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בס"ד

Literary Notices.

 

Records of Israel, by Grace Aguilar. (Second Notice.) We last month briefly adverted to the above work by our friend, our limits being preoccupied by other matters. But we cannot in justice allow it to pass with that brief notice, especially as Miss Aguilar has already done too much for the cause in which we have embarked, not to deserve that, whatever she writes, should receive due attention from Israelites in general, and particularly the few who have the public ear through means of the press. It is too often the fate of those who do the greatest service to their fellows, to be coldly received, and illy rewarded. We can fully sympathize with any one who labours for the improvement of the community, and looks forward in vain for some approbation of his labours. It is sickening to the sensitive mind to imagine that with all his best exertions he is overlooked, whilst some bold adventurer is smiled upon, and receives an undue reward for the little he does, or merely pretends to do. This cold reception and withering neglect have been hitherto too often the lot of Jewish writers, small though their number has been, till within half a century ago; and even in recent days, how little do the public cherish those who would gladly labour gratuitously in their behalf, provided their exertions were acknowledged. It may, perhaps, bo said, that those who really love their religion and feel for the welfare of Israel, will be cheerful labourers though they meet with neglect. But what is the use of a person’s writing and labouring, when his works are to remain unread upon the bookseller’s shelves? No one can feel any incentive for mental exercise merely to afford instruction or amusement to one or two. This feeling may be wrong; but human nature is not angelic purity, and we must not ask too much. We therefore maintain that the idea entertained by some wealthy individuals in England, of starting a Jewish Literary Association, will be worse than useless, whilst they allow those who contribute to Jewish literature to linger in neglect, whilst they do not place in their libraries the works which Jewish writers send forth. And we only add, that patronage, by which we mean that two or three persons take a large number of copies, to encourage a work in an ostentatious manner, is not requisite, if only those who can afford it would each purchase a single copy, and read and digest the contents; for in this manner, a work would not only be sold, but become diffused too in the community, and the author appreciated for whatever much or little he may contribute to our literature. This individual encouragement of Jewish writers becomes the more necessary, from the fact that our public is at best but very limited; hence if people wish that Jewish books should be written, which, we presume, is the wish of all, all should aid towards fostering, as above, those who are able and willing to devote themselves to this pursuit. But we must return to Miss Aguilar.

The work before us consists, as we stated in our first notice, of two historical sketches of Jewish life in the Peninsula; the first, which is called the Edict, refers to the melancholy and memorable year, when, by the intrigues of priests and courtiers, the fanatical Queen of Spain and and her crafty husband, ordered all Jews to quit their loved home, if they would not adopt the religion of their persecutors. It is well known to our readers, how the Jews flourished under the Moorish monarchs who governed Spain for many centuries, and how by degrees, they almost forgot they were exiles from their own once-loved Palestine. Whatever administered to the elegancies of life, and the highest walks of literature, were opened to them, and they were distinguished by the multitude of eminent men who have shed an undying lustre on the name of the Spanish Jews. Is it wonderful then that our brethren loved Spain with an ardency to which their exiled hearts had been long strangers? Indeed we could with justice accuse them of ingratitude had they not clung with a patriot’s fondness to their native soil, had they not mourned when they were bid to quit it for ever, and seek for new homes, if such could be found, in distant and hostile lands.

Miss Aguilar commences her narrative by introducing to our notice two lovers on the eve of being united in the bonds of wedlock, who bear the respective names of Imri Benalmar and Josephine Castello. We merely wish to mention that Josephine’s father, for the crime of a hasty homicide, had been banished from his native place, the Valley of Eschol, “where the inhabitants, whether Mahommedan or Nazarene, claimed supremacy in Spain, acknowledged no law but that of Moses, no God but Him that law revealed.” from the time that sentence of exile had been passed upon him by his own father, whose heart breaks in the performance of his awful duty as judge, Simeon Castello becomes a wanderer among the gentiles who dwell beyond the limits of the beautiful valley. His sorrowing wife gives birth to a male child soon after his departure, when she sinks into a premature grave, and this offspring of sorrow is also marked with the seal of his father’s transgression, for though he grows up intelligent and beautiful, no sound issues from his lips. But we refer our readers to the book itself, as certainly the character of Aréli is one of the sweetest we have ever met with in fiction; only the boy is too intelligent for a mute, although he had Imri and Josephine for teachers; for he writes and is a poet, though in those days no Pereyra had yet invented the admirable method now in use, for teaching those whose lips are sealed by the signet of silence.

There is another portraiture of a noble Israelite, Asher the grandfather of Josephine, who “though fourscore and fourteen years old, had no shadow of age upon his features, beaming as they were in his quick sympathy with all around him.”

It is while the nuptials of Imri and Josephine go forward, that the stillness of the village is interrupted by a distant trampling of many feet, and at “the conclusion of the solemn rites the shrill blast of many trumpets, and the long roll of the pealing drum are borne on the wings of a hundred echoes.” The affrighted villagers soon learn the cause; it is the edict of the tyrant of Spain which is proclaimed by the heralds, banishing all the sons of Israel from the soil of their native land.

A second edict had been added “prohibiting all Christians to supply the fugitives with bread or wine, water or meat, after the month of April,” and this had already elapsed when the messengers of the king reached Eshcol, which from its seclusion in the Sierra Morena, had hitherto escaped their notice. It was in vain that the Spaniards were entreated to spare the peaceful inhabitants who had paid no intercourse with the world without; the decree had banished all Spanish Jews, and they too must wander away. But they could scarcely believe the horrid news, and they send away a deputation to inquire whether indeed it were true that so cruel an edict could proceed from the sovereigns of their country. Imri is one of the messengers. The deputation returned on the ninth day, and they told that—

“On all sides, they had beheld but cruelty and ruin, perjury or despair. From every town, from every province their wretched brethren were flocking to the sea coast—their homes, their lands left to the ruthless spoiler, or sold for one tenth of their value. They told of a vineyard exchanged for a suit of clothes; a house, with all its valuables, for a mule. Their gold, silver, and jewels—prohibited either to be exchanged or carried away with them— became the prey of their cruel persecutors. Famine and horror on every side assailed them: many they had seen famishing on the roads, for none dared give them a bit of bread or a draught of water; and even mothers were known to slay their own children, husbands their wives, to escape the agony of watching their lingering deaths. Their illustrious countryman, Isaac Abarbanal, Imri said, had offered an immense sum, to refill the coffers of Spain, emptied as they were by the Moorish war, would his sovereigns recall the fatal edict. They had appeared to hesitate, when Thomas de Torquemada, advancing boldly into the royal presence, raised high before them a crucifix, and bade them beware how they sold for a higher price, him whom Judas betrayed for thirty pieces of silver—to think how they would render an account of their bargain before God. He had prevailed, and the edict continued in full force.”

The exiles then prepare to depart, and how sorrowful and agonizing is their lot to see their house of prayer profaned by the emblem of the religion, in the name of which they are banished from their homes! Many Jews in different parts of Spain become ostensibly Christians to escape the bitter fate which awaits them, and Imri almost staggers under his grief, and purposes to Josephine to follow this sinful course, but she replies with true woman’s heroism:

“O do not say so, Imri; think not of me, my beloved: I love not my home better than my God—I would not accept peace and prosperity at such a price! Had I been alone, death, even by the sword of slaughter, would have been welcome—would have found me here—for I could not have gone forth. But now I am thine, Imri, thine, and whither thou goest I will go; and thou shalt make me another home than this, my husband, where we may worship our God in peace and joy, and there shall be blessing for us yet.”

They at length are on the way, the ancient Josef Asher accompanies them at first, only to return to his former home after the first day’s journey; and soon after he was again there, the Synagogue, which had been transformed “by means of images, shrines, and pictures, into a place of worship for true believers,” was discovered to be in flames; it was the old Israelite who had lit the torch, and he falls a martyr, pierced by a hundred swords, glorifying the Holy One of Israel with his dying breath.

We pass over the incidents of the journey to the coast, again referring to the book; and bring the travellers at once to Malaga, where they arrive just two days before the allotted period; and there Josephine met with her long lost father, who had ostensibly embraced Catholicism, to escape the persecution inflicted upon those of the Hebrew faith, and was an officer in the Spanish service. He entreats his daughter to follow his example; but she and her husband prefer exile and death to forswearing their faith; and they embark upon the only ship that was yet at Malaga to seek a refuge beyond the sea. But they who had fled from human persecution speedily find a home in the abode of the blessed,—the fated ship never reaches a foreign shore.

The above is a brief outline of the “Edict;” there are passages of thrilling interest scattered throughout, and we are sure every Jew will be pleased with the portraiture of the constancy his fellow believers displayed during the trying times of the persecution under Ferdinand and Isabella, when they left all that the heart holds dear, to die as Israelites, if to live in their faith was impossible. We will merely remark that Miss A. has not exaggerated historical facts in describing the sufferings of the Spanish exiles, and has hardly reached the reality. With the above imperfect account of this little work of our friend, we must conclude for the present.

New Hebrew Grammar.—We are requested by the Rev. S. E. Cohen Noot, to state that he has prepared a new Hebrew Grammar on the plan of the Talmud Leshon Ibri of Ben Sew; the Zohar Hatayba of Sol. Hanau, and Hartwig Wessli. Subscriptions, which will be received till the first of September, will be six dollars.