Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Harby, a pioneer of Reform Judaism in his native Charleston,
wrote his first comedy,
Alexander Severus
at age seventeen but
it was never staged. He wrote his second play,
The Gordian
Knot, or Causes and Effects,
when he was nineteen and succeeded
in having it staged. I t was a romantic melodrama with a happy
ending and it stressed the theme of vengeance. This theme was
also stressed in his later poetic drama
Alberti,
performed in
Charleston in 1819 in the presence of President James Monroe.
It dealt with the city of Florence during the Renaissance and
like all his plays made no mention of Jews. Harby was also in­
fluential as dramatic critic of the New York
Evening Post,
as
essayist, and as editor.
Jonas B. Phillips, the scion of two prominent Colonial famil­
ies, began as a playwright but devoted himself, after his mid­
thirties, to a legal career. His most popular play was the melo­
drama
The Evil Eye,
first staged in 1831 but revived repeatedly
until the end of the century. Of greater literary value was his
tragedy
Camillus, or The Self-Exiled Patriot
(1833), which was
inspired by Shakespeare’s
Coriolanus
and centered about an
exiled Roman tribune who returned to save his country from
the Gauls.
Samuel Benjamin Helbert Judah (1799-1876) wrote two tra­
gedies on Jewish themes, but without any affection for the group
from which he stemmed. Like Harby and Phillips, he too had
begun with melodramas, including
The Mountain Torrent
(1820) and
The Rose of Arragon
(1822). For Independence Day
of 1822, he wrote an historical drama of the American Revolu­
tion,
A Tale of Lexington,
which was received with unbounded
applause, at least according to his own assertion. The following
year he was imprisoned because of his libelous defamation in
the poetic satire
Gotham and the Gothamites
(1823) of promi­
nent New Yorkers, among them his coreligionist Mordecai M.
Noah. His first biblical play,
The Maid of Midian,
was com­
pleted in 1833, a decade after his imprisonment and was “found­
ed on the massacre of the Midian captives by the order of
Moses." It was never staged because of its defamation of the
ancient Hebrews. His second biblical play,
David and Uriah,
published two years later, was a vicious attack upon King David,
whom he depicted as a depraved tyrant rather than as the
magnificent, anointed leader of a holy people. Samuel Judah