“To the excellences of other peoples the egotism of a Roman is a blindfold, impenetrable as his breastplate. Oh, the ruthless robbers! Under their trampling the earth trembles like a floor beaten with flails. Along with the rest we are fallen- alas, that I should say it to you, my son! They have our highest places, and the holiest, and the end no man can tell; but this I know- they may reduce Judea as an almond broken with hammers, and devour Jerusalem, which is the oil and sweetness thereof; yet the glory of the men of Israel will remain a light in the heavens overhead out of reach: for their history is the history of God, who wrote with their hands, spake with their tongues, and was himself in all the good they did, even the least; who dwelt with them, a Lawgiver on Sinai, a Guide in the wilderness, in war a Captain, in government a King; who once and again pushed back the curtains of the pavilion which is his resting-place, intolerably bright, and, as a man speaking to men, showed them the right, and the way to happiness, and how they should live, and made them promises binding the strength of his Almightiness with covenants sworn to everlastingly. O my son, could it be that they with whom Jehovah thus dwelt, an awful familiar, derived nothing from him?- that in their lives and deeds the common human qualities should not in some degree have been mixed and coloured with the divine?- that their genius should not have in it, even after the lapse of ages, some little of heaven?”
For a time the rustling of the fan was all the sound heard in the chamber.
“In the sense which limits art to sculpture and painting, it is true,” she next said, “Israel has had no artists.”
The admission was made regretfully, for it must be remembered she was a Sadducee, whose faith, unlike that of the Pharisees, permitted a love of the beautiful in every form, and without reference to its origin.
“Still, he who would do justice,” she proceeded, “will not forget that the cunning of our hands was bound by the prohibition, ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything;’ which the Sopherim wickedly extended beyond its purpose and time. Nor should it be forgotten that long before Daedalus appeared in Attica, and with his wooden statues so transformed sculpture as to make possible the schools of Corinth and AEgina, and their ultimate triumphs, the Poecile and Capitolium- long before the age of Daedalus, I say, two Israelites, Bezaleel and Aholiab, the master-builders of the first tabernacle, said to have been skilled ‘in all manner of workmanship,’ wrought the cherubim of the mercy-seat above the ark. Of gold beaten, not chiselled, were they; and they were statues in form both human and divine. ‘And they shall stretch forth their wings on high,…. and their faces shall look one to another.’ Who will say they were not beautiful? or that they were not the first statues?”