Page 171 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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165
P I T L I K ----MICAH JOSEPH LEBENSOHN
For together with the love of poetic beauty and enthusiasm for
learning, both Jewish and general, which he had inherited from
his father, he had at the same time contracted from him at an
early age the consuming fires of tuberculosis. He did not heed the
advice of physicians to stay away from books and indoor confine-
ment, for his thirst for books was unquenchable. He gained
versatility in Talmudic and Midrashic lore and read abundantly
the Russian, Polish, German and French literatures in the
original.
In 1847, at the age of nineteen, Micah Joseph’s condition
became aggravated. His inexhaustible reservoir of courage and
faith succumbed to the onslaught of his cruel malady. Thus he
writes to his beloved friend Kalman Shulman (a contemporary
Hebrew writer of renown):
“Midnight . . . I sit alone . . . Everyone in the house is asleep,
but I am sleepless . . . There seems to be no relief from my
sickness . . . Physicians are of no avail . . . There is no cure
for me . . . Why does death tarry ? . . .
The clock on the tower chimes twelve . . . I am still awake . . .
The dim candle is fading out, soon it will be dark . . . so will
the light of my soul become extinguished. Soon I too shall
leave this world, my father and my mother, my brothers and
sisters, my friends and companions . . . O how dreadful is
death and how delightful is life! . . . To have lived only
nineteen years! . . . My heart is full of zest for living . . .
O life, life . . . give me life! . . .”
His youthful vitality, however, scored a triumph over death.
Micah Joseph was yet to achieve the task for which he had been
destined. As though he knew that this was only a respite, he
proceeded to devote himself to his literary efforts more per-
sistently, but not for long, for in 1849, when his malady became
more acute, he went to Berlin and Salzbrun for medical treatment.
While in Berlin he made the acquaintance of famous scholars
among whom were Senior Sachs, Yomtov Lipmann Zunz, and,
through correspondence, Samuel David Luzzatto. In that same
year he translated into lucid biblical Hebrew Books III and IV of
Virgil’s Aeneid (based on Schiller’s German translation) under the
title of
Harisut Troya
(The Downfall of Troy). This was more
than a translation; it was a work in which Micah Joseph Lebensohn
the poet, stylist, and philo-hebraist first revealed himself to the
reading public of the
Haskalah
period. This work met with a
favorable response in the Hebrew press and among the writers of
the day. Yet, upon the advice of Zunz, Luzzatto, and Sachs to