THE DEATH OF RASCHI.
[Aaron Ben Mier "loquitur."]
If I remember Raschi? An I live, Grandson, to bless thy grandchild, I'll forget Never that youth and what he did for Prague. Aye, aye, I know! he slurred a certain verse In such and such a prayer; omitted quite To stand erect there where the ritual Commands us rise and bow towards the East; Therefore, the ingrates brand him heterodox, Neglect his memory whose virtue saved Each knave of us alive. Not I forget, No more does God, who wrought a miracle For his dear sake. The Passover was here. Raschi, just wedded with the fair Rebekah, Bode but the lapsing of the holy week For homeward journey with his bride to France. The sacred meal was spread. All sat at board Within the house of Rabbi Jochanan: The kind old priest; his noble, new-found son, Whose name was wrung in every key of praise, By every voice in Prague, from Duke to serf (Save the vindictive bigot, Narzerad); The beautiful young wife, whose cup of joy Sparkled at brim; next her the vacant chair Awaited the Messiah, who, unannounced, In God's good time shall take his place with us. Now when the Rabbi reached the verse where one Shall rise from table, flinging wide the door, To give the Prophet entrance, if so be The glorious hour have sounded, Raschi rose, Pale, grave, yet glad with great expectancy, Crossed the hushed room, and, with a joyous smile To greet the Saviour, opened the door. A curse! A cry, "Revenged!" a thrust, a stifled moan, The sheathing of a poniard—that was all! In the dark vestibule a fleeing form, Masked, gowned in black; and in the room of prayer, Raschi, face downward on the stone-cold floor, Bleeding his life out. Oh! what a cry was that (Folk shuddered, hearing, roods off in the street) Wherewith Rebekah rushed to raise her lord, Kneeling beside him, striving in vain to quench With turban, veil, torn shreds of gown, stained hands, The black blood's sickening gush. He never spoke, Never rewarded with one glance of life The passion in her eyes. He met his end Even as beneath the sickle the full ear Bows to its death—so beautiful, silent, ripe.
Well, we poor Jews must gulp our injuries, Howe'er they choke us. What redress in Prague For the inhuman murder? A strange Jew The victim; the suspected criminal The ducal counselor! Such odds forbade Revenge or justice. We forbore to seek. The priest, discrowned o' the glory of his age, The widow-bride, mourned as though smitten of God, Gave forth they would with solemn obsequies Bury their dead, and crave no help from man. Now of what chanced betwixt the night of murder And the appointed burial I can give Only the sum of gossip—servants' tales, Neighbors' reports, close confidences leaked From friends and kindred. Night and day, folk said, Rebekah wept, prayed, fasted by the corpse, Three mortal days. Upon the third, her eyes, Sunk in their pits, glimmered with wild, strange fire. She started from her place beside the dead, Kissed clay-cold brow, cheeks, lids, and lips once more, And with a maniac's wan, heart-breaking smile, Veiled, hooded, glided through the twilight streets, A sable shadow. From the willow-grove, Close by the Moldau's brink, beyond the bridge, Her trace was lost. 'T was evening and mild May, Air full of spring, skies perfect as a pearl; Yet one who saw her pass amidst the shades O' the blue-gray branches swears a sudden flame, As of miraculous lightning, thrilled through heaven. One hour thereafter she reentered Prague, Slid swiftly through the streets, as though borne on By ankle-wings or floating on soft cloud, Smiling no more, but with illumined eyes, Transfigured brow, grave lips, and faltering limbs, So came into the room where Raschi lay Stretched 'twixt tall tapers lit at head and foot. She held in both hands leafy, flowerless plants, Some she had fastened in her twisted hair, Stuck others in her girdle, and from all Issued a racy odor, pungent-sweet, The living soul of Spring. Death's chamber seemed As though clear sunshine and a singing bird Therein had entered. From the precious herb She poured into a golden bowl the sap, Sparkling like wine; then with a soundless prayer, White as the dead herself, she held the cup To Raschi's mouth. A quick, small flame sprang up From the enchanted balsam, died away, And lo! the color dawned in cheek and lips, The life returned, the sealed, blind lids were raised, And in the glorious eyes love reawoke, And, looking up, met love. So runs the tale, Mocked by the worldly-wise; but I believe, Knowing the miracles the Lord hath wrought In every age for Jacob's seed. Moreover, I, with the highest and meanest Jew in Prague, Was at the burial. No man saw the dead. Sealed was the coffin ere the rites began, And none could swear it went not empty down Into the hollow earth. Too shrewd our priest To publish such a wonder, and expose That consecrated life to second death. Scarce were the thirty days of mourning sped, When we awoke to find his home left bare, Rebekah and her father fled from Prague. God grant they had glad meeting otherwhere!
From Joshua Ibn Vives of Allorqui to his Former Master, Solomon Levi-Paul, de Santa-Maria, Bishop of Cartegna Chancellor of Castile, and Privy Councillor to King Henry III. of Spain.
[In this poem I have done little more than elaborate and versify the account given in Graetz's History of the Jews (Vol. VIII., page 77), of an Epistle actually written in the beginning of the 15th century by Joshua ben Joseph Ibn Vives to Paulus de Santa Maria—E.L.]
Master and Sage, greetings and health to thee, From thy most meek disciple! Deign once more Endure me at thy feet, enlighten me, As when upon my boyish head of yore, Midst the rapt circle gathered round thy knee Thy sacred vials of learning thou didst pour. By the large lustre of thy wisdom orbed Be my black doubts illumined and absorbed.
Oft I recall that golden time when thou, Born for no second station, heldst with us The Rabbi's chair, who art priest and bishop now; And we, the youth of Israel, curious, Hung on thy counsels, lifted reverent brow Unto thy sanctity, would fain discuss With thee our Talmud problems good and evil, Till startled by the risen stars o'er Seville.
For on the Synagogue's high-pillared porch Thou didst hold session, till the sudden sun Beyond day's purple limit dropped his torch. Then we, as dreamers, woke, to find outrun Time's rapid sands. The flame that may not scorch, Our hearts caught from thine eyes, thou Shining One. I scent not yet sweet lemon-groves in flower, But I re-breathe the peace of that deep hour.
We kissed the sacred borders of thy gown, Brow-aureoled with thy blessing, we went forth Through the hushed byways of the twilight town. Then in all life but one thing seemed of worth, To seek, find, love the Truth. She set her crown Upon thy head, our Master, at thy birth; She bade thy lips drop honey, fired thine eyes With the unclouded glow of sun-steeped skies.
Forgive me, if I dwell on that which, viewed From thy new vantage-ground, must seem a mist Of error, by auroral youth endued With alien lustre. Still in me subsist Those reeking vapors; faith and gratitude Still lead me to the hand my boy-lips kissed For benison and guidance. Not in wrath, Master, but in wise patience, point my path.
For I, thy servant, gather in one sheaf The venomed shafts of slander, which thy word Shall shrivel to small dust. If haply grief, Or momentary pain, I deal, my Lord Blame not thy servant's zeal, nor be thou deaf Unto my soul's blind cry for light. Accord— Pitying my love, if too superb to care For hate-soiled name—an answer to my prayer.
To me, who, vine to stone, clung close to thee, The very base of life appeared to quake When first I knew thee fallen from us, to be A tower of strength among our foes, to make 'Twixt Jew and Jew deep-cloven enmity. I have wept gall and blood for thy dear sake. But now with temperate soul I calmly search Motive and cause that bound thee to the Church.
Four motives possible therefor I reach— Ambition, doubt, fear, or mayhap—conviction. I hear in turn ascribed thee all and each By ignorant folk who part not truth from fiction. But I, whom even thyself didst stoop to teach, May poise the scales, weigh this with that confliction, Yea, sift the hid grain motive from the dense, Dusty, eye-blinding chaff of consequence.
Ambition first! I find no fleck thereof In all thy clean soul. What! could glory, gold, Or sated senses lure thy lofty love? No purple cloak to shield thee from the cold, No jeweled sign to flicker thereabove, And dazzle men to homage—joys untold Of spiritual treasure, grace divine, Alone (so saidst thou) coveting for thine!
I saw thee mount with deprecating air, Step after step, unto our Jewish throne Of supreme dignity, the Rabbi's chair; Shrinking from public honors thrust upon Thy meek desert, regretting even there The placid habit of thy life foregone; Silence obscure, vast peace and austere days Passed in wise contemplation, prayer, and praise.
One less than thou had ne'er known such regret. How must thou suffer, who so lov'st the shade, In Fame's full glare, whom one stride more shall set Upon the Papal seat! I stand dismayed, Familiar with thy fearful soul, and yet Half glad, perceiving modest worth repaid Even by the Christians! Could thy soul deflect? No, no, thrice no! Ambition I reject!
Next doubt. Could doubt have swayed thee, then I ask, How enters doubt within the soul of man? Is it a door that opens, or a mask That falls? and Truth's resplendent face we scan. Nay, 't is a creeping, small, blind worm, whose task Is gnawing at Faith's base; the whole vast plan Rots, crumbles, eaten inch by inch within, And on its ruins falsehood springs and sin.
But thee no doubt confused, no problems vexed. Thy father's faith for thee proved bright and sweet. Thou foundst no rite superfluous, no text Obscure; the path was straight before thy feet. Till thy baptismal day, thou, unperplexed By foreign dogma, didst our prayers repeat, Honor the God of Israel, fast and feast, Even as thy people's wont, from first to least.
Yes, Doubt I likewise must discard. Not sleek, Full-faced, erect of head, men walk, when doubt Writhes at their entrails; pinched and lean of cheek, With brow pain-branded, thou hadst strayed about As midst live men a ghost condemned to seek That soul he may nor live nor die without. No doubts the font washed from thee, thou didst glide From creed to creed, complete, sane-souled, clear-eyed.
Thy pardon, Master, if I dare sustain The thesis thou couldst entertain a fear. I would but rout thine enemies, who feign Ignoble impulse prompted thy career. I will but weigh the chances and make plain To Envy's self the monstrous jest appear. Though time, place, circumstance confirmed in seeming, One word from thee should frustrate all their scheming.
Was Israel glad in Seville on the day Thou didst renounce him? Then mightst thou indeed Snap finger at whate'er thy slanderers say. Lothly must I admit, just then the seed Of Jacob chanced upon a grievous way. Still from the wounds of that red year we bleed. The curse had fallen upon our heads—the sword Was whetted for the chosen of the Lord.
There where we flourished like a fruitful palm, We were uprooted, spoiled, lopped limb from limb. A bolt undreamed of out of heavens calm, So cracked our doom. We were destroyed by him Whose hand since childhood we had clasped. With balm Our head had been anointed, at the brim Our cup ran over—now our day was done, Our blood flowed free as water in the sun.
Midst the four thousand of our tribe who held Glad homes in Seville, never a one was spared, Some slaughtered at their hearthstones, some expelled To Moorish slavery. Cunningly ensnared, Baited and trapped were we; their fierce monks yelled And thundered from our Synagogues, while flared The Cross above the Ark. Ah, happiest they Who fell unconquered martyrs on that day!
For some (I write it with flushed cheek, bowed head), Given free choice 'twixt death and shame, chose shame, Denied the God who visibly had led Their fathers, pillared in a cloud of flame, Bathed in baptismal waters, ate the bread Which is their new Lord's body, took the name Marranos the Accursed, whom equally Jew, Moor, and Christian hate, despise, and flee.
Even one no less than an Abarbanel Prized miserable length of days, above Integrity of soul. Midst such who fell, Far be it, however, from my duteous love, Master, to reckon thee. Thine own lips tell How fear nor torture thy firm will could move. How thou midst panic nowise disconcerted, By Thomas of Aquinas wast converted!
Truly I know no more convincing way To read so wise an author, than was thine. When burning Synagogues changed night to day, And red swords underscored each word and line. That was a light to read by! Who'd gainsay Authority so clearly stamped divine? On this side, death and torture, flame and slaughter, On that, a harmless wafer and clean water.
Thou couldst not fear extinction for our race; Though Christian sword and fire from town to town Flash double bladed lightning to efface Israel's image—though we bleed, burn, drown Through Christendom—'t is but a scanty space. Still are the Asian hills and plains our own, Still are we lords in Syria, still are free, Nor doomed to be abolished utterly.
One sole conclusion hence at last I find, Thou whom ambition, doubt, nor fear could swerve, Perforce hast been persuaded through the mind, Proved, tested the new dogmas, found them serve Thy spirit's needs, left flesh and sense behind, Accepted without shrinking or reserve, The trans-substantial bread and wine, the Christ At whose shrine thine own kin were sacrificed.
Here then the moment comes when I crave light. All's dark to me. Master, if I be blind, Thou shalt unseal my lids and bless with sight, Or groping in the shadows, I shall find Whether within me or without, dwell night. Oh cast upon my doubt-bewildered mind One ray from thy clear heaven of sun-bright faith, Grieving, not wroth, at what thy servant saith.
Where are the signs fulfilled whereby all men Should know the Christ? Where is the wide-winged peace Shielding the lamb within the lion's den? The freedom broadening with the wars that cease? Do foes clasp hands in brotherhood again? Where is the promised garden of increase, When like a rose the wilderness should bloom? Earth is a battlefield and Spain a tomb.
Our God of Sabaoth is an awful God Of lightnings and of vengeance,—Christians say. Earth trembled, nations perished at his nod; His Law has yielded to a milder sway. Theirs is the God of Love whose feet have trod Our common earth—draw near to him and pray, Meek-faced, dove-eyed, pure-browed, the Lord of life, Know him and kneel, else at your throat the knife!
This is the God of Love, whose altars reek With human blood, who teaches men to hate; Torture past words, or sins we may not speak Wrought by his priests behind the convent-grate. Are his priests false? or are his doctrines weak That none obeys him? State at war with state, Church against church—yea, Pope at feud with Pope In these tossed seas what anchorage for hope?
Not only for the sheep without the fold Is the knife whetted, who refuse to share Blessings the shepherd wise doth not withhold Even from the least among his flock—but there Midmost the pale, dissensions manifold, Lamb flaying lamb, fierce sheep that rend and tear. Master, if thou to thy pride's goal should come, Where wouldst thou throne—at Avignon or Rome?
I handle burning questions, good my lord, Such as may kindle fagots, well I wis. Your Gospel not denies our older Word, But in a way completes and betters this. The Law of Love shall supersede the sword, So runs the promise, but the facts I miss. Already needs this wretched generation, A voice divine—a new, third revelation.
Two Popes and their adherents fulminate Ban against ban, and to the nether hell Condemn each other, while the nations wait Their Christ to thunder forth from Heaven, and tell Who is his rightful Vicar, reinstate His throne, the hideous discord to dispel. Where shall I seek, master, while such things be, Celestial truth, revealed certainty!
Not miracles I doubt, for how dare man, Chief miracle of life's mystery, say HE KNOWS? How may he closely secret causes scan, Who learns not whence he comes nor where he goes? Like one who walks in sleep a doubtful span He gropes through all his days, till Death unclose His cheated eyes and in one blinding gleam, Wakes, to discern the substance from the dream.
I say not therefore I deny the birth, The Virgin's motherhood, the resurrection, Who know not how mine own soul came to earth, Nor what shall follow death. Man's imperfection May bound not even in thought the height and girth Of God's omnipotence; neath his direction We may approach his essence, but that He Should dwarf Himself to us—it cannot be!
The God who balances the clouds, who spread The sky above us like a molten glass, The God who shut the sea with doors, who laid The corner-stone of earth, who caused the grass Spring forth upon the wilderness, and made The darkness scatter and the night to pass— That He should clothe Himself with flesh, and move Midst worms a worm—this, sun, moon, stars disprove.
Help me, O thou who wast my boyhood's guide, I bend my exile-weary feet to thee, Teach me the indivisible to divide, Show me how three are one and One is three! How Christ to save all men was crucified, Yet I and mine are damned eternally. Instruct me, Sage, why Virtue starves alone, While falsehood step by step ascends the throne.
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE.
I. THE EXODUS. (August 3, 1492.)
1. The Spanish noon is a blaze of azure fire, and the dusty pilgrims crawl like an endless serpent along treeless plains and bleached highroads, through rock-split ravines and castellated, cathedral-shadowed towns.
2. The hoary patriarch, wrinkled as an almond shell, bows painfully upon his staff. The beautiful young mother, ivory-pale, well-nigh swoons beneath her burden; in her large enfolding arms nestles her sleeping babe, round her knees flock her little ones with bruised and bleeding feet. "Mother, shall we soon be there?"
3. The youth with Christ-like countenance speaks comfortably to father and brother, to maiden and wife. In his breast, his own heart is broken.
4. The halt, the blind, are amid the train. Sturdy pack-horses laboriously drag the tented wagons wherein lie the sick athirst with fever.
5. The panting mules are urged forward with spur and goad; stuffed are the heavy saddlebags with the wreckage of ruined homes.
6. Hark to the tinkling silver bells that adorn the tenderly-carried silken scrolls.
7. In the fierce noon-glare a lad bears a kindled lamp; behind its net-work of bronze the airs of heaven breathe not upon its faint purple star.
8. Noble and abject, learned and simple, illustrious and obscure, plod side by side, all brothers now, all merged in one routed army of misfortune.
9. Woe to the straggler who falls by the wayside! no friend shall close his eyes.
10. They leave behind, the grape, the olive, and the fig; the vines they planted, the corn they sowed, the garden-cities of Andalusia and Aragon, Estremadura and La Mancha, of Granada and Castile; the altar, the hearth, and the grave of their fathers.
11. The townsman spits at their garments, the shepherd quits his flock, the peasant his plow, to pelt with curses and stones; the villager sets on their trail his yelping cur.
12. Oh the weary march, oh the uptorn roots of home, oh the blankness of the receding goal!
13. Listen to their lamentation: They that ate dainty food are desolate in the streets; they that were reared in scarlet embrace dunghills. They flee away and wander about. Men say among the nations, they shall no more sojourn there; our end is near, our days are full, our doom is come.
14. Whither shall they turn? for the West hath cast them out, and the East refuseth to receive.
15. O bird of the air, whisper to the despairing exiles, that to-day, to-day, from the many-masted, gayly-bannered port of Palos, sails the world-unveiling Genoese, to unlock the golden gates of sunset and bequeath a Continent to Freedom!
1. Through cycles of darkness the diamond sleeps in its coal-black prison.
2. Purely incrusted in its scaly casket, the breath-tarnished pearl slumbers in mud and ooze.
3. Buried in the bowels of earth, rugged and obscure, lies the ingot of gold.
4. Long hast thou been buried, O Israel, in the bowels of earth; long hast thou slumbered beneath the overwhelming waves; long hast thou slept in the rayless house of darkness.
5. Rejoice and sing, for only thus couldst thou rightly guard the golden knowledge, Truth, the delicate pearl and the adamantine jewel of the Law.
III. THE SOWER.
1. Over a boundless plain went a man, carrying seed.
2. His face was blackened by sun and rugged from tempest, scarred and distorted by pain. Naked to the loins, his back was ridged with furrows, his breast was plowed with stripes.
3. From his hand dropped the fecund seed.
4. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil a blade, a sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree. Its arms touched the ends of the horizon, the heavens were darkened with its shadow.
5. It bare blossoms of gold and blossoms of blood, fruitage of health and fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foliage, and a serpent was coiled about its stem.
6. Under its branches a divinely beautiful man, crowned with thorns, was nailed to a cross.
7. And the tree put forth treacherous boughs to strangle the Sower; his flesh was bruised and torn, but cunningly he disentangled the murderous knot and passed to the eastward.
8. Again there dropped from his hand the fecund seed.
9. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil a blade, a sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree. Crescent shaped like little emerald moons were the leaves; it bare blossoms of silver and blossoms of blood, fruitage of health and fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foliage and a serpent was coiled about its stem.
10. Under its branches a turbaned mighty-limbed Prophet brandished a drawn sword.
11. And behold, this tree likewise puts forth perfidious arms to strangle the Sower; but cunningly he disentangles the murderous knot and passes on.
12. Lo, his hands are not empty of grain, the strength of his arm is not spent.
13. What germ hast thou saved for the future, O miraculous Husbandman? Tell me, thou Planter of Christhood and Islam; tell me, thou seed-bearing Israel!
IV. THE TEST.
1. Daylong I brooded upon the Passion of Israel.
2. I saw him bound to the wheel, nailed to the cross, cut off by the sword, burned at the stake, tossed into the seas.
3. And always the patient, resolute, martyr face arose in silent rebuke and defiance.
4. A Prophet with four eyes; wide gazed the orbs of the spirit above the sleeping eyelids of the senses.
5. A Poet, who plucked from his bosom the quivering heart and fashioned it into a lyre.
6. A placid-browed Sage, uplifted from earth in celestial meditation.
7. These I saw, with princes and people in their train; the monumental dead and the standard-bearers of the future.
8. And suddenly I heard a burst of mocking laughter, and turning, I beheld the shuffling gait, the ignominious features, the sordid mask of the son of the Ghetto.
1. Vast oceanic movements, the flux and reflux of immeasurable tides, oversweep our continent.
2. From the far Caucasian steppes, from the squalid Ghettos of Europe,
3. From Odessa and Bucharest, from Kief, and Ekaterinoslav,
4. Hark to the cry of the exiles of Babylon, the voice of Rachel mourning for her children, of Israel lamenting for Zion.
5. And lo, like a turbid stream, the long-pent flood bursts the dykes of oppression and rushes hitherward.
6. Unto her ample breast, the generous mother of nations welcomes them.
7. The herdsman of Canaan and the seed of Jerusalem's royal shepherd renew their youth amid the pastoral plains of Texas and the golden valleys of the Sierras.
VI. THE PROPHET.
1. Moses Ben Maimon lifting his perpetual lamp over the path of the perplexed;
2. Hallevi, the honey-tongued poet, wakening amid the silent ruins of Zion the sleeping lyre of David;
3. Moses, the wise son of Mendel, who made the Ghetto illustrious;
4. Abarbanel, the counselor of kings; Alcharisi, the exquisite singer; Ibn Ezra, the perfect old man; Gabirol, the tragic seer;
5. Heine, the enchanted magician, the heartbroken jester;
6. Yea, and the century-crowned patriarch whose bounty engirdles the globe;—
7. These need no wreath and no trumpet; like perennial asphodel blossoms, their fame, their glory resounds like the brazen-throated cornet.
8. But thou—hast thou faith in the fortune of Israel? Wouldst thou lighten the anguish of Jacob?
9. Then shalt thou take the hand of yonder caftaned wretch with flowing curls and gold-pierced ears;
10. Who crawls blinking forth from the loathsome recesses of the Jewry;
11. Nerveless his fingers, puny his frame; haunted by the bat-like phantoms of superstition is his brain.
12. Thou shalt say to the bigot, "My Brother," and to the creature of darkness, "My Friend."
13. And thy heart shall spend itself in fountains of love upon the ignorant, the coarse, and the abject.
14. Then in the obscurity thou shalt hear a rush of wings, thine eyes shall be bitten with pungent smoke.
15. And close against thy quivering lips shall be pressed the live coal wherewith the Seraphim brand the Prophets.
1. Long, long has the Orient-Jew spun around his helplessness the cunningly enmeshed web of Talmud and Kabbala.
2. Imprisoned in dark corners of misery and oppression, closely he drew about him the dust-gray filaments, soft as silk and stubborn as steel, until he lay death-stiffened in mummied seclusion.
3. And the world has named him an ugly worm, shunning the blessed daylight.
4. But when the emancipating springtide breathes wholesome, quickening airs, when the Sun of Love shines out with cordial fires, lo, the Soul of Israel bursts her cobweb sheath, and flies forth attired in the winged beauty of immortality.
TO CARMEN SYLVA.
Oh, that the golden lyre divine Whence David smote flame-tones were mine! Oh, that the silent harp which hung Untuned, unstrung, Upon the willows by the river, Would throb beneath my touch and quiver With the old song-enchanted spell Of Israel!
Oh, that the large prophetic Voice Would make my reed-piped throat its choice! All ears should prick, all hearts should spring, To hear me sing The burden of the isles, the word Assyria knew, Damascus heard, When, like the wind, while cedars shake, Isaiah spake.
For I would frame a song to-day Winged like a bird to cleave its way O'er land and sea that spread between, To where a Queen Sits with a triple coronet. Genius and Sorrow both have set Their diadems above the gold— A Queen three-fold!
To her the forest lent its lyre, Hers are the sylvan dews, the fire Of Orient suns, the mist-wreathed gleams Of mountain streams. She, the imperial Rhine's own child, Takes to her heart the wood-nymph wild, The gypsy Pelech, and the wide, White Danube's tide.
She who beside an infant's bier Long since resigned all hope to hear The sacred name of "Mother" bless Her childlessness, Now from a people's sole acclaim Receives the heart-vibrating name, And "Mother, Mother, Mother!" fills The echoing hills.
Yet who is he who pines apart, Estranged from that maternal heart, Ungraced, unfriended, and forlorn, The butt of scorn? An alien in his land of birth, An outcast from his brethren's earth, Albeit with theirs his blood mixed well When Plevna fell?
When all Roumania's chains were riven, When unto all his sons was given The hero's glorious reward, Reaped by the sword,— Wherefore was this poor thrall, whose chains Hung heaviest, within whose veins The oldest blood of freedom streamed, Still unredeemed?
O Mother, Poet, Queen in one! Pity and save—he is thy son. For poet David's sake, the king Of all who sing; For thine own people's sake who share His law, his truth, his praise, his prayer; For his sake who was sacrificed— His brother—Christ!
THE DANCE TO DEATH;
A Historical Tragedy in Five Acts.
This play is dedicated, in profound veneration and respect, to the memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most among the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish nationality.
FREDERICK THE GRAVE, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of Meissen, Protector and Patron of the Free City of Nordhausen. PRINCE WILLIAM OF MEISSEN, his son. SUSSKIND VON ORB, a Jew. HENRY SCHNETZEN, Governor of Salza. HENRY NORDMANN OF NORDMANNSTEIN, Knight of Treffurt. REINHARD PEPPERCORN, Prior of Wartburg Monastery. RABBI JACOB. DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, President of the Council. REUBEN VON ORB, a boy, Susskind's son. BARUCH and NAPHTALI,Jews. RABBI CRESSELIN. LAY-BROTHER. PAGE. PUBLIC SCRIVENER.
PRINCESS MATHILDIS, wife to Frederick. LIEBHAID VON ORB. CLAIRE CRESSELIN.
Jews, Jewesses, Burghers, Senators, Citizens, Citizen's Wife and Boy, Flagellants, Servants, Guardsmen.
Scene—Partly in Nordhausen, partly in Eisenach. Time, May, 4th, 5th, 6th, 1349.
ACT I.—In Nordhausen.
A street in the Judengasse, outside the Synagogue. During this Scene Jews and Jewesses, singly and in groups, with prayer-books in their hands, pass across the stage, and go into the Synagogue. Among them, enter BARUCH and NAPHTALI.
NAPHTALI. Hast seen him yet?
BARUCH. Nay; Rabbi Jacob's door Swung to behind him, just as I puffed up O'erblown with haste. See how our years weigh, cousin. Who'd judge me with this paunch a temperate man, A man of modest means, a man withal Scarce overpast his prime? Well, God be praised, If age bring no worse burden! Who is this stranger? Simon the Leech tells me he claims to bear Some special message from the Lord—no doubt To-morrow, fresh from rest, he'll publish it Within the Synagogue.
NAPHTALI. To-morrow, man? He will not hear of rest—he comes anon— Shall we within?
BARUCH. Rather let's wait, And scrutinize him as he mounts the street. Since you denote him so remarkable, You've whetted my desire.
NAPHTALI. A blind, old man, Mayhap is all you'll find him—spent with travel, His raiment fouled with dust, his sandaled feet Road-bruised by stone and bramble. But his face!— Majestic with long fall of cloud-white beard, And hoary wreath of hair—oh, it is one Already kissed by angels.
BARUCH. Look, there limps Little Manasseh, bloated as his purse, And wrinkled as a frost-pinched fruit. I hear His last loan to the Syndic will result In quadrupling his wealth. Good Lord! what luck Blesses some folk, while good men stint and sweat And scrape, to merely fill the household larder. What said you of this pilgrim, Naphtali? These inequalities of fortune rub My sense of justice so against the grain, I lose my very name. Whence does he come? Is he alone?
NAPHTALI. He comes from Chinon, France. Rabbi Cresselin he calls himself—alone Save for his daughter who has led him hither. A beautiful, pale girl with round black eyes.
BARUCH. Bring they fresh tidings of the pestilence?
NAPHTALI. I know not—but I learn from other source It has burst forth at Erfurt.
BARUCH. God have mercy! Have many of our tribe been stricken?
NAPHTALI. No. They cleanse their homes and keep their bodies sweet, Nor cease from prayer—and so does Jacob's God Protect His chosen, still. Yet even His favor Our enemies would twist into a curse. Beholding the destroying angel smite The foal idolater and leave unscathed The gates of Israel—the old cry they raise— WE have begotten the Black Death—WE poison The well-springs of the towns.
BARUCH. God pity us! But truly are we blessed in Nordhausen. Such terrors seem remote as Egypt's plagues. I warrant you our Landgrave dare not harry Such creditors as we. See, here comes one, The greatest and most liberal of them all— Susskind von Orb.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN enter, all pass across the stage, and disappear within the Synagogue.
I'd barter my whole fortune, And yours to boot, that's thrice the bulk of mine, For half the bonds he holds in Frederick's name. The richest merchant in Thuringia, he— The poise of his head would tell it, knew we not. How has his daughter leaped to womanhood! I mind when she came toddling by his hand, But yesterday—a flax-haired child—to-day Her brow is level with his pompous chin.
NAPHTALI. How fair she is! Her hair has kept its gold Untarnished still. I trace not either parent In her face, clean cut as a gem.
BARUCH. Her mother Was far-off kin to me, and I might pass, I'm told, unguessed in Christian garb. I know A pretty secret of that scornful face. It lures high game to Nordhausen.
NAPHTALI. Baruch, I marvel at your prompt credulity. The Prince of Meissen and Liebhaid von Orb! A jest for gossips and—Look, look, he comes!
BARUCH. Who's that, the Prince?
NAPHTALI. Nay, dullard, the old man, The Rabbi of Chinon. Ah! his stout staff, And that brave creature's strong young hand suffice Scarcely to keep erect his tottering frame. Emaciate-lipped, with cavernous black eyes Whose inward visions do eclipse the day, Seems he not one re-risen from the grave To yield the secret?
Enter RABBI JACOB, and RABBI CRESSELIN led by CLAIRE. They walk across the stage, and disappear in the Synagogue.
BARUCH (exaltedly). Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who teachest wisdom To those who fear thee!
NAPHTALI. Haste we in. The star Of Sabbath dawns.
BARUCH. My flesh is still a-creep From the strange gaze of those wide-rolling orbs. Didst note, man, how they fixed me? His lean cheeks, As wan as wax, were bloodless; how his arms Stretched far beyond the flowing sleeve and showed Gaunt, palsied wrists, and hands blue-tipped with death! Well, I have seen a sage of Israel. [They enter the Synagogue. Scene closes.]
The Synagogue crowded with worshippers. Among the women in the Gallery are discovered LIEBHAID VON ORB and CLAIRE CRESSELIN. Below, among the men, SUSSKIND VON ORB and REUBEN. At the Reader's Desk, RABBI JACOB. Fronting the audience under the Ark of the Covenant, stands a high desk, behind which is seen the white head of an old man bowed in prayer. BARUCH and NAPHTALI enter and take their seats.
BARUCH. Think you he speaks before the service?
NAPHTALI. Yea. Lo, phantom-like the towering patriarch! [RABBI CRESSELIN slowly rises beneath the Ark.]
RABBI CRESSELIN. Woe unto Israel! woe unto all Abiding 'mid strange peoples! Ye shall be Cut off from that land where ye made your home. I, Cresselin of Chinon, have traveled far, Thence where my fathers dwelt, to warn my race, For whom the fire and stake have been prepared. Our brethren of Verdun, all over France, Are burned alive beneath the Goyim's torch. What terrors have I witnessed, ere my sight Was mercifully quenched! In Gascony, In Savoy, Piedmont, round the garden shores Of tranquil Leman, down the beautiful Rhine, At Lindau, Costnitz, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen, Everywhere torture, smoking Synagogues, Carnage, and burning flesh. The lights shine out Of Jewish virtue, Jewish truth, to star The sanguine field with an immortal blazon. The venerable Mar-Isaac in Cologne, Sat in his house at prayer, nor lifted lid From off the sacred text, while all around The fanatics ran riot; him they seized, Haled through the streets, with prod of stick and spike Fretted his wrinkled flesh, plucked his white beard. Dragged him with gibes into their Church, and held A Crucifix before him. "Know thy Lord!" He spat thereon; he was pulled limb from limb. I saw—God, that I might forget!—a man Leap in the Loire, with his fair, stalwart son, A-bloom with youth, and midst the stream unsheathe A poniard, sheathing it in his boy's heart, While he pronounced the blessing for the dead. "Amen!" the lad responded as he sank, And the white water darkened as with wine. I saw—but no! You are glutted, and my tongue, Blistered, refuseth to narrate more woe. I have known much sorrow. When it pleased the Lord To afflict us with the horde of Pastoureaux, The rabble of armed herdsmen, peasants, slaves, Men-beasts of burden—coarse as the earth they tilled, Who like an inundation deluged France To drown our race—my heart held firm, my faith Shook not upon her rock until I saw, Smit by God's beam, the big black cloud dissolve. Then followed with their scythes, spades, clubs, and banners Flaunting the Cross, the hosts of Armleder, From whose fierce wounds we scarce are healed to-day. Yet do I say the cup of bitterness That Israel has drained is but a draught Of cordial, to the cup that is prepared. The Black Death and the Brothers of the Cross, These are our foes—and these are everywhere. I who am blind see ruin in their wake; Ye who have eyes and limbs, arise and flee! To-morrow the Flagellants will be here. God's angel visited my sleep and spake: "Thy Jewish kin in the Thuringian town Of Nordhausen shall be swept off from earth, Their elders and their babes—consumed with fire. Go summon Israel to flight—take this As sign that I, who call thee, am the Lord, Thine eyes shalt be struck blind till thou hast spoken." Then darkness fell upon my mortal sense, But light broke o'er my soul, and all was clear, And I have journeyed hither with my child O'er mount and river, till I have announced The message of the Everlasting God. [Sensation in the Synagogue.]
RABBI JACOB. Father, have mercy! when wilt thou have done With rod and scourge? Beneath thy children's feet Earth splits, fire springs. No rest, no rest! no rest,
A VOICE. Look to the women! Marianne swoons!
ANOTHER VOICE. Woe unto us who sinned!
ANOTHER VOICE. We're all dead men. Fly, fly ere dawn as our forefathers fled From out the land of Egypt.
BARUCH. Are ye mad? Shall we desert snug homes? forego the sum Scraped through laborious years to smooth life's slope, And die like dogs unkenneled and untombed, At bidding of a sorrow-crazed old man?
A VOICE. He flouts the Lord's anointed! Cast him forth!
SUSSKIND VON ORB. Peace, brethren, peace! If I have ever served Israel with purse, arm, brain, or heart—now hear me! May God instruct my speech! This wise old man, Whose brow flames with the majesty of truth, May be part-blinded through excess of light, As one who eyes too long the naked sun, Setting in rayless glory, turns and finds Outlines confused, familiar colors changed, All objects branded with one blood-bright spot. Nor chafe at Baruch's homely sense; truth floats Midway between the stars and the abyss. We, by God's grace, have found a special nest I' the dangerous rock, screened against wind and hawk; Free burghers of a free town, blessed moreover With the peculiar favor of the Prince, Frederick the Grave, our patron and protector. What shall we fear? Rather, where shall we seek Secure asylum, if here be not one? Fly? Our forefathers had the wilderness, The sea their gateway, and the fire-cored cloud Their divine guide. Us, hedged by ambushed foes, No frank, free, kindly desert shall receive. Death crouches on all sides, prepared to leap Tiger-like on our throats, when first we step From this safe covert. Everywhere the Plague! As nigh as Erfurt it has crawled—the towns Reek with miasma, the rank fields of spring, Rain-saturated, are one beautiful—lie, Smiling profuse life, and secreting death. Strange how, unbidden, a trivial memory Thrusts itself on my mind in this grave hour. I saw a large white bull urged through the town To slaughter by a stripling with a goad, Whom but one sure stamp of that solid heel, One toss of those mooned horns, one battering blow Of that square marble forehead, would have crushed, As we might crush a worm, yet on he trudged, Patient, in powerful health to death. At once, As though o' the sudden stung, he roared aloud,
Beat with fierce hoofs the air, shook desperately His formidable head, and heifer-swift, Raced through scared, screaming streets. Well, and the end? He was the promptlier bound and killed and quartered. The world belongs to man; dreams the poor brute Some nook has been apportioned for brute life? Where shall a man escape men's cruelty? Where shall God's servant cower from his doom? Let us bide, brethren—we are in His hand.
RABBI CRESSELIN (uttering a piercing shriek). Ah! Woe unto Israel! Lo, I see again, As the Ineffable foretold. I see A flood of fire that streams towards the town. Look, the destroying Angel with the sword, Wherefrom the drops of gall are raining down, Broad-winged, comes flying towards you. Now he draws His lightning-glittering blade! With the keen edge He smiteth Israel—ah! [He falls back dead. Confusion in the Synagogue.]
CLAIRE (from the gallery). Father! My father! Let me go down to him!
LIEBHAID. Sweet girl, be patient. This is the House of God, and He hath entered. Bow we and pray. [Meanwhile, some of the men surround and raise from the ground the body of RABBI CRESSELIN. Several voices speaking at once.]
1ST VOICE. He's doomed.
2D VOICE. Dead! Dead!
3D VOICE. A judgment!
4TH VOICE. Make way there! Air! Carry him forth! He's warm!
3D VOICE. Nay, his heart's stopped—his breath has ceased—quite dead.
5TH VOICE. Didst mark a diamond lance flash from the roof, And strike him 'twixt the eyes?
1ST VOICE. Our days are numbered. This is the token.
RABBI JACOB. Lift the corpse and pray. Shall we neglect God's due observances, While He is manifest in miracle? I saw a blaze seven times more bright than fire, Crest, halo-wise, the patriarch's white head. The dazzle stung my burning lids—they closed, One instant—when they oped, the great blank cloud Had settled on his countenance forever.* Departed brother, mayest thou find the gates Of heaven open, see the city of peace, And meet the ministering angels, glad, Hastening towards thee! May the High Priest stand To greet and bless thee! Go thou to the end! Repose in peace and rise again to life. No more thy sun sets, neither wanes thy moon. The Lord shall be thy everlasting light, Thy days of mourning shall be at an end. For you, my flock, fear nothing; it is writ As one his mother comforteth, so I Will comfort you and in Jerusalem Ye shall be comforted. [Scene closes.]
*From this point to the end of the scene is a literal translation of the Hebrew burial service.
Evening. A crooked byway in the Judengasse. Enter PRINCE
PRINCE WILLIAM. Cursed be these twisted lanes! I have missed the clue Of the close labyrinth. Nowhere in sight, Just when I lack it, a stray gaberdine To pick me up my thread. Yet when I haste Through these blind streets, unwishful to be spied, Some dozen hawk-eyes peering o'er crook'd beaks Leer recognition, and obsequious caps Do kiss the stones to greet my princeship. Bah! Strange, 'midst such refuse sleeps so white a pearl. At last, here shuffles one.
Enter a Jew.
Give you good even! Sir, can you help me to the nighest way Unto the merchant's house, Susskind von Orb?
JEW. Whence come you knowing not the high brick wall, Without, blank as my palm, o' the inner side, Muring a palace? But—do you wish him well? He is my friend—we must be wary, wary, We all have warning—Oh, the terror of it! I have not yet my wits!
PRINCE WILLIAM. I am his friend. Is he in peril? What's the matter, man?
JEW. Peril? His peril is no worse than mine, But the rich win compassion. God is just, And every man of us is doomed. Alack! HE said it—oh those wild, white eyes!
PRINCE WILLIAM. I pray you, Tell me the way to Susskind's home.
Sweet master, You look the perfect knight, what can you crave Of us starved, wretched Jews? Leave us in peace. The Judengasse gates will shut anon, Nor ope till morn again for Jew or Gentile.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Here's gold. I am the Prince of Meissen—speak!
JEW. Oh pardon! Let me kiss your mantle's edge. This way, great sir, I lead you there myself, If you deign follow one so poor, so humble. You must show mercy in the name of God, For verily are we afflicted. Come. Hard by is Susskind's dwelling—as we walk By your good leave I'll tell what I have seen. [Exeunt.]
A luxuriously-furnished apartment in SUSSKIND VON ORB'S house. Upon a richly-spread supper-table stands the seven-branched silver candlestick of the Sabbath eve. At the table are seated
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN.
SUSSKIND. Drink, children, drink! and lift your hearts to Him Who gives us the vine's fruit. [They drink.] How clear it glows; Like gold within the golden bowl, like fire Along our veins, after the work-day week Rekindling Sabbath-fervor, Sabbath-strength. Verily God prepares for me a table In presence of mine enemies! He anoints My head with oil, my cup is overflowing. Praise we His name! Hast thou, my daughter, served The needs o' the poor, suddenly-orphaned child? Naught must she lack beneath my roof.
LIEBHAID. Yea, father. She prays and weeps within: she had no heart For Sabbath meal, but charged me with her thanks—
SUSSKIND. Thou shalt be mother and sister in one to her. Speak to her comfortably.
REUBEN. She has begged A grace of me I happily can grant. After our evening-prayer, to lead her back Unto the Synagogue, where sleeps her father, A light at head and foot, o'erwatched by strangers; She would hold vigil.
SUSSKIND. 'T is a pious wish, Not to be crossed, befitting Israel's daughter. Go, Reuben; heavily the moments hang, While her heart yearns to break beside his corpse. Receive my blessing. [He places his hands upon his son's head in benediction. Exit Reuben.] Henceforth her home is here. In the event to-night, God's finger points Visibly out of heaven. A thick cloud Befogs the future. But just here is light.
Enter a servant ushering in PRINCE WILLIAM.
SERVANT. His highness Prince of Meissen. [Exit.]
SUSSKIND. Welcome, Prince! God bless thy going forth and coming in! Sit at our table and accept the cup Of welcome which my daughter fills. [LIEBHAID offers him wine.]
PRINCE WILLIAM (drinking). To thee! [All take their seats at the table.] I heard disquieting news as I came hither. The apparition in the Synagogue, The miracle of the message and the death. Susskind von Orb, what think'st thou of these things?
SUSSKIND. I think, sir, we are in the hand of God, I trust the Prince—your father and my friend.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Trust no man! flee! I have not come to-night To little purpose. Your arch enemy, The Governor of Salza, Henry Schnetzen, Has won my father's ear. Since yester eve He stops at Eisenach, begging of the Prince The Jews' destruction.
SUSSKIND (calmly). Schnetzen is my foe, I know it, but I know a talisman, Which at a word transmutes his hate to love. Liebhaid, my child, look cheerly. What is this? Harm dare not touch thee; the oppressor's curse, Melts into blessing at thy sight.
LIEBHAID. Not fear Plucks at my heart-strings, father, though the air Thickens with portents; 't is the thought of flight, But no—I follow thee.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Thou shalt not miss The value of a hair from thy home treasures. All that thou lovest, Liebhaid, goes with thee. Knowest thou, Susskind, Schnetzen's cause of hate?
SUSSKIND. 'T is rooted in an ancient error, born During his feud with Landgrave Fritz the Bitten, Your Highness' grandsire—ten years—twenty—back. Misled to think I had betrayed his castle, Who knew the secret tunnel to its courts, He has nursed a baseless grudge, whereat I smile, Sure to disarm him by the simple truth. God grant me strength to utter it.
PRINCE WILLIAM. You fancy The rancor of a bad heart slow distilled Through venomed years, so at a breath, dissolves. O good old man, i' the world, not of the world! Belike, himself forgets the doubtful core Of this still-curdling, petrifying ooze. Truth? why truth glances from the callous mass, A spear against a rock. He hugs his hate, His bed-fellow, his daily, life-long comrade; Think you he has slept, ate, drank with it this while, Now to forego revenge on such slight cause As the revealed truth?
SUSSKIND. You mistake my thought, Great-hearted Prince, and justly—for I speak In riddles, till God's time to make all clear. When His day dawns, the blind shall see.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Forgive me, If I, in wit and virtue your disciple, Seem to instruct my master. Accident Lifts me where I survey a broader field Than wise men stationed lower. I spy peril, Fierce flame invisible from the lesser peaks. God's time is now. Delayed truth leaves a lie Triumphant. If you harbor any secret, Potent to force an ear that's locked to mercy, In God's name, now disbosom it.
SUSSKIND. Kind Heaven! Would that my people's safety were assured So is my child's! Where shall we turn? Where flee? For all around us the Black Angel broods. We step into the open jaws of death If we go hence.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Better to fall beneath The hand of God, than be cut off by man.
SUSSKIND. We are trapped, the springe is set. Not ignorantly I offered counsel in the Synagogue, Quelled panic with authoritative calm, But knowing, having weighed the opposing risks. Our friends in Strasburg have been overmastered, The imperial voice is drowned, the papal arm Drops paralyzed—both, lifted for the truth; We can but front with brave eyes, brow erect, As is our wont, the fullness of our doom.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Then Meissen's sword champions your desperate cause. I take my stand here where my heart is fixed. I love your daughter—if her love consent, I pray you, give me her to wife.
SUSSKIND. Prince, Let not this Saxon skin, this hair's gold fleece, These Rhine-blue eyes mislead thee—she is alien. To the heart's core a Jewess—prop of my house, Soul of my soul—and I? a despised Jew.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Thy propped house crumbles; let my arm sustain Its tottering base—thy light is on the wane, Let me relume it. Give thy star to me, Or ever pitch-black night engulf us all— Lend me your voice, Liebhaid, entreat for me. Shall this prayer be your first that he denies?
LIEBHAID. Father, my heart's desire is one with his.
SUSSKIND. Is this the will of God? Amen! My children, Be patient with me, I am full of trouble. For you, heroic Prince, could aught enhance Your love's incomparable nobility, 'T were the foreboding horror of this hour, Wherein you dare flash forth its lightning-sword. You reckon not, in the hot, splendid moment Of great resolve, the cold insidious breath Wherewith the outer world shall blast and freeze— But hark! I own a mystic amulet, Which you delivering to your gracious father, Shall calm his rage withal, and change his scorn Of the Jew's daughter into pure affection. I will go fetch it—though I drain my heart Of its red blood, to yield this sacrifice. [Exit SUSSKIND.]
PRINCE WILLIAM. Have you no smile to welcome love with, Liebhaid? Why should you tremble?
LIEBHAID. Prince, I am afraid! Afraid of my own heart, my unfathomed joy, A blasphemy against my father's grief, My people's agony. I dare be happy— So happy! in the instant's lull betwixt The dazzle and the crash of doom.
PRINCE WILLIAM. You read The omen falsely; rather is your joy The thrilling harbinger of general dawn. Did you not tell me scarce a month agone, When I chanced in on you at feast and prayer, The holy time's bright legend? of the queen, Strong, beautiful, resolute, who denied her race To save her race, who cast upon the die Of her divine and simple loveliness, Her life, her soul,—and so redeemed her tribe. You are my Esther—but I, no second tyrant, Worship whom you adore, love whom you love!
LIEBHAID. If I must die with morn, I thank my God, And thee, my king, that I have lived this night.
Enter SUSSKIND, carrying a jewelled casket.
SUSSKIND. Here is the chest, sealed with my signet-ring, A mystery and a treasure lies within, Whose worth is faintly symboled by these gems, Starring the case. Deliver it unopened, Unto the Landgrave. Now, sweet Prince, good night. Else will the Judengasse gates be closed.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Thanks, father, thanks. Liebhaid, my bride, good-night. [He kisses her brow. SUSSKIND places his hands on the heads of LIEBHAID and PRINCE WILLIAM.]
SUSSKIND. Blessed, O Lord, art thou, who bringest joy To bride and bridegroom. Let us thank the Lord. [Curtain falls.]
ACT II.—At Eisenach.
A Room in the LANDGRAVE'S Palace. FREDERICK THE GRAVE and
LANDGRAVE. Who tells thee of my son's love for the Jewess?
SCHNETZEN. Who tells me? Ask the Judengasse walls, The garrulous stones publish Prince William's visits To his fair mistress.
LANDGRAVE. Mistress? Ah, such sins The Provost of St. George's will remit For half a pound of coppers.
SCHNETZEN. Think it not! No light amour this, leaving shield unflecked; He wooes the Jewish damsel as a knight The lady of his heart.
SCHNETZEN. Things more impossible have chanced. Remember Count Gleichen, doubly wived, who pined in Egypt, There wed the Pasha's daughter Malachsala, Nor blushed to bring his heathen paramour Home to his noble wife Angelica, Countess of Orlamund. Yea, and the Pope Sanctioned the filthy sin.
LANDGRAVE. Himself shall say it. Ho, Gunther! (Enter a Lackey.) Bid the Prince of Meissen here. [Exit Lackey. The LANDGRAVE paces the stage in agitation.]
Enter PRINCE WILLIAM.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Father, you called me?
LANDGRAVE. Ay, when were you last In Nordhausen?
PRINCE WILLIAM. This morning I rode hence.
LANDGRAVE. Were you at Susskind's house?
PRINCE WILLIAM. I was, my liege.
LANDGRAVE. I hear you entertain unseemly love For the Jew's daughter.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Who has told thee this?
SCHNETZEN. This I have told him.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Father, believe him not. I swear by heaven 't is no unseemly love Leads me to Susskind's house.
LANDGRAVE. With what high title Please you to qualify it?
PRINCE WILLIAM. True, I love Liebhaid von Orb, but 't is the honest passion Wherewith a knight leads home his equal wife.
LANDGRAVE. Great God! and thou wilt brag thy shame! Thou speakest Of wife and Jewess in one breath! Wilt make Thy princely name a stench in German nostrils?
PRINCE WILLIAM. Hold, father, hold! You know her—yes, a Jewess In her domestic piety, her soul Large, simple, splendid like a star, her heart Suffused with Syrian sunshine—but no more— The aspect of a Princess of Thuringia, Swan-necked, gold-haired, Madonna-eyed. I love her! If you will quench this passion, take my life! [He falls at his father's feet. FREDERICK, in a paroxysm of rage, seizes his sword.]
SCHNETZEN. He is your son!
LANDGRAVE. Oh that he ne'er were born! Hola! Halberdiers! Yeomen of the Guard!
Bear off this prisoner! Let him sigh out His blasphemous folly in the castle tower, Until his hair be snow, his fingers claws. [They seize and bear away PRINCE WILLIAM.] Well, what's your counsel?
SCHNETZEN. Briefly this, my lord. The Jews of Nordhausen have brewed the Prince A love-elixir—let them perish all! [Tumult without. Singing of Hymns and Ringing of Church-bells. The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN go to the window.]
The cruel pestilence arrives, Cuts off a myriad human lives. See the Flagellants' naked skin! They scourge themselves for grievous sin. Trembles the earth beneath God's breath, The Jews shall all be burned to death.
*A rhyme of the times. See Graetz's "History of the Jews," page 374, vol. vii.
LANDGRAVE. Look, foreign pilgrims! What an endless file! Naked waist-upward. Blood is trickling down Their lacerated flesh. What do they carry?
SCHNETZEN. Their scourges—iron-pointed, leathern thongs, Mark how they lash themselves—the strict Flagellants. The Brothers of the Cross—hark to their cries!
VOICE FROM BELOW. Atone, ye mighty! God is wroth! Expel The enemies of heaven—raze their homes! [Confused cries from below, which gradually die away in the distance.] Woe to God's enemies! Death to the Jews! They poison all our wells—they bring the plague. Kill them who killed our Lord! Their homes shall be A wilderness—drown them in their own blood! [The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN withdraw from the window.]
SCHNETZEN. Do not the people ask the same as I? Is not the people's voice the voice of God?
LANDGRAVE. I will consider.
SCHNETZEN. Not too long, my liege. The moment favors. Later 't were hard to show Due cause to his Imperial Majesty, For slaughtering the vassals of the Crown. Two mighty friends are theirs. His holiness Clement the Sixth and Kaiser Karl.
LANDGRAVE. 'T were rash Contending with such odds.
SCHNETZEN. Courage, my lord. These battle singly against death and fate. Your allies are the sense and heart o' the world. Priests warring for their Christ, nobles for gold, And peoples for the very breath of life Spoiled by the poison-mixers. Kaiser Karl Lifts his lone voice unheard, athwart the roar Of such a flood; the papal bull is whirled An unconsidered rag amidst the eddies.
LANDGRAVE. What credence lend you to the general rumor Of the river poison?
SCHNETZEN. Such as mine eyes avouch. I have seen, yea touched the leathern wallet found On the body of one from whom the truth was wrenched By salutary torture. He confessed, Though but a famulus of the master-wizard, The horrible old Moses of Mayence, He had flung such pouches in the Rhine, the Elbe, The Oder, Danube—in a hundred brooks, Until the wholesome air reeked pestilence; 'T was an ell long, filled with a dry, fine dust Of rusty black and red, deftly compounded Of powdered flesh of basilisks, spiders, frogs, And lizards, baked with sacramental dough In Christian blood.
LANDGRAVE. Such goblin-tales may curdle The veins of priest-rid women, fools, and children. They are not for the ears of sober men.
SCHNETZEN. Pardon me, Sire. I am a simple soldier. My God, my conscience, and my suzerain, These are my guides—blindfold I follow them. If your keen royal wit pierce the gross web Of common superstition—be not wroth At your poor vassal's loyal ignorance. Remember, too, Susskind retains your bonds. The old fox will not press you; he would bleed Against the native instinct of the Jew, Rather his last gold doit and so possess Your ease of mind, nag, chafe, and toy with it; Abide his natural death, and other Jews Less devilish-cunning, franklier Hebrew-viced, Will claim redemption of your pledge.
LANDGRAVE. How know you That Susskind holds my bonds?
SCHNETZEN. You think the Jews Keep such things secret? Not a Jew but knows Your debt exact—the sum and date of interest, And that you visit Susskind, not for love, But for his shekels.
LANDGRAVE. Well, the Jews shall die. This is the will of God. Whom shall I send To bear my message to the council?
SCHNETZEN. I Am ever at your 'hest. To-morrow morn Sees me in Nordhausen.
LANDGRAVE. Come two hours hence. I will deliver you the letter signed. Make ready for your ride.
SCHNETZEN (kisses FREDERICK'S hand). Farewell, my master. (Aside.) Ah, vengeance cometh late, Susskind von Orb, But yet it comes! My wife was burned through thee, Thou and thy children are consumed by me! [Exit.]
A Room in the Wartburg Monastery. PRINCESS MATHILDIS and
PRIOR. Be comforted, my daughter. Your lord's wisdom Goes hand in hand with his known piety Thus dealing with your son. To love a Jewess Is flat contempt of Heaven—to ask in marriage, Sheer spiritual suicide. Let be; Justice must take its course.
PRINCESS. Justice is murdered; Oh slander not her corpse. For my son's fault, A thousand innocents are doomed. Is that God's justice?
PRIOR. Yea, our liege is but his servant. Did not He purge with fiery hail those twain Blotches of festering sin, Gomorrah, Sodom? The Jews are never innocent,—when Christ Agonized on the Cross, they cried—"His blood Be on our children's heads and ours!" I mark A dangerous growing evil of these days, Pity, misnamed—say, criminal indulgence Of reprobates brow-branded by the Lord. Shall we excel the Christ in charity? Because his law is love, we tutor him In mercy and reward his murderers? Justice is blind and virtue is austere. If the true passion brimmed our yearning hearts The vision of the agony would loom Fixed vividly between the day and us:— Nailed on the gaunt black Cross the divine form, Wax-white and dripping blood from ankles, wrists, The sacred ichor that redeems the world, And crowded in strange shadow of eclipse, Reviling Jews, wagging their heads accursed, Sputtering blasphemy—who then would shrink From holy vengeance? who would offer less Heroic wrath and filial zeal to God Than to a murdered father?
PRINCESS. But my son Will die with her he loves.
PRIOR. Better to perish In time than in eternity. No question Pends here of individual life; our sight Must broaden to embrace the scope sublime Of this trans-earthly theme. The Jew survives Sword, plague, fire, cataclysm—and must, since Christ Cursed him to live till doomsday, still to be A scarecrow to the nations. None the less Are we beholden in Christ's name at whiles, When maggot-wise Jews breed, infest, infect Communities of Christians, to wash clean The Church's vesture, shaking off the filth That gathers round her skirts. A perilous germ! Know you not, all the wells, the very air The Jews have poisoned?—Through their arts alone The Black Death scourges Christendom.
PRINCESS. I know All heinousness imputed by their foes. Father, mistake me not: I urge no plea To shield this hell-spawn, loathed by all who love The lamb and kiss the Cross. I had not guessed Such obscure creatures crawled upon my path, Had not my son—I know not how misled— Deigned to ennoble with his great regard, A sparkle midst the dust motes. SHE is sacred. What is her tribe to me? Her kith and kin May rot or roast—the Jews of Nordhausen May hang, drown, perish like the Jews of France, But she shall live—Liebhaid von Orb, the Jewess, The Prince, my son, elects to love.
PRIOR. Amen! Washed in baptismal waters she shall be Led like the clean-fleeced yeanling to the fold. Trust me, my daughter—for through me the Church Which is the truth, which is the life, doth speak. Yet first 't were best essay to cure the Prince Of this moon-fostered madness, bred, no doubt, By baneful potions which these cunning knaves Are skilled to mix.
PRINCESS. Go visit him, dear father, Where in the high tower mewed, a wing-clipped eagle, His spirit breaks in cage. You are his master, He is wont from childhood to hear wisdom fall From your instructed lips. Tell him his mother Rises not from her knees, till he is freed.
PRIOR. Madam, I go. Our holy Church has healed Far deadlier heart-wounds than a love-sick boy's. Be of good cheer, the Prince shall live to bless The father's rigor who kept pure of blot A 'scutcheon more unsullied than the sun.
PRINCESS. Thanks and farewell.
PRIOR. Farewell. God send thee peace! [Exeunt.]
A mean apartment in one of the Towers of the Landgrave's Palace.
PRINCE WILLIAM discovered seated at the window.
PRINCE WILLIAM. The slow sun sets; with lingering, large embrace He folds the enchanted hill; then like a god Strides into heaven behind the purple peak. Oh beautiful! In the clear, rayless air, I see the chequered vale mapped far below, The sky-paved streams, the velvet pasture-slopes, The grim, gray cloister whose deep vesper bell Blends at this height with tinkling, homebound herds! I see—but oh, how far!—the blessed town Where Liebhaid dwells. Oh that I were yon star That pricks the West's unbroken foil of gold, Bright as an eye, only to gaze on her! How keen it sparkles o'er the Venusburg! When brown night falls and mists begin to live, Then will the phantom hunting-train emerge, Hounds straining, black fire-eyeballed, breathless steeds, Spurred by wild huntsmen, and unhallowed nymphs, And at their head the foam-begotten witch, Of soul-destroying beauty. Saints of heaven! Preserve mine eyes from such unholy sight! How all unlike the base desire which leads Misguided men to that infernal cave, Is the pure passion that exalts my soul Like a religion! Yet Christ pardon me If this be sin to thee! [He takes his lute, and begins to sing. Enter with a lamp Steward of the Castle, followed by PRIOR PEPPERCORN. Steward lays down the lamp and exit.] Good even, father!
PRIOR. Benedicite! Our bird makes merry his dull bars with song, Yet would not penitential psalms accord More fitly with your sin than minstrels' lays?
PRINCE WILLIAM. I know no blot upon my life's fair record.
PRIOR. What is it to wanton with a Christ-cursed Jewess, Defy thy father and pollute thy name, And fling to the ordures thine immortal soul?
PRINCE WILLIAM. Forbear! thy cowl's a helmet, thy serge frock Invulnerable as brass—yet I am human, Thou, priest, art still a man.
PRIOR. Pity him, Heaven! To what a pass their draughts have brought the mildest, Noblest of princes! Softly, my son; be ruled By me, thy spiritual friend and father. Thou hast been drugged with sense-deranging potions, Thy blood set boiling and thy brain askew; When these thick fumes subside, thou shalt awake To bless the friend who gave thy madness bounds.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Madness! Yea, as the sane world goes, I am mad. What else to help the helpless, to uplift The low, to adore the good, the beautiful, To live, battle, suffer, die for truth, for love! But that is wide of the question. Let me hear What you are charged to impart—my father's will.
PRIOR. Heart-cleft by his dear offspring's shame, he prays Your reason be restored, your wayward sense Renew its due allegiance. For his son He, the good parent, weeps—hot drops of gall, Wrung from a spirit seldom eased by tears. But for his honor pricked, the Landgrave takes More just and general vengeance.
PRINCE WILLIAM. In the name of God, What has he done to HER?
PRIOR. Naught, naught,—as yet. Sweet Prince, be calm; you leap like flax to flame. You nest within your heart a cockatrice, Pluck it from out your bosom and breathe pure Of the filthy egg. The Landgrave brooks no more The abomination that infects his town. The Jews of Nordhausen are doomed.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Alack! Who and how many of that harmless tribe, Those meek and pious men, have been elected To glut with innocent blood the oppressor's wrath?
PRIOR. Who should go free where equal guilt is shared? Frederick is just—they perish all at once, Generous moreover—for in their mode of death He grants them choice.
PRINCE WILLIAM. My father had not lost The human semblance when I saw him last. Nor can he be divorced in this short space From his shrewd wit. How shall he make provision For the vast widowed, orphaned host this deed Burdens the state withal?
PRIOR. Oh excellent! This is the crown of folly, topping all! Forgive me, Prince, when I gain breath to point Your comic blunder, you will laugh with me. Patience—I'll draw my chin as long as yours. Well, 't was my fault—one should be accurate— Jews, said I? when I meant Jews, Jewesses, And Jewlings! all betwixt the age Of twenty-four hours, and of five score years. Of either sex, of every known degree, All the contaminating vermin purged With one clean, searching blast of wholesome fire.
PRINCE WILLIAM. O Christ, disgraced, insulted! Horrible man, Remembered be your laugh in lowest hell, Dragging you to the nether pit! Forgive me; You are my friend—take me from here—unbolt Those iron doors—I'll crawl upon my knees Unto my father—I have much to tell him. For but the freedom of one hour, sweet Prior, I'll brim the vessels of the Church with gold.
PRIOR. Boy! your bribes touch not, nor your curses shake The minister of Christ. Yet I will bear Your message to the Landgrave.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Whet your tongue Keen as the archangel's blade of truth—your voice Be as God's thunder, and your heart one blaze— Then can you speak my cause. With me, it needs No plausive gift; the smitten head, stopped throat, Blind eyes and silent suppliance of sorrow Persuade beyond all eloquence. Great God! Here while I rage and beat against my bars, The infernal fagots may be stacked for her, The hell-spark kindled. Go to him, dear Prior, Speak to him gently, be not too much moved, 'Neath its rude case you had ever a soft heart, And he is stirred by mildness more than passion. Recall to him her round, clear, ardent eyes, The shower of sunshine that's her hair, the sheen Of the cream-white flesh—shall these things serve as fuel? Tell him that when she heard once he was wounded, And how he bled and anguished; at the tale She wept for pity.
PRIOR. If her love be true She will adore her lover's God, embrace The faith that marries you in life and death. This promise with the Landgrave would prevail More than all sobs and pleadings.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Save her, save her! If any promise, vow, or oath can serve. Oh trusting, tranquil Susskind, who estopped Your ears forewarned, bandaged your visioned eyes, To woo destruction! Stay! did he not speak Of amulet or talisman? These horrors Have crowded out my wits. Yea, the gold casket! What fixed serenity beamed from his brow, Laying the precious box within my hands! [He brings from the shelf the casket, and hands it to the Prior.] Deliver this unto the Prince my father, Nor lose one vital moment. What it holds, I guess not—but my light heart whispers me The jewel safety's locked beneath its lid.
PRIOR. First I must foil such devil's tricks as lurk In its gem-crusted cabinet.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Away! Deliverance posts on your return. I feel it. For your much comfort thanks. Good-night.
PRIOR. Good-night. [Exit.]
A cell in the Wartburg Monastery. Enter PRIOR PEPPERCORN with the casket.
PRIOR. So! Glittering shell where doubtless shines concealed An orient treasure fit to bribe a king, Ransom a prince and buy him for a son. I have baptized thee now before the altar, Effaced the Jew's contaminating touch, And I am free to claim the Church's tithe From thy receptacle. [He is about to unlock the casket, when enters Lay-Brother, and he hastily conceals it.]
LAY-BROTHER. Peace be thine, father!
PRIOR. Amen! and thine. What's new?
LAY-BROTHER. A strange Flagellant Fresh come to Wartburg craves a word with thee.
PRIOR. Bid him within. [Exit Lay-Brother. PRIOR places the casket in a Cabinet.] Patience! No hour of the day Brings freedom to the priest.
Reenter Lay-Brother ushering in NORDMANN, and exit.
Brother, all hail! Blessed be thou who comest in God's name!
NORDMANN. May the Lord grant thee thine own prayer fourfold!
PRIOR. What is thine errand?
NORDMANN. Look at me, my father. Long since you called me friend. [The PRIOR looks at him attentively, while an expression of wonder and terror gradually overspreads his face.]
PRIOR. Almighty God! The grave gives up her dead. Thou canst not be—
NORDMANN. Nordmann of Nordmannstein, the Knight of Treffurt.
PRIOR. He was beheaded years agone.
NORDMANN. His death Had been decreed, but in his stead a squire Clad in his garb and masked, paid bloody forfeit. A loyal wretch on whom the Prince wreaked vengeance, Rather than publish the true bird had flown.
PRIOR. Does Frederick know thou art in Eisenach?
NORDMANN. Who would divine the Knight of Nordmannstein In the Flagellants' weeds? From land to land, From town to town, we cry, "Death to the Jews! Hep! hep! "Hierosolyma est perdita!" They die like rats; in Gotha they are burned; Two of the devil brutes in Chatelard, Child-murderers, wizards, breeders of the Plague, Had the truth squeezed from them with screws and racks, All with explicit date, place, circumstance, And written as it fell from dying lips By scriveners of the law. On their confession The Jews of Savoy were destroyed. To-morrow noon The holy flames shall dance in Nordhausen.
PRIOR. Your zeal bespeaks you fair. In your deep eyes A mystic fervor shines; yet your scarred flesh And shrunken limbs denote exhausted nature, Collapsing under discipline.
NORDMANN. Speak not Of the degrading body and its pangs. I am all zeal, all energy, all spirit. Jesus was wroth at me, at all the world, For our indulgence of the flesh, our base Compounding with his enemies the Jews. But at Madonna Mary's intercession, He charged an angel with this gracious word, "Whoso will scourge himself for forty days, And labor towards the clean extermination Of earth's corrupting vermin, shall be saved." Oh, what vast peace this message brought my soul! I have learned to love the ecstasy of pain. When the sweat stands upon my flesh, the blood Throbs in my bursting veins, my twisted muscles Are cramped with agony, I seem to crawl Anigh his feet who suffered on the Cross.
PRIOR. O all transforming Time! Can this be he, The iron warrior of a decade since, The gallant youth of earlier years, whose pranks And reckless buoyancy of temper flashed Clear sunshine through my gloom?
NORDMANN. I am unchanged (Save that the spirit of grace has fallen on me). Urged by one motive through these banished years, Fed by one hope, awake to realize One living dream—my long delayed revenge. You saw the day when Henry Schnetzen's castle Was razed with fire?
PRIOR. I saw it.
NORDMANN. Schnetzen's wife, Three days a mother, perished.
PRIOR. And his child?
NORDMANN. His child was saved.
PRIOR. By whom?
NORDMANN. By the same Jew Who had betrayed the Castle.
PRIOR. Susskind von Orb?
NORDMANN. Susskind von Orb! and Schnetzen's daughter lives As the Jew's child within the Judengasse.
PRIOR (eagerly). What proof hast thou of this?
NORDMANN. Proof of these eyes! I visited von Orb to ask a loan. There saw I such a maiden as no Jew Was ever blessed withal since Jesus died. White as a dove, with hair like golden floss, Eyes like an Alpine lake. The haughty line Of brow imperial, high bridged nose, fine chin, Seemed like the shadow cast upon the wall, Where Lady Schnetzen stood.
PRIOR. Why hast thou ne'er Discovered her to Schnetzen?
NORDMANN. He was my friend. I shared with him thirst, hunger, sword, and fire. But he became a courtier. When the Margrave Sent me his second challenge to the field, His messenger was Schnetzen! 'Mongst his knights, The apple of his eye was Henry Schnetzen. He was the hound that hunted me to death. He stood by Frederick's side when I was led, Bound, to the presence. I denounced him coward, He smote me on the cheek. Christ! it stings yet. He hissed—"My liege, let Henry Nordmann hang! He is no knight, for he receives a blow, Nor dare avenge it!" My gyved wrists moved not, No nerve twitched in my face, although I felt Flame leap there from my heart, then flying back, Leave it cold-bathed with deathly ooze—my soul In silence took her supreme vow of hate.
PRIOR. Praise be to God that thou hast come to-day. To-morrow were too late. Hast thou not heard Frederick sends Schnetzen unto Nordhausen, With fire and torture for the Jews?
NORDMANN. So! Henry Schnetzen Shall be the Jews' destroyer? Ah!
PRIOR. One moment. Mayhap this box which Susskind sends the Prince Reveals more wonders. [He brings forth the Casket from the Cabinet, opens it, and discovers a golden cross and a parchment which he hastily overlooks.] Hark! your word's confirmed Blessed be Christ, our Lord! (reads).
"I Susskind von Orb of Nordhausen, swear by the unutterable Name, that on the day when the Castle of Salza was burned, I rescued the infant daughter of Henry Schnetzen from the flames. I purposed restoring her to her father, but when I returned to Nordhausen, I found my own child lying on her bier, and my wife in fevered frenzy calling for her babe. I sought the leech, who counselled me to show the Christian child to the bereaved mother as her own. The pious trick prevailed; the fever broke, the mother was restored. But never would she part with the child, even when she had learned to whom it belonged, and until she was gathered with the dead—may peace be with her soul!—she fostered in our Jewish home the offspring of the Gentile knight. Then again would I have yielded the girl to her parent, but Schnetzen was my foe, and I feared the haughty baron would disown the daughter who came from the hands of the Jew. Now however the maiden's temporal happiness demands that she be acknowledged by her rightful father. Let him see what I have written. As a token, behold this golden cross, bound by the Lady Schnetzen round the infant's neck. May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob redeem and bless me as I have writ the truth."
PRIOR. I thank the Saints that this has come betimes. Thou shalt renounce thy hate. Vengeance is mine, The Lord hath said.
NORDMANN. O all-transforming Time! Is this meek, saintly-hypocrite, the firm, Ambitious, resolute Reinhard Peppercorn, Terror of Jews and beacon of the Church? Look, you, I have won the special grace of Christ, He knows through what fierce anguish! Now he leans Out of his heaven to whisper in mine ear, And reach me my revenge. He makes my cause His own—and I shall fail upon these heights, Sink from the level of a hate sublime, To puerile pity!
PRIOR. Be advised. You hold Your enemy's living heart within your hands. This secret is far costlier than you dreamed, For Frederick's son wooes Schnetzen's daughter. See, A hundred delicate springs your wit may move, Your puppets are the Landgrave and the Prince, The Governor of Salza and the Jews. You may recover station, wealth, and honor, Selling your secret shrewdly; while rash greed Of clumsy vengeance may but drag you down In the wild whirl of universal ruin.
NORDMANN. Christ teach me whom to trust! I would not spill One drop from out this brimming glorious cup For which my parched heart pants. I will consider.
PRIOR. Pardon me now, if I break off our talk. Let all rest as it stands until the dawn. I have many orisons before the light.
NORDMANN. Good-night, true friend. Devote a prayer to me. (Aside.) I will outwit you, serpent, though you glide Athwart the dark, noiseless and swift as fate. [Exit].
On the road to Nordhausen. Moonlit, rocky landscape. On the right between high, white cliffs a narrow stream spanned by a wooden bridge. Thick bushes and trees. Enter PRINCE WILLIAM and PAGE.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Is this the place where we shall find fresh steeds? Would I had not dismounted!
PAGE. Nay, sir; beyond The Werra bridge the horses wait for us. These rotten planks would never bear their weight.
PRINCE WILLIAM. When I am Landgrave these things shall be cared for. This is an ugly spot for travellers To loiter in. How swift the water runs, Brawling above our voices. Human cries Would never reach Liborius' convent yonder, Perched on the sheer, chalk cliff. I think of peril, From my excess of joy. My spirit chafes, She that would breast broad-winged the air, must halt On stumbling mortal limbs. Look, thither, boy, How the black shadows of the tree-boles stripe The moon-blanched bridge and meadow.
PAGE. Sir, what's that? Yon stir and glitter in the bush?
PRINCE WILLIAM. The moon, Pricking the dewdrops, plays fantastic tricks With objects most familiar. Look again, And where thou sawst the steel-blue flicker glint, Thou findst a black, wet leaf.
PAGE. No, no! O God! Your sword, sir! Treason! [Four armed masked men leap from out the bush, seize, bind, and overmaster, after a brief but violent resistance, the Prince and his servant.]
PRINCE WILLIAM. Who are ye, villains? lying In murderous ambush for the Prince of Meissen? If you be knights, speak honorably your names, And I will combat you in knightly wise. If ye be robbers, name forthwith your ransom. Let me but speed upon my journey now. By Christ's blood! I beseech you, let me go! Ho! treason! murder! help! [He is dragged off struggling. Exeunt omnes.]
Nordhausen. A room in SUSSKIND's house. LIEBHAID and CLAIRE.
LIEBHAID. Say on, poor girl, if but to speak these horrors Revive not too intense a pang.
CLAIRE. Not so. For all my woes seem here to merge their flood Into a sea of infinite repose. Through France our journey led, as I have told, From desolation unto desolation. Naught stayed my father's course—sword, storm, flame, plague, Exhaustion of the eighty year old frame, O'ertaxed beyond endurance. Once, once only, His divine force succumbed. 'T was at day's close, And all the air was one discouragement Of April snow-flakes. I was drenched, cold, sick, With weariness and hunger light of head, And on the open road, suddenly turned The whole world like the spinning flakes of snow. My numb hand slipped from his, and all was blank. His beard, his breath upon my brow, his tears Scalding my cheek hugged close against his breast, And in my ear deep groans awoke me. "God!" I heard him cry, "try me not past my strength. No prophet I, a blind, old dying man!" Gently I drew his face to mine, and kissed, Whispering courage—then his spirit broke Utterly; shattered were his wits, I feared. But past is past; he is at peace, and I Find shelter from the tempest. Tell me rather Of your serene life.
LIEBHAID. Happiness is mute. What record speaks of placid, golden days, Matched each with each as twins? Till yester eve My life was simple as a song. At whiles Dark tales have reached us of our people's wrongs, Strange, far-off anguish, furrowing with fresh care My father's brow, draping our home with gloom. We were still blessed; the Landgrave is his friend— The Prince—my Prince—dear Claire, ask me no more! My adored enemy, my angel-fiend, Splitting my heart against my heart! O God, How shall I pray for strength to love him less Than mine own soul?
CLAIRE. What mean these contrary words? These passionate tears?
LIEBHAID. Brave girl, who art inured To difficult privation and rude pain, What good shall come forswearing kith and God, To follow the allurements of the heart?
CLAIRE. Duty wears one face, but a thousand masks. Thy feet she leads to glittering peaks, while mine She guides midst brambled roadways. Not the first Art thou of Israel's women, chosen of God, To rule o'er rulers. I remember me A verse my father often would repeat Out of our sacred Talmud: "Every time The sun, moon, stars begin again their course, They hesitate, trembling and filled with shame, Blush at the blasphemous worship offered them, And each time God's voice thunders, crying out, On with your duty!"
REUBEN. Sister, we are lost! The streets are thronged with panic-stricken folk. Wild rumors fill the air. Two of our tribe, Young Mordecai, as I hear, and old Baruch, Seized by the mob, were dragged towards Eisenach, Cruelly used, left to bleed out their lives, In the wayside ditch at night. This morn, betimes, The iron-hearted Governor of Salza Rides furious into Nordhausen; his horse, Spurred past endurance, drops before the gate. The Council has been called to hear him read The Landgrave's message,—all men say, 'tis death Unto our race.
LIEBHAID. Where is our father, Reuben?
REUBEN. With Rabbi Jacob. Through the streets they walk, Striving to quell the terror. Ah, too late! Had he but heeded the prophetic voice, This warning angel led to us in vain!
LIEBHAID. Brother, be calm. Man your young heart to front Whatever ills the Lord afflicts us with. What does Prince William? Hastes he not to aid?
REUBEN. None know his whereabouts. Some say he's held Imprisoned by the Landgrave. Others tell While he was posting with deliverance To Nordhausen, in bloody Schnetzen's wake, He was set upon by ruffians—kidnapped—killed. What do I know—hid till our ruin's wrought. [LIEBHAID swoons.]
CLAIRE. Hush, foolish boy. See how your rude words hurt. Look up, sweet girl; take comfort.
REUBEN. Pluck up heart: Dear sister, pardon me; he lives, he lives!
LIEBHAID. God help me! Shall my heart crack for love's loss That meekly bears my people's martyrdom? He lives—I feel it—to live or die with me. I love him as my soul—no more of that. I am all Israel's now—till this cloud pass, I have no thought, no passion, no desire, Save for my people.
SUSSKIND. Blessed art thou, my child! This is the darkest hour before the dawn. Thou art the morning-star of Israel. How dear thou art to me—heart of my heart, Mine, mine, all mine to-day! the pious thought, The orient spirit mine, the Jewish soul. The glowing veins that sucked life-nourishment From Hebrew mother's milk. Look at me, Liebhaid, Tell me you love me. Pity me, my God! No fiercer pang than this did Jephthah know.
LIEBHAID. Father, what wild and wandering words are these? Is all hope lost?
SUSSKIND. Nay, God is good to us. I am so well assured the town is safe, That I can weep my private loss—of thee. An ugly dream I had, quits not my sense, That you, made Princess of Thuringia, Forsook your father, and forswore your race. Forgive me, Liebhaid, I am calm again, We must be brave—I who besought my tribe To bide their fate in Nordhausen, and you Whom God elects for a peculiar lot. With many have I talked; some crouched at home, Some wringing hands about the public ways. I gave all comfort. I am very weary. My children, we had best go in and pray, Solace and safety dwell but in the Lord. [Exeunt.]
The City Hall at Nordhausen. Deputies and Burghers assembling. To the right, at a table near the President's chair, is seated the Public Scrivener. Enter DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, and HENRY
SCHNETZEN with an open letter in his hand.
SCHNETZEN. Didst hear the fellow's words who handed it? I asked from whom it came, he spoke by rote, "The pepper bites, the corn is ripe for harvest, I come from Eisenach." 'T is some tedious jest.
TETTENBORN. Doubtless your shrewd friend Prior Peppercorn Masks here some warning. Ask the scrivener To help us to its contents.
SCHNETZEN (to the clerk). Read me these.
"Beware, Lord Henry Schnetzen, of Susskind's lying tongue! He will thrust a cuckoo's egg into your nest. [Signed] ONE WHO KNOWS."
SCHNETZEN. A cuckoo's egg! that riddle puzzles me; But this I know. Schnetzen is no man's dupe, Much less a Jew's. [SCHNETZEN and VON TETTENBORN take their seats side by side.]
TETTENBORN. Knights, counsellors and burghers! Sir Henry Schnetzen, Governor of Salza, Comes on grave mission from His Highness Frederick, Margrave of Meissen, Landgrave of Thuringia, Our town's imperial Patron and Protector.
SCHNETZEN. Gentles, I greet you in the Landgrave's name, The honored bearer of his princely script, Sealed with his signet. Read, good Master Clerk. [He hands a parchment to the Scrivener, who reads aloud]:
Lord President and Deputies of the town of Nordhausen! Know that we, Frederick Margrave of Meissen, and Landgrave of Thuringia, command to be burned all the Jews within our territories as far as our lands extend, on account of the great crime they have committed against Christendom in throwing poison into the wells, of the truth of which indictment we have absolute knowledge. Therefore we admonish you to have the Jews killed in honor of God, so that Christendom be not enfeebled by them. Whatever responsibility you incur, we will assume with our Lord the Emperor, and with all other lords. Know also that we send to you Henry Schnetzen, our Governor of Salza, who shall publicly accuse your Jews of the above-mentioned crime. Therefore we beseech you to help him to do justice upon them, and we will singularly reward your good will.*
Given at Eisenach, the Thursday after St. Walpurgis, under our secret seal.
*This is an authentic document.
A COUNSELLOR (DIETHER VON WERTHER). Fit silence welcomes this unheard-of wrong! So! Ye are men—free, upright, honest men, Not hired assassins? I half doubted it, Seeing you lend these infamous words your ears.
SCHNETZEN. Consider, gentlemen of Nordhausen, Ere ye give heed to the rash partisan. Ye cross the Landgrave—well? he crosses you. It may be I shall ride to Nordhausen, Not with a harmless script, but with a sword, And so denounce the town for perjured vow. What was the Strasburg citizens' reward Who championed these lost wretches, in the face Of King and Kaiser—three against the world, Conrad von Winterthur the Burgomaster, Deputy Gosse Sturm, and Peter Schwarber, Master Mechanic? These leagued fools essayed To stand between the people's sacred wrath, And its doomed object. Well, the Jews, no less, Were rooted from the city neck and crop, And their three friends degraded from their rank I' the city council, glad to save their skins. The Jews are foes to God. Our Holy Father Thunders his ban from Rome against all such As aid the poisoners. Your oath to God, And to the Prince enjoins—Death to the Jews.
A BURGHER (REINHARD ROLAPP). Why all this vain debate? The Landgrave's brief Affirms the Jews fling poison in the wells. Shall we stand by and leave them unmolested, Till they have made our town a wilderness? I say, Death to the Jews!
A BURGHER (HUGO SCHULTZ). My lord and brethren, I have scant gift of speech, ye are all my elders. Yet hear me for truth's sake, and liberty's. The Landgrave of Thuringia is our patron, True—and our town's imperial Governor, But are we not free burghers? Shall we not Debate and act in freedom? If Lord Schnetzen Will force our council with the sword—enough! We are not frightened schoolboys crouched beneath The master's rod, but men who bear the sword As brave as he. By this grim messenger, Send back this devilish missive. Say to Frederick Nordhausen never was enfeoffed to him. Prithee, Lord President, bid Henry Schnetzen Withdraw awhile, that we may all take counsel, According to the hour's necessity, As free men, whom nor fear nor favor swerves.
TETTENBORN. Bold youth, you err. True, Nordhausen is free, And God be witness, we for fear or favor, Would never shed the blood of innocence. But here the Prince condemns the Jews to death For capital crime. Who sees a snake must kill, Ere it spit fatal venom. I, too, say Death to the Jews
ALL. Death to the Jews! God wills it!
TETTENBORN. Give me your voices in the urn. (The votes are taken.) One voice For mercy, all the rest for death. (To an Usher.) Go thou To the Jews' quarter; bid Susskind von Orb, And Rabbi Jacob hither to the Senate, To hear the Landgrave's and the town's decree. [Exit Usher.] (To Schnetzen.) What learn you of this evil through the State?
SCHNETZEN. It swells to monstrous bulk. In many towns, Folk build high ramparts round the wells and springs. In some they shun the treacherous sparkling brooks, To drink dull rain-water, or melted snow, In mountain districts. Frederick has been patient, And too long clement, duped by fleece-cloaked wolves. But now his subjects' clamor rouses him To front the general peril. As I hear, A fiendish and far-reaching plot involves All Christian thrones and peoples. These vile vermin, Burrowing underneath society, Have leagued with Moors in Spain, with heretics Too plentiful—Christ knows! in every land, And planned a subterraneous, sinuous scheme, To overthrow all Christendom. But see, Where with audacious brows, and steadfast mien, They enter, bold as innocence. Now listen, For we shall hear brave falsehoods.
Enter SUSSKIND VON ORB and RABBI JACOB.
TETTENBORN. Rabbi Jacob, And thou, Susskind von Orb, bow down, and learn The Council's pleasure. You the least despised By true believers, and most reverenced By your own tribe, we grace with our free leave To enter, yea, to lift your voices here, Amid these wise and honorable men, If ye find aught to plead, that mitigates The just severity of your doom. Our prince, Frederick the Grave, Patron of Nordhausen, Ordains that all the Jews within his lands, For the foul crime of poisoning the wells, Bringing the Black Death upon Christendom, Shall be consumed with flame.
RABBI JACOB (springing forward and clasping his hands). I' the name of God, Your God and ours, have mercy!
SUSSKIND. Noble lords, Burghers, and artisans of Nordhausen, Wise, honorable, just, God-fearing men, Shall ye condemn or ever ye have heard? Sure, one at least owns here the close, kind name Of Brother—unto him I turn. At least Some sit among you who have wedded wives, Bear the dear title and the precious charge Of Husband—unto these I speak. Some here, Are crowned, it may be, with the sacred name Of Father—unto these I pray. All, all Are sons—all have been children, all have known The love of parents—unto these I cry: Have mercy on us, we are innocent, Who are brothers, husbands, fathers, sons as ye! Look you, we have dwelt among you many years, Led thrifty, peaceable, well-ordered lives. Who can attest, who prove we ever wrought Or ever did devise the smallest harm, Far less this fiendish crime against the State? Rather let those arise who owe the Jews Some debt of unpaid kindness, profuse alms, The Hebrew leech's serviceable skill, Who know our patience under injury, And ye would see, if all stood bravely forth, A motley host, led by the Landgrave's self, Recruited from all ranks, and in the rear, The humblest, veriest wretch in Nordhausen. We know the Black Death is a scourge of God. Is not our flesh as capable of pain, Our blood as quick envenomed as your own? Has the Destroying Angel passed the posts Of Jewish doors—to visit Christian homes? We all are slaves of one tremendous Hour. We drink the waters which our enemies say We spoil with poison,—we must breathe, as ye, The universal air,—we droop, faint, sicken, From the same causes to the selfsame end. Ye are not strangers to me, though ye wear Grim masks to-day—lords, knights and citizens, Few do I see whose hand has pressed not mine, In cordial greeting. Dietrich von Tettenborn, If at my death my wealth be confiscate Unto the State, bethink you, lest she prove A harsher creditor than I have been. Stout Meister Rolapp, may you never again Languish so nigh to death that Simon's art Be needed to restore your lusty limbs. Good Hugo Schultz—ah! be those blessed tears Remembered unto you in Paradise! Look there, my lords, one of your council weeps, If you be men, why, then an angel sits On yonder bench. You have good cause to weep, You who are Christian, and disgraced in that Whereof you made your boast. I have no tears. A fiery wrath has scorched their source, a voice Shrills through my brain—"Not upon us, on them Fall everlasting woe, if this thing be!"