Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
52
to march the rest of his life. He discovered that others who shared
his plight, like Freud and Hoffmansthal, had a part to play in the
world’s development not only as individual protagonists of per-
sonal freedom, but as members of a historic family of man-
kind destined to be “ a light to the world” that “walked in
darkness.”
His next novel,
Roman Summer
, harps on his favorite obsession,
already alluded to. Despite its crisp writing, it is weak. The
world is too much for him here.
Critics and Men
, an achievement of very high order, owes much
to Matthew Arnold’s influence. Lewisohn was most original in
this field where his creativity is clearly manifest. He recognizes,
very much as did Huneker before him, new talents, and points
out the genius in the old. I know of nothing superior by way of
evaluation that has been done with Rilke, Baudelaire, Heine,
Brandes and Buber. Lewisohn was the first to recognize Buber’s
titanic literary stature. Though he did not grasp all the implica-
tions, especially for the modern Jew, of Buber’s philosophy of
Judaism, he appreciated the incomparable spinner of Hasidic
yarns.
The Island Within
repeats the familiar themes of Judaism and
love of the sexes, in this case between a Jew and a Gentile woman.
The whole burden of the book is that there is no solution for the
Jew outside of Judaism. Lewisohn had found peace in his Judaism
and wanted to give his fellow Jews the prescription that had
brought his distraught spirit a measure of calm. As in some of the
other books dealing with Jewish matters, Lewisohn quotes copiously
from Jewish classics. He has an ingenious way of introducing these
passages, though at times it looks forced and pedantic. His
diligent study of original texts brought him a wealth of Jewish lore
which he was eager to share with his reader, so that he, too, might
be stirred as was this zealous convert. His critical sense, however,
frequently deserts him and he becomes almost fanatical in his
impatience with and intolerance of those who do not accept his
Judaism — a special (or is it specious) type of orthodoxy. All of
this is clear in
Midchannel
(1929), which continues his life story
where
Upstream
had left off. He expatiates dotingly on his newly
and dearly won Jewish knowledge. He is an avowed Zionist and
a violent anti-assimilationist, at times exceedingly gullible, par-
ticularly about matters Jewish, where he is inexpert. The book,
however, does describe, and does it beautifully, Lewisohn’s
spiritual growth. Whatever may be said of his attacks on that
which he thinks is un-Jewish, or his assaults on science and esthet-
icism, justified for the most part, we have here a fervent, un-
compromising Jewishness and an exquisite artistic sensitivity.