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Ellen Emerson to Edith, September 6, 1876

Letter from Ellen Emerson to her sister Edith, September 6, 1876. She tells of Emma Lazarus' 1876 visit, and of her excitement at speaking with a real unconverted Jew.
Emerson, Ellen
Date / time
Concord Wednesday Sept 6th 1876.. My dear Edith,.. Mother is sick again, but not very.... One wise arrangement was made in the beginning, at 8 o'clock I broke up the evening, and saw Father in his study & Nina & Mother in their chambers before I went to bed. The result was that neither Father or Mother complained of fatigue in the whole lively fortnight of company that we have had, a result as new as the arrangement. When I invited company to tea I asked them to come from five to eight, and all worked smoothly. When Emma Lazarus came I told her that we separated at eight, and I must ask her to go up stairs at that time too. She was very complimentary about it, but ah! when the time came the first night, she begged hard for a respite, so I gave every one a quarter of an hour. Then I came to the head of the stairs and called Mother and Nina. When Mother came up she said Emma had asked whether Father was going to bed too. If he was going to sit up, mightn't she sit up too? And of course Mother's civility made her consent. I fumed a little and feared it was a bad precedent, and she would tire Father. He said the next day he was alarmed at first, but very glad afterwards to have had that talk with the poor child, and she went up by half-past nine. The next day she accommodated herself in all things to our customs and never again proposed such a thing, just a piece with her lively sweet-tempered part in our correspondence. But that first day she must have had real disappointment and trial. I don't believe it ever crossed her innocent mind that she was invited to be my guest. She supposed herself Father's till she got here. In the morning accordingly Nina told me she established herself on the front door-step to be handy, and having waited patiently till half past ten or so, came and asked Nina where he was. Nina replied, "Oh he is always shut up in the study till dinner-time." At eleven I took her to ride to the cliffs, and the view there seemed to surprise and satisfy her very much. Living only in New York and Newport, she is unaccustomed to this kind of scenery, has seen none since her visit to the White Mts. seven years ago, and we had a pleasant time together. She told me I was a great surprise to her, from my letters she had gathered that I was so severe and she wanted to know if I was equally surprised at the difference between her and my idea of her. I couldn't tell. I rather think not, now. She was in most respects what I knew already she must be, and I had a little romance too in my feeling about her before which I find is only increased now she is gone. Well when we got home she said, "What will Mr. Emerson do this afternoon?" I replied, "Oh he always spends his afternoons shut up in his study until he takes his walk." Edward laughed when I told him the tale, to think how relentlessly I had shut her out of hope for morning, afternoon and evening. But she had all her disappointment at once and in the beginning, and bore it nobly. After that everything seemed only to fill her young enthusiastic mind with utter happiness, and her youth and happiness were elixir to us all. She enjoyed Mother exceedingly. It was one of the highest entertainment's I ever had to hear them together, her ardent persistent questions sometimes and Mother's utterly unexpected answers, which surprised now by their unfathomable innocence, now by their erudition. She got at many a corner of Mother's mind never before visited. Then again Mother's sudden walking right into and onto all Emma's supposed feelings and opinions with such lofty unconsciousness, and the pretty frankness with which Emma would take it. Father and she were also a novel spectacle. The peaceful directness of her questions astonished him she didn't see how much, and she got answers out of him that I should have declared he wouldn't give. Not that I think she succeeded in getting at what she wanted to, but he wouldn't have treated anyone else so well. Then think of what nuts it was to me, old S.S. teacher that I am, to get at a real unconverted Jew (who had no objection to calling herself one, and talked freely about "Our Church" and "we Jews,") and hear how Old Testament sounds to her, & find she has been brought up to keep the Law, and the Feast of the Passover, and the Day of Atonement. The interior view was much more interesting than I could have imagined. She says her family are outlawed now, they no longer keep the Law, but Christian institutions don't interest her either. The three pretty, joyful letters she has sent to us three since she went home gave us uncommon pleasure...... E.T.E.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Ellen Emerson to Edith, September 6, 1876." (Viewed on September 20, 2018) <>.


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