1816–1847

June 2, 1816, Hack­ney, Eng­land.

Sep­tem­ber 16, 1847, Fran­kfurt am Main, Ger­ma­ny.

Neu­er Jü­disch­er Fried­hof, Frank­furt am Main, Ger­ma­ny.

portrait

Aguilar was the old­est child of par­ents des­cend­ed from Por­tu­guese Mar­ra­nos who sought asylum in Eng­land in the 18th Cen­tu­ry. To strength­en her con­sti­tu­tion, which from in­fan­cy had been fee­ble, she was tak­en to the sea­shore and to var­i­ous rur­al lo­ca­tions in Eng­land.

Her love of na­ture was cul­ti­vat­ed by these ex­per­i­enc­es; and at the age of 12 she de­vot­ed her­self of her own ac­cord to the stu­dy of na­tur­al sci­ence, aug­ment­ing a col­lec­tion of shells she be­gan at Has­tings, when on­ly four years old, and sup­ple­ment­ing it by min­er­a­log­ic­al and bo­tan­i­cal col­lec­tions.

Grace was ed­ucat­ed main­ly by her par­ents. Her moth­er, a cul­ti­vat­ed wo­man of strong re­li­gious feel­ing, trained her to read the Scrip­tures sys­tem­at­ic­al­ly; and when she was 14, her fath­er read aloud to her reg­u­lar­ly, chief­ly his­to­ry, while she was oc­cu­pied with draw­ing and nee­dle­work.

She was an as­sid­u­ous mu­si­cian till her health be­came im­paired. Her read­ing, es­pe­cial­ly in his­to­ry, was ex­ten­sive; her know­ledge of for­eign lit­er­a­ture was wide.

She evinced a lit­er­a­ry ten­den­cy at the age of sev­en, when she be­gan a di­a­ry, which she con­tin­ued al­most un­in­ter­rupt­ed un­til her death. Be­fore she was 12, she had writ­ten a dra­ma, Gus­ta­vus Va­sa. Her first vers­es were evoked two years lat­er by the scen­e­ry about Ta­vis­tock in De­von­shire. The first prod­ucts of her pen to be pub­lished (anon­y­mous­ly in 1835) were her col­lect­ed po­ems, which she is­sued un­der the ti­tle The Ma­gic Wreath.

Her pro­duc­tions are chief­ly stor­ies and re­li­gious works deal­ing with Jew­ish subjects. The for­mer em­brace do­mes­tic tales, stor­ies based on Mar­ra­no his­to­ry, and a ro­mance of Scot­tish his­to­ry, The Days of Bruce (1852). The most pop­u­lar of the Jew­ish tales is The Vale of Ce­dars, or the Mar­tyr: A Story of Spain in the 15th Cen­tu­ry, writ­ten before 1835, pub­lished in 1850, and twice trans­lat­ed in­to Ger­man and twice in­to He­brew.

Her oth­er stor­ies found­ed on Jew­ish ep­i­sodes are in­clud­ed in a col­lec­tion of nine­teen tales, Home Scenes and Heart Stu­dies (pub­lished post­hu­mous­ly in 1852); The Per­ez Fam­i­ly (1843) and The Edict, to­geth­er with The Es­cape, had ap­peared as two sep­ar­ate vol­umes; the oth­ers were re­print­ed from mag­a­zines. Her do­mes­tic tales are Home In­flu­ence (1847) and its se­quel, The Moth­er’s Re­com­pense (1850), both of them writ­ten ear­ly in 1836, Wo­man’s Friend­ship (1851), and Hel­on: A Frag­ment from Jew­ish His­to­ry (1852).

The first of Ag­ui­lar’s re­li­gious works was a trans­la­tion of the French version of Is­ra­el De­fend­ed, by the Mar­ra­no Oro­bi­o de Cas­tro, print­ed for pri­vate cir­cu­la­tion. It was close­ly fol­lowed by The Spir­it of Ju­da­ism, the pub­li­ca­tion of which was for a time pre­vent­ed by the loss of the orig­in­al man­u­script. Ser­mons by Rabbi Isaac Lee­ser of Phil­a­del­phia, had fall­en in­to her hands and, like all oth­er ac­ces­si­ble Jew­ish works, had been ea­ger­ly read. She re­quest­ed him to re­vise the man­u­script of the Spir­it of Ju­da­ism, which was for­ward­ed to him, but was lost. Grace re­wrote it; and in 1842 it was pub­lished in Phil­a­del­phia, with notes by Lee­ser.

A sec­ond edi­tion was is­sued in 1849 by the first Am­er­i­can Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion So­ci­ety; and a third (Cin­cin­na­ti, 1864) has an ap­pen­dix con­tain­ing 32 po­ems (bear­ing dates 1838–47), all but two re­print­ed from The Oc­ci­dent. The ed­it­or’s notes serve main­ly to mark dis­sent from Ag­ui­lar’s de­pre­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish tra­di­tion—due prob­ab­ly to her Mar­ra­no an­ces­try and to her coun­try life, cut off from as­so­ci­a­tion with Jews.

In 1845 The Wo­men of Is­ra­el ap­peared—a ser­ies of por­traits de­lin­e­at­ed ac­cord­ing to the Scrip­tures and Jo­se­phus. This was soon fol­lowed by The Jew­ish Faith: Its Spir­it­u­al Con­so­la­tion, Mor­al Guid­ance, and Im­mor­tal Hope, in 31 let­ters, the last dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 1846. Of this work—ad­dressed to a Jew­ess in­fluenced by Chris­ti­an­i­ty, to dem­on­strate to her the spir­it­u­al­i­ty of Ju­da­ism—the larg­er part is de­vot­ed to im­mor­tal­i­ty in the Old Tes­ta­ment.

Aguilar’s oth­er re­li­gious writ­ings—some of them writ­ten as ear­ly as 1836—were col­lect­ed in a vol­ume of Es­says and Mis­cel­la­nies (1851–52). The first part con­sists of Sab­bath Thoughts on Scrip­tur­al pas­sag­es and pro­phe­cies; the sec­ond, of Com­mun­ings for the fam­i­ly cir­cle.

In her re­li­gious writ­ings, Ag­ui­lar’s at­ti­tude was de­fen­sive. De­spite her al­most ex­clu­sive in­ter­course with Chris­tians and her lack of pre­ju­dice, her pur­pose, ap­parent­ly, was to equip Eng­lish Jew­ess­es with ar­gu­ments against con­ver­sion. She in­veighed against for­mal­ism, and stressed know­ledge of Jew­ish his­to­ry and the He­brew lan­guage. In view of the ne­glect of the lat­ter by wo­men (to whom she con­fined her ex­pos­tu­la­tions), she con­stant­ly plead­ed for the read­ing of the Scrip­tures in the Eng­lish ver­sion.

Her in­ter­est in the re­form move­ment was deep; yet, des­pite her at­ti­tude to­ward tra­di­tion, she ob­served ri­tu­al or­din­an­ces pun­cti­li­ous­ly. Her last work was a sketch of the His­to­ry of the Jews in Eng­land writ­ten for Cham­bers’ Mis­cel­la­ny. In point of style it is the most fin­ished of her pro­duc­tions, free from the ex­ub­er­an­ces and re­dun­dan­cies that mark the tales—pub­lished, for the most part, post­hu­mous­ly by her moth­er. With her ex­tra­or­din­a­ry in­dus­try—she rose ear­ly and used her day sys­tem­a­tic­al­ly—and her grow­ing abil­i­ty of con­cen­tra­tion, she gave prom­ise of note­wor­thy work.

Aguilar’s later years were full of fam­i­ly tri­als. In 1835 she had an ill­ness, from whose ef­fects she ne­ver re­cov­ered. Fin­al­ly, her in­creas­ing weak­ness and suf­fer­ing ne­ces­si­tat­ed a change of air, and in 1847 a Con­ti­nent­al trip was ar­ranged. Be­fore her de­par­ture, some Jew­ish la­dies of Lon­don pre­sent­ed her with a gift and a touch­ing ad­dress re­count­ing her achieve­ments in be­half of Ju­da­ism and Jew­ish wo­men.

She vis­it­ed her eld­er broth­er in Frank­furt, and at first seemed to ben­e­fit by the change; but af­ter a few weeks she had to re­sort to the baths of Schwal­bach. Alarm­ing symp­toms forced her re­turn to Frank­furt, where she died. Her last words, spelled on her fing­ers, were, Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

  1. I Bless Thee, Fath­er, for the Grace