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Emma Lazarus 1849 ~ 1887


Emma Lazarus

A prominent Jewish educator has recently said, in speaking of his people in America, "We cannot boast such a poet as Heine, a soldier in the intellectual war of liberation which has freed European thought from its mediaeval shackles, but there did bloom amongst us the delicate flower of Emma Lazarus' work." And, Indeed, it is to be doubted whether poetic feeling, and the strength of this young writer's work has been excelled by any other American author.

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City, July 22, 1849 and despite the fact that death came to her just as she had reached her prime she had gained a place and made a mark in literature far above the achievements of many eminent lives well rounded by age. She was the daughter of Moses Lazarus, a well-known merchant of New York, and received a literary education under private tutors. Her attainments included Hebrew, Greek and Latin and modem languages. Even in her childhood she was noted for her quickness and intelligence and her text-book education she herself broadened by her reading on religious, philosophical and scientific subjects until she became a profound thinker. Her literary bent displayed itself when at seventeen years of age she published a volume of poems, "Admetus." which at once attracted attention by the remarkable character of the work and which brought her many flattering notices.

In 1874 she produced her first important work, "Alide," a romance founded on the episodes in the early life of Goethe. Some translations from Heine that followed were even more successful in making her known. In 1880 was begun the publication of the work to which she had for some time addressed herself, upon the position, history and wrongs of her people. This first book was called "Sons of the Semite" and opened with a five-act tragedy called "The Dance of Death," dealing with the stories of Jewish persecution in the fifteenth century. She wrote for the Century a number of striking essays on Jewish topics, among which were "Russian Christianity vs. Modem Judaism," "The Jewish Problem," and "Was the Earl of Beaconsfield a Representative Jew?" Her work also includes critical articles on Salvini, Emerson and others. In the winter of 1882, when many Russian Jews were flocking to New York City to escape Russian persecution, Miss Lazarus published in the American Hebrew stories and articles solving the question of occupation for the newcomers. Her plan involved industrial and technical education, and the project was carried out along that line. Her last work was published in the Century in May, 1887. It was a series of poems in prose entitled "By the Waters of Babylon," and the attention it excited and the admiration accorded it were general, here as well as across the Atlantic.

Miss Lazarus died November 19, 1887. There was no art to which she did not respond with splendid appreciation, music, painting, poetry and drama, she felt keenly, intelligently and generously the special charm of each. For moral ideas she had the keenness of her race. She had, too, that genius for friendship which so few fully understood. That such a nature should have formed close ties of intellectual sympathy with men of the character of Emerson, in America, and Browning, in England, is not a matter of surprise.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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