[Here's the "Wandering Jew" story, plus a snippet from the next chapter. And to think that some, at least according to Hosmer, have associated such a loathsome figure with Lord Wodan on his Wild Hunt! Sacrilege! Imagine some jabbering rag-seller being compared to our holy God Most High! Hosmer calls the Wild Hunt "superstition" – because some Whites believe in it. But why isn't the idea that the Red Sea was parted by a "blast from God's mighty nostrils" superstition? One rule for Jews, another for everyone else. – JR, ed.]
SHYLOCK--THE WANDERING JEW.
ONE cannot study this many-volumed record of bloody outrage without feeling almost a sense of satisfaction, when sometimes the writhing victim turns and strikes a dagger into the persecutor who crushes him so cruelly. The Jews have not been, since the dispersion, a martial, combative race, but their history shows in them abundant power to smite when they have chosen to do so. When the Visigothic king, Sisebut, opened for them the chapter of persecution in the Spanish peninsula, they revenged themselves by smoothing energetically the path of the invading Moors. On Palm-Sunday at Toledo, while the people went in procession to church outside the walls, the Jews secretly admitted the Saracens into the city, joined their host, and fell upon the Christians with the sword as they were returning home.
One reads almost with pleasure of the conduct of a Jew at Oxford, in 1272. The university was going in procession to visit the shrine of St. Frideswide, when an audacious figure started from the Jewish quarter, wrested the cross from the hands of the bearer, and, to the horror of the pious, trampled it, with loud execrations, into the mire.
Among the portrayals of Shakespeare stands one figure,--a figure which perhaps has affected us with aversion, but which as we view him with minds thrilled by the story I have tried to make vivid, beholding him, as he towers from this mediaeval landscape, whose features are torture-chambers, massacre, and the flame-encircled stake, is characterized not only by fierce barbaric grandeur, but almost by a certain sublime virtue,--the figure of Shylock.
Cast as our lot is in a humane age, as we go from all our softened circumstances to sit for an evening before the stage where the great magician reflects for us a scene from one of those dreadful times of blood and iron which we have left behind us, we have, perhaps, felt the flesh fairly creep as that arrogant hater, cringing so stealthily, darting so tiger-like, reaches with intense greed for the heart of the Christian. "What news upon the Rialto?" Ah, what news might he have heard, indeed! We are told only in part how bad match came upon bad match--the Goodwin sands breaking to pieces the argosies of Antonio,--his treacherous daughter squandering the stolen ducats, and bartering for monkeys the relics of her dead mother. That was all bad enough; but there was other news, of which the poet has told us nothing, which must have come to those outcasts in the Italian trading-cities, clinging, as it were, precariously to the gunwale, with cruel clubs raised everywhere to beat off their hold, in the midst of the raging sea of persecution and death which tossed all around them. Tubal could have told him more from Genoa than of the heartlessness of Jessica--for instance, of a fleet of his countrymen, driven from Spain, who arrived starving off the harbor; of their being allowed to land only upon the bleak mole--men, women, and tender children, beaten by the sea-wind, swept by the waves, so pale and emaciated that if they had not moved a little they would have passed for corpses; there they were allowed to lie with the dear land at hand, till hunger and drowning brought the bitter end. This half-crazed Jewess just arrived in a Lisbon caravel that has brought a cargo to the Rialto--what tale has she to tell? That she was cast out of the city; that seven children were torn from her to be carried to the Lost Islands--remote places to the West, on the verge of the world, believed to be alive with serpents and dragons; that when she flung herself at the feet of the king and begged that she might keep the youngest--the babe at her breast,--the king spurned her, and the babe's cries grew faint on her ear as ruffians carried it away. This young man whose eyes can scarcely meet the gaze of men, as if he were weighed down by some unutterable humiliation,--what story does Shylock hear from him? "Under pain of being burned at the stake, I was forced to go to the Dominicans of a distant city; to ask that the bones of my father, buried there, might be dug up and outraged, as having died an infidel; then bring back from them a certificate, that at the request of me, the son, the dead father had been insulted."
To some group of fugitives we may imagine Shylock exclaiming: "And you, poor wanderers of our household, so bruised and maimed, whence come ye with your rags, your broken bodies, your hollow eyes?" "We are from the four quarters of Christendom, from the Elbe, the Seine, the Thames, the Danube; from the dungeons of nobles; from galleys where we were fettered to the oars until the chains ate through the bone, and from the edge of cauldrons of boiling oil. We poor remnant have escaped. Ask not how many perished!" In a sordid pursuit the soul of the Venetian usurer has become contaminated, but he is not without the nobler affections. He loves his dead wife Leah, his lost Jessica,--above all, his sacred nation, so cruelly ground,--with passion fervid as the Syrian sun which has given to his cheek its swarthy color. The simoom of the desert is not so fierce as the hatred in his strong heart, which he has been forced to smother. He has read well the law of Moses: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Amid the humiliations of a lifetime he, for a moment, by a strange chance, has a persecutor within his grasp. As he crouches for an instant before the attack to whet upon his shoe-sole that merciless blade, cannot one see in the flash of his dark eye a light that is not utterly devilish! It is the lightning of revenge--but then revenge may be a distorted justice.
Is there not something moving in this portraiture of Shylock by his fellow Jew, Heinrich Heine?*
"When I saw the 'Merchant of Venice' given at Drury Lane, there stood behind me a beautiful, pale
* Shakespeare's "Mädchen and Frauen."
English lady, who at the end of the fourth act wept earnestly, and cried out several times: 'The poor man is wronged. The poor man is wronged.' It was a face of the noblest Grecian cast, and the eyes were large and black. I have never been able to forget them, those great black eyes which wept for Shylock! Truly, with the exception of Portia, Shylock is the most respectable personage in the whole play. The domestic affections appear in him most touchingly.
Far more than all historic personalities does one remember in Venice, Shakespeare's Shylock. If you go over the Rialto, your eye seeks him everywhere, and you think he must be concealed there behind some pillar or other, with his Jewish gaberdine, with his mistrustful, calculating face, and you think you hear even his grating voice: "Three thousands ducats, well!"--I, at least, wandering dreamer as I am, looked everywhere on the Rialto trying whether I could find Shylock. Seeing him nowhere, I determined to seek him in the synagogue. The Jews were just celebrating here their holy day of reconciliation, and stood, wrapped in their white robes, with uncanny bowings of their heads, appearing almost like an assembly of ghosts. But although I looked everywhere, I could not behold the countenance of Shylock. And yet it seemed to me as if he stood concealed there, behind one of those white robes, praying more fervently than the rest of his fellow believers, with tempestuous wildness even, at the throne of Jehovah. I saw him not! But toward evening, when, according to the belief of the Jews, the gates of heaven are shut, and no prayer finds admission, I heard a voice in which the tears were trickling as they were never wept with eyes. It was a sobbing which might move a stone to pity; they were tones of pain such as could come only from a breast that held shut up within itself all the martyrdom which a tortured race has endured for eighteen hundred years. It was the panting of a soul which sinks down, tired to death, before the gates of heaven. And this voice seemed well known to me. I felt as if I had heard it once, when it lamented in such despair, "Jessica, my child."
The terrible tale of the Jews' humiliation is completed as far as I dare unfold it, and the effect of it must be to leave the mind in a fit state to dwell upon the pathetic legend of "The Wandering Jew." Of all the old superstitions there is scarcely one so sari and picturesque as that of. the human being who cannot die, but must suffer on through the centuries, until the day of judgment. The medićval chroniclers, from the thirteenth century downwards, report with undoubting faith the appearances of the poor fury-scourged pilgrim, and there are men in the world to-day who think the story not impossible.
According to one version, Cartaphilus, gatekeeper of the house of Pilate, as Jesus descended from the judgment-hall, pushed the Saviour, bidding him go quicker; and Jesus looking back on him with a severe countenance said to him: "I am going and you shall wait till I return."
According to the more common tale, Ahasuerus, a shoemaker, had done his best to compass the destruction of Jesus, believing him to be a misleader of the people. When Christ was condemned and about to be dragged past the house of Ahasuerus on his way to crucifixion, the shoemaker ran home and called together his household that they might have a look at the one about to suffer. He stood in his doorway when the troop ascended Calvary. As then Christ was led by, bowed under the weight of the heavy cross, he tried to rest a little and stood still a moment; but the shoemaker, in zeal and rage, and for the sake of obtaining credit among the other Jews, drove him forward and told him to hasten on his way. Jesus, obeying, looked at him and said: "I shall stand and rest, but thou shalt go till the last day." At these words the man left his house and went forward to behold the crucifixion. As soon as it had taken place, it came upon him that he could no more return to Jerusalem, nor see again his wife and child, but must go forth into foreign lands one after another, a mournful pilgrim.
So the broken, impenitent figure has been seen--sometimes in the throngs of cities, sometimes in deserts, sometimes in mountain solitudes, the tragedy of Calvary ever haunting him in rock, in forest, in the clouds of heaven, passing ever onward with no rest for the sole of his foot, every corner of the earth again and again visited. Whenever a hundred years have passed, his manhood is renewed for him, so that he stands again at thirty, the age at which he committed the sin whose expiation is so terrible. The accounts are so detailed and circumstantial, we are forced to believe that many a half-crazed man has actually made himself and others believe that he was the Wandering Jew, and that many an impostor, seeking to affect men with the deepest awe, has assumed the character. How striking and picturesque are some of the developments of the conception; for instance, where it becomes combined with the myth of the god Odin, and appears as the Wild Huntsman!
One of the most philosophic students of modern times, Jacob Grimm, has taught the world that many a fairy tale and many a peasant superstition are nothing more or less than the remains of the great legends of the old heathen religious faiths, softened down, but still living in the souls of the people. Grimm and his school would have us believe that the phantoms of the mighty Norse gods still haunt the modern generations of the Teutonic stock, refusing to be exorcised from the popular mind. "Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead," sings the Swedish poet Tegner, after the old saga; and in like manner with Balder, we have believed that Odin and Thor and Freya were utterly gone, with the men that paid them worship. These students would have us believe that the ghosts of the gods, at any rate, refuse to be laid. Sometimes in blithe and merry guise they continue to appear in the souls of men belonging to the great races whose forefathers worshipped them; sometimes the grim circumstance that attended them in their former pre-eminence is not laid aside. What wonderful grandeur in the thought that these rough hands of the old gods refuse to become decrepit through time, or beaten off by culture! How they reach round the new altars that have crowded out their own simple fanes, because the all-conquering Jew has willed it should be so! How they cross the widest oceans to the homes of the farthest wanderers, still haunting, phantom-like, the hearts of men whose barbarian sires held them dear!
The superstition of the Wild Huntsman, still cherished by many a simple peasant soul, can be thus traced back through the centuries to an origin in the stormy faith professed by the vikings. The fierce rider who presses unsatisfied, attended by his troop of deathless hounds, 'mid the roar of the winter's blast, through the heavens torn with the tempest, in pursuit of the stag that forever flies before him, was really the god Odin. As we think how the Wandering Jew has become connected with this stormy Northern myth, it might seem as if the old dispossessed chief of the Norse deities, wrathful at the usurpation that had reared the new temples in place of his own ancient fanes, had caught the Jew into the heavens in a spirit of weird revenge, compelling him to a companionship with himself in his desolate and fruitless quest.
In this elaboration of the legend of the Wandering Jew, Christ asked permission to drink at a horse trough in his agony, but was refused--the Jew pointing at the same time to the track of a horse's hoof, which was filled with water, as a place where his thirst might be slaked. At this point the heathen and Christian myth become confused. The Wandering Jew, as the Wild Huntsman, must drive forever with his train through the fury of the tempest. The moaning of the wind at night through the forest--about the dwellings of men,--will cause the souls of the most unsuperstitious to thrill, as if it were filled in someway with the voices of spirits! Imagine the tumult in the breast of the peasant child of the Harz, or the Black Forest, or the rude districts in France, who, as the November blast at midnight wails and hurtles through the hills, believes it the dreary hunt of the everlasting Jew ["Der Ewige Jude"? – JR, ed.], and sees in the torn clouds, by the fitful moonlight, the tails of his phantom horses, the forms of his dogs, the streaming of his own white beard, careering forward in this eternal chase!
There is a tale current among the simple people of Switzerland which, to my mind, is as weird and thrilling as this. Whoever has climbed from Zermatt to the Gorner Grat, and stood with the snowy mass of Monte Rosa on the left, the Weisshorn on the right, and directly in front the bleakest and boldest of the Alpine peaks, the Matterhorn--its sublimity deepened and made dreadful by the story with which it is associated, of the men who have fallen from its precipices, four thousand feet to the ice below,--whoever has done this will well believe that there are few spots on earth more full of dreary grandeur. There is a bald, lonely mountain-spur confronting all the awful desolation, upon which the Wandering Jew was once seen standing, solitary, his haggard figure relieved against the heavens, before the abashed eyes of the dwellers in the vale who looked up. He had been there before far back in the dim centuries; again in the fulness of time he will be seen standing there, his tattered garments and dishevelled beard given to the winds, his battered staff in hands shrivelled and wrinkled till they seem like talons, bent and furrowed by his thousandfold accumulated woes. It will be on the judgment-day; on that bleak summit he is to receive release from his exceptional doom.
We shall best interpret the myth if we understand the Wandering Jew to be the Hebrew race typified--its deathless course, its transgression, its centuries of expiating agony, in this way made for us concrete and vivid.
THE CASTING OUT OF A PROPHET.
THE writer who aims at a fair presentation of the sorrowful subject that has occupied us, must take pains to bring into a clear light the palliations which most certainly can be urged in mitigation of this horrible, widespread ruthlessness. The Christian world was just emerging from the barbarism of the dark ages: utter intolerance of all other creeds than that which it professed itself appeared to be a paramount duty. Without doubt, nothing could be more exasperating than the attitude of the Hebrews toward the surrounding Gentiles, whenever, for a moment the clutch was taken from his throat, and he was in a measure free to follow his own impulses. The heart of the Jew can be very unamiable; from the mountain of his scorn, the Gentile has seemed to him worthy of contempt more often than of any softer feeling. Toward the brethren of his own household indeed, the Jew has not seldom been unkind. Until the army of Titus could be descried from the pinnacles of the Temple, the factions in Jerusalem wrangled and slew one another. We are about to see how the synagogue excluded a most noble spirit with blasting anathemas. In all . . .