Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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The World of Sholom Aleichem.
M a u r i c e S a m u e l .
New York.
A l f r e d A. K n o p f .
For years I have asserted in speech and writing that Maurice Samuel is one of
the best and one of the most neglected writers now using the English language.
Samuel is a writer in the most quintessential meaning of the term and would be
though he wrote like Swift, of broomsticks or, like Hazlit, of a prize-fight. The
feeling, the rhythm, the very punctuation throughout reveal him the master of
English prose in the great tradition of English prose. All the touted contemporaries,
the Lewises and the Steinbecks and the Dos Passos, haven’t the ear or the taste
or the tact to write so.
The World of Sholom Aleichem
, is upon the whole the most
beautiful book — entirely beautiful, without bitterness or bitingness — which
Samuel has written. I hasten to add that, though it is the book of a great nostalgia,
it never exceeds a jus t moderation of feeling. I t has no tears; it has no cries. Yet
it cleaves to a great depth and rises to every height of the strange and lovely and
hidden loftiness of its theme.
What is the book’s purpose? The earliest and still the chief purpose of all
writing, the purpose declared by the great poets of antiquity — is to save something
from Time. Samuel rescued Sholom Aleichem and the people for whom he wrote
from fading into the night. It may safely be said that, if a jus t sense of the beauty
of significant living and a delicate sense of form and prose in English survive the
terror and the turmoil of the hour in history, Maurice Samuel will have saved for
the future contemplation of men the humble and glorious, the poignant and ex-
quisite, the bitter and aspiring life of old Russian Jewry and of the painter who
painted it best.
There is no need to dwell on details. For Samuel’s picture of the world depicted
by Sholom Aleichem, though given according to its varying phases, is beautifully
and singularly one. And the final impression is one. And that impression (which
bears witness to Samuel’s mastery of subject and form) that no more significant
lives — lives that had and knew their meaning — have ever been lived among
mortal men. What more triumphant thing can be said of a body of men even at
the moment of their tragic extinction? What higher thing can be said of an artist
than that he has persuaded us to regard the figure of his memory and imagination
as having lived such triumphant lives? So Kasrielevky speaks forever through
the great silence — speaks through Sholom Aleichem and through Maurice Samuel.
A world has in very truth been saved from Time. How often can that be said?
Tha t it can be said suffices to rank Samuel among the major artists of our age.
u d w i g
e w i s o h n
i n
The Jewish Frontier
Memoirs of My People
(Through a Thousand Years').
Edited by
L e o
S c h w a r t z .
J e w i s h P u b l i c a t i o n S o c i e t y
( a n d F a r r a r & R i n e h a r t ) .
567 pages.
Jewish literature is singularly lacking in that most intimate of literary forms,
the autobiography. I t is only within the past century and a half that the pens
of Jewish philosophers, poets, scholars, have become prodigal in the flow of per-
sonal memoirs. Leo W. Schwartz, searching through limitless files of material in
many languages to find the selections for his new anthology, makes this interpre-
tation: “ From the Jewish point of view, the public weal was better served by ret-
icence than by self-expression. In the moving drama of Israel, the chorus alone
was vocal. Only at critical times it would happen that the recluse scholar disengaged
himself from the background as a speaking character, to admonish in the face of
spiritual backsliding, or encourage in the face of danger; or the man of affairs was
forced into leadership, to save his brethren by his wealth or his resourceful wit,
when expulsion or massacre threatened. These two outstanding figures were not
tempted to self-revelation.”
Here, in the language and color-strokes of past time, we discover the day to day
life of our forebears. For the first time we see the great personalities of our historic
canvass merging into the pattern of that homely routine which characterizes the
experience of most human beings in every time and land. Sometimes the language
is lofty, as in the “ Family Album” of Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, an eleventh century