Page 154 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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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
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.
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.”