Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

generate nation, we may, on such rare occasions, discover among them a spirit superior to its companions and its fortune.

In the ancient and modern history of the Jews, we may find two kindred examples. I refer the reader for the more ancient narrative, to the second book of the Maccabees, chap. xiv. v. 37. No feeble and unaffecting painting is presented in the simplicity of the original: I proceed to relate the narrative of the Jews of York.

When Richard I. ascended the throne, the Jews, to conciliate the royal protection, brought their tributes. Many had hastened from remote parts of England, and appearing at Westminster, the court and the mob imagined that they had leagued to bewitch his majesty. An edict was issued to forbid their presence at the coronation; but several, whose curiosity was greater than their prudence, conceived that they might pass unobserved among the crowd, and ventured to insinuate themselves into the abbey. Probably their voice and their visage alike betrayed them for they were soon discovered; they flew diversly in great consternation, while many were dragged out with little remains of life.

A rumour spread rapidly through the city, that in honour of the festival, the Jews were to be massacred. The populace, at once eager of royalty

and riot, pillaged and burnt their houses, and murdered the devoted Jews. Benedict, a Jew of York, to save his life, received baptism; and returning to that city, with his friend Jocenus, the most opulent of the Jews, died of his wounds. Jocenus and his servants narrated the late tragic circumstances to their neighbours, but where they hoped to move sympathy, they excited rage. The people at York soon gathered to imitate the people at London; and their first assault was on the house of the late Benedict, which having some strength and magnitude, contained his family and friends, who found their graves in its ruins. The alarmed Jews hastened to Jocenus, who conducted them to the governor of York Castle, and prevailed on him to afford them an asylum for their persons and effects. In the mean while their habitations were levelled, and the owners murdered ; except a few unresisting beings, who unmanly in sustaining honour, were adapted to receive baptism.

The castle had sufficient strength for their defence; but a suspicion arising that the governor, , who often went out, intended to betray them, they one day refused him entrance. He complained to the sheriff of the county, and the chiefs of the violent party, who stood deeply indebted to the Jews, uniting with him, orders were issued to

attack the castle. The cruel multitude united with the soldiery felt such a desire of slaughtering those they intended to despoil, that the sheriff, repenting of the order, revoked it, but in vain ; fanaticism and robbery once set loose will satiate their appetency for blood and plunder. They solicited the aid of the superior citizens, who, perhaps not owing quite so much money to the Jews, humanely refused it; but having addressed the clergy (the barbarous clergy of those days) were by them animated, conducted, and blest.

The leader of this rabble was a canon regular, whose zeal was so fervent, that he stood by them in his surplice, which he considered as a coat of mail, and reiteratedly exclaimed, “ Destroy the enemies of Jesus.” This spiritual laconism invigorated the arm of men, who perhaps wanted no other stimulative than the hope of obtaining the immense property of the besieged. It is related of this canon, that every morning before he went to assist in battering the walls, he swallowed a consecrated wafer. One day having approached too near, defended as he conceived by his surplice, this church militant was crushed by a heavy fragment of the wall, rolled from the battlement.

But the avidity of certain plunder prevailed over any reflection, which, on another occasion, the loss of so pious a leader might have raised.

Their attacks continued; till at length the Jews perceived they could hold out no longer, and a council was called, to consider what remained to be done in the extremity of danger.

Among the Jews, their elder Rabbin was most respected. It has been customary with this people to invite for this place some foreigner, renowned among them for the depth of his learning, and the sanctity of his manners. At this time the Haham, or elder Rabbin, was a foreigner who had been sent over to instruct them in their laws, and was

a person, as we shall observe, of no ordinary qualifications. When the Jewish council was assembled, the Haham rose, and addressed them in this manner-" Men of Israel! the God of our ancestors is omniscient, and there is no one who can say why doest thou this? This day he commands us to die for his law; for that law which we have cherished from the first hour it was given, which we have preserved pure throughout our captivity in all nations, and which for the many consolations it has given us, and the eternal hope it communicates, can we do less than die ? Posterity shall behold this book of truth, sealed with our blood; and our death, while it displays our sincerity, shall impart confidence to the wanderer of Israel. Death is before our eyes; and we have only to choose an honourable and easy

one, If we fall into the hands of our enemies, which you know we cannot escape, our death will be ignominious and cruel; for these Christians, who picture the spirit of God in a dove, and confide in the meek Jesus, are athirst for our blood, and prowl around the castle like wolves. It is, therefore, my advice that we elude their tortures; that we ourselves should be our own executioners; and that we voluntarily surrender our lives to our Creator. We trace the invisible Jehovah in his acts; God seems to call for us, but let us not be unworthy of that call. Suicide, on occasions like the present, is both rational and lawful; many examples are not wanting among our forefathers: as I advise men of Israel! they have acted on similar occasions." Having said this, the old man sat down and wept.

The assembly was divided in their opinions. Men of fortitude applauded its wisdom, but the pusillanimous murmured that it was a dreadful council.

Again the Rabbin rose, and spoke these few words in a firm and decisive tone. “My children! since we are not unanimous in our opinions, let those who do not approve of my advice depart from this assembly!”—Some departed, but the greater number attached themselves to their venerable priest. They now employed themselves

« ZurückWeiter »