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"Theodore Cyphon"

I. Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">II. "Theodore Cyphon." Cumberland's play, The Jeiv, appeared in 1794, and two years later was published Theodore Cyphon. The author was George Walker, a bookseller of London and a prolific writer of novels. His works are a curious compound of wild melodramatic incident with comments, often shrewd enough, on social and political actualities. Theodore Cyphon well represents Walker's method. The main plot is a tiresome story, told in retrospect, of Theodore's heroism and misfortunes in several walks of life, from the Minories to Arabia. He ends on the scaffold for an offence which was, in truth, his noblest act of chivalry. In between we have a quite able discussion of the cruelty of inflicting capital punishment in cases of mere robbery. The author concludes his Preface with the fear that readers may exclaim: " Well, it was very tragical; but I am glad the hero is settled at last." That, at least, is the sentiment of a modern reader. This novel of Walker's, however, arrests attention by being set in a Jewish frame. The term frame is used advisedly, since the main narrative is independent of the setting. The full title of the book is Theodore Cyphon, or the Benevolent Jeiv. There were two editions of it. The first came out in 1796, the second in 1823. Of the second edition the British Museum possesses a complete copy; of the first edition an imperfect example?consisting of the first of the three volumes?has recently been presented to the University Library, Cambridge. The " benevolent Jew " is one Shechem Bensadi, and he is drawn with more than sympathy. Shechem lends</page><page sequence="2">xlii MISCELLANIES. money at exorbitant rates to the improvident aristocracy, and devotes his gains to the relief of deserving unfortunates. Nay, his clients are not always deserving. When robbed, Shechem refuses to prosecute; he showers favours on those who treat him despitefully. His philanthropy is extended to Jew and Gentile alike. There is one remarkable scene in the fifth chapter, in which Shechem is shown in a large storehouse, sur? rounded by scores of poor Jews to whom he supplies goods, thus enabling them to earn a livelihood. In equally striking chapters, Shechem plays the role of benefactor and friend to others than his own co-religionists. The first edition of Theodore Cyphon was obviously suggested by Cumberland's success. Curiously enough, the sub-title, The Benevolent Jeto, is used in the sheet concerning Cumberland's play printed in vol. vii. of the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society, p. 177. It is not improbable that the second edition of Theodore Cyphon was due to the popularity of Scott's Ivanhoe, which was published in December 1819. There are not a wan ting some superficial parallels between Scott's masterpiece and Walker's earlier and more moderate production. Eve, Shechem's daughter, nurses Walker's hero, just as Isaac's daughter Rebecca nurses Scott's hero. The most interesting parallel?perhaps the only real one?is presented in two scenes, one in Ivanhoe, the other in Theodore Cyphon. The first is the occasion on which Rebecca sings her famous hymn. Scott describes his poem as a " translation " of a hymn with which the evening ritual of the Synagogue concluded. It is really an original composition inspired by various scriptural texts, and in its turn may have suggested some great lines in Kipling's Recessional. Is it possible that Scott's idea of Rebecca's hymn was suggested by Walker ? For, in the second scene alluded to above, Eve, too, is overheard singing a song to "music wild, yet so soft." Walker gives, us only the last stanza of Eve's song, which runs thus (p. 46 of vol. i. of the 1796 edition): The wand'rers of Israel, through nations dispers'd, Shall again dwell in safety, again rest in peace; And the harp, that so plaintive our sorrows rehears'd, Shall thrill with new pleasures, as pleasures increase : The sweet, spicy shrubs, that wave over the hills, Untouch'd by the simoom, eternally blow, Frankincense and myrrh from their bosom distils, And love shall attend on our path as we go.</page><page sequence="3">c THEODORE CYPHON." xliii Scott, of course, had other models besides Walker. Byron's Hebrew Melodies came out both with and without Nathan's musical accompani? ment in 1815, four years before Ivanhoe was written. It is curious, by the way, to note that Rudolf Eric Raspe, the original of the character whom Scott so mercilessly caricatures as Dousterswivel in his novel The Antiquary, was not only the author of Baron Munchausen, but was also the first translator into English of Lessing's Nathan der Weise (London, 1781). Scott does not seem to have been acquainted with Lessing's play, either in the original or in translation. Scott's indebtedness to Marlowe, on the other hand, has already been pointed out by the present writer. Having drawn attention to the parallel between Walker and Scott, it will be useful to note an equally striking contrast. On pages 110-112 of Theodore Cyphon occurs the passage: His chief concern was for Eve, whom he saw, notwithstanding Theodore's supposed engagements, and the restrictions of religion, still encourage sentiments which sapped the foundation of her happiness, and which no expedient offered to remove, but by parting with its object, or suffering their marriage spite of religion and law. Though a Jew, skilled in the learning of the Talmud and Mosaic law, he was without those prejudices that attend on superstition. He saw clearly that, when those precepts were first instituted, they were designed as a prevention of communication between the Israelite and Heathen, lest by the influence and interchange of the softer sex, they might be led into the practice of idolatry. Yet now, taking up the argument in a religious way, the danger existed no longer ; both Jew and Christian agreeing in the chief article of worship, though divided about what the understanding of neither can comprehend. In a civil light, man was created for the society of man. The distinction of kingdom and people was childish, and fit only to insult the understanding. But whilst he indulged himself in these speculations, he avoided hinting to Eve that there was a possibility she should ever become the wife of Theodore, that the unattainability of the object might blunt or destroy the ardour of hope: for however he might have wished for such a character (so far as observation could judge) as his son-in-law, under the present circumstances he could not have allowed it, had even the affections of Theodore been placed upon her, which he believed was far from the case, as the observation he had made when he entered his chamber abruptly, and the words, " O Eliza," which his daughter had heard, led him to conclude some prior engagement retained him. The sequel shows that Theodore is already married to Eliza. With Walker's view, however, as to such a marriage, it is fruitful to compare</page><page sequence="4">xliv MISCELLANIES. the noble passage, on the same subject, with which Scott concludes the preface to the 1830 edition of Ivanhoe. The character of the fair Jewess found so much favour in the eyes of some fair readers, that the writer was censured, because, when arranging the fates of the characters of the drama, he had not assigned the hand of Wilfred to Rebecca, rather than to the less interesting Rowena. But, not to mention that the prejudices of the age rendered such an union almost im? possible, the author may, in passing, observe that he thinks a character of a highly virtuous and lofty stamp is degraded rather than exalted by an attempt to reward virtue with temporal prosperity. Such is not the recompense which Providence has deemed worthy of suffering merit, and it is a dangerous and fatal doctrine to teach young persons, the most common readers of romance, that rectitude of conduct and of principle are either naturally allied with, or adequately rewarded by, the gratification of our passions, or attainment of our wishes. In a word, if a virtuous and self-denied character is dismissed with temporal wealth, greatness, rank, or the indulgence of such a rashly-formed or ill-assorted passion as that of Rebecca for Ivanhoe, the reader will be apt to say, Verily, virtue has had its reward. But a glance on the great picture of life will show, that the duties of self-denial, or the sacrifice of passion to principle, are seldom thus remunerated ; and that the internal consciousness of their high-minded dis? charge of duty produces on their own reflections a more adequate recom? pense, in the form of that peace which the world cannot give or take away. From the artistic point of view, Walker's novel has little merit. But it deserves to be better known from the historical point of view. It was another expression of the new attitude towards the Jew, which began to distinguish English letters in the latter part of the eighteenth century. The mention of Ivanhoe induces me to call attention to a misprint which has survived in all editions since the first. In Chapter X. of the novel Sabaoths is printed for Sabbaths. I. Abrahams. April 1915.</page></plain_text>