Page 161 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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which he had begun in his student years. The subject
is blood accusation, and Emma mentions the work as an example
of anti-Semitism and persecution. She still seems to be attracted
to the middle ages, and that is perhaps because it was a necessary
station on her journey towards the present. Moreover, she was
undoubtedly inching her way towards her own dramatic poem on
a similar subject — “The Dance to Death,” published in
The Ameri­
can Hebrew
in 1882, but written, the editor Philip Cowen recalls, a
few years earlier.25
Somewhere in this period Emma Lazarus began to speak more
on Jewish subjects, to reveal an increasing awareness of her own
traditions. Perhaps the change — ever so slight — was due to the
direction of Emerson. He may have wounded her ego considera­
bly by omitting her work from
and this may have set
her to thinking more seriously about his major criticism of her
work, the words he had written in response to
as long ago
as 1869. “I do not know” he wrote then, “but that the sole advice I
have to offer is a pounding on the old string, namely, that though
you can throw yourself heartily into the old world of Memory, the
high success must ever be to penetrate unto & show the celestial
element in the despised Present: and detect the deity that still
challenges you under all the gross and vulgar mass.”26
At this point, however, Emma Lazarus has not quite found her
way to the “despised Present,” but that she has turned the right
corner is clear. Before the volume of Heine translations she had
already begun to dabble in subjects Jewish. In June of 1878 she
published a short story “The Eleventh Hour” — an attempt at
realistic social fiction in which a penniless alienated Eastern Euro­
pean artist, Sergius Azoff (not identified as a Jew, but undoubt­
edly meant to be), becomes adopted by a group of New York soci­
ety ladies — only to be discarded by them because he is too sexu­
ally attractive. He falls into a decline and becomes suicidal, but is
rescued by the husband of one of the women at “the eleventh
25 Philip Cowen, “Emma Lazarus,” in
Autobiographies ofAmericanJews,
ed. Harold
U. Ribalow, (Philadelphia, 1965), p. 28. Hereinafter referred to as Philip
26 Letters to Emma Lazarus, p. 20.