Page 163 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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KESSNER/FROM PARNASSUS TO MOUNT ZION
151
of her. Burroughs is a good friend of Walt Whitman and he
expresses surprise that Emma admires Whitman and “is equal to
the task of appreciating Democratic Vistas. I have not before
found ,” he adds, “a woman that was, & but few men.”28
Burroughs also writes to her about his own essay on Matthew
Arnold: “The drift of my essay is to bring out and illustrate his
Hellenism, to show how thoroughly Greek he is in point of view,
in literature, in politics. . . . I am not quite certain, for instance,
why a mind so vital as his . . . should not recognize the poetic force
of Walt Whitman.”29 And in a later letter he tells Emma, “I have
put my Arnold task by for a time. . . . I feel the coldness and lack
of spontaneity in him to which you refer. . . . Yes, Whitman is
Hebraic, so is Carlyle, so are all the more vital literary forces of
our century, I think.”30
Burroughs seems to have understood the struggle Emma Laza­
rus was working through at this time. Another literary friend,
however, Edmund Clarence Stedman, a leading literary critic of
the period, shows less sensitivity. Stedman, who lived a few doors
away from the Lazarus family on East 57th Street, saw Emma fre­
quently during the years 1879 to 1881. In his book
Genius and
Other Essays,
published in 1911, he reports a conversation he had
with the young woman poet which he claims stimulated her inter­
est in creating works based on her Jewish heritage. He says that he
told her that “there is a wealth of tradition you are heir to and
could use as a source of inspiration.” She responded that she “was
proud of my blood and heritage, but Hebrew ideals do not appeal
to me.”31 Stedman evidently did not understand her and perhaps
even misquotes her, for it certainly was not Hebrew
ideals
that did
not appeal to her — indeed it was the ideals of her tradition that
she did accept; it was the ritual that was of no concern to her.
Stedman apparently did not understand the fact that Jewishness
could be expressed apart from religious ritual.
IMPACT OF PERSECUTION
At the very time in Emma Lazarus’life when she was searching
for an authentic way to express her increasing Jewish conscious­
28 Letters to Emma Lazarus, p. 25.
29
Ibid.,
p. 29.
30
Ibid.,
p. 31.
31 Louis Harap, p. 289.