Each age has its illusions–illusions which succeeding ages with a
recovered sense of sanity are often apt to record as the most
incomprehensible of crazes. ‘That poor will-o’-the-wisp mistaken for a
shining light! Oh, purblind race of miserable men!’ is the quick,
contemptuous comment of a later, clearer-sighted generation. But one may
question if such comment be always just. May not the narrow vision, too
unseeing to be deceived, betoken a yet more hopeless sort of blindness
than the wide-eyed gaze which, fixed on stars, blunders into quagmires?
‘Where there is no vision,’ it is written, ‘the people perish’; and
though stars may prove mirage and quagmires clinging mud, yet a long
rank of shabby, shadowy heroes, who, more or less wittingly, have had
the hard fate to lead a multitude to destruction, seems to suggest that
such deluded multitudes are no dumb, driven cattle, but, capable of
being led astray, have also the faculty of being led into the light. And
if this, to our consolation, be the teaching of history anent those
whom it impartially dubs impostors, then wasted loves and wasted beliefs
lose something of their hopeless sadness, and in the transfiguration
even failures and false prophets are seen to have a place and use.

No more typical instance could be found of the heights and depths of a
people’s power of illusion–and that people one which in its modern
development might be lightly held proof against most illusions–than the
suggestive career of a Messiah of the seventeenth century supplies to
us. Undying hope, it has been said, is the secret of vision. When hope
is dead the vision perchance takes unto itself the awful condition of
death, corruption, for thus only could it have come to pass that that
same people, which had given an Isaiah to the world, under the stress of
inexorable and inevitable circumstance brought forth a Sabbathai Zevi.

‘Of all mortal woes,’ so declared the weeping Persian to Thersander at
the banquet, ‘the greatest is this: with many thoughts and wise, to have
no power.’ Under the crushing burden of that mortal woe the Jewish race
had rested restlessly for over sixteen weary centuries. Power had passed
from the dispossessed people with the fall of their garrisoned Temple,
and under dispersion and persecution their ‘many thoughts and wise’ had
grown dumb, or shrill, or cruelly inarticulate. The kingdom of priests
and the kinsmen of the Maccabees had dwindled to a community of pedants
and pedlars. Into the schools of the prophets had crept the casuistries
and subtleties of the Kabbalists; and descendants of those who had been
skilful in all manner of workmanship now haggled over wares which they
lacked skill or energy to produce. East and west the doom of Herodotus
was drearily apparent, and to an onlooker it must have seemed incredible
that these poor pariahs, content to be contemned, were of the same race
which had sung the Lord’s songs and had fought the Lord’s battles. In
the seventeenth century the fires of the Inquisition were still
smouldering, and Jewish victims of the Holy Office, naked and charred,
or swathed and unrecognisable, were fleeing hither and thither from its
flames, across the inhospitable continent of Europe. Nearer to the old
scenes was no nearer to happiness; the farthest removed indeed from any
present realisation of ancient prosperity seemed those wanderers who had
turned their tired, sad faces to the East. The land on which Moses had
looked from Pisgah; for which, remembering Zion, the exiles in Babylon
had wept; for which a later generation, as unaided as undaunted, had
fought and died–this land, their heritage, had passed utterly from the
possession of the Jews. ‘Thou waterest its ridges: Thou settlest the
furrows thereof.’ Seemingly out of that ownership too the land had
passed, for His ridges had run red with blood, and in His furrows the
Romans had sown salt. From the very first century after Christ, Jews had
been grudged a foothold in Judæa, and from the date of the Crusades any
dwelling-place in their own land was definitely denied to the outcast
race. A new meaning had been read into that ancient phrase, ‘the joy of
the whole earth.’ The Holy City had come, in cruel, narrow limitation,
to mean to its conquerors the Holy Sepulchre, all other of its memories
‘but a dream and a forgetting.’ And now, although the fervour of the
Crusades had died away, and the stone stood at the mouth of the
Sepulchre as undisturbed and almost as unheeded of the outside world as
when the two Marys kept their lonely vigil, yet enough still of all that
terribly wasted wealth of enthusiasm survived to make the Holy Land
difficult even of approach to its former rulers. Through all those
centuries, for over sixteen hundred slow, sad, stormy years, this
powerless people had borne their weary burden, ‘the greatest of all
mortal woes.’ Occasionally, for a moment as it were, the passions of
repulsed patriotism and of pent-up humanity would break bounds, and
seek expression in a form which scholars could scarce interpret or
priests control. With their law grudged to them and their land denied,
‘their many thoughts and wise,’ under cruel restraint, were dwindling
into impotent dreams or flashing out in wild unlikeness of wisdom.

It was in the summer of the year 1666 that some such incomprehensible
craze seemed to possess the ancient city of Smyrna. The sleepy stillness
of the narrow streets was jarred by a thousand confused and unaccustomed
sounds. The slow, smooth current of Eastern life seemed of a sudden
stirred into a whirl of excited eddies. Men and women in swift-changing
groups were sobbing, praying, laughing in a breath, their quick
gesticulations in curious contrast with their sober, shabby garments,
and their patient, pathetic eyes. And strangest thing of all, it was on
a prophet in his own country, in the very city of his birth, that this
extraordinary enthusiasm of greeting was being expended, and the name of
the prophet was Sabbathai, son of Mordecai. Mordecai Zevi, the father,
had dwelt among these townsfolk of Smyrna, dealing in money and dying of
gout, and Sabbathai Zevi, the son, had been brought up among them, and
not so many years since had been banished by them. In that passionately
absorbed crowd there must have been many a middle-aged man old enough to
remember how this turbulent son of the commonplace old broker had been
sent forth from the city, and the gates shut on him in anger and
contempt; and some there surely must have been who knew of his
subsequent career. But if it were so, there were none sane enough to
deduce a moral. It was in the character of Messiah and Deliverer that
Sabbathai had come back to Smyrna, and long-dead hope, quickened into
life at the very words, was strong enough to strangle a whole host of
resistant memories, though, in truth, there was a great deal to forget.
It had been at the instance of the religious authorities of the place,
whose susceptibilities were shocked by the utterance of opinions
advanced enough to provoke a tumult in the synagogue, that the young man
had been expelled from the city. To young and ardent spirits in that
crowd it is possible that this early experience of Sabbathai bore a very
colourable imitation of martyrdom, and the life in exile that followed
it may have appealed to their imaginations as the most fitting of
preparations for a prophet. But then unfortunately Sabbathai’s life in
exile had not been that of a hermit, nor altogether of a sort to fit
into any exalted theories. Authentic news had certainly come of him as
a traveller in the Morea and in Syria, and rumours had been rife
concerning travelling companions. Three successive marriages, it was
said, had taken place, followed in each instance by unedifying quarrels
and divorce. Of the ladies little was known; but it came to be generally
affirmed, on what, if sifted, perhaps amounted to insufficient evidence,
that each wife was more marvellously handsome than her predecessor. And
then, for a while, these lingering distorted sounds from the outside
world had died out in the sordid stillness of their lives, to rise again
suddenly, after long interval, in startling echoes. The wildest of
rumours was all at once in the air, heralding this much-married,
banished disputant of the synagogue, this turbulent, troublesome
Sabbathai, as Messiah of the Jews. What he had done, what he would do,
what he could do, was repeated from mouth to mouth with an ever-growing
exactness of exaggeration which modern methods of transmitting news
could hardly surpass. One soberly circumstantial tale was of a ship
cruising off the north coast of Scotland (of all places in the world!),
with sail and cordage of purest silk, her ensign the Twelve Tribes, and
her crew, consistently enough, speaking Hebrew. A larger and certainly
more geographically minded contingent of converts was said to be
marching across the deserts of Arabia to proclaim the millennium. This
host was identified as the lost Ten Tribes, and Sabbathai, mounted on a
celestial lion with a bridle of serpents, was, or was shortly to be–for
the reports were sometimes a little conflicting–at the head of this
imposing multitude, and about to inaugurate a new and glorious Temple,
which, all ready built and beautified, would straightway descend from
heaven, and in which the services were likely to become popular, since
all fasts were forthwith to be changed into festivals.

The rumours, it must be confessed, were all of a terribly materialistic
sort, and one wonders somewhat sadly over Sabbathai’s proclamation,
questioning if the promise of ‘dominion over the nations,’ or the
permission ‘to do every day what is usual for you to do only on new
moons,’ roused most of the long-repressed human nature in those weary
pariahs, the ‘nation of the Jews,’ to whom it was roundly addressed. All
the cities of Turkey, an old chronicler tells us, ‘were full of
expectation.’ Business in many places was altogether suspended. The
belief in a reign of miracle was extended to daily needs, and trust in
such needs being somehow supplied was esteemed as an essential test of
general faith in the new order of things. So none laboured, but all
prayed, and purified themselves, and performed strange penances. The
rich people grew profuse and penitent, and poverty, always honourable
among Jews, came in those strange days to be fashionable.

And now, so heralded, and in truth so advertised, for what a
bill-posting agency would do for similar worthies in this generation a
certain Nathan Benjamin of Jerusalem seems to have done in clumsier
fashion for Sabbathai, their hero was among them. Nathan, it is to be
feared, was less of a convert than a colleague of our prophet, but to
tear-dimmed eyes which saw visions, to starved hearts which by reason of
sorrow judged in hunger and in weakness, prophet and partner both loomed
heroic. It is curious, when one thinks of it, that the same race which
had been critical over a Moses should have been credulous over a
Sabbathai Zevi. Is it a possible explanation that the art of making
bricks without straw, however difficult of acquirement, being at any
rate of the nature of healthy, outdoor employment, was less depressing
in its results on character than the cumulative effect of centuries of
Ghetto-bounded toil? Something, too, may be allowed for the fact that
the Promised Land lay then in prospect and now in retrospect.
Altogether, perhaps, it may be urged in this instance that the idol
does not quite give an accurate measure of the worshipper. A Deliverer
was at their doors, a Deliverer from worse than Egyptian bondage; that
was all that this poor deluded people could stop to think, and out they
rushed in ludicrous, reverent welcome of a light that was not dawn. With
a fine appreciation of effect, Sabbathai gently put aside the rich
embroidered cloths that were spread beneath his feet; and this subtle
indication of humility, and of a desire to tread the dusty paths with
his brethren, gained him many a wavering adherent. For there were
waverers. Even amidst all the enthusiasm, there was now and then an
awkward question asked, for these shabby traders of Smyrna were all of
them more or less learned in the Law and the Prophets, and though their
tired hearts could accept this blustering, unideal presentment of the
Prince of Peace, yet their minds and memories made occasional protest
concerning dates and circumstances. And presently one Samuel Pennia, a
man of some local reputation, took heart of grace, and preached and
proclaimed with a hundred most obvious arguments that Sabbathai had no
smallest claim to the titles he was arrogantly assuming. Law and logic
too were on Pennia’s side; and yet, strange and incomprehensible as it
seems to sober retrospect, he failed to convince even himself. After
discussions innumerable and of the stormiest sort, Pennia began to doubt
and to hesitate, and finally he and all his family became strenuous and,
there is no reason to doubt, honest supporters of Sabbathai. Still the
tumults which had been provoked, though they could not rouse the
multitude to a doubt of their Deliverer, did awake in them a desire that
he should deign to demonstrate his power to unbelievers, and a cry,
comic or pathetic as we take it, broke forth for a miracle–a
simultaneous prayer for something, anything, supernatural. It was
embarrassing; and Sabbathai, one old chronicler gravely remarks, was
‘horribly puzzled for a miracle.’ But in a moment the cynical humour of
the man came to his help, and where the true prophet, in honest
humility, might have hesitated, with ‘Lord, I cannot speak; I am a
child,’ on his lips, our charlatan was ready and self-possessed and
equal to the occasion. With solemn gait and rapt gaze, which, as a
contemporary record expresses it, he had ‘starcht on,’ Sabbathai stood
for some seconds silent; then, suddenly throwing up his hands to heaven,
‘Behold!’ he exclaimed in thrilling accents, ‘see you not yon pillar of
fire?’ And the expectant crowd turned, and in their eager, almost
hysterical, excitement many believed they saw, and many, who did not
see, doubted their sight and not the vision. Those who looked and looked
in vain were silent, hardly daring to own that to their unworthy eyes
the blessed assurance had been denied. So Sabbathai returned to his home
in triumph. No further miracles were asked or needed, and doubters in
his Messiahship were henceforth accounted by the synagogue as heretics
and infidels and fit subjects for excommunication. In his character of
prophet no religious ceremonial was henceforth considered complete
without the presence of Sabbathai, and in his character of prince and
leader unlimited wealth was at his command. Here, however, came in the
one redeeming point. Sabbathai’s ambition had no taint of avarice about
it. He took of no man’s gold and of no woman’s jewels, though both were
laid unstintingly at his feet. And then, suddenly, at this period of his
greatest success, subtly appreciating, it may be, the wisdom of taking
fortune at the flood, Sabbathai announced his intention of leaving
Smyrna, and the month of January, 1667, saw him embark in a small
coasting-vessel bound for Constantinople. Here a reception altogether
unexpected and unprophesied was awaiting him. There had been great
weeping and lamentation among the disciples he left, and there was
proportionately great rejoicing among the larger community his
presence was to favour, for, by virtue of the curious system of
intercommunication which has always prevailed among the dispersed race,
the news of Sabbathai’s movements and intentions spread quickly and in
ever-widening circles. It reached at length some ears which had not been
reckoned upon, and penetrated to a brain which had preserved its
balance. The Sultan of Turkey, Mahomet IV., heard of this expected
visitor to his capital, and when, after nine-and-thirty days of stormy
passage, the sea-sick prophet was entering the port, the first thing he
saw was two State barges, fully manned, putting out to meet him. It may
be hoped that he was too sea-sick to indulge in any audible predictions,
or to put in sonorous words any bright dream born of that brief glimpse
of a brother potentate hastening to greet his spiritual sovereign. For
any such prophecy would have been all too rudely and too quickly
falsified. It was as prisoner, not as prophet, that Sabbathai was to
enter Constantinople, and a dungeon, not a palace, was his destination.
The Sultan had indeed heard of the worse than mid-summer madness that
had seized on his Jewish subjects throughout the Turkish Empire, and he
proceeded to stay the plague with a prompt high-handedness which a
Grand Vizier out of _The Arabian Nights_ could hardly have excelled. For
two long months Sabbathai was kept a close prisoner in uncomfortable
quarters in Constantinople, and was from thence transferred to a cell in
the Castle of Abydos. Of the effects of this imperial reception on the
prophet himself we shall judge in the sequel, but its effects on his
followers were, strange to say, not at all depressing. To these faithful
deluded folks their hero behind prison bars gained only a halo of
martyrdom. Was it not fitting that the Servant of Israel should be
‘acquainted with grief’? The dangerous sentiment of pity added itself to
the passion of love and faith, and pilgrims from all parts–Poland,
Venice, Amsterdam–hurried to the city as if it were a shrine. Sabbathai
took up the _rôle_, and by gentle proclamation bestowed the blessings
and the promises which had been hitherto showered down in set speeches.
And so the madness grew, till a sordid element crept into it, and at
first, curiously enough, this also increased it. In the crowd, thus
attracted to the neighbourhood, the Turks saw an opportunity for making
money. The price of lodging and provision for the pilgrims was
constantly raised, and by degrees a sight of Sabbathai or a word from
him came to be quite a source of income to his guards. The necessary
element of secrecy about such transactions acted, both directly and
indirectly, as fuel to the flames. The Jews in the spread of the faith
and in their immunity from persecution saw Divine interposition, while
the Turks naturally favoured Sabbathai’s pretensions, and continued to
raise their prices to each new batch of believers. But complaints were
bound in time to reach headquarters. The overcrowding and excitement was
a danger to the Turkish inhabitants of Constantinople, and among the
Jews themselves Sabbathai’s success begat at length a more disturbing
element than doubt. A rival Messiah came forward in a certain Nehemiah
Cohen, a learned rabbi from Poland. A sort of twin Messiahship seems
first to have suggested itself to these worthies. Nehemiah, under the
title of Ben Ephraim, was to fulfil the probationary part of the
prophecies on the subject, and Sabbathai, as Ben David, to take the
triumphant close and climax. So much was agreed upon, when Sabbathai,
who was still a prisoner, became a little apprehensive of a possible
change of parts by Nehemiah, who was at large. Disputes ensued, and
ended in an appeal by Sabbathai to the community. A renewed vote of
confidence in their native hero was recorded, and Nehemiah’s claims to
a partnership were altogether and summarily rejected. His own
pretensions thus disallowed, Nehemiah at once turned round and hastened
to denounce the insincerity of the whole affair to such of the Turkish
officials as would listen to him. He was backed up by a very few of the
wise men of his own community who had managed to keep their honest
doubts in spite of the general madness; and presently by much effort a
messenger was despatched to Adrianople, where Mahomet IV. was holding
his Court, with full particulars of Sabbathai’s latest doings. The
Sultan listened to the story, and was literally and ludicrously true to
the strictest traditional ideal of what one may call the sack and
bowstring system, and there is no doubt that, in this instance,
substantial justice was secured by it.

Without excuse or ceremonial of any sort, without farewell from the
friends he left or greetings from the curious throng which awaited him,
Sabbathai was hurried into Adrianople, and within an hour of his
arrival, deposited, limp and apprehensive, in the presence-chamber. The
giant’s robe seemed to be slipping visibly from his shaking shoulders
as, sternly desired to give an account of himself, he, the glib
cosmopolitan prophet, begged for an interpreter. Without comment on
this sudden and surprising failure in the gift of tongues the request
was granted; and patiently, silently, Court and Sultan stroked their
beards and listened to the marvellous tale which was unfolded. Were they
doubtful, or convinced? Was he after all to triumph? It almost seemed so
as the story ended, and the expectant hush was broken by the Sultan
quietly requesting a miracle. Wild thoughts of a lucky stroke of
legerdemain, which should recover all, must have instantly occurred to
this other-world adventurer. But no audaciously summoned pillar of fire
would here have served his turn; the astute Sultan meant to choose his
own miracle.

‘Thou shalt not be afraid … of the arrow that flieth by day. A
thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand, but
it shall not come nigh unto thee.’ In the most literal and most liberal
meaning the pseudo-prophet was requested to interpret these words of his
national poet. He was to strip, said the Sultan, and to let the archers
shoot at him, and thus make manifest in his own flesh his confidence in
his own assumptions.

Not for one moment did Sabbathai hesitate. A man’s behaviour at a
supreme crisis in his life is not determined by the sudden need. It is
not to a single, sudden trumpet-call that character responds, but to
the tone set by daily uncounted matin and evensong. Sabbathai was as
incapable of the heroic death as of the heroic life. It had been all a
game to him; the people’s passionate enthusiasm, that pitiful power of
theirs for seeing visions, were just points in the game–points in his
favour. And now the game was lost; he was cool enough to realise this at
a glance, and to seize upon the one move which he might yet make to his
own advantage. With a startling burst of calculated candour he owned to
it all, that he was no prophet, no Saviour, no willing ‘witness’ even;
only a historical Jew, and very much at the Sultan’s service.

Mahomet smiled. The tragedy of the situation was for the Jews; the
comedy, and it must have been irresistible, was his. Then after due
pause he gravely proceeded, that insomuch as Sabbathai’s pretensions to
Palestine were an infringement on Turkish vested rights in that
province, the repentant prophet must give an earnest of his recovered
loyalty as a Turkish subject by turning Turk and abjuring Judaism
altogether. And cheerfully enough Sabbathai assented, audaciously adding
that such a change had been long desired by him, and that he eagerly and
respectfully welcomed this opportunity of making his first profession
of faith as a Mahometan in the presence of Mahomet’s namesake and
temporal representative.

And thus the scene, at which one knows not whether to laugh or cry, was
over; and when the curtain rises again it is on the merest and most
exasperating commonplace–on Sabbathai, fat and turbaned, living and
dying as a respectable Turk. For the actors behind the scenes, there was
never any call, neither to hail a Saviour nor to mourn a martyr. For
them, this puzzling bit of passion-play was just a mirage in the
wilderness of their lives; and for many and many a weary year foolish
and faithful folk debated whether it was mirage or reality. For his
dupes survived him, this sorry impostor of the seventeenth century; and
their illusion, hoping all things, believing all things, withered into
delusion and died hard. Such faculty perhaps, for all its drawbacks,
gives staying-power to man or nation. It is where there is no vision
that the people perish.



‘The old order changeth, giving place to new,’ and many and bewildering
have been such changes since the daughters of Zelophehad trooped down
before the elders of Israel to plead for women’s rights. The claim of
those five fatherless, husbandless sisters to ‘have a possession among
the brethren of our father’ has been brought, and has been answered
since in a thousand different ways, but the chivalrous spirit in which
it was met then seems, in a subtle sort of way, to symbolise the
attitude of Israel to unprotected womanhood, and to suggest the type of
character which ensured such ready and respectful consideration. It is
curious and interesting in these modern days to take up what Heine
called the ‘family chronicle of the Jews,’ and to find, as in a long
gallery of family portraits, the type repeating itself through every
variety of ‘treatment’ and costume. Clear and distinct they stand out,
the long line of our Jewish maids and matrons, not ‘faultily faultless’
by any means, yet presenting in their vigorous lovableness a delightful
continuity of wholesome womanhood, an unbroken line of fit claimants for
fitting woman’s rights.

Foremost among all heroines of all love tales comes, of course, she
whose long wooing seemed ‘but as a few days’ to her young lover, so
strong and so steadfast was the worship she won. To the young, that
maiden ‘by the well’s mouth’ will stand always for favourite text and
familiar illustration, but to older folks the sad-eyed _mater dolorosa_
of the Old Testament is to the full as interesting and as suggestive an
ideal. One pictures her with sackcloth for sole couch and covering
spread upon the bare rocks, selfless and tireless, through the heat of
early harvest days till chill autumn rains ‘dropped upon them,’ scaring
‘the birds of the air and the beasts of the field’ from her unburied
dead. And then, as corrective to the pathos of Rizpah and the romance of
Rachel, the sweet, homely figure of Ruth is at hand to suggest a whole
volume of virtues of the comfortable, everyday sort; the one character,
perhaps, in all story who ever addressed an impassioned outburst of
affection to her mother-in-law, and then lived up to it. But the
solitariness of the circumstance notwithstanding, and for all the fact
that she was a Moabitess born, Ruth, in the practical nature of her good
qualities, is a typical Jewish heroine. For what strikes one most in the
record of these long ago dead women is that there is so much sense in
their sentiment, so much backbone to their gentleness and
simple-mindedness. They do little things in a great way instead of
attacking great things feebly. Their womanhood in its entire naturalness
belongs to no especial school, fits in to no especial groove of thought.
The same peg serves for a Solomon or a Wordsworth, for an aphorism or a
sonnet. The woman whose ‘price was above rubies,’ and she who was

‘Not too great or good
For human nature’s daily food,’

might either have stood for the other’s likeness; and if the test of
poetry be, as Goethe says, the substance which remains when the poetry
is reduced to prose, the test of an ideal woman may be perhaps how she
would translate into reality. The ‘family chronicle’ stands the test,
and a dozen instances of it at once occur to memory. Michal, with her
husband in danger, does not wait to weep nor to exclaim, but, strong of
heart as of hand, helps him to escape, and, ready of resource, by her
quick, deft arrangement of the bedchamber, gains time to baffle his
pursuers. Hannah, for all her holy enthusiasm, is mindful of the bodily
needs of her embryo prophet, and as she comes with her husband to offer
the ‘yearly sacrifice’ at Shiloh, brings with her the ‘little coat’
which she has made for the boy, and which, we may be quite sure, she has
remembered to make a little bigger each time. Nor less, in her
far-sighted scheming for her favourite son, is Rebekah heedless of
‘human nature’s daily food.’ For all her concentration of thought on
great issues she remembers to make ready ‘the savoury meat such as his
father loved’ before she sends Jacob to the critical interview. It is
altogether with something of a shock that we ponder on that curious
development. The scheming, unscrupulous wife seems quite other than the
simple country maiden with her quick assent to the grave young husband
whom she was able to ‘comfort after his mother’s death.’ Was that
pretty, frank ‘I will go’ of hers only unconventional, one wonders, or
perhaps just a trifle unfeeling, foreshadowing in the young girl, so
ready to leave her home, a rather rootless state of affections, an
Undine-like indifference to old ties? That touch of the carefully
prepared dinner at any rate makes us smile as we sigh, putting us _fin
de siècle_ folks, as it does, in touch with tent life, and keeping the
traditions of home influence unaltered through the ages.

In Lord Burleigh’s _Precepts to his Son for the Well-Ordering of a Mans
Life_, occurs the direction, ‘Thou wilt find to thy great grief there is
nothing more fulsome than a she-fool.’ It is an axiom almost as pregnant
of meaning as its author’s famous nod, and seems to suggest as possible
that the proverbial harmony of the Jewish domestic circle may be in a
measure due to its comparative immunity from she-fools. The women of
Israel, _pur sang_, it is certain, are rarely noisy or assertive, and
have at all times been more ready to realise their responsibilities than
their ‘rights.’ In their woman’s kingdom, comprehending its limits and
not wasting its opportunities, they have been content to reign and not
to govern, and neither exceptional power nor exceptional intellect have
affected this position. The pretty young Queen of Persia, we read, for
all her new dignities, ‘did the commandment of Mordecai as when she was
brought up with him,’ and Miriam with her timbrel and Deborah under her
palm-tree might have been unconscious illustrative anachronisms of a
very profound saying, so well content were they to ‘make their country’s
songs’ and to leave it to Moses to ‘make the laws.’ The one-man rule has
been always fully and freely acknowledged in Israel, and in the ideal
sketch as in the real portraits of its womankind, her ‘husband,’ her
‘children,’ her ‘clothing,’ and the ‘ways of her household’ are supreme
features. ‘To do a man,’ one man, ‘good and not evil all the days of his
life,’ may seem to modern maidens a somewhat limited ambition, but it is
just to remember that to this typical woman comes full permission to
indulge in her ‘own works’ and encouragement ‘to speak with merchants
from afar,’ a habit this, one ventures to think, which would open up
even to Girton and Newnham graduates extended powers of conversation and
correspondence in their own and foreign languages. And, withal, that
pretty saying of an elderly and prosaic Rabbi, ‘I do not call my wife,
wife, but home,’ has poetry and practicality too, to recommend it. For
in so far as there is truth in the dictum, that ‘men will be always what
women please, that if we want men to be great and good, we must teach
women what greatness and goodness are,’ there really seems a good deal
to be said for the old-fashioned type we have been considering, and
certainly some comfort to be found in the fact that against the _ewig
weibliche_ time itself is powerless. Realities may shift and vary, but
ideals for the most part stand fast, and thus, despite all superficial
differences, in essentials the situation is unchanged between those
daughters of the desert and our daughters of to-day. Now, as then, the
claim is allowed to a rightful ‘possession among their brethren.’