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Grace Aguilar

Mrs. Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Grace Aguilar : A Centenary Tribute1 By Mrs. Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams It is indeed fitting that the centenary of Grace Aguilar's death should at the same time commemorate Lady Magnus. The lives of these two Anglo-Jewish writers overlap, Lady Magnus being but a child of three when Grace Aguilar died. If one regards their periods of activity historically, it is possible to see their work almost as a continuity both in time and tendency. Taken as a whole, the work of Grace Aguilar, Lady Magnus, and others of the last century certainly had a bearing on the period following political emancipation, if only because of the great non-Jewish reading public which voraciously devoured their writings, particularly so in the case of Grace Aguilar. But this is a subject which might with advantage be left to a separate paper. Grace Aguilar's achievement is marked principally by the phenomenal popu? larity of her productions, the immense circulation and the amazing volume of literary labour she achieved in a span of life extending to no more than thirty-one years. Since 1835, when her first work appeared?a slender book of verse entitled the " Magic Wreath ", published anonymously?many hundreds of English writers wrote, published, and passed into oblivion. Certainly a fair number of these were more gifted than Grace Aguilar, and had considerable followings in their day. But only the truly great and the monumental writers have escaped evanescence. One cannot call to mind an average writer of the early Victorian period whose popularity has outlived his own day in the same measure as the work of the subject of this paper. Within the twelve years that cover her period of publication during life, there appeared from her pen five published works, while seven found publication after her death ; apart from a multitude of articles, studies, and poems scattered throughout British and American journals. This great accumulation of literary production gained for Grace Aguilar within a brief period an immense reading public. Some of her books went into edition after edition. Nor, as has been observed, did this popu? larity wane. It was sustained long after her death, and even in our own day publishers have found it worth while reproducing some of the works of Grace Aguilar, assured as they seem to be of a ready market. Of outstanding interest is the fact that although Grace Aguilar's work is per? meated with the spirit of Judaism, and very frequently treats of Jewish history and Jewish subjects, her public was in the main non-Jewish. British and American Jewry did indeed welcome and acclaim her, but it will be obvious that to her popularity, strong and widely spread as it was, the comparatively small Jewish community in Britain and the still smaller American Jewry could contribute only in small measure. Grace Aguilar was a child of the formative period of British Jewry. She sprang from a Sephardi family that still retained the oral traditions of Spain and Portugal, the expulsion, the Inquisition, and even the still living Marranoism of the Iberian Peninsula. She was born on 2nd June, 1816, in Hackney. The epoch of the early Sephardi grandees had already passed, and with it was swiftly passing the Sephardi isolation. There was coming into being what one might term a Sephardi proletariat that more easily touched and joined with the poor Ashkenazi immigrants. 1 Sixth Lady Magnus Memorial Lecture, delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on the 12 th July, 1947. 137 o</page><page sequence="2">i38 GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE Grace's father, Emanuel Aguilar, traced his origin to Spain, the family name originating from the small town of Aguilar in the neighbourhood of Cordova. His was a family of merchants, although Emanuel appears to have been more of a scholar than a merchant by inclination. The family of her mother, Sarah, had come from Portugal. They bore the name of Dias Fernandez, and came to England via Jamaica. Sarah Aguilar's grandfather?Grace's great-grandfather?Benjamin Dias Fernandez ?occupied himself with religious polemic. Isaac Leeser, of Philadelphia?best known for his translation of the Bible into English?thought so highly of Dias Fernandez's work, that he published it in his journal The Occident which appeared in Philadelphia in 1843. He later reprinted it in book form under the title of " Dias' Letters ". These literary tendencies in her forbears were shaped and given direction by a strictly Jewish upbringing in a household pervaded by the practice and customs of Judaism. Her father was closely identified with the Sephardi congregation. The Jewish Chronicle of January, 1845, contains a notice of his death, describing him as " the presiding Parnass of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation ". The Aguilar household was a cultured and quiet oasis in Hackney, a part of London that had by then been transformed into an urban jostling and noisy neigh? bourhood, from what had only a short time before been virtual countryside. Grace was the eldest of a family of three children. There were two younger brothers Emanuel and Henry. The father does not appear ever to have been robust, for in 1828 the family went to live in Devonshire because of his ill health. This change of scene had the most marked influence on Grace, bringing her into intimate association with scenes and people that left an indelible impress on her thought and work. She was then twelve. Despite her youth, she had already amassed a wealth of knowledge both from her own voracious reading, the constant instruction she received from her mother, a woman of education, and the encouragement she received from her father in her choice of books and subjects. From the age of seven she kept a diary which has unfortunately been lost, except for one thin volume which covers only a few weeks of her twenty-eighth year. She was extremely industrious, and we are told that even when she was sewing or sketching her father would read to her. Her mother in a memoir mentions that the first book read out to her was Josephus. The removal from Hackney to Devon opened a new world to Grace. The expanse of sea, moor, occasional visits to the architectural beauties of the country towns enriched her perceptions and gave to her writing a breadth which found expression in her descriptions of nature, notably in the little book of verse, The Magic Wreath, already mentioned. Above all, it brought her into touch with people, a way of living, and an outlook far different from her early home environment. Deeply religious by nature, she was drawn to compare the teachings and spiritual content of her own faith with that of her neighbours. As a very young child she had been brought up to think of Judaism as a faith triumphant over persecution and to contrast it with that brand of Christianity which was identified in her mind with the Inquisition and the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. Thrown into contact with gentle Christian society, a Protestantism that bore no blame for the sufferings of her ancestors, she was able to approach Christianity without the older, innate, repulsion. She found a tolerance, an absence of prejudice which in her own mind seemed to break down a wall between herself as a Jewess and her companions as Christians. In The Jewish Faith, a work published some fifteen years after this period, she describes what may be regarded as her own</page><page sequence="3">GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE 139 spiritual experiences and reactions. The Jewish Faith, published at the end of 1846, is a series of letters addressed to a young Jewish girl exposed to a Christian environ? ment. They aim at fortifying her mind against the temptations of an alien faith, explaining the spiritual superiority of Judaism. In one of the letters Grace Aguilar, over the signature of Inez Villena, writes to her imagined correspondent of her own associations with Christians in a manner that entitles us to regard it as autobio? graphical. She warns her young friend against temptation and says " Our very position as aliens in a land whose religion is not ours?and yours especially?in a small county town almost entirely surrounded by Christians . . . must increase the mental difficulties you are now enduring. . . . Like my own early youth, circumstances have thrown you almost entirely amongst Protestants ; and from your peculiar disposition, longing unconsciously for jhe high and pure, you have always made those your intimate friends who are serious thinkers, and have infused even the mere pleasures and amusements of their age with the spirit, which though not of earth itself, makes all of earth so lovely." The same series of letters gives us an insight into the impelling motive that led Grace Aguilar to devote so much of her time and energies to writing books and articles of religious instruction. This, too, probably had its rise in what she saw of the Christian periodical literature, the Sunday-at-Home books, the Church pamph? lets for young men and women. The younger woman to whom her letters were addressed in The Jewish Faith is made to comment on the lack of books in English for instruction of Jews. And in one of " Inez Villena's " letters we find her reply : " I agree in the many and far superior advantages of the Christians over us. Religious books adapted for our youth and sympathizing in our feelings, we have not indeed. With the sole exception of one synagogue in London, our houses of worship cannot be to our youth as the Christians are to theirs." Grace Aguilar5 s stay in Devonshire was marked by unceasing literary activity. She moved about a great deal, particularly attracted to churches, where she would make notes of the sermons, or conversations and discussions with Christian friends. She was ever alert to arguments that might be used for or against her own faith, possibly already planning to supply the deficiency of which, as we have seen, she was conscious. This contact with Christian worship was recalled years later by a friend who wrote to her mother. This note together with others of the kind, was copied by Mrs. Aguilar. The friend, whose name is not given, had met Grace in Brighton, and says, " Her love for many Christian friends, and her desire to search after truth in every garb, induced her to attend Trinity Chapel frequently on a Wednesday when there was a lecture on the Old Testament, and she joined in prayers and praise there with the congregation, altering those parts of the prayer-book where she could not join to her own belief." Grace, herself, records this in the form of a confession in her note of one of these Christian lectures, afterwards published in Sabbath Thoughts. I quote the whole passage : " There is nothing, in my opinion, that enlarges an unprejudiced mind more than joining with those of another faith in their religious ceremonies. ... I thank God He has in His mercy permitted me to be so firmly convinced of the truth and holiness of my own belief, that it is a pleasure to me to join with Christians in their religious forms. I am so firmly convinced that the Christian religion is that Kingdom of iron prophesied by Daniel . . . that all feelings towards Christians, save those of charity, and in my case admiration, have left my breast. . . . When the o*</page><page sequence="4">140 GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE Kingdom of Iron has extended over the whole world, then will our Messiah, the Saviour of the Jews appear, to cleanse the Christian nation from their impurities, to remove the veil from their eyes, and to receive the Jews once more as the Chosen of God. ... I know that God sees the hearts of all men, and He knows in what belief, what form my prayers ascend to Him, though to Christians I may appear as one of them. . . . Besides, it is no credit to be firm and steadfast in your own belief if you are ignorant of that of others. ..." Nor should one think of Grace as eccentrically studious, to the exclusion of the social graces or recreation. Caroline Bowles, later the second Mrs. Robert Southey, a well known and popular writer of the period, met Grace in Teignmouth, Devon, and from her we get a delightful picture. " It was about the beginning of the year 1833 that I had the happiness of being introduced to Grace Aguilar. At a ball given by a mutual friend at Teignmouth, I was much struck by the appearance of a young girl, apparently in the first flush of girlhood (then in her seventeenth year) enjoying the dance with great zest. She was tall and graceful, her eye of rich blue beaming with intelligence, shaded by long dark silken eyelashes sweeping the cheek when lowered for a moment, her hair of a brown cast . . . hanging in clustering ringlets around her fair throat reminding one forcibly of the picture of Sir Walter Scott's Flora Mclvor, and amongst ourselves that name was often used familiarly. ..." Mrs. Aguilar, too, in the memoir of her daughter published in the 1852 edition of Home Influence, remarks not only on Grace's fondness for dancing, but on her pleasant singing voice and on her love of music, evinced from her earliest years. Indeed, it was only after her mother expressed disapproval, that she gave up dancing?and nothing would afterwards induce her to indulge in this form of recreation. Grace Aguilar wrote a great deal of verse and many romances of a general character, most of which were published after her death. It was not till 1838, when she was 22, that a book of specifically Jewish character appeared. This was her trans? lation of Don Isaac Orobio de Castro's Israel Defended. De Castro, or Orobio, to give him the name by which he is popularly known, was a Portuguese Marrano who had suffered under the Inquisition, and had left a controversial work in Spanish, in defence of the Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures. It was from a French translation that Grace Aguilar's English was rendered, the title of which reads " Israel Defended, or the Jewish Exposition of the Hebrew Prophecies applied by Christians to their Messiah, by Isaac Orobio. Translated from the French and Printed Expressly for the use of young persons of the Jewish Faith. (Not Published) ". After her death it was disclosed by Moses Mocatta, the generous patron of Jewish learning, himself the translator of " Chizzuk Emunah or Faith Strengthened ", that he had commissioned this translation from Orobio. Clearly it is described as printed and not published in order not to give offence to Christian readers who might misinterpret it as an attempt to judaize. In actual fact, Grace Aguilar was at pains in her translation to soften the aggressiveness and forthrightness of Orobio. In her preface she writes : " The different position which the Children of Israel now occupy in the Christian world, the enlightened and liberal spirit with which they are regarded in this free and blessed island more particularly ; the wide difference between the kindly charity of Protestants, and the bigoted cruelty of Catholicism ; all these have urged the translator to adopt a much milder tone of language towards the followers of Christ than that which pervades the original." The preface of Israel</page><page sequence="5">GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE Defended is addressed from Brighton where she resided at that time with her parents and two brothers. Grace Aguilar's later Jewish works seem to have been written for the most part in London whither the Aguilars returned, again taking up residence in Hackney. Nevertheless, we know it was during her stay in Brighton that she did a great deal of work which found its way into books and articles which were published later. It was characteristic of Grace that the education of her two young brothers led her to produce for them literary material which might also serve a larger Jewish public. In a manuscript book of posthumous tributes from friends, copied by her mother, there is preserved a delightful picture of this side of Grace Aguilar. " She received me quite unaffectedly . . . and soon her little brothers ran up to her, then her whole soul was thrown into her nation's beautiful liquid eyes, and they were very beautiful. . . . Her mother at that time was a great invalid, so that the amusement of her brothers, who were much younger than herself, was one of her occupations, and no one could amuse them like Grace, they justly said ; though she was passion? ately fond of reading and as she expressed it, devoured books, yet in the midst of the most intensely interesting page she would cut a pencil, cast up a sum, wind a ball, or do anything they wanted, as if her whole pleasure was in it. She was most anxious for her younger brother's religious improvement and as the books written for their nation were few, she spent an hour each morning in writing a little essay for them on the Commandments. This was the foundation of the Spirit of Judaism" Grace Aguilar's bent towards teaching and directing the young found expression not only in her writing, but in conducting a boarding-school, together with her mother. The latter as we have seen was an invalid so that we may assume that the main burden of the establishment fell on Grace. An advertisement in the Voice of Jacob in March, 1842, reads : " Mrs. and Miss Aguilar's Preparatory Establishment for Young Gentlemen, from four to ten years of age, No. 5 Triangle, Hackney, with liberal board, and instruction in Religion, the English and Hebrew Languages, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography and History." The same year, 1842, saw the publication in America of The Spirit of Judaism. The book was, however, written much earlier, parts of it, as we have seen, dating back to the Brighton days. An advertisement in The Voice of Jacob, of ist April, 1842, inviting purchasers of the book, records it as originally written in 1837, when Grace was barely 21 years of age. Isaac Leeser, who edited The Spirit of Judaism relates in the preface, " My first published sermons having attracted the kind attention of Miss A., she requested me to undertake the editorial supervision of her MS. work on the 4 Spirit' of our religion. . . . Somewhat more than two years ago, Miss A., having finished her work sent it out to America through a private channel, but for some cause unknown it never reached me. She had accordingly to undertake the laborious task of re-writing it from her original sketches. ..." It was The Spirit of Judaism that firmly established Grace Aguilar's reputation among Jews and non-Jews. It was the first serious and original work from her pen and one of the earliest Anglo-Jewish works of the kind. The Spirit of Judaism more than any other of her works provides an insight into Grace Aguilar's religious views and shows how the influences of her earlier years and her non-Jewish associates were working themselves out in her writing. The book assumed an unusual form in that Isaac Leeser?the editor?parallel with the author and like a voice from the wings, occasionally commends but rather more frequently</page><page sequence="6">142 GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE disagrees with her conclusions and sometimes with her facts, gently chiding and firmly correcting. The two voices in this book, Aguilar's and Leeser's, make it all the easier for us to observe Grace Aguilar's straining at the leash of traditional or Rabbinical Judaism with Leeser pulling her back time and again. The Spirit of Judaism enables one to understand what we to-day might call the Sunday-school character of a great deal of Grace Aguilar's writings. The concentra? tion on spirituality and religious submissiveness does not in her case go together with profound knowledge of Rabbinical Judaism, or Jewish lore. It requires no special effort of analysis to perceive that a great deal of her Jewish knowledge was derived largely from the Christian studies of Jewish learning, rarely the original sources, and certainly never from a direct study of the Talmud or the Codes. Indeed, one finds her on occasion even employing terms taken direct from the Christian critics of Judaism, even to the extent of using the term Pharisee in the uncomplimentary New Testament sense. One also has the feeling that her frequent decrying of tradi? tional usages represents a form of Jewish Protestantism drawn from her early close association with non-Jewish acquaintances. One may quote as characteristic a passage in The Spirit of Judaism in which Grace Aguilar pleads for high regard for the prayer and charity of those who are not of our faith ; and then immediately turns upon the Jew, declaring " And yet, does the presumptuous and haughty Hebrew, imitating the Pharisee of old, dare to say their prayers are less acceptable than his ? " But this was too much for Leeser, who instantly follows her up with this footnote : " I fear that my friend has adopted without sufficient care the opinions which our opponents entertain of these people (the Pharisees). They may have been over-strict in their observances ; but honest they were, and I do not think that they ever inculcated illiberality towards others; on the contrary they taught that the Lord does not withhold the reward due to any creature be it who he may." And so on throughout the book, larger or smaller lapses and larger or smaller corrections. As when Grace builds up a theory concerning the impulse that drove Moses to leadership of Israel, and depicts him, not as she says like a Napoleon or a Cromwell, " who felt the incipient stirrings of ambition, who beheld himself in fancy already a lawgiver and a leader "?proceeding to describe Moses' slaying of the Egyptian as " simply the impulse of an excited youth". And here she is of course pulled up by Leeser with the dry remark that " It must not be forgotten that Moses was already eighty years old ". Her Jewish Protestantism, if one might call it so, led her sometimes to oppose the Bible to the traditions of the Rabbis and minimize the role of the Rabbis in the development and spirituality of Judaism. But it would give a one-sided picture of Grace Aguilar if the impression were left that she had been carried away by her Christian associates to an extremism that would make her appear to be moving away from Judaism, rather than seeking every possible means of approaching it and clinging closer. Thus, while on the ground of a great deal of her book The Spirit of Judaism, modern reformers might be tempted to claim her as a forerunner, it is of supreme importance to stress that she accepted, fully and unhesitatingly, some of the main tenets of Jewish tradition?that is the indissoluble connection of Israel with the land of Israel : the eternity of the Jewish nation : the inevitable return : and the Hebrew language as one of the bonds binding Jew to Jew. Hebrew she calls the " silver link ". One paragraph must be quoted in full, as showing her passionate love of the Hebrew language and her appreciation of its value for the life of the Jewish nation, as she time and again describes her</page><page sequence="7">GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE H3 people. " May we be permitted to hint on the importance of making the Hebrew language familiar to every Hebrew child. It cannot be considered a dead lan? guage, for the nation to which it originally belonged continues to exist, and will exist for ever. It is not indeed spoken as it would have been, had we remained in our own land ; yet it might still continue the link uniting the sons of Israel wherever they may be. The dwellers in England, France, Austria, Spain, might be enabled to converse or commune with each other in their own native tongue, though of the language of their respective homes, each might be ignorant." Her patriotic devotion to Hebrew extended so far that she would not admit that a non-Jew was the equal of a Jew in knowledge of Hebrew ; she says, " when an Israelite is thoroughly acquainted with Hebrew, he understands it much more fully and perfectly than an English divine." The same sentiment leads her to plead for an English-Jewish Bible that would at least omit the misleading chapter headings that saw the Church prototype in everything?from the belly of Jonah's whale to Aaron's rod that budded. It is not without interest that this repeated insistence on the need for an English Jewish Bible was followed by Isaac Leeser's Hebrew and English Pentateuch in 1845, by Dr. Abraham Benisch's translation of the Old Testament, published with the Hebrew text in England in 1851, and by Leeser's complete translation of the Bible in l853* In the Anglo-Jewish community The Spirit of Judaism met a mixed reception, notably a sense of relief that Isaac Leeser had assumed the thankless task of curbing the enthusiasm of the author. Nevertheless there was admiration for the young girl whose love of her people and faith shone through every page of the work. The Voice of Jacob, the forerunner of The Jewish Chronicle, in a lengthy review said. " We sincerely hope that the strictures of the editor will be construed as courteous as they are candid. ..." The reviewer kindly, so he believes, goes on to explain, that after all one could not expect too much accuracy from a young lady. " A lady," he says, " and that, too, a young lady, whatever the advantages of quick perception conceded to her sex, is by the iron rule of custom limited to fewer opportunities of acquiring that information and experience which might restrict a too apt disposition to generalize from few facts." In plain English that would mean, angels rush in where scholars tread gingerly. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the same review that Grace Aguilar had already earned high regard for her achievement. " Miss Aguilar," continues the reviewer, " is a poetess of no mean grade ; her contributions to various publica? tions had always been spoken of with respect." Then, patronisingly, with a further reflection on her erudition, he adds, " wherever she quits the province of schoolmen, and pours forth her own pious sentiments, of the heart's duties, and the soul's destiny, she is fervid, eloquent, and truthful." Her position as a serious writer established, Grace's work now found a ready market in such journals of the period as The Keepsake and La Belle Assemblee. Quan? tities of verse, some written a long time earlier, are now to be met with in both the general and Jewish press. One sees also Grace's own new assessment of her new position, such as her irritation when The Voice of Jacob failed to publish a contribution from her pen as soon as it was received. It was promptly dispatched and published in the Christian Ladies' Magazine. The same effusion was sent to Leeser's Occident in Philadelphia and found ready publication. About this time Grace published the Records of Israel, a book of two stories dealing with Jewish life in Spain. This produced a mild conflict with Leeser who reproduced a review of the book, somewhat critical,</page><page sequence="8">144 GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE from The Voice of Jacob. Poor Leeser found himself belaboured by a long letter from Grace which he published together with an adroit apology in The Occident of October, 1844. In June of the same year an advertisement in The Voice of Jacob announced the publication in sixteen or eighteen parts of The Women of Israel at one shilling per part. This work, an account of the women of the Bible and Talmud, achieved lasting popularity. It seems to have been written under stress, as a later notice disclosed that the authoress had to postpone the work at one period owing to a severe domestic affliction, obviously her father's death. The book went into a number of editions. It was much in demand for Jewish and Sunday school prizes and was published and re-published many years after her death. In 1846 appeared The Jewish Faith, a series of letters over the signature of Inez Villena, addressed to an imaginary friend, to which reference has already been made in this paper. In the following year she brought out Home Influence. This is a popular tale without any Jewish character or atmosphere. Indeed, the introduction by Grace Aguilar makes a point of this omission as recommending it to Christian readers. She says, "... having been brought before the public principally as the author of Jewish works, and as an explainer of the Hebrew faith, some Christian mothers might fear that the present work has the same tendency, and hesitate to place it in the hands of their children. She, therefore, begs to assure them, that as a simple domestic story, the characters in which are all Christians, believing in and practising that religion, all doctrinal points have been most carefully avoided, the author seeking only to illustrate the spirit of true piety, and the virtues always designated as the Christian virtues thence proceeding." This appears like a sudden and inexplicable departure from the Jewish field which Grace had now made peculiarly her own. The explanation is found in the fact that it was written as far back as 1836. Its publication at so late a date may have been due to the financial stringency following her father's death. The book became perhaps her most popular work. By 1869 it had reached twenty-four editions, and was to be found in tens of thousands of Christian homes in England. Until the outbreak of the recent war it had not exhausted its popularity, and was still a safe choice for Sunday school prizes. Grace Aguilar's life was now fast reaching the end of its short span. Always delicate, she now showed signs of strain, and symptoms of more than ordinary ill health. But there was no slowing down in her labours and no rest from her re? markable industry. Only just past her thirtieth year she had reason to look forward to a long period of creative activity. Publishers gave her books an eager welcome. Colburn, one of the most successful publishers of the period, hit on the idea of a history of Jewish persecution in England which he urged Grace Aguilar to write. We are indebted to Mrs. Newton Crosland for the knowledge not only of this proposal, but of the manner in which it was declined by Grace. In her Landmarks of a Literary Life, Mrs. Crosland, who was a popular writer under her maiden name of Camilla Toul min, says " She told me that Colburn . . . had proposed to her to write a history of the persecution of the Jews in England, naming a very liberal sum as requital. "How well you will do it," I exclaimed. ' I have declined,' she repiled, ' We are so well treated in England now, that it would be most ungrateful to revive the memory of those half-forgotten wrongs.' Be it remembered that Grace Aguilar was by no means in easy circumstances. . . I think it was a little later that a circumstance occurred which slightly increased the income of Mrs. Aguilar and her daughter. Upon this Grace wrote to the editor of a magazine to which she contributed . . . volunteering</page><page sequence="9">GRACE AGUILAR I A CENTENARY TRIBUTE 145 to accept half the sum which she had been accustomed to receive for her articles, so that there might be the little surplus for those who wanted it more than she did." To this period belongs the description of Grace Aguilar by Mrs. S. G. Hall, showing how she impressed a not unobservant friend. Mrs. Hall, in a long, apprecia? tive article published in The Art Journal, as late as 1851, observes : "At our first introduction we were struck as much by the earnestness and eloquence of her con? versation as by her delicate and lovely countenance. Her person and address were exceedingly prepossessing ; her eyes of deep blue that look black in particular lights ; and her hair dark and abundant. There was no attempt at display ; no affectation of learning ; no desire to intrude ' me and my books 5 on anyone or in any way. . . . You felt at once that she was a carefully educated gentlewoman, and if there was more warmth and cordiality of manner than a stranger generally evinces on a first introduction, we remembered her descent." Though she declined Golburn's proposition, Grace did publish a brief and capable history of the Jews in England in Chambers' Miscellany of 1847. Of added interest to us of the Society is the fact that this is the first history of the Jews in England by an Anglo-Jewish writer. It is Grace Aguilar's most finished work and is written temperately and with an eye to its effect on the non-Jewish reader. Short though this study of Anglo-Jewish history?a bare 32 pages?Grace Aguilar handles her material in a workmanlike manner. It is especially interesting to observe that she refrains from over-adulation of the Sephardi branch of the community, and gives due prominence to the sufferings and achievements of the Ashkenazi branch not only in England, but also in Europe. For many non-Jewish readers in England, this study which appeared anonymously in the Miscellany, must have provided the first unprejudiced account of Jewish history, appearing in an English publication with a very wide circulation. The history is of special note as giving the con? temporary view of English Jews before the days of political emancipation. Grace states, "Jews are still considered aliens and foreigners by the multitudes. Yet they are, in fact," she declares, "Jews only in their religion?Englishmen in everything else. . . . The disabilities under which the Jews of Great Britain labour are the last relic of religious intolerance. That which they chiefly complain of is being subjected to take an oath contrary to their religious feelings when appointed to certain offices." The history concludes with a powerful plea for tolerance and with an appeal to readers to take into full account the causes of the faults which might be attributed to Jews : " Such is the history of a people who, though so many years denizens and subjects of this free and happy land, are yet regarded as aliens and strangers ; and still, unhappily, but too often as objects of rooted prejudice and dislike. Such as they are, may be traced in a great measure at least, to the degrading influences of long continued persecution. ..." And ends with the hope that " Now the British Empire has given the exiles of Judea a home of peace and freedom . . . and they feel towards her an affection and reverence as strong and undying as any of her native sons . . . that the prejudice against Jews will ultimately disappear. ..." Within a few months Grace Aguilar was to breathe her last, plucked out of life in the fulness of her powers, when she was maturing, putting on strength in her work, and achieving selectivity. Above all, she was beginning to feel an inner content at the effect of her writings, and especially that it was the " Spirit of Judaism " that had raised her in the estimation of her friends, Jewish and non-Jewish. Fortunately there is still extant in manuscript part of her diary covering short periods : 8th to</page><page sequence="10">146 GRACE AGUILAR I A CENTENARY TRIBUTE 10th October, 1843 I 2n&lt;^ to I5tn October, 1844. To the diary Grace confided her inmost thoughts and sentiments. Only a few excerpts can be given in the time afforded by this paper. She pays a visit to a non-Jewish friend, Lucy, at Maidstone, whom she had not seen for many years, and is somewhat apprehensive of the meeting. Would her friend fall easily into the old intimacy, seeing that time had wrought such changes in her own self. " My lot "?she confides to the diary?" had been chilled and clouded with continued and petty anxieties and cares, yearning for but never finding human sympathy and sometimes crushing the very heart to earth when most it longed to soar to heaven. I know my own character had not changed except that it was older, less the girl." But her fears were unfounded. She was happy to find that her friend still loved her. Above all, she says, " the thought impressed in my Spirit of Judaism . . . had found as full, as deep, as dear an answer in her heart and mind as would satisfy both the author and the friend." Later under the same date, she writes that a visitor " already knew and was attracted towards me as the author of the Spirit of Judaism. . . . To be known and loved through my writings has been the yearning and the prayer of my secret heart from the earliest period." The fragments of Grace Aguilar's diary are of importance for a fuller understanding of her character and her literary impulses, and it is to be regretted that it is not possible to deal with the diary at greater length. The high regard in which Grace Aguilar was held caused great sorrow when her illness and progressive frailty became known. When too feeble to stand or walk without support, a contemporary account relates, " We saw her, propped by pillows, pen in hand, with eye as bright and manner almost as cheerful, as we had ever known them." The cause of her illness could not be diagnosed and it was suggested that a change of air, a visit to a German spa?this affording her an opportunity to see her brother, Emanuel, who was studying music in Frankfurt, might improve her condition. Her Jewish friends were deeply moved by her suffering and only two days before Grace's departure from England, a number of young Jewish women waited on her at her home in Clarence Place, Clapton Square, with an address and a presentation as a token of their love and reverence. " Until you arose," runs part of the address, " it has in modern times never been the case that a woman in Israel should stand forth as the public advocate of the faith of Israel. ..." Thus Grace Aguilar left England accompanied by her mother and a Miss Samuda, on 16th June, 1847. Her last days have been movingly described by Mrs. S. C. Hall in The Art Journal, series Pilgrimages to English Shrines, 1851. Mrs. Hall writes, " She persevered in the use of the baths and mineral waters, but they afforded no relief; she was seized one night with violent spasms, and the next day was removed to Frankfort. Convinced that recovery was now impossible, she calmly and collectedly awaited the summons of death ; and though all power of speech was gone, she was able to make her wants and wishes known by conversing on her fingers. Her great anxiety was to soothe her mother. . . . The last time her fingers moved, it was to spell upon them feebly, ' Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him ' ; when they could no longer perform her will, her loving eyes would seek her mother, and then look upwards, intimating that they should meet hereafter." Grace Aguilar died on 16th September, 1847, and was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt-on-Main, her headstone bearing on it a butterfly and five stars, and inscribed with a verse from the chapter of the virtuous woman in Proverbs : " Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates."</page><page sequence="11">GRACE AGUILAR : A CENTENARY TRIBUTE 147 Her loss was deeply lamented on the Continent, in America, and in England. The universal tributes paid to her showed how wide her fame had spread. Notices appeared in the general press, and in the literary and art journals of many countries. But the passing of Grace Aguilar did not end the stream of literary production. As though speaking out of the grave, there appeared after her death six books, apart from fugitive pieces. Her mother, Sarah Aguilar, devoted the whole of the rest of her life to the memory of her daughter, publishing her literary remains, collecting and editing those which had appeared in the popular journals, selecting even the most juvenile of her productions, and seeing them through the press. In 1849 Grace's mother republished Home Influence, prefaced by a memoir of her daughter providing useful biographical material. In 1850 there appeared the Vale of Cedars, a story of the Spanish Inquisition which had an immediate success. It achieved wide circula? tion not only in England, but also in many countries abroad and was translated also into Hebrew. The Vale of Cedars belongs to Grace Aguilar's early, Devonshire period. In the same year there appeared Women's Friendship, a general romance ; in 1851 Mother's Recompense, a sequel to Home Influence ; in 1852 there were published The Days of Bruce, a Scottish historical romance, and Home Scenes or Heart Studies, a collec? tion of short stories, mainly Jewish, which had previously appeared. Sabbath Thoughts, published in 1853, comprises early reflections on the psalms and religious matters. Practically all these books went into many editions within a few years. It is noteworthy that people in Hackney where Grace Aguilar was born and lived maintained a sense of pride at her association with the neighbourhood and continued to point out for some time the place where she lived. In B. Clarke's book, Glimpses of Ancient Hackney, a reprint of a series of articles which appeared in the Hackney Mercury from 23rd April, 1892, to 25th November, 1893,1 found the following curious passage : " In Clapton Square, I imagine, once lived that talented Jewess and authoress Grace Aguilar, for I distinctly remember seeing that address at the foot of the preface of one of her charming tales. I am informed, however, by a kind lady friend, Miss Voss, that Grace lived at a house nearly opposite Well Street, also that a large family of Aguilars first resided at the corner of Clapton-passage, which was latterly a school . . . and with these relatives Grace often stayed. They were Spanish Jews and very talented. Sarah, one of the family, wrote Home Influence. Grace Aguilar's tales were, sixty years ago, as popular as Mrs. Woods are now." Clarke's ascription of Home Influence to Sarah Aguilar is obviously a mistake for whatever might have been suggested about the books that appeared later, there is no doubt about Home Influence which was published during Grace Aguilar's life. The hundred years that have passed since the death of Grace Aguilar represent a sufficient lapse of time for us to appraise her objectively, though not without the tenderness that followed her during life and which is, indeed, inseparable from everything that was Grace Aguilar. To say that she was by no means a major writer is not to decry her contribution to the development of Anglo-Jewish life. Gifted with great facility in the art of expressing herself, she was yet without that equipment and solid learning which could have measured up to her indomitable spirit, her pheno? menal industry, and her unquestioning loyalty to her people. For although she hoped for the day when Sephardi and Ashkenazi would mingle in the same social plane and bring their contributions as of old to the Jewish Temple, she nevertheless cherished a pride of ancestry ; though not of princely riches, but of ancestors who went unbowed to the stake and whose last words were the Shema Tisroel, that adorns</page><page sequence="12">GRACE AGUILAR *. A CENTENARY TRIBUTE the title-page of her Spirit of Judaism. It was no accident of thought or the vagary of the dazed and expiring brain which brought to her lips the last words on her death bed " though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him For Grace Aguilar the Inquisition was not only of the past. She saw Israel in constant contest with unending trials, and herself a daughter of her people. But beyond all she saw Israel triumphant, ingathered, and redeemed. Whatever treasures we of English Jewry may cherish as our own, few are preserved in our hearts with such tenderness and reverence as the name and memory of Grace Aguilar. Note.?Grace Aguilar's father, Emanuel Aguilar, was born on 5th June, 1787, died on 18th January, 1845, and was buried in the Sephardi Cemetery in Mile End, London. Despite his ill health he filled at times the highest offices in the London Sephardi Community. Her mother, Sarah, was the third daughter of Jacob Dias Fernandes, at the time of their marriage, of Russell Square, London. She was born on 7th June, 1809, and died in Great Prescott Street on 29th April, 1854. Emanuel's parents were first cousins, Joseph (1765-1822) and Grace (1764-1823), daughter of Abraham Aguilar. The names Grace and Emanuel recur frequently in the family. Of Emanuel and Henry, the sons of Emanuel and Sarah, the former, who was born in 1824 and died in 1904, as a young man went to Frankfurt-on-Main to study music and, in 1848, married there Sarah, eldest daughter of Elias Lindo. This Elias Lindo was the eldest son of David Abarbanel Lindo, a pillar of the rigidly orthodox section of the London Sephardi community. Elias had sometime after his marriage settled in Frankfurt, apparently for financial reasons. The younger Emanuel, also known as Emanuel Abraham Aguilar, collaborated with David Aaron de Sola, the Hazan of the London Sephardi community, in the produc? tion of a volume of the traditional melodies of their Community. This work, which has been re-edited, is still in use. Emanuel and his wife afterwards returned to London where they settled. There he gained distinction as a minor musical composer but still more as a teacher of music. According to an obituary in The Times he was " a highly successful teacher of the pianoforte on principles more scientific and artistic than those of the average music master ". Many years before his death, however, Emanuel and his wife had left the Jewish community and brought up their children as Christians. They had three sons and one daughter. Of the sons Harold Felix, after he had grown to manhood, sought admission to the Jewish community and was accepted as a member of the London Sephardi Congregation in 1898. He married in the following year, his first cousin, Flora Valery, daughter of Solomon Lindo. Grace's other brother, Henry, entered the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of captain. He married Elizabeth Augusta, daughter of Michael Henry, also a kinsman. Henry Aguilar also left the Jewish community and died in 1902 at the age of 74. Two old maiden ladies, who for long kept a school in London and are still remembered by some of their pupils, Rebecca and Lydia Aguilar, were daughters of David Aguilar, a brother of Grace's father. A. M. H. LIST OF GRACE AGUILAR'S WORKS 1. The Magic Wreath, a collection of poems, 1835. 2. Israel Defended, by Orobio de Castro, translated from the French. London, 1838. 3. The Spirit of Judaism, edited by Isaac Leeser. Philadelphia, 5602 (1842). 4. Records of Israel (2 Tales). London, J. Mortimer, 1844. 5. Women of Israel. London, 1845. 6. The Jewish Faith, Its Spiritual Consolation, Moral Guidance, and Immortal Hope. London, 1846 7. History of the Jews in England. Chambers Miscellany, 1847. 8. Home Influence : a Tale for Mothers and Daughters, 2 vols. London, R. Groombridge and Sons, 1847. 9. The Vale of Cedars ; or the Martyr. London, Groombridge, 1850. 10. The Mother's Recompense : a Sequel to Home Influence. London, Groombridge, 1851. 11. The Days of Bruce : a Story of Scottish History. London, Groombridge, 1852. 12. Women's Friendship : a Story of Domestic Life. London, Groombridge, 1853. 13. Home Scenes and Heart Studies. London, Groombridge, 1853. 14. Sabbath Thoughts and Sacred Communings. London, 1853. 15. Tales from British History. London, Geo. Routledge, 1908. 16. Collected Works in 8 vols. London, 1861. After 1847 the works were edited by Sarah Aguilar, Grace Aguilar's mother.</page></plain_text>