5

THE PROMISED LAND

Zion and the American Eden

 Though Heine's "apostasy," which figured so prominently in his personal as well as his public life, was hardly something a biographer could ignore, there were other reasons why Sharp would have devoted so much space to this event in Heine's life and to its consequences. England had lately shown a marked popular interest in Jews, Judaism, and Jewish national aspirations. The reasons for this were complex. Ever since the Jews had been enfranchised, true-born Englishmen had worried themselves into hysteria about whether or not such "tribal separatists" could really be patriots. A measure of our own difference from the Victorians is the candor that characterized the controversy. Jew and Gentile quite openly tore at one another even in the most sophisticated of popular journals.1

Two events served to exacerbate this quarrel in the late seventies and early eighties. One of them was a large immigration of Ashkenazian Jews into England, the exodus from persecutions then occurring in Poland and Germany. These Jews, allegedly more clannish, more exclusively devoted to Hebraic ritual, and poorer than many of their Sephardic predecessors in England, disturbed a status quo in which the existing Anglo-Jewish community had by and large socially and economically assimilated into English life, while at the same time maintaining a quiet sense of Jewish identity.2 The battle was joined anew, motivated not so much by racial difference itself as by fresh fears that a race "secretly" aspiring to its own nation could not be trusted to submit itself to common British interests.

The other event to bestir popular concern about Judaism was the publication in 1876 of Daniel Deronda, George Eliot's fictional portrayal of Jewish life and Jewish hopes. Eliot's reputation and popularity were at their height, and the novel, which appeared just prior to the large Jewish immigration, received a great deal of attention as a partisan statement in the controversy that arose so soon after its publication.

Yet Eliot's novel was so impassioned in its apology for Jewish national aspirations that it seems ironically to have served a function opposite to its sympathetic intention, providing added ammunition for critics of Jewish patriotism. Not that everyone misunderstood her purpose. Edward Dowden was well aware that Eliot had been using Deronda's mission to reinforce a theme already long familiar in her work:

The higher, the religious life, is that which transcends self, and which is lived in submission to the duties imposed upon us by the past, and the claims of those who surround us in the present, and of those who shall succeed us in time to come. To be the centre of a living multitude, the heart of their hearts, the brain from which thoughts, as waves, pass through them-this is the best and purest joy which a human creature can know.3

But not many were as fully equipped as Dowden to reach beyond Eliot's immediate concern to her transcendent one. A flood of articles, then a stream, and finally a persistent trickle followed Deronda's Zionism for years after the novel's publication, accompanied by a steady wash of essays intended to enlighten the newly aroused British public about Jewish history, tradition, ritual, and family life.4

Sharp was not one to leap unprepared into this perilous battlefield. Before writing Heine, he armed himself with formidable amounts of research, something he had not done before with any of his biographical subjects, substantially thickening the little volume with a long addendum of sources. He was indebted to many, but particularly to Katie Lady Magnus, one of the more widely-read and respected commentators upon and apologists for Judaism in the later part of the century. She had published an essay on Heine in 1882, as well as one on Eliot's Daniel Deronda in 1877, including both of them in a volume entitled Jewish Portraits that appeared in 1886. For Sharp's purposes the earlier essay on Eliot was fully as important as the one on Heine, for in it Lady Magnus clarified what she saw as the nature of Jewish tribal separatism and national aspirations. Her Heine essay, meanwhile, laid special emphasis upon the scar that Heine's apostasy left upon him. Both studies, as well as the fervent tone of the authoress herself poignantly conveyed the depth of Jewish racial loyalty. Sharp's sympathy for Heine's suffering, and his understanding of Heine's attempts to be reconciled with his race, may be traced almost directly to her.  When Sharp closed his biography, however, he liberated his imagination. Certain seminal phrases and expressions about Jewish nationalism encountered in his reading had fallen upon ground thoroughly prepared for them and were to flower into a rich and splendid vision in his fiction. Lady Magnus, speaking of Daniel Deronda, had, for example, succinctly defined the scope of Eliot's understanding of Jewish national aspirations:

There is more validity to Eliot's portrait of Mordecai in that novel, who dreams of a future Jewish nation, than in Daniel, who seeks to realize it. While a sense of a national ideal does exist in the average Jewish mind, that sense is more a hope of spiritual dominion than an actual habitation.5

Perhaps this was not quite so true as she thought, but Lady Magnus had been reared in that older Anglo-Jewish society which had added such luster to the Victorians. She could not yet see the Zionist movement that would come partially to characterize subsequent Jewish generations. To her, the Jew saw "the unity of his people [as] a symbol of the unity of his God." She concluded in agreement with George Kaufmann, another of Eliot's Jewish reviewers, that the fulfillment of the Jews' national ideal might actually lie in "dispersion."6

Dowden had spoken along similar lines. To him Eliot had chosen to make Deronda's mission a Jewish one "because the Jewish race is one rich with memories, possessed of far-reaching traditions, a fit object for satisfying that strong historic sympathy which is so deep a part of Deronda's nature; but also because the Jews were

a sad, despised, persecuted race, and so much more dear to one whose heart is the heart of a saviour; a race whose leaders and prophets looked longingly for no personal immortality, but lived through faith in the larger life to come of their nation; a race not without some claim to be . . . "the heart of mankind"; a race, finally, which though scoffed at for its separateness, implied in its confession of the Divine Unity, the ultimate unity of mankind.7

And Hermann Adler, patiently parrying the cruelly anti-Semitic thrusts of Goldwin Smith in a duel that for several years sent sparks flying from the pages of the Nineteenth Century, reminded his antagonist with quiet irony that the Jewish religion taught all men "to be kin."8

These eclectic resources, and a cosmopolitanism already tending to the status of full-fledged philosophy, Sharp brought to the making of hit first book after Heine, and his first genuinely serious novel, The Children of To-morrow (1889). The title itself gives some indication of the novel's theme. It is an apology for an avant-garde younger generation of artists and thinkers, who live in the hope that a new social dispensation will compensate them for their present disinheritance. Among its other aims, The Children of To-morrow had a palpable social object. It advanced the freedom to love and asserted the often damaging and inhibiting effects of marriage. It was one of the first of Sharp's forays into the battlefield of sex and marriage mores. But this theme significantly took its place as merely one of several embraced by the broad symbol of racial and national allegiance.

The novel's hero, Felix Dane, is a reembodiment in modern terms of Browning's Andrea del Sarto. He is in this case a sculptor who, at the time the book opens, has reached an impasse both in his work and in his marriage. Both Dane's wife and his art, in their slick, superficial appeal to conventional taste and shallow class values, are "successful," and both are the source of his unhappiness. Lydia Dane is passionless and coldly beautiful; she has for years either totally ignored her husband's work or encouraged him only insofar as it might contribute to his fashionable success. Sharp's initial handling of this painful failure of sympathy between two people who had believed in love, and of the tedious continuum of a relationship gone stale-"the slow wear and tear of uncongenial intimacy"9---is sensitive and real.

It is not unlikely that Sharp's sympathetic insight into this domestic situation had been influenced by the penetrating social criticism of Olive Schreiner, a contemporary feminist and friend.10 Lydia Dane is the embodiment of Schreiner's "female parasite," the degenerate product of the long cultural subjection of women in western civilizations. As for Dane, social and commercial respectability have not fulfilled his real artistic ambitions, and a sense of having betrayed his original talents has invaded his morale. But the sources of Dane's self-disgust are not all within himself. In admiration of his earlier work, and in a spirit of admonition for what she hints is a falling---off in his achievement, a poetess appearing under the pseudonym "Sanpriel" has sent him a copy of her writings. One of her poems, especially marked for him to make note of, contains a good deal of Browningesque philosophy about a man's reach exceeding his grasp. Beyond that, however, it also hints at the special principle of resurgent human unity that will later be revealed as guiding her self-chosen mission:

How wonderful the Spring
That with regenerative power
Swept round the earth-how vast, how great
Humanity confederate . . .

What mattered each small life was vain
When all in one great whole were blent,
When all were links in one vast chain

That rose from earth's remotest sod
And passed the stars and reached to God.11

It is at this point in the first chapter, unfortunately, that Sharp deserts the credibility---and one might add, the pathos---of a true human crisis. Despite his admiration for Meredith, it was not in the nature of Sharp's fictional talents to have passions spin the plot. The book carries its own excuse for this weakness in its subtitle. There we are reminded that it is "A Romance," and we are not permitted to forget this through its many disquisitions on the "romantic spirit" in life, literature, and love. In his preface to Romantic Ballads, Sharp had already equated that spirit with freedom of fantasy and the license to dream.12 In the case of the present plot, this license is not only advanced, it is taken. This means that Dane will by coincidence meet the young poetess at a concert given by her father, a half-mad violinist. It also means that he will fall in love with her on the spot, unaware until much later that she is, besides the love of his life, the authoress of the catalytic poems. It means too that there will be a villain in the piece, Gabriel Ford, a banker, a weasel, and a man with a conviction, damaging per se for any Sharp character, that the city is by far "the best place to live in." It is an indication of how far Sharp had come from the spirit of the later Rossetti circle---and by extension the spirit of the city---that he also chose to make Ford a painter in the "decadent" school, a creator of Liliths, with a fixation on death and decay.

Each of the major characters in the novel represents some shade in the spectrum of possible attitudes toward art, the whole giving us a fairly clear reproduction of Sharp's aesthetic thinking at the time. Dane himself, of course, is in transition; he is open to suggestion, a seeker of truth, examining all those modes of art the various characters make available to him. He instinctively rejects the facile super-realism of Ford, who seems to have exercised his talent only to shock human sensibilities and expose the weaknesses of the flesh. Adam Acosta, Sanpriel's wild violinist father, though more ostensibly insane than Ford, is also more sympathetic. There is a bardic, prophetic strain in his artistry that achieves a level of creation beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals. Sanpriel herself is the true romanticist, her work conceived and executed in the spirit of "new" faith and "new" hope. Her vision, most sympathetic of all to Dane, though to the modern reader perhaps somewhat vague or confused in expression, rises from a commitment to the special conditions of what she calls "modernity." It is a reaction to the lost traditional faith of past generations, and the effects of that loss in producing "the partial eclipse of hope." As a romanticist, in Sharp's terms, she finds her new hope (as her creator did himself in an early poem of that title) by discovering "wonder" in all phenomena, no matter how apparently insignificant or mundanethe only hope, she says, of "the true genius." Sanpriel looks to science, especially, to quicken the artistic spirit rather than to deprive it of vitality. "Science," she says, "will bring us to a goal whose far shining we do not even descry as yet."13 Here again, the curious partnership of science and art that was for Sharp and his contemporaries a truism.

Sharp's presentation of this esthetic philosophy can illuminate the artistic atmosphere of this period. Indeed, perhaps the single most characteristic motive behind the new romanticism of the later nineteenth century is the sense of wonder opened to the artist through modern science. The power of delicate, sensitive observation, in itself so much underlying Ruskinian esthetics and what Ruskin admired in the Pre-Raphaelites, joins the scientific and artistic temperaments at this time unequivocally to one another. The measure of "modernity" and relevance is the extent to which the artist admits and rejoices in the discoveries made by scientific inquiry.

Sanpriel is, then, an esthetician whose vagueness to us not only reflects our distance from this outlook, but also suggests the degree to which words like "modernity," "science," and "wonder" were then loaded with meanings they no longer evoke. Without making the effort to reconstitute such meanings, we would find her statement that "the typical romanticist looked forth and beheld all things in that light whereby alone genius can reach the heights whereto it strives"14 no more than inflated rhetoric.

Yet it is indicative of how many seemingly distinct movements worked toward a corporate effect in Sharp's imagination that he conceived of Sanpriel not only as an avant-garde poet alert to science and discovery, but also as a person expressing through that outlook a distinct racial character and mission; thus she is an existential embodiment of all Sharp's recent influences. Sanpriel is Jewish---or rather, in Sharp's characteristically equivocal terms, half-Christian, and half-jewish. Her father (whose name, Acosta, Sharp undoubtedly took from Uriel Acosta, the seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher considered an apostate and heretic) has been driven by the fatalistic compulsion of a family curse to marry a Christian, then to torment her with cruel recriminations, and finally to lead her to suicide and himself to perpetual remorse. The beautiful young woman who is the offspring of this strange union finds her aspirations for humanity totally at one with the aspirations of the Jewish race in which she has sought her identity.

Thus Sanpriel functions as the agent through whom Sharp exploits the concepts offered by Lady Magnus and others to express his own views on the future directions of art and of human relationships. The proto-Zionist group called "The Children of To-morrow," of which Sanpriel is a representative, carries as its banner "our inevitable triumph," "the consummation of our national hope."15 Yet, though it seems to be speaking specifically of Jewish political nationalism, behind these words echo those of Lady Magnus, "the hope of spiritual dominion," and something of that broader, less political goal is amply revealed when Sanpriel exclaims, "We are the torchbearers of the moderns."16 "We who live more intensely and suffer more acutely than others, are the Children of To-morrow, because in us the new forces of the future are already astir or even dominant."17 "Intensely" is another one of those characteristic catchwords of this period. To live "intensely" was the Paterian admonition that avant-garde artists and writers of the time found attractive in such a variety of ways. The concept of "intensity" is carried forward with special insight when Felix Dane further observes that the Jews "are the intensive form of any nationality whose language and custom they adopt."18 The statement, in itself an argument in favor of the "dispersion" of which Lady Magnus spoke, demonstrates how the Jewish race could form a perfect metaphor for the earnest, forward-looking, and enlightened artists and thinkers with whom Sharp sympathized. And these same artists and thinkers, by virtue of their own "disinheritance," would obviously share with the Jews their historical condition as the outcast and the exiled.

In Sanpriel herself, of course, lies the key of the metaphor. Her artistic integrity and her faith in the future dominion of her people are interchangeable. Both require that she sustain hope for a coming triumph and resist the temptation to succumb to the world of fashionable success, moral convention, and loyalty to mean values-the world, in short, of the Philistines. Gabriel Ford is the foil that sets her off. He is, in keeping with the racial metaphor, an apostate Jew, constantly attempting to hide his race. The characterization was undoubtedly the result of Sharp's study of Jewish society, its internal intrigues as well as its external debates. His analysis of those intrigues was probably accurate:

The Fords, the Montagues, the Despards, and a few other wealthy families occupied a strange position. They were not Christians, nor were they Jewish, in faith; yet they never intermarried save with the sons and daughters of Israel. The orthodox Semites regarded them jealously, hating them because they mixed mainly in Christian society, and made their wives and children cease from attendance at the synagogue, but eager not to offend them on account of their paramount influence and also, to no slight extent, because of their reputed earnest though disguised sympathies with Judaic federation.19

Sharp, however, leaves no doubt in Ford's case as to the earnestness of those "disguised sympathies." Ford is both an artistic and a religious fraud. In his longing for acceptance into the present establishment, he has falsified himself and his talent and forfeited his claim to a share in that "dominion" to which his race would otherwise have entitled him.

Thus "The Children of To-morrow," whose ranks Dane, though not a Jew, wishes to join---whose ranks Sanpriel, though passionately requiting his love, will not and cannot desert---are all those who dare beyond the boundaries of convention, or who do not permit themselves to be constrained by those boundaries.20 These "torchbearers of the moderns" act out of a spirit that lays no real claim to some small earthly plot. Theirs is indeed the spirit of "dispersion." Their supranationalism is their protest against any alliance with values that have no sanction but tradition and have not been submitted to inquiry. Such values, touching every area of life either directly or by extension, including art, sex, self-expression, and even national loyalty itself, "The Children of To-morrow" can and will dare to overthrow.

Sharp's Life of Browning, written in 1889, the year of the appearance of The Children of To-morrow, throws a curious sidelight on the novel's predominating interest in Judaism. Several of the early pages of Browning are devoted to speculations that had recently been bruited as to the poet's racial origins. Among these was the widespread notion, clearly not always well-meant, that he was a Jew. Sharp offered his own conjecture in the matter, supporting his opinion with a lengthy genealogy. "I can find nothing to substantiate the common assertion that, immediately or remotely, his people were jews."21

Sharp might just as well have left the whole issue alone, or dismissed it briefly. Instead he devoted considerable attention to it, unconsciously revealing more about himself than Browning. The curious aspect of Sharp's discussion of Browning's background is its tone. After what seems in The Children of To-morrow so fervent a statement in behalf of Judaism, Sharp's fastidiously detached study of Browning's ancestry is unsettling. One is tempted to ask why he should dignify in this way a notion that has no basis in fact, and that can serve no better function than to become some sniping critic's weapon of derogation. The answer to this question may lie in the very different stylistic demands of biographer and novelist, and Sharp's corollary pleasure in playing the appropriate role. To dignify the prejudice by the strategy of serious study is cannily to avoid embarrassing the common reader who may have shared it. If this was Sharp's strategy, it should follow that after establishing his psychological advantage with cool research he will conclude with a barrage of fresh and reversed feeling. And this quite unabashedly, even a little sardonically, is what he does:

If those who knew [Browning] were told he was a Jew, they would not be much surprised. In his exuberant vitality, in his sensuous love of music and the other arts, in his combined imaginativeness and shrewdness of common sense, in his superficial expansiveness and actual reticence, he would have been typical enough of the potent and artistic race for whom he has often of late been claimed.22

But Sharp's rhetorical motives were not his only ones. In a man who is a biographer, but wants to be a literary artist, it is the artist who finally prevails. Browning's putative jewishness was in Sharp's artistic consciousness as useful a means for interpreting his Browning as the Zionism of the Children of To-morrow was for interpreting his social and artistic philosophy. And it was an identical metaphor in both cases: Judaism, an extraordinary race and religion, the vehicle for expressing transcendence of any common ordinations of race and religion. Browning might be thought of as Jewish: for Sharp, via a typical imaginative syllogism, this is the same as saying that he is an artist---that he is vital and volatile in his sympathies---that he is cosmopolitan. Sharp permits Browning to share with the artist-cosmopolitan Heine the spirit of his race, if not his race itself, because Sharp's equation of artist and Jew is his means of driving home the more significant equation of art with transcendent, or ideal, rather than real nationality.

From this period onward, Sharp became more and more preoccupied with this generic or ideal nationalism, as distinct from and indeed opposed to any narrower nativism. In his eagerness to experience fully the enormous diversity of national kinds, and in his desire to appreciate the best of each, he reached out to touch every variety accessible to him. The study of Heine introduced him to German literature; his jaunts to Paris brought him into contact with the turbulent esthetic world of French literary and artistic intellectuals---Mme. Blavatsky, Paul Bourget, Frangois Coppée, Daudet, Zola, and otbers---and he joined the debate then raging over the possible demarcation between science and art, between dispassionate analysis and evocative power. His passionate interest in modern literatures led him to contemporary Italian writers, and it was not too long before he began writing substantial articles on them for two of the most reputable British journals, the Fortnightly and the Quarterly. As early as 1890 he was commissioned to write the preface to the English translation of Sainte-Beuve's Essays on Men and Women in the Masterpieces of Foreign Authors series. From 1892 on came a rash of articles that testified to his growing reputation as an authority on the recent Belgian literary movement.

This broadly cosmopolitan criticism, principally coinciding with a later period in Sharp's development, will be given fuller treatment in a coming chapter. But his writing on one other literature is especially pertinent here, having engaged his energies in the late eighties. At this time, almost by accident, he was brought into full awareness of the literature of the United States; and America, rising on the horizon of his imagination, though it did not wholly replace Zion, reinvested the concept Zion embodied with new and clearer supra-nationalist significance.

Sharp's first contact with America was the result of an exchange of letters in 1887 with the noted American critic, scholar, and entrepreneur, Edmund Clarence Stedman. Stedman was preparing a volume of "Victorian Poets," and had thought Sharp's two volumes of verse of sufficient value to permit his inclusion. Sharp was naturally delighted by this evidence of American appreciation. For two years the friendship warmed, and Sharp reciprocated Stedman's favor by devoting himself to an intensive study of American literature.

So far he had really been impressed only by Emerson and Whitman. Now his interest and study broadened and deepened. He chose to approach American literature first by means of the sonnet, a form in which he had become something of an expert. The result was "The Sonnet in America," published in April 1889 as an article in the National Review and used later that year as the basis of a critical introduction to a volume of American sonnets for the Canterbury series.

Sharp's initial reaction to American literature was as enthusiastic and as vague---as might be expected from a writer who hoped to be indebted to the Yankee market. But there was a note of discovery, too, that could only be genuine. Though he concurred with the general opinion that there was not "a sufficiently strenuous literary tradition in the U. S.," Sharp also extolled the youth, the energy, and---again---the "modernity" of the American school. "It is almost incredible to those who have not closely studied, and who do not continuously watch the course of American literary affairs," he exclaimed, "how electric the nation is, how quick to respond to the first spark of emotion." He praised the immediacy of inspiration in America, its passion for contemporary subjects, its lively, if undisciplined, artistic life. There is, he says, "no wave of national sentiment . . . no heroic impulse, no calamity, no great national thrill that does not immediately find its echo in song."23

By the late summer of 1889 Sharp's wanderlust was thoroughly aroused. On Stedman's invitation he planned a tour of Eastern Canada and the United States which his wife says he "looked forward to . . . with keen delight."24 He arrived in Canada in late August and was in Boston by mid-September. A visit to Harvard was the beginning of a long, informal friendship with the university; he was invited to deliver a lecture on contemporary literature in 1892. Though Sharp's chronic heart and nervous condition forced cancellation of that lecture, the relationships he made then paved the way for the eager reception of Fiona Macleod, Sharp's alleged protegée, by later Harvard undergraduates, who adopted her as their own discovery and vigorously fostered her American reputation.25

Sharp's genial charm combined with Stedman's well-placed introductions to make Sharp many American literary friends, among them William Dean Howells and an imposing host of publishers. But he was particularly drawn to one young bohemian couple, Thomas and Catherine Janvier, who became lifelong and devoted friends. The Janviers, several years later, left New York "for a summer's stay in Europe" and remained in France, at Rémy de Provence, for seven years.26 There Sharp often visited them during the Fiona Macleod years, and they were among the first and the few to be in on the great secret of the author's career.

Sharp and the Janviers obviously had one very important thing in common---a passion for travel. "Both have travelled much in Mexico," Sharp wrote home to Elizabeth of them when they met. "We dined together at a Cuban cafe last night. He gave me his vol. of stories called 'Colour Studies' and she a little sketch of a Mexican haunted house."27 Both gifts they inscribed to Sharp in Spanish. By sympathetic instinct, Janvier understood perfectly Sharp's preferred image of himself. In an introduction to a combined American edition of Romantic Ballads and Sospiri di Roma (1892), Janvier observed that, "while born of substantial Paisley stock, and bred for half his lifetime in Scotland, his years of journeying and residence in foreign countries have made him very much a citizen of the world."28 He dwelt on the diversity of Sharp's talent, as demonstrated by the two markedly different bodies of work represented in the volume. These, he said, "might pass for the utterances of two men of different races." Here, "joined but not blended, is the poetry of the South and of the North."29

Sharp's visit to that "fortunate Eden," as he gallantly called America in a letter to Stedman,30 had indeed served perceptibly to heighten his sense of his role as the missionary of cosmopolitanism. Almost immediately upon his return to England, "A Note on the Aesthetic Development of America" appeared under his name in the Scottish Art Review. He opened the article with a characteristic round of applause for the spirit of self-confident protest that had recently made Americans tend to exaggerate their claims to literary repute: "Better thus---better the exaggerations of independence than subservience to critical formulas." He discerned the genres that were the Americans' peculiar forte---the episodical novel, the short story but added, with an ardor forgivable because prophetic, "the poetic renascence in America is as remarkable in the present as it is significant for the future."31

These observations were, however, only secondary to the polemical keynote of his article. The butt of attack was the British "misapprehension" of American esthetic development and its cause: "At the base of our misunderstanding is the idée more that the Americans are Anglo-Saxons, even as we are. Our kindred oversea are essentially continental, as we are essentially insular . . . It is this factor . . . of continental influence, which is so profoundly affecting American art, and impelling it towards developments altogether independent of AngloSaxon art proper." Sharp does not neglect the influence of "climate," which is characteristically deployed in defense of his thesis, as are also "widespread intellectual and aesthetic education and . . . geographical and political advantage." But he returns inevitably to his core idea that the American character is, more than anything else, the result of "incessant and complex racial admixture": "This perennial invasion of the States by hordes of Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Spanish, Irish, Scots, and English---what can it lead to, what has it led to, but a vital reorganization of the nation at large?" The American nation, he continues---and in his tone is a note of triumph that invariably accompanied any animadversion upon British insularity---the American nation "is new in its amalgam, just as England was new when Pict, Celt, Frisian, Angle, Jute, Norseman, Dane and Norman all mingled their tributary strains in one national river of race."

And, he adds, "we are one people now," perhaps even an "old" people, because we have developed "a greater homogeneity." To be "old," however, was not a Sharpian virtue. Sharp loves America because, in these terms, it is "new." Its "incessant influx of multiform European race and sentiment" brings with it a vital "spirit of change, 'mutations infinite." He strikes one more blow at the myth of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and domination: "Few seem to have recognized the vital Latin element in the great continental nation overseas. But the Italians and the French, with their northern allies in spirit, the Celts, have had and are exercising an enormously potent influence in the evolution of the American race." This "enormously potent" diversity of influence will realize in America, and nowhere better, what Sharp calls "the cosmopolitan dignity and freedom of art."32 Nothing should be allowed to inhibit that realization.

Sharp is led by his tendency to interpret artistic history and development in terms of "that potent, subtle, mysterious factor of climate" to foresee, with some acuteness, a growing regional division among the various parts of the United States. "Fortunately," he comments, "the climatic factor now works harmoniously to one great end." Yet perhaps his readers "do not readily apprehend the significance of this climatic diversity. It is," he observes with delight, "as though all Europe, from Valencia to Tobolsk, from Spitzbergen to the Ionian Isles, were subject to one central government." In its comprehensiveness, America is able to produce "poets so radically distinct as Poe and Emerson, Longfellow and Walt Whitman, and novelists so widely unrelated as Hawthorne and Howells, Fenimore Cooper and Bret Harte."33 Sharp's tone of rejoicing reflects how close the longing exile had come to his cosmopolitan paradise. America was the palpable realization of Sharp's ideal nation. It both embraced and liberated every form of expression in western culture; it realized the triumphant "dispersion" of the Children of To-morrow.

The implicit union of America and Zion in Sharp's vision was not unique in him. The special character of his vision lay only, perhaps, in its residing in the mind of someone who was not a Jew. A measure of Sharp's sense of his own alien condition is the extent to which he could equal the compassion for the disinherited, and the hope for their reinheritance, felt by the Jewish writers of his day. Israel Zangwill, the Jewish local-colorist, author of "Children of the Ghetto," looked to America for an answer to the Jew's need for a nation in which to resolve his identity. For Zangwill, too, America embodied "the harmonious diversity" of "the true cosmopolitan concept."34 For him, as for Sharp, every "alien" could, in the American "melting pot," purge his sense of exile. "Into the crucible with you all!" was the command of his American dream. "What is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward?"35

But Zangwill came to synchronize his visionary hopes for America with practical efforts to territorialize the Jewish people. Sharp was not motivated by such a sense of racial need; his was stringently personal, and he lacked resources of practical instinct to supply it. Though his celebration of the "fortunate Eden" did not entirely end with his article in the Scottish Art Review, its fervor could not survive his own restlessness. In 1891, in an article in the National Review called simply "American Literature,"36 he continued to applaud the various and opposing strains in American work, but there was an almost painful urgency to his plea that Americans free themselves once and for all from the English tradition. It was as though his imagination feared the failure of an American cosmopolitanism his intellect had earlier described as inevitable. Or was it perhaps that his intellect had not really operated independently in seeing in America the realization of that cosmopolitan dream? For in these articles, as so often elsewhere in his work no matter how merely critical or informative it might purport to be, Sharp had let slip past him a spirit of creative fabrication. Hope was validated into belief because of the author's need to have it so. "We are all seeking a lost Eden," he had written sometime during the late eighties: "It may be that, driven from the Eden of direct experience, we are being more and more forced into taking refuge within the haven guarded by our dreams."37 America was only another inchoate, yet-unformed Israel of desire, a promising if not a promised land. "The Celt went forth to battle," a medieval poet had once written, "but he always fell." Perhaps here in Sharp's dream was a misplaced Celt's last chance to go forth, and not to fall.

 
contents   next