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Two nineteenth-century philosemites.

NON-JEWISH philosemites have been mostly Protestant Zionists who believed the return of Jews to Palestine is predicted in the Bible. At the present time this is most frequently seen in the American evangelicals who often support Israel. However, there were precedents for such beliefs. This article examines two nineteenth-century authors, George Eliot and Leopold Sacher-Masoch, known for their secular outlook but who also opposed anti-Semitism, published in support of the Jewish people, and were strongly criticised for such advocacy to the extent that they were accused of being Jewish.

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was born in 1819 to a prosperous Anglican Warwickshire family, but became unusually serious and pious. The family moved to Coventry to try and find her a husband, no easy task because of her plainness and solemn demeanour. Dissenters from the Established Church of England were strong in the Midlands, and in 1841 she was convinced by Charles Hennell and his Inquiry concerning the Origin of Christianity that 'Christianity was mingled truth and fiction'. She refused to go to church with her family, became unmarriagable and was effectively disowned.

She was exceptionally well educated, knowing French, Latin, Greek and German (and later Spanish and Hebrew). She met many like-minded non-theists and translated German texts of biblical higher criticism, and Spinoza's Tractatus and Ethics. As a humanist she regarded the Gospels as myths with wished-for fulfilment of the prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. To her God was inconceivable, Immortality was unbelievable, but Duty was absolute.

In 1851 she (now calling herself Marion) moved to London to a circle of radical free-thinking writers. Her strong love for her employer, the publisher John Chapman, and for Herbert Spencer were not reciprocated. She then became impassioned of George Lewes, playwright, novelist and journalist. They probably became intimate in 1852 and set up house together as Mr and Mrs Lewes in 1853. Lewes had married Agnes Jervis in 1841 and she had three children by him, and then four more by Thornton Hunt. Lewes could not divorce his wife, because he had condoned her adultery by registering two of her children by Hunt as his. From 1857 Marion Evans wrote under the pen-name 'George Eliot' Amos Barton, Scenes of Clerical Life, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt, The Spanish Gypsy and Middlemarch.

George Eliot knew no Jews in her early life, but had the conventional anti-Semitism of her social class at that time. In 1848 she wrote,
  Extermination up to a certain point seems to be the law for inferior
  races--for the rest, fusion both for physical and moral ends ...
  The negroes certainly puzzle me--all the other races seem plainly
  destined to extermination or fusion not excepting the
  Webrew-Caucasian'. The very exaltation of their idea of a national
  deity into a spiritual monotheism seems to have been borrowed from the
  other oriental tribes. Everything specifically Jewish is of low grade.


However in 1854 she was thrilled by the moral religious tolerance of Lessing's 1779 Nathan der Weise. In 1856 she compared Hebrew and Christian ideas of Revelation, and in 1858 visited the synagogue and burial ground in Prague. Her passion for Jewry grew in the 1860s. When she visited the Amsterdam synagogue in 1866 she 'fairly cried at witnessing the faint symbolism of a religion of sublime far off memories.' In that year she met, and was fascinated by, the writings and lectures of the polymath Emanuel Deutsch (1829-73). He had been recruited from Berlin by the British Museum Library in 1855 for his mastery of most European languages, Sanskrit, Rabbinics, Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldaic, Amharic and Phoenician. He was then preparing for the October 1867 Quarterly Review his long article on the Talmud that effectively introduced post-biblical Jewish scholarship to the gentile world. It was translated into Danish, Dutch, French, German, Russian and Swedish. Deutsch taught George Eliot Hebrew and she read all the major books on Judaism over the next ten years. In 1873 she planned her last novel Daniel Deronda, and it was published in 1874-76.

Deronda did not know his parentage and was adopted by an aristocrat who turned him into an English gentleman. He saves Mira, a young Jewish singer whose father had planned to sell her into a dubious marriage to a European nobleman, from drowning in the Thames. Deronda meets her family, especially her mystical kabbalist brother Mordecai whose vision is for Jews to retain their national identity and be restored to their Promised Land. Mordecai is clearly based on Deutsch (both learned, poor and unhealthy) who was a proto-Zionist and had visited Palestine in 1869. Deronda's guardian then tells him that his real mother is a famous Jewish opera singer, who later married a Polish Count. Deronda meets her before she dies, is given papers of his Jewish origins, returns to London, marries Mira, and they go off to Palestine to fulfil Mordecai/Deutsch's dream.

There is in this novel a concurrent almost separate romance of English upper-class life (Gwendolen Harleth) and this component was warmly praised, whereas the Jewish half of the book was strongly criticised. George Eliot had predicted that 'the Jewish element would be likely to satisfy nobody' (except of course Jews worldwide).

She soon learnt that these elements 'have met in the ordinary public chiefly with an ignorant surprise and lack of sympathy ... much repugnance or else indifference towards the Jewish part ... and some hostile as well as adverse reviewing'. She was saddened by 'the deadness of so many Christians to that part of the book which does not directly concern Gwendolen.' Her publisher, Blackwood, tried to reassure her, 'I always knew that the strong Jew element would be unpopular, but your picture of the Jew family at home did wonders in overcoming the public distaste to a kindly view of the Jewish character'. Indeed the general public was shocked that the English gentry was depicted as philistine, materialist and corrupt, while the Jewish community was shown as coherent, moral and spiritual. Naturally her philosemitism, together with her face (large, long, pale, equine according to Henry James) led Professor Stuart to suggest that with her Savanorola-like features 'I think she must have had a Jewish ancestry'.

George Eliot was unrepentant when she wrote to Harriet Beecher Stowe,
  I expected from first to last in writing it, that it would create much
  stronger resistance and even repulsion than it has actually met
  with. But precisely because I felt that the usual attitudes of
  Christians to Jews is--I hardly know whether to say more impious or
  more stupid when viewed in the light of their professed principles. I
  therefore felt urged to treat Jews with such sympathy and
  understanding as my nature and knowledge could attain to. Moreover,
  not only towards the Jews, but toward all oriental peoples we English
  come into contact, a spirit of arrogance and contemptuous
  dictatorialness is observable, which has become a national disgrace to
  us. There is nothing I should care more to do, if it were possible,
  than to rouse the imagination of men and women to a vision of human
  claims to these races of their fellow-men who most differ from them in
  customs and beliefs. But towards the Hebrews we western people who
  have been reared in Christianity, have a peculiar debt, and, whether
  we acknowledge it or not, a peculiar thoroughness of fellowship in
  religious and moral sentiment ... Can anything be more disgusting than
  to hear people called 'educated' making small jokes about eating ham,
  and showing themselves empty of any real knowledge of their own social
  and religious life to the history of the people they think themselves
  witty in insulting? They hardly know that Christ was a Jew. And I find
  men educated at Rugby supposing that Christ spoke Greek ... Yes, I
  expected more aversion than I have found.


Deronda was her last novel but two years later she wrote, and published in 1879, a bizarre set of 18 essays, Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Her supposed narrator lived from 370 to 288BC, was a student of Aristotle, and succeeded him as head of the Peripatetic School. The last chapter was entitled The modern Hep! Hep! Hep! [the rallying cry of mobs of anti-Semitic rioters]. It is an impassioned eulogy on the Jews, and a vehement criticism of their detractors. I found it comparable with Mark Twain's 1899 equally sympathetic article Concerning the Jews that was also hated by anti-Semites, who too explained away such extraordinary philosemitism by suggesting Twain to have been a Jew! George Eliot today is simply known as a great English novelist, and even in the new DNB Rosemary Ashton, her consummate biographer, devotes but two paragraphs of her 14 pages to Eliot's philosemitism, and does not mention her final piece of writing, Rep! Hep! Hep!

Leopold Sacher-Masoch was born in 1836 in Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now L'viv of Ukraine. His father was a descendant of a knight of Emperor Charles V, and as chief-of-police coped with Poles, Jews, Germans, Hungarians, Bohemians, Rumanians and Armenians. His mother, Charlotte von Masoch was the daughter of the University Rector, and the couple were permitted to adopt the hyphenated Sacher-Masoch. Leopold's peasant nurse filled him with dark Ruthenian tales of extreme cruelty.

His father was promoted to Prague where Leopold first learnt German and studied law at that university, and then in 1853 at Graz after his father's move there. At 19, in 1855, he received his doctorate and lectureship, the first Dozentur in history in any Austrian university, and in 1857 wrote his first book on The Rebellion in Ghent under Charles V. By 1860 he abandoned his university career to be a full-time writer, specialising in Austrian history and the folk tales of Galicia, Jewry and the German and Russian Courts.

In his working life he wrote 75 books, and plays, operettas, and hundreds of articles, and he also edited periodicals. By the age of 35 he was regarded in Paris as successor to Goethe in German literature. In 1883 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first book he was presented with an Album of autographs of Bjornson, Daudet, Dumas, Gounod, Bret Harte, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Pasteur, Saint Saens and Zola, together with the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, and there were public ceremonies in Lemberg and Prague. He was translated not only into French but also into Ukrainian and Russian.

Much of Leopold's writings dealt with the role of women in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. He suggested most sank to abject existence, but a few dominated and enslaved their husbands. Leopold claimed to recollect as a child being bound and whipped (with the same erotic pleasure as Rousseau had felt) by his tall handsome Countess aunt, who also beat her husband. Leopold became obsessed by this image of a wife (or mistress) as half-naked in furs (like Rubens's Helena Fourment, and Titian's Woman in Fur), booted and man-beating. Leopold seduced a doctor's wife, Anna, and persuaded her to leave her husband. She became Leopold's dominatrix and he turned this affair into his 1865 The Separated Wife that was a critical success in central Europe. He then planned, but never completed, his life work of a series of novels, The Legacy of Cain. This series included his most famous erotic book, Venus in Furs of 1869, based on his fetishist submission to many mistresses. It was only in 1872 that he married Aurora von Riimelin, a source of Wanda in this novel.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire tolerated all non-dissident nationalities and all religions, and it banned any literature that promoted hatred of any faith. Jews made up about one-third of Lemberg's population, and they were either Orthodox, Enlightened (Maskilim), Hasidim or Karaite. Leopold's father managed to persuade these different sects to keep their internal and external quarrels reasonably peaceful, although the sudden death of a Reform Rabbi in 1848 was attributed to poisoning by the Orthodox or Hasidim. With this multi-ethnic Galician background, Leopold became socially conscious, a political radical, and he favoured the education and suffrage of women.

In 1870 Leopold familiarised himself with the different Jewish religious beliefs and practices and advocated tolerance and emancipation of Jews in the European empires. He fought against the increasing anti-Semitism of the second half of the nineteenth century. His 1878 Jewish Tales naturally made him popular in Jewish communities who arranged for him to lecture in Budapest, where both Jews and non-Jews assumed that he must have Jewish blood to write so knowledgably about Jewish life; this mistaken belief is said to be found in Ukraine even today. He then spent with his wife the summer in a Jewish estate in the Hungarian countryside. Here were several Jewish families, some Orthodox, some lapsed and some in mixed marriages, but all celebrated together the Sabbaths, fasts and festival feasts. Leopold was impressed by the cordiality and hospitality, and particularly by the observation that the Jewish beggars were not grateful, but demanded charity as their due.

In 1881 a Leipzig Jewish publisher asked Leopold to edit a new international journal Auf der Hohe ('On the Heights') that emphasised opposition to anti-Semitism, but it lasted only a few years. His biographer, James Cleugh, quoted his writing:
  I know I have made many enemies, especially in Germany, where I am
  abused as favouring French and Jewish opinions. But that does not
  worry me. I got 10 know (lie Jews where they are poorest. in Galicia.
  I saw them providing services to society in the most industrious
  manner and yet persecuted by their Slav masters simply and solely
  because they were Jews. I was deeply touched by the constancy of this
  helpless people to the customs and ethics of their forefathers. When I
  came. later on, to acquire some position and influence in the world I
  used both to the best of my ability in the interest of the weak. It
  was never the rich and powerful who attracted me. I have always
  thought Ii my duty to take the side of the dispossessed and the
  injured. When I am confronted by a victim of misfortune I do not first
  ask, Are you Jewish or Gentile?


Leopold moved to Germany in 1881, lectured all over that country, and finally settled in Lindheim, a small town in Hesse. He remained socially active, organising for this town a water supply, an adult education society, a concert-hall and theatre; he continued his public opposition to anti-Semitism. One of his last books, The State, opposed wage servitude and militarism; he advocated a United States of Europe.

After a long separation he divorced his first wife and married his ex-secretary and companion, Hulda Meister. He had more children and continued his decades-long sexual variations that brought him international repute. So much so that in 1886 the Austrian psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing coined the word Masochism to describe these anomalies, just as he had named the opposite behaviour Sadism after the French Marquis, corresponding to the eponymous usage of Daltonism from the discoverer of colour-blindness. Leopold died in 1895.

George Eliot and Leopold Sacher-Masoch were reviled for their philosemitism that was explained away, falsely, to Jewish ancestry. Those who accepted however reluctantly that Leopold was not of Jewish descent still insisted he must have had one or more learned Jewish informants quite apart from Jews he may have met through his father and grandfather. This problem was solved only in 1982 when David Biale found that Leopold had based his biography of Sabbatai Sevi on a massive two-volume 1822/3 anthology of Jewish stories by Peter Beer (1758-1838). Beer was a government appointed teacher of morals at the Jewish high school in Prague, where he had helped open a Reform synagogue and as a feminist had published a prayer book for women. In 2000 Irving Massey showed that Leopold had taken much of his Jewish Tales, also verbatim and unacknowledged, from Beer. Indeed Leopold had described a few Jewish women as beautiful, lounging in furs and dominating their weak husbands. Massey noted that Beer had drawn some of his Hasidic material from the scathing writings (banned by the Austrians) of his friend Joseph Perl (1773-1839), another enlightened pedagogue who had opened the first modern Jewish school in Galicia. Nevertheless [Sacher-]Masoch's continuing fame is not as a philosemite or plagiarist, but for his personal and literary eponymy.

Jeremy Hugh Baron trained as a physician-scientist-scholar in Oxford, London and New York and lives in the latter two cities with honorary posts in the medical schools of Imperial College and Mount Sinai. His latest book is Anglo-American Biomedical Antecedents of Nazi Crimes.
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Author:Baron, Jeremy Hugh
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Jun 1, 2012
Words:2772
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