Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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L E W I S O H N ---- AMER ICAN J EW I S H L I TERATURE
5
literature, outlast the books of most of the practitioners of
belles
lettres.
But I have not the space nor the knowledge required. Of
the others it is to be said that Walter Lippmann, George Jean
Nathan, Franklin P. Adams have consistently ignored their
Jewishness. They have done so conspicuously and I, at least,
consider it beneath Jewish dignity to wish them other than they
desired to be or to devaluate on that account the moderate elo-
quence of Mr. Lippmann’s earlier books, the wit and vivacity of
Mr. Nathan or the graceful versifying of Mr. Adams.
Another story is to be told of the other members of that
group — of Mr. Louis Untermeyer’s highly accomplished literary
skill, of his frequent re-alliance
(Roast Leviathan)
with the Jewish
spirit, of the solid services he has rendered to the study and
criticism of poetry; of Jean Starr Untermeyer’s few but piercing
Jewish lyrical cries; above all, of the nostalgic and aspiring spirit
of Waldo Frank. His is a puzzling figure. He has desired to be
a true man of letters and a truly Jewish man of letters. He has
been thwarted by literary eccentricities adopted early and by an
inveterate aversion to acquiring such Jewish knowledge as is
fundamental to Jewish writing. The two philosophers, Horace
Kallen and Morris Cohen, belong in this brief record: Mr. Kallen
by reason of his titanic struggle with all Jewish problems in his
many books, the late Morris Cohen, whose Jewish attitudes
were tragically negative, by virtue of his accomplished style and
wide influence.
I come to what might be called the popular entertainers of
that general group or generation, of whom the earliest and in
certain ways not the least effective was Montague Glass. The
Potash and Perlmutter stories and stage adaptations were super-
ficial enough. But they were warm and kindly. They did offer
Jews to
condescending
Gentile appreciation, but so did the tales
of Zangwill often enough. They omitted all the sterner aspects
of Jewish destiny and character, but the historic period was one
when that, though foolish and feeble, was not yet necessarily
contemptible. The succeeding Jewish entertainers of a vast
American public are very varied in quality and temper. We need
not be detained by Octavus Roy Cohen. I t is to be noted in
mere justice that among Miss Edna Ferber’s early stories there
are some sound delineations of minor Jewish characters. The
same is true in a lesser measure of Miss Fanny Hurst. Later
both of these writers, especially Miss Ferber, tightened the
assimilatory masks upon their faces and deliberately courted
popularity on the lowest plane. I have been accused of being
harsh in my dealing with these ladies. It is neither their wide
sales nor the non-Jewish character of their later works that I