BETA

The Emperor and the Rabbi.

There are some curious and some interesting reliques of tradition still to
be found among the Jewish people. Their dispersion, and the infinite miseries
inflicted on them, in every country where they fled from their own, inevitably
extinguished their general cultivation of literature ; but they still possessed
scholars, philosophers, and teachers of the Law, who might have been distin-
guished in better times, and among a more prosperous people. The Talmud
is well known to European scholarship as containing, amid much extraordinary
and fantastic matter, some valuable records of the national history and feelings.
Its sententious and moral narratives, its Agadetha, are sometimes striking and
noble ; and the allegories, mysticisms, visions, and parables of the Medras-
biim
are sometimes not less sagacious than sublime.
The subject of the following verses is from a tradition of the wisdom of Rabbi
Joshuah. The Jews to this day speak with malediction of Titus, the destroyer
Of the temple, and of Hadrian, the destroyer of the nation. But Trajan is
sometimes spoken of with more respect, probably from the contrast of his cha-
racter, stern as it was, with that of his fierce and sanguinary successor, Hadrian ;
and from the comparative security of the Jews under an emperor who was too
much engrossed with his incessant wars to have any leisure for persecution.
Old Rabbi, what tales1
Would’st thou pour in mine ear ;2
What visions of glory,3
What phantoms of fear ? ”4
Of a God, all the gods5
Of the Roman above,6
A mightier than Mars,7
A more ancient than Jove ! ”8
Let me look on those splen-
dours,
9
I then shall believe ;10
’Tis the senses alone11
That can never deceive.12
Nay, show me your idol,13
If earth is his shrine,14
And your Israelite God15
Shall, old dreamer, be mine.”16
’Twas Trajan that spoke,17
And the stoical sneer18
Still play’d on his features19
Sublime and severe.20
And round the proud hall21
As his dark eye was thrown,22
He saw but one God,23
And himself was that one.24
The God of our forefathers ! ”25
Low bow’d the seer ;26
Is unseen by the eye,27
Is unheard by the ear.28
He is Spirit, he knows not29
The body’s dark chain ;30
Not the Heaven of the Heavens31
Can his glory contain.32
He is seen in his power33
When the storm is abroad :34
The clouds by the wheels35
Of his chariot are rode.36
He is seen in his mercy,37
When mountain and plain38
Rejoice in the sunshine39
And smile in the rain.40
He is seen when the lightnings41
Are shot through the heaven,42
And the crests of the mountains43
In embers are riven.44
He is heard when the tempest45
Has sent up its roar,46
And the ocean in thunder47
Is flung on the shore.”48
Those are dreams,” said the mo-
narch,
49
Wild fancies of old ;50
But what God can I worship,51
When none I behold ?52
Can I kneel to the lightning,53
The wave, or the wind ?54
Can I worship the shape55
That but lives in the mind ? ”56
I’ll show thee his footstool,57
I’ll show thee his throne : ”58
Through the halls of the palace59
The Rabbi led on,60
Till above them was spread :61
But the sky’s purple dome,62
And like surges of splendour63
Beneath them was Rome.64
Round the marble-crown’d mount65
Where the Emperor stood,66
Like a silver-scaled snake,67
Swept the Tiber’s bright flood ;68
Beyond lay the vales ;69
Of the rich Persian rose,70
All glowing with beauty,71
All breathing repose ;72
And flaming o’er all,73
In the glow of the hour,74
The Capitol shone,75
Earth’s high altar of power76
A thousand years old,77
Yet still in its prime ;78
A thousand years more79
To be conqueror of time !80
But the East now was purple,81
The eve was begun ;82
Like a monarch at rest83
On the wave, lay the sun :84
Above him the clouds85
Their rich canopy roll’d,86
With pillars of diamond,87
And curtains of gold.88
The Rabbi’s proud gesture89
Was turn’d to the orb ;90
Great King, let that splendour91
Thy worship absorb.”92
What ! gaze on the sun,93
And be blind by the gaze ?94
No eye but the eagle’s95
Can look on that blaze ! "96
Ho, Emperor of earth,97
If thine eyeball is dim,98
To see but the rays99
Of the sun’s sinking limb,”100
Cried the Rabbi, “ what eyeball101
Could dare but to see102
The Sovereign of him,103
And the Sovereign of thee ? ”104