Daniel Deronda HTML version

Chapter 33
"No man," says a Rabbi, by way of indisputable instance, "may turn the bones of
his father and mother into spoons"--sure that his hearers felt the checks against
that form of economy. The market for spoons has never expanded enough for
any one to say, "Why not?" and to argue that human progress lies in such an
application of material. The only check to be alleged is a sentiment, which will
coerce none who do not hold that sentiments are the better part of the world's
Deronda meanwhile took to a less fashionable form of exercise than riding in
Rotton Row. He went often rambling in those parts of London which are most
inhabited by common Jews. He walked to the synagogues at times of service, he
looked into shops, he observed faces:--a process not very promising of particular
discovery. Why did he not address himself to an influential Rabbi or other
member of a Jewish community, to consult on the chances of finding a mother
named Cohen, with a son named Ezra, and a lost daughter named Mirah? He
thought of doing so--after Christmas. The fact was, notwithstanding all his sense
of poetry in common things, Deronda, where a keen personal interest was
aroused, could not, more than the rest of us, continuously escape suffering from
the pressure of that hard unaccommodating Actual, which has never consulted
our taste and is entirely unselect. Enthusiasm, we know, dwells at ease among
ideas, tolerates garlic breathed in the middle ages, and sees no shabbiness in
the official trappings of classic processions: it gets squeamish when ideals press
upon it as something warmly incarnate, and can hardly face them without
fainting. Lying dreamily in a boat, imagining one's self in quest of a beautiful
maiden's relatives in Cordova elbowed by Jews in the time of Ibn-Gebirol, all the
physical incidents can be borne without shock. Or if the scenery of St. Mary Axe
and Whitechapel were imaginatively transported to the borders of the Rhine at
the end of the eleventh century, when in the ears listening for the signals of the
Messiah, the Hep! Hep! Hep! of the Crusaders came like the bay of blood-
hounds; and in the presence of those devilish missionaries with sword and
firebrand the crouching figure of the reviled Jew turned round erect, heroic,
flashing with sublime constancy in the face of torture and death-- what would the
dingy shops and unbeautiful faces signify to the thrill of contemplative emotion?
But the fervor of sympathy with which we contemplate a grandiose martyrdom is
feeble compared with the enthusiasm that keeps unslacked where there is no
danger, no challenge--nothing but impartial midday falling on commonplace,
perhaps half-repulsive, objects which are really the beloved ideas made flesh.
Here undoubtedly lies the chief poetic energy:--in the force of imagination that
pierces or exalts the solid fact, instead of floating among cloud-pictures. To glory
in a prophetic vision of knowledge covering the earth, is an easier exercise of
believing imagination than to see its beginning in newspaper placards, staring at
you from the bridge beyond the corn-fields; and it might well happen to most of