Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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Gentiles, or to resemble them as much as they could. Their only
child was a precocious, promising youngster who lived in isolation,
for the elders made few friends and the lad even fewer.
Psychoanalysts will find in these early years of Lewisohn a
rich mine to explore for the explanation of the later man, with his
frustrations and quirks. Here we can only note that the material
and very titles of his earliest novels,
The Island Within
, autobiographical as they are, mirror his sense of lone-
liness and the feeling that he must fight a world arrayed against
him. This brilliant teen-ager, at home in two tongues, German and
English, wrote youthful verse for the
Charleston News Courier
These early imitations of Tennyson and Kipling were not only an
attempt to exercise his literary talent, but also to help eke out a
living for his impoverished but inordinately proud family. They
were far superior to the usual juvenile doggerel, and contained an
earnest of the future.
At seventeen Lewisohn entered Charleston College to prepare
himself for an academic career in English. He soon discovered that
his Jewishness would be an insuperable handicap for a university
professorship in this field; only Gentiles were wanted. He was
ready to accept Methodist disguise, but after reading Fiske at his
father’s suggestion, he became a skeptic. His natural moroseness
and bellicosity, heightened by a brooding sense of frustration,
found a kindred and comforting companion in Swift and Jonson.
Later, he immersed himself in the masterly prose of Matthew
Arnold, and to his works Lewisohn devoted his master’s thesis.
Preoccupation with the great English essayist did more than
sharpen Lewisohn’s style; it opened to his American disciple and
imitator new vistas of literary criticism for which the young
aspirant had a distinct penchant. He found this domain of
writing “shallow . . . lacking in soundness,” as he states in his
master’s thesis which was published in the
Sewanee Review
(October, 1901). He next wrote an essay, “Southern Literature
from the Beginning until the Civil War,” for the Sunday issue of
Charleston News Courier
(July 5-September 20, 1903), under
the caption of “Books We Have Made.” This lengthy scholarly
account was a distinct achievement and marked a step forward
in his development as well as an enhancement of his reputation.
He enrolled at Columbia, which had a magnificent English
department manned by Professors Trent, Brander Matthews and
others, and won his doctorate. Here he came to realize that,
despite his ability and the high recommendations of members of
the faculty, he could not procure an assignment to teach in the
department of English at Columbia or at any other American
university. Jews were simply not wanted here. Without casting