Page 198 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
achieve full cultural independence. Politics and culture, central
concerns o f the young Republic, became his central concerns as
well.
Noah’s early literary contributions focus around these twin
preoccupations. As a young man in his twenties, he first achieved
repute in the field o f political journalism. He wrote copy on be­
half o f Simon Snyder, Democratic-Republican candidate for gov­
ernor o f Pennsylvania in 1808. He authorized a pseudonymous
pamphlet attacking New York Governor De Witt Clinton’s bid
for the presidency in 1812. And he published a noteworthy series
o f articles in the
Charleston City Gazette,
in 1813, that helped ex­
pose some attempted political chicanery on the part o f South
Carolina’s governor, Joseph Alston.3
At the same time, Noah authored the first o f his plays. He had
long been a devotee o f the theater (“ I had an early hankering for
the national drama,” he later admitted, “a kind o f juvenile patri­
otism.”4), and he subsequently became an important critic. But
“The Fortress o f Sorrento,” and “Paul and Alexis” were hardly
great works. The former, Noah himself later remarked, he was
“almost ashamed to own.”5The latter, he excused as being merely
a favor written for a friend. The plays he wrote when he was
older, all o f them devoted to American themes, proved some­
what more enduring, and won Noah a place among the front
ranks o f early American dramatists. In one, “She would Be a
Soldier, or the Plains o f Chippewa,” he introduced onto the stage
a remarkably benevolent Indian, one brave enough to criticize
the white man’s encroachments, and educated enough to speak
perfectly standard English. In another, “Marion, or the Hero o f
Lake George,” he broached a subject ignored in most literary
treatments o f the American Revolution, the tragedy o f conflict­
ing allegiances that rent families asunder, pitting brothers
against one another. Both plays, and other Noah plays too, en­
joyed long and successful runs. Yet Noah himself realized, by the
time he was middle-aged and no longer writing plays, that his
were somewhat “amateur” productions, composed at odd mo­
3 Jonathan D. Sarna,
Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds o f Mordecai Noah
(New
York, 1981), pp. 1-14.
4 Noah to William Dunlap (July 11,1832), reprinted in
Publications o f the Ameri­
can Jewish Historical Society,
6 (1897), p. 116.
5 Ibid, p. 118.