Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
the outset of their literary careers. But the former abandoned
them for a nationalist philosophy, and the latter achieved ful­
fillment in an artistic chronicle of contemporary Russian Jewry.
Neither can be properly designated as the man marking the
fin d ’epoque.
The
Haskalah
reached with its overtones and un­
dertones into the twentieth century. The end of the First World
War, the attrition of the great center of Hebrew literature in
Eastern Europe, the emergence of a major center in Palestine
and a minor center in the United States, may be more con­
veniently designated as the
terminus ad quern
for the period
of the
Haskalah.
If Klausner’s historical framework is arbitrary, the theme is
rigid. The life of every writer of importance is conveniently
arranged as a triptych in deference to Goethe’s
Wilhelm Meister:
years of learning, years of wandering and years of teaching. The
indiscriminate application of such a rule creates a certain mo­
notony because the reader knows what to expect of a typical
chapter.
No philosophic theory seems to inform Klausner’s
History
o f Hebrew Literature.
In such works as the important history
of Greek literature by Croiset, the sensitive history of English
literature by Legouis and Cazamian or even the antiquated
history of English literature by Taine—to choose only three
examples at random—there is an implicit or explicit philosophy
which gives these works direction and vitality. Klausner attempts
to formulate an esthetic assessment of literature as an art. He
defines an artist as a man with “an observing eye and a feeling
heart which generate observations and emotions; reason classifies
them and gives them a plastic, artistic expression.” In the defini­
tion of the undefinable, Klausner makes an apodictic statement
on one of the most controversial subjects in the world without
recourse to contemporary or previous discussions on the subject.
Since his nationalist orientation forces him to write
sub specie
Zionitatis,
his
History
evolves as a nationalist congeries of repre­
sentative men. Yet no critic of that period of Hebrew literature
can afford to neglect Klausner with impunity. When one remem­
bers the paucity of literary monographs and the dearth of exact
data, one is impressed with his massive achievement. He rescued
minor writers from oblivion and established well-known writers
on a more solid foundation of fame.
The Teacher of Two Generations
He was a teacher of two generations. As the editor of the
foremost Hebrew monthly
Hashiloah
during the years 1903-1927,
as a university professor, as a writer, scholar and public figure,
he exercised an influence even on his detractors. What Georg
Brandes accomplished for world literature, Joseph Klausner