Singing in a Foreign Land

In Singing in a Foreign Land, Karen A. Weisman examines the uneasy literary inheritance taken from British cultural and poetic norms by early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish authors.

Singing in a Foreign Land
Anglo-Jewish Poetry, 1812-1847

Karen A. Weisman

2018 | 264 pages | Cloth $75.00
Religion / Literature
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Table of Contents

Introduction. Hath Not a Jew
Chapter 1. Emma Lyon's Spacious Firmament
Chapter 2. Mourning, Translation, Pastoral: Hyman Hurwitz
Chapter 3. The Early Efforts of Celia and Marion Moss
Chapter 4. Grace Aguilar and the Demands of Lyric
Coda. Amy Levy's Impossible Modernity


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Hath Not a Jew

[The Jew] hardly has left, when all is said, a drop of bucolic blood in his veins.
—Amy Levy, "Jewish Humour" (1886)
Amy Levy's assertion goes to the heart of one of the central tensions of this study: if the Jew hath not a drop of the very blood that defines one of the central features of British literary inheritance, then how do we understand Anglo-Jewish poetry that would situate itself within the canonical domain of British cultural tradition? Indeed, how do early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish poets situate themselves as cultural figures within a cultural matrix for which the bucolic is a foundational value term? Hath not a Jew? If you prick him, he will not bleed bucolic blood. Levy's pronouncement is no lament over deprivation; in fact, for Amy Levy, the late-nineteenth century Jewish poet, prose writer, and essayist, the putative rootless cosmopolitanism of nineteenth-century European Jewry is one foundation of Jewish perspicacity. Levy's allusion is not merely Shakespearean. It is not the Jewish merchant she is struggling to understand, but rather the cultural presumptions of Jewish authors in a land whose cultural accents are defined in terms that present them with singular challenges. Her remark is taken from a study of Heinrich Heine, in which she diagnoses the idiosyncratic idiom of Jewish humour, but it clearly bears the weight of her reflection on the modes of Jewish literature more generally in her century. The putative dearth of bucolic blood goes hand in hand with the distinctiveness of the Jewish gaze: "He [the Jew] has been huddled in crowded quarters of towns, forced into close and continual contact with his fellow-creatures; he has learned to watch men's faces; to read men's thoughts; to be always ready for his opportunity." If the authority of the bucolic is not hers to claim, then she will embrace the alertness of the unsettled cosmopolitan: the Jew who has learned to be "always ready," to be vigilant in his interpretive savvy ("to read men's thoughts"), is the Jew who has learned to be safe even while exercising a cultural audacity.

The poetry I engage in this book is confined mainly to the first half of the nineteenth century, a period that precedes Levy. I have cited her in this introduction because the critical distance from her immediate Jewish predecessors and her privileged insight enable her to put her finger directly on the central tensions that engage their work. The Jew without a drop of bucolic blood in his veins is the Jew who, in the Romantic period, defines his subjectivity both against and within British cultural norms. As such, the expressive resources appropriated by Jewish poets define at once a highly qualified forum for self-understanding and a necessary forum for the discovery of a self-alienation. In establishing the dates of this study between 1812, the year of the publication of Emma Lyon's volume of poems, and 1847, the year of Grace Aguilar's death, I am designating an Anglo-Jewish "long Romanticism." Although I naturally read my three later authors (Celia and Marion Moss, and Grace Aguilar) within their particular respective historical contexts, which includes early Victorianism, I argue that they reflectively situate themselves within a Romantic inheritance, especially where they refract the ideals of Romantic nature through Jewish cultural and religious values. Reading Jewish poets as they engage Romantic standards of value also situates the authors before full Jewish emancipation, and before the greater expansion of Jewish immigration in the later part of the century. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were approximately 60,000 Jews in England. By the end of the century, there were over a quarter of a million.

Anglo-Jewish Romanticism is, in many respects, an extreme version of Romantic self-reflexivity: it tends to engage Romanticism's received orthodoxies with a heightened consciousness of the constructed nature of its claims even as it seeks to establish affiliation with its cultural authority. Jewish poets inherit from the mainstream canon an already ironized and deeply scrutinized literary form. Many of the central questions about Romantic lyric—its vexations with respect to consolation, to the articulation of identity, to the ethics of place, and to the tensions inherent in negotiating the public sphere—take on singular dimensions when studied through Jewish authors. Anglo-Jewish Romantic poetry, then, models a Romanticism that recognizes its own ironic reversals even as it acknowledges its longing to claim a cultural home within it. To ironize the fiction of "home" even in the face of claiming rightful belonging within it, is to present, perhaps, a particularly arch reading of Romanticism. There are, to be sure, several layers of displacement in this dynamic; however, for Anglo-Jewish Romantic poets negotiating Romanticism and regarding their own place within it, the text becomes finally an arbiter of cultural value.

I am staking a claim, then, to a highly self-reflexive Romanticism and an Anglo-Jewish poetry that both cherishes and resists its myths of tranquil restoration within the landscape and within English nationalist aspirations. If some versions of canonical Romanticism constitute the landscape as the forum for a recuperative interiority, then Jewish authors who follow in their wake recognize its profound appeal as well as the perils of its constructed nature, which is as much to say that their love of canonical English poetry meets their recognition of its nostalgic sentimentalism in highly nuanced ways. This dynamic is further complicated by Jewish authors' appreciation that what they love—the very poetry that nurtures them and by which they instantiate their subjectivity—is also a site in which they recognize their distance from its promises. The dislocations engaged by Jewish Romantic poetry do not ultimately undermine its valorization of lyric, which remains a value term in despite of the Romantic currents that insistently qualify its efficacy. Like their mainstream peers, they negotiate lyric inheritance in all of its dynamic tensions without finally abandoning the belief, with Wordsworth, that the poet "hath put his heart to school."

This book, then, studies the uneasy literary inheritance received by early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish authors from British cultural and poetic formalist norms. I argue that the most salient features of Jewish expressive identity in this period can be found in the domain of elegiac and pastoral writing, as well as landscape poetry, but that other lyric forms also play a significant role. The evolution of lyric, especially the pastoral and elegy, has always occupied a central role in British literary history. Joined as such forms are with British nationalist aspirations and self-assertions, Romantic lyric especially evolved in complicated ways to take explicit account of the limitations of its rhetorical power and its consolations, particularly where elegy and pastoral are concerned. I argue that such limitations join hands with the age-old enmity between lyric temporality and the narrative extension from which it presents itself as detached. Jewish literary history, both liturgical and secular, has also recognized the vital roles played by lyric forms, especially where a post-exilic consciousness is sustained. Indeed, diasporic Jewish lyric expression is inextricably linked to its historicity insofar as it has historically absorbed, refracted, and reworked poetic traditions from many national literatures and cultural types, lending it a hybridity that tends to issue in a profound self-reflectiveness. In narrowing my focus to lyric poetry by Anglo-Jewish authors of the Romantic period, I throw into relief the challenges to constructing a narrative of stable identity posed by historical, nationalist, religious, and linguistic disruptions. With no secure history binding them to the landscape of British hearth and home, their history becomes a meditation on their historicity, on their urgency to constitute in their writing a stable narrative of identity within England and within the King's English even as they gesture toward the impossibility—and sometimes even the undesirability—of so doing.

Aspects of the complicated dynamic of Jewish expressive identity were recognized by many Romantic authors, some with more sympathetic regard than others. William Hazlitt's posthumously published essay in the Tatler of 1831, "The Emancipation of the Jews," reveals a clear understanding of what Amy Levy would later describe as the want of "bucolic blood." Hazlitt observes:

We shut people up in close confinement and complain that they do not live in the open air. The Jews barter and sell commodities, instead of raising or manufacturing them. But this is the necessary traditional consequence of their former persecution and pillage by all nations. They could not set up a trade when they were hunted every moment from place to place, and while they could count nothing their own but what they could carry with them. They could not devote themselves to the pursuit of agriculture, when they were not allowed to possess a foot of land. You tear people up by the roots and trample on them like noxious weeds, and then make an outcry that they do not take root in the soil like wholesome plants. You drive them like a pest from city to city, from kingdom to kingdom, and then call them vagabonds and aliens.
Hazlitt was writing in response to the Jewish Relief Bill of 1830, which I discuss in more detail below. His diagnosis of the effects of Jews not taking "root in the soil" serves as a crucial reminder of the context for the Jewish relationship to pastoral. Hazlitt recognizes also the vigilance and index of suspicion of which Amy Levy will speak in 1886: "A man has long been in dread of insult for no just cause, and you complain that he grows reserved and suspicious."

Hazlitt's perspective was not merely abstract. Even the "gentle-hearted Charles," the name Coleridge assigned to Charles Lamb in "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison," exemplifies precisely the kind of perspective Hazlitt derides. In one of the Essays of Elia published in the London Magazine in 1821, Lamb insists that he has "no disrespect for Jews" in "the abstract." After all, he offers, "they are a piece of stubborn antiquity, compared with which Stonehenge is in its non-age." Still, their obduracy—another leitmotif in the discussion about Jews in general—does not render them palatable: "But I should not care to be in habits of familiar intercourse with any of that nation." It is their increasing acculturation within English society that seems most to repulse him:

A Hebrew is nowhere congenial to me.... I boldly confess I do not relish the approximation of Jew and Christian which has become so fashionable. The reciprocal endearments have, to me, something hypocritical and unnatural in them. I do not like to see the Church and Synagogue kissing and congeeing in awkward postures of an affected civility.... If they can sit with us at table, why do they kick at our cookery? I do not understand these half convertites.... I like fish or flesh. A moderate Jew is a more confounding piece of anomaly than a wet Quaker. The spirit of the synagogue is essentially separative.
The separateness of the spirit of the synagogue, as Lamb would have it, is a recurrent motif in the discourse of both Jews and Christians. For Jews seeking to establish publicly their loyalty to England and its traditions, universalizing Jewish doctrine and ethics became one way of establishing good will; it also became one way of joining Jewish discourse to British values, so much so that, as we shall see in Chapter 4, Grace Aguilar sometimes took on the sobriquet of "Jewish Protestant." But the "essentially separative" spirit of the synagogue need not be entirely pejorative, at least not to many practicing Jews in England. And it is not only the kicking at Christian cookery, by which Lamb intends the observance of such separatist Jewish laws as those pertaining to Kosher food, that is to the point here. The Jewish authors that I study are not seeking to be recognized as ersatz Protestants. They are engaging with the cultural norms of British traditions as Jews and trying to establish a ground of lyric expression within them. The primary point of their struggle is not about antisemitism or political advantage; it is about establishing cultural self-representation and authority in the political, social, and cultural world in which they are situated. And establishing such cultural authority becomes also the process of establishing a forum for defining their subjectivity, a formidable task in a world in which they must confront so many self-divisions and self-contradictions.

P. B. Shelley's 1821 drama Hellas provides another fine reminder of the stereotypes and stakes of Jewish utterance, ones that are quite different from Lamb's; in seeking relief from inexplicable dreams, the character Mahmud calls for "a Jew" who, precisely because of the multifaceted breadth of his "spirit," is presumed to be a wise interpreter:

Thou didst say thou knewest
A Jew, whose spirit is a chronicle
Of strange and secret and forgotten things.

I bade thee summon him:—'tis said his tribe
Dream, and are wise interpreters of dreams. (ll. 132-136)

If Shelley here invokes the image of the Wandering Jew, as many authors did, he is offered as no sentimental traveler. His interpretive authority is recognized by the Sultan in much the way that Amy Levy diagnoses Jewish cosmopolitanism: he can "read men's thoughts" because of the vastness of his spirit's chronicle. The Wandering Jew of Christian tradition, oft adapted by the Romantics as a proxy for the suffering poet, can call upon a vast chronicle of history only because, having taunted Jesus on the way to Golgotha, he has been cursed to wander the world until the Second Coming. For Jewish poets themselves, to possess a spirit full of strange and secret and forgotten things is to be a wise interpreter who would write dreams within the heady matrix of multiple cultural and historical confluences. The dream of interpretive authority does not always join hands with a secure self-understanding, however. The vexations of the Anglo-Jewish poet without a drop of bucolic blood in his veins, as Levy would have it, make not only for a wise interpreter, but also for a suspicious one. The cultural conditions of what the Jews of England lack, whatever their position of gratitude to England's sheltering haven, are among the most important idealizations of Romantic ideology: a reliable history in a land whose landscape thereby demands its allegiance. The tensions inherent in this history converge upon the problematics of cultural authority.

The formative tensions of Anglo-Jewish poetry are therefore especially obvious in the engagement with pastoral and in poetry that more generally valorizes external nature. Pastoral, and pastoral nostalgia, conventionally depend on the fiction that it can presuppose stable rootedness and historical continuity within a landscape that stands as a permanent locus of objectivity; this is a framework that the Jews—for much of the nineteenth century still laboring under various civil and political disabilities, still largely regarded by the mainstream as a foreign race, and many only recently arrived in England—could not access. All the same, these Jewish poets actively and self-consciously seek self-definition within the very forum that they also recognize as ultimately alienating. My central claim is that Jewish authors encounter in the course of their writing an alienation from their own expressive resources, even as those very resources define their deepest subjectivity. Where Nature is taken to be the signature of History, many Jewish authors implicitly ask, whose History? And whose Nature? And who possesses the cultural authority to offer the signature? This is a form of self-alienation that is as vexing as it is productive of lyric exploration.

I take as my primary points of reference Emma Lyon, Grace Aguilar, Hyman Hurwitz, and Marion and Celia Moss. The history in England that they enter is marked by a steady progression toward Jewish emancipation from civil and political disabilities. Crucial as this context is, however, the poetry I discuss does not offer itself as a form of agitation on behalf of Jewish relief. The challenges they face are existential, cultural; they are challenges related to but not defined exclusively by statutory discrimination. The history of the Jews in England is certainly a complicated one, and it offers a story that belies present ease. They were expelled from England altogether in 1290, and allowed limited reentry in 1656 under Cromwell. It is indeed true that European Jewish history generally is a story of difficult sojourn, exile, and civil and political disabilities. Certainly the great shattering Spanish exile of 1492, until which time the Jews in Spain had enjoyed an immense flowering of cultural production and power, is part of the mainstream cultural memory. What is perhaps less well understood is that the banishment of the Jews from England in 1290 in fact was the first wholesale expulsion (from an entire country) of its kind in Europe, and that it set an important precedent, one with momentous consequences in history. Some Jews did not survive the 1290 expulsion. What became of those who did survive is not known with certainty. The immediate post-1290 history of the Jews in Europe centers prominently on Spain and Portugal, major centers of Jewish learning and culture that came to bitter ends in the Inquisition. Most Jews in England during the period of the seventeenth-century resettlement were Sephardim, of Spanish or Portuguese extraction. They came seeking safe haven and understood themselves to have largely found it. In the terms of the larger history of expulsion and escape, this was a circularity not lost on many of them. Indeed, in The Genius of Judaism, published in 1833, Isaac Disraeli, father of the future prime minister, traces the contemporary Jewish population from those fleeing the Inquisitions: "It was this race which formed the first general settlement of Jews in England; Spanish and Portuguese fugitives from the infernal fires of the Autos da Fe, and the living graves of the Inquisition. Ships freighted with Jewish families and Jewish property landed on the shores of England and Holland. Many escaped without any preparation, to save their lives by a day."


In Romantic-era England, the entire Jewish population numbered between 12,000 and 15,000.As Jewish numbers increased through the nineteenth century, agitation for relief from the Jewish civil and political disabilities became an increasingly public concern. These included, among other disabilities, an inability to vote or to trade in the City and on the Exchange, exclusion from membership in Parliament, and exclusion from standing for mayor of London. There was some doubt, and some controversy, over whether Jews could own freehold land, a situation not clarified until the 1840s.

Even before the abrogation of these disabilities, however, like their seventeenth-century predecessors, English Jews in the nineteenth century tended, within various qualifications, to recognize England as a land of relative freedom, indeed of political and social refuge. The characteristic stance of English Jews was one of gratitude for safe haven, even if that haven had its thorny protrusions. For Jewish writers, one of those thorns was represented by their exclusion from study and later from fellowship at England's ancient universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, a condition that was not remedied until 1871 with the passage of the Universities Tests Act, which stipulated that persons entering the ancient universities not be required to subscribe to any formula of faith.

The Jewish civil disabilities are by no means the sole defining or even the most important context for Jews in the nineteenth century. Especially in comparison with their coreligionists on the continent, English Jews, as David Vital asserts, "had little to complain of." For England, national Christianity was defined by the Church of England. Penal law had enacted civil disabilities against Protestant Nonconformists and Catholics in the seventeenth century with the goal of ensuring that municipal, civil, or military office be held only by members of the Church of England. In 1828 Parliament easily passed the Sacramental Test Act, which repealed the Test and Corporation Acts for Nonconformists. Catholics received emancipation in 1829 with the passage of the Catholic Relief Act. This left only the Jews still subject to the civil disabilities. Oaths "on the true faith of a Christian" were still mandatory. In the Hansard summary of the debate for May 17, 1830, General Gascoyne is reported as opposing the Jewish Relief Bill precisely by pointing out that no analogy between Catholics or Nonconformists and Jews ought to be entertained: "The Constitution was a Protestant Constitution, and it was necessary for its support and protection that the institutions which made it so should be maintained. If any man had a few years ago asserted that, in the course of two Sessions, that House would repeal the Test and Corporation Acts—remove all the political disabilities of the Roman Catholics—and then entertain the question of relieving the Jews—he apprehended that his friends would have thought him a person it was necessary to keep a tight look after." When the Jewish Relief Bill of 1830 failed to pass Parliament, the Jews, as Michael Clark observes, "were now no longer part of a broad excluded group but a deliberately stigmatized community; the only politically disadvantaged minority in Britain." One of the Jewish community's leaders, Francis Goldsmid, referred to the bill's failure as a "badge of dishonour," and indeed it is the existential, subjective dilemma posed by such "dishonour" that is most relevant to my study of Anglo-Jewish Romantic poetry.

The invective raised against Jews whenever their statutory rights were addressed tended to be registered as invective against Jews as Jews, not simply as persons who subscribe to a faith other than the Church of England. The condition of the Jews in England, that is, was not analogous to that of Nonconformists or Catholics. Indeed, the subject of nationalism for English Jewish subjects was never an elementary affair. An earlier controversy also bears relevance to this study. I refer to the Jewish Naturalization Bill of 1753, the so-called "Jew Bill" that was in fact repealed almost immediately after it was passed. It produced one of the most fiery political clamors of the eighteenth century, and some of its resonances were felt into the nineteenth century. Its tremors were hardly earned, however; as things stood at the time, there was no legal recourse for Parliament to naturalize professing Jews. The Jew Bill sought to change the constitutional requirements that would grant Parliament the right to confer naturalization; this process could only have been granted, however, through a private act of Parliament, an expensive and inevitably rare prospective occurrence. The bill passed, and it erupted into the loudest political and religious clamor of the eighteenth century. It was quickly repealed before ever once being resorted to, and still its tremors raged. Eventually the storm died down, with very little real political fallout.

But the deep terror of the remote possibility of a Jew or two potentially becoming, in some ill-defined future, a British citizen, produced a clamor whose implications, even a century later, could not be entirely forgotten. As Todd Endelman described it, "Opponents of the act resurrected crude medieval libels and made extravagant claims about the consequences of the legislation. Britain would be swamped with unscrupulous brokers, jobbers, and moneylenders, who would use their ill-gotten gains to acquire the estates of ruined landowners. Moreover, because dominion followed property, Jews would control Parliament (which would be renamed the Sanhedrin), convert St. Paul's to a synagogue, circumcise their tenants, and perpetrate countless other anti-Christian crimes." In his book-length study of the Jew Bill, Thomas Perry asks, "Surely a violent political-religious controversy is one of the last things we should expect to find in the tolerant and sleepy 1750s. . . . And what are we to make of the undignified spectacle of Parliament, in the period of the Whig supremacy, scrambling to repeal an act that it had solemnly passed only six months before?" What would wake up the sleepy 1750s is the Jew presenting himself for citizenship. English nationhood struggling to define itself found a ready subject in Jewish aspirations: England depends, among other features, upon national Christianity for self-definition. Its "imagined community," to borrow Benedict Anderson's well-worn phrase, could not include Jews within its circumference. Todd Endelman appropriates Linda Colley's phrase of "forging the nation" to make sense of the clamour. English xenophobia had typically occupied itself with Catholicism and the French; however, "given the ubiquity of centuries-old stereotypes about Jews, it is not surprising that these too were pressed into service at times in defining what was British."

Grace Aguilar also briefly discusses the Jew Bill in her "History of the Jews in England," where she notes in particular that the City of London was vehemently opposed to the Bill and loudly participant in the clamour surrounding it. All the same, her history was published in 1847, and it clearly struggles to find in the vexed history of the Jews in England a telos of final arrival and ultimate sanctuary. It struggles because it clearly cannot do so entirely, looking to America as the locale of presumed greatest emancipation, and ending with a prayerful hope for fuller acceptance. The Jew Bill clamor and the controversy surrounding the failure of the 1830 Jewish Relief Bill help to clarify an important background framework for the context of Anglo-Jewish poets seeking to understand themselves, in part, in terms of an English literary inheritance. These are controversies that powerfully underscore the ways in which the political struggle for Jewish emancipation concurrent with Anglo-Jewish Romanticism is not simply about penal law. In discussing the vexed and sometimes contradictory regard of the Jews in the nineteenth century, Nadia Valman observes that "while Jews were represented as the best possible objects of progressive universalism, they were also seen as anti-citizens, constantly refusing or compromising their right to inclusion." For the poets, the challenge is to define the space from which they speak as a space they rightfully occupy; more important, they must project a voice that defines and sanctions the presumption of their cultural authority.

In "singing the Lord's song in a foreign land," is the story these poets finally tell about themselves a story of the foreign, a story of the Lord, or a story about themselves as singers? I study these poets with reference to all three of these questions; however, the question I believe to be of most pressing concern for scholarship is the latter: in constituting their authority to speak within the very formalist parameters from which they are all the same alienated, the self-regarding aspects of their lyrics sometimes become forms of self-elegy, in which they implicitly and subtly lament their alienation from their own expressive resources. All the same, they ultimately mobilize the resources of elegy, pastoral and nature poetry to establish their cultural authority; paradoxically, then, their lyrics of longing become implicit assertions of strength. Long thought to have never experienced a Haskalah—a Jewish Enlightenment—comparable to the tremendous intellectual secularizing thrusts experienced in Germany, the Anglo-Jewish community in the nineteenth century negotiated their vexed British and Jewish inheritances with a vitality that rises to the challenge of their multiple, and sometimes mutually contradictory, points of reference. Indeed, this is a period in Anglo-Jewish history in which Jews are progressively secularizing. Since they faced many fewer penal barriers than their continental coreligionists, and since they could indeed come into more frequent contact with their neighbors from the majority culture, generally the Jews of England by the middle of the eighteenth century gradually shed many of the Old World accoutrements of dress (they shed long black coats in favour of modern clothes, for example), language of daily discourse (the Ashkenazim spoke English instead of exclusively Yiddish), and educational emphasis (they became increasingly more interested in secular studies). As a result, Hebrew literacy itself began to decline, and Jewish leaders came to understand the importance of English translation of Jewish texts to the cause of Jewish continuity. This is a subject related to the important theme of translation of the Hebrew Bible, which I discuss below and in the first two chapters of this book.

The poets in my study are well versed in both Jewish texts and in mainstream literary history. They fully self-identify as Jews and self-consciously negotiate the tensions inherent in the hyphenated marker of identity, Anglo-Jewish. To study them is to read them within the broader cultural norms to which they respond; as such, I would emphasize again that this is fundamentally a study of a particular dynamic within British Romanticism, one which is incessantly gauging itself against its broader context. Recent scholarship in Romanticism has of course been expanding our understanding of the canon for decades, and the intensity of this endeavour remains at a high pitch. I believe that the time is now right for an in-depth critical analysis of a representative grouping of Anglo-Jewish poets who can be studied in the terms of a singular argument that does not read them exclusively as an example of their historical antecedents. This is not a comprehensive survey; it does establish the fundamental cultural forays achieved by Jewish poets in the period. This is a study, then, unified by authors who understand themselves within both the particulars of Jewish culture, and the general—and complicated—norms of the mainstream. Each of the authors in my study offers variants of my argument. Hurwitz, Aguilar, and Lyon, for example, are each preoccupied with education and with the ethics of cultural transmission and continuity, Jewish and secular; as such, they are uniquely situated to consider the process by which cultural values are internalized. They are also attuned to both the benefits and impediments posed by such internalization. Marion and Celia Moss proceed as if writing verse is their just inheritance as Jews and as English women, even as they struggle to define the ground of such an inheritance. Lyon, Aguilar, and the Moss sisters are acutely conscious of the ways in which they represent themselves as women, a condition they negotiate with remarkable subtlety as they engage the inflections of a doubled outsider status conferred by being Jewish and female and educated and intellectually sophisticated. Indeed, gender issues are interwoven throughout this study. Three of the four major chapters are dedicated to women authors, each of whom negotiates her place as a woman author in distinctive ways. In many respects, however, being female and Jewish does not simply intensify the trials of alienation. For the Jewish woman poet, the challenges of locating herself within a narrative of Jewish and English cultural continuity are moderated by the prospect of recognizing an affiliation with the distinctiveness of English women of letters; that is, the woman author of the early nineteenth century already negotiates the margins of English culture, and the Jewish woman poet can often recognize their common ground. This ground is not entirely common, of course, but it does represent another source of at least partial affiliation that can be variously claimed by Emma Lyon, Marion and Celia Moss, and Grace Aguilar.


Emma Lyon, the subject of my first chapter, was the daughter of the renowned Hebrew teacher Solomon Lyon. In her volume of 1812, which is her sole extant volume of poems, she freely translates psalms from the Hebrew to conclude a collection of poems that otherwise sets up a quiet complaint against her exclusion both from access to higher education and from the fiction of rustic simplicity. In so doing, she establishes first her self-understanding as an exile even in a relatively accommodating land, and then claims an alternative cultural authority by showcasing her mastery of the Hebrew and her appropriation of it as a Jew to write back to her self-identification as alienated author. Lyon also writes odes, hymns, and other lyrics, and often uses these forms to interrogate her self-positioning as a Jew. Her volume of poetry is of particular interest because of its very self-conscious exploration of lyric form. This is all the more remarkable in light of her concluding psalm translations and its showcasing of her apparent mastery of several complicated literary traditions. I introduce the vexed subject of Hebrew translation in this chapter. As David Ruderman has examined, the debates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries over translation into English of the Hebrew Bible amount to a debate over proprietary ownership of the sacred; reliance by Christians on biblical translation by unredeemed Jews, or even upon the Masoretic text, posed threats that were political, ideological, and cultural in consequence. Philological clamours erupted over the typological reading of the Old and New Testaments that were the clear intentions of many Christian translators. This is a debate that goes right to the heart of the cultural authority of Jewish authors. Biblical translation and biblical interpretation were central to Protestant English intellectual life during the Enlightenment, and Christian debate about proper translation often reverted to complaints about Jewish preservation of the Hebrew text. The two main camps of translators, headed by Benjamin Kennicott and John Hutchinson, viewed their work in Christian triumphalist terms. For the Huchinsonians, the "preoccupation with reading the Hebrew text of the Old Testament in the original and extracting from the peculiar readings the Christian 'meaning' of the text was colored throughout by an anti-Jewish animus and a deep resentment of Christian dependence on a Hebrew text shaped and preserved through the centuries by the Jews themselves." The implications for the history of poetry by Jews in England, especially in the Romantic field, is a subject that I explore in this chapter as well as in Chapter 2.

My second chapter focuses primarily on Hyman Hurwitz. In 1817 Hurwitz, who had arrived in England from Poland in the 1770s, published a dirge in Hebrew to commemorate the death of Princess Charlotte (the only child of the Prince Regent). It was chanted in the Great Synagogue in London to the tune of a well-known Hebrew poem associated with the commemorative festival of Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The dirge is replete with Hebrew allusions and references to biblical and liturgical texts, a show of control over the sacred even in the face of British monarchy. When the translation into English by S. T. Coleridge—denuded of all such allusions—went into public circulation, Hurwitz was a willing participant in its dissemination, an indication of his careful gauging of audience and his conscious effort to assert the authority of his cultural standing. The translation debates of the day form an interesting antecedent. Hurwitz was concerned about the decline of Jewish and Hebrew literacy among his fellow Jews, but he was also clearly alarmed by the misrepresentation of Jewish culture among the mainstream. Though many Jews of the time relied on English translations of sacred texts, many could still read the Hebrew, and among such individuals there was a dawning awareness "that the English Bible was not necessarily an authoritatively Jewish one, and that translation could often distort the original meaning of a text.... In a Jewish community that had virtually translated itself into an English religious and cultural entity, the challenge of a new Christian ascendancy of master translators of the biblical text, along with their new prerogatives claiming exclusive Christian ownership of the text, was felt acutely and painfully by Jewish leaders and educators." This is the context in which Hurwitz, as both Jewish teacher and Jewish poet, finds himself. Hurwitz also wrote an elegy in 1820 for George III, and it too was translated by Coleridge. His work implicitly addresses the challenges posed to Jewish subjectivity both of the Jewish need for English translation and the frustrations of encountering Christian translators of Hebrew texts who presume to correct the putative unenlightened Hebrew of unredeemed Jews. I study these two poems against the backdrop of other Hebrew (and Jewish) elegies for British monarchs, both in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The study of Jews writing elegies for members of the British royal family yields an increasingly clearer picture of the dynamic tensions in the culture.

Celia and Marion Moss, the subjects of my third chapter, jointly published their first and only book of poetry, Early Efforts, in 1839, when they were eighteen and sixteen, respectively. For the Mosses, embracing with zeal their English literary inheritance constitutes one aspect of their self-representation, even as the English Jew in their poetry is presented often in the exile's habit, longing for Zion. Such forthrightness, however, is perpetually subjected to ironic reflection; their poetry, which often stages a confidence in the simplicity of their hybrid identities, also pulls the rug out from under their own self-definitions. Entitled, yet self-consciously in exile; mature in insight, yet with a still nascent identity; grateful for safe haven, yet angry at England's history of inhospitality and violence toward the Jews: what we have, finally, is the presentation of a self-hood hovering between various anchors. The Moss sisters' poetry therefore presents a good forum for further exploring and fleshing out the implications of Anglo-Jewish poetry. The admixture of ambivalence and hope, self-effacement and defiance, comprise powerful notes of self-exploration.

In Chapter 4 I take up Grace Aguilar, who, writing closer to mid-century, authored the first English history of the Jews in England written by a Jew. In her poetry she struggled with and against her British Romantic inheritance by explicitly joining rustic themes, ballad stanzas, and lyric effusions to Jewish historical concerns. Her poem about Purim, for example, engages two young girls debating the relative merits of frolicking in the spring scene and reading the Book of Esther; this necessarily recalls Wordsworth's "Dialogue Stanzas," whose central characters debate the relative merits of book learning and natural learning in the midst of impulses from the vernal woods. I mention this example here because it is paradigmatic of Aguilar's careful calibrating of the inheritance she obtrusively considers when presenting herself as a specifically Jewish poet in England. Perhaps the most familiar of all the poets in my study, Aguilar wrote poetry and prose for an appreciative and somewhat broader audience than the rest of the poets in my study. She is acutely conscious in her poetry of the vexed relationship between audience expectation and her manipulation of formalist orthodoxies.

This is a study that seeks to understand Anglo-Jewish poetry of the early nineteenth century as as lyric utterance in search of a tenable voice. The poets here trouble their own terms of reference as much as they hold tenaciously to their value. I present a poetry, then, of both longing and resistance: a poetry that demands attention both to the terms of its separateness, its unique claims upon culture, and to its principled participation in canonical measures.