A Historical Tragedy in Five Acts.
This play is dedicated, in profound veneration and respect, to the
memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most among
the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit
of Jewish nationality.
FREDERICK THE GRAVE, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of
Meissen, Protector and Patron of the Free City of Nordhausen.
PRINCE WILLIAM OF MEISSEN, his son.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, a Jew.
HENRY SCHNETZEN, Governor of Salza.
HENRY NORDMANN OF NORDMANNSTEIN, Knight of Treffurt.
REINHARD PEPPERCORN, Prior of Wartburg Monastery.
DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, President of the Council.
REUBEN VON ORB, a boy, Susskind’s son.
BARUCH and NAPHTALI,Jews.
PRINCESS MATHILDIS, wife to Frederick.
LIEBHAID VON ORB.
Jews, Jewesses, Burghers, Senators, Citizens, Citizen’s Wife and
Boy, Flagellants, Servants, Guardsmen.
Scene–Partly in Nordhausen, partly in Eisenach. Time, May, 4th,
5th, 6th, 1349.
ACT I.–In Nordhausen.
A street in the Judengasse, outside the Synagogue. During this
Scene Jews and Jewesses, singly and in groups, with prayer-books
in their hands, pass across the stage, and go into the Synagogue.
Among them, enter BARUCH and NAPHTALI.
Hast seen him yet?
Nay; Rabbi Jacob’s door
Swung to behind him, just as I puffed up
O’erblown with haste. See how our years weigh, cousin.
Who’d judge me with this paunch a temperate man,
A man of modest means, a man withal
Scarce overpast his prime? Well, God be praised,
If age bring no worse burden! Who is this stranger?
Simon the Leech tells me he claims to bear
Some special message from the Lord–no doubt
To-morrow, fresh from rest, he’ll publish it
Within the Synagogue.
He will not hear of rest–he comes anon–
Shall we within?
Rather let’s wait,
And scrutinize him as he mounts the street.
Since you denote him so remarkable,
You’ve whetted my desire.
A blind, old man,
Mayhap is all you’ll find him–spent with travel,
His raiment fouled with dust, his sandaled feet
Road-bruised by stone and bramble. But his face!–
Majestic with long fall of cloud-white beard,
And hoary wreath of hair–oh, it is one
Already kissed by angels.
Look, there limps
Little Manasseh, bloated as his purse,
And wrinkled as a frost-pinched fruit. I hear
His last loan to the Syndic will result
In quadrupling his wealth. Good Lord! what luck
Blesses some folk, while good men stint and sweat
And scrape, to merely fill the household larder.
What said you of this pilgrim, Naphtali?
These inequalities of fortune rub
My sense of justice so against the grain,
I lose my very name. Whence does he come?
Is he alone?
He comes from Chinon, France.
Rabbi Cresselin he calls himself–alone
Save for his daughter who has led him hither.
A beautiful, pale girl with round black eyes.
Bring they fresh tidings of the pestilence?
I know not–but I learn from other source
It has burst forth at Erfurt.
God have mercy!
Have many of our tribe been stricken?
They cleanse their homes and keep their bodies sweet,
Nor cease from prayer–and so does Jacob’s God
Protect His chosen, still. Yet even His favor
Our enemies would twist into a curse.
Beholding the destroying angel smite
The foal idolater and leave unscathed
The gates of Israel–the old cry they raise–
WE have begotten the Black Death–WE poison
The well-springs of the towns.
God pity us!
But truly are we blessed in Nordhausen.
Such terrors seem remote as Egypt’s plagues.
I warrant you our Landgrave dare not harry
Such creditors as we. See, here comes one,
The greatest and most liberal of them all–
Susskind von Orb.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN enter, all pass across
the stage, and disappear within the Synagogue.
I’d barter my whole fortune,
And yours to boot, that’s thrice the bulk of mine,
For half the bonds he holds in Frederick’s name.
The richest merchant in Thuringia, he–
The poise of his head would tell it, knew we not.
How has his daughter leaped to womanhood!
I mind when she came toddling by his hand,
But yesterday–a flax-haired child–to-day
Her brow is level with his pompous chin.
How fair she is! Her hair has kept its gold
Untarnished still. I trace not either parent
In her face, clean cut as a gem.
Was far-off kin to me, and I might pass,
I’m told, unguessed in Christian garb. I know
A pretty secret of that scornful face.
It lures high game to Nordhausen.
I marvel at your prompt credulity.
The Prince of Meissen and Liebhaid von Orb!
A jest for gossips and–Look, look, he comes!
Who’s that, the Prince?
Nay, dullard, the old man,
The Rabbi of Chinon. Ah! his stout staff,
And that brave creature’s strong young hand suffice
Scarcely to keep erect his tottering frame.
Emaciate-lipped, with cavernous black eyes
Whose inward visions do eclipse the day,
Seems he not one re-risen from the grave
To yield the secret?
Enter RABBI JACOB, and RABBI CRESSELIN led by CLAIRE. They walk
across the stage, and disappear in the Synagogue.
Blessed art thou, O Lord,
King of the Universe, who teachest wisdom
To those who fear thee!
Haste we in. The star
Of Sabbath dawns.
My flesh is still a-creep
From the strange gaze of those wide-rolling orbs.
Didst note, man, how they fixed me? His lean cheeks,
As wan as wax, were bloodless; how his arms
Stretched far beyond the flowing sleeve and showed
Gaunt, palsied wrists, and hands blue-tipped with death!
Well, I have seen a sage of Israel.
[They enter the Synagogue. Scene closes.]
The Synagogue crowded with worshippers. Among the women in the
Gallery are discovered LIEBHAID VON ORB and CLAIRE CRESSELIN.
Below, among the men, SUSSKIND VON ORB and REUBEN. At the
Reader’s Desk, RABBI JACOB. Fronting the audience under the
Ark of the Covenant, stands a high desk, behind which is seen
the white head of an old man bowed in prayer. BARUCH and NAPHTALI
enter and take their seats.
Think you he speaks before the service?
Lo, phantom-like the towering patriarch!
[RABBI CRESSELIN slowly rises beneath the Ark.]
Woe unto Israel! woe unto all
Abiding ‘mid strange peoples! Ye shall be
Cut off from that land where ye made your home.
I, Cresselin of Chinon, have traveled far,
Thence where my fathers dwelt, to warn my race,
For whom the fire and stake have been prepared.
Our brethren of Verdun, all over France,
Are burned alive beneath the Goyim’s torch.
What terrors have I witnessed, ere my sight
Was mercifully quenched! In Gascony,
In Savoy, Piedmont, round the garden shores
Of tranquil Leman, down the beautiful Rhine,
At Lindau, Costnitz, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen,
Everywhere torture, smoking Synagogues,
Carnage, and burning flesh. The lights shine out
Of Jewish virtue, Jewish truth, to star
The sanguine field with an immortal blazon.
The venerable Mar-Isaac in Cologne,
Sat in his house at prayer, nor lifted lid
From off the sacred text, while all around
The fanatics ran riot; him they seized,
Haled through the streets, with prod of stick and spike
Fretted his wrinkled flesh, plucked his white beard.
Dragged him with gibes into their Church, and held
A Crucifix before him. “Know thy Lord!”
He spat thereon; he was pulled limb from limb.
I saw–God, that I might forget!–a man
Leap in the Loire, with his fair, stalwart son,
A-bloom with youth, and midst the stream unsheathe
A poniard, sheathing it in his boy’s heart,
While he pronounced the blessing for the dead.
“Amen!” the lad responded as he sank,
And the white water darkened as with wine.
I saw–but no! You are glutted, and my tongue,
Blistered, refuseth to narrate more woe.
I have known much sorrow. When it pleased the Lord
To afflict us with the horde of Pastoureaux,
The rabble of armed herdsmen, peasants, slaves,
Men-beasts of burden–coarse as the earth they tilled,
Who like an inundation deluged France
To drown our race–my heart held firm, my faith
Shook not upon her rock until I saw,
Smit by God’s beam, the big black cloud dissolve.
Then followed with their scythes, spades, clubs, and banners
Flaunting the Cross, the hosts of Armleder,
From whose fierce wounds we scarce are healed to-day.
Yet do I say the cup of bitterness
That Israel has drained is but a draught
Of cordial, to the cup that is prepared.
The Black Death and the Brothers of the Cross,
These are our foes–and these are everywhere.
I who am blind see ruin in their wake;
Ye who have eyes and limbs, arise and flee!
To-morrow the Flagellants will be here.
God’s angel visited my sleep and spake:
“Thy Jewish kin in the Thuringian town
Of Nordhausen shall be swept off from earth,
Their elders and their babes–consumed with fire.
Go summon Israel to flight–take this
As sign that I, who call thee, am the Lord,
Thine eyes shalt be struck blind till thou hast spoken.”
Then darkness fell upon my mortal sense,
But light broke o’er my soul, and all was clear,
And I have journeyed hither with my child
O’er mount and river, till I have announced
The message of the Everlasting God.
[Sensation in the Synagogue.]
Father, have mercy! when wilt thou have done
With rod and scourge? Beneath thy children’s feet
Earth splits, fire springs. No rest, no rest! no rest,
Look to the women! Marianne swoons!
Woe unto us who sinned!
We’re all dead men.
Fly, fly ere dawn as our forefathers fled
From out the land of Egypt.
Are ye mad?
Shall we desert snug homes? forego the sum
Scraped through laborious years to smooth life’s slope,
And die like dogs unkenneled and untombed,
At bidding of a sorrow-crazed old man?
He flouts the Lord’s anointed! Cast him forth!
SUSSKIND VON ORB.
Peace, brethren, peace! If I have ever served
Israel with purse, arm, brain, or heart–now hear me!
May God instruct my speech! This wise old man,
Whose brow flames with the majesty of truth,
May be part-blinded through excess of light,
As one who eyes too long the naked sun,
Setting in rayless glory, turns and finds
Outlines confused, familiar colors changed,
All objects branded with one blood-bright spot.
Nor chafe at Baruch’s homely sense; truth floats
Midway between the stars and the abyss.
We, by God’s grace, have found a special nest
I’ the dangerous rock, screened against wind and hawk;
Free burghers of a free town, blessed moreover
With the peculiar favor of the Prince,
Frederick the Grave, our patron and protector.
What shall we fear? Rather, where shall we seek
Secure asylum, if here be not one?
Fly? Our forefathers had the wilderness,
The sea their gateway, and the fire-cored cloud
Their divine guide. Us, hedged by ambushed foes,
No frank, free, kindly desert shall receive.
Death crouches on all sides, prepared to leap
Tiger-like on our throats, when first we step
From this safe covert. Everywhere the Plague!
As nigh as Erfurt it has crawled–the towns
Reek with miasma, the rank fields of spring,
Rain-saturated, are one beautiful–lie,
Smiling profuse life, and secreting death.
Strange how, unbidden, a trivial memory
Thrusts itself on my mind in this grave hour.
I saw a large white bull urged through the town
To slaughter by a stripling with a goad,
Whom but one sure stamp of that solid heel,
One toss of those mooned horns, one battering blow
Of that square marble forehead, would have crushed,
As we might crush a worm, yet on he trudged,
Patient, in powerful health to death. At once,
As though o’ the sudden stung, he roared aloud,
Beat with fierce hoofs the air, shook desperately
His formidable head, and heifer-swift,
Raced through scared, screaming streets. Well, and the end?
He was the promptlier bound and killed and quartered.
The world belongs to man; dreams the poor brute
Some nook has been apportioned for brute life?
Where shall a man escape men’s cruelty?
Where shall God’s servant cower from his doom?
Let us bide, brethren–we are in His hand.
RABBI CRESSELIN (uttering a piercing shriek).
Woe unto Israel! Lo, I see again,
As the Ineffable foretold. I see
A flood of fire that streams towards the town.
Look, the destroying Angel with the sword,
Wherefrom the drops of gall are raining down,
Broad-winged, comes flying towards you. Now he draws
His lightning-glittering blade! With the keen edge
He smiteth Israel–ah!
[He falls back dead. Confusion in the Synagogue.]
CLAIRE (from the gallery).
Father! My father!
Let me go down to him!
Sweet girl, be patient.
This is the House of God, and He hath entered.
Bow we and pray.
[Meanwhile, some of the men surround and raise from the ground the
body of RABBI CRESSELIN. Several voices speaking at once.]
Make way there! Air! Carry him forth! He’s warm!
Nay, his heart’s stopped–his breath has ceased–quite dead.
Didst mark a diamond lance flash from the roof,
And strike him ‘twixt the eyes?
Our days are numbered.
This is the token.
Lift the corpse and pray.
Shall we neglect God’s due observances,
While He is manifest in miracle?
I saw a blaze seven times more bright than fire,
Crest, halo-wise, the patriarch’s white head.
The dazzle stung my burning lids–they closed,
One instant–when they oped, the great blank cloud
Had settled on his countenance forever.*
Departed brother, mayest thou find the gates
Of heaven open, see the city of peace,
And meet the ministering angels, glad,
Hastening towards thee! May the High Priest stand
To greet and bless thee! Go thou to the end!
Repose in peace and rise again to life.
No more thy sun sets, neither wanes thy moon.
The Lord shall be thy everlasting light,
Thy days of mourning shall be at an end.
For you, my flock, fear nothing; it is writ
As one his mother comforteth, so I
Will comfort you and in Jerusalem
Ye shall be comforted. [Scene closes.]
*From this point to the end of the scene is a literal
translation of the Hebrew burial service.
Evening. A crooked byway in the Judengasse. Enter PRINCE
Cursed be these twisted lanes! I have missed the clue
Of the close labyrinth. Nowhere in sight,
Just when I lack it, a stray gaberdine
To pick me up my thread. Yet when I haste
Through these blind streets, unwishful to be spied,
Some dozen hawk-eyes peering o’er crook’d beaks
Leer recognition, and obsequious caps
Do kiss the stones to greet my princeship. Bah!
Strange, ‘midst such refuse sleeps so white a pearl.
At last, here shuffles one.
Enter a Jew.
Give you good even!
Sir, can you help me to the nighest way
Unto the merchant’s house, Susskind von Orb?
Whence come you knowing not the high brick wall,
Without, blank as my palm, o’ the inner side,
Muring a palace? But–do you wish him well?
He is my friend–we must be wary, wary,
We all have warning–Oh, the terror of it!
I have not yet my wits!
I am his friend.
Is he in peril? What’s the matter, man?
Peril? His peril is no worse than mine,
But the rich win compassion. God is just,
And every man of us is doomed. Alack!
HE said it–oh those wild, white eyes!
I pray you,
Tell me the way to Susskind’s home.
You look the perfect knight, what can you crave
Of us starved, wretched Jews? Leave us in peace.
The Judengasse gates will shut anon,
Nor ope till morn again for Jew or Gentile.
Here’s gold. I am the Prince of Meissen–speak!
Oh pardon! Let me kiss your mantle’s edge.
This way, great sir, I lead you there myself,
If you deign follow one so poor, so humble.
You must show mercy in the name of God,
For verily are we afflicted. Come.
Hard by is Susskind’s dwelling–as we walk
By your good leave I’ll tell what I have seen.
A luxuriously-furnished apartment in SUSSKIND VON ORB’S house.
Upon a richly-spread supper-table stands the seven-branched
silver candlestick of the Sabbath eve. At the table are seated
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN.
Drink, children, drink! and lift your hearts to Him
Who gives us the vine’s fruit.
How clear it glows;
Like gold within the golden bowl, like fire
Along our veins, after the work-day week
Rekindling Sabbath-fervor, Sabbath-strength.
Verily God prepares for me a table
In presence of mine enemies! He anoints
My head with oil, my cup is overflowing.
Praise we His name! Hast thou, my daughter, served
The needs o’ the poor, suddenly-orphaned child?
Naught must she lack beneath my roof.
She prays and weeps within: she had no heart
For Sabbath meal, but charged me with her thanks–
Thou shalt be mother and sister in one to her.
Speak to her comfortably.
She has begged
A grace of me I happily can grant.
After our evening-prayer, to lead her back
Unto the Synagogue, where sleeps her father,
A light at head and foot, o’erwatched by strangers;
She would hold vigil.
‘T is a pious wish,
Not to be crossed, befitting Israel’s daughter.
Go, Reuben; heavily the moments hang,
While her heart yearns to break beside his corpse.
Receive my blessing.
[He places his hands upon his son’s head in benediction. Exit
Henceforth her home is here.
In the event to-night, God’s finger points
Visibly out of heaven. A thick cloud
Befogs the future. But just here is light.
Enter a servant ushering in PRINCE WILLIAM.
His highness Prince of Meissen.
God bless thy going forth and coming in!
Sit at our table and accept the cup
Of welcome which my daughter fills.
[LIEBHAID offers him wine.]
PRINCE WILLIAM (drinking).
[All take their seats at the table.]
I heard disquieting news as I came hither.
The apparition in the Synagogue,
The miracle of the message and the death.
Susskind von Orb, what think’st thou of these things?
I think, sir, we are in the hand of God,
I trust the Prince–your father and my friend.
Trust no man! flee! I have not come to-night
To little purpose. Your arch enemy,
The Governor of Salza, Henry Schnetzen,
Has won my father’s ear. Since yester eve
He stops at Eisenach, begging of the Prince
The Jews’ destruction.
Schnetzen is my foe,
I know it, but I know a talisman,
Which at a word transmutes his hate to love.
Liebhaid, my child, look cheerly. What is this?
Harm dare not touch thee; the oppressor’s curse,
Melts into blessing at thy sight.
Plucks at my heart-strings, father, though the air
Thickens with portents; ‘t is the thought of flight,
But no–I follow thee.
Thou shalt not miss
The value of a hair from thy home treasures.
All that thou lovest, Liebhaid, goes with thee.
Knowest thou, Susskind, Schnetzen’s cause of hate?
‘T is rooted in an ancient error, born
During his feud with Landgrave Fritz the Bitten,
Your Highness’ grandsire–ten years–twenty–back.
Misled to think I had betrayed his castle,
Who knew the secret tunnel to its courts,
He has nursed a baseless grudge, whereat I smile,
Sure to disarm him by the simple truth.
God grant me strength to utter it.
The rancor of a bad heart slow distilled
Through venomed years, so at a breath, dissolves.
O good old man, i’ the world, not of the world!
Belike, himself forgets the doubtful core
Of this still-curdling, petrifying ooze.
Truth? why truth glances from the callous mass,
A spear against a rock. He hugs his hate,
His bed-fellow, his daily, life-long comrade;
Think you he has slept, ate, drank with it this while,
Now to forego revenge on such slight cause
As the revealed truth?
You mistake my thought,
Great-hearted Prince, and justly–for I speak
In riddles, till God’s time to make all clear.
When His day dawns, the blind shall see.
If I, in wit and virtue your disciple,
Seem to instruct my master. Accident
Lifts me where I survey a broader field
Than wise men stationed lower. I spy peril,
Fierce flame invisible from the lesser peaks.
God’s time is now. Delayed truth leaves a lie
Triumphant. If you harbor any secret,
Potent to force an ear that’s locked to mercy,
In God’s name, now disbosom it.
Would that my people’s safety were assured
So is my child’s! Where shall we turn? Where flee?
For all around us the Black Angel broods.
We step into the open jaws of death
If we go hence.
Better to fall beneath
The hand of God, than be cut off by man.
We are trapped, the springe is set. Not ignorantly
I offered counsel in the Synagogue,
Quelled panic with authoritative calm,
But knowing, having weighed the opposing risks.
Our friends in Strasburg have been overmastered,
The imperial voice is drowned, the papal arm
Drops paralyzed–both, lifted for the truth;
We can but front with brave eyes, brow erect,
As is our wont, the fullness of our doom.
Then Meissen’s sword champions your desperate cause.
I take my stand here where my heart is fixed.
I love your daughter–if her love consent,
I pray you, give me her to wife.
Let not this Saxon skin, this hair’s gold fleece,
These Rhine-blue eyes mislead thee–she is alien.
To the heart’s core a Jewess–prop of my house,
Soul of my soul–and I? a despised Jew.
Thy propped house crumbles; let my arm sustain
Its tottering base–thy light is on the wane,
Let me relume it. Give thy star to me,
Or ever pitch-black night engulf us all–
Lend me your voice, Liebhaid, entreat for me.
Shall this prayer be your first that he denies?
Father, my heart’s desire is one with his.
Is this the will of God? Amen! My children,
Be patient with me, I am full of trouble.
For you, heroic Prince, could aught enhance
Your love’s incomparable nobility,
‘T were the foreboding horror of this hour,
Wherein you dare flash forth its lightning-sword.
You reckon not, in the hot, splendid moment
Of great resolve, the cold insidious breath
Wherewith the outer world shall blast and freeze–
But hark! I own a mystic amulet,
Which you delivering to your gracious father,
Shall calm his rage withal, and change his scorn
Of the Jew’s daughter into pure affection.
I will go fetch it–though I drain my heart
Of its red blood, to yield this sacrifice.
Have you no smile to welcome love with, Liebhaid?
Why should you tremble?
Prince, I am afraid!
Afraid of my own heart, my unfathomed joy,
A blasphemy against my father’s grief,
My people’s agony. I dare be happy–
So happy! in the instant’s lull betwixt
The dazzle and the crash of doom.
The omen falsely; rather is your joy
The thrilling harbinger of general dawn.
Did you not tell me scarce a month agone,
When I chanced in on you at feast and prayer,
The holy time’s bright legend? of the queen,
Strong, beautiful, resolute, who denied her race
To save her race, who cast upon the die
Of her divine and simple loveliness,
Her life, her soul,–and so redeemed her tribe.
You are my Esther–but I, no second tyrant,
Worship whom you adore, love whom you love!
If I must die with morn, I thank my God,
And thee, my king, that I have lived this night.
Enter SUSSKIND, carrying a jewelled casket.
Here is the chest, sealed with my signet-ring,
A mystery and a treasure lies within,
Whose worth is faintly symboled by these gems,
Starring the case. Deliver it unopened,
Unto the Landgrave. Now, sweet Prince, good night.
Else will the Judengasse gates be closed.
Thanks, father, thanks. Liebhaid, my bride, good-night.
[He kisses her brow. SUSSKIND places his hands on the heads of
LIEBHAID and PRINCE WILLIAM.]
Blessed, O Lord, art thou, who bringest joy
To bride and bridegroom. Let us thank the Lord.
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