Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

LUDWIG LEWISOHN
1882-1955
By
F
e l i x
A.
L
e v y
I
N THE passing of Ludwig Lewisohn, literature, particularly
American letters, lost an outstanding figure who had carved
for himself a definite niche in the gallery of literary immortals.
There are those who would place him high; others would assign to
him a less conspicuous pedestal. Both sides, however, the adulant
as well as the grudging admirers, would agree that Ludwig Lewi-
sohn’s pen created definitive contributions in his chosen field of
artistic activity. They would probably also agree that his was a
complex personality, his deviations from the norm in life and in
art being inexplicable on the mere ground of the vagaries of genius.
Lewisohn could be kind, generous and tolerant and, certainly in
later years, when he was happy with his lot, his work and reputa-
tion reflected these qualities. But he could also be impatient,
impetuous and brash; in fact, some would thus characterize him
in his early career, certainly before he had “arrived.” He had, so
far as this observer knows, no intimate friends, either in or out of
the literary world; he was a “lone wolf.”
Ludwig Lewisohn was born in Berlin, Germany, May 30, 1882,
of “liberal,” enlightened parents who were steeped, as were so
many of their Jewish countrymen at that time, in the culture of
their native land. The German classics and the philosophers com-
prised their literary fare, so that young Ludwig early imbibed
Goethe and Schiller and was fed on Kant and Hegel. Jewish
books were unknown in his household, which was so completely
assimilated that it celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday.
Since gentlemen do not “renege,” it was only this fatuous pride
that prevented the family from going over to the dominant religion.
There was no love for, nor convictions about, either Judaism or
Christianity.
The family migrated to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1890.
There, despite traditional hospitality to strangers, they preferred
to live and keep to themselves. They were a German island in the
American sea, speaking and thinking in the Teutonic language
which they must have deemed, as did so many of their ilk, cul-
turally superior to what they found in the South. They had been
non-Jewish in Europe, and in the United States they strove to be
46