A Jewish Rabbi in Rome.

With a Commentary by Ben Israel.

Fifteenth Century. Reign of Sixtus IV.

Rabbi Ben Esdra to his dearest friend,1
Rabbi Ben Israel, greeting—May the Lord2
Keep thee in safety !  I am still in Rome,3
And, after months of silence, now redeem4
My pledge to tell you how this Christian world5
(Which here I came to study), nearly viewed,6
Strikes me, a Jew born, and with steady faith7
In all the Law and Prophets of our land.8
Still, though a Jew, it is the Truth I seek,—9
Only the Truth,—and, come from whence it will,10
I greet it with bent head and reverent heart.11
I am a seeker;—though my faith is firm,12
I will not tie my mind in knots of creeds.13
No more preamble. I am now in Rome,14
Where our Jehovah rules not,—but the man15
Jesus, whose Life and Fate too well we know,16
Is made a God—the cross on which he died17
A reverend symbol, and his words the law.18
His words, what were they ?  Love, goodwill to man.19
His kingdom ?  Peace. His precepts ?  Poverty.20
Well, are they followed ?  That’s the question now.21
What fruit have they produced ?22
One moment, first.23
I think no ill of him. He was sincere,24
Lofty of thought, a pure idealist,25
Possessed, indeed, by visionary dreams,26
But wishing ill to no one, least of all27
To us, and to our Faith, which was his own.28
I will not say he was entirely wrong29
In the strong censures that he laid on us ;30
For we had many faults—were, as he said,31
Only too much like whited sepulchres,—32
And then, no good man is entirely wrong,33
And none entirely right. The truth is vast,34
And never was there Creed embraced it all.35
Like all enthusiasts he beheld his half,36
Deemed it the whole, and with excess of zeal37
Pushed his ideal truth beyond the stretch38
Of human practice. Most of what he taught39
The wise and good of old had said before.40
His healing skill, this sect calls miracles,41
A hundred others had as well as he ;42
And for that claim his followers set up,43
And he, perhaps (though here there is much doubt),44
Asserted of himself, that he was sent45
Messias, King of kings, to save the world,—46
This, surely, was no crime deserving death :47
No mere opinions, void of acts, are crimes.48
Besides, what sect or creed was ever crushed49
By cruelty ?  Our error was perverse,50
Wilful, unwise. Had we but spared his life,51
He would have passed away as others pass,—52
Simon and John and Apollonius,53
Judas of Galilee, and many more.54
But, no !  we lifted him above the rest ;55
Made him conspicuous by his martyrdom ;56
Watered with blood his doctrines ; fired the hearts57
Of those who loved him with intemperate zeal58
And wild imaginations, till at last59
They thought they saw him risen from the dead.60
Our folly (call it by its lightest name)61
Nourished the seed into this mighty sect,62
That takes his name and worships him as God.63
Setting aside the superstitious part,64
I ask, What were the doctrines that he preached,65
And that his followers with their lips profess ?66
Love !  Peace !  Goodwill to man !  This was the gist67
Of all he taught. Forgive your enemies !68
Seek for the lost sheep from the fold that stray !69
Harm no one !  For the prodigal returned70
Kill the fat calf !  Be merciful to all !71
Who are the enemies, prodigals, lost sheep,72
To whom their mercy, love, care, gifts are given ?73
Not we, the Jews, in truth. Is it for us74
They kill the calf ?  Are we the enemies75
That they forgive ?  Have they goodwill for us ?76
Not they !  They hold us rather like foul swine,—77
Abuse us,—lay great burdens on our backs,—78
Spit on us,—drive us forth beyond their walls,—79
Force us all slavish offices to do,—80
And if we join their sect, scorn us the more.81
If those are blessèd, as he says, whom men82
Revile and persecute, most blest are we !83
Yet was not Jesus, first of all, a Jew,—84
Even to his death a Jew? Did he renounce85
His strict faith in the Prophets and the Law ?86
Never !  “ I come not to destroy,” he said,87
The Law or Prophets, only to fulfil.”88
So, too, his preaching, whatsoe’er it was,89
Was to the Jews. The miracles he wrought90
Were for the Jews alone.  “ I am not sent,”—91
These are his words,— “ but unto the lost sheep92
Of Israel’s house : my bread is not for dogs.”93
Who were the dogs to whom he thus refused94
To lend his healing hand ?  What had she done95
Who asked his service that he scorned her thus ?96
She was from Canaan, or a Greek—no, Jew ;97
This was her crime. ’Tis true that, touched at last98
By those sad humble words of hers, “ The dogs99
May eat the crumbs dropped from the master’s board,”100
He made her an exception to his rule,—101
But still his rule was this. This his first rule.102
No ?  But it was !  Remember the rich youth103
Who prayed to be his follower : “ Two things,”104
He said, “ are needful.” First, that you obey105
The Law and Prophets—that is, are a Jew ;—106
And then the second, that your wealth and goods107
You sell, and give the proceeds to the poor.108
First be a Jew, then poor. Renounce all wealth ;109
Keep nothing back. These are conditions prime,110
Refusing which, your following I reject.111
I see you gravely shake your head at this ;112
But read the records,—you will see I’m right.113
Jesus, let me repeat it yet again,114
Was first and last a Jew; never renounced115
That faith of ours; taught in the Synagogue ;116
Quoted the Prophets; reaffirmed the Law ;117
Worked with the Jews, and only healed the Jews,118
And held all other nations but as dogs.*119

* (Commentary by Ben Israel.)

I’ve read the records carefully again :
It goes against my will—still, I admit,
Ben Esdra may be right. Here let me note
One case that he perchance has overlooked—
That of the Publican named Zaccheus.
This man was rich, and, curious, sought to look
On Jesus,—for this purpose climbed a tree.
Jesus, perceiving him, proposed himself
To be his guest ; at which a murmuring went
Among his followers,—for this wealthy man
Was, as they said, a sinner, or no Jew.
But I note this, that Zaccheus on the spot
Surrendered half his goods unto the poor
Ere Jesus went into his house; and then,
And not till then, said Jesus— “ On this house
This day salvation cometh, forasmuch
As he, too, is a son of Abraham ”—
That is,a Jew. Again, where did he send
His twelve disciples (Judas ’mid the rest)
To preach the Gospel ?  To the Gentiles? No!
This he forbade,—but “ unto the lost sheep
Of Israel’s house.” And one case more I note,—
That of the woman of Samaria,
To whom he said (his followers murmuring
That he should speak to her):  “ Salvation comes
And second (mark this well, and ponder it),120
He was a Communist—denied the right121
Of private wealth ; ordained a common purse122
To be administered for all alike,123
And all rejected who refused him this.124
’Tis easier for a camel to pass through125
A needle’s eye”—these are his very words,—126
Than that a rich man should inherit heaven.”127
A rich man, mind you, whether good or bad.128
What was the moral of his parable129
Of Lazarus, and Dives ?  What offence130
Did Dives, that in everlasting fire131
He was condemned to suffer ?  What good deed132
Did Lazarus that he at last should lie133
On Abraham’s bosom in eternal bliss ?134
Nothing !  The beggar, Lazarus, was poor ;135
Dives was rich. This was the crime of one,136
The virtue of the other. Not one hint137
Of any other reason for the hell138
Or heaven that he adjudged them,—not one word139
That Dives was not charitable, kind,140
Generous, a helper of his brother man ;—141
No accusation, save that he was rich.142
No word that Lazarus, with all his sores,143
Possessed one virtue, save that he was poor.144
Nay, more : when Dives in his torment sued145
For mercy, what did Abraham say to him ?146
You for your evil deeds must suffer now ?147
No !  but, “ You had the good things on the earth,148
Lazarus the evil. Therefore, now, to thee149
Is torment given—comfort unto him.”150
Working to pile up wealth Jesus abhorred.151
Each man for all,” he said, “ and all for each.152
Take no thought of to-morrow—for the day153
Sufficient will be given. No sparrow falls154
Save through God’s law. The ravens of the air155
Sow not and reap not, yet God feedeth them.156
The lilies of the field nor toil nor spin,157
Yet Solomon was not arrayed like them.158
Why, then, take thought of raiment and of food ?159

But to the Jews.” Doubtless, as well we know,
It was unlawful for a Jew to eat
And bide with those who were uncircumcised.
Upon this point, long after he was dead,
Extreme contention ’mid his followers rose,
If Gentiles, ere they had been circumcised,
Into the Christian faith could be baptised—
Some holding full adherence to the law
A prime condition,—some, that it sufficed
If its main principles were recognised :
But this I merely note. It seems quite clear
That only Jews at first could join the sect.
Leave all to God. Blessèd are ye, the poor !160
God’s kingdom shall be yours :  but ye, the rich,161
Woe unto you.” This was his life and text.162
Once only—so the record goes—a rage163
Seized upon Jesus, when, with whip and thong,164
The money-changers—all who bought and sold—165
He from the precincts of the temple drove,166
Saying, “ ’Tis writ, This is the house of prayer,167
But ye have made it to a den of thieves.”168
Let this show what he thought of such as these.169
Those who were with him knew and did his will,—170
Lived in community of goods, renounced171
All private wealth. This doctrine, too, they preached172
After his death; and all who joined their sect173
Sold their possessions, houses, treasures, lands,174
And paid the price into the common store,175
To be administered to each one’s need.176
They did not seek by subterfuge and trick177
To cling to Mammon while they worshipped God.*178
What should a Christian do, then, who accepts179
The doctrines that this master, nay, this God180
(For so they call him), clearly thus appoints ;—181
Live by them, should he not ?  Not by blank words182
Affirm them, but by all his acts and life.183
First, love to God—and love to man as well.184
Then peace, forgiveness, kindness, poverty.185
What is the Christian practice ?  War—the sword186
As arbiter of all disputes of men—187
Reprisals,—persecutions unto death188
For all who differ from them—Peter’s sword189
That Jesus bade him sheathe,—no simple lives190
Of frugal fare and pure beneficence,191
But luxury and imperious tyranny192
In all high places,—all in earnest strife193
To pile up wealth for selfish purposes,—194
Each greedy for himself, the wretched poor195
Down-trodden, trampled on,—the Church itself,196
Splendid with pageant, cruel in its power,—197
Pride rampant, hissing through a thousand maws,—198
Power, like a ravening wolf among the lambs,199
Worrying the weakest,—prayers, lip-deep, no more—200
The devil’s work done in the name of God.201
Such is the spectacle I see in Rome.202

* Here I, Ben Israel, note the curious case
Of Ananias and Sapphira, struck
By sudden death, because of all their wealth
They kept a part back for their private use—
Tempting by this the Lord, as Peter said.
But where are the Almighty’s lightnings now ?
Among the pomps in which this Christian Church203
Invests its pageants, oft I think of him204
Whom they pretend to worship, and his words205
Come back to me with which he once reproved206
Our priests of his own days. The world, indeed,207
Has but one pattern for its worldliness,—208
Or now, or then, ’tis evermore the same.209
If we of old were stiff-necked in our pride,210
Desiring power instead of godliness,211
Avid of pomp,—these Christians are the same :212
They will not follow either God or Christ.213
Thus saith the Lord, Stand in the ways, and see ;214
Ask, where is the good way, and walk therein,215
And so ye shall find rest unto your souls.216
But they replied, We will not walk therein.”217
Thus Jeremiah,—Jesus much the same.218
Long prayers, low bowings in the market-place,219
Chief seats in synagogues, upper rooms at feasts,220
Fine linen, costly dresses, pompous rites,221
Grand ceremonials, purple trailing robes,222
Embroidered hems, and wide phylacteries,—223
All this he scorned. Well, still we see the same,224
For all his scorn, among his followers.225
His very words describe these cardinals226
As they were made for them alone,—not us.227
Not we alone were whited sepulchres ;228
Robbed widows, orphans, every one for greed :229
This Church still robs them, wears its purple robes,230
Prays at the public corners of the streets,231
Nor even the outside of the platter cleans.232
And what thinks Jesus of it ?— if, indeed,233
He from beyond can look into their hearts,234
Who call upon his name and preach of Peace.235
Foul hypocrites, who feed their hungry flocks236
With husks of dogmas and dead chaff of talk,237
And trample virtue down into the mire.238
I ask myself, Do these men ever think239
Or weigh their master’s teaching, practice, words,240
That thus by rote, like empty formulas,241
They gabble them, as senseless parrots talk.242
Doctrine and life to him were one. To these243
Doctrine from life is utterly divorced.244
Whatever Jesus was, this Church, these men,245
Are none of his,—or ours ; his words alone246
They worship like a fetish, without sense,—247
His real inner teaching they reject ;248
Nay, are afraid to look it in the face249
And seek its meaning, lest it come to this,250
That they must choose between the things he would,251
And what they covet dearer than their life.252
Jew as I am, in view of them, at times253
I long to see some real Christian sect254
Ready to take the system that he taught,255
And try it in this world,—not talking Peace,256
Good-will to men, Love, Justice, Charity,257
But living it in very deed,—a sect258
That should abjure all individual greed,259
All competition for a selfish end,260
And joining, make one common purse for all,261
As Jesus did among his followers.262
Would it succeed ?  Ah, you and I are Jews ;263
Jesus has no authority with us.264
But were we Christians, and not hypocrites,—265
Did we believe that he was really God,266
Or even that his mission was divine,—267
How should we dare to gloss his teachings o’er,268
And twist his doctrines so that they should fit269
Our worldly needs, and in the very face270
Of his plain orders seek some verbal trick271
To warp them to the life we like to lead !272
The Eternal One must needs look down and smile273
At these base wrigglings of His creatures here,274
Filled with sad pity, too, at their offence,—275
Seeing them do, with His name on their lips,276
All He forbids, and dreaming none the less277
They only shall be saved,—all others damned.278
Would Jesus’ plan succeed ?  The world thus far279
Has taken another path,—we most of all,—280
Believing not in him, nor in his scheme ;—281
But dreaming—shaking, as it were, from me282
All usages and habits of the world,283
At times I stretch my mind out in the vague,284
And seek upon this plan to build a world.285
No property, but that which all should own286
With equal rights,—the product of all work287
Held for the common good in trust for all ;288
All, to the lowest, to be clothed, fed, housed,289
Freed from necessity and from the wolf290
Of hunger, and the pains and pangs of life ;291
Each having claims on all to do the task292
Best fitted for his powers, tastes, happiness ;293
Each as a duty bound to do his share,294
And not to be a drone within the hive.295
What glory might the world then see !— what joy !296
What harmony of work! what large content !297
What splendid products of joint industry !298
All toiling with one purpose and one heart ;299
No war, no waste of noble energies,—300
But smiling peace, the enlarging grace of art ;301
Humanity a column with its base302
Of solid work, and at its summit crowned303
With the ideal capital of Love !304
This is a dream that turns this world of ours305
Quite upside down ;— I’ll say no more of it.306
And yet one word more, lest you deem me fool !307
Think not I dream : none but a fool could dream308
Equality of rights,—that is, the claim309
To justice, life, food, freedom in the bound310
Of common benefit, involves the claim311
To equal virtues, powers, intelligence,—312
Since God in these unequal shaped us all,313
And fitted each one for his special end.314
So should the wise, just, virtuous take the lead,315
Or all at once is lawless anarchy ;316
For what more fatal, hopeless, than a scheme317
Where wise and good, and fool and knave alike,318
Own equal powers and rights in government ?319
But how secure the leadership to those320
Whom God hath made for leaders ?  Ah, my friend,321
That is the question none hath e’er resolved ;322
For liberty, at best a negative—323
Mere freedom from restraint—engenders soon324
Licence and tyranny,—dire positives ;325
Just as Aurelius, best of emperors,326
Begot for son the cruel Commodu327
Danger on all sides threatens government.328
Choose you a king,—the very best is weak,—329
And fierce temptation dogs the path of power.330
Choose you the Demos,—it perchance is worse ;331
For then, as in an agitated sea,332
The frothiest ever to the surface swims.333
Caprice, rage, panic, interest, sway the mob ;334
Justice is overstormed, wisdom lies low,335
And noisy ignorance, swollen by the breath336
Of blatant demagogues, wrecks the lost state.337
Why ?— But because the eager lust of men,338
The godless strife of utter selfishness,339
Makes of the world a blind and brutal herd,340
All crowding on, devoid of common aim,—341
Each goring his own way to make his path.342
Well, seeing this, and how these blundering schemes343
Beget a brood of sin and misery,344
Said Jesus to his followers :  All is wrong ;345
Let it be all reversed,—such life is hate ;346
But God is love: try love, then, for your scheme,—347
Try God’s law ;— as the Book of Wisdom saith,348
All hatred stirreth strife; but love hath power349
To cover up all sins;” and yet again :350
“He who his neighbour scorneth, sins but he ;351
Is happy who hath mercy for the poor.”352
The profit of the earth is made for all,353
And riches breed disease and vanity.”354
So saith the preacher, just as Jesus said.355
Nothing was new in Jesus’ scheme but this,—356
To make community a fact—no dream.*357
But new or old, his followers obeyed,358
Accepting what he taught. Their life was pure,—359
They craved no gains, abjured all private wealth;360
Preached poverty, and practised what they preached ;361
And then, with stealthy step and half-veiled face,362
Pride entered, and ambition ; and they shaped363
That fair community into the thing364
Now called a Church, and on its altar raised365
The same false idol he had driven forth ;366
And now what is this Church so called of Christ ?367
The last and even the most hideous shape368
Of tyranny—that spawns upon the world369
As love’s true offspring the foul serpent brood370
Of superstition, bigotry, and hate.371
Thus looking on, and striving as I can372
To keep my mind wide open to new thought,373
I weave my dream of what the world might be,—374
A vague wild dream, but not without its charm.375

* And scarcely this, say I, Ben Israel—376
Commenting on this letter. We of old377
Among the patriarchs ever practised it.378
And well it worked, till, into cities packed,379
Men grew ambitious, greedy, void of God,380
And then confusion came to one and all.381
The greed of riches is the curse of man :382
Virtue and wisdom only, hand in hand,383
Have any rightful claims to power; the wise,384
The good, in every age affirm the same,—385
Solon, Confucius, Plato, Thales, all.386
Flee greed, choose equal rights,” Menander says.387
When Greece made question of her wisest men388
What is the best form of all government,389
Thales replied, “ Where none are over-rich,390
None over-poor ;” and Anacharsis said,391
Where vice is hated—virtue reverenced.”392
So Pittacus— “ Where honours are conferred393
But on the virtuous ;” and Solon, too,394
In thought, if not in words, like Jesus spoke,—395
Where any wrong unto the meanest done396
Is held to be an injury to all.”397
So also Solomon,— “ Remove me far.398
From vanity and lies ; and give to me399
Nor poverty nor wealth. Blessed is he400
Who for the poor and needy giveth thought :401
The Lord shall help him in his time of need.”402
Since nothing in our Law forbids to us403
The trial of this scheme, suppose we Jews—404
(Nay, do not smile)—suppose we very Jews405
Go on and do even this, the Christians’ work :406
They will not do it,—oh, be sure of that !407
No more of this : oh, my Jerusalem !408
Thou whom again we shall rebuild in power—409
Let Justice be thy strong foundation-stones,410
And Love the cement that shall knit them close.411
Firm in our Faith—at last—at last, O Lord !412
When we have suffered to the bitter end,413
Thy chosen people Thou wilt lift again,414
And sweep Thy enemies before Thy path.415
Come not to Rome,—it is the sink of vice :416
Its grandeur is decayed ; its splendid days417
Are faded. Famine, War, and Pestilence—418
Tempest and inundation and fierce hordes—419
Have o’er it swept, with ruin in their track.420
The herdsman tends his flocks upon the Hill421
Where Manlius drove the Gauls. The Capitol422
Scarcely exists in name : its temples proud423
Are wrecked and ruined. In the Forum herd424
Horned cattle; and beyond the Flaminian gate,425
Where once triumphant swarmed the crowds of Rome,426
Spreads a flat marsh, o’ergrown with rustling canes,427
Where flocks of whirring wild-fowl make their home.428
Death haunts the temples, once so full of life.429
Life crowds the tombs where the dead Cæsars lie,430
And fortifies their wrecks for deadly feud.431
The arts have perished. Prone upon the earth432
Lie shattered the proud statues of their gods,433
While the rude builder breaks them with his pick,434
Or burns them into lime. The games are o’er ;435
The streets are filled with ruffian soldiery,436
Quick at a quarrel ; and the deadly knife437
Of treachery stabs the unsuspecting foe.438
Upon the Castle every week are seen439
Black corpses, nailed along the outer walls.440
The city throngs at night with bravos hired,441
Who after murder find a safe retreat442
In many a priestly palace. In a word,443
Rapine and murder, rape and parricide,444
Ay, ev’ry crime, with or without a name,445
Ravage the city. Justice, with sad face,446
Weeping, hath fled, and Mercy’s voice is dumb.447
Is this the reign of Christ—or Belial ?448
Yet still I linger here : I scarce know why.449
There is a charm that, all beyond my will,450
Allures me, holds me, will not let me go.451
’Tis not indeed like our Jerusalem ;452
Yet in its age, its sorrows and its wrongs,453
It is allied to her,—a city sad,454
That, like a mourner weeping at a tomb,455
Sits clad in sackcloth, grieving o’er the past,456
Hoping for nothing, stricken by despair.457
Sad, lonely stretches compass her about458
With silence. Wandering here, at every step459
We stumble o’er some ruin, once the home460
Of happy life ; or pensive, stay our feet461
To ponder o’er some stern decaying tomb,462
The haunt of blinking owls. Nor all in vain463
Doth kindly nature strive to heal the wounds464
Of Time and human rage : with ivy green,465
With whispering grasses, reeds, and bright-eyed flowers,466
Veiling its ruin; and with tremulous songs467
Of far larks hidden in the deep blue sky,468
Lifting the thoughts to heaven.469
Here many a day470
Alone I stray, and hold communion sad471
With dreams that wander far on boundless ways472
Of meditation vague, recalling oft473
The passages of Prophets in our Land.474
At times Isaiah seems to speak, and say475
To Rome, as once unto Jerusalem :476
Judah is fallen, ruin hath involved477
Jerusalem. What mean ye that ye beat478
My people into pieces ?  that ye grind479
The faces of the poor ?  The Lord shall take480
The bravery of thy ornaments away ;481
Thy men shall perish by the sword in war ;482
Thy mighty ones shall perish, and thy gates483
Lament and mourn; and thou, being desolate,484
Shalt sit upon the ground. Woe unto them485
That draw iniquity with the weak cords486
Of vanity, and call the evil good,—487
Their roots shall be as rottenness, like dust488
Their blossoms perish,—for they cast away :489
The Lord’s law, and despise his Holy Word.”490
And then in sorrow for this grievous fate491
In which we are plunged, I comfort me with this—492
That He, the Eternal One, hath promised us493
That we at last shall from our sorrows rest,494
And from our fear, and from our bondage dire,495
And build again our new Jerusalem.496
And yet once more. Hear Jeremiah speak :497
“How doth the city solitary sit498
That once was filled with people !  How is she499
Become a widow, that among the powers500
Was great, and princess in the provinces ?501
She weepeth sorely in the night ; her tears502
Are on her cheeks; and of her lovers none503
Will comfort her.” Ah, my Jerusalem !504
Thy sister here is Rome, and sins like thee,505
And she shall suffer also like to thee.506
As she hath suffered for her heathen pride507
And worship of false gods, and now is cast508
Headlong to earth with all her temples proud,509
So shall she suffer in the time to come510
For all her violence and worldly lust,511
And all her utter falseness to her faith.512
Is there no place upon this wretched earth513
Where God shall have His own, and peace shall reign ?514
Is there no spot the devil doth not own ?515
Shall we, poor human wretches, ever seek516
To thwart God’s law, and rear up in His stead517
Base idols, and make covenant with Death ?518
Such thoughts come over me, oppressed and sad,519
As ’mid Rome’s ruined tombs I meditate,520
Feeling how transient a thing is man,521
Whose life is but a shadow on the grass522
That comes and goes, and like a passing wind,523
Or like a voice that speaks and vanishes.524
And sitting silent under the blue sky525
That broods unchanging on the change below,526
Idly I watch the drooping ivy swing527
Through sunlit loops of arching aqueducts,528
Printing its wavering shadow on the sward.529
Or, as my eye runs down their lessening lines,530
Broken by gaps of time and war, and swing531
Along the far Campagna’s rolling stretch532
Like vertebrae of some huge skeleton,533
I ponder o’er the past of Rome,—the pomp,534
The pride, the power, the ruin,—masters, slaves,535
Conquerors and victims, even the gods themselves,536
Shattered and fallen and equal in the dust—537
And silent nature calmly moving on,538
Heedless of them, and what they were or did,539
As it will be of us, when we are gone.540
Often, again, with scarce a conscious thought,—541
My spirit wandering vaguely, who knows where ?—542
I gaze upon the cloud-shades trailing slow543
Or the deep chasms of the opaline hills,544
And drift with them through some abyss of space,545
And feel the silence sink into my soul.546
At times a rustling starts me, and I see547
Some long-haired goat, that, mounting up to crop548
A wandering spray, peers down through glass-grey ovens549
And pausing, stares at me. At times, again,550
I hear the thud of hoofs upon the grass,551
And jangling swords, and voices of command,552
As some armed troop goes galloping along.553
And then I hide me, knowing that my tribe554
Are only recognised to be the butt555
Of mocking words—or scarce more wounding blows.556
The shepherd, leaning idly on his staff,557
Alone has kindly words for such as we,—558
For nature hath subdued him into calm,559
Uutil he almost seems a part of her.560
I have seen the Pope, whom in their blasphemy561
They term God’s Holiness. A fisherman,562
Like Peter, was his father ; and his son,563
By mock humility and specious ways564
Veiling his inward self, inly devoured565
By lust of place, and luxury, and power,566
Hath mounted in the end to Peter’s chair.567
Peter was poor and simple at the least,—568
Honest though ignorant. This Sixtus here,569
Fourth of his name, his utter opposite,—570
Luxurious, worldly, fierce, and stained with crime.571
There are no limits to his low desires ;—572
None to his passions ; and he treads us down573
As if we were the offal of the earth.574
Last week he gave a banquet that, I think,575
Poor Peter would have been aghast to see :576
Tis said it cost some twenty thousand crowns,577
Shaming Vitellius with its cost and waste.578
But this is nothing to his other deeds.579
Little he thinks of carrying out the dream580
Of which I just have spoken. No ! the poor581
Starve on black bread, and fester in disease,582
While thus he lords it in’his luxury.583
Nor are the rich much better off with him :584
A short month since he pillaged an old man—585
The Prince Colonna—on some poor pretence ;—586
Robbed him of all his plate, robes, tapestries,587
Tore him with torture, then lopped off his head ;588
And clothed in wretched rags to mock his rank,589
Sent back in answer to his mother’s prayers590
For his mere life—the mutilated corpse !591
And this is God’s yicegerent on the earth—592
The head of what they call the Christian Church !593
Bad as the Christian’s lot is, ours is worse :594
We are the football and the scorn of all,—595
Laden with taxes, tributes,—forced to wear596
An ignominious badge,—banned from the town,597
And huddled in the Ghetto’s filthy den.598
No public office may we hold : our oath599
Avails not in their courts against the word600
Of any Christian ; and now, worse than this,601
In these last years one degradation more602
Is cast upon us by this Christian court,603
Whose creed is, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”604
We are but beasts that in the Carnival605
Must race half-naked, clothed but round thie loins,606
A halter on our necks, as we were dogs,—607
Insulted, hooted, jeered at by the mob.608
No one of us is free of this,—or old609
Or young, whatever be our state,—610
Elder or priest or child,—it matters not.611
High ladies, cardinals in purple robes,612
Ay, even the Pope himself, with all his court,613
Seated on high, in all their pomp and pride,614
Laugh at us, as we stumble on our course,615
Pelted with filth, and shake their holy sides,616
Encouraging the mob that mock at us.617
But what offends me more than all the rest618
Is that this usage has debased our tribe,—619
Bent its proud neck, and forced it to the earth,—620
Taught us to cringe and whimper, taught us wiles,621
And driven us at their beck to creep and crawl.622
We, who were God’s own people,—we must bow623
Before these Christians : with a smile accept624
Even their kicks, and humbly give them thanks625
For our mere life. This stings me to the quick.626
As for what Christ said, “ Love your enemies ;627
Bless them that curse you, and do good to them,”—628
This is beyond the power of any man—629
Beyond my power at least,—I curse them all !630
I stay my pen here,—for the hot blood boils631
Within my brain in thinking on these things :632
I dare not trust myself to write you more.633
My work is almost done for which I came,634
And soon I hope to greet your face again,635
Shaking the dust off from this godless place,636
With all its rottenness and infamy :637
Then for my dear Jerusalem again !638
Greet all my friends,—Rebecca, Ismael,639
And all your dear ones. Peace be with you all !640
I count the days till we once more shall meet.641