Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

went a tho rough apprenticeship , familiarizing himself with the
g reat works o f literature , and then travelled as a jou rneym an
to Emile Verhaeren in o rd e r to learn to master the poetic craft.
By working with this Belgian poet and by translating his difficult
poems, he had schooled himself in the art. He could honestly
say that he had done his best. I f he did not achieve more, it
was because he could not within his limitations. He expressed
these sentiments in 1930, when he was at the height o f his pop ­
ularity, a bestseller far ou tstripp ing the writers o f
the num ber o f readers and in the many tongues into which
he was translated. From Zweig one can learn modesty, humility,
O u r conversation d rifted to Russian writers o f genius. My
favorite was Turgenev , his choices were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
He had been to Moscow and Yaznaya Polyana in 1928 to attend
the centennial celebrations o f Tolstoy’s birth. Despite the fact
that the Soviet regime had lavished great praise upon him and
had published his
Complete Works
in Russian, his head was not
tu rned by adulation and he did not jo in in the enthusiasm for
the Communist system which was then fashionable among lib­
eral intellectuals. I had spent the summer o f 1927 in Russia
and had tried to get pho tographs o f Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
in bookstores and a r t shops, but they were unavailable. Zweig
told me tha t Tolstoy had been rehabilitated the following year
and that Dostoevsky’s day would yet come. I told him tha t it
requ ired great insight to write such magnificent essays on these
novelists, as he had done, without any knowledge o f the Russian
language. I had met only one o the r writer, Ricarda Huch, who
could do so, as evidenced by her book on Bakunin.
We spoke o f o the r writers. He was full o f praise for some
and never said an unfriendly word about others. When I called
his attention to the fact that he never reviewed any book dis­
paragingly, he replied that, if he liked a book, he called attention
to it. I f he did not, why should he call attention to it by writing
negatively about it? Silence was preferable. He suggested that,
if I wanted to write about
I should meet H e rm ann
Bahr, who claimed to have been its founde r in 1891, and Zweig
immediately dispatched a telegram to him recomm ending me.
When my book on Schnitzler appeared two years later, I re ­
ceived the following letter from Zweig, dated October 24, 1932:
“I received your book on Schnitzler with great pleasure, a book