Page 197 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JO N A T H A N D. SARNA
The Literary Contributions of
Mordecai M. Noah
On the Bicentennial of His Birth
“T
h e
W R ITER
o f
TH IS
p a r a g r a p h
,”
wrote James Rees in 1845,
“remembers Mr. Noah as a great literary and political lion . . . He
told the best story, rounded the best sentence, and wrote the best
play o f all his contemporaries. He was the life and spirit and quo­
tation o f all circles. As editor, critic and author, he was looked up
to as an oracle. He was, in short, the
idoneous homo
o f that day. His
wit was everywhere repeated, and his kind-heartedness — which,
by the way, to this very hour has never forsaken him — was the
theme o f every tongue.” 1
Rees was an intimate o f M ordeca i N oah ’ s, and his
characterization, written while Noah was still alive, must there­
fore be somewhat discounted. Still, his words bear close reading.
For Rees realized, even in his adulation, that Noah’s reputation
rested chiefly on his style and personality. Samuel Lockwood put
it well: “Noah was a man o f talents rather than genius.”2 His
talents, however, stood him in good stead and he exploited them
to the hilt. Consequently, his name continues to elicit smiles o f
recognition two full centuries after his birth.
Mordecai Noah (1785-1851) belonged to that first generation
o f native-born Americans who grew up in the years following the
Revolution. When he was young, he knew some o f the Founding
Fathers personally, but he had no memory o f his country as being
anything but politically independent. Like so many others o f his
day, he cherished the dream that America would one day also
1 James Rees,
The Dramatic Authors o f America
(Philadelphia, 1845), p. 110.
2 Samuel Lockwood, “Major M.M. Noah,”
Lippincott's Magazine o f Literature, Sci­
ence and Education,
1 (1868), p. 670.
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