The Book of Delight and Other Papers
Israel Abrahams

Part 2 out of 4

receptive unless also active. But there is another of Montaigne's feelings,
with which I have no sympathy. He loved to think when on the move, but his
walk must be solitary. "'Tis here," he says of his library, "I am in my
kingdom, and I endeavor to make myself an absolute monarch. So I sequester
this one corner from all society--conjugal, filial, civil." This is a
detestable habit. It is the acme of selfishness, to shut yourself up with
your books. To write over your study door "Let no one enter here!" is to
proclaim your work divorced from life. Montaigne gloried in the
inaccessibility of his asylum. His house was perched upon an "overpeering
hillock," so that in any part of it--still more in the round room of the
tower--he could "the better seclude myself from company, and keep
encroachers from me." Yet some may work best when there are others beside
them. From the book the reader turns to the child that prattles near, and
realizes how much more the child can ask than the book can answer. The
presence of the young living soul corrects the vanity of the dead old
pedant. Books are most solacing when the limitations of bookish wisdom are
perceived. "Literature," said Matthew Arnold, "is a criticism of life."
This is true, despite the objections of Saintsbury, but I venture to add
that "life is a criticism of literature."

Now, I am not going to convert a paper on the Solace of Books into a paper
in dispraise of books. I shall not be so untrue to my theme. But I give
fair warning that I shall make no attempt to scale the height or sound the
depth of the intellectual phases of this great subject. I invite my reader
only to dally desultorily on the gentler slopes of sentiment.

One of the most comforting qualities of books has been well expressed by
Richard of Bury in his famous Philobiblon, written in 1344. This is an
exquisite little volume on the Love of Books, which Mr. Israel Gollancz has
now edited in an exquisite edition, attainable for the sum of one shilling.
"How safely," says Richard, "we lay bare the poverty of human ignorance to
books, without feeling any shame."

Then he goes on to describe books as those silent teachers who "instruct us
without rods or stripes; without taunts or anger; without gifts or money;
who are not asleep when we approach them, and do not deny us when we
question them; who do not chide us when we err, or laugh at us if we are

It is Richard of Bury's last phrase that I find so solacing. No one is ever
ashamed of turning to a book, but many hesitate to admit their ignorance to
an interlocutor. Your dictionary, your encyclopedia, and your other books,
are the recipients of many a silent confession of nescience which you would
never dream of making auricular. You go to these "golden pots in which
manna is stored," and extract food exactly to your passing taste, without
needing to admit, as Esau did to Jacob, that you are hungry unto death.
This comparison of books to food is of itself solacing, for there is always
something attractive in metaphors drawn from the delights of the table. The
metaphor is very old.

"Open thy mouth," said the Lord to Ezekiel, "and eat that which I give
thee. And when I looked, a hand was put forth unto me, and, lo, a scroll of
a book was therein.... Then I did eat it, and it was in my mouth as honey
for sweetness."

What a quaint use does Richard of Bury make of this very passage!
Addressing the clergy, he says "Eat the book with Ezekiel, that the belly
of your memory may be sweetened within, and thus, as with the panther
refreshed, to whose breath all beasts and cattle long to approach, the
sweet savor of the spices it has eaten may shed a perfume without."

Willing enough would I be to devote the whole of my paper to Richard of
Bury. I must, however, content myself with one other noble extract, which,
I hope, will whet my reader's appetite for more: "Moses, the gentlest of
men, teaches us to make bookcases most neatly, wherein they [books] may be
protected from any injury. Take, he says, this book of the Law and put it
in the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God. O fitting
place and appropriate for a library, which was made of imperishable shittim
[i.e. acacia] wood, and was covered within and without with gold."

Still we must not push this idea of costly bookcases too far. Judah the
Pious wrote in the twelfth century, "Books were made for use, not to be
hidden away." This reminds me that Richard of Bury is not the only medieval
book-lover with whom we might spend a pleasant evening. Judah ben Samuel
Sir Leon, surnamed the Pious, whom I have just quoted, wrote the "Book of
the Pious" in Hebrew, in 1190, and it has many excellent paragraphs about
books. Judah's subject is, however, the care of books rather than the
solace derivable from them. Still, he comes into my theme, for few people
can have enjoyed books more than he. He had no selfish love for them: he
not only possessed books, he lent them. He was a very prince of
book-lenders, for he did not object if the borrowers of his books re-lent
them in their turn. So, on dying, he advised his sons to lend his books
even to an enemy (par. 876). "If a father dies," he says elsewhere (par.
919), "and leaves a dog and a book to his sons, one shall not say to the
other, You take the dog, and I'll take the book," as though the two were
comparable in value. Poor, primitive Judah the Pious! We wiser moderns
should never dream of making the comparison between a dog and a book, but
for the opposite reason. Judah shrank from equalling a book to a dog, but
we know better than to undervalue a dog so far as to compare it with a
book. The kennel costs more than the bookcase, and love of dogs is a higher
solace than love of books. To those who think thus, what more convincing
condemnation of books could be formulated than the phrase coined by Gilbert
de Porre in praise of his library, "It is a garden of immortal fruits,
without dog or dragon."

I meant to part with Richard of Bury, but I must ask permission to revert
to him. Some of the delight he felt in books arose from his preference of
reading to oral intercourse. "The truth in speech perishes with the sound:
it is patent to the ear only and eludes the sight: begins and perishes as
it were in a breath." Personally I share this view, and I believe firmly
that the written word brings more pleasure than the spoken word.

Plato held the opposite view. He would have agreed with the advice given by
Chesterfield to his son, "Lay aside the best book when you can go into the
best company--depend upon it you change for the better." Plato did, indeed,
characterize books as "immortal sons deifying their sires." But, on the
opposite side, he has that memorable passage, part of which I now quote,
from the same source that has supplied several others of my quotations, Mr.
Alexander Ireland's "Book-Lover's Enchiridion." "Writing," says Plato, "has
this terrible disadvantage, which puts it on the same footing with
painting. The artist's productions stand before you, as if they were alive:
but if you ask them anything, they keep a solemn silence. Just so with
written discourse: you would fancy it full of the thoughts it speaks: but
if you ask it something that you want to know about what is said, it looks
at you always with the same one sign. And, once committed to writing,
discourse is tossed about everywhere indiscriminately, among those who
understand and those to whom it is naught, and who cannot select the fit
from the unfit." Plato further complains, adds Mr. Martineau, that "Theuth,
the inventor of letters, had ruined men's memories and living command of
their knowledge, by inducing a lazy trust in records ready to their hand:
and he limits the benefit of the _litera scripta_ to the compensation it
provides for the failing memory of old age, when reading naturally becomes
the great solace of life.... Plato's tone is invariably depreciatory of
everything committed to writing, with the exception of laws."

This was also the early Rabbinical view, for while the Law might, nay,
must, be written, the rest of the tradition was to be orally confided. The
oral book was the specialty of the Rabbinical schools. We moderns, who are
to the ancients, in Rabbinic phrase, as asses to angels in intellect,
cannot rely upon oral teaching--our memory is too weak to bear the strain.
Even when a student attends an oral lecture, he proves my point, because he
takes notes.

The ideal lies, as usual, in a compromise. Reading profits most when,
beside the book, you have some one with whom to talk about the book. If
that some one be the author of the book, good; if it be your teacher,
better; if it be a fellow-student, better still; if it be members of your
family circle, best of all. The teacher has only succeeded when he feels
that his students can do without him, can use their books by themselves and
for themselves. But personal intercourse in studies between equals is never
obsolete. "Provide thyself with a fellow-student," said the Rabbi.
Friendship made over a book is fast, enduring; this friendship is the great
solace. How much we Jews have lost in modern times in having given up the
old habit of reading good books together in the family circle! Religious
literature thus had a halo of home about it, and the halo never faded
throughout life. From the pages of the book in after years the father's
loving voice still spoke to his child. But when it comes to the author, I
have doubts whether it be at all good to have him near you when you read
his book. You may take an unfair advantage of him, and reject his book,
because you find the writer personally antipathetic. Or he may take an
unfair advantage of you, and control you by his personal fascination. You
remember the critic of Demosthenes, who remarked to him of a certain
oration, "When I first read your speech, I was convinced, just as the
Athenians were; but when I read it again, I saw through its fallacies."
"Yes," rejoined Demosthenes, "but the Athenians heard it only once." A book
you read more than once: for you possess only what you understand. I do not
doubt that the best readers are those who move least in literary circles,
who are unprejudiced one way or the other by their personal likes or
dislikes of literary men. How detestable are personal paragraphs about
authors--often, alas! autobiographical titbits. We expect a little more
reticence: we expect the author to say what he has to say in his book, and
not in his talks about his book and himself. We expect him to express
himself and suppress himself. "Respect the books," says Judah the Pious,
"or you show disrespect to the writer." No, not to the writer, but to the
soul whose progeny the book is, to the living intellect that bred it, in
Milton's noble phrase, to "an Immortality rather than a life." "Many a
man," he says, "lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the
precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on
purpose to a life beyond life."

It is a sober truth that, of the books we chiefly love, we know least about
the authors. Perpetrating probably the only joke in his great Bodleian
Catalogue, Dr. Steinschneider enters the Bible under the heading _Anonyma_.
We are nowadays so concerned to know whether Moses or another wrote the
Pentateuch, that we neglect the Pentateuch as though _no one_ had ever
written it. What do we know about the personality of Shakespeare? Perhaps
we are happy in our ignorance. "Sometimes," said Jonathan Swift, "I read a
book with pleasure and detest the author." Most of us would say the same of
Jonathan Swift himself, and all of us, I think, share R.L. Stevenson's
resentment against a book with the portrait of a living author, and in a
heightened degree against an English translation of an ancient Hebrew
classic with the translator's portrait. Sometimes such a translator _is_
the author; his rendering, at all events, is not the classic. A certain
Fidentinus once stole the work of the Roman poet Martial, and read it out
to the assembly as his own; whereupon Martial wrote this epigram,

The book you read is, Fidentinus, mine,
Tho' read so badly, it well may pass for thine.

But even apart from such bad taste as the aforementioned translator's, I do
not like to see portraits of living authors in their books. The author of a
good book becomes your intimate, but it is the author as you know him from
his book, not as you see him in the flesh or on a silver print. I quote
Stevenson again: "When you have read, you carry away with you a memory of
the man himself; it is as though you had touched a loyal hand, looked into
brave eyes, and made a noble friend; there is another bond on you
thenceforward, binding you to life and to the love of virtue."

This line of thought leads me to the further remark, that some part of
the solace derived from books has changed its character since the art of
printing was invented. In former times the personality, if not of the
author, at all events of the scribe, pressed itself perforce upon the
reader. The reader had before him, not necessarily an autograph, but at
all events a manuscript. Printing has suppressed this individuality, and
the change is not all for the better. The evil consists in this, that
whereas of old a book, being handwritten, was clearly recognized as the
work of some one's hand, it now assumes, being printed, an impersonal
importance, which may be beyond its deserts. Especially is this the case
with what we may term religious authorities; we are now apt to forget
that behind the authority there stands simply--the author. It is
instructive to contrast the customary method of citing two great
codifiers of Jewish law--Maimonides and Joseph Caro. Caro lived in the
age of printing, and the _Shulchan Aruch_ was the first great Jewish
book composed after the printing-press was in operation. The result has
been, that the _Shulchan Aruch_ has become an impersonal authority,
rarely cited by the author's name, while the _Mishneh Torah_ is mostly
referred to as the Rambam, _i.e._ Maimonides.

For all that, printing has been a gain, even from the point of view at
which I have just arrived. Not only has it demolished the barrier which the
scribe's personality interposed between author and reader, but, by
increasing the number of readers, it has added to the solace of each. For
the solace of books is never selfish--the book-miser is never the
book-lover, nor does the mere collector of rarities and preciosities
deserve that name, for the one hoards, but does not own; the other serves
Mammon, not God. The modern cheapening of books--the immediate result of
printing--not only extends culture, it intensifies culture. Your joy in a
book is truest when the book is cheapest, when you know that it is, or
might be, in the hands of thousands of others, who go with you in the
throng towards the same divine joy.

These sentiments are clearly those of a Philistine. The fate of that last
word, by the way, is curious. The Philistines, Mr. Macalistcr discovered
when excavating Gezer, were the only artistic people in Palestine! Using
the term, however, in the sense to which Matthew Arnold gave vogue, I am a
Philistine in taste, I suppose, for I never can bring myself nowadays to
buy a second-hand book. For dusty old tomes, I go to the public library;
but my own private books must be sweet and clean. There are many who prefer
old copies, who revel in the inscribed names of former owners, and prize
their marginal annotations. If there be some special sentimental
associations connected with these factors, if the books be heirlooms, and
the annotations come from a vanished, but beloved, hand, then the old book
becomes an old love. But in most cases these things seem to me the defects
of youth, not the virtues of age; for they are usually too recent to be
venerable, though they are just old enough to disfigure. Let my books be
young, fresh, and fragrant in their virgin purity, unspotted from the
world. If my copy is to be soiled, I want to do all the soiling myself. It
is very different with a manuscript, which cannot be too old or too dowdy.
These are its graces. Dr. Neubauer once said to me, "I take no interest in
a girl who has seen more than seventeen years, nor in a manuscript that has
seen less than seven hundred." Alonzo of Aragon was wont to say in
commendation of age, that "age appeared to be best in four things: old wood
to burn; old wine to drink; old friends to trust; and old authors to read."

This, however, is not my present point, for I have too much consideration
for my readers to attempt to embroil them in the old "battle of the books"
that raged round the silly question whether the ancients or the moderns
wrote better. I am discussing the age, not of the author, but of the copy.
As a critic, as an admirer of old printing, as an archeologist, I feel
regard for the _editio princeps_, but as a lover I prefer the cheap
reprint. Old manuscripts certainly have their charm, but they must have
been written at least before the invention of printing. Otherwise a
manuscript is an anachronism--it recalls too readily the editorial
"declined with thanks." At best, the autograph original of a modern work is
a literary curiosity, it reveals the author's mechanism, not his mind. But
old manuscripts are in a different case; their age has increased their
charm, mellowed and confirmed their graces, whether they be canonical
books, which "defile the hand" in the Rabbinical sense, or Genizah-grimed
fragments, which soil the fingers more literally. And when the dust of ages
is removed, these old-world relics renew their youth, and stand forth as
witnesses to Israel's unshakable devotion to his heritage.

I have confessed to one Philistine habit; let me plead guilty to another. I
prefer to read a book rather than hear a lecture, because in the case of
the book I can turn to the last page first. I do like to know before I
start whether _he_ marries _her_ in the end or not. You cannot do this with
a spoken discourse, for you have to wait the lecturer's pleasure, and may
discover to your chagrin, not only that the end is very long in coming, but
that when it does come, it is of such a nature that, had you foreseen it,
you would certainly not have been present at the beginning. The real
interest of a love story is its process: though you may read the
consummation first, you are still anxious as to the course of the
courtship. But, in sober earnest, those people err who censure readers for
trying to peep at the last page first. For this much-abused habit has a
deep significance when applied to life. You will remember the ritual rule,
"It is the custom of all Israel for the reader of the Scroll of Esther to
read and spread out the Scroll like a letter, to make the miracle visible."
I remember hearing a sermon just before Purim, in Vienna, and the Jewish
preacher gave an admirable homiletic explanation of this rule. He pointed
out that in the story of Esther the fate of the Jews has very dark moments,
destruction faces them, and hope is remote. But in the end? In the end all
goes well. Now, by spreading out the Megillah in folds, displaying the end
with the beginning, "the miracle is made visible." Once Lord Salisbury,
when some timid Englishmen regarded the approach of the Russians to India
as a menace, told his countrymen to use large-scale maps, for these would
convince them that the Russians were not so near India after all. We Jews
suffer from the same nervousness. We need to use large-scale charts of
human history. We need to read history in centuries, not in years. Then we
should see things in their true perspective, with God changeless, as men
move down the ringing grooves of change. We should then be fuller of
content and confidence. We might gain a glimpse of the Divine plan, and
might perhaps get out of our habit of crying "All is lost" at every passing
persecution. As if never before had there been weeping for a night! As if
there had not always been abounding joy the morning after! Then let us,
like God Himself, try to see the end in the beginning, let us spread out
the Scroll, so that the glory of the finish may transfigure and illumine
the gloom and sadness of the intermediate course, and thus "the miracle" of
God's providential love will be "made visible" to all who have eyes to see

What strikes a real lover of books when he casts his eye over the fine
things that have been said about reading, is this: there is too much said
about profit, about advantage. "Reading," said Bacon, "maketh a full man,"
and reading has been justified a thousand times on this famous plea. But,
some one else, I forget who, says, "You may as well expect to become strong
by always eating, as wise by always reading." Herbert Spencer was once
blamed by a friend for reading so little. Spencer replied, "If I read as
much as you do, I should know as little as you do." Too many of the
eulogies of books are utilitarian. A book has been termed "the home
traveller's ship or horse," and libraries, "the wardrobes of literature."
Another favorite phrase is Montaigne's, "'Tis the best viaticum for this
human journey," a phrase paralleled by the Rabbinic use of the Biblical
"provender for the way." "The aliment of youth, the comfort of old age," so
Cicero terms books. "The sick man is not to be pitied when he has his cure
in his sleeve"--that is where they used to carry their books. But I cannot
go through the long list of the beautiful, yet inadequate, similes that
abound in the works of great men, many of which can be read in the
"Book-Lover's Enchiridion," to which I have already alluded.

One constant comparison is of books to friends. This is perhaps best worked
out in one of the Epistles of Erasmus, which the "Enchiridion" omits: "You
want to know what I am doing. I devote myself to my friends, with whom I
enjoy the most delightful intercourse. With them I shut myself in some
corner, where I avoid the gaping crowd, and either speak to them in sweet
whispers, or listen to their gentle voices, talking with them as with
myself. Can anything be more convenient than this? They never hide their
own secrets, while they keep sacred whatever is entrusted to them. They
speak when bidden, and when not bidden they hold their tongue. They talk of
what you wish, and as long as you wish; do not flatter, feign nothing, keep
back nothing, freely tell you of your faults, and take no man's character
away. What they say is either amusing or wholesome. In prosperity they
moderate, in affliction they console; they do not vary with fortune, they
follow you in all dangers, and last out to the very grave. Nothing can be
more candid than their relations with one another. I visit them from time
to time, now choosing one companion and now another, with perfect
impartiality. With these humble friends, I bury myself in seclusion. What
wealth or what sceptres would I take in exchange for this tranquil life?"

Tranquillity is a not unworthy characteristic of the scholar, but, taking
Erasmus at his word, would he not have been even a greater man than he was,
had he been less tranquil and more strenuous? His great rôle in the history
of European culture would have been greater still, had he been readier to
bear the rubs which come from rough contact with the world. I will not,
however, allow myself to be led off into this alluring digression, whether
books or experience make a man wiser. Books may simply turn a man into a
"learned fool," and, on the other hand, experience may equally fail to
teach any of the lessons of wisdom. As Moore says:

My only books
Were woman's looks,
And folly's all they taught me.

The so-called men of the world often know little enough of the world of
men. It is a delusion to think that the business man is necessarily
business-like. Your business man is often the most un-business-like
creature imaginable. For practical ability, give me the man of letters.
Life among books often leads to insight into the book of life. At Cambridge
we speak of the reading men and the sporting men. Sir Richard Jebb, when he
went to Cambridge, was asked, "Do you mean to be a sporting man or a
reading man?" He replied, "Neither! I want to be a man who reads." Marcus
Aurelius, the scholar and philosopher, was not the least efficient of the
Emperors of Rome. James Martineau was right when he said that the student
not only becomes a better man, but he also becomes a better student, when
he concerns himself with the practical affairs of life as well as with his
books. And the idea cuts both ways. We should be better men of business if
we were also men of books. It is not necessary to recall that the ancient
Rabbis were not professional bookmen. They were smiths and ploughmen,
traders and merchants, and their businesses and their trades were idealized
and ennobled--and, may we not add, their handiwork improved?--by the
expenditure of their leisure in the schools and libraries of Jerusalem.

And so all the foregoing comparisons between books and other objects of
utility or delight, charming though some of these comparisons are, fail to
satisfy one. One feels that the old Jewish conception is the only
completely true one: that conception which came to its climax in the
appointment of a benediction to be uttered before beginning to read a book
of the Law.

The real solace of books comes from the sense of service, to be rendered or
received; and one must enter that holy of holies, the library, with a
grateful benediction on one's lip, and humility and reverence and joy in
one's soul. Of all the writers about books, Charles Lamb, in his playful
way, comes nearest to this old-world, yet imperishable, ideal of the Jewish
sages. He says: "I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other
occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for
setting out on a pleasant walk, for a midnight ramble, for a friendly
meeting, for a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual
repasts--a grace before Milton,--a grace before Shakespeare,--a devotional
exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?" The Jewish
ritual could have supplied Lamb with several of these graces.

It will, I hope, now be seen why in speaking on the solace of books I have
said so little about consolation. It pains me to hear books praised as a
relief from worldly cares, to hear the library likened to an asylum for
broken spirits. I have never been an admirer of Boëthius. His "Consolations
of Philosophy" have always been influential and popular, but I like better
the first famous English translator than the original Latin author.
Boëthius wrote in the sixth century as a fallen man, as one to whom
philosophy came in lieu of the mundane glory which he had once possessed,
and had now lost. But Alfred the Great turned the "Consolations" into
English at the moment of his greatest power. He translated it in the year
886, when king on a secure throne; in his brightest days, when the Danish
clouds had cleared. Sorrow has often produced great books, great psalms, to
which the sorrowful heart turns for solace. But in the truest sense the
Shechinah rests on man only in his joy, when he has so attuned his life
that misfortune is but another name for good fortune. He must have learned
to endure before he seeks the solace of communion with the souls of the
great, with the soul of God. Very saddening it is to note how often men
have turned to books because life has no other good. The real book-lover
goes to his books when life is fullest of other joys, when his life is
richest in its manifold happiness. Then he adds the crown of joy to his
other joys, and finds the highest happiness.

I do not like to think of the circumstances under which Sir Thomas
Bodley went to Oxford to found his famous library. Not till his
diplomatic career was a failure, not till Elizabeth's smiles had
darkened into frowns, did he set up his staff at the library door. But
Bodley rather mistook himself. As a lad the library had been his joy,
and when he was abroad, at the summit of his public fame, he turned his
diplomatic missions to account by collecting books and laying the
foundation of his future munificence. I even think that no lover of
books ever loved them so well in his adversity as in his prosperity.
Another view was held by Don Isaac Abarbanel, the famous Jewish
statesman and litterateur. Under Alfonso V, of Portugal, and other
rulers, he attained high place, but was brought low by the Inquisition,
and shared in the expulsion of his brethren. He writes in one of his
letters: "The whole time I lived in the courts and palaces of kings,
occupied in their service, I had no leisure to read or write books. My
days were spent in vain ambitions, seeking after wealth and honor. Now
that my wealth is gone, and honor has become exiled from Israel; now
that I am a vagabond and a wanderer on the earth, and I have no money:
now, I have returned to seek the book of God, as it is said, [Hebrew:
cheth-samech-vav-resh-yod mem-cheth-samech-resh-aleph vav-hey-chaf-yod
qof-tav-nun-yod], 'He is in sore need, therefore he studies.'"

This is witty, but it is not wise. Fortunately, it is not quite true;
Abarbanel does little justice to himself in this passage, for elsewhere (in
the preface to his Commentary on Kings) he draws a very different picture
of his life in his brilliant court days. "My house," he says, "was an
assembly place for the wise ... in my abode and within my walls were wealth
and fame for the Torah and for those made great in its lore." Naturally,
the active statesman had less leisure for his books than the exiled, fallen

So, too, with an earlier Jewish writer, Saadia. No sadder title was ever
chosen for a work than his _Sefer ha-Galui_--"Book of the Exiled." It is
beyond our province to enter into his career, full of stress and storm.
Between 933 and 937, driven from power, he retired to his library at
Bagdad, just as Cincinnatus withdrew to his farm when Rome no longer needed
him. During his retirement Saadia's best books were written. Why? Graetz
tells us that "Saadia was still under the ban of excommunication. He had,
therefore, no other sphere of action than that of an author." This is
pitiful; but, again, it is not altogether true. Saadia's whole career was
that of active authorship, when in power and out of power, as a boy, in
middle life, in age: his constant thought was the service of truth, in so
far as literature can serve it, and one may well think that he felt that
the Crown of the Law was better worth wearing in prosperity, when he chose
it out of other crowns, than in adversity, when it was the only crown
within his reach. It was thus that King Solomon chose.

So, in speaking of the solace of books, I have ventured to employ "solace"
in an old, unusual sense. "Solace" has many meanings. It means "comfort in
sorrow," and in Scotch law it denotes a compensation for wounded feelings,
_solatium_, moral and intellectual damages in short. But in Chaucer and
Spenser, "solace" is sometimes used as a synonym for joy and sweet
exhilaration. This is an obsolete use, but let me hope that the thing is
not obsolete. For one must go to his books for solace, not in mourning
garb, but in gayest attire--to a wedding, not to a funeral. When John Clare

I read in books for happiness,
But books mistake the way to joy,

he read for what he ought to have brought, and thus he failed to find his
goal. The library has been beautifully termed the "bridal chamber of the
mind." So, too, the Apocrypha puts it in the Wisdom of Solomon:

Wisdom is radiant....
Her I loved and sought out from my youth,
And I sought to take her for my bride,
And I became enamored of her beauty.

* * * * *

When I am come into my house, I shall find rest with her,
For converse with her hath no bitterness,
And to live with her hath no pain.

* * * * *

O God of the fathers, ...
Give me wisdom, that sitteth by Thee on Thy throne.


Men leave their homes because they must, or because they will. The Hebrew
has experienced both motives for travelling. Irresistibly driven on by his
own destiny and by the pressure of his fellow-men, the Jew was also gifted
with a double share of that curiosity and restlessness which often send men
forth of their own free will on long and arduous journeys. He has thus
played the part of the Wandering Jew from choice and from necessity. He
loved to live in the whole world, and the whole world met him by refusing
him a single spot that he might call his very own.

Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild-dove hath her nest, the fox her cave,
Mankind their country,--Israel but the grave!

A sad chapter of medieval history is filled with the enforced wanderings of
the sons of Israel. The lawgiver prophesied well, "There shall be no rest
for the sole of thy foot." But we are not concerned here with the victim of
expulsion and persecution. The wayfarer with whom we shall deal is the
traveller, and not the exile. He was moved by no caprice but his own. He
will excite our admiration, perhaps our sympathy, only rarely our tears.

My subject, be it remembered, is not wayfarers, but wayfaring. Hence I am
to tell you not the story of particular travellers, but the manner of their
travelling, the conditions under which they moved. Before leaving home, a
Jewish wayfarer of the Middle Ages was bound to procure two kinds of
passport. In no country in those days was freedom of motion allowed to
anyone. The Jew was simply a little more hampered than others. In England,
the Jew paid a feudal fine before he might cross the seas. In Spain, the
system of exactions was very complete. No Jew could change his residence
without a license even within his own town. But in addition to the
inflictions of the Government, the Jews enacted voluntary laws of their
own, forcing their brethren to obtain a congregational permit before

The reasons for this restriction were simple. In the first place, no Jew
could be allowed to depart at will, and leave the whole burden of the royal
taxes on the shoulders of those who were left behind. Hence, in many parts
of Europe and Asia, no Jew could leave without the express consent of the
congregation. Even when he received the consent, it was usually on the
understanding that he would continue, in his absence, to pay his share of
the communal dues. Sometimes even women were included in this law, as, for
instance, if the daughter of a resident Jew married and settled elsewhere,
she was forced to contribute to the taxes of her native town a sum
proportionate to her dowry, unless she emigrated to Palestine, in which
case she was free. A further cause why Jews placed restrictions on free
movement was moral and commercial. Announcements had to be made in the
synagogue informing the congregation that so-and-so was on the point of
departure, and anyone with claims against him could obtain satisfaction. No
clandestine or unauthorized departure was permissible. It must not be
thought that these communal licenses were of no service to the traveller.
On the contrary, they often assured him a welcome in the next town, and in
Persia were as good as a safe-conduct. No Mohammedan would have dared defy
the travelling order sealed by the Jewish Patriarch.

Having obtained his two licenses, one from the Government and the other
from the Synagogue, the traveller would have to consider his costume.
"Dress shabbily" was the general Jewish maxim for the tourist. How
necessary this rule was, may be seen from what happened to Rabbi Petachiah,
who travelled from Prague to Nineveh, in 1175, or thereabouts. At Nineveh
he fell sick, and the king's physicians attended him and pronounced his
death certain. Now Petachiah had travelled in most costly attire, and in
Persia the rule was that if a Jewish traveller died, the physicians took
half his property. Petachiah saw through the real danger that threatened
him, so he escaped from the perilous ministrations of the royal doctors,
had himself carried across the Tigris on a raft, and soon recovered.
Clearly, it was imprudent of a Jewish traveller to excite the rapacity of
kings or bandits by wearing rich dresses. But it was also desirable for the
Jew, if he could, to evade recognition as such altogether. Jewish opinion
was very sensible on this head. It did not forbid a Jew's disguising
himself even as a priest of the Church, joining a caravan, and mumbling
Latin hymns. In times of danger, he might, to save his life, don the turban
and pass as a Mohammedan even in his home. Most remarkable concession of
all, the Jewess on a journey might wear the dress of a man. The law of the
land was equally open to reason. In Spain, the Jew was allowed to discard
his yellow badge while travelling; in Germany, he had the same privilege,
but he had to pay a premium for it. In some parts, the Jewish community as
a whole bought the right to travel and to discard the badge on journeys,
paying a lump sum for the general privilege, and itself exacting a communal
tax to defray the general cost. In Rome, the traveller was allowed to lodge
for ten days before resuming his hated badge. But, curiously enough, the
legal relaxation concerning the badge was not extended to the markets. The
Jew made the medieval markets, yet he was treated as an unwelcome guest, a
commodity to be taxed. This was especially so in Germany. In 1226, Bishop
Lorenz, of Breslau, ordered Jews who passed through his domain to pay the
same toll as slaves brought to market. The visiting Jew paid toll for
everything; but he got part of his money back. He received a yellow badge,
which he was forced to wear during his whole stay at the market, the
finances of which he enriched, indirectly by his trade, and directly by his
huge contributions to the local taxes.

The Jewish traveller mostly left his wife at home. In certain circumstances
he could force her to go with him, as, for instance, if he had resolved to
settle in Palestine. On the other hand, the wife could prevent her husband
from leaving her during the first year after marriage. It also happened
that families emigrated together. Mostly, however, the Jewess remained at
home, and only rarely did she join even the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This
is a striking contrast to the Christian custom, for it was the Christian
woman that was the most ardent pilgrim; in fact, pilgrimages to the Holy
Land only became popular in Church circles because of the enthusiasm of
Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, especially when, in 326, she found
the true cross. We, however, read of an aged Jewess who made a pilgrimage
to all the cities of Europe, for the purpose of praying in the synagogues
on her route.

We now know, from the Chronicle of Achimaaz, that Jews visited Jerusalem in
the tenth century. Aronius records a curious incident. Charles the Great,
between the years 787 and 813, ordered a Jewish merchant, who often used to
visit Palestine and bring precious and unknown commodities thence to the
West, to hoax the Archbishop of Mainz, so as to lower the self-conceit of
this vain dilettante. The Jew thereupon sold him a mouse at a high price,
persuading him that it was a rare animal, which he had brought with him
from Judea. Early in the eleventh century there was a fully organized
Jewish community with a Beth-Din at Ramleh, some four hours' drive from
Jaffa. But Jews did not visit Palestine in large numbers, until Saladin
finally regained the Holy City for Mohammedan rule, towards the end of the
twelfth century. From that time pilgrimages of Jews became more frequent;
but the real influx of Jews into Palestine dates from 1492, when many of
the Spanish exiles settled there, and formed the nucleus of the present
Sefardic population.

On the whole, it may be said that in the Middle Ages the journey to
Palestine was fraught with so much danger that it was gallantry that
induced men to go mostly without their wives. And, generally speaking, the
Jew going abroad to earn a living for his family, could not dream of
allowing his wife to share the dangers and fatigues of the way. In Ellul,
1146, Rabbi Simeon the Pious returned from England, where he had lived many
years, and betook himself to Cologne, thence to take ship home to Trier. On
the way, near Cologne, he was slain by Crusaders, because he refused
baptism. The Jewish community of Cologne bought the body from the citizens,
and buried it in the Jewish cemetery.

No doubt it was often a cruel necessity that separated husband and wife.
The Jewish law, even in lands where monogamy was not legally enforced, did
not allow the Jew, however, to console himself with one wife at home and
another abroad. Josephus, we know, had one wife in Tiberias and another in
Alexandria, and the same thing is told us of royal officers in the Roman
period; but the Talmudic legislation absolutely forbids such license, even
though it did not formally prohibit a man from having more than one wife at
home. We hear occasionally of the wife's growing restive in her husband's
absence and taking another husband. In 1272, Isaac of Erfurt went on a
trading journey, and though he was only gone from March 9, 1271, to July,
1272, he found, on his return, that his wife had wearied of waiting for
him. Such incidents on the side of the wife were very rare; the number of
cases in which wife-desertion occurred was larger. In her husband's
absence, the wife's lot, at best, was not happy. "Come back," wrote one
wife, "or send me a divorce." "Nay," replied the husband, "I can do
neither. I have not yet made enough provision for us, so I cannot return.
And, before Heaven, I love you, so I cannot divorce you." The Rabbi advised
that he should give her a conditional divorce, a kindly device, which
provided that, in case the husband remained away beyond a fixed date, the
wife was free to make other matrimonial arrangements. The Rabbis held that
travelling diminishes family life, property, and reputation. Move from
house to house, and you lose a shirt; go from place to place, and you lose
a life--so ran the Rabbinic proverb. This subject might be enlarged upon,
but enough has been said to show that this breaking up of the family life
was one of the worst effects of the Jewish travels of the Middle Ages, and
even more recent times.

Whether his journey was devotional or commercial, the rites of religion
formed part of the traveller's preparations for the start. The Prayer for
Wayfarers is Talmudic in origin. It may be found in many prayer books, and
I need not quote it. But one part of it puts so well, in a few pregnant
words, the whole story of danger, that I must reproduce them. On
approaching a town, the Jew prayed, "May it be Thy will, O Lord, to bring
me safely to this town." When he had entered, he prayed, "May it be Thy
will, O Lord, to take me safely from this town." And when he actually left,
he uttered similar words, pathetic and painfully significant.

In the first century of the Christian era, much travelling was entailed by
the conveyance of the didrachmon, sent by each Jew to the Temple from
almost every part of the known world. Philo says of the Jews beyond the
Euphrates: "Every year the sacred messengers are sent to convey large sums
of gold and silver to the Temple, which have been collected from all the
subordinate Governments. They travel over rugged and difficult and almost
impassable roads, which, however, they look upon as level and easy,
inasmuch as they serve to conduct them to piety." And the road was made
easy in other ways.

It must often have been shortened to the imagination by the prevalent
belief that by supernatural aid the miles could be actually lessened. Rabbi
Natronai was reported to be able to convey himself a several days' journey
in a single instant. So Benjamin of Tudela tells how Alroy, who claimed to
be the Messiah in the twelfth century, not only could make himself visible
or invisible at will, but could cross rivers on his turban, and, by the aid
of the Divine Name, could travel a ten days' journey in ten hours. Another
Jewish traveller calmed the sea by naming God, another by writing the
sacred Name on a shard, and casting it into the sea. "Have no care," said
he, on another occasion, to his Arab comrade, as the shadows fell on a
Friday afternoon, and they were still far from home, "have no care, we
shall arrive before nightfall," and, exercising his wonderworking powers,
he was as good as his word. We read in Achimaaz of the exploits of a
tenth-century Jew who traversed Italy, working wonders, being received
everywhere with popular acclamations. This was Aaron of Bagdad, son of a
miller, who, finding that a lion had eaten the mill-mule, caught the lion
and made him do the grinding. His father sent him on his travels as a
penalty for his dealings with magic: after three years he might return. Fie
went on board a ship, and assured the sailors that they need fear neither
foe nor storm, for he could use the Name. He landed at Gaeta in Italy,
where he restored to human form the son of his host, whom a witch had
turned into an ass. This was the beginning of many miracles. But he did not
allow one place to monopolize him. Next we find him in Benvenuto. He goes
to the synagogue, recognizes that a lad omits the name of God from his
prayer, thus showing that he is dead! He goes to Oria, then to Bari, and so
forth. Similar marvels were told in the Midrash, of travellers like Father
Jacob, and in the lives of Christian saints.

But the Jew had a real means of shortening the way--by profitable and
edifying conversation. "Do not travel with an Am ha-Arez," the olden Rabbis
advised. Such a one, they held, was careless of his own safety, and would
hardly be more careful of his companion's life. But, besides, an Am
ha-Arez, using the word in its later sense of ignoramus, would be too dull
for edifying conversation, and one might as well or as ill journey alone as
with a boor. But "thou shalt speak of them by the way," says Deuteronomy of
the commandments, and this (to say nothing of the danger) was one of the
reasons why solitary travelling was disapproved. A man walking alone was
more likely to turn his mind to idle thoughts, than if he had a congenial
partner to converse with, and the Mishnah is severe against him who turns
aside from his peripatetic study to admire a tree or a fallow. This does
not imply that the Jews were indifferent to the beauties of nature. Jewish
travellers often describe the scenery of the parts they visit, and
Petachiah literally revels in the beautiful gardens of Persia, which he
paints in vivid colors. Then, again, few better descriptions of a storm at
sea have been written than those composed by Jehudah Halevi on his fatal
voyage to Palestine. Similarly, Charizi, another Jewish wayfarer, who
laughed himself over half the world, wrote verses as he walked, to relieve
the tedium. He is perhaps the most entertaining of all Jewish travellers.
Nothing is more amusing than his conscious habit of judging the characters
of the men he saw by their hospitality, or the reverse, to himself. A more
serious traveller, Maimonides, must have done a good deal of thinking on
horseback, to get through his ordinary day's work and write his great
books. In fact, he himself informs us that he composed part of his
Commentary to the Mishnah while journeying by land and sea. In Europe, the
Rabbis often had several neighboring congregations under their care, and on
their journeys to and fro took their books with them, and read in them at
intervals. Maharil, on such journeys, always took note of the Jewish
customs observed in different localities. He was also a most skilful and
successful Shadchan, or marriage-broker, and his extensive travels placed
this famous Rabbi in an excellent position for match-making. Certainly, the
marriages he effected were notoriously prosperous, and in his hands the
Shadchan system did the most good and the least harm of which it is

Another type of short-distance traveller was the Bachur, or student. Not
that his journeys were always short, but he rarely crossed the sea. In the
second century we find Jewish students in Galilee behaving as many Scotch
youths did before the days of Carnegie funds. These students would study in
Sepphoris in the winter, and work in the fields in summer. After the
impoverishment caused by the Bar-Cochba war, the students were glad to dine
at the table of the wealthy Patriarch Judah I. In the medieval period there
were also such. These Bachurim, who, young as they were, were often
married, accomplished enormous journeys on foot. They walked from the Rhine
to Vienna, and from North Germany to Italy. Their privations on the road
were indescribable. Bad weather was naturally a severe trial. "Hearken not
to the prayers of wayfarers," was the petition of those who stayed at home.
This quaint Talmudic saying refers to the selfishness of travellers, who
always clamor for fine weather, though the farmer needs rain. Apart from
the weather, the Bachurim suffered much on the road. Their ordinary food
was raw vegetables culled from the fields; they drank nothing but water.
They were often accompanied by their teachers, who underwent the same
privations. Unlike their Talmudical precursors, they travelled much by
night, because it was safer, and also because they reserved the daylight
for study. The dietary laws make Jewish travelling particularly irksome. We
do, indeed, find Jews lodging at the ordinary inns, but they could not join
the general company at the _table d'hôte_. The Sabbath, too, was the cause
of some discomfort, though the traveller always exerted his utmost efforts
to reach a Jewish congregation by Friday evening, sometimes, as we have
seen, with supernatural aid.

We must interrupt this account of the Bachur to record a much earlier
instance of the awkward situation in which a pious Jewish traveller might
find himself because of the Sabbath regulations. In the very last year of
the fourth century, Synesius, of Cyrene, writing to his brother of his
voyage from Alexandria to Constantinople, supplies us with a quaint
instance of the manner in which the Sabbath affected Jewish travellers.
Synesius uses a sarcastic tone, which must not be taken as seriously
unfriendly. "His voyage homeward," says Mr. Glover, "was adventurous." It
is a pity that space cannot be found for a full citation of Synesius's
enthralling narrative. His Jewish steersman is an entertaining character.
There were twelve members in the crew, the steersman making the thirteenth.
More than half, including the steersman, were Jews. "It was," says
Synesius, "the day which the Jews call the Preparation [Friday], and they
reckon the night to the next day, on which they are not allowed to do any
work, but they pay it especial honor, and rest on it. So the steersman let
go the helm from his hands, when he thought the sun would have set on the
land, and threw himself down, and 'What mariner should choose might trample
him!' We did not at first understand the real reason, but took it for
despair, and went to him and besought him not to give up all hope yet. For
in plain fact the big rollers still kept on, and the sea was at issue with
itself. It does this when the wind falls, and the waves it has set going do
not fall with it, but, still retaining in full force the impulse that
started them, meet the onset of the gale, and to its front oppose their
own. Well, when people are sailing in such circumstances, life hangs, as
they say, by a slender thread. But if the steersman is a Rabbi into the
bargain, what are one's feelings? When, then, we understood what he meant
in leaving the helm,--for when we begged him to save the ship from danger,
he went on reading his book,--we despaired of persuasion, and tried force.
And a gallant soldier (for we have with us a good few Arabians, who belong
to the cavalry) drew his sword, and threatened to cut his head off, if he
would not steer the ship. But in a moment he was a genuine Maccabee, and
would stick to his dogma. Yet when it was now midnight, he took his place
of his own accord, 'for now,' says he, 'the law allows me, as we are
clearly in danger of our lives.' At that the tumult begins again, moaning
of men and screaming of women. Everybody began calling on Heaven, and
wailing and remembering their dear ones. Amarantus alone was cheerful,
thinking he was on the point of ruling out his creditors." Amarantus was
the captain, who wished to die, because he was deep in debt. What with the
devil-may-care captain, the Maccabean steersman, and the critical onlooker,
who was a devoted admirer of Hypatia, rarely has wayfaring been conducted
under more delightful conditions. As is often the case in life, the humors
of the scene almost obscure the fact that the lives of the actors were in
real danger. But all ended well. "As for us," says Synesius further on, "as
soon as we reached the land we longed for, we embraced it as if it had been
a living mother. Offering, as usual, a hymn of gratitude to God, I added to
it the recent misadventure from which we had unexpectedly been saved."

To return to our travelling Bachur of later centuries than Synesius's
Rabbi-steersman. On the road, the student was often attacked, but, as
happened with the son of the great Asheri, who was waylaid by bandits near
Toledo, the robbers did not always get the best of the fight. The Bachur
could take his own part. One Jew gained much notoriety in 801 by conducting
an elephant all the way from Haroun al-Rashid's court as a present to
Charlemagne, the king of the Franks. But the Rabbi suffered considerably
from his religion on his journeys. Dr. Schechter tells us how the Gaon
Elijah got out of his carriage to say his prayer, and, as the driver knew
that the Rabbi would not interrupt his devotions, he promptly made off,
carrying away the Gaon's property.

But the account was not all on one side. If the Bachur suffered for his
religion, he received ample compensation. When he arrived at his
destination, he was welcomed right heartily. We read how cordially the
Sheliach Kolel was received in Algiers in the fifteenth to eighteenth
centuries. It was a great popular event, as is nowadays the visit of the
_Alliance_ inspector. This was not the case with all Jewish travellers,
some of whom received a very cold shoulder from their brethren. Why was
this? Chiefly because the Jews, as little as the rest of medieval peoples,
realized that progress and enlightenment are indissolubly bound up with the
right of free movement. They regarded the right to move here and there at
will as a selfish privilege of the few, not the just right of all. But more
than that. The Jews were forced to live in special and limited Ghettos. It
was not easy to find room for newcomers. When a crisis arrived, such as the
expulsion of the Jews from Spain, then, except here and there, the Jews
were generous to a fault in providing for the exiles. Societies all over
the Continent and round the coast of the Mediterranean spent their time and
money in ransoming the poor victims, who, driven from Spain, were enslaved
by the captains of the vessels that carried them, and were then bought back
to freedom by their Jewish brethren.

This is a noble fact in Jewish history. But it is nevertheless true that
Jewish communities were reluctant in ordinary times to permit new
settlements. This was not so in ancient times. Among the Essenes, a
newcomer had a perfectly equal right to share everything with the old
inhabitants. These Essenes were great travellers, going from city to city,
probably with propagandist aims. In the Talmudic law there are very clear
rules on the subject of passers through a town or immigrants into it. By
that law persons staying in a place for less than thirty days were free
from all local dues except special collections for the poor. He who stayed
less than a year contributed to the ordinary poor relief, but was not taxed
for permanent objects, such as walling the town, defences, etc., nor did he
contribute to the salaries of teachers and officials, nor the building and
support of synagogues. But as his duties were small, so were his rights.
After a twelve months' stay he became a "son of the city," a full member of
the community. But in the Middle Ages, newcomers, as already said, were not
generally welcome. The question of space was one important reason, for all
newcomers had to stay in the Ghetto. Secondly, the newcomer was not
amenable to discipline. Local custom varied much in the details both of
Jewish and general law. The new settler might claim to retain his old
customs, and the regard for local custom was so strong that the claim was
often allowed, to the destruction of uniformity and the undermining of
authority. To give an instance or two: A newcomer would insist that, as he
might play cards in his native town, he ought not to be expected to obey
puritanical restrictions in the place to which he came. The result was that
the resident Jews would clamor against foreigners enjoying special
privileges, as in this way all attempts to control gambling might be
defeated. Or the newcomer would claim to shave his beard in accordance with
his home custom, but to the scandal of the town which he was visiting. The
native young men would imitate the foreigner, and then there would be
trouble. Or the settler would assert his right to wear colors and fashions
and jewelry forbidden to native Jews. Again, the marriage problem was
complicated by the arrival of insinuating strangers, who turned out to be
married men masquerading as bachelors. Then as to public worship--the
congregation was often split into fragments by the independent services
organized by foreign groups, and it would become necessary to prohibit its
own members from attending the synagogues of foreign settlers. Then as to
communal taxes: these were fixed annually on the basis of the population,
and the arrival of newcomers seriously disturbed the equilibrium, led to
fresh exactions by the Government, which it was by no means certain the new
settlers could or would pay, and which, therefore, fell on the shoulders of
the old residents.

When we consider all these facts, we can see that the eagerness of the
medieval Jews to control the influx of foreign settlers was only in part
the result of base motives. And, of course, the exclusion was not permanent
or rigid. In Rome, the Sefardic and the Italian Jews fraternally placed
their synagogues on different floors of the same building. In some German
towns, the foreign synagogue was fixed in the same courtyard as the native.
Everywhere foreign Jews abounded, and everywhere a generous welcome awaited
the genuine traveller.

As to the travelling beggar, he was a perpetual nuisance. Yet he was
treated with much consideration. The policy with regard to him was, "Send
the beggar further," and this suited the tramp, too. He did not wish to
settle, he wished to move on. He would be lodged for two days in the
communal inn, or if, as usually happened, he arrived on Friday evening, he
would be billeted on some hospitable member, or the Shamash would look
after him at the public expense. It is not till the thirteenth century that
we meet regular envoys sent from Palestine to collect money.

The genuine traveller, however, was an ever-welcome guest. If he came at
fair time, his way was smoothed for him. The Jew who visited the fair was
only rarely charged local taxes by the Synagogue. He deserved a welcome,
for he not only brought wares to sell, but he came laden with new books.
The fair was the only book-market At other times the Jews were dependent on
the casual visits of travelling venders of volumes. Book-selling does not
seem to have been a settled occupation in the Middle Ages. The merchant who
came to the fair also fulfilled another function--that of Shadchan. The day
of the fair was, in fact, the crisis of the year. Naturally, the
letter-carrier was eagerly received. In the early part of the eighteenth
century the function of conveying the post was sometimes filled by

Even the ordinary traveller, who had no business to transact, would often
choose fair time for visiting new places, for he would be sure to meet
interesting people then. He, too, would mostly arrive on a Friday evening,
and would beguile the Sabbath with reports of the wonders he had seen. In
the great synagogue of Sepphoris, Jochanan was discoursing of the great
pearl, so gigantic in size that the Eastern gates of the Temple were to be
built of the single gem. "Ay, ay," assented an auditor, who had been a
notorious skeptic until he had become a shipwrecked sailor, "had not mine
own eyes beheld such a pearl in the ocean-bed, I should not have believed
it." And so the medieval traveller would tell his enthralling tales. He
would speak of a mighty Jewish kingdom in the East, existing in idyllic
peace and prosperity; he would excite his auditors with news of the latest
Messiah; he would describe the river Sambatyon, which keeps the Sabbath,
and, mingling truth with fiction, with one breath would truly relate how he
crossed a river on an inflated skin, and with the next breath romance about
Hillel's tomb, how he had been there, and how he had seen a large hollow
stone, which remains empty if a bad fellow enters, but at the approach of a
pious visitor fills up with sweet, pure water, with which he washes,
uttering a wish at the same time, sure that it will come true. It is
impossible even to hint at all the wonders of the tombs. Jews were ardent
believers in the supernatural power of sepulchres; they made pilgrimages to
them to pray and to beg favors. Jewish travellers' tales of the Middle Ages
are heavily laden with these legends. Of course, the traveller would also
bring genuine news about his brethren in distant parts, and sober
information about foreign countries, their ways, their physical
conformation, and their strange birds and beasts. These stories were in the
main true. For instance, Petachiah tells of a flying camel, which runs
fifteen times as fast as the fleetest horse. He must have seen an ostrich,
which is still called the flying camel by Arabs. But we cannot linger over
this matter. Suffice it to say that, as soon as Sabbath was over, the
traveller's narrative would be written out by the local scribe, and
treasured as one of the communal prizes. The traveller, on his part, often
kept a diary, and himself compiled a description of his adventures. In some
congregations there was kept a Communal Note-Book, in which were entered
decisions brought by visiting Rabbis from other communities.

The most welcome of guests, even more welcome than long-distance
travellers, or globe-trotters, were the Bachurim and travelling Rabbis. The
Talmudic Rabbis were most of them travellers. Akiba's extensive journeys
were, some think, designed to rouse the Jews of Asia Minor generally to
participate in the insurrection against Hadrian. But my narrative must be
at this point confined to the medieval students. For the Bachurim, or
students, there was a special house in many communities, and they lived
together with their teachers. In the twelfth century, the great academy of
Narbonne, under Abraham ibn Daud, attracted crowds of foreign students.
These, as Benjamin of Tudela tells us, were fed and clothed at the communal
cost. At Beaucaire, the students were housed and supported at the teacher's
expense. In the seventeenth century, the students not only were paid small
bursaries, but every household entertained one or more of them at table. In
these circumstances their life was by no means dull or monotonous. A Jewish
student endures much, but he knows how to get the best out of life. This
optimism, this quickness of humor, saved the Rabbi and his pupil from many
a melancholy hour. Take Abraham ibn Ezra, for instance. If ever a man was
marked out to be a bitter reviler of fate, it was he. But he laughed at
fate. He gaily wandered from his native Spain over many lands penniless,
travelled with no baggage but his thoughts, visited Italy and France, and
even reached London, where, perhaps, he died. Fortune ill-treated him, but
he found many joys. Wherever he went, patrons held out their hand.

Travelling students found many such generous lovers of learning, who, with
their wealth, encouraged their guests to write original works or copy out
older books, which the patrons then passed on to poor scholars in want of a
library. The legend is told, how the prophet Elijah visited Hebron, and was
not "called up" in the synagogue. Receiving no Aliyah on earth, he returned
to his elevation in Heaven. It was thus imprudent to deny honor to angels
unawares. Usually the scholar was treated as such a possible angel. When he
arrived, the whole congregation would turn out to meet him. He would be
taken in procession to the synagogue, where he would say the benediction
ha-Gomel, in thanks for his safety on the road. Perhaps he would address
the congregation, though he would do that rather in the school than in the
synagogue. Then a banquet would be spread for him. This banquet was called
one of the Seudoth Mitzvah, _i.e._ "commandment meals," to which it was a
duty of all pious men to contribute their money and their own attendance.
It would be held in the communal hall, used mostly for marriage feasts.
When a wedding party came from afar, similar steps for general enjoyment
were taken. Men mounted on horseback went forth to welcome the bride, mimic
tournaments were fought _en route_, torch-light processions were made if it
were night time, processions by boats if it were in Italy or by the Rhine,
a band of communal musicians, retained at general cost, played merry
marches, and everyone danced and joined in the choruses. These musicians
often went from town to town, and the Jewish players were hired for Gentile
parties, just as Jews employed Christian or Arab musicians to help make
merry on the Jewish Sabbaths and festivals.

We need not wonder, then, that a traveller like Ibn Ezra was no croaker,
but a genial critic of life. He suffered, but he was light-hearted enough
to compose witty epigrams and improvise rollicking wine songs. He was an
accomplished chess player, and no doubt did something to spread the Eastern
game in Europe. Another service rendered by such travellers was the spread
of learning by their translations. Their wanderings made them great
linguists, and they were thus able to translate medical, astronomical, and
scientific works wherever they went. They were also sent by kings on
missions to collect new nautical instruments. Thus, the baculus, which
helped Columbus to discover America, was taken to Portugal by Jews, and a
French Jew was its inventor. They were much in demand as travelling
doctors, being summoned from afar to effect specific cures. But they also
carried other delights with them. Not only were they among the troubadours,
but they were also the most famous of the travelling _conteurs_. It was the
Jews, like Berechiah, Charizi, Zabara, Abraham ibn Chasdai, and other
incessant travellers, who helped to bring to Europe Æsop, Bidpai, the
Buddhist legends, who "translated them from the Indian," and were partly
responsible for this rich poetical gift to the Western world.

Looking back on such a life, Ibn Ezra might well detect a Divine Providence
in his own pains and sorrows. So, Jew-like, he retained his hope to the
last, and after his buffetings on the troubled seas of life, remembering
the beneficent results of his travels to others, if not to himself, he
could write in this faithful strain:

My hope God knoweth well,
My life He made full sweet;
Whene'er His servant fell,
God raised him to his feet.
Within the garment of His grace,
My faults He did enfold,
Hiding my sin, His kindly face
My God did ne'er withhold.
Requiting with fresh good,
My black ingratitude.

There remain the great merchant travellers to be told about. They sailed
over all the world, and brought to Europe the wares, the products, the
luxuries of the East. They had their own peculiar dangers. Shipwreck was
the fate of others besides themselves, but they were peculiarly liable to
capture and sale as slaves. Foremost among their more normal hardships I
should place the bridge laws of the Middle Ages. The bridges were sometimes
practically maintained by the Jewish tolls. In England, before 1290, a Jew
paid a toll of a halfpenny on foot and a full penny on horseback--large
sums in those days. A "dead Jew" paid eightpence. Burial was for a long
time lawful only in London, and the total toll paid for bringing a dead Jew
to London over the various bridges must have been considerable. In the
Kurpfalz, for instance, the Jewish traveller had to pay the usual "white
penny" for every mile, but also a heavy general fee for the whole journey.
If he was found without his ticket of leave, he was at once arrested. But
it was when he came to a bridge that the exactions grew insufferable. The
regulations were somewhat tricky, for the Jew was specially taxed only on
Sundays and the Festivals of the Church. But every other day was some
Saint's Festival, and while, in Mannheim, even on those days the Christian
traveller paid one kreuzer if he crossed the bridge on foot, and two if on
horseback, the Jew was charged four kreuzer if on foot, twelve if on a
horse, and for every beast of burden he, unlike the Christian wayfarer,
paid a further toll of eight kreuzer. The Jewish quarter often lay near the
river, and Jews had great occasion for crossing the bridges, even for local
needs. In Venice, the Jewish quarter was naturally intersected by bridges;
in Rome there was the _pons Judeorum,_ which, no doubt, the Jews had to
maintain in repair. It must be remembered that many local Jewish
communities paid a regular bridge tax which was not exacted from
Christians, and when all this is considered, it will be seen that the
Jewish merchant needed to work hard and go far afield, if he was to get any
profit from his enterprises.

Nevertheless, these Jews owned horses and caravans, and sailed their own
ships long before the time when great merchants, like the English Jew
Antonio Fernandes Carvajal, traded in their own vessels between London and
the Canaries. We hear of Palestinian Jews in the third century and of
Italian Jews in the fifth century with ships of their own. Jewish sailors
abounded on the Mediterranean, which tended to become a Jewish lake. The
trade routes of the Jews were chiefly two. "By one route," says Beazley,
"they sailed from the ports of France and Italy to the Isthmus of Suez, and
thence down the Red Sea to India and Farther Asia. By another course, they
transported the goods of the West to the Syrian coast; up the Orontes to
Antioch; down the Euphrates to Bassora; and so along the Persian Gulf to
Oman and the Southern Ocean." Further, there were two chief overland
routes. On the one side merchants left Spain, traversed the straits of
Gibraltar, went by caravan from Tangier along the northern fringe of the
desert, to Egypt, Syria, and Persia. This was the southern route. Then
there was the northern route, through Germany, across the country of the
Slavs to the Lower Volga; thence, descending the river, they sailed across
the Caspian. Then the traveller proceeded along the Oxus valley to Balkh,
and, turning north-east, traversed the country of the Tagazgaz Turks, and
found himself at last on the frontier of China. When one realizes the
extent of such a journey, it is not surprising to hear that the greatest
authorities are agreed that in the Middle Ages, before the rise of the
Italian trading republics, the Jews were the chief middlemen between Europe
and Asia. Their vast commercial undertakings were productive of much good.
Not only did the Jews bring to Europe new articles of food and luxury, but
they served the various States as envoys and as intelligencers. The great
Anglo-Jewish merchant Carvajal provided Cromwell with valuable information,
as other Jewish merchants had done to other rulers of whom they were loyal
servants. In the fifteenth century Henry of Portugal applied to Jews for
intelligence respecting the interior of Africa, and a little later John,
king of the same land, derived accurate information respecting India from
two Jewish travellers that had spent many years at Ormuz and Calcutta. But
it is unnecessary to add more facts of this type. The Jewish merchant
traveller was no mere tradesman. He observed the country, especially did he
note the numbers and occupations of the Jews, their synagogues, their
schools, their vices, and their virtues.

In truth, the Jewish traveller, as he got farther from home, was more at
home than many of his contemporaries of other faiths when they were at
home. He kept alive that sense of the oneness of Judaism which could be
most strongly and completely achieved because there was no political bias
to separate it into hostile camps.

But the interest between the traveller and his home was maintained by
another bond. A striking feature of Jewish wayfaring life was the writing
of letters home. The "Book of the Pious," composed about 1200, says: "He
that departs from the city where his father and mother live, and travels to
a place of danger, and his father and mother are anxious on account of him;
it is the bounden duty of the son to hire a messenger as soon as he can and
despatch a letter to his father and mother, telling them when he departs
from the place of danger, that their anxiety may be allayed." Twice a year
all Jews wrote family letters, at the New Year and the Passover, and they
sent special greetings on birthdays. But the traveller was the chief
letter-writer. "O my father," wrote the famous Obadiah of Bertinoro, in
1488, "my departure from thee has caused thee sorrow and suffering, and I
am inconsolable that I was forced to leave at the time when age was
creeping on thee. When I think of thy grey hairs, which I no longer see, my
eyes flow over with tears. But if the happiness of serving thee in person
is denied to me, yet I can at least serve thee as thou desirest, by writing
to thee of my journey, by pouring my soul out to thee, by a full narrative
of what I have seen and of the state and manners of the Jews in all the
places where I have dwelt." After a long and valuable narrative, he
concludes in this loving strain: "I have taken me a house in Jerusalem near
the synagogue, and my window overlooks it. In the court where my house is,
there live five women, and only one other man besides myself. He is blind,
and his wife attends to my needs. God be thanked, I have escaped the
sickness which affects nearly all travellers here. And I entreat you, weep
not at my absence, but rejoice in my joy, that I am in the Holy City. I
take God to witness that here the thought of all my sufferings vanishes,
and but one image is before my eyes, thy dear face, O my father. Let me
feel that I can picture that face to me, not clouded with tears, but lit
with joy. You have other children around you; make them your joy, and let
my letters, which I will ever and anon renew, bring solace to your age, as
your letters bring solace to me."

Much more numerous than the epistles of sons to fathers are the letters of
fathers to their families. When these come from Palestine, there is the
same mingling of pious joy and human sorrow--joy to be in the Holy Land,
sorrow to be separated from home. Another source of grief was the
desolation of Palestine.

One such letter-writer tells sadly how he walked through the market at
Zion, thought of the past, and only kept back his tears lest the Arab
onlookers should see and ridicule his sorrow. Yet another medieval
letter-writer, Nachmanides, reaches the summit of sentiment in these lines,
which I take from Dr. Schechter's translation: "I was exiled by force from
home, I left my sons and daughters; and with the dear and sweet ones whom I
brought up on my knees, I left my soul behind me. My heart and my eyes will
dwell with them forever. But O! the joy of a day in thy courts, O
Jerusalem! visiting the ruins of the Temple and crying over the desolate
Sanctuary; where I am permitted to caress thy stones, to fondle thy dust,
and to weep over thy ruins. I wept bitterly, but found joy in my tears."

And with this thought in our mind we will take leave of our subject. It is
the traveller who can best discern, amid the ruins wrought by man, the hope
of a Divine rebuilding. Over the heavy hills of strife, he sees the coming
dawn of peace. The world must still pass through much tribulation before
the new Jerusalem shall arise, to enfold in its loving embrace all
countries and all men. But the traveller, more than any other, hastens the
good time. He overbridges seas, he draws nations nearer; he shows men that
there are many ways of living and of loving. He teaches them to be
tolerant; he humanizes them by presenting their brothers to them. The
traveller it is who prepares a way in the wilderness, who makes straight in
the desert a highway for the Lord.


Pliny says that by eating the palpitating heart of a mole one acquires the
faculty of divining future events. In "Westward Ho!" the Spanish prisoners
beseech their English foe, Mr. Oxenham, not to leave them in the hands of
the Cimaroons, for the latter invariably ate the hearts of all that fell
into their hands, after roasting them alive. "Do you know," asks Mr. Alston
in the "Witch's Head," "what those Basutu devils would have done if they
had caught us? They would have skinned us, and made our hearts into _mouti_
[medicine] and eaten them, to give them the courage of the white man." Ibn
Verga, the author of a sixteenth century account of Jewish martyrs, records
the following strange story: "I have heard that some people in Spain once
brought the accusation that they had found, in the house of a Jew, a lad
slain, and his breast rent near the heart. They asserted that the Jews had
extracted his heart to employ it at their festival. Don Solomon, the
Levite, who was a learned man and a Cabbalist, placed the Holy Name under
the lad's tongue. The lad then awoke and told who had slain him, and who
had removed his heart, with the object of accusing the poor Jews. I have
not," adds the author of the _Shebet Jehudah_, "seen this story in writing,
but I have heard it related."

We have the authority of Dr. Ploss for the statement that among the Slavs
witches produce considerable disquiet in families, into which, folk say,
they penetrate in the disguise of hens or butterflies. They steal the
hearts of children in order to eat them. They strike the child on the left
side with a little rod; the breast opens, and the witches tear out the
heart, and devour every atom of it. Thereupon the wound closes up of
itself, without leaving a trace of what has been done. The child dies
either immediately or soon afterwards, as the witch chooses. Many
children's illnesses are attributed to this cause. If one of these witches
is caught asleep, the people seize her, and move her so as to place her
head where her feet were before. On awaking, she has lost all her power for
evil, and is transformed into a medicine-woman, who is acquainted with the
healing effects of every herb, and aids in curing children of their
diseases. In Heine's poem, "The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar," the love-lorn youth
seeks the cure of his heart's ill by placing a waxen heart on the shrine.
This is unquestionably the most exquisite use in literature of the heart as
a charm.

Two or three of the stories that I have noted down on the gruesome subject
of heart-eating have been given above. Such ideas were abhorrent to the
Jewish conscience, and the use of the heart torn from a living animal was
regarded as characteristic of idolatry (Jerusalem Talmud, _Aboda Zara_, ii,
41b). In the Book of Tobit a fish's heart plays a part, but it is detached
from the dead animal, and is not eaten. It forms an ingredient of the smoke
which exorcises the demon that is troubling the heroine Sarah.

I have not come across any passage in the Jewish Midrashim that ascribes to
"heart-eating," even in folk-lore, the virtue of bestowing wisdom.
Aristotle seems to lend his authority to some such notion as that I have
quoted from Pliny, when he says, "Man alone presents the phenomenon of
heart-beating, because he alone is moved by hope and by expectation of what
is coming." As George H. Lewes remarked, it is quite evident that Aristotle
could never have held a bird in his hand. The idea, however, that eating
the heart of an animal has wisdom-conferring virtue seems to underlie a
very interesting Hebrew fable published by Dr. Steinschneider, in his
_Alphabetum Siracidis_. The Angel of Death had demanded of God the power to
slay all living things.

"The Holy One replied, 'Cast a pair of each species into the sea, and
then thou shalt have dominion over all that remain of the species.' The
Angel did so forthwith, and he cast a pair of each kind into the sea.
When the fox saw what he was about, what did he do? At once he stood and
wept. Then said the Angel of Death unto him, 'Why weepest thou?' 'For my
companions, whom thou hast cast into the sea,' answered the fox. 'Where,
then, are thy companions?' said the Angel. The fox ran to the sea-shore
[with his wife], and the Angel of Death beheld the reflection of the fox
in the water, and he thought that he had already cast in a pair of foxes,
so, addressing the fox by his side, he cried, 'Be off with you!' The fox
at once fled and escaped. The weasel met him, and the fox related what
had happened, and what he had done; and so the weasel went and did

"At the end of the year, the leviathan assembled all the creatures in the
sea, and lo! the fox and the weasel were missing, for they had not come
into the sea. He sent to ask, and he was told how the fox and the weasel
had escaped through their wisdom. They taunted the leviathan, saying,
'The fox is exceedingly cunning.' The leviathan felt uneasy and envious,
and he sent a deputation of great fishes, with the order that they were
to deceive the fox, and bring him before him. They went, and found him by
the sea-shore. When the fox saw the fishes disporting themselves near the
bank, he was surprised, and he went among them. They beheld him, and
asked, 'Who art thou?' 'I am the fox,' said he. 'Knowest thou not,'
continued the fishes, 'that a great honor is in store for thee, and that
we have come here on thy behalf?' 'What is it?' asked the fox. 'The
leviathan,' they said, 'is sick, and like to die. He has appointed thee
to reign in his stead, for he has heard that thou art wiser and more
prudent than all other animals. Come with us, for we are his messengers,
and are here to thy honor.' 'But,' objected the fox, 'how can I come into
the sea without being drowned?' 'Nay,' said the fishes; 'ride upon one of
us, and he will carry thee above the sea, so that not even a drop of
water shall touch so much as the soles of thy feet, until thou reachest
the kingdom. We will take thee down without thy knowing it. Come with us,
and reign over us, and be king, and be joyful all thy days. No more wilt
thou need to seek for food, nor will wild beasts, stronger than thou,
meet thee and devour thee.'

"The fox heard and believed their words. He rode upon one of them, and
they went with him into the sea. Soon, however, the waves dashed over
him, and he began to perceive that he had been tricked. 'Woe is me!'
wailed the fox, 'what have I done? I have played many a trick on others,
but these fishes have played one on me worth all mine put together. Now I
have fallen into their hands, how shall I free myself? Indeed,' he said,
turning to the fishes, 'now that I am fully in your power, I shall speak
the truth. What are you going to do with me?' 'To tell thee the truth,'
replied the fishes, 'the leviathan has heard thy fame, that thou art very
wise, and he said, I will rend the fox, and will eat his heart, and thus
I shall become wise.' 'Oh!' said the fox, 'why did you not tell me the
truth at first? I should then have brought my heart with me, and I should
have given it to King Leviathan, and he would have honored me; but now ye
are in an evil plight.' 'What! thou hast not thy heart with thee?'
'Certainly not. It is our custom to leave our heart at home while we go
about from place to place. When we need our heart, we take it; otherwise
it remains at home.' 'What must we do?' asked the bewildered fishes. 'My
house and dwelling-place,' replied the fox, 'are by the sea-shore. If you
like, carry me back to the place whence you brought me, I will fetch my
heart, and will come again with you. I will present my heart to
Leviathan, and he will reward me and you with honors. But if you take me
thus, without my heart, he will be wroth with you, and will devour you. I
have no fear for myself, for I shall say unto him: My lord, they did not
tell me at first, and when they did tell me, I begged them to return for
my heart, but they refused.' The fishes at once declared that he was
speaking well. They conveyed him back to the spot on the sea-shore whence
they had taken him. Off jumped the fox, and he danced with joy. He threw
himself on the sand, and laughed. 'Be quick,' cried the fishes, 'get thy
heart, and come.' But the fox answered, 'You fools! Begone! How could I
have come with you without my heart? Have you any animals that go about
without their hearts?' 'Thou hast tricked us,' they moaned. 'Fools! I
tricked the Angel of Death, how much more easily a parcel of silly

"They returned in shame, and related to their master what had happened.
'In truth,' he said, 'he is cunning, and ye are simple. Concerning you
was it said, The turning away of the simple shall slay them [Prov. i:32].
Then the leviathan ate the fishes."

Metaphorically, the Bible characterizes the fool as a man "without a
heart," and it is probably in the same sense that modern Arabs describe the
brute creation as devoid of hearts. The fox in the narrative just given
knew better. Not so, however, the lady who brought a curious question for
her Rabbi to solve. The case to which I refer may be found in the
_Responsa_ Zebi Hirsch. Hirsch's credulous questioner asserted that she had
purchased a live cock, but on killing and drawing it, she had found that it
possessed no heart. The Rabbi refused very properly to believe her. On
investigating the matter, he found that, while she was dressing the cock,
two cats had been standing near the table. The Rabbi assured his questioner
that there was no need to inquire further into the whereabouts of the
cock's heart.

Out of the crowd of parallels to the story of the fox's heart supplied by
the labors of Benfey, I select one given in the second volume of the
learned investigator's _Pantschatantra_. A crocodile had formed a close
friendship with a monkey, who inhabited a tree close to the water side. The
monkey gave the crocodile nuts, which the latter relished heartily. One day
the crocodile took some of the nuts home to his wife. She found them
excellent, and inquired who was the donor. "If," she said, when her husband
had told her, "he feeds on such ambrosial nuts, this monkey's heart must be
ambrosia itself. Bring me his heart, that I may eat it, and so be free from
age and death." Does not this version supply a more probable motive than
that attributed in the Hebrew story to the leviathan? I strongly suspect
that the Hebrew fable has been pieced together from various sources, and
that the account given by the fishes, viz. that the leviathan was ill, was
actually the truth in the original story. The leviathan would need the
fox's heart, not to become wise, but in order to save his life.

To return to the crocodile. He refuses to betray his friend, and his wife
accuses him of infidelity. His friend, she maintains, is not a monkey at
all, but a lady-love of her husband's. Else why should he hesitate to obey
her wishes? "If he is not your beloved, why will you not kill him? Unless
you bring me his heart, I will not taste food, but will die." Then the
crocodile gives in, and in the most friendly manner invites the monkey to
pay him and his wife a visit. The monkey consents unsuspectingly, but
discovers the truth, and escapes by adopting the same ruse as that employed
by the fox. He asserts that he has left his heart behind on his tree.

That eating the heart of animals was not thought a means of obtaining
wisdom among the Jews, may be directly inferred from a passage in the
Talmud (_Horayoth_, 13b). Among five things there enumerated as "causing a
man to forget what he has learned," the Talmud includes "eating the hearts
of animals." Besides, in certain well-known stories in the Midrash, where a
fox eats some other animal's heart, his object is merely to enjoy a titbit.

One such story in particular deserves attention. There are at least three
versions of it. The one is contained in the _Mishle Shualim_, or
"Fox-Stories," by Berechiah ha-Nakdan (no. 106), the second in the _Hadar
Zekenim_ (fol. 27b), and the third in the _Midrash Yalkut_, on Exodus (ed.
Venice, 56a). Let us take the three versions in the order named.

A wild boar roams in a lion's garden. The lion orders him to quit the place
and not defile his residence. The boar promises to obey, but next morning
he is found near the forbidden precincts. The lion orders one of his ears
to be cut off. He then summons the fox, and directs that if the boar still
persists in his obnoxious visits, no mercy shall be shown to him. The boar
remains obstinate, and loses his ears (one had already gone!) and eyes, and
finally he is killed. The lion bids the fox prepare the carcass for His
Majesty's repast, but the fox himself devours the boar's heart. When the
lion discovers the loss, the fox quiets his master by asking, "If the boar
had possessed a heart, would he have been so foolish as to disobey you so

The king of the beasts, runs the story in the second of the three versions,
appointed the ass as keeper of the tolls. One day King Lion, together with
the wolf and the fox, approached the city. The ass came and demanded the
toll of them. Said the fox, "You are the most audacious of animals. Don't
you see that the king is with us?" But the ass answered, "The king himself
shall pay," and he went and demanded the toll of the king. The lion rent
him to pieces, and the fox ate the heart, and excused himself as in the
former version.

The _Yalkut_, or third version, is clearly identical with the preceding,
for, like it, the story is quoted to illustrate the Scriptural text
referring to Pharaoh's heart becoming hard. In this version, however, other
animals accompany the lion and the fox, and the scene of the story is on
board ship. The ass demands the fare, with the same _dénouement_ as before.

What induced the fox to eat the victim's heart? The ass is not remarkable
for wisdom, nor is the boar. Hence the wily Reynard can scarcely have
thought to add to his store of cunning by his surreptitious meal.

Hearts, in folk-lore, have been eaten for revenge, as in the grim story of
the lover's heart told by Boccaccio. The jealous husband forces his wife,
whose fidelity he doubts, to make a meal of her supposed lover's heart. In
the story of the great bird's egg, again, the brother who eats the heart
becomes rich, but not wise. Various motives, no doubt, are assigned in
other _Märchen_ for choosing the heart; but in these particular Hebrew
fables, it is merely regarded as a _bonne bouche_. Possibly the Talmudic
caution, that eating the heart of a beast brings forgetfulness, may have a
moral significance; it may mean that one who admits bestial passions into
his soul will be destitute of a mind for nobler thoughts. This suggestion I
have heard, and I give it for what it may be worth. As a rule, there is no
morality in folk-lore; stories with morals belong to the later and more
artificial stage of poet-lore. Homiletical folk-lore, of course, stands on
a different basis.

Now, in the _Yalkut_ version of the fox and the lion fable, all that we are
told is, "The fox saw the ass's heart; he took it, and ate it." But
Berechiah leaves us in no doubt as to the fox's motive. "The fox saw that
his heart was fat, and so he took it." In the remaining version, "The fox
saw that the heart was good, so he ate it." This needs no further comment.

Of course, it has been far from my intention to dispute that the heart was
regarded by Jews as the seat both of the intellect and the feelings, of all
mental and spiritual functions, indeed. The heart was the best part of man,
the fount of life; hence Jehudah Halevi's well-known saying, "Israel is to
the world as the heart to the body." An intimate connection was also
established, by Jews and Greeks alike, between the physical condition of
the heart and man's moral character. It was a not unnatural thought that
former ages were more pious than later times. "The heart of Rabbi Akiba was
like the door of the porch [which was twenty cubits high], the heart of
Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua was like the door of the Temple [this was only
ten cubits high], while our hearts are only as large as the eye of a
needle." But I am going beyond my subject. To collect all the things,
pretty and the reverse, that have been said in Jewish literature about the
heart, would need more leisure, and a great deal more learning, than I
possess. So I will conclude with a story, pathetic as well as poetical,
from a Jewish medieval chronicle.

A Mohammedan king once asked a learned Rabbi why the Jews, who had in times
long past been so renowned for their bravery, had in later generations
become subdued, and even timorous. The Rabbi, to prove that captivity and
persecution were the cause of the change, proposed an experiment. He bade
the king take two lion's whelps, equally strong and big. One was tied up,
the other was allowed to roam free in the palace grounds. They were fed
alike, and after an interval both were killed. The king's officers found
that the heart of the captive lion was but one-tenth as large as that of
his free companion, thus evidencing the degenerating influence of slavery.
This is meant, no doubt, as a fable, but, at least, it is not without a
moral. The days of captivity are gone, and it may be hoped that Jewish
large-heartedness has come back with the breath of freedom.


"The Omnipresent," said a Rabbi, "is occupied in making marriages." The
levity of the saying lies in the ear of him who hears it; for by
marriages the speaker meant all the wondrous combinations of the
universe, whose issue makes our good and evil.

_George Eliot_

The proverb that I have set at the head of these lines is popular in every
language of Europe. Need I add that a variant may be found in Chinese? The
Old Man of the Moon unites male and female with a silken, invisible thread,
and they cannot afterwards be separated, but are destined to become man and
wife. The remark of the Rabbi quoted in "Daniel Deronda" carries the
proverb back apparently to a Jewish origin; and it is, indeed, more than
probable that the Rabbinical literature is the earliest source to which
this piece of folk-philosophy can be traced.

George Eliot's Rabbi was Jose bar Chalafta, and his remark was made to a
lady, possibly a Roman matron of high quality, in Sepphoris. Rabbi Jose was
evidently an adept in meeting the puzzling questions of women, for as many
as sixteen interviews between him and "matrons" are recorded in Agadic
literature. Whether because prophetic of its subsequent popularity, or for
some other reason, this particular dialogue in which Rabbi Jose bore so
conspicuous a part is repeated in the _Midrash Rabba_ alone not less than
four times, besides appearing in other Midrashim. It will be as well, then,
to reproduce the passage in a summarized form, for it may be fairly
described as the _locus classicus_ on the subject.

"How long," she asked, "did it take God to create the world?" and Rabbi
Jose informed her that the time occupied was six days. "What has God been
doing since that time?" continued the matron. "The Holy One," answered
the Rabbi, "has been sitting in Heaven arranging marriages."--"Indeed!"
she replied, "I could do as much myself. I have thousands of slaves, and
could marry them off in couples in a single hour. It is easy enough."--"I
hope that you will find it so," said Rabbi Jose. "In Heaven it is thought
as difficult as the dividing of the Red Sea." He then took his departure,
while she assembled one thousand men-servants and as many maid-servants,
and, marking them off in pairs, ordered them all to marry. On the day
following this wholesale wedding, the poor victims came to their mistress
in a woeful plight. One had a broken leg, another a black eye, a third a
swollen nose; all were suffering from some ailment, but with one voice
they joined in the cry, "Lady, unmarry us again!" Then the matron sent
for Rabbi Jose, admitted that she had underrated the delicacy and
difficulty of match-making, and wisely resolved to leave Heaven for the
future to do its work in its own way.

The moral conveyed by this story may seem, however, to have been idealized
by George Eliot almost out of recognition. This is hardly the case. Genius
penetrates into the heart, even from a casual glance at the face of things.
Though it is unlikely that she had ever seen the full passages in the
Midrash to which she was alluding, yet her insight was not at fault. For
the saying that God is occupied in making marriages is, in fact, associated
in some passages of the Midrash with the far wider problems of man's
destiny, with the universal effort to explain the inequalities of fortune,
and the changes with which the future is heavy.

Rabbi Jose's proverbial explanation of connubial happiness was not merely a
_bon mot_ invented on the spur of the moment, to silence an awkward
questioner. It was a firm conviction, which finds expression in more than
one quaint utterance, but also in more than one matter-of-fact assertion.
To take the latter first:

"Rabbi Phineas in the name of Rabbi Abbahu said, We find in the Torah, in
the Prophets, and in the Holy Writings, evidence that a man's wife is
chosen for him by the Holy One, blessed be He. Whence do we deduce it in
the Torah? From Genesis xxiv. 50: _Then Laban and Bethuel answered and
said_ [in reference to Rebekah's betrothal to Isaac], _The thing
proceedeth from the Lord._ In the Prophets it is found in Judges xiv. 4
[where it is related how Samson wished to mate himself with a woman in
Timnath, of the daughters of the Philistines], _But his father and mother
knew not that it was of the Lord._ In the Holy Writings the same may be
seen, for it is written (Proverbs xix. 14), _House and riches are the
inheritance of fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord._"

Many years ago, a discussion was carried on in the columns of _Notes and
Queries_ concerning the origin of the saying round which my present
desultory jottings are centred. One correspondent, with unconscious
plagiarism, suggested that the maxim was derived from Proverbs xix. 14.

Another text that might be appealed to is Tobit vi. 18. The Angel
encourages Tobit to marry Sarah, though her seven husbands, one after the
other, had died on their wedding eves. "Fear not," said Raphael, "for _she
is appointed unto thee from the beginning_."

Here we may, for a moment, pause to consider whether any parallels to the
belief in Heaven-made marriages exist in other ancient literatures. It
appears in English as early as Shakespeare:

God, the best maker of all marriages,
Combine your hearts in one.

_Henry V., v. 2._

This, however, is too late to throw any light on its origin. With a little
ingenuity, one might, perhaps, torture some such notion out of certain
fantastic sentences of Plato. In the _Symposium_ (par. 192), however, God
is represented as putting obstacles in the way of the union of fitting
lovers, in consequence of the wickedness of mankind. When men become, by
their conduct, reconciled with God, they may find their true loves.
Astrological divinations on the subject are certainly common enough in
Eastern stories; a remarkable instance will be given later on. At the
present day, Lane tells us, the numerical value of the letters in the names
of the two parties to the contract are added for each name separately, and
one of the totals is subtracted from the other. If the remainder is uneven,
the inference drawn is favorable; but if even, the reverse. The pursuit of
Gematria is apparently not limited to Jews. Such methods, however, hardly
illustrate my present point, for the identity of the couple is not
discovered by the process. Whether the diviner's object is to make this
discovery, or the future lot of the married pair is all that he seeks to
reveal, in both cases, though he charm never so wisely, it does not fall
within the scope of this inquiry. Without stretching one's imagination too
much, some passages in the _Pantschatantra_ seem to imply a belief that
marriage-making is under the direct control of Providence. Take, for
instance, the story of the beautiful princess who was betrothed to a
serpent, Deva Serma's son. Despite the various attempts made to induce her
to break off so hideous a match, she declines steadfastly to go back from
her word, and bases her refusal on the ground that the marriage was
inevitable and destined by the gods.

As quaint illustrations may be instanced the following: "Raba heard a
certain man praying that he might marry a certain damsel; Raba rebuked him
with the words: 'If she be destined for thee, nothing will part thee from
her; if thou art not destined for her, thou art denying Providence in
praying for her.' Afterwards Raba heard him say, 'If I am not destined to
marry her, I hope that either I or she may die,'" meaning that he could not
bear to witness her union with another. Despite Raba's protest, other
instances are on record of prayers similar to the one of which he
disapproved. Or, again, the Midrash offers a curious illustration of Psalm
lxii. 10, "Surely men of low degree are a breath, and men of high degree a
lie." The first clause of the verse alludes to those who say in the usual
way of the world, that a certain man is about to wed a certain maiden, and
the second clause to those who say that a certain maiden is about to wed a
certain man. In both cases people are in error in thinking that the various
parties are acting entirely of their own free will; as a matter of fact,
the whole affair is predestined. I am not quite certain whether the same
idea is intended by the _Yalkut Reubeni_, in which the following occurs:
"Know that all religious and pious men in this our generation are henpecked
by their wives, the reason being connected with the mystery of the Golden
Calf. The men on that occasion did not protest against the action of the
mixed multitude [at whose door the charge of making the calf is laid],
while the women were unwilling to surrender their golden ornaments for
idolatrous purposes. Therefore they rule over their husbands." One might
also quote the bearing of the mystical theory of transmigration on the
predestination of bridal pairs. In the Talmud, on the other hand, the
virtues of a man's wife are sometimes said to be in proportion to the
husband's own; or in other words, his own righteousness is the cause of his
acquiring a good wife. The obvious objection, raised by the Talmud itself,
is that a man's merits can hardly be displayed before his birth--and yet
his bride is destined for him at that early period.

Yet more quaint (I should perhaps rather term it consistent, were not
consistency rare enough to be indistinguishable from quaintness) was the
confident belief of a maiden of whom mention is made in the _Sefer
ha-Chasidim_ (par. 384). She refused persistently to deck her person with
ornaments. People said to her, "If you go about thus unadorned, no one will
notice you nor court you." She replied with firm simplicity, "It is the
Holy One, blessed be He, that settles marriages; I need have no concern on
the point myself." Virtue was duly rewarded, for she married a learned and
pious husband. This passage in the "Book of the Pious" reminds me of the
circumstance under which the originator of the latter-day Chasidism, Israel
Baalshem, is said to have married. When he was offered the daughter of a
rich and learned man of Brody, named Abraham, he readily accepted the
alliance, because he knew that Abraham's daughter was his bride destined by
heaven. For, like Moses Mendelssohn, in some other respects the antagonist
of the Chasidim, Baalshem accepted the declaration of Rabbi Judah in the
name of Rab: "Forty days before the creation of a girl, a proclamation
[Bath-Kol] is made in Heaven, saying, 'The daughter of such a one shall
marry such and such a one.'"

The belief in the Divine ordaining of marriages affected the medieval
Synagogue liturgy. To repeat what I have written elsewhere: When the
bridegroom, with a joyous retinue, visited the synagogue on the Sabbath
following his marriage, the congregation chanted the chapter of Genesis
(xxiv) that narrates the story of Isaac's marriage, which, as Abraham's
servant claimed, was providentially arranged. This chapter was sung, not
only in Hebrew, but in Arabic, in countries where the latter language was
the vernacular. These special readings, which were additional to the
regular Scripture lesson, seem to have fallen out of use in Europe in the
seventeenth century, but they are still retained in the East. But all over
Jewry the beautiful old belief is contained in the wording of the fourth of
the "seven benedictions" sung at the celebration of a wedding, "Blessed art
thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast made man in thine
image, after thy likeness, and hast prepared unto him out of his very self
a perpetual fabric." Here is recalled the creation of Eve, of whom God
Himself said, "I will make for man a help meet unto him." Not only the
marriage, but also the bride was Heaven-made, and the wonderful wedding
benediction enshrines this idea.

In an Agadic story, the force of this predestination is shown to be too
strong even for royal opposition. It does not follow that the
pre-arrangement of marriages implies that the pair cannot fall in love of
their own accord. On the contrary, just the right two eventually come
together; for once freewill and destiny need present no incompatibility.
The combination, here shadowed, of a predestined and yet true-love
marriage, is effectively illustrated in what follows:

"Solomon the king was blessed with a very beautiful daughter; she was the
fairest maiden in the whole land of Israel. Her father observed the
stars, to discover by astrology who was destined to be her mate in life
and wed her, when lo! he saw that his future son-in-law would be the
poorest man in the nation. Now, what did Solomon do? He built a high
tower by the sea, and surrounded it on all sides with inaccessible walls;
he then took his daughter and placed her in the tower under the charge of
seventy aged guardians. He supplied the castle with provisions, but he
had no door made in it, so that none could enter the fortress without the
knowledge of the guard. Then the king said, 'I will watch in what way God
will work the matter.'

"In course of time, a poor and weary traveller was walking on his way by
night, his garments were ragged and torn, he was barefooted and ready to
faint with hunger, cold, and fatigue. He knew not where to sleep, but,
casting his eyes around him, he beheld the skeleton of an ox lying on a
field hard by. The youth crept inside the skeleton to shelter himself
from the wind, and, while he slept there, down swooped a great bird,
which lifted up the carcass and the unconscious youth in it. The bird
flew with its burden to the top of Solomon's tower, and set it down on
the roof before the very door of the imprisoned princess. She went forth
on the morrow to walk on the roof according to her daily wont, and she
descried the youth. She said to him, 'Who art thou? and who brought thee
hither?' He answered, 'I am a Jew of Acco, and a bird bore me to thee.'
The kind-hearted maiden clothed him in new garments; they bathed and
anointed him, and she saw that he was the handsomest youth in Israel.
They loved one another, and his soul was bound up in hers. One day she
said, 'Wilt thou marry me?' He replied, 'Would it might be so!' They
resolved to marry. But there was no ink with which to write the Kethubah,
or marriage certificate. Love laughs at obstacles. So, using some drops
of his own blood as ink, the marriage was secretly solemnized, and he
said, 'God is my witness to-day, and Michael and Gabriel likewise.' When
the matter leaked out, the dismayed custodians of the princess hastily
summoned Solomon. The king at once obeyed their call, and asked for the
presumptuous youth. He looked at his son-in-law, inquired of him as to
his father and mother, family and dwelling-place, and from his replies
the king recognized him for the selfsame man whom he had seen in the
stars as the destined husband of his daughter. Then Solomon rejoiced with
exceeding joy and exclaimed, Blessed is the Omnipresent who giveth a wife
to man and establisheth him in his house."

The moral of which seems to be that, though marriages are made in Heaven,
love must be made on earth.


Palestine is still the land of song. There the peasant sings Arabic ditties
in the field when he sows and reaps, in the desert when he tends his flock,
at the oasis when the caravan rests for the night, and when camels are
remounted next morning. The maiden's fresh voice keeps droning rhythm with
her hands and feet as she carries water from the well or wood from the
scanty forest, when she milks the goats, and when she bakes the bread.

The burden of a large portion of these songs is love. The love motive is
most prominent musically during the long week of wedding festivities, but
it is by no means limited to these occasions. The songs often contain an
element of quaint, even arch, repartee, in which the girl usually has the
better of the argument. Certainly the songs are sometimes gross, but only
in the sense that they are vividly natural. With no delicacy of expression,
they are seldom intrinsically coarse. The troubadours of Europe trilled
more daintily of love, but there was at times an illicit note in their
lays. Eastern love songs never attain the ideal purity of Dante, but they
hardly ever sink to the level of Ovid.

But why begin an account of Hebrew love songs by citing extant Palestinian
examples in Arabic? Because there is an undeniable, if remote, relationship
between some of the latter and the Biblical Song of Songs. In that
marvellous poem, outspoken praise of earthly beauty, frank enumeration of
the physical charms of the lovers, thorough unreserve of imagery, are
conspicuous enough. Just these features, as Wetzstein showed, are
reproduced, in a debased, yet recognizable, likeness, by the modern Syrian
_wasf_--a lyric description of the bodily perfections and adornments of a
newly-wed pair. The Song of Songs, or Canticles, it is true, is hardly a
marriage ode or drama; its theme is betrothed faith rather than marital
affection. Still, if we choose to regard the Song of Songs as poetry merely
of the _wasf_ type, the Hebrew is not only far older than any extant Arabic
instance, but it transcends the _wasf_ type as a work of inspired genius
transcends conventional exercises in verse-making. There are superficial
similarities between the _wasf_ and Canticles, but there is no spiritual
kinship. The _wasf_ is to the Song as Lovelace is to Shakespeare, nay, the
distance is even greater. The difference is not only of degree, it is
essential. The one touches the surface of love, the other sounds its
depths. The Song of Songs immeasurably surpasses the _wasf_ even as poetry.
It has been well said by Dr. Harper (author of the best English edition of
Canticles), that, viewed simply as poetry, the Song of Songs belongs to the
loveliest masterpieces of art. "If, as Milton said, 'poetry should be
simple, sensuous, passionate,' then here we have poetry of singular beauty
and power. Such unaffected delight in all things fair as we find here is
rare in any literature, and is especially remarkable in ancient Hebrew
literature. The beauty of the world and of the creatures in it has been so
deeply and warmly felt, that even to-day the ancient poet's emotion of joy
in them thrills through the reader."

It is superfluous to justify this eulogy by quotation. It is impossible
also, unless the quotation extend to the whole book. Yet one scene shall be
cited, the exquisite, lyrical dialogue of spring, beginning with the tenth
verse of the second chapter. It is a dialogue, though the whole is reported
by one speaker, the Shulammite maid. Her shepherd lover calls to her as she
stands hidden behind a lattice, in the palace in Lebanon, whither she has
been decoyed, or persuaded to go, by the "ladies of Jerusalem."

_The shepherd lover calls_
Rise up, my love,
My fair one, come away!
For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone,
The flowers appear on the earth:
The birds' singing time is here,
And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.
The fig-tree ripens red her winter fruit,
And blossoming vines give forth fragrance.
Rise up, my love,
My fair one, come away!

Shulammith makes no answer, though she feels that the shepherd is conscious
of her presence. She is, as it were, in an unapproachable steep, such as
the wild dove selects for her shy nest. So he goes on:

O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock,
In the covert of the steep!
Let me see thy face,
Let me hear thy voice,
For sweet is thy voice, and thy face comely!

She remains tantalizingly invisible, but becomes audible. She sings a
snatch from a vineyard-watcher's song, hinting, perhaps, at the need in
which her person (her "vineyard" as she elsewhere calls it) stands of
protection against royal foxes, small and large.

_Shulammith sings_
Take us the foxes,
The little foxes,
That spoil the vineyards:
For our vines are in blossom!

Then, in loving rapture,

_Shulammith speaks in an aside_
My beloved is mine, and I am his:
He feedeth his flock among the lilies!

But she cannot refuse her lover one glance at herself, even though she
appear only to warn him of his danger, to urge him to leave her and return
when the day is over.

_Shulammith entreatingly to her lover_
Until the evening breeze blows,
And the shadows disappear (at sunset),
Turn, my beloved!
Be thou as a young hart
Upon the cleft-riven hills!

This is but one of the many dainty love idylls of this divine poem. Or,
again, "could the curious helplessness of the dreamer in a dream and the
yearning of a maiden's affection be more exquisitely expressed than in the
lines beginning, I was asleep, but my heart waked"? But, indeed, as the
critic I am quoting continues, "the felicities of expression and the happy
imaginings of the poem are endless. The spring of nature and of love has
been caught and fixed in its many exquisite lines, as only Shakespeare
elsewhere has done it; and, understood as we think it must be understood,
it has that ethical background of sacrifice and self-forgetting which all
love must have to be thoroughly worthy."

It is this ethical, or, as I prefer to term it, spiritual, background that
discriminates the Song of Songs on the one hand from the Idylls of
Theocritus, and, on the other, from the Syrian popular ditties. Some
moderns, notably Budde, hold that the Book of Canticles is merely a
collection of popular songs used at Syrian weddings, in which the bride
figures as queen and her mate as king, just as Budde (wrongly) conceives
them to figure in the Biblical Song. Budde suggests that there were "guilds
of professional singers at weddings, and that we have in the Song of Songs
simply the repertoire of some ancient guild-brother, who, in order to
assist his memory, wrote down at random all the songs he could remember, or
those he thought the best."

But this theory has been generally rejected as unsatisfying. The book,
despite its obscurities, is clearly a unity. It is no haphazard collection
of love songs. There is a sustained dramatic action leading up to a noble
climax. Some passages almost defy the attempt to fit them into a coherent
plot, but most moderns detect the following story in Canticles: A beautiful
maid of Shulem (perhaps another form of Shunem), beloved by a shepherd
swain, is the only daughter of well-off but rustic parents. She is treated
harshly by her brothers, who set her to watch the vineyards, and this
exposure to the sun somewhat mars her beauty. Straying in the gardens, she
is on a day in spring surprised by Solomon and his train, who are on a
royal progress to the north. She is taken to the palace in the capital, and
later to a royal abode in Lebanon. There the "ladies of Jerusalem" seek to
win her affections for the king, who himself pays her his court. But she
resists all blandishments, and remains faithful to her country lover.
Surrendering graciously to her strenuous resistance, Solomon permits her to
return unharmed to her mountain home. Her lover meets her, and as she draws
near her native village, the maid, leaning on the shepherd's arm, breaks
forth into the glorious panegyric of love, which, even if it stood alone,
would make the poem deathless. But it does not stand alone. It is in every
sense a climax to what has gone before. And what a climax! It is a
vindication of true love, which weighs no allurements of wealth and
position against itself; a love of free inclination, yet altogether removed
from license. Nor is it an expression of that lower love which may prevail
in a polygamous state of society, when love is dissipated among many. We
have here the love of one for one, an exclusive and absorbing devotion. For
though the Bible never prohibited polygamy, the Jews had become monogamous
from the Babylonian Exile at latest. The splendid praise of the virtuous
woman at the end of the Book of Proverbs gives a picture, not only of
monogamous home-life, but of woman's influence at its highest. The virtuous
woman of Proverbs is wife and mother, deft guide of the home, open-handed
dispenser of charity, with the law of kindness on her tongue; but her
activity also extends to the world outside the home, to the mart, to the
business of life. Where, in olden literature, are woman's activities wider
or more manifold, her powers more fully developed? Now, the Song of Songs
is the lyric companion to this prose picture. The whole Song works up
towards the description of love in the last chapter--towards the
culmination of the thought and feeling of the whole series of episodes. The
Shulammite speaks:

Set me as a seal upon thy heart,
As a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death,
Jealousy is cruel as the grave:
The flashes thereof are flashes of fire,
A very flame of God!
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can the floods drown it:
If a man would give the substance of his house for love,
He would be utterly contemned.

The vindication of the Hebrew song from degradation to the level of the
Syrian _wasf_ is easy enough. But some may feel that there is more
plausibility in the case that has been set up for the connection between
Canticles and another type of love song, the Idylls of Theocritus, the
Sicilian poet whose Greek compositions gave lyric distinction to the
Ptolemaic court at Alexandria, about the middle of the third century B.C.E.
It is remarkable how reluctant some writers are to admit originality in
ideas. Such writers seem to recognize no possibility other than supposing
Theocritus to have copied Canticles, or Canticles Theocritus. It does not
occur to them that both may be original, independent expressions of similar
emotions. Least original among ideas is this denial of originality in
ideas. Criticism has often stultified itself under the obsession that
everything is borrowed. On this theory there can never have been an
original note. The poet, we are told, is born, not made; but poetry,
apparently, is always made, never born.

The truth rather is that as human nature is everywhere similar, there must
necessarily be some similarity in its literary expression. This is
emphatically the case with the expression given to the emotional side of
human nature. The love of man for maid, rising everywhere from the same
spring, must find lyric outlets that look a good deal alike. The family
resemblance between the love poems of various peoples is due to the
elemental kinship of the love. Every true lover is original, yet most true
lovers, including those who have no familiarity with poetical literature,
fall instinctively on the same terms of endearment. Differences only make
themselves felt in the spiritual attitudes of various ages and races
towards love. Theocritus has been compared to Canticles, by some on the
ground of certain Orientalisms of his thought and phrases, as in his Praise
of Ptolemy. But his love poems bear no trace of Orientalism in feeling, as
Canticles shows no trace of Hellenism in its conception of love. The
similarities are human, the differences racial.

Direct literary imitation of love lyrics certainly does occur. Virgil
imitated Theocritus, and the freshness of the Greek Idyll became the
convention of the Roman Eclogue. When such conscious imitation takes place,
it is perfectly obvious. There is no mistaking the affectation of an urban
lyrist, whose lovers masquerade as shepherds in the court of Louis XIV.

Theocritus seems to have had earlier Greek models, but few readers of his
Idylls can question his originality, and fewer still will agree with
Mahaffy in denying the naturalness of his goatherds and fishermen, in a
word, his genuineness. Mahaffy wavers between two statements, that the
Idylls are an affectation for Alexandria, and sincere for Sicily. The two
statements are by no means contradictory. Much the same thing is true of
Canticles, the Biblical Song of Songs. It is unreasonable for anyone who
has seen or read about a Palestinian spring, with its unique beauty of
flower and bird and blossom, to imagine that the author of Canticles needed
or used second-hand sources of inspiration, however little his drama may
have accorded with the life of Jerusalem in the Hellenistic period. And as
the natural scenic background in each case is native, so is the treatment
of the love theme; in both it is passionate, but in the one it is nothing
else, in the other it is also spiritual. In both, the whole is artistic,
but not artificial. As regards the originality of the love-interest in
Canticles, it must suffice to say that there was always a strong romantic
strain in the Jewish character.

Canticles is perhaps (by no means certainly) post-Exilic and not far
removed in date from the age of Theocritus. Still, a post-Exilic Hebrew
poet had no more reason to go abroad for a romantic plot than Hosea, or the
author of Ruth, or the writer of the royal Epithalamium (Psalm xlv), an
almost certainly pre-Exilic composition. This Psalm has been well termed a
"prelude to the Song of Songs," for in a real sense Canticles is
anticipated and even necessitated by it. In Ruth we have a romance of the
golden corn-field, and the author chooses the unsophisticated days of the
Judges as the setting of his tale. In Canticles we have a contrasted
picture between the simplicity of shepherd-life and the urban
voluptuousness which was soon to attain its climax in the court of the
Ptolemies. So the poet chose the luxurious reign of Solomon as the
background for his exquisite "melodrama." Both Ruth and Canticles are
home-products, and ancient Greek literature has no real parallel to either.

Yet, despite the fact that the Hebrew Bible is permeated through and
through, in its history, its psalmody, and its prophetic oratory, with
images drawn from love, especially in rustic guise, so competent a critic
as Graetz conceived that the pastoral background of the love-story of
Canticles must have been artificial. While most of those who have accepted
the theory of imitation-they cannot have reread the Idylls and the Song as
wholes to persist in such a theory-have contended that Theocritus borrowed
from Canticles, Graetz is convinced that the Hebrew poet must have known
and imitated the Greek idyllist. The hero and heroine of the Song, he
thinks, are not real shepherds; they are bucolic dilettanti, their
shepherd-rôle is not serious. Whence, then, this superficial pastoral
_mise-en-scène?_ This critic, be it observed, places Canticles in the
Ptolemaic age.

"In the then Judean world," writes Graetz, "in the post-Exilic period,
pastoral life was in no way so distinguished as to serve as a poetic
foil. On the contrary, the shepherd was held in contempt. Agriculture was
so predominant that large herds were considered a detriment; they spoiled
the grain. Shepherds, too, were esteemed robbers, in that they allowed
their cattle to graze on the lands of others. In Judea itself, in the
post-Exilic period, there were few pasture-grounds for such nomads. Hence
the song transfers the goats to Gilead, where there still existed
grazing-places. In the Judean world the poet could find nothing to
suggest the idealization of the shepherd. As he, nevertheless, represents
the simple life, as opposed to courtly extravagance, through the figures
of shepherds, he must have worked from a foreign model. But Theocritus
was the first perfect pastoral poet. Through his influence shepherd songs
became a favorite _genre_. He had no lack of imitators. Theocritus had
full reason to contrast court and rustic life and idealize the latter,
for in his native Sicily there were still shepherds in primitive
simplicity. Under his influence and that of his followers, it became the
fashion to represent the simple life in pastoral guise. The poet of
Canticles--who wrote for cultured circles--was forced to make use of the
convention. But, as though to excuse himself for taking a Judean shepherd
as a representative of the higher virtues, he made his shepherd one who
feeds among the lilies. It is not the rude neat-herds of Gilead or the
Judean desert that hold such noble dialogues, but shepherds of delicate
refinement. In a word, the whole eclogic character of Canticles appears
to be copied from the Theocritan model,"


Back to Full Books