Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 10 (1951-1952)

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
44
function in medieval society, took a strong hold of the English
mind and could no longer be dislodged. It persisted in literature
and folklore throughout the following four centuries. Chaucer,
Marlowe and Shakespeare reflect the traditional legend, which
they imbibed in childhood and which accompanied them through
all their later years.
The third layer of the legend arose among the Puritan divines
and became dominant during the Age of Romanticism. It was the
legend of the angelic Jew, an exotic picturesque figure akin to the
gypsy, a saintly sage about whom there was a gleam of past glory
and whose daughter was beautiful, kind, and suffering. Richard
Cumberland, Walter Scott, Byron, Shelley, and others idealized
this museum-specimen of ancient days but none of these writers
was interested in the future of the Jews.
The fourth layer of the legend, the realistic layer, discovered
the poor Jew, the old clothes peddler, the ragpicker, the slum-
dweller. This Jew of Whitechapel, later metamorphosed into the
radical, anarchist, or communist, was generally an Eastern Jew,
rarely a German Jew, never a Sephardic Jew.
The thought-associations which came to the mind of English-
speaking persons at the mention of the word Jew were, therefore,
mutually contradictory and yet they existed side by side. The Jew
was the chosen of God and the accursed of God. He was Christ-
killer and angelic queer-duck. He was capitalist usurer and
revolutionary radical.
Daniel Deronda
superimposed a fifth layer
on the other four. It was the legend of the heroic Jew, the legend
of Israel Reborn.
The Englishman of George Eliot’s generation, despite the clut-
tering of his mind by favorable and unfavorable preconceptions,
could not easily become excited about Jews. He retained some
admiration for the patriarchal past of the biblical people. He
regretted their alleged bad behavior towards Jesus of Nazareth.
He was, in the main, indifferent to the Jewish present. And he
assumed that there was no Jewish future, since all Jews in the
British Isles would in the course of time assimilate to the superior
Anglo-Saxon type, especially if granted in full all the blessings of
English civilization and if accepted on terms of equality by their
betters.
George Eliot, in
Daniel Deronda
, voiced a vigorous protest
against these complacent assumptions of her mid-Victorian
countrymen. She dared to assert that, if Jews ultimately became
indistinguishable from other Englishmen and disappeared, man-
kind would thereby be impoverished and not enriched. She
ventured to proclaim that Israel, a skeleton of withered bones,