Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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KESSNER/FROM PARNASSUS TO MOUNT ZION
145
nificant tutelary relationships between the young poet and
important literary figures — a fact that belies her sister
Josephine’s assertion that in addition to her modesty, there was
something more in Emma’s “unwillingness to assert herself or
claim any prerogative. . . . Once finished, the heat and glow of
composition spent, her writings apparently ceased to interest her.
She often resented any allusion to them on the part of intimate
friends, and the public verdict as to their excellence could not
reassure or satisfy her.”10The friendship with Emerson also con­
tradicts Louis Harap’s assertion that “the shy girl did not mingle
in literary society until her twenties.”11As we shall see, the young
Emma was neither shy, nor was she removed from literary soci­
ety. She met the highly distinguished poet Ralph Waldo Emerson
at the home of a mutual friend, Samuel Gray, in 1867 — when
Emma was only seventeen. She had sufficient self-confidence to
send the older poet a copy of her first volume. This inaugurated a
correspondence that lasted from 1868 to 1877. Josephine Laza­
rus comments, “Left to a certain extent, without compass or
guides, without any positive or effective religious training
[Emerson] was the first great moral revelation in her life.”12 In
the next four years Emerson assumed the role of her literary
mentor, correcting her style and recommending reading. He was
encouraging — yet honest; and when he sent a few of her poems
to James Russell Lowell, editor of the
North American Review
and
they were rejected, Emerson wrote to Emma, “And yet Mr.
Lowell is right, if by rough judgement he can drive you to a sev­
erer prun ing of your verses, & mainly to a severer ear.”13
Emerson’s praise for
Admetus,
however, was high: “you have writ­
ten a noble poem which I cannot enough praise. You have hid
yourself from me until now, for the merits of the preceding
poems did not unfold this fulness and high equality of power.”14
But when Emerson tries to help her print it in the
Atlantic
and
William Dean Howells rejects it, the old poet can only respond
that this “leaves us only the doubt whether he or we are in the
10 Josephine Lazarus, p. 9.
11 Louis Harap, p. 284.
12 Josephine Lazarus, p. 7.
13 Letters to Emma Lazarus, p. 11.
14
Ibid.,
p. 9.