Page 172 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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belonged to the cream o f monied aristocracy. She was Emma Laz­
arus. She often visited the immigrants’ camp on Ward’s Island in
the East River, but this never undermined her status as an aristo­
In 1884 Emma suffered personal catastrophe; in August she
became ill with cancer. Then in March 1885 her father died. She
had been deeply attached to him and this, as she had written to
James, was a severe blow.49 Yet in May 1885, despite her illness
she returned to Europe where she was to remain for two years,
visiting England, Holland, France and Italy — all the while
growing increasingly ill. She returned home in July 1887; she
could no longer work, for her condition had worsened quickly
and by this time was terminal.
While in Europe, however, she had written an experimental
prose poem called “By the Waters o f Babylon” under the double
influence o f readings in the Hebrew Bible and admiration for the
“Hebraism” o f Walt Whitman. All the subjects o f the last few
years are touched upon, from the past Jewish history o f exile to
the ghetto Jews o f Eastern Europe — but the poem was not to be
published until March 1887. She also had written in December
1884 another essay on Heine; and in this corrective to the earlier
one, she at last acknowledges the affinity she has for him and the
parallel between their lives, for she writes:
A fatal and irreconcilable dualism formed the basis o f
Heine’s nature.. . . He was aJew, with the mind and eyes o f
a Greek. . . . In Heine the Jew there is a depth o f human
sympathy, a mystic warmth and glow o f imagination, a
pathos, an enthusiasm, an indomitable resistance to every
species o f bondage, totally at variance with the qualities o f
Heine the Greek. On the other hand, the Greek Heine is a
creature o f laughter and sunshine, possessing an intellec­
tual clearness o f vision, a plastic grace, a pure and healthy
48 Abraham Cahan,
The Education ofAbraham Cahan,
trans. Leon Stein, Abraham
P. Conan, and Lynn Davison (Philadelphia, 1969), p. 354.
49 Henry James’ response o f June 4, 1885, from England, just after he received
Emma’s letter informing him o f Moses Lazarus’ death is both warm and sym­
pathetic, but also quite a personal statement. . . from my own experience —
you will find as life goes on, that you are glad he is out o f it — that the things
that increasingly happen to you don ’t touch or trouble him now. That is
principal feeling about my parents — I rejoice in their exemption, immunity,