Page 169 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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KESSNER/FROM PARNASSUS TO MOUNT ZION
1 5 7
HENRY JAMES ’ LETTERS
One would imagine that this constant stream o f polemical
essays directed at her fellow Jews to abandon assimilation and to
educate Christian America to understanding and sympathy
would keep Emma Lazarus completely occupied as a writer, —
but the fact is, neither did she stop writing poetry and literary
criticism, nor did she cease her habit o f striking up literary rela­
tionships. One extremely interesting and important new friend­
ship at this time in Emma’s life was with the American author
Henry James. Her correspondence with James consists o f eight
heretofore unpublished and mainly undiscussed letters covering
the years between 1883 and 1885. Apparently not satisfied with
restricting her activities on behalf o f her people to America, and
certainly wanting to realize a long held dream to visit Europe,
Emma Lazarus decided to sail for London in April o f 1883. The
main purpose o f the trip is revealed by the content o f James’ let­
ters. Despite James’ reputation — borne out by his writings — for
strong anti-Semitic attitudes, he appears genuinely warm and
interested in Emma and her concerns. James sends her o f f with
introductions to extremely well-placed people who could help
her in her work towards establishing aJewish national homeland.
First he introduces her to an elderly woman, Anne Benson
Procter, a very close friend o f his, who entertains Robert Brown­
ing in her house every week. Emma, o f course, would want to
meet the great English poet on literary grounds alone ; butJames
knew that even more so she would want to meet Browning for his
Judeophilia. Not only could he and his wife read and write
Hebrew, not only did he write poems on Jewish subjects, but he
was one o f those who in 1881 signed the petition to the lord
mayor o f London to summon a meeting to protest against the
persecution o f the Jews in Russia. James undoubtedly knew this
and he wrote to Emma a few days before her departure, “On Sun­
day afternoon you will be sure to find Browning [at Mrs.
Procter’s]; go there as often as you can. I will write Mrs. P. myself
and ask her to make you acquainted with Lady Goldsmid, whom I
think you will find it pleasant to know. . . .”40 It is evident that
40 Eight unpublished letters from Henry James to Emma Lazarus, in the Colum­
bia University Library. Hereinafter referred to as Henry James. The letter
mentioning Mrs. Procter is dated [Boston] May 9, 1883.