Page 91 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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THE 100TH BIRTHDAY OF EMMA LAZARUS
July 22, 1849—November 19, 1887
By
A
l b e r t
M
o r d ell
E
MMA Lazarus attained a literary reputation at an early age.
She began writing poems and making translations from
German and French when she was only fourteen, and before she
reached her thirtieth year was the author of two volumes of
poetry, a novel and a drama. Her early work was privately pub-
lished in 1867 in a little volume called
Poems and Translations
.
Her precocious efforts won the praise of William Cullen Bryant.
Her next book of poems,
Admetus and Other Poems
issued in 1871,
was a more ambitious project. I t contained long poems like
“Tannhauser” and “Lohengrin” and translations from the Italian.
I t was favorably reviewed both here and abroad, and the
Illustrated
London News
compared her with Robert Browning, then at the
height of his fame.
Emma Lazarus did not rest upon her laurels as a poet. She
turned her attention to the novel, and in 1874 published
Alide:
An Episode of Goethe's Life
, based on passages in the German
poet’s autobiography, in which he tells of his trifling with the
affections of Fredericka Brion. Two years later Miss Lazarus
printed for private circulation a verse play,
The Spagnoletto
, that
had been praised in manuscript by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The
scene of the drama is laid in Italy in 1655 with Don John of
Austria and the Spagnoletto (Little Spaniard) who is Josef Ribera,
a painter of historical pieces, as the leading characters.
By this time Emma Lazarus was sufficiently known to merit
inclusion in Henry S. Morais’
Eminent Israelites of the Nineteenth
Century,
published in 1880. She thus had sufficient encouragemet
to devote all her attention to a purely literary career. Emerson
had written to her upon the reading of her poem “Admetus,”
when she was only nineteen, that she had composed a noble poem
which he could not praise enough. In a letter about her novel
Alide
Turgeniev remarked that her characters were drawn with
a pencil as delicate as it was strong.
In evaluating Emma Lazarus’s writings, the first misapprehen-
sion to be cleared up is that unwittingly fostered by her sister
Josephine in her article for the
Century Magazine
of October, 1888
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