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Wordsworth’s “A Jewish Family”

Lawrence Bush
July 13, 2017

On this date in 1828, William Wordsworth (1770-1850), his daughter Dora, and their friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge encountered a Jewish family while walking along the Rhine River in the Rhineland (Germany). Wordsworth wrote a poem about the encounter, “A Jewish Family,” which he revised and published in 1835. The poem is “sympathetic and appreciative, yet he idealizes the family (a mother, a son, and two daughters),” writes Judith W. Page, “viewing them as representatives of the Jewish diaspora.” Dora Wordsworth wrote in her journal that the mother, when complimented by Coleridge on her daughter’s beauty, complained of their poverty: “but see these rags & misery . . .” Wordsworth’s entourage invited the family to partake of their picnic, but were declined, probably due to Jewish dietary laws. To read the whole poem, click here.

“Two lovely Sisters, still and sweet
As flowers, stand side by side;
Their soul-subduing looks might cheat
The Christian of his pride:
Such beauty hath the Eternal poured
Upon them not forlorn,
Though of a lineage once abhorred,
Nor yet redeemed from scorn.” --William Wordsworth

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.