Page 154 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

146
JEW I SH BOOK A N N U A L
to shoot himself. But, before doing so, he wanted to write down
the story o f his life and what led him, the aristocrat and pa­
trician, to commit suicide. He did so in a book entitled
My Con­
fession.
However, as he was writing his confessions, he suddenly
discovered that there was a flaw in his reasoning tha t life was
meaningless. The “World o f Yesterday,” to which he belonged,
was indeed a world o f vanity and artificiality, a world without
purpose. T h e re was, however, ano ther world, one o f intense
meaningfulness. It was the world o f simple hum an beings who
formed the overwhelming majority o f mankind, the world o f
the unspoiled masses who were not contam inated by over-much
sophistication, the world o f the noble proletarians and peasants
who were not poisoned by superscepticism. So this great writer
pu t an end to his fo rm e r life not by pistols bu t by immersing
himself in a more ethical, less self-centered life. He embraced
a new faith, a purified religion. This man was Leo Tolstoy and
this is how Zweig saw him.
IDEALS SHATTERED
It was also Zweig’s own life, except that when in his fifties
he witnessed the collapse o f his own world and his ideal o f the
“Good Eu ropean” and o f international amity, he could not find
comfort in the Tolstoyan ideal o f the noble masses, an ideal
shared by the socialists o f his generation. During his last decade
he had seen socialism trium phan t in the guise o f National So­
cialism and the up righ t free individuals o f his circle tramp led
und e r foot to the accompaniment o f gleeful shouts and heils
by the not so noble masses. T hen despair overtook him, the
gentle being who always had believed in hum an goodness. He
had voiced this belief in 1916, at the height o f the carnage o f
the First World War, in his essay “T h e Tower o f Babel.” The re
he expressed the hope that ou t o f the shambles o f the war,
which was destroying the magnificent s tructure o f the spirit
erected since the Renaissance by the upward striving, heaven-
bent humanists and scientists, a new world would arise, more
decent, more cooperative, more kind. He and o the r men o f
good will would help to rebuild the Tower o f the Spirit to an
even loftier height. But, in 1942, at the height o f the Second
World War, he despaired that a better world would replace the
“World o f Yesterday.”