families such as the Rothschilds, whose financial
power he deeply resented: “On Shylock’s shore, behold them stand
afresh, / To cut from Nation’s heart their ‘pound of flesh’ ” (Matar, 228;
The Age of Bronze, 702–03). Matar correctly concludes that Byron could
be sympathetic to the biblical idea of the Jews and to the pathos of their
exile, with which he identified; but he viewed contemporary Jews as a
group with contempt, as his personal writings make clear. For instance,
in the persona of his valet William Fletcher, Byron writes to John Cam
Hobhouse in June 1818, staging his own death: “he died a Papish [sic]
but is to be buried among the Jews in the Jewish burying ground—
for my part I don’t see why—he could not abide them when living
nor any other people—baiting whores—who asked him for money”
(Byron’s Letters and Journals, 6: 44–45). Even more directly, James Kennedy
records him as saying, after expressing his contempt for contemporary
Greeks although championing their cause for liberty, “I am nearly
reconciled to St. Paul, for he says there is no difference between the Jews
and the Greeks, and I am exactly of the same opinion, for the character
of both is equally vile.”13
While Byron’s contempt, then, seems driven by resentment of certain
powerful real and imaginary Jews, his critics attack him for being too
cozy with Jews in Hebrew Melodies, and for taking on a perspective inap-
propriate for a Christian poet. The reviewer in the British Critic ( June
1815) puts it this way, referring to Byron’s collaborators, John Braham
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 31

and Isaac Nathan, the first a convert from Judaism to Christianity, the
second a Jew:

Messrs. Braham and Nathan were actuated by the love of piety or

of profit, we cannot pretend to say; or whether the work was intended
to assist the devotion of the synagogue, or to increase the trade of the
shop, we are not sufficiently in the secrets of Duke’s Place to determine.
Be this as it may, Lord Byron has accepted the proferred chaplet of his
Jewish brethren, and may now be considered as poet laureate to the syna-
gogue. . . . But let not a peer of the realm, who is ex professo, at least, a
Christian, enter into so close a literary union with these worthy gentlemen
as to expose himself to the unpleasant dilemma of being supposed either
to entertain an attachment to the Jewish cause, which in him would at
best be ridiculous, or to feign that affection towards a sacred object, to
which his heart is in reality a stranger. (Romantics Reviewed, B.2:257–58)

The reviewer goes on to say that proper Christians admire the

Old Testament “as Christians not as Jews” (258), without claiming
any special sympathy for the Jewish people. The reviewer’s sarcasm and
attempted wit at the expense of Byron’s collaborators John Braham and
Isaac Nathan (piety/profit; synagogue/shop) and speaking as “we”
Christians, sets up a negative judgment of Byron’s enterprise. The allit-
erations serve to debase Jewish spirituality by linking it to the alleged
love of money in Duke’s Place, the synecdoche for the Jewish quarter,
with Jewish prayer. The review serves a function similar to an anonymous
graphic satire, depicting Jews as singing praises for a loan (figure 2.2).
The paragraph takes on a parodic or mock-heroic air with Byron, like
Dryden’s Shadwell in MacFlecknoe, taking the booby prize, in this case
the poet laureateship of the synagogue.14
William Roberts, the reviewer for the British Review (August 15) is
no less critical of Byron’s alleged Jewish sympathies, concluding: “A
young Lord is seldom the better for meddling with Jews” (Romantics
Reviewed, B.1:424). Roberts compares Byron unfavorably with his noto-
rious relative, Lord George Gordon, who ostentatiously converted to
Judaism in the previous century: “we do not think that Lord Byron
makes a better figure with his Jewish minstrelsy, than Lord George
Gordon with his rabbinical beard” (425); Byron’s collaboration marks a
“perversion of his genius” (425):

We should be happy, in the words of Balaam, to tell him to “walk humbly

with his God,” or, in other words, by his previous study of the Holy
Scriptures, to draw largely from the well of everlasting life a purer water
32 / imperfect sympathies

than the fountains of Helicon could afford him: to learn from that
blessed book, not how to write on Jewish topics, but how
“To shame the doctrine of the Sadducees.” (425)

In other words, Byron should only participate in the appropriation of

Jewish texts into Christianity as a Christian believer, not as a Judaizer.
Like the reviewer in the British Critic, Roberts bases his argument on a
strong anti-Judaic bias and a particular prescription for the way that
Christians should approach Jewish texts.15 Josiah Conder, in the Eclectic
Review (1815), goes so far as to imply that the poetry of Hebrew Melodies
suffers because “In order to sweep the harp of David, a man needs to be
not only preeminently a poet, but emphatically a Christian. . . . It ought
to excite no surprise that the hand of Genius itself should become
withered by an unhallowed attempt to touch the Ark” (Ashton, 44).16
Exclusivist views such as these, as well as the assumption that
Judaism is a religion of Law rather than Love, were quite common
during the period. Such views certainly presented obstacles to a genuine
understanding of Judaism, as did the perception that Jewish religious

Figure 2.2 Anon. Devotion in Duke’s Place, or Contractors returning thanks for
a Loan. 1818. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 33

practice was strange and undignified.17 Coleridge stands out among his
contemporaries because he devoted much of his intellectual energy to
studying the Bible and ancient Jewish civilization, and yet he also repre-
sents the ambivalence of the period. Despite the depth of his studies, his
interest in biblical criticism, and his personal relationship with Hyman
Hurwitz, Coleridge maintained a dichotomy between biblical Judaism
and the London Jews, perhaps not as brutal as Byron’s but nonetheless
troubling. As one of Coleridge’s modern editors, Anthony Harding,
explained in a personal correspondence (1997),

There are certainly some remarks by Coleridge that reflect common anti-
Semitic prejudice of his day—he tends to contrast the noble words of the
biblical prophets with the poor sellers of old clothes who were the Jew
most often seen in public—but in general he has a much more positive
even pro-Jewish view especially contrasted with Enlightenment writers
like Herder and Eichhorn whom in fact he strongly criticizes for their
patronizing attitude to the history and culture of Israel.

In his comments on contemporary Jews, Coleridge reveals his own

ambivalence through his later years.
Table Talk records Coleridge as saying on April 14, 1830, “the Jews
of the lower orders are the very lowest of mankind: they have not a prin-
ciple of honesty in them; to grasp and be getting money for ever is their
single and exclusive occupation” (Collected Works, 2:74). Coleridge
presents his difficulty in reconciling the exalted image that he holds of
biblical times and biblical language with his distaste for the poor Jews
of London as a moral problem. For instance, Table Talk also records on
August 14, 1833, that “The two images farthest removed from each
other which can be comprehended under one term, I think, Isaiah
‘Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!’ and Levi of Holywell-street—
‘Old clothes!’—both of them Jews, you’ll observe. Immane quantum
disrepant” (2:248). Coleridge cannot reconcile this discrepancy. In
numerous instances he reveals his ambivalence, for at the same time that
he defends the Jewish people and shows respect for Jewish history and
culture, he returns to the unsavory image of real Jews on the street, as
the episode described in chapter 1 demonstrates.18
Among Christian writers, the overriding sentiment, even among
those who try sympathetically to come to terms with Jews and Judaism,
is ambivalence. As I argue in the next section, authorial misgivings
manifest themselves in numerous ways and compromise the easy
moralizing of the text. Richard Cumberland’s The Jew, advertised and
34 / imperfect sympathies

reviewed as friendly to Jews, actually represents Jews and Judaism as a

poor fit for British culture.

Richard Cumberland’s The Jew: Two Cheers

for Toleration
It has been traditional to link Cumberland’s popular comedy The Jew
(1794) with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s more stately and philosophical
German play Nathan the Wise (translated into English in 1781 and
1791).19 But although both plays intend to present a primary Jewish
character in a positive light, Cumberland’s play has stronger connections
to the sentimental comedy seen on the British stage in the second part
of the eighteenth century than to Lessing’s philosophical drama.
Cumberland, a prolific playwright, essayist, and poet, set out to write
a play that he thought would enhance the standing of British Jews, a
group that he rightly perceived to be misrepresented on stage and in
life.20 As Cumberland himself explains in his later Memoirs,

. . . . I fancied there was an opening for some originality, and an oppor-

tunity for shewing at least my good will to mankind, if I introduced the
character of persons, who had been usually exhibited on the stage, as
butts for ridicule and abuse, and endeavored to present them in such
lights, as might tend to reconcile the world to them, and them to the
world. (I, 274)

Cumberland goes on to explain that he chose to “reconcile” various

national, ethnic, and religious groups to British culture; his categories
include Scots, Irishmen, and Jews, among others. A social conservative
who admired Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and an
orthodox Anglican, Cumberland seems to believe in toleration within
In these endeavors, two contradictory principles motivate
Cumberland: advancement of his own career and sympathy for the
oppressed. In other words, Cumberland saw the play as an opening for
originality as well as a bid for reconciliation. In his own reflections,
Cumberland reveals his ambivalence toward the Jews whom he was
supposedly championing, for he criticizes the Jewish community for not
rewarding him for writing a play about a good Jew:

I do most heartily wish they had flattered me with some token, however
small, of which I might have said this is a tribute to my philanthropy, and
delivered it down to my children, as my beloved father did to me his
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 35

badge of favour from the citizens of Dublin; but not a word from the lips,
not a line did I ever receive from the pen of any Jew, though I have found
myself in company with many of their nation; and in this perhaps the
gentlemen are quite right, whilst I had formed expectations, that were
quite wrong; for if I have said of them only what they deserve, why
should I be thanked for it? But if I have said more, much more, than they
deserve, can they do a wiser thing than hold their tongues? (Memoirs,

In retrospect, Cumberland’s motives seem more mercenary than

philanthropic—even bigoted in his comment that he gave the Jews
more than they deserved in the portrait of the Jew in his play. The impli-
cation is that they did not deserve much and were really not worthy of
Cumberland’s largesse.22
The Jew is the story of a generous Jewish moneylender, Sheva, who is
best described as the opposite of Shylock. Although taunted by some of
the Christians in the play, he dedicates himself to giving away (not even
lending!) bundles of money, even depriving himself of food and
comforts in order to help others. (“I’ll suck the air for nourishment,”
1.10). The main plot revolves around his rescue of a decent Christian
family and vindication of his own name in the community.
The problem with The Jew begins with the conception and contin-
ues with the execution: Cumberland cannot imagine a Jew as anything
but a moneylender. He plays fast and loose with all of the Shylockian
stereotypes and peppers the play with allusions to pounds of flesh as well
as conventional pork and pig jokes that evoke The Merchant of Venice.
Sheva gives his money away, but he also loves counting it and caressing
it: “I love my monies, I do love them dearly; but I love my fellow-
creatures a little better” (2.21). Although Cumberland states in his
Memoirs that he rejects the notion of the Jew as comic butt, he adopts
some of the markers of Jewish mockery. For instance, Sheva cannot
speak the King’s English, but speaks with the typical Yiddish accent
of the stage Jew. This linguistic trick aligns him with the very characters
that Cumberland claims to be replacing, as well as with a host of carica-
tured Jews in graphic and verbal satires, who always seem to speak with
a Yiddish inflection. Southey’s persona in Letters from England, for
instance, comments that in response to news of a mutiny and supposed
lynching of an admiral, a “Jew was calculating his own loss from the
effect it would produce upon the funds . . . exclaiming in Hebrew-
English My Gott! De stokes! articulated with a deep sigh, and accompa-
nied with a shrug of shoulders, and an elevation of eyebrows as emphatic
as the exclamation” (397).
36 / imperfect sympathies

Cumberland, hence, cannot imagine his Jewish character in a

specific, culturally Jewish way. He remains, as Harold Fisch commented
in 1959, “a sort of Shylock in reverse” (44)—his very presence on stage
paradoxically evokes the absent stage Jew. Fisch is right, I think, in
concluding that Sheva’s goodness is the “generalized sentiment of the age
rather than of the particular facts of Jewish history and Jewish ethics”
(47). In fact, this is a central point because it applies not only to
Cumberland, but also to most writers of the age, whether they express
sympathetic or unsympathetic attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. They
simply do not know much about the subject, either from a social or
a scholarly perspective, even though some Jewish explanatory texts were
available in English.23 Cumberland’s ideological commitment to the
ideal of toleration is not quite strong enough to steer him free of bigotry
when he suffers from injured pride.
Cumberland shares in the late-eighteenth-century focus on debates
about religious toleration. To his credit, Cumberland comes down
squarely on the side of toleration in the play, but his play sends mixed
messages about the efficacy of Jewish culture in Britain and about the
possibilities of sympathy. His conception of the Other is too narrow—
he thinks of groups that need help in being accepted into the larger
culture, but he does not think of the Other as having a voice, a conscious-
ness, or a perspective from which to view that culture. Hence, the play
may have been successful in supporting an abstract faith in tolerance and
philanthropy, admittedly, a somewhat daring political ideology, but it did
not provide a window into Jewish life in London in the 1790s.
I surmise that the play and particularly the character of Sheva were
popular because audiences identified with the easy-going benevolence
and at the same time still laughed at the foreign-accented, money-loving
stage Jew who likes people a little bit more than his ducats. These were
not qualities that would inspire educated Jews to write letters of appre-
ciation to Cumberland; and if Jews were among the nonelites in the
gallery, as they no doubt were, they would be even less likely to present
tokens of appreciation to the playwright, even if they delighted in the
play. Perhaps part of the problem for Cumberland involved the expec-
tations of the sentimental comic genre. On the one hand Cumberland
evoked sympathy for Sheva by showing him responding sympathetically
to thwarted lovers and to a family in need, but he also wanted the more
satirical and comic punch that Sheva’s stereotyped speech, dress, and
mannerisms would afford.
The play subtly enforces the very same stereotypes found in graphic
satire. For instance, in one scene Sheva’s Jewish servant Jabal has a
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 37

conversation with the Christian servant Dorcas. Because Sheva pinches

his money so tightly, there is never enough food to eat, and young Jabal
utters a running comic commentary on his hunger. In the scene in
question, Jabal confesses to Dorcas that he is tempted to eat pork:

Jabal: Why ‘tis the devil himself, in the shape of a Bologna sausage:
Gracious! How my mouth did water, as I saw a string of them
dangling from the penthouse of an oilman’s shop! The fellow
wou’d have persuaded me that were made of ass’s flesh—Oh! If
I cou’d have believ’d him.
Dorcas: Oh! Horrible! You must not touch the unclean beast.
Jabal: No, to be sure; our people have never tasted bacon since they
came out of the land of Ham.
Dorcas: Jabal, Jabal, what an escape you have had!
Jabal: So had the sausages, for my teeth quiver’d to be at them.
(2.2, 27)

Setting aside, if possible, some of the ridiculous assumptions, such as

that eating an ass would be preferable to a pig, this scene enforces the
notion that Jews crave what is forbidden. Although a comic scene that
ends with Jabal sharing an egg with Dorcas, the implication that Jews
crave forbidden pork and blood has been connected for centuries to the
blood libel and inspires the mythic context for such allusions in graphic
satire of the period.24 I am not saying that Cumberland supported the
blood libel, but he does make comic use of the old associations, and he
shadows the brightness of his comedy with darker elements.25
Furthermore, it would be hard to attribute to the Christian Cumberland
the kind of comic Jewish self-hating consciousness that one finds in
twentieth-century fantasies on this theme, in, say, the novels of Philip
Roth or the films of Woody Allen.
In addition, Cumberland himself, as his comments in the Memoirs
indicate, harbored some resentment against Jews and a suspicion toward
Judaism. This latter quality reveals itself in other writings, both earlier
than The Jew and later, for instance, in the Observer essays introducing
the fictional character of Abraham Abrahams, first published in 1785.
I am not so much interested in the fact that Sheva seems based on this
character as on the evocative way that Cumberland introduces
Abrahams. In essay thirty-eight, Cumberland says that he has received a
letter from a Jewish gentleman, who laments his treatment at the
theater. Before quoting the letter, Cumberland alludes to Jewish suffer-
ing in the Inquisition and in other parts of the world. Although, as
he says, the following complaint may seem like a trifle in comparison,
38 / imperfect sympathies

the behavior described is “unbecoming the character of so illuminated

and benevolent a nation as we have the honour to belong to” (246):

I have tried every part of the house, but the front boxes, where I observe
such a line of bullies in the back, that even if I were a Christian, I would
not venture amongst them; but I no sooner put my head into an obscure
corner of the gallery than some fellow roars out to his comrades—Smoke
the Jew!—Smoke the little Isaac!—Throw him over, says another, hand over
the smouch!—Out with Shylock, cries a third, out with the pound of man’s
flesh—Buckles and buttons! Spectacles! bawls out a fourth—and so on
through the whole gallery, till I am forced to retire out of the theatre,
amongst hootings and hissings, with a shower of rotten apples and
chewed oranges vollied at my head, when all the offense I have given is a
humble offer to be a peaceable spectator jointly with them, of the same
common amusement. (247)

This is more vivid than anything in The Jew for showing what it really
might have felt like to be “smoked,” an archaic expression for being
exposed or ostracized as an outsider.26 Cumberland’s language—from
the slang term for a Jew (smouch) to the references to Shylock or the
generic, infantilizing “little Isaac”—evokes sympathy for Abrahams and
his wife, who was also subjected to this harassment. Cumberland seems
to understand that the theater, a public place where national identity
and culture were contested, needed to be open to all, especially to Jews
of some standing. Mr. Abrahams, in fact, goes on to explain that he has
“lodged” his “property” (247) and trusted his safety to England.27
Cumberland comments on the letter by noting the “vulgar fun of
smoking a Jew, which so prevails among us” [in 1785] (249). He believes
that people would not do this “if they were once fairly convinced that a
Jew were their fellow creature, and really had fellow feeling with their
own: satisfy them in this point, and their humanity will do the rest”
(249). Cumberland employs the language of sympathy in his analysis.
Remarkably, Cumberland then advises his correspondent to recite
Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech to the “smoker.” Cumberland
urges that a man who can seriously answer Shylock’s questions and
persist as a persecutor “has the soul of the inquisition” (250). Thirty
years before Hazlitt will endorse sympathy for Kean’s Shylock,
Cumberland suggests a bold rethinking of the play as if it were just the
most basic common sense. He cuts to the heart of the matter by identi-
fying the basic requirements for the sympathetic imagination: fellow
feeling for others, especially for the oppressed.
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 39

In The Jew, written about nine years later, Cumberland lacks the
intensity of this conviction. He does present Sheva as worthy of fellow
feeling, but he ridicules him at the same time. Here, in the Observer
essay, something else happens to compromise the conviction of sympathy.
He speaks as a Christian and casts a shadow on his own insight:

The sin and obduracy of their forefathers are amongst the undoubted
records of our gospel, but I doubt if this can be a sufficient reason,
why we should hold them in such general odium through so many
ages, seeing how naturally the son follows the faith of the father, and
how much too general a thing it is amongst mankind to profess any
particular form of religion, that devolves upon them by inheritance,
rather than by free election and conviction of reason founded upon
examination. (250)

From here on out in this essay Cumberland develops the argument that
the Jews are indeed a sinful and obdurate people from the perspective
of the gospel: they not only rejected the Christian messiah, he implies,
but they participated in his betrayal. The quoted passage, while accept-
ing this claim against the Jews as truth, goes on to say that Christians
should not blame Jews for naturally following their inherited religion—
it is a fault akin to a genetic disease, in other words, that they cannot
help. According to Cumberland’s construction, a Christian can feel
sympathy for the Jewish people and fellow feeling for individual Jews,
but can never forget the superiority of the Christian dispensation. He was
still thinking this way in 1801 when he published an essay entitled, “A
Few Plain Reasons Why We Should Believe in Christ and Adhere to His
Religion: Addrest to the Patrons and Professors of the New Philosophy,”
as he had been when he published an eight-book poem in 1792 entitled,
Calvary, or the Death of Christ, just two years before The Jew opened.
The point is not just that The Jew sends mixed messages in its treat-
ment of Sheva, but that Cumberland’s own Christian ideology leads to
contradiction. In his view, Christians should respect Jews as the chosen
people and should love them, but always with the awareness that their
very existence as Jews consigns them to the “peculiarity” and otherness
of the not Christian. Cumberland may advocate religious toleration and
safe haven for Jews, but he stops there. Sheva cannot escape the fact that
he is an unbeliever, a foreigner, an Other, no matter how nice he is or
how much money he gives away. The same ambivalence about Jews that
Cumberland betrays also motivates Charles Lamb, whose persona in
“Imperfect Sympathies” makes ambivalence open and explicit.
40 / imperfect sympathies

Lamb’s Elia: Masking Prejudice

Many of Lamb’s Essays of Elia explore the psychological terrain of the
sympathetic imagination, sometimes with Elia’s confessions of failure to
feel sympathetically. Perhaps the best instance of this alleged failure is
the essay “Imperfect Sympathies,” first published in London Magazine
in 1821, which covers the ground of certain “nationalities,” including in
the same general category a motley group of Others: Scots, Jews, blacks,
and Quakers. Lamb’s super-category of Otherness implies a sameness
and ease of dividing up the world into categories, yet his portrait of
Jews stands out in several significant ways.
Lamb’s rhetorical strategy is important throughout the Essays of Elia,
but nowhere more telling than in this essay. Thomas McFarland has
referred to Lamb’s “strategic whimsy” (32), a cultivated and intention-
ally light style in his informal essays that masks the deep sadness and
fragmentation of Lamb’s life. McFarland goes on to argue that “the
twenty-eight prose essays of Elia are as surely the record of Lamb’s
psychic odyssey as are the twenty-four books of Homer’s epic a record of
Odysseus’ journey. . . . The figure on the inner parapet, though dressed
as Lamb, is not Lamb but Elia” (46). I argue that in “Imperfect
Sympathies” Lamb’s use of whimsy and light, engaging irony masks
anxieties about Otherness. Under the guise of his mask “Elia,” Lamb
evokes myths and stereotypes about each group that he considers, while
at the same time seeming to say that it’s all a joke.
In Inscribing the Other, Sander Gilman paraphrases Yeats’ claim that
“our ‘masks’ are those which are opposite to our personality but identi-
cal with our desire” (5). In the case of Elia, the resemblance to Lamb as
he appears in his letters and conversation is closer to his personality. But
Gilman’s formulation is nonetheless useful for understanding Lamb’s
overall strategy. He uses the mask of Elia to express what he yearns for
and what he fears, what he cannot assimilate into his fragmented view.
Although Lamb uses a light ironic tone throughout the essays, he is not
an ironist in the same way that Swift is in “A Modest Proposal.” Whereas
the success of reading “A Modest Proposal” depends on the reader’s
agreement to reverse and reject the proposal as immodest, indecent, and
immoral, “Imperfect Sympathies” does not work that way at all. Lamb’s
essay begins with fine distinctions and ends with a segment on the
Quakers that serves as a direct contrast to the segment on Jews, the other
religious minority that Elia analyzes. Lamb uses Elia’s whimsy to
make light of it all, but at the same time the reader knows that Lamb is
serious too.
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 41

Elia begins the essay by claiming that, unlike the author of Religio
Medici (Sir Thomas Browne), he does not sympathize with all things:

I confess that I do feel the differences of mankind, national or individual,

to an unhealthy excess. I can look with no indifferent eye upon things or
persons. Whatever is, is to me a matter of taste or distaste; or when once
it becomes indifferent, it begins to be disrelishing. I am, in plainer words,
a bundle of prejudices—made up of likings and dislikings—the veriest
thrall to sympathies, apathies, antipathies. In a certain sense, I hope it
may be said of me that I am a lover of my species. I can feel for all indif-
ferently, but I cannot feel toward all equally. The more purely-English
word that expresses sympathy will better explain my meaning. I can be a
friend to a worthy man, who upon another account cannot be my mate
or fellow. I cannot like all people alike. (68–69)

After confessing here to being a “bundle of prejudices,” Elia includes a

footnote to explain that he is confining himself in this essay to “imper-
fect sympathies,” because in his view “To nations or classes of men there
can be no direct antipathy.” He sets up this distinction to show that he
is not describing hateful passions but rather the inability to assent to
sympathetic fellow feeling, or to put himself in the place of the Other.
Elia cagily begins with a seemingly uncomplicated case of national
distaste: “I have been trying all my life to like Scotsmen, and am obliged
to desist from the experiment in despair” (68). Elia claims that in intel-
lectual terms, there is no “border-land” (70) with a Scot: “Surmises,
guesses, misgivings, half-intuitions, semi-consciousnesses, partial illumi-
nations, dim instincts, embryo conceptions, have no place in his brain,
or vocabulary” (70)—all of the qualities in which Elia delights. Nor,
according to Elia, does a Scotsman have a mind for metaphor or irony,
another Elian staple. Elia’s segment on the Scots is so telling and funny
because Lamb obviously creates them to be the opposite of Elia, that
resident of the borderland between truth and fiction, whimsy and
In his concluding segment on Quakers, Elia maintains a kind of
admiration for their “oddities,” while at the same time he claims that he
could not like them: “I should starve at their primitive banquet” (74).
Nevertheless, as his anecdote of traveling with Quakers and observing
their behavior at an inn reveals, Elia both admires and finds baffling
the Quakers’ seeming ability to duck conflict and easily reconcile their
morality with their commercial success. Instead of brooding over the
would-be altercation with the landlady over their bill, they simply walk
out, get into the coach, and, after a period of silence, resume their
42 / imperfect sympathies

conversation. But the incongruity that Elia feels here and the sense of
oddness he projects remains good natured and admiring. The Quakers
have no qualms, so why should he? Their commercial dealings are
somewhat mysterious but not rapacious.
Sandwiched between the Scots and the Quakers is a short segment
on “the Negro” and a longer one on Jews. Elia briefly comments on
the “benignity” (75) of the black faces that he has seen in London: “But
I should not like to associate with them, to share my meals and my
goodnights with them—because they are black” (73). Elia offers no
explanation—he implies that the striking fact of their physical differ-
ence justifies the absence of sympathy and fellow feeling despite the
Still, Elia’s much longer paragraph on the Jews covers more ground
and raises even more troubling questions about his imperfect sympathy.
Elia begins by saying that, “I have, in abstract, no disrespect for Jews.
They are a piece of stubborn antiquity, compared with which
Stonehenge is in its nonage” (72). Without saying it explicitly, Elia, who
has already told his readers that he avoids literal-mindedness, implies
much by his use of the word “stubborn.” As cited earlier, the stubborn-
ness of the Jews in not accepting Jesus as their messiah is a major theme
of Christian sermonizing. Although Elia’s tone is light, then, his impli-
cation bears more weight. The same holds for his next allusion:

I confess that I have not the nerve to enter their synagogues. Old preju-
dices cling about me. I cannot shake off the story of Hugh of Lincoln.
Centuries of injury, contempt, and hate, on the one side,—of cloaked
revenge, dissimulation, and hate, on the other, between our and their
fathers, must, and ought to affect the blood of the children. (72)

Elia implies that there is good reason for the Jewish response to
Christian hate, but he diminishes his position by alluding to Hugh of
Lincoln, one of the notorious episodes of the blood libel aimed against
Jews in England and all over Europe and the East for hundreds of
years.29 This reference, so involved with violence and hatred against the
Jews, is particularly jarring here. Simply by bringing up the blood libel
as a story that haunts him, even if he does not endorse the lie, Elia
revives the suspicion that Jews really are a threat.
Although Elia has criticized the Scots for their inability to sit on
the border, he now adopts their posture, for the most troubling practice
for Elia is assimilation, the mingling of Christian and Jew in “affected
civility” (72). Elia seems most bothered by attempts of Jews to reform
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 43

and liberalize their practice so that they fit into British society: “A moder-
ate Jew is a more confounding piece of anomaly than a wet Quaker” (73).
For Elia, the separate ritual and practices (“If they can sit with us at table,
why do they keck at our cookery?” [72]) of Judaism require a distance
from society. Jews seem ungrateful and unsociable in this description,
since their dietary laws require them to reject Christian hospitality.
If accommodation and liberalization perplex Elia, so does conver-
sion. His example of a famous convert from Judaism rehearses the situ-
ation of many converted Jews—including most famously Benjamin
Disraeli—who supposedly maintain telltale signs of Jewishness despite
the rejection of Judaism: mannerisms, speech, “physiognomy.”
Consider the example of “B——,” John Braham, the famous tenor:

B—— would have been more in keeping if he had abided by the spirit of
the faith of his forefathers. There is a fine scorn in his face, which nature
meant to be of ——- Christians. The Hebrew spirit is strong in him in spite
of his proselytism. He cannot conquer the Shibboleth. How it breaks out
when he sings, “The Children of Israel passed through the Red Sea!” The
auditors, for the moment, are as Egyptians to him, and he rides over our
necks in triumph. There is no mistaking him. —- B—- has a strong expres-
sion of sense in his countenance, and it is confirmed by his singing. The
foundation of his vocal excellence is sense. He sings with understanding, as
[Philip] Kemble delivered dialogue. He would sing the Commandments,
and give an appropriate character to each prohibition. (73)

The biblical allusions work to emphasize the point that Elia makes
about Braham: that as a convert he can give up his Judaism but cannot
escape the Shibboleth of his Jewishness, manifested both in his perform-
ing voice and in his “fine scorn.” Paradoxically, Braham’s Christian audi-
tors become the Egyptians, caught in the Red Sea as Braham, the Jew,
“rides over our necks in triumph,” in a contextually useful misreading of
Exodus and perhaps of Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt. Furthermore,
Elia’s ungrammatical shift from the third person “the auditors” to
the first person “our necks” draws a strong distinction between the audi-
ence, with whom the Christian Elia identifies, and the “Jewish” singer
who rides roughshod over them with his powerful voice and meaning.30
As if right on key, Elia brings it all back to the supposed Jewish obses-
sion with money. He had already stated that he found Jews least distaste-
ful on the “‘Change—for the mercantile spirit levels all distinctions, as
all are beauties in the dark” (72). After introducing Braham, Elia links
the scorn of his face and the power of his voice to this supposed attribute
of the “ ‘Hebrew spirit’: Gain, and the pursuit of gain, sharpens a man’s
44 / imperfect sympathies

visage” (73). Lest readers think Elia is alone in this assessment of

Braham, Leigh Hunt makes an even more remarkable and revealing
connection in the Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (1850):

He had wonderful execution as well as force, and his voice could also be
very sweet, though it was too apt to betray something of that nasal tone
which has been observed of Jews, and which is, perhaps, quite as much,
or more, a habit in which they have been brought up than a consequence
of organization. The same thing has been noticed in Americans; and it
might not be difficult to trace it to moral, and even to monied causes;
those, to wit, that induce people to retreat inwardly upon themselves;
into a sense of their shrewdness and resources; and to clap their finger in
self-congratulation upon the organ through which it pleases them occa-
sionally to intimate as much to a bystander, not choosing to trust it
wholly to the mouth. (125–26)

As bizarre as Hunt’s pseudo-scientific explanation sounds, the alleged

nasality and squeakiness of the Jewish voice also figures in visual carica-
ture, as is evident in Thomas Rowlandson’s much earlier satire (1803)
on the Jewish playgoers’ taking offense to the representation of three
Jewish prostitutes in Thomas Dibdin’s Family Quarrels (1802). In the
graphic satire, Rowlandson depicts a gentile singer (Charles Incledon)
and a Jewish singer (Braham) (see figure 2.3).31 Whereas Incledon sings
“Moderato con expressione,” Braham sings “Allegro Squeakando,” cheered
on by his Yiddish-inflected fans: “Mine Cod, How he shing.”
The connection between Jewish shrewdness and “monied causes”
extends beyond caricatures of Jews in the arts. Although neither Lamb
nor Hunt develops an overarching theory regarding Jews and money,
their comments endorse those who do. As Sander Gilman has argued,
Marx posits in “On the Jewish Question” and elsewhere that Western
culture “has already become Judaized because it accepted the role of
money as the basis for social order” ( Jewish Self-Hatred, 194). Marx
argues that “haggling” is the language of the Jew and that “exchange” is
the God (193–94). Hunt’s seemingly bizarre comparison between
Jewish and American self-congratulatory nasality would make perfect
sense to Marx, since to him the common denominator of Western
society—the gift of the Jews—is not monotheism but capitalism.
Likewise, Marx had contempt for lower-class Jews’ Yiddish-accented
German—a not so distant cousin to the Jew of English caricature who
marvels at “How he shing.”32
In 1821 when Lamb wrote “Imperfect Sympathies,” he was tapping
into a source of mythology about Jewish traits. The same applies to his
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 45

Figure 2.3 Thomas Rowlandson, Family Quarrels or The Jew and The Gentile.
1803. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

comment on Jewish women, whose “physiognomy” he admires “—but

with trembling. Jael had those dark inscrutable eyes” (73). As is the case
with Scott’s Rebecca, Elia thinks of his representative Jewish woman as
exotic, mysterious, and dangerous in her beauty. Such representation of
Jewish women sets them apart by their Jewishness and their gender.
In the space of one long paragraph Elia comments on Jewish stub-
bornness, the blood libel, assimilation and conversion, the Jewish
“Shibboleth,” a specific tenor, and Jewish women in general—and all of
these in a suspect if playful way. One would only have to compare Lamb
with someone like William Cobbett to see that Lamb’s Elia is indeed not
driven half mad by his hatred of Jews, and yet, the essay uncovers the
major anti-Semitic themes of his day and implies that there may be
some truths and half truths among them. As Freud knew, jokes are a
serious matter of unconscious fear and desire, and from a Jewish
perspective Lamb’s paragraph is a Jewish joke writ large. Elia puts his
diminutive finger on all the reasons why a well-meaning and ordinarily
prejudiced English man or woman should be suspicious of Jews
and keep them at arm’s length. The paragraph on the Jews works, in
fact, as a microcosm of the essay, in that it provides the reader with bits
and pieces without summary or resolution. Lamb’s conception of the
46 / imperfect sympathies

form of the informal essay works perfectly with his hinting, gossiping,
allusive style.
To what extent does Lamb’s essay launch a critique of sympathy?
Lamb does imply that certain national and religious prejudices, regarded
by Elia as not necessarily bad, prevent a sympathetic response and
encourage one to stick with one’s own kind. In “Imperfect Sympathies,”
Elia sees the world in terms of stereotypes, and no stereotype, whether
it be of the benignant Negro (noble savage) or the rapacious, nasal Jew,
will inspire perfect sympathy. The stereotype sets up a barrier between
self and Other, thereby preventing the identity or connection necessary
for the working of sympathy. Lamb implies that Elia’s fractured and
unstable self preserves what wholeness is left by resisting Otherness,
retreating inward, and reserving sympathy for a limited group of like-
minded people. Sympathy requires a movement out of the self and iden-
tification with the other, but stereotypes set up a barrier to this process.

Hazlitt’s “Emancipation of the Jews:” The Politics

of Sympathy
Hazlitt’s “Emancipation of the Jews” is the most impressive piece of
writing in the Romantic period to bring this concept of sympathy to bear
on the political situation of the Jews in Britain, and the most eloquent
argument for religious freedom and respect. An essay that should be better
know than it is, “Emancipation of the Jews” argues that civil emanci-
pation would be the logical result of the triumph of sympathetic imagi-
nation over “bugbears”—the ancient and persistent myths and
stereotypes about Jews in European culture. Regarded as the last essay
that Hazlitt wrote, “Emancipation of the Jews” first appeared in Hunt’s
The Tatler on March 28, 1831, and according to Hazlitt’s editor Howe,
it also appeared separately as a pamphlet.33 Hazlitt wrote the essay in the
immediate turmoil over the first Reform Bill, but it also reflects his life-
long advocacy of radical democratic change. Whereas Lamb (Elia) had
focused on the impediments to perfect sympathy, Hazlitt argues that
one’s sense of justice should override any stumbling blocks.
With an Enlightenment sense of the “progress of civilization” (320),
Hazlitt argues that even in Rome, which still adheres to anti-Semitic
communal practices, there have been some changes for the better.
Echoing Shylock’s own argument in The Merchant of Venice, Hazlitt
implies those who have hated and persecuted the Jews over the centuries
have created an image that they love to hate: “You treat him with obloquy
or contempt, and wonder that he does not walk by you with an erect and
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 47

open brow” (321). In even more specific terms, Hazlitt goes on to expose
the economic, theological, and psychosocial sources of anti-Semitism,
taking on powerful adversaries as well as evoking like-minded thinkers.
In one of his most effective paragraphs, Hazlitt analyzes the
economic motives for the contempt and isolation with which the Jews
have suffered:

We also object to their trades and modes of life; that is, we shut people
up in close confinement and complain that they do not live in the open
air. The Jews barter and sell commodities, instead of raising and manu-
facturing them. But this is the necessary traditional consequence of their
former persecution and pillage by all nations. They could not set up a
trade when they were hunted every moment from place to place, and
while they could count nothing their own but what they could carry with
them. They could not devote themselves to the pursuit of agriculture,
when they were not allowed to possess a foot of land. You tear a people
up by the roots and trample on them like noxious weeds, and then
make an outcry that they do not take root in the soil like wholesome
plants. You drive them like a pest from city to city, from kingdom to
kingdom, and then call them vagabonds and aliens. (321)34

Although Hazlitt makes no explicit reference to Cobbett, he may be

indirectly responding to the vicious attack on Jews and Judaism that
Cobbett published just a year earlier in Good Friday; or the Murder of
Jesus Christ by the Jews (London, 1830). The title reveals the hateful
theological charges that Cobbett makes, but Cobbett also denounces
Jews as economic parasites who preyed on the working classes and
were contributing to the destruction of “England”; as David Vital has
argued, “Constable’s England, one might say, rather than Turner’s” (187).
Cobbett responded to earlier arguments for emancipation by challenging
his readers to “ ‘produce a Jew who ever dug, who went to the plough, or
who ever made his own coat or his own shoes, or who did anything at all,
except get all the money he could from the pockets of the people’ ”
(Cobbett, Good Friday, 17, quoted in Vital, 187). As if in answer to
Cobbett, Hazlitt makes a point of showing why modern Jews in England
were not associated with agriculture or rural life. Furthermore, he
develops a highly charged agricultural metaphor (roots and weeds) to
emphasize his reasoned argument about the historical treatment of Jews.
Hazlitt does not address the type of virulent theological attack that
Cobbett makes, except in his introduction as a product of the benighted
past, but he does answer objections to Jewish emancipation made on
Christian grounds: that the Jews expect to be restored to their own
48 / imperfect sympathies

country, that the Jews do not accept the Christian messiah, and that
Christianity is the law of the land. Hazlitt dismisses the first objection by
arguing, in essence, that even if this restoration were the ultimate goal of
the Jews, it may be many years before this occurred, and Jews could have
many years of successful civic life before that. Furthermore, if Jews were
rooted to the country, they would work for greater prosperity and stabil-
ity. As to the objection regarding the Christian messiah, Hazlitt first
reminds his readers that

The great founder of the Christian religion was himself born among that
people, and if the Jewish nation are still to be branded with his death, it
might be asked on what principle of justice ought we to punish men for
crimes committed by their co-religionists near two thousand years ago?
That the Jews, as a people, persist in their blindness and obstinacy is to
be lamented; but it is at least, under the circumstances, a proof of their
sincerity; and as adherents to a losing cause, they are entitled to respect
and not contempt. (322)

Although Hazlitt argues that Jews deserve respect, this passage does clar-
ify that he does not see Judaism as equal to Christianity on theological
grounds—the refusal of the Christian messiah is a theological error
although not grounds for denial of civil emancipation.35 Of course this
theological error from a Christian point of view is a denial of Judaism
and Jewish faith in the messiah to come. Nor does this acknowledgment
of Jewish “obstinacy” prevent Hazlitt’s sympathy for the Jewish people,
although it was a factor in Cumberland’s ambivalence.
Hazlitt’s allusions in “Emancipation of the Jews” connect his argu-
ment for toleration to the Protestant prophetic tradition, which is in
turn indebted to Hebrew Scriptures. In responding to the objection that
England as a Christian land cannot fully tolerate Jews, Hazlitt argues,
“We in modern Europe derived from them [the Jews] the whole germ of
our civilization, and our ideas on the unity of the Deity, on marriage, on
morals, ‘And pure religion breathing household Laws’ ” (322).
Hazlitt bolsters his acknowledgment that Judaism provides the germ
of civilization with an allusion to the last line of Wordsworth’s sonnet,
“Written in London, September, 1802.” Wordsworth’s speaker laments
the moral state of the country in 1802, as the sestet reveals:

No grandeur now in nature or in book

Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expence,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 49

Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,

And pure religion breathing household laws.

The pure religion and high thinking to which Wordsworth alludes

hearken back to the age of the Puritan Commonwealth and to Milton.
Wordsworth’s sonnet, in turn, alludes to his precursor, Milton, and to
Milton’s sonnet, “On the Lord General Fairfax at the Seige of Colchester.”
In this political sonnet, Milton first praises Fairfax as a military hero, but
shifts the argument:

O yet a nobler task awaits thy hand;

For what can Warrs but endless War still breed,
Till Truth, & Right from Violence be freed,
And Public Faith cleared from the shameful brand
Of Public Fraud. In vain doth Valour bleed
While Avarice, & Rapine share the land.

Hazlitt’s explicit allusion to Wordsworth, which in turn opens more

obliquely into Milton’s text, thus evokes both of these authors and their
sense that political reform and advancement were tied to “pure religion”
and Truth.
Through the mediation of Wordsworth, Hazlitt appeals to the
prophetic tradition of Milton to bring about his own version of religious
reformation, in which Christianity in England would purify or vindicate
itself by advocating the side of toleration. In “Emancipation of the
Jews,” then, Hazlitt also calls for an emancipation of Christianity from
those who would pervert it by calling it “to the aid of persecution”
(321). Taking his argument beyond Milton’s, both in the Fairfax sonnet
and in Areopagitica, Hazlitt lays the foundation for a more radical sepa-
ration of religion and civil government: “Religion cannot take on itself
the character of law without ceasing to be religion; nor can law recog-
nise the obligations of religion for its principles, nor become the
pretended guardian and protector of the faith, without degenerating
into inquisitorial tyranny” (323).36
Having taken on religion explicitly, Hazlitt then proceeds to analyze
the nature of prejudice itself. Whereas Elia had whimsically embraced
prejudice as part of his response to a fragmented world, Hazlitt sees
prejudice as one of the last bastions of superstition and ignorance:

All the wealth of the Jews cannot buy them a single seat there [in the
House of Commons]; but if a certain formal restriction were taken off,
50 / imperfect sympathies

Jewish gold would buy up the fee simple of the consciences, prejudices,
and interests of the country, and turn the kingdom topsy-turvy. Thus the
bedrid imagination of prejudice sees some dreadful catastrophe in every
improvement, and no longer feeling the ground of custom under its feet,
fancies itself on an abyss of ruin and lawless change. (323)

Hazlitt also introduces a long, unattributed quote that compares preju-

dice to the spider, making its home everywhere and filling all vacant
spaces with cobwebs. Ignorance nurtures the cobwebs of the mind, or to
use Hazlitt’s earlier metaphor, keeps the bedridden imagination going.
Hazlitt makes a passionate plea for respecting differences: “Those who
differ from us in the smallest particular are considered as of a different
species, and we treat them accordingly” (324).
Finally, Hazlitt concludes with a historical argument to bring him
back to his original claim that civilization actually progresses and that
England in 1830 should be a part of that progress:

Besides, in those dark ages, they wanted some object of natural antipathy,
as in country places they get a strange dog or an idiot to hunt down and
be the bugbear of the village. But it is the test of reason and refinement
to be able to subsist without bugbears. While it was supposed that “the
Jews eat little children,” it was proper to take precautions against them.
But why keep up ill names and the ill odour of a prejudice when the
prejudice has ceased to exist? (324)

Whereas Elia’s reference to Hugh of Lincoln perpetuates doubt about

Jewish motives, Hazlitt’s reference to the blood libel condemns the
inhumanity and superstition of the “dark ages.” Hazlitt reveals the
absurdity of prejudice, while Lamb seems to accept its inevitability.
Hazlitt, furthermore, implies that the power of the imagination is
dangerous when it is nurtured by superstition and fear rather than
sympathy. In his zeal for toleration, Hazlitt, of course, underestimates
the enduring power of anti-Jewish prejudice and of “bugbears,” but this
does not diminish the remarkable power of his polemic. Hazlitt’s atti-
tude toward Jewish emancipation coincides with his sympathy for the
oppressed and his identification with radical causes nurtured in his
dissenting family. Such identification was not inevitable: Lamb’s working-
class background and exclusion from the various benefits of class did not
prevent him from identifying with the mainstream of British culture.
In his essay, then, Hazlitt defends the Jews against religious and
economic charges, uncovering the sources on which both outright anti-
Semitism and more subtle but damaging ambivalence relies. He turns
imaginary jews and romantic texts / 51

on its head one of the oldest beliefs that the Jews as a scattered people,
as wanderers of the earth, should have no home. Although his essay did
not have an immediate effect on policy, it makes the most direct and
practical argument in Romantic writing for the justice of civil emanci-
pation. Hazlitt clinches his argument by appealing to his reader’s sympa-
thy and fellow feeling for the Jewish people and their plight in history.
He does not, however, draw from direct knowledge of Judaism. Jewish
emancipation fits into Hazlitt’s radical democratic ideology and his
sympathy for the oppressed. If Cumberland’s The Jew represents the
spirit of the 1790s and the valuing of general philanthropy, Hazlitt’s
late-Romantic “Emancipation” looks forward to John Stuart Mill’s
contribution to women’s emancipation and to the necessity of continu-
ing reform in a liberal state. Furthermore, if Lamb questions the very
possibility of sympathy for Others, Hazlitt’s imaginative sympathy
forms the basis of his ethics and politics. In chapter 3, I argue that Hazlitt’s
thinking about Jews begins with the production of The Merchant of
Venice at Drury Lane on January 26, 1814.
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C h ap t e r 3
Reinventing Shylock:
Romanticism and the
R e p re s e n tat io n of
Shakespeare’s Jew

I went to see him the first night of his appearing in Shylock. I remember
it well. The boxes were empty, and the pit not half full: “some quantity
of barren spectators and idle renters were thinly scattered to make up the
show.” The whole presented a dreary, hopeless aspect. I was in consider-
able apprehension for the result. From the first scene in which Mr. Kean
came on, my doubts were at an end. I had been told to give as favourable
an account as I could: I gave a true one. I am not one of those who, when
they see the sun breaking from behind a cloud, stop to ask others whether
it is the moon.
—William Hazlitt, “Preface” to A View of the English Stage, 1818
(Howe, 5:174–75)
Yesterday we dined with a Traveler. We were talking about Kean. He said
he had seen him at Glasgow “in Othello the Jew, I mean, er, er, er, the
Jew in Shylock.” He got bothered completely in vague ideas of the Jew in
Othello, Shylock in the Jew, Shylock in Othello, Othello in Shylock, the
Jew in Othello, etc., etc., etc. He left himself in a mess at the last.
—John Keats, to Tom Keats, July 10, 1818, Selected Letters (160).
There is a brief age of transition when the Enlightenment and
Sentimentalism exist side by side, when it is still possible to pretend that
true reason and true feeling, the urgings of passion and the dictates of
virtue are identical—and that all are alike manifestations of the orthodox
God. But Sentimentalism yields quickly to the full Romantic revolt; in a
matter of months, Don Juan, enemy of Heaven and the family, has been
transformed from villain to hero; and before the process is finished, audi-
ences have learned to weep for Shylock rather than laugh him from the
stage. The legendary rebels and outcasts, Prometheus and Cain, Judas
and the Wandering Jew, Faust and Lucifer himself are one by one
—Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960 (xxx)
54 / imperfect sympathies

Edmund Kean, the actor who transformed the role of Shylock in the
Romantic period, also plays an important role in the long performance
history of The Merchant of Venice. Hazlitt’s story about the actor involves
not just Kean’s performance, which for the first time brought a compli-
cated sympathy to Shylock, but also the critical responses of others to
Kean’s rendition of the role. As Hazlitt recognized, Kean’s performance
amounted to a radical interpretation of the role that had a lasting impact
on how the character of Shylock developed on stage—and off.1 Negative
renditions of Shylock have followed Kean, but once the red beard and
fake nose were no longer obligatory, interpretation of the role became an
issue for discussion and debate. Related theatrical and literary readings
of The Merchant of Venice since the Romantic period have primarily
focused on the representation of Shylock (despite his proportionally
small presence on stage) and on his status as a cultural signifier of Jews
and Jewishness.
It is no coincidence, I think, that this reimagination of Shylock came
at the height of the Romantic period, with transformations in politics,
the arts, and religion. In many ways Kean was the Byron of the stage,
overturning hierarchies, displaying intense passion, identifying with the
outcast, and living the life of the Romantic artist who burned out
through his own excesses. But if these excesses led to Kean’s premature
destruction, they are, according to those who most admired him on
stage, also what gave him the capacity to forge a sympathetic identifica-
tion with the character; Hazlitt theorized that in such identification
actors in performance reveal the process of the sympathetic imagination:
“The height of their ambition is to be beside themselves. To-day kings,
to-morrow beggars, it is only when they are themselves, that they are noth-
ing. Made up of mimic laughter and tears, passing from the extremes of
joy or woe at the prompter’s call, they wear the livery of other men’s
fortunes; their very thoughts are not their own” (“On Actors and
Acting,” Howe, 4:153).2 If, as Hazlitt argued, theater is a school for
cultivating sympathy and developing moral sentiments, an actor such as
Kean is a great teacher who instructs the audience in the complexities of
sympathy. This chapter asks how Kean’s instruction in The Merchant of
Venice relates to Shylock’s own vengeful warning to Salarino and
Solanio, after they have mocked and taunted him in his agony: “The
villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better
the instruction” (3.1.68–69). In other words, how does the theoretical
emphasis on cultivating one’s sympathetic imagination work when the
shakespeare’s jew / 55

putative object of sympathy is a Jew who is fully accepted in neither

Shakespeare’s imaginary Venice nor in the considerably more liberal
early-nineteenth-century England?
But first, what does it mean to reimagine the character of Shylock?
The transformation of The Merchant of Venice raises questions about
interpretation, which in this case involves the dynamics of literary text,
performance, and criticism. Hazlitt was just as crucial to this transfor-
mation as Kean. As several recent critics have noted, Hazlitt saw Kean
as a translator of Shakespeare, actively engaged in presenting his version
of The Merchant of Venice.3 Others have seen this kind of interpretive
engagement on the part of an actor as itself an innovation of Romantic
theater, although one with which we are now familiar.4 Furthermore,
Hazlitt extends the interpretive act to the critic as well, who collaborates
with the actor in attempting to explicate the performance for the
theater-going and newspaper-reading public. Just as the actor becomes a
translator for Hazlitt, the critic is also a kind of translator of both the text
and performance for a reader who may or may not have seen the perfor-
mance. Hazlitt, like most Romantic interpreters, claims that Shakespeare’s
own genius for sympathetic identification with his characters—
what Keats referred to as the “Negative Capability” of the “poetical
character”—exerts an abiding influence over all.
In Shakespearian Constitutions, Jonathan Bate analyzes the appropri-
ation of Shakespeare in the Romantic period, drawing on theories of
both Hans Robert Jauss and Frank Kermode in his argument for reci-
procity between past and present, text and interpreter. Bate concludes,
“We make the classic our own, bring it into our world; but we also give
ourselves up to it, enter into its world. Without this reciprocity, appro-
priation will become misappropriation” (210). For Bate, this reciprocity
provides a safeguard against—or at least a check to—a seemingly infi-
nite number of interpretive possibilities.5 In contrast, David Bromwich
concludes Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic with this claim about Hazlitt’s
critique of Kean’s Shylock:

We read the play because we were in search of a story, and when the critic
tells the story better than the author we are none the poorer for that.
Once we assent to the economy of good stories, there seems nothing
strange about what it implies for our practice of reading. Interpretations
are not true or false, in any sense we can verify by consulting the work;
rather they succeed or they fail; they carry the day, or they leave things
where they were. But when the sentiments at issue are deep enough, the
day may last more than a century. (405)
56 / imperfect sympathies

Less concerned than Bate with “misappropriation,” Bromwich values

Hazlitt’s account—even to the point of calling his critique a “story”—
on par with Shakespeare’s because of its enduring influence. And it has
endured because it continues to engage generations of readers and viewers
in the debate about the nature of Shylock as a character and a signifier of
Despite these differences, both Bate and Bromwich see a range of
interpretive possibilities in the presentation of Shylock and his
Jewishness. In contrast, Harold Bloom in Shakespeare: The Invention
of the Human finds these possibilities limited by the text. “I am afraid
that we tend to make The Merchant of Venice incoherent by portraying
Shylock as being largely sympathetic. Yet I myself am puzzled as to what
it would cost (and not only ethically) to recover the play’s coherence.
Probably it would cost us Shakespeare’s actual Shylock, who cannot have
been quite what Shakespeare intended, if indeed we can recover such
an intention” (172). If indeed. Whereas in the Anxiety of Influence
and other theoretical works, Bloom portrays influence as a drama of
creative misreading, in his essay on Shylock in this consciously humanist
work, Bloom implicitly rejects the Kean–Hazlitt interpretation as a
denial of the essential anti-Semitism of the text, although he acknowl-
edges that the structure of the play as a romantic comedy cannot accom-
modate the character of Shylock—that Shylock has, for better or worse,
taken on a life of his own. For my purposes, that life begins with
Edmund Kean.

Edmund Kean, Theatrical Performance, and the

Innovation of a Sympathetic Shylock
Although there have been several memoirs and biographies written
about Edmund Kean, mysteries remain surrounding his background
and accomplishments. Kean’s parentage is not entirely certain, although
various sources agree on certain facts: that he was illegitimate and from
the lower classes, that he was exposed to theater and performance at an
early age, and that his first performance as Shylock at Drury Lane on
January 26, 1814 was a turning point in both his life and in the life of
British theater. One biographer casually suggests that Kean may have
been Jewish and that the Keans at some point had changed their name
from Cohen (Hillebrand, 6). Although there is no documentary evidence
to support this claim, it makes imaginative sense as a surmise and may
explain why Kean was drawn to the role of Shylock at age twenty-seven,
staking his future on his performance. Instead of playing Shylock safe as
shakespeare’s jew / 57

a villain, Kean dared his audience to think of Shylock as flawed but

worthy of sympathy in his rage. Far from the sinister comic villain who
could not fit into the world of romantic comedy, Kean’s Shylock was a
tragic figure, in Hazlitt’s stunning echo of King Lear, a man more sinned
against than sinning.
This, like so many of Kean’s interpretations of Shakespearean char-
acters, challenged his audience’s complacency. Everything about Kean—
his style of acting, his politics, his demeanor, set him apart from his
main rival on stage, John Philip Kemble. Marilyn Gaull vividly notes
that Kean “was extravagant, petulant, insulting, riding his horse up and
down the stairs at Drury Lane, floating down the Thames in a boat with
his pet lion, boxing in dining rooms, carousing with whores—up to
three a night in his dressing room while audiences waited for the play to
resume. He ruined plays by refusing to rehearse, failing to learn his lines
and cues, and even missing performances” (99–100). As Jonathan Bate
has claimed, Kean broke the Kemble “family hegemony” over the
London stage (Shakespearean Constitutions, 137). From the first, commen-
tators compared Kean to Kemble. James Boaden, for example, observes
of Kean in his 1825 memoir of Kemble,

Let me find a few lines just to hint, that though I think his taste very
frequently vicious, and his judgment often imperfect:—though he has
almost countless vulgarisms in his pronunciation, and a trick, like
[George Frederick] Cooke, of speaking with different voices, and utter-
ing the most discordant tones:—yet his energy is so unfailing, as to bear
down criticism itself in his rage; and even in the gentler scenes of sorrow,
occasional touches of infinite grace and beauty proceed from his
imagination. (569)

Like much contemporary criticism of Kean, Boaden emphasizes Kean’s

subversiveness: vulgarity and lack of taste coupled with powerful energy,
passion, and “occasional” grace. In contrast to the classicism and deco-
rum of Kemble’s style, Kean’s was, as Jane Moody has recently claimed,
that of a “studied iconoclast” (230). As Moody implies, Kean knew what
he was doing—he studied his effects and had a strategy for his perfor-
mances. Remembering a performance he had seen in 1825, G. W. Lewes
makes the same observation that Kean was not just “impulsive” but was
“regulated”—he had the “precision of a singer” (17). A sketch of Kean as
Shylock by George Hayter captures this controlled emotion (figure 3.1).
Kean did not respect borders or hierarchies either in performance or
in the world of social relations. In performing, he brought his back-
ground in illegitimate theater (melodrama, pantomime, etc.) to his work
58 / imperfect sympathies

Figure 3.1 Sketch of Edmund Kean as Shylock, by George Hayter. Courtesy

of a private collection.

in Drury Lane. Tracy C. Davis summarizes:

After years of impoverishment as a provincial harlequin cum tragedy

king, Kean was an overnight success: his mode of acting emphasizing
intense emotions and marked mood swings won out over the neo-classical
restrained style of the Kembles, who had seemed to emphasize showing
ideals in statuesque standard poses (points ‘held to applause’) rather than
embodying the emotional explosiveness of human experiences in made-
to-order fluid combinations.” (933)
shakespeare’s jew / 59

This technical shift from the ornamental to the emotional and

iconoclastic style of acting is analogous to the “experiment” that
Wordsworth articulates in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads—both in the
breaking of class and generic expectations and in the emphasis on
emotion as the source of poetic creativity. Likewise, Wordsworth’s
“recollection in tranquility” introduces the dimension of thought—the
well-regulated mind tempering the poetic impulses. As in Kean’s perfor-
mance, Wordsworth’s poetry operates according to a kind of fiction of
spontaneity, a studied effect rather than a naïvely impulsive performance.
This paradox of technical control and emotional power provides fertile
ground for innovation.6
Kean’s conscious iconoclasm informed his portrayal of Shylock and
his sense that Shakespeare could and indeed should be reimagined. With
a fluid and nuanced acting style, Kean conveyed enough sympathy for
Shylock to thwart the traditional negative response to the character.7
Kean’s earliest biographer (1835), B. W. Procter [Barry Cornwall],
describes the actor’s determination and the difficulties overcome:

At last, however, the play was put in rehearsal; this was not until the
morning of the 26th, the very day on which he was to appear. In obedi-
ence to the call, Kean attended at the theater, to walk through his part.
Mr. Raymond, the stage-manager, and the several actors specified in the
bill of the evening, were there. Every one was very civil, and as cold as the
season. The actors at the side scenes (Kean heard of this afterwards,
though he could not then distinguish anything) were liberal in their
prophecies:—“He will be sure to fail.” However, our hero went through
the speeches of Shylock, or rather he was in the act of repeating them
(giving some of his peculiar effects to each), when Raymond, the
manager, could withhold his advice no longer. “This will never do,
Mr. Kean,” said he, with a superior smile; “it is an innovation, Sir; it is
totally different from anything that has ever been done on these boards.”—
“Sir,” returned our hero (we can imagine something of his tone here,
however repressed it might have been),—“Sir, I wish it to be so.” (30–31)8

The imagined drama of this scene, although hard to believe as documen-

tary evidence, does capture the green room drama and Kean’s audacious-
ness in his innovation. Furthermore, Procter, inspired by Kean’s Shylock,
goes on to claim, “Shylock is not simply the sport of the merchant, or the
martyr of Venetian tyranny; but he is a Jew— the member of a suffering
community” (47). Procter makes a direct connection between Kean’s
iconoclasm and Shylock’s Jewishness. Kean’s explosive style of acting, in
other words, also opened up the possibility for reinventing character and
questioning the ingrained stereotype of Jewishness.
60 / imperfect sympathies

Because he dared to present Shylock as complex, ambiguous, and

fascinating, Kean made The Merchant of Venice a vehicle for exploring
the character of Shylock. Most of the commentary on the play also
focused on his rendition of the main character, although there was some
interest in Portia. Anna Jameson focuses on Portia’s “intellect kindled
into romance by a poetical imagination” (33); she sees the “brilliant
lights of her character set off by the shadowy power of his [Shylock’s]” (35).
But when Kean played Shylock, that shadowy power overshadowed all
others on stage, focusing the debate about the play and its Jewishness on
his character. Kean created a fully embodied Shylock and thus called
attention to his masculinity.9 Whereas later commentators have studied
both Portia and Jessica in detail,10 the Romantics who wrote about the
play as theater were less concerned with the women’s roles. This fascina-
tion with the character of Shylock, furthermore, made it impossible to
focus on the play as a romantic comedy on stage as Jameson would do
in her study of Shakespeare’s women characters. The Belmont scenes
and the various romances occupied a subordinate role to Shylock, even
though Shylock himself did not appear in the last act. This emphasis is
particularly intriguing because the Romantic period was otherwise fasci-
nated with generic modulations of romance and desire. Somehow, the
pull of Shylock was stronger than the pull of romantic comedy.
Kean’s “innovation,” in fact, was remarkable not only because of
his powerful performance, but because he went against the grain of other
powerful performances. The best known of these was Charles Macklin’s
portrayal of Shylock, a role that Macklin dominated for fifty years during
the eighteenth century. Macklin was striking in that he played Shylock
not as a comic villain, as had been standard in performances earlier in the
eighteenth century, but as a terrifying and vengeful monster in his first
performance at Drury Lane on February 7, 1741 and in years of perfor-
mances that followed. Although known as a comic actor, Macklin
brought out the fierceness of his role and dominated the stage (Bulman, 25);
some commentators have remained puzzled about this domination:
“Although Macklin’s genius brought about the innovation of a serious
reading of Shylock’s lines, a number of contemporary critics believed that
he did not seem to have delved deeply enough into the character of the
Jew and that he never succeeded in making the character come to life.
His lasting popularity in the role, therefore, remains something of a
puzzle” (Lelyveld, 24). That puzzlement aside, later commentators seem
to agree that Macklin’s performance had two powerful effects: Macklin
made the role of Shylock a theatrical “star vehicle” (Mahood, 43) and, by
taking Shylock seriously he inadvertently prepared the way for Kean’s
shakespeare’s jew / 61

transformation of the role (Mahood, 43; Bulman, 25). This second point
especially needs emphasis, because Macklin did not play Shylock as a
comic character and even maintained his fierceness when Kitty Clive
played Portia with high comedy, aping the mannerisms of judges and
lawyers in the trial scene. Macklin withstood this comic counterpoint
and kept his unredeemed monster intact.11 By taking Shylock seriously,
he made Kean’s performance possible.
Kean invested Shylock with sympathy in two ways. First, Kean
seemed instinctively to identify with Shylock as an outcast and to draw
power as an actor from that identification. According to Hazlitt and to
numerous biographers, Kean created Shylock from within himself and
his own experience as a struggling provincial actor. As Hazlitt would
romanticize in “On Actors and Acting” in regard to actors in general:
“Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes pass into
the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle of public
favour; yet even there cannot calculate on the continuance of success . . .”
(Howe, 4: 159). Perhaps this inherent capriciousness of the theater
explains Kean’s insistence in the face of the stagemanager’s harsh objec-
tions: he knew that he was on the brink of possible success in London—
or the end of his career. Kean’s attitude toward Shylock, in other words,
is akin to what numerous readers have seen as Mary Shelley’s attitude
toward the monster in Frankenstein: his project was to show how a
scorned and maligned being such as Shylock becomes a monster.
Antonio, who baits Shylock from the beginning, and promises him only
repeated scorn, effectively shows the audience how a man becomes a dog
in the eyes of his enemy. Kean’s passionate sense of this injustice, which
according to Hazlitt came out so clearly in his rendition of the “Hath
not a Jew eyes?” speech, perhaps finds an echo in the monster’s lament
in Frankenstein: “I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not
shunned and hated by all mankind? . . . I will revenge my injuries: if I
cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-
enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred”
(2:9,117). Compare, again, Shylock’s “The villainy you teach me I will
execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction”
(3.1.55–56). Furthermore, the fact that Mary Shelley records going to see
Kean in The Merchant of Venice on Tuesday, February 11, 1817, as she
was revising Frankenstein, adds weight to the connection.12 This connec-
tion, I contend, is textual as well as political, what Fiedler in the epigraph
sees as part of the mythical revolt of outcasts in the Romantic period.
The second way that Kean demonstrated sympathy for Shylock was
through his style of acting. Kean was a master of contrasting emotion
62 / imperfect sympathies

who could show Shylock raging like a madman one moment and crying
like a baby the next. Several modern commentators (Mahood, 44;
Brown, “The Realisation of Shylock,” 191) allude to G. W. Lewes’
observation that in the lights and shadows of Kean’s performance, in the
transitions and changes, Kean brought a powerful dynamism to
Shylock. In other words, this style of performance allowed Kean to
achieve a carefully modulated sense of Shylock’s character—neither
villain nor hero, but a representation of a flawed and human Jew. Lewes
furthermore noted that Kean was the master of subsiding emotion (18);
in other words, he played a strong emotional outburst for all that it was
worth and did not let go. This observation is important because Kean
did not just dash from one extreme to the other—which would have
evoked more of a sense of caricature than complexity of character. As
Hazlitt notes in regard to Kean’s portrayal of Sir Giles Overreach: “All
strong expression, deprived of its gradations and connecting motives,
unavoidably degenerates into caricature” (quoted in Bromwich, 403).
This quote seems aptly to describe Macklin’s raging Shylock, which was
without the gradations and modulations. But Kean used gaps and
silences by manipulating facial expressions and vanishing traces of
emotion. Neither a comic stage Jew nor Macklin’s fierce Shylock could
achieve the complexity of Kean’s conception and execution.13 Macklin
inspired fear and disgust in his audience, but Kean taught his viewers to
respond with a full spectrum of emotion and thought.
Tracy C. Davis makes the point that opinions were divided about
Kean’s abilities along class lines: nonelite theatergoers in the gallery and
the pit appreciated him because they could see the nuances of his acting
in his facial expressions not obvious to the boxes. Kean thus evoked
sympathy for his iconoclastic performances from his ideological allies in
the gallery and the pit because they presumably would have been more
amenable to his performances on both political and aesthetic grounds.
Furthermore, Davis argues that the technology of theater also contributed
to this divide, especially with the introduction of gas lighting in the early
nineteenth century:

. . . under gaslight it was easier to read the actor’s performance (and partic-
ularly the face) in minute detail but only if viewed directly from the front.
Under the increased illumination afforded by gas the visibility zone included
the gallery but made the boxes—especially the most prestigious ones closest
to the stage but at oblique angles to the actors—poor vantages. Since critics
preferred the pit, professional reaction (by and large) was favorable . . . Kean
was popular with the working classes and the social melting pot of the pit,
yet was frequently dismissed as an overrated gesticulator by precisely that
shakespeare’s jew / 63

sector of Tories who frequented the front boxes. Under gaslight he was,
therefore, a brilliant actor only relative to class and political lines. (935–36)

Davis’ argument is all the more striking because it suggests that the
nonelite portion of the audience, both before and after the innovation
of gas lighting, would have responded most sympathetically to Kean’s
Shylock, although neither they nor the boxes would have been predis-
posed to sympathize with the representation of a Jew per se. Davis’
analysis also gives us a hint at what Jewish playgoers might have thought
about Kean, although I have not found a record of responses to Kean
among them. Nevertheless, the appreciative audience in the gallery and
the pit would have included the majority of Jews who attended a given
production, since they were mostly poor and struggling, and composed
a small part of that larger “melting pot” to which Davis refers.
London’s Jews, participants in the theatricality of everyday London
street scenes, were avid playgoers in the early nineteenth century, but
they were not docile spectators. As Jane Moody remarks of the non-
patent theaters, “East End audiences would have included artisans and
many immigrants (especially the Jews who worked in the old-clothes
trade around Petticoat Lane and Duke’s Place), sailors and other
employed in river and sea trades, as well as those involved in industries
such as brewing and distilling” (166). And not just in the East End, but
in the patent theaters too, Jews were among nonelites who exercised thea-
trical clout. Although the comic stage Jew was a standard in eighteenth
and early-nineteenth-century British theater, Jewish playgoers drew the
line in 1802 on what was acceptable. As David Katz relates, Thomas
Dibdin, who had written plays with sympathetic (albeit comic) Jewish
characters in the past, could not get away with his “‘harmless joke’” (346)
of including a song about three merry Jewish prostitutes in Family
Quarrels: “before the first performance the song was already circulating
in London in the form of a cheap booklet, which led to a large number
of Jews buying tickets with the express purpose of disrupting the
evening” (346). Katz reports that the protesting Jews shouted down the
song and encore opening night and forced Dibdin to alter the play for
the remaining performances, although Dibdin’s account suggests that the
event was misreported in the papers and that the song remained.14
A closer look at Dibdin’s own description of this event reveals more.
He describes the assembled Jews in this way:

Before the first song, a predetermination of opposition was alarmingly

evident; and in allusion to a purchase I was then completing, a skirmishing
64 / imperfect sympathies

corps of hostile sharp-shooters in the gallery began to cry, as a signal for

the general charge, “It vont do! It vont do, I tell you! Take it avay! Take
it to Sadler’s Vells!” The impending thunder grumbled, and subsided, and
grumbled again, till the appearance of Fawcett in his “Jewish gaberdine”
proved the chosen moment for commencing an uproar, which, but for
the subsequent O. P. row [Old Price Riots of 1809], of noisy memory,
would never have been equaled. The song was sung and encored, but not
heard, nor was any of the following part of the opera, or the words in
which it was announced for repetition. (1:341–42)

Dibdin goes on to say that “Many of the nobility and gentlemen, among
my old patrons, and even some distinguished members of the Royal
Family, encouraged me in the hope the public would see me safe
through” (1:342). Dibdin thus sets up an opposition between the
foreign-sounding and uncouth lower-class Jews (given the same Yiddish-
sounding dialect as their stage representatives, and thus, as Sander
Gilman might argue, marked by their language as Jews) and the cultured
theatergoers of the boxes who support and encourage him. Furthermore,
Dibdin manipulates Jewish expressions (“of blessed memory,” a phrase
used in commemorating the dead, becomes “of noisy memory”), plays
on the idea of the “chosen,” and alludes to Shylock’s “Jewish gaberdine.”
He does this to convey his assurance that his readers will be in on the
“harmless joke” and in perfect agreement with his supporters in the
boxes and the press that the Jews were hypersensitive and irrational in
their protests. Dibdin sets up an opposition between the members of the
audience: the Jews and proper Britons, who presumably are in on the
national joke. The protesting Jews seem to think that this kind of mock-
ery is inappropriate for legitimate theater, although perhaps it would be
more at home in Sadler’s Wells, or to capture Dibdin’s mockery, Sadler’s
“Vells.” Dibdin further demeans the Jews by casting the whole narrative
in a mock-heroic tone and battle imagery (“hostile sharp shooters,”
“general charge”).
Dibdin’s ironic, parodic description reconstructs the environment in
which Kean first played Shylock and highlights the kinds of attitudes
that he would have to overcome. The reviewers who criticized the Jewish
protest seem to have in common an inability to see that mockery of Jews
might be different from the mockery against native Britons because the
Jews were not full citizens in Georgian England. Dibdin quotes one
writer from the Oracle who nicely sums up this stance:

I was present on the first night of “Family Quarrels,” and hasten to

denounce the conduct of those who disgraced themselves by as groundless
shakespeare’s jew / 65

an opposition as ever disturbed an audience: it was a frivolous and

ill-founded opposition, calculated to the prejudice and overthrow of the
stage. The natives of Yorkshire had as good right to remonstrate against
the liberties taken with them through the medium of the character
(performed by Emery) named Mushroom. If this degree of affected deli-
cacy be justifiable, we ought soon to expect remonstrances from Scotland,
Ireland, and every part of England against jokes passed on them by poets
of all ages: John Bull treats such squeamish notions with contempt, and
will never, to gratify individual prejudice, combine against the freedom of
the stage. The opposition to this new opera was therefore frivolous and
vexatious to the pit. (347)

Turning the whole notion of prejudice on its head, the writer argues that
it is the protesters who were prejudiced against the theater and that this
kind of “squeamishness” is unpatriotic and an enemy to British free-
doms and national solidarity against Jews and other upstarts. Hence, the
Jews are doubly alienated: they are foreigners whose views are also offen-
sive to John Bull patriotism, clearly below questionable members of the
British union, the Scots, and even the maligned and ridiculed Irish.
Implicit in this argument: Jews should be seen, laughed at, but not
heard. On January 26, 1814, Edmund Kean gave playgoing Jews
another voice, although it took a critic with the determination of Hazlitt
to interpret the significance of that voice.

Beyond Patronage and Puffery: William Hazlitt on Kean’s Shylock

Before analyzing Hazlitt on Kean, I consider the symbiotic relationship
between the two. Would Kean have risen to such prominence as an actor
if Hazlitt had not written about him so eloquently? Hazlitt was Kean’s
most positive critic. In “On Patronage and Puffery” from Table Talk,
Hazlitt defends himself against the charge of puffery—the nineteenth-
century stage equivalent of the movie critics who will say anything to
their own advantage: “. . . an actor is judged by his peers, the play-going
public, and must stand or fall by his own merits or defects. The critic may
give the tone or have a casting voice where popular opinion is divided;
but he can no more force that opinion either way, or wrest it from its base
in common sense and feeling, than he can move Stonehenge” (Dramatic
Essays, xvii). As one of Hazlitt’s editors, William Archer, claimed in 1895,
the charge that the management of Drury Lane paid Hazlitt to puff Kean

is doubtless mere romance; but the fact that such a myth should have
arisen and found any credence shows what influence was commonly
66 / imperfect sympathies

attributed to these articles [that Hazlitt wrote on Kean]. Even after his
great first-night success, some of the Drury Lane Committee were for
shelving Kean, and had he not found powerful support in the press, he
might quite possibly have sunk back again into obscurity. But if Hazlitt
was a godsend to Kean, Kean was scarcely less of a godsend to Hazlitt.
The critic made the actor’s reputation, but the actor made the critic’s
immortality as a theatrical critic. If Hazlitt had not had Kean to write
about, he would certainly have written much less, with far inferior life
and gusto, and would probably never have collected his articles.
(Dramatic Essays, xviii)

There may be some exaggeration here, but Archer nonetheless identifies

the mutual benefits of this actor–critic relationship. Doubtless, too,
Hazlitt’s dismissal from The Morning Chronicle after, in his own words,
“having written upwards of sixty columns of original matter on politics,
criticism, belles-lettres, and virtù in a respectable morning paper, in a single
half-year” (quoted in Dramatic Essays, xviii–xix), intensified his identifica-
tion with the genius of Kean triumphing against all odds. Hazlitt implies
that his dismissal was related not to his achievement but to his less-than-
polished appearance, his disregard of personal decorum: specifically, his
failure “to get a new velvet collar to an old-fashioned great-coat” (xix).
As already noted, Hazlitt’s immediate response to Kean as Shylock
was positive, although it was not injudicious or without qualification. In
his first review, Hazlitt praises Kean’s passion, but says perhaps that he
revealed too much “of the resources of the art, which gave too much
relief to the hard, impenetrable, dark groundwork of the character of
Shylock” (Howe, 5:179). Hazlitt also implicitly acknowledges that Kean
was playing to the gallery and the pit: “too great reliance [was] placed on
the expression of the countenance, which is a language intelligible only
to a part of the house” (180). In his second review of Kean’s Shylock
Hazlitt does not repeat this criticism, and in fact praises Kean by saying,
“The character never stands still; there is no vacant pause in the action;
the eye is never silent” (180). Both brief reviews focus almost exclusively
on Kean, with one short paragraph beginning “The rest of the play was,
upon the whole, very respectably cast,” at the end of the first review and
a sentence at the end of the second review on Portia. Two important
notions are implicit in these reviews: first, Hazlitt assumes that the role
of Shylock is a star vehicle; second, he implies by his own focus that
Shylock’s story, his revenge, commands his attention more than anything
to do with the more romantic Belmont scenes.
Not until the essay on Shylock in Characters of Shakespear’s [sic] Plays,
Hazlitt’s retrospective on The Merchant and on Kean’s Shylock, does
shakespeare’s jew / 67

Hazlitt focus on the question of Jewishness and anticipate many of the

ideas that he presents in his essay on the emancipation of the Jews.
Hazlitt does not mention Kean until the last paragraph, although he
makes the crucial point that Kean’s performance sent him back to the
text of the play to reassess his previous interpretations. In a slightly
different assessment from the one Hazlitt provides in his initial reviews,
he says here that the performance history of The Merchant had led him
to expect an old man “ugly with mental deformity, grinning with deadly
malice,” but he was “disappointed, because we had taken that idea from
other actors, not from the play” (Howe, 4: 323): “so rooted was our
habitual impression of the part from seeing it caricatured in the repre-
sentation, that it was only from a careful perusal of the play itself that
we saw our error” (324). According to Hazlitt, Kean rescued the part
from caricature, presumably of both the comic and tragic variety, by
demonstrating that Shylock’s tortured mind was also filled with “more
ideas than any other person in the piece,” as well as “elasticity” and
“vigour” (324). Hazlitt bypasses the criticism that Kean’s emotional style
was itself a caricature, at least from the point of view of the boxes, and
instead argues that the intellectual complexity of the character requires a
more complex and nuanced interpretation. This interpretation, in turn,
opens the reader or audience to possibilities of sympathy, in this case for
Shylock as a representative of Jewish suffering. The ideas that Hazlitt
presents in his concluding paragraph, then, are the guiding principles of
the essay.
Hazlitt’s essay is also fundamentally Romantic in its assumption that
an engagement with art requires participants to see the world anew, in
this case to rediscover Shylock. Hazlitt begins his essay with an emphasis
on the justice of Shylock’s revenge:

This is a play that in spite of the change of manners and prejudices still
holds undisputed possession of the stage. Shakespeare’s malignant [sic]
has outlived Mr. Cumberland’s benevolent Jew. In proportion as Shylock
has ceased to be a popular bugbear, “baited with the rabble’s curse,” he
becomes a half-favourite with the philosophical part of the audience, who
are disposed to think that Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian
injuries. (320)

Hazlitt implies that free-thinking playgoers, who do not share the common
bugbears about Jews, will respond to Shylock as a “‘man no less sinned
against than sinning,’ ” (320); his imperfect quote compares Shylock to the
tragic King Lear and reaffirms the play as a tragedy, and hence especially
susceptible to the workings of the affective powers of sympathy. Whereas
68 / imperfect sympathies

these common bugbears fueled previous interpretations of Jewish villainy

and influenced the interpretation of Shylock, Hazlitt sees Shylock’s
mistreatment as the reason for his bitterness and revenge rather than an
innate evil.
Understanding the dynamics of Otherness, Hazlitt offers a strong
historical and political vindication of Shylock:

[Shylock] seems the depository of the vengeance of his race; and though
the long habit of brooding over daily insults and injuries has crusted over
his temper with inveterate misanthropy, and hardened him against the
contempt of mankind, this adds but little to the triumphant pretensions
of his enemies. There is a strong, quick, and deep sense of justice mixed
up with the gall and bitterness of his resentment. The constant appre-
hension of being burnt alive, plundered, banished, reviled, and trampled
on, might be supposed to sour the most forbearing nature, and to take
something from that “milk of human kindness,” with which his persecu-
tors contemplated his indignities. The desire of revenge is almost insepa-
rable from the sense of wrong; and we can hardly help sympathizing with
the proud spirit, beneath his “Jewish gaberdine,” stung to madness by
repeated undeserved provocations, and labouring to throw off the load
of obloquy and oppression heaped upon him and all his tribe by one
desperate act of “lawful” revenge . . . (320)

Hazlitt does not deny the malignancy of Shylock’s words and actions,
but he sees Shylock’s response as a call to justice for an oppressed people.
Hazlitt’s emphasis on justice is crucial because he suggests that a theatri-
cal appeal to justice motivates sympathy. Once again, too, Hazlitt’s allu-
siveness is telling: unlike Lady Macbeth, who willingly forgoes the milk
of human kindness—and scorns it in her husband—in order to carry
out her plan, Hazlitt argues that Shylock’s enemies stifle his potential
humanity. Hazlitt ironically condemns Shylock’s enemies for having no
human kindness themselves, and not just for blighting Shylock.
Hazlitt’s analysis is actually not the first sympathetic analysis of
Shylock’s actions, or the first to connect Shylock’s fate with the question
of justice. Several modern commentators cite Richard Hole’s now hard-
to-find essay on Shylock, printed in Essays by a Society of Gentlemen at
Exeter in 1796, eighteen years before Hazlitt’s first review. I have found
no evidence that Hazlitt read this essay—one can hardly imagine this
pugnacious radical being drawn to such a volume—but there are
some similarities, the most important being that Hole writes to vindi-
cate Shylock. Hole’s focus differs from Hazlitt’s and his essay does not
have the same political argument. Hole acknowledges that he does not
believe that Shakespeare meant to interest us in Shylock, but nonetheless
shakespeare’s jew / 69

argues for such interest. Hole focuses on the Jewish/Christian interplay,

suggesting that readers (and he is talking about readers and not an audi-
ence) should imagine role reversals: imagine, for instance, a Christian in
Shylock’s minority position being grossly insulted by a Jewish merchant.
Furthermore, Hole constructs an argument of cultural and religious
relativism: “We ought not to try Shylock by our laws, but by those of
the community to which he belonged. . . . Usury is generally considered
by Christians as a disgraceful traffick, but not so by the Jews” (555).
But Hole is not really a relativist, for as he develops his points he
claims that Shylock “ought not to be tried by the mild precepts of
Christianity, but by the less perfect laws of Moses” (557). Within this
philo-Semitic sense of Christian superiority, Hole does insistently argue
that the Christian reader should put himself in Jewish shoes. Imagine a
Christian father betrayed by his daughter in the manner of Jessica: “Can
we entertain the least doubt, but that our hearts would sympathize with
the injured father, and secretly wish that some signal punishment might
be inflicted on the unnatural daughter, and her abandoned seducer?”
(558). Hole goes as far as saying that Shylock’s desire for retribution “acts
in conformity to the Mosaic law” although not to the Gospel (564).
Beyond his argument that Christian readers should imagine these
role reversals, Hole imagines a Jewish version of the play:

Were any of Shylock’s countrymen poets, I am convinced they would

represent him in a very different light, and indeed a much fairer one, than
that in which he appears to us. They would most probably convert his
story into a deep tragedy, and by giving it a different catastrophe, soften-
ing some harsh expressions, and introducing others of a pathetic kind,
interest every sentimental and tenderhearted descendant of Abraham in
his favor. (566)

Hole goes on to imagine a performance of the play in a newly founded

Jewish state, where “some Jewish stage-enamoured critic” (566) presents a
summary of the play in which an oppressed and wronged Jew loses every-
thing on a technicality of the law. In addition to the imaginative construc-
tion of a Jewish state in Jerusalem, Hole actually anticipates the way that
Jewish productions of The Merchant have constructed the drama.15 In this
sense, Hole’s insight is very different from Hazlitt, who did not imagine a
Jewish production, but rather a performance that highlighted the isolation
and Otherness of Jews within an alien world. Whereas the subtext of
Hole’s essay is that Jews themselves could best sympathize with their own
plight, Hazlitt sees the play as moving non-Jews to understand and
sympathize with the wronged Other in a liberal state.16
70 / imperfect sympathies

In building his case for Shylock, Hazlitt singles out three scenes or
passages: the scene where Antonio asks Shylock for the bond, the “Hath
not a Jew eyes?” speech, and the trial scene, pointing out in each instance
the justice of Shylock’s position. Hazlitt sympathizes with Shylock’s
position vis-à-vis Antonio in the first scene, especially when Antonio
volunteers that he would likely call Shylock a dog again when he saw
him on the Rialto: “‘I am as like to call thee so again,/ To spit on thee
again, to spurn thee too’” (1.3.122–23). As Hazlitt explains, “After this,
the appeal to the Jew’s mercy, as if there were any common principle of
right and wrong between them, is the rankest hypocrisy, or the blindest
prejudice; and the Jew’s answer to one of Anthonio’s [sic] friends, who
asks him what his pound of forfeit flesh is good for, is irresistible” (321).
Hazlitt likewise sees the trial scene as kind of intellectual victory for
Shylock, who “is triumphant on all the general topics that are urged
against him, and only fails through a legal flaw” (321). This view of the
trial scene echoes at least one of the arguments of Richard Hole’s imag-
inary Jewish theater critic.
Here, as in all of his criticism, Hazlitt wants to recreate the atmosphere
of sympathy and humanity that he experienced during performances.
As Thomas Noon Talfourd notes,

The theater was to him redolent of the past: images of Siddons, of

Kemble, of Bannister, of Jordan, thickened the air; imperfect recogni-
tions of a hundred evenings, when mirth or sympathy had loosened the
pressure at the heart, and set the springs of life in happier motion,
thronged around him, and “more than echoes talked along the walls.” He
loved the theater for these associations, and for the immediate pleasure
which it gave to thousands about him, and the humanizing influences it
shed among them, and attended it with constancy to the very last; and to
those personal feelings and universal sympathies he gave fit expression . . .
(Quoted in Dramatic Essays, xxv)

Perhaps a bit flowery, but this description seems to jibe with the tone of
Hazlitt’s theater criticism, and it reminds Hazlitt’s readers to put his
comments on Shylock in the larger context of his sympathetic vision of
the theater and its many flawed characters. As Bromwich notes, Hazlitt’s
understanding of Shylock taught readers “a readiness to grant the pres-
ence of justice, in a wicked character, as satisfying something of our
sympathy with the good” (406). Writing in the Examiner (April 7,
1816), Hazlitt sums up his commentary on Shylock in this way: “The
character of Shylock is another instance of Shakespeare’s powers of iden-
tifying himself with the thoughts of men, their prejudices, and almost
shakespeare’s jew / 71

instincts” (Howe, A View of the English Stage, 5:296). For Hazlitt, then,
Shylock is sympathetic in part because Shakespeare presents him that
way, not only because the liberal reader or “philosophical part of the
audience” brings this to the play. Hazlitt initiates a new kind of criticism
by imagining Shakespeare’s intentions and seeing Shakespeare as a great
Romantic precursor who planted the seeds of sympathy that have only
now blossomed in the light of day.
Other Romantic observers made the same claims for Shakespeare in
general—Keats’ “Negative Capability” is perhaps the best known—and
about The Merchant of Venice in particular. In fact, Keats actually frames
his now-famous negative capability letter (December 1817 to George
and Tom Keats) with allusions to Kean:17 to his role as Richard III and
to the rumors about Kean’s “low company,” which Keats would prefer
to that of the fashionable dandies he describes to his brothers (Selected
Letters, 59–60). Keats’ comments suggest that his theory of negative
capability may actually have arisen from his thoughts about and obser-
vations of Kean playing Shakespearean roles. I surmise that Keats may
have felt drawn to Kean, may have felt in sympathy with him, as a fellow
artist struggling from the lower classes. Hence, Keats’ implicit verbal
play in the negative capability letter between high and low company
takes on an additional class and artistic allegiance. Negative capability,
Keats’ notion of imaginative freedom, is a power bounded not by class
but by states of mind and value. Fashionable dandies—or socialites in the
expensive theatrical boxes—do not have access to the imaginative sympa-
thy implicit in Keats’ term. From Keats’ perspective, negative capability is
what allowed an actor like Kean to enter into a character like Shylock with
sympathy. In the course of the letter, Keats dismantles the class hierar-
chies of high and low in favor of a meritocracy of imagination.
Leigh Hunt offers related insights on The Merchant. In his compari-
son of Shylock with Marlowe’s Barabas from The Jew of Malta, Hunt
credits Shakespeare’s humanity with presenting Shylock with sympathy,
although Hunt remarkably finds some mitigating circumstances in
Barabas. “But up rose Shakespeare in the complete wisdom of his
humanity; and rescuing the Jew himself from enormities . . . clothed his
dry bones and his vizard face with flesh and blood, gave him passions
good and bad in common with those on whom he revenged himself and
left only just as much excess in him as was a set-off to the pernicious
mistakes of his persecutors” (May 3, 1818; 197–98). As Hazlitt had done,
Hunt sees the play in terms of the balancing of wrongs, with neither
Shylock nor his Christian persecutors without guilt. But most important,
all three—Hazlitt, Hunt, and Keats—credit Shakespeare’s genius with
72 / imperfect sympathies

the ability to identify sympathetically with a seemingly alien being. In

Keats’ words, “It [‘the poetical character’] has as much delight in
conceiving an Iago as an Imogen” (Selected Letters, 194).
Heinrich Heine, like Hazlitt, Hunt, and Keats, sees these sympathies
as inherent in Shakespeare’s genius: “Possibly Shakespeare thought it
would please the public were he to represent a greedy were-wolf, a dread
mythical creature thirsting for blood, thereby losing his daughter and his
ducats, besides exciting general ridicule. But the poet’s genius, the
world-spirit which reigns in him, always supersedes his individual will”
(The Romantics on Shakespeare, 465). Furthermore, Heine states that the
play does not so much balance grievances as “rise above the mean quar-
rels of two parties entertaining opposite beliefs” (465). Heine also offers
the strongest criticism of Antonio’s “I am as like to call thee so again, /
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” that I have found in the period:

Have we here an example of Christian love! Christianity would have been

satirized had Shakespeare typified it by Shylock’s enemies, men who
hardly deserved to loosen his shoe-latches. The bankrupt Antonio is a
weak-spirited mortal without energy, without power to hate, and there-
fore without power to love, a dull worm whose flesh was really not good
for much else than to serve as “bait for fish.” (466)

Hazlitt, of course, criticizes the Christians for their lack of humanity

and their hypocrisy, but not to the extent that Heine, a German Jewish
convert to Christianity, does, or with as graphic a condemnation. Heine,
like many converts, was never fully accepted as a Christian, and in his
writing he often reflected on his Jewish heritage. His language in this
passage reveals uneasiness about his adopted religion, especially
concerning the way that Christians treated Jews.
Heine saw Kean in The Merchant of Venice while in London, and in
his recollection he stages his own mini-drama to explain how he was
moved: “When I saw this play acted at Drury Lane a beautiful pale
Englishwoman standing beside me burst into tears at the end of the
fourth act, crying out several times, ‘the poor man is wrong’d.’ She had a
refined classical face and large dark eyes which I could not forget, for they
had wept for Shylock” (465). Heine shows the effect that the perfor-
mance can have on a feeling spectator. He seems as moved by watching
her, with her classical beauty and refined sensibility, weep for Shylock as
he is by the particular performance on stage, which he does not analyze.
Creating layers of theatricality and spectatorship, Heine finds that
the play outside the play enhances and intensifies his sympathy. Heine’s
narrative thus follows Adam Smith’s contention that sympathy arises
shakespeare’s jew / 73

from the situation. But his comments also verge on a kind of voyeuristic
eroticism. One wonders if Heine would have been so moved if the lady
had not been such a delicate beauty and her tears so attractive. His
sympathy-as-fellow-feeling, therefore, flows into a less altruistic

The Quality of Mercy is Strained: The Lambs’

Tales from Shakespeare
In contrast to Romantic sympathizers and theatergoers, Charles and
Mary Lamb neither see nor evoke sympathy in their portrait of Shylock
from Tales from Shakespeare. Charles Lamb’s position on The Merchant
may seem perplexing. His more positive response to Shylock appears in
his comparison of Shylock and Marlowe’s Barabas: “Shylock in the
midst of his savage purpose is a man. His motives, feelings, resentments,
have something human in them. ‘If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?’
Barabas is a mere monster brought in with a large painted nose to please
the rabble” (The Romantics on Shakespeare, 456). In this essay on
Shylock and Barabas, Lamb expresses some sympathy for the historical
plight of the Jews in England. But in their chapter on The Merchant in
their Tales, a volume written for children, Charles and Mary Lamb offer
a different version of the Romantic Shylock. Here they are not interested
in exonerating Shylock or Jews in any way, but, instead, present a highly
caricatured version of Shylock as “the cruel Jew” who gets what he
deserves from the righteous Christians. Their Merchant becomes a fable
teaching that virtue and nobility (as represented by the Christians) can
triumph over miserliness and usury.
At least in part, these differences in Charles Lamb’s attitudes toward
Shylock and The Merchant may derive from the authorial division of
labor. While it is true that Charles and Mary Lamb collaborated on the
collection of Tales, Mary Lamb is the primary author of the tale based
on The Merchant, if readers are to believe Charles’ letter to Wordsworth
on January 29, 1807: “I am answerable for Lear, Macbeth, Timon,
Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, for occasionally a tail piece or correction of
grammar, for none of the cuts and all of the spelling. The rest is my
sister’s” (Marrs, 2:256). Nevertheless, because the entire volume is
cosigned, I will treat the Tales as collaborations.
The story in Tales is very much an interpretation of The Merchant,
especially in Harold Bloom’s sense that readings and retellings constitute
interpretations. The Lambs’ retelling for children removes all of the
complexity, sympathy, and ambivalence that other Romantic readings
74 / imperfect sympathies

embody, as if to suggest that children need a more schematic sense of

good and bad, right and wrong, and Shylock, like Malvolio, is a good
negative example. Any complexity about Shylock’s Jewishness or plight
simply does not interest them in this context; although Charles Lamb’s
other writings reveal ambivalence and complexity. In Tales, at their best,
the Lambs display a similar insensitivity to Jews. Their attitude is
comparable to that of Maria Edgeworth in her pre-Harrington Moral
Tales, several of which feature villainous, caricatured Jews as examples of
what good Christian children should avoid.
The Lambs’ introduction makes clear their educational focus and
easy didacticism:

It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young chil-
dren. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly kept this
in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task.
It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and women in terms
familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For young ladies too,
it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally
permitted the use of their fathers’ libraries at a much earlier age than girls
are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before
their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore,
instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen
who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance
is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest
for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over
the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting
what is proper for a young sister’s ear) some passage which has pleased
them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which
it is taken. . . . (viii–ix)

The Lambs assume a great deal about class and gender here, to say the
least: that their audience will be young ladies and gentlemen and that
the boys can act as mediators between the text and less equipped girls.
Once the Lambs have set up this scene of instruction, which will
presumably one day lead the girls to the actual plays, they go on to
explain the function of the tales:

What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much
more it is the writers’ wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove
to them in older years—enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a
withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, as lessons of all
sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity,
generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages
are full. (ix)
shakespeare’s jew / 75

Although the Lambs allude to the fancy, their rendition of The Merchant
has very little appeal to anything fanciful. In fact, in order to emphasize
the didactic condemnation of Jewish evil and greed, they deemphasize
the Belmont scenes and romance, with no mention at all of the caskets
and only a rendition of parts of Act V at the end. But in their attempt
to highlight the humanity and generosity of the Christians in the play,
they present Shylock as a hateful villain, unredeemed by any human
feeling. They attribute only the basest motives to him. For instance,
when Shylock first offers a loan to Antonio in the play itself, it is not at
all clear that Shylock is deceiving Antonio with feigned kindness. But in
the Tales, the Lambs say that “This seemingly kind offer greatly surprised
Antonio; and then Shylock, still pretending kindness, and that all he did
was to gain Antonio’s love, again said he would lend him the three
thousand ducats” (my emphasis; 101). As a result of this manipulation,
their tale is not only unromantic, but it also strikes a bitter note, just as
frightening to children as Macklin’s Shylock was to adults. The Lambs’
Shylock becomes another scapegoat for the evil and greedy passions of
In the Lambs’ rendition of The Merchant, there is very little nuance
or developed sense of character, and in the case of Shylock, caricature
prevails.19 Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech is omitted and there
is no reference to Jessica by name. In fact Shylock’s entire relationship
with Jessica comes through as: “Antonio knew that the Jew had an only
daughter who had lately married against his consent to a young
Christian, named Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio’s which had so offended
Shylock, that he had disinherited her” (110). There is no attempt to
present Shylock as a father or human being. Once again, the Lambs do
not see moral complexity as a virtue for children, although, as we have
seen, Elia introduces his adult readers to a more complicated moral
landscape of London in “Imperfect Sympathies.”
In Tales, the Lambs seem determined to write a fable of Christian
generosity and mercy, using “the Jew” as the opposite of all such values.
In so doing, they depend on the anti-Judaic perspective of Jews as
devoid of mercy because as Jews they do not accept the teachings of
Christianity—and they overemphasize the law and justice. To emphasize
this point, the Lambs paraphrase Portia’s speech:
The importance of the arduous task Portia had engaged in gave this
tender lady courage, and she boldly proceeded in the duty she had under-
taken to perform: and first of all she addressed herself to Shylock; and
allowing that he had a right by Venetian law to have the forfeit expressed
in the bond, she spoke so sweetly of the noble quality of mercy, as would
76 / imperfect sympathies

have softened any heart but the unfeeling Shylock’s; saying, that it
dropped as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; and how
mercy was a double blessing, it blessed him that gave, and him that
received it; and how it became monarchs better than their crowns, being
an attribute of God himself; and that earthly power came nearest to
God’s, in proportion as mercy tempered justice; and she bid Shylock
remember that as we all pray for mercy, that same prayer should teach us
to show mercy. (106–07)

As the antithesis of these values, Shylock, therefore, represents what

happens when one turns one’s back on the teachings of Christianity. The
tale consistently highlights Shylock as “the Jew,” adding the epithets
“covetous Jew” (99), “merciless Jew” (106), and “currish Jew” (108) to
the list. Whatever their intention, the Lambs succeed in perpetuating
the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes without sensitivity to these stereo-
types as harmful or ungenerous—even unimaginative. By referring to
Shylock more as “the Jew,” the Lambs paint all Jews with this broad
stroke, a choice they did not make in the chapter on Othello, where they
refer to the Othello by name and not as “the Moor.”
Why do the Lambs choose to portray The Merchant in this way, espe-
cially considering Charles Lamb’s later admission that Shylock has some
humanity and considering that they might have focused on the roman-
tic tale of the caskets, with the Shylock–Antonio bond remaining in the
wings? For one thing, they do not have a subversive sense of these tales,
but see them as teaching young ladies and gentlemen proper lessons.
Despite their own working-class background, they endorse the powers
that be and the educational lessons of the privileged classes. Without the
irony of “Imperfect Sympathies,” the Tales are just as suspicious of chal-
lenges to the status quo. As with writers of other children’s literature
from this period, the Lambs are comfortable using ethnic, racial, and
religious caricature to set up lines between “us” and the others. The posi-
tion of Shakespeare as the national bard contributes to an interpretation
in which generosity, sympathy, and humanity are virtues paradoxically
reserved for the Antonios and Bassanios of the world. The Lambs are
thus teaching those young ladies and gentlemen how to exclude Shylock
and his kind from their benevolent and merciful Christian community.
The Lambs’ distrust of more inclusive sympathies sets them at odds
with other Romantic interpreters of The Merchant and with most
notable stage interpretations of Shylock in the nineteenth century. As
various theater historians have documented, Romantic sympathy was
sometimes at odds with other agendas, and there continue to be widely
various stage, film, and video interpretations of The Merchant. Literary
shakespeare’s jew / 77

assessments and pronouncements since the Romantics also vary widely,

but in general with an implicit acknowledgment that the Romantics
changed the debate in the nineteenth century and that the Holocaust
loomed over The Merchant in the second part of the twentieth century.

Conclusion: Shylock and the Legacy of the Romantics

A notable critique of the Romantic interpretation of Shylock comes
from Elmer Edgar Stoll in his “Shylock,” first published in 1911
(Shakespeare Studies, 255–336). Arguing that intentions are everything,
Stoll asserts that Elizabethan Shakespeare could not have sympathized
with a Jew and that Shakespeare clearly labeled the play a comedy in the
first printed edition (1600): “‘The Comical Historie of the Merchant of
Venice, with the extreme crueltie of Shylocke the Jewe towards the sayd
Merchant in cutting a just pound of his flesh, and obtaining of Portia
by the choyse of three chests’” (304). Although Stoll writes convincingly
of the anti-Semitic culture of early modern England, his argument based
on intentionality reveals a theoretical naïveté, as does his claim that if
Shakespeare called it a comedy, then it is a comedy. He also reveals his
own prejudices: “He [Shylock] has a regard for law and the letter of it,
is stiff-necked and tenacious in insisting on his rights, and keen and
dexterous, though specious and cynical, in defense of them. And like all
Jews, he fights, in argument or lawsuit at least, to the last ditch” (327,
my emphasis).
In the course of his argument, Stoll identifies the historical moment
when these readings against the intentional grain crystallized, with
regard both to Shakespeare and other comic writers such as Molière.
“Romantic seriousness and sympathy, at the end of the eighteenth
century and the beginning of the nineteenth” (305) turned the comedies
into tragedies. Stoll reveals his hand in a footnote at the very end of the

The pathetic conception of Shylock I have above charged to the account

of the Romantic Age, though I have taken notice of a similar tendency in
French criticism, regarding Molière, as early as in Rousseau. But, the
ferment of sentimentality and humanitarianism had long been at work,
overwhelming the comic spirit and blinding readers to it even in the
writings of the ancients. (336n)

Stoll seems to be describing the spread of a disease rather than an idea,

and his biases are clear. Stoll cites Henri Bergson on comedy to oppose
a “pathetic conception of Shylock” and to support his notion that
78 / imperfect sympathies

“comedy bows to the customs and prejudices of the time” (308). “The
comic character is ‘insocial,’ out of harmony with his social environ-
ment; and the spectator is kept ‘insensible,’ unsympathetic,—there, as
Monsieur Bergson says, are two pre-requisites” (308). According to this
definition, neither Cumberland’s play nor indeed any sentimental work
could be a comedy, nor does a sentimental poem such as Wordsworth’s
“Idiot Boy,” which combines humor and pathos, have a reason for exist-
ing. In his zeal for generic purity, Stoll does not consider the possibility
that others have read The Merchant as the tragedy of Shylock.20
Stoll points to a particular scene in order to refute the Romantic
misreading of Shylock and to demonstrate the working of comic repeti-
tion of a motif. The scene in question follows the daughter–ducats
wordplay after Shylock has learned of Jessica’s betrayal. Shylock talks
with Tubal, the only other Jew in the play:

Tubal: One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for
a monkey.
Shylock: Out upon her. Thou torturest me, Tubal. It was my turquoise;
I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given
it for a wilderness of monkeys.
This, most critics assert . . . is pathos: it is not the ducats behind the
turquoise (“a diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort!”)
but the thought of Leah that wrings his heart. “What a fine Hebraism is
implied in this expression!” cries Hazlitt. “He has so deep a veneration for
his dead wife,” says Hawkins [Kean’s biographer], with impenetrable
gravity, “that a wilderness of monkeys would not compensate for the loss
of the ring she had given him in youth.” More Elizabethan fun running
to waste! (312)

Stoll denies what other interpreters (particularly on stage) have noted

since Hazlitt, that this curious expression “wilderness of monkeys” may
be more than pure fun at Shylock’s expense. Mahood, for instance, notes
in the modern Cambridge edition of the play that Olivier eliminated
“Out upon her. Thou torturest me, Tubal” “in order to concentrate the
whole emotional effect upon the rest of the speech, which climaxed in
the ‘great, ascending first syllable of ‘wilderness’ ”(112; n. 95).21 Olivier,
perhaps, followed Hazlitt in seeing this word as alluding to the Bible and
its sense of the vastness of the created world. John Russell Brown says
that the “wilderness of monkeys” “may be a wry or helpless jest; certainly
‘wilderness’ seems to release from his unspoken thoughts, as such a jest-
ing might, a sense of desolation . . . . The Jew at once dominates the
play and makes it appear unable to contain him; the emotions which
shakespeare’s jew / 79

seem to drive and threaten him cannot be made fully articulate in its
words” (203–04).
If Brown is correct, then, the word “wilderness” works as a kind of
objective correlative for the intense emotion Shylock cannot express well
or expresses in a way that the Christians see as confused passion. The
interpretations recognize a power in Shakespeare’s language and concep-
tion of character that a grid of generic limitations cannot contain.
Admittedly, these interpretations flow from the source that Kean and
Hazlitt identified—a powerful well of sympathy, an emotional and
intellectual fascination with the character of Shylock. Stoll’s question—
“How can we here [at the end of the play] for a moment sympathize
with Shylock unless at the same time we indignantly turn, not only
against Gratiano, but against Portia, the Duke, and all Venice as well?”
(318)—is precisely the point for Kean and Hazlitt: we cannot. Indeed,
in some productions Gratiano has been played as a repugnant oppor-
tunist and Portia as a merciless adversary in the trial scene.
Within the world of the play, Stoll wants to maintain sharp distinc-
tions between good and bad, Christian and Jew, comedy and pathos. He
objects to Romantic readings, both early and late, because he sees them
as promiscuously mixed. He objects to interpretations that result in “a
prodigious ambiguity” (332), because that ambiguity is not “in”
Shakespeare. In short, Stoll rejects the qualities that Kean tried to bring
to his performance and that Hazlitt so admired—and he rejects the
claim that Hazlitt, Hunt, Keats, and Heine all make: that Shakespeare’s
genius for sympathy is the source of their sympathetic interpretations.
Although Harold Bloom expresses more doubt about authorial inten-
tion than does Stoll, Bloom’s insistence that the play is an anti-Semitic
romantic comedy is close to Stoll’s reading.
Yet even Bloom acknowledges that Shylock has had—and continues to
have—a life of his own. What does it mean for a character to have a life of
his own? First of all, it means that he affects readers and viewers so power-
fully that he has broken free from any one interpretation of the play. It also
means that he appears in unlikely places—as an intertextual intruder in
novels, as Michael Ragussis has shown; as the butt of caricatures on Jews
from the Romantic period; or as an equally unflattering allusion to Jewish
loan sharks on The Sopranos—apart from his continuing metamorphosis
on stage and screen.22 As I demonstrate in the chapters that follow, Shylock
haunts the various discourses about and representations of Jews in the
Romantic period, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, some-
times to promote anti-Semitism and sometimes philo-Semitism, but always
seemingly to evoke Shylock’s power to “better the instruction.”
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C h ap t e r 4
Hyman Hurwitz’s H E B R E W
T A L E S (1826): Redeeming the
Talmudic Garden

Monday, 26th December [1825]: I may class this as one of the happiest
days of my life in the serene and obliging society of my dear
Mon[tefiore], blessed with health and cheerfulness and an unremitting
desire to please for which I cannot sufficiently thank the Almighty . . .
The evening passed delightfully reading Hurwitz’s Hebrew Stories . . . .
—Judith Montefiore1

Some fervent and enthusiastic spirits may still continue to flatter

themselves that the Messiah is to come; but can such faith, after so many
disappointments, so many shiftings, so many discordant interpretations
of prophecies, be expected from the worldly-minded or the cool-minded—
nay, from men endowed with the powers of common calculation? None
will remain real Jews but such as our author—men of true piety and
ardent faith, whom no disappointments can shake—or mere ignorant
bigots, who swallow the nonsensical traditions of their forefathers, and
cling to the Law, because it abounds in ceremonial observances which
cheat the conscience into the belief that he who complies with them
performs the duties of religion. All other classes of professed Jews will, in
reality, be deists, and such, without Mr. Hurwitz’s avowal, we know to be
the case.
—Review of Hebrew Tales, Quarterly
Review 35 (1827): 100–01

In this chapter and the next, I turn to two Jewish perspectives on
Anglo-Judaism in the Romantic period, Hurwitz’s Hebrew Tales and
Judith Montefiore’s private journals. Neither Hurwitz nor Montefiore
appears to have been deeply influenced by the images of Jews or Jewish
characters such as Shylock, but both were fully engaged with Jewish
82 / imperfect sympathies

thought and experience. A Hebrew scholar, Hurwitz examined specific

charges against Jewish texts and Judaism, while Montefiore represented
the world of early-nineteenth-century Anglo-Judaism through the
private experience of her travels. Offering brief glimpses into her read-
ing, Montefiore also revealed that part of her Jewish education involved
reading contemporaries such as Hurwitz.
Two years before he became the first Jewish Professor of Hebrew
Language and Literature at University College, London in 1828,
Hyman Hurwitz, a Polish-born Jew who learned English as an adult,
published the first collection of Hebrew literature in English, an anthol-
ogy entitled Hebrew Tales; Selected and Translated from the Writings of the
Ancient Hebrew Sages: To Which is Prefixed, an Essay, on the Uninspired
Literature of the Hebrews (1826).2 The volume is composed of tales and
aphorisms from rabbinic literature, including the Talmud.3 As Hurwitz’s
preface and essay make clear, he intended the volume to counter nega-
tive and uninformed assumptions about this literature in Christian writ-
ing. Fundamentally, he wanted to show the compatibility of traditional
Jewish wisdom and contemporary British culture. Inspired by his friend
and neighbor Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hurwitz set out to redeem the
Talmud, among other classic Jewish texts, and to cultivate a new tradi-
tion that would make Jews more at home in Britain and Britain more
hospitable to Jews and Jewish culture.4 The historian David Ruderman,
who sees the project of translation as a major part of the Haskalah or
Jewish Enlightenment in England, believes that Hurwitz’s project, like
that of other Jewish biblical translators of the period, “constructed a
radically new image of what they thought Judaism meant to their age.
This image was so formidable and pervasive that, to the readers of their
prodigious translations, the reality on which their new image was based
was virtually displaced” (268). According to Ruderman, in attempting
to make the rabbis and Judaism palatable to English men and women,
both Jewish and Christian, Hurwitz deprived the tradition of its “unique
idiom and cultural perspective” (268).
I argue, however, that Hurwitz did maintain certain elements of
rabbinic wisdom even as he crossed the linguistic and cultural border
into English and into the world of Romantic literature and theory.
Hurwitz rejected the traditional belief that the Mishnah, the codifica-
tion of the Oral Torah, was the word of God, a position that distances
him from Jewish tradition as well as from the Romantic fascination with
divine inspiration. Instead, Hurwitz focused on stories (aggadot)
contained in the Talmud and other rabbinic sources, particularly
midrashim rather than the Law (halakhah).5 Hurwitz thereby deflected
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 83

attention both from debates about the Law itself (Mishnah) and
commentary on it (Gemara) contained in the Talmud. Appealing to
ancient Jewish popular culture, Hurwitz emphasized the humanity of
the rabbinic narratives. In doing so, he transmitted the narrative tradi-
tions and wit of rabbinic literature without attempting a comprehensive
study of the Talmud, although he did outline his theory for the project
in an appended essay.
In this sense Hurwitz’s project resembles the Lyrical Ballads, particu-
larly in the way that Wordsworth theorized that project in his Preface
and transmitted a literary version of traditional folk narratives in the
poems. Because of Hurwitz’s desire to redeem Judaism from scorn and
to reconcile it with contemporary English culture, his goal was even
more complicated than Wordsworth’s. Like Wordsworth, Hurwitz
thought of his project as a contribution to English readers, whose pref-
erences and tastes were susceptible to influence, but Hurwitz wanted to
engage the sympathies of his readers for Judaism and Jewish intellectual
and imaginative traditions. Hurwitz valued the affective and transfor-
mative potential of literature, always with a Jewish perspective in mind.

Wordsworth, Hurwitz, and the Art of

the Preface
Hurwitz takes great care with the selection and arrangement of Hebrew
Tales, but he does not simply let the tales speak for themselves. Instead,
he prefixes a theoretical essay to Hebrew Tales, placing his work in vari-
ous contexts and assuring that his readers do not miss his polemical
points. In the essay, Hurwitz acknowledges that he is presenting the
collection with a particular purpose in mind, “moral improvement” (5).
Yet, his agenda is both broader and more specific: he acknowledges that
he intends to refute influential misreadings of rabbinic literature and to
provide a framework in which English readers can appreciate the tradi-
tion anew. He defends this literature by explaining the rabbinic method
of storytelling through a metaphorical imagination, by drawing compar-
isons between rabbinic and other intellectual traditions, and by arguing
that the diversity of opinion found in the Talmud is an asset rather than
a detriment.
Although collections of tales or poems were common during the
period, the one that most closely resembles Hebrew Tales in its didactic
and moral purpose is the Lyrical Ballads.6 In his years of close conversa-
tion with Coleridge, Hurwitz no doubt spoke with his friend about
Coleridge’s various literary ventures, including the early collaboration
84 / imperfect sympathies

with Wordsworth. Hurwitz thought of his anthological project in simi-

lar terms to those Wordsworth outlines in his Preface (although he never
acknowledged this connection). Both men were sophisticated literary
thinkers who articulated their ideas in polemical prefaces and who also
appealed to “simple” traditional materials.
In his Preface, Wordsworth argues that the poet must create the taste
by which readers can enjoy and appreciate his work. Wordsworth sees
himself writing in a time of crisis. He wants to forge a new contract with
readers, to woo them away from sensational literature, and to cultivate
the taste for his “simple” tales, for the folk and rural traditions that many
of his tales represent. He also makes an urgent plea for the power of his
own literary style (in a poem such as “Tintern Abbey”) to continue the
tradition of Shakespeare and Milton—his paradoxically exalted version
of “the very language of men.”7 As if to emphasize the ideological func-
tion of the collection, Wordsworth underscores the various problems
besetting the world in 1800: growth in urban life and industrial produc-
tion, rapid changes in media, communication, and transportation, and
the continuing threat of war. In response to these alienating circum-
stances of life, Wordsworth proposes a literature that promotes human
warmth and sympathy by combining the pleasures of reading with high
moral purpose. Like so many of his Romantic contemporaries,
Wordsworth centers his project on the interplay between sympathy and
pleasure: “We have no sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure”
(140), an idea implicit in Hurwitz’s arrangement of Hebrew Tales.
Hurwitz outlines a similar rhetorical and theoretical strategy as the
basis for his anthology. Hurwitz wants to create a collection of pleasurable
tales, but he also has clear ideological goals. His volume, he hopes, will
educate the public and dispel derogatory attitudes about the Talmud and
other rabbinic literature. In selecting tales from rabbinic literature,
Hurwitz emphasizes the imaginative, fictive, and folk elements of the
tradition, the aggadot, rather than the portion of the Talmud and rabbinic
teaching that interprets halakhah or the Law.8 He also denies that Jewish
tradition values the Talmud above the Bible (a common charge), making
it clear that he views all rabbinic literature as “uninspired” or not the direct
word of God.9 Hence, he also takes liberties with his translations in his
attempt to package the tales for his time and place. Furthermore, the
folksiness of the tales helps “naturalize” them into English traditional
culture in a way similar to the process by which other collections of tales,
ballads, and melodies became a part of the literature of the time.
Hurwitz responds to what he sees as a crisis for contemporary Jews at
a moment when they sought to establish themselves both as English
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 85

men and women and as Jews. Like Wordsworth in the Preface, he writes
with a sense of the urgency of his message and with the hope that
his volume will have a direct effect on a specific cultural problem: he
writes with a purpose. Most important, he seeks to elicit sympathy for
Jews and Jewish tradition by finding common ground in an appeal to an
ideal reader who encompasses both a Christian and Jewish audience:
“the Reader may assure himself that in the little volume here offered to
him, it is the fervent wish, and has been the constant aim of the Writer,
to enforce the religious and moral truths on which the best interests
of all men of all names and persuasions find their common basis
and fulcrum, and with scarcely less anxiety to avoid every invidious
reference to the points on which their opinions are divided” (x). Like
Wordsworth’s idea of “the Poet,” Hurwitz’s role as translator and anthol-
ogist brings together disparate elements. In Wordsworth’s words, “the
Poet is the rock of defence of human nature; an upholder and preserver,
carrying every where with him relationship and love. In spite of differ-
ence of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs,
in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things violently
destroyed, the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast
empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over
all time” (Preface, 141). Sharing this liberal humanist view of human
potential and the function of art, Hurwitz believes that tales have the
power to bring about change for the good by binding together “men of
all names and persuasions.” He thus sets his project in direct contrast to
previous writers whose Talmudic collections “throw an odium on the
ancient Hebrew works, as well as on their learned authors and their
unfortunate descendants; and thus [to] nourish the worst feelings of
human nature” (Hurwitz, Preface, vi). According to Hurwitz, the editors
of the earlier collections aim to separate rather than bind together, to
propagate scorn rather than sympathy.
Like other Romantic theorists, Hurwitz thinks of writing in organic
terms. He presents his Tales not as specimens from an exotic foreign
garden but as adaptable to an English linguistic and cultural climate. In
his polemical essay, Hurwitz uses organic imagery when he articulates
his intentions:

Indeed, the proceedings of these Talmudical detractors can only be

compared to the conduct of a person, who being admitted into an exten-
sive garden, should, instead of regaling himself with its variegated
productions, deliberately walk about, and busy himself with picking up
every worthless pebble, withered fruit, and noxious weed; and having
86 / imperfect sympathies

loaded himself with as much rubbish as he could carry, turn around to

the proprietor, and scornfully exclaim, “Look, Sir! Look at the precious
productions of your garden!”—Might not the proprietor with justice
reply, “Sir, that weeds grow in my garden may be true; for in what garden
planted by human hands do they not grow? But, surely, that is no envi-
able taste, which, amidst the many and various fruits and flowers
produced here, leads you to notice these alone; even though they were
indeed what you suppose them to be. This, however, is by no means the
fact. In that plant, which your hasty and undiscerning prejudice regards
as a weed, there is a hidden virtue, which strikes every beholder. Of this
apparently withered fruit, you need but remove the external covering,
and you will find it delicious. These pebbles, too, require only a little
polishing, and their genuine luster will soon appear.” (17–18)

Hurwitz makes his point by inventing a metaphorical tale, not unlike

the aggadot he translates for the collection. He thus defends the Talmud
with a tale that itself demonstrates the narrative tradition he so admires.
His metaphor also makes it clear that he acknowledges the need for
a discerning reader to find the sweetness and luster in this garden
that admittedly contains some “rubbish.” Rather than claim that
Talmudic detractors have completely falsified the Talmud, Hurwitz
argues that detractors have distorted the tradition by focusing on ques-
tionable passages, wrenching others out of context, and reading a highly
metaphorical literature literally. Furthermore, these detractors ignore
that the Talmud was compiled over many years by different authors, and
therefore represents different perspectives. Predictably, some of the
authors reveal greater wisdom or artistic sensibility than others. Hurwitz
justifies his collection by arguing, “Several selections have also been
made by Writers of different denominations; but these have not even
the merit of good intention. For (to judge from the collected articles)
the sole aim of these Writers appears to have been to throw an odium
on the ancient Hebrew works, as well as on their learned authors and
their unfortunate descendants; and thus to nourish the worst feelings of
human nature” (vi). Such volumes, Hurwitz implies, propagate no plea-
sure and hence no sympathy; instead, they perpetuate prejudice.10
Hurwitz’s strategy in the polemical essay, then, is to acknowledge
problems in the rabbinic writings for contemporary readers, both Jews
and non-Jews, and also to enlarge the context for understanding
rabbinic Judaism. Hurwitz acknowledges that some of the tales are
extravagant and exaggerated—they are “idle tales, borrowed most prob-
ably from Parthians and Arabians, to whom the Jews were subject before
the promulgation of the Talmud” (35n). He goes on to explain that
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 87

“Another fertile source of misconception originated in that natural

fondness for the marvellous—so common to undisciplined minds—of
which the Ancient Rabbis sometimes availed themselves with the sole
view of exciting the attention of their respective audiences” (35n).
Hurwitz’s continued rejection of “the marvelous” resonates with
Wordsworth and other literary theorists of the period. His prejudice
echoes Wordsworth’s rejection of the gothic in his Preface to Lyrical
Ballads—of “idle and extravagant stories in verse” or “sickly and stupid
German Tragedies” (129). In place of gothic, Hurwitz invents the cate-
gory I shall call the “rabbinic marvelous,” which he links to the less
talented rabbis with “undisciplined minds.” These rabbis fall back on
nonsense and exaggeration in order to command the attention of their
audiences, who, no doubt like Wordsworth’s mythical countrymen,
crave “outrageous stimulation.” Like Wordsworth, Hurwitz hopes to
elicit responses from his audience to the more simple pleasures of homey
tales, folk traditions, and domestic scenes. Hurwitz rejects the marvelous
because it is just what the detractors of the Talmud focus on in present-
ing Jewish writing as “primitive” and wildly irrational. For Hurwitz, the
literature is filled with the “feelings of human nature,” but also with the
voice of wisdom and reason. Hurwitz’s general practice is to tone down
the marvelous or to identify it clearly as metaphorical.
Hurwitz’s desire to place rabbinic literature within the common
ground of “human nature” connects his enterprise with women theorists
of the period. Joanna Baillie, for instance, in her “Introductory
Discourse” anticipates Wordsworth’s attack on the marvelous-gothic-
extravagant and is even more explicit in connecting a rejection of the
marvelous with a preference for “nature”: “In a work abounding with
the marvelous and unnatural, if the author has any how stumbled upon
an unsophisticated genuine stroke of nature, we will immediately
perceive and be delighted with it, though we are foolish enough to
admire at the same time, all the nonsense with which it is surrounded”
(79). Or, as Baillie elaborates, “The highest pleasures we receive from
poetry, as well as from the real objects which surround us in the world,
are derived from the sympathetick interest we all take in beings like
ourselves” (81); like Hurwitz, Baillie looks for common ground to
connect with her audience and to elicit their sympathy. Baillie sees an
overemphasis on the marvelous as obstructing sympathy in all forms of
literature—and in life. Hurwitz argues that certain readers have been
negative in response to rabbinic literature because they cannot move
beyond the marvelous and extravagant in the tales; hence, the marvelous
obstructs the sympathetic imagination in such readers, and they respond
88 / imperfect sympathies

with narrowness and bigotry not just to the Talmud but to Jews and
Hurwitz implies that rabbinic tales include the marvelous because
they have roots in oral sermons where rabbis had free rein to show their
originality and ingenuity in reaching their audience.11 No doubt many
accomplished this goal. Their use of exaggeration, superstition, and
marvelous events is compatible with folk culture and traditions.12 In
creating and transmitting the tales, the rabbis hoped to reach a broader,
more diverse audience of Jews in a culture that depended on both oral
means as well as more scholarly written commentary. As Robert Bonfil
posits in relation to medieval storytelling and orality, “If we are [now]
prepared to refer to orality not just as to an activity performed orally, but
to the sociocultural setting properly pertaining to what anthropologists
would call oral societies, namely, the commitment of the transmission of
cultural heritage to orality, midrash, however strictly or broadly defined,
would mean the transmission or adjustment of inherited culture within
a framework characterized, at least at one stage, by orality” (245).
Traditional stories transmitted in such a cultural framework inevitably
take on lives of their own, and such transformations often involve exag-
geration, along with certain stylistic features.
The Lyrical Ballads also depend on this framework of folk culture. In
a self-conscious way, Wordsworth and Coleridge based their literary
ballads on folk traditions, contemporary rural legends, and superstitious
tales. In the fiction of the ballads, Wordsworth and Coleridge incorpo-
rate the psychological and cultural effect of hearing a story, as in “The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “The Thorn,” “Goody Blake and Harry
Gill,” and “Lucy Gray,” to name a few.13 For instance, “Goody Blake
and Harry Gill” puts superstition to the service of didacticism.
Wordsworth implies that Goody Blake’s curse works not because she is
a bona fide witch (although who knows?), but rather because in his guilt
and wretchedness Harry Gill thinks that she is. Harry Gill takes her
curse, “may he never more be warm,” (100) in a literal way and makes
it so real that he will never be warm again, as signified by his continu-
ally chattering teeth. Perhaps this chattering is all just a rumor or legend
about Harry, like those tales passed down through the generations.
Whereas Wordsworth incorporates superstition and looks at it psycho-
logically, Hurwitz tries to avoid those tales that deal with marvelous
events altogether, though he does allude to them in his essay.
In his attempt to bring the Hebrew Tales in line with mainstream
thought, Hurwitz compares rabbinic ideas with the ideas of Plato,
Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Aesop. He also alludes to Shakespeare and
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 89

Milton in order to show a harmony between British and rabbinic liter-

ature. Hurwitz’s main point in alluding to ancient philosophers is to
argue that the same critics who condemn certain ideas in the Talmud do
not do so in these other contexts. For instance, Hurwitz argues that the
rabbis were interested in “the perfectibility of human nature” so “they
justly concluded, that an idea of that perfectibility must have existed in
the Divine mind . . .” (26). Hurwitz argues that “These sentiments,
worthy of Plato, have yet been decried as rabbinical reveries, and their
authors even arraigned of impiety!—on no better grounds than what the
detractors themselves supplied, by wantonly imposing their own literal
sense on expressions evidently, and (but by motive or dullness) unmis-
takeably, figurative” (26). This defense is, once again, part of Hurwitz’s
desire to find common ground between rabbinic Judaism and other
philosophical and religious systems, and to convince English readers
that they should grant the same capacity for metaphor to the rabbis as
to a thinker such as Plato.
In the same vein, Hurwitz notes that Coleridge’s description of the
“luminous appearance of the sea” (27) from “Satyrane’s Letters” in the
Biographia Literaria is comparable to a rabbinic tale: “ ‘Those that travel
on the sea have told me, that on the head of the wave which threatens
destruction to the ship, there appear sparks of white fire: that they beat
it (the sea) with sticks, on which is written the name of the Almighty,
and it rests, or is subdued’ ” (27).14 Hurwitz singles out the following
passage from Coleridge to demonstrate the same kind of imagination
when considering the wonders of creation: “ ‘A beautiful white cloud of
foam, at momently intervals, coursed by the side of the vessel with a
roar, and little stars of flame danced and sparkled and went out in it: and
every now and then light detachments of this white cloud-like foam,
darted off from the vessel’s side, each out of sight like a Tartar troop over
a wilderness’ ” (27n).15 In context of Letter I, the narrator, traveling on
board a ship, has just rebuffed “the Dane” who assumes that the narra-
tor is “ ‘un philosophe’ ” and thus “commence[s] an harangue on reli-
gion” (Biographia, 167). After professing himself a believer, the narrator
wraps himself in a coat and looks out at the divine beauty of the water.
Hurwitz implies that Coleridge, like the rabbis, sees the name of the
Almighty on the foam of the ocean. He reveals a resemblance between
the way his friend Coleridge sees nature and the way the rabbis connect
nature and the divine. As in Baillie and Coleridge, Hurwitz implies that
people sympathize when they can identify likeness.
After drawing these connections between rabbinic and other tradi-
tions, Hurwitz portrays the contradictions and “diversity of opinion” (38)
90 / imperfect sympathies

in the Talmud as evidence of its vitality. He reminds his readers that the
authors were “thousands of learned men, of various talents, living in a
long series of ages, in different countries, and under the most diversified
conditions. And how, in the name of truth, can perfect agreement be
expected under such circumstances?” (37). Hurwitz explains that
disagreement on “philosophical and speculative subjects” (i.e., not
on “the essential parts of religion”) is a strength of the Talmud and of
Jewish thought because it leaves the “mind unfettered” (37), in some-
thing akin to a Keatsian state of negative capability. In assessing the
Talmud, readers should consider its history, composition, and status as
a mixed genre. Diversity of opinion also makes for a living text, a posi-
tion in line with later theorists of the Talmud’s anthological, encyclope-
dic qualities and its organic, evolutionary process.
Diversity can contribute to balance. For instance, Hurwitz responds
to the charge that the Talmud is vengeful because it includes passages
cursing “idolatrous heathens” (50). Hurwitz acknowledges that such
passages appear in the Talmud and mean what they say—in this case
literally. But Hurwitz warns his readers before passing judgment to
consider the context:

Let us not forget that they were the implacable enemies of

the Hebrews—that they polluted the holy sanctuary—desolated the
country—slaughtered its inhabitants, and covered the land with mourn-
ing. Let the reader, of whatever persuasion he may be, read the books of
the Maccabees—then let him for a moment suppose himself to be one
of those unfortunate Israelites, who were made to drink the bitter cup of
affliction to the very dregs. (51)

Hurwitz asks his readers to consider the context in which Jews uttered
these curses and to have sympathy for their suffering under oppression.
He also goes on to note that expressions of charity for the heathen
poor balance the condemnation of heathen oppression in the Talmud.
Furthermore, Hurwitz quotes Rabbi Moshe as distinguishing
between the ancient idolaters who oppressed the Jews and righteous
gentiles who protected them: “the nations amongst whom we live,
whose protection we enjoy, must not be considered in this light; since
they believe in a creation, the divine origin of the law, and many
other fundamental doctrines of religion.”16 Hurwitz implies that
generosity and gratitude balance expressions of harshness, although
bigots will only see the latter. In other words, Hurwitz must depend, like
Wordsworth’s writer of epitaphs, on the moral and intellectual makeup
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 91

of the recipient:

If a man attaches much interest to the faculty of taste as it exists in

himself and employs much time in those studies of which this faculty . . .
is reckoned the arbiter, certain it is his moral notions and dispositions
must either be purified and strengthened, or corrupted and impaired.
How can it be otherwise, when his ability to enter into the spirit of works
in literature must depend upon his feelings, his imagination and his
understanding—that is, upon his recipient, upon his creative or active
and upon his judging powers, and upon the accuracy and compass of his
knowledge—in fine upon all that makes up the moral and intellectual
man. What is true of individuals is equally true of nations. “Appendix” to
Essays on Epitaphs (Prose Works, 2:97–98)

Hurwitz’s Narrative Imagination

O reader! Had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle reader! You would find
A tale in everything.
—Wordsworth, “Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman,”
Lyrical Ballads

Hurwitz arranges Hebrew Tales so that positive values and perspectives

receive the most emphasis: his gentle reader, like Wordsworth’s, should
find a moral in every tale. Never losing sight of his moral purpose as a
translator and anthologist, Hurwitz conveys meaning both through the
thematic content and through the way he arranges and frames the tales.
His predominant themes are the need for charity, the holiness of life, the
strength of familial relationships, and faith in the afterlife, all Jewish
values that would resonate with both his Jewish and Christian readers.
Hurwitz believes that the rabbinic practice of reaching God through
stories goes hand in hand with studying the Law; he uses the stories to
instruct his audience in the ways of Judaism.
Hurwitz takes some pains to show that such seemingly universal
moral teachings as the Golden Rule originate in Jewish thought. He
translates the Talmudic tale of the heathen who asked the great Rabbi
Hillel to teach him the entire Law “whilst I stand upon one leg” (Tales,
60).17 Unlike the proud Shammai who pushes the man away, Hillel
responds “ ‘Remember, whatever thou dislikest thyself, do not unto thy
neighbors. This is the substance of the law; every thing else is but its
comment; now go and learn’ ” (Tales, 60). Hurwitz’s rendition of this
tale conveys a universal moral, but it also preserves the rabbinic spirit by
92 / imperfect sympathies

embedding the kernel of truth in another didactic narrative—that of the

contrast between the humble brilliance of Hillel and the learned but
proud Shammai. Hillel proves to be the better teacher because he meets
the questioner on the questioner’s terms (even though the challenge
seems riddle-like and absurd to a literalist) and his efforts lead the
heathen to become “a good and pious man” (Tales, 60). Hurwitz’s trans-
lation conveys both Hillel’s distillation of the moral purpose of the Law
and the way that Hillel put it into effect in his life. Interestingly,
Hurwitz neglects to mention that, in the original version of the tale, the
inquiring gentile was seeking to be converted to Judaism on the condi-
tion that the rabbi could encapsulate all of Judaism in an aphorism.18
Perhaps Hurwitz believed that this element of the tale, in the context of
the controversy over efforts to convert the Jews in nineteenth-century
England, would particularly have distracted Christian readers from the
moral lesson of the tale.
Hurwitz’s organization of his collection highlights Moses. Following
a brief preface and his polemical essay, Hurwitz opens the collection
with a Midrashic story of “Moses and the Lamb,” one of many in
rabbinic literature that imaginatively embellishes biblical accounts of
key figures:

Our wise Instructors relate, that whilst Moses was attending Jethro’s flock
in the wilderness, a lamb strayed from the herd. Moses endeavoured to
overtake it, but it ran much faster than he, till it came near a fountain,
where it suddenly stopped, and took a draught of water. “Thou little dear
innocent creature,” said Moses, “I see now why thou didst run away. Had
I known thy want, on my shoulders would I have carried thee to the
fountain to assuage thy thirst. But come, little innocent, I will make up
for my ignorance. Thou art no doubt fatigued after so long a journey,
thou shalt walk no further.” He immediately took the little creature into
his arms, and carried it back to the flock. (Tales, 4).19

This particular story suggests that God chose Moses as his great prophet
because Moses showed himself to be compassionate in his respect for all
life. The story implies that God valued Moses’ capacity to sympathize
and knew that he would extend this sympathy to “the children of men”
(Tales, 4). Thus, the very first tale in the collection sets the tone for what
follows and emphasizes that a respect for life and a sympathetic heart are
central to the rabbinic conception of God’s purpose in giving the Torah.
Hurwitz begins with this tale, too, in order to counter the Christian
assumption that a Jewish emphasis on law and justice comes at the
expense of love and mercy. Contrary to this common position, which
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 93

fostered anti-Jewish sentiment, Hurwitz wants to establish that love in

fact is the essence of the Law, not its opposite. In so doing, he implicitly
takes on much of Christian tradition, which had assumed that Judaism
was deficient in love and mercy. Hurwitz demonstrates that the oppo-
site is true and that the morality of Judaism is also consonant with the
values of sympathy for all creatures.
Following the main body of tales, which includes a wide variety of
themes and narrative structures, Hurwitz adds “Facetiae” and “Aphorisms
and Apophthegms [sic]” in the final sections to make the volume as a
whole “as entertaining, as it is hoped, it will be found instructive” (vii).
The “Facetiae” focus on smart—some might say smart-alecky—children
and less wise adults, a set-up familiar to readers of Lyrical Ballads, Blake’s
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and other Romantic ballads.
Structurally, most of these tales involve questions and answers, as do the
ballads. The question is often unanswerable on some level, because (as in
“We Are Seven”) the questioner and the respondent see the world so
differently, or (as in Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”) the respondent
does not understand what has happened to him. A similar mystery inhab-
its Hurwitz’s tales, but there is usually a punch line and a resolution.
For instance, take “The Wise Child,” a tale involving Rabbi Joshuah
(an adult, in this case, willing to learn):

More than a mile-stone must be consulted in deciding which is the

shortest way.
Once on my travels, I came near a town where the road separated to
right and left. Not knowing which to take, I enquired of a little boy who
happened to be there, which of the two led to the town. “Both,” replied he;
“but that to the right is short and long—that on the left is long and short.”
I took that on the right; but had not far advanced, when my progress was
stopped by a number of hedges and gardens. Unable to proceed, I returned,
and asked the little fellow, how he could be so cruel as to misdirect a
stranger? “I did not misdirect thee,” replied the boy. “I told thee what is
true. But art thou a wise man amongst Israel, and canst not comprehend
the meaning of a child?—It is even as I said. This road is the nearest, but
still the longest, on account of the many obstructions. Unless thou
wouldest trespass on other people’s ground, which I could hardly suppose
from so good a man. The other road is, indeed, more distant, but it is,
nevertheless, the shortest, being the public road; and may, therefore, be
passed without encroaching on other people’s property.”—I admired his
wit, and still more his good sense, and went on. (Tales, 182–83)20

This tale may not teach a profound moral, but it does illuminate the
relationship between adults and children, and it implicitly admonishes
94 / imperfect sympathies

adults to listen carefully to the wisdom of a child, even if the child is

mischievous. It also tells the reader something particular about
Judaism—that questioning, interpretation, and attention to details are
important, that prominent rabbis do not know everything, and that the
sources of knowledge may be unexpected. Hurwitz’s ideal reader would
enjoy the child’s wit as well as admire the wisdom of the great rabbi.
Because the reader too takes pleasure in the tale, the reader feels a
sympathetic connection to the tradition.
The final entry in the volume begins with a translation of one of
Hillel’s best-known sayings: “If I am not for myself,” says the pious
Hillel, “who is to be for me?—If I am for myself only—what am I
then?—And if not now, when then?” (Tales, 207).21 In his essay on the
“Jewish Wordsworth,” Lionel Trilling noted the affinity between Hillel’s
brilliant formulation of the balance between self and community and
Wordsworth’s poetic faith, variously expressed over the years, that “the
mind is fitted to the world.”22 Hurwitz ends with this aphorism, I think,
because he wants to show the efficacy of rabbinic thought in the
contemporary world—the need to acknowledge this kind of balance in
moral as well as epistemological terms. Hurwitz is so concerned to
convey this moral that he does not let Hillel’s words speak for them-
selves. Instead, he includes a lengthy series of footnotes for various parts
of his last entry, beginning with this explanation of Hillel:

Man as a social being has various duties to perform; some relating to his
individual welfare, others to the welfare of society. If he neglect the
former, how can he expect that others, less interested, will perform them
for him. If he neglect the latter, and studies only his own interest, he
becomes a selfish creature, scarcely deserving the name man. A good man
will neglect neither: and this is what the pious Rabbi wished to inculcate.
(Tales, 207n)

Hurwitz implies that this rabbinic wisdom is consistent with the best
moral philosophy in advocating a balance between self-respect and
benevolence, not unlike the morality of Wordsworth’s Pedlar at the end
of The Ruined Cottage, who urges the young poet, distraught over the
fate of Margaret: “ ‘My Friend, enough to sorrow have you given, / The
purposes of wisdom ask no more’ ” (509–10). It is this resignation or
quietism that Lionel Trilling noted in connecting Wordsworth and
rabbinic thought, and that, in the early 1950s, Trilling identified as the
quality of Wordsworth’s poetry least attractive to the contemporary
world: “Nothing could be further from the tendency of our Western
culture, which is committed to an idea of consciousness and activity, of
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 95

motion and force. With us the basis of spiritual prestige is some form of
aggressive action directed outward upon the world, or inward upon
ourselves” (131). In neither Hillel nor Wordsworth did Trilling find
such militancy, the significance of which I will consider in my final
Hillel’s injunction balances and to some extent qualifies the call for
sympathy in the tales, best exemplified by the first tale involving Moses.
The narrative framework, therefore, represents a progression of sorts,
from noble but naïve expressions of love for the lamb, and thus for all
of God’s creation, to a more sophisticated statement of how one’s love
and sympathy work in the human community, in the here and now.
This statement coincides with the “ultimate object” of the publication,
“moral improvement” (vii). Whereas Hurwitz claims the later tales and
aphorisms to be more entertaining, he actually encases many of them in
the mechanism of scholarship: lengthy explanatory footnotes that make
sure the reader appreciates the moral of the story. This practice also
demonstrates that the collection works on different levels, as if many of
the footnotes are for the more advanced reader or the teacher.
Hurwitz’s collection is notable for the selections he has made and the
way that he presents the tales in this context of general moral improve-
ment; he is not particularly original or consistent in what he does with
actual tales. Sometimes, he shortens a tale from its source, or more
likely, he selects a portion of the tale to translate, usually the portion
containing the moral itself. Sometimes he adds a biblical aphorism or
quote to precede the tale, but other times he shortens the effect of the
tale by removing biblical allusions and examples that were in the origi-
nal. Hurwitz’s English, his version of Wordsworth’s “real language of
men,” (Preface, 1:119) is rooted in biblical diction, perhaps as a stylistic
marker of its venerable themes. Hurwitz often tries to distill the main
idea or point. It is no doubt true, as some of his contemporaries noted,
that the act of selection for Hurwitz is also an editorial act. Or, to put it
another way, Hurwitz’s selection makes the rabbinic writing palatable to
a mixed audience of Christians and Jews, although Hurwitz’s audience
was primarily Jewish.
Hurwitz also maintains a strict sense of propriety. For instance, the
Talmud is often frank—even gritty—on sexual matters. In one conver-
sation between a rabbi and a philosopher that he translates from Talmud
Avodah Zarah, Hurwitz develops a metaphor derived from the natural
world, at the same time omitting an analogous metaphor from the realm
of human sexuality. Hurwitz translates a portion of the tale that makes
a point about those who act immorally or do wrong. As the rabbi of the
96 / imperfect sympathies

tale explains:

If a man steals grain and sows it, should the seed not shoot up out of
the earth, because it was stolen? O, no! the wise creator lets nature run
her own course; for her course is his own appointment. And what if the
children of folly abuse it to evil? The day of reckoning is not far off, and
men will then learn that human actions likewise re-appear in their conse-
quences by as certain a law as the green blade rises up out of the buried

Comparing Hurwitz’s selection and translation with a recent translation

of Ein Yaakov, a sixteenth-century compilation of Talmudic teachings,
one finds that another metaphor actually follows the first one of the
green blade and buried corn (sexual in its own metaphorical way). The
following metaphor much more explicitly enters the realm of sex and
marriage. To quote the version in Ein Yaakov,

To give you another analogy: Suppose a man had intercourse with his
neighbor’s wife; by rights she should not conceive. But the world runs its
natural course, and the fools who do wrong will be held accountable. In
the same vein R. Shimon b. Lakish said: The Holy One, blessed be He,
declared: Not only do the wicked use My coin promiscuously, but they
force Me to put My stamp in it. [The wicked misuse the God-given
power to procreate and force Him to create the embryo that was
conceived through adultery.] (742–43)

In omitting such a metaphor, Hurwitz bows to propriety and insures

that his selections will have a broad appeal for all ages. Indeed, it is
hard to imagine an unbowdlerized version of the Talmud attaining the
popularity that Hurwitz’s Tales achieved in Jewish educational circles
throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Perhaps,
too, Hurwitz was responding in his own way to another anti-Semitic
stereotype—that Jews were excessively lascivious. In avoiding allusions
of promiscuity and adultery, he avoided even the connection of such
practices with contemporary Jews and Judaism.
Furthermore, Hurwitz took some pains in his writings to demon-
strate that Judaism valued the contributions of women. Although I do
not find that the tales support the kind of feminism that some of his
contemporaries advocated, Hurwitz’s portrayal of women in the tales
shows that they have significant moral power and wisdom. For instance,
consider a passage entitled “The Value of a Good Wife,” based on the
Midrash in Proverbs 31, “What a rare find is a capable wife! Her worth is
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 97

far beyond that of rubies.”24 Actually using a translation by Coleridge,

Hurwitz includes a narrative in which the wife of a great rabbi teaches
him to accept the bitter loss of their young two sons. In contrast to what
the title might lead the reader to expect of the wife as a domestic help-
mate, this tale gives powerful testimony to its biblical moral, “ ‘He that
has found a virtuous woman has a greater treasure than costly pearls. She
openeth her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the instruction
of kindness’ ” (Tales, 7). When the rabbi returns from a sabbath day of
prayer and study at the synagogue and asks for his children, his
wife replies:

“Rabbi, with thy permission I would fain propose to thee one question.”
“Ask it, then, my love!” he replied. “A few days ago a person entrusted
some jewels to my custody, and now he demands them again: should
I give them back again?” “This is a question,” said Rabbi Meir, “which
my wife should not have thought it necessary to ask. What! Wouldest
thou hesitate or be reluctant to restore to every one his own?” “No,” she
replied, “but yet I thought it best not to restore them without acquaint-
ing thee therewith.” She then led him to their chamber, and stepping to
the bed, took the white covering from their bodies. “Ah, my sons! My
sons!” thus loudly lamented the father: “My sons! The light of mine eyes,
and the light of my understanding; I was your father, but ye were my
teachers in the Law!” The mother turned away, and wept bitterly. At
length she took her husband by the hand, and said, “Rabbi, didst thou
not teach me that we must not be reluctant to restore that which was
entrusted to our keeping? See, the Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,
and blessed be the name of the Lord!” “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
echoed Rabbi Meir, “and blessed be his name for thy sake too!” (6–7)

Thus, in her own grief, the mother consoles her husband by using the
very methods of figurative thinking and morals based on faith in the
Lord that he had taught her. Not only is the child father of the man in
this tale (“ye were my teachers in the Law”), but women can also partic-
ipate in the creation of a moral universe.25 It is not surprising, therefore,
that when Hurwitz presents the beauties of “the golden age of the
Hebrew language” (17) in his 1828 acceptance address for the Chair in
Hebrew at University College, that he includes a revisionist view of the
role of women in the Bible: “The song of Deborah, and the prayer of
Hannah, show, that even in times of anarchy, the Israelites neither
neglected their language, nor,—and I would particularly draw your atten-
tion to this, as a forcible and demonstrative proof of high cultivation—
the Education of their Daughters” (17).
98 / imperfect sympathies

The Reception of Hebrew Tales

Who read this volume? Hebrew Tales was immediately popular with the
Jewish community when it came out a few months in advance of its
publication date in 1826 and it did contribute to the teaching of Jewish
children. The work was a Jewish bestseller in England and America
throughout the nineteenth century and was also translated into several
languages, including German as early as 1828.26 But Hurwitz’s influence
seems mainly to have been limited to Jewish audiences, particularly to
school children, and that influence diminished in the twentieth century.
Hurwitz did not succeed in bringing rabbinic wisdom into the main-
stream of British literary culture. Nevertheless, Coleridge continued to
praise his work for the years remaining in his life (he died in 1834),
urging it on his friends and readers. And Hebrew Tales enjoyed at least
one mainly positive and impressively knowledgeable twenty-eight-page
unsigned review—in the Quarterly Review in 1827.27
In this scholarly review, the writer praises the Tales as an entertaining
selection, but objects to Hurwitz’s attempt to bowdlerize the Talmud
and present the rabbinic texts as less problematic than the reviewer
finds them: “The books abound with precepts, which are still more
plain than those which Mr. Hurwitz has exercised so much ingenuity in
softening; they distinctly consign those who neglect the rabbinical writ-
ings to eternal immersion in boiling dung in the other world” (97). But
even though he makes this argument and supports it with examples
from the Talmud, the reviewer acknowledges the value of Hurwitz’s
project and writes passionately about the oppression of the Jews in
history and the need for Britain to remove disabilities and bestow “well-
deserved favour on a loyal and industrious body of men” (95). The
explicitly Christian reviewer, in other words, transforms the review into
an occasion for making a strong statement about the place of Jews in the
nation and their potential as British subjects, implicitly one of Hurwitz’s
goals in publishing the collection.
In the midst of a long critical explanation of the Talmud and a more
sympathetic history of the Jews, the reviewer urges his readers that

it must not be imagined that the great rabbinical repository does not
contain better things. In spite of its trifling, and of other objections that
might be urged against it, few works are better worth the attention of the
antiquary, the philologer, the philosophic historian, and the theologian.
It presents the most curious picture of the modes of thinking and acting
of the most singular people that ever existed, under circumstances
altogether unparalleled. (91)
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 99

The reviewer takes up Hurwitz’s defense of the Talmud as unkind to

heathens and challenges head-on the additional charge that the Talmud
is anti-Christian. He reminds readers that the Talmud was meant for the
Jews themselves, and he argues that Jews were entitled to speak slight-
ingly of other sects, particularly because they have been oppressed.
Furthermore, with irony directed against the oppressors, the critic
endorses Hurwitz’s defense: “The poor Jews had indeed much reason to
be civil. After being persecuted, hunted like beasts, robbed, reviled,
trampled upon, in every Christian country in the world, it might surely
be pardoned them that they were occasionally disrespectful to that faith,
the abuse of which exposed them to such calamities” (99). The reviewer
also criticizes the oppression of Jews by a succession of Popes, many of
whom were the most vociferous critics of the Talmud.
According to the reviewer, the very fact that the Talmud contains
stories interspersed with text of the oral law (Mishnah) and the commen-
tary (Gemara) has been one reason why bigots have slandered it. He
quotes one critic as charging that its authors are the “most impudent
patchers together of old wives’ stories” (103). In response to such objec-
tions to the mixed genre and folk qualities of the Talmud, the reviewer
reminds readers that “These critics did not sufficiently attend to the
oriental origin of the work which they were reviling, and reflect that, in
all the nations of the East, it was customary to mix up such narrations
with graver matters” (103). Hurwitz himself chose not to emphasize the
Eastern context, but the reviewer sees the implicit connection between
the Talmudic tales and such framed narratives as the Arabian Nights.28
Perhaps Hurwitz did not dwell on the connection between the Talmud
and the East because he did not want to place Judaism in the position
of the Oriental Other, unfit for the mainstream of British culture.29
In defense of Talmudic storytelling, the reviewer reminds his
Christian readers, “our Saviour sanctified the principle of applying
stories (some of them drawn, in all probability, from a common source
with many of those in the Talmud) to the elucidation of affairs of the
most sacred importance” (103). That said, he does object to what he sees
as Hurwitz’s over-allegorizing material that might well have been meant
literally, thus questioning Hurwitz’s foundational idea that the tales are
almost always metaphorical. But, according to the reviewer, “Such will
always be the case, where philosophical generations are called on to
believe in the fancies of poetical antiquity, and to interpret the dreams
or wisdom, as the case may be, of mystic or superstitious predecessors”
(103). He implies that Hurwitz has been unfaithful to the original in
allegorizing away too much of the rabbinic marvelous. In closing, the
100 / imperfect sympathies

reviewer calls for Hurwitz to continue his researches in and translations

of the Talmud, urging the author to see Hebrew Tales as an opening act:
“He well knows that there is much for him to glean there, and he has
only to guard against painting things better than they are. What man of
sense is there who is not prepared to find fable, and nonsense, and indel-
icacy, and intolerance, occasionally mixed with the better matter of a
work composed at such a time, and under such circumstances?” (113).
Hurwitz did not compile another volume, but as an educator he
continued to emphasize the importance of a proper knowledge of
Hebrew for an accurate understanding of both Hebrew Scriptures and
rabbinic literature. Hebrew Tales was an attempt to popularize rabbinic
literature in English, to cross the border from Hebrew (and the Aramaic
of much of the Gemara) into English language and culture.30 As André
Lefevere has commented regarding translators in general: “Translators
are the artisans of compromise. . . . Since they are at home in two
cultures and two literatures, they also have the power to construct
the image of one literature for the consumption by the readers of
another . . .” (6). Hurwitz conflated the roles of anthologist and transla-
tor. For Hurwitz, the two processes of selection of tales or portions of
tales and their translation were linked by his desire to create the taste for
this consumption, to present readers with an inviting image of Hebrew
culture in English. He rejected both the translations of detractors as well
as Yiddish translations: “Selections from [the Talmud and Midrash]
have, indeed been made by several Jewish writers, with the laudable view
of imparting moral instruction to the illiterate portions of their respec-
tive communities; but they are written in a language—if at all it deserves
the name—so low and corrupt, and they are, besides, interwoven with
so many false opinions and glaring absurdities, that they have deservedly
sunk into oblivion” (v). By this negative example, Hurwitz emphasizes
the cultural importance of presenting Hebrew Tales in his English
version of Wordsworth’s “real language of men.”
In denying the value of Yiddish, the lingua franca of other European
Jews, Hurwitz also rejected the notion that English Jews should have a
completely separate cultural identity from other Britons. Polish-born
Hurwitz embraced the Englishness of English as both a cultural and
linguistic legacy. For Hurwitz, Yiddish was a bastardized language for a
people without legitimate status in their culture. By translating rabbinic
tales into the King’s English, Hurwitz sought to demonstrate that the
otherness of Judaism could fit into and make sense within the larger
culture. As the 1827 reviewer implicitly recognizes, Hurwitz was in a
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 101

catch-22: he would alienate both Christian readers and reform-minded

Jews if he did not package the tales for the modern world; but he risked
compromising the tradition in the transformation. The popularity of
the volume with Jewish readers for over a hundred years proves that he
connected with Jewish readers. Hurwitz succeeded in conveying the
narrative spirit of ancient Jewish thought even as he transplanted it in
England’s green and pleasant land.
The paradox for Hurwitz and of Hurwitz’s project was that he
believed strongly in Hebrew education. For Jews, knowledge of Hebrew
remained the ideal—being able to read and study Talmudic tales with-
out any translation. Hurwitz devoted most of his life and career to
teaching Hebrew on different levels. In addition to his professorship, he
also ran a school for many students less distinguished than his most
prominent and successful adult learner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He
published several guides to the language and to teaching the language.31
Given this passion, Hurwitz never gave up on the importance of learn-
ing Hebrew. But, at the same time, he knew that the future would mean
that most English-speaking Jews would not become Hebrew scholars,
even less, of course, in the Christian community. Therefore, his role as
a translator who knew both the language and the tradition intimately
became even more important. He knew that mistranslations—both
willful and inadvertent—had led to a virtual tradition of misrepresent-
ing Judaism in Christian culture, as other scholars, both Hurwitz’s
contemporaries and in our time, have documented.32
Even as he emphasized the importance of translating Hebrew, of
crossing the border into English, Hurwitz never lost sight of the need for
studying the original. Accordingly, he argues in his 1828 address upon
accepting the chair of Hebrew at the University of London:

It is acknowledged on all hands that the Hebrew Records are the oldest
documents we possess, and that they contain information which we can
derive from no other source. They alone give us a rational account of the
origin of things and of the primitive state of mankind. They give us a
statement of the gradual rise of nations. In them, all human beings are
represented to proceed from a common parent. In them alone the dignity
of the human character is asserted and maintained.
But this is not all. No other books whatever have had such an influ-
ence on the minds of men, and on the moral character of nations.
Wherever they have been read, they have awakened a spirit of inquiry
highly favorable to the advancement of science. Wherever they have been
read, they not only made their readers acquainted with their duties, but
102 / imperfect sympathies

also with their rights;—but let it be observed with their rights as conse-
quent on the performance of their duties. And it may safely be asserted,
that no people thoroughly acquainted with the contents of the Bible, can
ever remain enslaved.
To understand these books must therefore be an object of prime
importance to all, but particularly to the spiritual guides and instructors
of the people. And how is this to be done without a knowledge of the
language in which they are written? By Translation, it may be said:—and
true it is that we possess many good Translations. But the Translations are
known to differ on many important points, and how can we possibly
know which of them is correct, unless by an appeal to a Hebrew text?

Hurwitz acknowledges a necessary elitism in Hebrew education; he sees

Hebrew education as a noble end in itself and as a way of transmitting
the tradition to future generations.
Hurwitz appeals not just to Jews, but to Christians who want to
understand the basis of their tradition more fully and are willing to
acknowledge the Hebrew Scriptures and writings as its continuing
source, not as an old testament in need of the new for fulfillment. Thus,
in his commitment both to teaching Hebrew and to translating Hebrew
writing into English, Hurwitz sought to reconstitute the relationship
between Judaism and Christianity in Britain. He wanted to create a
community based on mutual respect and sympathy. Within the Tales
themselves, Hurwitz demonstrated that love and fellow feeling are
central to the ideals of Judaism as well as to Christianity. Hurwitz only
fell short of his own plan in not reaching more Christians as sympathetic
readers of Jewish texts. I am not sure why Hurwtiz did not succeed in
this regard, but his failure may have been related to his presentation of
Judaism as a sensible and rational religion. In other words, he succeeded
so well at making Judaism sensible that his volume did not appeal
to those readers seeking the exotic or the marvelous rather than schol-
arly footnotes appended to simple tales. Hurwitz’s volume may have
been a victim of the literary preferences that Wordsworth derided in the
One last word about Hurwitz connects him with Judith Montefiore,
the subject of the next chapter. In the 1828 address Hurwitz gives
another reason for his interest in teaching Hebrew. He argues that there
are numerous books mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures that remain
either as fragments or “irrevocably lost. What wonder, then that the
language appears poor. But poor as it is now, it is a poverty, that in its
very remnants bears witness of its former opulence” (16). Hurwitz’s
hyman hurwitz’s HEBREW TALES / 103

work of recovery in a sense bears witness to a Jewish past and to one of

the most powerful spurs to communal memory: the Hebrew language
and the sacred texts that have survived in spite of loss, scorn, appropri-
ation, or indifference. As I argue in the next chapter, Judith Montefiore
views Jerusalem itself as such a spur to Jewish communal memory and
a symbol of survival in the face of repeated loss.
This page intentionally left blank
C h ap t e r 5
Judith Montefiore’s P R I VAT E
J O U R N A L (1827): Jerusalem and
Jewish Memory

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you will be serene. May
there be peace within your walls, security within your palaces.
—Psalm 122
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my
tongue adhere to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate
Jerusalem above my foremost joy.
—Psalm 137
Memory is a source of faith. To have faith is to remember. Jewish faith is
a recollection of that which happened to Israel in the past. The events in
which the spirit of God became a reality stand before our eyes painted
in colors that never fade. Much of what the Bible demands can be
comprised in one word: Remember. “Take heed to thyself, and keep thy
soul diligently lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest
they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; make them known
unto thy children and thy children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of
Religion (162)

In this chapter I focus on one privileged woman’s record of a journey
beyond the relatively safe confines of London to early-nineteenth-century
Jerusalem. Judith Montefiore’s Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and
Palestine by Way of Italy and the Mediterranean is “the first account in
English by a Jewish woman traveller.”1 Recorded in 1827–28 and privately
printed in 1836 but never published, the Private Journal is not widely avail-
able and has received only passing acknowledgment, mostly in assessments
of the life and career of Moses Montefiore, Judith Montefiore’s husband
and perhaps the most celebrated Jewish philanthropist of the nineteenth
106 / imperfect sympathies

century.2 What begins as a casual record of travels becomes a spiritually

transforming event in Jerusalem that Montefiore views as worth sharing
with family and friends, a largely Jewish private audience.3 Montefiore does
not engage with anti-Jewish discourse or comment on the pervasiveness of
stereotypes. Neither Shylock nor current political debates intrude into her
world. Instead, she structures her journal as a Jewish mythical narrative of
exile and return, also dramatizing the actual encounter with Jerusalem as
awakening the power of the imagination and affective sympathy.
In the Private Journal, Montefiore discovers a way to meditate on the
meaning of faith in the Jewish tradition. Within the genre of the travel
journal, Montefiore leaves the record of an Anglo-Jewish woman’s theo-
logical observations, and reflections on the relationship between the
divine, Jewish history, and the collective spiritual memory of the Jewish
people. As the Private Journal develops, Montefiore depends more on
conveying her journey as sympathetic and transforming, with the poten-
tial to affect her readers. Without access to formal theological study,
Montefiore nonetheless finds a way to enter into Jewish tradition as the
subject of her own discourse. Montefiore accomplishes this connection
to the tradition in her text, even though Jewish tradition does not assign
women the role of what Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi has termed the “recep-
tion and transmission” of Jewish communal memory (110). Far from
passively accepting her husband’s theological views, Montefiore works
through questions of Jewish theology and history long before women
were given credit for this kind of theorizing.4
Viewing the geography and history of Palestine through the lens of
her Judaism, Montefiore brings the events of Jewish communal memory
into her personal consciousness in the Private Journal. The characteristi-
cally Jewish quality of Montefiore’s thinking appears in her attribution of
a “transcendent meaning” to history; in her commitment to prayer and
recitation in commemorating events; and in her recognition of the need
to reenact the rhythm of exile and redemption in her own life.5 Although
she shared many values with her Christian countrymen and women—
her British patriotism, for instance, is always evident in the Private
Journal—her record as a Jewish woman set her and her Private Journal
apart from other contemporary records. Contrary to one editor, who
states, “her cultural and artistic tastes were no different from that of a
traveling Christian Englishwoman of a similar class,”6 I see a distinctly
Jewish perspective in Montefiore’s responses to Palestine. Perhaps this
earlier editorial claim describes Montefiore’s descriptive style in the
European sections of her journal, but it does not capture her life either
before or after her experience of Jerusalem or in the Middle Eastern
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 107

section of her journal. In the course of her journal, Montefiore attributes

less importance to physical travel itself than to the inward or spiritual
dimension of her journey as she encounters the sacred spaces of the Holy
Land. The recorded experience has a definite effect: after this journey the
Montefiores became more ritually observant, more focused on tzedakah
(acts of righteousness), and more widely connected to the Jewish world.7
In the earlier entries of the Private Journal from France and Italy,
Montefiore presents herself as a conventional tourist seeing through a
familiar aesthetic lens:8 “I hardly accuse myself of too much amor
patriae in thinking the Dover Road might to-day have vied with some
scenes in Italy” (3). When traveling through the French countryside,
Montefiore comments that “The beauty of the morning contributed
greatly to heighten the picturesque grandeur of the scenery” (13), a
generic and unemotional observation. Or, when she and her husband
are in Catania in the vicinity of Etna, Montefiore notes conventionally,
“The pencil of a Salvator Rosa might have been well-employed” (80).
But the very circumstances and conditions of the trip to Palestine led
her to discover and commemorate the spiritual dimension of her travels
and to dispense with Salvator’s pencil.
By the time Montefiore arrived in Palestine, the journal had become a
vehicle for meditating on theological issues, and for acknowledging her
sense of blessedness before God. Prayer marks both the beginning and the
end of the journal, as well as several pivotal moments in the narrative.
Montefiore’s knowledge of and commitment to prayer pervades the jour-
nal, which echoes the biblical pattern of exile and redemption basic to
many of the central Jewish prayers. The Amidah, for instance, includes
prayers for the ingathering of exiles and rebuilding Jerusalem.9 With
frequent references to prayers, Montefiore established that prayer was part
of her everyday thinking about the world—it was for her a way of viewing
the world as sacred and as a source of divine blessing.
Although Montefiore did not aspire to write theology or history,
travel writing presented expressive possibilities for her and for other
women to engage in ideas usually restricted to the formal discourses of
theology, philosophy, or history. As Karen Lawrence argues in Penelope
Voyages, travel writing opened up “discursive space for women” and
encouraged the further development of hybrid genres (18): journals,
letters, diaries, or, as we will see in Montefiore’s case, prayer, theological
observation, and historical commentary embedded in her travel journal.
The fact that Montefiore’s text is not formal or systematic should not
obscure its significance as intellectual work achieved without conventional
108 / imperfect sympathies

When the Montefiores were delayed for weeks in Egypt, unable to

find a vessel to carry them to Palestine, Judith Montefiore began to
think in terms of the Exodus from Egypt. In the context of the journal,
arriving in Jerusalem against all odds becomes the focus of her spiritual
pilgrimage. No longer content to comment on scenery or play the
tourist, Montefiore recasts her journal as the site for spiritual searching,
expression of faith, and prayer. She frames this section of her journal as
a narrative: it becomes a variation of the biblical Exodus, a story of exile
from and return to Zion. By this device, Montefiore both heightens the
drama of finally arriving at her destination, Jerusalem, and highlights
the Jewishness of her text in contrast to Christian or secular versions of
this journey. The Jewish narrative becomes a vehicle for rediscovering
Jewish identity by reliving the Exodus.
Montefiore also relies on Jewish interpretations of memory and
community to structure her encounter with the ruins of Jerusalem.
Although in the rabbinic period Judaism had become a religion that found
holiness in time, Jews still looked toward Jerusalem as a sacred place—
physically turning toward Jerusalem in prayer—and not only as a
metaphor for redemption. As she writes, Montefiore formulates a Jewish
interpretation of the sacred spaces that she visits, incorporating these sacred
spaces of Jerusalem into the narrative time of exile and redemption. Her
sense of the sacredness of the “spot” and its place in Jewish history enlarges
her spiritual feelings and connects her consciously with her tradition.10
Although Montefiore arrives at her destination, the arrival is para-
doxically also a reenactment of exile, since the Jerusalem of collective
Jewish memory no longer exists.11 Montefiore envisions the greatness of
Jerusalem’s past in contrast to its impoverished and ruined state in 1827.
She focuses on the historical events that led to the destruction of the
Temple and the dispersal of the Jewish people, returning to a picture of
the Jerusalem of her visit. And because this Jerusalem of collective
memory is gone, Montefiore feels personal responsibility as a Jewish
witness to rebuild it: her Private Journal records the beginning of what
will become a life-long commitment. The Jewishness of Montefiore’s
writing is important because it implicitly rejects the Christian view of
Jewish exile as punishment or the Christian view of the return to Zion
as the harbinger of the Second Coming.

Travel in 1827, or the Plagues of Egypt

What were the historical circumstances of the Montefiores’ journey? In
this era before the ubiquity of steam or railroads, travel was of course
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 109

slow and difficult. The Montefiores set off on their journey on May 1,
1827 and did not return to London until February 20, 1828. They trav-
eled by coach across the Alps and into Italy, and then sailed from Malta
to Alexandria on the Leonidas. They arrived in the vicinity of the port of
Alexandria on August 26, 1827, with the hopes of spending the High
Holy Days in Jerusalem, but because of the constant threat of war and
instability on the seas, they did not actually arrive in Jerusalem until
October 18. Given the threat of war between the Ottoman Empire and
the allies as well as the threat of pirates on the seas, the Montefiores had
also hoped to travel with a naval convoy. Instead, they finally engaged
the Henry Williams and its captain to take them to Jaffa. While the most
dramatic moments of the narrative focus on Jerusalem, most of the jour-
nal is concerned with the period of “imprisonment” in Egypt and on the
Leonidas. Although the Montefiores were treated well by the pasha in
Egypt and had consular representation in both Egypt and Palestine, they
were constantly aware of political danger and instability; in fact, they
learned on their return to the Leonidas after visiting Jerusalem that the
Turkish-Egyptian fleet was destroyed off the coast of Greece in the
Battle of Navarino.
Against this backdrop of war and piracy, the Montefiores launched
their journey. Although they were well-to-do travelers, accompanied by
male and female servants as well as friends during various legs of the
journey, the conditions of their travel were not always comfortable.
They paid £400 for the trip on the Leonidas, but this was no luxury ship.
Nor could money buy much ease when traveling by land in either Egypt
or Palestine. As Montefiore notes, the pasha and his daughters had the
only carriages in Egypt; everyone else depended on donkeys or mules.
Travel in Palestine was even more difficult; the Montefiores, for
instance, rode donkeys for ten hours over steep and difficult mountain-
ous paths from Ramala to Jerusalem. Ruth Kark explains:

In the first half of the nineteenth century, there were almost no roads in
Palestine. By then wheeled vehicles, which first appeared in the region in
the days of the Hyksos (seventeenth century B.C.E.), had long been
forgotten, and the fine network of roads of the Roman and Byzantine
periods had fallen into decay. All goods were transported by camel, mule,
donkey and horse. Travelers usually moved in caravans along the ancient
trails. (57)

Political instability in the region compounded the physical difficulty of

traveling. Power in Palestine was divided among the local pashas or
rulers, the Ottoman hierarchy, and, increasingly, European consular
110 / imperfect sympathies

governments for dealing with “Franks” or European travelers (Ettinger,

915–18). Authorities advised travelers to Palestine to take up Turkish
disguise for protection, and Judith Montefiore was proud of her
“bernische and turban” (65). Like other Europeans, the Montefiores had
to tread a very fine line. Still, it is important to keep Jerusalem in
perspective. As Yehoshua Ben-Arieh explains,

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jerusalem was still a small

town in the Ottoman Empire, lacking all but religious significance. Its
population was roughly equal to that of towns such as Acre, Gaza,
Shechem (Nablus), amounting to between 8,000 and 10,000 persons. If
we divide this population figure among the three major religious groups,
we find that there were approximately 2,000 Jews, fewer than 3,000
Christians, and about 4,000 Muslims. Jerusalem served as a district town
for only its immediate area . . . . Thus, it is not surprising that, when
Napoleon invaded the country in 1799, he was not interested in captur-
ing Jerusalem and apparently did not even visit it, whereas he besieged
Acre for several months. (104–05)

Of course, the “religious significance” carries a world of importance for

Judith Montefiore, even if irrelevant to Napoleon’s grandiose scheme.
Following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and his subsequent
retreat from the region in 1801, the doors to the East remained open to
European travelers, especially since the wars made travel on the
Continent more difficult. As is well known, although Napoleon suffered
a military defeat, the French project to study and plunder Egyptian
antiquities would leave a lasting mark on the region and give birth to the
field of Egyptology.12 In addition to the grand and antiquarian tourists
in Egypt, the “Holy Land” was becoming a common destination for
evangelical Christian pilgrims, who toured the region with their bibles
in hand.13 As far as I can tell, the Montefiores were the first Anglo-
Jewish travelers to make their own version of this journey. Figure 5.1,
dating from the decade following their visit, indicates a bare and unpop-
ulated landscape surrounding Jerusalem, but one that emphasizes sites
of religious significance.
In the Private Journal Montefiore sets the tone for the narrative with
her initial description of arriving near Alexandria: “Every hope was
entertained of our arrival this evening on the shores of that country
where our forefathers endured so much persecution, and witnessed so
many miracles—the scene of ancient glory, splendour, and suffering!”
(128). At other key points in the narrative, she once again alludes to the
Exodus, as if to keep her purpose in mind, as well as to record her story
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 111

Figure 5.1 Mount of Olives and Jerusalem, by William Bartlett, 1830s/1840s.

as one of danger and liberation. For instance, when she and her party
decide to leave Cairo after an excursion to the pyramids, they determine
that they have to get back to Alexandria as soon as possible because of
renewed threats of war at sea. In order to avoid any further detentions,
they leave a flooded Cairo in the middle of the night in a boat: “The
water, at this season, passing through the back streets of the whole city,
persons were enabled to go from their houses by water. We had but two
hours’ sleep after packing up and settling accounts, it having been advis-
able to keep secret the alteration of our intention; and our departure
really seemed like a flight from Egypt” (155). Before they depart from
Egypt, Montefiore describes an illness her husband suffers as “one of the
plagues of Egypt” (183). These allusions, coupled with constant
mention of bugs, heat, and “sands and hot blasts of the sirocco wind”
(167), reinforce the powerful sense of confinement and frustration of
the Montefiores’ detention in Egypt. We find similar allusions in Moses
Montefiores’ diary, as reported by Louis Loewe:

“I think,” he says, “I more ardently desire to leave Egypt than ever our
forefathers did. No one will ever recite the passover service” (which gives
an account of the exodus from Egypt) “with more true devotion than I
shall do, when it pleases Providence to restore me to my own country,
and redeem me and my dear wife from this horrible land of misery and
plague, the hand of God being still upon it.” (39)14
112 / imperfect sympathies

Although Moses Montefiore seems ready to return to England, the

confinement increases Judith Montefiore’s urgency to reach Jerusalem.
On September 25, Judith Montefiore records that “We had now spent
a month in harbour, and had experienced a species of confinement, only
less than that of a prison from our being able occasionally to take exer-
cise, and having unburthened minds” (170).
In addition to this sense of imprisonment, Montefiore also feels the
strangeness of modern Egypt, a response that allows her to keep her
distance as an observer of another culture:

The first view we had of this ancient city [Alexandria], presented us with
a scene of filth and desolateness. Many persons were swimming near the
shore, and pigs and dogs were feeding on the refuse of the town along the
banks; but as we passed through the narrow dirty streets, the novel sight
of loaded camels, and Turks on donkeys, which they honored by the title
of a general and his regiment, attracted our observation, and we at once
felt that we were no longer in Europe, or among Europeans. (130–31)

The distance that marks this passage disappears later in the journal when
Montefiore reaches Jerusalem, which appears to her not as a strange land
but as a long lost home. In the above passage, Montefiore sets up binaries:
filth vs. cleanliness, backwardness vs. civilization, the East vs. Europe.
Montefiore’s perspective here is that of a sophisticated European view-
ing the East. However, a Jewish subtext complicates her position. The
scene projects a confusion of boundaries: humans swimming near the
shore where pigs and dogs feed on refuse. For Montefiore, well versed in
Jewish practice in which the idea of havdalah or separation (the Sabbath
from the rest of the week, milk from meat, wool from linen) is basic to
holiness, this sight brings together much that would be disturbing.
Nevertheless, Montefiore is less interested in belittling or critiquing
modern Egyptian culture as a European than she is in establishing an
elegiac tone and her own sensitivity as an observer: “[Alexandria] is a
city, indeed, where a reflecting mind can scarcely fail of being kept
constantly awake. Almost every quarter of it presents some relic of past
grandeur, some memento of ages when wealth flowed through the hands
of kings in more copious streams, than it has ever since done, and when
human labour was the combined force of thousands” (134). This elegy
for lost grandeur provides a curious contrast to Montefiore’s identifica-
tion with the enslaved Israelites, who were the victims of this system of
wealth and grandeur. Despite this identification, Montefiore is over-
whelmed by the “sea of ages” (147), by the pyramids, which “were old
in days which are remotest in authentic history” (148).
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 113

Although impressed with the pyramids—she notes that her Bedouin

guide had “acted in the same capacity to Buonaparte [sic]” (149)—
Montefiore also makes it clear that her reason for being in the East is not
that of the grand tourist. Returning to Alexandria on the Nile, sere-
naded by “rats, whose treble note was joined to those of the cockchafers
and crickets” (156), Montefiore declares, “This cangia, in fact, was a
proper antidote against the mania for a Egyptian tour” (157). And,
fascinated as she is by the antiquities collected by the British Consul-
General Henry Salt, Montefiore keeps her eye on Jerusalem, remaining
a reluctant Egyptian tourist. The traveler who had noted the many
picturesque scenes of Europe, resists primarily aesthetic responses in
Egypt. Instead, she focuses on hardships past and present.
Montefiore punctuates her journal with references to her religious
faith and her conviction that despite their difficulties there is a provi-
dential plan. When finally on the Henry Williams, Montefiore sees the
detention in Egypt as “a blessing in disguise” that saved them from trav-
eling in “excessive heat” (186). On approaching the shore of Palestine,
she writes: “Already we were near its shores; and the harbour near which
we were now buffetting about, is said to have been that whence Jonah
embarked for Tarshish. The necessity of continually tacking about and
laying-to, created, as usual, a disagreeable sensation; but the blessings we
enjoyed were a sufficient counterpoise to all these petty annoyances”
(187). Although at this point in their lives the Montefiores were not
strictly observant Jews—they traveled on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath)
and ate nonkosher food—Judith Montefiore increasingly recognizes the
spiritual importance of her mission and its connection to the narratives
of the Hebrew Bible and to prayer. Her determination is finally
rewarded on October 17: “The excessive fatigue which we suffered
obliged us to stop at another fountain to refresh; but the next hour
brought us in sight of the long wished for view of Jerusalem. Our feel-
ings of gratitude were indescribable, nor was our satisfaction diminished
on finding that we could enter the city without difficulty” (192).

Homecoming: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem . . . .”

Montefiore signals the arrival in Jerusalem by changing her focus both
in terms of content and narrative style. No longer the conventional trav-
eler in search of the picturesque, Montefiore shifts from a focus on
scenery for its own sake to the effect of place on the mind and spirit.
Not only does the content change. At this crucial moment in her narra-
tive, Montefiore moves from a first-person to a mostly third-person
114 / imperfect sympathies

narration as she connects her experience to Jewish memory and history.

When she enters Jerusalem, she understands her own transformation.
She begins by claiming that it is less specific monuments or relics in
Jerusalem that inspire “the meditating mind” than it is the sacredness of
the “spot” and its connection with Jewish history. Her thinking is
consistent with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s later argument that “Jews
have not preserved the ancient monuments, they have retained the
ancient moments” (Man Is Not Alone, 162). To emphasize this point,
Montefiore claims that

There is no city in the world which can bear comparison in point of

interest with Jerusalem,—fallen, desolate, and abject even as it appears—
changed as it has been since the days of its glory. The capitals of the
ancient world inspire us, at the sight of their decaying monuments, with
thoughts that lead us far back into the history of our race, with feelings
that enlarge the sphere of our sympathies, by uniting our recollections
of the past with the substantial forms of things present; but there is a
power in the human mind by which it is capable of renewing scenes as
vividly without external aids, as when they are most abundant. (193)

In her language, Montefiore is well aware of the affective possibilities of

this journey, and her responsibility to extend the “sympathies” of her
readers by connecting past and present for them. Montefiore focuses on
collective memory, but she also uses personal analogies to bring her
point home: “It is with Jerusalem as it would be with the home of our
youth, were it levelled with the earth, and we returned after many years
and found the spot on which it stood a ploughed field, or a deserted
waste: the same thoughts would arise in our hearts as if the building was
still before us, and would probably be rendered still more impressive
from the very circumstance that the ruin which had taken place was
complete” (195). Significantly, she now recognizes her journey as a
homecoming, in biblical terms a return to Zion.
Montefiore displays a dual consciousness of the Jerusalem before her
and the Jerusalem of biblical and rabbinic memory. One of her central
descriptions nicely sums up this consciousness:

But when once the mind is properly roused to the sentiments which
should thus arise, independent of external objects, every foot of ground
which the traveller passes in Jerusalem, or its neighbourhood, will help to
increase the vividness of his emotions. A vast change has taken place in
the very clothing of nature here since its fall, and her present apparel is
in striking harmony with the later chapters of its history. The olive, the
fig-tree, and the vine, still cover many of her hills, with their richly laden
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 115

branches; even the rose is seen flourishing in bright luxuriousness in the

recesses of her valleys, and some of her plains indicate their fertility by
plentiful harvests; but there is everywhere some appalling token of
desolation, and the traveller can scarcely help feeling that he is in a country
which it might be almost said, without a figure, that the heart of the land
is broken. (195)

Montefiore once again continues the description of the land as one of

stark contrasts between fertility and desolation, the latter brought on by
the centuries since the fall of the second Temple. Her anthropomorphic
sense of the broken-hearted land may actually derive from Jewish prayer,
most appropriately the Minchah Amidah for Tisha B’av (the holy day
commemorating the loss of the Temple), where Jerusalem is a broken-
hearted mother lamenting her lost children: “She sits with covered head
like a barren woman who never gave birth. Legions have devoured her,
and idolators have conquered her . . . Therefore, Zion weeps bitterly
and Jerusalem raises her voice” (The Complete Artscroll Sidur, 241).
In the above passage and throughout the section on Jerusalem,
Montefiore refers repeatedly to the “reflecting mind” or the “traveller.”
For the first time in the journal, she refers to herself as a “pilgrim.”
Although her pilgrimage is personal, she presents it as an experience
other reflecting minds could share. The persona that Montefiore
creates—the reflecting or meditative mind—seems to be her equivalent
of the sympathetic spectator in Adam Smith, or Wordsworth’s poetic
persona in numerous poems, who, as a representative person, meditates
on the scene. In this section, Montefiore focuses her reflective sympathy
as a modern European woman on the loss of the past. Repeatedly in the
journal she urges her reader that “the reflecting mind” cannot help but
feel a sympathetic connection to the Jewish past and find nourishment
in that past for the present. She sums up the experience of Jerusalem as
involving strangely conflicting emotions inspired by the memory of
greatness and the presence of ruin: pleasure and pain, delight and
sadness. Although Montefiore claims, “Almost all who have visited
Jerusalem describe themselves as having been thus affected” (196), she
focuses on the Jewish elements of Jerusalem and its history.
Her presence in the city inspires her to include a brief history of
Jerusalem, and she depends on the Romanized Jewish historian,
Josephus, for its ancient account. Although Josephus is a conflicted
figure in Jewish thought because of his Roman allegiances, he gave
Montefiore a Jewish “eye witness” account of the Temple and its fall.
Montefiore apparently carried her copy of Josephus’ Jewish War with
her to Jerusalem, referring to him simply as “the historian” (199).
116 / imperfect sympathies

This reliance on Josephus also connects Montefiore to the mainstream

Victorian culture that will emerge in the following decades, for she
quotes directly from the popular translation by William Whiston. As a
recent translator explains, “In the Victorian household a copy of
William Whiston’s translation of the whole of Josephus’ works, first
published in 1737 and reprinted many times and to us virtually unread-
able in its prolixity and pomposity (not to mention its inaccuracy) stood
beside the family Bible” (Smallwood, 18). What separates Montefiore
from the Britons to whom Whiston’s Josephus was as familiar as the
Bible is that she personalizes the history and presents Jerusalem as if
she were there experiencing both its glory and destruction in the first
century of the Common Era. She sees the destruction of the Temple as
a Jewish tragedy, not in terms of the larger history of the West.
Montefiore’s emphasis stands in marked contrast to the focus of the
one travel journal that I am sure she read, Edward Daniel Clarke’s
Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa.15 While Clarke
does not completely neglect the religious significance of his journey, he
is highly critical of other travelers for their literalism and credulity in
seeing relics and religious significance in every stone. When Clarke does
make strong religious observations, he does do as Christian: “The ruins
of the temple, and of the city; the abolition of the Mosaical
Dispensaion; the total overthrow and dispersion of the Jews; constitute
altogether an EXISTING MIRACLE, perplexing the sceptic with
incontestable proof of the divine origin of our religion” (608). Judaism
interests Clarke, in other words, as the origin of Christianity.
Montefiore, though, remains focused on Judaism. Josephus’ accuracy
is not the issue for her because her concern is not truly historiography
but rather the channel of memory.16 Paradoxically, she evokes the Jewish
historian to help reenact the moment of loss. As Yosef Hayim
Yerushalmi explains, in Jewish tradition

Not history, as is commonly supposed, but only mythic time repeats itself.
If history is real, the Red Sea can be crossed only once, and Israel cannot
stand twice at Sinai. . . . Yet the covenant is to endure forever . . . . Not the
stone, but the memory transmitted by the fathers, is decisive if the
memory embedded in the stone is to be conjured out of it to live again for
subsequent generations. If there can be no return to Sinai, then what took
place at Sinai must be borne along the conduits of memory to those who
were not there that day. (Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 10)

Montefiore reads Josephus as a conduit of memory, but also recognizes her

own writing as a link in this great chain of “reception and transmission”
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 117

(233), to borrow Yerushalmi’s terms once again. This memory, then,

“transmitted by the fathers,” also proves accessible to Montefiore as a
Jewish woman who stands in the ruins of the Temple.
Josephus’ text allows Montefiore to evoke the presence of past events
and structures amidst the absences created by the centuries. In fact,
Montefiore uses the eyewitness account to place herself in the ancient
world: “From the description given of the ancient city by Josephus,
assisted by a view of the spot on which it stood, it is easy to form a judg-
ment of what must have been its strength, and its power of resisting the
attacks of an enemy” (197). Montefiore proceeds to describe the fortifi-
cations of ancient Jerusalem while standing above it, overlooking its
ruins. She imagines how Titus viewed the scene and even imagines his

But never did city, about to become the prey of a conqueror, offer a
spectacle of such magnificence to the eyes of its enemy as did Jerusalem.
Fitted by its very position, on the summit of hills which seemed to have
a meaning in their frown, and hanging over valleys of which the sterility
and roughness might be easily imagined to have only been overcome by
the special blessing of the God of nature, this city of Zion would have
offered a spectacle sufficiently imposing, had it still consisted but of the
rude dwellings of the ancient Jebusites. It is not difficult, therefore, to
account for the astonishment and even deep emotion with which Titus
contemplated the scene before him while preparing his legions for the
assault. “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces,”
would have been the natural exclamation, probably, of the general under
any other circumstances but those in which he was placed. (198–99)

In describing Titus in this way, Montefiore makes the historical fall more
personal and human. Like Satan looking into Eden in Book 4 of Paradise
Lost, the conqueror reveals regret for what he is about to do. Montefiore
thus evokes an elegiac tone and focuses on loss rather than on military
exploits. Throughout her description of Jerusalem, Montefiore sympa-
thizes directly and feels past events as if she were there. Her sympathetic
connection is so great that as she humanizes Titus she imagines him awed
by the “city of Zion” and the enormity of his own actions. Perhaps, too,
as a European she understands Titus’ ambition, while as a Jew she
mourns for his action and for the loss of the Temple.
The fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people had been the
primary theme of Hebrew Melodies (1815), which Montefiore read.17 In
particular, one of Byron’s lyrics, “On the Day of the Destruction of
Jerusalem by Titus,” dramatizes a Jewish persona observing and
118 / imperfect sympathies

condemning the destruction but also pledging his faith to carry on with
the tradition:

From the last hill that looks on thy once holy dome
I beheld thee, O SION! When rendered to Rome:
‘Twas thy last sun went down, and the flames of thy fall
Flash’d back on the last glance I gave to thy wall.
I look’d for thy temple, I look’d for my home,
And forgot for a moment my bondage to come;
I beheld but the death-fire that fed on thy fane,
And the fast-fettered hands that made vengeance in vain,
On many an eve, the high spot whence I gazed
Had reflected the last beam of day as it blazed;
While I stood on the height, and beheld the decline
Of the rays from the mountain that shone on thy shrine.
And now on that mountain I stood on that day,
But I mark’d not the twilight beam melting away;
Oh! Would that the lightning had glared in its stead,
And the thunderbolt burst on the conqueror’s head!
But the Gods of the Pagan shall never profane
The shrine where Jehovah disdain’d not to reign;
And scattered and scorn’d as thy people may be,
Our worship, oh Father! is only for thee.

Next to Montefiore’s account of the conqueror’s imagined sympathy,

Byron’s rendition of Jewish grief seems oddly flat, or perhaps more
generalized as the tragedy of exile. This general sense of exile and home-
lessness engages Byron rather than the specific feelings or arguments of
a Jewish witness. I agree with those commentators who see Hebrew
Melodies as an occasion for Byron to meditate on his own and human
fate rather than on a particularly Jewish vision.18 In order to maintain a
Jewish perspective, Montefiore does not allude directly to Byron or to
other Christian sources of the fall of Jerusalem, including the descrip-
tion in Clarke’s Travels.
Montefiore, in contrast to other British renditions of this event,
centers all on her Jewish vision, concluding her meditation on the
unfallen Jerusalem of memory by quoting Josephus’ description of
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 119

the Temple:

“The outward face of the Temple,” says he, “wanted nothing that was
likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes; for it was covered all
over with plates of gold, of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun,
reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced them-
selves to look upon it avert their eyes, as they would have done at the
sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were
coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to
those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white.” (199)

This description links the Temple with nature itself, the simile “like a
mountain covered with snow” connecting it to the sacred mountains of
the Bible. Josephus’ imagery of fire and light conveys the spiritual aura that
Montefiore seeks and emphasizes the transcendent power behind this
artifice. Montefiore thus, once again, focuses on the description of
the Temple and unfallen Jerusalem, rather than on the battle itself.
She then hastily sketches the next several hundred years, briefly
noting the Western Wall, which is usually the object of a modern Jewish
pilgrim’s journey: “after dinner we accompanied our party to see the
Greek convent, and then to a large stone, said to be the last relic of the
Temple of Solomon” (204). Montefiore seems most eager to present her
personal prayer: “But to pass from these reflections to my own feelings,
I can never be sufficiently thankful to Almighty God for suffering us to
reach this city in safety” (202). Montefiore then turns to a brief chroni-
cle of Jerusalem’s suffering over subsequent centuries.
Throughout her account of Jerusalem, Montefiore is less interested
in description for its own sake—or for the sake of the picturesque—than
she is in connecting what she sees with her spiritual life and that of the
Jewish people. Nor is she concerned with documenting the authenticity
of the sights she visits. Once again, spiritual feeling takes precedence
over any form of documentation. For example, Montefiore describes her
feelings on visiting what she accepts (without substantiation) as Rachel’s

We obtained, as we proceeded, a good view of the mosque built over the

tombs of David and Solomon, and of the Mount of Olives. We also
passed a ruin said to have been the Tower of Simeon, and the monastery
of Elias, which is now occupied by Greek monks. The road was rocky;
but fig, olive, and mulberry-trees adorned many of the hills, and the
declivities were covered with a gay harvest of the most beautiful wild
flowers. After an hour’s ride we came to Rachael’s tomb, which stands in
a valley on the right, near to which is a well at present without water. We
120 / imperfect sympathies

dismounted to view this most interesting monument of sacred history. It

is formed of four square walls, with Gothic arches bricked up, and is
covered by a dome-roof. On entering I was deeply impressed with a feel-
ing of awe and respect, standing, as I thus did, in the sepulchre of a
mother of Israel. The walls of the interior are covered with names and
phrases chiefly in Hebrew and other Eastern characters; but some few
English are to be found among them, and to these I added the names of
Montefiore and myself. (206)

As in other commentary on sacred sights, Montefiore wants to convey

her spiritual response: “I was deeply impressed with a feeling of awe . . . .”
Montefiore connects herself with this “mother of Israel” as well as with
other English travelers by inscribing her name and her husband’s on the
inside of the tomb—a common practice of early travelers, albeit envi-
ronmentally and culturally incorrect by modern standards. So impressed
was she with visiting this tomb that when she died in 1862 Moses
Montefiore built a replica as her burial place on their grounds at
As they prepare to leave Jerusalem after their brief visit, Montefiore
commemorates the departure with a prayer, thus framing the journey
with a spiritual evocation:

Farewell, Holy City! We exclaimed in our hearts. Blessed be the

Almighty, who has protected us while contemplating the sacred scenes
which environ thee. Thankful may we ever be for His manifold mercies!
May the fountain of our feelings evermore run in the current of praise,
and entire devotion to His will and His truth, till the time shall arrive
when “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion, with
songs and everlasting joy upon their heads!” (Isaiah, xxxv, 10)

With the passage from Isaiah, Montefiore closes her narrative of loss and
exile with a prophetic prayer for redemption. She quotes from chapter
thirty-five, a section of the prophetic book that focuses on future
redemption and return to Zion and not on the prophet’s harsh condem-
nations of Israel.20 Once again Montefiore underscores the hopeful spir-
itual theme of the journey to Jerusalem: this hopefulness is what she
commemorates, and this is what both she and Moses Montefiore most

Private Journal, Public Influence

Although Montefiore’s prayer is messianic, her pilgrimage inspired her
to live her Judaism in this world. She committed herself to Jewish ritual
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 121

observance, as well as to a lifetime of charitable work for the people of

Jerusalem. Judith Montefiore’s life affirmed her belief that Jerusalem is
holy for the Jewish people in history and in the present—not only in a
messianic future. In this sense both Judith and Moses Montefiore could
be considered proto-Zionists, but in the religious sense rather than in
the sense of Theodore Herzl’s secular Zionism. Following their pilgrim-
age in 1827, the Montefiores had the “Hebrew words of the Psalmist
hung over [their] bed . . . . ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem may my right
hand forget its cunning’ ” (Barnett, 7), a constant reminder of both
messianic faith and spiritual obligation in their daily lives.
Following 1827, the Montefiores’ subsequent trips to Jerusalem were
missions related to such work as the building of agricultural settlements
and almshouses and the promotion of peace among the various religious
groups in Palestine. The Montefiores’ work was, in a sense, a Jewish
response to the influx of Christian missionaries into Palestine, particu-
larly the well-documented activities of conversionist groups who sought
out impoverished Jews with promises of material aid and Christian
redemption (Searight, 160). Such missionaries viewed the restoration of
Jerusalem and the eventual conversion of the Jews as an important part
of the Christian scheme of salvation. Their pressure on the Jewish
community only increased after 1830, with the advent of “sea crossing
under steam” and the transition from “grand-to-mass tourism”
(Melman, 11). Also, James Finn, the British Consul in Jerusalem, and
his wife were evangelical Christians with a religious as well as political
mission in the Holy Land (Searight, 161). Unfortunately, as Sarah
Searight states, “Relations between the Anglican mission and the Jewish
communities were always acrimonious; one member of the mission who
was tactless enough to try preaching in the open street in the Jewish
quarter, was driven out by rabbis with stones and dead cats. Edward
Lear wrote that ‘the idea of converting [the Jews] to Christianity in
Jerusalem is to the sober observer fully as absurd as that you should
institute a society to convert all the cabbages and strawberries in Covent
Garden into pigeon pies and Turkey carpets’ ” (160). Nevertheless, the
missionaries persisted in their schemes.
In practical terms, the visit to Jerusalem in 1827 also helped both
Judith and Moses Montefiore define the direction of their charitable
work for world Jewry, and established Judith’s role in her husband’s
career. In future years, Judith would play the Victorian gentlewoman
well, recognizing that this role involved a partnership. As she proudly
states in her diary after their brief stay in Jerusalem: “Nor was my satis-
faction a little increased at the recollection that I had strenuously urged
122 / imperfect sympathies

him [Moses] to pursue the journey, even when his own ardour had
somewhat abated, and when I had to oppose my counsel to the advice
and wishes of our companions” (202–03). Judith also notes “that only
six European females are said to have visited Palestine in the course of a
century” (83); whether or not this is accurate, it reflects Judith’s
consciousness of her role. Although Judith seemed to be overshadowed
by the nearly mythological status of Moses, she exemplified M. Jeanne
Peterson’s thesis in Family, Love, and Work in the Lives of Victorian
Gentlewomen that in upper-middle-class Victorian marriages—the
Montefiores were not yet a grand couple in 1827, nor, admittedly, were
they yet Victorian—women and men were coworkers and cocreators of
the husband’s career.
But Judith was more than a private partner in Moses’ public
ventures. Her interpretation of Judaism inspired Moses in his commit-
ment to the Jewish people and to more traditional Jewish observance.
When asked to comment on his long and successful life, Moses
Montefiore replied, “ ‘I am no great man . . . the little good I have
accomplished or rather that I intended to accomplish, I am indebted for
it to my never-to-be-forgotten wife, whose enthusiasm for everything
that is noble and whose religiousness sustained me in my career’ ”
(Lipman, “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman,” 12). Although there
seems to be some false modesty here, I cannot overlook Moses’ explicit
reference to Judith’s “religiousness” and its influence on his “career.”
Rather than dismiss this comment as simply expressive of conjugal grat-
itude, I credit Moses for acknowledging Judith’s formative and sustain-
ing role in his public life.
Furthermore, Moses Montefiore has been praised for balancing in his
public life his commitment to Jewish ideals with his English loyalty. As
an early biographer states, “his English patriotism was not exemplified
at the cost of his Judaism” (Goodman, 12). Once again, readers have not
fully recognized Judith’s role in this complex negotiation, and yet Judith
was well prepared to participate in the larger sphere. Judith Montefiore,
as I have claimed, was indeed a well-trained and educated
Englishwoman, and her Englishness was linked to her Jewishness. For
instance, when Sir Sidney Smith and another gentleman visited the
Cohens at their home on Tisha B’av, the holy day commemorating the
destruction of the Temple and hence a day of mourning, the guests were
surprised to find Judith and her sisters sitting on low stools (customary
to periods of mourning). Although the sisters were apparently embar-
rassed, Judith explained that they were remembering the “valour exhib-
ited by our ancestors . . . . But we treasure the memory of it as a bright
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 123

example to ourselves and to all following generations how to fight and

to sacrifice our lives for the land in which we were born and which gives
us shelter and protection” (Loewe, 4).21 Thus the quick-witted Judith
both explained a Jewish custom and demonstrated for an English hero
its relationship to her own patriotism as an Anglo-Jewish woman who
had found “shelter and protection.” Even a comfortable Jewish home in
London in the early nineteenth century could not banish the conscious-
ness of exile. Consonant with Jewish tradition, Judith’s “faith is a recollec-
tion of that which happened to Israel” (Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, 162).
Better educated and more literary than her husband, Judith
contributed these insights to her life with her Moses and articulated the
meaning of Jewish spirituality and tzedakah for their partnership.22 In
this sense, she was the interpreter of the theological ideas, an unac-
knowledged legislator behind Moses’ public and practical work. This
submerged power demonstrates, yet again, that the ideology of separate
spheres had many actual manifestations, and even the traditional,
Orthodox vision of Judith Cohen’s background and her rededicated
commitment as Judith Montefiore could accommodate the blurred
boundaries between public and private lives.23 According to this
Orthodox ideology, a righteous woman’s domain was the private sphere.
But radiating beyond that sphere, her influence was great and reached
into all dimensions of life. We see a microcosm of this in the Private
Journal, which records the events and ideas that were to have such influ-
ence after the journey, and which subtly reminds us that the biblical
Exodus from Egypt, so often read as Moses’ story, also depends on
Miriam and the midwives, Shifra and Puah. Judith Montefiore’s rendi-
tion of the Exodus and her “religiousness” inspired her Moses in his life
and career. And as he repeatedly claimed, Judith was the source of
happiness in his life:

On this happy day, the 10th of June, 32 years have passed since the
Almighty God of Israel in His great goodness, blessed me with my dear
Judith, and for ever will I be most grateful in this blessing, the great cause
of my happiness through life. A better and kinder wife never existed, one
whose whole study has been to render her husband good and happy!
(Lipman, “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman,” 12)

From all accounts, Judith Montefiore happily accepted this role as

Moses’ Jewish Angel in the House. An early portrait of her, now lost but
presumably sanctioned by the Montefiores, shows Judith as a handsome
young Englishwoman, stylishly but modestly dressed (see figure 5.2).
Both she and her husband shared conservative perspectives in politics
124 / imperfect sympathies

Figure 5.2 “Lady Montefiore when young, copied from an oil painting in the
Montefiore College, Ramsgate.” Copied from Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady

and religion. They were cautious reformers, for instance, worried that
the price for political emancipation of the Jews in Britain would come
at the cost of Jewish observance (Cesarani, 19). Both were concerned
that the Reform movement would lead to unacceptable compromises in
terms of Jewish life and ritual. Both accepted as a given a political and
religious world based on hierarchies, and found a way to reconcile God
and country. This conservatism extended to Judith’s sense of herself as a
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 125

writer. She chose not to publish her travel journals, and did not consider
herself an “author.”
And yet, in spite of these facts and of a cautious conservatism, Judith
Montefiore did keep journals and did see fit to have them printed for
family and friends. In the case of the Private Journal of 1827, she did so,
I think, to commemorate her spiritual revelation in her own voice and
to let her small audience of readers know that she and her husband
reached Jerusalem because of her persistence and dedication. In so
doing, she also shared her interpretation of the significance of this event
in their lives. Montefiore, thus, could be strong, authoritative, and
assertive when motivated by conviction, as she often was, especially on
the subject of her religion.
Furthermore, the journal itself bespeaks Judith Montefiore’s desire to
share her work and to influence her readers in their religious faith. As we
have seen, Montefiore framed her story in terms of an essential biblical
pattern and wove her own prayers into the narrative. She also
commented on Jewish history and theological ideas, thereby assuming a
role in the great process of Jewish communal memory. Her incorpora-
tion of extensive passages from Josephus into her own text demonstrates
her rhetorical strategy, for one would presumably not engage in such a
laborious process without an audience in mind. What sustains the whole
project is Montefiore’s conviction that as a Jewish woman she could
interpret and transmit the tradition.
That conviction, strengthened by the visit to Jerusalem, permeated
every detail of her life. At the close of The Jewish Manual, or Practical
Information in Jewish & Modern Cookery with a Collection of Valuable
Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, edited by a Lady (first published
in 1846), Judith Montefiore dishes out refined recipes and beauty tips,
but she concludes with this warning to her (female) readers:

Frivolous employment, and vitiated sentiments would spoil the finest

face ever created. Body and mind are, in fact, so intimately connected,
that it is futile, attempting to embellish the one, while neglecting the
other, especially as the highest order of all beauty is the intellectual. Let
those females, therefore, who are most solicitous about their beauty, and
the most eager to produce a favourable impression, cultivate the moral,
religious, and intellectual attributes, and in this advice consists the recipe
for the finest cosmetic in the world, viz.—CONTENT. (234–35)

This advice may not be original, but it does point to a constant theme in
Montefiore’s writing: the need to cultivate the higher attributes and to seek
moral and spiritual enlightenment. Montefiore’s domestic philosophy
126 / imperfect sympathies

fits in with her spiritual geography. As she says of “the traveller” to

Jerusalem in the Private Journal,

It is only in proportion as he venerates the spot, independent of what he

at present sees there, that he can properly estimate its sanctity. If his
thoughts refuse to obey the simple impulse of his spirit, or if his mind be
incapable of waking into action without the aid of monuments, inscrip-
tions, or statues, he must not look for gratification in Jerusalem . . . . It is
to his notions of the general sacredness of the place, that he must resign
himself . . . . But when once the mind is properly roused to the senti-
ments which should thus arise, independently of external objects, every
foot of ground which the traveller passes in Jerusalem, or its neighbor-
hood, will help to increase the vividness of his emotions. (195–96)

Here we have the cornerstone of Montefiore’s experience of Judaism:

impulses of the spirit inspired by sacred places and texts, ritual obser-
vance and prayer, and not “external objects.”24 Finally, for Judith
Montefiore it is the same in Jerusalem as in Ramsgate or London: the
currents of thought, faith, and memory lead to contentment despite the
desolation and loss that have plagued history and the Jewish people. As
the Montefiores make their way through the nineteenth century, the
insights and affirmations of Judith’s Private Journal influence every
dimension of their private lives and public ventures.

Cultivating Jerusalem: Montefiore’s Zionist Vision

A decade after their first trip to the Holy Land, the Montefiores planned
a second trip, this time with a more specific mission in mind. Judith
Montefiores’ second travel journal to the Middle East represents the
next phase of the Montefiores’ public career. Notes from a Private Journal
of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine, By Way of Italy and the Mediterranean,
was printed in 1844; a second edition appeared in 1885. Read together
with the earlier journal, the reader can trace the emergence of a Zionist
The journals describe different moments in Montefiore’s conception
of the journey to the Holy Land and her commitment to Zion. As I have
argued, the first journal becomes a spiritual pilgrimage in which
Montefiore recounts the personal and communal significance of enter-
ing Jerusalem. She sees this journey as one in which a spiritual exile—
the homeless wanderer—returns home. The second journal assumes the
spiritual significance and builds on it as the pilgrimage becomes a more
practical mission to improve the lot of Jews living in Jerusalem and
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 127

surrounding cities and settlements. The record of this mission becomes

a narrative of homemaking, planting, and improvement. The style of
each journal and the structure of biblical allusion, the evocation of bibli-
cal authority, reveal these differences and show the ways that Judith
Montefiore came to understand the relationship between Jews of the
Diaspora and the history, significance, and future of Jerusalem. From a
literary perspective, the more emotional and revelatory first journal
bears more interest, although the second journal carefully documents
the Montefiores’ attempt to renew agriculture for impoverished Jews in
the region.
Like her husband Moses, Judith did not fully anticipate modern
Zionism, but her writings reveal that she understood what was at stake
for the Jewish people. Although she could not have anticipated the
tragedies and conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in
the Middle East, she was aware of conflict and danger. Nevertheless, she
embraced the ideology of Zionism and affirmed the holiness of
Jerusalem in Jewish history. She does not evoke the fall of Jerusalem as
Wordsworth does in “A Jewish Family” to portray Judaism as a fossilized
religion bound to a ruined place, or as a metaphor for redemption as in
Blake. For Montefiore, Jerusalem is a real place to be redeemed in the
here and now.
In the second journal, Montefiore continues the focus of the first on
the prophetic assurance that God will restore Jerusalem. In her allusions
to Prophets in the second journal, Montefiore also focuses on those
portions that reveal hope in the restoration and planting of the land:

I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and
Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon Mount Ephraim and Gilead.
In those days and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall
be sought for, and there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, and they
shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve. ([Jeremiah
1.19, 20]: 264)
I will strengthen the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place
them: for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had
not cast them out: for I am the Lord their god, and will hear them!
([Zechariah x.6]: 278)

Montefiore includes such passages to give legitimacy to the mission and

to the hope that her work will be a fulfillment of the prophecy that Zion
will flourish, that there will be balm in Gilead.
In Montefiore’s record of her second trip in 1838, the emotionalism
of the first journal gives way to a more practical focus on Jerusalem in
128 / imperfect sympathies

the present, a city that just twenty years later Edward Lear would
describe in this way: “ ‘A bitter, doleful soul-ague comes over you in its
streets, and your memories of its interior are nothing but horrid dreams
of squalor and filth, clamour and uneasiness, hatred and malice and all
uncharitableness’ ” (Searight, 158–59). Montefiore’s picture is not so
grim only because she emphasizes the plans that she and her husband
have to improve the desperate situation. Whereas the Montefiores were
deterred on their first trip by political instabilities, on this trip they also
feared the plague, which was ravaging Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Judith
Montefiore casts herself as a kind of biblical Ruth, who followed her
mother-in-law Naomi in her return to Israel from Moab. When
Montefiore’s husband suggests that she stay in Malta, she responds:
“This I peremptorily resisted, and the expressions of Ruth furnished my
heart at the moment with the language it most desired to use. ‘Entreat
me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither
thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge!’ ”(197).
Montefiore does not structure this narrative after any particular book of
the Bible as she does in the first journal, but she frequently alludes to
the Bible in order to provide a religious context for the mission. She
evokes Ruth not because of the precise biblical parallel (Ruth, of course,
pledges her love to her dead husband’s mother), but because Ruth, a
Moabite who chooses Israel and is an ancestor of King David, represents
conscious commitment and devotion. Ruth’s story furnishes her heart
with the language to express her intensity, in a way reminiscent of
Montefiore’s allusion to Rachel as a mother of Israel in the first journal.
In the second journal, Montefiore evokes the Bible in a way that
recreates its presence and superimposes it on her time:

We left at a quarter past four, this spot so rich in associations [Gilead],

and where to the eye of fancy Jacob and Laban might still almost be seen
making their league; and the fatigue arising from a hot south wind was
allayed by the refreshing feelings produced by the blossoms of the
numberless pomegranate, fig, and mulberry-trees which lined our road.
At seven o’clock, having reached a well of good water, and in the midst
of a beautiful orchard, we pitched our tents and soon enjoyed the
comfort of a nice cup of tea. (265)

Jacob and Laban come to life on the hills just a short time before
Montefiore settles down to “a nice cup of tea,” the juxtaposition oddly
serving to emphasize the presence of the Bible as well as the present
moment in 1839. Montefiore captures what Eric Auerbach identified in
Mimesis as the hallmark of Biblical style, the melding of the sublime and
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 129

the ordinary—Jacob and Laban, a cup of tea. This Ruth has now made
herself quite at home, a genteel Englishwoman camped on the rough
hills of Gilead. Perhaps there is something of Victorian domesticity and
interiority at play here, in contrast to the rougher exteriors of the earlier
journal. Unlike the awe that Judith Montefiore expresses in the first
journal, here she makes herself at home through her narrative of home-
making, even on the rough hillside. Whereas in the first journal
Montefiore celebrates the act of returning to a communal home, in the
second journal she domesticates and settles that home.
Judith Montefiore also structures the second journal in such a way as
to emphasize the practical mission. Appendices include materials from
the Jewish community to Moses Montefiore outlining the needs for
agriculture, “Reports, Letters, & Addresses on Agriculture in the Holy
Land,” including charts listing the kinds of agriculture possible and the
expenses involved. The petitioners repeatedly connect their desire to
revive agriculture in the land with ancient cultivation of “vine and
olive.” One petitioner asks, “Why should our condition be worse than
that of Christians in the Holy Land? For they have no inheritance in the
soil, nor have they absolute possession of any portion of it any more
than we; yet the Christians here derive a sufficient sustenance from the
fruitfulness of the land, and the abundance of the seas” (381).
The Montefiores’ support of agricultural development, then, was
motivated both by a genuine desire to improve the plight of the Jews
living in Palestine and a belief that such labor would fulfill ancient
prophecy. Historians have suggested another motivation: the plan may
also have been an oblique response to the timeworn anti-Semitic notion
that Jews, as homeless wanderers, cannot form an attachment to the
land. Such was the claim of William Cobbett, who wrote, “ ‘The
Israelite is never seen to take spade in his hand but waits like the vora-
cious slug to devour what has been produced by labour in which he has
had no share’ ” (Parfitt, 33). By imagining the revival of cultivation in
eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), the Montefiores saw Jews as giving the
lie to Cobbett’s slanders. Jews would be attached to their own home-
land, bound to the soil. This refutation also anticipates the Zionist ideal
of making the desert bloom. Some have even suggested that in their
commitment to cultivating the land the founding Zionists actually
sought to refute the negative stereotype.
In England, too, Jews attempted to connect Jews to the land. Grace
Aguilar, a contemporary of the Montefiores at this time in their lives,
consciously uses neat gardens and cultivated land to anchor her Jewish
characters in their adopted homeland. In “The Perez Family,” for
130 / imperfect sympathies

instance, from Home Scenes and Heart Studies (1852), Aguilar introduces
the family and their cottage in a poor section of Liverpool:

The cottage stood apart from the others, with a good piece of ground for a
garden, which stretching from the back led through a narrow lane, to the
banks of the Mersey and thus permitted a fresher current of air. The garden
was carefully and prettily laid out, and planted with the sweetest flowers;
the small parlour and kitchen of the cottage opened into it . . . . (1)

Aguilar goes on to show that the domestic interiors match this neatness
and productivity of the exterior, despite the poverty. The narrator
further explains that Simeon Perez had cultivated the back garden with
his own hands, despite a history that would have discouraged him:

Both local and national disadvantages often unite to debar Jews from
agriculture, and therefore it is a branch in which they are seldom, if ever,
employed. Their scattered state among the nations, the occupations
which misery and persecution compel them to adopt, are alone to blame
for those peculiar characteristics which cause them to herd in the most
miserable alleys of crowded cities, rather than the pure air and cheaper
living in the country. (11)

Thus for Aguilar, “the reviving scent of newly-turned earth” is related to

her attempt to root Jewish life in nineteenth-century Britain.
Cultivating the land becomes one metaphor for establishing a Jewish
identity on British soil.25
The Montefiores were also devoted to Britain, but they focused
much of their energy on the Jews who were scattered in other lands and
in Palestine, which they regarded as their spiritual home. Despite the
intensity of the Montefiores’ vision and commitment to cultivating that
land, however, no major projects came to fruition. Palestine, which had
been under the control of Mehemet Ali of Egypt during the 1838–39
visit, reverted to Ottoman rule, presumably even less receptive to
empowering Jews than the Egyptians. The Montefiores never stopped
providing financial aid to Jews as well as other groups in the Holy Land,
and they never gave up their hope that the land would become a place
of refuge for Jews from around the world. Nevertheless, following the
establishment of the Consulate in Jerusalem in 1839, Moses Montefiore
began to think that the best option would be British protection (Parfitt,
35). He supported the overall British strategy as it developed in the
nineteenth century and continued his paternalistic support of various
charities and missions in Palestine.
judith montefiore’s PRIVATE JOURNAL / 131

Although they focused their later efforts on charitable projects, both

Montefiores based their program on the intense spirituality manifested
in Judith’s first journal—a Jewish faith in prophecy, memory, and
redemption—teshuvah, return from exile. Moses Montefiore’s
comment, quoted in the Jewish World (August 14, 1885), captures this
faith. Here Montefiore explains why he wears a ring with the inscription
“Koneh hacol, possessor of all things”:

I wear that ring . . . as a reminder of the circumstances that first moved

me to go to the Holy Land . . . it was a dream and nothing but a dream,
that made me undertake my first pilgrimage to Palestine. We had been
reading, Lady Montefiore and myself, the [hymn] Eliyahu HaNabi
[Elijah the Prophet], on Sabbath night; and we were talking of the good
news of which this prophet’s appearance was to be the harbinger for
Jerusalem. We both agreed that it would be a very interesting thing to
visit Carmel and the scene of the Tishbite’s exploit, and I promised . . .
that I would take Lady Montefiore to the East. That night I dreamed I
saw in front of me a venerable man whom I knew to be Elijah the
Prophet: he pointed to Jerusalem which I recognized in the distance, and
said only those two words engraved on my ring . . . I awoke, and then
dreamt this a second time and then a third time, each time hearing only
the words Koneh hacol. . . . (Sonia Lipman, “The Making of a Victorian
Gentleman,” 15)

In a dream-vision worthy of the Romantics, Montefiore constructs the

spiritual foundation for the couple’s various pilgrimages and missions to
Jerusalem. Although Sir Moses does not seem to betray any irony in his
anecdote, he reminds readers that he was able to accomplish much
because he was in fact a kind of possessor of all things himself, and he
certainly benefitted from the blessings that he acknowledges. References
to prayer frame the anecdote: the expression “koneh hacol” is most
prominent in the Avot [the prayer of the fathers], which describes God
by the phrase “gomeil chasadim tovim, v’koneh hakol,” as the one “who
bestows beneficial kindnesses, and creates everything.” Montefiore
reminds readers that both he and his wife were guided by their under-
standing of prayer, and, according to the journals, neither forgets to
express gratitude to the divine for their own privileges.
Neither of the Montefiores, of course, was unaware of the hostility
toward Jews or the suffering of fellow Jews in certain parts of the
world—indeed Moses Montefiore dedicated much of life to defending
Jews in the Diaspora. In the two journals that Judith Montefiore kept,
there is a strong sense of Jewish communities in need. But Judith’s
strength as a writer in her journals lies less in the description of these
132 / imperfect sympathies

communities than in the insight that she gives us into Jewish religious
thinking and interior life. Well connected politically despite being
Jewish, Montefiore speaks as a lady who has the time and means to
travel, think, and write. She presents readers with a Jewish voice at a
time when voices about Jews are much easier to find. Instead of rumors
about Jews or comments about the horrors of synagogue worship or
caricatures of Shylocks, old-clothes men, or “smouches,” Montefiore
presents a Jewish-centered world. Perhaps her immediate readers found
inspiration for living their Judaism; looking over their shoulders,
twenty-first-century readers can better understand British Jews in the
period—and critique Jewish representations in canonical texts—from a
perspective that takes Jews and Judaism into account. Whereas many
Christian writers could not reconcile biblical Judaism with real Jews,
Judith Montefiore draws her strength and meaning from this connec-
tion, this channel of memory from a Jewish past and to possibilities for
the future.
C h ap t e r 6
Maria Edgeworth’s H A R R I N G T O N
(1817): Jews, Storytelling, and the
Challenge of Moral Education

The key, indeed, to all that is peculiar in her writings, whether in the way
of excellence or defect,—that which distinguishes her from other writers
of kindred powers of judgment and invention, is, that the duties of Moral
Teacher are always uppermost in her thoughts. It is impossible, we think,
to read ten pages in any of her writings, without feeling, not only that the
whole, but that every part of them was intended to do good;—and that
she has never for an instant allowed herself to forget, that the great end
and aim of her writing was—not to display her own talents, or to court
popularity or brilliant effect—but to make her readers substantially
better and happier;—not only to correct fatal errors of opinion—to
soften dispositions and remove prejudices unfriendly to happiness—but
to display wisdom and goodness at once in their most engaging and
familiar aspects . . . .
—The Edinburgh Review 28 (1817): 391 [Francis Jeffrey]
With respect to what is commonly called the education of the heart, we
have endeavoured to suggest the easiest means of inducing useful and
agreeable habits, well-regulated sympathy and benevolent affections.
—“Preface” to Practical Education, Maria Edgeworth and Richard
Lovell Edgeworth (I: vii)

I now turn to Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary of Judith Montefiore
whose career was influenced by another Jewish woman. The well-known
story behind Harrington (1817) reads like one of Edgeworth’s moral
tales. A young Jewish reader in the United States, Rachel Mordecai (later
Lazarus), wrote to Edgeworth in 1815, praising her literary accomplish-
ment but politely pointing out that Edgeworth’s depictions of Jews in
her fiction were always negative and mean: “Relying on the good sense
and candour of Miss Edgeworth I would ask, how it can be that she,
134 / imperfect sympathies

who on all other subjects shows such justice and liberality, should on
one alone appear biased by prejudice: should even instill that prejudice
into the minds of youth! . . . Can it be believed that this race of men are
by nature mean, avaricious, and unprincipled? Forbid it, mercy. Yet this
is more than insinuated by the stigma usually affixed to the name.”1
Edgeworth responded to Mordecai’s letter—and began a lifelong
correspondence—with humility and a pledge to do better. The result
was Harrington, a novel that Michael Ragussis has called the first liter-
ary text in English to inquire self-consciously into the representation of
Jews and Jewishness; Edgeworth, thus, “turned personal self-evaluation
into a cultural critique.”2
This rendition of the origins of Harrington is accurate but partial.
Rachel Mordecai, although polite and gracious, was not completely
satisfied with Edgeworth’s self-proclaimed attempt at “atonement and
reparation” (8). After reading the novel, Mordecai wrote to Edgeworth
that she was disappointed in the ending, which resolved the “Jewish
problem” by having the object of the eponymous Harrington’s affections
turn out to be an English Protestant and not a Jew as presumed all
along. Although Mordecai lets Edgeworth off the hook and offers a
magnanimous interpretation of her motives, she leaves her statement, “I
was disappointed” (16), in place.3 While Mordecai appreciated
Edgeworth’s attempt to write a sympathetic novel about Jews, contem-
porary reviewers were not as kind either regarding her purpose or its
execution. Their responses indicate, once again, that Edgeworth did not
succeed fully in her goal of presenting Jews more justly and liberally in
her fiction. In fact, the various responses and reviews of the novel ques-
tion her project, critiquing the way that she writes about prejudice and
revealing that sympathy has its limitations.
Despite this assessment, I argue that readers can best understand
Edgeworth’s novel in the context of her mission as an educator and
moral teacher because this mission subsumes all others: her relationship
to her audience; her self-conscious representations of Jews and manipu-
lations of literary conventions; and her anatomy of the psychology of
sympathy and its opposite, antipathy. I propose to modify Ragussis’
important insight that Harrington marks the first “meta-representation”
of Jews and Jewishness in English literature by arguing that Edgeworth’s
educational emphasis and her anatomy of sympathy bring us closer to
the center of this novel than does an analysis of the ideology of conver-
sion. In this sense, Harrington fits squarely into Edgeworth’s oeuvre and
her oft-stated insistence that the author is first and foremost a moral
teacher. Harrington is a novel of education in several senses of the word.
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 135

What sets Harrington apart is that the author begins by looking into her
own heart and educating herself. She even refers to her own errors in the
course of the novel when Harrington laments that Edgeworth’s Moral
Tales for Young People and other such tales “certainly acted most power-
fully and injuriously, strengthening the erroneous association of ideas I
had accidentally formed, and confirming my childish prejudice by what
I then thought the indisputable authority of printed books” (16–17).
In her earlier writings for both children and adults, Edgeworth did
create negative representations of Jews.4 The Absentee, for instance,
which particularly stung Rachel Mordecai, presents a noxious Jewish
coach maker and loan shark, coincidentally named Mr. Mordicai [sic], a
man so vile that he hounds a debtor on his deathbed. But the tales for
younger readers are even more disturbing, in that they combine the
stereotypical image of Jewish avarice with slanderous tales about Jewish
contagion and malice, functioning as Homi Bhabha has shown that
the fetish or stereotype works in colonial discourse, through “a paradox-
ical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging
order as well as disorder, degeneracy, and daemonic repetition” (The
Location of Culture, 66). “The Jew,” in other words, is both a known and
fixed image (a Shylock, say) and an idea that gets repeated obsessively in
slanderous legends and stories, as if the culture could possibly forget. In
“Murad the Unlucky” from Popular Tales, for instance, the Jew know-
ingly sells plague-tainted used clothing, thus causing suffering and death
to innocents. In this story, Edgeworth not only repeats the stereotype of
the Jew as greedy but she also enhances it with the ancient charge that
Jews are carriers of the plague, a daemonic repetition like the blood libel
that resurfaces over time. Furthermore, “Murad the Unlucky” instills
suspicions about the Jewish old-clothes men, and thus brings anxieties
about Jewish degeneracy and immorality into the heart of contemporary
Britain. No wonder Rachel Mordecai, writing from what she regarded
as the relative freedom and tolerance of North Carolina, took offense.
In this chapter, I analyze the “Jewish question” in Harrington from
three different points of view. First, I demonstrate that contemporary
reviews and responses to Harrington focus attention on the difficulty of
Edgeworth’s project to present Jews and Judaism positively in the
volatile context of British nationality and of ingrained prejudice, as
evidenced by the reviewers themselves. Then, I turn my attention to
Edgeworth’s strategies of representation and education. Edgeworth takes
on the stereotype of the rootless Jew by presenting a benign old-clothes
man who is mistaken for the kind of stereotypical character who would
be more at home in a gothic novel. His very incongruity in the context
136 / imperfect sympathies

of fictional realism becomes a meta-representational issue in the narrative.

Furthermore, Edgeworth’s educational mission requires her to move
beyond stereotypes of representation to consider the impediments to
sympathy and the nature and persistence of prejudice itself. In this
sense, Edgeworth’s project is actually larger than one of simply produc-
ing sympathetic representations because it encompasses the psychology
of prejudice.5 As Edgeworth herself recognized, Harrington was not a
complete success because she could not fully imagine a British world in
which “real” Jews were at home. But, despite this failure and the prob-
lematic ending, I give Edgeworth more credit than some for being the
first British author to devote an entire work to the attempt, doing for
the novel what Hurwitz achieved in the mixed form of preface and
translated tales.

“By no means a favourite with us”: Edgeworth and Her Critics

Part of the problem in Harrington, then, is that Edgeworth does not
present Judaism from the inside or with a deep understanding of Jewish
practices or customs. Hence, the scenes in specifically Jewish spaces,
such as the synagogue, appear stilted and unnatural. Nor is there any
detailed look at Jewish home life. The reader learns not about Judaism
in the novel, but rather about irrational prejudice against Jews. As a
result, the reader would learn from Harrington that Jews do not kill
Christian children in bloody rituals, or that Jews can be cultured and
benevolent, but would still think that Jews pray and dine in strange
ways, no matter how much they look the part of the gentry.
Neither the critique of liberality nor the lack of depth in the
portrayal of Jews and Judaism concerns the contemporary reviewers. On
the contrary, the reviews I have found criticize Harrington not for a fail-
ure of liberality but for excessive didacticism and an exaggerated depic-
tion of anti-Jewish sentiment. Ironically, contemporary reviewers
inadvertently betray their own subtle version of anti-Semitism while
attempting to deny its existence in reasoning people. Thus, in another
ironic twist, reviewers demonstrate that Edgeworth’s attempt to expose
prejudice and cultivate sympathy was not a resounding success.
The first review, from the Edinburgh Review 28 (August 1817),
which Marilyn Butler attributes to Francis Jeffrey (Maria Edgeworth, 339),
praises Edgeworth’s moral and didactic stance—but only to a point.
Jeffrey begins by praising Edgeworth’s moral teaching, but he moves on
to criticize her “unrelaxed intensity . . . which has given to her composition
something of too didactic a manner,—and brought the moral of her
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 137

stories too obtrusively forward,—and led her into repetitions that are
somewhat wearisome, and discussions too elementary, and exaggera-
tions too improbable . . .” (392).6 Jeffrey rightly focuses on the difficulty
of writing a novel with such a definite moral purpose in mind. The
didactic purpose itself can be so overwhelming that it subsumes all other
imaginative possibilities or avenues of development. Criticizing this
singleminded focus, Jeffrey faults Edgeworth for not representing
“tumultuous emotions” or “stronger passions” (394), a defect that Jeffrey
patronizingly attributes to “female Delicacy” (396):

Except in the case of her Irish rustics, she has hardly ever ascribed any
burst of natural passion, or any impulse of reckless generosity to her
characters. The rest of her favourites are well-behaved, considerate,
good-natured people, who are never in any very terrible danger, either
from within or from without, and from whom little more is required
than might be expected from any other well disposed and well educated
persons in the like circumstances. (394)

Nor, according to Jeffrey, does Edgeworth reveal a passion for nature,

either in Harrington or in her other works:

In Miss Edgeworth . . . we meet little that can be called heroic—and

nothing that is romantic or poetical. She is so much afraid of seducing
her pupils from practical duties of social life, that she will not even
borrow a grace from the loveliness of nature; and has neither expressed
herself, nor exemplified in any of her characters, that sympathy with rural
beauty, that sense of the expression of the great or majestic features of the
universe, of which the author of Waverly and the Antiquary [Scott] has
made so admirable an use, and turned to such account even for the moral
effect of his story. (395)

At the heart of Jeffrey’s critique is his claim that Edgeworth will do noth-
ing to sacrifice her duties as a moral teacher; hence, she shuns descrip-
tive beauty or, for that matter, intricacies of style.
And yet, Jeffrey implies that in Harrington Edgeworth has failed to
provide her pupils with a compelling lesson, or, to adapt her own
metaphor, has overmedicated the patient:

Upon Miss E.’s present system, there are several of her stories which can
be of use, we should think, but to a very small number of patients; and
we really cannot help thinking that is was as little worth her while to
provide a corrective for gentlemen who have an antipathy to Jews, or
ladies who have prejudices against French governesses, as it would be for
138 / imperfect sympathies

an eminent physician to compound an infallible plaster for scratches on

the first joint of the little finger exclusively. (393)

Jeffrey does not recognize the larger issue so central to Edgeworth.

Whereas making amends for anti-Semitic storytelling is Edgeworth’s
raison d’être in Harrington, for Jeffrey worrying about a gentleman’s
antipathy to Jews is equivalent to calling in a brain surgeon to put a
band-aid in place. Anti-Semitism is a mere scratch on the little finger of
the body politic and not an issue for real medicine. Jeffrey implies that
certain quirks and prejudices are just par for the course and should be
brushed off in a generally tolerant, liberal society. Furthermore, the anal-
ogy between the antipathy to Jews and the dislike of French governesses
also diminishes the gravity of anti-Semitism, suggesting that it is all a
matter of taste and culture. Anti-Semitism is not a subject that warrants
an overly passionate response or much critical attention, in other words,
and “Miss E.” has let it all get out of hand.
A bit later in the review, Jeffrey’s lack of sympathy takes a more
defined and disturbing shape:

This is all admirable, and in Miss Edgeworth’s best manner. But we can
afford no more extracts from this story [Harrington];—which is by no
means a favourite with us, and has more faults than any of her recent
productions. In case she should wish to know their nature, we shall
mention a few of them. The object and design of the Tale, as we have
already said, is narrow and fantastic. Nobody likely to read Miss
Edgeworth’s writings, entertains such an absurd antipathy to Jews as she
here aims at exposing; and the unfavourable opinion that may be enter-
tained, by more reasonable persons, of Jew-pedlars or money lenders, is
not very likely to be corrected by a story professedly fabulous, of a rich
Spanish gentleman who belonged to that persuasion. The scene of
Harrington’s extravagances at the Tower is not only quite out of character,
but it is altogether foolish and puerile in itself. We might possibly tolerate
his kneeling down to the armour of the Black Prince with a speech; but
most certainly, any gentleman who should rant Clarence’s dream from
Shakespeare in passing through the horse armoury, or pour out verses with
a loud voice, and without much apparent connexion, in going over the
Tower with a grave foreigner and a party of strangers, would deserve to be
set down—not indeed for a madman—but for a very silly and
contemptible blockhead. The most revolting part of the story, however, is
that of the deep-laid, and yet most paltry and childish devices of Mowbray
to persuade the Jew and his daughter that his rival was insane. (403)

Whereas Hazlitt had imagined the “more philosophical” part of the audi-
ence in sympathy with Kean’s Shylock, Jeffrey imagines that reasonable
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 139

readers are not going to forget their quite reasonable dislike of

“Jew-pedlars or money-lenders” just because Edgeworth has countered
those images from real life with a cultured Spanish gentleman who
happens to be Jewish. No longer just coolly rejecting the very notion
that one could care about antipathy to Jews, Jeffrey now acknowledges
that certain Jewish types (or stereotypes) not only exist but also deserve the
contempt of reasonable men and women. For all of Edgeworth’s effort
to defeat the negative stereotypes of Jewish peddlers, Jeffrey chooses to
focus on just this image, so familiar to visual caricature and literature.
Jeffrey reinstates in his review the stereotype that he did not find in the
novel, as if rejecting Edgeworth’s lesson. Without the outright contempt
for Jews that Southey’s persona expresses in his Letters from England,
Jeffrey manages to poison the atmosphere while appearing to endorse
reason and tolerance.
The reviewer for Blackwood’s (1 [September 1817]) also sets his
critique within the context of tolerance and a specifically philo-Semitic

The prejudices which are still cherished, we fear, to a great extent against
that unhappy race, may be regarded as the greatest reproach on the liberal-
ity of this enlightened age. A people, so long the special objects of the
Divine dispensations, with whose history our earliest and most sacred asso-
ciations are interwoven, on whose religion our own was ingrafted, whose
country was the scene of all its most interesting events, and who, even in
their dispersion, afford the most striking illustration of that superintending
Providence by which they are to be finally restored—might well be
regarded with a degree of veneration—did they not occur to our memories
as the obstinate and merciless persecutors of Christ and Christians, rather
than as the once favoured and peculiar people of God. Nor is it to be
denied, that the violent persecutions to which throughout Christendom
they have been exposed in their turn, the disabilities under which they
labour, and their spirit of hostility to the professors of the Christian faith,
and engendered habits which may warrant, in some measure, the opinion
generally entertained of their character. Were the representation given of
them by Miss Edgeworth to obtain general credit, that opinion would
speedily be changed. We regret, for the sake of this oppressed and injured
people, that her zeal has in this case rather outrun her judgment; and that,
by representing all her Jewish characters as too uniformly perfect, she has
thrown a degree of suspicion over her whole defence. (520)

Rather than emphasize the unattractiveness of “Jew-pedlars or money-

lenders,” as Jeffrey had done, this reviewer refers to the long history of
the Jews in the drama of divine providence. He writes from the perspec-
tive of an enlightened Christian, acknowledging the dependence of
140 / imperfect sympathies

Christianity on Jewish roots. But rather than granting Jews a grudging

“degree of veneration,” the reviewer damns “the Jews” and by extension
his Jewish contemporaries as “obstinate and merciless persecutors of
Christ and Christians.” He falls back on the standard anti-Jewish lie.
Finally, he concludes by accusing Edgeworth in Harrington of repre-
senting Jews as unrealistically good and, therefore, failing to teach
Christian readers greater tolerance of their Jewish neighbors.
Nonetheless, the reviewer is capable of appreciating what he identifies
as the pathos of Edgeworth’s writing, especially with regard to the depic-
tion of sympathetic characters such as Jacob the young peddler: “Had
Miss Edgeworth never written any thing but this tale, the passage . . .
would have given us a very high idea of her powers of delineating charac-
ter, and of pathetic description” (522). But he implies that the pathos of
certain descriptive passages does not compensate for unrealistic depiction
of all Jews in the novel. While there is some truth in the reviewer’s critique
of the realism of Jewish representation, his accusatory stance in the name of
Christianity overrides such notice and sets a tone of intolerance.
From the United States, the perspective is somewhat different. In a
review in the North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal 27
( January 1818), the critic does not object to Edgeworth’s didacticism or
her domestication of philosophy, but argues that the didactic purpose of
Harrington is unfounded in the English-speaking world, where liberality
and toleration reign:

As it respects this country the lesson might have been spared, for very few
among us, who are likely to read Miss Edgeworth’s book, can be suspected
of supposing Jews and Christians to be different sorts of beings. We know
of no social or political privations to which our Jews are subject, and
Miss Edgeworth has given us credit for treating them like other people.7
We think the story is calculated to have an effect rather unfavourable to
the Jews of this country, as it tends to single them out as objects of obser-
vation, where as they might otherwise have passed on in the crowd with-
out any national distinction. Their condition is stated, on pretty good
authority, to be the same in Great Britain, so that this tale, to be of any
practical utility, should be translated into Portuguese or Turkish, or some
such other language, where there are prejudices and injustice for it to act
upon. Unless we are mistaken in regard to the sentiments entertained
toward the Jews by English and American Christians, the story labours
under an essential defect of plan by being directed against errours and
wrongs, of which the reader is wholly ignorant. (160–61)

This reviewer tells us more about his own ideology than he does about
Harrington. While he argues that Jews and Christians are not “different
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 141

sorts of beings,” he reveals no real understanding of the distinctness of

Judaism as a religion or culture. He advocates, instead, that it is best for
Jews to pass (a loaded word in later racial and ethnic discourse) or blend
into the larger culture and not call attention to themselves or their
difference. At the same time, he does not relinquish his own superior
position, vis-à-vis “our Jews” or benighted parts of Europe and the East.
Neither the American nor the British reviews commented on the
ending of the novel. Only Edgeworth’s Jewish reader Rachel Mordecai
expressed disappointment with the ending, the others seeming to
assume that Berenice’s Christianity was a good resolution. The ending
fits in well with the philo-Semitic nature of the British reviews, both of
which accept the centrality of Christianity. And, to a certain extent, they
are right about Edgeworth, for in theological terms the ending implies
that Christianity is more enlightened and unifying than Judaism. In this
novel, Christianity brings people together, whereas Edgeworth depicts
Judaism as separating people by ritual and custom. Hence, when she
describes the synagogue, she imagines an alien and alienating experience
for Harrington, and by extension, for her Christian readers, who would
presumably be just as perplexed by the service as Harrington.
Edgeworth’s gesture toward triumphant Christianity relates to her
educational purpose. For while her stated purpose is to present Jews and
Judaism in a favorable light and thus to educate her readership in greater
toleration and benevolence, she also, it seems, wants to appease or pacify
her Christian audience. So, while she develops a gallery of good Jews in
Harrington and exposes some very unattractive Christians, she also tries
to keep Judaism within the bounds of a general Christian charity and
toleration. She does not advocate religious relativism, a world in which
Judaism is on an equal footing with Christianity; rather, her emphasis is
on religious tolerance practiced from a position of power. This may in
part explain why she does not respond directly or immediately to Rachel
Mordecai’s objections to the ending. From Edgeworth’s point of view,
she has done her part for the Jews but needs to maintain her general
alliance with Christianity as expressed also by her reviewers.
Despite this alliance, Edgeworth is not preachy about Christian
belief. On the contrary, she does so little preaching that some readers
questioned her own orthodoxy and belief (Richardson, 62). In
Harrington she is not interested in Christian religious practice or in the
intricacies of belief. But she advocates the Christian Protestant position
as culturally correct and unifying, even if its proponents are sometimes
violent and bigoted, as in the Gordon rioters or the de Brantefields and
their long-standing anti-Semitism. She critiques such representatives in
142 / imperfect sympathies

favor of Harrington’s mild professions of faith and his education in

tolerance. Harrington’s form of Christianity triumphs in the novel.
Did Edgeworth, then, achieve her “atonement and reparation”? From
Rachel Mordecai’s point of view, she did, with qualifications. But
Edgeworth may have gone as far as she could in righting—and writing—
her wrongs. She accomplishes, in a more sophisticated way than
Cumberland had done in The Jew, a reversal of the negative stereotypes,
but still not a multifaceted representation of Jews or Jewish life. Yet, her
representations are intriguing both literarily and culturally, and, as
Ragussis points out, in their very self-consciousness and experimentation.

“A good man for naughty boys”: Old Clothes and Musty Tales
In Figures of Conversion, Michael Ragussis argues that Edgeworth
founded a “revisionary tradition” in which “the powerful figure of
Shylock” had to be exorcised before more positive representations of Jews
could emerge. While Shakespeare’s Shylock is important to Harrington,
gothic conventions and the “language of panic,”8 which reveal false
representations of Jews in British culture, are also central to her plot.
Edgeworth demonstrates that gothic terror is caused by cultural preju-
dices and psychological manipulation rather than supernatural agency,
in much the same way that Austen does in Northanger Abbey. In
Harrington, Edgeworth investigates the Jew as the alien Other, and in so
doing both employs and parodies the convention of the gothic villain
and the fear he inspires. She demonstrates that the gothic mode taps
into a reserve of cultural and psychological anxiety and therefore
provides a rich context for imagining the place of Jews in Britain. In this
way, Edgeworth undermines both anti-Semitic prejudice and gothic
supernaturalism as based on fantasy and exaggeration; she also calls
attention to the very nature of representation since the gothic villain
does not easily fit in the world of the tale.
Although Harrington is an example of the association of the gothic
with the social and cultural outcast, Edgeworth does not accept the asso-
ciation uncritically. Instead, gothic themes and characters provide a way
to comment on and distance herself from a specific cultural and
religious prejudice. Edgeworth uses gothic conventions to analyze the
relationship of Jews to the larger culture. In the course of Harrington,
she separates the figure of the historical Jewish peddler from the mythi-
cal Wandering Jew, long associated in anti-Semitic literature with the
justified punishment and homelessness of the Jewish people.9 But even
though she critiques anti-Semitism and the gothic variation on the myth
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 143

of the Wandering Jew, Edgeworth’s plot twist prevents her from bringing
Jews into the center of her fictional world.
The opening chapter of Harrington, so crucial to this argument, illus-
trates Edgeworth’s use of the gothic simultaneously to reveal and to
debunk the source of terror. As narrator, Harrington describes a scene
when he was about six years old, an inquisitive young gentleman who
did not want to go to bed. In order to frighten him to bed the maid-
servant Fowler tells Harrington that the old-clothes man in front of the
house—the Jewish peddler Simon—“shall come up and carry you away
in his great bag” if Harrington does not go to sleep. The child is terri-
fied and the next morning asks more questions, only to have Fowler
respond, “Simon the Jew is a good man for naughty boys” (3). On other
occasions, Fowler repeats a version of the blood libel (that Jews routinely
murder Christian children) to the increasingly terrified child:

Above all others, there was one story—horrible! Most horrible!—which

she used to tell at midnight, about a Jew who lived in Paris in a dark alley,
and who professed to sell pork pies; but it was found out at last that the
pies were not pork—they were made of the flesh of little children. His
wife used to stand at the door of her den to watch for little children, and
as they were passing, would tempt them in with cakes and sweetmeats.
There was a trap-door in the cellar, and the children were dragged down;
and—Oh! How my blood ran cold when we came to the terrible trap-
door. Were there, I asked, such things in London now?
Oh, yes! In dark narrow lanes there were Jews now living, and watching
always for such little children as me; I should take care they did not catch
me, whenever I was walking in the streets; and Fowler (that was my maid’s
name) added, “There was no knowing what they might do with me.” (3)

The child, of course, has no way of knowing that Fowler is playing on

vicious cultural stereotypes of Jews, as well as folk tales such as “Hansel
and Gretel,” that involve a wicked witch who eats children.
Fed a steady dose of this fear, Harrington descends further into a
neurotic state. Fowler, in turn, becomes the victim of her own success.
Concerned that he will tell his mother the source of his terror, Fowler
makes Harrington promise never to tell their secret, a promise that
increases Harrington’s fear and confusion, and intensifies the power that
Fowler has over him. As a result, Harrington has terrifying dreams: “I
saw faces around me grinning, glaring, receding, advancing, all turning
at last into the same terrible face of the Jew with the long beard and the
terrible eyes” (4). The terror continues, even after Fowler, who has
grown weary of the deception, has Simon come into the house one
144 / imperfect sympathies

evening to talk to the child. As Harrington says, “My imagination was

by this time proof against ocular demonstration” (6). Harrington would
be cured of this “Jewish insanity” only after years of such demonstration,
although in the short term his father takes an interest in the situation
and decides that a public school education will make a man of his son
by removing him from a feminized world of night fears and nervous
sympathies. Harrington’s autobiographical mode of narration, in which
we share his perspective throughout, paradoxically puts him in the posi-
tion of the gothic heroine, a narrative strategy that Anne Williams has
linked to what she calls “the Female Gothic.”10 I would add this qualifi-
cation: readers know that there is no supernatural terror in the world of
Harrington; they are in on the irony and incongruity from the beginning.
In this first chapter, Edgeworth depicts the primal scene of
Harrington’s fear through his unconscious associations, the kind of
strong influences that can lead to prejudice and bigotry. In the mythol-
ogy of some Romantic writers, such as Wordsworth, these fearful asso-
ciations can have strong, powerful, and ultimately productive influences
on the development of the imagination. Consider the boatstealing
episode of The Prelude, for instance, in which the child’s guilt about the
stolen boat causes him to see the cliff as a pursuing monster and to relive
the experience for years in his dreams: “ . . . huge and mighty Forms
that do not live / Like living men moved slowly through my mind / By
day and were the trouble of my dreams” (1804, 1: 425–27). But Fowler’s
tale and old Simon have a much more negative effect on Harrington,
whose author is more suspicious of the power of imagination than is
Wordsworth. No beauty tempers the fear in Harrington’s mind. Nor
does Edgeworth’s hero experience the awe that Wordsworth’s persona
feels in the presence of nature. So strong is his impression of Fowler’s tale
that Harrington is “haunted and pursued” in his dreams by night (13)
and also tormented by day by “good Christian beggars” who have heard
of his fears and dress up “like traditionary representations and vulgar
notions of a malicious, revengeful, ominous-looking Shylock as ever
whetted his knife” (13). These masqueraders as vicious Jews also demon-
strate Bhabha’s notion that stereotypes function on the level of paradox,
presenting the fixed image of “the Jew” and making literal the metaphor
of “daemonic repetition” with the parade of masqueraders.
Through a series of later events and experiences, including friendship
with a kindhearted young peddler Jacob, who turns out to be Simon’s
son, Harrington converts his irrational fear of Jews into an obsession
with all things Jewish. When he accordingly falls in love with Berenice
Montenero, his enemy Lord Mowbray, a mean and spoiled aristocrat of
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 145

the de Brantfield family, plots to disrupt this courtship and hires a

disguised Fowler to dredge up Harrington’s repressed fears of Jews and
to spread gossip about his mental instability. Through Mowbray’s plot,
Fowler reinvents the terror that Harrington felt as a child and forces him
to come to terms with its origins.
Significantly, the site of Harrington’s relapse into his childhood
terrors is the synagogue, where he accompanies the Monteneros for a
service. First of all, Harrington finds the chanting of Hebrew prayers
and the method of prayer “discordant” (164), inexplicably different
from his Church of England upbringing.11 Lord Mowbray has cleverly
anticipated Harrington’s alienation and manipulates him into a panic by
staging a gothic scene in which Fowler transforms herself to meet the
specifications of Harrington’s fear. Just as Harrington is approached for
a contribution, he explains: “I was struck by the sight of a face and figure
that had terrible power over my associations—a figure exactly resem-
bling one of the most horrible of the Jewish figures which used to haunt
me when I was a child. The face with terrible eyes stood fixed opposite
me. I was so much surprised and startled by this apparition, that a
nervous tremor seized me in every limb” (165). Harrington falls prey to
the masquerade and becomes ill. Voices and faces of Jews, Simon and
Mr. Montenero blending with images of Shylock, haunt his night.
Edgeworth implies that Harrington is so haunted because he has not yet
exorcised the demons of prejudice. He thus begins to discipline his
imagination, to come to terms with his own prejudice by comparing his
dreams and “fancies” (182) with his actual experience of Jews. When
“the repressed material of the primal scene erupts through dreams”
(Ragussis, 74), Harrington must learn to read his dreams as gothic texts
interpreted by the rational mind.
As in the opening scenes when the images of the old-clothes man
torment the child, Edgeworth uses confined spaces as metaphors for
Harrington’s mental imprisonment. Harrington proves himself suscep-
tible to romanticizing the gothic spaces and neglecting the historical
realities. In the Tower of London, Harrington becomes carried away by
the place without considering its real historical significance: “We passed
on to dark Gothic nooks of chambers, where my reverence for the beds
on which kings had slept, and the tables at which kings had sat, much
increased by my early associations formed at Brantefield Priory, was
expressed with a vehemence which astonished Mr. Montenero; and, I
fear, prevented him from hearing the answers to various inquiries, upon
which he, with better regulated judgment, was intent” (115). While
Harrington allows his imaginative musings on the medieval past to
146 / imperfect sympathies

cloud his judgment, Mr. Montenero carefully instructs Berenice of the

real dangers and atrocities committed in the Tower: “all the time he was
pointing out to her the patterns of the Spanish instruments of torture,
with which her politic majesty Queen Elizabeth frightened her subjects
into courage sufficient to repel all the invaders on board the invincible
armada—I stood silent, pondering on what I might have said or done
to displease him whom I was so anxious to please” (117).
The foreign Jew Montenero thus provides a critique of the English
national past and the cruelties on which power depends, referring also
to the Inquisitional torture that the Spanish inflicted on his ancestors.
Edgeworth associates the anti-Semitism of medieval England with the
de Brantefields and their glorification of a national prejudice and align-
ment with benighted forces. Earlier in the novel, Mowbray taunts the
young Jewish peddler Jacob with his heritage:

There’s a folio, at home, of an old manuscript Memoirs of the de

Brantefield family, since the time of the flood, I believe: it’s the only book
my dear mother ever looks into; and she has often made me read it to her,
till—no offence to my long line of ancestry—I cursed it and them; but
now I bless it and them for supplying my happy memory with a case in
point, that will just hit my mother’s fancy, and, of course, obtain judg-
ment in my favour. A case, in the reign of Richard the Second, between
a Jew and my great, great, great, six times great grandfather, whom it is
sufficient to name to have all the blood of all the de Brantefields up in
arms for me against all the Jews, that ever were born. So my little Jacob,
I have you. (28)

Mowbray reveals that Lady de Brantefield’s literary exercises focus exclu-

sively and comically on her dubious marital heritage; she resembles
Sir Walter Elliot in Austen’s Persuasion (1818), who only reads the
Baronetage. By making fun of her and the de Brantefields’ self-importance
and narrowness, Edgeworth sets the stage for condemning their
outmoded anti-Semitism.
Paintings associated with Mowbray and the de Brantefields depict
Jews as the victims of a cruel and violent anti-Semitism. Harrington
remembers one of the paintings as haunting him in his childhood:

In my childhood I had once been with my mother at the Priory, and I

still retained a lively recollection of the antique wonders of the place.
Foremost in my memory came an old picture, called “Sir Josseline going
to the Holy Land,” where Sir Josseline de Mowbray stood, in complete
armour pointing to a horrid figure of a prostrate Jew, on whose naked
back an executioner, with uplifted whip, was prepared to inflict stripes for
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 147

some shocking crime.—This picture had been painted in times when the
proportions of the human figure were little attended to, and when fore-
shortening was not at all understood: this added to the horrible effect, for
the executioner’s arm and scourge were of tremendous size; Sir Josseline
stood miraculously tall, and the Jew, crouching, supplicating, sprawling,
was the most distorted squalid figure eyes ever beheld or imagination
could conceive. (54)

The reader learns that this hideous painting is a family treasure, on an

equal footing with “an ancient bed, with scalloped tester, and tarnished
quilt, in which Queen Elizabeth had slept,” “an old, worm-eaten chair,
in which John of Gaunt had sat,” or “King John’s table” (55)—all
shabby testaments to de Brantefield pride.
Related to this painting is one that Mowbray “bought at a stall for
nothing” (126) and tried to trick his mother into buying from him at a
much-inflated price. This painting, entitled “The Dentition of the Jew,”
matches the other in its cruelty; it depicts dental extraction as torture.
But Mr. Montenero, who buys the painting in order to destroy it, frus-
trates Mowbray’s scheme by outbidding not only Lady de Brantefield
but also an engraver who was eager to purchase the painting in order to
copy it. Mr. Montenero explains, “I sent for my friend Jacob to be
present at the burning of this picture, because it was he who put in my
power to prevent this horrid representation from being seen and sold in
every print-shop in London. Jacob, who goes everywhere, and sees wher-
ever he goes, observed this picture at a broker’s shop, and found that two
persons had been in treaty for it” (133). An art connoisseur and collec-
tor, Mr. Montenero understands the power of representation in culture,
especially the power of prints in the popular visual culture of the time.12
Through Mr. Montenero, Edgeworth comments obliquely on the way
that such images infiltrate the culture and perpetuate the obsessive repe-
tition of anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Just as Harrington has to disentangle villainous images of Jews from
actual Jews he knows, Edgeworth implies that the culture must separate
the mythic figure of the Wandering Jew from poor street peddlers. But
this separation would not be easy, since traditional representations of
both tended to conflate the two, much to the disparagement of actual
Jews. In Harrington, the boys at Harrington’s school, in fact, taunt
Jacob, the young peddler, alternately calling him Shylock and the
Wandering Jew. Such associations would have made it easier and more
tempting for some like Fowler to make old Simon into a scary, murderous
villain in the eyes of the child. And Harrington, published in 1817, came
out at a time when Jewish peddlers, mostly poor old-clothes men, were
148 / imperfect sympathies

especially numerous in England. Todd Endelman explains that Jewish

street peddlers, and by extension other London Jews, were stereotyped
as “ ‘the most nasty and filthy people under the canopy of heaven;’ ” this
description became “a popular motif in anecdotal accounts of Jews.”13
Furthermore, there was already a history in England and other parts
of Europe associating homeless Jews (and Gypsies) with criminal
vagabonds. As James Shapiro argues in Shakespeare and the Jews, the
association of Jews with “lawless vagabonds” dates back to the sixteenth
century. Such writers and clergymen as Thomas Becon, John Donne,
and Samuel Purchas wrote on the topic and linked Jews with “Cain,
wandering over the world, branded with shame and scorn” and as eter-
nal wanderers condemned by God, as in Donne’s sermons.14 This asso-
ciation intensified and expanded in the early seventeenth century, after
the publication of an anti-Semitic German chapbook on the Wandering
Jew (Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzehlung von einem Juden mit Namen
Ahasverus), which was subsequently translated across Europe
(Encyclopedia Judaica, 16: 259–61). According to Shapiro, “The return
of the Wandering Jew into seventeenth-century England reinforced
conceptions of the Jews as vagrants, moving from country to country, with-
out a land of their own, denied even the resting place of their old home,
the now desolate Jerusalem. The Wandering Jew stood for the whole
Jewish nation: unassimilable, unchanged, living witness to the historical
truth of Christianity, and example of the severity of the punishment the
Jews had suffered for rejecting Christ, condemned to wander until the
end of time” (178).
When Edgeworth sets out to expiate her own sins by subverting
stereotypes and exposing hateful legends, she vindicates Jewish peddlers
and turns the myth of the Wandering Jew upside down. If good and
benevolent Jews like Simon and Jacob are dubbed eternal wanderers, her
logic goes, then what of the archetype? And what of the society that will
not welcome the outcast? Edgeworth’s answer participates in the gothic-
Romantic revision of the mythos. It is one version of the transformation
of the Wandering Jew into a positive symbol of freedom and resistance
in the poetry of Shelley and Byron. As Eino Railo argued long ago, “The
Wandering Jew’s perpetual sorrow, his loneliness and alienation from
mankind, his estrangement from human passions . . . make him the
symbol of Weltschmerz. This world-weariness and its resulting melan-
choly are joined by titanic defiance”: hence Byron’s Childe Harold, “The
wandering outlaw of his own dark mind,” also becomes a symbol of
the quest for liberty and peace (The Haunted Castle, 216–17). Rather than
turn her Wandering Jew into a romantic outcast, Edgeworth turns him
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 149

into a humble, pious, and benevolent figure who should be tolerated in

enlightened England and would be tolerated, her plot implies, if
Englishmen came to terms with their irrational and often repressed fears
or unexamined stereotypes. When Harrington visits another Jew,
Mr. Israel Lyons, early in the novel, he expects something like the
Wandering Jew: “I never should have guessed him to be either rabbi or
Jew. I expected to have seen a man nearly as old as Methuselah, with
reverend beard, dirty and shabby . . . Instead, I saw a gay-looking man
of middle age, with sparkling black eyes, and altogether a person of
modern appearance, both in dress and address” (40).
But despite this accommodation of Jews in Harrington, Edgeworth’s
happy ending only goes so far. At the very end, the somewhat reformed
anti-Semite senior Harrington delights in the fact that his daughter-in-
law-to-be is “ ‘An English Protestant!’ ” (254). In line with what Anne
Williams has identified as the Female Gothic tradition, the narrative has
successfully co-opted the Other, dispelling the irrational terror that it
elicits, and subverting the power of bugbears disguised as the supernat-
ural. Harrington himself has overcome the “primal terror of Jews”—his
original “Jewish insanity”—which had stood in the way of his marriage
and his association with the Montenero family (Ragussis, 74). And yet
the Jewish Other, to be fully accepted even in liberal England, proves to
be a good Christian at heart.
Perhaps the most subtle way that Edgeworth aligns herself with the
gothic is this: like other writers in the tradition, such as Wordsworth and
Coleridge in the Lyrical Ballads, she shows the way that powerful narra-
tives, whether involving fear, bigotry, or gossip, change the way we look
at the world. In the case of anti-Semitic tales from the Wandering Jew
to the blood libel, Edgeworth dramatizes that the stories we tell matter.
Edgeworth’s self-referential allusion to her own Moral Tales for Young
People—“They [such tales] certainly acted most powerfully and injuri-
ously, strengthening the erroneous association of ideas I had accidentally
formed, and confirming my childish prejudice by what I then thought
the indisputable authority of printed books” (16–17)—only emphasizes
this point.
Edgeworth’s storytelling is self-referential in another way. Fowler
parodies Edgeworth as storyteller; she is a caricature of an appropriate
educator and caretaker for a young child. Both Edgeworth and Fowler
have particular designs on their audience—they want to teach a partic-
ular lesson—but Fowler’s lesson is, well, foul. Fowler tells tales that are
scary and blatantly untrue in order to advance her own interests and
warp the child’s imagination. She is an excellent example of what Mitzi
150 / imperfect sympathies

Myers and other scholars have identified as a Georgian pedagogical

concern with “artful nurses,” servants who deliberately terrified their
young charges in order to control them.15 Fowler represents centuries of
false tales about Jews. Edgeworth creates Fowler in order to exorcise her
and to vindicate the role of storyteller for just and moral purposes. In
debunking Fowler, Edgeworth also discredits her gothic exaggeration
and excess and provides an example of a very bad storyteller for children.
And, as Edgeworth has claimed in other writings, the task of storyteller
or children’s author is crucial to good educational practice, because
stories are the surest and most enjoyable way to teach.16
Edgeworth consistently calls for good storytellers. In her Preface to
The Parents’ Assistant (1796), Edgeworth had said that “Those only who
have been interested in the education of a family, who have patiently
followed children through the first processes of reasoning, who have
daily watched over their thoughts and feelings; those only, who know
with what ease and rapidity the early associations of ideas are formed, on
which the future taste, character, and happiness depend, can feel the
dangers and difficulties of such an undertaking” (4). Fowler is an exam-
ple of a storyteller who misuses her power to torment and control by
tainting those early associations. Ironically, she cannot reverse the result
even when the stories no longer serve her purpose. As the narrator
claims, “In vain she told me that Simon was only an old-clothes-man,
that his cry was only ‘Old clothes! Old clothes!’ which she mimicked to
take off its terror; its terror was in that power of association which was
beyond her skill to dissolve” (6).

A “well regulated sympathy”: Harrington as Moral Tale

In setting out to write a positive Jewish novel, then, Edgeworth does not
merely create good and just Jewish characters. She also dramatizes the
psychological causes and effects of prejudice, exploring the way that
sympathy can overcome the deeply rooted fear that leads to prejudice.
Edgeworth traces the origins of prejudice, I think, because moral
instruction is her primary concern. Whereas she was inspired to write
the novel to atone for her own prejudice, she structures the book to
show the various ways that prejudice develops in culture and in the
human mind. And being a good moral doctor, she also shows the way
that sympathetic identification and a sense of justice override prejudice.
Edgeworth follows her own precepts in Practical Education (1798),
where she argues that an educational program must balance respect for
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 151

reason with the cultivation of sympathy:

We allow, without hesitation, that a being destitute of sympathy could

never have any of these feelings, and must consequently be incapable of
all intercourse with society; yet we must at the same time perceive, that a
being endowed with the most exquisite sympathy must, without assis-
tance of education or reason, be, if not equally incapable of social inter-
course, far more dangerous to the happiness of society. A person governed
by sympathy alone must be influenced by the bad as well as by the good
passions of others; he must feel resentment with the angry man; hatred
with the malevolent; jealousy with the jealous; and avarice with the
miser: the more lively his sympathy with these painful feelings, the
greater must be his misery . . . .17

Like other women writers of the period, such as Wollstonecraft, Edgeworth

is careful to balance emotion and sensibility with the tempering power of
reason.18 In the “Preface” to Practical Education, the authors call for “well-
regulated sympathy,” an expression akin to Wordsworth’s insistence (just
two years later) in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads that the “spontaneous over-
flow of powerful feelings” originates in habits of deep thought. Maria
Edgeworth depicts Harrington’s mother as the kind of woman that
Wollstonecraft would satirize in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman as
having an oversusceptibility to passions. Using this negative characteriza-
tion, Edgeworth demonstrates the moral dangers of such an unregulated
way of life. After all, in Edgeworth’s fictional world Harrington’s mother is
responsible for leaving him in the charge of Fowler and other servants while
she is off socializing and his father is absent. Harrington himself must rise
above his early mis-education and demonstrate that he can regulate his
sympathies and passions, as demonstrated by his imaginative excesses in the
Tower or his susceptibility to gothic terrors in general, before Mr.
Montenero will exonerate him of mental instability.
Edgeworth also uses Harrington as the first-person narrator reflect-
ing on his own development, beginning with his earliest memories of
Fowler planting the seeds of prejudice and fear in his mind. As
Harrington explains at the end of the first chapter,

“Belier, mon ami, commecez par le commencement,” is excellent advice:

equally applicable to philosophical history and to fairy tale. We must be
content to begin at the beginning, if we would learn the history of our own
minds; we must condescend to be even as little children, if we would
discover or recollect those small causes, which early influence the imagina-
tion, and afterwards become strong habits, prejudices, and passions. (11)
152 / imperfect sympathies

As I have recounted, Harrington begins his narrative with his memory

of his first night in London at age six, also his first acquaintance with
the old-clothes man Simon. Although Harrington begins to imagine
Simon as a mysterious threat to young gentlemen, his first perception is
quite the contrary. Harrington sees Simon by the light of a street lamp:
“as he looked up at the balcony he saw me—smiled—and I remember
thinking that he had a good-natured countenance” (2). After Fowler
poisons his mind, Harrington becomes obsessed with Simon and the
gruesome stories associated with Jews. Whereas his parents’ friends all
marvel as his “natural, positively natural antipathy to the sight or bare
idea of a Jew” (8), the reader knows that the antipathy is not in fact
natural but is learned as a part of the culture. In its exaggeration and
obsession, Harrington’s prejudice is a matter of wonder and curiosity to
his parents’ friends, who are themselves anti-Semitic, but in a snooty
upper-class way. They do not deny the rightness of anti-Semitism, only
the unseemliness of a little boy’s obsession with Jews. Although
Edgeworth focuses on childhood obsession, she is also interested in
cultivating in her readers an understanding of prejudice in its many
forms. For this purpose, she constructs her readers as sympathetic to her
enterprise: “Such details will probably appear more trivial to the frivo-
lous and ignorant than to the philosophic and well-informed: not only
because the best-informed are usually the most indulgent judges, but
because they will perceive some connexion between these apparently
puerile details and subjects of higher importance” (11).
When Harrington as narrator reflects on his education as a nine year
old, Edgeworth introduces another powerful source: reading. This is the
point of her explicit self-reference to Moral Tales and to the mimicry and
caricature (16) of Jews in British fiction. Harrington, a narrative educa-
tor himself, asserts, “I am far from wishing to insinuate that such was
the serious intention of these authors. I trust they will in future profit
by these hints. I simply state the effect, which similar representations in
the story-books I read, when I was a child, produced on my mind” (17).
But Harrington only recognizes this in retrospect. At the time, he finds
reading a powerful reinforcement for his earlier experience—“strength-
ening the erroneous association of ideas I had accidentally formed” (17).
Whereas Wordsworth and other Romantics recommended fairy tales to
enlarge the imagination, young Harrington finds that “old story-books”
depict Jews as “bad fairies, or bad genii, or allegorical personifications of
devils, and the vices in the old emblems, mysteries, moralities, &” (16),
functioning on the cultural level the way that Fowler’s storytelling func-
tions on the psychological. Although, as Mitzi Myers has demonstrated,
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 153

Edgeworth’s practice often upsets the “binary hierarchy of fairy tale

versus moral tale” (“Romancing the Moral Tale,” 98), in Harrington
fairy tales are not benign and the imaginative flights that they inspire are
troubling culturally and psychologically.
Harrington’s interactions with his father, a bigoted MP and backslap-
per among his cronies, reveal the way that anti-Semitism functions on a
social level as a kind of male bonding. The senior Harrington is totally
without any “philosophic moral cultivation” (17); he is also a storyteller,
this time telling his son stories of Jewish “frauds” (18) and their threat to
the social order. Harrington actually begins this phase of his education
(after he has emerged from the nursery, from Fowler’s care and from his
mother’s “morbid sensibility” [8]) by listening to conversation:

About this time also I began to attend to conversation—to the conversa-

tion of gentlemen as well as of ladies; and I listened with a sort of
personal interest and curiosity whenever Jews happened to be mentioned.
I recollect hearing my father talk with horror of some young gentleman
who had been dealing with Jews. I asked what this meant, and was
answered, “Tis something very like dealing with the devil, my dear.”
Those who give a child a witty instead of a rational answer do not know
how dearly they often make the poor child pay for the jest. My father
added, “It is certain, that when a man once goes to the Jews, he soon goes
to the devil. So Harrington, my boy, I charge you at your peril, whatever
else you do, keep out of the hands of the Jews—never go near the Jews:
if once they catch hold of you, there’s an end of you, my boy.” (17)

Presuming that an English gentleman should not have business dealings

with Jews, Harrington’s father superimposes the mythic suggestion that
such dealings represent pacts with the devil. The father’s advice func-
tions in a similar way to Fowler’s stories and reinforces Harrington’s
indoctrination in the myth of Jewish treachery.
Edgeworth demonstrates that the psychological haunting and fear
Harrington experienced as a child moves to contempt and then to
hatred in the lessons he receives from his father. Edgeworth sets
Harrington’s developing prejudice in the aftermath of the so-called Jew
Bill, which, if it had not been defeated in 1753, would have made the
naturalization of Jews possible.19 These anti-Jewish conversations in the
drawing room bring politics into the home, and introduce the young
Harrington to the contempt and hatred for Jews among the privileged
classes. On the one hand, politics becomes intimate, but on the other it
is devoid of real Jews. It is easy to maintain prejudice, Edgeworth
154 / imperfect sympathies

implies, when ideas about people rather than people themselves occupy
center stage.
The first revolution in Harrington’s perception of Jews occurs when
he meets the maligned and mistreated young peddler, Jacob:

Every Thursday evening, the moment he appeared in the schoolroom, or

on the playground, our party commenced that attack upon “the
Wandering Jew,” as we called this poor pedler [sic]; and with every oppro-
brious nickname, and every practical jest, that mischievous and incensed
schoolboy zealots could devise, we persecuted and tortured him body and
mind. We twanged at once a hundred Jew’s-harps in his ear, and before
his eyes we paraded the effigy of a Jew, dressed in a gabardine of rags and
paper. In the passages through which he was to pass, we set stumbling
blocks in his way, we threw orange-peels in his path, and when he slipped
or fell, we laughed him to scorn, and we triumphed over him the more,
the more he was hurt. “We laughed at his losses, mocked at his gains,
scorned his nation, thwarted his bargains, cooled his friends, heated his
enemies—and what was out reason? He was a Jew.” (24–25)

This recitation serves as a kind of atonement for Harrington, who

admits to himself the extent of his own blame, although he says that his
taunting was “less interested and malignant than Mowbray’s” (26). The
passage also serves to remind the reader of the perpetuation of anti-
Semitism in the culture, through repeated stories about wandering Jews
or in productions of The Merchant of Venice. The allusion to Shylock’s
speech is interesting in part because Harrington changes the passage to
reflect communal guilt (“We laughed at his losses”) rather than Shylock’s
outrage at his own mistreatment, and in part because it presents Shylock
in a sympathetic light.
The crucial moment in Harrington’s education comes when he
admits in his “secret soul” (29) that Mowbray treats Jacob unjustly in
trying to withhold payment for some watches he has bought. For the
first time, Harrington admits that Jacob “ought to have justice if he had
not been a Jew” (27). The key word here is “justice,” because for the first
time young Harrington not only feels sympathy for the young Jew, but
he also recognizes through his reason that the situation demands justice.
Years later, when he tries to explain to his irrational mother this change
of heart about Jews, Harrington argues that “humanity and reason” (47)
had overcome his prejudice and that he had now “formed what might
rather appear as a natural sympathy with the race of Israel” (47). The
early episode with Jacob, staged as a series of scenes in which the school-
boys finally admit that Mowbray is the scoundrel, forms the first step in
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 155

Harrington’s education—really his unlearning what Fowler had taught

and his family reinforced.
The episodes with Jacob and subsequent positive experiences at
Cambridge set the stage for Harrington’s greatest revelation, which takes
place during a performance of The Merchant of Venice. Harrington views
a performance by Charles Macklin, the eighteenth-century actor, best
known for his malevolent Shylock. What is most interesting about this
scene is not the play itself but Harrington’s response to watching
Berenice Montenero view the play. Her horrified response to the perfor-
mance inspires his sympathy, which in turn leads him to ponder ques-
tions of justice, even though he cannot pity Macklin’s Shylock or take
his part. As Harrington becomes aware of Berenice, he can no longer
focus on the play itself, and despite his contempt for the character of
Shylock, he begins to identify with the Jewish perspective:

But now my pleasure in the play was over. I could no longer enjoy
Macklin’s incomparable acting; I was so apprehensive of the pain which
it must give to the young Jewess. At every stroke, characteristic of the
skilful actor, or the master poet, I felt a strange mixture of admiration and
regret. I almost wished that Shakespeare had not written, or Macklin had
not acted, the part so powerfully: my imagination formed such a strong
conception of the pain the Jewess was feeling, and my inverted sympathy,
if I may call it, so overpowered my direct and natural feelings, that at
every fresh development of the Jew’s villainy I shrunk as though I had
myself been a Jew. (75)

In other words, Harrington believes that his direct and natural response
would be to feel contempt for Shylock’s villainy, but his “inverted
sympathy” forces him into the position of the apparently Jewish
observer of a performance hostile to Jews and Jewishness. He identifies
not with Shylock on stage but Berenice trapped in the boxes and forced
to watch:

I felt at once horror of the individual Shylock and submission to the

strength of his appeal. During the third act, during the Jessica scenes, I
longed so much to have a look at the Jewess, that I took an opportunity
of changing my position. The ladies in our box were now so happily
occupied with some young officers of the guards, that there was no
further danger of their staring at the Jewess. I was so placed that I could
see her, without being seen; and during the succeeding acts, my attention
was chiefly directed to the study of all the changes in her expressive coun-
tenance. I now saw and heard the play solely with reference to her feelings;
I anticipated every stroke which could touch her, and became every
156 / imperfect sympathies

moment more and more interested and delighted with her, from the
perception that my anticipations were just, and that at last I saw, or
fancied I saw, that she grew so pale, that, as she closed her eyes at the
same instant, I was certain that she was going to faint . . . . (77)

Harrington’s description provides an excellent example of Adam Smith’s

theory of sympathy, which involves an observer and a spectacle
observed, but the description also reveals the move whereby eroticism
can replace sympathy.20 Furthermore, the scene shares Edmund Burke’s
confidence in the Sublime and the Beautiful that it is easier to sympathize
with the beautiful or delicate than with its opposite—with Shylock, who
had inspired Harrington to exclaim, “Such a countenance!—such an
expression of latent malice and revenge, everything detestable in human
nature!” (74), or with the coarse alderman’s wife Mrs. Coates, the “fat
orderer of all things” (72) who has accompanied the “elegant timid
young creature” (72) Berenice to the theater.
Harrington’s previous education—both sentimental and rational—
has prepared him for making the most of this particular scene of instruc-
tion. Schooled by his negative experiences as a child and his positive
encounters with Jacob, Harrington feels both the power of Shylock’s
malignity and the pull of strong sympathetic identification with the
lovely Berenice. Although Edgeworth does not mention Kean’s sympa-
thetic Shylock (which debuted in 1814), she offers her own version of a
sympathetic The Merchant of Venice, which arises not by observing the
performance on stage but by observing the observer. Edgeworth
suggests, in effect, that readers need to rethink The Merchant of Venice
from a Jewish point of view. She shows what it would have been like to
see Macklin’s performance as a Jew, which for Englishmen such as
Harrington can occur only through an act of sympathetic identification.
Here for the first time, Harrington feels not just the power of Macklin’s
portrayal, but “a strange mixture of admiration and regret . . . . my
imagination formed such a strong conception of the pain the Jewess was
feeling . . . . that at every fresh development of the Jew’s villainy
I shrunk as though I had myself been a Jew” (75). This passage demon-
strates that it is not reason alone that begins to open Harrington’s mind,
but also his imaginative sympathy for Berenice. So strong is this sympathy
that it leads to identification.
This layered scene serves as a microcosm of the way that Harrington
ideally should work for readers, who would in turn identify with
Harrington’s transformation from bigotry to sympathy. But Edgeworth’s
critics did not adopt this model. Instead, they resisted the designs that
maria edgeworth’s HARRINGTON / 157

Edgeworth’s strong moral purpose placed on them; like Rachel

Mordecai, but for different reasons, they were not completely happy
with the author’s resolution of the novel. Even more telling, though,
Edgeworth was not entirely happy with it herself. Four years after receiv-
ing Mordecai’s letter with the assessment of Harrington, Edgeworth
found the courage to respond:

I have never, I believe, written to you since I received a very kind letter
from you about Harrington and Ormond. It came to my hands when I
was so unhappy that I could not write any answer. The feeling that my
Father would have been so much gratified by it and that it came when he
could no longer sympathise with me as he had done for so many happy
years was dreadful. I have since read your letter again lately, after an inter-
val of nearly four years, and feel grateful now for not having thanked you.
I wish you would thank your kindhearted father for the reason he gave
for my making Berenice turn out to be a Christian. It was a better reason
than I own I had ever thought up. I really should be gratified if I could
have any testimony even were it ever so slight from those of your persua-
sion that they were pleased with my attempt to do them justice. But
except from you, my dear Madam, and one or two other individuals in
England, I have never heard that any of the Jewish persuasion received
Harrington as it was intended. A book or merely a print of any celebrated
Jew or Jewess or a note expressing their satisfaction with my endeavors or
with my intentions would have pleased—I will not say my vanity—but
my heart. ( June 21, 1821; MacDonald, 23)

Edgeworth acknowledges that she herself was frustrated with the ending
and could not fully justify it. She does not say why she did not resolve
the novel differently, but I infer from her comments that she could not
imagine how to do so. She does not embrace Mr. Mordecai’s surmise
that she had wanted to show “the liberality and firmness of
Mr. Montenero’s principles” (16). According to this interpretation,
Mr. Montenero was noble in that he married a Christian and was will-
ing to raise his daughter as such to honor his wife’s memory, but he
would not convert from Judaism himself. Given the difficulties that
Edgeworth faced, perhaps the ending may have been her way of
containing the unruly elements of her story within the bounds of a
conventional comic-romance ending.
Edgeworth also identifies the source of her greatest disappointment
about Harrington—not the misunderstanding of some reviews, but the
failure of Jewish readers to appreciate her work. While the reviews indi-
cate that Edgeworth was not wholly successful in teaching Christian read-
ers greater tolerance or even in teaching them to recognize the existence
158 / imperfect sympathies

of anti-Semitism, this personal comment reveals that she was not wholly
successful in reparation with the Jewish community, since only “one or
two individuals in England” acknowledged her offering. Unlike Richard
Cumberland, Edgeworth does not want a medal for her efforts, but she
does wish for more communication.21
What, then, does Edgeworth accomplish? Despite the awkward stag-
ing of some later scenes (such as the tour of Westminster Abbey and the
Tower), Edgeworth traces the origins of prejudice with psychological
realism, especially in the opening chapters. A reader would have to go to
Wordsworth’s Prelude to find as compelling an analysis of the function
of early habits in establishing prejudices, with the difference that
Wordsworth praises the “honorable bigotry” (1800 Preface, 156) that
binds the narrator to his heritage and guides his moral development.
Edgeworth’s study of the progression from fear, to contempt, to hatred
in the early chapters is exceptional in its detailed memory of what fear
looks like from the point of view of a six year old. Her skill reminds me
of the haunted opening of Great Expectations where Magwitch terrifies
Pip into compliance or the image of young David Copperfield standing
before Miss Murdstone’s monstrous, clamping handbag in that novel. In
the early chapters of Harrington the weight of ideas about prejudice does
not overwhelm the power of narrative or the fullness of character as it
sometimes does later in the book.
But I also think that the study of prejudice and the transition to
sympathy are successful because Edgeworth as moral teacher was confi-
dent about this process. The later chapters and the Jewish characters are
less successful because Edgeworth could not fully imagine what to do
with them as Jews. The Jews, once again, were Other but they were also
a part of British culture.22 That is the crucial difference. What perplexed
Edgeworth was the very challenge of modernity and Judaism: what do
good Britons do with Jews when they look and act like genteel people?
The gerryrigged ending testifies to the difficulty that Edgeworth faced
in attempting to bring closure to a novel that she meant to do so much,
both in terms of her own self-vindication and in teaching readers
schooled in her own earlier moral tales that she was wrong about Jews.
Although Edgeworth may have fallen short, she nevertheless had the
honesty and self-awareness to reflect on her attempt.
C h ap t e r 7
“Nor yet redeemed from scorn”:
Wordsworth and the Jews

In far-off Asia a little child walks through the ghetto on his way to school,
singing Alma redemptoris as he goes. The Jews, outraged, hire a homicide
who seizes the child, cuts his throat, and throws the body in a privy. The
child’s distraught mother searches for him throughout the ghetto.
Wondrously the child begins to sing; the provost comes, puts the Jews to
death, and has the child carried to the church. There the child explains
that the Virgin Mary laid a grain upon his tongue and he will sing until
it is removed. When the grain is removed the child gives up the ghost. He
is buried as a martyr.
—L. D. Benson, summary of Chaucer’s The Prioress’s Tale, 20001
The fierce bigotry of the Prioress forms a fine back-ground for her
tender-hearted sympathies with the Mother and Child; and the mode in
which the story is told amply atones for the extravagance of the miracle.
—William Wordsworth, Headnote to his translation of The Prioress’s
Tale, 1827
While it was supposed that “the Jews eat little children,” it was proper to
take precautions against them. But why keep up ill names and the ill
odour of a prejudice when the prejudice has ceased to exist?
—William Hazlitt, “Emancipation of the Jews” (Howe 19:324)

As I have argued, Maria Edgeworth’s correspondence with Rachel
Mordecai shaped her representation of Jews and her analysis of the
nature of prejudice in Harrington. Wordsworth’s literary encounters
with Jews and Judaism were also to a certain extent shaped by what
others said about his writing, although the process was less direct than
it was for Edgeworth. In this chapter, I bring together Wordsworth’s “A
Jewish Family” and his translation of Chaucer’s The Prioress’s Tale in
order to uncover a little-known but significant element of his thinking
160 / imperfect sympathies

about Others, which was both sympathetic to and ambivalent about

Jews and Judaism.
The story begins on Monday, July 14, 1828: Dora Wordsworth, her
father William Wordsworth, and their friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
traveling companions for several weeks, came upon a Jewish family
while walking along the Rhine near St. Goar. Dora and William
commented directly on the encounter, Dora in her journal and William
in a poem written on the tour and later revised and published in 1835;
Dora also recorded Coleridge’s comments in her journal. Fifteen years
later, Wordsworth metaphorically revisited both the scene and his poem
when he dictated notes to his friend Isabella Fenwick about that memo-
rable day and event.2 As might be expected, each of the writers revealed
a particular attitude toward Jews in his or her reading of the scene. In
her unpublished journal, Dora responded sympathetically, attempting
to humanize the family and to see them as individuals. William,
however, in a manner characteristic of his poetry, idealized and
distanced his subjects, thus denying them their particular identities and
historical grounding. As often occurs in Wordsworth’s poetic encounters
with Others, his projected fiction about the Other colored his sympa-
thy. Paradoxically, however, in his note of 1843, William glossed his
own poem and experience in a way that brought him closer to Dora’s
way of seeing in 1828—a world glimpsed at in Dora’s journal entry but
absent from “A Jewish Family,” the title of William’s poem. At a distance
of years from the poem and its conception, Wordsworth more freely
remembered the actual family that was its inspiration.
Wordsworth’s depiction of the Jewish family in 1828 is also
connected to his rethinking of his translation of Chaucer’s anti-Semitic
The Prioress’s Tale the previous year. Placing “A Jewish Family” next to
The Prioress’s Tale clarifies some of the motivation behind Wordsworth’s
poem, as well as its interpretation of Jewish homelessness in early-
nineteenth-century Europe. Although directly inspired by an encounter
recorded by Dora Wordsworth, “A Jewish Family” is at least as strongly
motivated by events surrounding the publication of The Prioress’s Tale,
first in 1820 and then in 1827 when Wordsworth implicitly responds to
its anti-Semitism.3
Another factor bears on this discussion of Wordsworth and the Jews.
Wordsworth shared neither Coleridge’s interest in Hebrew nor
Hurwitz’s concern with numerous translations of the Bible; yet he was
as familiar with the King James Version as with the mountains and
streams of his native district. The King James Bible was part of that vast
world of value to which Wordsworth referred as “Nature.” Wordsworth,
wordsworth and the jews / 161

furthermore, thought of himself and his poetry in the tradition of biblical

prophecy.4 When Wordsworth wanted to convey the power of language,
emotion, and sympathy in his theoretical writings, he turned to exam-
ples from Hebrew Scriptures: Proverbs in the appendix to the Preface to
Lyrical Ballads (“Go to the Ant, thou Sluggard, consider her ways, and
be wise . . .” [163]) and the Song of Deborah in the Note to The Thorn,
where Wordsworth urges his readers to consider “that tumultuous and
wonderful Poem” (PW, 2:513):

Awake, awake Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song:

Arise Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou Son of Abinoam.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed,
he fell; where he bowed there he fell down dead.
Why is his Chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the Wheels of the

Alluding to Judges, Wordsworth illustrates the emotional power of

tautology or repetition in poetry, and makes this aesthetic value central
to his representation of life at its most elemental. Nevertheless,
Wordsworth’s appreciation of the language and passion of the Hebrew
Bible does not necessarily translate into admiration of Jews.
Wordsworth’s apprehension of Jews and Judaism develops from his
passion and commitment to Christian scripture as well as from Hebrew
scriptural sources.5 He follows the pattern of most Christians of his age
in looking at Judaism through the lens of Christianity: either idealizing
of Christian roots in biblical Judaism, which is the basis of Christian
philo-Semitism, or demonizing Jews and Judaism in fables, some of
which were derived from the gospels. From a Jewish point of view, both
the idealizing and demonizing perspectives distort Jews and Judaism,
the one through an inability to accept or understand Jews as a contem-
porary reality as well as a biblical people and the other through a will-
ingness to believe baseless stories about Jewish treachery and evil.
Although Wordsworth himself did not believe anti-Semitic fables as truth,
he was willing to exploit them for poetic effects, thereby connecting
himself at least in one instance to this tradition.

A Jewish Family in the Rhineland

As many scholars have noted, England was a country of relative religious
tolerance in 1828. The plight of German Jews, or particularly Jews in
this region of the Rhine, was not so fortunate. Jews in the Rhineland, as
in other parts of what is now Germany, suffered major setbacks after the
162 / imperfect sympathies

defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the following

years, Jews were caught in a backlash of anti-French sentiment, which
resulted in their losing their status as emancipated citizens. This back-
lash included not only political and social disenfranchisement, but also
the renewal of anti-Jewish attacks, including the notorious “Hep! Hep!”
riots, which began in Wurzburg, Bavaria in 1819 but spread to other
parts of Germany. Echoing the cry of massacring Crusaders, these
Germans of 1819 linked their own hatred of Jews with that of their
medieval forebears. Their violence occurs in the context of developing
German Christian nationalism, which embraced a myth of German
identity that would never include Jews.6 As Michael A. Meyer has
commented, the distinction in German history was always between
Germans and Jews—not Christians and Jews as it was, say, in the United
States in the nineteenth century. Germans perceived themselves as “a
Wirtsvolk, a host people, vis-à-vis the Jews. It was as if the Jews had been
invited to dwell as guests in a house that was not their own,” stepchildren
of the German people.7 Meyer’s reminder that German Jews
were regarded as guests emphasizes their precarious existence in all of
nineteenth-century Europe, no matter how assimilated or what
moments of tolerance or stability certain Jewish communities enjoyed.8
Just at the historical moment when Jews living in Germany and other
parts of Europe were once again reminded of their political and social
precariousness, English men and women began flocking to Europe for
pleasure with the opening of borders after 1815—wanderers by choice,
not necessity. The Wordsworths joined in this touring exodus, making
numerous and varied trips to the continent during a roughly twenty-
year period beginning in 1820. Before the hastily planned tour of 1828,
which took the three travelers through Belgium, Germany, and
Holland, the Wordsworths had made trips in 1820 and 1823, the first
of which both Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy Wordsworth and wife Mary
Wordsworth record in their journals. Although Dorothy notes the
contrast in Germany between the magnificence of nature and the
poverty of human existence, she does not comment directly on the social
or political realities that may have led to this misery: “wherever we
passed through a village or small town the veil of romance was with-
drawn, and we were compelled to think of human distress and
poverty—their causes how various in a country where Nature has been
so bountiful.”9
Eight years after her aunt Dorothy’s comments, Dora Wordsworth
gets closer to some of those causes in her 1828 journal, as particularly
evidenced by her comment on the Jewish family (a mother, her young
wordsworth and the jews / 163

son, and two older daughters, one of whom is the subject described here):

. . . such a family—I will not anticipate Father’s Poem by transcribing my

thoughts and feelings; one affecting thing only will I note. When
Mr. Coleridge told this Rachel how much he admired her child, “Yes,”
said she, “she is beautiful” (adding with a sigh) “but see these rags and
misery”—pointing to its frock which was made up of a thousand patches.
(PW, 2:525)

Addressing her journal entry to her mother Mary Wordsworth and aunt
Dorothy Wordsworth, Dora views the entry as a prelude to her father’s
poem. Although she claims that she does not want to anticipate the
poem, she cannot resist entering into the process by recording
Coleridge’s conversation with the mother, “this Rachel” who paradoxi-
cally becomes a particular Jewish mother concerned for her child’s well-
being in Dora’s note. Whereas Coleridge had commented on the child’s
beauty, the mother brings the observers back to the rags and misery asso-
ciated with the poverty in which they live. Dora takes her cue from the
mother, endorsing, in a sense, the mother’s lament and her practical
concern by focusing her reader’s attention on the thousand patches of
the frock rather than on the physical beauty of the girl. Through her
vivid language, Dora leaves us with an unforgettable image of poverty
and resourcefulness, misery and beauty.
While Dora Wordsworth literally allows the woman to speak and
comments on a particularly striking detail, William Wordsworth employs
a different technique in his poem, which begins with this invocation:

Genius of Raphael! If thy wings

Might bear thee to this glen,
With faithful memory left of things
To pencil dear and pen,
Thou wouldst forego the neighboring Rhine,
And all his majesty—
A studious forehead to incline
O’er this poor family. (Lines 1–8)

Wordsworth’s interest in paintings has been well documented,10 and

Dora reminds us in her journal that she had taken instruction from her
father on how to view the paintings that they saw in churches and cathe-
drals. But Raphael, noted for his numerous paintings of the Madonna
and child, has a special significance here as Wordsworth writes about the
Jewish family. The Christian painter Raphael becomes a kind of muse to
the Christian poet, who sees the family through the eyes of Raphael,
164 / imperfect sympathies

turning this mother into the Madonna of the Rhine. Raphael, the painter
most associated in the nineteenth century with idealized images of the
Madonna and child, serves as the poet’s inspiration as he represents this
family through a romanticized image of poverty, endurance, and faith.11
Whereas Dora’s note has reported on the mother and her daughter,
William’s poem, inspired by Christian Madonna imagery, shifts the focus
to the boy. The two sisters, the woman’s daughters, are conflated and fade
into relative insignificance. Wordsworth inclines his studious forehead
over this family and attempts to perfect in words, as it were, the idealized
portraits of Raphael, much as restorers of the time attempted to get at
their “idea of Raphael” by paradoxically painting things out of his
canvases in order to make them more “Raphaelesque.”12 William accord-
ingly sees the mother and child as types who inspired Christian painters:

The Mother—her thou must have seen,

In spirit, ere she came
To dwell these rifted rocks between,
Or found on earth a name. (Lines 9–12)

Completing the poetic anachronism of invoking the Genius of Raphael,

William takes the woman and her son out of their historical setting and
portrays them as disembodied spirits: William’s Christianizing—and his
Christian narcissism—sees the Jewish boy as the Christ child. As it
turned out, Dora did more than anticipate her father’s poem: by intro-
ducing Coleridge’s comment, she framed the episode with the mother’s
emotion, gesture, and speech, a mark of difference from William’s poem.
Although William dictated a first draft of “A Jewish Family” to Dora
during the tour, he incorporated into his revisions his further meditations
on the mother and her son in stanzas 2–4:

I speak as if of sense beguiled;

Uncounted months are gone,
Yet I am with the Jewish Child,
That exquisite Saint John. (Lines 21–24)

By adding the allusion to Saint John, Wordsworth emphasizes Christian

typology: the Jewish child also becomes a St. John who prepares the way
for Jesus, or perhaps he is once again a Raphaelesque image, inspired by a
painting such as the Madonna and child with Saint John as a boy, the
Madonna del Cardellino, which Wordsworth may have seen at the Uffizi in
Florence in 1820. The important point is that Wordsworth sees the family
through the eyes of Raphael and through a Christian view of biblical
wordsworth and the jews / 165

history. He does not see them as Jews in Germany in 1828. He views

them from a distance as a Christian who has sympathy for their suffer-
ing, but cannot accept them for themselves and their own aspirations.
Thus, in this case, Christian ideology rather than personal egotism
compromises the act of sympathetic identification with the Jewish family.
Despite his earlier endorsements of the power of sympathy in his
letter to Wilson on “The Idiot Boy” and in other texts, in “A Jewish
Family” Wordsworth does not fully realize the potential for sympathy.
He does not imagine himself in the place of this woman and family; nor
does he challenge the reader’s capacity to respond to difference, for
which he had argued so passionately with regard to “The Idiot Boy.”
Instead, he imagines difference in aesthetic or painterly terms and thus
makes the family an easy object for a certain kind of sympathy based on
affinity and likeness. The Jews are acceptable here because they represent
and endorse a Christian aesthetics of the beautiful, which in a paradox-
ical way domesticates and naturalizes their history of wandering. The
poem seems deaf to the mother’s injunction, sighed in Dora’s note: yes,
her daughter is beautiful, “but see these rags and misery.”
Wordsworth’s lens of Christian aesthetics becomes especially clear in
the final two stanzas (5–6) as he turns to the woman’s daughters, whom
he conflates as indistinguishable from each other, two Oriental beauties:

Two lovely Sisters, still and sweet

As flowers, stand side by side;
Their soul-subduing looks might cheat
The Christian of his pride:
Such beauty hath the Eternal poured
Upon them not forlorn,
Though of a lineage once abhorred,
Nor yet redeemed from scorn.
Mysterious safeguard, that, in spite
Of poverty and wrong,
Doth here preserve a living light,
From Hebrew fountains sprung;
That gives this ragged group to cast
Around the dell a gleam
Of Palestine, of glory past,
And proud Jerusalem. (Lines 30–48)

Though Wordsworth intends a tribute to the family’s beauty and

endurance, his language betrays a sense of Christian superiority. The
beauty of the two sisters—like that of Rebecca in Ivanhoe—might cheat
166 / imperfect sympathies

the Christian of his pride. In Wordsworth’s construction, the Christian

is the arbiter, although the sisters’ Jewishness has the potential effect of
destabilizing the legitimacy of Christian superiority. Furthermore, the
syntax of the last stanza, which is not a complete sentence, leaves the
meaning of the “Mysterious safeguard” mysterious and inconclusive,
although it is what connects the “ragged group” to their ancient faith.
Wordsworth may see the sisters’ beauty as a safeguard, but their beauty
does not prevent poverty and wrong. Or Wordsworth may allude to the
familiar Christian belief that the preservation of the Jews—who would
ultimately be converted—was a sign of divine providence. Consistent
with the philo-Semitism of conversionists of the nineteenth century,
Wordsworth locates the Jews in the biblical past: they are ancient
Hebrews, anachronisms bound to the glory of a fallen Jerusalem, not
living people.13 Jerusalem is a past glory, but unlike the Montefiores,
Wordsworth does not connect that past, the memory, to a living Jewish
present. True, he refers to a “living light,” but this imagery of light seems
as tenuous as the intimations of immorality in the great ode.
Coleridge, who had interrupted his biblical studies to go on the tour,
may have influenced this particular view of the Jews as a biblical people,
a remnant of former greatness. In addition, comments about Jews and
biblical history scattered in Coleridge’s writing suggest that although he
harbored some prejudices against contemporary Jews, often stereotyped
as the ragged old-clothes men, he had respect for Jewish biblical tradi-
tion.14 And when he finds Donne giving credence to the blood libel
against the Jews in his sermons, Coleridge asks, “Is it possible that Donne
could have given credit to that absurd legend!” In response, Coleridge
continues to muse, “It was, I am aware, not an age of critical account:
grit, bran, and flour were swallowed in the unsifted mass of their erudi-
tion. Still, that a man like Donne should have imposed on himself such
a set of idle tales for the facts of history is scarcely credible.”15 Despite
the ability of a man like Coleridge to recognize this dangerous absurdity,
seeing Jews either as old-clothes men or as biblical characters obscured
both the humanity of individual Jews and an understanding of Judaism
in contemporary England. As George Eliot would later note in Daniel
Deronda (1876): “Deronda, like his neighbors, had regarded Judaism as
a sort of eccentric, fossilised form, which an accomplished man might
dispense with studying, and leave to specialists” (411).
Furthermore, although references to Jews are scarce in letters, jour-
nals, notes, and poems of the Wordsworth circle, the available texts
reveal both the capacity for greater sensitivity and an acceptance of
conventional stereotypes. For instance, on Coleridge, Dorothy, and
wordsworth and the jews / 167

William’s first visit to Germany in 1798–99, Coleridge was horrified by

the oppression of the Jews. Dorothy records in her journal this heart-
wrenching scene:

It was a fine morning but very windy. When we got nearly through the
town we saw a surly-looking German driving a poor Jew forward with
foul language, and making frequent use of a stick which he had in his
hand. The countenance of the Jew expressed neither anger nor surprise
or agitation; he spoke, but with meekness, and unresisting pursued his
way, followed by his inhuman driver, whose insolence we found was
supported by law: the Jew had no right to reign in the city of Hamburgh,
as a German told us in broken English. The soldiers who are stationed at
the drawbridge looked very surly at him, and the countenances of the by-
standers expressed cold unfeeling cruelty. We pass many gentlemen’s
houses on the road to Blankenese.16

Dorothy expresses moral outrage here at the inhumanity—indeed

dehumanizing cruelty—of the German “driver.” She recognizes that this
German cruelty is institutional, sanctioned by law. Part of her disgust,
therefore, is with things German as opposed to English. Implicit in her
description of this scene is the claim that such things would not happen
in England. But as Kenneth Johnston notes, the travelers could
comment sympathetically on the oppression of Jews in one breath and
in another refer to passing through “a nest of Jews” (622), apparently
unaware that their language betrays their own inconsistency. Nor were
the Wordsworths immune to stereotyping at home. For instance,
Dorothy records matter-of-factly in her journal that her brother John
thought that the leech-gatherer (immortalized in “Resolution and
Independence”) was a Jew because of his dark eyes and long nose.17
Twenty-six years later and just two years before composing “A Jewish
Family,” Wordsworth complained to his old friend Crabb Robinson that
he had bought a “scrap of land” from a “pastoral Jew” who overcharged
him “more than 3 times its present value.”18
Considering the enormity of anti-Semitism as evidenced in Dorothy
Wordsworth’s German journal or the pettiness of scattered comments, it
might seem perverse to criticize Wordsworth for his idealized portrait
that praises the beauty and faith of the Jewish family. But philo-
Semitism promoted love of Jews not as Jews but as potential converts
who might be redeemed from scorn by becoming Christians. From a
Jewish perspective, Wordsworth’s poem indirectly participates in this
philo-Semitic culture. Once again, from a Jewish perspective this kind
of love is the mirror image of anti-Semitism, only more insidious.19 Its
168 / imperfect sympathies

goal is indirect, but it would lead to the assimilation of Jews into

Christianity. This is not to say that Wordsworth was consciously a philo-
Semite or was part of any conversionist movement (he was not), but the
ideology of his poem endorses this position. His love of this Jewish
family seems derived from their reminder of past greatness and glory,
Jews as biblical characters such as “this Rachel.” Wordsworth’s treatment
endorses Michael Ragussis’ argument that “the ‘philo-Semitic’ represen-
tation of Jewish history in nineteenth-century England in large part
depended on locating Jews in the past—in historical romances with
characters like Rebecca in Scott’s Ivanhoe, or in the Bible where Arnold
found an affinity between Englishmen and ‘the Jews of ancient times’”
(Figures of Conversion, 278). Coleridge attempted to get around the
annihilation of Judaism by endorsing the idea that Christians should
bring Jews into the Christian fold as Jewish-Christians:

if they were addressed kindly—if they were not required to abandon their
distinctive customs as a nation, but were invited to become Christians of
the seed of Abraham—there would be a Christian Synagogue in a year’s
time. As it is, the Jews are the lowest of mankind; they of the lower orders
have not a principle of honesty in them; to grasp and be getting moneys
for ever is their one occupation. (Table Talk, April 13, 1830, 1:102)

Given the last sentence, it is hard to see how a Christian would address
the mass of Jews “kindly.”
But what of Wordsworth? At least, one might say that “A Jewish
Family” is not a miserable caricature, one of the familiar representations
of Jews and the Jewish family as hideously ugly and spiritually
debased.20 Nor is it an example of a more high-browed anti-Semitism,
such as the attitude with which some members of the British press
received Byron’s Hebrew Melodies. On a less effete level, Charles Lamb’s
Elia admits in “Imperfect Sympathies” that the sight of a Jew on the
street sets him trembling. But unlike Wordsworth, who sees these
ancient Hebrew streams filled with light and inspiration, Elia, as I have
argued, sees the sweep of centuries in a darker way. Whereas
Wordsworth imagines a Hebrew Madonna, a Rachel becoming Mary,
Lamb evokes a woman capable of driving a stake through her enemy’s
head—the Jewish woman on the streets of London or the biblical hero
Yael becomes an archetypal murderess, a femme fatale.
Even considering William Wordsworth’s intention of creating a
sympathetic portrait of the Jewish family, the poet’s literary philo-
Semitism substitutes idealization for caricature. Curiously, in his note to
the poem recorded by Isabella Fenwick in 1843, Wordsworth gets much
wordsworth and the jews / 169

closer to seeing the family as living Jews:

Though exceedingly poor, and in rags, they were not less beautiful than
I have endeavored to make them appear. We had taken a little dinner
with us in a basket, and invited them to partake of it, which the mother
refused to do, both for herself and children, saying it was with them a
fast-day; adding diffidently, that whether such observances were right or
wrong, she felt it her duty to keep them strictly. The Jews, who are
numerous on this part of the Rhine, greatly surpass the German
peasantry in the beauty of their features and in the intelligence of their
countenances. But the lower classes of the German peasantry have, here
at least, the air of people grievously opprest . . . . (PW, 2:525)

When William steps outside of his poem and records this memoir, he
comes closest to Dora’s observation and her less-qualified sympathy.
Now he indirectly gives the mother voice and omits the Christian, artis-
tic, or biblical allusions. Instead, he contrasts the Jews of the region to
the German peasantry (notice that the Jews are not Germans), and
alludes to a specific conflict that the mother felt in refusing the
Englishmen’s food. Although William does not comment on this refusal,
it raises interesting questions about the family. We know from their
refusal that the family was observant, unlike many other Jews who were
attempting to assimilate and who were abandoning observance of
dietary laws and other customs. The woman may have refused the food
because she knew it was not kosher, or she may have been observing the
restriction against eating meat during the Nine Days of Av, the obser-
vance that precedes the solemn holy day Tisha b’Av, which commemo-
rates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and marks the dispersal
of the Jews through history. This holy day always falls in either or both
of the secular months of July and August; the Jewish calendar shows that
the Wordsworths were in St. Goar during the Nine Days in 1828.21
The mother’s perceived diffidence about accepting food indicates
that while she may have been ambivalent about her observance, she feels
duty-bound to live her Judaism and to instill this in her children—
perhaps because of her awareness that she is a member of a scattered
people, a guest in this German province. Readers do not know with
certainty; nor do readers know anything else about the family, such as
the whereabouts of the father or their means of support. But rather
than a disembodied spirit mysteriously linked to ancient Jerusalem, the
woman identifies herself as a practicing Jew obligated to mourn in
the present for the destruction of the Temple, the historical act that
made her and the Jewish people exiles. In describing more of the
170 / imperfect sympathies

encounter to readers, Wordsworth gives much more insight into the

reality of this family’s life than his poem could do, with its allusion to
the past glory of Jerusalem. Although Wordsworth is not above making
generalizations about German peasantry and clearly presents a class bias,
he gets beyond mere generalizations about the Jewish family.
Despite the insensitivity of Wordsworth’s idealization of “A Jewish
Family” and its failure really to understand the Jews’ position in
contemporary Europe, Wordsworth’s poem does contrast markedly with
the comments of many contemporaries. The poem is meant to inspire
sympathy for a people associated with biblical light, “From Hebrew
fountains sprung.” Wordsworth’s sympathy seems intensified, further-
more, by the family’s apparent homelessness and wandering, a common
sympathy for the poet who wrote of vagrants, beggars, and other
assorted vagabonds in the Lyrical Ballads.22 But as is typical of his
poetry, Wordsworth does not directly confront the political implications
of this homelessness, as, for instance, Hazlitt does in his metaphorical
argument (“You tear people up by the roots”) for Jewish emancipation
in 1831. Wordsworth, instead, romanticizes and finds beauty in this
rootlessness. Thus, his poem both commemorates rootlessness and
distances it from the circumstances of the world.

Wordsworth and the Prioress’ “fierce bigotry”

Wordsworth’s romanticizing vision in “A Jewish Family” contrasts strik-
ingly with his other direct work with a Jewish theme: his translation of
The Prioress’s Tale, a text that portrays the Jews as monstrous, totally
devoid of light, beauty, or humanity. Wordsworth had begun his serious
study of Chaucer and his translations of selections from Chaucer late in
1801, but his translation of The Prioress’s Tale was not published until
1820 (and then republished in 1827). Bruce Graver, editor of the defin-
itive edition of the translation, concludes, “it seems possible that
Wordsworth undertook a full review of his Chaucer materials in
1819–1820, ultimately deciding to publish just the one of them—The
Prioress’s Tale—as a sample of a faithful rendering of one of his favorite
poets” (17). But Wordsworth’s reasons for having chosen this tale to
begin with are not clear. It seems likely that in late 1801, during the
period that preceded the rich lyrical compositions of the spring of 1802,
Wordsworth would have been attracted to the pathos of the lost child
and the grieving mother, so similar in theme and structure to many of
his Lyrical Ballads. These are the elements of the tale that Chaucer
had emphasized, even though Chaucer’s tale includes much explicit
wordsworth and the jews / 171

anti-Semitic reference to the “cursed Jues” who supposedly killed

Christian children for ritual use of their blood.23 There appear to be no
references to the anti-Semitism of the tale in the Wordsworth family’s
letters and journals, and not even a hint of awareness on the poet’s part
until the headnote of 1827, which includes for the first time a reference
to the Prioress’ “fierce bigotry.” But Chaucer’s Prioress presents the death
of the little “clergeon” as a horrific event, much more sinister than any
Wordsworthian little boy or girl lost. This is no Lucy Gray who disap-
pears mysteriously in a snowstorm, but, rather, a child who is the victim
of the cruelest atrocity. And the power of narrative, such as the repeti-
tion of the Hugh of Lincoln slander within Chaucer’s tale and
Wordsworth’s translation, is more sinister than any legends or rumors
promoted in the narratives of Lyrical Ballads. As Coleridge recognized,
these “idle tales” were as pernicious as they were ludicrous—and persis-
tent in British culture, as Thomas Percy’s inclusion of a tale of ritual
murder, “The Jew’s Daughter,” in his Reliques demonstrates.24
Although contemporaries such as William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt
(despite their political radicalism) had praised Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale in
the years preceding Wordsworth’s publication (Graver, 17–18), two
reviewers of Wordsworth’s translation of The Prioress’s Tale in The River
Duddon (1820) criticize the translation, if not pointing explicitly to its
anti-Semitism, at least strongly implying just that. The first, published
in the British Review, argues “That this tale should not be thrice told,
but that this collection should, by leaving it out of future editions, be
further improved in negative merit. It is horrible in its facts, disgusting
in its narration, and odiously profane in its language.”25 Presumably, the
horrible “facts” refer to the tale of the “accursed Jews” allegedly respon-
sible for murdering the child, or any number of the details that
Wordsworth translates faithfully from Chaucer, such as this:

From that day forward have the Jews conspired

Out of the world this Innocent to chase;
And to this end a Homicide they hired,
That in an alley had a privy place,
And, as the Child ‘gan to the School to pace,
This cruel Jew him seized, and held him fast
And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast. (Lines 114–20)

It is difficult to understand how one not intending to promote medieval

anti-Semitism could select this tale instead of others from The Canterbury
Tales. Wordsworth’s selection implies, at the very least, insensitivity to
172 / imperfect sympathies

the effects of perpetuating such gruesome rumors about Jews and Jewish
A critic in the Eclectic Review develops the criticism more pointedly,
and it seems that Wordsworth’s response in the form of the 1827 headnote
refers to this reviewer. The reviewer criticizes the choice of tale, calling the
legend “so exquisitely absurd that it must have been designed as a
burlesque on the lying martyrological wonders of the Romish priest-
hood.”26 Unfortunately, in debunking the prejudices of the tale the
reviewer feels free to lambaste Catholicism, a prejudice that Wordsworth
ironically shared. The reviewer goes on to claim that the “puerility” of such
tales would attract Wordsworth, who “would be even melted into tears by
the affected solemnity of a sly old humorist like Chaucer; and that what
was meant by him for satire might be mistaken by our Author for pathos”
(18). Like some twentieth-century readers, this reviewer cannot accept
the tale as anything other than satire and criticizes Wordsworth as an
unsophisticated reader who cannot detect Chaucer’s irony.
This reviewer’s claim that Wordsworth is an unsophisticated reader
of Chaucer leads us in the right direction but misses the mark.
Wordsworth may deliberately misread The Prioress’s Tale as if it were a
lyrical ballad, an anachronistic—or solipsistic—interpretive move. In
other words, his interest focuses on the way hearing a tale affects the
listener, in this case both the Prioress and her contemporaries. Whereas
Wordsworth focuses on communal legends and gossip, such as the legend
of Lucy Gray or the rumors that have influenced the old sea-captain-
narrator of The Thorn, the sinister legends woven into the “miracles of
the Virgin” tales involve charges of ritual murder, as exemplified by The
Prioress’s Tale itself and the gratuitous allusion to the disappearance of
Hugh of Lincoln, which allegedly occurred more than a hundred years
before Chaucer’s time, within Chaucer’s tale. This reading of Chaucer
would be consistent with Wordsworth’s thinking about narrative as well
as his poetic direction in 1801 when he first translated the work.
Furthermore, Wordsworth’s note in 1827 seems to absolve both
Chaucer and himself of the Prioress’ tendencies.
Wordsworth’s repetition of the tale compounds the problem that
Chaucer’s original presents to a modern reader. To a certain extent, modern
readers can say and have said that The Prioress’s Tale reflects the strong prej-
udices of Chaucer’s age. Now of course there is much to say beyond this
claim, as there is to say about The Merchant of Venice. Nonetheless, some
readers in 1827 (as evidenced by the reviews) were at least capable of ques-
tioning the motivations behind Wordsworth’s twice-told tale. To me, one
of the reasons this pursuit of motivation really matters is that Wordsworth
wordsworth and the jews / 173

understood the power of stories, legends, and rumors. The emotional effect
of stories, their potential for awakening human sympathies, forms the
bedrock of his poetry and poetics. But knowing the power of stories, he,
like Edgeworth, also knew the damage that could be done when a story-
teller (such as Edgeworth’s Fowler) got hold of a narrative. Yet he did not
see this as an obstacle to The Prioress’s Tale; nor did he imagine the need for
a detailed explanatory preface outlining his “purpose” (other than the 1827
headnote), as he had on other notable occasions.
From a Jewish point of view, this absence of explanation is troubling
because strong anti-Jewish feeling finds its roots in ancient stories about
Jews that crop up through the centuries in what Hazlitt would call the
unweeded gardens of prejudice. So powerful is this source of anti-Semitism
that Theodor Adorno simply and devastatingly defined anti-Semitism
as “the rumor about Jews” (quoted in Gilman, The Jew’s Body, 20). And
The Prioress’s Tale perpetuates the most vicious rumor of them all, that Jews
murder Christian children for their blood, a claim taken up, as we have
seen, in various ways by almost all of the writers I have studied.
Anthropologist Claudine Fabre-Vassas quotes the Dictionnaire apologétique
de foi catholique, which in 1916 asked:

“And is the prohibition of Leviticus against eating unbleed meat not a

precaution against the Semite’s particular penchant for blood?” More
generally [continues Fabre-Vassas], in fact, Christians employed an
equivalent but differently formulated proposition: the “privation” could
not help but bring about a lack, resulting in the Jew’s avidity for blood.
The outward rejection masks a secret presence, which manifests itself
in the ritual murders that constitute the very essence of the Jewish
“cult.” (137)

As Fabre-Vassas argues in The Singular Beast, this same belief in the

“secret presence” of hidden desires also manifests itself in the craving for
forbidden pork, a theme that presents itself over and over again in liter-
ature, art, and anti-Jewish propaganda to this day.
I am not saying that Wordsworth believed these absurdities, but he
could have done more to disassociate himself from them. Given his prej-
udices against Catholicism, it is surprising that he did not more force-
fully connect this tale to the prejudices of medieval Catholicism or what
in other contexts he would have regarded as Catholic superstition,
although a connection to Catholicism would have raised its own prob-
lems: exonerate the Jews at the expense of the Catholics!27 As it stands,
the most he can conjure up is a mild reference in the 1827 publication.
And this silence continues to puzzle me and other readers.
174 / imperfect sympathies

As Bruce Graver suggests, the critique in the Eclectic Review most

likely led Wordsworth to claim in the 1827 headnote that “The fierce
bigotry of the Prioress forms a fine back ground for her tender-hearted
sympathies with the Mother and Child; and the mode in which the
story is told amply atones for the extravagance of the miracle” (Graver, 19).
However, even though Wordsworth refers to the Prioress’ “fierce
bigotry,” he seems to suggest both that it has aesthetic justification in
the tale (“a fine back ground”) and that Chaucer did not share the
Prioress’ prejudices, a point much disputed by Chaucerians.
Furthermore, Wordsworth’s use of the word “bigotry” is complex. As a
Burkean traditionalist, he came to recognize the power of some “honor-
able” bigotries and prejudices that bind people to their culture, even at
the expense of more enlightened liberal views.28 Although the adjective
“fierce” seems to undermine this connotation, nonetheless Wordsworth
does not see this bigotry as an obstacle to promoting the tale—in fact he
sees the Prioress’ bigotry as a backdrop “for her tender-hearted sympa-
thies with the Mother and Child.” His emphasis is not on the “fierce
bigotry” but on the sympathetic capacities of the tale of mother and
child. Wordsworth assumed, in other words, that readers would be
deeply affected by the beauty and pathos, despite inconveniently grue-
some details about Jews. This stance is disturbing, also, because in spec-
ulating on the Prioress’ sympathies, Wordsworth ignores the point that
Chaucer presents the Jews in the tale as totally unsympathetic.
Was Wordsworth more uncomfortable than his final words in the
note might suggest? Perhaps a need to redeem the Prioress’ “fierce
bigotry” or to atone for the “extravagance of the miracle” had some
influence on the composition of “The Jewish Family” and on
Wordsworth’s specific references to their “lineage” not “yet redeemed
from scorn” (lines 39–40). Although that poem was clearly inspired by
the chance meeting with the family described in Dora Wordsworth’s
journal, William Wordsworth structures the poem in such as way that it
resembles a revision of The Prioress’s Tale. Chaucer’s tale emphasized the
mother’s love for her son, her connection to the Virgin Mary, her status
as a widow:

With Mother’s pity in her breast enclosed

She goeth, as she were half out of her mind,
To every place wherein she hath supposed
By likelihood her little Son to find;
And ever on Christ’s Mother meek and kind
She cried, till to the Jewry she was brought,
And him among the accursed Jews she sought. (Lines 142–48)
wordsworth and the jews / 175

As the mother grieves over the child’s body, the narrator describes her as
“this second Rachel,” connecting her to a matriarch of the Jewish people
and to Wordsworth’s own creation of the Jewish mother on the Rhine.
In “A Jewish Family” the image of the grieving Madonna is
supplanted by the loving but concerned mother, the martyred Christian
child for the lively Jewish boy. Nonetheless, the Madonna imagery
predominates in Wordsworth’s poem. Furthermore, the father, absent
from the family, is never mentioned either by Dora in the journal or
William in the poem. The woman may or may not be a widow.
Although the absent father or abandoned woman is a well-worked
theme in Wordsworth’s poetry (and has been widely linked to
Wordsworth’s own abandonment of his illegitimate child), strong
Christian imagery connects Wordsworth’s Jewish family to Chaucer’s.
But whereas Chaucer’s imagery condemns the Jews, Wordsworth’s ideal-
izes them in such a way that they are no longer the family in Dora
Wordsworth’s note. If Wordsworth was attempting to redeem the anti-
Semitism of The Prioress’s Tale, to replace its superstitious extravagance,
he nonetheless adopted the philo-Semite’s methods in the idealizations
of “A Jewish Family.”

English Tourists and Wandering Jews

A year before Wordsworth first began his translations of Chaucer, he
wrote and published a poem entitled “Song for the Wandering Jew.” In
this brief poem (28 lines), Wordsworth develops a series of images from
nature (torrents, clouds, the Chamois, the Sea-horse, the Raven, and the
Ostrich), claiming that each phenomenon or animal, although wild, a
wanderer, ultimately finds a place to rest. In contrast to these wanderers,
however, the speaker of the poem remains homeless:

Day and night my toils redouble,

Never nearer to the goal;
Night and day I feel the trouble
Of the Wanderer in my soul. (Lines 25–28)

Except for the title, there is no explicit mention of the myth of the
Wandering Jew, condemned to walk the earth for eternity for cursing Jesus
on his way to his crucifixion. Wordsworth’s wanderer becomes a symbol
of eternal homelessness and world-weariness, an object of pity rather than
the contempt so well known to other treatments of this theme.29
Wordsworth does not have less poetic sympathy for this wanderer than he
176 / imperfect sympathies

does for others in other poems, whether they be peddlers, gypsies, or

forsaken women. But the figure is an almost pure idealization—there is no
physical description of person or place—just a state of mind.
This same idealization colors Wordsworth’s Jewish family, apparent
wanderers through the Rhineland in 1828. The actual family whom the
Wordsworths encountered would have lived precariously in their host
country, understood neither by their German hosts nor sympathetic
and well-meaning English tourists.30 Wordsworth sees them as wander-
ing Jews, although he distances them from the stereotype of
the Wandering Jew, who had begun to appear in literature looking suspi-
ciously like cartoonish depictions of Jewish peddlers.31 Had he wanted
to, Wordsworth could have made the connection: “Jewish rural
peddlers, immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland, began to
appear in England toward the middle of the 18th century, becoming
common in most of southern England in the late 18th and early 19th
century.”32 The absence of the father from the family may have given
Wordsworth further incentive to avoid imagining a Jewish peddler, whose
very materiality would negate the spirituality of his poem and its high
moral tone.
By the time Wordsworth actually published “A Jewish Family” in
1835, he was at the height of his popularity as a poet valued for the very
qualities that he brought to this poem. At the conclusion of a positive
review in the Monthly Repository, the reviewer quotes “A Jewish Family”
in full after the following passage:

There is also, and shame were it to close this short notice without
mentioning them, a set of Evening Voluntaries, that come over the soul
like the distant sound of a cathedral organ in some lovely and solitary
scene by twilight; and a set also of moral paintings, which will be sure to
find their proper place in the mind’s gallery. We take one of these, as the
only specimen which we need offer of a volume which every reader who
can enjoy it will of course possess.33

Other reviewers repeated this assessment of the poems in Yarrow

Revisited, and other Poems, also quoting “A Jewish Family” as an example
of the best of the volume, without explicitly commenting on the Jewish
subject. For instance, in the Quarterly Review, the reviewer claims that
the poem demonstrates “an almost sculptural precision of outline—a
completeness and totality of impression rarely to be found elsewhere in
the modern literature of Europe.”34 Reviewers read and approved of this
poem, then, on aesthetic and abstract moral grounds, but they did not
engage its Jewish subject or the religious issues that it raised.
wordsworth and the jews / 177

Wordsworth’s reviewers in 1835 read his poetry the way he wanted

them to read it, and responded appreciatively to its tone and artistry.
With a few exceptions, posterity has not judged this volume, or any of
Wordsworth’s later poetry, as kindly. But “A Jewish Family” reveals the
very conflicts and contradictions that Wordsworth and his contempo-
raries thought he had avoided: its composition tells us one version of the
complicated story of Wordsworth’s poetic career.
Where, finally, does this leave Wordsworth and the Jews? As we
might expect, the answer is not cut and dried. Wordsworth was clearly
not as liberal minded as his friend Crabb Robinson, who never stopped
arguing with the poet on politics and religion, and he was capable of
degrading comments about Jews in personal correspondence; but he was
also sympathetic to Jewish suffering, albeit in an abstract way.35 As we
have seen, Wordsworth responded indirectly to criticism of his choice of
The Prioress’s Tale with the addendum to the head note in 1827. But this
addendum both gives and takes away because the poet alludes to the
bigotry of the Prioress but justifies it on aesthetic grounds. And, as
Bruce Graver notes, “In spite of the advice of The British Review,
Wordsworth reprinted The Prioress’s Tale, with minor revisions, in all
collective lifetime editions of his poetry” (19).
In an important sense, then, Wordsworth continued to embody
contradictions when it came to Jews and Judaism. He did not, I think,
follow the pattern that Dickens is supposed to have followed when he
created the good Jew Riah in Our Mutual Friend to counter the bad Jew
Fagin in Oliver Twist, but that dichotomy is another story. Perhaps
Wordsworth’s situation is closer to that of Maria Edgeworth in
Harrington. Like the addendum to the headnote to “A Jewish Family,”
Harrington means to respond to a charge of anti-Semitism but does not
quite make it: for Edgeworth exposes anti-Semitism as odious in the text,
but the ending rings false. Wordsworth was not an anti-Semite, but he,
like some other “enlightened” contemporaries, was insensitive to the
dangers of perpetuating anti-Semitic tales for the sake of art. Twenty-
first-century readers who see beyond medieval anti-Semitic violence and
the Hep! Hep! riots of 1819 to even greater horror, can fathom these
dangers only too well. Finally, for me, Wordsworth remains lost in the
“thickening hubbub” of London that he describes in Book VII of The
Prelude, where he glimpses “with Basket at his waist / The Jew” (1805–06,
lines 230–31), but cannot fully distinguish the reality of this Jew from the
dizzying images of Others who surround him. Wordsworth does not cele-
brate the multicultural reality of London, of which the Jew is a part, so
much as express bewilderment. But other responses were possible. In
178 / imperfect sympathies

contrast, for instance, Anna Barbauld has her future traveler in Eighteen-
Hundred and Eleven look back longingly on the diversity of early-
nineteenth-century London, and its “Streets, where turban’d Moslems,
and bearded Jew, / And woolly Afric, met the brown Hindu” (lines
I do not suggest that this urban bewilderment in itself directly relates
to Wordsworth’s attitude toward Jews and Judaism. In none of
Wordsworth’s comments on or references to the dangers of the city does
he associate these dangers with Jews and their commercial dealings. Nor
does such an attitude tinge any of his comments about rural life, which
Cobbett saw as threatened by Jewish monied interests or the Jews’
alleged aversion to working the land. Nor does Wordsworth’s image of
the city prefigure the contempt for Jewish cosmopolitanism that forms
the basis of T. S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism early in the next century, as
evidenced by the well-known lines from “Gerontion”:

My house is a decayed house,

And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London. (Lines 7–10)

Eliot takes his readers beyond mere contempt for old-clothes men or
financiers. Instead, this description dehumanizes “the jew” as a kind of
vermin in the House of European Culture, a conception far from
Wordsworth’s thinking a century earlier.36
Despite the ambivalence and uneasiness that I have presented in
Wordsworth’s attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, there is a strong
current of sympathy, based in part on Wordsworth’s affinity for the
Hebrew Scriptures, not shared by Modernists such as Eliot. This current
of sympathy may have drawn Jewish scholars, such as Geoffrey
Hartman, toward Wordsworth. But his sympathy with the Bible and the
Jewish past may also be what makes Wordsworth ambivalent about
actual Jews—his case, then, would not be that different from that of
Coleridge or Byron. In poetic terms, the “Hebrew fountains” to which
the narrator refers in “A Jewish Family” spring from deep sources from
which Wordsworth draws throughout his career, from its annus mirabilis
through its later orthodoxies. Yet, as I have argued, the greater philo-
Semitism evident in “A Jewish Family” overwhelms its Jewishness and
diminishes those “Hebrew fountains” that it intends to praise. Nor does
“A Jewish Family” fully redeem Wordsworth’s repetition of the Prioress’
“fierce bigotry.”
C h ap t e r 8
“The Historical Moment”: Jewish
Scholars and Romanticism

With David the King we say, “All that is in the heaven and the earth is
thine,” meaning that it is all there for our wonder and our praise. “Be one
of those upon whom nothing is lost”—James’s words, but the impulse
that drives them is the same as the one enjoining the observant Jew
(the word “observant” is exact) to bless the moments of this world at least
one hundred times a day. One hundred times: but Ordinariness is more
frequent than that, Ordinariness crowds the day, we swim in the sense of
our dailiness; and yet there is a blessing for every separate experience of
the Ordinary.
—Cynthia Ozick, “The Riddle of the Ordinary” (204)
Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze . . .
—Wordsworth, The Prelude (opening line)
And I, who tell the story, squat in the north,
a place of lean dreams chilled by that dream,
and brood on sacred word or precious weed
uncertain which is which, and try to keep
the dead word from dying further, and the dream
from wasting the mouth of Akiba’s children.
—Geoffrey H. Hartman, “The Garden,”
Akiba’s Children (lines 48–53)

Narrative Introduction
At 10:30 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I walked into my Wordsworth
seminar at the University of Florida after having spent two hours in
another class, on early British Romanticism. The world had changed
during that time, but those of us secluded in a windowless basement
room discussing Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion did not yet
know. As I entered the Wordsworth seminar, however, students met my
cheerful greetings with stunned silence. We were to have discussed
“Tintern Abbey” on September 11, but instead we lingered for a while
in confusion and disbelief and then dispersed to learn what we could. In
the days and weeks ahead, Wordsworth’s meditations on loss and bless-
ing would speak to us, but not on that day—not yet.
180 / imperfect sympathies

This experience, like others in my own intellectual life, emphasizes

the way that the events and times that we live through shape our intel-
lectual paths. As a college student in the 1970s and, later, a student of
Wordsworth’s crisis in the 1790s, I already knew this, but September 11
was a powerful reminder for me as a teacher and scholar. Wordsworth
had tried to come to terms with his own witness to terrorism, his own
September Massacres, during his time in revolutionary France.1 I was
just about to begin work on this chapter and intended to send out a
letter asking other scholars to comment on the connections between
Romanticism and Judaism. My request would have been fine on
September 10, 2001, but it seemed impossible the next day, in the face
of such a catastrophe. I waited over two months and then sent out my
requests right before Thanksgiving. I sought ideas on the relationship
between Romanticism and Judaism from over twenty scholars: “Are
there specific connections between Romanticism and Jewish tradition
(or unconscious affinities) that may have inspired the work of Jewish
critics of Romanticism?” I did not conduct a scientific survey nor do I
claim here that Romanticism was the primary field to attract Jewish
scholars in postwar America (one thinks, for instance, of prominent
Americanists or Miltonists, or as Jonathan Freedman argues, Jamesians),
but there are remarkable connections.2 I received responses from about
half of those solicited.3 I have attempted to avoid a claim that the cate-
gories of Jews, Judaism, or Jewishness are monolithic. As Morris
Dickstein, an early student of Bloom’s, remarked in his first E-mail
response: “what kinds of Jews are we talking about? They range from
those with a deep and complex Jewish background (that includes
Trilling and Bloom) to others who grew up highly assimilated. I myself
was probably unusual in being an old yeshiva student with quite a lot of
half-suppressed Jewish learning and observance under my belt; this is
more like the current generation, vibrating to the resonance of identity
politics, than to earlier generations of somewhat deracinated or ardu-
ously Americanizing Jews” (November 29, 2001). Indeed, the diversity
of the Jewish experience in America does present a challenge, but each
of the writers that I have chosen to include addresses the intersections of
Jewishness, Judaism, and Romanticism, either in published criticism or
in personal correspondence.
In putting together, then, both published texts and unpub-
lished responses relating to Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, and
M. H. Abrams, I have found that each of them represents a different rela-
tionship to traditional Judaism, and that relationship has also shaped their
criticism and theory in diverse ways. Hartman and Bloom are both more
jewish scholars and romanticism / 181

directly associated with Judaism, Hartman with Jewish interpretive

techniques, and Bloom with his own radical reinterpretation of Jewish
tradition and knowledge. Abrams, although the oldest, is the most
assimilated in his secularizing of Jewish tradition and in the erasure of
strong differences between “Judeo” and “Christian.” These differences
among Hartman, Bloom, and Abrams, as well as the variety of responses
that I received, ranging from enthusiastic lists of affinities to skeptical
well wishes for the project, have opened the door to my inquiry.
Many respondents expressed shared ideas about the development of
Romantic studies in the second half of the twentieth century, the textual
and interpretive parallels between Romanticism and Jewish thought, as
well as certain thematic affinities between Romanticism and Judaism.
Most respondents began by thinking back to the mid-twentieth
century—to the post-Holocaust world and academe in America of the
1950s—as the moment shadowed by catastrophe with which this narra-
tive should begin.4 On the question of affinities, Lionel Trilling’s
“Wordsworth and the Rabbis” has proved to be an important touchstone
for critiquing both the academic milieu that fostered the first generation
of Jewish scholars and the varied relationships of Hartman and Bloom,
and to a lesser extent, Abrams, to Jewish traditions. Geoffrey Hartman’s
long career, central to the development of and changes in the relationship
between Romanticism and Judaism, has inspired this chapter.
I begin by looking at the “cases” of these prominent scholars, as well as
the earlier career of Lionel Trilling. Although Trilling was not solely a
Romanticist, his essay about Wordsworth and Judaism raises numerous
questions. All of the scholars indicate in one way or another that the
historical moment of the 1950s was pivotal for Jews and the academy. But
in the postwar and post-Holocaust decade, Jewish scholars also seemed to
have turned to the British Romantics as voices of inclusion: to a group of
writers who valued democratic ideals and believed in the sympathetic
imagination—writers who unwittingly shared with Judaism a commit-
ment to restoring a broken world. As an indication of this shared commit-
ment, I end with the inclusion of a poem by a young Jewish woman,
Emma Lyon, from her collection Miscellaneous Poems—the first collection
of poetry by a Jewish woman in English—published in 1812.5

Jews, Romanticism, and the American Academy

Geoffrey Hartman
Several respondents associate the connection between Romanticism and
Judaism with the situation in the American academy after World War II.6
182 / imperfect sympathies

As Jewish scholars such as Hartman, Bloom, and Abrams (who was

already established) entered the profession, they found the predominant
focus to be New Critical and High Church. Hartman explains in “The
Longest Shadow,” the title essay of his collection of essays on the

T. S. Eliot was everywhere as the spiritual heir of Donne; I too was

impressed by his ironic, liturgical rhythms, but disturbed by the uses to
which his poetry was put. It reinforced a gentlemanly sort of Christianity
that allied itself with the unmistakable Anglophile bearing of my senior
colleagues in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Those centuries were
the prestige fields at Yale, attracting great donors as well as scholars, and
overshadowing the adolescent and slightly disreputable Romantics. (19)

Hartman reveals not only the canonical preference for the Metaphysicals
among the New Critics, but the exclusive Christian bias of his “senior
colleagues.” In an E-mail dated November 17, 2001, Hartman puts it
this way:

Perhaps there is in Harold Bloom, and less overtly in myself, an antithet-

ical development to the literary-critical situation we found on entering
the University as teachers, and specifically Yale, in the 1950s. Not only
were the Romantics neglected, or taught as rather immature if brilliant
poets, fostering sentimental religious feelings or “spilt religion,” but this
was quietly supported by a sort of Christian ethos whose exemplary
model was, at the time, T. S. Eliot, with revered forebears in Donne and
Herbert. In short: it was probably more the historical moment, that of
Jews gaining full entry into the professoriate of the English Department,
rather than a special sympathy between their Jewishness and
Romanticism, that throws light on the group you mention.7

Although in this E-mail Hartman places more emphasis on “the histor-

ical moment” than “special sympathy,” in his own published works he
reveals much of this sympathy and in fact indicates that the sympathy
he feels for Wordsworth’s vision is intimately linked to “the historical
moment” of the 1930s and 1940s. Hartman movingly reveals this
personal sympathy in his meditative autobiographical essay, “The
Longest Shadow,” his reminiscence over fifty years later. Hartman
explains that he arrived in England in March of 1939 on a
Kindertransport to escape the Nazis. Separated from his family in this
traumatic time, Hartman, not surprisingly, describes himself as
unhappy. But he also explains, “My social unhappiness had no bearing
on a gratitude that ‘wasted’ itself on the Bucks countryside with its
jewish scholars and romanticism / 183

ponds, open fields, and lovely old trees. English nature invited the
trespasser: we went berrying or hunting or on long, aimless walks, leap-
ing over hedge and stile. Wordsworth opened himself to my under-
standing as soon as I read him” (16). So, the conditions of his own
life—feeling great loss and in exile—prepare him as a future reader of
Wordsworth, the poet of loss who also holds out the hope of redemp-
tion. Likewise, I see a connection between Hartman’s later reverence for
the land of Israel and the Wordsworthian sense of place and memory: “I
had never been a conscious Zionist and went through none of the schools
or youth movements fostering ahavat Zion [love of Zion]. But already on
my first visit, in 1952, Israel appeared to my feelings as an embodied
dream. The sense of belonging to it, as if the land and not human parents
had begotten me, especially an uncrowded, rural Jerusalem so close to the
sky, intensified sensations that had bound me to the English countryside”
(19)—and to Wordsworth’s poetry, I would add.8
In one of his E-mails to me (November 17, 2001), Professor
Hartman responded to my question regarding “unconscious affinities,”
by saying (not unexpectedly) “you must be the judge.” My judgment,
then, is that Hartman’s experience as a boy and young man—a Jewish
exile—found a sympathetic parallel in Wordsworth and his poetics of
loss. The shadow of the Holocaust has affected other scholars, although
not as directly as Hartman and his generation. Mark Schoenfield, a
younger scholar, responded to my question about affinities in this way:

I was struck by Thomas Pfau’s use of the Holocaust (more from the
German than Jewish perspective) in the opening of his Wordsworth
book, and it got me to thinking how much my own thinking is condi-
tioned by the sense of being a secondary survivor (i.e., having lost only
fairly distant relatives whom I probably would never have known of, but
for their being lost). The interest in loss, not only as historical fact and
psychological condition, but critical paradigm, seems a clear link between
Judaism and Romanticism. . . . As much as I admire them for other
reasons, I don’t feel the same kind of post-Holocaust connection to repre-
sentations of loss in the 18th century—too satirical—or the Victorian
period—too self-assured. ( January 16, 2002)

Schoenfield’s recognition of a shared critical paradigm of loss provides a

more generalized context for thinking not only about Hartman’s
personal experience, but also about Jewish writers and thinkers of the
Romantic period: Judith Montefiore and her meditations on the Jewish
condition of exile or Hyman Hurwitz and his attempt to restore
rabbinic tales for the benefit of nineteenth-century readers. In terms of
184 / imperfect sympathies

this critical paradigm, the rhythm of loss, exile, and redemption marks
Jewish history and at least one branch of Romantic poetics.
This sympathy for Wordsworth inspired Hartman’s immensely influ-
ential book, Wordsworth’s Poetry (1964), as well as a continuing interest
in this poet evident in Hartman’s subsequent work, where allusions to
Wordsworth’s poetry seem as natural to Hartman as allusions to Milton
seem in Wordsworth. Hartman does not focus on specifically Jewish
moments in Wordsworth, or on the nature of his engagement with
Judaism. Rather, Hartman writes about Wordsworth as a visionary poet,
but one who has been humanized by loss, as in “Peele Castle”: “A deep
distress hath humanized my Soul” (36). Hartman’s Wordsworth veers
away from apocalypse and instead clings to this green earth and to the
possibility of renewal in time.
In “The Poetics of Prophecy,” Hartman makes more explicit the
connections between his view of Wordsworth and the Hebrew prophets,
proposing that prophecy is “anti-apocalyptic in seeking a ‘future restora-
tion’ or time for thought” (171). In establishing this connection,
Hartman characteristically uses a prominent Jewish thinker to illumi-
nate his point. In this case, it is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets,
a book in which Heschel argues, “fundamental experience of the
prophet is a fellowship with the feelings of God, a sympathy with the
divine pathos, a communion with the divine consciousness which comes
about through the prophet’s reflection of, or participation in, the divine
pathos” (26). Hartman illuminates Wordsworth’s poetic voice—his
language or timely utterance—by comparing it with prophetic language
and its capacity for sympathetic identification and pathos. But he does
not simply draw a connection. In this essay, as in many other instances,
Hartman proceeds by using multiple analogies that reveal the layers of
textuality and the processes of interpretation. Here, the analysis centers
on the functions of the prophet and the poet, the sacred and the secular
text, the poet and the interpreter:

The act of restitution . . . now includes the reader in a specific and defin-
able way. The poet as reader is shown to have discovered from within
himself, and so recreated, a scripture text. The interpreter as reader has
shown the capacity of a “secular” text to yield a “sacred” intuition by a
literary act of understanding that cannot be divided into those categories.
On the level of interpretation, therefore, we move toward what
Schleiermacher called Verstehen, on the basis of which a hermeneutic is
projected that seeks to transcend the dichotomizing of religious and
nonreligious modes of understanding and of earlier (prophetic) and later
(poetic-visionary) texts. (“Poetics of Prophecy,” 178)
jewish scholars and romanticism / 185

Hartman grounds his hermeneutics in the ideas of Jewish theology

and in his reading of Hebrew Scripture; he also advocates a method of
interpretation that is rooted in midrash, the text-based, multilayered
method of rabbinic interpretation of the Torah and the Talmud. In
“Polemical Memoir,” Hartman emphasizes that this interest in midrash
is longstanding:

Secular modes of interpretation did not satisfy me entirely; and despite

the fact that I had received no formal Jewish education, I read what I
could (that is, in translation) in the Talmud, Maimonides, and Yehuda
Halevi. More in search of a lost mode of reading than of my roots, I also
spent the fall of 1958 teaching the English Romantics at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, sitting in on Nehama Leibowitz’s midrash course
(as if something would penetrate despite my totally inadequate Hebrew),
and later, when Judah Goldin came to Yale, benefited from his midrash
classes. (xvii)

If midrash is this lost mode of reading, then for Hartman

Wordsworth’s poetry comprises his proof text. Morris Dickstein explains
in his review of A Critic’s Journey, the volume for which “Polemical
Memoir” is an introduction: Hartman’s “criticism is modeled on scrip-
tural commentary, except that his scripture is not the Bible but the
poetry of Wordsworth” (“A Surplus of Meaning,” 77). Furthermore,
“Like the rabbis with scripture, he is so deeply inside Wordsworth’s
words, he’s lived with them so long, that even the slightest turn offers a
new angle of vision” (77). Dickstein’s comments capture the subtle
power of Hartman’s reading of Wordsworth, encompassing both
Hartman’s aesthetic awareness (“even the slightest turn”) as well as his
epistemological and moral commitment (“a new angle of vision”).9
After decades of reading poetry with this deep passion for the texts,
since the 1980s Hartman has also devoted much of his energy to
Holocaust remembrance, directing the Yale Video Archive for
Holocaust Testimonies (founded in 1981) and writing about the subject
from many points of view. Hartman’s essays are consistently erudite and
often display the kind of allusiveness that characterizes his literary criti-
cism. Hartman’s meditations on the catastrophic losses of the Holocaust
find pathos or fellow feeling with Wordsworth’s poetry, where fragments
often link the observer to a life that no longer exists, as in “The Ruined
Cottage,” when, amidst the ruins, the “useless fragment of a wooden
bowl” moves the narrator’s “very heart” (91–92).
It is in this context that I read Hartman’s comments on the controversy
about Paul de Man, Hartman’s late colleague whose early Nazi-tinged
186 / imperfect sympathies

journalistic writings were discovered after de Man’s death. De Man,

prominently associated with Romanticism, theory, and deconstruction,
never acknowledged or alluded to these writings, leading some critics of
deconstruction to connect this evasion on de Man’s part with deconstruc-
tion itself and its denial of the determinate meaning of language, hence its
proclivity to moral evasion. Hartman denies this connection in his
“Polemical Memoir”: “Each thinker deserves more than partisan defense
or denunciation. Though many statements in de Man’s later writings echo
differently in the mind when read against the disclosed biographical back-
ground, I cannot discern a deliberately masked connection, a use of theory
to occult virulent or nihilistic ideas. Yet the puzzle remains why de Man,
for all his intelligence, could not invent an occasion to talk about those
early writings” (xxiii). Although Hartman implicitly argues that readers
should not convict the theory because of de Man’s life, the most moving
statement comes at the end. Hartman seems personally injured by de
Man’s silence and lack of moral imagination. Hartman’s pain is even more
apparent in an earlier piece, “Judging Paul de Man:”

It is necessary to distinguish between the ethics implicit in de Man’s crit-

ical theory and the ethical situation of de Man himself. De Man’s failure
to disclose his past now obstructs his work. It will always be possible to
charge that the complications he brings to reading are so extreme, so
beyond common understanding, and so “mute” concerning vital ques-
tions of morals and belief, that they function as intellectualized evasions
of guilt. Some public acknowledgement was necessary, whatever the
causes behind the silence. For de Man to disclose his past would have
been morally courageous and clarifying. At issue is not just the silence
about his past, but, as in Heidegger, about an ideology implicated in
genocide. It is not disavowal alone we look for, but an open reflection on
the error (whether personal, collective, or both) that led into an enor-
mous human and moral catastrophe. (145)

Here Hartman blames de Man for moral failure, once again not merely
or even mostly because of the early writing itself but because he did not
acknowledge and reflect on his past. Hartman implicitly distinguishes
between the moral error de Man committed in these writings and an
offense that someone might commit requiring personal atonement. The
difference is that de Man, like Heidegger and other intellectuals of the
time, implicated himself in an “ideology of genocide” and never
renounced this association. Furthermore, as an intellectual he failed
because he did not reflect on those implications. Although Hartman
does not make the direct connection, this moral critique of de Man
echoes his pedagogical concern to reveal the relationship of “words and
jewish scholars and romanticism / 187

wounds” (xxix), which in his evasions of responsibility de Man failed to

do. In the context of such potential wounding, de Man’s comments in
his Preface to Blindness and Insight (1986) are chilling: “I am not given
to retrospective self-examination and mercifully forget what I have writ-
ten with the same alacrity I forget bad movies—although, as with bad
movies, certain scenes or phrases return at times to embarrass or haunt
me like a guilty conscience” (xii).
Although not explicit in Hartman’s critique, de Man’s betrayal is
related to Romanticism and the sympathetic imagination. De Man’s fail-
ure demonstrates the dangers of sympathy when, on the one hand, it is
detached from fellow feeling and, on the other, associated with power or
empty rhetoric that has no moral center. Byron’s Cain among numerous
Romantic texts brings this important idea home. Byron actually
critiques hypnotic sympathy with power in Cain, despite his critics’
assumptions that Byron himself was Cain. Byron insists on the dramatic
unfolding that reveals Cain’s tragic inability to sympathize more with
Adah (love) than Lucifer (hatred and resentment).10 Byron uses the
language of sympathetic attraction to show how Lucifer ensnares Cain,
who has never had his own thoughts so well expressed. Lucifer says,

Spirits and Men, at least we sympathize;

And suffering in concert, make our pangs,
Innumerable, more endurable,
By the unbounded sympathy of all (1.1.157–60)

To this Cain responds, “never till/Now met I aught to sympathize with

me./’Tis well—I rather would consort with spirits” (1.1.189–91). Adah
demonstrates the most dramatic attempt to avoid Lucifer’s attractive

I look upon him with a pleasing fear,

And yet I fly not from him: in his eye
There is a fastening attraction which
Fixes my fluttering eyes on his; my heart
Beats quick; he awes me, and yet draws me near,
Nearer, and nearer: Cain—Cain—save me from him! (1.1.408–13)

I do not know what motivated de Man’s early writings or why he never

came to terms with them, but the association with the ideology of geno-
cide does exemplify that strong passions and sympathies are dangerous
when disassociated from moral value: the Romantic agony. But the same
thing that makes strong sympathies—passions—so dangerous also makes
188 / imperfect sympathies

them necessary: “Poetry is passion,” to quote Wordsworth. Hence the

paradox that Foucault captures in The Order of Things when he expresses
the fear of sympathy, of being assimilated and transformed by one’s affini-
ties. In Blakean terms, this is a fear of becoming what we behold.
In his revulsion from all forms of totalitarianism—with its reductive
and relentless view of the world—Hartman avoids this dangerous
power. This political stance also has its aesthetic analogue. Hartman’s
style of criticism, which Morris Dickstein describes as a kind of rabbinic
burrowing into the text (“A Surplus of Meaning,” 76), also seems close
to Keats’ ideal of negative capability and imaginative surmise rather than
a relentless system building. As Dickstein says of Hartman’s most recent

In criticism, as in social life, Hartman has now come to recognize the

need for consensus, for a genuinely communal speech, as opposed to “the
staged unanimity of fascism and the ideology-machine of communism.”
They represent the kinds of totalizing narratives he never wished to write,
for they depend on foreclosure and exclusion. As against this forced
consensus, the strategic appeal of the work of art, he says, is through
“persuasion without coercion.” (“A Surplus of Meaning,” 78)

Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom represents a different way of expressing his Jewishness in
the academic world: Bloom is an intellectual system-builder. In his
E-mail to me, Geoffrey Hartman identifies his friend and colleague
Bloom as the more antithetical thinker, who would presumably set
himself up against the status quo and its Christian bias. One of Bloom’s
most significant reflections on the rise of Romanticism in the 1960s
occurs in the revised preface to The Visionary Company.
Here Bloom argues, “the poetry of English Romanticism is a kind of
religious poetry, and the religion is in the Protestant line, though Calvin
or Luther would have been horrified to contemplate it” (xvii). Adhering
to the Blakean idea that drawing strong lines and distinctions is imper-
ative, Bloom draws a clear division between the poetry in this
“displaced” Protestant tradition and that in the High Church or
Anglican line. This distinction forms the basis of his myth of literary

Not that literary critics have been engaged in a cultural-religious conspir-

acy, but there are at least two main traditions of English poetry, and what
distinguishes them are not only aesthetic considerations but conscious
differences in religion and politics. One line, and it is the central one, is
jewish scholars and romanticism / 189

Protestant, radical, and Miltonic-Romantic; the other is Catholic,

conservative, and by its claims, classical. French culture has been divided
between those who have accepted the French Revolution and its conse-
quences and those who have sought to deny and resist them. Similarly, but
more subtly, English culture has been divided between those who have
accepted the Puritan religious revolution of the late sixteenth and seven-
teenth century and those who have fought against it. Though I oversim-
plify, the conflict I seek to expose is most certainly there; it runs all through
the criticism of T. S. Eliot, in many concealments, and it accounts finally
for all of Eliot’s judgments on English poetry. Hazlitt’s criticism, which by
any standards remains at least as vital as Eliot’s, illustrates the same dialec-
tical point in reverse—the sensibility involved is that of a Protestant
dissenter, and the judgments are shaped accordingly. (xvii–xviii)

Although Bloom does not explicitly address his Jewishness in this

context, as he does in his later work, implicitly he connects Judaism and
Jewish traditions with this radical Miltonic-Romantic Protestant tradi-
tion and its respect for biblical prophecy. No doubt, too, Eliot’s mean-
spirited anti-Semitism, as in the sleazy, squatting “jew” of “Gerontion,”
also inspires Bloom’s sympathy with the antithetical tradition. This is
not to say that Bloom does not admire Hazlitt’s energetic iconoclasm—
after all, Hazlitt was Kean’s (and Shylock’s) first great defender—but he
is also offended by Eliot’s outright prejudices and “concealments” under
the guise of Christian orthodoxy. Although Bloom acknowledges that
his history is oversimplified, he believes in the “conflict” between these
two traditions and aligns himself heroically with the Miltonic-prophetic
line. Writing in 1970, Bloom regards the New Critics as the defenders
of the conservative faith; but he has confidence that the revolution has
come. The Preface is, after all, entitled “Prometheus Rising.”11
In a review of Susanne Klingenstein’s Enlarging America, William
Galperin has claimed that

The revised introduction to The Visionary Company, which makes explicit the
cultural stakes for both “New Criticism” and its authoritarian canon versus
Bloom’s version of criticism and its canon, is probably the single most reveal-
ing work of Jewish literary scholarship in the last fifty years. For here, as
perhaps nowhere else, the critic’s religio-cultural identity is so thoroughly
assimilated to the task of reading Romanticism (and reading against
T. S. Eliot and his followers) that it reemerges, somewhat like Freud’s uncanny,
in an otherwise alien body of writing which is suddenly indivisible from—or
unreadable without—the Jewishness of its retrospective admirer. (119)

Although I would not go so far in singling this essay out of all Jewish
literary scholarship of the last fifty years, I agree with Galperin’s sense of
190 / imperfect sympathies

the unconscious power of Bloom’s Jewish knowledge and passion for

Jewish culture, what Bloom himself described in a letter as his
Yiddishkeit. Hartman’s comment that Bloom’s position has been more
antithetical and (implicitly) more polemical than his own is also impor-
tant in the sense that Bloom defines himself against what he is not. Like
Blake’s mythical character Los, he builds a system so as not to be
enslaved by another man’s. It is in this sense, I think, that Hartman
views Bloom as the more antithetical and transgressive figure. This is, in
fact, the argument that Cynthia Ozick, a more observant Jew, makes in
building a case against Bloom’s interpretation of Judaism.
Ozick, in her essay, “Literature as Idol: Harold Bloom,” first
published in Commentary ( January 1979), argues that Bloom’s most
original contribution to literary criticism in his “four books of prophetic
evolution” of the 1970s (The Anxiety of Influence, A Map of Misreading,
Kabbalah and Criticism, Poetry and Repression) was the theological
connection that he made beyond and between texts. But whereas others
shattered the New Critical pieties through biographical or sociopolitical
contexts and intertexts, Bloom developed a “theology-of-text” based on
“Jewish Gnosticism” or Kabbalah “strained through Freud” (Art and
Ardor, 180). Bloom moved from shattering those pieties in the 1960s to
formulating his own revisionary system in the 1970s. In Ozick’s view,
Bloom’s devotion to Kabbalah, or “Gnosticism in Jewish dress,” para-
doxically leads Bloom to an “artistic anti-Judaism” (187) that not only
revises but ruptures tradition in a way that does not lead beyond loss to
restoration or wholeness. In this sense, although Ozick does not state it
directly, Bloom embodies the disturbing and unforgiving impulses of
Romanticism that negate Wordsworth’s anxious hope in “Tintern
Abbey” for “abundant recompense.”12
Ozick implies this disturbing dimension by comparing Bloom to
Wordsworth’s Romantic contrary, Blake, as a “subtle system-maker”
(187) and author of revisionary prophetic books. Here, Ozick makes her
most daring claim: this path, this negative way, leads Bloom to become
a literal “idol-maker,” and all idol-makers are anathema to Judaism.13
Ozick sees in Bloom’s claim that “The strong imagination comes to its
painful birth through savagery and misrepresentation” (from Anxiety,
quoted in Art and Ardor, 192) his acknowledgment that idols—in his
system, poems—do not contribute to “the moral life” (192).14 Most
troubling, Ozick connects this impulse toward the savage and original at
all costs to Nazi ideology: “It is not a new observation that the precur-
sors of the Hitler Youth movement were the Wandervögel, young
madcap bands and bards who wandered the German landscape looking
jewish scholars and romanticism / 191

for a brooding moodiness to inspire original feeling” (193). Although

Ozick does not state this supposed connection explicitly, she implicates
dangerous sympathies and affinities within Bloom’s Jewish Gnosticism.
I do not think Ozick means that Bloom’s theories are anti-Semitic or
that there is any conscious link with Wandervögel or the like, but her
argument is extreme. She sees the implications of Bloom’s theory as
dangerous, troubling, and antithetical to “normative Judaism” (my
emphasis, 194). According to Ozick, Jewish liturgy asserts the opposite
of Bloom’s challenge to the precursor, for “it posits recapturing without
revision the precursor’s stance and strength when it iterates ‘our God,
and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’” (194). As
they pray, Jews stand again at Sinai without the anguish of belatedness;
as they recite the Passover Haggadah they too go out from Egypt. In
Ozick’s eyes, Bloom the idol-maker does not fulfill the gift of the
Creator but, like Frankenstein, I would add, “envies the Creator, hopes
to compete with the Creator, and schemes to invent a substitute for the
Creator” (195). Ozick sees Bloom in a long tradition of idol-makers,
products of “the demonic yetzer ha ra” (196), the evil impulse that
according to Ozick is also related to “the desire to compete with the
Creator” (196n): “Like Terach, like Freud, like Marx, like the Gnostics,
like the classical Christian theologians who are the inheritors of the
Gnostics, like the Kabbalists and the hasidim who are similarly the
inheritors of the Gnostics, like all of these, the Bloomian scheme of
misprision of the precursor is tainted by a variety of idol-making” (196).
Ozick sympathizes with Judaism defined rationally in terms of
commitment to the mitzvot or commandments of the Covenant and not
with what she perceives as the irrational and dangerously emotional,
destructive impulses of Kabbalists. Likewise, her literary sympathies are
not with the strain of Romanticism or “modernism” (her word) that is
receptive to such ideas. As Susanne Klingenstein implies, Ozick is an
heir of Lionel Trilling, who chose not to embrace the “turbulent waters”
of the creative imagination or the Freudian unconscious ( Jews in the
American Academy, 168). Bloom, for his part, deliberately sets himself up
in opposition to “normative Judaism.” In his letter to me (November 27,
2001) he states, “I am fiercely Jewish in my own Gnostic way.” Perhaps
the defining difference between Bloom and Ozick is that Bloom clings
to Gnosticism, and ideas of magic and creative power, as part of Jewish
tradition, whereas Ozick sees him and his theory as not only shattering
idols (as Abraham did in the midrash) but also creating them (as Terach
did). And to continue the Blakean analogy, when one creates a system
one runs the risk of being enslaved by it.
192 / imperfect sympathies

But I want to give Bloom the last word—or at least the last
thought—on his own Jewishness. In the same letter, he also said that “I
haven’t looked at it in years but I suspect my central essay on
Romanticism is ‘The Internalization of the Quest Romance’ in
Romanticism and Consciousness (1970). I’d be happy to think that there
is something implicitly Jewish in or about it.” This assessment fascinated
me because although I can accept this essay as central (as it no doubt had
been for me when I first read it as an undergraduate in Romanticism and
Consciousness), I did not think of it as particularly Jewish. So, I reread it
with Bloom over my shoulder, admittedly straining to see with his eyes.
In “The Internalization of the Quest Romance,” Bloom argues that the
Romantics appropriate the medieval Christian genre of the romance,
structured around the themes of love, desire, and enchantment, so carefully
articulated by Northrop Frye in The Anatomy of Criticism. The
Romantics revised the genre as a psychological form, as in Wordsworth’s
Prelude: the “internalization of quest is the inevitable story of its age”
(19)—a spiritual quest for the self in a godless world. Bloom concludes
the essay with this paragraph:

Whatever else the love that the full Romantic quest aims at may be, it
cannot be a therapy. It must make all things new, and then marry what
it has made. Less urgently, it seeks to define itself through the analogue
of each man’s creative potential. But it learns, through its poets, that it
cannot define what it is, but only what it will be. The man prophesied by
the Romantics is a central man who is always in the process of becoming
his own begetter, and though his major poems perhaps have been writ-
ten, he has not as yet fleshed out his prophecy, nor proved the final form
of his love. (24)

My first—and what Bloom would no doubt label “normative”

response—was that this passage suggested a Jewish perspective for two
reasons. First, Bloom emphasizes that creation is an ongoing process, an
idea that recalls both the mystical concept of tikkun olam (to repair the
world) and the Jewish prayer book’s reference to God’s “daily renew[ing]
the work of creation.” Bloom had also written, with Freud looking
on, that “We become aware of others only as we learn our separation
from them . . .” (24). This reminded me of the Jewish idea of holiness
consisting in separation (havdalah) of the sacred from the mundane. In
this ritual sense, separation leads to a greater sense of value, respect, and
appreciation, or in terms of Bloom’s essay, “love.”
But on second thought, especially with Ozick over my shoulder, I do
not think that this normative interpretation works: in Bloom’s Gnostic
jewish scholars and romanticism / 193

Judaism, as in his version of Romanticism, there is “a central man who

is always becoming his own begetter.” And this, in Ozick’s analysis, is
the voice of the yetzer ha ra, which is less focused on love than on power.
While I find Ozick’s charge of idolatry excessive, I do agree that Bloom’s
fascination with powerful self-creation challenges Jewish orthodoxy.
Perhaps the attitude toward authority is the key. In a series of lectures on
Kafka, Freud, and Scholem written after Ozick’s fierce critique, Bloom
affirms his belief that “Authority is not a Jewish concept but a Roman
one” (The Strong Light of the Canonical, 17).

We no longer know what makes a book Jewish, or a person Jewish,

because we have no authority to instruct us to what is or is not Jewish
thought. Jewish thought strongly sets itself against idolatry, but this
Jewish stance raises again the problem of whether an aesthetic humanism
is not one of the most available modes of idolatry—an accusation that
has been made against my own work by some claiming to speak with
authority in Jewish matters. (The Strong Light of the Canonical, 41)

Read in a more positive light, Bloom’s denial of authority and the

immutability of the Law is a response to the worn charge that Jews care
only for authority and not for love and imagination.
Other readers of Bloom see the importance of Bloom’s Jewishness as less
related to the actual ideas embodied in his writing than in Bloom’s position
as a Jewish scholar in the American academy. In “Harold’s Complaint,
or Assimilation in Full Bloom,” David Kaufmann argues that in his
theory Bloom “imagines the Romantic tradition in order to allegorize
the place of Jews in the literary academy” (British Romanticism and the
Jews, 332). Kaufmann situates Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973)
in the context of the New Critical hegemony of the 1950s and early
1960s—and of another “Freudian fantasy,” Portnoy’s Complaint (1969),
arguing that both works are “meditations[s] on the psychic price of
assimilation” (343). He goes on to claim that “Roth’s novel lends local
specificity to the abstractions of Bloom’s argument—that Bloom’s poetic
usurper is in no small part a Jew, and the idealized kingdom of the spirit
to which he aspires is in no small part an alien, Protestant America
(troped in Bloom’s theory as the great Protestant line that leads from
Milton to Ashbery and in his career as the WASP domain of culture and
‘lit. crit’)” (258). In other words, the belatedness of the Jew in relation
to literary criticism and the Western canon is analogous to the belated-
ness of the Romantic poets themselves (whom Bloom idolizes and with
whom he identifies) in relation to Milton. One of the many virtues of
Kaufmann’s essay is that Kaufmann sees Bloom as modeling his agon as
194 / imperfect sympathies

an assimilating Jew vis-à-vis the “temple of culture” (to borrow Jonathan

Freedman’s term) on his own myth of the Romantic agon. Bloom’s
Jewishness is perhaps most interesting in this regard rather than in the
specifically Jewish but often idiosyncratic appropriation of Jewish inter-
pretive traditions and ideas within his theory. Kaufmann also goes a
good way toward understanding Bloom’s fierce defenses of “the Western
canon” against “the poetics of resentment” in his more recent works;
having entered the temple of culture, Bloom remains its defender.15

M. H. Abrams
The other major scholar in the early triumvirate of Jewish Romanticists,
M. H. Abrams, bears a different relationship to Jewish tradition. Abrams
was Bloom’s teacher but not Bloom’s model, it seems to me, in his strug-
gle to assimilate. In his career, Abrams is less identified as a Jew than is
either Bloom or Hartman. As Lawrence Lipking commented in an E-mail
dated December 13, 2001, “my old teacher M. H. Abrams never
connected Romantics to Jews in my hearing (Geoffrey Hartman and
Harold Bloom are different).” In Enlarging America, Susanne Klingenstein
posits that Abrams embraced the notion of “imaginative consent” (84) in
order to read the Christian literary canon of the West. Klingenstein argues
that Abrams freed himself from “his father’s orthodoxy” (81) not to
embrace “other gods” (81), but to attain a kind of intellectual freedom. He
developed a mode of reading the Western canon “not as an immediate
appeal to one’s identity, but as a series of metaphors” (81), a mode
he adopts in The Mirror and the Lamp. I would add that Abrams’ embrac-
ing of “Judeo-Christianity” was also motivated by his faith in the human-
ism and universality of the biblical narrative. Furthermore, according to
Jonathan Freedman, Abrams accomplished something else: “The Mirror
and the Lamp (1953) essentially resuscitated Romanticism as a critical
idom and [whose] Natural Supernaturalism (1972) dealt a death-blow to
the anti-Milton model of the dissociation-of-sensibility school by return-
ing Protestantism to the center of Romanticism and even beyond, to
Proust, Eliot, and the moderns as well” (183–84).
Abrams embodies Hartman’s notion that the historical moment may
have been more important than sympathies and affinities between
Romanticism and Judaism. As Michael Galchinsky explains in an
E-mail (May 2002),

Romantic poetry performs some of the processes of secularization and

rationalization that were historically extremely significant components of
Jews’ own assimilation into modern life. Here I am thinking of
jewish scholars and romanticism / 195

M. H. Abrams’ interest in “natural supernaturalism.” Poets like

Wordsworth and Blake wrote poetry that had the sublimity and grandeur
of the Bible but removed the Christian religious stamp. An assimilating
Jew—perhaps only a generation away from the yeshiva—could identify
with the poets’ spiritual yet secularizing vision—more easily, at least, than
he could identify with the clearly Christian vision of a poet like Milton.
And the stakes of his capacity to identify were high. To be able to analyze
a canonical English poet comfortably—in public, at Yale or Columbia—
was an important step toward a Jewish critic’s own cultural assimilation.

Both Galchinsky and Klingenstein sense that the issue of assimilation is

central for Abrams. His reading of Romantic poetry as a great secular-
ization of the Christian religious tradition is an important part of his
project. As archetypal narratives or metaphors for varieties of spiritual
loss, Romantic poetry would be accessible to all readers. Rather than
create his own “theology-of-text,” as Bloom had, Abrams argued that the
Romantics embraced a natural version of supernaturalism, not just an
internalization but a secularization of the great romance tradition.
Joshua Wilner credits Abrams with defining Romanticism in terms of
this internalization “of biblically sanctioned modes of thought, and
more specifically, of the historical scheme of creation” (239).
Abrams’ thinking, then, reflects the secularizing and assimilating
trajectory of his career, his own academic quest. As an assimilated Jewish
critic, Abrams “fit” into his environment. Abrams became an assistant
professor in the English Department at Cornell in the fall of 1945 and
advanced up the academic hierarchy. He was the department’s first
Jewish faculty member, but stated that “I never felt any prejudice at
Cornell—hardly ever any awareness—that I am Jewish” (Klingenstein,
Enlarging America, 79–80). This comment, which Klingenstein quotes
from a personal letter, attests not only to the friendly atmosphere at
Cornell (“I never felt any prejudice”), but also to the fact that Abrams
did not identify as a Jew in that atmosphere. One wonders if he was
accepted so heartily because he was an assimilated Jew who worked on
great secularizing projects that began with the premise that the “Judeo”
that preceded “Christianity” fit right in, too.
One last point about Abrams: Abrams’ emphasis on the internal,
secular, and natural elements of biblical narrative has been highly influ-
ential. In other words, his influential model, which does not actually
encompass Judaism or have a place for a discussion of real Jews, kept the
eyes of a generation on religion as a secularized subject and inspiration
for poetry, and not on Judaism per se as a living tradition.16 Ironically,
196 / imperfect sympathies

Abrams’ approach replicates the way that many Romantics viewed

Judaism and Jewish culture.

Lionel Trilling
Lionel Trilling’s essay, “Wordsworth and the Rabbis,” first published in
The Opposing Self in 1950, provides insight into the American literary
world and Judaism. Like other students of Wordsworth in the 1970s, I
can remember first reading this essay as “Wordsworth and the Iron
Time” in M. H. Abrams’ collection of essays on Wordsworth (1972),
and being surprised by the Jewish content, the references to Pirke Aboth
(or Pirke Avot, the Talmudic sayings of the fathers). Abrams thought
enough of the essay to include it in his collection, but he neutralized its
Jewishness, by reverting to an earlier title of the essay (before it was
changed back to “Wordsworth and the Rabbis” for the 1955 edition of
The Opposing Self ).17 Then, in his “Introduction: Two Roads to
Wordsworth,” Abrams speaks of “Wordsworth’s participation in a persis-
tent strain of Hebrew and Christian culture” (9), thereby conflating the
two as he had done in Natural Supernaturalism by referring to the Judeo-
Christian tradition as if it were a seamless garment. As I have tried to
demonstrate, such linking results most often in Judaism and Jewish
particularity being subsumed into Christianity.
Trilling was drawn to Wordsworth at the time of the centenary of the
poet’s death in the middle of the twentieth century—in the shadow of
World War II and the Holocaust. As it turns out, Trilling is a pivotal
figure in my narrative, and not for the most obvious reasons. Looking
back on this essay in the context of my questions on Romanticism and
Judaism, Harold Bloom commented in a letter that “I’m afraid I never
saw much in Trilling’s essay on ‘W. W. & the Rabbis,’ and still don’t”
(November 27, 2001). I was puzzled by this comment because it seems
to me that Trilling’s attempt to yoke a great Romantic with rabbinic
thought in 1950—surely a radical move (although anticipated by
Hyman Hurwitz in 1826!)—would make Trilling’s essay a model for
Bloom’s later work with the Kabbalah or his early reading of Shelley in
the context of Buber. Jonathan Freedman preempted me in this claim,
which he extends to other works by Trilling:

Indeed, Trilling strikes me as Harold Bloom’s true precursor, all the more
powerful an influence because he is so rarely acknowledged. (This has
been true, I might stress, throughout his career; Trilling’s essay “Freud
and Literature” anticipates Bloom’s tropological reading of Freud by a
generation, just as “Wordsworth and the Rabbis” foreshadowed the ways
jewish scholars and romanticism / 197

in which Bloom has attempted, throughout his career, to bring together

English Romantic poetry and Jewish theology.) (215)

Perhaps the reason that Bloom does not sympathize with “Wordsworth
and the Rabbis,” though, is that Trilling’s Judaism is what Bloom would
define as “normative.” Trilling presents a version of Romanticism that
seeks accommodation and reconciliation, whereas Bloom engages in a
more militant struggle. As Susanne Klingenstein suggests, Trilling recog-
nized but chose not to navigate “ ‘the imagination’s more turbulent
waters’” ( Jews in the American Academy, 168).
With regard to “Wordsworth and the Rabbis,” Hartman was more
charitable: “ ‘Wordsworth and the Rabbis’ is surely not one of his most
cogent essays, though interesting, of course, for engaging with the
subject” (November 17, 2001). In a review first published in The New
York Times Book Review in 1973, Hartman sees Trilling as “a man in the
middle, trying to value art’s thrust beyond morality while maintaining a
belief in its humanizing and acculturating virtues.”18 According to these
criteria, Hartman is a man in the middle too—certainly Hartman values
the humanizing and acculturating in Wordsworth. But in “Wordsworth
and the Rabbis,” the dissatisfaction seems to be less with Trilling’s
compromises or his failure to “explore the deeply demonic side of the
psyche” (299)—which may be the source of Bloom’s disappointment—
than with a certain lack of clarity. Trilling lets readers know, for instance,
that he has had some Jewish education, but he never comments directly
on his adult Jewishness or his identity as a Jew and a reader of
Romanticism. I think that this is why such an astute reader as Hartman,
who approaches texts with great sympathy and identification, never
embraced Trilling’s essay.
Trilling himself seems not completely comfortable as a Jewish scholar
in 1950 reading English Romantics, although he aimed to draw out
affinities between Wordsworth and Judaism. He alludes to his Jewishness
in the guise of the narrative of his own boyish development—like
Wordsworth he spent his time pondering the extracurricular:

In speaking of Wordsworth a recollection of boyhood cannot be amiss—

my intimacy with Pirke Aboth comes from my having read it many times
in boyhood. It certainly is not the kind of book a boy is easily drawn to
read, and certainly I did not read it out of piety. On the contrary, indeed:
for when I was supposed to be reading my prayers—very long, and in the
Hebrew language, which I never mastered—I spent the required time
and made it seem that I was doing my duty by reading the English trans-
lation of the Pirke Aboth, which although it is not a devotional work, had
198 / imperfect sympathies

long ago been thought of as an aid to devotion and included in the prayer
book. It was more attractive to me than psalms, meditations, and suppli-
cations; it seemed more humane, and the Fathers had a curious substan-
tiality. . . . And when I went back to them . . . I could entertain the
notion that my early illicit intimacy with them had had its part in prepar-
ing the way for my responsiveness to Wordsworth, that between the
Rabbis and Wordsworth an affinity existed. (124–25)

As in Hartman’s narrative of his boyhood exile in England—which para-

doxically prepares him for his intimacy with Wordsworth—Trilling’s is a
story of receptiveness and initiation. Trilling presents his reading as a
kind of transgression, like the “illicit intimacy” that Wordsworth feels
for fairy tales and the maternal breast of nature in The Prelude. Ignoring
his Hebrew and his prayers, Trilling roamed free in the Avot, as the
young Wordsworth roamed through the environs of Cockermouth and
Hawkshead as a boy.
Trilling argues that the thematic affinity between the rabbis and
Wordsworth can be understood through this analogy: what the Torah or
the Law is to the rabbis, Nature is to Wordsworth.19 In his words, “there
existed for the rabbis and for Wordsworth a great object, which is from
God and might be said to represent Him as a sort of surrogate, a divine
object to which one can be in an intimate passionate relationship . . .”
(127). This passionate relationship with the great object—the represen-
tation of God—is the basis of the affinity that Trilling feels. He goes on
to draw more particular and compelling parallels between Wordsworth
and rabbinic thought, particularly Rabbi Hillel’s wisdom on the symbio-
sis of self and community: “ ‘If I am not for myself, who, then, is for me?
And if I am for myself, what then am I’ ” (127) and Rabbi Akiba’s medi-
tation on fate and free will: “ ‘All is foreseen, and yet free will is given;
and the world is judged by grace, and yet all is according to the work’ ”
(127). As Hyman Hurwitz had recognized more than a century earlier,
there are powerful affinities between rabbinic thought and his contem-
poraries, not least of which is the valuing of questions, of intellectual
openness, of the surmise. In his focus on Hillel and Akiba, Trilling iden-
tifies the moral center of Wordsworth’s vision as quite distinctive from
the favored militancy of T. S. Eliot’s (131–32), thus alluding to the two
lines of British poetry (the Prophetic-Protestant and the High Church)
that Bloom and others would identify.
Implicit, too, in “Wordsworth and the Rabbis,” is Trilling’s affinity
with Wordsworth’s interest in the ordinary and in keen observation, an
interest that anticipates Hartman’s “unremarkable” Wordsworth.
Wordsworth, after all, claimed that he always looked steadily at his
jewish scholars and romanticism / 199

object. In Jews in the American Academy, Susanne Klingenstein argues

that Trilling’s interest in the ordinary is, as in Ozick’s later recognition,
intimately connected with his Jewishness: “To be Jewish, then, is to be
observant: to be conscious at any moment of the world of phenomena
and to respond to it with moral imagination. Hence, the following defi-
nition of Jewishness, which Trilling entered into his notebook, is more
than a sociological statement . . . : ‘Being a Jew is like walking in the
wind or swimming: you are touched at all points and conscious every-
where’ ” (157). Klingenstein argues that this description of being a Jew
explains Trilling’s interest in literary realism and in the ordinariness of
the novel (157–59). Perhaps, but this also connects him with the
Wordsworthian stream of Romanticism, which so frustrated contempo-
raries such as Hazlitt or Jeffrey, who could not understand the power of
poems on daffodils or idiot boys. I hear an echo here of Wordsworth’s
“blessing in this gentle breeze,” and in countless other blessings and
observations, many much more understated than that, in Wordsworth’s
poetry. Or, as Morris Dickstein explained in an E-mail, “I . . . was less
drawn to the visionary side of Romanticism—Bloom and I often
disagreed about that—but much more to the quotidian, earthbound,
stoical, and deeply moral side, the disintoxicated side that you get in the
late Keats and almost everywhere in Wordsworth. My book on Keats, I
think, is a very Wordsworthian reading. ‘Michael,’ with its profound
Biblical resonance, is very congenial to Jews like Trilling, and to me as
well. I never tire of reading or teaching it.”
At the heart of Trilling’s argument for affinities between Wordsworth
and Judaism is his belief that Wordsworth is the preeminent poet of
being and that this concern for being is central to rabbinic thought.
Hence, Trilling argues that Wordsworth creates the humble personae of
the Lyrical Ballads in order “to require us to acknowledge their being and
thus to bring them within the range of conscience, and of something
more immediate than conscience, natural sympathy . . . his acute sense
of the being of others derives from, and serves to affirm and heighten,
his acute sense of his own being” (139). In this analysis, Trilling recog-
nizes the dynamic of self and other in Wordsworth—that Wordsworth’s
“natural sympathy” for the other paradoxically affirms his sense of self.
Implicit in Trilling’s argument and in Wordsworth’s poetry is an under-
standing that every other from his or her own perspective is a self, with
a center of being and consciousness.20 This belief in the holiness of life
is central to Jewish thought (as Hurwitz’s collection, Hebrew Tales,
demonstrates) and to Romanticism (as numerous poems from
Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to Blake’s “The Fly” or
200 / imperfect sympathies

the final proclamation of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “For every
thing that lives is Holy” make clear).
To place Trilling’s essay in its most urgent historical context, Emily
Miller Budick argues that “‘Wordsworth and the Rabbis’ is very directly
a commentary on the Holocaust” (138). This is an intriguing claim,
especially since Trilling does not actually comment on the Holocaust in
the essay—it would be years before such explicitness about the
Holocaust would enter critical discourse. But Budick convincingly
demonstrates that Trilling’s ideas about the individual and moral respon-
sibility take shape in the shadow of catastrophe: “For Trilling, the
Holocaust necessitated thinking not simply about social injustice (as
Marxism had undertaken to do) or about undoing ideology (as in
dialectical Hegelianism, as it has been evolved by deconstruction).
Rather, it compelled a redefinition of the human—the person, the
human being, in Trilling’s specific case, the Jew” (140). Trilling responds
to Wordsworth as advocating “natural sympathy” for others—what
Budick refers to as the “courtesy of imagining others” (141)—at the
historical moment when the lack of such an imagination had proved
disastrous. For Trilling, Wordsworth was indeed the poet for this iron
time, not because he dealt directly with his own political crises (he
famously did not) but because his poetry provided a moral vision of
living in respectful relationship to others. Trilling praises the quietism in
“Wordsworth and in the Rabbis” in order to justify his own moral
response to inexplicable evil. In this sense Hartman is both the heir to
and extender of Trilling’s project, because half a century later Hartman
has devoted himself to making the explicit connection between such
imaginative failure and the Holocaust.

Jews and Multiculturalism

Thus far, I have attempted to look back to the twentieth century and to
the development of modern criticism of the Romantics, which happens
also to be in part a Jewish story. Although I have brought this story
forward, I have certainly not finished the narrative—too big to tell
here—of the numerous scholars who have shaped the debates about
Romanticism in recent decades. Much of the most exciting work in the
field has centered around the rediscovery of women writers and on the
insights of the feminist critique. With this work as my inspiration, I have
attempted to view the very question of the representation of Jews and
Judaism in Romanticism from a decentering Jewish perspective. This
perspective obligates one to look at both sympathetic and unsympathetic
jewish scholars and romanticism / 201

non-Jewish texts with a skeptical eye and to bring forward Jewish texts
from the period that have been overlooked or undervalued until now.
The lessons of multiculturalism have also been useful as a way of
recognizing the multiplicity of Others and as a method for critiquing
assumptions and categories. Recent work in Jewish studies adds to these
insights the need to consider the unique Otherness of Jews in Western
cultures, as the collection Insider/Outsider: American Jews and
Multiculturalism (1998) demonstrates. As Sara R. Horowitz argues in
“The Paradox of Jewish Studies in the New Academy,” “Jewish studies
explores the continued presence of the outsider within, a people both a
part of and apart from Western culture” (119–20). In a similar vein, but
more prescriptively, Susannah Heschel argues in “Jewish Studies as
Counterhistory,” that Jewish studies should reclaim the original radical-
ism of the nineteenth-century German movement, when “Jewish
theologians initiated an effort to destroy the image of Judaism in
Christian theology as part of their project of self-definition” (109).
Heschel calls for Jewish Studies scholars to reinvigorate the genre of
“counterhistory” in order to reconstruct the narrative of Jewish experi-
ence as Jews might have told it from the outset. This reconstruction
means moving beyond an inventory of repetitive representations of
either good or bad Jews to imagine a fuller and deeper range of Jewish
experience and discourse in the Romantic period than is dreamt of in
most canonical texts. One of the ways to achieve this depth is through
what Mary Louise Pratt has called an “autoethnographic” approach to
Jewish texts such as Montefiore’s journal or Hurwitz’s Hebrew Tales.21
The picture of the period is just too complicated not to listen both
to canonical and non-canonical voices, words of the dominant culture
and its Others. Jonathan Freedman argues that one does not have to
choose between the more optimistic narratives about Jewish accultura-
tion of David Katz, Howard Weinbrot, and (I would add) Todd
Endelman, on the one hand, and Frank Felsenstein’s more negative
focus on anti-Semitic stereotypes and caricatures, on the other. The
“truth,” which includes both, “would see the dramas of expulsion and
reintegration, and those of anti- and philo-Semitism as essentially
complicated with each other” (45). Attitudes toward Jews were “irre-
trievably mixed” (45) and “the Jew is also that border or boundary figure
that calls into question the viability of any model of racial, national, and
cultural identity” (45). If the culture viewed Jews and Jewishness with
such ambivalence, texts will reveal that ambivalence in various, often
problematic ways, as I have shown. Harrington, intended as reparation,
betrays the author’s uneasiness about accommodating Jews fully in
202 / imperfect sympathies

Christian culture. Hence, the cobbled ending satisfies no one (including

Edgeworth herself ) except the self-satisfied characters she has created.
The great paradox of the novel is that Edgeworth inadvertently reveals
the limitations of sympathy in the very novel intended to promote it.
Readers must search Jewish texts in order to hear the counter-voices that
Edgeworth cannot hear.
It may be appropriate to reflect on the limitations of my own question
about the affinities between Romanticism and Judaism that began this
inquiry. Although I have argued that there are connections between
Judaism and canonical Romanticism, I also think that methodologies call-
ing for a reassessment of categories and for opening of the canon will
inspire new kinds of scholarship and new ways of thinking about this rela-
tionship. Textual recovery opens up primary documents of the period and
Jewish perspectives, which in turn modify received notions of Romantic
literary history. For instance, Judith Montefiore’s meditations on Jewish
memory and loss resonate with her contemporary Wordsworth, but also
look forward to Jewish scholars of the twentieth century. Or, Hyman
Hurwitz brings rabbinic lore into the English literary world of the 1820s
and invokes Coleridge as a supporter and authority for his project.
When the critical focus was on the Romantics as a visionary company
of six great male poets, this kind of inquiry was not likely. But just as
numerous women writers have enriched and reshaped the field, texts by
Jewish authors have the same power. Though Geoffrey Hartman’s career
has not included extensive work of canon expansion regarding neglected
authors of the period, his perspective is hospitable to this project. In
“Polemical Memoir,” he states that one of the issues to which he is commit-
ted is “a variant of ‘opening the canon’: supporting Jewish studies in the
curriculum as well as broadening the basis of interpretation by an under-
standing of the exegetical imagination” (xxvii). Although Hartman’s
primary interest continues to be the midrashic model of interpretation, his
critical stance reveals openness to canon formation that Bloom does not
endorse. Hartman has legitimate questions about the identity politics of
canon revision, but he nonetheless supports the project.22 Hartman’s inter-
ests, in fact, both in canonicity and in the transmission of knowledge of the
Holocaust, provide continuity between the founding generation of schol-
ars and the shape of the discipline to come in the twenty-first century.

In concluding with a brief reference to Emma Lyon’s poems, I hope to
open the door to another writer who may contribute to reshaping the
jewish scholars and romanticism / 203

field. The Miscellaneous Poems (1812) of Emma Lyon demonstrates the

affinities between Judaism and the ideals of Romantic writers. We learn
from her title page that “Miss Emma Lyon” is the “daughter of the Rev.
S. Lyon, Hebrew Teacher.” The Preface notes that the author hopes to
make some money for her needy family from the publication. The
Preface also encases the poems in a layer of apologetics for female
authorship, insufficient education, worthiness to publish, etc. Emma
Lyon does not write explicitly about being Jewish, except for the refer-
ence to her father’s occupation; there are also a number of Jewish names
among the subscribers to this self-published volume. At first glance, the
small volume seems to be fairly conventional, with a selection of odes to
genius, solitude, sleep, the muse, death, spring, and, of course, sympa-
thy, to name a few. But there are also selections “Paraphrased from
David’s Psalms,” as well as narrative poems, such as “The Beggar Boy: A
Tale,” which tells the story of a boy’s reunion with his father, who had
been pressed into service as a sailor. It seems from this variety that Lyon
was attempting to reach a broad audience who would respond to famil-
iar topics, as well as to a pious and spiritual voice in a broadly accept-
able Judeo-Christian way.
The two reviewers who touched on Miscellaneous Poems were mildly
favorable, but patronizing:

From the long and very respectable list of subscribers, we hope that the
laudable attempts of this young lady have met with deserved success; and
we can assure those, who may be desirous of aiding her virtuous endeav-
ors to support her family by purchasing this volume, that they will find
themselves masters of some very pretty little poems. (Monthly Review 70
[February 1813]: 213)
Miss Lyon solicits her readers to remember that her compositions are the
production of a “young female whom necessity, not choice, has forced
thus publicly to appear.” Far be it from us to check by harsh and rigid
criticism the effusions of a mind so amiably employed. (Critical Review 2
[August 1812]: 216)

In neither short piece does the reviewer get beyond the conventions of
reviewing a young “poetess” to comment on anything that might
connect her to an important cause or a distinctive voice.
But one poem stands out in light of my interest in the Romantic
culture of sympathy: the second to last of the volume, identified as
“Stanzas, Sung with great applause at the Anniversary Meeting of the
Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress, Held at the New London
204 / imperfect sympathies

Tavern, April 27, 1812” (146).23 Since these stanzas will likely not be
familiar to my readers, I quote in full:

ARISE! O generous band, rejoice,

Awake the lyre’s melodious voice!
Who glory in the fostering care
That cheers the stranger’s dark despair!
Whate’er his creed, whate’er his land,
If misery’s child,—with ready hand
The thorns are drawn that tear his breast,
By Friends of Foreigners distrest!
When sickness dire, with sullen wing,
And want their gloomy horrors fling
Around the widow’s drooping eye,
Ye listen—and relieve the sigh!
The frame where gnawing anguish preys,
’Tis ye that love to soothe and raise:
Then strike the lyre, loud echo! Blest
Be Friends of Foreigners distrest!
When flying from a tyrant’s sway
In quest of freedom’s glorious ray,
The famish’d exiles wander here,
Safe shelter’d from the murd’ring spear;
They bless the hospitable Isle,
And through the clouds of sorrow smile,
Reposing in the hallow’d rest
Of Friends to Foreigners Distrest!
When torn from all that sweetens life,
An offspring dear, a tender wife,
Ye view the ship-wreck’d stranger roam,
Loud sighing for his cherish’d home;
Ye staunch his bosom bleeding sore,
And waft him to his natal shore.
So sacred is Britannia’s guest,
To Friends of Foreigners Distrest.
Think ye that heaven beholds in vain
Her sons that banish care and pain?
That grateful orphans pour a tear
Unnotic’d by the heavenly sphere?
Ah, no! bright angels in the sky
Inscribe your every name on high,
In glorious characters imprest,
Ye Friends of Foreigners distrest!
jewish scholars and romanticism / 205

Although somewhat abstract, this poem knows what it means to be a

homeless exile: “torn from all that sweetens life.” As a young Anglo-
Jewish woman, Lyon seems instinctively to understand why a Jew
should take this position on foreign exiles. Lyon also indicates that the
very freedoms of the British people oblige them to look after others who
“bless the hospitable Isle” and to sympathize with their plight: to imag-
ine the heart of the stranger. Although the poem is not singled out by
Lyon’s reviewers, Lyon clearly anchors it in an ideologically aware
culture of sympathy and in the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam.
Furthermore, the inclusion of the poem in her volume cleverly show-
cases the charity and the event that it commemorates, and thus actively
solicits the reader’s sympathy and generosity. And, finally, the poem is
actually a song that was sung at a charitable event, so it had an addi-
tional public, communal function for the poet.
While my research would not support a claim that there are numer-
ous such volumes by Jewish writers in the period I have studied, I hope
my book has demonstrated that including Jewish voices in
Romanticism—informal as well as published writing—does provide a
counternarrative to the often clichéd stories about Jews or the misdi-
rected love of would-be proselytizers.24 Popular tales and caricatures
may have continued to depict Jews as rootless wanderers, but Judith
Montefiore uses the notion of exile to express the spiritual significance
of her journey, and Emma Lyon sees the wanderer as a political exile in
need of immediate assistance. Both of these writers, as well as others I
have included, transform the cliché into something that demands a
different kind of attention, turning the lie inside out to reveal several
truths about Jews and Judaism and providing readers with more ways to
question canonical texts or received critical assumptions. With greater
attention to these and other neglected voices, this work will be an ongo-
ing and renewing process in the study of Romanticism.
I began this study by arguing that the presence of Jews and Judaism
in Romantic texts challenged non-Jewish authors, who implicitly or
explicitly endorsed the value of sympathy-as- fellow-feeling, to represent
Others more justly in their texts. As I have argued, the ideal of sympa-
thy led to a variety of responses, from crude attempts at creating good,
but stereotyped figures, as in Cumberland’s The Jew in 1794 to fully
articulated arguments for emancipation, as in Hazlitt’s essay in 1831.
Still, some, such as Charles Lamb, responded with a bemused and ironic
stance toward the notion of sympathy itself. A kind of unresolved
ambivalence haunts many of these representations. The Jewish writers
206 / imperfect sympathies

and thinkers of the period work to improve Jewish representation—in

both the artistic and political sense—by offering counternarratives of
Jewish experience and thought as consistent with the ideals of sympathy
and justice, or, in the case of Lyon, taking the position of the sympa-
thetic spectator vis-à-vis the foreigner or exile. The issues that all of these
writers raise command as much interest today as they did two centuries
ago, but the stakes are even higher, both for dominant cultures and a
multiplicity of Others.

Chapter 1 Introduction: Jews and the Romantic

Culture of Sympathy
1. My reference in this case is from Shedd, Complete Works, 6:338. In the
Princeton series, editor Carl Woodring omits this anecdote but refers to it in
the note, indicating that it occurs in the 1835 edition of Table Talk, 1:177.
2. Although not exactly applicable here because Coleridge does not see the
Jewish old-clothes man as beautiful, Scarry’s discussion of “Fairness as ‘A
Symmetry of Everyone’s Relation to One Another’ ” in On Beauty and Being
Just, provides suggestive parallels. Echoing and drawing on John Rawls’
Theory of Justice, Scarry argues that the symmetry of beautiful objects inspires
a culture of fairness and justice that paradoxically outgrows the beautiful
objects themselves. Scarry describes an exchange similar to the structure of
sympathy and applicable to Coleridge’s thought; see 93, and passim.
3. A Defence of Poetry, Reiman and Fraistat, 517. For analyses of the sympa-
thetic imagination in Romanticism, see W. J. Bate, James Engell, Nathaniel
Brown, and Thomas J. McCarthy.
4. I borrow the term “imperfect sympathy” from Lamb’s essay “Imperfect
Sympathies” in the Essays of Elia, which I discuss in detail in chapter 2. Goeffrey
Hartman poses a compelling question in “The Sympathy Paradox”: “The ques-
tion, though, raised by the history of sensibility, and one that has become
unavoidable with the romantic emphasis on the sympathetic imagination, is
whether we can deal with suffering that is not only local but general” (143).
5. Along with Marshall in The Surprising Effects of Sympathy, I see sympathy as a
“subset” of “a network of associations” surrounding terms such as “sentiment”
and “sensibility.” See also, Bate, From Classic to Romantic, Chandler, “Moving
Accidents: The Emergence of Sentimental Probability,” and others for configu-
rations of this network. Engell makes the point that while “empathy” was not a
term used in English discourse in the Romantic period, the meaning of empa-
thy, a “‘feeling into’ something” was “very much alive in the late Enlightenment”
(157). “ ‘Sympathy,’ to our present confusion, was often used instead” (157).
6. I agree with Marshall that sympathy is a “problem,” but I see Otherness as
central to its problematics. Marshall, in fact, moves further in this direction in
his analysis of Frankenstein as a “parable about the failure of sympathy” (195). I
also agree with the strand that runs through Marshall’s book—the notion that
even the writers who endorse and value the culture of sympathy are ambivalent.
208 / notes for pp. 4–6

7. See Cheyette, Racial Representations, and Freedman, The Temple of Culture,

23; also, Rai’s postcolonial analysis in Rule of Sympathy is suggestive for the
Jewish situation, particularly with regard to philo-Semitic Christian
missionaries, even though the Jews were part of British culture.
8. Marshall and Chandler develop the relationship between sympathy and
theatricality in compatible ways, as Chandler acknowledges (“Moving
Accidents,” 156).
9. “Moving Accidents,” 138. Marshall also makes a similar point (3 and
passim). Chandler situates his work in the context of Schiller’s linking of
sentimental art with self-consciousness and modern reflexivity in Naïve and
Sentimental Poetry (Chandler, 146). Bell includes a related analysis of Naïve
and Sentimental Poetry, 78–86.
10. Bell also argues that Smith’s impartial spectator functions in a similar way
to Kant’s categorical imperative, although Smith, unlike Kant, “denies that
general moral principles are of much use in the practical occasions that
constitute the moral life” (45).
11. Bell posits that Smith’s theory is novelistic, and that the ambiguity of inner
and outer, “a kind of internal theatre,” and “image of how eighteenth-
century fiction internalized the forms of theatre. The larger shift by which
the novel became the dominant form in the nineteenth century was not
simply by replacing theatre but by internalizing it” (47). See Marshall’s The
Figure of Theatre and Chandler’s “Moving Accidents,” where Chandler
notes two important recognitions about the sentimental novel: “The first is
that the novel gradually took the place of theatre as the dominant popular
genre in Britain in the course of the eighteenth century, and the second is
that the novel gradually began to assimilate certain theatrical features and
functions to itself ” (156).
12. In “Facing the Ugly: the Case of Frankenstein,” Denise Gigante points out
that in Aesthetic Theory, Adorno sees ugliness in art as part of the “social real
against the ideological status quo of the beautiful idea” and thus argues for
the “positive effect of ugliness”; she further notes that “One also finds the
socio-political disruptive potential of the ugly in the aesthetic theory of
Kant: the ugly threatens the community of feeling subjects united in the
intersubjective realm of the imaginative ideal” (585, n. 16). It is this threat-
ening or disruptive quality of ugliness that seems to prevent sympathetic
cohesion. Ugliness threatens the ideal of sympathy. For a related analysis, see
Marshall’s argument in his chapter “Frankenstein, or Rousseau’s Monster.”
13. Also, see Marshall’s analysis of fellow feeling and species-identification in
“Frankenstein, or Rousseau’s Monster,” and Rai on eighteenth-century
American discourse (Rule of Sympathy, 11).
14. In tracing the intellectual and political history of the passions, Hirschman
narrates different responses to the “problem” of the passions. He argues that
harnessing rather than repressing them was more in step with modernity:
“A solution that is more in harmony with these psychological discoveries
and preoccupations consists in the idea of harnessing the passions, instead
of simply repressing them” (16). One way of harnessing the passions,
Hirschman suggests, is in moneymaking.
notes for pp. 6–15 / 209

15. Jeffrey uses this term in his review of the Poems of 1807. (See Reiman, The
Romantics Reviewed, A.2:432.)
16. Hazlitt actually said that the dialogues in The Excursion “are soliloquies of
the same character” and dramas of a mind that “preys upon itself ” (Reiman,
The Romantics Reviewed, A.2:429–38).
17. Keats introduces the concept of negative capability in his letter to George
and Tom Keats, December, 21, 27 (?), 1817, 60, and the term egotistical
sublime in a letter to Richard Woodhouse on October 27, 1818, 194.
18. Chandler cites this passage to make the point in England in 1819, 484–90,
and in “Moving Accidents,” 138.
19. I develop this idea in Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women.
20. See the work of Cheyette, Galchinsky, Valman, and Freedman, as well as
Spector’s more recent wide-ranging introduction to British Romanticism
and the Jews.
21. See Figures of Conversion and The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman
Writer, respectively.
22. Hirschman’s comments on the history of the bill of exchange parallel the
narrator’s claims. Hirschman points out that in Part Four of Montesquieu’s
Esprit des lois (book XXI) that the author “suddenly formulate[s] a general
principle . . . in a chapter entitled ‘How Commerce Emerged in Europe
from Barbarism.’ Montesquieu describes here first how commerce was
hampered by the prohibition of interest-taking by the church and was
consequently taken up by the Jews; how the Jews suffered violence and
constant extortions at the hands of nobles and kings; and how eventually
they reacted by inventing the bill of exchange (lettre de change). The final
portion of the chapter draws striking conclusions: ‘ . . . and through this
means commerce could elude violence, and maintain itself everywhere; for
the richest trader had only invisible wealth which could be sent everywhere
without leaving any trace . . .’ ” (72).
23. Furthermore, I would note that the epigraph for Scott’s chapter is from the
daughter/ducats speech in Merchant. See chapter 22, 225: My daughter! O
my ducats! O my daughter!/ . . . O my Christian ducats!/Justice—the Law—
my ducats and my daughter.” Nevertheless, I disagree with Galchinsky’s claim
that Scott presents Isaac as a more despicable character than Shakespeare’s
Shylock. Isaac actually shows greater nobility when faced with the threatened
loss of his daughter. Despite the epigraph, his behavior does not parallel
Shylock’s. Perhaps this is the point of Scott’s attempted sympathy.
24. Scott made these comments to Baillie in the context of commenting on
Edgeworth’s Harrington, which he liked despite believing that “Jews will
always be Jews” (478).
25. See Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.” On another note, Scott may have
been influenced by the scandal involving the Jewish financiers and suicides,
Abraham and Benjamin Goldsmid. See Mark L. Schoenfield’s fascinating
article on this subject, “Abraham Goldsmid: Money Magician in the
Popular Press,” in British Romanticism and the Jews.
26. See also Ragussis’ conclusion in his recent essay, “Jews and Other
‘Outlandish Englishmen’: Ethnic Performance and the Invention of British
210 / notes for pp. 19–24

Identity under the Georges”: “modern scholars have overlooked the central
role that Jews played in the commercial definition of England in the
eighteenth century . . . I am now claiming that in the eighteenth century
the Jew was located centrally in the redefinition of England as a commer-
cial nation” (48). Ragussis’ focus on Georgian England extends into the
Romantic period.
27. I am grateful to Cynthia Scheinberg’s application of Pratt’s theory to
Victorian women poets in the introduction to her important new book,
Women’s Poetry and Religion in Victorian England: “With such a theory, the
dominant interests of hegemonic Christian culture, Christian male clerics,
critics, and even politicians can be seen in ‘contact’ with the often compet-
ing and ‘asymmetrically’ empowered interests of Christian women, as well
as Jewish communities, clerics, and politicians, and Jewish women
writers—all of whom sought to lay claim to the highest form of literary
identity in Victorian England, the mantle of the poet” (25). I would add
that the autoethnographic act is the Other’s attempt to enter into a more
symmetrical and just relationship—one based on the dynamics of sympa-
thy. On a related note, Pratt’s theory of the autoethnographic seems
compatible with Nancy Fraser’s critique of the Habermasian “public sphere”
in favor of “subaltern counterpublics”: “arenas where members of subordi-
nated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate
oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs” (123).

Chapter 2 Blessing and Curse: Imaginary

Jews and Romantic Texts
1. I am thinking of Cheyette’s Constructions of “The Jew” in English Literature
and Society, particularly the Introduction, 1–12. See also Galchinsky’s
comments on Cheyette in “The New Anglo-Jewish Literary Criticism,”
274. Freedman’s analysis of this ambivalence is also excellent, especially in
his chapter 1, “The Jew in the Museum,” 15–54. Also of interest is Tamar
Garb’s Introduction to The Jew in the Text: “Ambivalence is the salient atti-
tude toward the Jew in Christian consciousness” (20).
2. I am referring here primarily to the work of Todd Endelman, David Katz,
and David Ruderman.
3. Sander Gilman’s Jewish Self-Hatred, particularly chapter 4, “The Drive for
Assimilation,” 139–208, offers a wide-ranging analysis of language and
Jews in German culture. Many of his points are applicable to English and
to Jews in British culture, as Felsenstein has demonstrated in Anti-Semitic
Stereotypes, 79–80 and passim.
4. Frank Felsenstein and Sharon Liberman Mintz claim in their introduction
to The Jew as Other that “Of the almost thirty thousand caricatures that
were printed and published between 1730 and 1830, perhaps as few as two
to three hundred include depictions of the Jews” (6).
5. See Felsenstein’s searching analysis of this term: “An unpleasant slang term
to describe a Jew, a smouch or smouse, in common English usage from the
early eighteenth century until after 1830, owes its origin to what the
notes for pp. 27–30 / 211

Oxford English Dictionary euphemistically describes as ‘the persuasive

eloquence of Jewish pedlars,’ the word deriving from the German dialect
word schmus, meaning ‘patter’ or ‘talk’ ” (Anti-Semitic Stereotypes, 83). In his
footnote, Felsenstein continues to trace the evolution of the word to South
Africa and also suggests that it is related to the German mauscheln, “origi-
nally meaning ‘to exert usurious interest in the manner of a Jew,’ as discussed
by Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred, 139 and passim” (279). To these examples,
I add my own from Sir Walter Scott’s journal entry of March 1, 1826.
Speaking of the works of an amateur artist, Scott comments: “It would be
a good joke enough to cause it to be circulated that they were performances
of my own youth. . . . True it is, I took lessons of oil painting from a little
Jew animalcule—A Smouch called Burrell, a clever sensible creature
though” (The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 100).
6. See Downey’s argument in The Eighteenth Century Pulpit, as well as
Glassman in Protean Prejudice, who comments that “Printed sermons
became a significant part of popular literature, and since it was common
practice among the clergy to borrow from a colleague’s work, the impact of
the leading preachers on the faithful was multiplied on any number of
pulpits throughout the country” (8).
7. Ruderman states, “Jewish participation in Christian theological debates had
political ramifications as well. In short, in view of the religious coloring of
English culture and society in the late eighteenth century, one should not
assume the absence of creative tension between Jews and their environment.
In consequence of the often contentious religious climate in which they
lived as a still conspicuous minority, English Jewish intellectuals were chal-
lenged to define themselves against the ‘other’ at many levels and in mani-
fold circumstances” ( Jewish Enlightenment in a New Key, 19–20).
8. Amusingly, too, as if to clarify that he means that Jews are unfit for military
glory, Crabbe includes his own footnote to the last clause: “Some may
object to this assertion; to whom I beg leave to answer, that I do not use the
word fight in the sense of the Jew Mendoza” (396), the well-know Jewish
9. Ruderman documents this debate in Jewish Enlightenment in a New Key,
10. See David Katz’s Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England
for a full treatment of this subject.
11. See Shabetai’s “The Question of Blake’s Hostility Toward the Jews.” Also,
Michael Galchinsky generously provided me with a copy of his unpublished
MLA paper, “Blake’s ‘firm perswasions’: The Judaic and the Jew” (1990), to
which I refer in this paragraph.
12. For a full analysis of The Hebrew Melodies, see Ashton. On the subject of
Byron’s proto-Zionism and nationalism, see Caroline Franklin, in Fulford
and Kitson.
13. Quoted by Caroline Franklin, in Fulford and Kitson, 239. The reference is
to Kennedy’s Conversations On Religion with Lord Byron and Others, Held in
Cephalonia, A Short Time Previous to His Lordship’s Death (Philadelphia,
1833), 73.
212 / notes for pp. 31–34

14. This is particularly ironic, since in a cancelled passage from his Roman
Catholic Claims Speech (1812), Byron wrote: “if there are eyes which
cannot see the difference between a catholic Chapel & a Synagogue, those
eyes are troubled with a ‘beam which must be plucked out,’ before they are
capable of extracting the mote from their neighbors” (30).
15. Ashton corroborates this, 44–45.
16. One notable exception to this attitude is Francis Hodgson, who writes in the
Monthly Review that “It must, indeed, be objected to these Melodies, or songs
composed for what are called Hebrew Melodies, that they are not in proper
costume,—that they are not clothed in the dress of Judaism, so as to display
the marked features of the Hebrew character” (Romantics Reviewed B.4:1760).
17. There are several examples of Christians visiting a synagogue and reporting
negatively on the service. See, for instance, Joseph Ballard’s comments in
England in 1815 as Seen by a Young Boston Merchant: “It being the Jewish
Sabbath I was induced to visit the Synagogue near Duke Street [sic], the resi-
dence exclusively of these Shylocks. The men sit with their hats on. The
women are in a screened gallery, apart from the men! The service was chanted
in Hebrew, the congregation joining at times in ‘din most horrible.’ I came
away disgusted with the little reverence they seemed to pay to that Being who
pronounced them His chosen people!” (128–29). Compare Southey’s Spanish
persona in Letters from England: “The language was so intolerably harsh, and
the manner in which it was chaunted so abominably discordant, that they
suited each other to a miracle; and the larynx of the Rabbi seemed to have
been made expressly to give both their full effect” (392).
18. I would also add that Coleridge remained a conversionist, apparently
throughout his life. But he believed that the methods of groups like the
London Society were wrong, and argued that instead of requiring that Jews
give up their heritage, Christians should seek to convert them as Jewish
Christians, Jews who kept their Jewish practice and customs but accepted
Jesus as their messiah. From a Jewish point of view, of course, this is
absurd—akin to Jews for Jesus in the twenty-first century. But not for
Coleridge: “There is no hope of converting the Jews in the way and with
the spirit unhappily adopted by our Church and indeed all other modern
Churches” (Table Talk, April 13, 1830, Collected Works, no. 14, 1:101). See
the same volume, 99–104, for Coleridge’s comments on Judaism and Carl
Woodring’s excellent notes.
19. This is not to say that Lessing’s play is not without its problems. In The
Broken Staff, Frank Manuel writes, “Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, so dear to
nineteenth-century German Jews, had presented a figure who bore no recog-
nizable traits of a rabbinic practicing Jew. He was an honest merchant, moved
by benevolence, virtue, the needs of the state—in short, an abstraction, a
schone Seele of the Enlightenment, a disembodied noble spirit” (288).
20. I recommend Ragussis’ “Jews and Other ‘Outlandish Englishmen,’ ” for the
best analyses of the stage Jew. See also Rubens, “Jews and the English Stage,
21. See Williams, Richard Cumberland (170–71 and passim) and Dircks (19
and passim).
notes for pp. 35–46 / 213

22. I have found no explicit comments from the Jewish community or Jewish
playgoers in response to The Jew, either positive or negative, although one
scholar quotes the “ ‘scurrilous monthly magazine, The Scourge,’ ” as
commenting on the response to Sherenbeck, a Jewish actor who played
Sheva in 1814: “ ‘the house indeed contained no small proportion of
circumcised auditors who were inordinately clamorous in supporting their
representative’ ” (Rubens, Jews and the English Stage 153).
23. David Levi, for instance, criticized Hebraist Bishop Lowth for ignorant
comments about Jewish ritual and practice, and argued that Lowth actually
knew very little about Judaism. See Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment, 81.
24. See Claudine Fabre-Vassas’ anthropological analysis in The Singular Beast,
137 and passim. The blood libel is the ancient and still-repeated lie that
Jews murder Christians because they need their blood for Jewish ritual. As
Fabre-Vassas notes, accusers blame Jews for craving the very thing that
Jewish Law prohibits: the consumption of blood and nonkosher meat.
25. On the blood libel, see William H. Page, “Ideology and the Structures of
Legal Narrative,” for a legal and historical analysis. Page’s article is a review
of R. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).
26. See Chandler’s analysis of the term in relation to Keats, in England in 1819,
27. In Anti-Semitic Stereotypes, Felsenstein reads this episode as an example of
the persistence of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the face of Cumberland’s
liberal pleas (179–80).
28. In an interesting recent essay, “John Scott’s Death and Lamb’s ‘Imperfect
Sympathies,’ ” Duncan Wu places Lamb’s essay in the context of the debate
between members of the “Cockney School” and the literary establishment
of Scotland, which included a duel that resulted in the death of John Scott,
Lamb’s “Cockney” friend. Wu suggests that the anti-Scottish anger of the
piece relates to this tragedy. While I agree that this “most poisonous of liter-
ary quarrels” (50) needs to be considered and may indeed explain the
Scottish passages, I do not think that knowledge of the context negates the
compelling questions about sympathy and its imperfections that Lamb
raises. I thank Felicity James for this reference.
29. I discuss the medieval legend of Hugh of Lincoln at greater length in chapter 7,
but suffice it to say for now that Hugh was a Christian child supposedly
murdered by Jews for ritual purposes. This is a prominent instance of the blood
libel against the Jews, which persists in anti-Semitic ideology to this day.
30. See Susan Levin’s related article, “The Gipsy Is a Jewess: Harriet Abrams
and Theatrical Romanticism.”
31. I am indebted to the commentary of Felsenstein and Mintz, The Jew as
Other, for my reading of this caricature (55).
32. See Gilman’s analysis of Marx’s delineation of bad (Yiddish-speaking
hagglers) and good (Christianized) Jews, based on the dynamics of his own
family in Jewish Self-Hatred, 199–203 and passim.
33. Howe, 19:368. Howe reports that a copy of the pamphlet form of the essay
“is said to have the following (anonymous) marginal annotation: ‘Written
214 / notes for pp. 47–55

by Hazlitt, and a little altered by Mr. Basil Montagu—Mr. Isaac Goldsmid

caused this little tract to be written, and defrayed all the expenses of author-
ship, printing, &. It was the last production, I think, of Hazlitt’s pen.’ ”
Howe points out, however, that his version is based on The Tatler.
34. Compare Macaulay’s “Jewish Disabilities: A Speech Delivered in A
Committee of the Whole house of Commons on the 17th of April, 1833”:
“We treat them as slaves, and wonder that they do not regard us as brethren.
We drive them to mean occupations, and then reproach them for not
embracing honorable professions. We long forbade them to possess land;
and we complain that they chiefly occupy themselves in trade. We shut
them out from all the paths of ambition; and then we despise them for
taking refuge in avarice” (57).
35. Macaulay makes the related argument “that the Jewish religion is of all erro-
neous religions the least mischievous. There is not the slightest chance that the
Jewish religion will spread. The Jew does not wish to make proselytes” (52).
36. Once again, compare Macaulay: “But where, he says, are you to stop, if
once you admit into the house of Commons people who deny the author-
ity of the Gospels? Will you let in a Mussulman? Will you let in a Parsee?
Will you let in a Hindoo, who worships a lump of stone with seven heads?
I will answer my honorable friend’s question by another. Where does he
mean to stop? Is he ready to roast unbelievers at slow fires?” (44).

Chapter 3 Reinventing Shylock: Romanticism and the

Representation of Shakespeare’s Jew
1. Although I have benefited from the historical sweep of Felsenstein’s chapter
on Shylock in Anti-Semitic Stereotypes, I disagree with his claim that Henry
Irving’s late Victorian Shylock is really the first sympathetic Shylock. As I
argue here, the sea change occurs earlier and, in fact, is a product of
Romantic aesthetics and ideology. See Felsenstein, chapter 7, 156–86.
2. Jonathan Bate makes a similar point about Hazlitt and actors, citing part of
this passage, in Shakespearean Constitutions, 156.
3. See, for instance, Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 135 and Bromwich,
Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic, 404–05.
4. Colin Harris develops this point in “ ‘Polite Conversation’: Performance,
Politics, and National Unity in William Hazlitt’s Theater Criticism:” “The
notion that an actor might be more suitable for one part than another was
already a departure from eighteenth century drama criticism. But Hazlitt
goes further. As the unmentioned possessor of all the qualities in which
Kemble is deficient, Edmund Kean displays ‘unexpected bursts of nature
and genius,’ ‘the tumult and conflict of opposite passions in the soul,’ and
an ‘originality of imagination.’ He is the Romantic genius next to Kemble’s
mere mortal. However, Hazlitt even credits Kean with the capacity to
provide a unique interpretation of a part, an interpretation hitherto
unknown to any critic. This may seem a minor point when one thinks of
the hyperbole bestowed upon actors’ efforts these days, but Hazlitt’s senti-
ments are striking when one considers the connoisseurial inclinations of
notes for pp. 55–63 / 215

most drama reviewing of the time” (

5. Such is the position held by René Gérard, who claims, “I fully agree that,
in the case of plays like Richard III or The Merchant of Venice, an infinite
number of readings is possible, and this infinity is determined by ‘the play
of the signifier’ ” (119).
6. Furthermore, Earl Wasserman argues that the emotional style of acting
allowed the sympathetic imagination to flourish: “In some measure, the
traditional doctrine that the player must display a sincerity of feeling was
prevented from being extended into a doctrine of the sympathetic imagina-
tion by the neo-classic theory of dramatic characters and decorum, which
demanded that the figures in a play represent, not realities, but ‘general
nature,’ universals rather than individuals” (264).
7. Once again, on the stage Jew, see Ragussis, “Jews and Other ‘Outlandish
Englishmen’ ” and Rubens, “Jews and the English Stage.”
8. See also Hillebrand’s description of the rehearsal scene, 108.
9. This emphasis on what convention would have seen as Shylock’s masculinity—
bold gestures, strong body—also frustrated the stereotype of the feminized
male Jews who “deserve” the contempt they receive. See Gilman: “. . . if the
visual representation of the hysteric within the world of images of the nine-
teenth century was the image of the female, its subtext was that feminized
males, such as Jews, were also hysterics, and they too could be ‘seen’ ” (The
Jew’s Body, 62, and passim).
10. See, for instance, Mary Janell Metzger’s argument about Jessica, women,
and the construction of Jewishness.
11. On the comic elements of Kitty Clive’s Portia, see Judith Fisher, “ ‘The
Quality of Mercy’ in the Eighteenth Century; Or, Kitty Clive’s Portia.”
Fisher does not raise the possibility that Kitty Clive may have wanted to
undermine Macklin’s fierce performance. Instead, she argues that the play
was remarkable in accommodating both Macklin’s Shylock and Clive’s
mocking Portia.
12. See Journals, 164. Shelley also includes references to several of the texts
about which I write: Southey’s Letters, 89, and Edgeworth’s Harrington,
177, as well as numerous other related texts.
13. Tracy C. Davis reassesses Coleridge’s famous statement in Table Talk that
seeing Kean act was “like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.”
Although most readers, myself included, have thought that Coleridge was
praising Kean’s electric performance style, Davis argues that Coleridge’s
comment may have more to do with Kean’s lower-class origins and his gin
drinking than with his genius.
14. See Dibdin’s Reminiscences, 1:344–48 for excerpts from newspapers;
Boaden, too, reports less success for the Jewish protesters on opening night:
“Effectually trodden down and vanquished, all opposition was at length
silenced on the part of the poor Jews; who amid long ages of persecution,
can find little that is consolatory to their feelings, except the comedy of
Cumberland [The Jew], which bears their name, and I hope records their
virtue” (1:446). Katz cites the same sources.
216 / notes for pp. 69–82

15. See Bulman’s final chapter, “Shylock and the Pressures of History,” 143–53
as well as Oz’s “Transformations of Authenticity: The Merchant of Venice in
16. John Gross (Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy, 1992) suggests the possibility
that Hole is ironic, that he is writing a modest proposal (123), but I do not
see evidence of this. There are other instances of sympathy for Shylock
before Kean and Hazlitt. For a Jewish point of view, see Daniel Mendoza’s
Memoirs. Mendoza narrates being persecuted by a Christian creditor,
concluding: “Most of my readers have probably been present at the repre-
sentation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: have execrated the hard-
hearted Shylock, and commiserated the unfortunate Antonio: but there the
scene was reversed; the Christian was the unfeeling persecutor—the Jew the
unfortunate debtor” (108).
17. I owe this observation about the negative capability letter to a member of
the audience—would that I knew his name—who mentioned this connec-
tion to me after the program in which I presented a portion of this chapter
at the MLA in New York, 2002.
18. Michael Ragussis made a similar point about this description by Heine in
his MLA paper, “These Weeping Ladies at the Theater: Jewish Performance
and Sympathetic Identification in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington” (New
York, 2002).
19. In the case of The Merchant of Venice, therefore, I do not agree with Bate’s
claim that the Tales from Shakespeare presents the plays in internal and
novel-like form, which allows them to emphasize character over caricature
(“theater caricatures character,” 131).
20. See Oliver Goldsmith’s neoclassical and class-bound analysis in “An Essay
on the Theater; Or, A Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental
Comedy” (1772). Goldsmith decries the sentimental comedy of the age in
favor of witty or laughing comedy.
21. Mahood cites Richard Foulkes, “Henry Irving and Laurence Olivier as
Shylock,” to support this point.
22. See Bulman and Mahood for the various transformations of Shylock, as well
as Gross’ wide-ranging Shylock. A compelling but little-known work is
Ludwig Lewisohn’s 1931 novel The Last Days of Shylock, in which a humane
and sympathetic Shylock escapes from Venice and becomes an ambassador
for the Jewish people, traveling to Jerusalem and ending his days reunited
with Jessica in Constantinople. Also, Joel Berkowitz’s recent book on
Shakespeare and Yiddish theater has a chapter on The Merchant of Venice, a
favorite of the Yiddish theater.

Chapter 4 Hyman Hurwitz’s Hebrew Tales (1826):

Redeeming the Talmudic Garden
1. Taken from Montefiore’s “honeymoon diary,” December 26, 1825, in
Lucian Wolf, “Lady Montefiore’s Honeymoon,” 256.
2. The essay is numbered separately from the Tales; I indicate that pagination
refers to the Tales within the parenthetical reference. Hurwitz does not use
notes for pp. 82–86 / 217

the term “Uninspired” pejoratively. He means that humans wrote the texts
rather than divine agency.
3. I follow Jacob Neusner’s definition of rabbinic literature: “Rabbinic litera-
ture is the corpus of writing produced in the first seven centuries C. E. by
sages who claimed to stand in the chain of tradition from Sinai and
uniquely to possess the oral part of the Torah, revealed by God to Moses at
Sinai for oral formulation and oral transmission, in addition to the written
part of the Torah possessed by all Israel” (8). For a concise introduction to
the various writings in the Jewish tradition, see is R. C. Musaph-Andriesse,
From Torah to Kabbalah: A Basic Introduction to the Writings of Judaism.
4. The most complete introduction to date on Hurwitz remains Leonard
Hyman, “Hyman Hurwitz: the First Anglo-Jewish Professor.” Ina Lipowitz
includes some interesting comments in relation to Coleridge in “Inspiration
and the Poetic Imagination: Samuel Taylor Coleridge.” Finally, Ruderman
devotes some pages in his final chapter of Jewish Enlightenment in an
English Key to Hurwitz; see “Translation and Transformation: The
Englishing of Jewish Culture,” 261–73.
5. By midrashim [the plural form of midrash] I refer to the classical narrative
aggadic interpretations of biblical passages, particularly Midrash Rabbah.
More broadly, the term also refers to any interpretation of a sacred text.
Barry W. Holtz defines the aggadah (singular form of aggadot) this way:
“Aggadah is a . . . wide-ranging term referring to narrative literature, para-
bles, theological or ethical statements, and homilies. Perhaps the easiest way
to understand aggadah is to think of it as virtually all the nonlegal literature
of rabbinic Judaism” (“Midrash,” 178).
6. See Fraistat, The Poem and the Book: Interpreting Collections of Romantic
Poetry, on the subject of the Romantic anthology.
7. Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1:131. My references are to the “1850” edition
(which incorporates the 1802 changes) except where noted.
8. Holtz points out that the distinctions between aggadah and halakhah are
“rather artificial”: “In fact there is very little in Jewish literature which is
either pure halakhah or pure aggadah; the driest legal texts are often dotted
with aggadic asides; and aggadic stories are often brought to teach a point
about the law” (“Midrash,” 179).
9. See especially 6–12 of the “Essay” for Hurwitz’s discussion of inspired and
uninspired texts.
10. Because of their own prejudices, Talmudic detractors do not understand
that the collection or anthology is central to Jewish literary tradition. As
David Stern explains in attempting to define the significance of the anthol-
ogy, “The definition of the form itself is open to alteration, and in addition
to conventional anthologies, we have included such works as the Talmud—
which may resemble an encyclopedia more than an anthology—precisely
because it was a collaborative project that programmatically preserved and
systematically collated the traditions of earlier generations. In fact, for such
works as the Talmud—which are generically “problematic” precisely
because they do not fit neatly into any of our familiar literary genres—the
category of the anthology provides an extraordinarily useful heuristic tool
218 / notes for pp. 88–97

for defining literary identity” (“Introduction: The Anthological

Imagination in Jewish Literature,” Part 1:2).
11. See Heinemann, “The Nature of Aggadah,” and Goldin, “The Freedom
and Restraint of Haggadah.”
12. Heinemann argues that rabbis created the aggadah as a response to a time
of crisis, as a way to reach “the simple folk” (47).
13. I address this rhetorical feature in “Style and Rhetorical Intention in
Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads.”
14. Talmud, Tractate Baba Bathra, 73a. Hurwitz’s translation compares with
the Soncino edition: “Seafarers told me: The wave that sinks a ship appears
with a white fringe of fire at its crest, and when stricken with clubs on
which is engraven, I am that I am, Yah, the Lord of Hosts, Amen, Amen,
Selah’, it subsides.”
15. I thank Professor Anthony Harding for helping me with this reference.
“Satyrane’s Letters,” first written during Coleridge’s trip to Germany in
1798–99, were subsequently published in The Friend (nos. 14, 16, 18;
1809), and then published with the second volume of the Biographia.
16. Hurwitz says that this passage is “attributed to Beer Hagoleh Chosen
Hamishpat, no. 425.” The reference is to Be’er ha-Golah, a commentary
written by Moses [Moshe] b. Naphtali Hirsch Rivkes (1671/72) to the
Shulhan Arukh, a legal code written by Joseph Caro in the sixteenth
century. Choshen Mishpat, which deals with civil and criminal law, is one
of the four divisions of the Shulhan Arukh.
17. Talmud, Shabbath 31a.
18. The Soncino version is as follows: “On another occasion it happened that
a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a pros-
elyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one
foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his
hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you,
do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the
commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Shabbath 31a).
19. Midrash Exodus Rabbah 2:2. The Soncino translation makes explicit my
interpretation that God was testing Moses: “Also Moses was tested by God
through sheep” (49).
20. Talmud, Erubin 53b.
21. Talmud, Pirkei Avot 1:14.
22. See Trilling, “Wordsworth and the Rabbis,” 127; I discuss this essay in
greater detail in chapter 8 in this book.
23. Talmud, Avodah Zarah 54b.
24. Midrash Proverbs 31. Burton L. Visotzky’s translation, 120–21.
25. I would add, however, that while the substance of Coleridge’s translation of this
passage compares with Visotzky’s recent translation (121), Hurwitz could have
done more to place the passage in context. Rabbi Meir’s wife is one of the few
women named in rabbinic writings, a scholar in her own right, Beruriah. Not
only was Beruriah a scholar and a feminist, but she died tragically at her own
hand. See Anne Goldfeld’s “Women as Sources of Torah in the Rabbinic
Tradition.” I thank Leah Hochman for the reference to Beruriah.
notes for pp. 98–106 / 219

26. See, for instance, Ruderman, 261.

27. The anonymous review was published in The Quarterly Review 35 (January
and March, 1827): 86–114.
28. Eli Yassif, “The Hebrew Narrative Anthology in the Middle Ages,” analyzes
the influence of Eastern tales on Jewish anthological literature, 157.
29. In this case the Talmud would occupy a position analogous to Rebecca in
Ivanhoe: mysteriously exotic and hence not fit for British culture. On the
subject of Orientalism and German Judaism, see Jonathan Hess, Germans,
Jews and the Claims of Modernity, especially chapter 2, “Orientalism and the
Colonial Imaginary.”
30. Ruderman notes J. Hillis Miller’s use of this metaphor in Miller’s “Border
Crossings, Translating Theory: Ruth” (216).
31. See, for instance, The Elements of the Hebrew Language and The Etymology
and Syntax, in Continuation of the Hebrew Language.
32. For a recent study of this misinformed tradition in a larger European
context, see Sutcliffe’s Judaism and Enlightenment.

Chapter 5 Judith Montefiore’s Private Journal (1827):

Jerusalem and Jewish Memory
1. Robinson, Wayward Women, 168. In 1836, Joseph Rickerby printed
Montefiore’s Private Journal in London, but it was never published. The
Private Journal should be distinguished from the later journal, first printed
in 1844, describing a later journey, but bearing a very similar title: Notes
from a Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine by Way of Italy and the
Mediterranean. Page references to both journals refer to these two original
printings. I should also note that the volume called Diaries of Sir Moses and
Lady Montefiore consists of excerpts from the couple’s extensive diaries
edited and mostly recorded in the third person by Louis Loewe. Although
this editing makes them somewhat difficult to use, they are valuable in that
most of the Montefiore papers (unprinted journals, letters, diaries, etc.)
were destroyed after Moses Montefiore’s death. As Sonia Lipman explains
in “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman,” “Sir Moses’ heir, Sir Joseph
Sebag Montefiore, had the diaries and papers burned, supposedly at the
instruction of Sir Moses himself . . . . Thus it is only possible—where
primary sources do not exist—to use the traditional accounts and where
they are found to be incorrect, point out errors or reinterpret the conclu-
sions reached by the authors” (4).
2. Although the studies of Goodman and Wolf border on hagiography, several
recent studies have considered Montefiore’s contributions; see especially
Finestein; Lipman, “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman;” and Parfitt.
On Moses Montefiore’s family connections, his business deals, his spotty
education, his wealth, and his numerous trips to the Holy Land and around
the world, see “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman.”
3. The Montefiores were well connected in the Jewish community, both
through Moses’ extended family and Judith’s. Judith was the daughter of the
wealthy Levy or Levi Barent Cohen and Liba or Lydia Diamantschliefer.
220 / notes for pp. 106–117

Judith’s sister Hannah married Nathan Meyer Rothschild. Once again, see
Lipman’s “The Making of a Victorian Gentleman,” as well as her “Judith
Montefiore—First Lady of Anglo Jewry.”
4. In Women’s Poetry and Religion in Victorian Britain, Cynthia Scheinberg
argues, “women’s exclusion from the canon of theological writing does not
necessarily mean women did not produce theology. Yet, to get at this orig-
inal theological work, feminist theologians will have to break down the
constructed distinction between theology and literature in order to claim
so-called ‘creative texts’ as having theological import for women, just as
feminist literary critics will need to rethink simplistic attitudes toward reli-
gion and the possibilities for women’s creativity within established religious
traditions” (17). Judith had access to this kind of thinking, I believe,
because her education was good (her family valued the education of daugh-
ters) and her family cherished Judaism and Jewish learning. On Judith’s
education, see “Judith Montefiore—First Lady of Anglo Judaism,” 288–89.
5. See Yerushalmi throughout, but particularly 7, 11, and 44. See also
Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, especially 161–65.
6. This is from Bartal’s introduction (1). Also, see Frawley, who does not
include Montefiore, but whose analysis of other women travelers to the
Middle East heightens Montefiore’s differences from other women of her
nation and class.
7. See “Judith Montefiore: First Lady of Anglo-Jewry,” 292–94.
8. Elizabeth Bohls argues that women travel writers often “struggled to appro-
priate the powerful language of aesthetics” (3) into their writing.
9. The Avot is the first blessing of the Amidah, the central prayer of daily and
Sabbath worship in Jewish tradition.
10. Montefiore uses the word “spot” with regard to sacred space throughout the
11. For my analysis of Jewish perspectives on time and memory, I draw on
Yerushalmi and Heschel.
12. These developments are discussed in Searight, 143–55 and Ahmed, 50–76.
13. See Searight, especially 156–65 and Pemble, especially 55–60. Pemble
states that “among well-to-do Victorians pilgrimage to the East in pursuit
of the biblical became a characteristic feature of Protestant piety” (55).
14. This passage is one of the instances where Loewe’s edition of the Diaries is
most useful because he quotes Moses Montefiore directly. Loewe does not
include many passages by Moses that parallel descriptions in Judith’s jour-
nal, so I could not compare their perspectives throughout.
15. Montefiore notes that she read Clarke in her 1825 journal; see note 20 later.
Clarke’s journey to the Holy Land took place in 1801.
16. See Magen Broshi, “The Credibility of Josephus”; Broshi argues that
Josephus, although not always correct, was in general remarkably accurate
and credible; he bases his facts both on eyewitness accounting and Roman
17. The destruction of the Temple was also to have been the subject of
Coleridge’s unwritten epic, The Fall of Jerusalem. See E. S. Shaffer’s “Kubla
Khan” and The Fall of Jerusalem, especially the first chapter, “The Fall of
notes for pp. 118–134 / 221

Jerusalem: Coleridge’s Unwritten Epic”: “For Coleridge’s epic purposes,

Josephus’ Roman Universalism is a kind of half-way house, a dim foreshad-
owing of the true universality that will arise through the destruction of
Jewish sectarianism and the establishment of Christianity, when Jerusalem
will be the holy city of all mankind” (40–41). Rather than a Roman
Universalist, Montefiore’s Josephus is “the Jewish historian.”
18. In reference to “On Jordan’s Banks,” Caroline Franklin argues that “Byron’s
ventriloquization [sic] of the Jews’ feeling of helplessness and powerlessness
to control their own destiny functions as sympathetic identification with all
of the peoples of Europe, whose political fate was decided for them in
1815” (237).
19. Clarke had flat-out stated the Tomb of Rachel was not a work of antiquity
(631), a claim that Montefiore does not address.
20. Likewise, her use of Josephus was also selective, in that she omitted
Josephus’ criticism of the Jewish strategy to save the Temple.
21. Lipman also describes this scene in “Judith Montefiore—First Lady of
Anglo-Jewry” (287–88).
22. Readers get a hint of Judith’s literary taste in the few surviving diaries. See
for instance the “Honeymoon” diaries, for references to reading Joseph
Andrews (248–49), The Anatomy of Melancholy (256), Hurwitz’s Hebrew
Tales (256), and Clarke’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (257).
23. Several scholars have argued for a reconsideration of the ideology of separate
spheres in nineteenth-century Britain. In Mothers of the Nation, for instance,
Anne Mellor states that “It may be time to discard this binary, overly simplis-
tic concept of separate spheres altogether in favor of a more nuanced and
flexible conceptual paradigm that foregrounds the complex intersection of
class, religious, racial, and gender differences in this historical period” (7).
24. In an interesting recent article, “The Politics of The Jewish Manual,” Sandra
Sherman argues that Montefiore uses The Jewish Manual to show the
“compatibility of ‘acculturation’ with Jewish religious fidelity” (77)—in
other words, one can be both a British lady and a Jew. I thank Abigail Green
for this reference.
25. Note, too, that Hurwitz used a gardening metaphor to describe the properly
sympathetic way to read rabbinic texts. In his essay, the Talmud is likened to
a garden with beautiful blossoms as well as some weeds and rubbish.

Chapter 6 Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington (1817):

Jews, Storytelling, and the Challenge of Moral Education
1. See The Education of the Heart: The Correspondence of Rachel Mordecai
Lazarus and Maria Edgeworth, 6.
2. Figures of Conversion, 58. In From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish Stereotypes in
English Fiction, Edgar Rosenberg argues that Harrington constitutes a less
sophisticated attempt to reverse the stereotypes by creating saintly Jewish
characters (60–67). Although critical opinion has been on Rosenberg’s side,
Ragussis’ approach poses more interesting questions about representation
and genre. Also moving beyond an analysis of stereotypes, Sheila A. Spector
222 / notes for pp. 134–147

argues in “The Other’s Other” that Edgeworth’s representation of Jews is

strongly influenced by her own ambiguous status as an Anglo-Irish woman.
See also Catherine Gallagher’s analysis of representation and economics in
Harrington (Nobody’s Story, 306–27). For a more general study, see Homi
K. Bhabha’s theoretical reconceptualization of stereotypes in The Location
of Culture, 66–84.
3. Jean E. Friedman documents the surprising fact that Rachel Mordecai
Lazarus actually converted to Christianity on her deathbed in June, 1838,
under the influence of a group of Evangelical Christian women in
Wilmington, North Carolina. See chapter 4 of Ways of Wisdom: Moral
Education in the Early National Period.
4. See, for instance, Modder, The Jew in the Literature of England, and Spector,
“The Other’s Other.”
5. Neville Hoad has recently argued that Harrington shows “the limits of
thinking about the politics of identity as simply a question of producing
sympathetic representations.” I agree with Hoad, although I see
Edgeworth’s project as more broadly educational, and hence two pronged.
See Hoad’s “Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington: The Price of Sympathetic
Representation,” 136 and throughout for a full analysis of the political
implications of Edgeworth’s mission. I argued my point in an MLA paper
on Edgeworth’s educational mission in Harrington in December 2002, as
well as in my earlier published version of another part of the chapter in
“Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington: From Shylock to Shadowy Peddlers.”
6. On the subject of Edgeworth’s didacticism, see Butler, Maria Edgeworth,
7. See Mr. Montenero’s speech about the religious liberty of America, “ ‘where
religious distinctions are scarcely known—where characters and talents are all
sufficient to attain advancement—where the Jews form a respectable part of
the community’ ” (84); this speech, in turn, is based on Rachel Mordecai’s own
assessment of the status of Jews in her country (Education of the Heart, 14).
8. H. L. Malchow defines gothic “as a language of panic, of unreasoning anxi-
ety, blind revulsion, and distancing sensationalism” in Gothic Images of Race
in Nineteenth Century Britain, 6.
9. A useful study of the stereotype of the Wandering Jew is George K.
Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (Brown University Press, 1965).
Two recent studies that link anti-Semitic stereotypes to the gothic (specifi-
cally to Dracula) are Malchow’s Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century
Britain and Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the
Technology of Monsters.
10. See especially chapter 7 of Art of Darkness: The Poetics of Gothic.
11. Compare Samuel Pepys: “. . . the prayer, like the rest in Hebrew. But, Lord!
To see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in
all of their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God . . .”
(Diary, 3:303; quoted in Gould, What Did They Think of the Jews? 66–67).
12. In T. S. Eliot and Anti-Semitism, Anthony Julius refers to this episode in
Harrington to make the point that art matters in influencing the spread of
anti-Semitism (53).
notes for pp. 148–158 / 223

13. Endelman quotes the St. James Chronicle (1804) in The Jews of Georgian
England, 107.
14. Purchas is quoted in Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 175.
15. See Mitzi Myers, “ ‘Servants as They are Now Educated’: Women Writers
and Georgian Pedagogy,” 56, and Alan Richardson, Literature, Education,
and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 53–54 and passim.
16. Marilyn Butler develops this point in her biography: “the teacher should fall
in with the child’s natural preference, and tell him a story” (62). Storytelling
forms a backbone of Edgeworth’s educational method.
17. Practical Education, 1: 266.
18. Richardson argues that although the Edgeworths’ educational theory
separates them in some ways from Romantic critics, their insistence that
education combine head and heart actually aligns them more closely with
writers like Wordsworth: see, especially, chapter 2. Myers also makes a
similar argument with regard to the function of the moral tale as embrac-
ing an “ethic [that] united rational restraint and expressive feeling” in
“Romancing the Moral Tale: Maria Edgeworth and the Problematics of
Pedagogy,” 109.
19. Although published in 1817, Harrington was set in the second half of the
previous century; hence, both the Jew Bill, Macklin’s early performances as
Shylock, and the Gordon Riots of 1780 encompass the action. See numer-
ous sources on the Jew Bill: Endelman’s narratives in The Jews of Georgian
England and The Jews of Britain, Ruderman’s Jewish Enlightenment in an
English Key, as well as Adam Sutcliffe’s brief but incisive account in Judaism
and Enlightenment, 229–30.
20. In his paper given at the MLA in December 2002, Michael Ragussis makes
and develops this point.
21. Edgeworth would perhaps have been pleased by Grace Aguilar’s letter
to her American correspondent Miriam Cohen: “You must not my dear
Mrs Cohen, be too severe in your opinion of Miss Edgeworth’s
sentiment towards the Jews—She had no opportunity of either
knowing, associating with, or hearing of us but as the very lowest of the
low, degraded alike in mind and character. In the small village of
Ireland where she principally dwelt—the only Jewish inmate was one of
this cast . . . . It was from an ignorance of our religion, and our families,
which, could she have ever associated with us, I am convinced she would
have regretted, as much as ourselves.—It is to remove this ignorance
concerning us, which even now must exist where no Jews are known, that
is one of my principal aims in writing and I am truly thankful to say, that
in more than one instance—I have been enabled to remove prejudice and
create love—” (September 28, 1845; Galchinsky, “Grace Aguilar’s
Correspondence,” 102).
22. See Michael Galchinsky, “The New Anglo-Jewish Literary Criticism,” 274.
Galchinsky cites Bryan Cheyette’s Constructions of “the Jew” in English
Literature and Society: Racial Representations and Homi Bhabha’s “Of
Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” in relation to
this point.
224 / notes for pp. 159–166

Chapter 7 “Nor yet redeemed from scorn”:

Wordsworth and the Jews
1. Benson provides this summary on The Geoffrey Chaucer Page, May 12,
2000 [consulted April 2003].
2. Dora Wordsworth’s Journal of a Tour of the Continent 1828 is Dove Cottage
Manuscript 110. The portion quoted in this chapter is taken from the
passage reprinted with Wordsworth’s note in the Poetical Works of William
Wordsworth (2:525). Wordsworth’s poem, entitled “A Jewish Family,” also
appears in that volume. All references to Wordsworth’s poetry are to this
edition (abbreviated as PW ) except where noted.
3. I am indebted to Bruce E. Graver for suggesting this connection to The
Prioress’s Tale in the first place.
4. See Hartman’s “The Poetics of Prophecy,” as well as Prickett’s Words and
The Word, especially chapter 3, “Poetry and Prophecy.”
5. On this Christian commitment, see Westbrook, as well as Ryan, Ulmer, and
6. My comments are based on H. H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish
People, especially 800–24 and the Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3, “Anti-
Semitism,” 87–159 and vol. 7, “Germany,” 458–503. See also Steven M.
Lowenstein, The Berlin Jewish Community, Michael A. Meyer et al.,
German-Jewish History in Modern Times, and David Sorkin, The
Transformation of German Jewry. I also consulted Hajo Holborn, A History
of Modern Germany, 1648–1840 and James J. Sheehan, German History,
1770–1866, both of which were less helpful than the former concerning
Jewish history.
7. The German Jews: Some Perspectives on Their History, 9. See also, Meyer’s The
Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany.
8. As Deborah Hertz has demonstrated also, even at the height of Jews’
involvement in the salon culture of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-
century Berlin, some of the intellectuals and noblemen attending Jewish
salons were making snide comments about their Jewish “hosts.”
9. Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Journal of a Tour of the Continent,” in Journals of
Dorothy Wordsworth, 438.
10. See Shackford’s Wordsworth’s Interest in Painters and Pictures.
11. In “Romanticism and/or Antisemitism,” William Galperin writes about this
poem as a “moment” of conscious ambivalence for Wordsworth, noting that
the “allusion to Raphael . . . literally represents a conversion of the Jews” (19).
I have tried to place “A Jewish Family” and its philo-Semitism in the larger
context of Wordsworth’s family, his career, and his relentless revisional process.
I also agree here and throughout that Wordsworth shared a deep ambivalence
about Jews and Judaism with his contemporaries, although I am not sure this
ambivalence was as self-conscious about itself as Galperin argues.
12. This is John Pope Hennessy’s argument in Raphael.
13. Michael Ragussis identifies the “negative historicization of the Jews” as
characteristic of philo-Semitisim (Figures of Conversion, 217 and passim).
notes for pp. 166–172 / 225

On the subversive power of philo-Semitic discourse in the nineteenth

century, also see Michael Galchinsky, The Origin of the Modern Jewish
Woman Writer, especially chapter 1, “Walter Scott and the Conversionists,”
39–58. See Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, chapter 2, “Philo-
Semitism in Anglo-Christianity,” 50–85.
14. I thank Anthony Harding for his comments on Coleridge, Jews, and biblical
history and for his particular comments on an early version of this chapter.
15. Quoted in James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 2.
16. This passage from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Hamburg journal is quoted in
Kenneth Johnston’s The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy, 622.
17. See Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal (October 3, 1800) in The
Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, 42.
18. See the letter of April 27, 1826 in The Letters of William and Dorothy
Wordsworth, The Later Years 3: part 1.
19. Galperin comes to a similar conclusion, claiming that “the poem’s
philosemitism . . . is indistinguishable finally from antisemitism” (20).
20. See the caricatures, for instance, in the Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3, 118–22,
as well as Felsenstein and Mintz, The Jew as Other.
21. In one of the weird twists of history, it was on the Ninth of Av ( July 18,
1290) that Edward I expelled the Jews. See Colin Richmond, “Englishness
and Medieval Anglo-Jewry,” 44.
22. Interesting, too, because Jewish homelessness was another source of anti-
Semitism, which argued that Jews were being punished throughout history
for their failure to accept Christianity. See Shapiro’s analysis of the “connec-
tion between Jews and lawless vagrancy” (175).
23. Chaucer based his tale on the popular genre of the “miracles of the virgin,”
a genre that was often anti-Semitic. See Robert Worth Frank, Jr., “Miracles
of the Virgin, Medieval Anti-Semitism, and the ‘Prioress’s Tale.’ ” Also, in
The Prioress and the Critics, Florence H. Ridley argues that although
Chaucer did not take every opportunity to play up the gory anti-Semitism
of his sources, the tale itself is not a satire on the Prioress’ prejudices, but a
tale that embodies the beliefs of medieval Christian England: “It is natural
for us today to wish that the poet had written a vehement attack upon anti-
Semitism, possibly even if it included a biting satire upon a prioress; but
there is insufficient evidence in Chaucer’s text to indicate that he did so.
The attitudes for which Madame Eglentine is condemned by the twentieth-
century critics were shared by most of her countrymen, and we have no real
reason for believing that those attitudes were condemned rather than shared
by Chaucer himself ” (35). More recently, Sheila Delany places the tale in
the context of Christian contempt for Jews and Muslims; see “Chaucer’s
Prioress, the Jews, and the Muslims.”
24. Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. See vol. 1 for “The Jew’s
Daughter.” Interestingly, Wordsworth bought the 1794 edition of Reliques
at Hamburg in 1798, according to Chester L. Shaver and Alice C. Shaver,
Wordsworth’s Library: A Catalogue, 198.
25. British Review, 16 (September 1820): 51; cited in Graver, 18.
26. Eclectic Review, new series, 14 (August 1820); once again, cited by Graver, 18.
226 / notes for pp. 173–180

27. Not that others had not taken this route. It is possible, in fact, that anti-
Jewish sentiment was never as strong in England as in other parts of Europe
because the English Protestant majority always had the Catholics on whom
to shower their contempt. See Alan H. Singer’s “Great Britain or Judea
Nova? National Identity, Property, and the Jewish Naturalization
Controversy of 1753.”
28. For a discussion of this, see James K. Chandler, Wordsworth’s Second Nature: A
Study of the Poetry and Politics, especially chapter 3, for Wordsworth’s debt to
Burke in general and his attitude toward prejudice and bigotry in particular.
29. In The Hidden Wordsworth, Johnston comments, “Nothing is known about
the genesis of the ‘Song for the Wandering Jew’ except that it may refer to
the Jews William and Dorothy saw being ill-treated in Hamburg” (735).
30. See Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, ed. Monika
Richarz, for a greater understanding of what daily life was like for German
Jews in the nineteenth century.
31. See the entry on “Wandering Jew” in vol. 16 of Encyclopedia Judaica. A
popular German anti-Semitic chapbook from the seventeenth century first
introduced this connection between Jewish peddlers and the Wandering
Jew (259–61). (See Southey’s Letters from England for the complete refer-
ence.) In addition, see Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, chapter 5,
“Peddlers and Hawkers,” 166–91. Also of interest is Frank Felsenstein,
Anti-Semitic Stereotypes, especially chapter 4, “Wandering Jew, Vagabond
Jews,” 58–89. In Harrington, remember, public school boys taunt the
young Jewish peddler Jacob by calling him the Wandering Jew: “Every
Thursday evening, the moment he appeared in the schoolroom, or on the
playground, our party commenced the attack upon ‘the Wandering Jew,’ as
we called this poor pedler . . .” (24).
32. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13, “Peddling,” 206.
33. The Romantics Reviewed, A. 2, 702–03; the reviewer is possibly W. J. Fox.
34. Quarterly Review (London, 1835), 181.
35. See The Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson with the Wordsworth Circle
for comments throughout. Morley also notes in her introduction that
Robinson was disappointed in Thomas Arnold, Matthew Arnold’s father,
when the senior Arnold refused to support the admission of Jews at the
University of London. And when Arnold resigned from the University in
protest, Robinson thought this act “brought more reproach on him than
any other” (7).
36. See Anthony Julius’ critique of Eliot’s anti-Semitism, to which I am
indebted here. See also Hartman’s “Introduction: Darkness Visible,” for an
astute reading of “Gerontion,” to which I am also indebted (13).

Chapter 8 “The Historical Moment”:

Jewish Scholars and Romanticism
1. See Book X of the 1805 Prelude, 64–82 for a description of the effect of the
September Massacres, and later, 308–46, for Wordsworth’s response to the
Reign of Terror.
notes for pp. 180–190 / 227

2. See especially chapter 5, “Henry James Among the Jews,” in The Temple of
3. I particularly thank Harold Bloom, Morris Dickstein, Michael Galchinsky,
Geoffrey Hartman, Anthony Harding, Lawrence Lipking, and Mark
Schoenfield for responding, and when appropriate, for giving me permis-
sion to quote from their E-mails and letters.
4. I do not equate the evils of September 11 with those of the Holocaust, and
I fully agree with scholars who write of the Holocaust as unique in history.
Nevertheless the events of September 11 did affect the course of my think-
ing here.
5. There is not much available on the life of Emma Lyon, but see Naomi
Cream’s article on Lyon’s father, which contains some information: “She
was far better educated than most young women of the period and was the
first Jewish woman writer to be published in England. She was only twenty-
three when her book of poems, which received favourable reviews,
appeared” (66).
6. Freedman, for instance, in The Temple of Culture makes a strong case. See
also David Kaufmann’s essay on Harold Bloom, “Harold’s Complaint, or,
Assimilation in Full Bloom,” in British Romanticism and the Jews, 249–63.
7. See also Freedman, 177–84.
8. Hartman goes on to explain that his love of Zion is not a “fanatical passion:
We underestimate how important the feeling for place is as a physical
memory. It is important for love, which often fuses person and place. But
as mystique becomes politique, it can also grow into a fanatical passion: a
self-sanctifying, place-bound nationalism that casts a murderous suspicion
on the outsider. The Jew has been its major victim in the Diaspora. He is
seen as an alien, however ancient and settled his claim. Those who cleave to
Zion are not exempt from the dark side of that sacred passion. They must
now confront it in themselves, in their own homeland and refuge” (20).
Compare Wordsworth’s sense of the land as sacred in “Michael” or “The
Brothers,” a topic that I touch on in “A History/Homely and rude: Genre
and Style in Wordsworth’s ‘Michael.’ ”
9. See also Hartman’s own collection of poems, Akiba’s Children, many of
which have biblical subjects.
10. See Ryan’s reading of Cain (135–46), with which I agree. Ryan quotes
Byron: “They have all mistaken my object in writing Cain.”
11. I realize that these distinctions within Christianity are not cut and dried,
and are open to debate. But these are distinctions that Bloom embraces in
his sweeping ideas and mythmaking imagination.
12. On the subject of Gnosticism, Bloom explains: “Gnosticism was always
anti-Jewish, even when it arose among Jews or Jewish Christians, for
its radical dualism of an alien God set against an evil universe is a total
contradiction of the central Jewish tradition, in which a transcendent
god allows Himself to be known by His people as an immediate presence,
when He chooses, and in which His creation is good except as it has
been marred or altered by man’s disobedience or wickedness” (Gershom
Scholem, 4).
228 / notes for pp. 190–202

13. Ozick explains in a footnote, quoting The Rabbis’ Bible (Behrman House,

According to a midrash, Terach was a maker and seller of idols. One day he
left the boy Abraham to watch the shop. After remonstrating with one
customer after another, Abraham picked up an ax and smashed all the idols
but one—the biggest. When Terach returned, he angrily asked for an
explanation. Abraham replied: “Father, the idols were hungry, and I
brought them food. But the big god seized your ax, killed the other gods,
and ate all the food himself.” “Abram,” said Terach, “you are mocking me.
You know well that idols neither move, nor eat, nor perform any act.”
Abraham said: “Father, let your ears hear what your tongue speaks.” (188n)

14. For an anthropological analysis of this topic, see Howard Eilberg-Schwartz,

The Savage in Judaism.
15. See Bloom, The Western Canon.
16. Ryan makes a similar argument in relation to the study of religion in general
(primarily Christianity in his book).
17. See Abrams’ note on the evolution of the title, Wordsworth: Twentieth
Century Views, 45.
18. “Lionel Trilling as Man in the Middle,” in The Fate of Reading, 295.
19. See Lloyd Davies, “Halakhic Romanticism: Wordsworth, the Rabbis, and
Torah,” for a similar argument about Wordsworth, Trilling, Nature, and the
Law, as well as for additional insights into Wordsworth’s connection to
other modern thinkers and to eighteenth-century Hasidism. Although I
benefited from this essay, I had already completed my section on Trilling
before publication of this article late in 2002.
20. Emily Miller Budick makes this point in “The Holocaust and the
Construction of Modern American Literary Criticism: The Case of Lionel
Trilling:” “what is from the perspective of the dominant culture largely a
non-specific, almost impersonal otherness is from the point of view of the
individual not otherness, but self ” (138). I am indebted to Budick’s argu-
ment throughout my discussion of Trilling’s sense of “being,” which Budick
connects to Trilling’s sense of himself as a Jew in the post-Holocaust world.
21. See my discussion in chapter 1 in this book.
22. In “The Philomela Project,” (from Minor Prophecies) Hartman argues for
“the restoration of voice to inarticulate people” (169) but is critical of iden-
tity politics. In “The Sympathy Paradox,” Hartman states, “The attempt to
achieve an ethos of inclusion, to enjoy the ‘rainbow’ of ethnic difference, to
prevent the withdrawal of sympathy from stigmatized groups, and to recog-
nize fully the difficulties encountered as we pursue such ideals: these have
deeply formed our discourse and established an as yet informal discipline,
that of xenology” (157). For a critique of identity politics within multicul-
turalism and canon formation, see Cultivating Humanity, where Martha
Nussbaum argues that education should produce world-citizens who seek
to understand and respect other points of view: “The world-citizen view
insists on the need for all citizens to understand differences with which they
notes for pp. 204–205 / 229

need to live; it sees citizens as striving to deliberate and to understand across

these divisions. . . . The identity-politics view, by contrast, depicts the
citizen body as a marketplace of identity-based interest groups jockeying
for power, and views difference as something to be affirmed rather than
understood” (110).
23. The Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress was formed during the
Napoleonic Wars in response to the needs of refugees. As its title indicates
the organization was originally associated with the Society of Friends, or the
Quakers. The Duke of Wellington served as one of its early presidents and
the organization was viable into the twentieth century. My information
comes from an on-line version of St. Stephens House: Friends Emergency
Work in England 1914 to 1920, complied by Anna Braithwaite Thomas
and others:
index.htm. I am grateful to Christopher Skelton-Foord, history librarian at
the Bodleian, for help with this information.
24. There are some interesting possibilities for research, including writers of
Jewish origins who do not identify as Jewish. For instance, according to
Adrianna Craciun, “Charlotte Dacre (born Charlotte King, 1771–72?–
1825) was the daughter of the famous Jewish self-made banker, writer,
blackmailer and supporter of radical causes Jonathan King (b. Jacob Rey,
1755–1824),” also known as John King or the “Jew King “ (Introduction,
Zofloya, 12).
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Abrams, M. H., 17, 27, 182 Baillie, Joanna, 7–8, 13, 87

Jewishness of, 180–81, 194–96 Barbauld, Anna, 178
literary career of, 195–96 Bate, Jonathan, 55–56, 214nn2–3,
works of 216n19
Mirror and the Lamp, The, 194 Bate, Walter Jackson, 4
Natural Supernaturalism, 27, Beattie, James, 5
194, 196 Bell, Michael, 5, 208nn10–11
Adorno, Theodor, 173, 208n12 Bergson, Henri, 77–78
Aguilar, Grace, 19, 223n21 Bhabha, Homi, 135, 144, 221–22n2,
“Perez Family, The,” gardens in, 223n22
129–30 Blake, William
anti-Judaism, xv, 29–30 Jews, attitude toward, 29–30, 127
anti-Semitism works of
caricatures expressing, 21, 24, 32, Annotations to Watson, 29
35, 44, 62, 67, 73–76, 79, Songs of Innocence and
132, 139, 152, 168, 201, Experience, 26, 93
205, 210n4, 213n31, blood libel, the, 37, 42, 45,
216n19, 225n20 50, 135
Chaucer, in Prioress’ Tale, 159–60, definition of, 143, 213nn24–25
170–71, 174–75, 225n23 Hugh of Lincoln, 42, 50, 171–72,
Christianity and, 27–34, 39 213n29
definition of, xv pork, relationship to, 37,
Edgeworth, in Harrington, 6, 136, 143, 173
138, 142–46, 151–53, Bloom, Harold, 17, 56, 73, 79, 194,
157–58, 177 198, 199, 202, 227n11
Eliot (T. S.) and, 178, 189, Jewishness of, 180–82, 188–90,
222n12, 226n36 191–92, 193
gender and, 10, 13, 155–56 Cynthia Ozick’s critique of,
Marx and, 14 190–93, 227n12, 228n13
persistence of, 22, 47 David Kaufmann’s critique of,
Scott and, 11–14 193–94
Shakespeare and, 55–56 Geoffrey Hartman’s comments on,
Wordsworth and, 167–68, 171, 188, 190
177–78, Lionel Trilling and, 196–97
250 / index

Bloom, Harold—continued anti-Semitism and, xii, 10, 14,

works of 27, 138
Anxiety of Influence, 56, 190, 193 conversion and, 28–29
Romanticism and Consciousness; Edgeworth and, 140–42
“Internalization of the Quest Hurwitz and, 102
Romance,” 192 Wordsworth and, 161, 168, 224n5
Shakespeare, The Invention of the Cobbett, William, 45, 47, 129, 178
Human, 56 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 1
Strong Light of the Canonical, conversionist societies and, 168,
The, 193 212n18
Visionary Company, The, Hurwitz, relationship to, 82–83,
188, 189 89, 97–98, 202
Boaden, James, 57, 215n14 Jews, ambivalence toward, 1–2,
Braham, John, 30–31, 43–44 33, 166–67
Bromwich, David, 55–56, 70 Wordsworth, Dora and William,
Brown, John Russell, 78–79 and, 160, 163–64
Brown, Nathaniel, 5 works of
Budick, Emily Miller, 200, 228n20 Biographia Literaria, 89
Burke, Edmund, 174, 226n28 Table Talk, 1, 33, 168
Reflections on the Revolution in Conversion societies in Britain
France, 34 London Society for Promoting
on the sublime and the beautiful, Christianity, 28, 212n18
156 Crabbe, George, 20, 211n8
Burns, Robert, 20 Borough, The, 28
Byron, Lord, 16, 212n14, 221n18 Cruikshank, Robert, viii, 24
Jews, attitude toward, 30–33 Cumberland, Richard, 17
works of Jews and Judaism, attitude toward,
Cain, 187, 227n10 34–35, 36, 48, 213n27
Hebrew Melodies, 30, 32, Observer, 37–39
117–18, 168, 212n16 The Jew, 26, 33, 34, 35–37, 39,
51, 142, 205, 215n14
caricatures of Jews, see under Jews
Chandler, James, 5, 9, 14–15, Davis, Tracy C.
207n5, 208nn8, 9, 11, 209n18, class and nineteenth-century
213n26, 226n28 theatre, discussion of, 62–63
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 17, 159 Kean, discussion of, 58, 62–63,
Prioress Tale, and anti-Semitism in, 215n13
159–60, 170–71, 174–75, de Man, Paul, 185–88
225n23 Dibdin, Thomas, 23, 44, 63–64
Cheyette, Bryan, 21, 208n7, 209n20, Dickens, Charles, 158, 177
210n1, 223n22 Dickstein, Morris, 180
Christianity Hartman, discussion of, 185, 188
anti-Judiasm and, xv Romanticism, discussion of, 199
index / 251

Edgeworth, Maria, 16, 223n21 Felsenstein, Frank

author as moral teacher, 134–35, Jewish stereotypes, discussion of,
149–50 201, 210nn3–5, 213n27,
reviews of, 133 213n31, 214n1
sympathy, xv, 6–7, 150–51, 202 Finkielkraut, Alain, 18, 21
works of Fisch, Harold, 36
Absentee, The, 135 Foucault, Michel, 188
Harrington, 74, 133–58, 159, Franklin, Caroline, 213nn12–13,
209n24, 222n5; anti- 221n18
Semitism, representations of, Freedman, Jonathan, 18, 180, 194,
6–7, 135, 146–47, 154, 177; 196, 201, 210n1, 227nn6–7
Christianity and, 141–42; Freud, Sigmund, 46, 189, 190,
educational and psychological 191, 196
function of, 150–57, 158,
203nn16–18; ending of, 141, Galchinsky, Michael, 11, 16, 19,
149, 156–59, 201–02; gothic 29–30, 194–95, 209n23,
conventions in, 135, 142–43, 212n11
145, 149; Jews, Galperin, William, 189, 224n11,
representations of, 17, 136, 225n19
142–49, 158, 222n2, n7; Gaull, Marilyn, 57
Merchant of Venice, The, in, Germany and German Jews, 10,
154–56; reception of, 134, 161–62, 226n30
157; reviews of, 136–41, William Wordsworth and, 165, 167
153–54; Shylock in, Gigante, Denise, 208n12
representations of, 138–39, Gilman, Sander, 44, 215n9
142–48, 154–56, 223n19 Jewish self-hatred, definition of,
Moral Tales for Young People, 10, 18–19
74, 135 Jews, secret language of, 64,
Popular Tales, 135 210n3, 213n32
Practical Education, 6–7, 133, Glassman, Bernard, 211n6
150–51 Goldsmith, Oliver, 216n20
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard, 228n14 Gordon, George, Lord Byron, see
Eliot, T. S., 182 under Byron, Lord
anti-Semitism and, 178, 189, Graver, Bruce, 170, 174, 177
222n12, 226n36 Gross, John, 216nn16, 22
Endelman, Todd, xii, 27, 201,
210n2, 223n13 Harding, Anthony, 33, 218n15,
Jewish stereotypes, discussion 225n14
of, 148 Hartman, Geoffrey, 17, 178, 179,
Engell, James, 207n3, 207n5 180–88, 226n36
de Man, discussion of, 185–87
Fabre-Vassas, Claudine, 173, “historical moment, the”, 17,
213n24 182, 194
252 / index

Hartman, Geoffrey—continued Holocaust, 17, 77, 227n4

Holocaust and, 183, 185, 200, 202 Hartman, and, 183, 185
Jewishness of, 179, 180–81, 185 Trilling and, 200, 228n20
Romanticism and Judaism, Horowitz, Sara, 201
relationship between, 181, Hume, David, 4, 6, 12
194–95 Hunt, Leigh, 44, 46, 71
sympathy, discussion of, vi, 184, Hurwitz, Hyman, 16, 17, 18–19, 33,
207n4, 228n22 81–104, 183, 198, 199
Trilling and, 197–200 background and education,
Wordsworth and, 9–10, 183, 81–82
184–85 Coleridge and, 89, 202
works of Hebrew language and, 101–02
Critic’s Journey, A, 185 Hebrew Tales
“Judging Paul de Man,” 186 narrative style of, 82, 83,
“Longest Shadow, The,” 182 85–86, 87–88, 91–94,
“Poetics of Prophecy, The,” 184 222n25
“Polemical Memoir,” 185–86, reception and influence of, 81,
202 87, 89–91, 98–103
“Sympathy Paradox, The,” vi, theory of, 82–84
207n4, 228n22 translation and, 85, 94–96,
Wordsworth’s Poetry, 9, 184 100–01, 218n14
Zionism, 183, 227n8 women, attitude toward, 87,
Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), 96–97, 218n25
xiv, 82 William Wordsworth and, 83–84,
Hazlitt, William, 9, 16, 72, 171, 85, 87, 88
173, 189, 209n16
“Emancipation of the Jews”, Impartial spectator, 4–5, 208n10
16–17, 46–51, 159
Kean, criticism of, 53–57, 61–62, Jameson, Anna, 60
65–68, 214n4 Jeffrey, Francis, 133, 136–39
Shylock, interpretation of, 16–17, Jewish Enlightenment, see under
46, 67–68, 70–71, 79 Haskalah
sympathy and, 3, 8, 10, 18 Jewishness, 19, 21, 43, 45, 56,
Hebrew Scriptures, 16, 48, 100, 102, 59–60, 67, 74, 134, 155, 180,
103, 161, 178 215n10
Heschel, Abraham Joshua, 105, 114, Abrams and, 180–81, 194–96
184 Bloom and, 180–82, 188–90,
Heschel, Susannah, 201 191–92, 193
Heine, Heinrich, 72–73 Hartman and, 179, 180–81, 185
Hirschman, Albert, 12, 14, 22, Judith Montefiore and,
208n14, 209n22 108, 122
Hoad, Neville, 222n5 Trilling and, 197–99
Hole, Richard, 68–69 ugliness and, 10–12, 208n12
index / 253

Jews memory and, 106, 108, 116–17,

Blake, attitude toward, 29–30, 127 158
Byron, attitude toward, 30–33 modernity and, xiii–xiv, 17, 33,
caricatures of, 21, 24, 32, 35, 44, 82, 94, 127, 136, 158, 166
62, 67, 73–76, 79, 132, 139, otherness of, 99–100
152, 168, 201, 205, 210n4, rituals of, xiv, 16, 19, 42–43,
213n31, 216n19, 225n20 120–22, 126, 141, 169
Coleridge, attitude toward, 1–2, Romanticism, affinities to, 18, 22,
33, 166–67 180–200
Cumberland, attitude toward, women in, 10, 96–97, 106, 218n25
34–35, 36, 48, 213n27 Julius, Anthony, xiii, 222n12,
Edgeworth, representations of, 17, 226n36
136, 142–49, 158, 222n2, n7
Scott, comments on, 13–15, Kant, Emmanuel, 208n10, n12
209n24 Katz, David, 63, 211n10
stereotypes of Kaufmann, David, 193–94
dialect, 2, 23–24, 35 Kean, Edmund, 53–79, 215n13
Harrington, representations in, acting style of, 57–59
17, 136, 142–49, 158, Hazlitt’s critique of, 53–57,
222n2, n7 61–62, 65–68, 214n4
money, 14, 22, 23–25, Kemble, contrast to, 57
35–36, 44 Shylock, dramatic interpretation
old clothes men and other of, 54–56, 59–61, 71–72
peddlers, 2, 25–27, 210n5 Keats, John, 53, 79, 93, 199
pork, 35, 37, 43, 143, 173 “negative capability,” theory of, 9,
physical appearance, 10–12, 55, 71–72, 90, 188, 209n17,
208n12 216–17
satire, 22, 23, 27, 29 Klingenstein, Susanne, 189, 191,
Wandering Jew, the, 53, 194, 197, 199
142–43, 147–49, 154,
175–76, 222n9, 226n31 Lamb, Charles, 3
Wordsworth, attitude toward, 16, Elia, 40–46, 169
17, 160–61, 165–66, 167, sympathy, 46, 205, 213n28
168–69, 177–78, 224n11 works of,
Johnston, Kenneth, 167, 226n29 “Imperfect Sympathies”, 16, 39,
Judaism, 20 40–46, 207n4
Christianity and, 13, 17, 27–29, Tales from Shakespeare, 73–77
48–49, 69, 72, 75–76, 102, Lamb, Mary, Tales from Shakespeare,
116, 140–42, 148, 161, 168 73–77
conversion to or from, 28, 31, 43, Law, William, 27, 29
45, 92, 121, 157 Lazarus, Rachel Mordecai, 133–35,
law and love in, 16, 27, 29, 32, 141–42, 157, 159, 221n1,
69, 91–92 222n3, n7
254 / index

Lelyveld, Toby, 60 gender and, 106, 220n4

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 34, works of
212n19 Notes from a Private Journal
Levi, David, 19, 28, 213n23 (1844), 126–32
Levy, Amy, 19 Private Journal (1836), 105–08,
Lewes, George Henry, 57, 62 110, 112–13, 123, 126, 219n1
Lewisohn, Ludwig, 216n22 Jewish Manual, The, 125,
Lipking, Lawrence, 194 221n24
Lyon, Emma, 181, 202–06 Zionism and, 126–32
Montefiore, Moses, xii, 105, 111–12,
Macaulay, Thomas Babington, 120, 121–22, 129, 130–31,
“Jewish Disabilities” speech of, 219n2, 220n14
214nn34–36 Moody, Jane, 57, 63
Marx, Karl Mordecai, Rachel, see under Lazarus,
anti-Semitism and, 14 Rachel Mordecai
Yiddish and, 44, 213n32 multiculturalism, 200–01, 228n22
Macklin, Charles, 60–62, 75, Myers, Mitzi, 150, 152, 223n15, n18
155–56, 215n11, 223n19
Mahood, M. M., 60, 61, 62, 78, Nathan, Isaac, 31
216n22 New, Melvyn, 27
Manuel, Frank, 212n19 Nussbaum, Martha, 228n22
Marlowe, Christopher, The Jew of
Malta, 71, 73 “Others” and “Otherness,” 2–5, 10,
Marshall, David, 207nn5–6, 18, 19, 21, 36, 39–41, 46,
208nn8–9, nn11–13 68–69, 99, 100, 142, 149, 158,
Matar, N. I., 30 160, 199, 201, 207n6, 210n4,
McFarland, Thomas, 40 n27, 211n7, 228n20
Mellor, Anne, xiii, 221n23 Ozick, Cynthia, vi, 179
Meyer, Michael A., 162, 224nn6–7 critique of Bloom, 190–91,
Milton, John, 49, 84, 89, 189, 193, 192–93, 227n6, 227n12
194, 195
Mintz, Sharon Liberman, 211n4, Page, Judith W., 209n19, 218n13,
214n31, 225n20 222n5, 227n8
Montefiore, Judith, xii, 16, 81, Page, William H., 213n25
105–32, 183, 202, 205 Percy, Thomas, 171, 225n24
Jerusalem and, 102–03, 108, philo-Semitism, 21, 28, 69, 79, 139,
109–10, 113–15, 119–20, 141, 161, 166–68, 175,
121, 126 200–01, 208n7, 211n10,
Jewish tradition and, 121, 122–25 224n11, n13
Josephus and, 115–19, Priestley, Joseph, 28
220nn16–17, 221n20 Pratt, Mary Louise, 19, 201, 210n27
travel literature and, 107 Procter, B. W. (Barry Cornwall), 59
index / 255

rabbinic literature, 82–84, 87, 89, sympathy, capacity for,

92, 100 70–71, 79
Barry W. Holtz, terminology Shapiro, James, xiii, 148, 225n15, n22
related to, 217n5 Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 3
Jacob Neusner, definition of, Frankenstein, 1, 6, 7, 8, 10, 207n6,
217n3 208n12
Ragussis, Michael, 11, 79, 134, 142, Kean’s Shylock, influence of, 61
145, 149, 168, 209n26, Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 148, 215n12
212n20, 216n18, 221n2, Defence of Poetry, 8, 19
223n20, 224n13 sympathetic imagination, 3, 5
Rai, Amit, 208n7, n13 William Wordsworth and, 8–9
Robinson, Henry Crabb, 167, 177, Shylock, 53–80, 212n17, 214n1,
226n35 215n9, 216n22
Roth, Cecil, 28 Bloom, interpretation of, 56
Roth, Philip, 37, 193 Romantic interpretations and
Rowlandson, Thomas, viii, 177, transformations of
219n1, 226n35 Harrington, 138–39, 142–48,
Ruderman, David, xii, 27, 82, 154–56, 223n19
211nn7, 9, 213n33, 217n4, Hazlitt, interpretation of,
219n30 16–17, 46, 67–68, 70–71, 79
Ryan, Robert, 27, 224n5, 227n10, Ivanhoe, 11–15, 209n23
228n16 Tales from Shakespeare, 73–77
The Jew, 35–38
Scarry, Elaine, 207n2 mythological status of, 54,
Scott, Sir Walter, 22, 211n5 77, 79
Ivanhoe, vi, 11–13, 14, 209n23 stage history of, 53, 60, 216n16,
Jews, comments on, 13–15, see under Kean
209n24 Smith, Adam
Scheinberg, Cynthia, 210n27, economic theory of, 14
220n4 situational ethics of, 72–73
Schoenfield, Mark, 183, 209n25 sympathetic spectator and, 4–6,
Scholem, Gershom, 227n12 18, 115, 156, 208nn10–11
Shabetai, Karen, 29–30, 211n11 works of:
Shakespeare, William, 53–80, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 4,
84, 88 14
Merchant of Venice, The, 8, Wealth of Nations, 14
16, 35, 46, 51, 54–55, Southey, Robert, 35, 139, 212n17,
56, 60, 61, 67, 71, 72, 215n12, 226n31
73–77, 154, 155, 156, 172, Spector, Sheila A., xiii, 209n20,
216n16, n19 221n2, 222n4
Romantic interpretations of, stereotypes of Jews, see under Jews
55–57, 68, 70–72, 73–77 Sterne, Jonathan, 15
256 / index

sympathy, 3–10 Wasserman, Earl, 215n6

Hartman, commentary on, vi, Wollstonecraft, Mary, 10, 151
184, 207n4, 228n22 Wordsworth, Dora (later Quillinan),
limitations of, 2–3, 202 xii, 160, 162, 163, 174, 175,
romantic theories of 224n2
Baillie, 7–8, 87 Wordsworth, Dorothy, 162, 163,
Edgeworth, xv, 6–7, 150–51, 167, 225n16
202 anti-Semitism and, 185
Hazlitt, 3, 8, 10, 18, 46–51 Wordsworth, William, 159–78
Charles Lamb, 46, 205, anti-Semitism and, 171,
213n28 177–78, 187
P. B. Shelley, 3, 5, 19 biblical prophecy and, 161
Adam Smith, 4–6, 18, 115, Christianity and, 161, 168,
156, 208nn10–11 224n5
Wordsworth, 7–10 Coleridge and, 160, 163–64
Shakespeare, capacity for, folk culture and, 88
70–71, 79 Hartman, discussion of, 9–10,
sympathetic imagination, xiii, 2–3, 9, 183, 184–85
18, 22, 23, 38, 40, 46, 54, 87, Jews, attitude toward, xii, 16, 17,
181, 187, 207n3, n4, 215n6 160–61, 165–66, 167,
168–69, 177–78, 224n11
Talmud, 16, 84, 90, 185, 219n29 Milton and Puritan tradition,
Jewish values in, 82 relation to, 49–50
metaphorical structure of, 96, Shelley and, 8–9
217n10, 221n25 sympathy and pleasure, theories of,
prejudice against, 90, 98–99 7–10
story-telling traditions and, 82–83, Hurwitz and, 83–84, 85, 87, 88
85, 91, 99 Trilling, discussion of, 94–95,
Trilling, Lionel, 180, 181, 228n20 196–200
Jewishness of, 197–99 works of
“Jewish” Wordsworth, on the, Excursion, The, 9
94–95, 196–200 “Goody Blake and Harry
Gill,” 88
ugliness and Jewishness, 10–12, “Idiot Boy, The,” 8, 78, 165
208n12 “Jewish Family, A,” xii, 9,
Universal Songster; or Museum of 17, 127, 159–60, 161–70,
Mirth, The, 23–27 175, 176, 177, 178,
224n2, n11
Vital, David, 47 Lyrical Ballads, Preface to, 83,
84–91, 149, 151, 161, 170,
Wandering Jew, see under Jews, 171, 199, 217n7, 218n13
stereotypes of Peter Bell the Third, 9
index / 257

Prelude, The, 9, 144, 158, 177, Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim, 106, 116,
179, 192, 198, 226n1 117, 220n5, n11
“Prioress’s Tale, The”, 17, 159, Yiddish, 24, 35, 44, 64, 100,
160, 170–75, 177, 178, 187 213n32
“Song for the Wandering Jew”,
175, 226n29 Zionism, 30, 121, 126–32, 183,
Wu, Duncan, 213n28 211n12, 227n8