Page 119 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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L
e l yve ld
— M
aur ice
S
am u e l
113
and at the same time a spirited defense of Jewish values and
of the Covenant.
His patience with the summer fool who truly wants to learn
is that of a selfless teacher who respects his pupils as people.
He never writes down to his readers or deigns to define a difficult
term. Describing Toynbee, for example, he says: “His style was
a curious blend of dignity, colloquialism and Gongorism.” You
don’t know what Gongorism is? I ’m not going to humiliate you
by making that assumption. Just go quietly to the Webster’s
Unabridged and look it up! Assuming this was Samuel’s inten­
tion, this reader went quietly and did so.
Why, then, is Maurice Samuel so frequently overlooked in
discussions of American literature or even of the Jewish writer
in American literature? We who grew up Jewishly on Maurice
Samuel’s writings and preachings would have everyone appre­
ciate him, for he has everything: passion, conviction, wit, intel­
ligence, solid content, charm and a style, a way with the English
language we hold to be second to none. We bemoan the fact that
the larger literary world has never adequately recognized him,
that “critics and anthologists of general literature have over­
looked or ‘repressed’ ” the preeminence of his prose. Maxwell
Geismar, in a recent perceptive essay “The Jewish Heritage in
Contemporary American Fiction” which contains some illumi­
nating self-analysis, fails to mention Maurice Samuel as he fails
to mention Ludwig Lewisohn, even though he uses, in proper
quotation marks and correctly, Samuel’s phrase, “the great
hatred.”
Samuel’s
Web of Lucifer
was a
succes d’estime.
The
New York
Herald Tribune
review by P. J . Searles compared the
Web
with
Crime and Punishment
and declared, “Rarely in historical—or
other—fiction has an author so powerfully portrayed the dis­
illusion and despair of a wicked man . .
Another critic,
reviewing it in
The Atlantic,
called it “a work of art done with
entire integrity.” All the critics spoke glowingly of the wealth
of detail in Samuel’s careful reconstruction of the Renaissance
Italian scene. Yet Shellabarger’s
Prince of Foxes
appearing almost
simultaneously with the
Web
and by an unhappy coincidence
dealing with a similar theme in the same setting, never permitted
the “historical background to interfere with the story” and
became a best-seller.
Writer with a Mission
But, from another standpoint, why the fuss? It would be
pleasant to be a literary lion in the general community and to
enjoy the emoluments that accompany being widely read. Yet
one gathers that Samuel is not too unhappy about the way things